I recently went to a benefit in Castle Pines hosted by the city and Mental Health Colorado. The event had a special theme/title – “Unmasked.” Throughout the night, people stood up and talked about their recovery from attempted suicide, their fight to beat depression and the shame society makes us feel when we are diagnosed with conditions such as bipolar disorder.
Olympic champion Missy Franklin was the featured speaker. In listening to Missy talk about her battle with mental health, all I kept thinking was, “I was there too.” I am betting there are a lot of people out there who can say the same thing.
Many of my family, friends and co-workers know me as being outgoing, happy, friendly and a strong, driven person. However, that has not always been the case. You see, there were several dark years in my life that I have only started to admit to over the last year.
Nearly eight years ago, we moved our family from Arizona to Denver. At the time of our move, I was at a high point in my career. With two adopted daughters and a new baby boy, I really was happy. But my husband’s career was going nowhere in Tucson. My young daughter was not getting the help she needed in the Arizona education system.
We had to move.
I remember the fear of the unknown but believed I had built a good career and reputation in Arizona and was optimistic it would be no problem to bring that talent to Colorado.
However, not everything goes as planned. I struggled to get my foot in the door in the Denver media market. Some editors/publishers told me I was overqualified. Some didn’t even give me a call back. I did not know anyone here.
Soon, I started believing I really was not as good as I thought. I started down a dark road that led to some thinking that even today is hard to admit to.
My days started being filled with lying on the couch. I resented my husband for bringing me here. He was thriving and I was not going anywhere.
I started relying on my 2-year-old son to serve as my only source of human interaction during the day. At night, I went to bed and slept. Eventually, I put him in preschool early because I knew what I was doing was not healthy for him.
That meant several hours a day of being alone with my dark thoughts. I believed I had not lived up to expectations, especially the ones that I had set for myself. I believed I was a failure in my career, at home and in life. I started believing the world would be fine without me.
I had family members, especially my mom, telling me I did not sound like myself, asking if there was something wrong. I often replied, “I am fine.”
My mom even drove from New Mexico to Denver one weekend because, in her words, I “did not sound right.”
Over the years, doctors would throw medications at me. None of them worked. In fact, they usually made me worse.
Eventually, I opted to just deal with the dark thoughts and pretend to the outside world.
Today, I credit my children for keeping from doing something irreversible because no matter how much I thought I was a failure in life – I knew these people relied on me.
To all of you out there who struggle with what I call “dark thoughts” – you are not alone. Until we as a society truly make it OK to “unmask” and admit that mental health is not something to be ashamed – only then will we, as a society, be able to help make true changes and support those who are afraid to say they need help.
Thelma Grimes is the south metro editor for Colorado Community Media.