I take antidepressants. Two of them actually. Every day. Morning and night. Do you want to know why? They get me out of bed and they get me into life. They are my flashlight and my high-vis jacket, my survival tools in my ongoing battle against the dense, grey fog that surrounds my brain. I use them to break free from the confusion and stride towards the road ahead, flagging a little from the exertion perhaps, but seeing the way forward and powering on without fear.
So tell me I’m the pharmaceutical industry’s bitch. Tell me I’m weak. Tell me your story about how you cured yourself using only glo-sticks and cucumbers. Go on….I dare you!
It seems to me that there is a counter-productive and dangerous trend emerging. A trend towards distancing oneself from the “weak ones”, i.e. those brainwashed by the pharma industry and too feeble-minded to even know it. Those who seek to medicate. Those who gladly hand over their hard-earned cash for the sweet relief of psychopharmaceutical intervention.
Depression survival has emerged from the shameful shadows of it’s past, to a time when it’s acceptable for it to be worn like a badge of honour. Honour being defined as having overcome “that nasty episode” by channeling your inner strength. And vegetables. And vitamin shakes. And jogging. And hypnosis. And whatever other bullshit you want to peddle as long as it doesn’t come in pill form. Or have to be dispensed by a person in a white coat.
It seems pretty clear to me that none of the following are acceptable responses to an article where somebody has BRAVELY publicly declared their mental health difficulties:
- The pharma industry makes a trillion bazillion dollars every year from people dependent on anti-depressants and it’s all a big ruse and you are just part of it you sad bastard
- My mother’s cousin’s sister had depression and then she went jogging every day and now she is fine and owns a ferrari
- I thought I was depressed but then I realised it was my lifestyle, so I cut out all gluten, sugar, alcohol and liquids and now, living on sunflower seeds alone, my life has never been better
And yet every day I read these inane comments. The discussion turns away from the bravery of the author, the stigma meaning we even need to label the author as such and the ways in which “normal” people can better understand and help those of us in difficulty. Instead, we turn in on ourselves and we ostracize those who medicate and we criticise their choices, with each person trying to outdo the other to tell the anecdote that *proves* the non-medicinal way is best. And we need to STOP. We need to stop right now. How can we expect the world to stop judging us when we can’t even stop judging ourselves?
I don’t think anybody else would consent to discussing their mental health on the street, surrounded by strangers. Sometimes I wonder how I get myself into these situations. I doubt “I apologise but I’m out shopping, could you possibly call me again later” would be the rudest, most awful thing my NHS mental health liason person could hear on the phone. And yet instead of those words, I found myself standing at the bus stop, agreeing to carry out an assessment, surrounded by both strangers and the strange!
It all started when I visited the GP office for a meds refill. My long term GP wasn’t listed on the surgery’s online booking system, so in true technological-age style, I booked in with a random GP rather than make a phone call to an actual human. For some reason this new GP was obsessed with decreasing my meds, with a view to their eventual cessation. Now, as any of you who rely on your meds to function in the real world will know, this is a terrifying prospect and it immediately brought me out in a cold sweat. I agreed with her, nodding and umm-ing in all the right places, while in my mind resolving not to see her again. I figured I would return to my own GP, who seems less inclined to withhold my shiny, sanity-inducing sweeties. During all of this agreeing though, I somehow found myself referred to the NHS mental health service. I walked out wondering what mind games this woman was trained in!
A couple of days later I received a phone call from a blocked number while walking down the aforementioned street. The gods are definitely in league with this GP against me, because in a very out-of-character move I answered the unknown caller. It was the mental health service: did I have time for a quick chat? Which is the story of I found myself standing beside a woman who I’m pretty sure was a man in a dress, spilling my emotional guts into my phone.
I think the caller expected a quick “tick-the-box” appointment scheduling call as she asked me why I needed CBT and why I would benefit from their service. Instead, she got every one of her questions right back at her. (Serves her right for the “private number” caller ID trick if you ask me!)
Caller: Why do you need CBT?
Me: I don’t know, do I need CBT?
Caller: Do you think CBT or counselling would be more beneficial to you?
Me: I don’t know, do you think CBT or counselling would be more beneficial to me?
You get the idea!
And so, I find myself with a screening call scheduled this month, the day after my holidays in fact, to discuss my options & figure out the answer to the question that’s been on my mind for several months now: do I need CBT?
Today I cried. Really cried. A full-on 30 seconds of wailing and hegs and sniffling. And it was amazing.
In the past I’ve written about how much I hate the numbness that goes with this disorder and, possibly to a larger extent, the medication it requires. I can’t actually remember the last time I cried and I don’t think I would be exaggerating if I said it was more than a year ago. I well up on occassion but I can’t recall the last time tears managed to escape my eyes and flow down my cheeks.
This morning Mr. Moany and I had
an argument a charged discussion and suddenly my eyes started leaking. At first it was just a few sneaky tears, much to Mr. Moany’s horror. Especially when I sobbed “I don’t know why I’m crying”. It actually had nothing at all to do with our discussion. More likely, the final straw in a shitty week had come and I exploded. Not literally though…thankfully!
Within about one minute the moment had passed and it was if my meltdown had never happened….apart from the tomato face and the snotty tissue that is. And I felt amazing. As if my reset button had been pressed. I have always been a fan of a good ol’ cry. There’s nothing like it sometimes. A bad week, a crappy day or just life in general: it can all be released through our eyes in the same way indigestion is relieved with a burp or gas is released through your rear end. Crying is emotional farting via the eyes. I hadn’t realised how much I had missed the ability to cry until today, but more than that, how much I actually NEED it. Hopefully this morning was a turning point and I have finally found a medication that balances mental stability with emotional capacity. Hopefully!
I want to have down days, not weeks or months.
I want to drink a shot on a night out with friends and not worry about blacking out. I want to say yes to that fifth beer, flying in the face of my “4 beer rule”. I don’t want to be known as “the sensible one”, or in some hurtful cases “the boring one”.
I want to know what to say to strangers when I meet them and have to engage in small talk. I want to not second guess myself. I want to believe that my friends want to spend time with me. I want to stop offering them alternatives to my company, expecting them to bail out.
I want to get up and leave the house and not have to remember to take pills. I want to leave the house after forgetting my pills and not experience the chill of panic when I remember. I want to not be the girl in tears in the pharmacy because they don’t have my meds in stock and I’m all out.
I want to really read a book. I want to imagine the characters, their faces, their clothes, their little idiosyncrasies. I want to be able to talk to somebody about the book a week later…hell, a day later.
I want to remember what I did on Monday.
I want to have the energy to stay out in a social situation after 10pm. I want to look at the clock at 1am and think “wow, time flies when you’re having fun”.
I want to be able to press publish on this post without having to re-read it three times because I’ve lost my train of thought.
I want to be sad. I want to feel sadness. I want to cry for my Mother.
I want to feel angry when my friend does something stupid. I want to tell them they’re an idiot.
I want to be me. I know I’m in here somewhere.
A recent article on the death of Cory Monteith describing him as an atypical “junkie” who didn’t fit the stereotype got me thinking about the concept of a “high-functioning” addict. This is a term I hadn’t come across before until quite recently and it certainly never occurred to me until now that the term might be applicable to myself – a high-functioning depressive.
I guess in order to apply any definition to oneself you have to analyse what exactly does it mean. What is “high-functioning”? I suspect that this is something that will differ from person to person according to their beliefs and values, but for me it means:
Being able to work closely with colleagues without them knowing about my illness and excelling at that work
Some people might define high-functioning more emotionally – being stable more days than not, not doubting oneself, not being dependent on medication for balance – but for me it’s the ability to be a functioning member of the 9-to-5ers that is valuable. I guess that comes down to my high regard for the opinion of others, good or bad as that may be. I have often been described as a Type A personality and a counsellor once said that perhaps my upbringing and the focus on working hard and achievement mean that these are now the measures against which I score myself. Regardless, it’s important to me that I am considered strong and capable. I have a high-pressure job with a lot of people and money balanced on my ability to perform, so any instability would not be looked upon favourably. I love my job and I know I can do it better than a lot of other people – I don’t want to introduce any element of doubt or second-guessing into the mix. I want to be Mina. Not Mina-question-mark.
Maintaining what I deem to be a good social life, though to others it may look entirely antisocial
Again, I think this comes down to personality and values. I value a good meal, a movie, a chat with friends. I no longer think hungover is a good way to spend a Sunday and I don’t like how I feel when I drink on my meds. My move to London was also relatively recent so my social circle has contracted significantly and I spend more nights in than out. However, on the flip side, I spend more days out than in. Something that was unheard of in my 20s. Weekend days especially were for recovery or pre-party preparations. Now I go to museums, I brunch, I sip cappuccinos and read my book while my other half relaxes with his newspaper beside me. And I love love love restaurants.
Having a successful, mutually supportive relationship where I both give and receive love
Well, who doesn’t want that! I suppose the key here is “mutually”. I don’t want a kind, loving partner who strokes my hair and looks after me. Well I do, but I with two caveats: 1) I want to be strong enough to do the same for him and 2) I want him to let me. For several years I was in a relationship with a man who didn’t need me and he would freely admit it. Coupled with the fact that I really needed him at several points during our years together, the relationship was doomed to inevitable failure. Having found a healthy give-and-take relationship it’s important that I strive to keep it as such and not let my illness turn it into a one-way flow in my favour.
I guess you can look at this post in two ways:
- Think I need to be good at everything (cheers Type A personality!) and so I can only live in a world where I perceive myself to be really good at having depression and therefore I should shut the hell up with this high-functioning nonsense; or
- Consider that it’s good to have points of reference for yourself, that can only be defined by yourself, that you can check-in with from time to time and see how you’re doing.What do you think of the high-functioning concept? If it strikes a note with you I’d love to know how you’d define it for yourself.