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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Mental Health Stigma

Have you ever been unable to find the energy to get off of the couch for over a week and started to ask yourself, "I wonder if I stink and I just cant tell because its me?" Not only have I not done anything remotely physical, but I haven't had the energy to hold my hands over my head long enough to wash and condition my hair. So I just keep it in a ponytail and ignore my own hygiene and care altogether. My house is pretty much a wreck, too. The parts of the house I use, anyway. I gave up on going to bed a long time ago. I am on the couch. My pillow is on the couch. I have a blanket on the couch. Its too much energy to carry it all to bed every night and back in the morning.

I am too tired to take care of myself. My body doesn't have the energy. My mind doesn't have the energy. And I don't even think that bothers me any more. That is depression.

Every year I ride in a 50 mile bike tour that raises money for cancer research. I never train for it. I literally get my bike out of the shed, go to the gas station to fill the tires, and go line up for the event to ride for 50 miles. I finish my ride and come home exhausted with a body that hates me every year. Never, after finishing my ride and coming home, have I been this tired.

While raising my daughter, I always promised she would make it to Disney before she was 10. We were always poor and 10 seemed so far away. I refused to let her down, though. So the summer before she was to turn 10 I took a second full time job. Both of them required overtime. In one week I worked 96 hours. At the end of that week, I wasn't this tired.

When my dad was dying in hospice 3 hours away, I traveled to and from his bedside every weekend and spent more nights without sleep than I did manage to find sleep. I probably cried, exhausting all-encompassing cries, more in those last 3 weeks than I had in all of my life combined. By the time he passed I was not this tired.

There is a big difference between the kind of tired that comes from having run your body or mind too hard and from having run your soul too hard. I don't know the words to describe it. I'm not sure those words exist. My tired comes from having given up. The energy I have to write is the only energy that I have. My mind does not stop. My mind is tired and requires up to four naps a day, but my mind does not stop. So writing has become my outlet.

When I was an adolescent, I was diagnosed with severe depression twice. I didn't understand that depression was anything more than being sad. Mental health not only had a stigma back then, but it was often dismissed or discounted. My father had taken me for them to confirm that I was a bad kid and tell him how to fix me, not to justify my 'pity parties.' He pulled me out of them each time and determined they were quacks.

I am presently experiencing my third major depressive episode in my life. I don't know if they are precipitated by having had too much to deal with or having a chemical imbalance that makes it harder for me to deal with things that come my way, but each time I had more going on than I could find a way to endure. The first time that I was suicidal, my daughter was a toddler. I begged my parents to watch her so I could commit myself. My dad still had no use for such nonsense and told me "You created this, you fix it." Because he refused to believe in depression he thought I was looking for an escape from my life. And, as anyone would imagine, the best vacation I could think of was a mental health facility. Anyway, I did find a therapist and, with counseling and medicine, I was able to pull through it eventually. I believe now, however, and I believed then, that if I didn't have Audrey, I wouldn't have even tried.

This episode has been much worse. My daughter is grown and off to college now. I don't have to take care of anyone. Care for myself has never even been something I have ever really thought about. of course, that is why I find myself where I am now. I don't care. I never managed to find a value for myself beyond being a mother. Although I am still a mother, she doesn't need me to take care of her now. When my life began falling apart a year and a half ago, I had nothing to hold on to. I had nothing to fight for. I didn't need to be well. And I think my brain just kind of started giving up.

Initially around Thanksgiving of 2013 my life hit a wall that no one could have ever seen coming. I still can't talk or write about it because the tragedy is not just mine. But the pain and its mark will, undoubtedly, be with me for the rest of my life. At that time I only had my job to hold on to. I have always been loyal to my work and proud of my work ethic. Aside from Audrey, my job was the other thing I found external from myself to attribute my own value to. Even while things were collapsing personally, I managed to keep up my workload, but often had tears streaming down my face while I was doing it. Because of this I told my manager what I was dealing with so she understood because it must've looked very unprofessional. Having told her, I was sure, she would understand.

At this time I was 41 years old. I had been ignoring all evidence of an anxiety disorder for years. I really didn't even know that anxiety was a disorder, to be honest. I had accepted claims from those who knew me as being 'high strung' or 'neurotic' as truths. It was just the way I was. It didn't make me a bad person. So I just figured that was the way I was. My body had been telling me for almost 20 years that it was more than just quirkiness but I had always found ways to ignore it. Hives. "Sure people get those." My back would go out and make me immobile but x-rays would find nothing wrong with me. "I must've pulled something and forgotten." My stomach would get incredibly sick every time I was upset. "What did I eat this time?"

So last year I guess my mind finally determined that it would give me a sign I could not ignore. My body literally betrayed me. In public. My boss, who knew that I was already on the edge and suffered from severe depression had been harassing me to a level which was so bad that by the time the legal department saw the evidence of both the harassment and Human Resources deciding to completely ignore and, thus, condone it, they offered me a settlement check to never tell anyone what she had done. But one day her harassment pushed me over the edge and my heart was pounding so hard I could feel it and hear it pounding in my ear. I was hot like I was immediately sick with a high fever. My entire body started shaking and I couldn't control or stop it. And my breathing was out of control where I could not catch my breath. I literally thought I was going to die from not being able to breathe. It was terrifying. I had no idea what was going on. Before that I day I thought a 'panic attack' was something else. "I'm having a panic attack" is a phrase people used when they were stressed out. I had no idea its actual reference was to a complete physical collapse.

I went for months after that day completely unable to leave my home. I was diagnosed with agoraphobia. It pissed me off. I finally looked it up and read that it is very common with people who have panic attacks, especially after their first, because your subconscious is trying to protect you from having a similar situation. I then accepted that this was a thing and that it made sense why it was happening. But I can also completely rationalize that it is irrational. So it still pisses me off.

Ironically, I honestly think that if my anxiety didn't keep my mind going at this seemingly fast pace (although compared to what my life usually offers when not combined with depression its not really fast at all), I would probably already be dead. The writing is the only evidence I have that something inside me is trying to counter my daily revelations that I would rather be dead. The fact that my life insurance doesn't pay out if I kill myself is the only thing that has kept me from thinking seriously about finding a way out.

I feel like my world is so dark that if I didn't have something to focus on I could actually fall asleep and just not wake up. I could stop eating and drinking. I already ignore the phone and repel visitors. My writing allows me to look outside of myself, like I always have. I can focus on something else and ignore whatever hurts. I'm sure that's not healthy. But spending time inside my mind isn't, either.

Of course, because I don't leave my house, I don't have a job. And because I don't have a job, I cannot afford insurance. So I am, at present, on a very long waiting list for psychiatric care. My writing is my distraction and my care at this time. To prevent a panic attack I don't even spend time thinking about what kind of anxiety I will have to deal with whenever I finally have a psychiatric appointment and it is time to leave my house and go to an unknown place to meet an unknown person and offer them my life story and my fears and entrust them with my mental care. That complete notion is so overwhelming that I cannot find the words to express it properly. That is probably the worst thing about mental health issues. You won't find them in an x-ray or in blood work. And I don't imagine I am the only intelligent person with a large vocabulary who cannot find the words to tell you just how terrifying and awful it is to be in this place.

That's where I am. That's what I call depression.

But for most in our society its easier to just call it lazy. Or crazy.

And that's a shame.


  1. Your article on the stigma of mental health is another sign, to me, that the issue of mental health care is begiinning to come out of the closet. My past family and friend history has a defining factor of people with serious mental health diagnosis's. But in respect to their privacy, I feel powerless to express how heavy mental health problems can be for everyone involved. My sister killed herself in the Heaven's Gate Suicide cult in San Diego in 1997. They believed they were joining the Haley comet. She heard voices while growing up and until her death at 45 yrs. old. We never had health care because we couldn't afford health care. Our family was poor mostly because of mental health issues that plagued our family members. A very close member of my family was retired from the military a few years ago at the age of 21 because of major issues with mental health. You are very brave and honorable to express this story. I'm hoping as "Obamacare" progresses mental health care will be possible for many who have been unable to have care. Tank you for your courage and your post.

    1. Oh Jane! I'm so sorry for your family and your loss! It is true. People are starting to come to understand and accept mental health issues. Not only will this help those who suffer and their families, but I believe it will open doors for a lot more funding of research. There will always be those who don't understand, and there will always be those who just don't care about things that don't come into their lives, but I think the more we all can not only talk about these things, but also embrace them as our truths, those who know us to be good people will start to realize they, too know and care about someone who is suffering. Every time someone gas that revelation our society will come a little closer to being a safer place for those of us who struggle. It makes me feel wonderful and accomplished to know that this touched you. Thank you. Most sincerely.

    2. That is why it is so necessary and remarkable when people in your position are able to express many of the real issues people have been struggling with for so many years. Silence was the way we dealt with many of theses issues before we had social media. Thanks again and Take Care and good luck to you and your blog.

  2. Thank you for your bravery and writing this. I have family members with mental issues and have been dealing with helping them for many years now. I also hope as we get better health care we will start recognizing this for the serious and REAL problem it is. Here are a few of my favorite quotes from people who know my family members: "She needs to stop playing the victim." "He needs to move on." "She/he needs to get help." "She/He needs to get over it." And where is this help you speak of? Have you ever tried to find a psych? Do you know how booked the few of them are? Do you know how little is covered by ANY insurance? I feel your pain. I have been in that dark place you describe myself during the last year of my journey with my husband and Alzheimer's. I wouldn't even walk out the front door for days. I stayed in the same pajamas for days. I totally get what you are going through and I hope you find someone soon.

  3. Thank you for this. I have suffered from PTSD which leads to anxiety & depression. Sometimes I'm fine and then I get hit...hard. Anti-depressants have not helped and sometimes made things worse. You are not alone.