That’s a big issue. So yesterday a minister’s kid killed himself, which raised the ugly topic about suicide on twitter. It really was more of a one sided affair with people castigating those who contemplate or commit suicide. At first I was angry but later I guess I felt sorry, sorry for the level of ignorance and sorry for the number of people who will continue to suffer and/or die because mental health is not highlighted enough.
I’ll use myself as a living example. I’m not ashamed to admit I have been to that level where I contemplated suicide; to the point I knew the how, among other horrible things. Though I guess there’s nothing more horrible than taking your own life. And I am among the lucky few.
I’m not really that sure where to begin or how to go about this. I won’t be that comprehensive, I’m not a mental health pro but I guess I expect after reading this, you might have an idea what goes through the mind of a mentally ill person, and you go out and learn more about mental health. I’ll cover only what I know well, and/or have experienced and get you on the journey that will hopefully result in more awareness and will get somebody in need the help they require.
There are several types of mental illnesses out there. I’ve experienced two; bipolar disorder and depression. These are the ones I’ll cover because they’re the most common and I have some semblance of experience with them.
I’ll start with bipolar disorder. For the most part this blog has been about my day to day experience with bipolar, since I started it(coincidentally though) right about the time I was informed that I might have the condition. As regular readers already know, that was confirmed last year i.e. stopped being a “might have”. Will make it as short as I can. Basically bipolar is a mood disorder characterized by elevated moods, the highs referred to as mania, and the downs just known as lows. It’s not a constant thing and may occur once, twice or several times a year. Untreated, this is incremental, meaning once you get the first episode, there will only be more. The mood cycle mostly begins with a feeling like euphoria or awesomeness that may last from a few hours to a day or two, followed by the low which basically feels like a period of reduced self-esteem and low confidence.
The reason it took me so long to get treatment was because I loved the highs and the occurrence of lows was negligible. Plus I used to get stoned and drunk a lot and therefore couldn’t recognize whether it was the drugs talking or the sick me. Some of the things I did, I don’t write about because my colleagues read this blog and even though I try to live my life as openly as possible, there’re facets of me I’d rather keep for my inner circle. I was lucky in my old job because my boss valued my input (and was my friend) so had tolerance for some of the stunts I pulled in the middle of such episodes, but more of that later.
With time I started to accept the whole ben-might-be-bipolar thing so I was able to observe my moods and have reasonable control over myself. Writing helped too, because I could compare the mood in the text with what I know as my normal self. I can’t tell at what exact point the lows turned to full blown depression and incidentally I didn’t know that till I met my current shrink.
The mechanism behind depression is really really complicated. I remember in primary school we skimmed over depression, most probably because we were too young to comprehend this extreme form of sadness that just sucks the joy out of life. According to my shrink, depression is really more common than we think, it’s just that in most people it’s recognized too late to help them effectively. Depression is many times triggered by stress. Be it from work, relationship and other external factors. Simple as it may seem, getting out of depression doesn’t simply involve “sucking it up” or shrugging it away.
In the brain there is a chemical called serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter. Fluctuations of this chemical affects moods. In bipolar disorder the brain is not able to regulate the amounts of this chemical so sometimes it’s in excess resulting in mania and when it’s a little resulting in the lows. Mine is mild bipolar so my body pretty much got things under wrap most of the time. For depression, the body is producing very little serotonin. I know, right? How can such a stupid little chemical do so much damage!? Anyway that is basically it! Genetic predisposition means some people are more vulnerable to depression than others.
Umm…so what do I talk about now… Oh yes, how depression affects a person’s life. You have to remember this article is just about sating the curiosity about what the fuck goes through a depressed person’s mind, it’s not an article you can quote because the experience might be different for somebody else, but there are professional journals about all this.
When you are depressed you are in a dark dark room in the most remote recesses of your mind. You may have things going for you but you can’t notice it. My self-esteem was low, although I tried to fake it. When I got home after work all I wanted to do was be by myself and I’d beat myself up about why I couldn’t hold a relationship, why I’d become poor, why at my age I was still living with my parents while many of my age-mates were having families. i would cry to sleep many times and I’d hate myself more for doing that because I’m a man. Generally I knew my life sucked.
I would have trouble sleeping and when it was morning I didn’t want to wake up, I just wanted to go back to my sleep to the sweet peace that is unconsciousness. This way the brain is conditioned the Pavlov way to associate the darkness with good and consciousness with bad. I always thought about death a lot all that time, but I was like “noo, what about my mom and sister. What will they think?” Mental reasoning is all screwed up (but you don’t realize that), sane reasoning is eroded over time because I started to think, look at the way they’re always sad because of me. Wouldn’t they be so much better off without me, at least they’ll be able to focus on more important things, their lives. See where I’m leading?
Eventually you come to the conclusion the world is better off without you. I am catholic so I also thought about hell, but realized I was living in one. I would drag myself out of bed, and go to work but I would wonder why the heck I was bothering with that shit. I spent over one year in that routine till I forgot what happiness was. Mind you I wasn’t depressed all the time, I had happy days, but when I got depressed, it would catch up from where it left off the last time so each time I would be lower. I’m seriously considering publishing some of the extreme things I wrote during those periods, if only for the sake of awareness, many of them were mostly goodbyes and a conclusion of a life “well lived”. Oddly enough my dependence on alcohol reduced and I stopped taking weed completely, to this day I never understood why because in many cases of depression the opposite is the rule. My shrink can’t tell me why either. I guess I wanted to enjoy my last moment as myself. Oh, here’s something to note, when a depressed person seems to suddenly come out of it and seems happy again; that is the most dangerous point because it is indicative they’ve come to a decision.
No, not the decision to seek treatment and suck it up “because life is hard for everyone anyway”. It means they’re at peace with themselves and their decision. It is that final moment when that voice/instinct of self-preservation finally dies out and there’s no inner conflict. I would know; I was almost at that point, right at the cusp. Oh I wanted to die alright but that voice in me hadn’t given up yet, I had to try one last thing before coming to my final decision(morbid huh?)…I wanted to see a psychiatrist. He is good people, wanted me hospitalized immediately because he thought he wouldn’t see me again. Yeah, hospitalization is just my nice way of saying Mathare mental hospital. Nah, I kid, they have private mental institutions. He didn’t charge for that session and I think he wanted to pay for my hospitalization, I kid you not. I didn’t have any money when I went there. I hate being confined so obviously there was no way I was going to let anybody hospitalize me. But I used all the money I had and bought the medicine I’d been prescribed and…here we are; more than a year later. I’m no longer depressed and have full control of my life. I know I stopped taking the medicine without consulting the doctor, but it came out he was going to take me off them anyway. I’m only being treated for the bipolar which is a breeze compared to depression.
Anyway, getting out of depression isn’t as easy as it seems, but my family and girlfriend were a big help. The girlfriend because she is the only other person who can really understand the shit-storm that was my mind, having gone through it herself (not bipolar). We broke up several times but eventually it was all good as I healed and had more control over my mental faculties. It had to end though. Pathetic, huh? You go through years of hell and when things are finally good…but that has been covered, I guess. But long story short, I love my family and they have always been there for me and really helped me especially in making me realize I was loved regardless of who I am; but Shae was the one who made me realize I could get out of it and be happy for once. She was my rock and for that I’ll forever be grateful.
My point is depressed people can’t do it alone. Most of the time you have to reach out to them to make them realize they are sick. Believe me, they don’t know that that is something that can be treated through therapy and medication. The worst thing you can do is judge them because you make it worse. I used to think being suicidal was cowardice too (the times before I was depressed, obviously). The only reason I got out of it so fast was because I knew I had a problem. As far as my doctor is concerned, I’m not out of the woods yet…fyi. I was depressed for a whole year before I got treatment, most people have gone longer without knowing and in them the damage is much worse and you need more patience.
It takes a lot to convince a person they’re ill. Depression is a disease no less like AIDS or cancer and the most important step is to make the depressed person come to accept it as such. It’s not shameful. Being taken to Mathare is not shameful, I know we make fun of that place a lot but I think it’s about time we stopped stigmatizing mental health treatment. Taking antidepressants isn’t shameful, seeing a psychiatrist isn’t something to feel shy about; when you need a doctor, you need a doctor.
Most importantly, even if they don’t want to talk about their feelings with you, don’t feel bad, they’ll get there, just make them feel your world is a much happier place because they’re there, whether they appear “damaged” or not.
One last thing, treatment of bipolar and/or depression is freaking expensive. If you know a friend is having difficulty paying for it, help them or find a way to help them. The treatment is really important. I’m lucky insurance started paying for my treatment; I had actually stopped for a couple of weeks because of financial reasons! Went to a pharmacist and the cost of the medicine was 18k! Really fucked up, huh?
I guess now it’s time to give the list of symptoms to look out for:
· People become withdrawn no psyche in life
· Decreased productivity at work, decreased energy
· Suicidal thoughts
For bipolar I’ll just let you google it. But I don’t think bipolar is that serious especially in its milder form. Regardless, I’m having it treated and doing my best to stick to the medical regime assigned. But I really hate popping pills every day and I long for the time all I’ll need is the psychiatric help alone. Bipolar is really cool though when you think about it, right? It’s like FREE BOOZE, no hangover, no liver damage. Anyhoo, I’ve digressed. I tend to contradict myself a lot when it comes to bipolar. It is rather a double edged sword sadly. You get this really awesome designer drug for free but dangling on it is a disclaimer “side effects may include: loss of job, loss of savings, loss of relationship, STI, death from the God-syndrome, depression etc…”
And those who make it a habit of judging people for thinking about suicide, nobody appreciates life more than the person that almost ended their own because only they know how close they came to going off the edge and how helpless that feeling is! I know you say those things out ignorance and mean the best, but fuck you. You don’t know!
Anyway I have done my part in showing you what it feels like to be depressed. Your part now is to find out more about it. I’ve only scratched the surface. On Wikipedia there’re over a hundred mental illnesses listed; chances are, somebody you know is suffering from one of them and doesn’t even know it. Do your part. Nobody ever died from knowing too much…unless you’re working for the mafia or a drug baron, in which case, good luck.
As a footnote, I know there are group sessions for people with mental illnesses which may be helpful if you think you are suffering from a mental illness or know somebody suffering from it. It really helps to talk about it with somebody you know has gone or is going through the same. If you need the contacts hit me up on twitter(@iz_ben). I’ll confess I’ve never gone to any because I don’t need to talk about it; I write almost all my experiences which is therapy enough (and remember I had a girlfriend that had gone through the same who helped a lot), plus i have a professional psychiatrist, which as far as I’m concerned is enough. Sorry, stubborn is in my nature.
Keep safe and look out for your physical, emotional and mental well-being, and of course those of the people close to you. Cheers.