Almost three years ago I started to realize that I wasn’t okay. Stephan was the first to notice it and suggest that I needed help. That kicked off a period of introspection on my part where I started to recognize what I was going through and drawing parallels to a period in my life, almost twenty years earlier, where I had dealt with the same issues. At that time I ended up trying to kill myself, dropped out of college and moved 2,000 miles from my home state of Wyoming to start over in Chicago.
Even though I recognized the signs and had a supportive husband, I still could have ended up in a very bad place. We didn’t have health insurance at that point so I couldn’t get professional help. In fact it would take about eight months after deciding I needed help before I could see someone. And when everyday you alternate between feeling like you are being buried alive or that your head is going to explode from all the anxiety, it’s hard to function, let alone jump through all the hoops of finding the help you need.
Much like with my move to Chicago in 1996, I started cataloging my struggles with depression and anxiety out of desperation. I made posts to my Facebook page about what I was dealing with, what it felt like, what I was going through to find help. I needed to express what was going on in a place that was safe for me. And even though I have a tightly locked down Facebook page, with a highly curated friends’ list, I still spent a lot of time agonizing over whether or not to post.
What helped was another friend posting first about going to therapy and then later about taking medication. It was just two little posts, snuggled in between stuff about politics and books and life. But it made a huge difference. Here was someone I looked up to, someone who, to my eyes, had their shit together. And they were seeing a therapist for anxiety. They were taking medication for their mental health. Holy shit! Maybe I wasn’t the only one!
I come from Wyoming, a state that has a high suicide rate for its population size, and where the most distinct cause of death in the state is the flu. It is a place where you suck it up and work through the pain, no matter what. It’s no wonder that we don’t talk about things as uncomfortable as mental health. My own mother, when I had brought up depression and therapy in the past, cautioned that I had to be careful because therapists would “just want to blame all your problems on your parents.” The concern with image trumps any pain or suffering you are feeling. Add to that the belief that mental illness is more about personal failings and irresponsibility than an actual medical condition and you can see why it’s hard to talk openly about depression and anxiety, let alone other mental health issues.
Posting, first only about the arduous process of finding doctors that took my health insurance, but later on my medications and my reactions, had an effect that I had expected. I started getting private messages from people who I had always seen as, again, having their shit together: people who were working, paying their bills, engaging in life. These people told me about the medications they were on. They told me what worked or didn’t work for them. They wrote to me with support and encouragement. It was so damned important for me, because I got to see that it wasn’t abnormal to take medication, that there was still life beyond depression.
As I kept writing, people started commenting openly. Again, all these friends who I thought of as awesome, put together adults, were sharing their own struggles and stories.
And something else happened. Friends started telling me about how my posts helped them with their own mental health issues. They recognized their symptoms in my writings. They went and sought help because they read about me taking medication. They were feeling better, more hopeful about their own lives because they saw someone else going through the same things.
That realization suddenly made it so much easier to write the posts about what I was feeling. To mention when I felt I was backsliding, or my worries that my medication isn’t helping. I was doing the same thing I have been doing when I post about whether or not I am making money in this whole living a creative life endeavor: I am standing in the dark, holding up a light for those who might be otherwise lost. And that’s a kind of healing as well.