On Mental Illness

Vodka Yonic features a rotating cast of female writers from around the world sharing stories that are alternately humorous, sobering, intellectual, erotic, religious or painfully personal. You never know what you’ll find here each week, but we hope this potent mix of stories encourages conversation.

I am a depressed person. I suffer from acute anxiety. I am a recovering alcoholic and anorectic. I have been in therapy and taken psychotropic meds for 29 of my 48 years. 

I don’t know what it’s like to live without constant anxiety — it’s just how I’m wired. Over time, I have come to accept it. It hasn’t always been easy, and it definitely hasn’t always been fun. I don’t remember big swaths of my late 20s due to a combination of alcohol abuse and a cocktail of meds I now realize were not strong enough to fight the deep, dark fog of despair that comes with my personal chemical makeup. And while I gained a lot of sanity back when I got sober and got my meds in check in 2005, sobriety and medication have not always been enough. As recently as four years ago, I was low enough to have seriously believed that the best outcome to the shit I was going through was to end my life.  

I don’t think most people know this about me. Looking at me from the outside — from the way I greet others in the grocery store, or from my smiling pictures on Instagram — you might think things are great. And these days, they mostly are. But it still gets hard. 

Octobers are usually difficult, right around when the days get shorter — yeah, I check off the Seasonal Affective Disorder box too. That said, the ick can creep in even when it’s 94 degrees and sunny out. I can be surrounded by people who love me, engaged in my favorite activities, and I still won’t be able to shake the feeling that things would be so much easier for everyone if I were to just drop off the face of the earth or, say, turn my speeding car into the median on I-440, as I’ve been tempted to do during my very lowest times. 

This is a feeling I’ve known for as long as I can remember. I can recall having dismal, hopeless thoughts as a kid. High school sucked — for the usual reasons, of course — but even more so because I was dealing with undiagnosed anxiety. I was one of those girls who seemed to have it all — I was popular, with good grades and great friends. I was Miss Cleveland High School, for fuck’s sake. But I still daydreamed about finding a definitive solution to end my sadness. 

The biggest thing that’s changed over the 12 years since I got sober and got my neuroses largely in check — thank you, modern medicine! — is that I now have a plan. One of the lone upsides to dealing with mental illness for such a long time is that I have learned what to do when the fog sets in. I make an appointment with my shrink. I speak to my psychopharmacologist about tweaking my meds. Most importantly, I talk about it. I haven’t done that enough lately. I’m not shy about publicly addressing my struggles, but I need to do it more often. Because no matter how progressive we have become as a society (though lately I’ve had my doubts), there is still a huge stigma when it comes to mental illness. 

I believe that in order to fight the prejudice and save afflicted people from living what feels like a solitary existence, those of us who have been through the wringer need to talk about it openly and frequently. 

It’s scary. I hesitated to go public with my recurring suicidal thoughts for fear of scaring my friends and family, scaring off potential dates (dating is already hard enough), or alienating clients. But inauthenticity is not my thing. 

I am mentally ill. Love me or leave me. 

Depression is a part of me, and other than treating its symptoms, there’s not much I can do about it. And why shouldn’t I be open about it? After all, who’s to say it didn’t make me into who I am today? And today, I am happy. There is nothing to be ashamed of. Those of us who believe this need to say it more often, to empower those who are in doubt about speaking up. 

I have worked hard to get to a place of contentment, a state of mind that I doubted would ever be possible. I’m not a Pollyanna about it — I know life is not always going to be this great. Shit could fall apart tomorrow, and I could be back to crying on the floor in the fetal position, fighting to stay away from hammers. I have to be vigilant. I have to take my meds. I have to exercise. I have to engage with friends. I have to tell other people what’s going on and be honest with them when they ask me if I’m OK. I have to be honest with myself. 

The recent suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain hit me hard, as I know they did others. But if there is any brighter side to the news, perhaps it’s that people are talking more about depression and addiction. The week Spade and Bourdain died, mental illness was in headlines and on cable news. It dominated social media. It beyond fucking sucks that it took two creative giants dying for that to happen, but at least it’s happening. 

If you need help, ask for it. Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. Or reach out to me on Instagram (@libbycallaway1970). Seriously. It’s going to be OK. I promise. 

Like what you read?

Click here to make a contribution to the Scene and support local journalism!