The Biggest Lie: Admission Of Mental Illness Veers From The Mark


I had intended to share the story of a young man killed recently in a mental-health facility. Or deliver highlights from the best presentation of depression I’ve ever heard — any number of important posts that didn’t keep the focus on myself. Only in the time since my newspaper column came out — the anti-stigma column in which I confessed to a life-long struggle with mental illness — I’ve become distracted by other issues. Chief among these is the gnawing disappointment in myself as I realize I’m even more of a coward than I thought. And a liar on top of that.

While my column has been critiqued from a few perspectives, the fault I’ve found in it is this: I wrote my grand confession as someone who has suffered from a mental illness, not as someone who suffers. Even as I made what, on the surface, was a brave stand, I was compelled to hold up my hands, wave them around, and insist: “I have achieved remission of most of my symptoms … and have been drug-free since January.”

Some anti-stigma hero.

It’s like introducing yourself as an alcoholic or a gambling addict, other socially stigmatized maladies with their own biological components, only to insist while continuing to fervently grip the other person’s paw that you haven’t touched a drop (or wagered the grocery money) in 9 months, a year even. That you’re a successfully reformed sinner. Feeling much better now.

And it’s my shame that inspired me to throw that distance between myself and my illness. It’s embarrassment and self-loathing to the core.

When I returned to San Antonio several months ago I didn’t return to my therapist or psychiatrist. It was understandable, I told myself, because of my lack of insurance. I didn’t look for support groups, either, or find clinics with sliding scales or get on the MHMR waiting list for a free counselor. While I bought a small bottle of St. John’s Wort, I didn’t replace it when I ran out a few weeks later. I let my meditation practice roll up and blow away. I didn’t reach out to old friends to make sure I had social support. In fact, I isolated as much as ever. I didn’t buy either the biofeedback kit or PEMF device I had promised myself while I was still in treatment. In short: I failed to prepare for the inevitable.

While I enjoyed nearly two months nearly symptom free, even before I sent my column to the Express-News, the American-Statesmen, the Dallas Morning News, I was witnessing the return of depression. My illness began eating up pockets of my life in three-day chunks. But each time I resurfaced I managed to convince myself I could skate by again without assistance if I just did a better job managing my stress and growing list of disappointments.

Because of shame.

I felt it at the National Alliance on Mental Illness national conference as I walked the halls and packed the conference rooms with fellow attendees, many of whom were overweight and glassy-eyed as a result of their medications. A few twitched visibly or slept in the open. My mind and my body stewed in a mix of sympathy, empathy, and disgust. I didn’t want to be part of this club. I didn’t want to belong here.

Last night was my first support group since I was in out-patient treatment late last year. I felt it there too, saying it out loud this time: I hate my illness. I resent it with my whole being for keeping me from all the things I had hoped to achieve in this life. I hate myself for having it.

That’s the truest thing I know about this mess.

So brave column perhaps, but a lie. The truth of truths is that I’m embarrassed. And ashamed. And I’m sick. Still sick. So here’s where (since smashing a chair on the kitchen floor this morning and feeling myself being sucked back beneath the bottom) I commit to making the little steps toward remission. Again.

cost of mental health careI have an appointment with MHMR this afternoon. There’s no one for me to see, of course. For person-to-person help I have to outlast a long waiting list. But I can get my paperwork done while I wait for society’s largesse — these emaciated social services — to manifest.

And I guess I won’t be riding my bike there. The feds classify my neighborhood as a Health Professional Shortage Areafor primary care, dentistry, and mental health care. Chances are you’re in one, too, at least when it comes to mental health services.

According to The Washington Post, which started asking these types of questions after the Newtown massacre, “89.3 million Americans live in federally-designated Mental Health Professional Shortage Areas, compared to 55.3 million Americans living in similarly-designated primary-care shortage areas and 44.6 million in dental health shortage areas.”

But that’s OK. Only half of us seeking services can afford it anyway.

Top image, “Shame,” by Libertinus Yomango, courtesy of WikiCommons.


16 thoughts on “The Biggest Lie: Admission Of Mental Illness Veers From The Mark

  1. Greg,

    This dis-ease is just that. I am never going to get over it. It is a state of being, not a flu like malady that is going to be present and then leave. Shit man, I have had this my whole life. I earned this emotional, which then became “mental” dis-ease after it had occuppied my body as long as it had and I didnt have the tools to fight it off nor the support to talk about it as being what it was. So I am left to try and think my way out of it. Give me a fucking break. I have J.D. behind my name and I couldnt see that I was depressed. So please, bludgeoning yourself for not doing it perfect. I cant agree to support that.

    This crap makes me scared to connect. Because I need you, the figurative you, or I am not okay. But I am afraid that you will see me as I have learned to see myself. Weak, defective, less than. How much worse can it get. I am screwed if I connect to you either way. Either I am needy or weak. Cant win at that.

    You have the courage to say you are better. I am about to endeavour on an adventure where attorneys will be asking me about my depression. But because I read stories by people like you, I said yesterday to my attorney, “Great, I am going to have an opportunity to expose this stigma.” Yes I am scared now as I say this. I owe it to those who are coming behind me. I owe it to my daughter. I owe it to me.

    Lots of love and support.


    Oh yeah, one of the best presentations on this??

    • you don’t have to support the action, just me. know i’m not perfect and will vacillate in how i adjust and respond to my illness. like anyone. a lot about my depression i just don’t accept. part of the process, i guess, maybe even part of the recovery, that back and forth. but i hope i’m not too discouraging. i promise i will post that depression talk soon. surely you’ll find it of more use. in the meantime, i hope you are able to move forward through what is ahead. i know you can do what is required. more than that even. ;)

      • Greg
        i hope you are able to move forward through what is ahead. i know you can do what is required. more than that even. ;)
        You got balls man. Standing up to this fucking dis-ease take courage.
        You got it man.
        You know what they say, if yOu spot it you got it!
        Go Greg!
        I am cheering for you hard here in CA

  2. Pingback: Mental Unhealthy | rouschel

  3. It’s no small thing, this stuff you’ve taken on.
    You’re moving in your chosen direction on a path leading through uncharted waters in a previously untested craft.
    You wouldn’t have gotten off-course if you weren’t traveling there and you wouldn’t have known it without your conviction.
    Those of us who know, know. This step might later prove to have been essential to the process.
    Recognizing YOUR own truth is golden.

    • thanks for that comment about individual truth. so much (all?) seems to be what we perceive/believe. i am straddling so many planks in this vessel, as you describe the process of passage: those things i’ve been, believed i was and wanted to be, and the implications of who i am now, today, and becoming in light of this new embrace of acceptance. that doesn’t make it less messy. seems to make it more so.

  4. It’s hard enough to say “I’m mentally ill” in the first place. Self-flagellation that you didn’t hit some superhuman standard of self-revelation and honesty seems unnecessarily cruel, considering how important even the smallest steps are toward de-stigmatizing mental illness. I personally find it far more disturbing, disappointing, and inappropriate that there is so little science underpinning mental health diagnosis, treatment, and care. Thank you for your brave words – thank you for accepting that you can, and have, made progress – and thank you for your humanity and compassion for yourself, and all of us, who suffer.

    • i’m experiencing something of a mental-health setback this week. fortunately/unfortunately, i don’t always wait them out before posting. ;)

      • Setbacks are what they are. Being a menopausal woman with severe PTSD and a TBI, I get it – the good times and the progress feel so … promising. Later challenges feel like worse than a let down, they feel criminal some days. :-( I have no lovely words to lift someone from depression…I only flutter fearfully on the sideline, feeling helpless and moved – but I am here, and I am real, and I read your words and care that you exist in my experience. I’m sure it isn’t enough, but I hope it is something to hold on to. :-D

  5. Self-stigma is a huge problem in recovery from mental illness. Not only do you have to deal with stigma from others, but also with feeling that you should be coping better than you are. As someone in recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder, I have to deal with this daily. Never think that you are less of a person because you struggle. You are human. The only way we are ever going to reduce the stigma of mental illness is to challenge it. We can be our own worst enemies at times, especially when you’re heading into relapse. Nobody’s perfect. We all stumble, but the main thing is that we get up again.

  6. Pingback: FRIDAY BITES – 05/07/2013 | PsyBites

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