by Jo Carroll
Turn on the TV anytime of the day or night and it won't be long before you see an ad for some kind of pill to make you happy.That's because there's a huge market out there. It is estimated that one in five Americans will suffer from some form of mental illness during their lifetime.
I am the one in five. Almost 35 years ago a psychiatrist told me I had a mental illness. I fought it, I didn't like it, but it was reality. Since that time, I've taken a lot of pills, I've seen many doctors and visited more than one hospital and even endured shock treatments. Sometimes the treatment worked and sometimes it didn't and I would fall into that deep dark valley of depression. I was blessed to have a lovely husband and supportive family who never doubted the validity of the diagnoses and was always there waiting for me no matter how long the darkness lasted.
It hasn't been easy, but I've functioned as a wife, mother and in my career as a photojournalist. My children are grown now, all happily married with families of their own and although my name hasn't appeared as a by-line in the New York Times, I've been relatively successful in my chosen career. My husband who helped me fight my demons for many years is still by my side, as we enjoy the happier times in our lives.
I look on in horror as news stories relate tales of flight attendants or pilots having breakdowns in front of hundreds of people. In one broadcast a passenger told of hearing the flight attendant shout, "I'm Bipolar." It frightened everyone within hearing distance I'm sure. I can't tell you how many times in the past I've wanted to yell that very same phrase.
I know my body well now and can tell when things start to break in my mind, and the darkness starts to creep in. I seek professional help when this happens. I finally know it's like any other illness. I wouldn't try to treat cancer by myself and I can't try to treat my mental illness alone either.
I've recently finished a memoir, Mom's Crazy: Her Bipolar Memoir. My oldest daughter, Heather, graciously furnished the title. The cover shows what our blended family looked like when my husband and I got married 35 years ago. I had just rushed outside to take the photo before we sat down to eat. I was commuting 75 miles to work as a photographer for NASA and my new husband owned and ran a furniture store in downtown Gulfport, so the children had cooked a meal this day. It was supposed to be a day of relaxing, but the photo just reminds me of all the mad crazy rushing that went on that day.
The memoir is my story, but it's also a story about any woman who's ever faced adversity and what she'll do for her survival and the survival of her children.
Not everyone will have the severity of mental illness that I have but some kind of mental illness will affect you. Either you or someone you know and care about is going to be diagnosed. It may come as a surprise. Be ready for it. Recognition is the greatest tool we have in fighting this illness.
Don't be afraid to make that first call to a doctor or mental health clinic. And to paraphrase the 1980 Grammy winning song--you will survive.