Part 1: Miles Traveled
Miles traveled? Ohhh, I've got miles traveled.
Have you ever found yourself in one of those situations where you're in the middle of an interview with a recruiter from the top medical school in the country and you let it slip that you used to be absolutely bat-shit-nuts? (And then showed that person you just might still be?) And by nuts I don't mean one of those people who you heard went to therapy during their parents' divorce in third grade, I'm talking actually-thought-Akon-worked-at-her-psych-hospital, certifiably nuts.
There I was, about 30 minutes into selling myself as a future psychiatrist, asking educated questions, and generally just trying to show the best edited version of myself. The recruiter said that applicants with "miles traveled" stand out, then asked me to elaborate on my miles traveled.
Something in me said, "screw the edited version of myself!" That part of my brain that's usually working 24/7 to make sure I don't seem crazy completely shut off. I then went on to share my ever-so-heartwarming and interview-appropriate tale of depression, periods of mania, and a stay at a psychiatric hospital right before college. And then remembered I had just met this person and they're freaked out and I need to backtrack immediately and CODE RED, and remind the person you aren't insane and your head is on straight and maybe just SHUT UP.
"Yeah... ok... well... you can probably just tell the edited version when you apply!" was his response.
But that's the thing. I'm sick of having to tell the edited version of my story. I'm sick of that part of my brain that filters my craziness. Sharing the most raw and vulnerable part of who I am--Bipolar Type I--is something that has taken me a long time to be able to talk about. And I don't care if it made him uncomfortable. It takes a hell of a lot of courage to be able to tell that recruiter that my stay in the loony bin was the best experience of my life and the very reason I want to be a psychiatrist.
One in five people have a mental illness (and I have this theory that those other four people in that statistic are the craziest of all). So why don't we talk about our craziness? Why do we have to be politically correct? Let's call ourselves crazy if we want to. And, most importantly, why can't we laugh about it? If you don't struggle with mental illness, then according to the statistics, your sibling does, your best friend does, your parent used to, or one day your child might. It's our duty to talk about it openly, honestly, and even humorously if we need to-there are people out there that feel alone because they cannot talk about how they don't want to wake up tomorrow.
So let's talk about it.
Let's tell our unedited stories to those we feel comfortable with. Let's tell our most trusted friends that sometimes it's impossible to get out of bed and about the times we've lied to our psychiatrists. Or maybe, let's start by telling that one old friend who doesn't keep in touch but will without a doubt listen. Then let's tell our parents that we want to talk to a professional about how the days are running together and nothing seems worthwhile anymore. And let's be thankful when these people, or at least some of them, really do listen.
I'm thankful for the people who don't blink an eye when I tell them about my illness, after I spent weeks or months building up the courage to have "that talk." I'm thankful for the kids at the hospital who made me realize how lucky I am and that I'm not alone (and I'm thankful for Akin, the mental health technician there who I thought was secretly Akon). I'm thankful for the people who forgave me after I thought I had ruined our relationships forever. I'm thankful for the friends I can laugh with about it.
I'm especially thankful for friends who, after telling them about the past couple years, reveal that they went a little crazy too after losing their mom; or that they, too, have a hatred for the medicine Seroquel; or that they actually just got diagnosed as bipolar and have never told anyone, but always wanted a friend who was, too.
That is why we must tell our unedited stories to those who are willing to listen. We must tell our stories because of all the other people out there suffering in silence and shame. We have to in order to shatter the stigma surrounding mental illness for our generation and for generations to come. We have to in order to save lives: our own and our friends'.
Because you never know who else is suffering if you never tell them that you are, too.
If you or someone you know if suffering from feelings of depression or feelings of suicide, please get help.