We humans tend to think we've got stuff all figured out after a few brief exposures to a topic. We're often very quick to form an opinion and find "evidence" to support it while ignoring more nuanced views or facts that contradict our already-formed opinion.
(For a great in-depth look at this phenomenon, read The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt. It changed the way I approach learning and addressing facts that challenge my assumptions. Fascinating.)
Anyway, I've seen several interesting articles lately that encouraged readers to challenge their assumptions about sensitive topics including depression, other mental illness, and homelessness.
After my oldest son was born - a month ahead of schedule and with a now-resolved condition that caused him to "forget" to breathe occasionally - I fell into a deep post-partum depression. I didn't recognize it at the time for what it was, but I knew there was something wrong with me when other new moms seemed truly happy despite the stress and isolation and lack of sleep, and I just couldn't feel anything but sad and disconnected. The contrast was very apparent after my second child was born and the fog I'd been bracing myself for never came. (Check out Brooke Shields' memoir Down Came the Rain for an intimate portrait of her experience with postpartum depression.)
For a long time, I was ashamed to admit to anyone that I had been depressed after what was supposed to be one of the happiest moments in my life. Obviously, since I'm now publishing it to the world at large on my blog, I'm not trying to keep it under wraps anymore, but I still appreciate the courage and strength it takes to "out" yourself to people who may or may not understand.
So I'm grateful to those profiled in this article, "These 12 Incredibly Successful People Will Change the Way You Think About Depression." Buzz Aldrin, Ellen Degeneres, Abraham Lincoln, J.K. Rowling have all been open about their struggles with depression and have helped countless others because of it.
|Buzz's official astronaut picture from 1969|
Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses, but it's by no means the only one. Another article by the same author, this one titled "These Wildly Successful People Will Prompt You to Rethink What It Means to Have a Mental Illness", highlights celebrities and others in the public eye with bipolar disorder, ADHD, and OCD. Howie Mandel, Adam Levine, Carrie Fisher and Ludwig van Beethoven have all dealt with various mental illnesses in their lives.
If you're interested in reading more about schizophrenia, I can recommend two fascinating books about individuals with this disorder. The first is The Soloist: A Lost Dream, an Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music, about a talented musician enrolled at Julliard who ends up homeless after his diagnosis. It was later made into a touching movie starring Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey, Jr. The second is called Recovered, Not Cured: A Journey through Schizophrenia and is written by Richard McLean, a man with paranoid schizophrenia. A slim volume, it is powerful and personal and includes sketches McLean drew to explain his mental state better than words could.
And for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Once a Warrior, Always a Warrior by Charles W. Hoge is a thorough approach that was recommended to me by someone dealing with PTSD herself. If you or a loved one are struggling with PTSD, it can be a life-saving book.
On a slightly different note, there are many assumptions made about homeless people. This short video called Homeless in Orlando produced by Rethink Homelessness demonstrates that - to use the tired cliche - you can't judge a book by its cover. We are all more complex than one facet of our lives.