This was my originally intended ‘beat,’ though I’ve branched out in a lot of directions since beginning. Columns are in chronological order!
I was diagnosed with clinical depression the summer after my freshman year, although it was estimated I’d been depressed since early high school. My pretreatment years were peppered with unsuccessful, hesitant and plainly half-assed attempts to reach out for help. I had — both alternately and simultaneously — convinced myself that A) Nothing was wrong with me, B) Taking advantage of the Counseling Center would be diverting resources from people who really needed them, and C) I wouldn’t feel depressed if I could just stop being such a worthless human being.
Unsurprisingly, none of these convictions brought me much solace — but they did prevent me from getting help until it was well-past urgent. And if these thoughts sounded a little too familiar to you, then you might want to read this closely.
“Getting Help Part 1 – Understanding,” September 2011.
Friends, if your therapist does not respect your gender identity, GTFO. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200 — say goodbye, write a scathing review in the office suggestions box, and move on.
“Getting Help Part 2 – Therapy,” October 2011.
Some people feel that mental illness is first and foremost a disease, a physical imbalance of brain chemicals that requires medical treatment just like any other illness. To these people, saying you want to treat your depression without medication is like saying you want to treat your pneumonia with diet and exercise. On the other end of the spectrum, some people believe that meds are a cop-out, a quick fix or a brainwashing tool to “correct” divergent thinkers. Or they believe that psychiatry is a pseudoscience and a corporate scam, and the treatments don’t work and can’t be trusted. These people use the phrase “Big Pharma” a lot.
If you belong to either one of these groups, you don’t need to be reading this to decide whether to consider medication — you’ve already made up your mind. But if you’re not one of those people, chances are you know them. They are perfectly entitled to have strong feelings about this subject — but they are not entitled to influence your decision.
“Getting Help Part 3 – Should You Take Meds?,” October 2011.
Meds are no substitute for therapy, self care and reflection. Your antidepressants might make living feel more bearable, but they won’t give you self-esteem. Your anxiety meds might quell your panic attacks, but they won’t magically transform you into someone who feels OK in situations involving large crowds. Those are things that often take months or years of work. My life didn’t become as good as it is now after just a few weeks on Paxil. But I’m not sure I would have worked so hard for those years if Paxil hadn’t brought a reprieve from the periodic two-week episodes during which it was a superhuman struggle to stop crying and leave my dorm.
“Getting Help Part 3.5 – Debunking Myths About Meds,” October 2011.
If you have a loved one who suffers from an eating disorder — or who you suspect does — do not try to force him or her to eat. Do not draw attention to his weight, even to fuss about how thin he is getting. Do not harp on what she eats or doesn’t eat. Don’t be offended if that person passes on your famous apple pie.
In short, don’t badger — feeling scrutinized can trigger eating-disordered behaviors even in people who are in recovery. Attempting to practice tough love is guaranteed to do more harm than good. The best thing you can do for a family member affected by an eating disorder is to find out what his or her safe foods are, make sure those foods are available and then steer the dinner-table conversation toward anything and everything that isn’t body size or food.
“Coping With Eating Anxiety During Thanksgiving,” November 2011.
There are countless words in the English language. You could say you were crushed, trampled or flattened by your OChem test, and that the corporations taxpayers bailed out are parasitizing the middle class. The only reason to choose the ham-fisted rape metaphor over more appropriate phrasing is to elicit the maximum shock reaction. And since we live in a country where a woman is sexually assaulted every two minutes, according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey, your unfettered shock-rocking comes at the price of an overwhelming likelihood that a survivor of sexual violence is going to overhear you, or see your poorly-worded protest sign and feel like complete crap. Is it worth it?
“Be Considerate, Watch Your Triggering Language,” January 2012.
People, whether they’re mentally healthy or not, are weird and difficult and frustrating, and all relationships take a hell of a lot of work. Dating someone who has depressive episodes, panic attacks or rapid cycles is challenging — but so is dating someone who’s flat broke and can rarely afford to go out on dates, someone who lives several hours away from you, someone who eats meat when you’re a vegan, whose family you don’t get along with or who is horribly allergic to your beloved pet. People 30 years older than us usually have to factor in a prospective partner’s children. So it’s ridiculous to imagine that something like a mood disorder is an insurmountable obstacle to romantic fulfillment for either partner.
“Managing Romance and Mental Illness,” February 2012.
The conversation should be private. This shouldn’t need to be said, but it’s critical.
I struggled with self-harm toward the end of my senior year of high school. Unlike most, I rarely tried to conceal my injuries, unless I was at home with my family. At school, I didn’t expect anybody to notice, and anyway, it was hot out.
Needless to say, this didn’t quite work out. More than one person realized that I appeared to have been attacked by the world’s most methodical cat, and more than one person asked me, loudly and in front of an entire classroom, what the hell I did to myself.
I lied to every one of those people, and I didn’t feel bad about it either. I rationalized that if these concerned souls had wanted an honest answer, they would have pulled me aside and asked about my injuries privately instead of singling me out in front of a group.
“How To Initiate An Intervention,” March 2012.
Let’s be real: Although a lot of kids really miss their parents when they go away to college, a lot of kids really, really don’t. That many students actually consider “getting away from my family” a primary draw of college life is perhaps the worst-kept secret of freshman year.
Take me, for example. Blogger Holly Pervocracy once said that 98 percent of her relationship with her mother “was good and loving and selfless and, if anything, too generous. The other 2 percent was pretty ugly.” Although Holly’s’s relationship with her mother was much more tumultuous than my relationship with my parents ever was, that sentiment spoke to me. It’s not that I don’t love my parents to pieces — I do, and they love me back. But while love is more than enough to prevent you from physically killing your family, it is, in my experience, not enough to make a household peaceful. For my father and I — both intensely opinionated, occasionally short-fused people who are so far across the political spectrum from one another that we have to pay long-distance fees to talk about the election — all the love in the world isn’t always enough to stop us from getting into shouting matches when the news is on.
“Expect Drastic Change In Relationship With Parents During First Year,” May 2012.
The swinging pendulum of recovery and relapse leads me to imagine mental illness, like herpes, as a virus that remains in the body even when symptoms aren’t being displayed. To speak for myself, I would like to wean myself off my antidepressants within the next three years. There is a strong chance that I will find myself choosing to go back on them later in life when the symptoms will likely reappear.
This is not to say that treatment is futile — on the contrary, regarding mental illness as a lifelong, sometimes-dormant condition is a great way to keep yourself vigilant against future outbreaks and allow yourself to fight relapses before they eat away at too much of your progress.
“A Study in Stigma: How Mental Illness is like Herpes,” August 2012.
As an adult, hating yourself is a choice. That doesn’t mean I think you can snap out of it just like that; drinking is still a choice if you’re an alcoholic, but I don’t believe it’s fair to expect an addict to just wake up one morning and stop drinking without any qualified help and support. Staying in an abusive relationship is a choice, but with things like children’s safety or the ability to pay the rent on the line, it’s hardly as simple as “Why don’t you just leave?”
Self-loathing is a choice that I, in particular, continued to make for most of my life, and stopped making only very recently. And now that I’ve broken the cycle, I can see a lot of the reasons I made that choice.
“Why Do We Choose To Dislike Ourselves?” September 2012.