Thursday, February 9, 2012

Don't Feed the Elephant in the Room

Yesterday, Bell Canada, one of the largest telecommunication/media companies in Canada, began a national campaign, called “Let's Talk” to raise awareness and and reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness. For each text message and long distance call made in Canada yesterday, 5¢ was donated towards this effort. Considering the fact that Bell is one of the two major telecommunication/media companies in Canada this contribution should be staggering. Well done Bell!

I have always been aware of mental illness. Growing up it was the elephant in the room every time we spoke of my father's childhood or my Oma. My Oma was diagnosed with schizophrenia in the late 1950s, early 1960s. My sisters and I knew this and yet never talked about it together or with our parents. I can understand my father's reasons for not wanting to discuss this. His childhood especially was under the constant shadow of my Oma's illness. However, by not discussing my Oma's mental illness my sisters and I, once we were old enough to understand the basics of schizophrenia and the potential for it to be a genetic condition, lived in fear of developing it. We've discussed this as adults and all of us at one point or another worried that we might be afflicted with this illness.

I mention this to let you know how it has effected me. I have always been emotional. From the moment my hormones kicked in I experienced emotional highs and lows. However, after I had my son in 2005 I began to experienced major highs and lows, mostly lows. I was often lethargic, restless, quick to rage, unable to focus and generally miserable. I either binged on food or had zero appetite I went through periods of time when I could not get enough sleep and others were I struggled with insomnia. I often spoke about quitting my job or thought about hoping a Greyhound and disappearing. I was not, thankfully, suicidal.

As a Christian, who believes in healing, I was in a vicious cycle of spiritual upheaval. I would plead with God to fix whatever was wrong with me, to make me a better wife and mother, to remind Him that I was reading my Bible, going to church, volunteering and having faith for my healing. Then I would become angry, why wasn't I healed, how much did I have to do to prove that I was worthy of some divine assistance, what more did I have to do? Then I would become apologetic and begin the whole cycle again. It was exhausting.

In 2009 I was due to go in for my annual check up (physicals yay!). I was once again crying to my husband about how horrible a wife and mother I was and how I wanted to be better but how everything that came out of me seemed to be angry or hateful or sad or apathetic. He very gentle suggested that I talk to the doctor about my concerns because, in his words, “you have to do something”. I arrived at my appointment only to discover that I would not be seeing my regular doctor, a very nice, but very male middle aged man, but his new, young nurse practitioner(NP). My physical went as usual (Brrr cold speculum) until the NP asked how my moods were. I very carefully explained that something was not right and had not been for a while. I explained that I was worried it was schizophrenia, that I didn't know how to fix things and that I could not continue without some kind of help. After a series of questions in which it became apparent that I had suffered through some pretty heavy postpartum depression after my son was born she diagnosed me with PMDD, suggested some vitamin supplements and provided me with a very low prescription of Citalopram a serotonin reuptake inhibitor or more commonly an antidepressant.

PMDD or Premenstrual dysphoric disorder is a severe forms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Like PMS, premenstrual dysphoric disorder follows a predictable, cyclic pattern. It effects 3% to 8% of the female population. Emotional symptoms are generally present, and in PMDD, mood symptoms are dominant. Substantial disruption to personal relationships is typical for women with PMDD. Anxiety, anger, and depression may also occur. The main symptoms, which can be disabling, include,
  • feelings of deep sadness or despair, and suicide ideation
  • feelings of intense tension or anxiety
  • increased intense sensitivity to rejection or criticism
  • panic attacks
  • rapid and severe mood swings, bouts of uncontrollable crying
  • lasting irritability or anger, increased interpersonal conflicts; typically sufferers are unaware of the impact they have on those close to them
  • apathy or disinterest in daily activities and relationships
  • difficulty concentrating
  • chronic fatigue
  • food cravings or binge eating
  • insomnia or hypersomnia; sleeping more than usual, or (in a smaller group of sufferers) being unable to sleep
  • feeling overwhelmed or feelings of being out of control
  • increase or decrease in sex drive
  • increased need for emotional closeness
This was me for 4 years. I can only imagine what my husband went through and try very hard not to think about how all of this may have effected my son.

Upon beginning treatment both my husband and myself could, almost instantaneously, see a definite change. I literally felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders and I could breath again. I faced a small amount of disdain from “well meaning” church folk who thought I should continue to pray for healing and keep off the medication, but I truly believed and continue to believe that my meeting with the NP (who coincidentally was let go several months later) and her line of questioning that got me to reveal what I felt was my darkest shame was an answer to prayer. Her name was Laura and because of her I am still married, I have a loving relationship with my son and I am much more pleasant human being.

You might be wondering what the point of all of this is. Why did I bore you to tears with this, uncharacteristically serious, tale of woe. I lived for four years in shame and under a debilitating emotional weight because I was afraid to talk about what I was going through. I was afraid people might think I was crazy, that maybe I was crazy or that I was a bad wife, mother, person, etc because I was struggling. PMDD might not be considered a mental illness, but it has some of the same characteristics and, left untreated, fosters the same shame and stigmas that mental illness does. I really encourage you, if you're dealing with mental illness, hormonal/chemical imbalance or if you know someone who is to talk about it. Reach out and get help if you need it. Don't let yourself, your friends or family stay hidden in the dark. Don't feed the elephant in the room.


  1. I have struggled with mental illness since I was a teenager. At 17 my mother told me that there was nothing wrong with me and that I just wanted attention. That couldn't have been farther from the truth. I was miserable, I drank all the time and I was suicidal. I didn't want attention; I wanted to curl up and die. I suffered for 4 years until I got a good job with health insurance and was able to go to the doctor and get a little insight into my problem. I was told that I had depression and panic attacks. I was put on an antidepressant and nerve medication. It helped for awhile.

    In my late 20's I tried therapy where I was told that I was bipolar with anxiety issues and that I had post traumatic stress disorder. I was put on numerous medications and so far nothing has gotten rid of the feelings I have. Though I'm not suicidal there are many days that I have to make myself get out of the bed and go to work. It is a constant struggle. Most days I have no desire to talk to anyone let alone leave my house.

    I wouldn't wish mental illness on anyone. It has made my life beyond difficult because I don't process emotion the way a normal person does. I either fall into despair or am so angry I want to kill which can get scary. I have always been open about the fact that I'm 32 flavors of crazy. It impacts every relationship I'm in and I'm not going to hide who I am from anyone.

    I am soooo very sorry that you struggled with similar issues and am glad that you are better. Maybe one of these days they will make a miracle drug that will "fix me". Until then I take it day by day and hope that I don't snap.

    1. Mel, I don't know what to say that won't sound stupid or patronizing.
      Kudos to you for being open about what your going through.
      The only thing I can say is that I'm glad you still have hope, it's a powerful ally against the dark parts of life.

  2. Ohhhhh boy, can I empathize with you on this one. I am going to attempt to comment without getting too emotional, and am hoping it makes sense. The ongoing cycle of shame induced by what you're already experiencing is crippling beyond despair. I don't have PMDD, but other stuff going on with very similar symptoms if left untreated, and it made my 20s unbearable because I felt shameful for having to take medications. I've finally found the right Doctor and chemical cocktail in my 30s, and have a much better quality of life.

    It's very hard nowadays, with people being so OVERperscribed medications, there is this backlash against anyone taking medications at all. Especially for mental illness. It's so hard to not feel shame that you are taking medication to help you just be able to function and get out of bed. I bought in to the guilt and shame and tried for so long to not accept that I needed help with chemicals, and it almost destroyed every single thing I had in my life. Do I wish like hell my shit could be helped solely with acupuncture and meditating? YES. Does it hurt when people say "you're a strong person, you don't need medications to manage this." I LOATHE pharmaceutical company, just seeing their ads on TV makes me feel like what I have is made up because they're trying to SELL disorders to sell their products. And wish like HELL I didn't have to rely on them to function, more than anything, paying so much money to them and feeling dependent upon them to live some quality of life. But, whatever, some of us HAVE to be on these meds or we may as well not live.

    Fortunately for us both, we had very strong partners who encouraged us both to get help without judgment. *HUGS* to you.
    Thank you for sharing this.

    1. Pam, thanks so much for sharing your story.
      I hate being on the meds too and every once and a while don't take them regularly. It's always a disaster.
      I agree on how fortunate we were to have good partners. I'm thankful that Jeff was willing to brave my (potential) wrath to tell me to get help.
      *Hugs* right back at you. :)