It was a bright, sunny afternoon when I decided to accompany my sister-in-law to one of the local NAMI In Our Own Voice presentations at the self-help center near where we lived. I was impressed by the courage of the two women who spoke. They shared the ups and downs of their lifelong struggle with mental illness. I couldn’t even begin to imagine myself standing up in front of a small group of people and sharing what I had been through with a diagnosis of depression and schizophrenia. Now, almost two years later, I am sharing my struggle with my mental health and the incredible experience I’ve had over the past twelve years.
I read Susan Berk’s story in the Summer 2013 issue of NAMI Voice. She writes: No one could experience or see, or hear, what I was seeing, hearing, and feeling. This is exactly how I felt. How could I possible help other people, especially those closest to me, understand what I went through? Everything I felt - the sorrow, the fear, the indecision, the turmoil, and the constant struggle with the disbelief I had in my own diagnosis – I wasn’t able to share this with anyone. This is often how I still feel – that no one knows or truly understands my experience. How could anyone else be capable of understanding my story if I don’t do the best I can to share what happened? I believe that now is the best time to share my life with other people. All I have are my memories, but my memory still serves me well. After one suicide attempt, three hospitalizations, a diagnosis of schizophrenia, numerous psychiatrist visits, countless therapy sessions, and a broad array of useless medications, I’ve finally concluded that my experience lies less in the feared and stigmatized arena of the mentally ill, and more in the ray of sunlight streaming in through the living room window.
I built a silver lining when all around me were black skies and ominous clouds. I built the silver lining big and strong so I could take my life back from the evil that had stolen it from me. I lived in fear until I decided that was no way to live. Now I refuse to be afraid. I’ve turned the black skies blue and the ominous clouds white and fluffy. My silver lining is no longer merely a thin, shimmery mirage – it is now the entire sky and fills my life with happiness. Needless to say, it took incredible effort and I didn’t accomplish this on my own, even though I often felt helpless, alone and afraid. My wonderful husband and loving family were always by my side to support me. My Buddhist teachings and my fellow Buddhists provided me with life changing encouragement and the iron will to never give up on myself. I am determined to do everything in my power to encourage other people struggling with their own fears, terrors, sorrows, and turmoil.
Jennifer Myers lives in Sunnyvale, CA and has a blog at www.sundancekidonline.com. She is also writing her memoir, Never Give Up: Buddhism, Family & Schizophrenia.