An Invisible Dragon

Friends and family often want to help when someone is sick. They offer to bring meals over, help with laundry, do errands, and spend time visiting. A mental illness can be just as debilitating as any other health problem, but people don’t generally make those kinds of helpful offers to those suffering the pain of depression or anxiety disorder. People look for the visible signs of illness, and for those managing a mental illness, there are no visible bumps or bruises, just a lurking demon – an invisible dragon. The invisible dragon causes many invisible bumps and bruises that provide just as much pain as one would suffer with surgery. But keep in mind that the pain is invisible to others, so few see the need for reaching out to help.

One day during the third year of my period of denial, an incident occurred where well-meaning people suggested that I was not doing enough to help myself, that I was stuck in place, wallowing in self-pity, and allowing myself to become a victim. (that issue of victimization seemed to rear its ugly head a lot – as if I wanted to feel lousy and chose this illness) At the time, what I heard them say to me was that there was really nothing wrong with me except that I was feeling sorry for myself. Today, 16 years after the incident, I now appreciate that they were telling me to get off my butt and do whatever I needed to do to get unstuck. However, I believe that they did not understand the disease with which I was wrestling, and I desperately wanted them to understand all of its facets. But the bottom line was that they were giving me the right advice even if they did not understand the impact of the disease.

It was really important to me that these people understand. I wanted them to know how hard I was working towards getting better. I wanted them to know that my pain level reached a ten many days. I wanted them to know that I had to talk myself through each day acting as my own cheerleader. I wanted them to know that the uncertainty of each day was scary. I wanted them to know that the pain got so bad on a few occasions that I just wanted to close my eyes and say goodbye. There was so much I wanted them to understand. I was really hurt and angry that day (there were invisible flames coming out of my ears). For a short period of time as we sat together, I tried to explain to them through tears of frustration just how hard I was trying to get well, and how hard it is to fight an invisible dragon. I believed at the time that they did not hear me. I believe still, that they do not understand the depth and breadth, the pain and anguish, or the loneliness of a mental health illness. What I know is that I decided to stop trying to convince them of anything because I thought it was wasted verbiage. It left me frustrated. It left me sad. If left me thinking about the issue of shame and stigma for 16 years.


3 thoughts on “An Invisible Dragon

  1. I love the metaphor of the dragon–as we’ve all grown up knowing it’s seemingly impossible to tame a dragon.


  2. Thank you for this blog. Thank you for your openness and the transparency that you have with all you have been through. Thank you for touching the lives of so many people you many never know, and most of all thank you for your honesty.


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