I am going to open up here and talk about my battle with the mental and psychosomatic side of this illness. Why? I’ve been bothered for many years by the culture we have created around mental health and the defined deviance we’ve labeled it through our behaviors as people and community. And now I can talk from the place of experiencing it.
I often hear people say, “Who wouldn’t go crazy after two years of being sick and not knowing what it is.” And that is true. I feel like I get a pass for the most part. Doesn’t seem fair. I am on meds for it. There it is. That’s out there. If I wasn’t, I can’t imagine where I would be. Probably in a hotel or out on the street because my family would have thrown me out.
And going through this exhausting ordeal has shown me the hell-fire of what people go through on a daily basis who do suffer from any type of mental illness. I am lucky. I get to have good days, thus I get to have breaks mentally and emotionally as well. I get to laugh and exhale. But some people, they never get that break. It wears them down day after day after day…after day.
But it goes unsaid. Unspoken. We don’t talk about it. Once in a while we get that little window of opportunity because someone else mentions something. Then we find out that others go through it. And that helps. I have found a large community of people in my situation. And they are all nuts! Just kidding. It helps immensely. We can find large communities for mental health as well. Yet so many don’t know where to turn when a challenge arises. They aren’t even sure if they should turn to someone. The stigma is just too much to bear for too many.
And that is ridiculous.
It has to stop. Too many people will suffer greater because of it. They won’t know what to do or where to go. What do we need to do? Shall we start wrapping our heads in different colored bandages to
show we have a certain mental injury? Half the people in the world would have them on. We would understand it better, like a broken arm or a hip replacement. Then people who needed help could ask, “Excuse me, but where did you go for help for that?”
I can’t speak for everyone. I wouldn’t dare. But one of my favorite authors, David Foster Wallace, who was terribly depressed, said once of depression; “People always think depression is the choice between living and dying. It’s not. It’s the choice between jumping or burning.” That really struck me when I read it years ago. And it stays with me again now going through this.
The first year of my illness I had no relief from any meds or treatments as we were just trying to figure out what was going on. Every morning I woke up with the feeling of the flu. A killer headache, a fever, nausea, bone and muscle aches, you know the feeling. There’s no way to put it except to say that it really sucked. Every single morning for a year, that was how I woke up. And it got to me good. I was lucky to roll out by 11 am.
On top of that, I still to this day get hit with what my doctors and I call the “cycle.” This is the major migraine, fatigue, slap in the face, kick in the ass that can last anywhere from three to five days and keeps me in bed for most of it. When these hit, I become distant and quiet, and deeply saddened that I am not getting better. I feel bad for my wife and kids that they have to watch it again. I feel bad for friends
that they have to hear about it again, and I feel bad for me. This is
actually a new thing. It took a while to let me feel bad for myself.
And I really pour it on now too.
Then there is the feeling of letting the family down both financially and not being able to do things like vacations and be at all of their events. There is the game of thinking you are crazy because some days you are feeling pretty good and you look fine, so you must be fine. It’s all in your head some asshole nonchalantly says to you trying to cheer you up, or get you back out in the world, but in actuality has only put you in a worse state. Then you feel happy about getting really sick for about half a day because you aren’t nuts, only to stop and pray to every god you know including Gozer the Gozerian from Ghostbusters that you can now stop being sick, because it is terrible as well. It’s a vicious cycle. As in one of Dante’s Circles of hell. Probably the 5th.
But mental health in general is under the veil. Parents bring their children to their general doctor, but they aren’t really the right people to go to. They can refer and start you down a path though. School therapists, that’s fine- actually a great starting point, but some are afraid to go further. Many people avoid going at all. We wouldn’t dare let our kids or ourselves go untreated for a tumor, or a virus, or epilepsy. But depression, schizophrenia, bipolar? Happens all the time. It’s the stigma. The fifties, sixties, seventies, we were telling people to shake it off. Get your head on straight. Take a shot of whiskey. Pull your head out of your ass. Actually, I still use that last one with my kids, but not for any type of mental illness, just for being them.
Interesting isn’t it, that we can understand when a person is born without an arm, but we can’t grasp that someone might be born without a few brain neurons or that the hypothalamus might be functioning differently. Or that we might accept information differently as well. Some of us scream when we see someone fall on their ass while others laugh. Some people cry when their girlfriend breaks up with them and others laugh (it was a defense mechanism Jenny- I’m sorry!).
Depressed or mentally ill persons tend to go inward, which only makes it worse. We build it up in our minds until it unleashes itself in a way we probably wish it wouldn’t. That could be a panic attack, a three-day bender, a train ride to Mexico, a stay under the covers for a couple of days, a blowout meltdown, a physical assault or even worse. And many times it didn’t have to happen.
Here is how I see it. We are all going to face this at some point in our lives. Some of us more than once. It might be ourselves, or it will be someone close to us. It may come in the form of depression or maybe it is Alzheimer’s in later years. Regardless, mental health is not something to ignore. We’ve come so far with therapy and medicine. Everyone acts like medicine is a bad thing with mental health. This, I don’t understand. If you have pain or a headache, do you take an Ibuprofen? If you have a chest cold do you take cough medicine?
I know for a fact, if my doctor hadn’t insisted that I take it because I would be needing it, I would not have started it. I laughed when he said it. It was early on. I told him I was fine. He said, “Let’s just make sure we don’t get to that point. You are in for a journey, friend.” Two years later, over twenty doctors, more than 100 diagnoses, three biopsies, a brain MRI (yes it showed something was there),
an EMG, and one rubber chicken by my computer to keep me company during the day, and here I am; grateful he didn’t take my mental health for granted.
Communities make all the difference. How does yours grade when it comes to good mental health care? What if your child or teenager needed care right now, would you know where to go? Is there somewhere to go? This is serious business. Trust me. We’ve been through our own challenges as a family, and if my kids need any help in the future, and now having been through this most depressing roller-coaster of a ride, I wouldn’t wait a second to get them good solid help. It’s only their lives we are talking about.
Let’s start breaking down these walls that are archaic and old-fashioned. I don’t care how your grandfather feels about it. He can be grumpy, and you can still love him anyway. Bake him some cookies and ask him about politics. Let’s support each other and each other’s kids. Let’s make sure they know that it’s perfectly fine to say they don’t feel okay inside. That they don’t feel right in their mind. Let’s make it not be an embarrassment. It’s on us as adults first and foremost. We are the ones treating it that way. We tell them not to say anything to their friends or to the neighbors. Or to act normal at church. You don’t think they know what that means? You are embarrassed.
We have to change the culture. We can’t keep it how it is. If we do, well…
That would be crazy.