It has been far too long…. After my last post, I figured I should make the effort to finish this series. That computer crash is still eating at me, but a lot of things eat at me. Why should a computer crash stop me from finishing this off?
One of the less common, but still entirely too common, myths of mental illness is that it is untreatable. I’m not sure where this myth comes from, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that it is largely a result of the misunderstandings of what mental illness is and the associated stigmas. The truth is that while mental illness may not necessarily be curable, it is surely treatable. Perhaps manageable is another word to use here.
As usual, from Elder Alexander B. Morrison:
Numerous medications have been developed by the multinational pharmaceutical industry. These potent products have proven of inestimable worth to millions.
I have no doubt that [advances in medicine, physiology, and chemistry] will result in striking advances in the therapy of mental illness.
And from NAMI:
Modern treatments are highly successful; between 70 and 90 percent of people have a significant reduction of symptoms and can live an improved life using a combination of pharmacological and psychological treatments and supports.
Of course, not everyone will find success, but the vast majority can and will find some measure of peace and rest. And I echo Elder Morrison’s sentiment that over time, the world will continue to make extraordinary advances both in our understanding and treatment of mental illness.
One of the greatest joys of doing this series has been meeting and talking with other people about mental illness. One of those people shared with me the following story of her experience with mental illness:
I was in grad school before I’d heard of dysthymia, and it was another year before I could get a diagnosis. But once I knew what it was, there was no doubt.
What is it, then? I’m going to simplify this almost to the point of being offensive: if major depression means you’re completely put out of commission for six weeks, dysthymia means you’re at half-power for six straight months. Or maybe six years. Or, in my case, over ten years.
It’s easy to overlook, don’t get me wrong. I mean no one’s really happy in junior high, right? And the devastating loneliness in high school only helps your writing – even popular kids had to acknowledge that.
But come college, when you’re crying yourself to sleep every night without knowing why, and your roommate (who, let’s face it, doesn’t give a hoot about you) is getting worried, some thing’s up.
But it’s not major depression. Major depression would have caused your… no, I’m owning this, my grades to slip, would have had me skipping classes, eating more or less than normal. Instead, I was diligent, fulfilled all my duties – and then slept all day, leaving me too alert at 3 AM when no one and nothing was around to distract me from my own thoughts.
But that was a low. More often, I just don’t get the highs. I joke that I “don’t do cheerful,” but it’s only half a joke. It’s so rare that I feel truly happy, and when it inevitably ends, the pendulum swings back, convincing me that nothing can ever go right. No matter what I do, I end up in my default state of mildly discontent.
From the outside, someone with dysthymia looks like a perfectly healthy pessimist. “You need an attitude adjustment,” my loved ones have told me. “Be more positive. Count your blessings. Put things in perspective.”
For perfectly healthy pessimists, that’s really good advice. The problem is, I look at how blessed I am, how good I have it… and I feel guilty for having been upset in the first place. It actually makes things worse. No, that’s not healthy – which is the point.
And here’s where it gets scary. People with dysthymia are actually more susceptible to suicide than people who “just” suffer from major depression. That’s because those of us with dysthymia are vulnerable to major depression, and often don’t realize we have dysthymia until we get the major depression treated. Imagine going through that hell (and I don’t use the term lightly), coming out the other side “cured” … and still not being capable of happiness or even a positive attitude. If that second diagnosis doesn’t come, it’s far too easy to lose all hope.
I was fortunate in having a doctor who, before anything drastic happened, listened to my symptoms and told me, flat-out, that while I had less than major depression, I had more than a bad attitude. It took a minor crisis, plus a nasty reminder of some issues that had caused a major depressive episode a few years before, for me to even get that help, but good came out of that, because a diagnosis, in and of itself, gave me hope. I’m not just a pathetic combination of pessimist and failure. I’m sick. And I might even get better.
And I think that sums up anything I could possibly add to this conversation. Thanks, my anonymous friend, for one of the more touching stories offered in the entire series.