Apparently, today is Mental Health Blog Day. Given my own (continuing) ride on the mental health roller coaster, I figured I really should take advantage of the opportunity.
I don’t think I’ve talked about my mental health on this blog in a long time. I think that I’ve been generally sticking with some sort of rule of thumb that if I don’t have anything stitchy to say, then I won’t bother blogging about it. Because who wants to read about my personal trials and tribulations all of the time, right? Well, maybe and maybe not. Those of you who are friends with me on Facebook have the unfortunate distinction of seeing my whining status updates on a regular basis. You see, on Facebook, I seem to do the opposite of what I do here. I write pithy little synopses of what my days are like and, most of the time, I don’t have many good things to say. Which must make being my friend on Facebook a whole lot of fun. NOT!
Anyway, I’ve recently been keeping up with someone on Facebook who used to be a stitching blogger (which is how we originally “met,” although we have never met in person, even though she lives an hour away) who has become quite open and honest about her own mental health issues. I find it quite refreshing, honestly, so when I found out from her blog post today that it was Mental Health Blog Day, I decided to take the challenge to write a post of my own.
Longer-term readers of my blog will know that I used to talk about this subject, particularly when I fell into a serious depression years ago. Let’s pretend, though, that I haven’t really talked about it lately, shall we?
My struggle started when I was a teenager. I was first diagnosed with depression at the age of 14 by a general physician who gave me what I now believe was likely a Burns depression assessment. I was placed on Wellbutrin and took that for about 15 years or so. The strange thing is that I didn’t realize for a long time that I was taking it for depression. I thought that I was taking it for my chronic migraines, which I’ve also had since I was a teen or pre-teen. Or maybe I did know what it was for, but I had tricked myself into believing that it was for my migraines. Either way, I guess my mood was relatively in check for many years.
Then 2005 happened. In August of 2005, my maternal grandmother died; in early October, my mother-in-law died; and then in late November, my step-grandfather died. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I tumbled into a bout of what I now know was major depression and couldn’t climb my way out without help. I didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning. I didn’t want to eat. I didn’t want to stitch. I didn’t want to do anything other than sleep and be left alone. I went to see the therapist at work, who spent either 30 or 60 minutes with me and was able to find and poke into several major areas of vulnerability without having to even blink. I spent the session sobbing, sobbed almost the entire ride home and then continued to sob as hard and continuously as possible for a couple of hours after I got home. Yes, that was fun. After the second session, he told me that he was going to need to refer me out for longer-term treatment (we only get 5 sessions through work).
I started seeing Dr. Steve in February of 2006. At first, he thought that I had dysthymia, which is a chronic, low level depression. Then the diagnosis changed to major depression. Eventually, we figured out that I suffer from Bipolar Disorder Type II. My manic episodes are mild, fairly brief and typically very few and far between, which would put me into the category of cyclothymia (the bipolar equivalent of dysthymia; very low level) except for my episodes of major depression. That is what puts me into the category of bipolar type ii. At this point, Dr. Steve determined that I would likely need prescription assistance and I found my first psychiatrist. Fortunately for me (and others), he left the area and I was forced to find someone else a couple of years ago. He had changed my meds all around without much finesse and put me on a combo of medications that didn’t work; one of which messed up my cholesterol levels (from which I still haven’t fully recovered). I am happy to say that my new psychiatrist had me pretty much sorted out less than a year after I started with her.
I am taking an anti-depressant and a mood stabilizer and am now stable, for the most part. Or at least I had been until recently. I have a very strong seasonal component to my depressive episodes. As the fall and winter months come on and my exposure to daylight becomes less and less, my mood degrades and the now-familiar symptoms start to return. My psychiatrist has only gone through two seasonal cycles with me now and we are still assessing what, if anything, needs to change as far as dosages when the seasons change. This spring has brought with it a bit of an upswing in my mood that we didn’t see last year. I have become very attuned to my moods and energy level, so I am usually the first one to know when something is going awry and I don’t hesitate to call my shrink. I love that she trusts my own assessment of how I’m doing and asks for my thoughts on what I think needs to be tweaked. My mental health care is very much a collaborative effort. My doctors talk to me and they talk to each other. In fact, my psychiatrist is the most plugged-in psychiatrist any of my other doctors have ever heard of. She has requested to be copied on any tests I have done and is getting reports from the pain management specialist that I have started seeing for my migraines. She is extremely interested in my migraines and in my overall health, not just my mental health. I love that! I just wish that I had gone to her from the beginning. She came with the highest recommendation, but she doesn’t accept any forms of insurance and her receptionist is VERY off-putting, so I went in another direction initially.
Umm, so where was I going with all of this? I’m not sure. I guess I was just opening the floodgates and not really paying attention to what came out. 😆 There is one important thing that I want to say regarding mental health disorders, though. The stigma attached to any mental health disorder SUCKS. Yes, depression has become (disturbingly?) common enough of a diagnosis that it seems to get less of a raised eyebrow from others when they find out that you suffer from it. Bipolar disorder, though? Or other disorders, like schizophrenia or suicidal depression? They all still seem to draw untoward attention, along with that look like there is something seriously wrong with you that might be contagious. The reality of the situation is that these disorders are like any other. A malformed or missing chromosome here or there that, in this case, causes things like the improper production or reception of a brain chemical. Why, oh why, are these disorders treated any differently than those like diabetes or hypothyroidism?
Genetics plays a huge part in my own disorder. My mother’s side of the family is rife with mental health disorders. My uncle suffers from schizophrenia, one of my aunts suffers from severe anxiety, another of my aunts suffers from depression and my own mother suffers from suicidal depression and anxiety. That leaves one lone aunt who only admits to suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome. You could say that the odds were against me from the start.
So, is it fair that I feel that I have to bury my head in the sand and pretend that I don’t suffer from bipolar disorder? Is it fair that I feel that I can’t talk to anyone about it because I don’t want to be judged? Perhaps it truly is only my perception, but I feel like most people will look at me like I have 2 heads and treat me differently if I reveal to them what I consider to be my “secret.” I mean, I had a good friend say to me a couple of years ago when I told him that I was depressed, “Well, stop being depressed.” Really? That’s the magic bullet? Oh, how silly of me. Grrr…
Okay, I will step off of my soapbox now. That’s my public service announcement for today. The bottom line? People with mental health disorders are just like everyone else. We are HUMAN. Please don’t fail to treat us as such.