Let’s talk about mental health.


This is a long one. I’m sorry. But something that I feel so personally and passionately about can’t be discussed in a few words. Please bear with me, because I feel like this NEEDS to be said, and NEEDS to be read and discussed.

I shouldn’t have to say why this is a prevalent topic right now. I won’t link any of the news articles about the recent tragedy, as I refuse to let the major outlets covering get traffic from me. I’m rather disgusted with how the media has portrayed all of this very sad moment in history. I could rant about it forever, but instead, I’ll turn to the real issue I’d like to address: mental health.

Now, this is an area I have some distinct first-hand experience with. I always sort of “knew” my emotions didn’t function the way others did. My freshman year of college, it manifested and sort of solidified. I was no longer “a little different.” I was, as I jokingly refer to myself to add some levity to my own plight, “batshit crazy.” Over a six-month period, I heard about nine different diagnoses, until finally all medically-trained parties involved agreed: bipolar disorder. Later confirmed as bipolar disorder, Type I rapid-cycling.

I did what I was supposed to do. I went to counseling. I accepted whatever new meds they shoved my way. Some time during the two-year period of testing different medications, I became addicted to Klonopin. I failed college classes because of it. I almost dropped out. I was begged by my then-boyfriend, and others, to try and get away from it. I kicked it, and then made the decision with my psychiatrist to go the path of “unmedicated.” I would rather feel REALLY GREAT or REALLY NOT-GREAT, than not feel anything at all, which was the state I was in for most of my tenure as a prescription-taker.

For bipolars, this is risky. But, my doctors and I agreed that college was not the stage in my life for all the prescription-related turbulence.

Now, a few years and many more life lessons later, I’m doing well. I’ve aired a lot of grievances, confronted a lot of demons, and have really worked to be a happier, healthier Kelly. It hasn’t been easy. In fact, it’s been downright hard. It’s hard knowing that, by no fault of your own, you have to work harder than average people just to lead a “normal” life. It’s hard knowing that some people may choose not to have close relationships with you because of the extra work that may be required. It’s hard knowing that there are things you’ll never be able to do, like adopt a child. It’s hard knowing that for just about every good mood you have, there will probably be a “bounce back” that will send you into a foul one. It’s hard walking the tightrope of self-regulation needed to be an unmedicated bipolar. It’s hard knowing that if the wrong ignorant person finds out about your condition, they’ll call you “psycho” or “crazy” or compare you to negative pop culture stereotypes. It’s hard knowing that for all the money spent and work invested on my part, my country as a whole doesn’t have much understanding of mental disorders and health.

Most of all, it’s hard to get help.

I was lucky; my undergraduate college offered free therapy services to students, and the wellness staff was gracious enough to work alongside the psychiatrist they referred to me. Between that, and being on my step-dad’s insurance, my cost of care was minimized. At the same time, I paid for all of my co-pays and all of the prescription costs that insurance didn’t cover. I didn’t ask my parents for monetary help. Even expedited, it took a minimum of a week to get in to see a psychiatrist. And, again, I was lucky; my insurance allowed me to see private practices with doctors that specialized in mood disorders like bipolar, and also had additional insight into my side-effect of eating disorders.

Had I been forced to deal with public, governmentally-funded doctors and hospitals, the wait probably would have been much longer. Generally, these facilities are understaffed, also. And the number of these could-be affordable public mental health facilities continues to shrink as funding seems to get harder and harder to come by. So, here we stand between a rock and a hard place. Private care is expensive and sometimes hard to get access to, and public care is underfunded and sometimes even harder to get access to.

I’m lucky. Blessed. If I had to be dealt this hand, at least I’m surrounded by supportive and encouraging people with the availability and means to help me along my rocky path of wellbeing. Even in my case, a high-functioning bipolar with a college degree, and promising career, and a somewhat normal social life, I’ve managed to alienate and burden many people near to me. I know people worry about me, and it eats me up inside like acid dissolving the sleek luster of well-finished wood.

I’m self-sufficient. I’m driven. I’m a bleeding heart who hates to be a burden. All of these have led me to find my path to wellbeing and charge at it with little regard for how hard it will be. I have to be healthy, that’s the only option. Not everyone is blessed enough to have this resolve. Not everyone can spread out their support-seeking out like this, and not everyone can “tough it out.” Not everyone has a disorder that well-studied and “common.”

And when that happens, you have caretakers, parents and siblings and friends and more, trying to hold life itself together while their mentally-atypical loved one manages to shake the foundations of their world on a regular basis. These people do more than I could ever explain, and they come in many shapes and forms. They could be a mother choosing to send their child to a special school. They could be a friend who finds excuses to talk, chat, text, or visit because they’re worried about what their loved one might do unsupervised. Their lives often contain moments, hours, days, even weeks of a special kind of hell reserved for those good souls who are kind enough to let their world revolve around someone else’s disorder. (If you want to read a poignant, heartfelt essay about a mother’s life while caring for a son with a less-than-understood disorder, please see here. Please, if you read ANYTHING this week, let it be this.)

So, let’s talk about mental health.

Please.

Let’s talk about it because I, for one, would like to see more people get the help they need, when they need it. I would like to see fewer caretakers stretched beyond their limits trying to be whatever it is that their loved one needs. I would like to see fewer tragedies about people hurting themselves, and others, because there was a gap in “the system” that limited their treatment opportunities.

Let’s talk about mental health, because no parent should ever have to bury their child…especially not because of something that could have been caught and treated.

I want to amend this by saying, I have a wonderful life. It’s not ideal or “normal” by any means, but I have so much to thank God for. While I wish I didn’t feel the need to write about this, and I wish that no events had happened to spur this, I felt like it needed to be shared. If you made it down here, thank you. Thank you for taking the time, and reading. And thank you to all of the people who make my life so wonderful, despite the fact that I can be difficult or needy or inconsistent. Thank you.

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16 thoughts on “Let’s talk about mental health.

  1. I’m posting anonymously on purpose. Not for my own anonymity but for the anonymity of my son. I love him. I protect him. I scold him. I comfort him. I cry for him. I worry for him. He’s different.

    I have three children. All unique. All beautiful in their own way. He’s the middle child and his behavior is different. He’s loving and caring. Funny and smart. Endearing and full of charisma. He’s also a short fuse and impulsive. His demeanor changes at the blink of an eye. He acts without thinking. At any turn his good natured demeanor can take a direct and swift 360 turn in to a dark place. Full of anger and fury, lacking reasoning or thought. I fear for him. I pray for him. I try to understand where this is coming from in order to prevent it from occuring again. I can’t fix this. Four words a mother never wants to utter. I can’t fix this. He’s been this way all his life. He was the baby that became overwhelmed by too much stimuli by well meaning loved ones that just wanted to hold the precious baby. He was the toddler that would dart in to oncoming traffic in the blink of an eye. The one you couldn’t take your eyes off of, not for even a second. I remember one cold day in December. He was two. I called poison control 3 times that day….and then I cried myself to sleep.

    There was something wrong and I knew it. I had no insurance. I sought help in any means I could. One of which was social services. Huge mistake. I was treated like an idiot bad parent who didn’t know what they were doing and was just complaining about being a parent. I wasn’t complaining about being a mother. I LOVED being a mother. At the time, this was my second child. It was not my first rodeo. I knew something was wrong. No one listened. I talked with our pediatrician. He was the only person in my life that listened at the time. He tried to help as best he could. My son was slipping through the cracks and I was hanging on to him with every ounce of strength I had to keep that from happening. The pediatrician referred me to a child psychologist. Not covered by any insurance, we made our visits. I worked ridiculous amounts of overtime at my job just to pay for it. It turned out to be basically a “mom training”. Trying to give me tools with how to deal with what was happening and how to minimize the risks to my sons and me. Eventually, I gave it up. It wasn’t working. I didn’t know where to turn. No one would listen to me or help me. He was 4 years old.

    Then he entered Kindergarten. Calls at least every week from school. He’s impulsive. He won’t sit still. He’s disrupting the class. He’s distracted. Not concentrating on the tasks at hand……these things I already knew….can’t you help me? The school responded with…we are not equipped to handle this type of problem.

    I took him to a center in a nearby city. They quickly diagnosed him with ADHD and shoved a prescription in my face. Feeling beaten down, I filled the prescription. He took his medicine. I hated the way it made him feel. It was as if he was lost inside his own body. I lost my son everytime I gave his medicine. The sparkle was gone from his eyes. The wide mouth smile never showed. His bubbly personality was buried somewhere down deep. He was calm, no longer impulsive, no longer anything really. The school liked that. He was a shell. We continued seeing a doctor at the clinic every month for three years. Sometimes on the weekend, I would skip the medicine just so I could have my son back…if only for a day or two.

    I asked him one day, how does your medicine make you feel inside. My then 8 year old son looked at me with those big blue eyes and said…mama, I can’t feel anything. I held him close and just cried. I cried and I threw that pill bottle. Made one last appointment with the clinic and vowed to find another way.

    He’s now almost 14. I’m still searching for another way. He is stable but he still has the same problems. When he first started middle school, he came home one day and asked me if he could go back on his medicine. I asked him why he thought he needed it. He replied, my teachers are getting mad at me. I struggle to concentrate. They think I’m just a bad kid. He is not a bad kid. He’s a kid that’s a little different. He’s a loving boy that genuinely wants to please everyone around him.

    I don’t know the answer. I don’t know how to help him. He lives a normal life now. He’s growing up and seems to be learning to self control. He likes to be good at something so I encourage that. He works great with the livestock on the farm. He seems to understand them in a way that I never could. They take to him in ways that make me watch in awe. I wish to see a world where parents are able to find help for their children without being labeled a crappy parent. It is out of love that we seek help. It shouldn’t be condemned.

    • BrokenHearted, thank you for sharing your story. It brought tears to my eyes. Situations like this are all too common, and my inner-optimist wants to say, “Maybe we experience these things to be a catalyst for others? Maybe we face these troubles for a reason?” Maybe, though, that’s just me trying to make sense of an unfortunate, hard-to-grasp situation.

      You are not a crappy parent. You are a brave, persevering, resilient parent who is doing what they must for the son they love. I’m glad you’ve reached some sort of stability, even if the problems aren’t 100% solved. I know that feeling all too well. I’ll never really have a normal range of emotions, but experiencing emotional extremes seems so much easier than experiencing no emotions at all.

      Keep your chin up, dear. You are strong, you are brave, and your son is beautiful. I will say a prayer for you guys, and if I can ever do anything, you know how I find me.

  2. Thanks for talking, Kelly. When I read that mother’s article, it hit a little too close to home, so I’ll join you in sharing my family’s story:

    I grew up with a sibling suffering from severe anxiety and, while never diagnosed, bipolar disorder was not off the table. During his freshman year of high school, it took 3 months before he could stay in school for an entire day without having a panic attack that resulted in crying, screaming tantrums. Therapy was attempted, but most times my step-mom couldn’t get him to sit in a session without a panic attack/tantrum. When he was 15, he was removed from my house because of the threat of violence that started to accompany outbursts. His struggles put an extreme amount of pressure on my parents’ marriage and on home life, in general. Like the mother in the article mentioned, you’re constantly living on the edge of trying not to set this person off, because you don’t know what will do it. Today he’s a lot better thanks to medication, but there are a lot of people who can’t find that solution.

    It’s not fun admitting that our lives, even if not us directly, aren’t perfect. If we can speak up more often, though, perhaps we can stop future tragedies from happening.

    • Thanks for sharing — it’s a tense line to walk. People with mental and emotional irregularities are hard to love. Unfortunately, you’re very right. Medication isn’t always the right option, and therapy isn’t always a great fit either. I think the U.S., as a nation, has a lot to offer in leading the way to better advocate for, treat, and understand mental illness and disorder. Here’s hoping that we can step into a brighter tomorrow where people like me, your sibling, and so many others can genuinely get access to the resources they need.

  3. Thank YOU! For your bravery, openness, and honesty. I’m close to several people with these issues and they should not be shameful. We need to continue this discussion! Awesome job!

  4. “I have to be healthy, that’s the only option.”

    This. This is what makes the difference, Kelly. Stay with it. May God give you the strength each and every second of each and every day to stay with this resolve. So very proud of you!

    • Aimee, thank you so much. I have to say, having not previously had a good relationship with God, that being closer to Him now has made a huge difference for me. I think He has also graced me with a large network of amazing people who give me the courage and strength to keep on keepin’ on, and to write scary, vulnerable content like this. But, seeing the responses I’ve gotten on these topics, I know that this is something I need to become an advocate for.

      Thanks for the kind words and the love. You’re a wonderful friend.

  5. I too have a story to tell that involves Rage only this time the person in my life inflicted with it is me. Although not as severe & violent as some other stories previously told there has been a path of destruction (namely walls) that I am not proud of. It is something mainly seen by my family however there was a time just a few years ago it almost come out publicly, I was able to avoid the situation because I felt the early signs and knew to remove myself. It has been a long road for me to recognize the signs and have control over it before there is no turning back. In due time I feel the need to write a post such as Kelly has although there needs to be more thought before I do.

    • Ray, thanks for sharing. I know the road to self-awareness is really tough; you’ve been privy to some of my more vulnerable moments. But, I’m proud of how far you’ve come and thrilled to call you a friend. Keep up the great work, Ray. Thanks for all your support!

  6. Pingback: Sometimes, bubbles burst. | kellymrivard.com

  7. Pingback: Today, I feel bipolar. | kellymrivard.com

  8. Pingback: All because of an internship. | country nights, city lights

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