Today is a good day. It is gorgeous outside, 75 degrees and sunny. I am home with my kids today and Medium’s blood sugars are in range and he is feeling good. We met with an insulin pump company and have made our decision. I just had a good meal and am sipping on a diet Coke. I am feeling, in a word, manic. Yes, I said it, manic. As in manic-depressive. Does that make you uncomfortable? Now, let me set the record straight right now. I have not been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. And I am not pretending to be a doctor, a psychologist or an expert in any way, and none of this is intended to be medical advice. These are simply my opinions and interpretations of myself and my moods. While I do not think that I have the clinical diagnosis of bipolar disorder; depression, anxiety and mental illness run in my family. And I think I am on the spectrum somewhere. I don’t believe mental illnesses are just black or white, that either you have them or you don’t. Instead, I think there are varying degrees of them and I think people have a varying ability to control them. Just like one person might have slightly high cholesterol and can manage it with diet and exercise, another person might have very high cholesterol and might need medication to control it. Or how a brittle diabetic has a very difficult time controlling their blood sugars despite their best efforts, while someone else’s body responds well to their insulin therapy. Much like the sullen teenager dressed in all black, mental illness is misunderstood because of its face value. We hear the word “mental” and we think the mind has some kind of control over the situation, and sometimes it can. Psychotherapy has proven very helpful to many people in managing their varying degrees of some mental illnesses. But what most people don’t understand is that many “mental” illnesses actually have physiological roots. They are chemical imbalances in the brain. We have no more control over developing those imbalances as Medium had over developing type 1 diabetes. Society has made it shameful to admit that you suffer from some level of mental illness, because it is deemed as controllable and therefore you are weak or crazy if you don’t control it. And talking openly about your mental illness makes others uncomfortable, so most people just don’t talk about it. Well, I am not most people, and I talk too much so here it is. I suffer from mental illness, or whatever some people want to call it. I battle depression and anxiety in varying degrees sometimes. I am a germaphobe and am probably a little OCD, too (I like all the labels in my pantry to be facing out, I can’t sit with my back to a door, I wash my hands, A LOT, am addicted to hand sanitizer, stuff like that). Some people would argue that these things do not qualify as true mental illnesses. That only if I was not able to function on a daily basis because of these things could I claim to suffer from mental illness. Whatever, call it what you want. But like I said, I believe it is a spectrum and I feel like most people I know are on it somewhere, so I don’t know why we are so afraid to talk about it. I do not take anti-depressants although I have tried them before. I just don’t think I saw a real benefit from them, so for me, it is not the answer. But I believe for some people, it is absolutely necessary and vital to their health and wellness. I am not going to pretend that I know or fully understand the complexities of mental illness. I just know that some days, (like today) my mood is great and I feel like I can take on the world, and some days I feel like I am tumbling down a deep, dark hole of despair. And sometimes, I stay in that deep, dark hole for days or weeks. I always find my way out of the hole with a combination of love, patience and understanding from my family, a visit to a therapist and an occasional Xanax. These are my tools. But just because I can control my depression, anxiety and mood swings with these tools and not anti-depressants, doesn’t mean that others should be expected to manage their disease the same way.
A diagnosis of any life-threatening chronic disease with no cure will no doubt bring on a firestorm of emotions, but diabetes especially so. The days of a diabetic are filled with highs and lows, literally. One minute you are in range, and the next you are not, and that can be hard to deal with. Diabetics (and their caregivers) should be monitored for developing depression. When Medium’s BG’s are in range, I am much more likely to be in a good mood and when they are not, well, that’s when I have to use my tools to keep me out of the deep, dark hole. The first two weeks of Medium’s diagnosis, I was in the hole. Big time.
I do a pretty good job of managing my mental illness. As I do with most things, I use humor to deal with it. I joke about my mental state, call myself crazy or neurotic, because if I do it first, then it takes the power away from the words and others can’t use them to tear me down. It also makes people laugh and relax and it opens up dialog about a topic that needs a lot more awareness. Some of my favorite conversations are the ones where I am trading stories of neurosis with someone else. We both walk away feeling like we are not alone, and ironically, like we are NOT crazy! And chances are that someone who suffers from some level of mental illness is a stone’s throw away from you right now. So if you are ever given the opportunity to help raise awareness and peel away the shame of mental illness…..JUST DO IT!
I am not a doctor, or a nurse, or a psychotherapist and this is not intended to be medical advice. This is my blog, and these are my observances and experiences with mental illness. Your experience with mental illness may be very different from mine and you may disagree with my take on the situation. Please seek the advice of a medical professional if you have questions or think you may be suffering from a mental illness.