Whole Life Magazine

December/January 2014

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Page 41 of 43

42 wholelifetimesmagazine.com H omeless people. Hoarders. The wild-eyed raver on the street corner. These are the faces of mental illness in America. These are the iconic stereotypes of those we brand as wacko, unstable or crazy. For a long time I thought this way, too, but that all changed for me last summer. I was in my fourth month of treatment with my psychologist and was working through isolated memories from my childhood that had had a severely traumatic effect on me. The memory I was working with at this particular time involved my stepfather and a 911 call gone wrong. I was 12, and my mom was at work overnight at the local hospital. It was pouring rain outside, my brothers weren't home, and my stepdad was drunk. He found something to get mad at me about and started in on me, yelling and calling me names. After he destroyed my bedroom and refused me dinner, I was so terrifi ed that I jumped out of my bedroom window and ran across the street to my grandmother's. Hysterical and shaking in fear, I called the cops, who immediately dispatched an offi cer to the house. I watched from my grandmother's living room as the cop talked to my stepdad on our front porch. The next thing I knew, I was in the backseat of the patrol car being taken to a psychiatric hospital—my stepdad had convinced the police that it was all in my head and I was a threat to myself. To be sure I did not have any weapons on me, I was ordered to take off all of my clothes in front of a nurse, then put on a 72-hour hold. Happily my mother came for me the next day and I was released early, but there were emotional scars that made thinking or talking about it excruciating. Until now, when my therapist diagnosed me with post-traumatic stress disorder. I didn't believe it at fi rst. I thought she was wrong. "Honestly, I don't even know if I believe it... it doesn't seem logical," I said after she'd talked with me about the diagnosis. "Why doesn't it seem logical?" "Because it's not like I went to war or survived a bad car wreck or was raped or... I dunno, anything like that." "Do you think you cannot have PTSD unless you have experienced those things?" I stared at her and said nothing, shaking my head. And then the tears came. That night changed it all for me. Everything and nothing made sense. I felt relieved, curious, unsure, angry and ashamed. I have a mental illness, I thought to myself. How will I tell my husband? Will he still love me? What about my friends? Would they even believe me? Shame set in. I would never be considered normal again. I was damaged. Broken. To tell you that accepting my illness was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do would be an understatement. I don't want you to feel sorry for me. That's not the point. What I do want is for this to be the place where my story begins. The story of how I overcame, survived and came out on the other side with one of the greatest gifts I've received: my illness. How is PTSD a gift? For starters, it has led me here, fi nally able to talk about something that for so long I couldn't. There is freedom in that—freedom from shame and fear and, most importantly, freedom to start taking my life back. A life that is neither damaged nor hopeless, but being transformed into something magnifi cent with the hope of being a part of changing the face of mental illness in America and smashing through the stereotypes that silence and stigmatize so many. From the bedraggled guy talking to himself outside the grocery store and the weirdly dressed kid in the back of the classroom, to the 12-year-old girl who jumped out of her bedroom window to try to save herself from an alcoholic so many years ago—the girl I once was but no longer have to be. A girl whose life was changed with the diagnosis of a mental illness that would turn out to be a beautiful gift, and an invitation to fi nally let in the light that shame and fear and pain tried, but failed, to steal. backwords THE DIAGNOSIS By Jamie Berube Mental illness seemed like something to scorn, until it hit home

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