Thursday, 31 July 2014
It's not all in your head
So, I've always been pretty open about the fact that I've got issues. Sometimes I joke about people needing to take their medication every day, not just on special occasions. It's true that more people than you'd think are walking around either with mental health issues, or they love someone who does.
I once tried to explain to a friend what was wrong with me, and he said 'why don't you just think yourself better'. I said 'well, you're diabetic, can't you just think your insulin all back to normal?' He was confused and said that he could not do that because it was a medical condition.
There's the rub.
If you can't see it, if it's not a 'real' illness like diabetes, a heart problem, a cast on your arm, then people can dismiss it as something you could control if you just sucked it up.
That's like saying you can fix your eyesight if you squint really hard.
We have special parking spots for handicapped people, we have accessible buildings and accommodations for folks with autism, and we'd never (hopefully) dream of acting like they all aren't welcome.
But if you suffer from a mental illness (and I hate that term because I think it lumps everyone together) then people can dismiss you. It's hard to figure out how to help people who aren't like everyone else, and what sucks is that a some people who need help won't seek it, won't keep taking the meds that help them, and will end up feeling worse instead of better. Or they'll turn to alcohol or other 'recreational' drugs to help them cope.
From the woman who recently threw her child into a lake (I can't even read about it, it makes me cry) to the young man shot on a bus, there's extreme cases of mental illness everywhere. I hate to say it, but people who make the news make others not want to seek help or speak out. Would you want to be lumped in with a murderer, a psychopath, an abuser? Would you worry about losing your job if you were a police officer, a teacher, a pilot?
From personal experience I can say that some mental illness starts when you're a kid. I've probably had OCD most of my life, and I never knew. Not because I wasn't 'doing' OCD type stuff, but because I didn't know any different. I've always been who I am.
OCD is one of those illnesses that people feel like they can joke about. You can say I should come clean YOUR house for a change, put me in charge of planning events, ask me where the charger for the Nintendo is. However, sometimes I'd rather you didn't tease me. Asking me if I know if I locked the front door after we're on the highway? If I unplugged the hair straightener or blew out the candle when we're already at the restaurant? Simply mean.
It wasn't until I went on medication and got some therapy that I understood that what was 'normal' for me wasn't for everyone. It also helped me see that 'normal' isn't really anything anyone is. We're all a little different.
That said, some kinds of mental illness don't really have a 'funny' side. Postpartum depression, anxiety, psychosis. Anything where you feel the need to hurt someone else, or you can't see a way out other than hurting yourself. What sucks is sometimes you don't know you've spiraled down, because it's gradual and before you know it you're mired in a swamp of crap.
You can't ask for help because someone will take your child, they'll trust you less at work, the side effects of medication suck.
There's a difference between needing to check the locks in your house 15 times and harming yourself or someone else. Young people especially, with the mix of hormones and peer pressure, society and brain chemicals, tend to be overlooked and told they'll 'grow out of' whatever issues are bothering them. People say that kids have nothing to worry about, that they can't have real problems because they just have to go to school and come home. Well, when the inside of your head is messing with you, when your thoughts won't shut up to let people you love speak, when you can't feel without extremes, it doesn't matter if you're 12 or 42. The kids that don't grow out of these problems grow up to be the adults that never learned to cope.
I'm running in the RBC Run for the Kids as an Ambassador on September 20, 2014. They are raising funds for the Family Navigation Project at Sunnybrook Hospital. The Project helps families with kids at risk find treatment and helps them sort out the confusing options available.
As a mom, I want nothing more than for my son to never feel like I did. I want him to know that he can come to me with anything, ask my anything, and I'll be there. Am I watching for signs of my genetics in him? Yep.
There's a culture of people who don't want to admit they have a child with a problem. They feel like they've failed, they've got a kid that's broken, their friends will gossip. Or worse, they know, they want to help, and they don't know what to do.
We can't do anything if we don't admit we have a problem. We can do even less if we don't accept that sometimes other people aren't what they appear to be.
Run with me, if you can. Donate to the cause, if you'd like to. Be patient with yourself, and each other, please.