I’ve always been a proponent of dealing with your shit head-on. Face your fears! Live your life! Scream into the void until it yields! Face god and walk backwards into hell*, if you have to! It’s hard, and I’m not, like, good at it, as friends and family might be inclined to tell you, but that’s what I think about a lot. I want to be one of those people who’s good in a crisis; I want to be Eagle-Scout prepared. For example, I recently started a knife collection. Therefore, should I ever suffer a home invasion, I can throw thrifted and Amazon-acquired knives at the intruder until they get so confused they give up and go away.
I’m trying to kind of front-load this with jokes, because the rest of it is about My Mental Health, and that’s a bummer. I mean, my mental health is pretty much best classified as “kind of a bummer,” and the whole topic of mental health is a bummer automatically: a giant weight on the landscape of most people’s lives. A pit most of us spend a great deal of time, and effort, and both tangible and intangible resources trying not to fall into.
Well, I fell in. I mean, I fell in nearly ten years ago; I fell in soon after I started college and started having panic attacks. It’s hard to remember exactly what triggered it – probably a lot of things, not least an abusive, long-distance friendship-qua-relationship with a man my friends knew nothing about, that even now I find difficult to discuss or explain. But that, too, is hard to remember, except in what it sometimes does to me today. Depression eats your memory.
So what do you do after you’ve fallen in the pit? It’s not like they make ladders you can, like…stick in your brain, to help other parts of your brain…climb out?…well, they don’t do that. I went to a couple of therapists who told me things like, “what if you stopped thinking those thoughts?” and, “You should take a cooking class.” I didn’t really consider medication, both because I don’t like doing things when I can’t at least try to predict the outcome and because taking medication for an illness that is only happening in my mind feels like failure.
But nothing worked. Part of it was clearly that cognitive behavioral therapy (“think different thoughts!” GIRL, HOW??) is not remotely my bag, and part of it was terrible advice (“take a cooking class.” LADY, WHY??). I didn’t “feel better.” Mostly what I felt was poorer, because psychiatric help, any kind of therapy, is expensive, and it wasn’t working anyway. I felt both too broken to help and not broken enough to get better help. You can kind of limp along on just about any kind of injury, in any kind of circumstances, if you’re stubborn enough, if you don’t have any other choices. I am fucking stubborn as anything. I am bad at giving myself other choices.
A friend of my mom’s has a psychiatrist she really likes, and he was willing to take me on kind of sight unseen. I can’t imagine it was very typical for him to be asked to make an appointment with someone who had never spoken to him and did not make the call herself. But he did. And I was diagnosed pretty much right off the bat with two anxieties and a depression: that’s the kinds of crazy I am. It’s not very. Anxiety, in particular, is one of the most common illnesses on the planet. The depression is supposed to result from the anxiety somehow, in some brain-chemicals way that makes no sense to me (and, based on the research I’ve read, doesn’t make all that much sense to anyone else, yet). We’re finding me some drugs to take that will, at a minimum, make me stop having panic attacks because my friends want to go to dinner somewhere I’ve never been with some additional people I don’t know that well, or make it so that I can go grocery shopping without being paralyzed by the thought of strangers observing my presence.
It’s a process. I’ve been on a slowly increasing dose of Sertraline, the generic form of Zoloft, for the last few months. The doctor let me start off at what he calls “your grandmother’s dose” because of my fear of, I don’t know, waking up halfway through my own production of Fear and Loathing in Baton Rouge. So far, it’s been…kind of nothing, except I want to die less often. It’s hard to remember to take it every day. The major side effect I’m experiencing is a near-complete loss of appetite, which means I forget to eat or decide I don’t need to, which means I immediately fall into an even bigger Pit of Despair. Which is stupid.
Taking it every day makes me feel…sick. Depression and anxiety are chronic illnesses. I was raised to avoid medication whenever possible so you would always have it on reserve for when you Really Needed It. The Sertraline – I can’t tell if it’s doing enough to prove that I Really Need It. And even if I do, that means…I’m sick. I’m too sick to handle it on my own. Not only that, but I’ve been sick the whole time. I’ve been avoiding treatment the whole time.
I could have died. I certainly thought about it enough. I didn’t, obviously, but suicide is the second leading cause of death in my age bracket.** I was lucky.
I don’t have a way to end this, but I feel like it’s important to say. I think the more we can talk about mental health, the easier it might be for the next people – the ones who start college and lose their minds; the ones who trip and find that their ground isn’t where everybody else’s is. I think, if you can, it is important to share your best and worst. So this is my worst. The end.
*@dril, Twitter, 22 May 2012
**CDC, “10 Leading Causes of Death by Age Group, United States – 2016”