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We Are Mental Illness

A while ago, I mentioned that Double X Science had put out a call for submissions for personal stories about mental illness. They’ve now posted two. The first is from a man with bipolar disorder.

The manic phases can be highly productive, which they were for me. I was the Master of the Universe during my manic phases, which would last anywhere from an hour to six months. I got a biology degree from a major university. My grades were either A’s or C’s, depending on whether I was manic or depressed. I went on to graduate school, where I barely survived. My doctoral thesis, when I first wrote it, was nearly a single run-on sentence. Someone had to help me re-write it, and basically they gave me a degree just to get me out of the place.

I would go on a job interview and knock it out of the park. When I was an executive for a publicly traded corporation, I would put in 48-hour days, managing financial forecasts, talking to investors, hiring employees, and writing emails to lawyers. I became a highly successful person in the pharmaceutical and medical device industry. But only if you consider success as a string of higher salaries and job titles.

His story doesn’t have to get to the depression, however, to get troubling.

Then there is genegeek’s discussion of the depression and alcoholism that run in her family.

I have no external reason to be depressed. I’m aware of no precipitating event. If I reach, general anaesthetic might be a factor because I had operations within months of each depressive episode.

But my genetic load is probably a bigger influence. My family history is full of depression and alcoholism. In 1st-degree (siblings, parents) and 2nd-degree (grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews) relatives, 11 of 12 people have been treated for depression and/or alcoholism. If we move to 3rd degree relatives, the absolute numbers get higher but the proportion is similar. [Note: I won't draw my family tree to maintain a bit of privacy for my family.] I’d also like to point out that my family members continue their high level careers without compromise unless hospitalization is required.

I don’t know when my contribution will be added, but these are published each Friday. They’re definitely worth keeping up with.

Comments

  1. says

    I can’t get the submission guidelines to load.

    Probably OK though… if I could write about my “whatever the f” it is I’d probably have a better handle on it in the first place.

    (the whatever is because I have had a choice of three or four diagnoses depending on who’s talking.)

  2. Jenora Feuer says

    It’s good to get this sort of thing out more, removing the stigma.

    There have actually been some serious ad campaigns and corporate support of this up here in Canada for the last year or so:

    http://www.bce.ca/news-and-media/releases/show/its-bell-lets-talk-day-join-the-conversation-to-help-end-the-stigma-around-mental-illness

    Part of that has been getting a number of celebrities and the like to come up and talk about their own mental health issues. Steven Page, previously of the Barenaked Ladies, was on the radio for Bell’s first go at ‘Let’s Talk’ day last year, talking about his own bipolar disorder. (To the surprise of nobody who was familiar with his lyrics.)

    The TTC here in Toronto partnered with Bell, and all the payphones inside subway stations now have a nice bright blue Crisis Link button to connect you to a suicide counselor. There are posters around to tell everybody about the phones and the number to call if you’re elsewhere. While this has only been running for a year and a half and the statistics aren’t significant yet, the number of subway suicides is half of what it was over the previous year. This is also a good thing for the mental stability of the subway drivers who have to deal with it afterward, and who had previously not been acknowledged much because the TTC didn’t want to publicly admit any suicide attempts were happening.

    Baby steps, but hopefully we can make it to the point where people feel more free to admit that they may need help without feeling worried that it’s all their fault.

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