For the past four days, I have been steadily transforming our home from a dusty, cluttered space into a space into which I will be proud to invite guests. I’ve also done a lot– a lot– of silent introspection. Doing away with the layers of dust and piles of laundry has meant that I had to face the demons inside me that allowed our home to get that state of disarray in the first place.
Pair my ungraceful motherhood transition with a hefty dose of serious mental illness and depression. The situation here at home has been a recipe for those layers of dust that have accumulated throughout the house. Once those dust layers had settled well, they fed my depression steadily and helped to lower my already low self-esteem. After all: if I couldn’t keep the house clean, what did that say about me as a person?
I know myself and the chain of events that led to those piles of dust well enough to know that there’s no part of the situation that could have been any different. I was shattered by illness and circumstance on a variety of fronts.
I was shattered. Shattered. I was completely and totally shattered by my perceived loss in ability. As I adjusted from full-time employment to full-time disability status, I didn’t understand what was happening to me and I was angry. I felt out of control. My perceived absence of control materialized as my perceived inability to care for my surroundings. It was all I could do to fall into survival mode, as I cared for my children and myself and Jared as best I could. I’ve operated in survival mode only for years now. All stability of my expectations for any potential future occupations fell by the wayside. Uncertainty and instability swept my already low self-esteem far, far away.
The situation remained as such for much of the previous seven years. That’s a long time. It’s almost more than is possible for me to wrap my brain around.
So, what’s changed? What happened this week that gave me the energy and insight to get out of the recliner and start caring for and about my environment, my house?
The Grave’s disease diagnosis has given me hope that my mind, which I’d long since banished away as defective, isn’t so defective after all. There is something physical to which I can now point and say, “This causes at least a little bit of my issues.”
The stigma that surrounds mental illness, as I have experienced it, lends unspeakable amounts of shame to the way I feel about myself. I know plenty about experiencing stigma. In my case, my stigma is equally internally imposed as it is any actual stigma coming from outside myself. That stigma– both external and self-imposed– has translated to a paralyzing loss of hope. I’ve long felt terror about the potential lack of any sort of enjoyable future for my life, in my more depressed days.
In the case of my Grave’s disease diagnosis, I almost instantly felt better about myself when I heard I suffer from a physical illness. Unfortunately, however, the reason I feel better about myself has to do with the hope that maybe some of my problems do not stem from mental illness. Maybe at least some of the severity of my mood issues has come about due to the physical problem that comes along with my thyroid malfunction.
I’ve bought into the stigma. I’ve dealt with mental illness daily in some way or other for nearly 18 years and I have bought into the stigma. I’ve bought into the lie that mental illness is lesser, that I must be lesser because I have a mental illness. I’ve dealt with my own mental illness for nearly 18 years and I should know better. I should know that mental illnesses are equally as valid and that my mental illness does not speak to my character. Yet here I am, grasping at the hope that I have a physical problem that explains some of my behavior and moods, at least in part.
After all these years, I’ve learned nothing about how to fight the stigma against mental illness. After all these years, I am still running away from my mental health diagnosis full steam. Those stigmas have been just as stifling as as my actual health situation and in my case, my health remains unchanged. I still have a mental illness. But the terror and shame from the stigma has lifted somewhat because my own self-imposed stigma has been banished a little bit. I now have a diagnosed physical illness known to contribute heavily to mood changes. I’ve lifted some of the stigma I’ve imposed on myself all these years because of my physical health, because of the Grave’s disease..
Quite tragically, it means that I have learned nothing of compassion toward my own mental illness.