Monday, November 5, 2012


Jesse Jackson Jr., one of our state congressmen, left work on a medical leave over the summer. Reporters, fellow congressmen, and constituents became increasingly irate as time wore on because Jackson did not divulge any further information about his condition. I knew right away.

I knew it had to be depression or another mental health issue. Why? Because those are the kinds of medical issues we don't want to talk about in a professional arena. Those are the kinds of medical issues we don't want people outside of trusted family and friends to know about us.

There's no shame in talking about your cardiac arrest or back injuries. These are things that happen to you. People don't tie these conditions into their assessment of your character.

Mental illness is you. She looks fine, why can't she pull it together? I have the same stress he does, and you don't see me running off. In many cases, it's attributed to a weakness, a personal flaw that some good ol' bootstrap pulling ought to remedy.

Two months later it finally came out that the congressman is in treatment for bipolar disorder.

Incredible stigma still swirls around mental illness in our country.  There is a decent-sized chunk of my brain that wonders if people will think less of me when they find out that I struggle with anxiety and trauma.Will they have second-thoughts about my intelligence or competence or abilities? Will they walk on eggshells or think I'm crazy and am capable of "breaking" at any moment?

As I came to face the reality that I was going to need to take my own medical leave from work, I cried and cried because in addition to being overwhelmed and panicked and frightened, there was a part of me that wondered: Will they believe me?

Will they believe that I have valid health issues? Or will I be seen as weak little girl who is overly sensitive and just can't handle her stress? Is what I'm going through a legitimate thing?

Sometimes I wish I could wear the worry like wounds. People react to visible illness. I carry mine inside. I worry about running into someone from work who will see me and think she doesn't look sick. And unless I'm in the middle of an anxiety attack, I don't. I look fine.

No sneezing, no stitches, no casts or crutches. I'd trade all of this in for an ailment like that. One that has a start point and an end point and a defined path of recovery.

Recovering from anxiety and trauma feels like traipsing aimlessly through the woods. As though I knew I needed to go on a hike but left without a map, directions, or even a compass.  I have no idea when I will reach my destination. I have no idea where my destination even is. I just have to keep walking and wandering and know that I will end up somewhere.

And hopefully that somewhere is the destination I'm meant to find.