Mental Illness Month

I think May is mental illness month. It might be October though, because Google tells me both things. It doesn’t really matter though, because honestly it’s not something that only happens once a year. I mean “Christmas Month” makes sense, or “Pre Spring Break Tanning Bed Month” — but Mental Illness isn’t seasonal. Well, unless it’s Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is seasonal by definition. Even that isn’t just one month long though, so leave me alone about it!

In case you haven’t already realized it, I suffer from mental illness. Some of it might be a result of my accident, but for the most part it’s just the way my brain was built. I rarely talk about my mental illness, because it’s horribly embarrassing. Plus, I generally try not to think about it, especially since overthinking is sorta one of the symptoms. Nonetheless, I’m feeling OK today, and thought it would be a good idea to use the whole “Month” thing as an excuse.

I always try to do my best, and in the case of mental illnesses, I’m a bit of an overachiever. I have the “Trifecta of Crazy”, or more specifically, I suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Anxiety, and Depression. Before you line up to get my autograph, it’s important to realize that the three disorders are very closely related, and are sorta like symptoms of the same issue. (I know, the issue is called “crazy”, har har har) I’ll explain them in order of their crippling effect…

OCD – This is the one that is hardest to believe is real. For me, I mean. Because really, it feels insane WHILE I’m doing it. My particular manifestation of OCD is that I have to do things evenly. If I turn the volume up on the remote, I need to also turn it down. If I step on a sidewalk crack with my right foot, I have to step on one with my left. If that weren’t enough, I then have to step on one with my left again, followed by stepping on one with my right. Because it has to be “even” (I stepped on one with my right foot first last time, now I have to step on one with my left foot first). I know it’s crazy. Boy do I know it’s crazy. That doesn’t stop me from slapping my own butt cheek, however, if my wife nonchalantly slapped one cheek without slapping the other. When it gets out of control, this particular mental illness is very frustrating, as you can imagine. Not just for me, but for people trying to watch television when I have to pass the channel I was switching to so I can press the “down” channel button since I’ve been pressing the “up” button. Thankfully, this one is managed fairly well with medication. It’s absurd, I know. Still, it’s very, very real. If you have symptoms of OCD, and you’re embarrassed to get help — SEE A DOCTOR. Yes, it embarrassed the crap out of me to tell a sane, rational doctor that I had to slap my own unbalanced butt cheek — but he prescribed medicine (a small dose even), and it works. It was worth it.

Anxiety – This is the one I still attribute to the car accident. After my accident, I had such horrible anxiety (and Agoraphobia, a common bedfellow of anxiety) I almost couldn’t function. I wasn’t afraid of anything in particular, except for maybe that I was going crazy. I really only have issues with anxiety when I’m in a crowded room for too long, or if I’m particularly mentally exhausted. If you see me at a party looking particularly nutso, it’s safe to assume my brain is overwhelmed, and I’m currently certain the world is about to end. Or explode. Or I’m going to explode. Or everyone is out to get me. Or that I’m part of an intricate television show where everyone watches me and knows all my secrets. (I don’t even have good secrets, so I suspect the show will get canceled after the first season, especially if it’s on FOX) The good news is that medicine helps here too. I’m told that counseling really helps too, but thanks to insurance issues after my accident, I never spoke to a counselor. I should probably do that now, but it’s not like I have this mental illness thing all figured out. It’s still embarrassing, and what if the counselor uncovers some secret past of mine, and finds out I’m really a serial killer. Or spy. Or Libertarian. But really. If you have anxiety, see someone. At least your doctor. Drugs aren’t always the answer, but they’re almost always *part* of the answer.

Depression – I don’t very often suffer from depression. Part of that is because my OCD/Anxiety medication also treats depression. (Remember I said they’re all related?) I’m actually very thankful that this is the one I struggle with the least, because it’s the most scary. When I get depressed, I get really, really depressed. And when you’re really, really depressed, you don’t want to get help. You don’t want to do anything. You don’t want to BE. I’m going to be very transparent here, even though it scares the crap out of me. When I’m in a valley of depression, I’m pretty sure I only hang on because of the people I care about. The depression would have me believe that everyone would be better off without me. Because dealing with a depressed person is HARD. It’s painful for me to see how much it hurts my family when I’m depressed. And it feels like it’s all my fault, because, well, it’s ME! I keep going because of the truth that I’ve told myself over and over when I’m *not* depressed; depression lies.

Depression lies.

It gets its own paragraph because it’s so simple, but so, so important. Dealing with a clinically depressed person *is* really difficult for those around them. Heck, dealing with a grumpy person is difficult. But that’s NOTHING compared to dealing with the loss of someone you love. I don’t know this first hand, thankfully, but I know others who do. I know that when my wife struggles with her own form of mental illness (it’s not my story to tell, so don’t ask), it’s very difficult to be the loved one. But never, ever ever ever is dealing with someone’s struggles worse than dealing with the loss of them.

There is medicine that helps with depression. It’s not magic, and it’s can even lose its effectiveness after a while. If you have issues with depression, please talk to your doctor. You should probably seek counseling too, but at the very least, talk to your doctor about it. There is help available, and it’s NOT a sign of weakness to ask for help. Holy crap it’s the opposite. It’s SO HARD to ask for help, that doing so is a victory in and of itself.

So that’s my schtick on mental illness. I have it, in spades. It affects my life on a day to day basis too, in more ways than just the TV remote thing. I’ll try to post some more this month about it, because I’d rather embarrass myself a bit than to have someone think it’s shameful to have issues. If you get nothing else from this post, just remember, depression lies. It really, really does.

6 Comments

  1. James Gibbs says:

    Thanks Shawn! Mental illness and IT are AWESOME together, don’t you think?

  2. janiece65 says:

    NOT shameful. And only embarrassing if you let it become so.

    “Heck, dealing with a grumpy person is difficult. But that’s NOTHING compared to dealing with the loss of someone you love.”

    I hope with all my heart that you never, ever need to find this out first hand. <3

  3. phiala says:

    You’re awesome. Thank you!

  4. Thank all the gods and saints and anyone else listening that we have medicines for these things, and that they keep making other medicines, because our brains and chemistry are different, and what works for one doesn’t work for others.

    I agree that OCD is weirdly the hardest one to own up to, because it really, truly, feels like something you should be able to just STOP. But of course you can’t. My OCD started with hair pulling (it still utterly mortifies me to say that) but branched out to other areas. But it was so damned hard the first time to tell the doctor about it. And even harder to clarify. “No, I don’t think something bad will happen if I don’t (follow my compulsion), it just feels wrong (to step on two different colored floor tiles at the same time).”

    And what can be harder is when there is a feedback loop between the various forms of illness. For example, my OCD compulsions would often significantly reduce my anxiety. Except that once I finished my compulsions, I’d get depressed because I hadn’t been strong enough to not give in to my OCD. Which would then make me anxious…

    The point of all of this is that mental illness–regardless of all the unkind words one might hear–isn’t the end of the world. If you’re reading this and thinking you’re the only one suffering, YOU’RE NOT.

    There IS help. It might take months, it might even take years, but the right combination of treatments are out there, waiting. You WILL find them.

    Don’t give up.

  5. Carol Elaine says:

    Shawn, you’re awesome. And there is nothing to be embarrassed about or ashamed of.

    While I have depression and anxiety in spades (thank you, broken brain), I don’t *think* I got the OCD part of the trifecta. Or, if I do, it’s pretty damned mild, because I really don’t like it when things are asymmetrical, but I can (usually) just let it go.

    For instance, near our condo’s front door, there’s a set of three light switches: one for the porch light, one for the stairs leading up to the first floor and one for the stairs leading down to the garage. I *really* don’t like it if one of the switches is pointing in the opposite direction from the other two, unless it’s the switch in the middle, because then it’s all symmetrical. (Otherwise, all can be pointing down or pointing up). But though it drives me crazy (heh), I’ve managed to force myself to not run up and down the stairs to get them all lined up. (I’m sure the meds I’m taking for depression and anxiety help a lot.)

    It’s not like ALL asymmetrical things bother me. Just things like that those light switches.

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