Lately I've been contemplating writing a book, a memoir of sorts. A friend gave me wise counsel several years ago. She said, "You don't need a degree to write a book. You just need to sit down and write." For a long time I felt too uneducated to write. Then I dismissed the idea; I had nothing to say. Now I have so much to say, but something greater holds me back - fear. The idea that people might buy my book and find the cobwebs stuck within its pages keeps me from recounting events, real happenings that could save many young girls from the heartache I experienced.
That's the problem with real life. It's not pretty. It doesn't unfold like a good chick flick. Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth don't always end up together, businesses don't always make people prosper, the ugly duckling doesn't always turn into a swan at the end. Real life is sordid, so when an author writes about real life, those details aren't picturesque. Conversely, real life is often the stuff of R-rated movies, the movies that, as an LDS girl, I'm counseled not to even see.
Consequently, when life doesn't unfold the way people believe it should, the way they're told it is supposed to happen, many keep quiet. There seems to be a perception, especially amongst women, that if life isn't "perfect," they're broken. If they're wracked with depression, grief, addiction or despair, something is fundamentally fractured. As a result, they keep quiet. They suffer in silence. They isolate. And they die a little more each day.
For years, I looked at my friends, my family, the women in my church and my community, and I thought, no one will understand my pain and my torment. They don't have trouble getting out of bed in the morning. They don't know what it's like to put on that fake smile, say, "I'm doing great," when someone asks how I'm doing. They won't understand the nightmares, the triggers, the flashbacks. People will think I'm weak. Buck up, they'll say. You're just a little blue, they'll think. Or worse yet, they'll cart me off to the looney bin, put me in a padded room, and leave me to suffer in silence. Don't they understand I'm already doing that?
I told my boss I had a weekly "doctor's appointment" when I went to therapy, scheduling it close to the end of the day because it was so traumatic that I needed the rest of the afternoon to regroup.
Then there was the time I had a panic attack in Wal-Mart because I used to have weekly date night there. I'd just gone in to get a prescription (my anti-depressants). They were supposed to be ready. It was just a store, right? I couldn't even drive the two blocks to my house. I sat in the car for an hour, trying to get to my happy place. I didn't go to Wal-Mart for a long time after that.
When I told my brother I had PTSD, he said, "Isn't that what people who've been in the military get?" I tried my best to explain the TRAUMA and STRESS parts of PTSD and that it can happen to anyone, even a healthy, happy 20-something. He cried. I felt even more broken.
Depression is real. It debilitates its victims. It is no respecter of persons. I love what Jeffrey R. Holland said regarding mental illness. "However bewildering this all may be, these afflictions are some of the realities of mortal life, and there should be no more shame in acknowledging them than in acknowledging a battle with high blood pressure or the sudden appearance of a malignant tumor."
There is no shame in mental illness. Some people have diabetes, high blood pressure or suffer from other maladies. I do not wish to trade places with them any more than they'd wish to be in my place. I pray that those studying their diseases will find more effective treatments. In that same vein, I hope and pray that more effective treatments are on the horizon for depression, PTSD and other forms of mental illness.
To those who struggle, you are not alone. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Don't be ashamed. There are many others who fight with you. Many of us love you, suffer alongside you, pray for you, and hope with you that brighter days are ahead.
Jeffrey R. Holland also counseled, "Whatever your struggle, my brothers and sisters—mental or emotional or physical or otherwise—do not vote against the preciousness of life by ending it! Trust in God. Hold on in His love. Know that one day the dawn will break brightly and all shadows of mortality will flee. Though we may feel we are 'like a broken vessel,' as the Psalmist says, we must remember, that vessel is in the hands of the divine potter. Broken minds can be healed just the way broken bones and broken hearts are healed. While God is at work making those repairs, the rest of us can help by being merciful, nonjudgmental, and kind."
A special thanks to all those who have been there for me in my hour of need; to the beloved friend who answered the phone in the Wal-Mart parking lot that afternoon, to parents and siblings whose arms are open wide, to those who have opened their hearts and homes to me, who have shared my burdens, and to a God who teaches me that my struggle is uniquely tailored for my benefit and learning and can be a blessing to others if I will trust in Him.
Note: The full address from which Jeffrey R. Holland's wise advice was quoted can be found here.