Thursday, October 16, 2014

Mental Illness: My own stigma

"Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all."
-Bill Clinton


Anxiety and depression. Something so may people don't understand. I am someone who suffers from chronic anxiety and that anxiety unfortunately claws at me until I am depressed. I don't really understand what I am going through or how to get out of it. It feels like trial and error. Last time I was deeply depressed I hid away in my bed for months after admitting myself to the psych ward. I was too anxious to actually stay in the psych ward for help because it was new to me and I don't do new well. This time I am trying to go about my day to day life while I cry, crumble and panic. Some days I feel like I can get through and other days I don't know how to even get the strength to get myself out of my bed. It's more than exhaustion. It's a lack of happiness. I feel horrible even saying that because I have 2 beautiful and amazing children and a wonderfully loving and supportive husband and yet I am not happy. Nothing makes me happy. Everything is clouded by this overwhelming sense of hate for myself and feeling like an utter failure. 

When I think about telling people that I am struggling right now with anxiety and depression I worry about the stigma around it in their mind. But even more than that I get caught up with the stigma in my own mind. 

My doctor has told me over and over again that I need to stop thinking about this as something that will just go away or something that is just a case of mind-over-matter. I am sick. Taking medication for mental illness is no different than someone taking medication for diabetes. And yet it feels like it is different. With diabetes you can have a blood test done that shows if your numbers are not within the range of "normal' and therefore justify medication. You can't take a blood test for depression or anxiety. I feel like everything is based on what I tell my doctor I am feeling and thinking. So what if I don't give an accurate description of how things really are? What if I am given a prescription for meds because I have a bad day and just happen to have an appointment that day? Well I will tell you what happens. 

About 3 weeks ago I took my daughter in her for 6 month check up and made an appointment for myself for something completely unrelated (or so I thought) to anxiety and depression. Well my sweet, calm baby girl screamed for the entire 20 min appointment. My 3 year old son laid on the ground holding my leg begging to leave because there was a poster of a skeleton on the wall and he was scared of it. I stood there doing whatever I could to hold it together. Trying to talk to the doctor about my symptoms, console and distract my son (I was trying to give him snacks and the iPad with ZERO luck) and rock my baby. I made her a bottle and tried to feed her. I put her clothes back on (she was undressed to be weighed) in case she was just cold, I gave her her soother, I gave her toys, I rocked her, I bounced her and she continued to scream. I did what I do in these moments. I started crying. I said "I can't do this. I don't know what to do." I then continued with "I hate my life. I don't want to be a mom anymore." I cried and I cried and I cried. The doctor typed as I spoke. He left the room and came back with prescriptions for the same meds I was on for anxiety and depression almost 2 years ago and told me to come back in a week. I packed up my kids and left. I cried the whole way home and continued to cry for a long time at home. The next day I decided that he just caught me at a bad time and I didn't need the meds. I went to my appointment the following week and told him that I hadn't started the medication. I was quick to cry when he asked me questions about my anxiety and overall happiness. He told me that I need to get rid of the stigma that I have about mental illness and it's treatment. I had never thought that I had a stigma about it but clearly I do because I wasn't willing to take medication because I felt like I should just be able to feel better and be happier on my own. 

I started the medication. It takes about 6 weeks before knowing how the meds will work for me. I have been on these pills before but hormone levels change over time so getting the right dose and medication is still a process that needs to be monitored by my doctor. I haven't spoken to many people about what I have been going through for months now (dare I say even years....?) because frankly, I am embarrassed. I feel like I shouldn't be this way. I compare my life to other people's lives and think that I have no excuse to be falling apart. Other people have more kids. Other people don't have such supportive husbands. Other people have less money. Other people are single parents. Other people have children who are handicapped. Other people have real visible illness themselves. So if they can do this parenting thing, if they can handle life then why can't I? 

I don't know. I just know I can't. I just know that regardless of their realities, this is mine. This is where I am at. I am struggling. I get very overwhelmed by my kids. I get very lonely and feel isolated. I am starting to have social anxiety (which is really lame when you are an extrovert and need to be around people). I don't really want to leave my house and yet I hate being here all the time. I feel exhausted all the time. I have low energy. Nothing really excites me....at all. I have no hobbies or interests. I feel overwhelmed by my thought life because it is constantly in overdrive and yet my body is in slow motion. I never feel like I am doing anything well enough when it comes to being a wife, mom or friend. 

I have such high expectations of myself. Expectations of perfection. I can't quantify what is "enough" so I overachieve and always fall short. How do I know that I spend enough one-on-one time with each of my kids? Do I show them enough love and affection? Do I balance praise and discipline well? Is the home environment I am creating one that will help my children to grow and feel happy, loved and safe? Am I spending enough time engaging Jacob's mind? Does Livia have enough floor time? Is she on the floor too much? Should I be working more on her sleep? Should I be working out or spending my evenings resting and with my husband? Should I be working or continue to stay at home? Do I spend enough time praying an reading my Bible?....it never ends. I never have answers to these questions and always worry that I am not doing a good job. 

Will pills fix all of this? Heck no! But they should level out my anxiety a bit and take the edge off the sadness so I am not in a state of tears at any given moment. I am in counselling and I have a lot of work to do to get to a place where I can just be at peace with me. I want to be real. Be honest and vulnerable. I don't want to be ashamed. So here I am. 

When my heart is overwhelmed lead me to The Rock that is higher than I.
Psalm 61:2

5 comments:

  1. I know how hard it is to admit all this, Lael, so thanks for your honesty. My mom raised 5 of us girls alone with severe mental illnesses (bipolar, depression, anxiety, fibromyalgia and so much more). This is not to say that you have it easy but rather to reassure you that all of us 5 girls turned out just fine. We grew up in an imperfect home but we always knew our mom loved us, though imperfectly, and that meant so much. I now appreciate that she never left us, it must have been tempting time and time again. I know people that were raised in what appeared to be a model home and ended up in the worst way possible. The facts that you care so much about your kids and you are seeking help will greatly impact both of them hugely. "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him that you may overflow with hope by the power of the holy spirit" Romans 15:13. Love, Desirae.

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  2. I am sorry you are feeling so sad. I went through something very similar. Find out about postpartum depression. Your hormones may still be disrupted. It is OK to take anti-depressants. I wish I had. Talk therapy is important, too. Also try walking outside--sometimes with your children, sometimes on your own. Ask your doctor to check your vitamin D levels with a 1,25 vitamin D blood test. Take Vitamin D3, not prescription Vitamin D2 which is not as bioavailable as D3, until your blood levels are close to 39 units. Low D3 blood levels are associated with depression, mental fog and fatigue and excessive yawning and even increased risk of some cancers. Do something you enjoy just for you, e.g.. reading a good book. Take care of you too so you can enjoy your children and your life better.

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