A post about mental health, for World Health Day

Well, lookie here, no fancy pants title or trying to be funny.

Then again, mental illness isn’t funny.

It’s also nothing to be ashamed of.

I’ve been on anti-depressants for many years. That isn’t supposed to sound as flippantly blasé as I know it does, but it’s a fact. And facts are important.

Ironically, the “face” of depression – the weeping, wailing, staying in bed all day – is about as far away from my symptoms as can be. I did go through a period like that, after I’d been diagnosed but before I started taking medication. I had 3 weeks off work, slept all day and lived on cereal. I also used to laugh with my friends on the phone and go out clubbing. There was a real dichotomy to my diagnosis.

But, for me, mostly, depression is about anger, irritation and the inability to deal with normal situations in a rational way. An overwhelming overwhelmedness.

I had started to be this irrational, short tempered, irritable person who snapped at nothing and everything. I couldn’t see it myself. I was living with my Mom at the time, after she and my Dad had separated, and inevitably most mornings would wind up with her in tears and me thinking it was all her fault. During a brief moment of clarity when I realised perhaps I was partly to blame, I booked an appointment with my doctor. Where I spilled everything and had a good cry to boot.

Being diagnosed with depression when you’re not that weeping wailing ball of sadness that you associate with the illness is a weird one. I had no intention of taking the anti-depressants prescribed by the doctor, because it was obviously just a phase and it would pass. Besides, people on anti-depressants were generally nutters, right? It wasn’t a category I wanted to associate myself with. But the situation worsened over the course of a week and came to something of a crescendo when I threatened to take a packet of Nurofen if my Mom didn’t back off. She carted me off to the pharmacy, with the much hated prescription in hand, and made me take my first tablet there and then.

It would be overly dramatic to say she saved my life, because I wouldn’t really have taken the Nurofen (I think there was only a few in the packet anyway), although there were times during the weeks that followed that I’d have been happy for it all to end. Not suicidal as in I wanted to deal the final blow, but if I could have stayed in bed and everyone came to say goodbye and then I just went to sleep, that would have been groovy. Of course that didn’t happen, and I’m rather glad. She certainly saved our relationship at that point in time, because there was no way we could have continued living together had things progressed any further.

Initially I went through the stigma of not wanting anyone to know and keeping it a secret. I shared it with a few people and then had it thrown back at me, by someone who should have known better, telling me that I had nothing to be depressed about and didn’t know what a hard life was all about.

But I’m not ashamed. I don’t declare it from the rooftops, but I’m open with friends if it comes up in conversation. My husband and I affectionately refer to my Prozac as my “loopy tablets” and they’re a source of relationship glue for both of us. I say that following an episode 2 years ago where I decided to come off them without telling anyone, because I was feeling strong, and unknowingly put our marriage under a lot of strain. Same situation – me being intolerable and nasty and short tempered but thinking he was to blame. Of course that’s not all that keeps our marriage together! But it certainly contributes to the stability of our marriage. Because, let’s face it, who wants to be legally stuck with someone who’s aggressive, accusatory and irrational?

I know you’re not supposed to be on anti-depressants for a prolonged period of time. But I’m also a great believer in knowing your own mind. I’ve been through times where I’ve taken a tablet every couple of days and felt fine. There are days when I take them religiously each day. There have been times when I’ve upped my dosage for a while (although always with a doctor’s consent). The key to me is doing what’s right for me, and what makes me feel ok. And, in the experience I’ve had with not taking them, I can honestly say I need them. Not an addiction, or falling apart at the seams if I miss one. But that little bit of connection between the wires of my brain that don’t quite match up makes me the “real me” and not the “angry me”. And why would I give that up just to not be a statistic?

I love this cartoon, which I’ve seen a number of times and totally sums it up, for me.

Depression cartoon

If I had diabetes, I wouldn’t not inject myself because of the stigma.

If I had a heart condition I wouldn’t refuse beta blockers because I didn’t want to be on them.

So if at some point in this journey of life my mind stopped working to it’s best ability, then I’m damn well going to give it everything it needs to bridge that gap – for my marriage, for my family, for my employers but, most importantly, for me.

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

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