Mental illness.

My mother suffers from mental illness. She has since before I was born. For months growing up she would be in the hospital. I spent a lot of time in mental wards, visiting. They are not pleasant places. Just last week I went to pick her up from shock therapy and heard a woman screaming from a room down the hall. Which isn’t that weird, actually. And yes, they still do shock therapy.

My whole life I have tried to understand what was going on with my mom. Sometimes I did understand. Most times, still, I do not.

But this post is not actually about my mother’s mental illness. It’s about mine.

Two years ago I started taking medication for Anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I was terrified to see the doctor. I was afraid to even entertain medication. Driving into the parking lot that morning was a big accomplishment. I recall the details clearly.

My fear comes in part from the things I saw my mom go through. Medication wreaked havoc on her body. Still does. She’s never fully recovered.

It took a jolt to push past my fear. Two years ago I started to break down. My wife saw it. I saw it. I don’t think our kids saw it. I held things together as best as I could. I got to work on time (mostly) and kept up my responsibilities without a crack in the facade. And then one morning I couldn’t.

I haven’t told this to many people. I’m still ashamed by it. It still feels like a defeat. I still feel I could be stronger, and maybe that I should be stronger. I should have more faith, perhaps. I certainly believed that when I was in Bible College. I did a lot of praying.

Years later, I can sense that something in my own brain is just a little broken. Misfiring. Out of sync or balance.

I heard someone recommend the term Brain Health instead of Mental Health, to combat stigma. Maybe there’s something to that. It gets to the heart of what I’ve realized; my brain is a physical part of my body. An organ. It can be fixed insomuch at the rest of my body can be fixed. By doctors.

My brain is not my personality. My soul is not marred by this. This illness is physical. Medical. Biological. Chemical. It is a layer I wear overtop of my being, always. It may go away. It may not.

I considered a post last year during #BellLetsTalk, but I held back. I didn’t feel ready. For me, this whole conversation is fraught. Given my family history. it’s complicated.

Since then, conversations with my wife and with friends have made me okay with this. Or mostly okay with this.

I’ve read posts from some of you today, talking about your struggle. You’ve given me courage, so thank you. Stigma sucks and it keeps us in the shadows. Bad things happen in the shadows. Monsters grow there.

But what’s the big deal, really? Why is the truth so difficult? I deal with a mental illness. I take medication. It helps.

Here are some ways medication helps.

Worries that were paralyzing have lost their grip over my future. Most of the time.

Cyclical thoughts on endless loops will fade away or give way to other thoughts. A lot of the time.

I’ve found the strength to do some incredible things with my life these past couple of years. I’m grateful for that.

I’ve prayed about this and sometimes I still do, but to be honest it can be tiring to fight all the time, day after day and year after year. Sometimes prayer feels like that–an exhausting battle–when it’s constantly thrown at illness.

If you’re dealing with mental illness, let’s talk. Really.

Coffee or beers, I’m game.

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