I just saw that it is world mental health day, and coincidentally also the day after I took my first mental health drug! So I thought I would briefly share my own journey, just to do my little bit wedging open the conversational door.
You know how you wake up with a sore throat and then you do a quick body check to decide “is this a normal morning throat, or am I getting a cold?” And if it’s a normal morning throat, you have hot tea with breakfast and that fixes it and you go about your day, and if it’s a cold you take a tylenol and maybe call in sick to work. I always thought of mental health like that. If it’s a normal morning throat kind of mental problem, then I deal with it with hot tea and don’t bother the doctor. If it’s something extra, then you bother the doctor.
I had a couple patches of real depression when I was a teenager. Which is normal. Teen brains are a mess. And when I say “patches”, I mean literally a couple of hours maybe, or less than a day. And when I say “depression” I mean not “I feel sad” but “I can’t think straight”. Anyway, it was SUPER useful to have had that experience, gave me a baseline for the rest of my life between normal sad and “my brain chemistry is broken” sad. I also had a stretch of getting strep throat constantly in first grade, which is similarly useful when I have to figure out if I have a normal sore throat or need to go in for a strep test.
Part of growing up was getting used to my “normal” kind of mental health adjustments. If I was worried about something, or didn’t get enough sleep, or had too much caffeine, I would feel slightly anxious or worried, and then I’d have a cup of tea (works for normal anxiety, and for morning throats), and feel all better. I chugged along like that for years and years and years.
5 years ago I think, those little patches of worry started happening slightly more often. But they still were in the “morning throat” kind of category. They didn’t feel like being sick-sick, they felt like just my bodies normal behavior, but happening more often. And more and more and more and more. And my “hot tea” cures had to get more elaborate, it wasn’t just hot tea, it was leaving the TV going while I fell asleep, buying a bunch of sunlamps, getting a dog.
I’d bring this up at doctor’s appointments and they would sort of brush past it, because I never really pushed or explained clearly. I wasn’t SICK, like not with something really shockingly clearly wrong, I was just slowly getting worse and worse. It wasn’t until my foot surgery that I FINALLY decided I had to go to a specialist and really say what was wrong and see what they said.
The thing with the foot surgery was two fold. First, I don’t know if you remember this from blog posts, but the lead up to it was setting off all my anxiety triggers (loss of control, dealing with new strange situations, unknown future, blah blah). I was in a really bad shape thinking “I can’t keep on feeling like this, I’m not functioning.” But the other second part was the bit that really made a difference, I started to realize that my mental health was just like my foot.
With a foot, or loads of other physical ailments, we are used to this sort of slow progression of “normal” body stuff that gets slightly off. There’s the stuff like a real external thing, like breaking a bone, and then there’s all the stuff that just comes from inside, for whatever reason some small thing that gets worse and worse. It’s not really a problem at all, and then it’s a minor problem and you adjust around it, and then you finally go to the doctor and they say “oh yeah, we can totally fix that” and you think “well, why didn’t I come in sooner?”
But it hadn’t occurred to me that mental health could be like that. Not the actual real sick-sick dramatic changes, but just slow shifting of “normal” stuff that you begin to adjust your life around, and you can handle it yourself, but it’s harder and harder. I did that with my foot, and finally came in and the doctor knew just what it was and took care of it. Why couldn’t I try the same thing with my brain?
So I made an appointment with a psychiatrist and he didn’t give me any stupid “lifestyle” suggestions, along the lines of my general doctors who told me to stop drinking caffeine if I felt anxious, or to buy comfortable shoes for my foot. He said it was completely normal for people to feel anxious sometimes, and he wanted to help with that, and suggested a pill to take as needed when I started to feel panicky, and a daily anti-depressant. And then I was very brave and said I didn’t want to take a daily anti-depressant, and he was okay with that too. Actually listened to my concerns and suggested we start with the other pill first, and maybe add the anti-depressant later. It wasn’t scary or hard or anything, and he didn’t tell me I should take better care of myself and not use pills, or that I should take the pills he says because he knew better.
That was maybe I month ago, and I started taking the as-needed pills like he said. It took me a bit to figure out the best way to take them for myself to make them work, but then I did, and it was great! I took maybe one a week when I started to feel bad (almost always at night), it made me feel all calm and sleepy and safe, and then I would wake up in the morning with this leftover happiness. Until the past week or so when the sun started coming up later and going down later and I suddenly I was taking one a night and thought “eh, I should call that doctor again”. And he was great! Totally fine with giving me a new prescription for daily pills, even though I said I didn’t want them earlier. I took my first daily pill last night, which was very exciting since there was always the slight possibility of a bad reaction. But instead I had no apparent reaction. I woke up this morning in the dark feeling depressed but then I started to feel really happy, and kind of peaceful.
I went for a walk this morning, feeling happy, and trotting along for almost half a mile without any foot pain, thinking “why was I so scared to ask for help? Why didn’t I do something about my foot, and my brain, ages ago?”