A few weeks ago was the birthday of a friend of mine who passed way too young. I have also had a number of conversations with people who are struggling this month, so when my Facebook feed showed that I had posted the blog entry below, I felt like I needed to follow up on it. Go ahead and click on that first.
Basically, two years ago I wrote about my decision to take medication to help control anxiety issues and depression issues. That blog was largely about that decision and the positive effects.
Where am I at?
Two months after posting that blog, I felt like I had figured things out and stopped taking the medication. I continued to see a counselor for another year after discontinuing the medication because I wanted to make sure I really did have my stuff together. Last summer, I told him “Have you noticed that what we have talking about for the last year is not even close to the reasons I came in here two years ago? I think I’m done.” Basically, I took Lexapro for a little over a year, but have not touched one of those pills in over two years. I’m fine.
I am better at distancing myself from work. I’m a school psychologist. Most people find it hard to believe, but the job is mentally brutal. The average career of a school psych is extremely short. Do not quote me, but I believe it was around 3-5 years the last time I checked. We turn over psychs at an alarming rate and the number of school psychs on anti-anxiety medications is staggering. Basically, it is not me. It’s a mentally damaging job filled with conflict, isolation and frustration that breaks many many people at some time.
Here are three quotes said to me this year that would have crushed me in the past. “You made that call? F**K you, man!” “I just want you to know that I think you f*****g suck,” and finally, “Don’t as Erik. He’s just collecting a paycheck.” Sadly, those came from staff with whom I work. Imagine what I get from parents and students. In the past, I would have lost sleep or tried to find ways to reconcile the problem or frankly, get the person to like me. Now, I go home and go on with my day. I am actually really good at my job. I know that. People get mad, people get angry. Whatever. Maybe they really do think I suck. Maybe they were frustrated and blowing off steam. I do my best and move on. Of course, I do collect a paycheck as well, so that kinda helps. A nice big fat public-school employee paycheck.
I have really learned who I can depend on and it is the people who were there for me when I was a mess and when things are great. When I posted that blog I got bombarded with “What’s the matter?” “We should get together and you can fill me in,” “I am always here, what do you need?” I struggled because when I posted it, I was through everything. I did not need anything anymore. I wanted to yell, “I’m fine. Where was this twelve months ago when I needed it?” In fairness, most of them had no clue. Some I had flat-out lied to. Perhaps others, I wasn’t direct enough with when I tried to reach them. I am certainly not blameless but what I have learned is that people love riding the big red fire truck with sirens blaring to spray water on the inferno, but fewer people like to spend time quietly checking smoke alarms. Those are the people I can depend on and I have them in my life. You know who you are and I love you.
Chicken or Egg?
In my professional life, and in my person life, I see countless people basically say, “I need to find out what I have so that I understand why I think/act like this.” When I started in therapy one of the first things I said was, “I do not believe there is anything wrong with me. I think I am depressed and anxious because I think certain ways and have certain patterns that I need to break. I do not think I ‘have something’ that is beyond my control and causes me to do this.” Some people have genuine disorders that they can not help. That is a fact and I am not discrediting that at all. For me, that was going to be my last resort, not a starting point. I wanted to change everything I could before saying, “I have X.” It may seem minor, but I do believe that if I had walked in and relinquished that locus of control I would not have been as successful.
People will still occasionally make a comment about by “mental illness.” Initially, it infuriated me. Not because there is anything wrong with mental illness, but because I do not consider myself mentally ill. I had a tough spell, took some pretty serious steps to correct it and feel like I am back on track. If I blew out my ACL, had surgery and went through a year of rehab, I doubt people would refer to me as “physically disabled” three years later when I was walking and running around. Again, something that I would have stewed on years ago, but now am much better about letting it slide. Who knows, maybe someday I will have another “mental-injury.” It is possible, but I am not overly concerned about it right now.
I am as happy as I have been in a long time. In a weird way, I am almost glad I had that bad stretch. I feel more insightful, resilient, and content. Mostly, I feel more grateful. I just felt like I needed to give some closure to what I put out there a couple years ago. Two final things.
First, take care of your friends and family. Check in on them. Say something if you notice them struggling. Listen to them. Check their smoke alarms. Do not wait until it becomes a blazing fire and then try to throw buckets of water on it. Stuff is already burning at that point. You will never regret touching base or checking in. Even if you meet resistance, or even lies, your gesture will be appreciated on some level.
Finally, if you are struggling. Get some help. If your loved ones say you are struggling, you are struggling. Get some help. It does not mean there is anything wrong with you and any help does not need to be permanent. I will close with this analogy. It was like I was spending my life slogging on the ocean floor and drowning. On the good days, I could swim twenty or thirty feet above the floor and say, “Look at this. This is not bad. I am well above the floor. I’m swimming” However, after spending so much time on the floor, I’d lost perspective and did not even realize that even though I was twenty or thirty feet off the floor, I was still 100 feet below the surface and drowning. Getting counseling and meds was like tying a life jacket on me and shooting me to the surface. Once my head got above water, I thought “Wow, I had forgotten this is where I am supposed to be. I need to relearn to swim.” As I swam stronger, I untied the life jackets.
As of today, I don’t even know where my life jackets are anymore.