Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Getting Real About Me (and Anxiety)

I've always tried to be honest. I've written this blog with honesty over the years. It started as an exercise for a fledgling writer, and now it remains long after the writer has hung up his keyboard. Maybe another short story or two will find its way from my fingertips, but not just yet...

I wrote with honesty about my first wife's suicide and her struggles with post-partum anxiety and psychosis. I wrote about my kids, grief, finding love again... all with honesty. I've told stories about my father's cancer and the boy I almost killed in high school.

Today, I'm mustering that honesty to talk about my own mental health. About two months ago, I began ruminating--the process of going over and over the same mental ground with no resolution. The ruminations grew claws and panic attacks soon followed. On Tuesday morning before Thanksgiving, after a few short hours of sleep and a lot of ceiling gazing, I told Kim (my wife) I needed to see the doctor. I have no idea why anxiety cranked the heat this fall. I've staggered through times of trouble and rumination without my brain and body conspiring in such an insidious way in the past. Life is good right now. Really good... but the bitch anxiety doesn't care.

I've been on medication for five weeks now--one of those "six to eight weeks for full therapeutic dose" meds. I've gone back to see a therapist I first visited five years ago. Headspace has become my favorite app over the past few days.

We don't talk about mental health enough in this country--not yet. Not even after mass shootings and rising suicide rates. We don't talk about mental health in real, constructive ways. The disease model has dragged its feet through several incarnations of the DSM. We talk of "illness." Anyone diagnosed with anxiety, depression, OCD, or any number of other convenient labels is often deemed as sick or weak.

There's not a damn thing weak about having anxiety. It's a bitch. It undermines my good feelings and lets those ruminating lies run free. It's stolen my sleep. It made Thanksgiving dinner a marathon of "getting through" with all the chaos and bustle and family. It kicked me hard a couple of times on Christmas morning. I've kept plugging along, taking my pills, working on mindfulness, reminding myself that I haven't always felt this way and will not always feel this way.

I write a love letter to Kim every day. I use an add-on to have it delivered to her email inbox every morning. I've been doing this for more than five years now. This blog post is her love letter today. If it helps one person, good. If it reminds one person that they are not alone, good. If it gives one person pause before calling someone struggling with depression or anxiety or you-name-it weak, good. I love you, Kim. You give me courage.

It's time we all acknowledged that mental health is simply healthcare. It's the real thing to do--the only honest thing to do.

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