My story is not unique. And, if it seems like it is, it’s because I’m the only one speaking up – even if it is without my name or identifying information. I am a clinical psychologist, and a good one. I graduated from a great school, and have worked for major medical centers with very recognizable names. I spend my life working with individuals who are struggling with mental illness. I have also spent my life struggling with my own.
I have struggled and continue to struggle with Major Depressive Disorder, which sometimes brings along with it thoughts of suicide that I can’t put out of my mind. Fixations with ending my life. I continue to struggle with an eating disorder that consumes many hours of my day with thoughts of food, weight, guilt or doing things I know I shouldn’t do to control my body. These thoughts, all of them- suicide, hopelessness, guilt, failure, inadequacy- rattle around in my mind more hours than not.
In my field, too often it is frowned upon to show weakness, to need help, to admit to your thoughts and feelings. The hypocrisy is painful. We are supposed to be the helpERs not the helpEEs.
How can we possibly help someone if we aren’t in perfect mental health ourselves? … I would like to ask instead, how can we truly begin to understand and help someone without the knowledge of what it is to suffer. This is not to say that we should seek suffering, or leave our problems untreated. We certainly need to take our own advice and lead by example in working toward recovery. But, recovery is a messy, rollercoaster of a process. It is not an event. I hope that one day I will be able to be open about my struggle without fearing that it could end my career or change the way people see me.
Like I said, my story is not unique. There are many of us who struggle, and once in a while we find each other and there is a quiet camaraderie. And, in my opinion, many of those who I’ve met who have also struggled, are some of the most talented people I’ve worked with.
I believe that sometimes the best healers are the ones who have been wounded. I, as an admittedly biased source, think that there is something to be said for understanding of the paralyzing fear of asking for help. It surely gives a whole new meaning to a first session with a new client.
Thank you for this wonderful project, and taking a giant step in combating the stigma of mental illness. Your work is beautiful and inspiring. Your progress bring me hope that I can write you again soon with my real name included.