note: This piece also appeared on stage as part of the play Shattered!
Every day, we see things that remind us of how fragile we all are; we see roadside headstones, nursing homes, cancer treatment centres, and hospitals. When we see these things, we often think of those affected, and perhaps about how difficult it might be for them, and if there is a way we can help (dropping some money in a collection box the next time you see one, volunteering at a nursing home, etc). We are living in a time of open and honest discussion about medical affairs, where there are any number of campaigns advising people to check for lumps, bumps, and rashes, to help early diagnosis of cancers, infections, and chronic problems. Even with all this, I would rather admit to almost anything rather than tell people that I have suffered from ill health. Why? Because they are problems that you can’t see – they don’t take the form of a broken leg, a sprained wrist, or a swollen gland – even though they are every bit as debilitating.
Like so many people in Ireland, I have experienced mental health problems – namely, depression (bipolar disorder, to be exact, with a tendency toward depressive episodes). I have also become adept at hiding this fact from many of those around me because, despite living in an ostensibly modern society, I am keenly aware of the fact that “mental health” and “depression” are dirty words; we don’t speak about them, we don’t acknowledge them, and we certainly don’t tell people that we are experiencing them. Mental health is the last bastion of the taboo in Ireland – spoken about only in hushed tones, lied about to friends, family, and co-workers, and denied to the very last, even if it costs people their lives.
It is almost certain that, in your group of friends, at least one person has dealt with a mental health issue, even if you don’t know about it. That’s because mental health issues, unlike people, don’t discriminate. It doesn’t matter if you have the most loving and supportive family in the world, or if you were a lonely child; it doesn’t matter if you wanted for nothing, or scrimped and saved for everything; it doesn’t matter whether you’re male or female, or how old you are.
Depression hits like a hammer. It can come on suddenly, with little or no warning, and once it has arrived, it digs in roots that make it harder to remove. Depression is more than just feeling a little sad; it’s like feeling that you’ll never be happy again, or that you’ll never feel anything but this again. It’s crippling and debilitating. It makes it difficult to perform the simplest of tasks; it’s difficult to eat, sleep, wash, or care about anything at all. More than this, it wreaks havoc on your system, causing headaches, migraine, stomach irritations, digestive problems, changes in appetite, weakness, extreme tiredness, insomnia, etc., but then, what illness doesn’t? Like any illness, you can receive treatment to make yourself better, in the form of medicine and/or therapy. Unlike any illness, however, you are unlikely to receive the support and sympathy of many of your peers. This is because depression, unlike any other illness, is somehow “your fault”.
I’m not sure that it’s possible to completely describe what depression feels like in words, so I’m not certain that anyone who has never suffered from it will fully appreciate how truly awful it can be. Of course, the same could be said of a broken leg – after all, those lucky enough to have never broken a bone are unlikely to know what that pain feels like, what it is like to hear and feel the snap of the bone, what it is like to struggle to do things properly until you’re recovered – but when you break your leg, people look after you. They open doors, they help you eat, dress, shower, and get around. They make accommodations for you, and help you through your recovery. They are patient and understanding when it takes you longer to perform simple tasks. And regardless of what you were doing when you broke your leg, no one ever tells you to “snap out of it”, or tells you that it’s your fault.
Mental health issues are just like any other health problem you may be having. Just like an asthmatic may take inhalers, or a diabetic may take insulin, people with a mental health problem may take medication, because each condition can be debilitating and even fatal if left untreated. Similarly, once controlled, people with asthma, diabetes, depression, or any similar illness can live full, happy, and healthy lives that are mostly unaffected by their condition.
We need to stop thinking of mental illness as separate and distinct to non-mental or physical illnesses. There is no gulf to cross, no barrier to break down – illness is illness, whether it takes the form of something physical, or something mental. To take medicine for a mental health problem is no different than taking insulin, and to need to take a day or two to recover from a depressive episode is no different than needing a day or two to recover from the ‘flu.
I am a young woman who has dealt with mental illness. I also have a successful career, a healthy social life, a number of hobbies, a BSc, and I’m studying toward a Masters degree. Mental illness is not a life sentence. It’s not something to be ashamed of. And it’s about time that we stopped treating it that way.
My name is Rachel. This is the story of my depression and self-harm, and the few bits about my self-harm could be triggers.
I first realized that something was wrong with me when I was 14. I was so sad and anxious all of the time that I was barely eating or sleeping, let alone doing my homework and just generally functioning. When I was 15, I cut myself for the first time. When someone asked me about the marks on my arm, I blamed my cat. Either I was a really good liar or they just really wanted to believe me. I stopped cutting and started scratching myself because I didn’t want to have to worry about being caught with a knife. I didn’t want to be caught, but, at the same time, I must have because I told a friend what was going on, and I also told my brother. My brother was clever and used it to blackmail me into lying when he broke a rule, and I was scared of how my parents would react so I usually went along with what he wanted. Eventually, I got tired of keeping everything together and lying to everyone, and I told him that he could tell whoever he wanted. I didn’t care anymore, and I wouldn’t stop him. He got mad at me and he told my mother (conveniently, avoiding being grounded).
My parents confronted me, asking if my brother had told the truth. I said that he was, and that things had been bad for months. They helpfully told me that what I was doing was stupid and that I needed to get my crap together. I was crying and yelling, and they asked if I wanted counseling. They asked in such a way that I knew my answer was supposed to be no. I said I did not want counseling. I did not get help for my depression. I somehow made it through high school a complete mess. I turned my sadness and anger and frustration inward, and my self-harm became worse than ever. I still have scars from all of the times I hurt myself to avoid yelling or upsetting anyone. I realized that I was out of control, and I did not want to go to college still harming myself. I made the conscious choice to stop harming before I went to college. I stopped cutting and scratching, for the most part. (Fun fact, I starting grinding my teeth so badly while sleeping and during stressful or triggering situations that I now need a night guard so I don’t damage my teeth anymore. More damage and I’ll need veneers or caps of some other sort.)
I was optimistic going into college, although I dealt with some home sickness. I got involved and started going to youth group meetings and church, hoping that making friends would keep me from having another bout. What it did was make me realize that, although I’d never thought about it, I was an atheist. I stopped going to churches, and started making friends outside of religion. I started having fun, and I spent most of the next year happy and healthy. I still did not deal with stressful situations very well, and had difficulties controlling my anger, but I was trying very hard to be happy.
The fall that I was 20, I started having emotional issues again. I wasn’t going to class or doing homework. Most days I didn’t leave my dorm room other than to go get food. I spent most of my time sitting on my bed crying, and wishing that I could drop out and run away from everything. With the encouragement of my boyfriend at the time, I sought counseling. While I felt that it wasn’t very helpful because I didn’t trust my counselor enough to talk about my self-harm, I did realize that my anger was a manifestation of my depression. With the encouragement from my counselor, I came out to my parents as an atheist, and let them know that I was seeking help for my depression. My mom mocked me for the counseling, my atheism, and the drop in my grades, so without the support of my family I muddled through it again. I didn’t drop out of college, or start hurting myself (besides the whole teeth grinding thing) or do anything but make it.
I graduated last year. I’m currently dealing with some anger and depression surrounding issues with my job, but I think things are going to be better for me this time around. I have a boyfriend who loves me and wants me to be happy, my crafting, and my friends. I did not sink as low as I have before. They are helping me make it through, and I will.
I will not be defined by my depression, just as I will not be defined by my atheism. They are parts of the whole, but they do not explain my whole story. I am doing better, and that’s really all that matters right now.
I spent weeks, if not months, waiting to die. There is no other way I could put it. I was positive that I was going to die of something. The fear, paranoia and depression had reached a point where I could not imagine making it through the following days. Sleeping was my favourite thing in the world. It meant I could actually rest because even though I spent most of my time in bed I was always alert, always wondering what any phantom pain was, always researching, waiting for hallucinations, voices, anything that would confirm to me that I was actually crazy.
I’d always been quite an anxious person and managed to keep it in check most of the time but I noticed it slowly escalating as my life began to change over the period of a few months last year. I hate change and I began to detach.
I ended up suffering with something called depersonalisation, a condition which makes the world around you feel dream like, I’d have conversations with people and begin to wonder whether it was actually happening and the fear that I was going insane was horrendous. I was pretty much waiting for the voices to start. Only when I put my symptoms into the internet did I actually get some relief from the hypochondriacs need to research every symptom. I wasn’t alone, at all. There was a whole community of people out there with the same feelings as me, going through the same torment and everyone was saying the same things “you are not insane” and “you are not going to die”.
Since then, my anxiety had taken on many forms, through panic attacks, severe hypochondria, agoraphobia, this beast (and I can only describe it as that) has tried to get at me from all angles. The depersonalisation is still there but every so often I get a glimpse of the real world and I can’t wait for the fog to clear completely. At the moment, I’m starting to pull through and fight back. I hate it too much to continue this way for much longer so I’m fighting.
People on the outside of this box need to remember that there is so much more to mental health issues than you are told by anyone suffering it. It’s not just a “I don’t want to go outside” or “I don’t want to eat that” and we’re not trying to be difficult. It’s terrifying, really, truly terrifying. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone and I’m so glad it’s being brought to the attention of people and not as a stigma
My name is Adam. I am 21 years old, and I am currently studying computer science at the University of Memphis. Honestly, I’m surprised I’ve made it this far.
Throughout my life, I have had to deal with intense anxiety especially when having to deal with people. Sometimes it gets to the point that I make up excuses to avoid certain social situations. I even have trouble eating in public and sometimes have to force myself to eat even when not in public. Sometimes, I don’t eat at all causing me to be underweight.
None of this was made better by the fact that, in middle school, I was one of the shortest people in the school and was made fun of constantly for it. I think there was maybe one person who was shorter. This made me extremely insecure about my height (or lack thereof). I felt weak and defenseless. I felt inadequate because I didn’t grow as much as other students. Thankfully, I’ve gotten more at peace with my height recently, but I still feel small when around my friends. Most of them are 6 feet or over and I’m only 5’4”.
Because of my anxiety, I always feel less than everyone else around me. I see them in groups talking and looking so happy, and I sit there was wish I could be that happy. These constant thoughts of inadequacy have led me to suicidal thoughts several times in my life. Sometimes I feel like I’m beyond help and feel that death is the only way to go. My rational side, however, is calling me an idiot for thinking something like that and so far, it’s winning the struggle.
I feel like it’s getting better, however, I still struggle with it sometimes. I almost skipped the first day of classes because I knew that at least some of the professors would make us introduce ourselves to the class, and I hate doing that. Even in the previous semester, meeting with my advisor was hard. I could barely email her to set up an appointment because I was afraid of saying the wrong thing. Even when I set it up, I nearly threw up on the day I was supposed to meet with her just thinking about it.
It doesn’t help much that I live in Mississippi. Most people around me are devoutly religious and some even believe that mental illness is a sign of demon possession. The fact that I’m an atheist probably doesn’t help them see that they’re wrong. Some likely believe that my atheism is the cause of my anxiety.
My parents haven’t been much help either. They refuse to believe that there’s a problem. Anytime I try and talk to them, they just blow it off and tell me to “snap out of it” as if I can just stop being nervous at will. Honestly, I don’t think they really listen to me.
I just hope to keep fighting and maybe one day to get over this completely. I know I have at least some support.
I am terrified of people finding out about my mental disorder. I have a very hard time explaining it to myself (let alone someone else) so the thought of having to tell someone *why* I do the things I do is virtually impossible. That said, what I do is compulsively injure myself. Some people use the word “cutter” which doesn’t really mean the right thing and is loaded with so many negative connotations. I prefer the term “self mutilator” despite the fact that many people that I know think it sounds overly crass or vulgar, but I think it describes the trait rather accurately. Besides, “cutter” seems unfair to all those times I’ve bashed and bruised myself, burned welts into my skin, and buried needles deep into myself. However, I believe the technical term is compulsive NSSI (non-suicidal self injury).
I’ve read books on the subject and mailing lists and forums, but I’ve never felt I fit quite in with them. When these urges first started happening I was in Junior High. I don’t think I ever acted upon them until I was a little older (around 14 or 15) but I started noticing sharp or hot objects. My gaze lingered on them a little too long. I wasn’t sure why or what I was thinking until one day I was fooling around and jabbed my knee with a pin. It was extremely dull and when it finally broke the skin the pain washed over me in a calming, almost meditative way. As that faded I looked down and revelled in the drop of blood welling where I had pulled the point out of me. Looking at it, I felt this great sense of power, of ownership over myself, of freedom and happiness.
Ever since then I’ve been hooked. For about a year after starting, I thought I was the only one. I had never heard of someone purposefully hurting him or herself. Finally after a year of hiding my knives and lighters and needles terrified someone would discover my secret, I thought to search the web.
I’ve found groups of people that understand me partially. Traditional cutters talk about getting an emotional release, letting out tension, or snapping back to reality. I’ve never thought of it that way, nor have I ever experienced the sudden urgent need to hurt myself immediately that so many describe. In the body modification community they are firm believers that you own your body and you should be able to do as you wish to it. You can stand with your scars before them and not have to be shy. They understand that pain is not always a bad thing. You can talk about experiences that others would describe as agonizing and they listen, interested. However, they seek spiritual enlightenment or aesthetic enhancement, or perhaps to reclaim their body. Few, if any, of the people I’ve met just do it to do it. BDSM enthusiasts are no strangers to the idea that pain can be pleasurable but in general shy away from anything that might leave serious permanent marks. Few sexual masochists will actually leave life long scars, and the concept of hurting oneself in a nonsexual setting is foreign.
I still to this day have never really admitted all my secrets to anyone I know personally — even my friends who know most of what I do. On those rare occasions that I have gotten up the guts to confide in someone they have always received it well enough, until a point. Eventually I can see the disgust on their faces and I have to stop there, and pretend that’s the whole problem. Even today, my lover doesn’t know the start of it. I’m sure suspicions are raised somewhat from time to time, but no where close to the true depth of the issue. I am terrified to leave my bedroom unattended for fear my tools or blood soaked rags will be discovered. If it happened, how can I explain that I’m not a psycho killer?
I’m virtually incapable of discussing this in person due to the sheer embarrassment. This is something I don’t think I will ever be able to shake, but the thing is it doesn’t get in the way of my life, hardly, at all apart from the shame, secrecy, and guilt. I’m quite good at what I do, after all my practice, and I have never ended up in the emergency room, never had infections, never lost jobs, never even been caught. And yet, I worry about having to explain myself to someone virtually every day.
Beyond the sheer titillating nature of my compulsion, what fuels my shame is the perception that only 15 year old girls with daddy issues and eating disorders cut themselves, and more than that, the idea that they just want attention. I am in my mid twenties, very successful, and male. I would wager than until this paragraph there is a good chance that even you had the image of a teenage girl in your head. I have heard numerous people that I know joke about emo girls and “cutters” throughout my life and it is considered socially acceptable to mock this. I have to keep my mouth shut for fear of outing myself. This is a real problem for myself and all the other people who suffer in silence like me just because they want the right to choose who knows and when they know about their problem.
I don’t really know what the point I wanted to get at here was other that paint a picture of what it is to suffer from a particularity stereotyped compulsion, and maybe someone out there might read this and know they aren’t alone. If that’s you and you’d like to chat with someone going through the same thing (I know it helped me a lot) I’d be happy to talk, just send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I hate myself. I mean truly, genuinely hate myself. If I died in my sleep that wouldn’t be a problem, sadly I’m too much of a coward to kill myself. People say those who commit suicides are cowards. I don’t see that. In order to take your own life requires massive brass balls I just don’t have. Suicide isn’t an easy way out, it’s a dead end. Especially for an atheist like me. I don’t think there will be an afterlife. For me it would just be oblivion, and I guess to some degree that’s why I can’t do it. As much as I hate and despise myself – despite what people say I think I’m fat and ugly – I just can’t bring myself to enter oblivion. But I wouldn’t care if it happened in my sleep – I wouldn’t know after all.
But then there are those I leave behind. My mum and dad care about me, granted that’s only because animal instincts in the higher apes creates this bond between parent and offspring. If it wasn’t for that issue they wouldn’t care. I think one or two others may miss me temporarily, but not for long. My mother tried to kill herself, recently, because she wanted to be with my grandmother. Her belief in an afterlife made her consider suicide and that there would be somewhere better to go to. I wish that were true because if it was, I might be more inclined to take that blade and instead of just superficial self harming, drive it deep into my wrist. Or my throat.
See these are the thoughts I have. I hate myself. And medication isn’t helping anymore, I just want to curl up away from everything with a never ending bottle of whisky. Away from everyone and everything. I want to run away and hide from everyone and everything. If I’m just by myself I can’t hurt anyone. People would ultimately be better off without me around.
But I can’t bring myself to do any of that. I can’t run away and I can’t kill myself so I have to live with myself. And I’m struggling to do that too. My days are filled with fear and hatred of myself. I can’t bring myself to do anything at all apart from sit in front of my laptop and wander around the internet. This is how I feel. I feel empty, alone and full of self hate.
And I feel I deserve punishment. That’s why I hurt myself, because I deserve it. Because I should have that pain, those scars. Everyday that goes by is like a punishment in itself. Each day feeling like this seems a punishment. And I hate it. But not as much as I hate myself. I’m not even sure what the purpose of this is, why I’m submitting this to this blog. I guess I just needed to put this out there, to let the world know how much pain I’m in. And how there is nothing I can do to stop it.
I’ve had this document open for a while now, and not written anything on it. It’s not that I’ve nothing to say, it’s not that I don’t want to say it, it’s that I can’t face it. So the window is open, and I open other programs on the computer (a web browser, and a computer game) and just leave it in the background. But because I have trouble concentrating (I also have a book in front of me, and a book of Sudoku – I multitask a great deal!), I ‘Alt+Tab’ through the windows I have open, and keep seeing this open program.
Eventually, here I am.
In many ways it’s hard to know where to begin; what kind of thing is wanted, what kind of thing is acceptable? It’s not even conscious – I constantly second guess myself and others. I’ll be reading something, or trying to write, and thoughts will pop into my head. Critical thoughts. Censuring thoughts.
You’re not going to express yourself well enough! Compare yourself to other people: they have it far worse than you do! You don’t count! It’s not that you’re depressed, and struggle for motivation, it’s just that you’re lazy. You’re pathetic – you’re not even trying. It’s not as if what happened to you is bad, you just didn’t try hard enough.
I didn’t try hard enough. I don’t try hard enough. Damn, but compared to some people I probably did – I do – have it easy.
It’s amazing how easily the thoughts become my own. How easy it is to believe them. What isn’t amazing is how quickly all these critical thoughts can increase once you put your conscious mind to it. That’s not in the least surprising.
That’s because they’re true!
There may be some truth to them, it’s hard to say. Maybe a lot of people would have coped with the things I had to go through and which left me in the mess I’m currently trying to extricate myself from. There are certainly some things I could have done differently that would have changed my life a great deal. Yet how unfair, and absurd is it to blame a ten year old for not being able to do the best possible thing? But I’ve found it is very easy to lose objectivity and rationality when suffering from depression.
Excuses, excuses. The cold hard truth is that other people get physically abused when they are children, and seem to get through life far better than you do. All your problems were in your mind. Sticks and stones will break your bones, but names can never hurt you. Remember? Clearly not. You let them hurt you.
Without going into great detail about it, my father suffered a breakdown when I was about five (cue light bulbs over psychiatrists’ heads: it runs in the family!) – he was a teacher. He also wasn’t the only teacher in that school to suffer that fate: the headmistress was a real piece of work apparently, eventually someone took her to court I believe. I don’t know anything about her – but I like to think of her as being like Ms Trunchbull from Roald Dahl’s Matilda. (I like to think that afore mentioned light bulbs now dim somewhat with the knowledge that many people suffered the same as my father, yet in my experience, it doesn’t.) That breakdown caused us to move country a couple of years later. I had just turned 7. For the next decade or so, I was bullied. It started off because of my nationality, and once they saw it hurt, other things joined it.
Whine, whine, whine. “Ooh, I got bullied.” Well newsflash, every child does. Only the truly pathetic ones get bullied for ten years. The ones that deserve it. The ones that are weak.
Hey, but at least as I’m a white male, I don’t know what it’s like to be subjected to abuse just because of who I intrinsically am, right? (And if you think that sounds a bit bitter, well, yes, I guess it probably is. I try to let comments like that wash over me, but when your emotions are raw, bubbling, and close to the surface it’s hard. It’s easy to resent people who behave as though they have it far harder than you do when they seem to have essentially a normal life, and you struggle to even face being in a social situation for ten minutes. You know perfectly well you’d switch situations with them in an instant, and yet you also know there are people who’d say they’d switch with you in an instant too. And always – always – those negative, censuring thoughts are never far away.)
They’re your thoughts. Who else is having them? Look at you, too scared of criticism, you have to treat your own thoughts as if someone else is having them.
Anyway, in this new country I didn’t have friends really. There were a couple of people who I was briefly friendly with – bizarrely enough (considering my current religious views) they were all in different fringe (crazy) religious sects. The kind who don’t usually socialise with people who aren’t also in their sects. Also, the kind that hardly even existed in the country I was living. An oddity that I attracted them really!
These brief friendships generally ended with me feeling I’d been stabbed in the back and scared to try to make another. Home life was difficult, to put it mildly, considering my dad’s condition and numerous other issues. Let’s just leave it as: it was difficult. I learnt to shut myself away, putting up a facade whenever I had to meet people and avoiding it completely where possible. I didn’t want to burden my parents with my problems , because of the problems at home, and I didn’t want to seek help in general because of the stigma about mental health.
You should have been able to deal with it on your own. If you weren’t a failure you could have.
And I guess that is why I’m writing this. If that stigma about mental health wasn’t there, I might have asked for help. If we – and here I’m talking especially about boys and men – weren’t bombarded with the belief that having emotions and being upset meant you were a failure, then maybe I, and others would have felt able to ask for help. If my posting here and admitting to my state can in any way help destigmatise it, then that’s what I’m going to do. At the very least I can feel like I’m sticking a metaphorical finger or two up at some of the people whose attitude was: ‘for heaven’s sake, just pull it together’.
Could never say it to these people, could you? It’s not as if doing this is going to make one iota of difference in reality, is it?
Granted, the fact I can’t face putting my surname to it might lessen the impact of it somewhat. But I truly can’t face it. My depression is a dirty little secret I try to keep away from everyone. The worse it gets, the more impossible it is to keep it but it doesn’t stop me trying. When I withdrew from University, and finally started getting some treatment, I had to force myself to write to friends in University explaining why. The first real friends of my own gender I’d ever had – I’ve two female friends I met in school but didn’t see that often, but before then, no male friends worth the name. In the end, I wrote an email, and sent it to two of them, asking them to explain to everyone else.
And you cried like a baby. Pathetic.
I’ve only even slightly corresponded with one of them in the six or so years since, apart from a very brief conversation following the suicide of one of them.
Call yourself a friend? Hah!
Why? Because I’m ashamed of my depression.
And isn’t that one of the biggest problems mental health – and particularly depression – has to deal with?
So often destigmatising something involves coming out, not admitting to something, but instead proudly proclaiming it. I’m sure that any of us who are atheists, and have been at all involved in the online community, have lost count of the amount of posts, or youtube videos we’ve seen, exhorting us to come out to friends and family as atheists, and let them know that we exist and are just normal people like everyone else. I’m not ashamed of my atheism – if anyone asks, I’ll tell them without hesitation.
My depression on the other hand? That’s going to take some work before I can feel remotely comfortable even admitting it, let alone proclaiming it. But I’ll try.
I apologise for not updating in a while, my own issues somewhat overwhelmed me but I’m back on the horse so to speak and today we welcome a contribution from Bob Groves. My apologies for taking so long to put it up Bob.
Imagine that your mother was abused horribly as a child. Not just a beating or two, but beatings, lack of food for punishmeng, sexual assault by family, being locked in the closet for a year, and of course the mental abuse that comes with all of that. Now imagine that she is taken away from all of that but there isn’t adequet psychiatric help yet. She ends up living with a wonderful foster family who love her dearly. Then she meets an awesome man and marries him. After 10 years of marriage and two kids with a man that would never harm her, she starts to fall back to what her life was like before. She starts seeking out men that will harm her. She ends up leaving this wonderful man and living with a guy who beats her almost daily.
She brings the kids with her and they have to deal with him as well. He never lays a hand on them but his emotional abuse is more than enough to break the spirits of these two children that don’t understand what’s going on but they try to stand up to him. For their safety, their mother sends them to live with their father who has recently remarried and brings her own two kids into the family.
So now we’ve got four kids, all of whom are very confused and have been thrust into a life they don’t understand. All the know is that their parent loves them and that they are supposed to be nice to these other kids they are living with.
At this point, there is a lot of difficulty for the kids. They don’t have the skills to adapt or understand. Fortunately, there are plenty of kids in the neighborhood so friends are easy to find. The oldest spends a lot of time at his best friend’s house just two houses away. He even spends the nights there often because that’s what kids do. During these nights though, the mother of the friend and her oldest (a few years older than his brother) decide that it would be funny to dress these kids in girls clothes and let them run around the house. It’s all harmless fun. These are just 10 year old boys afterall. Then when it’s time for bed, the visitor is asked if he wants to spend the night in the oldest boy’s room. Not wanting to be rejected by the older kid, he agrees.
As more and more sleep overs occur, more and more inappropriate touching happens. The young man doesn’t really know what he should do. He doesn’t want to be rejected by the older kid and he doesn’t want to lose his friend so he bottles everything up. His anxiety shows but when the teachers talk to his parents, they don’t think to ask if anything is wrong. There are already so many things this child is dealing with, they don’t think that something more would be piled onto his life.
Between the abuse he witnessed, the transition to another new school, a new family, a mother that sent him away, and puberity starting up, it seems like this would be more than enough to cause anxiety. In the 1970s you didn’t send your kids to see a psychiatric doctor.
As this child becomes a man, he is thin, wears glasses, has braces, plays Dungeons and Dragons, is socially awkward, is smarter than his peers, and generally not accepted by his peers. His social skills never develop and he spends a good part of his time being bullied. He can’t get a girl to go on even a simple date with him.
This sounds like the making of a serial killer, but it isn’t. Instead it was how my life got its start. I ended up with PTSD and generalized anxiety. However, it went undiagnosed and improperly diagnosed for years. I tried many times to take my life. I was almost successful several times. Without the help of my friends and eventually my family, I wouldn’t be here to write this. I went through many doctors and diagnoses (depressions, bi-polar, attention deficit, and each of those comes in more than one form). I went through many medications, all of which cause weight gain. I ended up gaining over 100 pounds in a year because I had been misdiagnosed.
A few of the doctors were concerned with my faith. One even wanted to pray and suggested that I seek a pastor. When I was in the Army with anxiety issues, one of the requirements before I could speak to a psychologist was to speak to a chaplin. That may have changed by now, but when I served 20 years ago, that was the only option.
My current doctor, who is deeply religious, does not push her faith on me. She is the one that figured out I have PTSD. When she asked me about my faith, I told her I was an atheist. She does what she can to avoid using her faith to help me. I appreciate that very much. She’s human, like the rest of us, so it slips once in a while. However, in the almost 10 years I’ve been seeing her, I think it’s slipped maybe twice. When it does, all she does is turn it into something secular. For example, once she accidently asked me when I was going to get back into praying (she had forgotten and confused my faith with another patient). She quickly looked at her notes, apologized, and said, “Well, I know that you don’t pray but have you tried different meditation techniques that may help calm your anxiety? I can show you some if you would like.”
My religious friends are amazed at how strong I am without needing to seek a higher power. They come to me for advice, some of it religious which is kind of weird. They want to know how to deal with various problems that they know I have had to handle. I don’t see my doctor more than once every couple of months and that’s mostly for medication checks and to touch base. I still have problems once in a while and I’ll need her help but I don’t usually get to the point of needing hospitalization. I did have a huge problem recently but with the help of my friends, I survived. I know that I wouldn’t have seen the new year begin without their help.
In the end, I still have problems but they aren’t as bad. I had a rough life starting out and during the time when everyone else is learning how to be a part of society, I was ostracized. I survived though and because I don’t rely on higher powers, I am able to deal with things much better than many others I know. I have to find the strength within.
If you are wondering how my mother is doing, she isn’t well, physically and emotionally. I don’t talk to her for a variety of reasons. I think the two best decisions she ever made her life was marrying my father and then sending my brother and I to live with him. My step mother has proven herself to be an incredible woman and mother and I can never tell her enough how much I am glad she became a part of my life.
Today, I work as a pharmacy technician. I have been doing that for about 10 years. Without the excellent health insurance I had, I would never have been able to see my doctors as often as I needed to during those difficult times. While the number of visits I can have has been reduced from “unlimited” to 36, I really only need about 10 a year, and that’s pushing it. I can probably get away with 5 to 6. The minimum will always be 2 visits because that’s her policy. I have better friends who are there when I need them. I haven’t hidden anything from them and they have made the effort to learn more. They may not know everything, but they know what they need to know. Some members of my family have tried to be there for me. It’s probably harder when they are so close to the history. I know that they care though and that’s often enough for me.
Todays article is from Jason Gaudion.
I’m afraid this will not be a short narrative, but I’ve been encouraged
by my wonderful girlfriend into hoping my story might be an interesting
one to share.
For a very long time, I’ve considered whether or not I should offer
testimony illustrating how influential this community has been in my
life. It’s been extremely difficult to censor my appreciation. For a
long time now, I’ve felt an obligation to keep my story to myself because
people tend to use my mental illness as a way to discredit my liberal and
secular disposition in a deeply red state.
Like most children in America, I, along with my twin sister, was raised
by Christian parents. More specifically, a single Christian mother
occasionally accompanied by a mostly disinterested and absent
Catholic father. However, my mother’s necessity to maintain three
jobs rendered my childhood entirely secular in her absence. This
might have been my saving grace. There just wasn’t any time for God in
Our father absconded on our 8th birthday after my mother was
diagnosed with breast cancer. Shortly after, I found it (and this is
my most vivid childhood memory) increasingly difficult to reconcile
good and evil using Christian rhetoric. By the time I was twelve,
I considered myself pagan. I began to subconsciously and
metaphorically deify states of existence and their emotive counterparts.
I began to fashion Gods of love, of hate, of intelligence, etc.
Although no longer have any belief in the supernatural, these are
metaphors I still use when trying to relate to the world.
Shortly before my 21st birthday I joined the United States Marine
Corps and served two tours of duty in Iraq. It wasn’t until my
second tour that my corpsman (read: medic) noticed odd behavior.
I began to experience audible hallucinations that lead to delusions
of being connected an entity nobody else could see. In the Marine Corps,
any manner of mental disorder has a curious stigma attached to it. People
look at you as only half a man or woman. I have mixed feelings about my
time in service. On one hand, I loved my job and most of the people I
had to privilege to work with, but It was the apathetic, condescending, and dismissive
attitude my command exhibited that makes it very hard for me to forgive and
forget. It took a very long time to start getting the help I knew I was going to need
for the rest of my life. After a very long stint of observation, I was
diagnosed with undifferentiated schizophrenia. It took me a very long time to
accept, and even longer for my family to follow suit. I was accused of demonic
possession by my own mother, a diagnosis she still holds to be valid even today. My
sister found it easier to explain by dismissing the diagnosis altogether.
Before I start to feel like I’ve written myself a depressed, woe-is-me pity-party, I’d
like to profess that this autobiography does have a happy stopping point.
Medication having very little effect, I started looking for answers
online. Eventually,I stumbled upon an article that suggested I needed to reteach myself
how I process and reacted to the world around. I know this sounds like an axiomatically simple
solution to my problems, but it took me almost two years to realize.
Eventually, I stumbled onto “The God Delusion.” It was my gateway drug to reason.
This community became a proxy through which I discovered Harris, Hitchens, and
eventually Dennett. it was Dennett’s calm, cold, and honest rationality that helped me the most.
He taught me how to think. It may not have saved my life, but it certainly saved my optimism — I am
a schizophrenic atheist and I am more rational than 90 percent of my American brothers and sisters
when it comes to understanding the universe I live in. I am very proud of that.
And now for that happy part I made a brief, promissory allusion to earlier. I’ve recently purchased my
first house with the woman I love very much and I am nearing the point where I feel I am comfortable
and ready for college. Also, although comically irrelevant, Star Wars: The Old Republic just came out… who couldn’t be happy about that? =P
Todays article is from Marguerite de Leon of the Filipino Freethinkers
I saw my psychiatrist the other day. I hadn’t seen him in 10 months. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I hadn’t felt the need to see him all throughout that period. For the first time in a long, long time, I felt that my head was screwed on right, and there wasn’t much to report to him except that my life was just fine. Pretty good, even. In fact, that was exactly why I came to see him the other day — in the hopes of tapering myself off of the anti-depressants he prescribed for me, because I was pretty sure they had done their job.
Getting medicated for mental conditions remains a touchy topic in our touchy tropical nation, but there really shouldn’t be a stigma surrounding it. The human body is a staggeringly complex system, and getting wounds, tumors or other more physical glitches is not the only thing that can go wrong with it. Biochemical imbalances can affect the way a person processes the world around him, sometimes to the point of it being debilitating. It’s an illness like any other.
Nega and Chaka
Prior to medication, each day filled me with worry, dread, anger, and sorrow. There were flashes of okay-ness and even rarer blips of actual joy, but for the most part I was preoccupied with negative emotions. (And no, I did not affix Emily the Strange or Jack Skellington all over my trappings and listen to Dashboard bleary-eyed. That’s not depression; that’s just sad.) On the outside, I looked decidedly normal, even functional, and maybe just a bit too quiet, but little did others know that each move I made — choosing what to wear, walking down a sidewalk, buying a snack, talking to someone — required intense personal deliberation, as if one wrong move could ruin the day. And the moments following each act were flooded with all sorts of self-criticism, second guessing, and bad memories only loosely related to the current situation.
Did I say the right thing? Are my shoes too casual? Will this burn enough calories? Did I spend too much? Was this the right color? Should I have smiled? Could I have done it better? Are they sick of me? Did I forget anything? How hard will it be to commute later? Do I have to go to that employee thing? Do they hate me? Why is my hair like this? Why do I work here? Do I deserve him? Why is my family this way? Why can’t I say how I feel? Remember when your uncle told you you brought grief to the family? Remember when you did this and she said this so he did this and now they hate you? Remember when you were a better person and things were looking up? What happened to you? Why are you like this? Can you see yourself like this for the rest of your life?
I had to slog through each day this way. Suffice it to say that it took a toll on my work and my relationships. I found it hard to be with people, much less befriend them; every new assignment at work felt like a huge bag of sand against my gut; I picked ridiculous fights with my boyfriend which led not only to me screeching and bawling ’til dawn, but me clawing at my face and arms ’til they bled and even running away in hysterics. This was normal for me at the time.
Psyching Myself Up
Fortunately, my boyfriend is both incredibly supportive and fiercely logical, and he eventually convinced me that seeing a psychiatrist would do me some good. He was well aware of my none too rosy family history, my anorexia, my frequent run-ins with thieves and other unsavory types, my instantaneous apprehension towards authority figures, etcetera etcetera etcetera, and how all of these were connected one way or another to my difficult personality. Something was not right me. He wasn’t holding it against me. It was just a blatant fact that needed to be addressed.
So I went to a psychiatrist and told him as much as I could about how I thought and felt. (A psychiatrist, by the by, is different from a counselor or psychotherapist, the proverbial shrink who listens to you talk about your childhood and whatnot. Psychiatrists simply diagnose your condition, prescribe medication, and monitor your treatment.) This was the beginning of a slightly tedious process, stretched over several months, of ascertaining what I should do. It was fairly easy for my psychiatrist to conclude that I had major depressive disorder with a touch of social anxiety; what was harder was finding the right pill and dosage for what I had.
I started off with half a pill of escitalopram daily. Escitalopram is an SSRI, or Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor, the most common form of anti-depressant prescribed today. Serotonin is a chemical neurotransmitter whose presence is linked to feelings of peace and well-being, and what SSRIs do is keep this serotonin from being reabsorbed, letting it stay in the brain longer to better boost one’s mood. This is obviously the layman’s explanation, but that is basically what SSRIs do, because depressed people can’t seem to get the right balance of serotonin in their brain.
Alive, Alert, Awake, Enthusiastic
At the beginning, half a pill packed a punch. I could sense the difference in me immediately: I felt awake and alert — my eyes literally opened wider (they’d apparently been extra droopy and I never noticed), and my movements felt sharper, more precise. More importantly, my thoughts were no longer flooded by unnecessary negativity. When before my thoughts would immediately link themselves to something bad or worrisome, they now stood on their own, guilt- or problem-free. The medication worked so well that I even tried playing tricks with myself, thinking bad thoughts deliberately, only to feel them slip off of my consciousness like pats of butter. I know you think I sound high or something, but that’s how it felt. I felt fine because things really were fine. If I had a legitimate problem in my midst, such as difficulty getting a ride home in the pouring rain, or my big boss sending my work back with endless edits, I didn’t blow it out of proportion and conclude it was the end of the world and I might as well jump out a window or into speeding traffic. I understood what was wrong and did what I had to do to address it, like a normal person.
And the best thing about the pill working? It was a signal that something really was wrong with me. I was told that SSRIs only worked if something was wrong to begin with (it’s not the kind of pill you can abuse), so the fact that there was a staggering difference in me the moment I popped just half of one in meant I was doing something right.
But of course, like any other kind of medication, there was the risk of side effects. This was one of the main reasons why getting medicated is a trial-and-error process; every individual reacts to each pill in their own unique way, so you really have to whittle all the options down to the one most suited to your body’s chemistry and to your lifestyle. And unfortunately, I hit a particularly annoying snag with escitalopram: my sex drive sputtered out. I felt literally numb down there, and while my boyfriend was very understanding about it, it still really frustrated me. Sex is a normal thing people do and to be denied it felt frustrating and, in the end, depressing.
Thus, my psychiatrist prescribed citalopram, escitalopram’s older, less sophisticated version (a.k.a. fewer side effects), and upped my dosage to a whole pill a day to make up for this pill’s lack of fine-tuning. And it did solve my little quibble. I had to take a larger dose, and citalopram was slightly more expensive than escitalopram, but the fact that it could fight my depression and save me from sexual drought was worth it. My psychiatrist then advised me to take it for an entire year (six months for the actual treatment of my serotonin levels, and then another six months to really bolster the treatment and make sure the effects stay put), and to check in with him every now and then, especially if something was up.
On the Mend
But I didn’t check in with him for the next 10 months. (I would not recommend forgoing the psychiatrist to anyone; I was just being hardheaded and I am not a good example.) It was just that, as I’ve mentioned, I was lucky enough to have everything good since we nailed down the pill and dosage right for me. Long story short, it got to the point where I couldn’t tell the difference between feeling normal and feeling medicated. In fact, here’s a list of personal improvements I’ve achieved, off the top of my head:
- I can hold a conversation and not loathe myself afterwards.
- I am more capable of telling people what I want instead of being meek and doormatty.
- I don’t throw a fit when my boyfriend isn’t home by 6:30 PM.
- I eat what I want and only when I’m hungry, and don’t spend hours staring at my love handles in an awful mixture of sorrow and horror.
- I can forge and maintain friendships with people I sincerely like.
- I am more active about the things I believe in.
- I am more willing to try new things, no matter how far they are from my comfort zone.
- I care far less about what others think of me, my writing, my anything.
- I don’t beat myself up over the way I write.
- I no longer feel the need to pander to people I don’t like, and ultimately don’t crave for others’ approval anymore.
- When I feel upset, it doesn’t stretch on and escalate over the next 12 hours.
- I don’t care about my past, and neither do I worry too much about the future. I’m just fine where I am and I figure myself out from day to day.
I am still the same person I was before, in the sense that I still believe in the same principles, strive for the same goals, enjoy the same things, and swear like the same old sailor. The only significant change is that I’m actually happy to be this person, that I don’t unwittingly pile a whole lot of metaphysical shit on to bring myself down for no reason. I don’t feel different. I feel better. What moron doesn’t want to feel better?
So there. Thanks to my most recent conversation with my psychiatrist, which could possibly be my last, at least for a long while, I am now on a program to taper off my medication. Next month, I will take half a pill each day for the first two weeks, and then take half a pill every other day for the last two weeks. I will then stop taking medication after that, and will monitor how I feel over the next two months. If I feel just fine, that means I’m in remission. If not, that means I’ll have to go back to medication on a higher dosage for another length of time. But I’m pretty confident I’ll be in remission, because everything’s gone pretty well thus far. Unlike before, I now hope for the best.
I’d like to stress again, of course, that medication affects people in different ways, and that my case just happened to be fairly clean-cut. Others have a more difficult time with their treatment, so I cannot really speak for people on meds in general. What I do want to relay, however, is that getting medicated shouldn’t be frowned upon and, in fact, is a perfectly normal option for people with conditions similar to mine. Depression, bi-polar disorder and their ilk are more common than people think, and their methods of treatment are also more mundane than many would like to believe. Medication can be a difficult process, sure, but that doesn’t make it strange or wrong. In fact, I’m happy to be on medication. Wasn’t that why I signed up in the first place?