Mental illness is a thief!
It robs us of many things but what it stole from me was my sense of wonder, my spontaneity and my freedom. Activities that had been light and effortless suddenly became heavy, difficult, threatening and dark. Every day I would ask myself the same questions. “When will I be me again? When will I go back to being normal?”
“When will I be at peace?”
I have lived the greater part of my life with a social anxiety disorder resulting from undiagnosed ADHD (Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder) and OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder).
I experienced my first full-blown panic attack in 1983 in the middle of a European history class while attending the University of Saskatchewan. What I had initially hoped was a brief, unexpected, heart palpitation turned out to become a daily occurrence which persisted with fearsome regularity for the next 10 years.
My eventual recovery from the symptoms of my mental illness was a slow burn which began when I finally told my wife about the panic attacks. Without a moment’s hesitation, Jeanne suggested I talk to a psychologist. An option I had not considered — not once — since the onset of my symptoms at the age of 21.
But why didn’t I seek professional help sooner, when it was clear the panic attacks were not going away? Why did Jeanne’s suggestion to see a psychologist come as a revelation?
Why? Because of stigma.
It would be unfair for me to hold society entirely accountable for the stigma I experienced as a result of my undiagnosed mental illness. Back in the 80s we simply didn’t talk about it because the language was — to be honest — terrifying.
Words and phrases like crazy, insane, unstable, psycho, shrink, lost your mind, funny farm, rubber room were ubiquitous when “discussing” mental illness. The language did precious little to nurture empathy and even less to encourage hope and the prospect of recovery. Particularly for someone who was just starting to experience the initial symptoms of an undiagnosed mental illness.
My recovery has been long but I have finally found the peace I had lost some thirty-five years ago. And now I feel an obligation to pay it forward and share all that I have learned during my mental health journey. For if I can’t share what I have learned then what earthly good is my recovery.
A gift isn’t a gift until it is shared.
About the Author
Danny Miller was born in Swift Current, Saskatchewan and was part of a massive exodus of U of S grads who moved to Calgary in 1984.
He has been teaching for the Journalism and the Graphic Communications and Print Technology programs at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology for the past 20 years.
Danny’s interest in black and white film photography began in 2009 when he enrolled in his first traditional darkroom class at SAIT. Since then he has been shooting black and white film exclusively. Processing the film, enlarging the negatives, developing the prints in his darkroom, this tactile connection with the medium is an essential part of his creative process.
Danny’s hope is that his project, Home of the Brave, might offer comfort to those who are currently experiencing the symptoms of an undiagnosed mental illness. He would like these portraits to stand as a testament to the transformative healing power of finding a peer support network.
“I hope these stories might encourage those of you who are suffering in silence – right now – to reach out and talk to someone about how you are feeling.” – Danny Miller