Saturday, March 01, 2008

Coming Out of the Psychiatric Closet

Matt linked to Crystal's story about being Home. Her tale about someone discounting her prior behavior now that she has sought help, rang true for me. Matt's Friday blog gave me encouragement.

I decided it's time to stop pussy-footing around.

I've said here before that I was depressed. But there's a difference between saying that and saying I've got an imbalance in my brain chemistry. In my case, there's a ton of anecdotal evidence to suggest this imbalance is an inherited, multi-generational condition.

To blame or cast character aspersions on someone who has what will prove, in another 5 to 10 years, to be a disease with genetic markers, and quantifiable neuro-chemical diagnosticators [did I just make that word up?], is ignorance and insanity. That kind of bias is analogous to blaming someone for having green eyes, or calling them a child of the Debbil for having red hair or being left-handed.

AD stated, in his comments on Matt's blog, that there's no stigma attached to mental health issues today; except in the minds of small people. I disagree, respectfully. There's not as MUCH stigma attach to depression as there was 40 years ago, or even 20 years ago. Barbara Bush is to be commended for helping erase some of that stigma. And George, the younger, too. By talking publicly about her own depression, Barbara made it more acceptable for Jane Average to admit she was depressed. When George, the younger talked about how his Mother's depression effected him, he sent a message that it's OK if your Mom is depressed. You don't have to be ashamed of her and you can help her through it and still be accepted, too.

But, I would assert there are still people out here among us who inwardly cringe every time some Nut Job goes off his meds and shoots up his family/school/local mall. Those would be the Bi-Polars or Manic Depressives. There are millions of functional Bi-Polars who take their meds every day, live their normal lives, go to work, kiss their spouses and kids, and never shoot up anything. But whenever the average person hears the word "Bi-Polar" they connect that disorder with instability and someone who should be locked up until they can prove they are no danger to anyone else. There's plenty of stigma for them to overcome.

I don't think it's necessary to disclose what kind of problem(s) I have had or that anyone else disclose the exact nature of their problems, either. But I felt, and I felt it strongly enough, as I said in my comment on Matt's blog: Until those of us who have been there and done that, now use our first tee shirt as a dust rag, stand up and say, "Hey! Me, too. I've been overwhelmed. There was a time when I needed some help. I got it. I'm a better person today because I did."

Until we are willing to stand up in a public forum and do that, there will still be people out there who whisper about us behind our backs. You know, the way they used to talk about people who had cancer and avoid contact with them because it might be catching.

But if only half of us raise our hands...I think all the whisperers, even those of you who do it discreetly, will be shocked. There are a hell of a lot of us Crazee People out here.


Rabbit said...


When I did my clinical rotations through the state hospital at Rusk, I got to see a lot of this first-hand. Of course, that was also before I bucked up and started taking SSRI's, which have made me functional on a daily basis ever since. Sometimes, without them, there was no initiatve to get out of bed..for days. I know now that I've been plagued with a serotonin reuptake problem for all my adult life, and likely, upon modest reflection, a lot of my childhood and certainly adolescence. Fortunately, modern pharmacology makes me functional, reliable, and productive. Better yet, it makes me feel like I'm a decent human being, and I get some affirmation of that in the responses I get back from my clan, my job, and a good, steady paycheck.

One of my favorite mottoes comes from a press conference held by Mike Tyson several years ago.

"Zoloft is the only thing that keeps me from killin' all you MF'ers in here right now".

Hey, if I were Pfizer, I'd print that on the label as a ringing endorsement.


phlegmfatale said...

Rabbit's right -- Pfizer should totally be using that in promotions.

Brilliant post, Hols. Beautifully said.

Crazy( ha ha) Baby Lainy said...

I totally agree with you on this one Holly. I'm one of the crazee one's, but I take my meds and am able to get by in life. I'll admit it here, but not in the free world where I'd be judged and labeled.

Myron said...

Thanks for the post Holly. As the son of a paranoid schizophrenic mother who refused to take her meds for years, and an uncle and grandfather of 2 ADHD boys, I know full well it is a chemical problem. At least my mother moved in with my grandmother for the last few years of her life and the old lady made sure she took her meds. So the last few years she had peace, anyway.

HollyB said...

I'd never heard that quote before, but I agree it would make for some great advertizing. And thanks for goin' "Public" with me.

My difficulties started when I was 12, got markedly worse in my teens, but I didn't get any treatment until my 20's.

I'm truly grateful for good insurance, else the cost of my meds would be prohibitive.

Thanks for those kind words.

I understand and thanks for being brave enough to come "out" here.

the side effects of the anti-psychotic meds + the complexities of the disorder itsownself must have been difficult to deal with as a family member.
I've just had to deal with neurotics and the odd Personality Disorder in my fam.

I hope the boys are doing well with the ADHD. Had a friend who used to treat that with Coca Cola rather than Ritalin first. The combo of caffeine, and sugar for stimulation plus some parental training in consistency worked well enough in SOME cases that they could avoid the ritalin.

Of course some kids actually need the big gun, but some just need a little stim and some parents with more training.

Vanda said...

I'll raise my had here and say if I didn't take my Prozac every single day of my life, I would end up a useless lump!

The few times I've mentioned it to the in laws, I get those small raised eyebrows that I want to bitch slap.

HollyB said...

Thanks for raisin' your hand. There's safety in numbers. I think when all the folks who read at work check in tomorrow... we'll see more hands raised along with ours.

As for those in-laws...sounds like they need some attitude adjustment. Perhaps their son could talk to them about the eyebrows and other "signs" they are just "a wee bit" disapproving. If that doesn't work, you shouldn't have to be around that kind of toxicity.

Christina LMT said...

I was depressed for many, many years, but being the stoic German woman thought I "just had to deal with it". Which was pretty dumb, in hindsight. I wonder sometimes if I'd still be married had I sought help sooner.
I took Lexapro for a year, and it started helping me within a few days. Now I can recognize when I'm sliding again (which for me is definitely related to my hormonal cycle), and just being able to tell myself, "I'll feel better tomorrow, after a good night's sleep." works wonders. Thank you for sharing, and I agree, there is definitely still a stigma attached to any kind of mental illness. Unfortunately.

Anonymous said...

Hi Holly,

I'm leaving this comment "anonymously" (is there such a thing, on the internet??) because I'm not really ready to come fully out of that closet. But you'll know who I am, I think.

My kids are getting into the teen years now. But there was a time when my husband and I had moved 6 times in 5 years, most of those moves from one state to another and most of them to places where we literally knew no one at all. During those same 5 years, I gave birth to all 5 of our children. And our final move took us from the sunny south up to a grey, overcast, drizzly, rainy, dark, dank corner of the country.

Is it really any wonder that, less than a year following the traumatic birth of my youngest son, I needed a little chemical help to stabilize my brain chemistry? I'd always been prone to seasonal blues (need sunshine & lots of it), and now I was stuck indoors nearly all the time, with no sunlight coming in the windows either. We'd moved and moved and moved and moved away from all our friends and newly-met potential friends, and because I was home with five under-fives, I literally never had a day off all to myself. It's one thing to say, "Oh, I was really going crazy during those years," and quite another to look back at it knowing that you are speaking the literal truth.

When I found myself calculating ways to kill myself without it looking like a suicide, I figured I had two choices: I could either go through with it or I could ask for help. Something had to change.

The clincher? I suddenly realized I didn't want to DIE. I just didn't want to LIVE the way I had been living.

Long story short -- I got help.

1) I took an SSRI. I needed the drug to stabilize me, quickly. Which it did.

2) My husband made me a promise: no more moving. I needed roots.

3) A day off. My husband was, at that time, working six days a week and often out of town for weeks on end. We were flat broke and had lots of other places to spend money, but I went to the local homeschool group and found a young teenager who was willing to spend one day a week in my house -- with or without me, maybe taking a field trip with me & my kids, maybe babysitting while I ran errands, maybe helping me catch up on cleaning. I told her it wasn't so much that I would always need help -- it was that I needed ONE DAY a week where I knew for sure I could walk out the door and ignore my life, and that I knew that day would come around every single week without fail.

4) More light. To this day I am convinced that "more light," all by itself, might have prevented the whole ugly mess if I'd realized what was happening to me before I was so badly out of control. We installed a bank of full-spectrum lights in our living room, tore out a wall upstairs to install a new window, added bright lights in our bedroom and bathroom and hallway -- and I made a commitment to get outside for at least 15 minutes every day even when it was raining (I draw the line at snow, though).

So that was it.

Somewhere out there, someone is reading this and thinking there should be a law keeping me away from firearms, since I once needed medical help for a psychiatric condition. But you know what? The Andrea Yateses and the Susan Smiths of the world will always find ways to commit horrors, with or without guns. And why should I, stable and happy lo these many years later, be restricted from being able to defend myself and my family now?

Anonymous said...

One more note to add to the above: before he would write the Rx for an SSRI, the doctor wanted me to sign a piece of paper that said if I decided to commit suicide, I would call him before I did anything.

I looked at it. "Doctor, are you stupid, or am I?"

He blinked.

"If I decide to kill myself, I'll do that. If I decide I want help, I'll call you - which is why I'm here today. Unless you were planning to help me kill myself more pleasantly, why in the world would I call you if I decided to suicide?"

He didn't laugh, and maybe it's not so funny now. But it was, then.

Kimberly said...

I stunned a coworker being willing to speak openly about suffering from chronic major depression.

I suffered from it for a number of years before it progressed to the point where I spent a week in the hospital and finally got on a medication regimen (thank you prozac and ativan) and enough therapy to get me back to being a fully functional, rational, productive member of society.

Lin M. said...

Bravo!. You are the most centered, articulate, versed, educated, courageous crazee person I've ever had the honour of knowing.