This post originated as part of a presentation I did recently at NAMI Huntsville on mental health support and education programs. It was my soapboxy lead in for discussing the possibility of starting two new NAMI education programs in our area, Parents and Teachers as Allies and Ending the Silence.
In the fall of 2010, I crashed hard with my first episode of major depression. From roughly the end of October that year until the winter of 2011-12, I was more or less incapacitated. The simplest daily tasks often felt like arduous, insurmountable burdens that I would never overcome. Breathing was a chore, and on my worst days, getting up out of bed and walking 20 feet to the bathroom to take a shower was more difficult and more painful than running 26.2 miles with a healthy mind and body. I am not exaggerating at all here. Taking a shower when depressed sometimes literally hurt worse than running a marathon.
There were moments of absolute hopelessness where I didn’t think I would ever feel normal again. Eventually though with a lot of help and support from wonderful family and friends, with good therapy and after finally finding the right meds, I made it back to functioning like I did before my crash. NAMI Huntsville was instrumental in the process, and I’d like to thank everyone involved in our organization for their help and support.
Once I was stable again, I began looking back on the dark times with a sense of regret and frustration about how ignorant I had been. There were so many things I could have done differently to avoid sliding into a life and death struggle with my mind. So many things I could have done better to accelerate my recovery.
I try not to dwell too much on the errors of the past because focusing incessantly on the things you could have done can drive you nuts. But I don’t want to completely forget about my previous ignorance of psychological disorders either. I’d like for the memories of what I did inefficiently to be an example of what others might avoid. So I’ve compiled a brief list of things that I wish I’d known about mental health treatment before I learned them the hard, shitty way through stupid, bungling experience.
I wish I’d known that any given anti-depressant has roughly a 50% chance of working, that finding one that works takes trial and error, and that if a medication isn't working you don’t need to wait 7 months for an emergency hospitalization to ask a doctor if there are other options.
I wish I’d known that unexpected verbal aggression and sudden unexplained anger can be an early sign of depression, especially in men.
I wish I’d known about the physiological changes involved in depression and hadn’t spent so much time berating myself for being weak and unable to simply snap out of it.
I wish I’d known not to expect a smooth, quick, easy progression towards recovery, that I hadn’t pushed so hard to get better as soon as possible, and that I hadn’t fallen so hard so many times into an engulfing discouragement when I met with minor setbacks.
I wish I’d known how to let a bad day be simply one bed day and not a definitive sign that things weren't getting better and never would.
I wish I’d known the very simple and basic difference between a therapist and psychiatrist and hadn’t spent so much time huffing over why my doctors weren’t doing what I expected them to do...
I’d like to see my regrets and the things I wished I’d known become standard knowledge incorporated into the education we offer young people about how to take care of themselves. I dream of a world where this is the case, where people get help for emotional problems as easily, as quickly, and as readily as they do for a broken arm or a case of the flu. I want our schools to teach young people how to care for their minds and help defend preemptively against the ignorance that lead me down so many waste of time dead end paths before I finally found the right resources to drag myself out of an utterly wretched hole.
Pays au dela
"As to the natural parts I have, of which this is the essay, I find them to bow under the burden; my fancy and judgment do but grope in the dark, tripping and stumbling [wobbling] in the way, and when I have gone as far as I can, I am in no degree satisfied; I discover still a new and greater extent of land before me, with a troubled and imperfect sight and wrapped up in clouds, that I am not able to penetrate." Montaigne-"On the Education of Children"
My domain name, "Pais au dela," is the original French translated here as "extent of land before me." My goal for this page will be to explore, in an ambling way at times, the great land before me hoping to find clarity as I advance. I will focus centrally though not exclusively on mental health issues in my stumbling march forward.