The World Health Organization has designated today as World Mental Health Day. Many bloggers have posted their thoughts, and I know I am just a blip in Bloggyworld. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t throw a few things I have learned along the line in my decades long Jell-O wrestling match with depression and a perfection streak the size of Montana. (We don’t wear bikinis. Get that thought out of your head now!)
Feelings aren’t going to last forever, good or bad. That only means savoring the highs and hanging on until the worst of the worst is over.
Medication works for me. I can only speak for myself here. After going on and off of anti-depressants while tanking a marriage, going through four major depressive episodes, dealing with a bout of post-partum depression, and putting in the hours to plan my suicide, it has only been when I have found the right dose of the right medicine when all of that stopped. You could make the argument that the medication has a placebo effect. You could, in theory, make the same argument about heart medication too, but how many people give someone flak for taking necessary heart medicine? (“I bet you only believe the nitro is helping.”) In other words, it is down to what works for the individual, and this is part of my treatment. I have a medication condition, not a character flaw.
Therapy and lifestyle change is just as important. A pill can’t cure depression. A former psychiatrist of mine described depression as “diabetes of the brain”. And how do you manage diabetes? Diet, exercise, managing the rest of your health, regulating your stress levels, and all the other stuff doctors love to tell you, including not eating greasy foods and limiting your alcohol intake. (Don’t you love how those two always get emphasized? You could come in with a railroad tie lodged in your skull. After removal, the discharge instructions would say, “Don’t eat greasy foods and limit your alcohol intake.” Way to take the fun out of life.)
And then there is the therapy part of the whole thing. You have to unlearn the behaviors that get you into these messes in the first place. You also have to reconcile the hurts from the past in order to free yourself to move forward. And you have to fix what is going on the present. I found therapy to be such a useful tool to do just that, but I also know it is critical to find the therapist who:
1) fits within your goals and your level of trust
2) is affordable (especially in the U.S. where mental health coverage, heck medical insurance, is a luxury)
3) fits in your schedule
4) has that right combination of firmness to push you but gentleness to understand the issues you are facing
Sometimes it is easier finding a leprechaun riding a unicorn.
You are going to screw up little things…a lot. Being mentally ill means you are going to do things that will annoy the crap out of people, so get used to apologizing and learning how to make amends. You are going to forget things. Your foot will insert nicely into your mouth. However, the hard part about it is not beating yourself for years on end over minor mistakes. Forgive yourself for being human because no matter what abuse you have suffered over the years, the abuse you keep inflicting on yourself is the most damaging.
Surround yourself with people who understand. Your mental and emotional energy is even more finite than someone who is neurotypical. You don’t have it in you to chase down people to beg for their friendship, if they can’t meet you halfway. Let go of the people who hold you back. You need people in your life who are strong enough to be honest with you and to give you the benefit of the doubt, and you can do the same in return. Loving someone with mental illness is not easy, but most of us are totally worth it just for our random ideas alone.
For example, I was discussing my blog post with The Boffin this morning, and the subject got around to the notion of what would happen if I didn’t have medication. We would be forced to live in an environment where there is low stimulation, or as they say where I come from, in the Boonies. Of course, obviously, under that scenario, I said I would turn into Ted Kaczynski, only not, because I have no desire to send letter bombs. The Boffin just conjectured about my sending people cake. Now this would completely fit my M.O. because that is exactly how the women in my family killed their husbands, by stuffing them silly with fatty and sugary foods. I would be the Unicaker. No poison or anything untoward would go into the cakes. People would just die of too much deliciousness. The Boffin, as my henchman now named Mr. Anus (pronounced ah-NOOSE) , would be in charge of packing and shipping.
I amuse The Boffin as much as I make his brain hurt, and he wants to stick around in spite of me. That accounts for a lot.
So those are my small observations that I have yet to master putting into practice, although I am an expert at screwing up.
Don’t be too alarmed if you get a strange cake in the mail.