I am mentally ill. And I’m dealing with it.

There are many people out there who truly believe that depression and bipolar (and schizophrenia, etc.) are not real illnesses but rather are caused by a “weakness” in the person, or by external situations or events or people or lifestyles.

I never thought about it before I was diagnosed. It was always called a “mental illness,” so I figured that’s what it was. It’s not like someone gets cancer or diabetes because they didn’t have a happy childhood, right? Well, I figured, same for mental diseases.

I grew up in a lovely home. I have two loving, fantastic parents who are still happily married after almost 35 years. I have an older brother who, despite trying to convince me when I was younger that I was adopted or telling me that left-handed people like me should all be put on an island together, treated me well and looked after me like a big brother should. My dad travelled a lot for work and we used to go with him all the time, to Australia, Hawaii, all over the States, across Canada, and of course to England every other Christmas to see the rest of our family – all my extended family lives over the pond.

I went to good Catholic schools, got into an amazing university and lived away from home all four years, even when I couldn’t afford it. My parents took care of me financially and emotionally. There was never doubt about my future – it was going to be bright.

Looking at my past, you’d never come to the conclusion that I would end up as I am now, on a myriad of medications and struggling to find the joy in life.  True, I was a moody child. I had an overactive imagination, and preferred to be by myself than with a group of people. Other than that, I was nothing out of the ordinary.

If that doesn’t make a claim for mental illnesses being biological, I don’t know what does. So many times I read about people who are bipolar or clinically depressed, and they always have a tearful childhood story, their lives are peppered with drugs and bad parents, few (if any) friends, people who abused them… etc., etc. It’s another stigma to add to the mix. Not only do I not want people to see me as “crazy,” I also don’t want them to think I had some kind of awful life. Because I didn’t. I still don’t.

No one who looks at me would ever think that I’m the person writing this blog. I’ve become so able to hide my feelings and emotions and mood swings that if I don’t want you to see it, you won’t. I’m only now becoming more comfortable with not hiding.

I live in a nice apartment in the middle of downtown Toronto. I have an adorable cat named Sasha who seems to think she’s a dog, with the way she waits for me at the door and craves affection. I have more than I need or deserve in terms of clothing, food, friendships and all the stuff I surround myself with. I’ve always held onto my jobs, even when my depression was at its worst, and I’ve managed to save enough money over the years that I haven’t had to ask my parents for help with rent even though I haven’t worked full-time in over a year.

I am lucky.

I am fortunate.

Which sometimes makes this disease harder to take. Why do I always feel sorry for myself? I have everything, yet I feel empty. I am loved, yet I feel alone.

You see things like the situation in Haiti or Africa and realize how good your life is. No matter how bad things get with me, I do realize that others have it so so much worse than me.

Again, it’s another reason I wanted to start this blog. To show that not everyone dealing with mental illness is homeless or living paycheque to paycheque or is some wild character. That some of us look just like everyone else you know – but it doesn’t mean that our suffering is any less meaningful. It doesn’t mean that I don’t really have a problem.

I’m not an attention-seeker or self-pitying. I am not the result of a fucked-up childhood. I am mentally ill. And I’m dealing with it.

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