I had a long talk with my mom over the weekend about mental health. Up to that point, I hadn’t told her I was taking medication for my anxiety and depression.
I spoke before about how hard it was for me to get help. There was the stigma mental health discussions carried, the fear of what the treatments and medications would entail.
When I first told her I was taking medication and seeking treatment, her reaction wasn’t great. She panicked a little, and it took me a while to convince her that mental health treatment and antidepressants have come a long way since the 1960s-1970s, when her mother was receiving treatment for schizophrenia.
You see, mental health problems run in my family. Schizophrenia, bi-polar, and autism on my mom’s side of the family, as well as anxiety and depression. I’m also 90% sure that all the relatives on my dad’s side of the family have some level of depression, largely untreated because on that side of the family, you “handle your shit,” and medication is for the weak.
I think I managed to allay some of her concerns. Nowadays, doctors down’t start you on the highest dose possible and then slowly wean you off. My doctor and I discussed the different options, and I voiced my concerns and the things I had witnessed my friends struggling with during their treatment. She suggested we start me on the lowest dose possible, working with a very common (i.e. stable, well studied) anti-depressant that would also help treat my anxiety. This medication has a very short half-life, which means that if I have to stop taking it suddenly, either because I have an adverse reaction to the dosage, or my insurance changes and I can’t afford it, or my schedule changes unexpectedly and I’m late taking a dose, I’ll have the fewest symptoms possible as it leaves my system.
We’re combining medication with other treatments as well, but the entire reason I went on the medication was that my old coping mechanisms, the ones I’ve been developing since elementary and middle school, stopped working. Journaling. Vitamins. Long walks. Time spent cuddling my cat. Read or watching something funny. None of it was working any more, and I needed some kind of outside assistance.
It’s a hard thing to ask for help. The people in my life have always said, “If you need help, or you have questions, don’t be afraid to ask for it. If you need me, I’ll be there.”
But with few exceptions, I found that wasn’t true. I had to learn it the hard way. When I asked for help with bullies, it was always my fault. When I had problem with school subjects, I was told I wasn’t trying. When I tried to express problems with my mental and physical health, I was told flat out that I couldn’t be X because I was Y, end of discussion.
Eventually, I stopped asking for help. I stopped trusting these people with the most important things, because I knew it wouldn’t be handled well.
Years later, I have taken care to only fill my life with people who actually mean it when they say they will be there for me. The ones who will actively listen, offer constructive criticism, or just keep their mouths shut when I need a shoulder. Sometimes, it’s a lesson I have to re-learn with a new person or group of people, and it doesn’t get any easier.
I hope that if you are suffering, you have someone dependable in your life. As much as I wish I could help everyone, I have enough self-awareness to know that I am not strong enough for that. My own recovery is shaky; there are good days and bad days. I can only offer so much of myself to the wider world and still have a solid base to stand on.
I don’t know what I can offer to the world other than my words. I hope it’s enough.
Like what you see? Check out #MHMon: Anxiety, depression, and the inability to reach out