Since nobody actually asks me any of my Not-So-Frequently Asked Questions, I’ve decided to address what they do say. When I tell people about my illness and my symptoms, everyone has something to say. Here’s what I would have liked to ask in response to your daft ignorance.
A: You used to be so [smart, happy, responsible, etc.].
Q: Would you tell a woman with cancer that she used to be so beautiful? I know that I’ve changed. In fact, that’s the point of a serious mental illness; it impairs my ability to be me. I used to be intimidatingly smart, but now I can barely read. I genuinely enjoyed so much of my life between depressive episodes, so of course I was happy. I used to be much more responsible when my life felt worthwhile.
A: Just cheer up! Positive thinking is a powerful thing.
Q: If positive thinking is a powerful thing, how do you think I feel living with oppressively negative thinking? I’ve tried cheering up. In fact, I tried it for years and years and years. And it does work on a certain level. It works right until the underlying illness progresses to such a serious state that it rips through your facade. When it’s just a bad day, faking it does work. When your brain no longer produces the chemicals necessary for happiness, there’s nothing to fake. Most often, people with depressive illnesses have faked happiness for too long.
A: Have you been taking your vitamins? Are you eating well and sleeping regularly? Do you get enough exercise?
Q: Have you? Why do you assume that my mental illness can be cured so simply? I take more vitamins than you can imagine: 2 fish oil DHA, 2 fish oil EPA, 2 Vitamin C chewables, 2 vitamin D capsules, and 2 multivitamins with iron each day and 1 GLA capsule a week. I am 23 and I have a pill organizers. This regimen was recommended by my primary care doctor not to address any diagnosed issue of mine but rather to mimic a fairly successful depression treatment. As for my sleep, I’ve gotten better. I have to force myself to get between 7-8 hours of sleep a night, but I have dreadful insomnia, frequently wake up, and feel absolutely leaden each morning. I also do my best to eat fruit and vegetables, but making even a sandwich is an dumbfounding endeavor with depression. Cereal is gourmet for me. We all know I don’t get enough exercise, but I do my best to walk and move. We are all doing our best. I have an illness that makes sleeping, eating properly, and exercising extra difficult.
A: You shouldn’t take those pills. You know they damage your brain.
Q: When did you get your medical degree? You seem to know more than my highly experienced physician, psychiatrist, and psychologist. But really, yes they could damage my brain. All medicines have side effects. When a doctor prescribes a medicine, he or she sees that the damage your condition is doing is worse than the risk of side effects. My medications have horrifying side effects – go ahead and google the side effects of any common psychotropic medication. Some of my favorite side effects are the nausea, drowsiness, dizziness, clumsiness, brain fog, dry mouth, jitters, and best of all, exacerbated mania. But what’s worse is the actual damage depression does to my brain. People have actually documented the degradation of the depressed brain resulting in impaired emotional response, poor memory, reduced decision making, and slow thinking. Hell, even as I write this I feel the slowness of my thinking, the lack of attention and logic running through my thoughts, and my inabiliyt to remember simple speling. I should take my pills because they make my life better. They could damage my brain, but so does untreated depression.
A: Have you tried [ridiculous herbal remedy]?
Q: Did it work for you? I’m thrilled you’ve experienced breakthrough in your illness with an herbal supplement. However, my doctors have recommended that I stay very far from any substance that could influence my brain chemistry. Yes, this even includes alcohol, pot, cigarettes, caffeine (although that’s impossible), aspartame (haha), and even some over the counter cold medicines. My psychiatrist explained that my brain chemistry is very sensitive (also why I take fairly small doses of non-typical medications). I seem to react opposite than expected with many psychotropic meds. Therefore, my reaction to these substances on a day to day basis is unpredictable and potentially destabilizing. I don’t get to fuck around with my brain anymore. It’s having its turn fucking around with me.
A: Mental healthcare is terrible in the U.S. today.
Q: Did you watch the news last night? Because duh, it is obviously terrible. More importantly, I’m glad you took the opportunity to redirect my illness into your political agenda. I struggle with finding good doctors who listen to my needs, I struggle with my insurance that determines just how much care I can receive if I’m not an imminent threat to myself or others, and I struggle with paying for necessary treatment that many consider a luxury. This shit ain’t cheap. I’ve had more bad doctors than good. My insurance referred me to the same doctors that the court sends people to. Please, listen to my struggle with the mental healthcare system before pontificating on the dangers of inadequate of mental health treatment. Most importantly, don’t you dare imply that mentally ill people are dangerous.