I suffer from mental health issues. I’m not alone. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, more than 20% of Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime. (I think that number might actually be low.)
My mental health issues are always there lingering in the background – an unwanted permanent guest that never moves out of my head space. I know that my mental health has not been that great over the past year or so. Life changing health issues have overshadowed a number of positive things that I should be thankful for. My mother, who is 83, has just survived (miraculously, I often believe) her own brush with death that we all were certain was cancer. It wasn’t. She’s getting better, but we went through four and a half months of not knowing what was happening. I was grieving this year for four months because I was certain that my mother was going to be gone.
Grief is crippling
And in the background were my own health issues which suffered a sharp decline throughout. That and of course the very real sense, I feel, that our world has entered a dark and dangerous period. I don’t need to rattle off everything that isn’t working – we all know what’s going on. We are all of us, powerless to stop it. (Then part of me who loves history realizes that our world has always been dark and dangerous. It’s just that now it feels like we’re all spinning wildly out of control.)
For me, writing was always my main method of coping. I would pour all of my anger, pain and mental poison into a project. I decided that if only I could land a literary agent and get a book deal, well, that would mean I wasn’t a complete failure in life. I’m on my second literary agent now (and he, like my first agent, is fantastic.) I’ve got five traditionally published books and three self published. I’ve been to London England to launch two of my novels. I made new friends. I ate crazy ass amazing fabulous pastry and marveled at the living history of the place. That should have been enough, right?
Yet I felt that I was a failure in everything. I still do and I’m trying to change that.
Because having a mental illness does that to you; it makes you feel like you are a failure because you have a mental illness. You look out at everyone and they all seem to be functioning. Their lives have purpose and meaning. What the hell is wrong with me? Why can’t I be like that?
There have been many times in the past year or so where I have felt very much like was actually outside my body, powerless to stop a decline in my mental health. I think it’s like that for a lot of folks who suffer from any number of disorders. I know the name of mine, you likely know the name of yours. But there is stigma out there for people suffering from mental health issues. There shouldn’t be – everybody knows someone who is experiencing a crisis in their lives that impacts their mental health.
This is why I had writer’s block as well. I was just completely unable to connect with writing which is my own self-generated light at the end of the tunnel. I’m fortunate though; I’m determined to slay my demons and I have started writing again. About a thousand or so words a day. It sometimes helps me cope. Sometimes it doesn’t. I’m still not 100%.
I’m angry that this is all happening right now. That I believed I had things licked and then life came in and gave me a sharp kick in the nads.
I’m working through things now. I’ve got a counselor who is going to help. I’ve got the most amazing, wonderful, fantastic wife a man could ever hope for. She is my rock. She has seen me at my worst many times in our thirteen years of marriage. She helps me find that light at the end of the tunnel, but she can’t be my rock forever. I have to be my rock, somehow. I’m hoping counseling will help me develop some skills that I clearly lack. Managing my anger. Managing my sometimes crippling despair. Just … managing.
I’m fifty years old in less than three months. I’m angry that at this stage of my life, I am still dealing with this crap. It’s funny, you can go years and years with relatively stable mental health and then BOOM! You just suddenly have trouble coping.
For now, I am searching for the satisfaction that comes with being a storyteller. I am searching for that one book I write that will make me commercially successful. (I know, I could be dreaming.) I am focusing on creating something from nothing and seeing where it goes. This journey isn’t an easy one.
Anyway, I guess where I am going with this is here: if you are hurting, get help. I was hurting for a hell of a long time over the past year or so and it took me forever to get to the point where I had the courage to say those words: I need help. I said those words to my wife very recently. She’s a nurse. She’s all about helping others. I lucked out, marrying her.
And so that’s where I’m at right now. I am writing again. That’s a victory of sorts, right? It has to be. I want to feel better, I want that more than anything. So I think for the next little while, I am going to blog about my journey toward better mental health. Maybe if there are others who are experiencing their own trials and tribulations with mental health, my journey will help de-stigmatize the process of getting the help.
Since I’m fifty this year, I figure that statistically speaking, I’ve got about 25-30 years left on the old life clock. I’ll be damned if I’m going to spend that time feeling like I’ve been feeling for the past year. I’m going to get better. Just watch me.