“You know, we all get to be survivors in some way in our lifetime.” – Eunice Galsky
I keep thinking about this quote above from my friend Eunice. She wrote it to me while she was battling cancer and I was battling mental illness. The fact that she said we all get to be survivors, not “have” to be or even will be, but “get” to be, like needing to survive something awful is a gift. Eunice died from cancer but she also survived it.
I have spent the majority of the last two years surviving constant suicidal ideation. When people ask me how I am doing now I say “I got healthy just in time for the world to go crazy. And I am grateful.” I am by no means grateful for the crazy world, in fact if you told me last year to keep working on getting healthy and you will get to see a Trump presidency, I might have bowed out, this awfulness is not what I am grateful for. No, I am grateful that I am healthy enough to fight, and protest, and take action. And to be there for others.
And because I have fought these voices I will tell you this, the voice of suicidal thoughts and the voice of Donald Trump are the same and can be fought in much of the same way.
Like Trump, suicidal thoughts are loud, and mean. They are full of hate, and they try to convince you listening to them is all that matters. They present you with alternative facts. The say “Look at me, I am big and powerful and winning, and you are Sad!”
Everything this voice says is a lie yet it is so confident you start to believe there must be some truth to what it is saying, that he will make your problems go away, that if you do what he says you will feel better. But you stop and fact check and realize there is no truth in what this voice is saying, and remind yourself of that over and over and over again. You realize your job is not to get rid of this awful jerk of a voice but to take away his power by fighting for the good shit, by finding a supportive network, a network that allows you to complain about how awful and hopeless and shitty this feels while also pushing you to fight for the better you deserve. You find tools that work for you like opposite action, the idea of fighting the inertia, the desire to just crawl in the fetal position and say I’m done, by choosing actions that can make a difference for yourself, this word, for somebody else, because you know helping others can never make you feel worse. And at the end of the day you realize it’s about making it to the end of the day, and the next day and the next, knowing you are in good company with all your fellow survivors.
As I watch while it feels like parts of the world are crumbling, As I see people struggle, people ending their lives, people trying to make it through, I think “I’m experiencing and witnessing a lot of awful stuff, I could fall apart and nobody would blame me, it’s happened many many times before.” And then I realize that it’s different now. I’m healthier.
I’m grateful for that health and I’m grateful for the doctor who has helped get me there. For over a year she has worked with me. She told me “I will sit with you in the uncomfortable. You won’t scare me away.”
She didn’t have the pop culture references I appreciate but I let it slide because she seemed to have other skills that were helpful. We got to the root of a lot of the suicidal thinking I have been struggling with for the majority of the past four years, and more accurately, most of my life. I went off meds for the first time in a long time and have stayed off them. She helped me deconstruct everything that was going on, taking apart all the Lego bricks of my brain that were built on a faulty structure. There might even be more bricks to be taken apart before the rebuilding happens. But a lot of good has happened.
And then this doctor who’s helped me so much, we broke up with each other. And it was awful. I couldn’t afford to come and I couldn’t get the closure I wanted from her. It left me hurt and angry. But I didn’t tailspin, and that’s because of the work I have done with her. So I am grateful.
Things are still not put back together but sometimes the tearing apart is what’s more important. I know I wish it all could have ended differently, but as we celebrate Thanksgiving it seems like a time to remember we can be grateful for things even if they don’t always work out how we hope, even if we get hurt. And also to acknowledge even though she helped me immensely, I was the one who chose to take apart the bricks, to heal, to do the heavy lifting, and I am still that strong being.
Hi. I’m Deena. I’m mentally ill. Please hire me.
I want to be clear, I’m not asking you to take pity on me and hire me because I’m mentally ill. I have plenty of people who will take pity on me, I don’t need any more. No, I am saying I am mentally ill. I am open about it and don’t feel the need to hide behind shame (a ridiculous idea, I know,) and you should hire me because I will be one of the best employees you’ve ever had.
But you’re mentally ill, you’re thinking, that sounds scary, you could go crazy at work, or always call in sick or be less productive because of your illness, or you could be sad all the time and be a total drag.
I hear you and I’ll answer these concerns one at a time.
What if you go crazy and scream or just lose it?
I’m not the employee you need to worry about, in fact I’m the exact opposite because I actually get the help I need. I’m someone who has identified my illness, sought treatment, and is aware of how I am doing. The people who fly off the handle and make your life difficult, they are the ones not seeking treatment, and they’re probably not because they’re afraid of the stigma, especially workplace stigma.
I bet you call in sick a lot or are less productive cause you’re depressed.
Have I missed work because of depression? Yes, but very rarely, and not to lay on the couch or because “I just wasn’t up to it.” The person who called in “sick” to binge watch all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls so they were caught up for the Netflix reunion show has already been hired by your company, that’s not me. I am like someone who has diabetes or Crohn’s, I come in every single day unless I require medical attention and even if that happens I’ve still worked from a hospital or home. The unnecessary guilt I have about living with this disease and also the feeling of not wanting to let people down, those feelings will actually work to your advantage because I want to be your best employee to get rid of any doubts or misconceptions you may have about mental illness.
Yeah, but if you’re depressed you’re probably a total buzzkill and sad all the time.
Your office already has a sad person, every office does. But that’s not me. I’m a delight. Really. Depression gets a bad rap. People think you’re an Eeyore always walking around bemoaning life, but that person is a pessimist, not someone with mental illness. Me? I’m a Tigger, a Tigger who might think about death a little more than I should (hey, I’m going for honesty here) but who leaves those thoughts for the professionals I see and the friends I message post-work. At the office I’m the hard worker, doing what you ask, making jokes when appropriate, and texting you on the way in to ask if you want a Starbucks.
So as I said, I’m Deena. I’m mentally ill. Please hire me.
References (from past employers and therapists) available upon request.
Deena is a freelance writer and has also worked as an on-staff humor writer for American Greetings and has professionally tweeted about vacuums. She is a founding member of Crooked River Comedy and is also the creator of This Improvised Life, a part improvised, part written story-telling hour, performing regularly for over 5 years. In addition, She co-wrote and stars in Funnel Cakes Not Included, a one-woman show about ending stigma associated with mental illness. She is also the co-creator of a kind, funny, awesome, nine year old boy who would like you to know he has a huge Star Wars collection, over 35 hats, and constantly crushes her in foosball.