Spoiler alert: my upcoming memoir is about mental illness as much as it is about training for my black belt.
I mean, you probably got the gist from the title, but I thought I’d go ahead and spell it out.
This is the most difficult post I’ve ever written, and I know once it’s published and shared I will be questioning my choice. I’ve tried several times to write this under different themes and different titles for the last several years, and until now I’ve never had the courage to click the “publish” button.
Surprise! I have not one but multiple mental disorders. I’ve dropped hints about it on the blog, but I’ve never given specific details. I’ve never mentioned it on social media, and I have NEVER EVER disclosed it to anyone at work except to one very close and trusted friend.
But I have to come clean. When my memoir Kicking and Screaming is published, everything will be public. As I say in my book, “People are quick to judge and slow to understand…Putting my truth into writing rings a bell that cannot be unrung.”
I might as well stick my toe in the water now.
After a lifetime of mental health problems, I was diagnosed with depression, anxiety disorder, and bipolar disorder around age thirty-one. I take medications and saw a counselor for seven years. I’ve struggled with disordered eating since age thirteen.
Please don’t be weird about it.
Maybe this uncomfortable little coming out party will help someone who feels like they are suffering alone, like they have to cover it up and pretend everything is fine to the outside world. “Faking fine” works for a while and helped me achieve material success, but doing it for so long has led me to be defensive and paranoid.
I have a huge chip on my shoulder because I’m afraid of being hurt as I have been in the past when people abused my vulnerability (read the book for an especially juicy version of this). I’m afraid of losing the power of keeping a secret, but I’m miserable trying to hold it in all the time. At worst, I’m afraid knowledge of my mental health diagnoses will negatively affect my livelihood and my ability to make money. I didn’t even want any of the parents at taekwondo to know, because I was afraid they wouldn’t want me teaching their children. At the least, I assume there will be a few people who’ll say, “Well, I could have told you she was crazy,” or the others who might say, “I don’t understand the problem. She was so smart/pretty/talented. What in the world would she have to be sad about?”
I’m not afraid of strangers reading about my lowest moments. In fact, I’m looking forward to connecting with those readers.
I’m more afraid of people I have to interact with in my personal life basically reacting this way:
“Well no wonder Melanie’s anti-social/grumpy/anxious/moody/manic/stand-offish. She’s mentally ill! No wonder she’s tiny–she has an eating disorder. She probably just starves herself or eats kale all day. Let’s wrap up every nuance of her personality into this neat little box of mental illness and act like we’re sympathetic even though we’re actually kind of scared of her now.”
And perhaps I should just adopt the attitude of “Well, screw them if they’re going to judge me!” Easier said than done.
I adored the controversial movie Joker with Joaquin Phoenix for many reasons I won’t get into here, but I will share one of my favorite and most heart-wrenching parts of the movie. Phoenix’s character Arthur Fleck keeps a diary of thoughts, jokes, and drawings. In one scene we see this statement:
“The worst part about having a mental illness is people expect you to behave as if you DON’T.”
That sums up everything I have felt for the last nearly forty-two years. The first time I went to pick up my medication from the pharmacy I burst into tears in my car because of the shame I felt. There I was, alone on a Friday night, picking up my anti-psychotic drug. Crazy, ignored and avoided, and bitterly lonely.
I’ve come a long way, but I distinctly remember that pain.
Hear me out–
I’m not someone to be feared or pitied or even to be throughly understood. I’m a person with a thing that sometimes bothers me. For the most part, I’m okay, and I want to keep being okay, allowed to exist as who I am, and get what I need to be happy.
Taekwondo didn’t magically cure me, but it damn sure got me out of hell, and I feel like an entirely different person than I was ten years ago.
I’m doing well, and when the demons want to spar, I’m game.
Something that gave me courage to speak my truth was discovering the Duel Diagnosis organization. Founded by musician Dave Navarro and artist PADHiA, this organization of art and activism strives to celebrate “honesty, realness, and humanity.” As they say, “Shame has never saved anyone.” I’m tired of being ashamed and alone. I’m ready to speak out.
There is hope. There is help. I found my way out of the worst of it by practicing taekwondo, but that’s just me.
Keep reaching for whatever it is that gets YOU out of hell. Because you are special, and you deserve it.
I don’t live with mental illness, I thrive in spite of it.
For the ones who are white-knuckling it…
For the ones who fear discrimination…
For the ones who wear a mask…
For the ones who lie that they’re fine to keep people away…
For the ones who wish they had down time to rest but can’t…
For the ones who have people depending on them (or the perception of it)…
I hear you. And I’m here for you. We’ve got this, together.