“I don’t really believe in mental illness,” I said. This is always a great way to start off a conversation with psychiatrists. You can almost see the smoke come off of their pencils as they try to write fast enough about how crazy you are. I wasn’t joking, though. I was on psychiatrist #4, and I still didn’t believe in mental illness.
I perched on the edge of my comfy blue chair and eyed the kleenex box next to me. I wondered if psychiatrists get immune to people crying sort of like kindergarten teachers do. Kids cry all the time, so I’ll secretly think things such as, “I’m sorry Timmy took your cookies, but actually I don’t care. Stop crying.” I wondered if psychiatrists have also become jaded and learned not to care. I made a mental note not to cry, just in case. I looked around at the “calming” decorations: beach scenes in frames and a random fake plant in the corner. A plethora of degrees on the wall behind the psychiatrist’s desk were hung proudly to make me think she knows what she’s talking about.
“It’s like this,” I continued. “I see people all the time posting on facebook and twitter and such, ‘love me because I have an anxiety disorder,’ or ‘how to love a person with depression,’ or ‘my depression is really bad today, so everyone be nice.’ I mean, it seems like they wear their ‘illness’ as a badge of honor, a way to get attention. It’s an excuse to be an asshole without having to apologize. That’s dumb. I’m a teacher, and the teachers at my school offer around xanax like tic tacs. I realize we have a stressful job, but come on. We’re not all mentally ill. People just need to learn how to deal with their lives better. People who broadcast their ‘mental illnesses’ drive me nuts.”
My psychiatrist stopped writing to look me straight in the eye. “There may be people like that in the world, and they may be annoying, but I would rather work with someone like that than someone like you, because you just tried to kill yourself and still refuse to believe you have a problem.”
Oooooh snap. Shut down by my shrink.
I mumbled something along the lines of “good point” and sank back into the chair. I wasn’t going to get out of this one easily. My vision blurred, and I grabbed a kleenex. Stupid psychiatrists and their stupid kleenexes.
“What kind of meds have you been on?” she asked.
“All of them,” I answered. “I don’t remember them all. Name one. I’ve probably been on it.”
I’d been diagnosed with depression and anxiety multiple times over the years, I’d taken medications with varying degrees of little to no success, and I’d given up on ever getting better. I’d just tried to kill myself the day before, and I’d been dragged to this psychiatrist pretty much against my will. I mean, not literally kicking or screaming or anything, but when one doesn’t have any will to live, it’s basically like, “Fine. Another doctor? I don’t want to go, but I also don’t actually care.”
She ran down a standard list of medications. Prozac? Yep. Zoloft? Uh huh. Klonopin? Of course. Xanax? Got a collection. You get the idea. So many pills, so little time in a one hour appointment.
Finally she asked if I’d been on oxcarbazepine. Umm…no? Is that even English? Did she just make that one up as a trick to say if I’d say yes to everything, even random made-up words? The answer, however, was no. I had not been on that drug.
She asked if I’d be willing to try it. That’s like when the teacher asks you, “Would you like to give the answer to #5?” You can’t very well just say, “No.” I said fine, that I would take it. I can’t say I had a lot of hope that it would be any different (my resume of drugs taken was impressively long with very little results, as you may recall). I took the prescription, got the pills, and immediately googled two things:
- Can I overdose on this drug? (No)
- What is the success rate for this drug? (Pretty good…for bipolar disorder)
Bipolar disorder? What? I obviously didn’t have bipolar disorder.
(If you haven’t already figured this out, I was also a pretentious idiot)
If I had anything (which I didn’t believe), then it was depression, not bipolar disorder. I was incredibly uninformed about this disease. I thought it just meant that people got really moody – happy one minute and furious the next. Basically PMS on steroids. I had no idea that bipolar people could sometimes go days without sleeping for no apparent reason (which I had absolutely done) and be super productive. I didn’t know that it made them act completely out of character for themselves sometimes for weeks on end, and that they could then crash into a horrible depression. I didn’t know that bipolar disorder can go undiagnosed for an average of ten years before stumbling on a correct diagnosis. No one goes to a doctor to say, “My life feels absolutely perfect and I just solved a bunch of problems by staying up for a week straight.” They go to a doctor when they feel depressed, hence the misdiagnosis.
My psychiatrist is very smart. I think she knew that if she told me I had bipolar disorder, I wouldn’t have believed her. I would have refused to take the drugs and decided she was the crazy one, not me. Only a few days after I started taking them, though, I felt like I woke up from a years long coma. For the first time in a very, very long time, I could think clearly. I could be rational. It was strange.
Isn’t that sad?
This blog is my way of reaching out to two groups of people. The first is to people who have a mental illness or love someone who does. I am just starting down this road, and it’s scary as hell. I hate knowing that my brain can’t function properly without drugs. I hate thinking that I will probably have to deal with this for the rest of my life. I guess, selfishly, I’m looking for anyone out there who can give me a “me too” or a “been there” or a “you can do this.”
I’m also writing this for people who are like I was only a few months ago. I fully subscribed to the “ignore mental illness and it will go away” philosophy, and I am now a true convert who knows firsthand how damaging that view can be. I almost lost my life over it. I would like to help other people know that mental illness is serious, it should be taken seriously, and they should stop shaming those of us who have to struggle silently.
Lastly, I’m writing this blog because in all the research I’ve done, a bipolar disorder diagnosis looks bleak. I’ve stumbled across all sorts of (varying degrees of accurate) statistics that say things like I have a 100x greater chance of killing myself than someone without the disorder. It says I have a high probability of ending up in a mental institution. It says I will probably get divorced. I’m not okay with any of these things. I want to read a blog that says, “I have bipolar disorder, but don’t worry – I’m kicking its ass.” I don’t see one out there, so I’m writing one. I’m about to kick some bipolar ass, and I’d love to have you follow this blog and be on my team.