I never dealt with mental illness well because I never really understood it. Quite the opposite, I bristled anytime anyone would even suggest I had a mental illness.
I'll be using this space to discuss mental health and how it relates to my writing life and how I cope/deal/fight/struggle/thrive with it. I also want to use this as a way to reach out to other creative type, or any other person, really, with the hope that they find some comfort in my words.
My story is really a long path of un-explainable highs and lows before my diagnosis. I was easily bored. I'd sneak books into my desk when I was in elementary just because the teacher's lesson plan was boring. And I aced a lot of tests, too, from elementary all the way to my junior year in college. I didn't study that much, I just showed up, took the test and passed. I remember one time in college, we had a month to read a book and write an essay on U.S. diplomatic history. I had a classmate who spent the entire month working on the book. The essay was due one Friday morning. After class that same Wednesday, I asked to borrow the book.
"What the hell, have you not read it?"
"Oh, I mean, sure," I lied. "I just uh, need to review something."
We received the same grade, a mid-high A.
Some of you are laughing and thinking that you've pulled something like that off. It happens a lot. Privileged memory. I was smart.
Yet, I was never in the honor roll. I was ranked right smack at 49 in my class of 121. In college, I missed honors by .2 GPA. Why? I'd forget to do homework. I always showed up to class, but I'd lose interest right away. And I never really understood why. I wanted to just will my brain into doing homework. Into remembering IMPORTANT things instead of things like what Tsar Nicholas II could have done to avoid getting killed.
(It wasn't for class.)
(And, for the record...he could have done a lot of things)
But brains don't work that way.
"Brain, stop being weird!"
I mean, it's like...
In 2011, I left for law school, something I've alluded to in other entries and something that made me see and experience a lot of things that I don't regret but that definitely came at a cost.
I was proud that I got there without the aid of therapy or any outside aid.
I was proud that I didn't need any of that. I'm Mexican! Descendant of men who took Tenochtitlan at swordpoint and descendant of men who offered still-beating hearts to the Sun God as sacrifice.
Octavio Paz, in the Labyrinth of Solitude, writes: "One of the most notable traits of the Mexican character is his willingness to contemplate horror. He is even familiar and complacent in his dealings with it. The bloody Christs in our village churches, the macabre humor in some of our newspaper headlines, our wakes, the custom of eating skull-shaped cakes and candies on the Day of the Dead. Our cult of death is also a cult of life, in the same way that love is a hungr for life anda longing for death. Our fondness for self-destruction derives not only from our masochistic tendencies but also from a certain variety of religious emotion. ... We are nihilists, except that our nihilism is not intellectual but instinctive, and therefore irrefutable."
I was proud of disregarding the warning signs and the darkness that lived in my head that led me to destructive behavior. Depression. Anxiety. ADD/ADHD.
Pride's not a good look.
And I will be perfectly clear that I'm not blaming these things for my behavior, because my mental disorder is not a crutch. I dealt with my problems through the worst ways possible and it came back to bite me, many, many, times.
So years later, I finally decided to seek help. I had lost too much.
2011 was when I first faced the possibility that I had a mental disorder.
2015 was when I finally decided to get help.
But that's a story for next week.
So, to close, I will say that my mental illness might seem tame to some. There are a lot of people who have it worse. But it doesn't mean my experience is any less, and just because you have anxiety and your friend has severe depression it doesn't mean you don't deserve help.
I'll leave you guys with one of my favorite self-help images out there. If you need help, get it. If you need to talk, let me know. I am not a licensed counselor or therapist, but I will listen.
You are not alone.