Sunday, August 26, 2012

Stupid brains.

We had a speaker at work a while back, during one of our many tedious and markedly unproductive in-services.  Unlike many speakers in the past, which have included a ridiculously bad motivational speaker and one dude seemingly trying to mobilize us to join his army to overthrow a small government in Africa, this guy had the attention of everyone in the room, which is saying a lot considering that it was a room full of unionized folks.

He was talking about mental illness.  More specifically, HIS mental illness.  The thing that resonated most with me was when he was talking about when he (also) got diagnosed with MS (this dude not only is bi-polar, severely depressive and occasionally manic, but MS?  Really?).  He had been battling severe mental issues since he was a teenager, a fact which no one (not even his parents) acknowledged or had empathy for, but the second people learned that he had been diagnosed with MS, the cards, hot dishes, flowers and favors surged.  No one ever sent a card or flowers, or even acknowledged for that matter, his mental health issues.

And he raised a valid point- why do we look away, fiddle with our phones, or feign an emergency when someone has the balls to mention/discuss mental health issues?  I'm guilty of it myself.  Why is a disease that attacks your body so much more valid than one that attacks your brain, your psyche, your soul?  Why are mental health issues still a dirty little secret, and why do they have to be?  Just like no one goes out TRYING to get cancer, no one goes out and tries to get mental illness.
You don't attack it, it attacks you.

One person in four has mental health issues.
That's a lot, right?

I'll put it out there, for the sake of transparency/honesty: I suffer from ADD and occasional depression.  Whatever you think of those two things (and I know some of you think one or both aren't real- you can just keep your stupid opinions to your stupid self in this instance), I will tell you this: it was neither easy nor without a sense of deep, crushing shame that I finally approached a medical professional about both things.  One I medicate for, one I don't.

Whatever you think of the validity of ADD (not ADHD), this is the reality for me- when things got so bad that I: 1) drove through a red light at a busy intersection because I was distracted by someone in a bad outfit on the sidewalk, 2) would not make it to appointments/etc... that I had MANY reminders in place for on a twice-weekly basis, and 3) had no sense of control whatsoever over my own life to the point where I broke down in tears once or twice a week, then I knew something was happening that was beyond my grasp.

The depression?  It comes and goes.  This one is a bit easier to manage for me.  I can acknowledge it, recognize it, and try to power through it.  Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn't.  Sometimes it sneaks up on me and manifests itself in less recognizable ways, like self-esteem issues or being physically drained.  Sometimes it disguises itself in happiness that takes a sick turn.  Sometimes it disguises itself in something wonderful happening or big challenges met, that are immediately followed by self-doubt and the inability to do ANYTHING for days.  Sometimes it is proceeded by social anxiety that brings a whole new set of behaviors, all of which end in shame and...depression.

I hold down a really good job and am respected in my field, I have an active social life, I have great friends and family, and I put myself out there on a daily basis. 
I function.  95% of the time.   Sometimes even like a normal person.

But it's not always easy, and it's not always what I want to do.   I'm no expert on the topic, I just know what I know.

I didn't choose this, it chose me.  It's not all of who I am, but it is part of me.

Keep that in mind next time you are dealing with someone who is dealing with these or similar issues.  Just because we can walk, talk, function and get through the day doesn't mean we're always ok.

Have some empathy.  Ask us how we're doing.  Actually listen when we answer.  Let us know you care.

Just an FYI, I'm not in any danger ever of hurting myself, that's not going to happen here, but there are plenty of people who are.  There are plenty of people that, if just ONE person took the time to acknowledge them, engage them, or open up a bit, that they would maybe change their mind.  That maybe that day wouldn't be  the right day to take themselves out of the running.  Because the reality is, for many people with more severe mental health issues, that's the result.  That's the answer.  That brings things, finally, to an end.
Let's agree to try to not let that happen, if we accomplish nothing else.  Ever.

Not trying to be a downer here, but that's just what has been on my mind.  I promise inappropriate language, photos, maybe costumes and suchandsuch are to come.  I think I needed to purge a bit first.  Sorry to puke on your brain.