Hey there. Don’t bother reading this if you’re not ready to get real for a few minutes.
You can go look at kittens.
Seriously, I will completely understand if you want to leave this page right now to look at kittens.
Still there? Ready? Great. Lovely to have you. My name’s Laura, and for going on two years now I’ve been diagnosed with panic disorder and I take medication to manage it.
I’ve never come out and put it like that before in one sentence. I tend to say, “I have had panic attacks about very real issues in my life such as finances and success and my family is prone to serotonin imbalance issues so it became an almost entirely physical problem and so I take a low-level SSRI to account for that and I find that it allows me to effectively deal with the problems I encounter.”
But listen. They came up with the name “panic disorder” to describe exactly that. Just because it sounds serious doesn’t mean I should feel ashamed of it. And anyone who judges me because of that can go to hell, because I have no control over it and it does not make me:
c) “too emotional”
d) any less capable or intelligent or reasonable or logical than I am.
In the last few weeks I’ve talked to several people who are struggling with problems with which I sometimes struggle. There’s a strange relief when you talk to someone who actually understands what you mean when you say that depression scared you because you knew that people and events had meaning but you couldn’t feel that way, internally, for that period of time, or when you talk about feeling that the core self that you’d always felt you could rely on had evaporated and you had nothing to hold on to. Honestly, as horrible as my first few months dealing with panic disorder were, I wouldn’t exchange them for anything, because it wasn’t until then that I understood that not everything can be driven away by cheerful music, positive thinking, and a get-up-and-go attitude. Sometimes you need more than that, and no one gets to make you feel guilty about what you need.
There’s still a stigma attached to this kind of thing. It’s the reason I just said “this kind of thing” instead of “mental illness.” Because there’s got to be a better term than “mental illness.” My beautiful, intelligent, capable friends and family members and I are not what you think of when you hear “mentally ill.” We don’t need institutionalization or have profound breaks with reality. And–but–if we did, it wouldn’t be our fault. I got off easily; I’m not schizophrenic, I don’t have trouble telling reality from fiction, I just can’t always stop my heart from feeling like it’s being squeezed out of my chest when I face large bills to pay or serious problems. I can take a low dose of paroxetine and live a fun, crazy, exciting and adventuresome life. Not everyone is so lucky, and everyone is trying the best they can to live their life with the cards they’re dealt.
I refuse to be embarrassed by something I have no control over, something that millions of people deal with, and something I’ve managed to make an instructive, manageable, and valuable part of my life. I refuse to judge my friends who have depression, who are bipolar, who exhibit symptoms of ADHD, who are epileptic, and yes, who are schizophrenic or dissociative any more than I’d judge someone with diabetes or MS or Parkinson’s. If you take issue with that, then take issue with that. But I will be absolutely steadfast in my support of pharmacological help for any of these things at the same time as I will encourage pretty much anyone born human to talk to someone (preferably professional) about their lives at some point, because we all need a little help sometimes.
And to anyone reading this: If you’re struggling and you’re scared and you need to talk to someone about what you’re going through, the best thing you can do is ask for help. Believe me. It gets better. And I’d be happy to talk to you about how, because I’ve been there.
In the interest of continued “being real:” This is the scariest blog post I’ve ever published (for me), and I would publish it every day if I knew that would help one of my wonderful friends. It is really, really hard to admit this stuff, and I’m saying this as one of the admitting-est people I know. You guys are very brave, and I am so proud of you.
Okay. Realness over. Go eat some fro yo, watch something funny, and get some sleep. Love you all.