guest post by Alex McGilvery
Eighteen months ago I worked full time as a minister, wrote books and edited two or three books a month for other people. Today it’s a struggle to get up in the morning. I work on a bit of editing, and occasionally get some of my own writing done.
It started as pain, the more we treated it the worse it got. I finally decided to stop all the pain meds to learn just how bad the underlying issue was. In the meantime, pain spiraled into depression which had me staring at the ceiling trying to find the energy to get up in the morning.
At the same time, I started struggling with words and memory, and self-discipline had vanished as if I’d suddenly become ADHD. It was all just too much work. I went on disability just before I began the process of quitting the pain meds.
So we started on treatment for depression the same way we did for pain. By throwing medications at it to see what worked. Like the pain, the meds made it worse. Living with a constant mild headache and trying to drag my butt out of bed is no fun, but the next step is to drop all the anti-depressants and hope, like the pain, the problem isn’t as bad under the surface. I’m working with my therapist on alternatives as talk is as important as medication in treatment of depression.
Life is a strange thing. When I’m out in the community, and I’m pushing myself to get out more, the days I’m feeling really bad are when people tell me I’m looking good. When I don’t feel so bad, I hear I look awful. I’m not worried about it, frankly it is nice to be noticed and know my friends are thinking about me.
I would dearly love to be back at work, but being able to work an hour or two a day on editing doesn’t translate into taking on a full-time high-stress job. Same with being out in the community for concerts and such.
Let’s step back and look at the larger picture. Many of the people around you every day have or will struggle with some form of mental illness. It usually isn’t visible, it isn’t a weakness in their personality. Depression is pervasive, but bi-polar, personality disorders and more surround us too. Without simple tests, diagnosis is challenging at best.
What do we do to help? As I said, I appreciate knowing I’m not invisible, and that people listen if I’m up to talking about what is going on. Acknowledging the struggle without trying to fix things is great too. I can’t tell you how many well-meaning people have suggested things they’ve seen or heard of working.
Believe me, I’ve tried just about every legal solution, but it is slow-going. One thing at a time, so I know what is helping and what isn’t.
In our society mental illness is both stigmatized and put into an overly small box. Look at how many articles on mental illness only talk about depression, as if that is the only way our minds get sick. Even depression is not overwhelming sadness, it involves anxiety, pain, loss of energy, disconnection from all emotions, and from people and more.
Last thing, the vast majority of people with mental illness are not dangerous, in fact, they are more vulnerable than the rest of the population. Their behaviour may discomfort us, but under that, they are still human. Treating them as such makes our society more human too.
Alex McGilvery is an author and book reviewer. He loves stories and working with people to develop their stories. He lives in Flin Flon with his wife and two dogs and his son and grandpuppy down the road. He published The Unenchanted Princess in 2010 and released Playing on Yggdrasil in December of 2013.
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