And we’re back for week three of Get Your Shit Together August! Today’s post is maybe not applicable to everyone personally, but is certainly applicable to at least one person you know, even if you’re SUPER well-adjusted. (If you are: what’s that like? Please tell me.) Today we’re talking about anti-depressants and behavioral health therapy.
Now, straight off the bat, here’s a disclaimer: I’m not a therapist. I’m not a doctor. I work in this field, but I’m not licensed and I’m gonna be talking about things very generally here, but in no way is this advice from A Medical or Behavioral Healthcare Professional. Okay? Okay.
When I was in high school, I went from being at the top of my class in almost all of my classes to struggling very hard to keep up with work. To be honest, I had struggled a little in middle school, too, frequently doing homework on the bus or at lunch because I just couldn’t make myself focus when I was at home. High school was more work, though, and it became harder for me to fit in everything I needed to do before school and during lunch. I was tired all the time and spent my after school hours taking long naps instead of doing my homework. I felt heavy and overwhelmed and I couldn’t say why or how or when it started. Finally, in my junior year, it caught up to me–my academic and personal issues combined for a perfect storm of mental catastrophe. I had to take a math class–my worst subject–with a teacher who was terrible. And, let me tell you this, I was never one of those kids who hated and bad mouthed any teacher I didn’t agree with. I understood teaching was hard, and that even if I didn’t like a teacher personally, they were probably doing their difficult job pretty well. This teacher? This was a bad teacher. I had never before wished harm on another person, but when she broke her hip halfway through the year, I actually thought, “Dear god, please let her be out for the rest of the year.”
Anyway, the point is, I got a D in her class the second or third marking period of that year. I had never gotten below a B- on a report card up to that point and my parents were livid. I broke down when they confronted me, had hysterics, literally ran out of the house and called a friend with a car to come pick me up. My parents eventually came and got me, apologized for yelling, and started to gently ask how I was feeling and how long I had been feeling that way.
I am extraordinarily lucky. I have always had a good relationship with my incredibly understanding parents. There’s a history of mental illness in my family and they weren’t judgmental at all about getting me into therapy and eventually getting me on medication. I had some amazing teachers to balance out that one rude math teacher, including an English teacher who literally changed the curriculum to fit my needs. Everyone around me me was willing to cut me some slack. Except, of course, for me.
Because, look, I wasn’t suicidal. I wasn’t hurting myself. I was just sad a lot. Sure, I was tired all the time and sleeping crazy hours and unable to focus, but that was a personal failing. I just needed to sit down and get things done and if I couldn’t do that, it was because I was lazy and undisciplined. I wasn’t sick and people shouldn’t be wasting their time and goodwill on me, not when there were actual sick people! I was just taking away the attention that they really needed! I could get by the same way I had been living before. I didn’t deserve anything better.
So, obviously, none of that was, you know, true. Or healthy. And I did go on and off anti-depressants for the next few years and they were immensely helpful, and every time I still somehow convinced myself that my depression and anxiety were situational. “It’s just because I have all this school work. I’ll be okay when I’m done with this semester.” “It’s just because I just graduated college and my world has shifted so much. I’ll adjust eventually.” “It’s just because I’m unemployed. I’ll feel better when I get a job.” “It’s just because my boss is terrible. I’ll feel better if I get another job.” “It’s just because this is the worst fucking winter that ever happened to anyone ever. Everyone feels this way. Spring is coming.”
That series of excuses brought me up to last summer. Years I spent telling myself that this was only one little blip, that I would pass it and things would be okay. Which just meant the next time I hit one of those blips, I would think, “Well, you made it through the last one. What makes this one so much worse?” It was stupid. I would never say that to a friend in need, I would never say that to a stranger in need. But that’s depression for you–it’s not so much that it makes you sad, it’s that it makes everything so much and convinces you that everyone feels this way, that you can’t handle it because you’re just not meant to be strong/happy/productive/successful.
Last summer, after living through Winter 2015 (google “Boston Winter 2015” if you don’t know what I’m talking about) and nearly ruining the 30th birthday party I’d been planning for a literal year because I had no motivation to do anything, I made strides towards getting my brain shit together. I made a doctor’s appointment. I sat in the appointment and walked the doctor through my history of depression, medication, and therapy. I filled the prescription she gave me, and when it wasn’t working in a few weeks, instead of giving up, I called her back on the phone and told her as much. I did that twice more.
That’s right, it took three adjustments to feel okay again. It took time and it took work and it was incremental and it was slow, but I got there and things started feeling better. I felt more like me again, I felt like I could put actual energy into me instead of spending it all literally forcing myself to get out of bed in the morning.
So. That’s a lot of backstory. But here are the five things I want you to take away from this:
1) Whatever you’re feeling, it’s bad enough.
If you’ve reached the point where you’re considering that you might be depressed, it’s “enough” to seek treatment. You don’t have to be suicidal. You don’t have to be unable to get out of bed. You don’t have to have a history–I know a lot of people who’ve been in therapy or taken medication short term to get themselves through stressful life events.
2) You are not secretly a shitshow.
One of the things holding me back from getting back on the mental health treatment train was a genuine fear that I wasn’t actually depressed and anxious–that I was a flake, that I was stupid, that I was lazy, and that returning to treatment would just make it clear to everyone that I’m not sick, I’m just worthless. That is…incorrect. It was incorrect about me and it’s incorrect about you, cross my heart.
Finding the right therapist and finding the right medication both take a lot more time than you think. As I said above, working from a baseline of “people in my family successfully take this drug” and “I have taken this drug before,” it still took three adjustments until I was on a dosage that worked for me. If you’ve never been on any psychiatric medications, that could take even longer. Finding a therapist has the same ups and downs–if you open the phone book and call the first name, it might not be an automatic perfect fit for you. Remember, you are paying this person! They are working for you and you’re not out of line to audition them–make sure they mesh with you, they’re sensitive about your sexuality/religion/etc, they seem like a person you can talk with. If they don’t check all those boxes, you can walk out the door and find another one. It sucks that both of these things take so much energy at a time when you have so little of it, but you’ve come this far! You can do it!
4) You’re still you.
Going into therapy isn’t going to turn you into some kind of stepford-esque monster or the brainwashed butt of every joke. Taking medication isn’t going to alter your personality. What both of these things do, in different ways, is lighten your load. They clear the air, make it easier to be you without worrying and being dragged down by the world. They turn the volume up on your personality and the volume down on your depression and anxiety and trauma. If that’s not true for you–if they’re not working or you feel worse or you do think they’re altering your personality–then it’s because you’ve got the wrong therapist/medication.
5) This is just another tool.
You’re not weak for needing mental health treatment. You’re not a failure. You’re not coddling yourself. Treatment for your mental health issues, whether it’s therapy or medication, is a tool just like your bullet journal is a tool, just like your BGSD texts are a tool. They’re another way for you to keep control of your life, another way to stay organized and on top of your responsibilities.
Listen, friend–you’re worth the effort to get yourself better. You’re worth the time it takes to find the right treatment. You deserve to be not sad all the time, because let me tell you, being sad all the time is fucking exhausting. You’ve earned a break from that, and I’m asking you, from the bottom of my heart, to embrace it.
Next week: The end of Get Your Shit Together August! I’m going to introduce you to your Back-Up Bunnies.