Anonymous: Did I Get “Lucky”?
The views and opinions expressed in the following story are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Mental Health Colorado.
I was reminded recently about a term used for what I experienced during a severe bout of clinical depression while in college called “Vegetative Symptoms.” Fatigued? Check. Insomnia? Sleep was nearly impossible. Lost appetite? Trying to eat became an arduous and vigilant task. Inattention? I couldn’t follow a simple conversation lasting longer than 30 seconds or a mindless TV show, let alone a college lecture. Forget about holding down a job.
I couldn’t do much of anything except work to maintain existence in a constant state of crippling anguish. I certainly didn’t feel I was capable of offering anything of value to society and those around me. It was completely debilitating, and I was incapable of doing most any common task. In hindsight, I didn’t take offense to the potentially disparaging term. In many regards, I was indeed like a vegetable.
That horrific incident seemed to come out of nowhere and has thus far been a “one-and-done” thing for me. It lasted about 10 excruciating months but felt more like 10 nightmarish years.
Prior to that (and ever since then), I was often described as one of the most positive, optimistic, and happy-go-lucky people you’ll meet. Generous with praise and quick to smile, I’m always on the lookout for the positive in people and situations. I find it difficult to escape my conviction that it is good to be alive and one should never lose their sense of humor. This glass is half-full, if not overflowing.
Except for that one time. Except for those 10 dreadful, life-threatening months. How on earth did I get here?
And how on earth did I maintain and survive? The simple answer might just be that I got “lucky.”
Maybe call it happenstance. My mother is a Psychologist specializing in various forms of clinical therapy and my father was a clinical therapist supporting chemical dependency and other forms of counseling. If not for my well-suited, loving family and circumstances, I wouldn’t have liked my chances.
Unlike most, the experience basically defaulted me into the immediate support of a tremendously caring family which happened to include mental health professionals who knew exactly where to find the resources, outsourced help, and best kind of care to put me on a path towards overcoming this incredible illness. I also had the support of two wonderfully compassionate older brothers who were similarly raised to be without stigmas or support barriers often associated with mental health issues. “Therapy” was not a bad word in our home growing up.
But looking back now and thinking about the countless others who are affected by the many forms and manifestations of mental illness every single day, that might be the part that troubles me the most.
I consider myself an anomaly and outlier. I’m a rare example of what happens when everything goes right, and one has everything readily available for them immediately at their disposal. All necessary resources were professionally navigated, identified, and pursued. And despite all of that, the severity of my experience and level of difficultly to overcome it was inexplicably extreme and life-threatening. - Anonymous
One can’t help but wonder what most others do who don’t have the support, education, privilege, and access to proper care that I’ve had since the day they were born. How would they independently navigate finding themselves mysteriously and unexpectedly in a vegetative state? What are their chances of survival? What if the illness is harder to identify, but no less debilitating?
I’d like to say that thought doesn’t keep me up at night.
But viewing this instead through a characteristically positive (and “bigger picture”) lens, what might our society look like if the proper level of care, compassion, funding, and understanding was readily available in our communities? What might the economy look like with more productive people flourishing in it? What might crime and justice look like with better systems, policies, and procedures in place?
The optimist in me is fascinated by the untapped potential and possibilities that surface when mental health is given the emphasis it deserves. The future may indeed be bright.