With World Mental Health Day on the horizon on the 10th October, and R U OK day recently passed, it seems an appropriate time to admit to you that I see a therapist.
Was that a gasp of surprise echoing through the small principality of Midlife Mayhem within the kingdom of WordPress?
I doubt it. I imagine it was fairly obvious that the ‘Kurt apple’ had to have fallen from some equally loony tree.
Not so long ago, admitting that you suffered from mental health problems would have put you in the crazy box, like when you mentioned the C word – akin to telling the world you had something icky and a finite amount of time left.
Luckily for us, attitudes about illness, medication and awareness are changing for the better. One benefit of social media is that people now have a forum on which to talk about their problems, share their stories, and create a community at the touch of their keyboard.
Anyway… occasionally I go a bit crazy and need help. And my ‘crazy’ is not the funny, Robin Williams type of ‘crazy’ that fools everyone, it’s the ‘Fuck off, I can’t face the world’ type.
My personal need to spread awareness about mental health problems has also come from Kurt’s journey with ADHD, depression and anxiety. I have advocated for my son and watched his progress through the education and health system – note that I use the word ‘progress’ with tongue firmly placed in cheek. I have learned that in spite of a generally better level of acceptance, we still have to advocate for people with mental illnesses because the majority of the population appear to need highly visible symptoms as evidence before they believe that someone is ill. And people with mental health issues are a) very adept at concealing how they really feel (Robin Williams) or b) often in no position to advocate for themselves.
With the arrival of the nirvana that is Netflix, to my computer, I’ve been watching this old series called Friday Night Lights over the past few weeks. I can strongly recommend it if you too are immature and drawn to high school puppy-love, good winning over evil and a feel-good factor without having to think too much. One of the main characters is a successful high school football player who is paralysed in a game, early in the series. I know it’s fiction, but the amount of support he garners for his disability is how such an earth shattering, life-changing condition should be handled.
The mentally ill are not treated in the same way.
NOTHING gets on my nerves more than having to continually justify ADHD all the fucking time and the use of medication to treat it. The skeleton might be out of the cupboard but many people still discuss mental health issues in the hushed tones they use for STDs or lung cancer. There is shaming and blaming and the use of medication, that helps people with what can be treatable illnesses, is often stigmatised and over-sensationalised.
The use of medication for ADHD must surely be one of the most contentious topics there is, about which, it seems, everyone has an opinion.
I hold my hand up and admit that I have been guilty of surrendering to that stigma in the past, too. When applying to schools for Kurt, I often questioned whether to mention his ADHD. Even now, as I try to access clinical institutions to help him, I have been advised not to mention his depression or dependencies. You get a record with mental illness, like some common criminal, that can be used against you later in life in terms of employment.
On a personal level, I bloody love the power of therapy. Not for the self-obsessed reasons you might imagine, although as you can probably guess, I am quite partial to the sound of my own voice.
Despite what you read in the papers – how everyone and anyone can access antidepressants these days – ‘therapy’ is actually the preferred treatment and precursor to medication for the treatment of depression and anxiety. During therapy, patients work through their issues with an expert, and learn management and coping strategies which may resolve their problems without the need for medication.
Therapy wasn’t enough for me, but I feel no shame in taking medication to control my anxiety. It has turned my life around over the past few years, from a dark, threatening world, which I no longer wanted to engage with, to a place where the sun still rises. I now experience what I imagine is a normal cycle of emotions, as opposed to waking up to blackness and fear. To my mind, there‘s no difference in using a medication to treat the brain or to alleviate symptoms in the rest of the body.
And yes, I am aware that medications carry risks. As do most illnesses, when left untreated.
No-one feels the same need to criticize my use of Statins as management for a genetic cholesterol risk, but everyone has an opinion about whether I really need anxiety medication. I am often told that anxiety and ADHD didn’t exist twenty years ago; interesting, when I have a brochure dated from the seventies that outlines strategies for teachers to use in the classroom for children with ADHD.
I understand why people are afraid of mental illness, when the only time it makes headlines is when some crazy is responsible for a shooting or locks up young girls. But it’s a wide spectrum. We’re not all sociopaths and psychopaths, but there are more and more ‘damaged’ people out there – whether that’s due to nature, nurture or the modern pressures of society – who need more help than others to make the most of their lives.
As we’ve seen with the refugee situation in Europe, we’re quick to judge people in a weaker position than us, to blame them in some way for their own shortcomings, when often social, political, physiological and economic factors are at the root.
Then again, it could just be down to luck.