Most of us are reluctant to acknowledge personal issues regarding mental health, but commentator Rawlins Gilliland believes denial is a grave concern.
Considering, recently, how many brutal tragedies ask us if the world has lost its mind, one numbing measure of our national mental health drew too little notice. Last year, 303 of our American troops deployed in Afghanistan committed suicide; fifty percent more than died in active duty. While we continue mourning the public murders of innocent strangers, each soldier’s private death reveals how depression makes taking one’s own life the loneliest option.
Inabilities to cope range from a manageable malaise to the insurmountable despair. Frankly, I trust no one who claims never to have known depression, considering disarmed vulnerability to be the asking price for risky daring. But I’ve also seen how unrecognized early childhood emotional imbalance eventually undermines adult equilibrium.
Growing up, I and a neighborhood peer played cowboys and Indians until, around twelve, his rubber tomahawk became an actual hatchet hacked into my forearm. He, whose family remained stoic upon learning their son was sexually abused at five, had crossed over into sociopath disconnect. Today, I suspect that boy would retreat to virtual isolation; playing war games, streaming sexual sites; a frustrated online misfit whose ‘reality’ is an antisocial mindset. And then what?
How true the saying, "as the twig is bent so grows the tree." As resilient adults, some of us acquire a regenerative capacity to see once gaping psychological wounds become surface scars. But damage done to children cuts to the bone. In pre-school, when older boys dismembered my teddy bear, laughing they were killing my friend, that early cruelty became indelible since it was inflicted in an otherwise innocent time. Yet somehow, after being violently abducted at twenty, left face down naked in frozen mud; with time, that nightmare evolved to become an archived anecdotal horror story since I both experienced it and processed it as an adult.
There are, of course, residuals; in my case phobias which appear like mushrooms after the rain. Repressing phobias is like pushing down on a waterbed over here and watching it pop up over there. Something simple becomes paralyzing, like dreams where we try to run but cannot move. A small pile of compost remained in my driveway so long that it was visible for years when anyone Googled my address. It took two minutes to remove.
Can we not declare war on depression when our war veterans suffer post-traumatic stress disorders, while others struggle in domestic battlefields where, too often, the prevailing medical attention concerns which pill to prescribe? I think of my otherwise indomitable mother who never overcame not being adopted after her widowed mother remarried. When she began to unravel, doctors gave her the first modern "tranquilizer," Miltown, which prompted her to fly us to Shreveport in the middle of the night. Knowing we knew no one and were stranded, I protested she had "lost her mind." To which she replied with drink in hand, "Nonsense. Losing one’s mind is harder than you think. I’ve tried for years." I wish her words rang true today.