I have a confession to make. I’m not really a Star Wars fan. I know this sounds like no big deal, but when all of your friends are huge fandom geeks, them are fighin’ words. My saving grace is that I don’t dislike the movies, I just don’t seek them out. I bring this up because for the past week my Facebook feed has been filled with tributes and remembrances of Carrie Fisher. In scanning through these, I learned something new about her. She not only suffered from mental illness, but she openly spoke about it and fought to diminish the stigma associated with mental illness. This made me take a second look at this woman, and I gained a whole new respect for her.
For three-quarters of my life I have suffered from multiple forms of mental illness – depression, OCD, panic disorder and PTSD – and for a large part of my struggle my biggest fight was against the stigma. I didn’t want to be mentally ill, because that made me weird/different/crazy/unbalanced etc. So instead of seeking out the help I needed, I specifically denied myself that help because I was “stronger” than my mental illness. Even after I sought out therapy, I refused to take medication because, again, I was “stronger” than my disease. Looking back at that mindset now, I have to laugh if only to keep myself from crying. How much of my life was frittered away fighting a fight that didn’t need to exist?
I was in my thirties before I finally accepted my mental illnesses and began to actively treat them for what they were, illnesses. Not a defect in my character, but an illness. What finally helped me turn that corner, was talking to a friend who had just been diagnosed with diabetes. This friend had tried to control her diabetes through diet, exercise, and every other bit of advice she could find. But at the end of the day, it wasn’t working and she had a choice to make. She could either be sick every day of her life, or she could go on insulin and only be sick every once in a while. Of course, she went on insulin. It was a no-brainer. Let me repeat that, the choice of being sick every day or going on medication was a no-brainer.
The lightbulb turned on. I had tried every conceivable treatment I could find for my depression – exercise, therapy, supplements, dogs, somato-emotional-release, more therapy, sun lamps, acupuncture, nature, etc – and after decades of trying things, I was still sick every day and quite frankly getting worse. Life was a constant fight. Getting up in the morning was a battle. Focusing on tasks was a battle. Motivating myself to leave the house was a battle. I fought every day all day and I was exhausted. Yet, I refused to medicate myself for my illness because that would mean admitting that something was wrong with me, and what would people say? What the actual fuck?
I decided then and there that I no longer gave a crap what other people thought. I also decided that nothing was wrong/weird/different/crazy about me, I simply had a disease that could be treated. So I treated it. Now I’m not saying that medication is right for everyone, I only medicate my depression. I use alternate treatments for everything else because it can be a bitch figuring out what medications and what dosages work. Especially when I discovered that medication for the panic disorder made my depression worse, even while on medication for the depression. When this trial and error doesn’t go well, it’s not pretty and I wouldn’t wish that process on my worst enemy. Finding medications for everything wasn’t worth it. However, I learned that if I medicate my depression I can deal with everything else going on. But when the depression isn’t in check, everything else runs rampant.
So I medicate the depression, and most days I can function with only slight battles. Yes, some days the panic disorder wins the battle. Some days the OCD wins the battle. Some days they all gang up on me at once and I spend the day curled up with my dogs. But most days I am a fully-functioning, active member of society and many people are surprised when I tell them of my diagnoses. They’re even more surprised that I talk about it openly and have no qualms answering questions. Because all of my therapies aside, openly speaking about my mental illness has been a better balm than anything else. There is no shame in mental illness, and the more we talk about it the more we kill that stigma. So I’m here to talk.