Mental Illness Will Hide in Plain Sight
We assume people we meet are like us sometimes. Unless we are presented with evidence to the contrary, we don’t usually suspect someone has a mental illness because the symptoms aren’t usually glaring. When illness rears its ugly head, I am disturbed to see how prevalent it is.
I can quickly think of 2 instances when I was a bit shocked to learn the people I knew were so sick.
I was at my writer’s group meeting one night last year with five other members. Our new leader read us a story about her boyfriend that was about the ways he copes with his obsessive compulsive disorder. She went on to tell us how she battles the same issues, as well as having overcome an addiction.
This discussion seemed to open the door to 2 other members sharing their stories of struggling with their mental health. Allison told us she also had issues with obsessive compulsive behaviors that started when she was a teenager that required her to count items in her room before going to bed. She was dealing with anxiety issues.
Bob told us about his severe depression that began after he had an accident when he was 8 years old. Now in his forties, he had been in several residential treatment programs.
At the end of the night, 3 out of 5 members of the group had revealed their issues with mental illness. I had known these people for some time and was only vaguely aware of Bob’s story. I wondered if there was a cause and effect relationship between the fact that we were all writers, and the majority had mental illness. Or, was it the other way around? Or was it just a random occurrence?
Do the demons that torture our souls provide fertile ground for creativity?
I met a man for coffee yesterday whom I connected with using a dating app over a year ago. We had seen each other socially on only a few occasions. Each time I saw him, I sensed something was off in a way I couldn’t name.
We were clearly not a good match as he is hoping to get married and start a family. I am already married and will never have another baby. Maybe this sort of threw him off.
But we’ve been open to being friends and getting together for intelligent conversation at least.
Over coffee, he told me he had a difficult time growing up. He didn’t elaborate. I knew he had grown up in what appeared to be a stable, 2 parent home with a younger sister. Always curious, I wondered what his challenges had been.
Over the next hour, we caught up on life. He talked a lot about his graduate program at school, his job supervising patients in a group home many of whom suffer from schizophrenia.
As we wrapped up, I asked him what he meant by having a hard time growing up.
“Oh,” he said. “I’m bipolar.”
I asked him when he was diagnosed.
He said when he was 15.
I empathetically agreed that would certainly create difficulties. As we were leaving the coffee shop, he sheepishly told me how he never knows if or when to reveal this important fact to women he meets.
I had known him for more than a year. His illness kept itself well hidden. I could only see evidence of it in hindsight now since he told me his confirmed diagnosis.
It is hard to see mental illness, yet I’m sure it’s present much more often than we know.