Tuesday, November 22, 2011

My Struggle with Mental HEALTH

After four-ish years with ETD, I think I’ve come to a realization. I don’t have a mental illness.

I had been performing for a year or so before I decided I might have a story of my own related to mental illness that I should write and tell. I wasn’t ready to say that I had a mental illness, but I did have a family history of it and also struggled with addiction earlier in my life.

In the story I wrote and told, I questioned whether this genetic predisposition to depression could be connected to my difficulties with addiction. I wasn’t convinced that it was, but I believed I was not in my right mind doing some of the things I did.

After performing my own monologue for a few years, I had ample opportunity to reflect on the choices I made and why I made them. I’ve learned more about those who have struggled and self-medicated to deal with depression, bipolar, or any number of other mental illnesses. While I was struggling through a dark time in my life, I don’t believe I am or was mentally ill.

ETD’s new mission helped me realize this. During recent strategic planning, we decided to revisit our mission and vision. The outcome was subtle and significant at once. Rather than shedding light on issues of mental illness through theatre, Erasing the Distance now sheds light on mental health issues through theatre. While I do not feel I have a mental illness, I know that I have not always been mentally healthy.

I struggled to cope during dark times in my life. While my struggles probably didn’t have anything to do with my brain wiring and physiology, they had everything to do with my mental well being. My struggle is not any less valid because it was most likely not due to a mental ILLNESS.

After performing for and listening to those who have battled with mental illness, I can say that I feel lucky that my mental health issues were not compounded by my brain chemistry working against me. I am eternally grateful to be a part of this company that allows me to listen and talk to others about their struggles, and reflect on my own.

-Craig

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Craig Thompson is an actor in the Chicago area and has been a member of ETD's ensemble for several years. Click here to check out Craig's posts.

2 comments:

  1. I appreciate this post and your insight about the process of recognizing and validating your own struggles with mental health issues. I think if society were more honest about and less afraid of mental health issues we could admit that we all have times in our lives when we struggle with mental health issues. I doubt that there is a person in existence who is truly totally healthy mentally throughout their life. Part of being human is struggling with emotions and with situations that tax our ability to cope. There is a continuum of mental health. It is too simplistic to imagine that some of us are completely mentally healthy and others are mentally ill.
    I'm also glad to hear that ETD has changed focus to make the subtle but important distinction between being a theater that attempts to shed light on mental illness issues and being a theater that tries to shed light on mental health issues. I think it will strengthen your program.

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  2. Thank you so much for sharing your perspective on this, Craig. I have to admit I've struggled with the change from mental illness to mental health issues. It felt a little like hiding from mental illness, which is the exact opposite of ETD's mission. Hearing how you described it makes me look at it differently and it feels more comfortable. I particularly appreciated how you still honored people who have a mental illness in addition to recognizing there are also people who have struggled with mental health issues.

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