Hang on to your hats, this is going to be a long one.
Last month I said that one of my main goals for 2018 is getting my mental health under control.
I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression for most of my life, but it became a survival mechanism for me to hide it.
Drawing attention was BAD.
If you have a problem, you deal with it. You don’t go airing it to the whole world.
The whole country is over-medicated; pills don’t fix anything. It’s just an addiction, or being unable to cope. Those people just need to grow up, and handle their issues like adults instead of whining all the time.
…Does any of this sound familiar?
It doesn’t help that a lot of the people I was friends with in high school were medicated–anxiety, depression, bipolar, schizophrenia–birds of a feather flock together, whether we realize it or not. Watching their struggles put a very deep fear in me of being medicated. Of being taken away for treatment. Of asking for help and getting the wrong kind of attention.
And the medication–what if it changed me in some way? Made me unable to control my behavior? What if I couldn’t write? What about the other side effects?
It was easier to pretend everything was okay.
I’m going to talk about masking another time, but suffice to say that I have never been medicated for my mental health issues, though I have been in and out of counseling a few times.
Last month I wrote about the “screw it” moment, that tipping point when comfort zones become toxic and taking a risk becomes the better option, even when it’s terrifying. I hit that point in 2017, but it still took me several months to decide to take action about it.
2015 and 2016 marked a definitive uptick in my mental health. Though I still had my struggles, it was better than it was in a really long time. Then in September of 2016, it suddenly stopped. There was no trigger; I just hit a wall. I told myself it would pass, as all depressive episodes do, and forced myself to push through. I coped by talking to a lot of online friends. Those who know me personally know I have a bit of gallows humor about my depression; by making fun of it and myself, I make it easier to deal with.
Depression also comes out as frustration/anger in me. Venting is really helpful, but again I try to make it funny, and I try to do it only in specific places.
Around this time, though none of these comments were directed at me, it felt personal.
Over the course of a week, in 4 different groups, moderators and long time group members made statements that basically boiled down to, “If you can’t be positive, we don’t want you here.”
That was when I realized a lot of people I thought were my friends had put conditions on our relationships.
It was a crushing blow that sent my so-so mental state right into the toilet. For about two months I fought off some really dark thoughts. And when I finally started to come out of it?
Well, that was around November 6-7, 2016.
And then November 9, 2016 happened.
If you are an American struggling with mental health issues, you probably know why this date would send me into a downward spiral. If you’re not, let me spell it out for you:
November 9 saw a man put in power who would cheerfully see me dead or locked up, because I am a woman.
Because my mother is an immigrant.
Because I am outspoken.
Because I don’t want children.
Because I am queer.
Because I am mentally ill.
Because I am poor.
Because I do not follow blindly.
Because I take birth control.
Because I am pro-choice.
Because I am not a Republican.
Because I am not a Christian.
Because I do not believe white is right.
And if you don’t believe me, if you think I’m exaggerating, then you have not been paying attention. A man with the mental and emotional stability of a sleep-deprived toddler currently has our nuclear codes, his only media endorsement during his campaign came from the KKK newsletter, and he’s been following the Hitler playbook by the letter since he took office.
So yes, 2017 marked a drastic downturn in my ability to cope. Over the years, I’ve carefully cultivated many coping mechanisms, and in 2017 most of them stopped working.
I started cutting my daily walk short. Then I stopped going at all, because it felt like everyone was staring at me (they weren’t). I was sure everyone in my neighborhood could tell how messed up I was inside, just by looking at me.
Everyone was a potential threat.
That’s not normal, I told myself. Maybe now is the time to get help.
When I started having trouble leaving the house, I thought, maybe now. Maybe now is the time to ask for help.
The dishes started stacking up and I couldn’t find the energy to take the trash 20 feet outside our front door to the dumpster, and I thought, maybe now.
For months I’ve only slept 3-4 hours a night. My stomach was in constant knots, and I got tension headaches almost every day. I’d lay in bed at night and my heart would race because I was terrified we might be at war when I woke up.
If I get help, my name will be on a list, I thought. It will be easier for them to find me when they start rounding people up.
Normal people don’t think like this. These are not healthy thoughts.
Finally, my birth control prescription ran out, and I needed to get it renewed. While my OBGYN is not a GP, she did write me a mental health referral. With that in hand, it was easier to call my GP and talk to her about my issues.
I’m still terrified of having my name on a list. I’m afraid of changes to my insurance, and suddenly not being able to afford my medication.
But my head doesn’t throb all day. I can do simple things, like saying hello to my coworkers in the morning, without wanting to hide. I’m not angry and stressed all the time. My sleep is still an issue, but it’s improving–very, very slowly.
The fact of the matter is, asking for help, going to counseling, seeing a mental health professional, taking the anti-depressants or the anti-anxiety pills or whatever is prescribed–that is handling your shit like an adult. That is doing what you need to do to get on with your life.
Yes, there are squirrels living in my attic. Sometimes they tell me terrible, horrible things. They piss on my memories and tear apart my accomplishments and make nests in the happy places I’ve made for myself. They nibble on the wiring and make noises in the walls.
But 2018 is the year I called pest control. I might never get rid of them completely. There might be one or two stashed away up there, even years from now, but I hope we’ll be able to make peace. And I won’t let them move from the attic into the living room.