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It’s Christmas…Again

It’s the most wonderful time of the year

With the kids jingle belling

And everyone telling you “Be of good cheer”

It’s the most wonderful time of the year

It’s the hap-happiest season of all

With those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings

When friends come to call

It’s the hap- happiest season of all

No.

Not for me.

It doesn’t happen that way in my world.

For me, the holiday season usually goes something like this…

I sleep up to 16 hours a day.  I struggle to get out of bed, wanting nothing more that to stay in bed and go back to sleep.  Sleep is safe.  I have to remind myself to bathe, to brush my teeth, to fix my hair.  I hope that no one realizes, that no one finds out.  Then it starts, the tear rolls down my cheek.   It’s time for work.  I make the tears stop.  I wash my face.  I blow my nose.  I put in eye drops to ease the redness.   With a deep breath, I put on a happy face and my pretend smile, as I have to keep my secret.

I fret and worry over buying presents, as I am sure they won’t be liked or appreciated.  I want to smack the “happy” people in the mall.  I hold in the sadness whenever I hear a Christmas carol.  My mantra is “I will not cry in public today.”  Some days it actually works.  It takes every ounce of will not to hide in the corner.  Why can’t I just sleep until March?  You get a little melancholy when it rains, but for me…it’s raining everyday.

Welcome to my world of seasonal affect disorder and depression.  This is my mental illness.  It took me many years of struggle before I could admit that I had a problem.  It took even more years before I accepted help.  It’s taken a few more for my healthcare provider and me to find the right combination of medications to keep my mental illness under control.

I was raised in a middle to low income household.  My childhood was good.  My folks didn’t have much, but raised my siblings and me with love and laughter.  Every spring we planted a huge garden.  In the fall, we froze or canned the vegetables for the upcoming year.  Every fall we also went hunting.  The deer and pheasant filled our freezer with inexpensive protein.  With encouragement from my mother, it was our father who taught us proper use of firearms and the skill to hunt.  Hunting and processing the game was a family event.

We all know that everyone feels sadness from time to time.  Everyone is depressed sometimes.  But with some people like me, the sadness doesn’t go away.  And with some of those people, they can only see one way out of their mental illness.  Sometimes they take as many with them as they can take.

I can’t tell you how many times I have contemplated suicide.  I refuse to discuss how many times I have attempted it.  But never once, not once, have I ever considered using a gun or taking others with me.  Yet, not everyone thinks like me.

Do you remember Seung-Hui Cho?  He killed 32 people and wounded 17 others on April 16, 2007, at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. In middle school, he was diagnosed with a severe anxiety disorderknown as selective mutism, as well as major depressive disorder.  After this diagnosis he began receiving treatment until his junior year of high school. During Cho’s last two years at Virginia Tech, several instances of his abnormal behavior, as well as plays and other writings he submitted containing references to violence, caused concern among teachers and classmates.

What about Theodore John “Ted” Kaczynski, also known as the “Unabomber?”  He is an Americanmathematician and serial murderer.  Between 1978 and 1995, Kaczynski engaged in a nationwide bombing campaign against people involved with modern technology, planting or mailing numerous homemade bombs, ultimately killing a total of three people and injuring 23 others.  A court-appointed psychiatrist diagnosed Kaczynski as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.

Does the Columbine High School massacre ring a bell?  It was a school shooting which occurred on April 20, 1999, at Columbine High School in Columbine, Colorado. In addition to shootings, the complex and highly-planned attack involved a fire bomb to divert firefighters, propane tanks converted to bombs placed in the cafeteria, 99 explosive devices, and bombs rigged in cars. Two senior students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, murdered a total of 12 students and one teacher. They injured 24 additional students, with three other people being injured while attempting to escape the school. The pair then committed suicide.

Mental illness and violence is nothing new.  Do you remember Jim Jones?  He was the founder and the leader of the Peoples Temple, best known for the cult murder/suicide in 1978 of 909 of its members inJonestownGuyana, and the murder of five individuals at a nearby airstrip. Over 300 children were murdered at Jonestown, almost all of them by cyanide poisoning.   Jones died from a gunshot wound to the head.

All of these had mental illnesses.  All of them suffered.  All of them did bad, horrible things. What clicked in their brain that made it ok in their own head to hurt another?  I grew up with easy access to firearms, I have always had access to them but I never contemplated hurting anyone with them.  With a lifetime of mental illness, I never once thought about harming someone else.

As a young adult, I was able to recognize I needed help and eventually asked for it.  I even had friends and family members approach me about my mental illness.  Did these people not have someone love them enough to say “Stop, you’re not right, you are ill, please let me help you”?

Today’s society wants to blame the gun, the knife, the whatever; but never the real culprit…the mental illness.  It is so much easier to look the other way.  It can’t possibly be a mental illness; my loved one is just going through a phase.  What’s really sad is the family that does want to help the ill loved one but can’t, because the ill loved one hasn’t done anything to “prove” they are sick enough for mandated treatment.

I have finally grown up and taken responsibility for my mental illness.  I make sure I take my medications regularly.  I have tools and resources I utilize when things are not going well.  I ask for help.  My health care provider asks about it regularly and I tell her the truth about it.

My family and close friends have also taken their responsibly for loving someone with a mental illness.  They watch over me when I need it.  They talk to me when they see me struggling.  They make sure I don’t fall too far down.  They are not afraid to talk to me about it.

When will we, the general public, start having the conversation about mental illness?  When will you love your mother, father, brother, sister, child or friend enough to demand they get help?  Will you keep nagging them until they actually do?  When will it be ok to get help through therapy or medications?  When will the media stop blaming guns and start the conversation?  When will you start the conversation?