There are three dates I commemorate every year: December 18 – my birthday; August 27 – my sobriety date; and today April 25, – the date I slipped into my last – and hopefully final – major depression.
April 25 is the day the lights went out. That’s how I describe it. Game over. Done. I had tried to keep it together but on the morning of April 25, 2006 but I bonked. The woman who had run marathons and triathlons, restored her 80-year-old house and raised her daughter as a single-working mom could go no further.
I got up early that morning feeling spiritually and emotionally bankrupt. Crying but numb. I dragged my ass to the gym, thinking the endorphins from a spin class might help. I closed my eyes and pedaled so hard that my cheeks flapped like a racehorse and foam formed in the corners of my mouth.
When I finally got off the bike, my legs wobbled and I waited for the endorphin rush but there was none. Just failure, exhaustion and brutal anxiety
According to an April 9th article written by Shirley Wang in The Wall Street Journal, “people with long-term psychological stress, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder tend to develop earlier and more serious forms of physical illnesses.”
Recent research suggests that disorders commonly associated with aging appear earlier and in more serious forms in in people with depression and other mental disorders and it appears to be happening at the CELLULAR LEVEL!
Why is this such good news? Because there seems to be this myth – which really ticks me off – that mental illnesses are not physical illnesses. Mental illnesses, such as depression, are chalked up to character defects, a lack of discipline, self-absorption and weakness.
All brains are not created equal. We accept that our bodies – from the neck down – are different and have limitations because of those differences. But we seem to have a problem understanding that our brains are different and limited, too.
We do not expect Danny Devito to play basketball as well as Jeremy Lin because Danny is vertically challenged. No matter how many spin classes you go to, you body will never be as perfectly proportioned for riding a bicycle as Lance Armstrong. We do not consider Gweneth Paltrow an inferior human being because she can’t sing like Aretha Franklin. And all the Hail Mary’s in the Vatican ain’t ever going to get me into the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. Not gonna happen.
We accept the physical limitations of our bodies because we can see that they are built differently. Maybe it’s our DNA or maybe we didn’t get the foods we needed to support healthy muscle and bone growth when we were kids.
But when it comes to the brain, we seem to have this notion that everyone’s brain is the same.
No one tried harder to prevent Amy Kern from hurting anyone than Amy Kern. No one listened the night she banged on the door of a mental hospital. In the day that followed, Amy Kern shot and killed a man she barely knew and bludgeoned and mutilated her grandmother so horribly that the local newspaper couldn’t publish the details.
Yesterday, in a courtroom filled with livid relatives and a weeping Amy Kern, a judge answered the impossibly difficult question: What should we do with Amy? What should become of this 33-year-old mother of a 3-year-old daughter who carries a load of guilt that could crush her?
Should Amy go to prison for the rest of her life where she will very likely get very little treatment for her bipolar disorder and schizophrenia? Or, should Amy be declared not guilty by reason of insanity and spend years – perhaps the rest of her life – in a locked-down mental health treatment facility?
This case has consumed me since Amy’s rampage on Feb. 7, 2009 – not just because of the astoundingly horrific actions of this once wholesome, all-American teen – but because everything that is wrong with our mental health care system went wrong on that night despite Amy’s efforts to get help.