Today I came across this Facebook post from last year:
“While I’m at it with all my irritable rants: if you work in the mental health field, UNDERSTAND MENTAL HEALTH!!! My psychiatrist is great but one of her nurses was all trying to guilt me for having 5 kids like it was the source of all my problems. it’s hard to explain, but life is a struggle but I love my life. The number of kids I have has very little to do with my anxiety and depression because I had it way before I had any kids! I’m fine and and dandy until BAM!!! Misery for NO REASON! Do you hear me people?!?!?! NO REASON!!!!! It’s normal to have misery when bad things happen. But no bad things are happening!!! That’s the problem!!!! That’s how I know it’s not just a “bad day” or “normal stress everyone has”. Baby’s asleep, I’m chilling watching a tv show, contemplating a nap and BAM! I’m shaking and sweating and heart pounding and panicky. Why? No reason! That’s why it’s called a panic DISORDER it doesn’t make sense. It makes sense to panic when the house is on fire. Not when you are happy and relaxed.”
I clearly remember that day. I was standing in the laundry room trying to convince the nurse over the phone that I needed to see the doctor to discuss increasing my medication. I had gone off 4 out of 5 of my medications when I was trying to get pregnant with Baby Boy. To decrease the risks to the baby, I had been on the lowest dose that I could tolerate of that one remaining medication. Baby Boy was now 3 months old and things were going pretty well, but I was feeling myself starting to slip into unexplained hopelessness. Terrified of where a rapid downward spiral could lead (I’d been there before), I decided to nip it in the bud and talk to my doctor before I could no longer get out of bed.
It’s almost impossible to explain the effects of real, true clinical depression, anxiety or OCD, to someone who’s never experienced it. how can you explain how everything in your life is great and you wouldn’t change a thing, except for the fact that you think everything will be horrible forever and you feel like dying? The way my life is objectively, and looks from the outside is different than the way it often feels and seems in my head. I suspect that my head is incorrect, but how can you be sure? It’s extremely difficult to see things accruately when your own brain is lying to you.
I’ve thought about mental illness a lot because I’ve struggled with it a lot. I’ve written a couple of posts about it, one being, “Give Me My Meds and No One Gets Hurt!” I also started another blog post 2 years ago that I never finished. It said:
“The other day in the shower I knew I could feel a blog post coming on. It was like my head was filling with too many thoughts and I just couldn’t keep them all inside any longer or my head would explode.
So here goes:
Throughout my adult life, and particularly over the past couple of weeks, I have been bombarded with misconceptions about mental illness. In every instance, these well-meaning people are trying to be helpful and uplifting, but unfortunately, they are also uncomprehending. I know it’s not possible to truly understand debilitating anxiety or depression without experiencing it yourself. How COULD it be possible? I mean, I could list all day the things that we can’t really understand without having gone through them ourselves. No one could describe to me the feelings I would have giving birth. The pain, the elation, the pain, the fear, the pain, the miracle, the pain. Did I mention the pain? People explain it to you, but you don’t get it. Until you’re there.
Mental illness is like that, but worse. Nobody tells a laboring mother, “It’s all in your head,” “Pray it away,” “don’t think about yourself,” or “snap out of it.” Or as Bob Newhart would say, “STOP IT!”
This video cracks me up. It’s hilarious! But it’s also insightful. On the one hand, it’s relatable. Like, “yeah, it’s so simple, why doesn’t she just stop it?” But on the other hand, it’s absurd in it’s overly simplistic approach to a complex issue. Have you ever been severely claustrophobic? I hope not. I haven’t, and I don’t want to. The IDEA of being claustrophobic scares me. (Does that make me claustrophobiaphobic?)
But back to giving birth: it’s a time when people try to understand what you are going through and try to help you through it. And usually they know how to do that (watch your other kids, bring your family meals, visit you in the hospital, bring you flowers, hold the baby, throw you a party and give you presents and even cake). But when you are depressed, often the best case scenario is that people will ignore you. And the worst, is when people give you unempathetic, uninformed, unhelpful advice. And I think their well-meaning advice comes out of ignorance.
I spent much of my adult life afraid of anti-depressants. Looking back, I had no actual reasons in my mind as to why I should be afraid. I’d just heard they were bad. Overused. Unnecessary. A cop out. But come to think of it, do you know anyone on anti-depressants who doesn’t need them? Anyone for whom they seem superfluous? Have you ever said to yourself, “That person is way too happy, They really should lay off the Prozac”? I highly doubt it. Because as far as I know (I’m not a doctor, but I’ve tried 10 different medications), they DO NOT make you happy. They are not “happy pills.” There is no feeling of elation or excitement or a “high” that comes from taking them. Nor does one have a “Prozac kind of day.” Psychiatric drugs take weeks or months to start working in your system You can’t take them on a bad day and expect it to work. You take them for months or years to hope they fix the gap in your brain chemistry. They clear the mind, make chemical connections that weren’t there before, and make it so that you are (finally!) able to reason through your problems and emotions so you can WORK on being happy. It’s the little ray of light that tells you life isn’t as bleak as you thought, that life just might be worth living, and that you just might make it through. And many people who need them, don’t take them because they are afraid of the stigma attached. People will try to talk you out of it. You don’t NEED them. All you need is to have faith, pray, read the scriptures, exercise and serve others. All those things can help you when you’re down, and can be great ways to stave off a bad mood. But they have little to no effect on the truly depressed.”
I don’t know why people try to talk other people out of taking medication. Maybe they are all scared like I was. And maybe the fact that I’ve tried so many medications makes it seem like they haven’t helped or they will be scary to try. But it’s actually a good thing. A psychiatrist is not going to hand you a prescription and just say, “Good luck with that!” They are going to give you a low dose, increase it slowly, and monitor you frequently, making tweaks and changes to your medication until you get the right medication at the right dose for your specific body and brain. They will also most likely suggest counseling which can be very beneficial and can even help to change your actual brain chemistry. But it takes time.
I’ve heard some lame arguments against medication. Things like:
“You’ll have to take a pill every day!” Um, I take vitamins every day anyway. Also, so what?
“It’s not natural!” Neither is wearing clothes, pooping in a toilet or using mouthwash, but I do all those things. Gratefully!
“You wouldn’t have to if you tried ________!” Firstly, those things actually haven’t helped me. Secondly, why is it so bad if I “have to?” Maybe I WANT to.
It’s kind of like trying to explain that your leg is broken to someone who doesn’t believe in wearing a cast. Pretty much every conversation I’ve ever had about depression with someone who’s never had it goes like this:
“I can’t get to the store, my leg is broken.”
“Why not? Just walk there.”
“I can’t, my leg is broken.”
“You have no leg?”
“No, it’s just broken.”
“I hope not: I’d rather be dead.”
“Then just try walking to the store.”
“No, I need to get a cast to fix it.”
“A cast can’t magically make it better. You just need to have more faith. God will help you. Think positive! Just get up and try it!”
“A cast won’t make it perfect right away, but it will help in the long run. God expects me to use modern medicine. I tried thinking positive and walking but I can’t!”
“Everyone gets leg pain, just get over it.”
“Yeah they do, but not like this. This is different.”
“How? I don’t see any broken bones.”
“I don’t know how to explain it when you can’t see it, but it hurts more than normal hurting.”
“Casts don’t help leg pain. Have you tried oils or vitamins? Besides, the only way to fix a broken bone is to walk it off. And help others. And pray and read your scriptures. and exercise”
“No, it’s BROKEN. I can’t move.”
“You’re exaggerating. I saw you hobble to the bathroom. I think it’s just all in your head.”
“Well yeah, I can do THAT. Barely. But I can’t walk 2 miles to the store.”
“That’s pretty selfish. Some people have no store to go to but their cheerful and grateful for what they have. Don’t be a complainer.”
I used to think that I was a pessimistic complainer type. Turns out I’m not. I was just depressed. It’s hard to understand when you haven’t felt it, and it’s hard to see it when you are in the thick of it. But now that I have a lot of my health problems being taken care of (including taking antidepressants), I can see how much better life is when you aren’t trapped in a box you can see out of, but can’t seem to figure out how to GET out of.
If you are a person who has a hard time understanding people who struggle with mental illness, it’s OK that you don’t get it. It’s hard to truly empathize with another’s particular issues. So instead of giving advice, try simply listening. Suggest that they talk to a qualified professional. There are resources available for people who don’t have insurance. And a medical professional can determine what what, if any resources are needed.
Thanks to priesthood blessings, and some good friends who suggested I find help like they did (even though I didn’t listen at first), I’ve learned the following:
- If you think you might be having more that just the occasional “few bad days,” make an appointment with your primary doctor.
- Tell them what’s going on and how you are feeling and don’t sugar-coat it or leave out any details. Be perfectly frank and honest and don’t make it seem like it’s not that big of a deal.
- Try what they suggest, be it a different doctor, counseling, medication, or both.
- If it’s not working, tell them. Different medications affect people differently. Some are less effective and some have side effects. One made me crazy. Just pay attention to how you are feeling and be open and honest with your doctor.
- If you don’t feel like your doctor is a good fit, then switch. In my experience, your gut reaction can be surprisingly accurate in these cases.
I don’t wish any form of mental illness on anyone. Like I said in my blog post, Depression is a Cancer, it’s a constant battle, but one worth fighting. And you don’t have to do it alone or without help. You can make it so you can finally see the silver lining behind that dark cloud. I promise it’s there.