Sunday, October 21, 2007

I'm Real But Am I Mental?

Mental illness is a thorny subject. I come from a fairly practical line of folk so my gut reaction to people who claim depression, OCD, panic, anxiety, bipolar disorder or the like and get medicated for it is to be suspicious at best. Then my brain kicks in and tells me how judgy and ridiculous that is. I have family members who are medicated (and thank the good lord) and friends whose lives are made immensely better with therapy both talky and pilly. I know this stuff works. Sometimes I even think about how it might work for me.

I went to my first "therapy" appointment when I was in grade school and I had a perfectly normal little kid meltdown over some issues with a friend. My mother sent me to the guidance counselor to get me treated.

I went to my last therapy appointment when I was 19 or 20 and my parents were in probably their 7th or 8th year of separation. It was a family appointment with my mom's therapist (I now know how utterly uncool and likely unethical this is). My mom sat alone in a chair at the side shivering and freaking. My father and I sat at extreme opposite ends of a couch. He tried not to cry and I tried not to vomit. We were both largely successful. Fairly early on in the appointment my father likened his relationship to me with his relationship to P (his now wife, then girlfriend). The therapist stopped him before he could elaborate and asked, "Because you're having sex with her?" I don't remember even one other thing from the appointment, I'm fairly certain I never spoke at all. And, clearly I haven't forgiven anyone for making me be there and experience that (go me!).

In between I saw school counselors and therapists and psychiatrists for everything from college counseling to panic attacks.

What I'm getting at is that my experiences have been long and varied but never good. With this evidence behind me in talking to counselors the thought of allowing one of these yahoos to suggest medication to put in my body is preposterous.

And yet, when I can't go into the reptile house at the zoo or I lie in bed and talk myself out of bombing fantasies when the planes fly overhead or I have to leave a table when a political discussion gets too heated I wonder where, were I evaluated, I would end up on the crazy scale. Obviously I'm functioning fine and don't think about hurting or killing myself, I don't call in sick to work more than twice a year so I'm guessing I'd be pretty low down there.

This here internet has a little bit of everything, though. Have you noticed? I started to notice how every other blog is by someone who is medicated for something or other. That's not all the person blogs about and I don't have to live with these people and experience the pain day by day so I can listen and care and learn without it affecting me. Now that I read that it sounds horrifying but I'm going to trust that you understand that I mean that it's easier to learn without the static of real life. Ok, still doesn't sound good. I'm sorry, I'll work on it.

In any case I have been reading Jen and Schmutzie and Dooce and Leah and a number of other bloggers who are extremely open about their struggles with mental illness. Some of them created a new site after Blogher this year. A small group of prolific bloggers with similar struggles contribute to the clearing house of personal stories on Real Mental. I can't recommend enough these individual blogs or their collective one. Go. Read. I'll wait here.


  1. We are all very open here about our mentalness.
    Me, Jane, Gertrude and most recently Harriot. Although she is still pretty shy.
    Sybil, OCD, overbearing, controlling, turrets...
    Counseling does not work for me.
    Its too judgemental and it forces me to invent new ways to fuck with the therapist just to amuse myself. And then I feel guilty.

    I have been medicated. My family Doc gave me Lexapro and Effexor and all those little blue pills and I went up and down on a roller coaster ride.

    After I got off the ride... I decided... for me, my body and my many selves... its best to self medicate with liquor and long drives in the country.
    I don't think I want to say that makes it any less valid for someone that it works for... therapy or pills.
    I am sure it can help.
    I am too crazy for it. Which I am willing to live with, just not soberly.
    Working on the family discount for the Betty.

  2. Anonymous9:30 AM

    I think it's no accident and actually reflects a big change in mental health services, partially due to a very necessary move to "community-based" and "client" centered treatment. (As opposed to a medical model.)

    I had the same thought, and last year gave a presentation to about 25 of my fellow future mental health workers about the potential therapeutic benefits of blogging and other forms of self-publishing in terms of self-reflection and the potential for mutual support and advocacy.