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Learn more at www.familiesfirstindiana.org.
Since being first diagnosed with a mental illness twenty-six years ago at the age of 14, I have gone through many experiences that have dramatically shaped who I am today. I am open and upfront about the fact that living with a mental health condition has left considerable scars and had a significant impact on the person I am and how I relate to the world around me. However, this has not been entirely negative. There have been positives that have come about as a result of my living with mental illness including the deep level of introspection I had no choice but undergo, a sense of resolve and determination I’ve had to develop in order to stay alive (quite literally), and an ability to find strengths in what I once considered weaknesses. While I’ve had several diagnoses over the years, the ones that ring true to me today include depression, anxiety, and paranoia sometimes accompanied by psychotic features. Medications and treatment protocols have been too numerous to list, with some being far more effective than others. I do advocate that medications should be an available tool in living with a serious mental illness, and that if one finds medications are not accessible or feasible, making use of all other available means of treatment become absolutely imperative.
The war within the mind is all too real for those of us living with serious mental illness, and that’s just what it can feel like—a war waged against us by what should be our most trusted ally, the mind. This presents a difficult and perplexing dynamic. Speaking for myself, I’ve always viewed it this way. When a person encounters a significant threat, regardless of what that specific threat may be, natural human instincts tend to kick in and trigger a very real fight or flight response. This has been my experience, I don’t propose it to be true for everyone in all cases but for me this has very much been the reality. Well, herein lies the problem - How do you flee from yourself? Drugs, alcohol, denial, negative behaviors, the list could be exhaustive and go on for days but none of them end with a positive result. The other instinctual response one might choose when overwhelmed by the intense grip of a severe episode might be to fight the self. The same or similar options one might use to flee the self could arguably be used to fight the self, leading again to far less than optimal outcomes. After these methods were exhausted in my life, and no longer offered even temporary relief, I saw no further options. Destroying the enemy once and for all became the only remaining logical and feasible choice. As humans we only have so much endurance. Any activity, be it mental or physical can only be carried out for so long before inevitable collapse occurs. This is exactly where I found myself two years ago.
At the end of the episode I had those two years ago I had an extreme and life altering event take place. The episode was a severe paranoid psychosis more intense than I had ever experienced. Even still, I had resolved to live. I consciously made the decision that no matter how bad it got I was going to make it. Much to my shock and horror, however, I suddenly found myself ready to end it all. I felt my intention even though I hadn’t chosen it. Horrified doesn’t describe the feeling, there are no words for what I felt in that moment.
I immediately dropped the knife in panic, I could barely dial the numbers on the phone as I started calling people to say goodbye, as if I was next up on death row. Luckily, I was able to absorb the right words at the exact right moment to save myself – “you have a responsibility to take these experiences and help others.” Those words have formed my mission and direction for the remainder of my time on earth. I wish you all the best, NEVER GIVE UP! Use your experiences with mental illness as your strength to help others.
Micheal is a volunteer Clinical Associate on the MHA Indy Crisis & Suicide Intervention hotline.
Life with a Mental Illness is meant to help remove the shame and stigma of speaking out, so that more people can be comfortable coming out of the shadows and seeking the help they need. Whether you are in Stage 1 and just learning about those early symptoms, or are dealing with what it means to be in Stage 4, sharing how it feels can be part of your recovery.
MHA Indy wants everyone to know that mental illnesses are real, that recovery is always the goal, and that the best prospects for recovery come when we act Before Stage 4 (B4Stage4).
Addressing mental illnesses B4Stage4 means more than burying feelings and refusing to talk about them, and waiting for symptoms to clear up on their own. B4Stage4 means more than wishing that mental health problems aren’t real, and hoping that they will never get worse. B4Stage4 means more than thinking that someone on the edge of a crisis will always pull himself or herself back without our help, and praying that someone else will intervene before a crisis occurs.
B4Stage4 means, in part, talking about what mental illnesses feel like, and then acting on that information. It means giving voice to feelings and fears, and to hopes and dreams. It means empowering people as agents of their own recovery. And it means changing the trajectories of our own lives for the better, and helping those we love change theirs. So let’s talk about what life with a mental illness feels like, to voice what we are feeling, and so others can know they are not alone.