With mental health issues, I think many of us want to see the illness in the same concrete terms as physical illness.
Did you have bronchitis? Are you better or not?
Did you have the flu? Are you over it?
Did you have leprosy? One, how the fuck did you manage that, and two, how the FUCK did you manage that? (okay, leprosy rarely applies)
Of course, with more serious physical conditions, cancer, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, all the other ones I’d know about if I had the persistence to become a doctor, we don’t have that on/off switch with being ill. My analogy doesn’t really hold strong with these diagnoses, because often, the people surrounding a person with a mental illness consider the diagnosis of mental illness no more serious than a flu that will pass, or a leprosy that can be magically treated with a pill a day. Either way, the issue is either gone, or forever medicated into a level of stability.
At this point, writing in an impersonal POV is starting to challenge me, so let’s switch focus.
I was diagnosed, formally, with bipolar disorder when my son was about two years old. I’d occasionally been medicated for it before then, but I only stuck with regular appointments often enough after my son was a toddler to get an actual diagnosis on paper. For the next five years, I would have periods of amazing stability and happiness, then times when I would cycle. My medications would be adjusted, and I would get back to a good place. By the last two years, I really only needed med adjusts in March and September ever year, because those were the times that I seemed to get most wiggy. Or more accurately, February and August were those times, and I would always hold on, waiting as long as I could, hoping that it would get better on its own.
I always wanted to just be better. I wanted to not have to change pills. I wanted to just fucking get well. So I would wait until I couldn’t stand to be near glass, because I wanted to break it. I couldn’t stand to be alone, because I knew I would somehow break some part of myself in two. Then I would go in.
In July of 2009, my husband was laid off. By the time my September med adjustment necessity rolled around, we had no insurance, almost no money (but just enough that we couldn’t find assistance), and my prescription would have cost $600 a month without that insurance.
I decided to let my pills run out, and see what happened. I figured that the worst case scenario would be that I would lose my shit badly enough that they’d have to take me to the emergency room. Something would work out.
Then the craziest thing (other than me) happened. I ran out of medication. Weeks passed. I was fine. My September cycle never came. I made it through November, December, January … I was fine.
Even February, which I’m sure you’ve noticed I hate with a passion as hot as a supermodel (back before they started making all the supermodels too thin to be hot), I was fine. Seasonal blahs, but no cycling.
I’ve been off all medication since September 2009, and I’ve been okay. We have insurance again, but I’m hesitant to mess with what’s working pretty well. I don’t know why I’ve had this luck to be okay without the medications that I previously needed, but I won’t question it either. Anyway, that isn’t the point of this post.
I’m fine. But I’m not well. I pretended for a year or so that being off the medication and not losing my shit meant that I was better. Healed. Forever and always. That’s probably not true. I still have so many broken thought processes that I can fix, many of which would be considered separate diagnoses in themselves. I have crippling self-worth issues combined with moments of such intense narcissistic entitlement. I have issues controlling my impulses.
There are days where I feel overwhelmed enough that I would love to burn myself the way I used to in high school and early adulthood. To have only one single thing to think about. But I don’t. Haven’t in a long time.
I am better, but I am not always well. I don’t know why I have been able to do so without medication for so long. I don’t know if I’ll ever need it again. I might. Might not. It’s an option. It’s a process. At least it isn’t leprosy.
What I’m trying to say is this: Don’t put these issues on an on/off switch. Don’t do that to yourself, or to anyone else.
*No offense intended to anyone with leprosy.