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Healthy Living

Let’s Talk About Medicating Mental Illness The Same Way We Do Other Diseases

The stigma of mental illness is longstanding and as real as ever.

I love medicine.

I believe in medicine.

I’ve seen when medicine transforms life and when medicine fails miserably. The science is absurdly fascinating.

I also know the limitations of medicine and those who prescribe it. I know how every human responds differently, and there’s never a panacea. So for a diabetic, insulin is life. For an asthmatic, sucking an inhaler is part of the daily grind. For cancer patients, the calculated dripping of chemo is cure. For menopausal women, the repleting of hormones is essential for sanity. Trust. Me.

“I take Zoloft every day to stay out of the solitary cell of my serotonin-depleted mind. I’m open about it because to live a shamed life is not living.”

Few people would argue about medicating those conditions (except maybe the anti-vaxxer types out there, but no one has time for your insanity, and I secretly hope you get pertussis). But when it comes to medicating mental illnesses, there’s not the same consensus.

The stigma of mental illness is longstanding and as real as ever. We haven’t come a long way, babies. I think we’ve made slightly more progress than racism and sexism in America, but not by much. We are still agonizingly slow in this arena.

People are still uncomfortable talking about taking anti-depressants/anti-anxiety/anti-psychotics/stimulants for ADHD. Why? Is it because of the subjective nature of mental illness? If there was a scan that could definitively prove one was a tad low on serotonin, would that change the dialogue? If there was a blood test that showed providers their patients were suicidal or manic, would we all be cool discussing our medication regimen with friends and family?

“There’s no easily available CT scan or blood test that can prove that my serotonin runs quite low. But it does.”

Do symptoms have to be objective to be discussed openly? Why isn’t it enough to say, “I feel like the world is too big and terrifying and I perseverate on all the ways life can fuck me over and I become paralyzed by that fear”? Would that be enough objective proof that an anti-anxiety is warranted? Could we talk openly then?

It needs to be enough. Because people die in silence.

I’ll start. Sometimes, I feel so negative and bleak about the world and life. Sometimes, I am so irritable that I say horrible, hurtful things to the people who love me unconditionally. I can easily fall into a deep, dark hole and get stuck there. Like a cinderblock at the bottom of a well. Nothing has light. My body hurts, and I am so damn fatigued. By life. I cry easily. About nothing. And everything. The world is a real shit hole. And the thing is, when I get in this space, the world is never going to get better.

“I thank the power of the universe for creating the human mind to be able to figure out the compounds that make my small yellow life-saving pills.”

There’s no easily available CT scan or blood test that can prove that my serotonin runs quite low. But it does. See above testimony. I take Zoloft every day to stay out of the solitary cell of my serotonin-depleted mind. I’m open about it because to live a shamed life is not living. I am not embarrassed that my DNA was programmed long ago to have this illness. I was born this way.

It’s easy for me to be open because my beloved Zoloft works. I thank the power of the universe for creating the human mind to be able to figure out the compounds that make my small yellow life-saving pills. There are many many many people who need to travel a Via Dolorosa to find their cure. They need to be heard too. We all need to be heard. But the more fragile humans among us, the ones with twitchy neuro-transmitters, REALLY need to be heard. And validated. And we need to encourage them to not give up on medicine. It’s their version of insulin. They’d die without it.

“We need to encourage them to not give up on medicine. It’s their version of insulin. They'd die without it.”

The only way we can listen and encourage and validate and save some lives is if we aren’t ashamed to bring the dark into the light. Let’s talk about mental illness and medicine the way we talk about other diseases. Let’s overshare. The way we do about our oh-so-adorable kids and our stunning vacations and dinner dishes. Let’s be real on social media, people. Snapchat your meds. Tweet that your heart’s racing with primal fear about starting your new job. Create a hashtag #depressionisabitch. Open the dusty, sealed box hidden in the corner of your den for years. Blow off the cobwebs and air it out.

You may save a life. I guarantee you’re not alone. There’s a big, loving tribe of twitchy-brained folks out there. I’m one. Let’s talk about it.

If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.