Saturday, January 9, 2016

She finally decided to get some help...

Something I've noticed in reading and researching mental illness is that often the story stops being told at a person finally seeking treatment; it's almost like the fairy tale wedding - a tearful, silent montage of transitioning to a new life before riding into the sunset of a happily ever after. I don't want to downplay at all what a important, courageous step it is to decide to get help of any form for one's mental illness or relationship problems or emotional issues. It is not an easy step to decide to expose your most vulnerable self to someone else, to open up to a stranger, to accept something is wrong, to acknowledge you need outside guidance; it is a leap of faith!

I didn't get counseling until I was pushed to my breaking point by a series of events freshman year, even though I had considered it many times and I had known for years that I had Social Anxiety, General Anxiety, and problems with depression. When I went through a particularly tough time my sophomore year, I was too worn down to arrange to see a counselor. Up till that point I had also been staunchly opposed to taking psychiatric drugs even though my anxiety issues severely affected my ability to live a normal, happy life. It took a month of nightly panic attacks that kept me from sleeping to lead me to realize I needed to see a psychiatrist for help...and for the first time, I began to consider medication as an option for helping to lower the barrier that anxiety posed to my trying new things and living a full life.

Going in for treatment is scary and stressful. Usually you're there because you're really down to the last wire; something happened to make you realize you need help. Most people I know, including myself, spend a lot of time trying to persuade themselves they can take care of everything because seeking help would mean you're really crazy. When I've been in situations where I finally decided to seek help, I was not particularly up for calling to make an appointment and go share my sob story with a complete stranger who's trying to make you set up a logical action plan. I DON'T WANT TO BE LOGICAL RIGHT NOW, OKAY. And that was in college when I could just go to the counseling center. This fall I got to experience grown-up counselor search: Google searches, scanning Psychology Today's Find a Counselor site, balking at $150+ session rates, emailing people to find out their full...and so are they...ooh she seems nice...no not accepting new patients...oh, she's an art therapist! $200 an hour?? Her? She's 45 minutes away...Her? Wait, why am I getting an email from a doctor I never even contacted...What? The other lady sent my contact info along to you without even asking me??? (TRUE STORY.) Then there's the awkward phone interview/consultation and you realize WOW NOT A GOOD FIT (but she still sends you a LINKEDIN INVITE? What happened to professionalism...) Then there's traveling to the new person after the awkward back and forth with the secretary...

Stressful and scary.

So big props to anyone who takes that leap into the intersection of getting treatment!

But so many people stop there in telling their story or in talking about the experience of battling mental illness. The story doesn't end at the altar as the couple exchanges their vows; there's a bumpy road afterwards, but also a beautiful one. If anything, the couple learns more about one another and falls more in love after that point. I think it's sad that that part of the story is often neglected because it's also a beautiful one.

Treatment is a story in itself, just like the battle that sent a person there. I appreciated that the (really fantastic, brutally honest, artfully done) film To Write Love on Her Arms decided to tell both parts of the story. In the interviews about making the movie, the creators said that they could have ended the film with the movie's heroine, Renee, checking into treatment for her addiction, self-injury, and mental health issues. but they decided to spend time on her experience after getting out of rehab.

Her family and friends welcome her home with a big, joyful, well-meaning party. Everyone is supportive and encouraging, but you also get the sense more and more as she interacts with people that 1) Renee isn't over all her demons...after all she'd been through, how could she be?, and 2) Everyone thinks she is now fine and dandy, ready to conquer the world and share her story and save all the African children (and the American ones too). She grows increasingly frustrated and isolated, afraid of letting people down, but unable to live up to their expectations for her because she's still hurting, and no one really gets it.

You may have acknowledged you have problems, you may have been diagnosed, you may have even gotten your symptoms under control, but the emotional wounds, the grief over dreams deferred or dead, the self-loathing, the bitterness, the self-destructive urges, the doubts, the disappointment, the anger over ones who abandoned you or over the unfairness of all you lost...they're still there. Those things take so, so much time to heal. Sometimes not even a lifetime is enough.

And sometimes treatment doesn't even help. Sometimes it hurts you even more. That's been my experience.

There are doctors who don't know what they're doing. There ares ones who do but are limited because of a lack of time or the limited amount of research and treatment options available. There are counselors who mean well but say something that happens to set you off. Who mean well but can only do so much in an hour a week with limitations on what they can speak (I had to rhyme there...). And there are outright unqualified, terrible counselors and doctors out there who say terrible things or prescribe something that shouldn't be and ruin people's lives.

There are medications that help and should definitely be considered as an option for those who are suffering, but there are misinformed doctors and lack of information. The first psychiatrist my sister went to insisted she go on a debilitating anti-psychotic to treat her Bipolar Disorder. My mom, after researching the drug and finding it shouldn't be given to young women, refused to let her fill the prescription and sent her to our family psychiatrist, who prescribed Lithium, which ended up taking care of her symptoms with little side effect.

For me, well, I endured a year of mental illness made infinitely worse by medications that work for most people with my problems, but not for me, as discovered in DNA testing, which is starting to come into play across medical fields and definitely something I would encourage people seeking psychiatric treatment to ask their doctor about before going on medication. My psychiatrist kept me on these anti-depressants even after we found out from the testing that my body doesn't tolerate them well, and I strongly suspect that that is what caused a lot of my deep bouts of depression and nervous/anxious breakdowns in 2015. Gee, thanks.

Doctors don't admit they're wrong, though. And they take a lot of your money, don't they? So I start on a journey to find a new doctor and to try a new treatment (SAMe and Deplin). It's like dating a new boyfriend, I guess.

I found a counselor I like, but I always feel like counseling sessions are just like taking one chip off of a block of marble and calling it Michelangelo's David. And sometimes my counseling sessions have left me even more upset or lost because I feel embarrassed, misunderstood, or even insulted by the counselor. Humans have trouble communicating, and even the most understanding people lose patience or say the wrong thing or nothing at all when they ought to. And I'm mentally unstable. So odd, unexpected things can trigger feelings in me that seem irrational. Because most of my thoughts and emotions and anxieties are irrational right now. Because I'm ill.

But the fact that I only can get help once a week for an hour in itself irks me and makes me feel even more melancholy and alone at times. As much as family and friends and mental health professionals care, sometimes they don't get what you're feeling. Sometimes they don't know how to help or what to say. Sometimes I wonder if there really is anything they can do to help.

So treatment is a process in itself. A long one for some people. Full of ups and downs. There are still lows even when you are miles out from your darkest times. I wish more people would talk about that. Maybe they're afraid of scaring people from treatment; when I read those reviews of medications where people would talk about how they've been on five different anti-depressants that didn't work and gave them this problem and that, I never thought I would be that person...

But I wouldn't feel like such a failure if I knew other people struggle too. I read so many articles about people's mental illness story that end with "But now I'm in treatment and getting better :)". I guess I always try to put a bright spin on things when I talk to people. And I have had many friends who find out about my struggle gently nudge that I should see a counselor with an attitude that that will solve everything, not knowing that I've seen one for over a frickin' year and been on I don't know how many medications.

So if you are still on that long and unexpected, oft treacherous journey, friend, I journey with you. I am not out of the woods yet, but I am on higher ground.

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