October is a big month for mental health. This month is Depression Eduction/Awareness Month and Antidepressant Death Awareness Month. This week is Mental Illness Awareness Week. And today is Face Your Fears Day. Tomorrow, World Mental Health Day. So, I felt it’d be a good time to re-hash my tribulations with my mental health. A friend recently approached me on Facebook to thank me for being transparent with my problems because she is going through similar things and it’s helpful to know you aren’t the only one. When you’ve got a mental health problem, you feel like you’re alone, weird, something wrong with you, or the worst-that you really are crazy.
My problems started when I was in High School. I suspect that it was one incident in particular, where I was violently ill after getting only a few hours sleep before I was supposed to go on a class trip to Seattle. I forced myself to go on the trip even though I was vomiting black bile. (I had a great time and I’m glad I made myself go once I recovered) Once I got back I found that I couldn’t sleep. I obsessed that if I didn’t get a minimum of 8 hours, I’d be sick like I was. I laid in bed for hours counting back, telling myself “If you don’t sleep in 30 minutes, you’re going to get sick”. Of course, that just made my insomnia worse. Eventually, it actually became true that if I didn’t get 8 hours I’d be sick. My poor boyfriend at the time had to stay on the phone with me until I fell asleep every night. I started taking sleeping pills, became dependent on them, then resistant to them, so I tripled the dose. I had created my first psycho-symptomatic symptom and laid the ground work for a lifetime of Mental Illness.
Things went along like that for several years until I arrived at college and was put on Anti-depressants. They helped quite a lot, actually. Until, I broke up with the boyfriend mentioned above. I had a near psychotic break because we’d been high school sweethearts, I didn’t really have a life outside the relationship and I crumbled. They gave me anti-psychotics and pulled me back from the brink. I was put on a high dose of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety pills because I had laid in bed for nearly a week. They were concerned and for good reason. At that point in my life, I just wanted to die. I thought that if I made my will clear and that if I just laid there and willed myself to die, maybe something out there would take pity on me and let me die quietly. I’ve never been much for the drama of suicide. When you really get down to it, it’s quite selfish. Who is going to have to find you? Clean up the mess your death made? Are you really willing to do that to someone you know? No. It’s also a little bit of a belief in fate. When I feel suicidal, I tempt fate. I walk out into a lightening storm on an empty plain and dare one to hit me. If it doesn’t, I figure I’ve still got something I have to do with my life. Lately, feeling suicidal is just a sign to me that I need to adjust my medication. No need to get apocalyptic, just time to call the doctor and figure something out.
Anyhow, I went along on the medications and different doses, different pills until almost 2 years ago. My doctor wouldn’t allow me to get off my medication, but I felt I had made a change in my life and I was ready to try so I went against her orders and got off. It was horrible. Weaning myself off the meds was a challenge. I was sick and dizzy and had withdrawal. When it cleared, I was medication free for a year and was doing well. Continued problems from an ex that traumatized me pulled me back under the pills.
I didn’t notice right away when it started, because it started with dizziness and more of the sleep problems and constantly being sick to my stomach. It kept getting worse and worse. I started to have panic attacks, a few at first, then up to 5 in a day as it got worse. I tried everything I could think of outside Western medicine, acupuncture, massage, chiropractics, special diets, supplements, therapy and meditation.
Finally, I gave up. I was too sick to fight anymore. I went to a new doctor and she put me on Lorezepam and Viibryd. I’m doing better with them, but the Viibryd is a bit of a challenge because of it’s many side effects. I’ve been taking it for about 3 months now and my main complaint is sleep interruption. I can usually only sleep in 2-4 hour stints because of the medication, but I feel mentally OK for the first time in my memory. For that, I’ll deal with the side effects.
I still have panic attacks, especially if The Sweetness (my ‘safe-person’) is taken away or I have to leave the house. I’m not supposed to drive because my panic attacks usually bring on blackouts and violent shaking. But it doesn’t happen every time, so there is improvement. We’re working on slowly exposing me to stressful situations to try to rehab the panic attacks, but it’s slow going and I’ve had many relapses.
So what’s wrong with me? We don’t really know. In typical me-fashion, I’ve developed something rare and hard to treat, also hard to diagnose. The doctors aren’t really sure what to do with psycho-symptomatic problems. There’s just not much research out there and we can’t find any physical cause. I suspect that everything that was done when I was younger messed up my brain chemistry, but who knows. Maybe it’s a genetic condition since most of my family has similar issues. Maybe I really am traumatized still. Or maybe I have a stress adaption problem. The main point of all this is, if it feels wrong, get it checked out. There is no point in living in misery.