Random (but not really)

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Better Living Through Chemisty

Someone on FB linked to an article about the medical management of mental health disorders: What It’s Like to Know You’ll Be on Antidepressants for Life.

The essay starts out noting the following:

The notion that people who take medication for mental illness are weak seems rooted in internalized social stigma. There’s still this strange divide in thinking about mental illness, where much of society seems to dismiss those illnesses as somehow less “real” than ones that are considered “physical.”

That’s unfair, yet true. We’re not supposed to talk about mental health issues. It’s ok to have diabetes or high blood pressure but depression or anxiety are secrets to be kept. Issues to be hidden.

To believe that my mental health issues make me a weaker person than someone who has a physical health issue is absurd. Yet it’s a common belief: depression and anxiety are weakness that can just be overcome by hard work and the correct attitude.

Part of it I suppose is historical: Suicide was a mortal sin that would send you directly to hell, so wouldn’t that make the mental state that made you suicidal a moral failing as well?

Part of it might also have to do with many mental health issues being more common in women than men, and women have historically been seen as weaker, both physically and mentally.

But perhaps a greater part is because mental health issues are less visible. You get a cast with a broken limb. You get scars from surgery. I can show someone my scars and X-Rays from my broken ankle, but what do I have to display for more than 30 years of mental health issues?

(Life insurance rates three times higher than my husband’s because I was honest during my interview about my past aren’t really anything you can display as a wound.)

 
 

After Robin Williams died, I remember being enraged by people who couldn’t understand how he could be so weak as to take his own life.

Weak?

When I broke my ankle I didn’t cry–I wasn’t even certain at first I’d broken my ankle, because I was certain it wasn’t painful enough to be broken bones. Yet I have felt emotional pain that was so harsh it took my breath away. A misery so strong that all I wanted was for it to end because it was unbearable.

I knew I could take medicines for relief from physical pain, and that over time the wounds would heal and the pain would eventually be gone.

Mental anguish is different. When you’re given anti-depressants, you’re told they might take up to a month to work. And that some meds are better for some people than for others so what you’re taking might not make things better. And again it’ll be a month before you know for certain.

Know what? I’ve had meds that not only didn’t work, but actually made things worse. That took more than two months to resolve.

Two months of something that no one could see. Two months of something I was certain was a moral failing: A weakness on my part.

A weakness.

During pre-marriage counseling, one of the questions we were asked was whether we suffered from mental illness.

“Yes,” I said, “depression.” (At this time I hadn’t yet been diagnosed with anxiety or OCD, even though they had been part of the mix since the beginning.)

“Not like that,” the counselor replied, “they’re asking about serious illness.”

 
 

Here’s the thing: I’m lucky in that I’ve always been able to work through my depressive episodes. It may have been a struggle, but I was able to get out of bed and be physically, if not emotionally, present.

I know I will be on meds for the rest of my life. I’m fine with that, because I have a strange quirk where I remember feelings painfully clearly. I remember the angst of being a teenager. I remember the shame of being different and unable to fit in. I remember breathtaking misery of grief. I remember the feelings of all my mistakes and the belief I would never get past them. I remember how it feels to believe I was worthless. That I was unworthy of love. That all I ever have done is cause harm and create misery.

I don’t want to live with that agony in the here and now, so I’m glad to take meds.

 
 

My primary fear is not being able to recognize if the meds start to fail and I begin to slip backwards into the abyss.

My secondary fear is of failing to recognize someone else who is suffering. Of missing the person who thinks they are the only one who feels they way they do: lost and broken and unworthy.

Which is why I share things like this. Because we aren’t alone. These things aren’t moral weaknesses or failures. They’re just physiology, and even if it takes a while, these things can usually be fixed.

Because these issues might be permanent but they don’t have to control me.

Because we are more than our illnesses and because we can live through them and be happy.

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