This past weekend, I had the opportunity to vend my polymer clay jewelry and accessories, at a local Christmas Bazaar. This fund-raising event benefits Peers Helping Peers, a locally-based mental health advocacy organization.
In this weekend’s interactions with several of the men and women who receive assistance through this organization, I couldn’t help but think about all of the similarities, as well as all of the differences, between several of these individuals, and myself.
We both have struggled intensely with mental illness. Actually, I have always despised that term. Yes, I have a longstanding history of battling severe depression. I strongly believe that my struggles with persistent depression have been a primary symptom of having been diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS.
However, I refuse to conceptualize depression as purely a mental disorder. Actually, it’s far more accurate to define depression as a mind-body disorder.
Depression is manifested in an extensive range of emotional, cognitive, motivational, behavioral, and physical symptoms. Coincidentally, I happened to see a man with whom I had previously worked, fully twenty years ago, when I was a psychiatric assignment officer for a local hospital. He and I had both worked for the same inpatient mental health unit.
One of the women who receives services through Peers Helping Peers happened to overhear this very conversation. She questioned if both of us may possibly have been working at the mental health unit during the period of time when she happened to receive inpatient psychiatric hospitalization.
Hearing her say these words was a true internal jolt. During my previous employment as a psychiatric assignment officer, I was pursuing my doctoral degree in Clinical Health Psychology. I thought about all of the ways in which this woman’s life, surprisingly enough, actually mirrored my own. I couldn’t help but also think about the ways in which our lives were distinctly divergent.
Whereas I went on to obtain my doctorate in Clinical Health Psychology, this woman currently receives full social security disability benefits, due to her persistent psychiatric struggles. I eventually received my licensure as a psychologist, initially in Illinois, and more recently, in New York. I have never been hospitalized for psychiatric difficulties, despite my history of recurrent major depression.
I mentioned to this woman that I happen to be a clinical psychologist, and that it’s very important for me to participate in this annual fundraising event. I did not disclose my personal history of depression. In chatting with my former co-worker, he and I exchanged information about what we’re currently doing. I shared that I am currently teaching Abnormal Psychology, at a local university. I thought about just how truly blessed I am to be doing so, for so many different reasons.
Yes, I am both fully a doctor, as well as a patient. It’s a delicate dance, comprised of many intertwining steps, to simultaneously acknowledge these dual identities.