May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and it’s also when I’m finally feeling ready to re-approach social media with the passion I had before going through a lovely bout of depression a couple months ago. You may or may not remember my post on Instagram (pictured here).
I have increasingly shared my struggles with mental health over the years, due to the feedback I get from others. There are a lot of people who already understand what they are going through, who have a name for it. But the main reason I speak out are for the ones who are miserable and don’t know why or how to fix it.
I was one of those at one point, and when I reached out for help – professional help – it failed me the first time. It took me another decade to try the professional route again, and this time it worked, and I’m a different person now. My co-workers will confirm that (I only half kid).
So let’s cut to the chase: my diagnoses are chronic depression and general anxiety disorder.
On a day-to-day basis, the anxiety is what ruins my life the most. I have to constantly keep it in check, and I’ve definitely improved in recognizing my triggers and avoiding them. I have Xanax, but rarely use it anymore, which speaks to my progress as it used to be my good friend in the early days of my diagnosis – under doctor guidance of course.
I think many of us joke about Xanax, myself included, but to be perfectly clear, it’s ripe for abuse. It has a very good purpose and that’s for breaking the anxiety cycle: when used properly, it cuts the anxiety off before it spirals out of control, allowing you to see the world for what it is. I do not believe it should be used without other devices: anxiety management or in my case a primary medication which manages both the depression and anxiety.
My depression, on the other hand, has been under rather good control (until just recently), but when it rears up, it’s debilitating. I want to do nothing but sleep, and no amount of sleep is enough.
I want to be in the dark cocoon of my bed. There’s nothing in life that brings me joy. It’s all I can do to get through the day.
My mom asked me this last time why I was depressed and that upset me because she suffers from depression, too, and she knows better: major depression is a chemical imbalance. There were no events that I could pinpoint that led up to it. It just happened, and in hindsight I could spot the signs of it starting.
I’ve been dealing with both of these conditions for a while now, and having real diagnoses – names – for both of these conditions, has given me far more control. I understand what my body is doing during them, and now I can spot the tell-tale signs before, during, and after. There are patterns. There are ways to prevent, or at least limit them, sometimes. There are ways to deal with things better.
And yes, for me, that does include medications.
I want to address this head-on. For some reason, I read a lot about people wanting to handle these serious, life-threatening mental diseases “naturally,” and while that is totally a personally choice, please know that there is absolutely zero shame in taking man-made prescription medications to get your brain functioning properly again.
As veterinary professionals, we constantly prescribe man-made prescription medications for our patients, and I’ll never grasp why it’s considered shameful to do the same when our mental health is on the line. When it’s your ability to function, treat patients properly, and interact with others normally is on the line. When it’s your life on the line.
You cannot pull yourself up by the bootstraps when you are dealing with severe versions of these conditions – and more importantly, when you are dealing with severe versions of these conditions, you become increasingly unable to understand that you can’t handle this on your own.
This is why you need a mental health professional to guide you in these decisions.
They might recommend therapy. They might recommend medications. They might recommend in-patient care. But the thing is, they are the unbiased viewpoint that you need.
Let me return to something I said before: the first time I reached out for help, it didn’t work. I was in college, suffering from severe depression, and I went to the university mental health services. All they wanted to do was talk about my relationship with my dad (he’s estranged). Never once were medications recommended, which in hindsight is clearly what I needed.
So, eventually I gave up on that, wasted another decade suffering until I couldn’t handle it anymore and tried again. This time I was referred to a psychiatrist, and that’s when things finally turned around.
It’s hard to describe the feeling of before and after. Once I found the right medications, I felt normal. ”Before” was a cloud, and I couldn’t deal with life very well. I would get angry and frustrated very easily. Now crappy life events still happen, but I can deal with them without losing it.
The moral is: It is really hard to know you are a “before” until you are a “after.” I didn’t, but, god, I feel so much better. Yes, I needed medications, and no, I’m not ashamed, and no, I’ll probably never get off of them. But I’ve got a mental health disease – two, in fact.
They’re serious life-long diseases that I need to treat for life. This is not a game.
I’ll end there. If you want to reach out to me for any reason, please do - that’s why I wrote this.
And if you’re my friend who still has her bottle of prescribed Prozac sitting on her counter, who is scared to start taking it, please try it. Your life will be better once you start the process of conquering your anxiety for real.
PS. After writing this article, I did a Facebook Live with Dr. Kim Pope from 1LifeConnected that hit on many of these issues, which you can watch here. If you are not a part of this community yet, I highly recommend it as a supportive mental health group and just generally nice people!