What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear mental illness? craziness? violence? low intelligence? Choose your words carefully. The words we use to describe mental health can actually do more harm than good. Stigma is a big issue when it comes to mental illness. When I first started to disclose my condition, I had people who took it completely the wrong way. Everyone automatically assumed because I have depression & anxiety that I just wanted to die. That is not the case (we will get to that later). When you interact with someone who has a mental illness, focus on the person and not their condition. This is not a defining characteristic of a person. For example, if you were to describe me to someone and said, she is mentally ill; this is pretty derogatory. Instead say, she was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. It is also derogatory to say someone is psycho, crazy, and/or “suffering”. I am not suffering from anxiety and depression. I have been diagnosed with anxiety and depression and I am living my best life.
Don’t Worry Be Happy…right?
Ah, my biggest pet peeve is when people say, “why are you depressed? You have everything and every reason to be happy”. A loving husband, a nice home, nice car, nice belongings, beautiful and smart kids, degrees, etc, etc, etc….News flash! depression is not a choice. I don’t know any person who has depression & anxiety that wakes up one day and says to themselves, “you know what, today I am going to be a sad piece of shxt and not do shxt with myself”. The idea of choosing to be happy undermines the whole concept of mental illness. I used to have an avatar pic on my blog that said: “Choose happy”….I later realized how dumb that shxt was. When you have depression, choosing to be happy is not up to you. Sure telling someone to cheer up may have good intentions, but for people like me, when we hear this phrase, it is fxcking frustrating.
As much as I would love to choose to be happy, I cannot make my brain create more serotonin ( the neurotransmitter that we all rely on to balance our moods and mental stability) by simply saying, ” Hey brain stop being a piece of shxt and make me happy because I did a little bit of self-care today by taking a bath with scented bath salts and candles”. That is what antidepressants are for. That is why I take three different medications every day (we will discuss this later). People like me, rely on medication or as I call them “my sunshine in a bottle” to help my brain produce the chemicals that it is failing to make by itself. Instead of telling someone they have every reason to be happy and that mental illness is a choice, be quiet and listen when someone is telling you what is going on in their life, stop being so quick to judge and label someone as crazy. You don’t always have to or need to suggest a solution to be helpful to someone.
Grieving, having a broken heart or feeling sad is not the same thing as MDD or depression. Depression is actually a mental health issue that requires a diagnosis made by a professional. When we mention grief, heartbreaks etc it is automatically associated with depression. It makes it harder for people to decipher their experiences that may be something temporary, as something that is bigger than feeling sad about something. Because of these associations, a lot of people do not take their mental health issues seriously until they get out of control (this person was me). Since I was a teenager, I remember feeling really anxious, annoyed, irritable, and angry. At one point it was suggested by a healthcare professional that I get on medication. Since my family had a very religious background, my parents did not feel that was necessary. It is common in the minority community for mental illness to be disregarded and assume it can be fixed with religion. Not saying that religion is wrong, you believe what you want and I will believe what I want, but the truth is you need medication(s) on top of faith when you have a mental disorder.
I was not able to get the help that I truly needed until I became an adult. I was arrested when I was 18 for domestic violence. I used to get into fights a lot. I was always angry and worried about being alone and felt very helpless. I would always feel anxious in social settings. I never considered myself a very friendly person, even though I had good friends. I was teased from elementary school through high school about my appearance, taste in music, clothes, etc so I never considered myself very pretty and had low self-esteem. My solution to making myself feel better was to be mean as hell to everyone and keep my guard up until I knew I could trust them. This coping mechanism was very damaging and unhealthy. It spilled over into me having extreme trust and abandonment issues in relationships until ultimately it clicked that something was wrong.
I ended up being put on Zoloft and it worked very well for me. Eventually, I was weaned off of it because I seemed to be fine. I learned healthy coping mechanisms and for several years I was not on any type of medication. I ended up meeting my husband and things happened so fast between us. Fast forward and we were married, expecting our first child and was awaiting his departure with the Army. I was going to be on my own with the baby for 8 months. Things were going good until I started having support issues with certain family members and I was missing my beau like crazy while he was away. I felt like I lost my best friend. Being a mom wasn’t too bad but it was a lot to deal with alone. We maintained open communication throughout the entire time he was away but for some reason, I started to feel this familiar feeling. It was my depression and anxiety coming back. Having a spouse in the military is very honorable, rewarding, and scary at the same time. My anxiety was through the roof. It got worse when we found out he would be deploying for 18 months to Afghanistan. I ended up being referred to a doctor and had to tell them my history and what was currently going on with me and was prescribed Paxil. Paxil was okay but was not a good fit for me. I also had a doctor who really didn’t listen to me. Months passed and everything was going good. I decided hey I feel great, I don’t need these meds. I stopped taking them cold turkey…BIG ASS NO NO. I ended up in the emergency room. Never Never Never stop taking your meds abruptly without a doctor’s help.
Ultimately I was able to recover and weaned off Paxil and stayed medication free for 7 years. Until I was triggered and that familiar feeling came back only this time much much worse. Was it my choice to be depressed and anxious again? Not at all.