TW: I’m going to be talking about some serious mental health issues, suicide included. If you find this triggering, stop now.
“Mental health” has been in the news a lot lately. I’m not going to touch on that because the events prompting these conversations are extremely sad and I’m not prepared to discuss the many facets of the problem. What I’d like to talk about today is MY mental health.
Like my weight, I’ve struggled with my mental health for as long as I can remember. I’ve just never felt… right. Never felt normal. Normal kids don’t spend days on end locked in their rooms listening to oldies, crying hysterically and contemplating their own demise. And when I say kid, I mean middle school, like 11 or 12. The first time I thought I’d be better off dead I was about 13. At the time it didn’t scare me, and it wasn’t until much later that I realized that it wasn’t something mentally healthy kids thought about. I didn’t ask for or get help because it never occurred to me that I should.
This is the way things went until I was about 18, and then I discovered the joys of alcohol. I won’t go into detail about all of the stupid, self-destructive things I did, but it wasn’t good, and it took some time but I eventually realized that being drunk all the time wasn’t an effective coping mechanism. I don’t think I was an addict per se and I do still enjoy an adult beverage here and there, but I don’t approach drinking in the same sort of desperate way I did when I was younger.
It wasn’t until I was about 30 that things really came to a head. I had taken anti-depressants and anxiety medication here and there for situational issues, but I wasn’t going to therapy regularly. At that point in my life, I was also very physically ill and I ended up needing spinal surgery. I was out of work for an extended period of time, and as you can imagine it took a toll on my mental state, not only because of the financial stress but also because my self-worth is tied inexorably to my job. About a year after my surgery I was still pretty sick, I still couldn’t work and my romantic relationship was a disaster, so I kind of lost it. I spent a few weeks not doing much other than crying, and the idea of hanging myself from the fire escape or eating a bowl of painkillers for breakfast became more and more appealing. Logically I knew that I didn’t want to die, so I did something extremely difficult: I asked for help.
Now, my boyfriend at the time was not and is not a bad person. He didn’t know how to handle what I was going through because he’s lucky enough to not have a brain that routinely misfires and lies to him. In his mind, I was being overly emotional and melodramatic, and there was really nothing wrong with me. I was also struggling to convey to him what I was going through. Communication was definitely not our strong suit. So one morning I woke him up asking him to take me to the hospital, and the only thing he could think about was being woken up early on his day off by his needlessly hysterical girlfriend. Once we arrived and talked to a nurse and it was decided that yes, I did, in fact, need to be admitted to the psych ward, he had a slightly better grasp of the situation.
So I spent a week in a psych ward on a voluntary hold. I don’t want to go into too much detail about what it’s like to be locked up with a bunch of other mentally unwell individuals, but it’s definitely not like it is in the movies or on tv. We weren’t separated by gender or diagnosis, we could get phone calls almost all the time and visitors every day, and we were expected to participate in group therapy as often as possible. My roommate was a homeless drug addict who was also devoutly Christian, and she prayed for me, out loud, every night before we went to sleep. We didn’t have a curfew or a bedtime and we could basically do whatever we wanted all day long, but if we didn’t bathe or show up for meals or slept too much, the nurses made a note of it and we’d get a visit from the on-call psychiatrist. We didn’t have one on one sessions, but they’d send someone in to chat if you didn’t show signs of progress. This facility was primarily to stabilize us and connect us with resources in the outside world that would help us be normal, capable humans again.
I was in the hospital for several days before I told anyone where I was. I knew the people closest to me would start to worry when I didn’t answer phone calls or texts and wasn’t posting on social media. The worst was telling my parents. I didn’t want them to know that I really wasn’t ok. I felt like I had let them down somehow. The shame I felt about it was overwhelming, and the vast majority of the people in my life still don’t know to this day. Until now, that is.
So what’s the point in writing this post? Well, I was watching one of my favorite shows, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and in the most recent season, some of the main character’s deep, dark secrets start to come out. One of those secrets is that she spent some time in a mental ward, and so many of the emotions she feels about people finding out are really familiar to me. I can identify with her on so many levels. And the more I thought about that, the angrier it made me. Why should we feel this kind of panic and shame at the thought of people finding out that we did something to make ourselves healthy? Would we feel this way if we contracted pneumonia or some other serious disease and ended up in the hospital? No, we wouldn’t, because physical illnesses are taken more seriously than mental ones even though mental illness is just as likely to be fatal if left untreated.
It’s not like we want to have bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder or whatever cleverly named mental illness we end up with. We didn’t do anything to get these diseases, and the only thing we can do to combat them is to be vigilant. Take our meds. Go to therapy, if we can afford it. Hope someone takes us seriously. Pray that we continue to have access to the treatments that are literally keeping us alive.
There’s still so much stigma when it comes to mental health, and I’m trying to do what I can to erase even a tiny shred of it. So if you know me and you think that I’m a sane, rational, albeit quirky, individual, you’re right. I also suffer from depression and occasionally crippling anxiety. Sometimes I can’t convince myself to leave the house or see other humans for days on end. Sometimes my brain tells me that I’m completely alone in the world and am a total failure. Sometimes I’m fine and adult with no problems. Every day is a surprise and I just have to roll with it.
So, that’s my spiel. I hope you haven’t been completely put off by it. I promise you that there will be more makeup in the coming days; I just needed to get this off my chest.