Trivializing My Mental Illness, Can You Not?

I am not particularly good at speaking up in the moment, so when a friend told me that a TV show cured their depression, my eyes bugged out of their sockets but my mouth stayed shut.

I know that was a throwaway comment not at all meant to trivialize depression, but it did. I have dealt with depression for well over a decade and with it: anxiety (general anxiety, social anxiety, obsessive & compulsive tendencies), occasional panic attacks, constant irritability, apathy, inability to acknowledge accomplishments or feel rewarded by them, lack of emotional reactivity, constant fatigue, weight gain, lack of appetite and surprising weight loss, insomnia since I was 10 (the earliest I can remember, though it likely began before then), headaches from the moment I wake up, sometimes migraines, and psychomotor slowing and agitation!

And then there was a period in my early teenage years when I thought about dying every day.


Yes, I looked up all of those symptoms, for two reasons. One, because when I try to think of how depression has affected my life, I always draw a blank, the same way I'm unable to answer a question on the spot (or speak up in the moment); my brain cannot cut through the fog quickly enough to do so.  Two, I can't remember a time before I felt this way, cannot remember what my life was like before, and cannot say how depression has affected me, because depression is my life. I have only recently, the past year at most, begun to extrapolate my actual personality, sense of self from the condition that grew roots so deep into my being and wove them so tightly around every fiber that I didn't know that the depression was not me.

So, when I hear that cutting out sugar and "eating better" helps depression, I remember when food was the only thing in my life to which I looked forward. When I hear that "small goals" help depression, I remember my STILL PRESENT avoidance and thoughts of futility and failure. When I hear that "getting out of the house" helps depression, I remember feeling like everyone was watching me, whispering, laughing about me, judging me when I left my home. When I hear how "being active" helps depression, I remember my low, low self-esteem and imminent failure.

Getting better is not that simple.

When I hear anyone dole out advice that suggests ignorance to the difficulty--impossibility--of achieving seemingly easy, every day activities, errands, actions, I say what the fuck do you know about depression and shame myself for not expressing compassion for their well-intended attempt to help.

For the record, YES all of that well-intended advice does help. But it is not, by any means, that easy. Not easy to get better and not easy to even put those suggestions into action.

I can only speak to what I have experienced and the accounts I have read, but the act of existing is exhausting when you are depressed. For anyone who experiences depression on an episodic or reactive basis, the experience is so, so different from a persistent depressive disorder. There is even debate about the conditions encompassed within the diagnosis "major depressive disorder." All that a diagnosis requires is experiencing 5 or more symptoms at once, over a consistent two week period. But how can someone who experiences 5 of those symptoms for exactly two weeks have the same experience as me, someone who has experienced all 9 of the possible symptoms, often all at once, for years and years?


It is after two years of therapy and the highest legal dosage of antidepressant & anti-anxiety medication bupropion, highest legal dosage (and occasionally 30mg higher) of additional anti-anxiety med, buspirone, and nightly sedative/antidepressant trazadone that I have upgraded to a consistent state of relative okay-ness (okay being feelings of inadequacy, hopelessness, difficulty being productive, and generally gloomy disposition), which as far as I can tell is "persistent depressive disorder" with regular but brief bouts of what I guess is categorized as "major depression."

And in this vein of trivializing depression, I imagine that someone who deals with never-ending major depression, the actual major kind with which I used to deal, the idea of persistent depression, that state of relative okay-ness, seems like a walk in the park, and I know I'm fortunate that my mental health has improved to this extent.The good news: I am doing things again! Things that I enjoy! Sometimes I even feel feelings of enjoyment while doing them. But the accomplishment here is that I am not avoiding things I love due to my fear of failing at or not enjoying them. Like spending time with horses. Reading books. Painting. And writing! Writing this blog post!Part of this writing success is due to my discovery of new bloggers and artists around my age who express their vulnerability through their art. Vulnerability of being themselves, of sharing their fears, failures, and talent with the world.But part of it is my own pettiness, from witnessing art that claims mental health as inspiration or artistic platform, but does not claim the vulnerability necessary, and knowing that I could do better.My success is not (yet) a large audience, but is within myself, having not found writing that is exactly what I want to read, knowing it's up to me to create that. My success is slowly, surely, steadily writing that story. 

love doesn't fix your finances

I told the man I have been involved with for a year and a half that I love him. I felt more comfortable with him that night than I have ever before, with anyone I have dated. I felt secure and so full of love for days after. Yesterday that good mood ebbed away. I recognized the ebbing when I woke up to my alarm--"Waking up with a smile makes your day better"--and mustered only an eye roll, but had a good morning, and didn’t notice again until the afternoon. Such an amazing feeling is finite and when I recognized its faded presence, I wondered what I could do to sustain it, what had happened for it to go away. I blame money. After feeling so steady with my finances, sure of my financial planning and goals, I suddenly had several hundred dollars less than I expected, with several more necessary errands I need to run before my next paycheck. Never mind that my checking account is in a significantly and progressively improved state. Love did not fix my finances and despite what I felt and believed for days, did not make everything okay. As I deflated, I regressed to habits I’d given up for approximately five days, eager to re-establish a familiar connection with my anxiety, only to continue feeling exactly nothing.

Amphetamine Logic

I've been consistently taking Adderall for almost a year now! Crazy how time flies. My usual psychiatrist is very wary of treating his patients with stimulants, which I think is reasonable, given that I've been abusing* them off and on for five years. Surprise!Obviously I didn't tell my psychiatrist that. If he knew, he'd never prescribe me what I want. Not that it matters, because he doesn't think my legitimate difficulty paying attention warrants use of a highly addictive, widely abused substance. Bummer!Since he didn’t immediately hand over the addies (mad respect though), I found a different doctor who does! Honestly, getting an amphetamine prescription is super easy. So easy, in fact, that I got my first prescription by accident!Let me explain.Around my third or fourth appointment with Bummer Psychiatrist, we were still in the half-hour, drug consultation phase of our appointments. I told him the non-stimulant alternative he'd prescribed weeks ago wasn't working. I thought that finally, my patience would pay off. Adderall, here I come! But nope. He recommended that I get tested for ADHD. Not a blood test. Not a brain scan. He might have meant the long ass questionnaire, which costs more than an actual thousand dollars. But from what I understood, he meant the TOVA test, a seizure-inducing adaptation of the 80s arcade game, Pong.Just kidding. It's not really an adaptation. More like a straight up ripoff. Just kidding again. I mean, I don't know.Being his usual bummer self, my psychiatrist had set up a catch-22. Option A: I don't take the test, can't "prove" I have ADHD, and don't get addies. Option 2: I do take the test, it suggests that my symptoms are mild to nonexistent, and I don't get addies. But how hard could it be to exaggerate those symptoms for a test?So I figured that if I took the test, Bummer Psychiatrist would give me my drugs, and that would be that. But of course, he did not actually have this computer game test at his office. I finally scheduled an appointment with the Middle Eastern doctor that kept popping up in my ZocDoc searches, whose office was all the way in freaking Hermosa Beach.After driving for close to an hour, the receptionist showed me to the psychiatrist's impersonal, poorly lit office, overlooking the 105. His desk was opposite the the long blue couch I sat on, but they both faced the same direction. Eventually the psychiatrist came in and I was taken aback by how distinctly opposite he was from the picture on ZocDoc. Instead even remotely Middle Eastern features, the man in front of me was white. Sort of. His face was pretty red and his skin was stretched tight across his cheeks, like he'd recently had Botox injections or maybe even a facelift. It turned out that the practice's namesake was NOT the only psychiatrist who worked there!Tighty McRed Face introduced himself and I think I hid my confusion pretty well. Then he sat down at his desk with his back to me, like I wasn't there! You'd think that someone with an MD in brains would have more sense than that. Immediate rejection vibes. Like I wanted to look at his creepy face, anyway.He swiveled his chair around and asked me what I was there for. With a strong foundation of confusion and blatant disregard laid, I mentioned my difficulty focusing and the TOVA test. I would have said more, but he interrupted me and just talked and talked until he talked himself into writing me an Adderall prescription a few minutes later.That's it! I hadn't even taken the test, but I got a prescription, anyway! I walked out and drove another hour straight to my pharmacy. The best part is that my insurance paid for all of it! I literally get generic Adderall--legally--for free! Thanks Obama!All of this can be yours** too, just by talking to a licensed physician who doesn't give a shit! And there are plenty of those.2nd picDon't get me wrong. I really don't like going to this guy. I just think if you're going to prescribe a widely abused stimulant, you should be more discerning. I also really don't think I should be more responsible than the doctor prescribing me drugs. I'm not even responsible enough to own a dog!But obviously if I see a responsible physician, they're not going to prescribe me Adderall, because I don't have ADHD. Was that not clear? I definitely don't have ADHD. And I do see a responsible physician, and he won't prescribe me stimulants. Point made. But stimulants help so much, and plenty of drugs are prescribed off-label!

*calm down, the term is for hyperbolic effect.

**some exclusions may apply.