At the time of me writing this, it is both Thanksgiving and, simultaneously, my 29th birthday. I am at the age where most people settle down, focus on their career and start a family.
But that is not the case for those living with mental health conditions.
I have had a difficult two years, being hospitalized twice for mental breakdowns, quitting multiple jobs, and failing to fulfill my personal goal of living independently. This is not an unfamiliar story for those of us diagnosed with conditions such as autism or bipolar disorder.
A lot of us, in an innate and human desire to prove our worth, seek to lie or hide the nature of these conditions. I have always lived openly with my conditions, because I don’t think you should hide who you are to conform to a society that deems you “disabled.”
Even worse, sometimes when we express ourselves, we are told not to “play the victim.” We are expected to be strong when we are actually weak, and then we are surprised when all of this comes out in one gigantic explosion of emotions.
I don’t speak openly about the multiple times I’ve tried to kill myself, not because I wanted to die, but because I felt my life was a burden to society.
I don’t speak openly about the discrimination that I have experienced in the workforce, or the bullying from my own peers at college.
I don’t speak openly about the abuse I experienced as a child, or the two months I spent in jail being mistreated by our fine law enforcement personnel.
I don’t speak about it because I don’t consider myself a victim of abuse, nor do I blame a system that is inherently flawed for everyone. I don’t go out, like others in my generation, and protest capitalism or blame a President who has never even met me.
I survive, and I hold on to the pain of knowing that everyone thinks of me a certain way based on behaviors I cannot control, and conditions of which they are unaware.
Thanksgiving is about family, and one of the great things about Lee County is that it is very much a family. And almost everyone in our family has experiences with mental health issues. It may not be as catastrophic as my own, but no doubt it exists for everyone.
As we move into the Christmas season and the New Year, let us remember that all of us are a little bit mental, all of us have a past that we choose to forget, and all of us, every single one of us, is worthy of love and being loved.
I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving, from one mental case to the rest of you.
Respectfully, Cape Coral resident Sean David Hartman
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