First of all, hi. Hope your summer was good. I’ll be honest–mine was hard. I’ve been ruminating over how much to share here for a few months…which is basically why I’ve stopped blogging, I guess.
I’ve written about mental health stigma before, and about how much better teens and young adults are at talking openly about mental health compared to older people like me (I’m 50). I feel like I used to be able to write and talk more openly about my battles with depression/mental illness/whatever we want to call it, and it was a huge relief to not have to hide in the shadows anymore. But then somehow that bravado disappeared, and I went back to living behind the curtain of shame and silence. And you know what? It fucking sucks to live like that.
September was National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and I thought “this is a perfect opportunity to write about what I’ve been going through” and I started writing probably 20 times…but then got lost in worry about oversharing and not knowing exactly what I wanted to say, so I just let the month roll by without posting anything. And with each day that passed where I wrote and said nothing, I felt lonelier and more lost and ashamed and invisible. Then September was over and I told myself the pressure was off and I could just stop worrying about it and get back to writing about…well, nothing, really. Because every time I go to write about something else, I keep coming back to this post and realizing that saying nothing about mental health issues–including suicide– is what keeps me and millions of other people my age and older walled off from the world when they are depressed or otherwise struggling with mental health issues. It’s what perpetuates the cycle of people taking their lives and the world reacting in true shock that they had no idea the person was in pain, lamenting that “if only” they had known, they would have done something to help.
So even though I’m not quite sure what I want to say or how to say it, I’m fumbling my way through this post and not moving on with my day until I just finish it because if I don’t, then that means someone else won’t, and then then next person won’t, and so on, and we’re collectively no better off than we were to start.
So here goes: in June, I did a lot of things. I turned 50. I planned a surprise party for my husband. I got a dog. I parented. I left my job. I looked and sounded polished as I gave presentations, attended meetings and tried to figure out what to do next professionally. I listened to friends talk about their stuff, saying nothing much about me…and nobody really seemed to ask. I tried desperately to stay organized, to not drop any balls or look like I wasn’t ok. I made endless lists–party guests, errands I needed to do, stuff I needed to get for the dog, for the party.
I had also started another list: check that my retirement savings beneficiaries were set up correctly, do a will, write letters: to my kids, my parents, my sister, my husband. I couldn’t sleep; I barely ate. As I felt myself slipping into a place that felt very, very far away from ok, I put on as brave a face as possible for the world…and still said nothing.
I started at least a dozen text messages or emails to various friends and family members, trying to figure out the words to convey “I’m scared and really need help” in the least jarring way possible…then deleted every one before sending because I didn’t want to upset or scare anyone. Finally, at a breaking point, I texted my doctor, who called my husband, and I held on.
And four months later, I’m still holding on. I’m stronger and much better….but also just really sad and mad and bewildered that even as the world talks about “just reach out for help” and “I wish he/she had said something,” the reality is that nobody really seems to know how to help an adult struggling with depression. As much as we all talk about it in the aftermath of a suicide, posting social media updates urging people to “get help” or “talk to a friend,” my experience has been that anything having to do with an adult with mental illness just freaks people out. Kids and teens are another story, because somehow we’re supposed to be understanding and supportive of mental health issues when it comes to them; adults, though–that’s another story. Adults are supposed to just sort themselves and carry on.
Carrying on with adulting while living with a mental illness is hard as hell. Not to whine but seriously…it’s the truth. If you have cancer or another life-threatening illness, you can share about it on Facebook or among friends, and people send thoughts and prayers and make you meals and send flowers and eagerly await updates about your health. But if you’re struggling with a life-threatening mental illness, you tell nobody and nobody sends thoughts or prayers or offers to help you navigate the nightmare that is the mental health care system, and nobody knows or cares that you’re doing better but are now not really employed and could really, really use a break.
The thing that people don’t understand is that suicidality isn’t just about that one dramatic moment where you call a hotline, “get help,” and then feel better and move on with your life. It’s a bewildering continuum that drags on much longer than most people’s patience or goodwill can probably stomach; it’s a silent fight with ups and downs that don’t lend themselves to social media updates like other health scares or diseases. In my case, it’s been pretty much an 18 month-long saga that finds me, on any given day, both hopeful and scared shitless at various points throughout the day. Not to mention unemployed…ok, well, self-employed but really…not that employed. Because frankly, there’s no roadmap for this–for adulting while waging your own private war against a disease that’s basically unmentionable in polite company…not to mention in any kind of work setting.
I’m losing my own thread here so will wrap it up by saying that as much as I struggled with writing this, I kept coming back to the fact that as hard as living this shit is, being forced to deal it alone because of shame and stigma makes it that much harder. And the only way to start making it less hard is for people like me–old(er) people who aren’t teens or millennials or celebrities–is for us to keep sharing our experiences, as messy and meandering and uncomfortable as they may be.
Amy H says
Thanks for sharing. Your post made me realize that I have some folks to reach out to and check on. I can’t imagine what you are going through, but I am glad you are continuing to fight through and I agree that sharing what is happening will help you and others.
Wendy Kavanagh says
Jennifer McGinty says
Thank you maggie. It’s so hard to hear you’re suffering. Yet you are brave enough to share what so many of us feel and are afraid to admit. I need to share this with my sister. You are helping so many with your open ness. Praying for your well being. Sending u love and strength.
Jeff Jacobs says
I have kind of drifted away from our “group”, but it still isn’t an excuse to simply say “I didn’t know”. Thanks for sharing- it’s an eye-opener, and a call to action. Need to dial phone (not text, not email) and check in on a couple of folks. Now. I wish you the best and can’t tell you how much I appreciate your sharing.
Maggie McGary says
Thanks so much Jeff : )
Lisa, G. Thorell says
This is brave of you to write…
“Because frankly, there’s no roadmap for this–for adulting while waging your own private war against a disease that’s basically unmentionable in polite company…not to mention in any kind of work setting.”
There are two sites I can think of who can help:
(1) NAMI https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/Living-with-a-Mental-Health-Condition and
(2) Patients Like Me https://www.patientslikeme.com/
When I suffered a fairly life-threatening gastrointestinal condition that threatened to kill me a few years ago, I found a group of colo-rectal cancer athletes under 40 years old online . (I didn’t have that. But it was close.) And these people changed everything for me. They gave me hope and help.
I feel silly saying this as I know how well you know the Interwebz. But it’s there for you.
Maggie McGary says
Thanks so much Lisa, and sorry for the super delayed reply. And I appreciate the links–I know NAMI, but will definitely check out Patients Like Me.
This was my very public post this last June. Some friends cautioned me against oversharing, but if I hadn’t I wouldn’t be here today. It’s the tool I know and it set in motion a series of events that were needed to get my feet back under me. If you’re there, start screaming. There are so so many people that will respond in all the right ways.
I rely on FB to stay connected to all of you. All 800+ of you. It’s like a lifeline to me. But sometimes I’m overwhelmed by a sense of hopelessness. I see the things that are happening in the world (today it is Guatemalan volcanos, sick babies, our government separating kids and parents, celebrity suicides, loss, grief) and it adds to my own sense that life everywhere is falling apart. My daughter is in a struggle I can’t rescue her from (and I’ve hidden this post from her as she’s in the middle of her own hell). I feel disconnected and like real connection and love doesn’t exist. We’re all spinning in our own orbits unable to hear each other. No one has time for my drama and rightfully so. Life is busy. We all have a lot of pain and confusion. No one else is responsible for my shit.
I feel like it’s all fallen apart. I can’t keep it together. You win. My expenses keep rising while my ability to earn falters. I feel like the system is out to get me. I don’t understand how life can just not work for someone like me. I’m rad . But it doesn’t matter. Radness doesn’t translate into money. It doesn’t translate into love.
I’m getting off Facebook. Not that anyone cares or should. What a ridiculous announcement.
I do petition you, my friends, for help where you can. I’m working this weekend, I have a wedding to manage (don’t reach out Saturday I won’t be able to deal). My kids are home right now and that helps. And if you see me in town or at work expect a smile and cheerfulness. It’s the only way I know how to move through. But next week is going to be impossible. No work. No money. No one here. Just me alone in my head. I need a strategy. A plan. A way to move forward. People say there are resources but there aren’t for me. And finding that, advocating for myself is energy I truly do not have. I’m so damn tired.
I texted a crisis line last night. It felt like a less burdensome way to “reach out”. It was enormously helpful. But I’m still drowning. One unresolvable problem after another.
How absurd that I’m putting this out there, so publicly. To my friends, family, colleagues and even my clients. But I don’t know what else to do, this is the tool that I know. If you have time next week, come sit with me by the river, come paint with me, read me a poem, sing me a song. Tell me how to deal with the IRS or coach me through small business strategies and plans if that’s your gig. Make me giggle, dance with me. Help me see the expansiveness and connectedness and loveliness. I’m sorry to be in such great need. Please don’t add to the pile, commiserate by telling me it impossible to live here, sit in judgement of me or ask me to manage your fears. I can’t. I don’t have it to give. Don’t call. I can’t deal with talking on the phone either. I know, I’m a pain in the ass. I’m sorry. You find the phone helpful. I don’t.
I keep seeing admonishments to “reach out”. So here I am. Raising my white flag in the corner.
Maggie McGary says
Jen–I’m sorry to hear you were in such a bad place, but I love this and am so glad it got you the help you needed to get back to a good (or better) place. When I wrote this post, I was honestly just so sick of feeling that I couldn’t share my relief that I’d gotten through such a scary, dark place because nobody knew I was even there to begin with, and also that professionally I know for a fact it’s cost me, so I figured I may as well just throw it out to the world to at least put out there what I’d gone through and continue to go through on a much smaller, less scary basis. I have been overwhelmed and humbled at the number of people who have reached out to me privately, telling me how they’ve struggled with similar, or just sending good wishes or whatever.
I think the point you make about reaching out in whatever way works is a really important one. Some people are fine calling friends or family for help; I’ve never been that person and doubt I ever will be…but at least now I feel I’ve at least laid the groundwork for being able to if I ever get to that point again.
Deirdre Reid says
You are courageous for sharing your struggles with the world. And how sad it is that we almost expect people with physical illnesses to do this but don’t know how to react when it’s a mental illness. You’ve opened my eyes–and, like many, I bet, I thought they were already open. Keep doing whatever you need to do to stay safe and connected with us. Keep sharing–it opens eyes and maybe even saves lives. You are cherished, loved, valued, and necessary.
Maggie McGary says
Belated thanks, Deirdre–I appreciate the kind words.
I don’t know if you attend a church or what resources are available down there. My church offers 1-on-1 “Stephen Ministers”– I needed help beyond what friends & family could offer (and what I was willing to discuss with them). A lovely woman gave me her time right when I asked for it, then met with me weekly at a coffee shop and called throughout the week to “see what I was up to.” She basically established our relationship, then maintained it, with no burden on me at all. I felt no need to apologize about asking for her time, attention, or advice. It wasn’t a clinical relationship (her training wasn’t at that level), it was a friendship rooted in faith. (Also, it was free. I mean free-free, money was never brought up. I wasn’t even asked for a donation.) It was extremely helpful to me. I hope you can find something like this to supplement the care you get from your doctors. Ask them, maybe they can suggest something. I am praying for you.
Maggie McGary says
I love that idea–thanks for sharing. I don’t go to church regularly (or really much at all) but I’ve been thinking about it…maybe I’ll start again.
Cathi Eifert Horner says
Thank you for this message Maggie – I know you have helped at least one person (though we may never know who). You are brave and courageous.
Andrea Bona says
Thank you for finishing and posting your struggle and journey. It hit home for me, and I am sure many others. Hugs. I have found that life is a beautiful thing, except when all you can see is grey, and no matter how warm and full it is, all you feel is cold and empty. I find that women are really good at faking it, on many levels.
Debra Stratton Mott says
Very courageous of you to write about this Maggie and it is definitely time for this discussion to go more public. I have close family members who also suffer from depression. So difficult to know how to help.
I hope you have been able to feel more stable lately and in a better place. You are a very gifted young professional and I know you will find your special calling, what works for you. Thinking of you.
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