Destroying the mental health myth.

1 May

A few days ago, a woman I respect very much posted on her blog about her sister’s suicide. Though I’m just getting to know Jen, I knew her sister, Katie, and – trust me on this one – Katie was a hilarious, shining light. She just left too soon. (Please, please go read that blog post, especially if you are someone or know someone who has considered suicide.)

Lately, as I’ve been struggling more with anxiety, I’ve come across meds that cause depression. Now, I’ve dealt with mild depression before, but, like the mild anxiety, I thought it was something I could handle on my own, no biggie. This time, it’s hitting harder, and I have to say, I’m glad I’m not alone. Not that I would ever wish this on anyone, ever, it’s just that there’s no way you can possibly get through this kind of thing without other people who understand what you’re going through. Lately, it seems like people are coming out of the woodwork. I’ve had a friend recently share with me the extent of their mental health problems, I have a dear friend who struggles with bipolar who’s going through a major life change, I have another dear friend who has body image issues, my mom has PTSD along with anxiety and depression, and I’ve met several students over the past couple of years who have shared their experience with a number of mental health issues with me.

The thing is, Katie didn’t tell me she was thinking of suicide. I knew she must be dealing with something, because she had other chronic health issues, and chronic physical problems and mental health issues tend to go hand in hand. But she was so happy. She smiled all the time. She made me laugh so hard I thought I might pee my pants pretty much any time we had a conversation. We reconnected after she graduated and became closer than we were able to be in high school. We hung out, usually with friends, but several times it was just the two of us. We made fun of ourselves and our physical ailments. We drank coffee and talked about all kinds of things. We just didn’t talk about what was really going on in our heads. Then, I didn’t see her or hear from her for a month or so, and I thought that I should call her … and then she was gone. Just like that. Unfortunately, she’s not the only friend out of the people I grew up with to leave us in the same way, but I pray she’s the last.

It’s so strange how you can be surrounded by people dealing with a host of mental health problems, including yourself, and not see it. Not talk about it, because there’s still this stupid stigma surrounding it. The friend who confided in me recently had no idea that I’ve been battling the same beast. The reaction was the reaction I get when I mention having FMS: “I would never have known.”

I would never have known. I said it’s because on really bad days, when I can’t hide the pain, anxiety, and/or depression from showing on my face, I just don’t show my face. I either stay inside, or if I have to go out, I put on a different face. A face that cracks jokes and changes the subject; a face that says “I’m fine” when someone asks how I’m doing (because, let’s be honest, there are still things in my life that are fine, and I don’t want to go into the gory details of the other parts.) It’s a face that doesn’t stay on long, because I don’t have the energy for it anymore. When I said how hard things have been for me, though, I was also saying that I completely understood, and that it was safe for my friend to not be okay around me.

So, I think I’m going to smash that face into little bits.

Please don’t misunderstand; I’m not talking about the happy face you put on that eventually leads to happiness – that’s a good face. If you’re feeling down and have the ability to bring yourself up by smiling and doing happy things, please do it. It’s worked for me before, and I’m pretty sure it’s proven in some article or journal that the whole acting happy leading to feeling happy thing isn’t a fluke. Put on clothing that makes you look fabulous, tell yourself how wonderful you are in the mirror, smile, and strut your stuff to happy.

I’m talking about the face that doesn’t do anyone any good. The face that outright lies to people who may actually need to hear how I’m really doing. I know I’m not the only one who puts on that face. That face is only feeding the stigma, the myth that it’s something that shouldn’t be talked about. That it’s taboo or will make people too uncomfortable if you’re honest about it. That it’s best if you just deal with it yourself. That people will think you’re crazy. I want to obliterate the stigma surrounding mental health.

The absolute truth is that I have anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and I’ve had suicidal thoughts. That doesn’t make me weak or less of a person. It’s not a testament to any lack of faith or hope in God I have, and it’s certainly not a testament to my character or worth as a human being. The same goes for you. If you’re reading this, and you feel like you’re losing yourself to the demons in your head, you’re still in there, and your value doesn’t depreciate.

If you’re reading this and feel like you’re reading about yourself, I’m going to steal something from Jen and ask you to make a promise:

I promise to be honest. I promise I’ll be honest with myself, my doctors, and my loved ones, because I deserve to get through this and be well, and I don’t deserve to suffer and feel alone and isolated. Neither does anyone else. I will be honest, because it could help someone else get through this, too. I will be honest to help break the stigma surrounding mental health. 

You may even save someone’s life. Jen did by telling Katie’s story for her, and how it affected her. You could do it by telling your own.

If you don’t have friends and family you feel like you can be honest with, I’ve mentioned a site before, Daily Strength, where you can go and find a support group for whatever mental health problem (or other health problems) you’re experiencing. Jen’s post has a list of great resources, so please check it out if you’re having thoughts of self harm or suicide.

If you’re reading this and haven’t experienced any mental health issues, but you know someone who does, please feel free to share Jen’s post or my post if you feel it will help them. The point is to break the silence from all angles.

Gentle hugs,

Chels

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6 Responses to “Destroying the mental health myth.”

  1. Ginger May 1, 2012 at 12:16 am #

    I have to ask.. What meds are you on? I was takig Savella and it turned me into a suicidal freak. I stopped the meds months ago… I still ge the urges, sometimes daily, others quietly over weeks but I think the worst was when I was on that horrible “Fibro” med. I wonder what she was taking? Do you know. This is a great post and should be read and taken seriously but a lot of chronic pain sufferes.

    • Chelsea May 1, 2012 at 6:43 pm #

      Ginger, I don’t know what Katie was taking, if anything. (Out of respect and privacy for her family, not many details have been given, and I don’t want to pry.) I was taking Citalopram, which was helping a little with my anxiety, but my new doc immediately recognized that it’s contraindicated with the Tramadol I take for fibro. She asked which one I would like to change (something no doctor has ever asked me,) and I told her that since I knew the Tramadol works for me, I’d rather try a new anxiety med.
      So, I’m on Klonopin now, which she prescribed because it’s a time released med, and I was having trouble with the Citalopram lasting long enough, anyway. It helps with the anxiety, but it’s definitely made what little depression I was experiencing much worse. My mom has taken it before, and she said that the same thing happened to her. So, hopefully my new psychiatrist will have a better alternative.
      I’m so glad you were able to get off the Savella. For me, the first suicidal thoughts I ever had were when I was young, before I was diagnosed with epilepsy. The thoughts have occurred occasionally over the years, but with the increase in pain, anxiety and now depression, I find myself suppressing thoughts of self harm more often. This is definitely not the med for me! Keep listening to your body – you know it better than anyone else.
      Please feel free to share this with anyone in your Fibro/chronic pain community if you think it could help someone.
      With love,
      Chels

  2. Jen May 1, 2012 at 4:36 am #

    Perhaps my favorite promise so far. Thank you, Chelsea, for sharing your story. I cannot express what this means to me, to Katie, and to so many others. So proud of your bravery and honesty, and I hope you are too.

    • Chelsea May 1, 2012 at 6:46 pm #

      Jen,
      Thank you. I know I replied to you on Facebook already, but I just can’t thank you enough. My post made you cry, and your comment makes me cry! 🙂 Your kind words mean so much to me. I know that we’re all going to get through this together.

  3. 100 Steps May 17, 2012 at 7:58 am #

    Thank you, thank you for your posts. This one in particular leapt out at me, because I rarely show my true self to other people, for fear of scaring them away.
    Thank you for your links, and well written words.

    • Chelsea May 21, 2012 at 10:16 pm #

      You’re very welcome. Thank you so much for your kind words!

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