World Mental Health Day: A First-Person Perspective

Hi, everyone.  It’s been a little crazy at our house; one of the feral cats we care for is indoors for medical treatment and he’s not best pleased.  Still, he’s being well-behaved and letting us put medicine in his eyes … so that’s something.  He’s already been neutered; this may be the beginning of him staying inside for the rest of his life.  We’re hopeful.

That’s not why I’m writing today, though.  I want to talk about something we are hearing about a lot in the news lately:  mental health.  Mental health issues are remarkably prevalent in our society; they may well affect you and/or a loved one.  People with mental health issues are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators, so I’m not here to opine on the mental status of mass shooters, etc.

lpd-v-3I am here to tell you that physical illnesses like Hashimoto’s disease, with which I live, can cause depression and anxiety.  In fact, I spent 10 years being told I had clinical depression.  When it didn’t respond to any of the various medications I was given, I was told that I was “chemically resistant” and cut loose to make it on my own.  It was another 10 years or so later before I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s.  It is now standard of care to test for thyroid disorders when people present with depression-like symptoms; it wasn’t at the time.

In fairness, though, I must confess that what got me to see the doctor back in 1996 was a full-on nervous breakdown.  I was entirely non-functional; my mother came to live with me.  It was brought on by situational matters over which I had no control, and it was very real.  I wound up becoming agoraphobic, and was lucky to find a doctor at the time to help me understand how that was happening.  In short, I was having panic attacks … and because I was embarrassed and frightened by them, I would not go back to the place(s) where they happened.  I didn’t recognize or understand the connection between the anxiety and the agoraphobia until it was explained to me.

So, anyway.

I have experienced every negative side effect in the PDR whilst taking Prozac — such that I was afraid I really was losing my sanity and asked to be committed.  When the doctor asked how long I’d been having symptoms, they matched with when I started the Prozac and he had me stop.  I have been on anything from old school tricyclics to the most modern SSRIs.  I have been through group and individual therapy.  I have done cognitive behavioral therapy.  I have inside experience with the mental health system in our country, in other words.  Sadly, I have not been impressed.  I was lucky, after a long time, to get a doctor who believed in doing more than just 15-minute medication check-ins.  Because those check-ins, my friends, are the standard of care nowadays; a doctor can see four patients an hour instead of just one.  Statistically, meds only help about 13 percent of patients.

If you are one of those patients, God bless you.  I’m so glad.  Sadly, I have permanent side effects from the variety of meds that never helped me … because I needed treatment for something going wrong in my immune system, not my brain.

That’s not to say, as I mentioned above, that I never get depressed; I do, and sometimes it is just that kind of nonfunctional, hypersomniac, cyclical thoughts thing that constitutes clinical depression.  It is a known concurrent condition in people with autoimmune disease — and we know that meds don’t help in my particular case.

I don’t talk about it often, and maybe I should.  That’s how we get past stigma:  we don’t hide.  I wrote a number of essays about it several years ago, many of which appear in Les Pensées Dangereuses.  Here is a brief sample:

Some things that I learned when I had a complete nervous breakdown. (For those of you new to my blog or my life, it happened in 1996 and I still have some residual issues from it, including some agoraphobia).

Things I hadn’t thought about in a while … like “even if it’s small, do something.” By this, I mean take a small action. If the whole picture of a task is overwhelming, break it into individual steps and do the first one. Most of the time, taking the first step creates enough inertia to do some more. But at least take the first step. If that’s enough for today, that’s enough for today.

Celebrate small victories. You left the house when you felt scared to do so. You went somewhere alone: someplace you wanted to go. Rather than stay at home when you couldn’t find a companion, you went. Hurray for you!

Admit that you need some help. See a counselor (doing that). Take meds if you need ’em (primarily sleep issues; meds are periodic at this point).

Be grateful for the wonderful people who love you. Be grateful for the abundance you have; believe it or not, Mom was right when she told you there were people out there worse off than yourself. Every time I’m frustrated by the state of my house, I consider that there are people with no house over which to be frustrated … and I tackle one more little chore.

If you have too much stuff, give some of it away. Jeff and I are planning another enormous donation to the library where our friend works: a little municipal library without much in the way of fancy collections but with a great deal of gratitude for every book given to them. For us, this serves the multipurpose distinction of helping the library and its constituents, but also opening up shelf space for my horse collection … which then opens up floor space in the office/computer room.

Most of all, damn it, celebrate the things you did accomplish rather than looking around and crying about all of the stuff you didn’t get done. I’m not saying you should be like Pollyanna and play the “glad game,” but sometimes looking at everything you didn’t do makes it harder to get up and do some more.

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