None of us immune to mental illness

The news is filled these days with talk about techniques to combat anxiety and worry while we each try to find a solution that works for us as an individual.
Worry on any given day is present; is picking and poking at our peace of mind, wrestling with our sense of self.
I read an article about celebrities who take their own life. We were well aware of the specific talents and gifts in the case of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, but we often forget that a real human being lives beneath that celebrity–an ordinary somebody inflicted with the same health problems that we face.
We did not know that mental illness was one of their burdens. How could we? No bandages are visible, no cast, no crutches to alert us when someone needs help/treatment for mental illness.
There is no secret handshake and often there can be public displays of exuberance to hide the socially-unacceptable affliction often referred to as “weakness of mind.”
My youngest daughter has Type 1 diabetes and I don’t consider her somehow flawed because of this autoimmune disease. I don’t consider her weak because she relies on insulin to stay alive and there is no shame involved in her body turning on itself when she was six years old and destroying the insulin producing beta cells in her pancreas.
Disease happens–disease of all kinds, including that of our brain.
Jennifer Finney Boylan recently wrote in the New York Times about sadness and depression, calling them “different countries with a common border.” Sadness is a fact of life and often teaches us valuable lessons about the mysteries that confound us about life.
Depression is much deeper and though it can carry the symptoms of sadness, it often can hide behind smiles and humour, the experts tell us.
Quite simply put, we fall short as a society when we speak of mental illness in whispers as though such an affliction comes with a healthy dose of shame. In a women’s health magazine that published articles on mental health concerns and how they should be addressed, readers wrote in with harsh criticism saying the discussion was embarrassing and that those who suffer with OCD are just control freaks.
Really? Are we still so unaware?
Depression affects brain chemistry. When we tell people to cheer up or to think positively or to see their glass as half-full, it makes about as much sense as saying walking across the Sahara Desert is like a day at the beach–both are sandy.
I have wrestled with depression in my life and it was tucked in quite invisibly behind a ready laugh and an easy smile. If I kept depression out of sight, then somehow I could believe it wasn’t real; it didn’t have a hold on me.
But it did and it stripped me down to almost nothing. And I never talk about it.
I’ve read about the statistic of mental illness that leads to homelessness, where individuals have lost everything, many of them veterans, with no access to mental health care and they become, in many ways, a disposable piece of society.
They are forgotten.
My hope is that conversation will happen in the light of these recent deaths and things will change. We all can engage in the conversation, in creating pathways to treatment and healing, because the simple truth is not a single one of us is immune.
wendistewart@live.ca