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Michael’s Story

“Find a reason to live even if it is something short term, that keeps you alive for just another day.”

Share your stigma experience.

In high school I read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Crack Up, an essay describing his bouts with mental illness. His analogy, he was a cracked plate that “will do to hold crackers late at night or to go into the icebox under leftovers” doesn’t really work for a modern reader. I think of myself as an old plastic container that once held coleslaw or cottage cheese repurposed for leftovers and stuffed in the back of the fridge to be found months later, the contents so covered with green fuzz you think of it as a biology project gone horribly wrong or a bad scale model of the greens at Augusta National. I think of myself as worthless, hopelessly flawed, good only for the recycling bin.

Part of me knows that all objective evidence indicates otherwise. 25 years ago I was a failure at business, liquidating my assets in bankruptcy and losing my home in foreclosure. Today I have changed careers; I have a 6 figure income and significant amounts of money saved. This disease ignores facts, ignores accomplishments, and insists that I am not a child of God. The disease, not evidence, drives my self-image. It is an image of an old piece of plastic good only for recycling, tossed away with junk mail and unopened phone books.

I went to a recycling center for the psyche, otherwise known as an emergency room and psychiatric hospital. Through the compassion of my care givers and the wisdom of my therapist I found Victor Frankel’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning”. I determined that I would find meaning in this suffering because, to paraphrase Nietzsche, I can bear the pain of how I live so long as I know why I live.

I do not yet have a complete answer to why I live yet I do know one reason. I will do whatever I can to remove the stigma of this disease. I will not be embarrassed about it any longer. I will not hide. I will no longer be ashamed to say that I have an illness and I can no more control certain things than a quadriplegic can run a marathon. I will show that I can be a successful, kind and decent person capable of good things. That is reason enough to leave the knives in a drawer when the urge strikes to use them on my throat.

How did you overcome this experience?

Buddhism defines a Bodhisattva as a being of infinite compassion. When I developed not one but two plans for killing myself – best to have options after all – I became frightened and went to the emergency room. There I met the first of many Bodhisattvas I encountered during my hospitalization, the guard assigned to ensure I did not attempt suicide. The staff at the ER and the hospital all displayed enormous compassion as have the folks giving me follow up care. The drugs I receive blunt the suicidal urges and give me reason to live.

Help others by sharing a brief, positive message.

If you are suffering from depression I urge you to do at least three things. First, get professional help. Second, listen to the care providers. Third, find a reason to live even if it is something short term, that keeps you alive for just another day.

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