Living with Mental Illness

By Sylvie Griffiths:

“It might cause a systemic rash.” These were the words my newish psychiatrist was using to describe possible side effects of my new medications she prescribed for me to take daily. She had just told me that I could be within the bipolar spectrum; news I could almost not bear to hear. Now she was telling me all the shit that could go wrong in my body while I try to get my mind healthy. My family has several members diagnosed with bipolar disorder and this was my nightmare growing up; a distinct fear of knowing I would have the same issues. Even with a degree in mental health and the knowledge to understand this is how it goes, I have negative stigma for myself, and my need for medication.

I make my kids take medicine when they are sick. They all have special tricks to help ease the process of taking something that doesn’t taste good and might make them too sleepy to fight bedtime per usual. A sip of the coveted Pepsi that is Daddy’s or mixing it in a root beer float make the medicine go down and then as they recover, the medicine is not needed. I don’t have a cough or a fever; I have mental illness. I hate taking medicine. I don’t trust medicine because I have had multiple odd reactions that are in rare low percentages when involving side effects. My last round of medications to treat my mental illness were awful; my legs became so restless that I had to stand and pace in my MBA class. This was not only embarrassing it was upsetting because I felt like I could not control my own body in those moments. So, my kids, at this point, only take medicine for acute things that come up. I prefer to do as well. However, I have generalized anxiety disorder; a mental health disorder. I could not sleep before medication; my mind raced and even after a 16-hour day working two jobs, I laid in bed awake. I had nearly daily panic attacks before going back on meds. (Oh, you caught that huh? Yes “went back on” so I, like millions of others on this planet, disagreed with a medical professional and ignored doctor’s orders.) But at times, the knowledge that I might need medications to live with a clear mind and smile in my heart upsets me greatly. And besides being upset I might get that systemic rash, right?

I have made peace, mostly, with my diagnosis. Like most things in life some days are better than others. I take my medications as prescribed and listen to my patient psychiatrist. I understand how my side effects do not last forever. I realize that if something does not work for me that there are options out there that will bring me the relief and support I need. I am medically adherent as we say in community health, and I am finally proud of this because it takes work. This has honestly brought my husband and I closer and we have the best communication I think ever in our 9 plus years together. I am not ashamed to tell my kids that mommy needs help with her anxiety and the medications my doctor prescribed help me greatly. My embarrassment and shame flare up from time to time but sometimes, when I say that I am mentally ill I get the greatest responses. “Same”, “Yes, I do too and don’t we all”, “Life is hard and I am glad you are getting help” are just a few. I assumed this was a bombshell on those closest to me but I was wrong. I am happy to report that no one stopped talking to me or called me names or said we couldn’t’ be friends anymore.

My mind races a lot and I have many thoughts going through my brain. But some of these ideas get me A’s in grad school. Others give me the creativity to see past normal ideas and social norms to create new plans and cutting edge ideas for my work. I have come to know myself better than and I did previously; I am pretty alright. I am a mother, a student, an employee, a wife, a hairdresser, and I am mentally ill. My diagnosis is just one piece of the puzzle that makes up me and it is a small piece at that. There is no shame in living an authentic honest life taking medication and getting help. The burden that my depression and anxiety gave me has been lifted significantly. I did not get that systemic rash, for the record, but if I did it would have been ok too. For me, asking for help was challenging but not as much of an obstacle as attempting to beat my mental illness without medications, therapy, and a psychiatrist. There is no shame in going it alone; I consider myself to be very independent. But sometimes you need to ask for directions. Sometimes you need to ask for help. Sometimes you cannot do things the exact way you desire. But the journey to feeling like I am myself; happy, eccentric, funny, smart, and curious is worth the shift in perspective and the work to get yourself to healthy. I am finally happy to be on this path and it feels really empowering. Sometimes things work out just fine.

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