I’m fortunate when it comes to the dollar-and-cents costs of having a mental illness. We have very good insurance through my wife’s work. Out-of-pocket, I probably pay around two hundred dollars a month in copays for visits to my psychiatrist, my weekly therapist sessions and my medications. My recent week-long visit to a psychiatric hospital cost me $80 for the emergency room visit. Like I said, I’m very fortunate. But these costs aren’t the costs that are significant to me when I look back at my troubles with mental illness.
The costs I look at instead are in terms of losses I have suffered and the pain that I have brought upon myself and my family. I have lost countless time, lost many friends and lost a career because of my problems with depression and anxiety. My mental illness has taken me away from myself, my wife, my kids, my parents and my brother.
I honestly don’t want to know how much time has been stolen away from me in the past twenty-two years. I know it would be a significant amount and it would sadden me greatly to put a number on it. I think about the amount of time I’ve spent hiding from the world in my bed, on my couch or standing in plain sight. The amount of time I’ve spent checked out because I was just too depressed or too scared to engage with life. I also think about the amount of time I’ve taken off the end of my life because of the very poor job I’ve done taking care of myself over the past two decades.
The good friends that I’ve allowed to just slip away out of my life during my mental illness could fill up my favorite restaurant. The people who were closest to me in my most formative years of high school and college are all gone, maybe a Christmas card or a quick hello on Facebook, but that’s it. Professional friends that I’ve made through the years have all but one or two been left behind. I’m not good at staying in touch with people, and that’s because I usually feel like I have nothing new or positive to report. My problems have become such a big part of my life that I’ve forgotten what normal people talk about. I miss many of my friends, but I’m not sure that I have much to offer them in return right now.
A conscious choice led me to give up a fairly lucrative career a year ago. I had put fifteen-plus years into a retail management position, which at one point, I had been pretty good at. But my disease started affecting me at work – I was too anxious to talk to customers and staff very effectively, I was so depressed I didn’t trust myself to make good decisions – so I quit one day on the spot. That was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make, and even though it is costing me a lot in other areas of my life, it’s a decision I don’t regret because I made it to take care of myself. Now I make less than half the money I used to, but I’m trying to live in a healthier way and we’re going to make it work.
I’ve hurt my wife and kids and family a lot through all these years of struggle. Whether it’s been by causing them to worry about me, by being absent, distant or removed from them, or by drifting away from them like I did with my friends, I’ve hurt those who are closest to me through all of this. I can’t imagine what my wife, parents and brother have been through knowing I’ve wanted to kill myself. I regret that though we live only miles apart, my brother and I have drifted apart – we’re aren’t as close as we were growing up. He’s made his own life, has been very successful and I’m very proud of him.
Lastly, depression and anxiety have taken away so much from me personally. It’s made me an absentee husband and father on all too regular a basis. In addition to the time I’ve lost for myself, there’s the time that could have been spent with my wife or kids which ended up with daddy sleeping or decompressing or watching the game, anything to distract me from what I was feeling.
My mental illness has taken away so much pleasure that I could have had. I’ve lost interest in things that used to be huge parts of my life. I lost faith and gave up on the religion in which I was raised. My hobbies can be counted on two fingers, and one of them is too expensive to do regularly. I don’t have the passion I used to for many things – things that used to get the fire burning are now just casually interesting to me. I went over twenty years between times that I had a passion for writing. It has returned as a way for me to process and cope with what I have been through during the past year.
The most important thing that’s been taken away from me by depression and anxiety is my sense of self. These diseases have stripped away my identity. Right now, I’m a man who primarily identifies himself in terms of the depression and anxiety that have taken so much from him already. I look at myself as far as the progress I’ve made – or haven’t made – over a given period of time. Occasionally, I’m a dad, a husband or a son, but more often than not, I’m someone who’s suffering from depression and anxiety, end of story.
I share this because it’s the truth of my reality. These are the quiet wars that get waged every day by people who suffer from mental illnesses. These wars can take away much of what we once were. But they do not take away our humanity. We want to be whole again. We want to live in peace.
Jason has suffered from depression and anxiety for over twenty years. He can be contacted via Facebook