Would I Hire Myself? (Spoiler Alert: No)

2008 January 28

One of the big problems of mental illness is that it is so poorly understood. This may seem self-evident, but there are a lot of different facets to the misunderstanding. For example, when I was a kid, my various emotional problems all seemed to me (and, I believe to my entire family) as “character flaws.” The inability to concentrate was a lack of will power or rebellion. My perpetual feelings of doom were seen as “pessimism.”

“Mental illness” itself was seen in terms of severe schizophrenia: delusions, hallucinations, incoherent speech, disconnection from reality. By that standard, no one, of course, would want to be considered “mentally ill.” And yet, I was. Based on my most recent experiences (in other words, the experiences that have given me the most value in my life), I would say that I have been severely mentally ill my entire life.

My earliest memories are from about age 5. In these memories, I recognize the sense of alienation, of “separateness,” of hopelessness, and of lack of connection by which I have come to define depression. I suppose it is possible that I have imposed these feelings on early memories. After all, memory is a fragile thing. It can be influenced by later events, and false memories can be easily implanted. However, in my own memories, the feelings that I have described at age 5 also show up in my memories of age 6. And 7. And 8. And 9. And 10. And 11. And 12. And 13. And 13 is the magic number where someone else, a teacher, apparently noticed that there was something “different” about me. (Not that she did anything about it, bless her heart. It was an incident that popped up and receded without any further consequences. My secret was safe for another three-and-a-half years.) The point is that I know that I have not somehow changed all of the emotions of my very un-joyful childhood. So, I am confident that I have been mentally ill my entire life.

As I have said, had anyone known when I was a child that I was mentally ill, no one would have known what to do with me. I probably would have been institutionalized. So, perhaps it was better that I just snuck through. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that, 50 years later, things are any better today. What can we do with a severely depressed 7 year old? Do even the best medical professionals have any ideas?

And what about severely depressed 50 year olds? Fortunately (or, maybe, not), mental illness is completely hidden. I am free to walk the streets, and no one who sees me has any idea of my state of mind. Of course, for someone like me, that is a very scary thought. I know what my state of mind is, and sometimes even I am scared of it. What would other people think if they found out? How many more people are there just like me out there?

Sometimes I ask myself, if I ran a company, how would I feel about having mentally ill people as employees? Well, knowing what I know about myself, I don’t think that I would really want to have many (or any) mentally ill working for me. I know that there are lots of days when I feel like I’m on the edge and just about to go off. What would it be like to have an entire office with those kinds of people? Of course, I suspect that the feeling of being on the edge is part of the depression. I think. See, I’m not sure how close to the edge I really am when I get that feeling. I have gone over the edge (twice), and neither time did I feel like I was in any worse shape than I usually am. So, it’s a tough call. Of course, in my own case, I could never, ever work for me (that is, if I had a boss who was exactly like me), and if I were a boss, and I had an employee like me, I would fire me after one, or, at most, two days. I am just not a very good employee.

I hope some of this makes sense. If it’s all kind of jumbled, that may be because I am kind of jumbled right now, too. I hope the next post is more organized. Maybe I’ll make an outline!

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