Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Oh, Just Get Over It!

Based on my encounters and conversations with the mentally healthy, I have come to some judgments about them. I don’t mean ALL mentally healthy people. Just the majority. My notions may seem a bit presumptuous and my tone a tad on the accusing side. Regardless, one of my observations is that most mentally healthy people do not believe that mental illness exists. I should rephrase that. They might believe that only certain types of mental illness exist. How can one deny the obvious psychosis of a person with schizophrenia? It is safe to assume that most people can’t fake psychosis on a long-term basis. As for depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorders, most seem to believe that these are merely attempts for the weak to get out of living productive lives. The only people I know who truly believe that chronic depression exists are those who have experienced chronic depression themselves. I stress the term, chronic depression, because many people have experienced circumstantial depression. These people seem to be the most unforgiving because they might say, “I was depressed and I got over it. What is stopping them?”

I was sitting near a woman with whom I had been developing somewhat of a friendship. Our daughters played on the same basketball team and we had been chatting during practices and games. I revealed to her that I cannot drink alcohol on a regular basis because it negates the effects of my anti-depressants. She asked, “What do you have to be depressed about?” Rather than defending my true position, I quickly rebutted with the depressive state I had encountered after my brother committed suicide. Who could judge me for that? In retrospect, I should have given her a better education on depression than I did. I wonder if she would have viewed depression differently if I had told her about my family history? I wonder if I should have told her how I am under the care of professionals and all have advised me to continue on anti-depressant medications? Perhaps if I had told her that I absolutely hate taking medication and the idea that I might need it for the rest of my life frightens me. Then would she have been open to learning something or would she continue with her preconceived notions? Her response is that she makes it a point to remain positive. Good for her, I say. And good for everyone else on the planet who can talk themselves out of depression at any time and under any circumstance.

Granted, there are those who seem to thrive on attention for being depressed. Or those who have simply become lazy. But, who am I to judge them? A major sign of depression is, indeed, what some might call laziness. There are those who discontinue therapy or do not attend therapy in the first place. We cannot deny the existence of people who don’t care to improve. However, the process I had to go through to be approved for therapy to be covered by insurance was not easy. The first time I became severely depressed, I was fortunate that my husband at the time made calls for me. He had good health insurance through the military so there were no worries of cost. As for the second major case of depression, I had a partner who held my hand through the process of getting a therapist and medication. Even then, there were some extraordinary circumstances which worked in my favor. Otherwise, I would have only scored on medication but no therapy. That is just the reality of the situation.

When my eldest brother fell severely depressed, he relied solely on samples of Wellbutrin and Lithium from his therapist. My brother did not qualify for any type of social services and for him to purchase medication would have cost him much more than his earnings. By the time he was offered his old job back, it was too late. Besides, he refused to believe that he needed medication. He refused to believe that he was mentally ill even though he had attempted suicide multiple times in previous years.

I am not blaming anyone for the loss of my brother. I am only attempting to illustrate the effects of ignorance of mental illness. I am also not trying to justify the instant use of medication to treat depression. However, I believe that, like many other technological advances, the discovery of anti-depressant medication is an important facet of human survival in these times.

Some may question, “Well, what did people do 100 years ago when they supposedly got depressed?” I don’t know what everyone did but I do know what some of my ancestors did. My paternal great-grandmother abandoned her 7 children. No one knows exactly why. There is no documentation or journals. I think it is safe to assume that she wasn’t quite right in the head. Pardon the term but that is probably the extent of psychological terminology in the time my great-grandmother’s existence. My maternal great grandmother was admitted to an insane asylum after the birth of her youngest child. My grandmother wrote in a letter to me that her mother was admitted for what we now have termed, post partum depression disorder. At the time, she was just considered insane. She was eventually released and continued with a somewhat normal life, so go the family stories.

How would these cases have been treated today? Perhaps my grandmother would have had a mother in the first crucial years of her life if medications like Wellbutrin or Prozac had been discovered. How would my grandmother’s life and my mother’s life have been better if that were the case? My own mother finally admitted her own mental illness by the age of 35 when she fell severely depressed. It wasn’t until 10 years later that she was prescribed anti-depressants. Today, she is not asleep in bed all of the time. She smiles and seems to finally enjoy life. She is finally able to nurture relationships with her family and friends, not to mention her dogs and frogs.

My intentions are only to enlighten and to motivate people to explore the scientific evidence about depression, bi-polar disorder, anxiety disorders, and other mystified disorders. Please do not automatically assume that mental illness can be fixed by simply thinking your way out of it. Understand that mental illness is a very dynamic condition. Dynamic, meaning that there are countless components and causes. Don’t conclude that all disorders and treatment of disorders are universally definable. Educate yourself on the science of depression, not just on the stigma. This goes for the mentally healthy and the mentally unhealthy people alike. The human race has advanced incredibly in this field. Perhaps if we saw depression for what it really is, many people could live a more meaningful life!

Elissa Eggen September 15, 2009

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Minority of Convenience

When it comes down to the wire, I can publicly deny my homosexuality. I never told my Grandmother that I was gay, even when I was anxiously coming out to almost everyone else I knew. No one was surprised. Looking back, I think that she would have been elated that there was a chance that I would divorce my husband. I think Grandma would have actually been relieved. But, when I came out to my mom, the only thing she requested of me was to not tell my dad or my grandma. How could I not respect her wishes after she told me that she knew I was gay since she was pregnant with me? First, how could anyone know that and second, how could she live in such suspense for so long? She must have periodically dreaded the day when I would no longer live the Mormon way. She did everything she could to alter my androgyny to the more feminine side. Ballet, frilly shirts, girl shoes, the works. I did relent to the tap dancing only because there was a boy in the class and I didn’t feel so out of place. Thankfully she had a short attention span so I remained in jeans and t-shirts and in little league. She still can’t resist a nip when my hair is too short for her taste. I receive her jabs empathetically. Truly.

My girlfriend and children visited a member of my parents’ church. This woman had been my Sunday school teacher and I’d known her since I was 13. She seemed to always be so proud of me and had high expectations of me. How could I disappoint her with the news that I had become an apostate in her Gods‘ eyes? Or was it that I simply did not want a lecture? She had probably heard through the Mormon grapevine that I was “that way” and graciously did not ask such personal questions. If my mother had any control over the gossip, the news would have been locked away in hopes that her early suspicions would be proven illegitimate. So, I introduced my partner as my friend and resisted remarks incriminating our shared life. All was pleasant and I have received no letters reminding me that Jesus wants me to live a certain way. Not lately anyway.

Truthfully, my manipulation of these scenarios, and many more like them, were motivated by a fear of rejection. Isn’t this why most people choose to hide their homosexual identity? Fear of being demoted or not promoted at work? Fear of being fired? Fear of not obtaining employment? Fear of losing a dear friend? Fear of being rejected by a parent? Fear of being x-communicated from a church for which they have based their entire life? Recognizably, our society has made great progress in reducing validity in these comments. However, these possible outcomes realistically do exist today. And who is at fault? And will they ever get better? Of course, better is relative. Some might think that “better” in this situation means that all homosexuals will quietly go back into hiding. Others might think that “better” means that everyone can live their lives without lying about who they really are.

To those who do not believe that homosexuality is genetic, my views may seem sacrilegious. Those who believe that homosexuality is completely natural, I just might make a little bit of sense here. If all homosexuals were to equate themselves as members of a true minority group, they might remember that blacks cannot hide the color of their skin. Hispanics cannot change their skin tone, accent, or culture. Asians cannot change like a chameleon to block the misconstrued stereotype of their identity. Perhaps the stage of shame rapidly wisps by them as that challenge strengthens them involuntarily. It seems that many homosexuals remain living in shame, blaming society and family for not recognizing and respecting their identity. Meanwhile, they blatantly hide their identity. They are angry because they do not have equal rights, yet they refuse to sport any evidence that they are gay. They wonder why their rights to marry were revoked meanwhile their partners are introduced as room mates or friends.

If the homosexual community wants to be perceived as a legitimate minority group which deserves equal rights, members of this group must come out and quit living in shame and fear. Will there be a price to pay? Will you lose the respect of some dear friends? Will the members of your parents’ church pity you and pray for you relentlessly? Will your children be embarrassed when you show up to school concerts with your partner? Will you constantly be passed-up for promotions at your job? Most likely, you will suffer though all of these things and much more. Guaranteed though, if enough of us quit hiding in shame, our dear friends might be open to hearing our stories and you might just bend their views. Your parents’ friends may not ever quit praying for you, but maybe they’ll talk to you as if you're not chronically ill. Maybe your kids will eventually be excited to introduce your partner as a step-parent to their friends. Once you learn to not be ashamed, your boss just might see beyond your sexuality and see you as a proud and capable individual.

We're never going to get anywhere if we continue choosing to be minorities only when it’s convenient.

Elissa Eggen August 26, 2009