Climbing Out of The Hole – A Story of Mental Illness

Climbing Out of The Hole – A Story of Mental Illness

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I’ve been contemplating for a while the notion of starting a series on The Jesson Press about mental and emotional health. It is a subject very near and dear to my heart. I make no bones about the fact that I take an anti-depressant. Nor am I ashamed to admit that mental illness is woven into the fabric of my entire life since I first appeared on the corporeal plane. While we are experiencing less stigma around mental illness than when I was a girl, we have not yet shaken the misconceptions: That the mentally ill are weak. That the mentally ill are broken. That all the mentally ill have to do is get over it, be strong, pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. That the mentally ill don’t deserve compassion, or understanding, or help. That the mentally ill should be ashamed, should hide their illness. And the biggest misconception of all—that mental illness is not really an illness.

It is. Whether biology or some outside traumatic forces causes it, the end result is the same. It’s a soapbox issue for me. Brain health for the mentally ill is as important to me as brain health for those living with dementia.

So, I’m going to put on display my personal experience with mental illness. Full disclosure—I’m doing well now and no one need worry about me when they start to read my story. Good things and happiness can come from tragedy. That’s my point.

In The Hole

The mind is its own place, and in itself

Can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.

Paradise Lost
John Milton

I grew up in The Hole. I spent my first 18 years trying to climb out of The Hole, and the rest of my life trying like hell to not fall back in.

The Hole exists both tangibly and intangibly. Tangibly, it is a three-bedroom one-bath house on Pine Street in Geneva, New York. It was built in the 1880s and was white clapboard when I lived there. It had a big, deep back yard lined with mature trees, a tree house and neighbors close on both sides. 

The Hole is the house where my father grew up. It is where he shoveled coal into the furnace to heat the house in winter. It’s where he worked on his stamp and coin collections. It is where his father beat him, and where his mother returned to when she was released from an insane asylum. It is where his father stole from his coin collection to buy booze. It is where his grandmother killed herself. 

The Hole is where I watched my father humiliate my mother and abuse her verbally and emotionally. It is where my brother and I sat side by side, silently and in the dark, for hours, on the bottom step listening to the snores of a sleeping dragon upstairs, worried about what might happen if we woke him up.

The Hole is fear. The Hole is wretchedness. It is loneliness and self-isolation at the same time. It is hating yourself. It is longing for what is not and for what you think you can never have, what you think you don’t deserve. It is reliving the same terrible moment over and over again. The Hole is feeling like your life is not worth anything, that you aren’t good at anything, and that the world would be better off without you. The Hole is wanting to be dead.

All of us get lost in the darkness
Dreamers learn to steer by the stars
All of us do time in the gutter
Dreamers turn to look at the cars
Turn around and turn around and turn around
Turn around and walk the razor’s edge
Don’t turn your back
And slam the door on me

The Pass
Presto – 1989

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