Albert Einstein

De-stigmatizing Mental Health

Sure, there's been a lot of talk about inadequate mental health care in this country. This happens most often when a tragic event, involving too easily obtained firearms, occurs. That's not what this post is about.

What about the every day, run of the mill, mental health issues that many of us deal with?

Let's face it...if I've learned one thing, working in mental health, it's that EVERYBODY is dealing with something.

I'm not here to talk about everyone else...I'm here to talk about me.

I've had a long history of mental health system interactions. When I was 16, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. Hell, what teenager isn't?

Later on, along with regular counseling, I was introduced to mood altering medications...prescription ones that is. Let me tell you...I've done my share:










I'm sure there are some I've forgotten over the years, but that's a decent list to consider.

Today, I take none of them.

Over the years, I've have been diagnosed with clinical depression (as stated earlier), acute stress disorder, anxiety disorder, bipolar II and attention deficit disorder.

After dating and marrying a psychologist, I now believe that I was never properly diagnosed and that cyclothymic disorder probably most accurately describes my baseline. More on that in a bit.

I've never shied away from talking about my challenges with mental health. I talked about taking medication for depression, or anxiety or bipolar, or whatever the current thing was, whether it was "the thing to do" or not. I remember early on, people often looked shocked when I very casually mentioned being on such medication.

It's a little less "out there" these days to have those conversations, but still there's a stigma around mental illness. I hear it everyday from the people I work with: "It took me a long time to ask for help, because my family and friends thought I should just be able to get over it."

But I think we need to start thinking of things in different terms. So many attitudes about mental health are black and're either "sick" or you're "well."

I live in a very gray world when it comes to these matters.

We need to have a conversation normalizing things that are normal again!

As stated earlier, I'm not on any medications for mental health. I haven't been for years. For me, I would stall out. I'd max out on a dose or combination of things, and I would still have the extreme behaviors. I would still have suicidal ideation, rage issues or I would be so far up that I would pace incessantly, be hyper verbal, and get cramps in my hand from writing down the ideas that were flying through my mind at warp speed.

That didn't work for me.

I remember when I got the ADD diagnosis. My psychiatrist said, "I'm going to prescribe this medication. It's a stimulant. The way the ADD works is that if you take this, and you get wound up, it's not ADD...something else is going on. If however, it calms you and you can focus easier, then biochemically, it's ADD."

I had a 45 minute commute to work in those days, through farmland...not much traffic, wide open spaces...

I remember the first day I took the med. I don't know how I made that knocked me out. ADD confirmed.

For a while, I suppose it helped me focus, but quickly, that became ineffective too.

Eventually, I stopped taking everything. It wasn't really working for me anyway. And I did it my own stubborn way. I quit cold turkey.

There's a reason the psychs recommend a taper for meds like this. I'm not suggesting anyone else follow my example. I'm just being open about how I did things.

At first, I thought that I just wanted to learn how to deal with everything on my own. Again, I can't recommend this for anyone's just what I did.

Then I started to think, "What if 'what's wrong with me' isn't really something that's wrong with me? What if my way of being was fit into some DSM classification, but it's just part of me?"

Changing directions for just a moment, I've been listening to the Audible book "Alan Turing: The Enigma." While I was disappointed that "The Imitation Game" took great liberties with how Alan's life played out during and after World War II, I have been fascinated by the look at someone who was considered inadequate for a long time in school. It got me to thinking about all the school dropouts, Einstein for example. All the people that didn't fit into the confines of "normal" by societal standards. I remembered the quote from the Apple ad:

“Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

What if, sometimes the "crazy ones" and the "misfits" just have a different way of being in the world? Look at all the transformers in the world that had "mental illnesses!"

Now don't send the hate mail saying that I'm downplaying mental illness. I know it exists. I've worked with some people who are truly ill and need serious help.

But what about the people like me?

I didn't quite fit into many of the categories that my providers suggested. And yes, I still struggle with depression on a regular basis...and I have hypomanic episodes. To be honest, I relish those times. I get so many ideas, my thoughts flow so quickly, I have less tolerance for...a lot of things.

I actually told my therapist tonight, as I was leaving her office, "I think I'm more effective when I'm hypomanic."

She said, "I hear that from a lot of people."

I've learned, for the most part, to ride the waves. Whether I could truly be diagnosed with cyclothymic disorder, or something else, I may never know.

For me, the meds didn't work. I've developed my own ways to cope. I keep my iPhone, or pen and paper close by, to capture those flying thoughts...Bach cranked up on my headphones helps me focus through rapid thinking, when I need to focus. Aromatherapy, exercise and music help when my give a damn's busted (thank you JoDee Messina).

I'll be straight with people too...mostly about the hypomania. I'll call it what it is, and sometimes people are startled at the openness, or my awareness of what's going on, or something.

I'll be straight with you...I'm coming down from a hypomanic episode as I write this. Apologies if things don't make sense. I don't have much tolerance for proofreading right now. You'll have to deal with it. I do.

For now, I'm going to embrace my inner misfit. I'm going to deal with the sideways looks when I'm really up...I won't notice when I'm really down anyway. Maybe I can use my square peg in a round hole personality to make a difference in this world.

Stigma or no stigma...I am just crazy enough to believe I can change the world.