May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

I’m among the many unfortunate souls who are affected by mental illness. While a month dedicated to raising awareness of mental health issues is nice, people like me face the realities and stigmas of mental illness 12 months a year.

Our sickness takes place in the wiring of our brains, where signals we are supposed to be getting don’t go through, or come through mixed up.

Some people may view anyone with a metal illness as crazy because “it’s all in their heads.” They’re partly right. It is in our heads, but that does not make us crazy.

If even one reader is inspired by something in this column and takes positive action in managing their mental health, then my words will have accomplished my goals.

I was not diagnosed with clinical depression until I was 33, but through extensive counseling I can trace mine back to when I was 9 or 10. I had gone untreated for 23 years.

When I was diagnosed and placed on Prozac, I figured I knew more than the doctors, so I foolishly would go out drinking while medicated. It did nothing to heighten the effect of the alcohol, but the booze cancelled out any of the pharmaceutical effects of the antidepressant.

Then I made my biggest mistake. I decided part of the reason I was depressed was my financial situation, and since Prozac was not yet available generically, I was paying quite a bit for it. If I just quit shelling out money for Prozac I’d feel better, right?

I was almost dead wrong. One night when I was sitting alone in my apartment, I convinced myself the only reasons I had to wake up the next day were my two children. At that point I could find nothing else to live for.

I worked at Mercy in Dubuque at this time, and I knew I was in a dangerous area mentally. I swallowed anything resembling pride and committed myself to the mental health unit at the same hospital where I was widely known.

When my kids’ mother brought them up for a visit, one of them said to me, “But we thought you were hurt.” I explained to them that if I broke my arm they would be able to see a cast, but for this hurt the cast was on the inside.

My mother and father lived two blocks away from the hospital but did not come up to visit me. I always felt they thought my committing myself was a sign of weakness, when really it was the strongest thing I’ve ever done for myself.

I’m still depressed in the clinical sense, and most likely always will be. But I know that help is available for people who want it, just like I did. I don’t enjoy the fact that I am depressed, but it is not something I say I “suffer” from.

You can LIVE with mental illness as I do, and function just fine.