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My View: Finding the courage to face mental illness

By Anna Steinberg

When I was 21 years old, I was hospitalized after a suicide attempt and diagnosed with bipolar disorder, anxiety and borderline personality disorder. After the diagnosis, it finally felt like I had been validated.

All those years of bouncing from depression to mania and back again, each time hurting myself and others in ways I cannot begin to fathom even now, 11 years later – it all finally made sense. There was something wrong with me, and I could finally be open to the world as to why I was hurting.

Except, I couldn’t. Every time I posted something on social media about my diagnoses, about being extra depressed one day or knowing I was making my way into mania another day, I was admonished for being open.

“What happens if your future employers see you posting about depression and they don’t offer you a job because of it?”

So, I became silent. For too many years I chose not to speak up about my mental health. I was living it, and worst of all I saw other people living it, but was too afraid to speak out.

Until one day, there was a whisper in my workplace. “So and so’s son was admitted into BryLin last night.” BryLin Hospital, Buffalo’s private psychiatric facility, where I had spent a good number of weeks over the past few years during particularly trying times. BryLin, where I felt a safety beyond what I could ever feel at home. A place that brought me back from near-catatonic depression into the world of laughter yoga and art therapy.

Anna Steinberg.

The day I heard that whispered rumor, that was the day I decided to ignore all those who had told me it was a bad decision to be open. I went up to my co-worker and shared my story, a tale of hope beyond the darkness. I told her how BryLin had essentially saved my life numerous times, how getting admitted on different occasions was the smartest thing I had done to turn my depression around.

I began being open on social media, and in real life. I was honest about the times I needed to take off a day of work because I was too depressed to get out of bed and take a shower. I was honest about the multitude of medications I take daily, posting pictures on Facebook of piles of prescription pills that I’ve now learned to down in a single gulp.

I’ve been honest about the weight gain, an unfortunate side effect to some of the most important medications in my life. I’ve been open about medical insurance not covering the treatments I need, and the fact that sometimes I go for months without proper psychiatric care because there are simply no psychiatrists around here that take my insurance without a monthslong waiting list.

And a few years ago, a little while after yet another psychiatric hospitalization, I helped a co-worker decide that she needed to be admitted for suicidal thoughts, something she would not have done on her own.

These issues are only exacerbated by silence. We need to teach our children that seeing a therapist or psychiatrist is the same as seeing one’s primary physician.

There are all sorts of awareness months dealing with mental illness; May is Mental Health Awareness Month and Suicide Awareness Month is in September. But the reality is that mental illness is every day.

A psychiatric hospital helped save Anna Steinberg, of North Tonawanda, from severe depression.

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