Mental health medications aren’t supposed to be a prescription for shame

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I want to talk about the shame that comes with being on medication for mental illness. It’s why so many people avoid talking to doctors and getting the help they need. It’s a common phenomenon, but that doesn’t make it less harmful and dangerous.

Before I start this post I need to say that I got diagnosed at six and I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t taking pills. You might wonder if I’m really the right person to talk about this subject, but I think that it adds another layer of understanding. I know it added another layer of protection. I got to learn my valuable lessons in safety while I was still being actively cared for.

I remember in grade school telling my mom that I wanted to be normal and that I wasn’t going to take my pills anymore. Since she was with me 24/7 she decided not to fight it and let me stop them. It only took two weeks for me to come to her with the bin of pill bottles and ask what I was supposed to take. I needed those pills not to be miserable, I understood that then.

It wasn’t a particularly long lesson, but since I was pretty dang bipolar it didn’t need to be. It kept me from questioning the need for medication again and it was a blessing that it happened as a small child, not when I was suicidal in middle school or swinging in and out of depression my senior year of college. I had a safety net, which isn’t something most people have as they sit in the doctors office unwilling to share their needs because they’re depressed, ashamed, and scared. So they go home, untreated, and things don’t get better.

That’s when it gets dangerous. That’s when it gets harmful.

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A letter to those struggling with their Bipolar Disorder:

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In a lot of cases depression can be cured, and I mean cured, marked done, filed away for good. Depression isn’t always chronic, sometimes it’s short lived. That’s pretty magical, but bipolar disorder is nothing like that.

It’s a disorder, a disease of the mind, if you will. It can be treated, but it can’t be cured. It is everlasting.

I don’t find that as scary as I once did.

At first it’s a terrifying thought. I have to live with these swings forever. There will never be a time when I’m not taking medication. This is something that will affect my life till I die.

Oh yeah, it sounds terrible when you focus on those aspects. It sounds a lot less frightening however when you talk about the different stages of living with a mental illness like bipolar disorder.

You start to realize that you will get better even if you are not cured. You’ll find your perfect cocktail of medications that keep you balanced and you’ll only have to go to the doctor every year or so. The upcoming days won’t be met with vicious swings, but little ones that warn you that you need to change something. You’ll learn what helps you outside of medication and you won’t rely on it as heavily as you did. You’ll move on with your life and bipolar will become a side note when you define yourself, because the characteristics will no longer define you.

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Removing the mental health stigma without ‘normalizing’ it:

I’ve thought two very contradicting thoughts lately. One being that mental illness is still stigmatized and people are still afraid to talk about it and the other being that we’re making mental illness too normal.

I think both are true.

Let me phrase this a different way, my bipolar, your anxiety disorder, or your best friends depression aren’t uncommon and they are definitely not something to be ashamed of. We need to be open when it comes to our illnesses and our health, so that we can get better and we won’t end up another suicide or addiction statistic. It is insanely important that we feel comfortable seeking help and speaking up about these things. Stigma still stands in many people’s way of achieving this.

To counter that stigma people have tried to talk more and more about mental health, but I feel like somewhere along the way we’ve run into something we weren’t planning on, and that’s people thinking their mental illness is normal, and therefore, unimportant, something they just have to make peace with.

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Untreated Metal Illness, The Silent Killer.

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The news of Kate Spade’s suicide has rocked the internet this week. It rocked me too, because like others, I associated her with the happy, quirky, and glittery line that shares her name. It struck a lot of people because she had the fame, the fortune, the family and could still bare such sadness that she wanted to end her life.

I don’t want to write a think piece on a families tragedy, so I won’t, but I did want to talk about a topic that this tragedy brought to my mind, and that’s untreated mental illness.

There is a strong stigma around mental health treatment. Some of it has to do with the fact that there is still a stigma around mental health, but some of it has to do with the person who should be seeking it.

I often hear the pitch about how we don’t think negatively about blood pressure medication so we shouldn’t about anti-depressants, and I agree with it 100%, but what I keep hearing from individuals is “I think anti-depressants are great, I just don’t need them. I’m just a little sad.”

We downplay our own problems and dismiss them, because they’re inconvenient to face. It’s scary to say we’re not okay, to have to step back from things so we can take care of ourselves. So, we push through and things get worse and worse, then suddenly, there is no return.

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Depression jokes don’t count as healthy coping mechanisms.

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The internet is terrible at normalizing extremely self-deprecating jokes and any type of depression joke. When you criticize them people are quick to call them coping mechanisms, without stopping to think if they are a healthy one or not.

I find myself making them, I made one a week or two ago on Twitter, I liked one on Tumblr two days ago. I’m as guilty as anyone. The thing is, I’m not depressed and haven’t been for a long while. They aren’t a coping mechanism for me, they’re just ingrained in my mind as normal humor and I find myself saying them both out loud and mentally.

It’s not healthy to have the voice in the back of your head scream “this is why you’re going to die alone” when you something annoying. It’s not healthy to have it say “I want to jump off a building” when you embarrass yourself.

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The Power in Knowing You’re Not Alone.

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I saw a friend recently who was going through a really hard time. During the conversation she started a sentence and I filled it in, because I knew what she was talking about having thought similar things myself in the past. She stared at me for a moment in disbelief before saying “you don’t know how sane that made me feel”.

I think we often get caught up in our brains lie. For some reason when we’re going through hard times it likes to tell us that we are alone in it. Our rationality isn’t completely astray, after all nobody has the exact same experiences because none of us are in the exact same situation, but emotions and reactions are chemical, and they all have certain rules to follow. The chances of you being alone in your thoughts or emotions is highly unlikely. You don’t study the brain and read that a certain case is an isolated incident, and where that is recorded it’s normally followed by a footnote that says a similar case was studied seven years later on the other side of the world.

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Is depression just a mindset or is it just a chemical imbalance?

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This titles a tease, because it’s both. But the internet has been arguing about it lately, so I thought I would roll up my sleeves and dive one in.

This argument has been around for a few years now, it’s been talked about enough that I felt the need to put a disclaimer on my “How to Embrace a Happy Life” post that talked about how beating depression isn’t as simple as choosing to be happy, even though there really shouldn’t have been a way to get that from the post.

People who fight depression have gotten sick of hearing those kind of lines, which is completely understandable. What isn’t understandable is the argument that depression is only a chemical imbalance that doesn’t have much to do with mindset.

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