Living with Mental Illness

I remember when I used to visit my grandparents. We lived 3 hours away, so we didn’t go very often. My maternal grandfather would sit in his kitchen, silently observing me and my siblings. He never initiated any conversations with us, he just sat there, and he always seemed so lonely. So, I would make sure I went into the kitchen to sit with him. We would talk, not a lot, but he always seemed so sad…

When I was 12, he passed away, quietly in his sleep. I didn’t really register what had happened, he was just gone one day. His mother, my great-grandmother, didn’t go to his funeral. She claimed, “My son is dead to me.” They hadn’t gotten along well in life, and she had disowned him when he was 18. However, she always cared about my mom, my aunt and uncle, although my grandfather didn’t let her help them, even thought they were bordering on poverty.

Turns out, my grandfather suffered from depression. He worked as a janitor at a mental hospital, and since he didn’t want to “…be like those people,” he never sought out help. My grandmother ended up working to buy groceries for the family, and my grandfather went to his grave being undiagnosed. My paternal grandmother was in a similar position, although my dad’s father made sure she went to the doctor for it. Unfortunately, this was in the 1940's, and she ended up going through electroshock therapy to try and “shock her out of it.” Needless to say, it didn’t work. She lived around the corner from my maternal grandparents, so we got to see both sets of grandparents every time we went out to visit. When she passed away, it hit me hard, since I was 30 years old, and knew better. I pretended it didn’t affect me, but when my paternal grandfather passed away 9 months later, everyone around me noticed that something was wrong…

That was in 2003. I was working at a boarding school for students with Asperger’s Syndrome and Non-verbal Learning Differences. For those of you who don’t know, working at a boarding school is grueling. I was working 60–80 hour weeks, I worked every third weekend, and did one night a week in the dorms until midnight. When my grandparents passed away, I was already physically stressed, and their deaths put an additional strain on my emotions. I also had a 2 year old, and a son on the way. Being away from my family for 80 hours a week was tough and I started having difficulty. However, I felt as if I couldn’t do anything except power through it. So I suffered through it, even though everyone around me noticed my difficulties.

It took me 5 years to realize that the way I was feeling wasn’t healthy. Finally, I asked the school’s head of counseling about it, and she suggested that I see a therapist. Three months later, I called one, and I was diagnosed with “Major Depression.” Six months later, I started on medication for it. I fought it every step of the way…


Here I am, 8 years later, and I am still on medication for my depression. I still get very down at times, but I never get to the point where I was then. I have also been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, the same thing the kids at my school have. I am working in a school I love, although it’s now at a day school, and I am able to spend more time with my family. I have also rediscovered my faith. I think that all this was possible because of my taking meds for my depression. That allowed me to see the world as it was and, instead of becoming overwhelmed when tough times are encountered, I am able to step back and look at the situation logically, without letting it depress me to the point where I get caught in self-repeating cycles.


Ultimately, we all need to be able to face our problems. Whether it is accepting ourselves as we are, or admitting that there’s no shame in having a mental illness, we need to face our troubles head on. We spend so much time. Trying to stay physically healthy that we forget to keep our minds healthy. We, as a society, need to help others who are having difficulty, and not ignore their bodies or their minds. If we can do this, our world will be a much better place.


Remember, “Do not judge, lest ye be judged.”