Discussions on gun control have been all over the place lately and in joining in them I often take the position that we need to provide significantly more funding to mental health services as part of a comprehensive effort to reduce violence in our culture.
I am a believer that we need to discard the stigma associated with mental health and embrace a culture of support for people who need treatment. I tear up when I follow The Bloggess on her journey with Furiously Happy and I am moved by Felicia Day’s own struggle with anxiety. I tell people all the time that mental health is important and everyone needs help and no one should be ashamed to seek treatment.
I also struggle with admitting my own mental health issues out loud to anyone else. Or even internally to me. Basically at all.
Of course OTHERS should feel free to seek treatment! They need help!
Hypocrisy, it seems, is more comfortable than a pair of footie jams. Introducing the new Hypocri-jams:
Coming soon to a store near you.
I have decided to put my reputation where my mouth is and be open and honest about my mental health in the hope that I can encourage others to do the same. After all, if I am going to advocate for a compassionate society for people with mental health issues I should at least be able to speak about my own experiences.
This… is… hard.
Maybe I should just post some pictures of kittens or something.
Shit. The kitten is just as freaked out as I am. Okay, here goes.
I have been ill in a consistent physical way for nearly four years. As a result my sense of self worth has tanked and along with it, my mood. I have been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
When I was first diagnosed I was like “Of course I am sad and anxious! I am sick ALL THE TIME. Who wouldn’t be sad and anxious?”
Ah foolish me. Depression and anxiety aren’t just being appropriately sad and nervous about the curveballs life throws you. They are the curveballs life throws you. They are the tiny little voices in your head that begin to eat away at your ability to be who you are, do what you want, and generally accomplish anything.
Depression will tell you that you are worth less than other people because of your circumstances. It will cause you to view the things your friends are doing, not with pride, but with fear – because you know in your core you can’t do that yourself.
Anxiety is the feeling that you are living your life precariously propped up on your tippy toes in an ocean of water, your nose barely cresting the surface. It is the feeling that any wrong move will catastrophically end absolutely everything. Except the bad stuff, that won’t end because you deserve it. (Thanks again Depression! God you’re an asshole!)
Depression and anxiety erode you.
I didn’t start thinking that I might need some help until I began to fantasize about how much easier it would be to just take all my respiratory suppressing medication in one go and go to sleep forever. Luckily for me one of my best friends is both a therapist and really easy to talk with so when I mentioned my crazy obsession with passively ending my life she told me I was experiencing passive suicidal ideation and I needed to talk to someone.
I listened, but if I am honest, I didn’t take it seriously.
I saw a therapist for about half a year and went on medication. I got better. Things got easier. I got physically healthier and more interested in life. I stopped seeing my therapist and considered myself better. I stayed on my medication just in case.
Then things got worse. Right now they are right smack dab in the middle of worse.
Isn’t the black hole of despair pretty?
When my neverending migraine from hell began and all the doctors appointments started up again and I went to MHNI for 12 days of in-patient treatment and … and … and…
I got overwhelmed with the physical challenges facing me and ignored the emotional ones. I withdrew from my friends. I quit Facebook. I stopped going to events. I stopped talking to virtually everyone. I hid. I locked myself in my life with very few voices to contradict the negative ones in my head.
In the hospital I learned about managing my “spoons” and practicing self care. I was also, once again, diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I didn’t ignore it but it seemed like such a minor thing to focus on compared to the murderous daily headache problem that I didn’t immediately enroll with another therapist.
In fact, I didn’t start to really think about my mental health until I was re-reading my report a few weeks ago in my doctors office and saw the diagnoses. “Huh! I kind of forgot I had gotten these diagnoses.” I thought to myself. I left the office, I went home. I burst into tears and cried for hours.
Because of course I am still dealing with depression and anxiety. I feel depressed about my worthlessness because I can’t do anything! I am anxious all the time about nearly everything!
For example, my 40th birthday party is coming up. I agonized over whether or not to have a party at all, wondering if I would feel physically well enough to attend, who I would invite, and inevitably, whether or not anyone would bother to show up. Once I finally decided to send the invite and have the party I was on tenterhooks waiting to see if anyone would attend.
(Of course they are attending, depression is a big mean lying bully who steals your lunch money and tries to make you feel you are the worst person in the world, but friends genuinely love you.)
Once people began to accept I relaxed a bit. For like a week. Then people began saying things like “I am so excited for your birthday party” and I began to wonder how upset people would be if I didn’t show up. The thought of going to my own birthday party has caused me to tear open my thumbs up to the knuckle and may be contributing to my inability to sleep.
Because birthday parties are terrifying.
I lie awake at night thinking about all the things I should do for the party, the people I haven’t heard from, did they get my invite, did I send it to the wrong email (Sorry Mom!), etc.
Instead of looking forward to the party and relaxing about it I am a big hot mess about it.
The dumb part is that I know I will really enjoy it once I am in it. I will relax and have fun and see people who genuinely love me. I will not be eaten by bears or have buckets of blood dumped on my head while I am cutting the cake.
The thing about depression and anxiety is they stop you from being able to believe the positive stuff. The bad stuff worms it’s way into your mind and heart and sounds so true that the good stuff sounds like a foreign language.
It’s really scary.
Which is why I am writing this post. I am one of the millions or more people in the world who suffer from this scary inner demon who tells me lies all the time about myself and how other people view me. She is like that really awful frenemy from middle school who made you believe you were only liked because she told people to like you. She is that self-doubt voice everyone has inside that whispers “You are a fraud!” except she screams it.
Worst of all, she is the voice that tells you it’s not worth it to get help. It’s too tiring to talk about it. No one wants to listen. She is the voice that advocates for your ultimate surrender.
You should get help to have her silenced and so should I.
There, I admitted it. I talked about my experiences with depression and anxiety. Guess what!? I feel better!
I am sure I will lie awake tonight wondering what effect, if any, me having admitted this will have. That’s the way this mess works after all.
For now I feel good so I leave you with this:
You aren’t alone.