Susan, age 62
“I'm not a diagnosis, I'm a person.” Despite the shame Susan feels, she is very much an advocate of decreasing the stigma of mental illness. “There are millions of people with mental illness and it's nothing to be afraid of.”
While interviewing Susan, I was struck by her wonderful mix of strength and vulnerability, combined with her fantastic sense of humor. Being a part of this project was important to her because of her own mental health experiences.
She was only diagnosed a couple years ago with major depression and anxiety, but Susan feels she's lived with moderate depression most of her life. It was when her husband died four years ago that her symptoms became worse. She's also addicted to alcohol and pain medication, which she admits to being more comfortable talking about because of the shame she feels about the depression and anxiety.
The reactions of family to her diagnosis were anger, denial, and misunderstanding. Her parents refused to recognize that she had depression. Susan tried to ignore their reactions, but the history of blame in her family triggered a lot of self-blame.
Susan describes her anxiety, depression, and chemical dependency as “feeling trapped in a flawed body.” But she's learning to accept the diagnosis, trying to let go of the resentment and anger. “I don't want to be angry anymore.”
Susan's day-to-day life is still a struggle, “a work in progress,” she said. But she is managing to navigate the good and bad times of her life. “Control what you can, the rest of it is a crap shoot.” Through therapy, she's learned techniques (which she refers to as her “fanny pack”) to deal with life's stressors. She has also benefited from aromatherapy. To those who live with mental illness, Susan wants you to know, “There's hope. You CAN do this!”
When asked what advice she'd give to her younger self, some of her trademark humor came through. “I'd apologize to her. I messed things up for both of us. In addition, wear your leather chaps when you're riding on the back of a Harley.”