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Those of us with mental illness need to speak up for ourselves.

I have a mental illness. Were I to say ‘I have high blood pressure’ or ‘I wear glasses’, you would have a vastly different reaction, even though all of these issues are essentially the same: something about my physiology needs aid in order to function properly.  We humans are made of matter. Variations appear in our form because our development is guided by evolution. Some variations can be beneficial, some can be hindrances. A person must be evaluated as a whole, not solely by variations from some socially constructed norm. All things considered, the need for glasses, blood pressure medication, or antidepressants do not make a person’s worth void. In fact, they may enhance a person’s worth, because they provide a special perspective on things that someone conforming more strictly to that socially constructed norm will not have access to.

In the movies, and in books, to ‘come out’ as a gay person in virtually any day in our society’s history has been to court disaster, but thankfully, the stigma is waning. This is due to the bravery of those who dared to come out, and the mass exposure therapy such action has provided our society. Society is naturally conservative, you see, and progress has to be made piece-by-piece.  There is so much stigma surrounding mental illness. Those of us with mental illness often feel it is something we need to conceal in order to ‘pass’. But 1 in 4 people in the U.S. have some kind of mental illness, and the services and support available to those with mental illness are completely inadequate. These services and support systems will not improve until the public possesses a better understanding of what it means to be mentally ill, and the public will not possess that understanding until those of us with mental illness let them know, first hand.  To many of the public, mental illness = school shootings and straightjackets. In reality, there are as many variations in the way mental illness manifests as there are people. More often than not, the effects are subtle.

They appeared subtle in my case. I could have easily continued to pass as ‘quirky’, but doing so would have required an amount of effort to simply maintain that a person should probably never have to put forth. Don’t get me wrong: the years of maintaining I did were highly informative and character building, but had I accepted earlier on what I needed to do and to accept to be as healthy as possible, and had I the courage to ignore the stigma attached to what I needed to do and to accept, I would gladly have done it.  The combination of medication and talk therapy have been wonderful for me; when my therapist informed me that ‘happiness is available to you’, it was like a revelation. I had internalized the notion that it was not, and that I would always be in some kind of pain. I romanticized struggle in order to make it more palatable. I still believe struggle is the only way to growth, but there is a point where struggling becomes needless suffering, and that is something that has to be avoided.

My own stigmas about what it means to be mentally ill kept me from pursuing treatment, or even allowing myself to accept what I knew deep inside to be true.  How many more people are out there trying to ‘go it alone’ with their mental illness because of their own internalized stigmas? I can’t tell you how much better I feel. You really don’t know how unhealthy you were until you become healthy. When I look back over the terrain of my past, I see a craggy, ominous country. It was definitely a huge journey. With medication, and talk therapy, I can look forward to more manageable country: there are still cracks and crevices and other dark spots on the horizon, but I am better equipped to deal with them.

As someone who has spent a lot of effort in the past few years discussing and organizing on the need for reforms in our mental health system, I felt consistency required that I be forthright about my own stake in this issue, and my own struggles with it.  If my ‘coming out’ makes it easier for another person to do so—and to help decrease the stigma associated with mental illness—then I am happy to do it.


Originally posted to Spencer Troxell on Fri Mar 01, 2013 at 06:41 AM PST.

Also republished by Depression and Suicide, Mental Health Awareness, and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Studies indicate lifetime incidence of depression (28+ / 0-)

    in the U.S. is running about 50%, meaning that half of all individuals at some point in their lives will have depression severe enough to warrant treatment. That means if you go to the movie theater and look left then right, one of those two folks by odds has needed or will need treatment for a mental health issue.

    Moreover, we have crafted a ruthlessly competetive plutocratic economy that rewards the upper 0.1% with insane wealth while making the lower 99% work like galley slaves in relentlessly stressful workplaces, while eliminating opportunities for stress relievers like break time and physical exercise. Oh, and we've made it far more expensive to eat a healthy diet than a (heavily subsidized) fast food/junk food diet that breeds even more ill health and stress.

    And yet popular culture/Hollywood/advertising still brutally ridicule and stigmatize mental health problems of all kinds, falsely conflating them with morality or choice.

    •  it's almost certainly higher as I'm sure there (4+ / 0-)

      are people taht wouldn't answer honestly even in a blind study. I know I wouldn't.

      In the time that I have been given,
      I am what I am

      by duhban on Fri Mar 01, 2013 at 03:57:21 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I blame the culture for the high numbers (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      blueoasis, ladybug53

      High pressure and high stress. Coupled with a workaholic work ethic culture are root causes imho.

      When I cannot sing my heart. I can only speak my mind.

      by Unbozo on Fri Mar 01, 2013 at 07:01:11 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  The figure I'd heard was 15%, but that's still so (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ladybug53, NancyWH

      common I had to wonder if it was a normal variant.  I think it is.  Fifteen percent of the population is a lot more common than red hair.  It's about as common as blond hair, and we don't consider blonds or redheads abnormal.

      I think a lot of the diseases and problems we have are from too much of a good thing.  In the case of depression, I think what we have 'too much of' is a safe place to sleep at night.  Not that causes depression, but it makes it 'stick out' and seem to be a problem.

      Depression and sleep disturbance are pretty clearly two sides of the same coin.  Which causes which is murky, but probably either can cause the other.  I also think evolution optimized us for living in tribes of 50 to 100 or so individuals, perhaps half of them adults.  We slept in the open or in teepees or wigwams.  Somebody had to keep watch at night, to warn the tribe if a bear or panther came along.  

      I imagine a conversation along these lines every evening:
      Somebody:  Well, who's gonna take night watch tonight?
      John:  [groaning a little] I'll take it.
      Someone:  But John, you took it last night.  Are you gonna be able to stay awake.
      John:  NO problem.  I can't sleep worth a darn.
      Somebody:  OK.  If you can't stay awake, get someone to help or spell you.
      So John takes night watch.  If he has the kind of anxiety that often goes with depression, it helps him stay awake.  I imagine this conversation with himself:

      "I heard a leaf rustle!  Was that the bear?  Probably not...there was a gust of wind... but that gust came from my left, and the rustle was to my right.  Oh, what should I do?  If I wake everyone up for nothing, they'll all be mad and I'll ruin their night's sleep.  But if it WAS the bear and he hurts someone, I'll feel TERRIBLE for letting everyone down!"  The anxiety could work John up enough that he'd never fall asleep.  

      And if he stalks around nervously looking for whatever made that rustle, he'll probably scare off any bear or panther if there is one.  The bear will think, "My gosh, that human's such a wiggly bundle of worms, he scares me.  And there's no way I'm gonna get dinner here, with him pacing all over the place.  I'll have to look somewhere else."

      The next morning, I imagine this:
      Someone:  All right, who's going hunting and who's going gathering?
      John:  Gee, I'm tired.
      Someone:  Of course you are, you took watch last night.  Try to get some sleep.  We'll bring you some supper.

      A tribe of 50-100 would need a few people who just couldn't sleep at night to keep watch.  So evolution contrived to make some fraction of us insomniacs.  Now that we don't need nearly so many people to stay up all night, those folks tend to get depressed.  Any condition that affects 15% of the population, much less 50%, must confer some survival advantage on the group as a whole, at least in our 'natural habitat' as hunter-gatherers.  The sleep-impaired individuals may not be very likely to pass on their genes, but they help their close relatives in the tribe.

      We're all pretty strange one way or another; some of us just hide it better. "Normal" is a dryer setting.

      by david78209 on Fri Mar 01, 2013 at 09:34:49 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Actually, we need more people to (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        david78209, ladybug53, barbwires, NancyWH

        stay up late, because globalization demands a 24 hour economy, and all the services that go with it. I agree with you there's a link between sleep disturbance and depression.

        You said the air was singing / it's calling you, you don't believe / These things you've never seen / Never heard, never dreamed.

        by CayceP on Sat Mar 02, 2013 at 06:53:45 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Very interesting (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        CayceP, ladybug53, NancyWH, david78209

        take [the evolutionary interpretation you presented].

        The link between sleep and depression is rather incredible.  When I was using biofeedback [which is a great way to learn to relax yourself], the doctor used to say, "get rid of the sleep problems, and you get rid of the depression."

        The banks have a stranglehold on the political process. Mike Whitney

        by dfarrah on Sat Mar 02, 2013 at 08:31:44 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Situational depression can be treated more (23+ / 0-)

    sucessfully than major depressive disorder. The problem is that all psychiatric diagnoses are treated by Health Insurance Companies as second class disorders and either not really valid or worse, valid and worthy of raising your rates or grounds for denial. A recent study links the underlying genetics of autism, ADHD, bipolar disorder, major dpressive disorder, and schizophrenia. Very different in some respects but all sharing the same inheritable genetics. Obviously  there is more involved than just these factors but insurance companies must be forced to deal with these as with any other bio-based disorder and without penalizing the person.  Banning genetic redlining must be part of this particularly since the healthier relatives of the affected individuals may share some of the same genetic markers.

    I'd tip you but they cut off my tip box. The TSA would put Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad on the no-fly list.

    by OHdog on Fri Mar 01, 2013 at 07:05:01 AM PST

  •  Congrats on finding meds that work. (16+ / 0-)

    (And don't have unacceptable side effects).

    A side issue here:

    "Needs more study", they say. They've been saying that for over a decade.

    GOP: Bankers, billionaires, suckers, and dupes.

    by gzodik on Fri Mar 01, 2013 at 07:24:03 AM PST

    •  Prozac saved my life (14+ / 0-)

      i still have problems.  Everybody does.  But I would not be around but for this drug.

      If you need antidepressants, take them.  That is my advice.  Maybe you can taper off them later, maybe you can't.  It is far better to use pharmaceuticals all of your life than to shoot yourself.  Depression is in many cases a fatal disease.  Don't fuck around with it.

      The sleep of reason brings forth monsters. --Goya

      by MadScientist on Fri Mar 01, 2013 at 07:43:15 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I recently found out that an anti-depressant (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        blueoasis, ladybug53

        Works better as an analgesic for the gastrointestinal tract than it does for depression.

        Since my insurance co messed up my GI tract by screwing with coverage of the one reflux medicine that we knew actually worked for me, I'm now in need of something to force my GI tract to chill out, in addition to the more expensive med they previously cut. Alas, it keeps me awake - but at least I can eat without feeling the urge to duck in anticipation of the pain.

        •  The majority of serotonin is used in your (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          radical simplicity

          GI tract not your brain. It's the chemical "micro-switch" underneath peristalsis.

          In the abdomen it is released by serotonergic neurons (nerve cells) when they tell small groups of muscles when to contract. It's the orderly sequence of muscle contractions that moves stuff through your digestive system.

          Good you found something that helps.

          "They did not succeed in taking away our voice" - Angelique Kidjo - Opening the Lightning In a Bottle concert at Radio City Music Hall in New York City - 2003

          by LilithGardener on Sat Mar 02, 2013 at 01:14:21 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for the diary; be careful (23+ / 0-)

    Be aware that here are some limits to making a mental illness publically known  I've found that hese situations are still mostly taboo, depending upon the people involved:

    Job interview - a certain red flag unless you have a very understanding interviewer.  Even then, extremely risky.

    Workplace - Less risky than the job interview but revelation may be detrimental to a career path if management is ultra conservative and old fashioned.

    Professional associations - as a lawyer and long-time sufferer of depression and anxiety, I know first hand that revelation of a mental illness, even though successfully treated, is still stigmatized and widely seen as a character defect.

    There may be other situations or circumstances where being open an honest about your illness will be regarded as a threat or result in action which can be de detrimental to your livlihiood.

    On the whole, though, "coming out" is a good idea -not because others have a right to know - but because it is liberating and it furthers the purpose of educating others about the nature of mental illness.  Destroying tired, old, erroneous stigmas whenever possible is a good thing.

  •  problem is that we also have a punitive system (21+ / 0-)

    which punishes a person who does seek treatment.  Filling out some paperwork I noted one question was if I had ever been treated for a mental illness.  I found this intriguing as there are many illnesses which I have been treated for, recovered from, and went on with my life.  No one seems interested in my bout with pneumonia when I was six or my tonsillitis when I was five but any treatment at any time in my life for any sort of mental illness rated mention.

    This convinces me of two truisms.  The first is that to seek treatment for a rough patch can come back to bite you later in life so you are better trying to go under the radar rather than seeking treatment (imagine this as a course of action with heart disease or cancer)
    The second is the general public perception that mental illness is forever and if you are ever treated, you are ill for life.  A cure is not possible, in too many people's eyes.  

  •  It's strange how we parse mental illness (15+ / 0-)

    too, like anxiety has become more real than depression, so sometimes I tell people the pills are for anxiety instead because they "believe" that. But depression is apparently something you can just get over - lol.

    It's part of why I'm so grateful for people like Patton Oswalt and writers like the woman who does Hyperbole and a Half talking openly about what depression really feels like.

    You said the air was singing / it's calling you, you don't believe / These things you've never seen / Never heard, never dreamed.

    by CayceP on Fri Mar 01, 2013 at 08:04:03 AM PST

  •  Thank you for speaking out (12+ / 0-)

    Thank you for speaking out on behalf of yourself and the many others who suffer from psychiatric illness.

    In speaking out as you do, you raise awareness and visibility of the extent of the problem, and present the beneifts of effective treatment.  This helps in improving the public perception of the issues.

    I hope you continue to enjoy better health, and that you continue to speak out.

    "The fool doth think he is wise: the wise man knows himself to be a fool" - W. Shakespeare

    by Hugh Jim Bissell on Fri Mar 01, 2013 at 08:05:22 AM PST

  •  Perhaps once we get past the separation of body (17+ / 0-)

    and mind, the stigma associated with mental illness will also pass.

    It's called "mental illness," but really, it's our brains that become sick.  It's only called "mental" because the symptoms manifest themselves through our behavior, instead of physical symptoms like hives or tumors.  It is my belief that all "mental" illness really has a physical basis, and thus should be viewed as any other physical ailment.

    Our minds are not separate from our brains, and we understand so little of how our brains function.   We do know, however, that the brain is capable of great plasticity, and can create new pathways all our lives.  We know those pathways can be affected by lack of (or too much of) neurotransmitters, by traumatic experiences (i.e., assault, death of a loved one, etc.), actual physical injury (such as stroke).  This is all physical, so it makes sense that physical treatment such as drugs would help.  

    It also make sense that talk therapy helps, because this activity ALSO creates pathways in our brains (that's how we learn to talk, after all).  But it's still all physical - changes that occur in the body.

    Would that there were more studies of the brain to see what is actually happening in there ...

    •  I have also found options to drugs, because I (16+ / 0-)

      have had so many bad effects from them.

      My condition, or that of my brain and endocrine system, could fit any variety of labels, from depressive to bipolar to heaven knows what all. One very hostile woman psychiatrist told me on my singular visit with her that I had a borderline personality. A psychologist told me he had observed me in a near-vegetative state.

      The emotional roller-coaster was linked to midlife changes women undergo, and the rest of the lifelong mixed emotional messages were from PTSD resulting from an abusive childhood. At one time the psychological horizon looked as though it would never clear.

      Then I fell into owning a health food store and began to study. I had a background in brain neurology and neurobiochemistry from college research, and knew that there were inhibitory and facilitatory pathways in the brain with distinct biochemistry, so I began to re-study some things I had learned in the past.

      Fish oil in adequate dosages was the first breakthrough. Not only did my joints feel better, my mood improved. Vitamin D3 I megadosed on for a few weeks, because my blood had titered way low in that nutrient. Up went the mood by more notches. Then I happened upon GABA - gaba amino butyric acid - for anxiety, and Holy Basil or tulsi to help cut the circulating blood cortisol that makes one feel stressed.

      At night I use valerian and melatonin to sleep, because I'm also a lifelong insomniac. I have to add the drug temazepam to sleep as well, but that is now the only psychoactive drug I take.

      You could say I have a mental illness, but my conclusion is that I have a brain biochemistry that needs balancing. Now that I have found out how to not descend into depression, not feel so anxious and stressed, and how to sleep more deeply, I don't really think I'm mentally ill. I think I have specific nutritional requirements that, when met, allow me to function well and feel emotionally in balance.

      I have, in the past, experienced desperation and extreme depression in my emotional life, felt uncontrollable anxiety, and had the sensation of unending, unendurable stress. But now that I have nutritional tools to deal with the situations life brings my way, I have the knowledge to help my emotions stay in balance without drugs.

      You can't go back and rewrite your past, but you can use your past to create your future. ~ Ray Lewis

      by 4Freedom on Fri Mar 01, 2013 at 10:49:38 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Yessssssssss (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      If Aristotle wasn't dead, I'd want to kill him.  With only a few executions and excommunications delaying things, we've been able to say he was wrong about the sun going around the earth and things floating because of their shape, but this one still sticks - probably because it plays into the bizarre body/sin - mind/pure rationalizations.

      "Injustice wears ever the same harsh face wherever it shows itself." - Ralph Ellison

      by KateCrashes on Fri Mar 01, 2013 at 04:31:01 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Um, well.... (0+ / 0-)

      You're compassionate and I like that, but on the other hand, I remain skeptical of the idea that the mind and the body are entirely connected, not least because an amazing mind can exist within a mostly-nonfunctional body (I'm thinking about Stephen Hawking).  

      "Optimism is better than despair." --Jack Layton, the late Canadian MP, liberal, and Christian.

      by lungfish on Sat Mar 02, 2013 at 06:17:32 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  It's been well established (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      through research that mental illnesses have a physical basis--and researchers in the field have been trying to educate the public about this for years, emphasizing that mental illnesses are as much of a disease as any other.

      The banks have a stranglehold on the political process. Mike Whitney

      by dfarrah on Sat Mar 02, 2013 at 08:48:26 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  The mind is electro-chemical processes (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Anyone who has ever had too much alcohol to drink should understand this. Ingesting a specific chemical can seriously alter the way we perceive and act in the entire world. And this is not to mention the truly powerful drugs which can trigger hallucinations, etc.

      The fact that chemicals that people ingest regularly like alcohol and caffeine can dramatically alter brain functioning should make it more obvious to people than it is that different kinds of brain functioning going on all the time are the result of the chemicals present.

      Sadly, one of the things that triggered my own depression was the dawning realization that this was true, dualism was false, there is no mind or soul to survive death and we're all going to rot in the ground.

      "What is essential is invisible to the eye."

      by greywolfe359 on Sat Mar 02, 2013 at 09:51:25 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Try "some of you" or "some people" (10+ / 0-)

    because I -- and many, many other people on the planet -- would not at all "have a vastly different reaction," especially those of us who have taken psychiatric meds and/or live around or with people who take psychiatric meds.

    I've spent my adult life making no bones about my psychological problems, and as a result have been privileged to maintain a low-key but steady informal ministry to people who want a nudge thru the doorway of mental health treatment.

    Over the past 20 years, and especially the last 10, fewer people have eased into my office seeking reassurance/ permission/ reinforcement/ encouragement precisely because we're making progress de-stigmatizing mental illness. It's no longer earth-shattering to seek talk therapy, antidepressants, treatment for PTSD or abuse issues, couples counseling, treatment for bipolar disorder, etc. Personally, I thank TV, movies, a generally more enlightened physician community, and especially the bloodsucking Big Pharma commercials for psych meds.

    Significantly disordered thinking -- schizophrenia, sociopathy, extreme personality disorders, etc., -- still frightens the general public (and sometimes even me). I view that fear as an opening through which taxpayers might be convinced to provide treatment to all who want/need it.

    IMO the more of us who are open about our psych issues, whether transient, long-term, organic, etc., and the more informed we stay about statistics so we can try to allay unwarranted fears, the more society will benefit.


    by raincrow on Fri Mar 01, 2013 at 12:13:48 PM PST

  •  stigma (15+ / 0-)

    this is why i'm entirely too upfront about sharing my personal mental health struggles.

    I resisted taking any kind of med for severe depression for years. Destroyed a marriage, prevented myself from achieving nearly any goal...all because I viewed meds as weak. I truly thought everyone else felt this way and was dealing with it better than me, because I was a failure. Thanks to slow and continued talks with my therapist and loved ones, I am now on a pill (that existed when I was in college - I could have done this a long time ago). I am not typical, my experience with Wellbutrin is the stuff they base marketing campaigns around. It saddens me greatly that I could have had help years ago had I not been so taken in by the attitude that those who need help are lesser people.

    If only Michael Phelps hadn't smoked that pot...imagine what he could have accomplished with motivation and good lung capacity.

    by papa monzano on Fri Mar 01, 2013 at 02:40:40 PM PST

    •  My grandmother was (14+ / 0-)

      clinically depressed for probably almost 50 years. It wasn't until she was experiencing senile dementia that my aunt could get her in to see a geriatric psychiatrist, who prescribed an SSRI. The last two years of her life were the happiest she had been in 50 years.

      I struggled with anxiety and depression for a long time, doing cognitive behavioral therapy, which helped somewhat but not enough. I was afraid of taking drugs--because of feeling like I just needed to "cowboy up" and that taking a drug would mean I was lacking in willpower or some stupid thing. Now I realize that much like my grandmother--and aunt, and mother who has had occasional bouts of depression, not to mention my dad's whole side of the family who are raging alcoholics and probably self-medicating mental health issues--I had a brain chemistry that didn't quite work properly. So I take meds, not a lot, but some, which have basically returned me to myself. Just as I take thyroid meds for my badly functioning thyroid. I refuse to feel bad or ashamed of it.

      And they'll pry my SSRIs out of my cold, dead hands.

      "No one has the right to spend their life without being offended." Philip Pullman

      by zaynabou on Fri Mar 01, 2013 at 03:26:44 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  When an entire society is mentally ill, (8+ / 0-)

    how do you define "mental illness"? Is it an inability to cope with generalized and normalized insanity?

    If everyone in town agrees that "keeping a job" is a hallmark of sanity, even when that job is helping to destroy the planet, how do you define sanity there?

    And as far as that goes, what is sanity? If we are going to define some people as being "mentally ill", then who will we define as being mentally healthy?

    I am very confused about this whole issue.

    •  This is actually a major question (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ladybug53, native

      To define mental "illness" you have to ask yourself--what is the "proper" or "appropriate" reaction to the world as it is?

      I would make the argument that in many ways, if you really SEE the de-humanization of people that our current system of materialistic consumerism that fuels horrible inequality for what it is and realize it's all around us and that you are actually participating in making it stronger--you SHOULD be depressed. You shouldn't "cope" with it, you should CHANGE it.

      But the problem is so big and on such a vast scale that most of us are powerless to change it--hence the feelings of learned helplessness (very well researched) and despair.

      "What is essential is invisible to the eye."

      by greywolfe359 on Sat Mar 02, 2013 at 09:56:26 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I don't disagree but I don't really talk about (6+ / 0-)

    my almost decade long battle with depression somewhat because of social stigma but also because it could bite me in the ass job wise. I'm fairly sure admitting publically that at various times I have had intense sucidial thoughts would do me any favors for example

    In the time that I have been given,
    I am what I am

    by duhban on Fri Mar 01, 2013 at 04:00:43 PM PST

  •  I diagnosed myself with depression.... (9+ / 0-)

    .. a few years back.

    Well, I was under the care of a psychologist, an MFT (who can't prescribe). I would seem him once a week.  So it wasn't tough to realize, ultimately, that something was wrong.

    Finally, I realized I needed some pharmaceutical help.  This took some time to realize; I had suffered from low grade depression for more than 2 decades by that time, but the depression had taken a dramatic turn for the worst. Because I was used to being somewhat depressed, I also was used to not thinking I needed medication.

    But I called my insurance company after being unable to locate a psychiatrist who could provide a prescription.

    They said that all their psychiatrists were booked up, but they gave me a "special number" to call where they said I could get help.  I did call, but I got no help.

    Finally, I recalled that a sibling of mine had been on anti-depressants.  I called the sibling and was told the medication and then went to my general practitioner and got a prescription for Lexapro.

    It's not supposed to happen typically, but within hours of taking it, I felt incredibly good. That night I slept soundly, the first time in months.

    I learned a few things:

    - Our health care system is such a joke.  I had "good insurance," and I was a seriously depressed person having to swim upstream to get help.  I always wondered if I had been incapacitated, completely unmotivated to help myself in the face of such obstacles.

    - Self-prescribing as I did turned out to be a lucky break for me.  But really? Having to call a sibling to find out what they were taking, in hopes that our similar body chemistry would indicate something important?  That is utter bullshit.

    - Medication can save lives.  I am convinced my life was ultimately saved.  I felt like I had been fighting a losing battle.  Lexapro put me on an entirely different plane, a good one.

    - Because I wasn't under the care of a psychiatrist, I was not warned of some unexpected side effects.  In my case, the anti-depressant led to euphoria but also disinhibition that ended up with me knocking up a woman I didn't know well, one I had been dating a short time.  Now, I am really happy I have a 5-year-old daughter -- and I've been a very engaged father -- but starting the adventure of parenthood with a woman one doesn't know well from a different country (Brazil) is not the way to go....We tried to marry, but that was a big failure.

    - While I don't recommend it generally, I wasn't very secretive with people close to me that I took the medication -- partly because I felt they should know that taking meds can be an important helpful option.

    Epilogue:  I went off the meds after 8 months, deciding that I was okay without them and then consulting with my non-psychiatrist doctor.  Having the meds for 8 months repaired me, apparently, of my low-grade depression as well as my acute depression.  

    But this is simply not the way to run a healthcare system -- and mental health should be every bit as insured and prioritized as other conditions.

    •  Self-prescribing... (8+ / 0-)
      Self-prescribing as I did turned out to be a lucky break for me.  But really? Having to call a sibling to find out what they were taking, in hopes that our similar body chemistry would indicate something important?  That is utter bullshit...
      Self-prescribing this way is THE way to go.  I'm not advocating paranoia, but as the years go by and you become more familiar with your condition than the doctors who prescribe the meds for you, you'll learn to do this just out of self-defense.  Especially if you're changing doctors and the new doctor gets some brilliant idea to change things.


      I'm bipolar.  My classical music diary series that I did for two years was almost, but not quite, a memoir about being bipolar, as the regulars know.  I'm soooo bipolar...

      One time, I didn't have the money for my meds which were costing me too much money, so I got the brilliant idea of getting a second free doctor through the local mental health clinic who could prescribe the same meds and get them for me cheaper or free.

      I swear the following happened.  I've been diagnosed as bipolar for about thirty years now.  

      He looked at me across the table after a very short intake, and told me that he he could tell just from looking at me -- just from LOOKING at me -- that I was a psychotic.  He started pushing free samples of Haldol across the table to me.  Haldol is a heavy duty major tranquilizer.

      I told him, politely, I appreciate your opinion on this subject, but I've been diagnosed bipolar for years, I'm comfortable with that diagnosis, I'm comfortable with the medications that I'm on but can't afford them, and that I'd just like you to represcribe them for me.

      He told me he would look into that, because he didn't think one was on their list of drugs they would pay for.  But he continued to try to persuade me to take the Haldol.

      I told him, no, I don't think so, but thank you.  I don't think you can diagnose me so quickly, and so differently especially when I have seen so many other fine doctors over the years who concur.  I told him that if I needed anything, I just needed some fine tuning.

      He told me, well, I'm not going to fine tune you!  I'm going to change the channel!  (I swear, he said that, used that analogy.)  The channel you have clearly isn't working for you.  (I guess he determined that from the way I looked.)

      I asked him, What is it, the beard?

      No, I just have a lot of experience at this. A LOT.  I can tell just from looking at you.

      This was very distressing to me!  Not just because I thought he was wrong, but because I thought he was crazier than me and I had waited three months for this appointment with high hopes.  

      SOOOOO...  This anecdote is long but it gets more interesting now.

      I told him, sure, I'll take the Haldol, whatever, as long as you say you're going to try to push through the prescription for the drugs that I'm very, very used to and need.

      He said, okay!  Then he started setting up appointments, and scheduling blood tests.  This went on for a while, and then I asked him, I'm curious, what are the blood tests for?

      He said, We need to find out what keep a close check on your blood levels of the Haldol.  

      I told him, Shit man, I had no intention of actually TAKING the fucking Haldol.

      He reached across the table, grabbed the free samples out of my hand!

      I told him this isn't going to work.  After the meeting, which was a total waste, I asked the office secretary if she could make me another appointment with another doctor because this had been such a disaster.  She wanted to know what went wrong.  I told her.  The psychiatrist came in as I was telling her and started arguing with me in front of her.  So I said, oh well, nevermind, and went to the elevator.

      I'm in the elevator now, right?  Ready to go to the parking lot and go home.  Just before the door closes, the same doctor gets into the elevator, presumably, I guess, to go home as well.  And there's an uncomfortable silence between us as we go down.  Before the doors open, he starts to tell me again how much experience he has at identifying people's problems just by looking at them.  

      At this point, I was just trying to be as polite and gentlemanly as I possibly could, in order to LOOK less psychotic to this man.  As we walked out to the parking lot, I told him that I appreciated that he believed what he was saying, but that I was just quite content with the treatment that I had been getting and didn't want to change things, like "changing the channel."  That it took me a long time to find the channel that I had.  This conversation continued right up to my car, where he hilariously kept trying to persuade me of this.

      So...  I went home and worried just a tiny bit for months.  Could I have been misdiagnosed all this time?  There's no point in being too stubborn about things just because the guy was a total asshole.  I came to the conclusion that my other doctors were right and, truthfully, the meds I was on were the best that I'd been on in a long while and I didn't want to change them, no matter what this expert said.

      I didn't return to the clinic, Long Beach Mental Health.  A few weeks later, I got the bill for this free appointment.  Because I had not stayed, I was being billed for it.  I didn't even fight them over it.  They put it up for collection, and I blew it off as I do almost all my medical bills.  Nice to know, after the fact, that all that bullshit was for a service that wasn't really free in the first place.

      •  that doctor (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Dumbo, ladybug53

        was full of it. You can't diagnose mental problems like that, unless it's someone who's really obviously ill (and even then, I'd expect them to need at least ten minutes).

        I hope he got fired at some point for that kind of stuff.

        (Is it time for the pitchforks and torches yet?)

        by PJEvans on Fri Mar 01, 2013 at 07:40:43 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  If you're familiar with Haldol... (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          crose, barbwires, ladybug53

          through a friend who has taken or just its history, you might also realize how I just missed a bullet.

          Probably didn't get fired.  If you go for free medical treatment, well, beggars can't be choosers in this country.

          •  I hope you sent (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            barbwires, ladybug53, Dumbo

            a letter of complaint to the management of that facility; you might want to consider filing a compliant with the licensing board as well.

            What that doctor did was grossly out of bounds and likely against whatever ethics code there is for his profession--possibly even serious enough to lose his license.  It is highly likely that you're not the only  patient he has tried to bulldoze.  He is likely doing this repeatedly to other patients.  

            Aside from intentionally mistreating patients, he could be getting kickbacks from the Rx manufacturer - I can't imagine why a doctor would be so hell bent to force a patient to take a certain drug.  Further, it's a drug that's referred to as a 'chemical strait jacket,' like you said, it's some serious sh__.  A doctor just shouldn't go around passing that drug out like candy.

            The banks have a stranglehold on the political process. Mike Whitney

            by dfarrah on Sat Mar 02, 2013 at 09:08:36 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  The worse thing is (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            ladybug53, Dumbo

            Many elderly folk who may get depressed and disoriented because nursing home life is the pits get pumped full of Haldol or heavy duty anti-psychotics to make them easier to "manage."  When a lot of time what they need are decent treatment, a good night's sleep and chacking for drug interactions and electrolyte imbalances.

            Also for those with elderly relatives watch out for SSRIs in the elderly-can lead to low sodium levels (hyponatremia)and all kinds of physical problems including death.

            Democrats give you the Bill of Rights; Republicans sell you a bill of goods!

            by barbwires on Sat Mar 02, 2013 at 11:59:21 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  Robert Sapolsky on Depression in the U.S. (6+ / 0-)

    YouTube Video - a 50-minute lecture by Dr. Sapolsky on the debilitating effects of depression and stress. A fascinating lecture that is well worth watching.

  •  I've been depressed my entire adult life (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    crose, blueoasis, ladybug53

    eventually you don't even notice it. I really don't most days. Days I do--they're not entirely often---, I stay in bed and call in sick. I've never found an antidepressant that works to a level that I'd find acceptable, so I quit bothering with them. While I am glad those commercials exist, I rather resent them.  and I'm glad that even my employer encourages people to talk to a professional--we are permitted 3 free visits to a therapist---another thing that's not really worked for me-- a year under our plan.

  •  Good on you (4+ / 0-)

    for "coming out," though such a thing is hardly necessary here. There's many of us who suffer from mental illness, of all kinds and across all ranges. Don't listen to dire warnings of meds; once you find the right combo for you, stick with it and you will feel better; there's no reason to suffer if medications can help. Keep seeing a psychiatrist, and probably also a therapist or group (I like DBT myself). I personally offer to answer any questions you might have, since I've been doing all this, and ECT, for over 30 years. Hugs.

    It's not just a zip code, it's an attitude.

    by sboucher on Fri Mar 01, 2013 at 08:45:10 PM PST

  •  I work the front desk at a psychiatrist's office. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Pretty much everyone I see at work on a daily basis has some kind of mental illness or disorder. They come from all walks of life, they have all kinds of different conditions, and they're all getting help. (Not to imply that everyone with a mental illness is getting help, of course, but you're smart folks, and you got that already.) Honestly, once a patient has been coming to see the good doctor for a couple of months, chances are good they look pretty, well, "normal," whatever that means. I'm not a doctor, but I've been working this job long enough to have a fair chance of guessing what a new patient's ultimate diagnosis will be based on how they talk on the phone and how they act in the office. Our long-term patients, though? The ones who have been getting help for months or years? In many cases, if I didn't already know what they had, it wouldn't be at all easy for me to guess. Of course, there are exceptions, but you can see where I'm going with this. Treatment can and does help. A lot. People who have mental illnesses might end up being perfectly "normal" and functional if they get the help they need . . . which of course means that you never know if any random person has been treated (or is being treated) for one of any number of mental illnesses. But of course, without some kind of treatment? Yeah, you're not going to end up being too happy.

    I'm not saying anything new here. I'm just adding my voice to the choir, as it were.

    It does sadden me to see people who look down upon getting treatment for mental health conditions, for exactly the reasons the diarist and my fellow commenters are saying. In my personal life, I've always been totally upfront about my ADHD, and only slightly less so about my anxiety . . . though for the latter, a lot of the time, when I tell people about it, they aren't sure if they should believe me or not. I guess I'm a hell of a lot better than I used to be, insofar as that I don't really seem to have it. Like I said, treatment works. Not the same way for everyone, but there's a lot of options out there.

    I'm not sure what really needs to happen to make mental health conditions seem to be on the same level, socially, as physical conditions. But something really should. Getting medication to treat depression, anxiety, bipolar, or whatever shouldn't be in any way a bigger deal than getting medication to treat, say, diabetes. It's a damn shame that some people view it that way, but maybe it won't always be like that.

    Always follow the money.

    by Zaq on Fri Mar 01, 2013 at 09:41:34 PM PST

  •  Fantastic diary. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dfarrah, ladybug53

    While I don't want to get into an argument with you, I also have to say I don't entirely agree that people are naturally conservative; I think that conservative and liberal impulses exist within most people.

    Also, while being positive about Christianity is among the least acceptable things you can do on Daily Kos, I've noticed that spirituality, including the Christian kind, has been a huge help to the people around me who have depression.  

    "Optimism is better than despair." --Jack Layton, the late Canadian MP, liberal, and Christian.

    by lungfish on Sat Mar 02, 2013 at 06:22:07 AM PST

  •  Depression runs through my family (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Depression runs through my family like wildfire.  Most of the time, it manifests itself as anger.  My entire family, including aunts, uncles, and cousins, spent a lifetime of arguing, fighting, throwing things, and so on.  We thought this was normal.  

    I'm on 2 anti-depressants right now and they work for me.  Much of my family is either on anti-depressants or still running wild.

    Depression is not just a mental illness.  It is chemical imbalance in the brain.  Anti-depressants try to correct that imbalance.  

    I am no more uncomfortable with my illnes than I would be with high blood pressure or diabetes.  

    As for insurance companies, many anti-depressants are now generic.  Find a doctor who will work with you and will work with the drug companies.  

    No one should have to live a life literally on the edge of being out of control.

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