By Ty H. Phillips
My name is Ty Phillips and I have mental illness.
Many of you already know this, especially if you’ve followed my writing for any length of time. When I first started sharing and writing, it was a topic I mentioned frequently because it was something very dominant in my life. I didn’t receive any support from family when I started writing about it. As a matter of fact, I was told to stop. It was embarrassing to them and made me look bad (as did being a Buddhist apparently).
As I continued to struggle with my illness, I sought treatment, medication and even stayed for a short time in a unit to help me learn to cope with extreme anxiety.
When we would go to group sessions, I was shocked to hear how common it was for people to hear, “Just get over it, grow up, be a man, just smile, it’s your choice to feel this way, or to just stop thinking about it.” I had heard these so often that I started to believe them and the more I believed that it was my own fault the worse I became.
As my anxiety worsened, I was told so often that I was an embarrassment and that I needed to be a man.
I became morbidly depressed soon after. I started struggling with suicidal ideations and quietly drifting off into oblivion seemed like the best course of action. In the back of my mind though, was how it would impact my children.
Eventually I started sharing with my family and the first thing I was told was that I needed to set my life right with Jesus. I was of course having all of these problems because I was living in sin. I immediately shut down. This was not only helpful but cut off what little source of connection I thought I had.
Eventually I found a great CBT therapist who started working with me and knew my interest in Buddhism. I spent many hours in his office fighting panic attacks, crying, and going over the traumas of my life. It was helpful. It was soothing and the practices started to make sense and even to help me. I started going back out into the world. I started training again. I started living outside of the dark basement room where I had spent 90% of my time.
Here is a simple fact: One in four people suffer from mental illness of some form. Many of the “new age hokum can organically heal that broken limb with essential oils” type of people love to blame mental illness on what we eat or where we shop and victim blame in so many words. The truth is, the brain is a part of the body and when it is not producing the chemicals it should, we become unstable. Acid reflux, migraines, poor vision, arthritis and any list of others forms of illness are treated successfully with medication, diet and exercise.
These illnesses are treated as real, as factual, as not our fault yet when we complain of mental illness, everyone seems to forget that the brain resides within the body and that even slight changes in the brains physical or chemical makeup can have profound impacts on the personality.
Mental illness is real—very real. I have lost friends to it and I almost lost myself to it. Over the last few months I have been struggling again but I stick to my practices and I have managed to muddle through.
I am not touting Buddhism as a cure all—it’s not. It is a practice and like anything, it requires just that, practice.
What I want to convey in this message is not how to get over it, but instead that you are not alone. Medication and therapy are not something to feel ashamed of nor is being honest about your struggle. In fact, honoring your struggle and being honest are the best first step to learning how to work with it if not entirely healing from it. There are no magic Band-Aids and there is no “just get over it” mental power. In reality, there are people who have suffered and been somewhat victorious who can help you. There are people who want to talk, to listen, to be patient and understand what is happening to you.
Again, my name is Ty Phillips and I have mental illness…and you are not alone.
Editor: Dana Gornall