I never knew what form of mental illness would manifest itself next in my life; there have been many. I felt it was an unfair life sentence. Life was two-steps forward, one-step back. Things were great, and then darkness returned. I was irritable and agitated. There was wreckage in my past as a result of my acting out.
Growing up, some educators had patience with me, others I wore out. One teacher called me retarded because I couldn’t sit still and was easily distracted.
My parents have untreated mental illness, and I inherited a blueprint for living with a faulty foundation.
I was neglected and traumatized multiple times as a child, and I did what I could to survive and regulate my emotions. My chronic neck condition originated with my Mom constantly attacking me with a wooden spoon from behind. At age eight, I was sexually assaulted by a family friend. By age 11, I was an alcoholic. In my late teens, I became bulimic, and attempted suicide. I went onto cocaine in the 1980s, steroid dependency in the 1990s, and then fell prey to benzodiazepines to manage stress. For neck pain, I was prescribed fentanyl, and a subsequent opioid addiction ensued for several years. I’ve been homeless and slept on the streets.
My PTSD can present itself at any moment. Recently, a handicap ramp reminded me of the hallway I walked before entering my abuser’s bedroom. I shared this with my therapist, and she has helped me navigate the memory.
I learned that I’ve had ADHD all my life; the teacher was wrong, I wasn’t “retarded”.
Today, my mental health regime includes weekly therapy, medication, journaling, meditation, exercise, proper rest, healthy eating, getting daily sunlight, and being of service to others. This is what I do to stay healthy, and manage my mental illness; otherwise, it waits around the next corner ready to swallow me up in a previous or new manifestation.
I’ve adjusted my thinking. Today, I view myself as a person in recovery, but not recovered. Many of the scars have faded, but I’m still a work in progress. I’m in the process of ongoing self discovery, and I’m living in the solution, I identify with the word resilience: the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress.
I draw inspiration from the author, Pema Chödrön. She says: “…Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”
Regarding the mental illness that I inherited from my untreated parents, it’s up to me to break the chains. No one else is going to do it. Yes, it runs in the family, but it ends with me.
I’ve taught my children that seeing a mental health professional for things like anxiety is no different than seeing a doctor for the flu.
I encourage you to confront your vulnerabilities and take the self-assessment on MassMen.org. I learned that being vulnerable most often means a tremendous breakthrough awaits us. Mental illness does not have to be a life sentence. Today I pursue the sunlight of the spirit, and it’s blissful. I wish the same for you.
Max works as a mental health counselor and wellbeing coach, and is pursuing an advanced degree in human services counseling. Prior, he spent 25 years working as a PR executive in Toronto and Los Angeles. Max played hockey in the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association for Ryerson University, and toiled briefly in the minor leagues, before returning to school and earning an advanced diploma in public relations. He resides in Boston with his wife and two children. He’s been in recovery from mental illness since 1988, when he attended his first A.A. meeting.