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Peterson: A happy, full life is possible

In response to the story "What really happened" published April 28:

Mental illness. When I was Collin Trottier's age, "mental illness" were two words that meant very little to me or my friends. It happened to other people. We were safe because we had control over our minds. Mental illness was a weakness. We bought into the machismo of "Get a grip!" or "Get over it!" But, hey, it's 2018, and we are enlightened, right? We no longer believe mental illness only happens to others. We talk openly and accurately about it. Right? I don't think so.

Reading "What Really Happened," I found that it was a story that probably wouldn't have been written in 1969, the year I graduated from high school. So, at least we have made some progress. However, even though Trottier's story was shared in 2018, should it have been reflective of a more enlightened approach to mental illness? Yes, it should have; but unfortunately, it wasn't.

The ingredients are similar, if not the same, for Trottier and me. A young man showing courage facing an unknown adversary; confused by causes and effects that seem to be disconnected. A mom suffering greatly because her child seems beyond her help. Friends, young and old, with the hope that their friend with so much promise would snap out of it. Good intentions, but no diagnosis. Instead, speculation about what might be the cause. The disease never given the recognition and serious consideration that is required. Trottier faced a disease described by those who have suffered from it as a "hell of one."

Why was help so long in coming?

Depression and anxiety cause an individual's body and brain to overreact to stresses. The reactions confuse friends and family. The reactions confuse the sufferer. Medical personnel are trained to eliminate all possible physical causes before a mental cause is pursued. Hell continues for the individual.

The irony is that mental illness is physical. Brain chemistry, and the reactions it spawns, are painful. The irony is the sufferer no more causes the glitch in brain chemistry than he causes himself an aneurysm.

Like Trottier, I eventually got help. But in my case, it took an even more dramatic episode of the illness to finally get my full attention. My hell of one nearly ended my life. Depression and anxiety hurt; they can kill. But with proper treatment, hurt is reduced, life continues, dreams come true. My last major episode was 30 years ago. Since that time, I was elected a state legislator, earned my doctorate, became president of a small international business, started my own business, and became a grandfather to four wonderful grandkids. Collin, you are a special person. You have been tempered by an illness that caught you by surprise. You learned about courage, about humility, about empathy. You were brought to your knees. You now have insights few have. Use them. The world needs you. You are ready.

Peterson lives in West Fargo.

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