I was sitting, just waiting for my name to be called for ECT when an older lady sat down next to me, waiting for her turn. We exchanged a polite hello, and then she asked me if this was my first time. “No,” I told her. “This is my twenty-fifth time; I originally had 15, and then I’ve been having maintenance treatments since.”
She told me that she’s previously had ten treatments while she was inpatient, and now she’s back on an outpatient basis. She then asked me, “Do you have an chemical imbalance?” I’ve never had anyone ask me a question like that, so I kind of chuckled and said, “Well, I suppose so.” The old lady quickly replied, “You don’t have to be ashamed of it.”
“Oh, I’m not,” I said to her, but I think she touched on something. I did feel a hesitation in my voice when I tried to answer her question, and that giggle; It’s a sure sign that I wasn’t able to say a clear ‘yes’ even though that should’ve been the answer. How is it so hard to tell another person who’s going through the same treatment that you have a mental illness, or a ‘chemical imbalance?’
I write almost daily in this journal that can technically be accessed by any stranger. But for some reason, I still have trouble saying that I have bipolar disorder. This isn’t something people necessarily need to know, but I do think that this illness shapes me as a person in a way that many other physical illnesses may not. So, when is it the right moment to reveal this part of you? This is a question I suppose I’ll have to decide anytime I meet a new person. Will it get any easier as time goes by?
The old lady began to tell me how her troubles started a long time ago and how she feels like she was born this way. I did not know what to say back to her. My depression started when I was very young, too, but I could not get the words out of my mouth and tell her my side of the story. Soon after, it was my turn to go to the treatment room. “Nice talking to you,” she said to me. “You, too,” I replied, as I thought about what I could have said to her during our conversation.
I know I missed a chance to say it on Monday, but it’s better late than never:
I have a chemical imbalance.