The Downside Of Awareness

One of the unexpected consequences of my starting this blog has been the number of friends and acquaintances who have shared their own experiences with depression with me. In the cases of many of them, I would have never guessed them to be people who would ever be affected by any type of mental struggle whatsoever. They seemed to be highly confident, outgoing, successful people, but their stories were every bit as real as my own. I just wasn’t around them enough to spot the signs.

It was with great interest, then, that I read an article today citing a report from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health samhsa2Services Administration which estimated nearly 44 million Americans experienced a mental illness in 2013. To further put that number in perspective, that’s approximately one out of every five people.

That is an astonishingly high number. So high, in fact, I wondered if it was even correct.

As someone who stumbled through a large majority of his life not even knowing what depression was, I am often the first to applaud efforts to shine a light on mental illness and de-stigmatize it as much as possible. While the SAMHSA report pointed out how large numbers of people never even seek any treatment for their illnesses, however, it also notes that in nearly three-fourths of mental illness cases, the symptoms do not significantly interfere with a person’s ability to function.

This leads me to ask a somewhat uncomfortable question: Is it actually becoming too easy for people to claim they have a mental illness?

I certainly don’t want to discount anyone’s experience with mental struggles. I just know that in my own life I am deathly afraid of getting to the point where I use my depression as a crutch for everything. “Well, you know, it’s because of my depression…” I mean, I’m already sort of guilty of that now, and I find myself slipping into that defense much too easily. Could, then, these extremely high numbers indicate that maybe some people are confusing some of the normal bumps in the road of life with mental illness?

mental healthIt seems to be more acceptable in this day and age to admit to struggling with a mental illness. I was extremely worried about starting this blog, but I haven’t experienced any noticeable negative effects from it yet. I haven’t noticed anyone shunning me in public or crossing to the other side of the street when they see me. It’s actually opened some doors, in a way. With that in mind, it might be easier for someone who, for instance, isn’t very organized to say, “I think I have Attention Deficit Disorder” or for someone who gets nervous driving to say, “I have anxiety issues.” Is it becoming to easy to attach labels?

There is a certain amount of fighting involved in dealing with mental illness, but there is also a certain amount of fighting involved in just getting through everyday life. I worry when so many people are believing their minds are different from everyone else’s. Everyone has their own issues; that doesn’t necessarily mean everyone has a mental illness. There are definitely those who have issues requiring extra assistance or counseling, but there are also those who are just working through all the things we all have to work through.

Again, I don’t say any of this to diminish anyone’s experiences. Maybe my concern is more personally rooted. I don’t want to reach the point where the illness defines me. I was diagnosed with a form of depression, but I don’t need to have that printed on my business cards. We don’t need to become a nation that believes it’s all messed up in the head. Awareness is one thing; over-acceptance is another.

Advertisements

And

andIs there any more demanding word in the English language than and?

Take this weekend, for example. My mother- and father-in-law graciously offered to watch my wife and I’s brood of five children (which includes our 1-year-old daughter) from Friday night until Sunday morning. We’ve had a recent stretch of dry weather where I live, so my usual Saturday ritual of mowing the yard didn’t need to be performed. That meant we essentially had no schedule or obligations except those we set for ourselves.

Knowing this, my mind nearly exploded with possibilities. I wanted to go out with my wife and put a new string on my guitar and get outside and ride my bicycle and maybe see a movie and sleep in Saturday morning and shop for a couple of things and write a new blog post and catch up on my emails and

Well, obviously, I didn’t get all that done, mainly because no human being can possibly cram that many activities into an approximately 36-hour period. Time is not my enemy, however, when it comes to achieving most goals. My problem is I don’t know what to focus on, so I haphazardly bounce from one objective to another. I want to be a good husband and a good father and a writer and a performing musician and hang out with the guys and be in good shape and

This may sound like the mark of a very ambitious and successful person, but my experience has been much the opposite. I have spent much of my life pecking away at things and never quite becoming proficient at any of them. This tendency even led me to consider I might have Attention Deficit Disorder before I was diagnosed with Chronic Depressive Disorder. With either disorder, though, thoughts can become jumbled and priorities can be difficult to set. It’s not that I’m trying to overload myself; it’s just that every single option seems just as important as the other, and I can’t focus because it seems as if I need to complete them all at the same time.

I believe this way of thinking can lead a person in one of two directions: They can either work themselves to death trying to stay on top of everything on their list, or they can view the mountain of expectations they’ve placed on themselves and lock down and not do anything. Personally, I have had more experiences with the latter than the former. There have been times when I have felt so behind that I just didn’t even want to start, which only made things worse for me when actual effort had to be put forth.

A friend of mine has recently told me several times, “You think too much about things. Stop over-analyzing. Just take the moment for what it is.” They’re right, of course. I do analyze the crap out of everything (which you’ve probably picked up on by now from reading this blog). I have a very difficult time shutting down the noise in my brain and just doing something. I did have a brief revelation of what that might be like this weekend, however.

guardians_poster_via_marvelOne of the goals I did achieve was going with my wife to see Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Saturday afternoon. While I enjoyed the heck out of the movie, I can tell you, Shakespeare, it is not. Once I got past trying to figure out character motivations and comic book history and what we might do after the movie and where the movie ranked on my list of all-time favorite comic book films (and, believe me, such a list does indeed exist), my brain sort of entered this zone where it was simply having fun watching a darn good popcorn flick. I was there to be entertained, and I was. Simple, right?

I remember years ago hearing someone on sports radio talk about former Major League Baseball player Manny Ramirez’s ability to hit in virtually any situation. Now, for anyone who doesn’t remember, Ramirez was not exactly the sharpest tool in the shed. One of the first articles I ever read about him was in Sports Illustrated and featured a moment where he and his agent were driving around one day and Ramirez (who played for the Cleveland Indians at the time) asked the agent if he could afford a house they drove by. The man literally had no concept of the money he was making.

This particular person’s perspective on the radio that day was that because basically very little was going on in Ramirez’s head when Manny-Ramirezhe stepped to the plate in a game, all of his focus was on just hitting the baseball. He didn’t have any distractions or complex goals or stats he was trying to keep up with; he was just trying to put the bat on the ball. And, even though he paved his own way out of baseball eventually because he wouldn’t stop using banned substances, he was remarkably successful as a hitter. That was what he did; he just hit.

Sometimes I wish I could be more like that, but I don’t think it’s possible for me. What I can do is dedicate myself to one decision at a time. I tried making lists for a while, and I may have to go back to that eventually. It’s odd that in an age where people seem to be trying to utilize more of their brain power I’m actually trying to shut some of mine down, but it’s the truth. I’m tired of standing in front of my closet spending five minutes trying to decide what T-shirt to wear. Some things just have to matter more than others.

That checks the blog post off my list for this weekend. Now all I have to do is go to bed and go to sleep and get prepared in my head for tomorrow and … well, actually, maybe I’ll just focus on the first two.

Self-Diagnosis

I must be getting old. I found out I was going to have about 30 minutes to kill at the library this afternoon while I waited for my oldest daughter to finish her summer reading program activity … and I was actually excited about that.

For someone who spent so much time studying fiction in school, I hardly ever read fiction anymore. I’m much more into biographies and educational books these days. And since my goal is still to return to college to study psychology, but I’m still trying to figure out the best way to pay for said goal, I often find myself perusing the various titles written on matters such as depression or addiction or any mental behavior that is otherwise out of the ordinary.

I know, I know. It’s not exactly light reading, is it? That’s just the track my brain is on at the moment. Of course, one of the dangers of reading so much about mental disorders is that there is a very high likelihood you’ll run across at least one you think you might have. I mean, if you dig deep enough, there are all kinds of maladies we could ascribe to ourselves. For instance, one time after spending all afternoon trying to straighten one bookshelf, I was convinced I had Attention Deficit Disorder. Turns out I didn’t, but … wait, what was I talking about again? (Just kidding…)

brandon marshallSo today, as I browsed the 600 section of the library, I came across a book titled “I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me,” by Jerold J. Kreisman and Hal Straus. The tagline for the book is “Understanding the Borderline Personality.” My only real knowledge of Borderline Personality Disorder was that NFL wide receiver Brandon Marshall was diagnosed with it a few years ago, so I was curious what the authors had to say on the subject.

Of course, it didn’t take long for me to start ticking off the traits I identified with: Mood swings, impulsive actions, lacking identity, etc., etc. And then there was the kicker: The most common type of depression associated with BPD is Dysthymia, known now as Chronic Depressive Disorder … which I was diagnosed with. “Holy crap,” I thought to myself, “it’s worse than I thought!” I got through as much of the book as I could before my daughter was finished, and then I put it back on the shelf because if I took it home I would just obsess over the concept even more.

Now, do I actually have BPD? I don’t know. Self-diagnosis is a dangerous road to travel, and it’s not one I particularly want to go down. You almost become a sort of psychological hypochondriac, jumping at every shadow. Does it hurt to ask, though? Should we stop exploring, stop seeking out new information? How many diagnoses are too many? How many are not enough?

These are just some questions I’ve pondering since this afternoon. BPD is a subject I am definitely not qualified to tackle here, although I would love to hear some testimonies regarding it. Or you just could tell me if I should get a school loan or not. Maybe if I got back in school I’d feel younger and stop wandering around the library so much.