My dog, Zoey, hates when I close the door to my office. She doesn’t get that that door is the difference between me being productive and me getting caught up in something else—like dishes or television.
At a closed door, Zoey will scratch on the other side and reduce her muzzle to fit under the half-inch door crack and aggressively sniff. If I don’t open the door, she throws her body against it a few times and then whines. When I finally get up and open it, Zoey peers inside and walks away—she doesn’t want to come in. She wants to make sure I haven’t ditched her, jumped in my car and headed out to eat at every fast food chain—I’m sure this is her assumption of what I do when I leave—that’s because Zoey is crazy.
The other day I left my dog and went to a doctor’s appointment to get a prescription refill and came out with yet another medication. I’m on quite a few drugs that range from battling hypothyroidism, stabilizing hormone levels, and for depression. It has been my goal to reduce my med intake but without success. Every pill I take is a have-to, not just to stabilize my mood, but also to keep my body functioning. What bothers me is when a health care provider categorizes depression as having a Mental Illness (capital M, capital I).
People are uncomfortable with anything that uses the words Mental and Illness. No one wants to talk about it, not even me. I had a friend once explain it like this: when someone has cancer, everyone within a twenty-mile radius stops what he or she is doing to help. They want to be involved because they understand what the disease is. When it comes to depression, everyone disappears. Do you blame them?
See, depression is uncomfortable because it’s associated with unpleasant things and not triumphs. There are no pink t-shirts or 5K races to enlighten people about mood disorders—my husband will run anywhere and wear pink if it’s to save a pair of breasts—I think many people would. No one with depression calls up a friend and says, “Hey, I had a terrible day, and I didn’t kill myself. Let’s celebrate!” And no friend of the depressed is going to celebrate knowing that today’s bad day didn’t end with funeral arrangements because that’s weird. Instead, like a dog with a bone, the depression goes underground, dragging the person who has it with it. Outside of a few people (and usually it’s done from a therapist’s couch), no one talks about it.
So, here’s my equivalent to a pink shirt crusade, bare with me! Do you know you can be terribly sad and not try to off yourself? Also, there are a lot of reasons that cause depression other than childhood traumas, abuses, and or self-pity (this last one is controversial but it’s one many people assume is the root cause of depression!)
Take me for example, I’ve dealt with many from the above list at one time or another throughout my forty-two years, but my depression, today, is caused by the fact that I had a full hysterectomy when I was twenty-three years old. The removal of my uterus and fallopian tubes made me hormonally, mentally, and physically depressed. So why on earth would I then be categorized as having Mental Illness? I’m not sick! I’m not scheming ways in which to murder anyone (well, I am, but that’s because I’m also a fiction writer, so that’s okay). It’s because of the big D-word, Depression.
My sister-in-law recently turned me on to a new term that I took to my doctor: Brain Health instead of Mental Illness. Whenever Mental Illness is brought up people stop listening, because it means you’re done—fit ‘em with a straight jacket, place ‘em in a padded cell in front of eleven hours of Sesame Street programming and throw away the key.
Brain Health, on the other hand, elicits a totally different attitude one with infinite possibilities and avenues of help and benefit. Brain Health is associated with healthy living and not crazy pants.
There are many reasons I don’t like taking pills. However, the benefits outweigh the bad. I love that I feel fine on most days. I like that I can get out of bed and be productive even at the expense of my pet, which I assume has Doggie Dementia, and who is sniffing under the door this very minute as I write. All of these are great reasons! So what’s so crazy about that?