Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Power of a Memory

                    After sharing my memory of one of the harshest parts of my depression, I have been thinking about the power of sharing personal experiences.  Mental illness is one of the least understood problems in first world countries (possibly in the world), and it is made all the more difficult because the average person who does not have a mental illness may have no context to understand what a sufferer is going through.  Add to that the huge variety of mental and emotional illnesses, and the dozens of symptoms which may or may not present in any given case of even a single illness, and it becomes nigh on impossible.
                    Especially in the United States, where terms like "psycho" and "retarded" are tossed around as casual insults as well as to describe people with mental illnesses, there is an enormous stigma and shame that tends to be associated with any one who admits to needing mental help.  I don't mean to imply that there hasn't been great progress toward closing that sympathy gap, because there has, especially in the last decade.  But most people, if they have any non-personal exposure to mental illness at all, know merely a list of signs or symptoms.  The transition from knowing that list, to being able to imagine experiencing it, for many people, is simply a jump too big to make, despite their best efforts.
                    This is why I have been considering a long term project to write a book that would allow those who suffer from mental illnesses to share their experiences in their own words.  I know that right now I am not really qualified to attempt to compile such a book.  I would have to be much closer to my counselor's license, if not actually holding it, and I would have to be very careful about disclosures and conflicts of interest.
                    But I think that a book of first person descriptions like the one I shared might make it a little easier for others to understand.  And it wouldn't just be personal accounts:  In this vague idea I have for a structure, I would introduce and follow each memory with information about the illness and how to find appropriate resources if the reader or someone the reader knows might have the same illness.
                    What do you think?  Is this a horrible idea?  Is there already a similar book on the market of which I am simply unaware?  Am I being vain and egocentric to think that I could pull this off?  Let me know in the comments, or shoot me an e-mail at the address at the top of the screen.

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