Life is to be enjoyed, not endured

By Laurie Young, Ph.D., Interim Director of Public Policy and Government Affairs, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

This has been a challenging couple of years. In August 2007, I had emergency surgery and ended up in the hospital for close to a month with multiple infections that no one could figure out how to treat.

Following several months of recuperation and the ending of my job, I began a new adventure at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. I came on as an aging policy analyst. I was looking for a position where I could work in an area I knew well, get insurance and begin life as a professional LGBT activist for the first time, while having lived as an out lesbian in the progressive community for 30 years. Within a very quick few months, my life at the Task Force was anything but low key.

I am, in no particular order, a mother, an activist, a senior, a lesbian, a mental health professional, a consumer of mental health services, a person with depression, a lobbyist, a manager, a spouse — and as of this month — a breast cancer survivor. In 2003 as the executive director of the Older Women’s League, I started a new public health observance, Older Americans’ Mental Health Week (OAMHW), held this year on May 23–29.

May is Older Americans Month, and also Mental Health Month, so it made perfect sense to me to carve out special attention to the mental health needs of older people. As a therapist and activist in the mental health arena, I am very pleased that this observance caught on across the country and in policy circles on Capitol Hill. I am active in the National Coalition on Mental Health and Aging, whose members were instrumental in helping establish the impact of OAMHW.

In my role at the Task Force, I am now able to bring the mental health needs of LGBT elders to the table at this coalition. I work to educate the public and decision-makers about the special needs of LGBT seniors. In looking at health disparities, lesbians experience depression as all women do, at a higher rate than men, and it can increase with age. It is an illness and can be successfully treated. This was my message to the public through OAMHW. Ironically, what I didn’t recognize at the time was that I too was living a life of depression myself.

While not being able to pinpoint the exact reason for my lack of energy, inability to concentrate, sleep and other such symptoms, I had been walking through each day for the last several years, putting one foot in front of the other simply enduring life and hoping to be successful in all the roles I played.

I now am thrilled to report that I am enjoying my life; a change in medication (that was overdue) is now controlling my depression to the point where I feel actively engaged in my family, my work, and my life.

All the messages I had been uttering about depression being an illness that was treatable, and not a normal part of aging, is indeed true, but in the words of the Bible and my mother, I had ignored the phrase, “Physician heal thyself.”

A great believer in signs, I recently turned on the iPod (which I truly believe is possessed!) in my car. I thought it was programmed to play the last episode of Glee. Instead, what started playing was Angela Lansbury singing “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.” You can’t make this stuff up!

Anyway, to folks out there: Please observe Older Americans Mental Health Week by getting a check-up if you need it. Or by suggesting loved ones get treatment if they need it.

Life really should be enjoyed, not simply endured.