May 18, 2013

antidepressants. Also, Descartes is still a jerk.

The chemical structure of venlafaxine (Effexor...
The chemical structure of venlafaxine (Effexor), an SNRI (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
So today I refilled my antidepressants. Several days before they actually run out, natch. Usually when I do this, I will tell my Mom and/or husband that I picked up my "happy pills" or my "anti-crazy pills". However, thanks to several recent blog posts, I've started thinking about why I refer to them that way and whether or not I should.
Apparently, there has been a new entry in the Associated Press Stylebook about how to communicate about and define mental illness. I'm going to go on record as saying this is good. Basically, it says "Hey, maybe don't attribute absolutely everything you don't understand to mental illness, hmmmm?".


AP Stylebook, 2004 edition
AP Stylebook, 2004 edition (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This has been a long time coming, to say the least. Every time I hear this in the media or from the people around me, I cringe and wonder how long it is until I'm locked up. Even those who should know better, who should have adjusted to this concept as part of their profession, will act awkward or will callously dismiss something they don't understand as "That's CRAZY!".
 I hear it when I talk to insurance people on the phone when I'm getting no insurance. As they ask me what should surely be routine questions by now, there is a condescension in their voice, as if they are talking to a small child or someone who doesn't fully understand their own condition. As if I might flip out at any moment and slit my wrists as we speak. I see it in how the pharmacist won't meet my eyes when I pick up my meds, how they ask me hesitantly if I have any questions about the medication. This isn't my first rodeo, people. I've been taking these for 8 years now. This is just another errand on my long to-do list. Even if this was my first time picking up my meds, if this was all new to me, I don't think your demeanour would be helpful.

The Madhouse
The Madhouse (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I used to work at a facility for teenagers with serious emotional problems. Many of my coworkers made disparaging remarks about the youth in our care, even after a ridiculous amount of training meant to teach us how to deal sensitively and considerately with such things. I'd like to say that they didn't say such things in front of the children, but that's not true. A lot of these comments centred around self-harming behaviors, such as cutting. No matter how many sessions we intended that were meant to educate us on better understanding these behaviours and how to approach them, my coworkers would inevitably say "That's just crazy! Anyone who does that must be sick." etc. They didn't know that I was listening, that they made me feel ashamed of my own self-harm, that I was horrified that those who were well-educated in these matters, who were supposed to be helping the kids dealing with these problems, were instead disgusted by them. Worse, they seemed to feel that it was perfectly okay to feel and act this way and that it was, in fact, the only reasonable reaction.

U.S. Library of Congress DIX, DOROTHEA LYNDE. ...
U.S. Library of Congress DIX, DOROTHEA LYNDE. Retouched photograph. date found on item. Location: Biographical File Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-9797 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
But the fact is, I do it too. Maybe not as maliciously, maybe not as obviously, but I do. I call people 'insane'. I call courses of action 'insane'. I call myself 'insane'. I usually do it in a joking manner, but does that really excuse it? I, of all people, should know that mental illness is not a joke. Does making it a joke make it easier for me, a person who truly does question my own sanity at times? Does it make it less scary, less intimidating? Maybe. But it also gives other people permission to not take mental illness seriously. And maybe that's what I want. Maybe admitting to other people that I'm scared is, well, scary. Maybe it's just too much trouble to try to explain myself and the things I struggle with and to correct the many misconceptions people have. Maybe I don't want to see that panicked look of pity on their face...again.
We fear what we don't understand, right? So I guess it's easier to just dismiss anything we don't understand as the result of a broken mind. And many people's minds are broken. But not beyond repair. Like I said, I do it too. Maybe in a smaller way, but I do. When it is late at night and my husband is delirious with sleep, talking in a silly voice, I tell him he's crazy. Why? Because I don't understand what he's saying. And then we giggle and go to bed(maybe). But maybe my doing that makes it easier for other people to do that too, in a bigger way. Like my coworkers who didn't understand why someone would self harm, and therefore assumed that anyone who would do so was a lunatic. Despite much information to the contrary, they wouldn't even think about the possibility that it was a (maladaptive) coping mechanism. It was much easier to generalise, slap a label on it, and put it out of their mind, content in their own superiority because THEY weren't crazy.

English: Jericho House Long stay care for adul...
English: Jericho House Long stay care for adults with mental illness and /or alcohol dependence (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
By making a joke about mental illness, we also relegate it to the fringes, to the stuff of fiction. It's a plot device, something that happens in movies and television shows, or in distant news stories. It's not something that the person next door, the person across the desk, the runner next to you, or your best friend could possibly be dealing with. It's outside your monkeysphere, so you couldn't possibly be hurting anyone you KNOW with your comments.
But you are. When I started to realise that I might have clinical depression, I was incredibly reluctant to admit it. Why? I didn't want to be labelled. I didn't want to be carted off to an institution. I didn't want anyone cramming pills down my throat. I was afraid to even talk to anyone about it. I was afraid to go to therapy. I was afraid to even try antidepressants, because I thought they would make me a zombie. This was all due to misconceptions spread by the media and by ignorant people running their mouths. I was also afraid of stigma. I was afraid that I would become nothing more than a diagnosis to the people I knew and loved, who I hoped loved me. I was afraid I would be defined by my depression. That I would become a thing, to be hidden away and talked about in hushed voices. At one point, I was afraid that I WAS nothing more than the depression, that there was no more of the real me left, that perhaps the real me had never existed at all. The disease eroded my soul. Antidepressants gave me, as my husband so eloquently says "the freedom to by myself" again.
But that may never have happened if I had allowed the stigma to be an insurmountable obstacle. People who are already hurting don't need further obstacles in the way of getting better. The disease itself is enough of an obstacle already. People with mental illness are not acceptable targets for anyone's jokes or disdain. Their struggles should not be trivialised.
Unfortunately, what we say starts with what is in our heart. Luke 6:45 says "The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks." But I think it's also a cyclical thing. I think that what we hear and what we say can change our hearts and that then saying the right thing will come easier and more naturally. So I want to start by watching what I say. I want to speak words that make others feel accepted, relaxed, and welcome. After all, as Amy Simpson points out in her her.meneutics article (which inspired this post), Proverbs 16:24 tells us "Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body."
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