This post is dedicated to:
Kristen Abell, whose beautiful Pecha Kucha continues to inspire professionals in our field, and empowered me to write and share these thoughts: I admire you.
The allies of the mental health community—family and loved ones who help ease the feelings of pain, fear, frustration, and anxiety associated with mental illness: I salute you.
The 61.5 million Americans who experience some form of mental illness in a given year: I’m one of you.
Hello. My name is Paul Porter, and I have a mental illness.
I am one of the 14.8 million Americans living with major depression, 5 million Americans diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, and 4.4% of adults in the United States diagnosed with ADHD. I experience tremendous anxiety in social settings and get easily overwhelmed when given multiple things to respond to at once. I am the master of random (almost regularly inappropriate and poorly-timed) comments, jokes, and actions. I have virtually no short-term memory, and I suffer around unorganized people and unstructured settings. I can go from happy to enraged at the drop of a hat.
When my doctor informed me that I live with mental illn…….. that I am mentally ill, my immediate response was, “Wow… I just thought I was an a*shole.” Later came my more reflective question: “Why did it take so long to get diagnosed?”
Let me explain. I was diagnosed with my mental illnesses in February 2014… four months after my 35th birthday.
This is the first time I have revealed my illness publicly (at least to a critical mass of people).
This is hard to write because I know that once it’s posted, I can never take it back. It becomes real. My friends, family, and co-workers will all have access to this confirmation that I am mentally ill. And with that reality comes a lot of things that I have to own. Strained friendships, destroyed relationships, and lost opportunities. I can envision the look people get on their face when I start to speak because they just know they’re in for a long, incoherent ramble with bad jokes and me tripping over my tongue because my mouth and brain are going in two different directions. And we haven’t even scratched the surface–there are so many facets of my life that JUST NOW make sense because of a long-overdue diagnosis.
I don’t know which is scarier: the fact that I have the answer to my odd behavior, or the reality of living with it. On one hand, I understand that I will probably require medication and therapy the rest of my life and that I pause awkwardly in conversations from time to time to decide whether or not my thoughts make sense or are appropriate before they become words. I’ve even accepted that I won’t always get it right, and sometimes that means the embarrassment of putting my foot in my mouth. It is clear to me that mental illness is a part of my identity—a new identity I never knew I had.
On the other hand, I have an answer that sounds like an excuse.
Believe me when I say that there’s nothing more frustrating then the difficulty of fighting against your brain for control of your actions. And please believe me when I say that I’m not writing this for attention or pity.
I’m writing it to ask for kindness.
All month long, we’ve seen people share their stories and offer a glimpse into what their lives are like every single day. And trust me, there are many others out there who have stories to share and are either afraid, or already had their experiences dismissed. I’m making this aspect of my life public in hopes that it gives someone hope or that it reminds us of who we hurt when we make fun of someone’s behavior. I’m writing so that you feel compelled to give kindness. And by all means, I hope you openly demand the same from me in return.
Thank you for letting me share my secret.
This is part of our yearly #SACommits series on mental health in Student Affairs. This May, we are exploring what mental illness looks like using different forms of expression – photos, drawings, videos, writing, etc. We hope to create better understanding of what it is like to live with mental illness, in an effort to stomp out stigma. Each week will have a theme -Throughout the lifespan, With Loved Ones, At Work, With Myself. For more information, see the intro post by Kristen Abell. Check out the other posts in this series too! You can also join the conversation by using our unique #SACommits Selfies print outs.