Because it’s Mental Health Awareness Month, and because I have a diagnosed mental illness, I want to share some thoughts about my experiences.
Mental illnesses all have one thing in common: they lie. They tell different sufferers different things. Depression, anxiety, and C-PTSD tell me no one will ever love me and I will spend the rest of my life alone. Some folks hear they are ok and the carnage surrounding them is everyone else’s fault. For others mental illness might say they are beyond hope and a burden on everyone. Still others hear they are a fucking financial genius so sell the house and bankroll a company that manufactures socks for otters. It tells some there is a pedophile ring operated by politicians being run in the basement of a pizza parlor. And some believe the illness is God speaking to them directly and feel led to take to the streets to share his message. While naked.
Despite the discrimination and societal stigma attached to mental illness, it is simply a sickness, like diabetes. Also like diabetes, there are currently no cures; however, you can manage your illness and live a full life with proper care. Just as not every doctor can effectively treat diabetes, not every mental health professional is equipped to work with every type of mental illness. We don’t say that enough. In my case, I was depressed and desperate, and they were the professionals, so I trusted some people I shouldn’t have. If only I had half the money I spent on therapy that turned out to be a waste of time.
In the past I was labeled “treatment resistant” because I didn’t do what the therapist I was working with recommended. I wonder why they never talked to me about my hesitation to take those positive steps. When the most recent prior therapist started handing me worksheets and handouts on how to “deal” with my symptoms without even listening to my story, I discontinued working with her after two sessions. That was a big improvement for me; I hung in with the one before her for 2 1/2 years.
While maneuvering the labyrinth in search of effective treatment, I had to spot the land mines set by those who claim to hold all the answers despite having no education or experience from which they speak. Or maybe they do possess the education, but push quackery over quality because it pays better. I’m sure for some religion, yoga, essential oils, or ashwagandha worked wonders. For the record, I tried all that and more. None of it helped.
I had to identify the “Poo-Poo Practitioners” who dole out some shitty advice. I’ve had people in self-help groups and churches tell me I didn’t need therapy; all I needed was Jesus or to work their program. I once had a therapist tell me I didn’t need the meds prescribed to me by the very psychiatrist she referred me to. I have also had therapists who:
- Told me probably no one would love me because I was fat,
- Said that losing weight is good, but some men are turned off by stomach pouches (while discussing weight loss), and
- Was more interested in what her receptionist daughter was doing than in what I talked about in session.
If anything like that happens to you, confront them with their crap. Therapists are human, but you are paying for a service and that service should not include them dumping their biases on you.
I learned to stay away from people who minimize mental illness. I’m not lazy. I’m not immature and need to grow the fuck up. I don’t need to simply pull myself up by my bootstraps. If you don’t believe mental illness is a thing, that’s your choice. Cutting you out of my life is my choice.
What has helped me most is taking my medications as prescribed and meeting all counseling appointments. I have been working with a competent and caring psychiatrist for over three years now. When she saw medications alone weren’t doing it for me, she recommended NeuroStar. My insurance covered the treatment (though I did have to cover a co-pay for each session). I went through a round of treatment over a year ago and just finished a second round. I am also now working with a counselor that understands narcissistic abuse and its impact on those targeted. She listens and acknowledges my experiences as real. May sound silly for some of you, but after 50 years of being told I was the problem, I needed someone with whom I felt validated.
Now about suicide…
I don’t know where we got the idea talking about suicide will encourage someone to attempt to die by suicide. I’ve been in that space before where I didn’t see how I could go on, and I promise you it wasn’t a book, social media post, or conversation with another person that made me think ending my life was the best option. It was loneliness and deep-rooted pain that encouraged those thoughts.
When I learn a famous person has died by suicide, I think of the vast resources, supports, and public adoration they had access to. I don’t have anything like that, so the fact that I’m still here astounds me and makes me feel grateful. Those who have also dwelt in those dark places know what I mean.
If you or someone you love are living with a mental illness, I salute your strength for keeping on when things seem difficult or even hopeless, when people are thoughtless or cruel, and when the folks who are supposed to be helping seem to be doing anything but. If I were asked for advice I’d tell you to find others like you and listen to what is working for them. They’re the ones that know.