I Own What’s Inside of Me

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For a very long time, I have felt that I didn’t – or rather, couldn’t – own my own feelings.  I spent my time and energy trying to cover them up.  I hid them from Tony because if he sensed even the slightest bit of frustration or anger at the situation, it immediately became anger at him, personal and unkind and “Why do you have to be my enemy?”  That’s how he saw it.  He didn’t like it if I raised my voice, but he didn’t hear me any other way.  Truth be told, he didn’t hear me even when I yelled.  All he heard was that now I had involved other people in our personal problems, and that, of course, was the big taboo.  Nobody could know what was going on. 

Toward the end, when he was spinning into darkness, he didn’t even like it if we were having a conversation in public and I used my hands to gesture too dramatically.  I don’t really know what that was about, truth be told.  A few times I tried to joke him out of it.  “You’re Italian.  I’m Italian by marriage!  We’re supposed to talk with our hands.”  A couple of times that did actually make him laugh, but not always.

I hid what was inside of me, too, from my family and my friends.  I glossed over – no, let’s be honest – I flat-out lied about the status of my marriage, about how Tony was doing, about how I was doing.  I lied because the truth was so excruciatingly painful.  I wanted my marriage to work, and I truly loved Tony, so I stayed even as it seemed that the road just got harder and darker, with more and more pitfalls and dangers along the way.  I kept all of that inside, not even admitting it to myself.  I believe that’s why I stopped keeping a journal.  Writing it down would have made it real, and if it was real?  Well, then my life was a terrible, scary, unmanageable place and how could I deal with that?  So the only writing I did, for years and years, was fiction.  Screenplays with characters who often had a hard time, sure, but I could see what was coming for them even when they couldn’t.  I could know, this character will make it out alive; this one won’t, but it’s beautiful because it’s a sacrifice.  Or it’s necessary because the bad guy can’t win in this situation, and it’s the only way to stop him.

There are so many things that Tony’s death changed.  Too many to count, truly.  But the biggest thing, I think, the thing that has already and will continue to change my life, is that I own what’s inside of me.  All of it, good, bad and ugly. 

Last week, I accepted something really scary that’s inside of me.  I accepted that I have, and may have had for some time, depression.  I accepted that when my psychiatrist told me, the first time we met, that she was worried about post-traumatic stress, she wasn’t just talking about Tony’s death.  She was talking about the years of worry and stress before that.  I don’t want to think about my marriage as a trauma – and it wasn’t, not all of it.  Much of it was good.  We spent so much time laughing, and loving each other, and creating stories that unlike Tony, will live on.  I can’t deny, though, that I was under an enormous amount of stress and in denial about it.  Deep, deep in denial.  So much so that it’s taken me nearly five months after Tony’s death to admit it to myself.

I have said that I want to change the way people talk about mental illness and depression and suicide.  I do.  So I am telling you that last week, I started taking an anti-depressant.  I cried when I told my family about it, and when I took the first pill I cried and yelled at Tony.  I yelled twice.  Before I took it I yelled, “See what you did to me?”  After I took it, I literally shook my fist like a thwarted villain in a silent film and said, “Was that so hard?  Why couldn’t you have done that?”

He couldn’t own what was inside of him, and so he ignored it.  His denial killed him.  I am going to own it, and proudly too.  I have been through a lot.  My doctor told me that prolonged trauma can alter your brain’s chemistry, and that sometimes we need help getting things back in balance.  That is a physical problem.  It should not be viewed any differently than we would view something like diabetes – isn’t that just another chemical problem within the body?  Or what about hemophilia?  Hemophiliacs are missing a vital blood chemical that means their blood can’t clot.  Why is it that those chemical imbalances are treated as medical problems, and changes in the brain’s chemistry are not? 

I am taking an anti-depressant, and all that means is that I am someone who is taking responsibility for my own health and well-being.  I am acknowledging that I have been through a hell of a lot.  I wouldn’t try to cure cancer, if I had it, on my own.  I wouldn’t ignore it if I had hemophilia, or expect that I should just get through it without help.  My insurance company wouldn’t expect me to deal with those things with a limited number of doctor’s visits, either.  They would pay for it, because it’s serious and life-threatening, and that’s why we have insurance.  Well, mental illness and suicide are a worldwide epidemic.  We ignore it, we turn away, we shame the people who are struggling to the point where they are afraid to ask for help; and we make it so prohibitively expensive that those who decide to get help can’t afford it.  We need to start directing our shame to those who shame the sick and needy.  Our brains are part of our bodies.  People with depression can’t just pull themselves up by the bootstraps and get over it, any more than someone with a broken leg should be left to set the bone themselves. 

Will you help change the conversation?  Will you talk about this with your friends and co-workers and make it a priority to help those who need it?  Will you stop throwing around words like “crazy” and “nuts” and start talking about this issue with the respect it deserves?  I find myself using words like those more frequently than I would like.  I am working hard to be more aware of them, to be more compassionate.  To understand that any person I encounter who reacts badly to something minor may be in the grips of something so much bigger than what I can see. It’s a serious thing, not something to be dismissed and joked about.  It’s scary, but no scarier to me than cancer or Alzheimer’s or multiple sclerosis. 

The bottom line is, this is our conversation to change.  All of ours.  Compassion and kindness and understanding are contagious, but ignorance is too.  I don’t know about you, but I’m not content waiting around for the change to happen, for somebody else to make it happen.  It’s my job.  It’s yours.  It’s everybody’s.

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17 thoughts on “I Own What’s Inside of Me

  1. Hello,
    I just randomly came across your blog and read your last post…especially your first sentence and your last had a deep impression on me because I felt the same. I had to keep my relationship alive while suffering under depressions….

    I is our own responsibility to make the change happen…. that is so damn true!

    David

    • Thank you so much for reading, David! It’s such a hard thing to take that responsibility, and unfortunately for people like my husband, it can be truly impossible. He just couldn’t see his way. I’m glad you’re here 🙂

  2. Good for you, Aimee, for seeking help for your depression and PTSD. After my brother committed suicide, I was overwhelmed with grief and also sought help. I shared my situation with my family and best friends,… some of whom were empathetic,… some didn’t know what to say and dropped out of my life.

    When I told my supervisors at work that I could “barely hang on” and needed them to have patience with me, they didn’t understand and gave me ultimatums. I was trying to juggle too much. My depressed state of being didn’t allow me to effectively juggle everything I had so easily juggled before my brother’s tragidy; my personal and professional lives.

    A co-worker understood and said it was like I was trying to juggle glass and rubber balls; the glass balls were family and the rubber balls were everything else, including my job. That made so much sense to me. I evoked the Family Medical Leave Act so I wouldn’t lose my job and took some necessary time off,… to heal. When I returned back to work, my supervisors made my life miserable. My therapist compared it to my having broken both legs and their continually demanding I run a marathon. They continually harrassed me to do things outside of my position description even though my thearapist and physician repeatedly told them I should be on “light duty.”

    I understand and am empathetic to what you’re going through, Aimee. Mental illness (or chemical imbalances of the brain) should be recognized by our society as being as important as broken legs, or diabetes, or hemophelia. I am losing my job and my insurance now and cannot afford my medication or therapy…. It’s so very wrong.

    • Loretta… I wish I knew what to say to make things better. You have been through so much. I am very fortunate that my boss and co-workers have been so understanding. I know a lot of people don’t have that kind of support at work. I’m so sorry that you’re losing your job and insurance — I hope you can find a new job soon, with people who are a lot more understanding and compassionate. Sending love ❤

    • Hello,
      even though I can’t really imagine why supervisors won’t understand that depression is a serious illness, there is some positive you can draw from that difficult experience. True friends will always see you suffering and they will provide the help you need in order to get better. Due to my depression, I lost my so-called best friend with whom I have been friends since childhood. However, almost immediately after telling him that I am suffering under depression, he stopped contacting me…
      Difficult times also bring true friends to the surface…

      • Thanks for your understanding. I can relate to so-called best friends not being there when times get rough and meeting new friends who are. Aimee’s blogs really help and I’m meeting some great people through this network. ~L~

  3. well said…and bravo for you Aimee!

    it took me a long time to see that the stress of caring for Don and his depression and PTSD had eaten me up and spit me out. I relate to the anger too…Don would say “don’t be angry at me” and I would say “I’m not angry at YOU.” But I was angry at wars, at medications, at the deterioration of his body (mostly from the heavy duty meds he was taking), at the loss of his personality! I wanted MY Don back!

    I’m not sure what it is about human beings that makes them run screaming to the exits when the words mental and illness are mentioned together. There has been some progress in societies view of mental illness since I was born…there’s not quite the stigma there was and there’s plenty of information available for reading, seeing, hearing. It’s when it comes closer to home that people start backing away.

    You’ve taken your stand Aimee…do what you can do to educate…some will listen! Perhaps, in time, you can start an organization or become part of an existing organization that has goals similar to your own!

  4. Aimee, this is so brave and beautifully written. We can’t always chose where we end up, or what types of trauma happens (or doesn’t happen) to us–and I know, that is endlessly frustrating. But you are not only improving your situation, but also the situation for many others like you. Thank you.

  5. Hello. I stumbled across your blog. Thank you for this post. I can relate to the trauma that you explain, of living with someone will such an illness. In my case, he chose to end his darkness by abandoning me suddenly. That is sometimes the route that is taken by depressed people because they perceive the hell they are going through is caused by someone else (rather than something inside of them) and therefore blame the one closest to them. So his ending from my life came in a different manner but quite painful nevertheless. I understand the post- traumatic stress and the complicated grief you are going through because I am living it. Thanks for being so honest with your feelings.

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