As a so called “epatient”, one of the only constants I’ve noticed in the world of advocacy is that talking about mental health is dangerous and more than likely will get you called various names by others. There seems to be only one way to talk about mental health and that is someone else’s way. Due to this, I have avoided talking about my own mental health for fear of being retaliated against. This needs to change, not only for my mental health but also for other males and females who like me are still learning and developing their own mental health ideals. A community needs to be a place of safety and support, not a place to search for glory by cutting others down. It is in that spirit that I’m going to share apart of my mental health journey for the first time. This is my story, based on my life as I remember it, and my voice.
My mental health first took a beating early in my life. By the 3rd grade I was noticeably taller than everyone else but weighed about the same as my classmates. I was a telephone pole as the other kids were fond of reminding me on a daily basis. Not only that, I had a huge overbite. I was a buck-toothed telephone pole. The summer of my 6th grade year I grew 6 inches, however, my coordination level was stuck in the 4th grade, which is why I was never good at basketball. Unfortunately I’m old enough that at that point of my life bullying was thought of as a way to make males tougher. Thus began my internalization of the hurtful comments.
As we all know, middle school is only fun for like 1% of the entire population. Those few that come from money or mature faster than the rest of us don’t understand the awkward hell middle school can be. At this point in my life, it was much easier for me to be the quiet kid in the back with low self-esteem thanks to years of kids making fun of my height, size, and orthodontic issues. There was almost no chance of me ever learning how to talk to a girl that I liked or developing tradition social skills. Then the incident happened…
The incident. For breakfast I almost always but a banana on my breakfast cereal. As a soccer and tennis player the potassium was needed and lets face it, a banana is good eats. For some reason though, one morning the banana and my digestive system decided to fight it out. To this day, I still remember feeling an all body sick but I didn’t say anything to my parents. Then it happened. While sitting in Mrs. Wilson’s math class, I rapidly started to feel incredibly nauseous. I stood up to ask if I could go to the bathroom but only made it one desk before I erupted like a volcano. As I started to sprint out the room I erupted a couple of more times. While running to the bathroom I could hear several people gagging and screaming because I had got banana throw up on them.
In order to get to the boys bathroom, I had to pass several classes. At the time there was another kid named Greg that was basically the same height as me and had blonde hair. Greg was in one of the classes I had to pass on the way to the bathroom. This important to know because while I was in the bathroom the principle got on the loud speaker and said “please be careful in the northeast hall because a tall blonde haired kid just got sick everywhere”. Thanks principle!
So let me paint you a mental health picture. I’m over six feet tall, have a giant head, braces and retainer for my bucked teeth, maybe weighed a buck fifty soaking wet, and my middle school nickname was puke and barf. I could barely spell self-esteem at this point; I sure as hell didn’t have any. Luckily my laid back personality was already starting to develop so instead of trying to fight the puke nickname, I just tried to roll with it. Chances are fighting it would have only made it worse. Plus, I was about ready to start high school with the nickname of puke. Not an ideal situation for mental and emotional development.
To this date, I still don’t know how to talk to girls in a normal matter. Most of my social skills come from Seinfeld. I still have low self-esteem about my size and looks. Now that I’ve filled out I stick out even more in a group or crowed room. If I could get out of my head more often I would probably sleep more. Sometimes my internal voice is just mean and won’t shut up.
Currently, one of my biggest fears is trying to decide who is my actual friend and who is using me because I’m an easy mark to take advantage of. After spending the last 4 to 5 years online in the chronic pain community, I’ve experience multiple people that love to take from me but not return the favor. I believe the right thing to do is help these people simply because I have the skill set to help but it doesn’t change the fact I feel self conscious every time I do this. You know that expression no mans land, I often feel like I’m stuck in that land. To often, I just don’t know what to do.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Depression. Thanks to my rock-climbing fall, I have been diagnosed with PTSD and depression. For those of you that don’t know, in June of 2003 I feel about 15 feet while climbing. Due to the impact of the fall, I had to have 10 screws and a plate inserted into my left arm and 6 staples in my head because of this. I say unfortunately, I was not knocked out for the fall. I remember everything.
To this day, I have never come close to repeating the feeling that I experienced the night I fell. I’ve never read, watched, or listened to a radio broadcast where anyone has come close to capturing that feeling. Simply put, I had all the emotions that night to the extreme, absolute fear to absolute adrenaline all at once. At one point I can remember trying to wiggle every toe and finger in the hopes of proving that I did not have a serious head or neck injury at that moment but there are blank spots in that memory where I was basically in lala land mentally. There was a tug a war in my head that night between remaining coherent and completely losing it.
For the first month after my accident I could not shut my eyes without relieving the fall. When I would shut my eyes, I would get that feeling of falling, similar to going down in an elevator, then the rush of fear and adrenaline would over take me. The only time I could sleep is when this little pill (for the life of me I can’t remember what it was) and my narcotic fell at the same time in my med schedule. Even then, it would only be a few hours of sleep before the nightmare returned.
I would argue that the adrenaline from fall did not completely wear off until about 10 days later when I was getting my cast removed. One look at my arm and I just started crying like I had never had before. My left arm was so swollen, discolored, and misshapen that it looked like something out of a cartoon. It was not real in head. Up until then I was able to manage the nightmare with tv, reading, and various other things. The sight of my arm that day blow up my coping tools. This was probably the first time too that the fear was greater than all the other emotions I was still battling. I didn’t know how to process all of this and to this day I’m not sure if I won or lost that battle. Technically, mental health isn’t a battle it is life. However, I know forming it in the perspective of a battle is how my mind copes.
Several years after my fall, I did seek counseling from a trained professional. He is the one that gave me the PTSD and depression diagnosis. Interestingly, he was sure that I had significant brain bruising the night I fell based on some of his cognitive tests. The best part of his counseling was that I always left with a new tool or something to work on that wasn’t just pill based. It wasn’t just talk, it was talking and doing at the same time along with medications. I don’t mind talking, but I feel better mentally when I can do work on my own. It’s my quality of life so let me work towards raising it regardless if it’s physical or mental.
As much as I hate bumper sticker logic, the passage of time did help me. I’m not sure if I would say I’m better or healed, I would argue that I’m more accepting of my situation and can now go about living my life as I want. I’m fond of saying that I define what it means to be a patient, not the other way around. Like it or not, being a chronic patient is part of my identity now, just like being called puke for years will always be apart of who I am as a person. These are things that I can’t control so why try. I can still learn how to talk to a girl I like, I can still lift weights in order to get ready to climb mountains and ski, and I still have the mental capacity to work full time so I can afford awesome toys and travel experiences. Thanks to my life, I’ve earned the right to have bad days, weeks, and months. I have issues, and more than likely, will always have them. What is sometimes hard to remember but it doesn’t make it any less true is that I don’t have the right to claim that I have a bad life. As long as I continue to get up and try, regardless of the outcome, I will never have a bad life. Sure no one is saying they want to be like big Al when they grow up, but that just means they don’t have the courage to be me, not that my life isn’t worth living 🙂