Sailing the Dark Seas
By Sandhya, age 27, South Carolina
My foray into the black world of mental illness has been scary, unpredictable, and damaging. My mental state over the years has been described by words that most people are extremely uncomfortable hearing - I've been diagnosed as psychotic, incapacitated by depression, manic, and suicidal. In October of 2009, I ingested anxiety pills to stop a flashback - thirty of them, to be precise. Needless to say, I spent some time locked up in a psychiatric ward after that stunt.
To the casual observer, I would seem completely and boringly normal. On my good days, I wake up in the morning, get dressed, get my kids dressed, and get us all breakfast. When my nanny gets to my house, I go upstairs to my office to work. I am productive, motivated, and full of good ideas. I laugh, have scintillating conversations with other people, write, and volunteer.
Then there are my bad days. On my bad days, the way I act depends on which way my brain decides to go on the fritz. Sometimes it absorbs too much serotonin - the 'happy' chemical we all produce. On those days, I am completely debilitated. I stay under the covers, unable to read, unable to eat, unable to move. Then there are days when my brain decides to play back images of my childhood abuse - over, and over, and over again. On those days, I curl up into a fetal position, unable to cry, unable to talk. Sometimes my brain tells my eyes that they see a network of stars on my living room ceiling, or that a lady in my head is telling me to kill myself. On those days, I am totally unpredictable. I might tell my husband in delight about what I see, or I might retreat into my own private hell, thinking how much better off everyone would be if I were to die.
Recently, I found a wonderful psychiatrist. He is extremely intelligent, and actually listens to what I have to say (not an easy feat when you have about ten minutes to spend on one patient, you're running an hour behind, and you have a waiting room full of people who desperately need to talk to you). He has me on regimen of pills that balance my brain chemistry. He's made it possible for me to live a completely normal life.
Mental illness is hard. Understanding mental illness when your own brain is healthy is harder. People who are mentally ill are not dangerous, or 'crazy', or to be avoided. They are normal people with a disease, just like diabetes or multiple sclerosis. If they're fortunate, they find a great doctor and have a wonderful support system, like I do. They take their pills and live their lives, get married, have children, get promoted. And with a little bit of luck and a lot of hard work, they find peace within themselves.