Professionals who treated patients with mental illness were once called alienists. Although the word itself has become obsolete, as a society mental and emotional disorders are still treated as something strange, alien, other. We are healthy and normal, but they are sick and crazy.
A few months ago, I joined the quiet mass of aliens living in this world. I was diagnosed with a moderate depressive disorder. I had long suspected this, but Jana’s illness and work stress exacerbated things to the point where I felt I had to cross the line and seek professional help.
I was prescribed Venlafaxine from day one. I’ve always hated the idea of artificially transforming my personality, but I was desperate enough in this case to play along. Ironically, the meds seemed to have the effect of bringing out the best me, banishing the moodiness and irritability that had characterized me lately, and that seem so foreign to the authentic cheery John. (Granted, I own some of my pessimism and fatalism.)
I know it’s not wise to announce to the world that I have a mental disorder. Current and future employers may read this and consider me a risk. Maybe I’m crossing TMI boundaries. But like many of my posts, I weigh this against the principles of openness and transparency. Mental health issues are complicated by our aversion to talking about them. I know a number of suffering people who could use therapy and probably meds, but who are unlikely to ever cross that threshold. Speaking up is the one thing I can do to improve the situation. Maybe those of us who struggle with our mental and emotional health will then feel a little less alien.
Clarification: I’m not suicidal (and haven’t been since high school). I’m lucky to have an extremely supportive family and work environment, a broad social network and a strong sense of self-awareness. I seem to be reacting well to the meds, and my shrink and I are working on getting me off the drugs, through therapy, exercise, meditation (and possible dream therapy, which I may write more about later). I don’t think my depression is related directly to religion in any way–it preceded my conversion to Mormonism, was perhaps alleviated a bit when I first converted, and then worsened during my mission (which fed my unhealthy propensity towards perfectionism) and after I began questioning (and feeling guilty about doubting).