Shine On You Crazy Diamond: Embracing and Rising Above Your Own Mental Illness

Image result for pink floyd the wall

Crazy,
Toys in the attic I am crazy,
Truly gone fishing.
They must have taken my marbles away.
Crazy, toys in the attic he is crazy.
– “The Trial” – Pink Floyd

I will never understand why mental illness is something that is so taboo.  In a day and age where expressing your sexuality, gender, and just talking about sex in general, it blows my mind that discussing mental health seems to become the white elephant in the room.  There are benefit concerts for cancer, for AIDS research, for non-profit organizations but when was the last time you saw a concert that was for the benefit of those with mental illness (no, seeing Roger Waters perform The Wall doesn’t count).  Well I’m here to just share with you all that yes, I have mental illness and I am not in the least bit ashamed of it.

Depression, anxiety, and addiction are all things that run deep in my bloodline going all the way back to my great grandfather on my father’s side.  My great grandfather was a raging, wife slapping alcoholic.  My grandfather was a manic depressive alcoholic who shot himself in the head when I was less than a year old, and my father was an alcoholic who was bi-polar, manic depressive, and addicted to meds.  The one thing that I chose to do that none of them before me did was to try and face my mental illness head on.  I refused to let it break me like it did the men of my family.  I started going to therapy back in 2005 and that was my first step in facing it head on.  Early on it was powerful, it was painful, and it was intense but it was also exciting and it gave me a sense of strength that I never knew I had.  Over the years, therapy would work for me but there were always moments here and there where I would come completely unraveled and just lose my shit.  I would pace the house aimlessly, biting my finger nails to the nubs, have crying fits, and even at times get so worked up that I’d start getting short of breath and developing hives.  A year ago after having one of my manic episodes, my wife and I decided that something else was needed.

Why had I avoided meds for so long?  Because I saw the addictive tendencies in my family and I didn’t want to become a zombie.  I didn’t want to lose myself and become a shell of my former self like my father had.  When I had my conversation with my therapist about this, he assured me that what we were dealing with was a chemical imbalance.  This was something that was in my genetic makeup, handed down from generation to generation and here I was, the first one to actually stare it in the eye and challenge it with all I had.  I began by taking a daily dose of Prozac, a Welbutrin every morning, and finally Xanax for those occasions when I’m just feeling anxious.  After a few months of taking the meds, I finally started to feel like a new person.  The old me was still there but all of the sudden things just seemed to fall into place.

I didn’t find myself scattered like I used to.  I didn’t find myself overwhelmed my simple daily tasks that would pile up.  I didn’t feel like the world was closing in on me and last but not least, after 30 something years I could actually turn my brain off, lay down, and go to sleep.  I found myself making lists of things to do every night before bed and once the list was made, I was done.  I didn’t obsess over the missing Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii DVD.  2 years ago the old Don would have thought about it at 10pm, torn the house up looking for it in a frantic sweat and then emailed everyone he know to find out who had it.  The new Don just said, “Damnit.  I must have lent it to someone and never got it back.  I’ll buy a new one and no more lending out DVDs.”  It’s pretty cool being in this new frame of mind.  I find myself actually liking myself more, being easier on myself, and even enjoying life.  Time seems to move a good bit slower these days and I find myself taking in the days a lot more.  Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not always perfect but I know what to do now.  I’m feeling anxious, stressed, or overwhelmed, I take a Xanax and I’m fine.  I feel flustered because of things to do, I make lists.  So much of my life used to be scattered post-its all over the place and now my life feels like it fits on one page of a legal pad.  I am also extremely lucky to have a patient, supportive, and loving partner who knows how to deal with me when I have my moments.  It’s such an important part of my being to have that support and I’m lucky as fuck to have that.

So why am I sharing all of this with you?  Well, it’s because I am not ashamed of it.  I have a mental illness.  I suffer from depression, anxiety, and even a slight case of ADD.  It’s something I have struggled with for years and something that I kept contained for years because I was afraid that people would think I was fucking crazy.  How fucked up is it that we live in a society where things are becoming more and more acceptable to be open about yet mental health is something that constantly gets swept under a rug.  I hope if you are reading this and you suffer from any of these things that you will know and understand that it is nothing to hide and nothing to be ashamed of.  There are meds and therapists and doctors out there that specialize in helping you get through these situations and just know that you are not alone.  Just take care of yourself and if you’re a friend of mine on Facebook (or just here) and you ever want to talk about, please don’t hesitate.  It all starts with acknowledging it and then moving forward to take steps in making yourself the best person you can be for yourself.

Be well, y’all!

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