Thursday, October 31, 2013

On Living With Mental Illness

Edited to change some of the time-related details.  Upon thinking, I realized I had gotten some of the details wrong.  The incorrect information is crossed out and correct information follows in purple text. 

Mental and Illness.
Dirty words?
When someone struggles with what goes on in their head--irrational, obsessive, continuous, delusional--they might be called "crazy."  I prefer to avoid that term.  Mental and Illness.  NOT dirty words. Rather, a painful reality for so many.

Looking back, I can see that I've always struggled with irrational thought patterns, (perhaps that ulcer in second grade provides a clue?) an obsessive and continuous cycle of the anxiety-producing element du jour.  For me, the what doesn't really matter, since it has changed over the years--morphed into something apropos for the time.  But the obsessive cycle is there.  As well as the lows.  And the depression.

And now, it is all dulled by paroxetine hydrochloride.

My wonder drug.

It causes "increased appetite and decreased energy," which means a 40 pound weight gain over the last four five and a half years, since I've been taking it.  Again. (Which is another tale for another time.)  But it gives new and beautiful meaning, to the phrase "fat and happy." The dimming of the cycle of lies is a blessing. The quieting of my mind allows me to focus on the here and now, rather than the constant, exhausting cycle of what-ifs.

I've always been open about my struggles, since they came to the surface back in 1997 1996.  
My breaking point. 
That's when, while I was never suicidal, I paraphrased Paul's words as my own mantra: for to me to live is Jesus Christ, but to die would be SO much better. I fortunately didn't get to the point where I was ready to take my own life, but I did wonder how I would live life the way I felt. That I couldn't imagine a life full of what I was feeling and thinking.  That life ending, just being over, would be far better. Yeah, I get it.  It was a rather hopeless outlook. 

But I talked to others, my parents and close friends, and was advised to see a psychiatrist. I will forever be grateful to Dr. Morgan.  He was the one who first put me on Paxil in December of 1997 1996.  And within a month I felt relief. It was amazing.  The loop of lies running through my head?  Constantly?  It was dimmed.  It offered sweet relief that allowed me to enjoy life and those I love once more.

Today isn't just a random day in which I've chosen to share my struggles so publicly. Rather I am sharing them exactly one year after someone I love very much attempted to take his own life.  I know he struggled, for years, with what went on inside of his head.  But, I won't pretend to know what he went through leading up to and in the late night hours of October 31, 2012 and the early morning hours of November 1, 2012.  I do know that, for whatever reason, he changed his mind and sought help.  He didn't succeed in taking his own life, one year ago. And for that, I'll always be grateful.

In the week or so after, I obeyed a gnawing feeling I had to share with him a bit about my own struggles. And in Whom I find comfort. And to let him know how I loved him and was so proud of who he was. I'll always be thankful for heeding the prompting I felt to share with him,  since he only lived on Earth for another six weeks after November 1st.

So, I become vulnerable in his memory.  I choose to shout it from the roof tops, on this day, (or, at least, from my corner of the interwebs) that: 


I refuse to be silent, or even quiet, any longer. If we pay attention to the seeming-epidemic status of "active shooter" situations in our nation, we will see that this is NOT a gun issue. It is a mental health issue. Or if we took some time to build relationships with the homeless community in our areas, we would see that all too often, their reality is not laziness, but rather some variety of mental illness. 

The stigma must be lifted.  We must talk about it.  People must feel free to seek treatment, and must be open to hearing that they need treatment.  If someone has cancer, is there a stigma attached to chemotherapy?  If someone has a strep infection, is there a stigma attached to taking antibiotics?

Mental illness: illness of the mind. Yes, it is different than cancer or strep, but it is an illness, all the same.  It requires work to "cure" it.  Ok, so curing is unlikely.  But I'm proof that life can become better, good even, with work and time.  And, yes, for some, even medication.  Doctors, therapists, and medications.  These are NOT additional dirty words.  These are the tools that can be used to re-fashion the brains of the ill.  And I'm grateful that they exist.  Because even though I still long for the hope of heaven, where there is no more suffering or sickness, I am able to find joy and hope in THIS world.  In HIS creation.  If it weren't for these tools, I'm not sure I could get to such a place.  

May I challenge you to live gently with those in your life?  We never know what battles someone may be fighting inside of themselves.  And if you, or someone you love, struggles with mental illness, TALK about it.  Do your part to add to our society's conversation.  And perhaps, little by little, we can erase the stigma.

Gonna go take my medicine now.  Just like I do every night before I go to bed.  With gratitude.