My name is Martin Leggett and I have No Shame.
I have spent years under the horror of possession. No, my head doesn’t spin around nor do I projectile vomit or have a sudden allergy to holy water, but I am possessed just the same. These things live deep inside me, they foster my loneliness, my sadness and my fears because they feed on those things. The worse those feelings get, the stronger they become and the weaker and more helpless I feel. And that’s how they want me, weak and afraid, sad and alone because then they can seize control of me and they have only bad intentions.
I had always been an introverted and quiet child, if I was ever bad my mother said I never needed punishment because I would be so remorseful and sad, I’d punished myself. The sudden, unexplainable sadness really became prominent in my late teens as I grappled with my A-levels back in England. I had few friends though the ones I had I kept close, and around this time my best friend suffered a tragedy and lost his father to brain cancer. I loved him and his family and those feelings of sadness I felt creeping into the edges of my consciousness made me feel ashamed. After all, I had both of my parents and they were healthy and I had been loved, never wanting for anything. I buried those feelings deep down because I did not feel I deserved to feel them. They weren’t earned.
University was not easy for me as I struggled with anxiety. My first attempt to move away from home lasted one day. I went to beautiful Bangor Univeristy where I had a massive panic attack and my parents had to drive three hours to come get me. For a long, long time I looked back at that day and chastised myself for my weakness, for that crippling anxiety that rendered me a sobbing wreck. I pursued my degree closer to home and things were okay for a while until my second year, the stress increased and those things that possessed me started to return. At first it just made me sad for no reason but then it started to isolate me from my friends and then there were days I was just unable to get out of bed. I had no rational way of explaining how I felt, it didn’t even feel like the stress of my study it was just an aching sadness that welled up from my gut, taking my life away. I took a break from a year to get my head right. I was prescribed prozac and visited with a counselor. The prozac seemed to even me out but the counselor was a bust, I literally recall nothing about our sessions. But after a year I thought, yes, I was cured. Cured! I knew all about what made me sad now and knew what I did to make it worse, I had it all under control now! Even better, I met a wonderful woman of color who lived in the USA and three years later I had moved across the Atlantic to marry her.
In a few years I had gone from a young man who freaked out living a three hour drive from his birthplace to a slightly older man who uprooted his entire life to live in another country. That felt empowering, it felt refreshing and new and exciting. I spent the next three years feeling the happiest I had ever been. I would still have moodswings, moments of paranoia and fear, anxiety and guilt (OH the guilt, I’ll return to that shortly). These minor bouts with my possession would come and go, my wife would get upset with me, I’d spend a day apologizing and forcing those evil things back down inside me where nobody could see. I did not even realize what those things were or how my issues had never been resolved, I was happy and I was cured! I was still very much ashamed of those lapses. I was working, I had an amazing wife who I adored, I should be happy all of the time so what was wrong with me? Work and money stresses, those issues most of us face, started to make themselves known and at the edges of my consciousness so did my possession. I started a new job, one I had no experience in before. I started to worry that I did not belong there. I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing. My boss would admonish me in front of other employees, I felt like a fraud and an impostor. I told myself I was only kept around because my predecessor had years in the industry and I was a cheap replacement. This was the gaping hole in my emotional armor and my bouts of possession became worse and worse.
Guilt was a real killer for me. I felt guilty that I did not have a job that I was good at, which paid more money so my wife and I could be more comfortable. I grappled with the guilt of being so far away from my family and the people and places I grew up with. I hated myself, yet felt incredible guilt not being in their lives. How can these two feeling possibly coexist in my head? Because there’s no easy way to figure out mental illness, it’s irrational, it twists and turns and denies understanding because it’s stronger that way. I would start to believe that nobody wanted me, least of all myself. The voice in my head would tell me how alone I truly was, that I was weak and pathetic and worthless. Without even realizing it that voice wasn’t in my head anymore, it was my own voice saying these terrible things as if willed by another force, the things that possessed me. They had a grand old time with me for the next year – crying fits, moments of crazed unfocussed elation followed closely by plunges into despair and that deep sadness that burned and twisted my insides. I would break social engagements because I literally couldn’t leave the house. Going to work was a necessity but doing so was agonizing. I would lock myself in the bathroom and have panic attacks, I would have to call my wife from there and have her talk me down. There were days the possession got so strong, those forces told me to go walk into traffic. This was no way to live. I had talked to my wife, some friends and family about my problems but I had never really done anything about it. In January of this year I finally went to my family doctor and talked to her about it. She offered me medication, I turned it down. Yes folks! Panic attacks in the backroom! Walking into traffic! I turned down the first help I was offered! In spite of everything I was feeling and what I had even told her, I was afraid to be helped. The thing that possesses me is a wily and calculating adversary, my guilt and shame were its weapons to prevent me from getting help.
Things got both better and worse for me. Better in that I had actually told a complete stranger about my problem which felt like a turning point for me, but worse in that my mood swings continued to escalate. The previous summer I had started to hear Bassey Ikpi on a podcast and she had talked openly about her mental illness, openly like I had never heard before. Thinking about how she was able to express her feelings like that, I sought out her writing. I read Bassey’s piece Does That Make Me Crazy? Living With Biopolar II and I cried. I cried both because of what she had gone through in her life, but also because I finally realized that my experiences were nothing new for this world. Even better they gave real words to feelings that only existed in my head that I could not properly express. Even, even better, I didn’t do what I had always done and compared Bassey’s experiences to mine. I knew I had never dealt with anything as severe as Bassey did but I didn’t use that to belittle myself like I would have in the past, I saw it as a lesson in getting diagnosed and getting help. I had spent years punishing myself for what I saw as weaknesses and character flaws because other people had always “had it worse”. I saw enough of myself in what Bassey had written to realize that I had not been taking care of myself, that the constant knot in my stomach and my tendency to get sad and down on myself was not normal. What I had was an illness, not something to hide away, but like a broken bone or a viral infection I needed treatment. I deserved treatment. I had been putting so much stress on my dear wife, on my family who were too far away to provide the care they wanted to, I had to make a change for myself. Ultimately it’s up to you, you can have every person you care about tell you to get help but if you let the voice of what possesses you speak for you, that help might not be coming.
It still took time to pluck up the courage to ask for that help, it’s been a long road. But I’ve been on medication for the last month or so that has served to even out my moods which in turn made it easier for me to make the calls I needed. I had my first visit with a psychologist two weeks ago. After a couple of tests she thinks I suffer from moderate depression and severe anxiety. This was another mindblower for me, I had been so focused on depression for so long I had neglected my anxiety. You mean other people don’t necessarily have a knot in their stomach constantly? That not everybody worries deeply about every decision they make, every phone call they make, every social interaction? That’s not normal? Wow. Over 15 years of feeling this way and not once had I thought about anxiety as part of my illness. That is after one visit people! Do I expect breakthroughs every time? No. But after one hour I understood more about myself than I had in the past decade plus. I am very aware that this but the first step on a long journey, but the level of empowerment that one feels having sought and gained the help you deserve cannot be overstated. There is no exorcist waiting for me to take away what is fighting to take over down inside me, but I can learn to be it’s master. Every day I wake up not dreading life is another day that I have learned that I am the one that owns my feelings, my loves, my losses, my sadness, my joy, my experiences. I possess them. They do not possess me.
My name is Martin Leggett and I have No Shame.
Please visit The Siwe Project if you would like to share your experiences or read about others who have either suffered from or had a loved one suffer from mental illness. The Siwe Project is also on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. If you have any questions or comments I am @JawncastMart on Twitter.