Story number four: shaking off shame

Hi, everyone. It’s time for another story…


The recent loss of a personal hero-to-many has led to incredible – and incredibly vulnerable – disclosures from many who can relate to the brain disorder that led a talented, haunted, manic, funny and beautiful soul to hang himself earlier this week. The world has lost a talent…and those living with (and dying from) mental illness have sadly, but importantly, found an unmistakeable opportunity for dialogue following the suicide death of Robin Williams.


As others bravely share their own struggles and stories of living with – and learning to manage – depression and anxiety, it’s important to continue to give voices – and faces, and examples – to this poorly-understood, highly-stigmatized set of disorders. While I’ve shared my own experiences with anxiety and depression quite openly within my personal network, now seems the right time, and for obvious (life and death) reasons, to share it more broadly.


I was forced to face the reality of my chemically-imbalanced brain as I faced the exhaustion of new motherhood concurrent with the abrupt and unexpected loss of a marriage (those familiar with my story know that the 50 pounds I lost at this time led me to new clothes – which led to the sale of old clothes – which ultimately led to the beginnings of what is now Junket).


But it took that double whammy (and then, two months of denial — and with it, resistance, and then finally, the therapeutically-induced admission that the situation I had been dealt was more than most people would be able to handle…and that it wasn’t my fault that I might need more than talk therapy for a chemical imbalance that would almost surely put me on the short list for future deniability of health insurance coverage…and breathe!) to get me to admit – and address via medication – my ‘situational’ depression. And then, it took the right medication (plus a good six to eight weeks and some tinkering with dosage, etc.), before life started to turn around.


But it did start to turn around — and as it did, I felt a functional stability I hadn’t previously experienced. Was this what it was like to be ‘normal?’ The incredible impact of those tiny yellow pills led me to realize just how ‘off’ things had been since at least high school, when another series of concurrent challenges had triggered my first round of what I now recognize as depression (and with it, the dread of anxiety).


For me, it wasn’t an ‘always’ thing (there were times I wasn’t depressed and anxious), but when it hit, it was usually triggered by something big and difficult, then became persistent and struggle-inducing and downward spiral-creating (and without awareness/acknowledgement of the issue, there had been no clear paths to improvement). Occasional thoughts of seeking help were thwarted by the fear of putting any hope of future self-employment at risk by black-listing my medical records with a diagnosis that would have almost certainly made me ineligible for private health insurance coverage). The last (and worst) round I remember started in 2003 and more-or-less continued through the subsequent 6 years, finally ending as I got help to deal with the shell-shock of post-marital fallout.


Junket wouldn’t have — couldn’t have — been created during that time. Everything was too difficult — resistance to the perceived amount of effort it would take to get traction (too much, too hard, too everything negative), exhaustion at the idea of getting started, fear of the potential for public failure —  all would have held me actionless (and friends who have known me since my early adulthood could speak to idea after idea that did come from this crazy brain during those years– ideas that held potential, and then went nowhere).


But I got help. And I experienced healing. And with healing came strength. And with strength came energy. And with energy came confidence… and when the right idea presented at the right time and in the right environment, I experienced an enthusiasm and drive and focus that my old brain couldn’t have supported. And then came Junket.


The life I have now (including my capacity for managing the unknown, an ability to embrace risk without debilitating fear, and the confidence to take on increasingly bigger challenges as Junket grows and becomes a more public entity) are all attributable to having gotten my brain chemistry on track. While I’d never have imagined it at the time (and who does, when one’s world has fallen apart and there is no hope of reconstructing the safety of life as it had once been?), I’m grateful every single damn day for the unexpected ‘begin again’ that led me to health (and I’m a better parent, too).


I’m also grateful for the incredible support that has come from friends and family — both those who have helped and encouraged me on my life’s path, and those who have been brave enough to share their own experiences with depression and anxiety. It takes guts to put oneself out there — tenacity and bravery to represent an often silent and shame-ridden constituency.


My hope in sharing this is to bring hope for healing to those who are struggling and to encourage action from those with the energy and capacity to provide a leg up to someone who needs it.  The National Alliance on Mental Illness offers support for both sufferers and their friends and family. You don’t have to be mentally ill to join the organization or benefit from its resources, and if a loved one is struggling, they can help.


Thanks to all of you for having provided a safe and encouraging community for me, for my young daughter, and for our growing social enterprise. And to those that struggle: you are not alone.

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