The Person Behind the Smile

Fran's Story

I've had to contend with mental illness as long as I can remember. As you'd expect, I come from a very dysfunctional family. We've struggled with many forms of mental illness, including alcoholism, drug addiction, sexual abuse, and domestic violence.

"The stigma society places on someone plagued with mental illness is atrocious."

For years I ignored the warning signs of my developing depression and bipolar affective disorder, all the while turning my denial into an art form. It was like putting on another person's suit and masquerading through the day, while shutting down everything going on inside. Pretending to be just "peachy" helped me to become emotionally numb to the insensitive world all around me. But I was actually hurting so much inside that I would literally heave from nauseating migraines and debilitating bouts of depression.

Why Deny?

So why did I always deny what I felt? Because the stigma society places on someone plagued with mental illness is atrocious. For example, a few family members and friends have ridiculed me because they haven't understood what I'm going through, or won't face the fact that they may be showing characteristics of mental illness. I've even felt that some health professionals haven't taken me seriously, viewing my mental illness as a red flag. Then there have been employers who've reprimanded me because I wasn't "fitting in with the crowd."

I've contemplated suicide so many times, going so far as putting a pistol in my mouth, the magazine next to me on the floor. Fortunately, my wonderful niece was able to talk me through that horrible nightmare. Sadly, my 19-year marriage did not survive the stress. Too much lack of communication took its toll.