Advocate

I wanted to write about something people in my life commend me on because I think it’s something I wish others could do; ask for help.  Through the ups and downs in my life I’ve learned to be able to acknowledge when things are getting bad.  I can tell the difference between an “off” day and something more serious being “off”, like my medications not working properly.  Loved ones have praised me for being able to identify this switch between normal and not-so-normal because it’s when I know it’s time to take action.  Action can be calling my psychiatrist, reaching out to my manager, or taking a day off from work to hide in my apartment.  It all depends on how I perceive my feelings.

In order to know things are bad, you need to know what bad feels like.  I wish there was another way, but the only way to know what bottom feels like is to hit it.  If you’ve never hit your bottom, you’ll know when you get there; it’s when you feel the most hopeless, alone, and miserable you’ve ever felt.  It’s a horrible feeling, but the good news is it can only get better from there.  Once you’ve identified the feeling, you need do something difficult and painful – remember it.  Remember what it feels like when you had nothing left, when you reached the lowest of lows.  Feel that feeling and then make a vow to yourself to never reach that place ever again.

Hopefully, you’re not living that feeling now and if you are – hold on, I promise it won’t last forever.  Hopefully you’re feeling your equivalent of “normal”, i.e., whatever normal feels like for you.  But normal doesn’t last forever.  Life is continually swaying between the highs and lows that surround your normal.  But how do you know when your low is getting too low and closer to that place you vowed to never go again?  I really concentrate on how I feel and see how it compares to that low place.

I’ll share a very personal example to clarify what I mean.  A few years ago, I wasn’t taking medication and I was doing pretty well.  I had lows but they always felt like something I could pull myself out of or something I knew would eventually go away.  However, over time the lows started to replace the highs.  I found it really difficult to handle my emotions and it started to feel almost impossible to pull myself out of the slightest low.  But I still kept going on as if I was fine.  It wasn’t until one day while I was at work and feeling very low that my mind started to wander.  I started to think about what would happen if I wasn’t here anymore.  I continued to think about it, but it wasn’t until the thought “what if I just stepped in front of the train?” that something in me said “STOP!”.  I hadn’t had a dark thought like that it several years, since I hit my bottom, and I knew it was time for help.  I knew I could no longer pretend I was fine and that everything was ok, and I knew I had to reach out.  I called my mom who gave me a referral for a psychiatrist.  I told him what was going on and he saw me that afternoon.  He put me back on medication and I haven’t had a thought like that since.

 
You don’t need to get to that level to need help.  Once you start to feel that sadness, that hurt, and that despair that you know is serious, it’s time to reach out.  Call a loved one, a doctor (if you have one), or a hotline (National Suicide Prevention Hotline – 1-800-273-8255) and get the help you deserve. People won’t always reach out to you with the answers which is why it’s so crucial that you listen to yourself, take action, and advocate for yourself.  You have the strength, I promise.

There’s Nothing Wrong With Drugs

I think more people need to know that there is nothing wrong with taking drugs.  Psychiatric drugs, that is.  Not hard drugs, like crack.  That’s a bad plan.  Probably should have led with that.  Either way, I think a lot of people have a really negative reaction to psychiatric drugs (we’ll call them ‘meds’), because they either don’t understand why people need them or they’ve seen the negative effects they can have.

I was on meds for 8 years, then off for about 6 years, and now as of last week I am back on the wagon.  Or off the wagon?  I’ll say on the wagon because I’m getting back to being stable, happy, and healthy which is what being “on the wagon” is all about.

You may be wondering why someone even needs meds.  I often hear people say that someone suffering with depression needs to “stop being so sad”, someone with OCD needs to “stop being so obsessive”, and someone with schizophrenia needs to “stop being be so paranoid”.  Well here’s the deal – none of those people are being sad, obsessive, or paranoid by choice.  Mental illness is not what happens when you’re having a rough patch; mental illness is often due to chemical imbalances in the brain.

Certain events can trigger someone with a mental illness to feel worse.  A death of a loved one, losing a job, or developing a physical health condition can all worsen the symptoms.  But sometimes the symptoms get worse without an external trigger.  That’s what happened to me a few months ago.

Without warning or cause, my symptoms came back.  When I decided to go off medication my psychiatrist warned me that mental illness can go “into remission”, but that doesn’t mean it’s gone forever.  After six years of med-free life I thought I had finally beaten my mental illness…and then the mood swings came back.  And the racing thoughts.  And the depression.  And the anxiety.  I was stubborn at first because there is still a horrible stigma that surround mental health, especially when it comes to medication.  But then I realized that suffering in silence was a thousand times worse than a weird look someone might give me for taking Lithium.  If people don’t understand, then they’re stupid and you should hang out with cooler people (like me!).

People think taking medication means you’re “crazy” or “unstable” but it actually means the opposite; it means you’re taking care of yourself and there’s nothing crazy about that.  People with diabetes take medication, would you judge them for using insulin?  Or cancer patients for getting chemo treatments?  Illnesses need to medicated regardless of whether you can see them or not.

If you think you might benefit from taking medication, then go see a doctor.  Just be sure to see a good one because 90% of them are horrible.  Trust me, I’ve done the leg work.  If you’re not sure, then try some lifestyle changes first.  Exercise, diet, sleep, and meditation did wonders for me for many years, but my brain hates me so I need a little extra help.

 
And there is nothing wrong or shameful about that.