An illness in the brain

An illness in the brain

I’m taking a break from book-writing to comment on Laura’s Soap Box: Good will hunting. Laura, thank you for this post, which relates very closely to matters within my heart and soul. For more than 20 years, from age 11 to in my 30s, I struggled with an illness which was considered by all around me as a ‘weakness’. And so from my childhood I believed I was weak, worthless and different, and I didn’t know why.
Sample of the lines that hurt the most from my parents and sister:
* There’s something wrong with your head.
* I hope that doctor has fixed you by now because you have some devilish ways.
* You have Satan in you.
* You think about yourself too much.
* Pull your socks up (you are not trying hard enough).
* You need to go to Church more.
* You should always put others before yourself. (It’s in the Bible).
* You’re the one with the problems in the family.
* You’re mad.

When I wanted and needed to talk about my past – my childhood and  adolescence – to try and make sense of the present:
* That’s water under the bridge – ‘What makes you think you are so special? It happens to others.’ (sexual abuse)
* We don’t talk about those things. They happened a long time ago. (why did my mother call me ‘Tim’ and ‘Toby’?)

* Relationships with my mother, father (I had nothing left to grieve for when they died – I grieved while they were alive), sister, her four children and her eight or so grandchildren.
* Relationships with uncles, aunts, cousins.
* My marriage (well, there were three – all casualties on the way to finding my self).

I almost committed suicide and almost crossed the line into insanity (several times). Such a fine line.
By the grace of God, and the wonderful health professionals who I met in my 30s and 40s, together with my children and their dad, and a handful of friends who believed in me, I am here. I survived.
That’s all that matters now. I survived. What’s more, for the past six years, since age 55, I have been free. To be me. I live in, and embrace, the moment. As Jack Nicholson said ‘This is as good as it gets.”
People say I am ‘strong’, but I am also incredibly fragile.
I feel no resentment, bitterness or anger. There are days when I still feel very sad. I would have loved to have heard my parents say: ‘We love you, we accept you’. I have four beautiful children and five gorgeous grandchildren. As my children’s dad says: They are my family.
Everything that has happened has led to where I am today, and I feel very blessed. I have learnt I must put care of my self first, to keep my illness at bay.
I believe and have faith that I have found my mission in life; my lifelong love of writing has a special role – and that is to encourage others who feel lost like me, to know they are not alone, they are not mad or bad (they have an illness in their brain, that’s all), and that they too can be free.  God willing, I will write and beat my drum for people who have a mental illness until the day I die.
Laura’s Soap Box
How much control do we have over our actions?

People with addictions and mental illness used to strike me as people who just weren’t trying hard enough. Sure, they may have had special challenges – bad luck and trauma and difficult lives – but I was sure that despite any challenges that if one wanted it enough one could and SHOULD be able to get control and take care of him or herself.
Eventually I came to understand there were biological elements to these conditions. That knowledge didn’t really help, however: I still thought there was choice involved. I thought will power was involved, and although I admired those who kicked the habit or struggled out of depression or regained stability from bipolar illness here’s what’s telling: I still felt anger and disdain for those who did not. When I knew of someone who lost their job or children because of erratic behaviors I blamed them. I felt they had a choice; perhaps a harder choice than someone without that biology but still, that was only a part.
Strokes seemed different. I recognized that someone with brain damage was genuinely not able to control their thoughts and behaviors.Now I’m ashamed I used to think that way. I’ve come so far. The best part is that I truly do understand the thinking of those who still see people with mental health problems as operating independently. I get it that people don’t understand how impairing it is to have a mental illness and how wrong it is to regard these conditions as a matter of will power.There is a role for will power and choice but I think it is fair to assume that people are doing the best they CAN, and that they want to be happy and well as much as we want them to.I know some people think of a mental health diagnosis, and seeing that diagnosis as saying something is wrong with the brain, as stigmatizing and negative. This is a stage in our society’s evolving thinking, an understandable stage, but a tragic one. Until we understand that something is wrong with the brain we will continue to blame the patient and expect the patient to think their way out of their illness.

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