Mental illness misunderstood

The defines mental illness as: 

n. Any of various conditions characterized by impairment of an individual’s normal cognitive, emotional, or behavioral functioning, and caused by social, psychological, biochemical, genetic, or other factors, such as infection or head trauma. Also called emotional illness, mental disease, mental disorder.
While it’s a very broad definition of what mental illness can mean, most people have a specific kind of mental illness; depression, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, borderline personality, or schizophrenia, just to name a few. I work with mentally challenged adults who often struggle with such disorders.
But mental illness is not just something I deal with at work, it affects my personal life, as well. 
My grandmother suffered from depression at a time when doctors had no idea how to deal with disorders such as hers.  They tried institutionalizing her, experimental drugs and even electroshock therapy.  She was hospitalized for a long time and, according to my mother, was never quite the same.  She was afraid to be alone and my mom had to stay with her. She never worked outside the home and often cried for no reason.
Research has come a long way since the 1940s, bringing with it hope for millions who suffer from the various maladies. But there are some people who might think that just because they are sad, their situation calls for medicine to relieve their uncomfortable feelings.
I  believe that medication is needed for some types of chemical imbalance int he brain, but many people who think they have depression, really just need someone to talk to, to help them work through their problems. Many doctors are too quick to prescribed medications that many people don’t really need.
I was 19 years-old when I first developed panic attacks. I had no idea what they were and I thought I was dying. I was taken to the emergency and they asked me if I had been worried or stressed lately.  I had just gotten married a few months before but I didn’t feel stressed because of it. They gave me a prescription for a sedative and sent me home.
The attacks came and went.  I had no idea what caused them or how to deal with them.  I didn’t know what to do.  I saw an ad in the paper for a research study at the University of Iowa for panic attacks and decided to join.  Not long after I began, I got pregnant and had to quit.  As it turned out,  I had been on a placebo anyway, but at least I knew what and why I was suffering from the attacks. (for more info see   The research assistant told me that relaxation tapes would help me relax, which they did, but I still suffered periodic attacks.
I finally went to see a psychiatrist after my daughter was born, who prescribed the anti-depressant, Imipramine.  The pills didn’t seem to help much, (not even for the depression I developed) but every time I tried to go off the medication, I got a severe panic attack.  I ended up staying on the medication….for 20 years.
I still went through bouts of depression, but it could be attributed to the problems I was having at the time.  Every visit to my psychiatrist consisted of three questions.  How are you doing? How are you feeling? Do you want to kill yourself? I felt rushed every time I went to his office and even though I knew something was wrong, always told him that everything was fine. Maybe because I didn’t want to admit it to myself.
I finally decided to go off the medication seven years ago and vowed never to go back on antidepressants, if I could help it. They made me gain a lot of weight and I was tired all the time.  And they didn’t seem to help me.  I managed my panic attacks on my own by telling myself that this is what it was, and not to panic, and it would go away. 
I started going to therapy three years ago where I was able to work through many of the issues that I had kept bottled up for so long. But I was one of the lucky ones.  So many people tend to mask their problems with alcohol, drugs and medications; they don’t give themselves the chance to feel those things they really need to feel in order to heal themselves.

One Comment

  1. A very personal, but very powerful, post. It’s good to describe your experience in a way that can help others.


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