Cheap Seats 2023 By Rich Trzupek
Being There, Being Here 01-23
By Rich Trzupek
This is a column that I’ve written more than a few times in my 22 years of bloviating on the pages of the mighty Examiner. But it involves a theme and message that I think is important enough to revisit every few years. If my story can affect even one of your stories in a positive way, then it’s worth retelling.
My story is about my journey through mental distress to something reasonably approaching mental health. Note that I use the verb “journey,” not “struggle” or “battle” or other similarly charged terms. I do not view my mental health history in terms of me courageously battling demons. Instead, I think of my mental health history in terms of identifying and finding solutions to address certain deficiencies with which I was born.
If you are born with a recognized physical deficiency like scoliosis, diabetes, anemia, etc. your response to addressing the problem is not about courage, it’s about utilizing the tools at hand as best as you possibly can.
The same is true of mental health deficiencies, though many don’t think about it that way. Most, though not all, mental health issues are about biochemical mis-firing in the brain, just as diabetic issues are about the pancreas refusing to do its duty.
My emotional health issues first manifested themselves circa 1979, when I was a 20-year-old junior attending Loyola University of Chicago and living on my own for the first time in my life. Not only was I living on my own for the first time, I was also working pretty near full time hours at Marshall Field’s in order to pay for tuition, rent and necessities.
Those obligations naturally placed a lot of stress on a 20-year-old psyche, but my experience was hardly unique. Many a classmate was in the same boat, or nearly so. It’s amazing how much you can deal with when you’re young.
I had my first anxiety attack that year, or “panic attack” if that suits your fancy. It had all of what I would come to learn are the classic symptoms of anxiety attacks. My heart felt like it was about to burst. I struggled for breath. Every attempt to grasp hold of the situation lead to more fear and more – so apparently real – “physical symptoms.”
One weird part of my anxiety attacks is that they were always accompanied by a loss of the ability to see the world in three dimensions. The world flattened out. I have no idea why. In one way, it was an interesting phenomenon. On the other hand, it made figuring out where to stop for a traffic light something of a challenge.
Like many a person who has a mental disorder, I was at first loathe to address the issue. I was a tough-ass Polack and I could weather this, or any, storm. And so I toughed it out for the next nine years, battling through each incidence with gritted teeth.
I finally gave in and sought professional help. Finding the right professional back then took a bit of work, but eventually I did. My doc prescribed a couple of meds designed to lower my tendency to give into panic and to enhance the way that my brain synapses communicate with each other.
That fix was fabulously successful, both in the original treatment program and in subsequent updates as medicine has advanced. My life has been enhanced more than I can possibly express because of the treatment I have received. There is no way that I could continue to annoy liberal readers of the mighty Examiner for so long but for the care I was blessed to be given.
It has been decades since I thought that my mental health story is in any way stigmatizing. Nor have I ever believed it is somehow heroic. It’s about reality. Period. If you find that you have a particular handicap, no matter what that handicap happens to be, you figure out how to deal with it. You shouldn’t give a crap how anyone else on planet earth feels about that short-coming. Nor should you sprain your arm patting yourself on the back for having dealt with the issue.
The reward for accepting and dealing with any issue that holds you back is simple and satisfying. It’s the reward that awaits you every time you dare to look in the mirror.