UGH. Saying that makes me cringe. It’s such an ugly phrase, “mental illness.” And “mentally ill” is even worse. Those terms conjure up unwanted imagery, none of which applies to me. At all.
I am not crazy. I am not violent, or scary, or a threat to others. I’m not drugged out and loopy on high-octane meds. I simply – and not so simply – have a chronic health condition that happens to be in my brain. I use medication to manage it. Sometimes I feel completely normal. And sometimes I don’t.
Lately I’ve been in the not-feeling-normal category. Which is why it’s been kind of quiet around here on the blog. Yes, work has been really, really busy for me. That’s been a big part of it, for sure. But if I wasn’t feeling this way I’d be itching to write about the challenges of being a working mom, how impossible it is to have it all, the crazy expectations society places on moms. Something like that.
I get ideas. But then I have no motivation to sit down and write. Nor do I want to write about how I’m feeling.
It’s familiar territory. Sometimes when I’m dealing with a down phase, I need to get out all those feelings and concerns here. But sometimes I just don’t feel like writing about it.
The last time I was not feeling mentally healthy, I was feeling sad and unmotivated. I dreaded starting each day. This time it’s anxiety that is kicking my butt, which is weird for me. I don’t normally deal with obvious anxiety symptoms, but last week I had a panic attack for the first time in many years. And since that night I can’t get rid of the tight feeling in my chest.
I’m irritable, impatient, and jittery. I constantly feel like I’ve had too much coffee. I always have this dreadful feeling that I’m forgetting something really important. I’m picking apart the skin around my fingernails. And I get lost in unimportant things (like wasting time on Facebook or checking my lists over and over), instead of being productive (like dealing with household chores or focusing on work).
Years ago, I would have just tried to grit my teeth and get through this phase. I’d convince myself it would pass, or that by the time I actually got in to see a therapist or psych doc, I’d feel better and it would be a waste of time. It would take a complete breakdown to spur me to get help.
Not anymore. This time when I recognized that I was in a downward spiral, I set up appointments with my occasional therapist and my doc. I asked the therapist for strategies to manage my anxiety and stress. I told the doc what was going on and he adjusted my medication and is monitoring me. I’m writing down which meds I’ve tried, what side effects I have, dosages, and other relevant info.
I’m also taking steps to reduce the stress in my life. I’m gardening more and online less. And I’m actually not going to work this summer. Hubs and I calculated that due to my successful winter/spring of work I can take a break. Of course, the stress of that success has driven me to needing the time off. But whatever. It is what it is.
This dogged dedication to doing what needs to be done to feel better is a big part of effectively managing my chronic illness. It’s not easy. It would be far easier to hide under the covers of my bed and wish it all away. Or grit my teeth and soldier on, making everyone around me miserable while I suffered. But those strategies were obviously not working. What’s that old definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results. Yeah. That. I am done with acting insane.
Honestly, I’m not really feeling better yet. But I have faith that I will. I always do, eventually. That’s the thing with my “mental illness.” Like many chronic health conditions, I go into remission and have relapses. Back and forth. Over and over. Living with a chronic condition can be exhausting. But I don’t have a choice. So I do it.
“Mental illness.” Yes, I have it. But I am not crazy. My illness doesn’t define me. It’s one aspect of who I am. And that’s all.
What phrase would you prefer to use if we could banish the term “mental illness?”