Openness

I do not know why this is so but even before I myself suffered from mental illness I did not view it something to hide or be ashamed of.  As a child I had seen it up close in my mother, about whom I write in my family memoir Examined Lives.  Although that experience was terrifying at times and the bond between me and my mother was broken never to be restored, even after she recovered enough to live a normal life,  I was never ashamed of her.  I recall being with her when she was working at a retail store and was having trouble balancing her cash register at the end of the day. When another female employee made a snide about my mother having been institutionalized, I was furious.

So when the time came—actually several times, as I have suffered three major depressions—I was thankfully open about it.  It was that openness which saved me as it meant that friends and relatives could intervene and I could and did lean on them hard.

When writing Examined Lives, I visited the mental institution where my mother had been institutionalized.  I will never forget the employee there who gave me a tour and talked about what he told school groups in his tours—that mental illness is just like any other illness such as cancer, nothing to be afraid of but something deserving of our kind concern and treatment.  I do not know what impact he had on those school children, but his message was certainly one of openness and deserving of a wider audience.  I pay homage to him here.

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