Saturday, April 7, 2012

On medication, depression and no more stigma

I take anti-depressants.

No big deal right? Not for me, but I'm wary of other people's perceptions. So, while I've been increasingly open over the last year or so about history with depression, anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), it's a little different when it comes to the meds.

I don't hide the fact but I don't generally mention it even when talking about my condition ('condition'? Ugh). I told a few close friends when I started taking Xanax because I kind of had to. I was advised to curb my alcohol consumption and that was not going to go unnoticed.

'Coming out' about my OCD last year, and subsequently talking more about the anxiety with more people was fucking liberating. It was a little terrifying doing so on national television, but in reality it was relatively easy being able to talk about it largely in the past tense - especially the most 'embarrassing', least understood part, the OCD, which seems to be essentially absent from daily life now.

Talking about medication, however, shifts the issue from recovery back to problem management for me, from past tense to present. At least, that's my suspicious assumption of how some people would respond. And as healthy as I am, as far as I've come on my recovery from OCD and Generalised Anxiety Disorder, I may be on the pills for some time yet.

I worry about how some people might think of me differently if they know. Will they be more wary? Will they think I'm somewhat unstable? Would an employer think twice about my capability? Would a potential romantic interest be put off?

Lots of people still don't understand mental health (see, I don't even want to say 'mental illness'). I'm pretty determined to do my bit to kill the stigma, but it still beats me sometimes. It's difficult not to be wary of the lack of understanding or misguided preconceptions that might influence someone's perception of you if you wear it on your sleeve.

It's led me to lie - about reasons for being late to work when I've had appointments, on forms (mostly emplyment related) where I didn't consider my medication to be crucial information and was concerned about perceptions. Sadly, sometimes the truth can distort a person's perception of a situation more than a white lie.

In 2006 I started a new job two weeks late because it took the organisation that did the medical check that long to send through the 'OK'. I'd told them about my depression and medication, which was being managed. It pissed me right off. I got through school and university with good marks, mostly before getting treatment, so why should I be judged on it now as I'm recovering by someone who doesn't know shit about the circumstances? Does an employer - or outsourced medical checking organisation - have a right to know and judge me on the basis of a mental health issue that does not prevent me from being a fully functioning member of society? Hell no. It is no more reasonable a consideration than any number of other social factors - like use of drugs or alcohol, gambling, addiction to social media, etc - that could impact someone's work.

But things like that made me feel like it was something I should probably cover up as much as possible, and that was counter-productive. It wasn't until last year that I realised just how many people do understand, and that others will try, and the rest don't matter. Unless they're employing you I guess.

I'm increasingly indifferent about people knowing the details of my depression. It's part acceptance, part bloody-mindedness in the fight against stigma. I don't want anyone's ignorance to put me back in my box, the only way to change it is to be more open, even if some take a while to get it and others never do. There are enough quality, open-minded people to surround yourself with that the others don't really matter.

The stigma is all the more tragic though because of the prevalence of depression - it undoubtedly even infiltrates people who actually have depression.

My trepidation with talking about the meds might be a projection of the initial fears I held - that they would alter my mind, change my thoughts, affect my personality. They've done none of those things, at least not directly.  My thoughts have changed, my brain has been re-wired, but I did that myself. The medication simply eased the extreme anxiety I felt on a daily basis for most of my life, so that I could find a more comfortable head space to make necessary changes to my thought processe - naturally through education, cognitive therapy and things like yoga. And it's those are things that will have a lasting effect, the drugs are just a conduit, albeit an important one for me.

Others don't need medication at all, it's horses for courses.

But I hate hiding it. It's a central element of this thing that has been the most pervasive issue of my life. I hope I can come off the medication someday, sooner than later, but I accept I may be on them for a long time, maybe a lifetime. There will always be people who don't - or worse, are unwilling to - understand. No-one can be in my head and compare it to their own. Everyone is just a little fucked up - the interesting people anyway. The important people do, or at least try, and don't judge me on such spurious grounds.

More importantly, imagine if every person with depression came out and spoke up about it, and we could see just how many people it affects, across all sectors of society. The stats are their, but numbers don't resonate like actions. It would change the way people think about mental health, those who will never experience it, and crucially, those who are struggling. We'd see just how wrong we were/are to feel alone and misunderstood.

Mental health issues aren't visible. It is hard for someone who hasn't experienced it to interpret and understand. People's own fears come into play. I can't do anything about that. Except be open - which I'm trying to be more and more - for my own sake, and that of others with mental illness. I want to kick the stigma and misunderstanding square in the balls.

Recently I kissed a girl and she commented on the mild shake of my hands, something I get at times even when I'm calm. For fear of being thought of as excessively nervous or frigid, I told her it was from a history of anxiety - that seemed the lesser embarrassment. A friend was a little shocked I'd said so.

But I don't care. This is who I am, think whatever you will think.

I just. don't. care.

Yes. I take medication. It's no big deal.

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