We hand out business cards listing our achievements or the line of work we are skilled in. Did you ever see a business card that listed someone’s failures, or an ad telling how many times the vendor had gone bankrupt? Not likely!
Writing about having a mental breakdown at the age of fourteen and spending two of my teenage years in an insane asylum is scary. Very scary.
After my children were grown – twenty-seven years after my release from the mental institution – I went to nursing school. My fellow students surprised and deeply honored me by electing me class president.
Serving as president of a class of over fifty nursing students was the biggest validation in my life up to that point. It made me feel good, but I also felt scared. What if I messed up? What if I let them down? What if they somehow found out that I had been diagnosed with schizophrenia when I was a teenager?
A couple of years after I graduated as a licensed nurse I sent an email to the Oprah Show about one of her book club picks, While I Was Gone by Sue Miller. I was moved by the story about a woman who felt trapped in a stale, loveless marriage, because it mirrored what I was living through at the time. I wrote the email as a catharsis, never expecting to hear anything back.
Within an hour the phone rang. A producer from the Oprah Show liked my email and wanted to know if I would be on the show to discuss my reaction to Sue Miller’s book. I would need to sign a release and pass a background check first, I was told. I agreed, although I worried that the background investigation might reveal my deep, dark secret. But apparently I passed, because my then-husband and I were on that show.
After successfully hiding my long-ago bout with schizophrenia for most of my life, why am I writing about it now, in such a public way? Although I’m writing under a pen name, I have no illusions about how easy it would be for someone to find out my real name, if they really wanted to.
Today, I am telling my story because I’m tired of living behind a mask. Keeping my past hidden feels very lonely. I am also telling my story because I want to encourage others who are living in the worst kind of mental and emotional hell. I want them to know they aren’t alone.
Most of all, I want people to understand that being labeled “schizophrenic” isn’t hopeless and it does not have to be forever. If I could recover, I believe anyone can.
Having a nervous breakdown at the age of fourteen after enduring years of childhood trauma was horrific. Being committed by my abusive parent to a notorious state insane asylum was a living nightmare. But the worst hell by far has been the intense SHAME I have secretly lived with for most of my life, shame for simply being ME.
I am fortunate because I was released from the asylum when I was young enough to have a full life. I am very grateful for the life I’ve had. But my life could have been so much easier, if I didn’t have to feel ashamed of where I had been and what had happened to me.
My hope is that by telling my story, others will be encouraged to let go of this soul-killing shame.
Telling my story is scary, but it is also freeing. For the first time, I am able to take a deep breath and know my life isn’t going to shatter because of a “shameful” secret.
The ignorant and cruel stigma against mental illness needs to end.
People used to be shamed for having cancer. This seems ridiculous now, but if you research it you will find it is true. The day needs to come when it will seem just as ridiculous that people were ever made to feel ashamed for being mentally ill.
In Truth, Peace, and Love ~ Linda
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ABOUT COMMENTS: I have disabled comments to focus on writing my memoir. In the meantime, you may contact me on Twitter via @LadyQuixote.
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