Shattering Stigmas is an event running from 10th-24th August, hosted by Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight, Inge @ Bookshelf Reflections and Kayla @ The Thousand Lives. It was brought to my attention by my beautiful friend Taneika @ Flipping Through the Pages. Whilst it’s a event for people to share their stories, it’s also going to have some competitions and guest posts and recommend books that look at mental health.
There is a stigma against mental health. I’ve experienced it against myself, when the doctor said she didn’t want to diagnose me with depression because it would affect how others treat me, and I’m ashamed to say that I still struggle with the voice in my head that wants to snap at people to just ‘get over it’. Unfortunately, a lot of bloggers suffer from a form of mental illness, and because of this stigma they are made to feel very alone in their fight.
I’m very open and honest about my experiences and I don’t shy away from mentioning it even casually. That’s my way of fighting the everyday stigma against mental illness.
This is going to be long. Maybe you should go get a cup of tea or something.
My story is actually my husband’s story, because although I have experienced depression when I was unemployed and living overseas, it was only temporary, and today I want to talk about my experience as a carer of someone suffering from mental illness.
My husband has battled depression his whole life. We married last year, and after the wedding he decided he needed help, sought it, and went on medication. For a few months he was fine – more than fine. Christmas passed without even a hint of homesickness (did I mention he’s English? So he’s on the other side of the world from his whole family).
Then in January he went to a different pharmacist to refill his prescription, and the pharmacist gave him the wrong anti-depressants.
It took about a month before we realised anything was wrong. By February he had regressed to being unable to face his day job, and cut his hours at work. By March, he was much, much worse. Luckily he needed another refill, and went back to his regular pharmacist, who recognised his shaking and listened to him when he admitted how much he’d been struggling, how worthless and useless he felt and his despair that the meds stopped working. She looked at the medicine he’d been on, and immediately switched him back to his regular meds.
But the damage was done.
See, generic brands can have up to about 10-20% ‘filler’ ingredients, and that was enough to fuck up all the progress he’d made. He was so far down he couldn’t crawl back out again. He literally wanted to kill himself and saw no reason to live.
It reached a point where I was afraid to leave him at home by himself, even though I had removed all of the knives and done my best to ensure he wouldn’t be able to hang himself anywhere private. When he stopped going to work, so did I, because I didn’t trust him not to hurt or kill himself. I watched him like a hawk. He’d been seeing his GP, but no one recommended sending him to hospital – he wouldn’t have gone anyway, because he despises hospitals – I felt that being able to give him 24 hour one on one care was better than group therapy and hours of sitting by yourself in a small white room.
He started seeing a psychologist who diagnosed him with anxiety and PTSD stemming from childhood and teen trauma. I couldn’t believe it. He’s textbook PTSD, but I’m not a mental health professional so I just never connected the dots. I also couldn’t believe that my laid back, relaxed, chilled out husband was now diagnosed with anxiety. I have a touch of it myself, but nothing like what he was experiencing.
One day I decided to try working from home, so I set myself up in my little office. That afternoon, the first time he was unsupervised, he began drinking, and by the evening he was so drunk the room was spinning and he couldn’t walk straight. My husband is a BIG guy, very tall, packed with thick, heavy muscles. If he wanted to strip naked and go for a walk along the busy road we live on, there is NO WAY I could stop him.
Lucky for me, he’s a very obedient drunk. I put him to bed at 9pm while he apologised over and over (because I don’t approve of drinking to intoxication, but I did understand why he did it), and then I cried myself to sleep. I was supposed to be responsible for him and he got drunk on my watch.
Two months later
He felt that he was able to go back to work, and then he could only face two days a week. I’d learned a lot about depression during that time, and even had it explained to me that although my husband does produce happy hormones, the hormones that eat the happy hormones react too quickly in his head, so he never gets the high or the buzz from being happy. His meds were designed to eat the hormones that eat the happy hormones so that he could enjoy his highs for longer and the lows would not be quite so down.
We’ve had our ups and downs since then. July was bad. I caught him cutting himself and he gave up his knives again. I asked a friend of mine who’d been brave enough to share her experience with a local mental institution exactly how I was supposed to get him into one, and I told my husband that I wanted to send him there. He didn’t want to go, so I negotiated and said I’d re-evaluate him at the end of the week. He was better then, but part of it was for my benefit.
I wanted to send him to hospital not just for his own good, but for mine, too. I was reaching the end of my rope and finding it incredibly difficult to deal with someone who couldn’t just understand how important he was not just to me but to his friends, family, and co-workers. I was getting frustrated that he couldn’t understand how much I needed him, and to be honest, I really needed a break from everything myself.
It was then that I met his psychologist and she gave me some information on support for carers.
It’s very difficult to support a person suffering from mental illness.
(Even if that person is willingly seeking help and working hard on getting better.)
I remind myself every day that my brain doesn’t want to kill me, that I’m the lucky one. But it’s so hard being the support. And we’re not supposed to mention how hard it is, because like I said, we don’t want to kill ourselves. We’re not waging a war with our own bodies. There’s a heap of support for the mental illness sufferers – my husband has a wife who is his carer, an understanding GP, a psychologist, organisations to reach out to and numbers to call when he needs it, room for him at a hospital if needed, and he took two months off work to work on getting better.
Me? I have a secret Facebook group filled with other, understanding carers where I can confess to the deepest, darkest, most horrible thoughts, like I just can’t cope with this any more. Why can’t he just be healthy? It’s not fair that he only has to work part time and I have to work full time and all the thoughts us carers aren’t supposed to articulate, and receive nothing but understanding and be free of judgement. There’s supposed to be some kind of facility for carers near where I work, but I’ve never set foot in there. Because what can they do other than offer me my own psychologist appointments and listen when I need to vent? All the materials I’ve received on being a carer simply say to make sure I look after myself and to seek help if I need it. They don’t specify what that help is. Basically, we’re just meant to cope, because we’re not the ill ones.
I’m still adjusting to being a carer. It’s a really rough gig. I’m the baby of my family and I know I took advantage of that growing up. Now I have to be a responsible grown up. All of a sudden I see more and more of my father, the caretaker of our family, in myself, and I hate having to be so grown up and responsible. Sometimes I need attention, too. Sometimes I’m fighting my own depression and can’t cope with all the weight of the world on my shoulders. Sometimes I just need to focus on ME. Sometimes I need to be the flower, not the gardener.
And then I remember that I DON’T WANT TO KILL MYSELF and all my focus should be on my husband, and I’m consumed with guilt – and well, there’s nothing anyone can do about that.
Mental Health in YA Literature
In January, I read All The Bright Places by Jennifen Niven, which was supposed to be a ‘The Fault In Our Stars’-esque romance but between a depressed, suicidal guy and a girl who needed to be the centre of his world to start living again.
I’ll be truthful – I didn’t recognise any symptoms, and the way it was written, I couldn’t tell if the kid had already been in a dark depression where he’d nearly tried to kill himself. He didn’t sem suicidal, and he never seemed serious about ending his life. It all seemed to be a challenge. In the end, I don’t even believe it was suicide – I believe he was challenging himself and that it was a tragic accident.
My best experience with a mental illness in YA literature was the Bloodlines series by Richelle Mead. Some time in the middle books, when we start reading from Adrian’s point of view, it’s revealed that he has Bi-Polar disorder. That was much easier for me to recognise. Adrian even goes on meds, which is awesome, because over in Vampire Academy, dear Queen Lissa struggled with meds for her depression. In books like All the Bright Place and The Fault in Our Stars, kids going on meds and going to therapy is kind of shamed, like they’re not ‘strong’ enough or something to face the illness on their own.
But if meds work, then by all means, use them. They help to balance out the brain chemistry.
Taking medicine for a mental illness is no different that a cancer patient getting treatment or someone with diabetes injecting themselves several times a day.
Sometimes our bodies fail in weird ways, but we are very lucky that there are treatments and ways to help us overcome these issues.
And as a carer, I’ll be with you every step of the way.
You are not alone.