4 Things No One Will Tell You About Mental Illness
Estee Shaw | On 18, Sep 2013
There was no how-to guide when my mental health took a nose-dive and I experienced my first mixed episode. I was in college and feeling like a complete mess of irritability, depression, exhaustion, and energy. I would have done just about anything for a good night’s sleep, and I think it’s safe to say that I succeeded in freaking out my roommate when I burst into tears and begged her to turn off the TV so I could at least try to fall asleep, instead of listening to Friends reruns at night.
The truth is, there’s no how-to guide for when the pieces begin falling into place and you start to realize that what you’re going through is part of a bigger picture and has to do with mental illness, that it’s not just a one time, scary thing. Which is why I’ve put together a sampling of what I wish I had known during that first episode, to make things a little less overwhelming.
Self diagnosis is actually a natural process.
From the moment you realize something is off and start looking at your symptoms and comparing them to the experiences of others, you’re self-diagnosing. All the research you do, the books you read, the questions you ask – it all relates back to the process of diagnosis.
Self-diagnosis is often demonized. There are some who are frustrated by the fact that diagnosis can be a long, drawn-out experience. If they went through the proper channels – seeing psych services, going through evaluations, etc. – then why can’t you?
It’s not always that simple. There are very real barriers when it comes to mental health services. It’s important to realize that not everyone has the access for a variety of reasons including money, transportation, comfort level with medical staff, and culture norms that invalidate experience with mental illness.
Diagnosis is a complicated process. There’s nothing wrong with doing your homework and making an educated guess, even if it turns out to be right or wrong later.
I am someone who has benefited from medication. There are certain cocktails of meds that can be effective when treating a variety of mental illnesses. I have my own set of issues with Big Pharma, and some of the less pleasant side-effects of the meds I have taken.
However, I also realize that a lot of people benefit from medication. The people that benefit most know that it’s never as simple as filling their prescription and remembering to take their pills each morning. Medication can be great for regulating chemicals and providing balance that you might have been missing. What it won’t change are the behaviors that you need to adjust in order to get back to living your life the way you’d like to. Medication is a first step, but not the only step.
Contrary to popular belief, doctors are not all-knowing.
Bummer, right? This kind of goes back to my first point about self-diagnosis. I’ve been mis-diagnosed and ended up taking medication that exacerbated my symptoms to the point where I was worse off than I was before.
My advice to you is to learn how to be your own advocate. It’s okay to do your research and present it to your doctor. In fact, it’s great! Share your knowledge with your doctor, open up a dialogue about what you’ve learned in relation to what you’re experiencing. If your doctor isn’t open to what you’re saying or doesn’t seem receptive, they probably aren’t the doctor for you.
At the end of the day, you’re going to be the most invested in your care and quality of life. It is more than okay to be proactive and look into what experts and others are saying about treatment and your illness.
The people in your life will experience burn-out in relation to your illness. It doesn’t make you a bad person.
It’s not a pleasant topic, but it’s one that came up recently in my own life. Sometimes more than others, I need to lean heavily on members of my family. It’s not always fun to hear, but I am open to conversations that deal with my support systems and whether they’re feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or afraid. Sometimes it means getting them into therapy if there is a sudden shift in your relationship, or just being more attentive when they’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed by what’s happening in your lives.
Having these conversations will depend on how you’re doing and whether or not you are in the frame of mind, or have the energy to initiate them. But they are worth having if you’re feeling up to it. It isn’t easy being the sibling, parent, spouse, or friend to someone who has reoccurring health issues. Even the best, most supportive people in our lives need to be taken care of, sometimes.
Most importantly, remember that no two people experience mental illness the same way.
I could sit down and have a chat with another person with a mood disorder, and they would have totally different experiences with diagnosis, treatment, and symptom management. That doesn’t make anyone’s experiences less valid than mine, just different.
At the end of the day, let’s do what we can to be supportive of one another as we navigate through all of this together. Sound good?
Written by Estee Shaw
You can chat with her on Twitter!