Today is World Mental Health Day and I just barely found out about it. Being the totally self-involved person that I tend to be on occasion, I felt like this day was totally meant for me.
In my late teens, I was diagnosed with anxiety and started taking meds and seeing a therapist for cognitive behavioral therapy. There was a lot going on at the time so in retrospect, I think my anxiety and depression was pretty normal but psych meds were all the rage at doctor’s offices and they gave them out like candy. Nobody bothered to take into account that the house I grew up in got foreclosed on, I hated my job, my mom’s health wasn’t great, and I was entering my 20’s without the faintest clue of who I was and what I wanted to do.
(Word to the 20-somethings out there: You don’t have to have it all figured out by the time you’re 25. That is an imaginary deadline everyone makes up, don’t sweat it. Take your time.)
Add to the anxiety a growing drinking problem and a huge dose of self-consciousness and selfishness, and I was just a time bomb waiting to explode.
Multiple hospital visits and medication changes and behavior patterns started to overshadow my 20’s. When I finally had my first 6 months sober when I was 30’s, I sunk into one of the most debilitating depressions I had ever experienced, even to this day. I was in treatment for my alcoholism and was required to attend a certain number of groups and treatment (obviously) and there was nothing I could do to get out of bed. I wouldn’t even eat or drink what my roommates brought me from the dining room. It is hard to describe this type of depression to someone that may never had experienced it. It isn’t just sadness and it isn’t just resolved by laughing or thinking positive. I was physically incapable of functioning and nothing seemed to “snap” me out of it. Not my favorite movies, not my favorite snacks, not talking to a friend — the darkness was so palpable that I swear I could hear the devil himself breathing in my face.
My therapist and counselor got so concerned they referred me to a psychiatrist for immediate help. I got put on an antidepressant. You’re probably thinking, great! I hope it worked out for you!
What ended up happening was I was going into hypomanic episodes for months at a time, not realizing that’s what it was. When I began getting bags under my eyes and sleeping for 2 hours a night for weeks on end, I decided I should probably tell my doctor even though except for the irritability, I felt GREAT.
That’s when the psychiatrist (I eventually ended up cussing her out on a couple of occasions for telling me I didn’t know what I was talking about [side note: always be your own advocate but be kinder than I was…]) looked at my file again and said, “Ohhh, you’re bipolar, we can’t just have you on an anti-depressant!” Then offered me some mood stabilizers and sent me on my way.
That diagnosis and those medications began a wonderful healing and recovery process for me. I went on to work with an amazing psychiatrist for a year that eventually just put me on a mood stabilizer and I thrived and continued my real recovery. I can’t downplay the role that sobriety has either though, because stabilizing my physical chemistry and growing my spiritual life were crucial to my recovery. But the medications definitely helped, too.
As of now, I’m now off medications for 4 months and just celebrated a year sober. I don’t recommend getting off your medications without letting people know about it, especially your doctor. Unfortunately, due to a change in my insurance, I could no longer afford the cost of mine that went from $30 a month to $340 a month so I decided to bite the bullet and lean heavily into my other resources. I let some very close friends of mine know because I knew that I’d fall into a deep depression and I did. I have bipolar II disorder so I tend to always run more to depression than mania but if all other things are in balance (spirituality, physical health, sobriety) I can live a normal life.
I like talking about my bipolar II disorder because when I tell people about it now, the reactions I get tend to be, “Wow, you don’t seem crazy,” or “You hide it very well,” [Side note: Don’t ever say these things to anyone that discloses they have some kind of mental health condition.] I think it shows the overwhelming lack of knowledge and empowerment about mental health.
So let me sum up everything I’ve learned about mental health in the 10 or so years that I’ve struggled with it:
Medications aren’t bad, psychiatrists are cool, meditation will change your life, and everyone needs therapy.
Mental health is health, so be healthy and take care of yourself.