Weird title, but hear me out.
My whole life, I have been aware of mental health and mental illness. Growing up, I knew my mom was mildly manic depressive (what they call Bipolar now). She never hid it from us and we always knew when she was going through a “mini manic” or a “mild depressive” stage. We also knew she was on medication and she had regular appointments with “Mr. Fix-it” her counselor to help her deal with abuse as a child from her father. She was a very vocal advocate for mental health at a time (late 80’s) when NO ONE talked about mental health. It was considered shameful, embarrassing and something you swept under the rug. For most people, it was just too uncomfortable to talk about. I admired (and still do) her ability to not give one shit about what people thought and to put it out there anyway. She’s still like that to this day (love you, mom).
So, while I understood mental health and mental illness, I never really thought too much of it. After all, no one else talked about it, so maybe it was just my mom.
By the time I was in grade 5, I had been to 4 different schools in 5 years. It was a lot. Halfway through the school year, I witnessed my cousin in a tobogganing accident. It was terrifying. There was a moment I thought she had died from breaking her neck. Around this time, I started to develop stomach pains. I wasn’t up to going to school for 3 months. For a several months, my family doctor and other specialists, ran test after test after test. There was no physical reason for my stomach pains. Then we went to an allergy specialist. Nothing there either. A nurse friend suggested it was probably related to anxiety and encouraged my parents to make a plan with the teacher to get me back to school. Finally, one morning, in April, despite my tears and protests my mother literally DRAGGED me out of bed, dressed me and walked me to school. As soon as I was there, I was OK. We came to name it “The School Anxiety Thing” and whenever I felt nervous or mild stomach pain think about going to school in the morning, Mom and discussed was it “The School Anxiety Thing”. It felt good to give it a name. But in time, I chalked it up to “who knows” and moved on.
High school came…I was an OK student. Quite frankly, the only reason I maintained the average I did was because of music. Math, Science, I did OK, low 70s, but music is really where I excelled. I was good at music and it came easy to me. I didn’t try very hard in my other classes because I had to work at it. What if I worked at it and I didn’t do well? That would mean failure. Failure, as I’ve learned is a big trigger for me.
My mom had always thought I had some sort of learning disability, so she took me to get tested at a psychologist. All I remember from the results was that I had mild ADD, mild ADHD and subclinical depression. I was in Grade 12 at that point, had been accepted into University and was in my first REAL relationship. Life was good, so I brushed it off.
University. My high school boyfriend had broken up with me and I was a complete disaster. I turned to food and alcohol as a way of coping. I had failed at at relationship which mean I was a failure (nevermind that most high school relationships don’t survive to Thanksgiving). Food became my crutch, my medicine. I gained almost 30lbs, lost it the following summer and gained it back the next year. I was constantly up and down. By 4th year (I had decided to study Psychology. Partly to figure out my brain, but I also find the study of human behaviour absolutely fascinating.) I had enough and put myself on a waiting list for a psychologist at the school. I knew something was up.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t a fit. I was pretty much done school by the time I got in, but I had started taking Celexa, a SSRI designed to help with depression and anxiety. It was a VERY mild dose, but it helped me a lot.
After I graduated, I met my an amazing man (my now amazing husband). I landed a great job (especially for someone with a Hon BA in Psychology) and life was really, really good again. I went off my Celexa because I didn’t think I needed it any more.
HANG IN THERE FOLKS, THERE’S A REASON I’M TELLING YOU ALL THIS.
Then, my parents decided to end their marriage. This hit me harder than I ever could have imagined. Even though I knew it was for the best, my family unit had really been the only concrete thing in my life. I was back to eating and drinking and gained a bunch of weight. At that point I decided to go back on the SSRI’s.
Fast forward a couple years. I wasn’t in a great place. I mean, I was FINE, but not great. I was just kind of coasting. Even though I’m a huge advocate for mental health and had taken psychology in school I was afraid to seek out a counselor. I don’t know why, I guess for some reason I thought I could fix my brain on my own. I rationalized that I just needed to X, Y and Z and then I’d be happy again. I mean, I had a wonderful life. I had a good job, a wonderful husband, a great home, a car, food…but I was still feeling so lost.
Finally I got a recommendation from a friend and J and my Mom really encouraged me to go. I did…and it was really hard. I had to work through some really hard stuff. I finally acknowledged my overwhelming anxiety issues. I was given tools to help get me through all of my most anxious moments and healthy coping strategies.
This really got me to thinking…I have decent knowledge about mental health issues. I’m also a huge advocate for seeking help when you need it. I believe it should be talked about and for the stigma around it to be lifted. Yes, despite all of the above, I was STILL embarrassed and ashamed to seek out help. Why?
When I had a hard time overcoming the shame and embarrassment, my mom put it to me like this (and this is where the title of my post comes from). “If you were diabetic, you would go to the doctor to get insulin. You wouldn’t try to “think” your way through it, you wouldn’t say ‘If I just didn’t eat sweets any more, I would get rid of this pesky diabetes'” No, because that’s not how it works. In order to live with diabetes, you have to take insulin and be monitored by a medical professional regularly.
Mental illness (especially severe mental illness) is no different. Sometimes, it is situational. Sometimes you’re going through a really rough patch, like a divorce. You’re not prone to depression or anxiety, but due to the circumstances, you’re no longer in a place where you can just “get yourself over it”
Sometimes though, you have a chemical imbalance in your brain that is not situational and CANNOT just be “thought away”. You can’t just wait it out until it goes away. Even if it seems to subside, life happens and you’re often back where you started. Beating yourself up about not being able to “make yourself better” isn’t going to fix it. In fact, it will make it worse.
So what do you do?
- First, reach out to family and friends you feel comfortable sharing your struggles with. I will say this again and again – ASKING FOR HELP DOES NOT MAKE YOU WEAK. It takes incredible strength to admit you need help.
- If you’re struggling from an addiction (alcohol, drugs, food, gambling) reach out to a local support group. It may take a couple tries (no one group is right for everyone) but don’t give up.
- If you’re struggling from depression, anxiety, OCD, whatever, there’s a support group for that too. If you prefer to remain anonymous, try an online group. FB is full of them, but there are lots of forums and chat groups out there.
- If you feel it is safe to do so, talk to your employer and see what kind of mental health coverage your workplace has. I know seeking out a counselor isn’t cheap but many workplaces have coverage that you may not know about. (You may want to mention it’s called EAP – Employee Assistance Program. P. S. They usually offer 3 free consultations per issue and may give more if you name a different issue. I know ‘cuz I’ve used 2 differento employers EAP a few times)
- If you live in Ontario, Psychiatrists are covered by OHIP. I know many people feel like Psychiatrists are just pill pushers, but a good one won’t give you drugs unless they feel it is necessary for you.
- Talk to your family doctor – they are also able to prescribe medication and can refer you to a counselor/psychiatrist/psychologist/social worker.
Here is some other really great information from CAMH about finding help that is right for you.
And listen, maybe you’re not ready. It’s scary and it takes a lot of work. I’m still working on it. Every damn day, I’m working on myself. I want to be my best self for me and for my family. I want to raise boys who aren’t afraid to ask for help when they need it. I want to raise boys who feel safe to express their emotions and feelings.
So hang in there, just know, if and when you’re ready for help, it’s there. Or heck, send me an email. There are always options.