Workplace

When False Information On A Meme Makes You Angry… by Stephanie Paige

The other day on Facebook I came across a meme… actually calling it a meme is too nice. I came across a shitty ad that basically told me and others that are Mentally Ill and medicated that we are now drug addicts. While addiction is a Mental Illness, I have not been diagnosed with it. I am a long time Depressive and Anxiety-ridden Mom that will fully disclose any part of my history because people need to know what it is really like to be Mentally Ill.

When I saw this, I was outraged, furious, and this was at 10 am on a weekday morning in my cubicle at work:

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What made this worse, was this was the pinned post in this group ‘The Free Thought Project’. My blood was boiling. I wanted to break something. Instead, I decided to use this as an opportunity to educate.

I have seen many versions of this ad before (see below) consciously telling people that medication is evil and while I find them offensive, it didn’t hit me as hard as saying I now have a “lifelong addiction”:

 

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Is medication shit? Well, I will flat-out admit I wish I didn’t have to take it, but comparing it to the stuff that would be on my daughter’s diaper years and years ago is a bit much.

Nature as an antidepressant… I agree wholeheartedly that nature is very rewarding.  I am an avid walker and hiker (and snowshoe-er in the cold winter months).  I love being outside.  After a hike, I usually find myself rejuvenated, feeling alive and most importantly happy.  A hike or a walk outside at lunch can ‘turn my frown upside down’.  There are just a couple of things wrong with this statement:  Nature does not have the same effect on everyone and when you are severely depressed. It ain’t going to work. Trust me, I’ve been there.

Being an Alpha personality, a control freak, a perfectionist, I will fully admit that I hated being on meds.  I couldn’t fathom the idea that a little pill (or four) controlled me.  I was only ‘normal’ because of them.  I thought I could get better without them.  I was wrong… very, very wrong.

The first time I was prescribed medication was shortly after my 18th birthday.  It came in the form of a half-white and half-aqua capsule known as Prozac.  I was quickly told not to tell anyone I was taking it.  This was after I held a case cutter I stole from work to my wrist debating whether I should live or die.  This event, I was also told, to not speak of.  Ah, you got to love the stigma associated with being Mentally Ill.  Because of this, I thought medication was wrong, bad, sinful.  How stupid of me.

It wasn’t until my recent episode of Major Depressive Disorder and Severe Anxiety almost three years ago, that while getting better I finally said: “Screw it!”  I didn’t care who knew.  If I had a megaphone, I would probably be screaming it.  There is nothing wrong with being medicated.  I really should create (or order if it exists) a shirt that reads: “Medicated & Proud Of It”.

These people who create these offensive and naïve memes have no idea what it is really like to live with these conditions.  Because it is invisible it doesn’t actually exist.  Because there is no official blood test or genetic test, we all must be making it up.  It is all in our heads… why yes, it is.  Because of a lack of Serotonin, something produced in my brain (i.e. my head) I live daily with two severe illnesses.  I am not making it up.  Who would make up paying monthly for medications, weekly psychiatrist & therapy appointments, being hospitalized, becoming severely delusional, considering hurting or killing yourself?!  Yes, I totally want all of this!

But we live in a society that believes Mental Illness is not on the same level as a Physical Illness.  It is okay if you take lifelong medications for illnesses such as Diabetes, Multiple Sclerosis, Lupus, and Cancer and that is not seen as an addiction.  Why is it okay for them but not for people like me?  Why am I considered ‘an addict’?  Why am I ‘faking it’?  I wonder if there was a real test that proved a Mental Illness diagnosis if these views would change.

I have weaned off medications a handful of times.  It can happen.  I lived 4 years med free before I entered into my 6th Major Depressive Episode.  Once on medication again, I took a hard look at my husband, my daughter, and my parents and told myself I didn’t want to see them suffer anymore.  I didn’t want to suffer anymore.  I decided then and there to never ever go off my antidepressant.  Lexapro and I will remain the best of friends.  I am not ashamed of my med.  Without it, I would be in a very dark place or not here at all.

To ‘The Free Thought Project’: research more on what is truth and what is fiction.  I don’t care if you lean liberal or conservative.  The Mentally Ill are a large population and by posting this, you are making us want to hide more.  Because of this, many people will stay silent.  Because of this, many people will not get the help they need.  Because of this thinking, more deaths by suicide will occur.  Remember that old adage “Stop and think before you speak”?  It would have come in handy here.

To all my fellow people with Mental Illness, please do not hide.  Do not believe a word of this absurdity.  There is help.  A walk in the woods can help, but it is not a cure.  It will not help as much as therapy and medication.  Remember:

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About Stephanie Paige: I am a mid 30-something  wife, Architectural Project Manager and most importantly, mom to a beautiful yet hormonal 10-year-old girl. My passion is the outdoors (whether hiking, snowshoeing or gardening), reading, writing, and advocating for Mental Illness & Maternal Mental Health.

My history starts at the tender age of 14 and over the last 20+ years, I have been through 6 episodes of Major Depressive Disorder, 2 episodes of Extreme Generalized Anxiety Disorder, 2 hospitalizations and a multitude of medications and therapies.

I am a repeat contributor to both Stigma Fighters and The Mighty.  I have also been a guest blogger on Postpartumprogress.com. In 2016 I was published in Stigma Fighter’s Anthology II, interviewed for an article in Esperanza Spring 2016 magazine and a contributing author for a book about Perinatal Mood Disorders, A Dark Secret.

Read more about Stephanie Paige at her site,  S. Paige Writes: Rising From The Ashes: My 20+ Years With Mental Illness

@SPaigeWrites
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I can’t afford mental health awareness, anonymous

People talk a lot about increasing awareness of mental health. The last thing I want is anyone to be aware of my mental health. I know they would immediately judge me as a mother. They would judge if I were late picking up my daughter at daycare, late to parent-teacher conferences, late to soccer practice.

Can you imagine if I got tipsy with moms who knew about my mental illness at girl’s night out? Can you imagine if I got divorced or fought with my kid in public? No way. I don’t want anyone to be aware of anything.  There is too much to lose. I need my job; I need health insurance. I need people to NOT be aware of my mental illness.

Awareness is for people who aren’t moms; or moms who don’t have to work.

anonymous

When 261,000 people fear someone “finding out”

A new study of the use of mental health care services among adults in California has been published (with full pdf text). Who Gets Needed Mental Health Care? Use of Mental Health Services among Adults with Mental Health Need in California (Tran & Ponce, 2017), examines the records of mental health consumers over four years. Findings are startling, but sadly not surprising. For example, in 2013, it was estimated that 2.2 million people in California needed mental health services. However, 77% of that 2.2 million did not receive mental health services. Nearly 8 of 10. Those at the intersection of economic security, age, learning, and language were the most impacted, including men, Latinos, older adults, and those with less education and non-English speakers (Tran & Ponce, 2017).

More specifically, stigma played a huge role in determining lack of care.

When asked why they did not see a health professional in the past year, a majority (64%; 354,000) of adults with mental health need who felt they needed help endorsed cost of treatment as a reason; 47% (261,000) indicated that they “did not feel comfortable talking with a health professional” or were concerned if “someone found out [they] had a problem;” and one of five (20%; 109,000) adults said they had difficulty getting an appointment.

When 261,000 people are afraid of someone finding out they need help for a problem, we have a problem. Imagine 261,000 people with diabetes not getting insulin because they were afraid that  someone would find out they had a problem. Imagine 261,000 people with chest pain not getting help because they were afraid someone would find out.

What would happen? A large number of them would die. We figured this out during the early days of AIDS/HIV. As the number increased, as we all began to know someone who had in one way or another been effected, we dropped fear and increased knowledge. We put research dollars to the problem. We learned what it was and was not. We embraced those infected, we supported communities devastated by the disease. We corrected each other, demanded our institutions not discriminate. We beat stigma. We saved lives.

Why not mental illness? Is the stigma of mental illness somehow different? From the research I have done over the past decade I feel comfortable saying a resounding , NO. It is the same stigma that separated lepers in Biblical times.

Stigma is not a choice, it is a rule of the road that those with mental illness know intimately. It is not merely “feeling” afraid that someone would use the information inappropriately or harmfully. It is direct knowledge that in fact they would be harmed. Stigma is not an abstract hashtag or fundraiser. Stigma is not an issue of diversity, inclusion, or fluidity on an abstract spectrum of identity. Stigma stops people who need help from getting help.

When 261,000 people who need help and can’t get it, one wonders how bad the alternative must be? Loss of family, shelter, job, relationships, food security, freedom, custody of children. As a mother, I would risk diabetes, heart attack or shark attack to avoid anything that would jeopardize my life with my children. I will follow the rules of the road; and in Los Angeles…we have freaking freeways.

Tran, L. D., & Ponce, N. A. (2017). Who Gets Needed Mental Health Care? Use of Mental Health Services among Adults with Mental Health Need in California.

What Mother’s Risk When They Disclose a Mental Illness, by Liz Coalts

3 weeks postpartum

I told the woman giving me a pedicure that I just wanted someone else to take care of my baby.  She looked at me really confused, said ‘oh’ and went back to painting my toes.  I made her uncomfortable.  I said something wrong.  Well, let’s not say something like that ever again.

6 weeks postpartum

I brought my baby in to visit my coworkers.  “OMG what a beautiful baby!!!  Don’t you just LOVE being a mom?”  Telling anyone the truth makes them uncomfortable and they don’t know how to act around me.  I’ve gotten good at this lie after 6 weeks:  big big smile, ‘yes!! It’s great’.

10 weeks postpartum

I’m alone at night changing the baby.  She’s crying and squirming.  I scream at her and hit the side of the changing table.  The rage scares me.  I’m not an angry person. A mom shouldn’t have this type of aggression. I never told anyone that until just now, over 7 years later.

6 months postpartum

I’m commiserating about the not-so-glamorous parts of motherhood with a coworker who has recently returned from maternity leave.  I tell her how I sometimes have scary thoughts about hurting my baby.  She looks worried and says how that’s not ok.

16 months postpartum and 2 months pregnant

I wish every day that I lose the baby.  I hope I see blood every time I go to the bathroom.  Then I hate myself even more for not being overjoyed at the fact that I’m pregnant.  I am a smart, educated, professional woman and I am unexpectedly pregnant.  It’s wonderful how close in age the kids will be.  It will be hard for a little while, but then we will get all the bottles, diapers and daycare will be over with.  Lies I tell other people.  I can’t risk anyone finding out how irresponsible I am.  I can’t risk them finding out the monster I really am.

18 months postpartum and 4 months pregnant

I’m giving my daughter a bath.  My husband is upstairs.  She’s sitting and splashing. I can’t stop thinking about holding her head under the water.  I take her out of the tub and put her to bed.  I stand in the hallway sobbing, mustering up the courage to tell my husband what almost happened.  He will hate me.  He will leave me.  This time things were too scary.  I find the courage and tell him.  I cry some more.  He hugs me.  He doesn’t let me go.

22 months postpartum and 8 months pregnant

After a few months of therapy and a referral to a psychiatric nurse practitioner, I am diagnosed with postpartum depression and generalized anxiety disorder.  I start taking Prozac. I tell myself that the medication is just a temporary thing.  I’ll stay on it for the rest of my pregnancy and the first 6 months postpartum.  Then I’ll be fine and won’t need this anymore.

23 months postpartum and 9 months pregnant

I have my baby 5 weeks early.  I’m in love.  Everything is wonderful.

3 months postpartum

I’m hiding my intrusive thoughts.  I don’t tell my PNP about the thoughts this time because I don’t want her to increase my medications again.  I find myself being envious of an athlete who killed himself.  My therapist has me call my husband and he takes me to the emergency room.  I’m admitted to the psychiatric ward and I stay there for 5 days.

6 months postpartum

I tell my supervisor I can’t handle managing my project anymore.  It is high profile and high risk but I’ve overseen it for years so me handing it off to someone else will be complicated.  The managers in my chain of command are notified of my postpartum depression so that the proper decision is made.  I ultimately decide to keep the project and my managers let me.

85 months postpartum

I still take Prozac every day.  My doctor and I have tried to wean me from it but it causes me to slip into a depression.  So, I just keep it at a steady 40 milligrams.  My kids are healthy.  My husband and I are happy (right honey??)  I continue to be successful in my career.  I have spoken publicly about my struggles with mental illness.  I know I’ve touched the lives of people I will never meet.

Remaining silent about my mental illness, I thought I was risking:  my reputation, my career, how people perceived me, my ability to be a mom, my ability to be a wife…but I was risking my health and the health of my children.  There is so much about the first few years of my children’s lives that I don’t really remember.  I was either hiding, obsessing, sleeping or just numb.

Disclosing my mental illness wasn’t easy.  I didn’t just suddenly start posting on my Facebook wall about my struggles.  It took time.  I wish I had spoken up sooner.  There was no need for me to struggle like I did.

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Liz writes @ www.theanxiousadult.com. You can find Elizabeth @ecoalts on Twitter;  and Facebook https://www.facebook.com/LizCoalts

Happy Mother’s Day, Liz. xoxo, STIGMAMA