An email to a concerned husband   Leave a comment

I’m posting this email I sent to the husband of a friend of mine to help him come to terms with what mental illness actually is.  I’m hoping it may help others.

(Names have been shortened to single letters to protect privacy)

Hi X,

First, I want to wish you, Y, and X Jr.  a Merry Christmas.  Hopefully, we can get together at some point soon to hang out!

Second, based on where Y is in treatment of her depression, bipolar disorder, and other co-morbidities, I wanted to provide you with some information about my own history with mental illness in the hopes it will help you and your family.

I was first diagnosed with mental illness, Major Depressive Disorder, one year after D was born.  My mental/physical state postpartum exacerbated the condition that I’d had since I was a pre-teen and, aside from some “minor acting out” and peeling the skin from the bottoms of my feet, kept hidden since that time. 

I was 21 at the time of my initial diagnosis and was prescribed medication and psychotherapy.  My medication dosage was changed a few times until I could function despite my depression, but my psychotherapy wasn’t appropriate.  I felt dead inside, but functioned as best I could for the sake of my son.  At the time, I was a single mother and D was the only thing that kept me going.

I stopped psychotherapy and, soon after, stopped medication.  I continued to force myself to function (I call it “survival mode”) for the sake of my child, but my relationships with everyone else were a disaster.  I continued to pick the skin on the bottom of my feet, sometimes until it bled, but since I swam or worked in Aquatics since I was 15 through the time I was 24, it was easily explained as being due to pool chemicals.  After that, when I got “corporate jobs” I wore shoes.  Later, I switched up and started only picking things that didn’t show – currently, the insides of both my ears are raw, scaly, and bleed on a regular basis.

I went back to psychotherapy and onto medication when I was 24, and again when I was 26, but both times I stopped meds and stopped therapy after only a short time.  I had constant mood swings and irritability outside of my job, with which I identified.  I never took it out on D, but M saw all of my behaviors: mood swings, ups and downs, social anxiety, needs to binge eat and drink. 

It wasn’t until one of my clinical trials closed in 2009 and then we were outsourced that my mental illness reached its tipping point.  I cried every night, ranting and railing at everything.  I finally took myself to therapy and then, two appointments into it, broke down and asked for a psychiatrist reference.

I’ve now been on medication and in psychotherapy for two years and I still have periods of time when the depression controls me.  My mood changes, I become sad for no apparent reason, and I react at the drop of a hat.  I’ve come to think of my depression like diabetes or cancer.  It is a condition that will always be there, no matter the treatment; I can keep it at bay, under control, with treatment but it will never go away.  I will probably be on medication for the rest of my life and, if that is what it takes to feel even remotely “normal”, then so be it.

Mental illness does not have a cure.  There is no fix, quick or otherwise.  There are coping mechanisms, and treatments, and ways to live a productive life but there is no way to leave it behind.  The only thing that works when the pain is so bad that you NEED to pull yourself apart physically and mentally is to have loving support.  Having M, having someone to hold me when I want to fall off the Earth and never come back, and having D, the child for whom I would do absolutely ANYTHING, are the only things that have kept me even remotely functional.

A word about “survival mode” too, since I’m blathering on: D never noticed that I had an issue; he was too young.  Survival mode only works when the only thought is to keep yourself and your offspring alive.  I put a ton of rules and hard limits in my head that only work in survival mode; they don’t work in the real world.  My default is to put everyone at arm’s length and not connect, to rule people out, to not let them get close and to gather myself into a ball in my own screwed up brain.  Being Mommy was the only thing that pulled me out of my own twisted mind…until M came and loved me unconditionally.

I’m attaching a link here about trichotillomania – a long word for a relatively simple symptom of depression and/or anxiety.  You might want to have a look since Y is finally admitting she has an issue.  It can be treated and stopped, with the right program and is no more a sign of craziness than anything else we mentally ill people do.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002485/

I am choosing to tell you these things because I think there’s a stigma attached to mental illness that has been perpetuated for far too long.  We don’t CHOOSE to be this way; there’s something in our chemical make-up that makes it inevitable.  Mental illness, as I said, is like diabetes, or cancer, or chronic pain, and the fact that it is “all in our head” doesn’t make it any less real, or less painful, or more able to suck it up.  I know you love Y and I know you want the best for her, so I hope this helps in some small way.

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Posted February 6, 2012 by veggiewolf in Depression

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