Even my wife doesn’t know this….I watch my sons. I don’t mean in a ‘caregiver’ sense of the word. I observe them with hawk eyes. I’m looking to see if they are like me and not in the way you might expect.
I watch their moves, their moods, their reactions to different stimuli… I’m trying to see if they inherited my curse. I have laid awake at night wondering if I have doomed them to the same trials and tribulations I had as a child.
Hindsight is 20/20
I can look back and see that I had problems as a kid. I knew I was different back then. I can see, now, just how different I was. I see more clearly how much I struggled in school and with friendships and with my own siblings. I never understood why my sisters didn’t want to play with me. I always thought it was because I was a boy or because we had different moms and I wasn’t a REAL brother. I see now, it was because I was so prone to becoming overstimulated and start bouncing around like a howler monkey, kicking people in the butt, and laughing maniacally as I trashed whatever we were playing. At the time, I didn’t know that was strange behavior. It was the only behavior I knew.
I can look back and see that every single time my parents told me to go outside and play, or tell me to ‘go blow up somewhere else’, or sent me to my room…it was for their own sanity. It was because I was so amped up that they couldn’t handle the incessant talking, fidgeting…etc. I was a ‘spirited’ child. I was just ‘full of energy’.
Hindsight has told me, I was classic ADHD. And my sister, who has a doctorate and deals with stuff like this all the time, agrees. My older sister, who was diagnosed ADHD as an adult, looks back and agrees. And my psychiatrist agrees.
I’m 42 years old, and I have mental health problems.
So, someone tells you, I have mental health problems. What do you think? What image does it draw in your mind? Does it taint your image of that person more than if they had told you they were, say Diabetic? Chances are, it does. Why does it, though?
There is such a stigma attached to ‘crazy’. Think of it. How many synonyms can you come up with for someone who is suffering from a physical ailment?
They are ill, sick, ailed or ailing, infirm, unwell…there are a few more, but not without getting into specific illnesses.
Now, for a mental ailment?
Sick in the head, touched, crazy, loony, insane, demented, loopy, out in left field, fruity, batty, psycho, batshit crazy, nuts, nutso, whacko, whacked, out of their mind, bonkers, looped out, loopy, gone mad, lost their shit, one can short of a sixpack, elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top floor, lights are on but no one is home, not playing with a full deck …you get the point. Also, as a point of reference, I spent twice as long writing the physical list than I did the mental one.
Some of it goes back to ancient times. Someone who didn’t operate on the same plane as the norm was usually accused of being possessed by evil spirits. Native Americans made it a point to not harm insane people for fear of angering the evil spirits that had taken up residence in their head. And in later times, whenever someone went mad, an exorcism was in order. Mental asylums were filled with people that no one knew what to do with. They were squalid and diseased places festering with vermin.
So, you see why people didn’t want to tell anyone else that something might not be alright upstairs. Add to that, most of the news stories where you hear of someone with a mental health issue, it’s because they ‘snapped’ and killed someone or attacked someone or tried to eat their face off… Then, to top it off, when you see certain issues in movies and tv, they are actually caricatures of the illnesses.
Just because someone has OCD, it doesn’t mean they wash their hands four hundred times a day, or have an immaculate house. It just means they have very rigid rules for things they do with a slightly less rigid but equally important set of subroutines they can do to offset the times when their top tier rules don’t pan out. I could go into more detail here, but that’s worthy of an entire post in and of itself. And, OCD comes in all flavors and varieties! So, when I tell people I have OCD, they have a mental image of someone with a certain behavior. Yet, when I tell them mine are based on counting things or symmetry or patterns, I’ve had several people say, “Yeah, I count things too sometimes.” or “Oh man, if the pattern in the tile gets broken it drives me nuts.” Little things like that…are OCD-based.
Regardless, the stigmas are there. And as long as people don’t talk about them, they shall remain. If you were to rate mental health ailments on a scale of 1-10, I’m pretty sure ADHD would be on the low end of the spectrum. And yet, when I posted in public about my struggles, I was surprised at how many private messages I got from people saying “You’re not alone.” or “I’m having the same problems”. If our collective view of mental health struggles weren’t broken, we could have open and honest discussions about these things without worrying about repercussions.
There Has to be a Better Way
And yet, here we are. It’s 2014 and there are people suffering in silence EVERYWHERE. People are afraid to get help for fear of people finding out they are ‘crazy’ or ‘off-kilter’. When, so many times there are solutions. Sometimes it just means sitting down and talking to a trained professional and getting a deeper understanding of what’s going on, and why. (Seriously, when I found out I had ADHD with a side of OCD-sauce, it was comforting because I finally realized why certain behaviors were so prevalent.) Sometimes it’s getting on a medication that helps you handle things better. And there’s more! The treatment options for mental health are as varied as any treatment you can get for the rest of your body.
What I’ve experienced is that your treatment can be affected by something as simple as geography. I live in Florida. (Yes, you just got a mental image that probably had the word crazy in it.) You see, a few years ago, we had a HUGE problem with pill mills. It was painkillers to be exact. We had several ‘pain management’ clinics open up around town. It was only after talking to a few people, that I realized what was really going on. They would walk in and see a nurse practitioner. They would say “I have this pain here…ALL THE TIME.” and the nurse practitioner would leave the room and ‘consult’ with a doctor. The doctor would then write a scrip for whatever painkiller the patient said they normally took. The patient would then pay their co-pay and go fill the prescription.
That’s all great and good…except no one actually did a physical exam to determine what was causing the pain, exactly where the pain was, or if there was any pain at all! So, what it did was get the attention of some well-meaning people in the state legislature to make it harder to get certain medications prescribed. And with one mighty swipe of the pen, a ton of medications were deemed ‘Controlled Substances’ and suddenly getting mental healthcare got a lot harder.
This is one of the unintended side-effects. You see, a friend of mine, went to a psychiatrist and was diagnosed with ADHD and was prescribed his medication. Then, every month, he drives to his primary care physician and gets his monthly prescription, that he then goes out and has filled. In Florida, I can’t do that. I have to go to my psychiatrist’s office. And because we have a dearth of them…it’s almost an hour drive there. So, once a month, I have to figure out how to cut an almost 3 hour chunk out of my day to go and get my prescription, then get it filled and come home. If I could go to my primary care doctor, that would be a thirty minute drive…total.
It got so bad when I was initially trying to even get INTO the psychiatrist, that I broke down in tears at my desk because there were too many hoops to have to jump through just to get seen the first time. So, here I was on the LOW end of the spectrum and I was ready to just throw in the hat. And we wonder why some people with worse problems aren’t getting the help they need. It’s because, sometimes, they can’t.
I’m Not Really Broken
But, that’s how I felt. And, to a certain extent, that’s how people view mental health issues. I have a very good friend whose wife is an Occupational Therapist. When they heard about my ADHD diagnosis, he walked up to me and said, “Hey, I heard about your ADHD. My wife can fix you!”
<insert record scratch>
I replied with something on par with, “Wait…what? I’m not broken.”
He got a sheepish grin on his face, “Well, yeah, I know that. That’s not what I was trying to say…”
I let him hang for a second before letting him know I knew what he was trying to say. But that verbiage like that just reinforces the incorrect notion that had been bouncing around in my head for all those years that I was ‘different’ and ‘weird’.
I’ve been on treatment for several months now. Am I all better? Nope. But, I’m getting there. I’m definitely better than I was. And, I’m okay with that. Mostly, it’s just having the knowledge that for all of those years, there was an explanation for why I was so spastic at times. Do I wish I had been put on medication earlier? Not really. You see, my ADHD has given me some pretty amazing abilities. I’m a super sleuth. Because of the need for me to constantly try to figure out where I was when my train of thought jumped rails and headed to Randomtown, I can figure things out with only the tiniest of clues to point me in the right direction.
Am I Sherlock Holmes? No. But, I can identify with the character on a different level than most people can. And, that’s pretty cool.
No, I am a work in progress. And will be until the day I die. I’m okay with that, because that means I’m no different than any other person out there. We’re all works in progress. We’re just all progressing differently in different areas. And my kids? I’ve decided to just let them be who they are the way they are unless something begins serious impeding their life, then we’ll figure out what to do.