The Face of Mental Illness

“Anybody remotely interesting is mad, in some way or another. ~Dr. Who

When I tell someone about my illness for the first time it frequently elicits the following reaction: “YOU?  DEPRESSED?  You’re always so bubbly and happy!!”   My response: “You don’t see me during the depressive episodes when brushing my teeth is a Herculean effort or I go on a crying jag for no reason at all.  I’m home then.  You only see me when I’m feeling well.”

That’s the thing – one never knows who may be battling this illness; could be your neighbor, a co-worker, even a member of your family who hasn’t shared that with you.  Recently I read about “Invisible Illnesses,” the type that isn’t outwardly obvious.  When I’ve told neighbors in the past that I’m on disability I can read in their eyes the thought, “You look fine.  You are whole in body and seem quite healthy.”  If asked I say I have a chronic genetic illness.  It’s interesting what people conclude from that.  In my mind it screams “MENTAL ILLNESS” but I had one neighbor approach me with information on managing chronic pain.  I was puzzled as to why, then thought, Ahh ok…that’s her interpretation of “chronic genetic illness.”  I do have Hashimotos hypothyroid as well which is an autoimmune disease and, depending on the severity, extremely debilitating if not treated.  Interestingly, Hashimotos mimics symptoms of depression.  I was diagnosed with that a number of  years prior to the depression.  It’s one of those chicken/egg things – did the symptoms of Hashimotos (that always sounds like a Japanese restaurant!) get diagnosed as depression or is the depression stemming from Hashimotos?  I see a doctor who specializes in Hashimotos and also treats illness with supplements if possible before going to prescription meds so in my case I have both but when my thyroid goes on one of its wild rides it definitely affects my mood.

(Continued from previous entry…)  Last April I began seeing the doctor referenced above.  I had gone to him four years prior but during the mold/step-father ill/mysterious physical symptoms episodes I cancelled an appointment and didn’t reschedule when I rapidly went downhill.  It is sooo good to be back there.  After the first visit I was assigned to one of his P.A.s (Crystal) who is wonderful.  The quarterly psych medication management appointments involved driving at least an hour one-way, depending on the traffic and on a part of the expressway one takes their lives in their hands being on, for a 15-minute appointment.  Of the three psych meds I take, the one I absolutely cannot stop is the anti-anxiety med.  That’s a whole other issue in itself – my former psych put on it but didn’t tell me it is only for short-term use since the med is highly addictive.  I was too ill to do my usual research on new medications and by the time I did so my body was already addicted.  Entire books have been written about how to wean off this med which takes years and involves literally shaving minute portions of the pill and stepping down veeeeerrrry slowly.

I asked Crystal if she could take over that prescription for me, which she did.  Since I had been feeling so well for four years I decided I “didn’t need” the anti-depressant and mood stabilizer and it would save the two-hour jaunts into the city for a 15-minute appointment that cost a fortune since they didn’t take my insurance.  Continuing the anti-anxiety med was paramount and I didn’t want to muddy the waters asking for three meds.  By late summer I began feeling ill but my thyroid meds were still being adjusted plus I had been switched from the synthetic to a natural thyroid med so that put my body in a spin temporarily.  I had blood work with a follow-up appointment done each month during this time and getting ready for the appointment became increasingly harder.  The idea of putting on makeup wore me out, my hair needed to be colored, when was the last time I took a shower?  To the average person the last line may seem unbelievable but they are very common issues with mental illness.  I’d jump in the shower, forego makeup, stick a ball cap over the gray roots (I don’t even like ball caps!), and slog my way to the appointment.  By early Fall I still hadn’t colored my hair and had a hair-trigger temper.  By December I had reached “survival state” meaning the only things I did were those absolutely needed to live, like eating.  When I had absolutely no food left I would don my ball cap and zip into either 7/11 or Walgreen’s – often somewhere around 3-5 am.  A diet of frozen convenience food and Coke just fueled the illness and  I was starting to mentally panic with thoughts of – “I’ve never been this bad; I may not pull out of this episode.”  Once again situational issues were involved – my step-father told me he thinks my mother is showing signs of dementia.  Her father had it for the last 12 years of his life and her younger brother was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.  I had wondered why she wasn’t returning my daily phone calls, even when I would leave a message saying, “PLEASE call me; I REALLY need to talk to you.”  I am an only child, single, no children and, since I wasn’t attending church due to being ill, had absolutely no support system.  My mother has always been my rock, can talk me down from panic, and reminds me that I’ve gone through this before and will come out of it.  The thought that this may no longer be an option paralyzed me with fear.  I’m going to be…totally alone!!   I tried to think of anything different I was taking/eating/doing that contributed to this nightmare.  The light bulb came on.  I had been off the anti-depression meds for close to eight months, thus the initial gradual slide downwards as the meds left my system that then turned into a dizzying spiral.

I barely managed to get to my December appointment, fought tears as I told Crystal my situation and that I knew she wasn’t a psychiatrist but could she fill the meds until I could find another psych that wasn’t so far away.  Amazingly, she said, “We have some patients that need psych meds so no problem.”  I had worried she would not even temporarily prescribe them and I’d never feel well enough for the insurmountable challenge of finding another psychiatrist.  I’d asked around for years; apparently I live in a desert where psychiatrists are concerned.  Years ago I went to the ER when I was in one of these episodes and asked for a referral to a local psych.  I was told there weren’t any in this area and the one who oversees their psych department comes from the same city to which I traveled two hours.

During my decline I prayed a LOT with the prayer turning into one word by November – “HELP!!”  I consider Crystal prescribing all the meds an answer to prayer.  In addition to now getting all my meds, including thyroid, from one physician, my insurance pays 100% for the appointments!!!  When beginning most psych meds it can take from four to six weeks to begin getting relief from the symptoms.  I wasn’t well enough to go to my parents house for Thanksgiving, nor my birthday (Dec. 24), nor Christmas.  I was still in survival mode but now with a glimmer of hope.  Shortly after New Year I began feeling better…a LOT better.  I’m currently in the process of what my former psychiatrist called “rehabilitation.”  He gave the example of someone who broke their leg but, after it was healed, they never walked on it and eventually would get to the point they could not use that leg. He provided a “rehab schedule” for me and something I’ve realized once I began feeling better is that I need a schedule.  Even though I’m feeling better, having done basically nothing (and I seriously mean…nothing) for five months is now overwhelming to contemplate what needs to be done.  I still haven’t colored my hair and it is WAY too long and my entire apartment needs deep cleaning.  The comforting promise is that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Tomorrow morning I return to the doctor for the first time since December for blood work.  My step-father, Harry, has a medical appointment in the afternoon and needs me to drive, so I’ll get a chance to hear how my mother is doing.  She began calling regularly again in January and sounds like herself.  Harry did some research and purchased a supplement for memory/cognitive support and said she got better within the first week.  She has a partial blockage of her right carotid artery as well as ventricular fibrillation so it’s possible she may have thrown a clot or had a mini-stroke/TIA that affected her memory temporarily.  I am so very blessed she is still in my life at age 85; I just can’t imagine life without her but, again, I know God is in control and no matter what happens with me, her, or the wackiness going on in our country and the entire world…He is with me.

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February 5, 2019

I understand the struggle all too well.  I have often said that it would be easier if I had cancer, at least then people would take it seriously instead of pretending like depression is a fake illness.  I do suffer from chronic pain as well but, again, that’s not visible so nobody believes me when I complain about it.  It is all so very frustrating.