Let’s talk about mental illness.

Gather round again, y'all, for a trip to the inside of Aunt Stephanie's brain.

I think it's really important to talk about mental health.  I have depression, and have had it since I was at least ten, but I know now that there are things I was thinking and feeling even earlier than that that might have been the first symptoms of depression.

When I was growing up in the 80s and early 90s, mental health wasn't really something we talked about.  The first time I was really able to put a label on it, I was sixteen, but I thought that being depressed was just another part of being a teenager.  I didn't tell my parents what I was feeling because I thought I could deal with it myself.

The first time I talked to a doctor about it, I was almost 28.  I took wellbutrin for a little over a year, and this was back in the days that wellbutrin was taken once in the morning and once in the afternoon.  I was alway really good about taking the morning dose, but forgot the afternoon dose on a regular basis.  I think it helped, but that was several years ago and I wasn't terribly consistent with it.  I quit taking it shortly before I found out I was pregnant with Liam.

When I next talked to a doctor about my depression, I was 35 and about to enter my last semester of grad school.  I had been unmedicated since quitting wellbutrin, and I was miserable.  If you've ever been depressed, you know what I'm talking about.  If you've never been depressed, I hope you never understand the combination of sadness, anger, apathy, fatigue, irritability, and hatred for yourself that is depression.

When I started taking the antidepressant the doctor prescribed for me, I slowly started to feel better.  I figured out that what I was feeling and thinking wasn't normal.  I wasn't sad and angry anymore.  It felt good to not worry so much about life and not feel like I had to take everything so seriously.

I was on that first antidepressant (celexa) for about two and a half years, and had to abruptly switch meds (to prozac) due to health concerns.  I was on prozac for about five years, and I'm now in the process of switching to wellbutrin xl.

I'm not telling you this to extract sympathy or get attention.  I'm telling you this so that, if you've never known chronic depression, you understand that mental illness isn't a made up disease, it's an illness.  And for those of you who know what it's like to have depression, I want you to know that you're not doing this by yourself.  

I talk about being mentally ill and having depression to help end the stigma that surrounds the description "mentally ill."  I'm not crazy, I'm not psychotic, I'm not a sociopath.  I'm just mentally ill.  I take medication and see a therapist so that I can deal with a very real illness.  I talk about it because when I was young and going through this, I didn't have the words to describe what I was going through.  I didn't know how to tell someone, not even my parents, that what I was feeling was real and bothersome and not normal.  When I was growing up, people didn't talk about mental illness.  How could I have the words for something that was a real thing, but that no one talked about?

As I've gotten older, people have become more aware of what mental illness really is and have started talking about it more.  It's really important that we talk about it.  You know why? Because somewhere, there is another ten year old feeling exactly how I did.  She needs to know what mental illness is so that she can put her thoughts and feelings into words and get the help she needs.  I talk about it so that other people know it's a real illness that can be as deadly as cancer.  I talk about it so that people who are younger than me won't have to stay silent and die slowly.

We have to talk about it so that we become comfortable talking about.  I'm open about having depression, taking medication, and seeing a therapist so that my friends and family become comfortable hearing about it.  I don't want sympathy for me.  I want understanding and compassion for others.

Usually when I talk about my own mental illness, I talk about it a generalized sense.  But today I'm talking about it in a more focused way because I'm feeling the weight of depression more lately.

Sometimes when you've been on an antidepressant for a long time it will become less effective or stop working entirely.  That seemed to have become the case with me and prozac.  It was still working, in the sense that I wasn't depressed and angry all the time, but it had become less effective.  Full disclosure, between my brother's death over two years ago and being fired from a job I hated eight months after that, I was giving the prozac some serious overtime.

For several months, I've been feeling more and more unmotivated to do anything.  I can get out of bed and get ready for work, but getting myself to do dishes or laundry has been a real struggle.  I used to love to write.  I've wanted to be a writer since I was fifteen.  Writing is almost nonexistent for me anymore.  I'm ok once I get started, but getting started has become increasingly difficult.  I'm tired all the time and taking more naps than I probably should.  I'm an introvert and need alone time, but I've been needing more and more alone time recently and could see that it might become a problem in the future.

Fortunately, I was due for my yearly med check a couple of weeks ago.  Bonus points: the health system I'm in recently started using a questionaire  for mental health patients to self-evaluate their illness.  As it turns out, I was on the lower end of moderate depression again.

As I mentioned earlier, I'm now transitioning from prozac to wellbutrin xl.  Having transitioned from celexa to prozac several years ago, I knew what the whole process of switching antidepressants was like, and it's not enjoyable.  For the past twelve days I've been even more tired than usual, have found myself becoming impatient easily, eating more sweets than normal, and crying (It was difficult to cry on prozac.  I had to be really upset to do so.).  It hasn't been quite as awful as being unmedicated was, but it has been difficult.  I've had to tell the people closest to me that if I start acting depressed again that this is why.

Even in the midst of my body using the last of its reserves of prozac and adjusting to wellbutrin xl, even though it's still hard for me to do the things that are important, I still have to talk about mental illness.  I must be open about it so that if you have to change meds or know someone who is, you know what will happen.  I must be open about it so we can talk as freely about mental illness as we do about breast cancer and diabetes.  I must talk about it now for ten-year-old me who didn't have the words to say and for sixteen-year-old me who didn't care if she lived or died. (Sorry, mom and dad.)

So let's talk about it.  Mental illness of any kind is nothing to be ashamed of, so start talking about it and get the help you need.  Don't be ashamed to say to your doctor that you need antidepressants.  Don't be ashamed to start talking to a therapist.  Don't be ashamed to tell your partner, your parents, your kids, your friends, and all of Facebook that you have a mental illness and how you're getting help.

Just please... start talking about it.

5 thoughts on “Let’s talk about mental illness.

  1. Kathy

    It's interesting that just today I was thinking about how you should write a children's book on depression so that other children recognize it and can verbalize what they are feeling to their parents.

    Love you
    Mom

    Reply
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  3. Anna

    I'm so glad you are talking about mental health. Thank you for allowing us to see an window in. If a person hasn't been through it, they can't understand . . . but talking about it really helps. It's unfortunate that people like us who deal with mental health issues also have to roll up our sleeves and do the work of also legitimizing it. But if we do, then maybe those ten-year-olds will grow up in a world that understands better and can be of help. Love you!

    Reply
    1. Stephanie

      Thanks, Anna. I'm hoping that if we start talking about it, it will be easier for the ten-year-olds who are feeling the same things we did. Love you too!

      Reply
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