I know I’ve been silent for a while on my blog. Between my bouts of depression and just not knowing what to post, I haven’t written anything. Today I want to talk about something near and dear to my heart: mental health care.
For those of you who are new to my blog, I have bipolar disorder and anxiety. I was diagnosed with Bipolar II when I was sixteen. Over the years my moods have fluctuated so much that at one time I was pretty much almost unable to take care of myself or my family. If you’re curious, the definitions of bipolar diagnoses are here. I have been in the psychiatric hospital five times, four for suicidal ideology, the fifth for actually attempting it.
I’ve been told I “don’t look sick.” I’ve been told “just get over it.” “Just think positively.” “You don’t have social anxiety. That’s just an excuse not to make friends.”
Mental illness, like the other invisible disabilities, isn’t a physically visible illness. We don’t carry signs proclaiming our diagnoses. Some have visible scars from self-harm, but that’s not all of us. There are those of us – me included – that are in recovery from an eating disorder.
None of these things – the self-harm, the eating disorders, the depression, anxiety, mania, schizophrenia – are going to go away. They are going to be with us for the rest of our lives. They are something we have to manage, whether it’s by medications, counseling, meditation, or other methods. No person is the same, and their treatment plans aren’t going to be exactly the same as someone else’s.
When living in Idaho, I had access to mental health care. It wasn’t always the greatest, and I had my fair share of assholes and people who didn’t understand me. Some of my doctors didn’t listen to me when I explained about my problems so they prescribed me things that didn’t help, or turned me into a zombie to the point where getting out of bed was harder than it would have been with me not on meds.
I have chosen to go the route of medication and therapy. In Oregon, that’s not easy to manage. It’s taken me four months to get in with a counselor who can then refer me to someone to prescribe me medications that should help regulate my moods better. And that’s where I live. Because of the run around I was getting, I called to Salem and McMinnville – the closest good sized cities – to get help. Salem had lots of people to call, and not many who actually managed meds. And those that did weren’t taking new patients. In McMinnville, the only mental health care was tied to the county mental health department so they wouldn’t take anyone outside Yamhill county. Idaho had way too many problems for me, but it did have better mental health care facilities.
The care for those with mental illnesses in the US is terrible. So many clinics are overfilled and underfunded. Hospitals are more for ending the immediate symptoms rather than taking a longer view approach to get you set up on something that can actually help you. Medical insurance won’t cover psychiatric care, or if they do it’s a very limited number of visits they’ll cover. After that it’s all out of pocket. When you’re trying to get set up on a treatment plan, you could be going as often as every week. Sometimes multiple times in a week until you get stabilized enough that you can function.
Because of my bipolar and my anxiety, I am counted as permanently disabled. I can’t work outside the home in a standard job. That’s one of the reasons I love being on a farm. I can do work I enjoy that doesn’t entail me dealing with the horrors I suffered working in the private sector. The never ending panic attacks, constant depression or mania, the constant feeling of being out of control mentally. I was relieved when I got the judgment I did. I started stabilizing, though not enough to go off meds. I wasn’t going to the hospital constantly because people thought I was having a heart attack. I felt alive again.
Every day is a struggle for me. There are days where the only thing getting me out of bed is the fact that I have animals to take care of. I can’t just ignore them or they’d be harmed. There are days where I just want to curl up and sleep the day away. My husband doesn’t let me do that, and I have responsibilities to the household that I have to perform. I don’t want to, but I’m forced into it.
I have my first appointment with my new counselor this Friday. From there I’ll get my appointment with a local psychiatrist to see if I can get my meds updated and stabilize again. Right now I’m using only my anti-seizure medicine (which is also prescribed for mental health issues) to maintain my equilibrium. It’s not working that well. I’m hoping it won’t take much to get me stable again, though I’ll have to wait and see.
Mental health issues aren’t a joke. They’re not “just in our head” in the way some people think. Those of us with them don’t always function well in normal society. This does not make us freaks, retards, liars, hypochondriacs, or insane. We are people with a medical problem that requires special care.
If you know someone with a mental illness, don’t judge them on the days where things aren’t going well. Be there to be supportive. If they need an ear, let them call/text/email you. Educate yourself on their diagnosis, if you know it. Don’t tell them to “get over it” or other phrases that you may think are helpful but actually hurt us. Don’t treat us like we’re helpless either. Treat us as you would anyone else, and understand that some days will be better than others for us.