Thursday, October 23, 2014

Just Choose to Be Happy

Two days ago

My psychiatrist: "How are you feeling?"

Me: "Really good."

P: "Yes?"

Me: "Yes. I really am great. It's been an amazingly stressful few months, but I'm actually handling it well."

P: (Looks at me to go on.)

Me: "I just... I don't know how to describe it, but I'm thinking clearly. Rationally. I feel calm! Life isn't easy and the stress is hard sometimes, but I'm able to be rational about it. I can think through it and move on. When I think about it, I can see what I was last year, I can see how irrational I was, and the comparison is incredible. I'm... grateful. I'm feeling really good."


I've noticed that people without mental illness have a hard time understanding how it works. I've heard phrases online, in person, and in essays: "Just exercise more." "Just get up earlier and go about your day." "Just choose to be happy." "Just focus on the positive." "Just... just... just..."

I was even accused last month that I was perpetuating this way of thinking simply because I insisted that learning to forget myself and serve other people was helping me get better. Which it was/did. But I'm not an idiot and my experiences are real and raw. I know it's not easy. Believe you, me, I've always wished it could be that easy. I tried everything. I've gone the holistic route, I've gone the exercise route, I've gone the positive thinking route. But this is what it's like, dear reader:

When I'm sick: I'm delusional, irrational, look for offense, dwell on unkind things, focus on the past, can't think about the future, hide in my home, get angry at everything everyone says or does, cry a lot,  stay in dark rooms, ignore friends, lose friends, ignore family, forget appointments/events, have no energy, stop exercising, stop eating well, forget to eat, eat too much, and pray A LOT.

When I'm well: I'm focused, rational, able to differentiate between intentions and actions, forgive more easily, laugh, curb my anger, make goals, think clearly, make friends, go out often, leave the past in the past, move forward, serve others, enjoy work, exercise, eat healthy, use the energy I have, and incidentally, still pray A LOT.

The difference is staggering. And I've gone back and forth for many years.

So, why, if made well, would any mentally ill person ever go back to being sick? There are a lot of reasons. Here are mine (and it's the most common):

1. I go off my medication because I think I'm better.
2. I stop going to therapy because I think I'm better.

The End.

I know there are a lot of people who think mental illness can be controlled by prayer and faith. I used to think so, too --doesn't the Atonement cover everything? (Big question to ponder when it comes to this.) But I found myself (more than once) in suicidal-land (seriously contemplating it, although never planning it). For me (and many more like me), professional medical help was the only thing that made the biggest difference. I'm also convinced that the Atonement covers everything, but we're also commanded to do things. Faith is a verb, dear reader. God can't steer a parked car.

A friend told me it's like this: If your arm was cut off and you were bleeding, do you think you'd beg God to just save you, or would you do what you could to get medical attention so they could stop the bleeding?

Another metaphor: If your child broke their arm, would you expect the Atonement to fix it, or would you take them to the doctor to get fixed?

Another: What if you ended up with an infection? Like... ebola?! Or something slow-moving, like some cancers? Would you rely only on prayer to fix it? Wouldn't you use the power of the Priesthood and medical help?

How is mental illness different from any other physical disease or broken-ness? It's part of the mortal body. It can be broken --and mended.

I don't think that means that people can only get better the medication way, nor do I think that means it's the only thing that has changed me for the better. I know people who have been able to eradicate cancer and mental illness through only holistic means --a very rigid diet and routine. But for me, and for many of my friends and family members who have faced mental illness, medication has been what works best. At the very least, it has given me an edge in order to be who I am supposed to me, and that's, well, me.

I absolutely believe that the reason I've gotten healthy is also because of prayer. The prayers of my parents and siblings and husband. Prayers of friends. They prayed for me and then convinced me to see a psychiatrist. God answered my prayers and asked me to seek psychiatric help, too (when I was able to listen, because let's be honest, feeling the Spirit is also incredibly hard when I'm really sick). Because of psychiatric help, medication, and therapy, I've also found I do other healthy things that are helping, like:

*read my scriptures almost every day
*pray more regularly and rationally (not just crying out for everything to just stop)
*serve other people, thereby learning about the gift of sacrifice and how losing myself is finding myself, thereby not dwelling on my sickness (which always makes it worse)
*lessen my priorities and stress --give myself time to heal, stop comparing myself to others (this one is really hard), be gentle with myself, change my thought processes and language, being kinder to my family, and focus on what I am doing well/right.

I am also asthmatic. Asthma is a good disease because I immediately feel the effects when I'm not taking care of it. Unlike mental illness, it's quick to remind me to "take my meds right now!!" If I forget even one day of medication, I find myself having trouble breathing. The cause/effect is incredibly easy to detect. So, I make sure I take it. (It's also much safer for my baby to take my regular meds than to use my albuterol often.)

The only time I ever ended up in the hospital for my asthma was about a year after I was diagnosed and I had decided to wean myself off of my medication because I was "better." (See the theme?) I ended up with pneumonia (in the month of June!) and was hospitalized for a few days. It was horrible because I had a nursing baby at the time! (It was #2 and she was only 4 months old.) The next time I stopped taking meds for asthma was when I was in the depths of depression (umm, last year) and I was overwhelmed with finding new doctors due to the move (another sign of my illness) and that leaked into a regular doctor who could prescribe asthma meds. I was a mess. Depressed beyond belief and not being able to walk up the stairs without nearly dying (seriously, I was using my rescue inhaler every two hours or so for those few months). It was pathetically sad because I didn't have to be in that place. 

The answer for me, honestly, was to just get some help --for both physical problems. Within days, I was breathing well again (and have been fine ever since), and within a few weeks, my brain was rational again. I mean, it's hard enough being a mom of six kids and being pregnant again without all the pain of my chronic illnesses, eh?

The goal: To remember all of this and maintain my mental and physical health as best as I can by utilizing all that I've experienced and all that I have access to... 


bythelbs said...

I love you.

swedemom said...

When I am depressed, I feel darkness and deep despair. I literally cannot feel love from other people, let alone Heavenly Father.

When I am not depressed, I feel light and understanding. I feel love from others and from Heavenly Father.

Many years ago, I ran out of thyroid medication and didn't bother to get a new doctor or a new prescription. I was totally overwhelmed with my life at the point. I didn't feel sick, so I didn't prioritize getting my medication.

That threw me into one of the darkest periods of depression I have ever experienced. It was so bad that I contemplated walking away from my family. In my mind, I could see how dysfunctional I was and how that was hurting my husband and children. I rationalized that they would all be better without me.

It took a miracle for me to see light. When one morning the fog lifted for a brief period, I realized that I needed to get to a doctor immediately. Sitting in the office of a endocrinologist was humbling. I wept as I explained what I had been experiencing. He did my blood work, but didn't hesitate to start me on medication immediately, because I needed help right then--not after the bloodwork came back.

I understand medication isn't a cure all, but it can ease the challenges significantly.

Thanks for sharing your experiences and being open about your life. I know it helps me.

The Wright Family said...

You are amazing. Carry on!

Mother of the Wild Boys said...

It is so clear to me that YOU know how to take care of YOU. Through all these years of our friendship, I've seen that your problems have always come when you are trying to make your choices match with someone else's opinion/experience. NOBODY has more experience with YOUR body & YOUR mind & YOUR soul than you. I am so proud of you for recognizing this and standing up for yourself and your health.

Handsfullmom said...

This is such an important message. Thank you for sharing your heart and experiences. I'm sharing this on my blog as well.

Jenny Evans said...

Thanks for this! You have a wonderful way with words. I gained a better appreciation of what my friends/family members who deal with depression really go through; I can imagine that this post would be very reassuring to someone who struggles with depression, too. I'm definitely hanging on to the URL of this post - I have a feeling it'll be helpful to refer to later on!