Barbies and Board Games

May 31, 2011
By , Norwood Young America, MN
I don’t really know what happened. I don’t think anybody knows what happens. It just… Does, I guess. I can’t quite remember how long it took to become whoever or whatever I am now. I imagine it to have been a slow, gradual, change for the worse, but all that I can really recall is waking up one day and suddenly feeling the way I do now. I could say that it happened very quickly, but it was more like I got used to the feeling. That’s what makes it so difficult to call to mind. My memories are either years ago or months ago. All of the time in between is just a blur.

The 2004 U.S. Census residential population estimate said that 26% of Americans suffer from a mental illness every year. That translates to about 57.7 million people. Yeah.

A different study shows that 8 out of 10 people will have some sort of mental disorder during their lifetime. Unless my calculations are incorrect, I believe that’s 80%. It’s not looking so good for people’s mental health now, is it?

So if you grow up thinking that your life will be all unicorns and PG movies, I am warning you that your aspirations of being 100% mentally healthy until the day you die are pretty much screwed, and your hopes and dreams of never having to look at getting out of bed every day as a pain and living your life as not worthwhile are, in a word, f***ed. But kids never look ahead. They’re too busy playing Barbie’s and board games to think that maybe their futures won’t be as bright as everyone is telling them they will be. I feel sorry whenever I see happy tots just hanging around the swing set and amusing themselves with a game of tag. I think about how their guaranteed-amount-of-happy-life tank is going empty, and that they will soon be embarking on a dangerous and terrible journey that I like to call life. They’re not the least bit prepared for the load of s*** that is most-likely about to hit them in the face.

On Thursday, September 16, 2010, I was prescribed for an anti-depressant called floxeteen. Probably better known as Prozac. It wasn’t really a surprise. My shrink had been talking to my mom and me about it since we first went to see her the April before. I guess the things that I said I was feeling just triggered the thought of medication. Not that I have anything against medicine, it’s just that I didn’t really expect it. That’s when it really hit me. That’s when I totally and completely felt the realness of the situation. Like I said, they never tell you about all the things that can go tragically wrong when they’re plotting out your life in kindergarten. Sure the ABC’s come in handy every once in a while, but I’d rather have learned about the emotional hurricane that was coming my way.

It’s hard to pinpoint when exactly these strange feelings began to occur inside of me. Sometime around the halfway point of my seventh grade year. I got the swine flu over Christmas break, (which sucked in case you were wondering), and I recovered, but there just always seemed to be something wrong after that. I had this foreign feeling that I was undergoing. It was like a deep ache inside of me. And then it started to get worse. By late February to early March it was in full swing. I would wake up in the morning and feel like I hadn’t slept in weeks, even though I had just awoken from an eight-hour slumber. I think that’s the first thing that I can remember happening. Then my fatigue got worse. I would feel only half awake throughout the entire day. After that I started losing interest. My then sorry excuse for a social life quickly took a turn for the non-existent. All I ever wanted to do or looked forward to in a day was sleep. I was losing my appetite. I would wake up an average of four times a night. Crying became my pre-sleep ritual. My life got to the point that I just didn’t care anymore. I wouldn’t say that I was suicidal, but if someone ran up and shot me in the head, I don’t think I would complain, not that I’d really have the chance to. It was bad, but I was afraid that if I talked to someone about it, it might become worse.

In late March I was starting to have regular panic attacks/emotional breakdowns. My friendship with my then best friend was crumbling. I started hinting with my parents about how I was feeling. One night it just all came out. I was sitting at the table and I was crying and everything fell apart. I broke my little secret with myself and my mom suggested that we go see someone. I agreed.

It wasn’t my first time going to see a shrink. I went to family counseling/anger management the fall of my sixth grade year so I was pretty well adjusted to answering questions and elaborating on everything until there wasn’t anything else to elaborate on.

The place that I had to go to for this affair was about half an hour away from my house. I live in the middle of nowhere, so that was pretty much the closest office to my house. Not that I would want to go to counseling in my own town. God that would be terrible. But anyway, the car ride was the longest thirty minutes of my life. It was just silence, except for the last five minutes. My mom just started talking about how I had to be as honest with the psychologist as I am with her and Dad. I knew that I had to be truthful. Not only would I be lying to the other people in the room, I would be lying to myself if I didn’t. And isn’t the entire point of therapy telling the truth? I don’t know, but I spoke frankly nonetheless.

My mom thankfully got a woman psychologist. Women are more approachable for me, but that’s not the point. While sitting in the waiting room I was wondering what she would be like. I knew two things: She had a vagina and her name was Mary Anne. That’s not a lot of knowledge for a person that you’re about to pour your whole life out to. So we waited for a while. I heard a door open down the hall, then footsteps. And she appeared around the corner. She was tall, broad, and extra wide around the midsection. She had a round, smiling face, bordered by straight, bright blonde hair just above her shoulders. She was one of those people that you just want to hug when you see them. Like a big, stuffed teddy bear or something.
I don’t remember how the whole session went down in detail, but we met, and then my mom had to fill out all of this paperwork about my health records and confidentiality and stuff. I had to complete a worksheet about my interests, likes, and other things that I don’t usually prefer to discuss. And then we started talking about my social life and all my deep dark secrets that I would only spill out to a perfect stranger with a master’s degree in psychology. And then the 50 minutes was up. It’s not as intense as everybody says it is. It’s not like in the movies where the patient lays down on a couch and tells about their childhood traumas. Well, in some cases it is, but not in mine. It was just Mary, Mom, and me. Yes, it was terrifying, but not intimidating. It was just, safe. It felt good.
I could have easily been really self-conscious about seeing a shrink. And I was a little, but not as much as my low self esteem could have enabled me to be. You see, some people can be really judgmental without knowing it. Both of sides of my family have certain opinions of counseling. My grandmother on my mom’s side worked with the mentally ill as a nurse for years, and yet she speaks openly about how she doesn’t believe in medication and counseling for emotional and mental problems. It’s scary thinking about how people you love have no idea about the situation you are in, so you just sit there listening to all of the reasons why you shouldn’t tell them about your predicament. You’re afraid that you will let them down. You love and trust them so much, and it just hurts to know that if they knew, they might not love you. That might not be the case, but when you’re in that position, sometimes you can’t help but worry about losing people that you’re close to because of something that isn’t in your control.

It drives me crazy how some people look at going to therapy as admitting you are weak. That’s not it at all. It’s actually quite the opposite. Admitting that there is something out of your control that you need help with is a characteristic of a very strong person. I just don’t know how two things as opposite as strengths and weaknesses could ever be mistaken with each other. The way that the generations before me were raised just doesn’t make any sense. Why would people say these things? People were probably scared to death to admit that they had mental illnesses because of the probable reaction of their friends and family. That’s probably why everybody in the nation went crazy. They had to hold in their true thoughts and emotions for so long that they all came tumbling out all at once. I can just imagine it; people erupting like emotional volcanoes, triggering mental earthquakes, then the never-ending aftershock and trauma, so on and so forth. Only now are the biased opinions of mental disorders from the past beginning to fade. Thank God.

This may sound strange, but I have always officially wanted a mental disorder. Not just to have one. I like being able to have an excuse for my weirdness. You know, a name for it. When you say “depression”, you don’t have to explain it to people. They just get it.

I can’t really describe the emotion that came over me the moment that I gulped down my first Prozac. I was excited, happy, scared, sad, hopeful. Part of me was overjoyed that I might finally be normal and feel the way that all the other kids my age do. But yet, I was afraid. I didn’t know what side effects I would have. I had no idea what those little blue and white capsules could do. And then I was sad because I fully comprehended the situation I was in. I was taking medicine. It was like having your first radiation treatment for leukemia. It just… Set in. But I wanted to take the pill so that it could empty all of its magic ingredients into my body and make everything better again. But many people had informed me that that wasn’t how it was going to go down. 4 to 8 weeks. That’s how long the doctor who prescribed me said it will probably take. That’s a lot of days, a lot of pills, and a lot of magic ingredients. So here I am, week 9, no improvement.

They started me out at 10 mg. That’s how the process works. It’s basically like taking nothing at first. Then, after a few weeks, you go back to the doctor and they most likely bump you up. My second prescription was for 20 mg. That’s what I’m at now. And then, if things get better and stay better, I will slowly be eased off my meds. It’s a long, hard process. And if a particular medicine isn’t cutting it, you have to slowly be taken off your current medication and eased onto another one. It could take years to find the right drugs to get you back on track. There are so many different kinds out there that it seems like it could take a lifetime and a half to settle on just one. Pristiq, Cymbalta, Zoloft, Lexapro, Celexa, Savella, Paxil, Remeron, Wellbutrin. They may seem like just words with weird, uncommon letters in them, but they are each very unique, sensitive drugs that have their own special powers. Kind of like superheroes and villains.

I see all of these commercials on TV for antidepressants that make it look like everybody with depression have giant sacks under their eyes and just sit around and pities themselves. No. That’s not it at all. We have to go around and live our lives just like everybody else, except that we have tons of emotional and mental baggage to carry around with us all day. We’re not just either nutcases or pity-parties. Some of us are, but most of us are very in between.

I haven’t told all that many people about my depressions. I think I’m apprehensive to tell people because of a few different reasons. I don’t trust people. They might take it the wrong way. Or maybe they will start treating me differently. I don’t want to scare people, or even worse, let them down. I’m afraid that I will get any response but the right one. So for now, I’m just keeping it mostly to myself.

It’s a scary thing to not know how you’ll feel from day to day. It’s even more frightening to look into the future. I have all of these dreams and goals for myself, and if I don’t achieve them, I would consider my life a failure. I don’t want my illness to get in the way of things. I don’t want to use it as an excuse to not value every single day of my life and make something of myself. I want to go to a great college and find a career and lifestyle that will make me happy for the rest of my life. I need to find my purpose in this world, and nothing can stop me from doing that. But sometimes I just wonder how I won’t let things get in the way.

I know that there will be road blocks. I know that every day won’t be a good one. I know that nothing’s ever going to be perfect, no matter how hard I try to manipulate things. I know that I can overcome my disorder. The finish line isn’t even in sight, but I am positive that I will cross it someday. But I refuse to put my life on hold until I do. I will continue to get out of bed every single day and try my best, and sooner or later, there’s bound to be progress. I’m not looking for six foot strides here. I’m searching for the baby steps in the right direction. You see, in a world where nothing is completely flawless, you have to look for the little things. There’s happiness out there. Trust me, I know what it feels like to go through impossible days and lose all faith in yourself and your life, but you have to believe. You have to stay strong. That’s how you dig yourself out of a whole. That’s how you find yourself and your place in the world. That’s how you take an ugly, revolting disease, and turn it into something that fulfills your character and makes you a better person. Something that changes you in a way that you didn’t know was possible, and makes you fully appreciate the wonder and beauty of happiness. And I hope, with all my being, that that something will be worth it all in the end.

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