Mental Health — From Shame to Seeking Help, Part Five: Fighting the Shame
HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Lana Hobbs’ blog, Lana Hobbs the Brave. Lana describes herself as “an aspiring writer and a former religious fundamentalist” who currently identifies as “post-Christian.” She was homeschooled in junior high and highschool. Part Five of this series was originally published on June 14, 2013.
Part Five: Fighting the Shame
(This is the next part of my story of how i went from doubting mental illness is real to getting help. For the intro and full post list, updated as parts are added, click here.)
Our firstborn, Aiden, was born in october 2009. Life continued with general ‘sickness’ and many emotional ups and downs, some obviously caused by life, and some seeming random.
While pregnant with Aiden, I discovered I had low blood sugar issues. I expected that after recovering from birth, a good diet would solve all my problems. But while eating more protein helped a little with daily mood and energy shifts, I found a perfect diet as elusive as a perfect attitude for solving ‘my sickness’.
When Aiden was six months old, I got pregnant again (we were into the ‘quiverfull’ movement at the time so didn’t want to sin by ‘limiting our blessings’.)
I had a relatively uneventful pregnancy and a safe home birth in a birthing pool. Kieron was born in the last hour of February, 2011.
With Aiden, I had needed an emergency induction and the birth took awhile to recover from, with Kieron I recovered quickly.
In the following weeks, I was energetic and exhilarated. I could have been hypomanic but I think I was just really happy, surprisingly bubbly. I was confident, I already knew how to breastfeed and take care of a baby, I was a pretty good mom.
The new-baby-high slowly faded into a new routine of pleasant, tiring life.
Then in the summer, depression hit again. This time, I knew it was depression – when I would allow myself to admit it.
I wanted help this time. Or I almost did.
But Luke had lost his job and was working a paper route, and my only insurance was through my dad.
And even with thoughts of getting help, I hated to ask for it. Even if it was real depression, I thought I should be able to manage it myself. Besides, there is something about depression that makes a person help resistant. I’m not sure why but depressed people frequently don’t want to go get any help.
I admitted to my mother in law that I was depressed and she told me a story: she had once suffered from post partum depression. It interrupted her whole life. She wasn’t sleeping. She wasn’t really sane. She finally realized she needed help; she took pills for awhile; she went back to normal. Her moral was, despite what people say, sometimes you need medication and you take it thankfully.
I was still against medication, but this helped me get up the nerve to look for somewhere to make an appointment, and to find insurance information.
So in a slightly clearer moment, I decided I would try to get help. but first, I had to call my dad for insurance details, and he didn’t provide many. Instead, I somehow ended up mentioning I thought I was bipolar and needed meds, and despite my intention to just get the insurance details, I found myself defending my belief that I was bipolar. I told him about depression, hypomania, suicidal thoughts I tried to talk about since childhood and never could, the words spilled out now that I believed someone was listening.
Dad was confident I couldn’t be bipolar (a coworker’s ex was really bipolar so he knows about BPD), and he suggested that I was just immature, had trouble dealing with some things from my childhood because mom was so difficult (i think that was the word he used), and that although suicide was evil to think about it is fairly normal. He suggested Christian Counseling to help me forgive. He didn’t think I’d be able to afford psychiatry even with insurance, and was hurt that I had only discussed this with him because of insurance. Of course, the fact that he might try to talk me out of it was exactly why I didn’t want to discuss it with him.
He also said that I shouldn’t go to a diagnosing therapist and say I thought I was bipolar, because they would automatically diagnose me and I would be stuck with the stigma my whole life and he indicated I’d have to tell people i was diagnosed.*
My mom was seriously depressed at the time and my dad told me if I ever did get diagnosed bipolar, to not tell my mother because… something about how it would make her feel really bad. It didn’t make much sense to me as he had already made clear that they wouldn’t believe it if I were diagnosed, so I wondered what difference it would make.
When the conversation ended, my head was spinning. Was I really so immature it looked like bipolar? Suicidal thoughts aren’t a sign of mental illness but are ‘normal’? Was the real reason I couldn’t get out of the fog because i was lazy, unforgiving, and selfish? Should I want to avoid a diagnosis? Would my entire family hate me? They would, at any rate, not believe a diagnosis. I felt that my Dad thought I was just neurotic, not trying hard enough to be healthy, and wanting to be ‘special’ instead of dealing with my emotional issues. (btw, therapy DOES involve dealing with emotional issues).
I felt at this point like I probably shouldn’t be so selfish as to want to spend our very limited resources on counseling. I was back to thinking it might be wrong of me to have ever thought I might have a mental illness. Selfish, lazy Lana, wanting to be special by getting diagnosed bipolar but really just a bad person.
Doubting whether I should even try to get help at this point, and not wanting to, I talked to luke, and he said that even with a sliding rule fee at a local nonprofit mental health clinic, we couldn’t afford anything at all. We never called. (I should have at least tried, perhaps it would have been free for people as broke as us, but the conversation with my dad renewed my self doubts and it didn’t take much to shut down my little will to get help after that.)
But I was still in the middle of a severe active depression (I’ve heard it described as driving a plane into the ground instead of it just falling, sometimes I call it ‘furious depression’), and needed help.
I had a toddler and a baby and was fighting to be present for them.
I read all the books the library had about coping with bipolar disorder. I had Luke read the most helpful books so he could help me help myself.
I couldn’t focus on what I was reading all the time, but I slogged through the information and took notes and applied what I could manage.
It helped some, I learned about a few coping mechanisms – mostly writing truth to myself, arguing with my negative self, and trying to stay as active as I could with depressive pain.
I knew I was doing my at-the-time best to fight for sanity, and I had to slowly write my own story, choose what words I would accept to myself. I had to cut myself off emotionally from my parents’ view of me as unloving, immature, and lazy, because I didn’t feel, deep down, that it was really me. Luke insisted it wasn’t.
I had to accept other words for myself – hardworking but depressed. Struggling. Strong but needing help. Probably bipolar, or having something that mimics it closely. I felt trapped in my mind but at least now I was arguing to myself that this wasn’t my fault.
By the time Luke had a new job with health insurance and enough money to pay the electric bill on time, I was out of the big foggy depression.
My mother in law was – I realized recently – a little disappointed that I didn’t get help then. She had done her best to let me know it was okay and had even recommended someone to call. But she didn’t know about everything else; my parents, how incredibly broke we were, how deep the stigma ran in my soul.
Still, she didn’t push; she’s good at that. At that point, anything resembling pushing me to get help, would have been harmful, as I was doing the best I could, both emotionally and financially. The steps I did take, at the time, were huge. (If you can’t get help, relax and do what you can. Books aren’t the same as meds and therapy but they can give you some help!)
Looking back, I wouldn’t have changed much about how I coped with that depression. It was a very difficult few months for me, but I grew a lot emotionally; I became more of my own person, and I learned a lot about how my brain works.
*I panicked a bit when he made these claims, then I did some research and logical thinking. For one, there are specific criteria for diagnosis and the doctors are trained. They don’t diagnose just everyone. For another, if I ever got a job, I wouldn’t have to disclose bipolar disorder unless I needed accomodation. And if I needed accomodation, it wouldn’t be because I was diagnosed bipolar, but because I am bipolar. The people saying bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, etcetera aren’t real or are so rare you aren’t likely to know anyone with it, or that try to dissuade you from treatment are probably not well educated on the subject of mental illness.
To be continued.