For those who have been following along here from the beginning - or at least for a few years - none of the following will come as a great shock. For anyone who is here for the first time, today I'm writing about my struggles with mental illness, so if reading about that topic will cause you distress, you may want to come back tomorrow when I'll go back to my normal content.
Welcome to Mental Health Monday! This was born out of a session on Depression, Anxiety and Healthy Living from Fitbloggin’ 15. Every 1st and 3rd Monday there will be a link up for writers to share their experiences with Mental illness – either from their own experience or from the experience of helping and walking with others. The goal is to reach out to the world and let people know that they are not alone in their struggles. You are never alone. Join us – link up, visit new blogs, support others. Speak out: “I am crazy…CRAZY AWESOME!”
Growing up, mental illness was something that happened to people in movies but never to anyone I knew (or so I thought). When I spent two days curled into a ball on the floor of my college apartment, unable to anything except cry and wonder why I was still alive, I figured I was overtired from all of my studying. Just after college graduation, when a close relative had what was then called a "nervous breakdown", we never spoke of it except once when my mother told me that it must have been because the relative was doing too much and "just needed a rest". Lots of tired people in my family, apparently.
I saw my first psychotherapist in my early 30s, when I was having a lot of trouble dealing with guilt over my recent divorce. She was a very kind woman who listened to me and told me that I was probably depressed. She never suggested any sort of medication nor did she provide anything for me to work on to improve my quality of life. As I recall, I started to feel better so I stopped our sessions. It was another few years before I saw another therapist. This time, she clearly told me that I suffered from depression (without any sort of diagnostic tools), and offered me anti-depressants to accompany the cognitive behavioral therapy we used in our sessions. Once again I attended sessions with her until I felt better then stopped. [Note that while I had some success with the second anti-depressant she prescribed - the first did absolutely nothing for me, my insurance would only pay for the generic version of that medication, which did absolutely nothing for me. I will save my rant about insurance coverage and mental illness for a future post; it will be a good one, I promise.]
I didn't see another therapist until after TCB and I were married. This time, my therapist asked me if I'd ever experienced manic episodes along with the depressive ones. At first I laughed and told her that I absolutely had not ever had a manic episode but then she told me they can be very mild and that she wanted me to see a psychiatrist for a diagnostic test. Turns out I have a mild form of bipolar (formerly manic) depression, where my depressive episodes are far stronger than the manic ones, and the transitions between the two are some of the toughest times I experience.
The symptoms of bipolar depression that I can relate to most strongly are showing poor judgment and taking more risks than normal - I spent so much of my life going through periods where both of those behaviors took over my life and I thought they were just signs of my weak character. Ten to 25 percent of those with bipolar disorder are initially misdiagnosed as suffering from depression, probably because it's so much easier to name than mania, particularly in its milder forms. Unfortunately, medicines used to treat depression can be dangerous for those suffering from bipolar disorder because, by elevating moods, they can enhance the manic behaviors. This is why it's so important to screen for bipolar with any new diagnosis of depression!
My hope is that, by speaking publicly about this part of myself, I can contribute to more understanding of a poorly understood, poorly treated disease. I'm linking up with others who are also affected by mental illness in one way or another and I hope you'll take some time and read through their thoughts and experiences, too. No one tells someone with a broken leg or the flu to "just get over it" so why is it OK to say that to someone suffering with mental illness? Because we allow it to be so. For me, that stops today.