Back in February, FTVLive told you the story of how WFTV (Orlando) Anchor Mark Joyella had asked the station to let him out of his contract so he could move back to New York and be with his family.
Now, Joyella has taken to his blog to discuss a secret, he has been dealing with a mental illness.
He writes, I remember sitting in my psychologist’s office in a Miami high rise a few years ago, gazing out the window at the sunny, South Florida sky—from inside, it was serene—and perfectly quiet.
It was early on a Saturday morning. I’d chosen my therapist in part because she offered weekend appointments, and I always grabbed the first-of-the-day appointment on Saturdays, when I could almost always walk through the lobby, ride in the elevator, and sit in the waiting room without seeing another person. There wasn’t even a receptionist in the office on weekends.
I was a television reporter, working at the top-rated ABC affiliate, and I really, really worried about someone rushing up to me—hey, you’re the guy from the news! Oh my God, are you crazy?—which led me to act like some kind of movie star, wearing a baseball cap and avoiding eye contact. It wasn’t ego, it was fear.
What I was willing to do—after years of flirting with therapy—was to talk about how I felt, which was lousy. In that comfortingly quiet office, I shared all the ways a typical day at work could send me into a spiral of anxiety: being criticized, confronted, judged—even just routinely disrespected. Any reporter will recognize that as a list of indignities that journalists endure pretty much every day of the week.
But for me, a snarky comment on a phone call could carve a track in my brain that would replay over and over and over, and I found it exceptionally difficult to let it go. Often, trying to move on from some slight—large or small—I would change the subject by turning my own hostility on myself.
My face, my hair, my clothes, my teeth, the words I used, the questions I asked—nothing was good enough, and all deserved withering abuse. I didn’t know how to stop, but I had a decent toolbox filled with unhealthy ways of catching my breath.
That Saturday morning, my psychologist looked up from her notes—she’d been fast-scribbling, which was always a worry to me—and asked “how did you ever end up in this line of work, then?” She suggested that someone could write a research paper on my decision to seek out a job on camera that would expose me daily to some of the exact stresses I wanted so badly to avoid.
I did not have an answer—still don’t. All I knew then was that I had gotten to the point where I wanted to feel better. Getting there, however, would take me years.
Back then, I’m fairly sure I would never have considered myself mentally ill. I was in therapy, I had relationship problems, I was isolated, and I drank too much. I laughed a lot, but I was rarely happy.
If I got an angry phone call after a story aired, I’d let the criticisms echo in my head as I drove straight to Bal Harbour, to the men’s shop at Neiman-Marcus, where a reliably fawning salesperson who knew me by name—and knew my taste for expensive French ties—would lavish over me. I was no longer the unbelievable fuckup reporter with the idiot face, but the elegant journalist with exquisite taste and—at least as long as my credit cards would hold—the resources to buy the finest shirts and ties.
I would walk out, carrying that bag with a shirt and some ties, carefully wrapped in tissue paper, and drive home content.
I’ve always felt that lots of people attracted to working on television seemed in person to have thin skins—oversized egos protecting some wild insecurities. They also seemed to drink and drug a lot, and engage in the kinds of risky behaviors that threatened to—and sometimes did—derail their careers.
So I wasn’t really different at all.
I tried antidepressants, and they helped a bit, but I could never come to terms with what the “problem” was, and when I felt a bit more calm, I stopped taking them. And I never, ever talked about it.
Again, I was hardly modest. When, early in my career a boss of mine asked me at a luncheon why I wasn’t eating anything, I said rather matter-of-factly that lately, eating made my stomach hurt. He asked if I’d been bleeding. And I had.
I happily discussed with co-workers the amusing indignity of having a colonoscopy, and how I was recognized while in the procedure room and lying on my side by a nurse. “Aren’t you the reporter from Channel 13?” It was a decent anecdote and the underlying sickness that brought me there—ulcerative colitis—wasn’t anything that I was embarrassed to talk about.
Somehow, a digestive disease was clearly something that “happened” to me, but wasn’t something that could define who I was.
I think a diagnosis of mental illness, if I had thought about it then, would have been dangerous—a threat to my entire personality. I’d learned to be funny in high school by accident, after years of being an outsider in school with few friends. Suddenly, I could make people laugh, and they liked me.
Humor had the side benefit of being a wonderful tool to deflect people when they got too close or too personal. The thought that my sometimes offbeat sense of humor could be interpreted as a sign or symptom of a person with mental illness—well, that was a non-starter.
And God help anyone who would, knowing I was treated for a mental illness, ask me if I was “off my meds.” (If you’re not taking a personal interest in the anti-inflammatory cream my podiatrist prescribed for the bone spur in my foot, or the nasal spray my allergist gave me, you probably shouldn’t be asking me—or anybody—about how well they’re keeping up with their psych meds.)
But either way, that wasn’t going to happen. No way. I wasn’t “sick”, and I had nothing to talk about.
But make no mistake, and I must avoid falling back on one of my favorite defense mechanisms, vagueness: I have a mental illness. Or, if you prefer,I’m a mental patient.
Officially, my diagnosis is obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD. It’s a hell of an illness that, for me, has nothing to do with compulsively washing my hands, avoiding cracks on the sidewalk or reciting numbers. Nope, all I’ve got is a brain that offers up thoughts that are annoying, disgusting, or frightening.
The thoughts, which came from inside my own brain, I always considered my thoughts, and for that reason, I buried them deep and piled layers of shame on top to try and silence them. They were secrets that could never be discussed.
At least, until a new doctor, taking a history, asked about my intrusive thoughts and, like a fortune teller, somehow named several of them. I was stunned. Not only did I not have to confess, I didn’t even have to describe them. It was okay. I was understood, and I wasn’t judged to be a sick, horrible person. I had a mental illness, and I was directed to a book that has as one of its coping mechanisms the suggestion that every intrusive thought be followed by “that’s not me, that’s the disease.” And that truly helps.
Admitting that I was not well—and was getting treatment—transformed my life, which I realize now, looking back, was headed down a very lonely and scary path. I kept waiting and waiting for my real life to begin, without making any progress to getting the things that I wanted.
Sitting in a psychiatrist’s office one day in 2008, a wonderful but steely tough doctor gave it to me straight. “Do you want to get married? Have kids?” I said yes on both counts, even though I was living alone, without real furniture or a bed, in a home that I never allowed anyone to visit. I never went anywhere or did anything that wasn’t work-related. But my work allowed me to travel the world, so that felt “normal.”
I had left a promising relationship in another state with a woman who got close enough to me to see how screwed up I really was—and somehow, was okay with me, only to propel myself into an ultimatum: we move forward, or we end it.
“Do you want to be the oldest Dad in preschool”, the doctor asked. No, I said. “Then you need to decide.” Suddenly, my treatment seemed to be clearly connected to my future—either the one where I’m alone, or married, with a family. His swift kick in the ass changed my life.
The doc made the OCD diagnosis and prescribed a medication to help treat it. The drug, Luvox, came with a boatload of baggage—it was taken off the market in the U.S. after it became associated with one of the shooters in the Columbine tragedy, who’d taken the drug—and while it was cleared for use, it had a raft of side effects (the doctor warned me my sex life would be profoundly impacted, and it was) and a “black box warning” of the potential for suicidal thinking. So, fantastic.
But the doctor’s certainty—and his belief that I could, in fact, have a real life to replace the facade I’d been desperately holding together—convinced me to follow his treatment. I took the meds, and went through EMDR treatment with my therapist, which seemed to my cynical mind to be ridiculous until a casual question during treatment about my isolation caused me to break down sobbing. I was not the type to cry in front of anyone, so that caught my attention.
And I got better. I also got engaged. And later, on a wonderful day one May, I became a father. I had somehow found everything that I ever wanted. But telling that part of my story—happy though it was—was just not something I thought wise.