Darkness Visible

O P I N I O N

TIMELY WRITER

by John Angelo


I like to joke that my PTSD, OCD and depression keeps a whole team of counselors and a medicine woman in business. My daily life is no laughing matter, though. Each day presents a new challenge. Mental illness allows me and several millions of others to pass as normal. It’s an invisible disability for the most part though, and with stigma persisting few mentally challenged people come out of the closet. Greeting cards and workplace signs stating, “You don’t have to be crazy to work here, but it helps,” are the defining understanding of mental illness for most people.

In 1949 Mental Health America designated May as Mental Health Awareness month. Today green ribbons are worn to signify support.

I’m 71 years young but got a PTSD diagnosis only a decade ago after a month of troubling dreams and awake auras. I’m here to tell you that repressed memories are a real thing. My seminal events of abuse occurred when I was 6 years old. I was diagnosed with OCD/depression when I was 19, a typical age for the onset of mental illness. I learned only recently that about two-thirds of people who have PTSD also have some level of OCD.

Depression is the leading cause of disability for those aged 15-44 and accounts for 41,000 suicides each year. One-in-five adults and 1-in-10 adolescents experience some level of depression annually. Those with a familial history of depression are 2-3 times more likely to struggle with depression (count me in here too!), and account for 35 percent of all diagnoses of depression. Depression accounts for 65.4 percent of all mental health services even though only one out of five adults with depression seeks treatment.

In World War I it was shell shock. It was called combat fatigue in WWII. The diagnosis of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) only started with the American War in Vietnam and continues today with those deployed to combat zones. A combat zone could also be an abusive family of origin or an abusive partner. It is an illness that keeps on giving. Psychiatric medications are helpful but know that everyone has a PTSD threshold, a limit of how much stress one can handle until the PTSD cup runneth over. Support our veterans. No gaslighting (“It couldn’t have been that bad”) allowed.

Not all therapists are created equal. Some come into a therapeutic relationship attempting to put the client into their favorite diagnostic box. Some blame the patient. I’ve had an angry counselor tell me to put my past in a shoebox and put it on the highest shelf in my closet.

When I do interviews for my writing, I work on a 45-second rule. My question should be brief and an answer should stick to 45 seconds. My only departure from this is with the last question: “Is there anything else you’d like to add?” It’s often my only open-ended question.

A good therapist is a good listener and a time limit for both the therapist and the client works well here too. A good therapist knows when to listen, when to advise, and when to steer the conversation back to the topic at hand. Being a good listener does not mean letting the client talk for 45 minutes of a 50-minute session.

Resources:

  • The nationalcouncil.org offers a free Mental Health Awareness Month Toolkit.
  • Statistics for this article came from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM-IV) and hopefordepression.org.
  • Three books worth reading are Darkness Visible by William Styron,  Anatomy of an Epidemic by Robert Whitaker and The Body Keeps the Score by Besel van der Kolk.
  • goffstownlibrary.com/558/Mental-Health

You can reach John Angelo at timelywriter@hotmail.com