To the Doctors Who’ve Treated My Mental Illness


Throughout 13 years of treatment for depression and anxiety, I’ve worked with many types of doctors. Some who listened, others who didn’t. Some who treated me like a real person with a real illness, and too many others whose insensitivity about mental health left marks on my life. My average appointment with a psychiatrist has been about 10 minutes long, leaving what seems like 0.2 seconds to say anything at all once the doctor is finished asking questions.

To my doctors over the years: here are some things I’d like to say but never got the chance.

To the doctor who told me to go off all of my medications in order to have a baby: I wish I had asked you more questions. I wish you had dug a little deeper and learned a little more. You could have referred me to a special practice that could have given me more nuanced and personalized guidance. But I didn’t know to ask, so I followed your advice. I followed it right down the rabbit hole into a psych hospital where my new doctor told me I could have stayed on my old meds while getting pregnant. Do you find that just a little bit ironic?

To the doctor who told me to “just take an Advil” and picture how wonderful it would be to have a baby when I was going off my meds: Do you even have a medical degree? Because when a doctor gives me advice that’s worse than what I could think of on my own, something isn’t right. Mental illnesses can’t be treated with ibuprofen and daydreams. Next time someone seeks your help who is clearly heading into a psychiatric crisis, know the signs and take appropriate professional action. Tell them their own personal safety is important. I walked out of your office and sobbed in the bathroom across the hall because I didn’t know where to turn next for help. Picture that and see how it feels. And if it gets too bad, just take an Advil.

To the doctor who told me to get back on meds and start taking my mental illness seriously: Thank you. You told me what I needed to hear, as painful as it was. When you compared my dad’s depression and suicide to having a relative with a heart condition, it made perfect sense. You helped me begin to understand that mental illnesses are physical illnesses, not personal flaws. And when you told me that kids who lose a parent to suicide are at a higher risk of suicide themselves, you opened my eyes about how important it was to treat my depression and keep myself safe. You took extra time and spoke with compassion, and though I didn’t know it at the time, you helped to set me down the path of acceptance.

To the doctor who told me we were running out of treatment options: I looked to you for hope and support, and you shut the door in my face. Taking six months to stabilize after a severe depressive episode is just not too long. Why did you make me feel like it was? Couldn’t you have helped me see the bigger picture, rather than shaming me for taking so long to recover? And just because the first several medications you prescribed didn’t have a miraculous effect didn’t mean I was out of possibilities. At the time I was too sick and hopeless to disagree with you, but now I’m stronger and I know how you treated me wasn’t right. Acknowledging I was trying hard and making gains, however small, would have gone a long way. And that person who was out of options? She’s back on her feet. She’s living life. And with little help from you, she’s found her hope again.

To the doctor who took time to talk and listen: You probably didn’t have the time, but you found it and it mattered to me. Treating mental illness isn’t just about medication, and although you’re a doctor, you reminded me of that over and over. You asked about my life. You encouraged me to keep working hard in therapy. And when I expressed fear or concern, you didn’t shut me down or dismiss me. You listened. You told me we were partners in my treatment and you empowered me to learn more about depression, anxiety and post-tramatic stress disorder. I left, and still leave, every appointment with you feeling more positive and hopeful than when I arrived. Finding a psychiatrist who makes me feel like a real person whose opinion matters is what makes recovery so much smoother.

I’ve learned a lot from my doctors, whether I liked them or not. Each one had something to teach me. How to ask questions and push back. How to listen and take advice. How to do my own research and come prepared. How to become my own advocate and listen to my gut instinct.

Most of all, I’ve learned how to keep trying. Nobody else can do that for me. I have to keep believing that my recovery is real and know, regardless of who my doctor is, that I’m worth it.

Follow this journey on Blue Light Blue.

Editor’s note: This story is based on an individual’s experience and shouldn’t be taken as professional advice.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Write a thank you letter to someone you realize you don’t thank enough. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to community@themighty.com. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

RELATED VIDEOS

I Thought I Was Too ‘Prepared’ to Get Postpartum Depression


I thought postpartum depression was for other women. I had gone through years of fertility treatment and tears. My depression was over. I was having a baby and couldn’t have been happier. I thought postpartum depression was for the unprepared. I had worked in daycare, had tons of experience and even took a newborn care class (for my husband’s sake). I had confidence in my abilities. I mean, look how beautiful I made this nursery?! It was go time and I was ready.

Well, as it turns out, preparing to become a parent is like trying to prepare for a flood by shoving paper towels under the door. A couple of days after my son was born, I broke into a hundred pieces. The thing is, everyone called it depression. What I was feeling, in my opinion, was not depression. I would call it an overwhelming sense of anxiety. I had always been a bit of a control freak. My husband may disagree with the “a bit” part. Well, control and parenthood are not exactly like chocolate and peanut butter. They don’t always go together deliciously.

This baby was tiny. I was in charge of keeping him safe and all I could think of was the millions of dangers his little body might face. I was still in pain. Nursing was hard. I was crying more than the newborn.

Sometimes the shred of sanity I still had would float above the hysterical me. It would yell at me to pull it together, thus making the broken me just feel guilty. This just turned into a giant loop. I was fortunate enough to have one incredible tool this mighty fight. I had a supportive spouse with paternity leave. He would tiptoe into the nursery and scoop our son out of my arms to “give me some time.” When it came time for my postpartum appointment, he gently suggested that I share my feelings with the doctor. Things got better.

One would think that, since my son is 8 years old presently, that I can laugh about it now. I’m usually good about that kind of thing, but I’m not quite there yet. It sucks to feel vulnerable. It sucks to admit that you need help when mothers are supposed to be the strongest creatures on earth. However, there is a reason the flight attendant tells you to put on your oxygen mask before putting on your child’s. They can’t function if you don’t. Things got better for me, but only because I had support. I know not everyone has a supportive spouse, and paternity leave can be a luxury.

There seems to be some sort of unspoken rule that we leave the new mommy alone for a while. She needs her privacy. Well, sometimes she doesn’t. I’m not suggesting we show up unannounced on doorsteps, holding a bottles of wine. (But if you want to do that, I can send you my address.) Just call her. Do a coffee run. Hold the baby for 20 minutes so Mom can shower. Ask how she is doing. Give her an opening to express what is going on. These things can help her be the strong mother that is most certainly inside of her.

Like I said, I can’t quite laugh about it yet. I can say that I will always remember this as the first time I conquered a parenthood battle, and like the rest I have (or will) be facing, it should be not alone. Only 2,844,362,197 left to go.

Follow this journey on RaisingJedi and the RaisingJedi Facebook page.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to community@themighty.com. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

5 Lies My Depression Told Me


I was not depressed.

I couldn’t be.

I had never self-harmed. I had never ideated on suicide. I had never felt the need to seek professional help for those low days or weeks or months. I wasn’t like the people I saw on TV or in movies or in books who were depressed. People I knew with clinical depression sought treatment when they engaged in destructive activities or couldn’t get out of bed in the morning or function on a day-to-day basis. I did everything with my whole heart — and depression always seemed to me to be like an all-over weight, impossible to live with.

I wasn’t like that.

The first lie depression told me was that I didn’t have depression.

Because I could get up in the morning, because I could take a shower and do my makeup and my hair, because I could sit down in my office at home and put in a day’s worth of work, because I could follow the routine day in and day out, my depression told me it wasn’t a big deal that I’d spend all my free time sleeping.

Depression lied about it being relaxing, recovering and restful. Working takes a lot of energy. It wasn’t an avoidance tactic or an unhealthy coping mechanism.

Going through the performance of each day drained me, but it was ignoring depression that really wore me out.

The second lie depression told me was that things were OK if I maintained control.

By obsessively watching my food intake and making sure I ate only the healthiest meals, by ensuring I worked out daily, by spending an hour with a therapy light in the darkest mornings of winter, I would pull through my temporary seasonal blues. If I added in half an hour of yoga or a few minutes of mind relaxation techniques when I felt really bad, I could relax and avoid the unpleasant thoughts.

But being restrictive negatively impacted my physical and mental health. Insisting on controlling every aspect of my life denied me peace and balance, and it made the depression worse — which is exactly what depression wants.

The third lie depression told me was that I wasn’t good enough.

I wasn’t a good enough wife.

I wasn’t a good enough friend.

I wasn’t a good enough daughter/granddaughter/niece/co-worker.

The critical things people said to me or about me, the mean things they wrote — those were the truest parts of who I was. The niceties, the compliments and the solid, unwavering support of those who always had my back were all instances of temporary kindness. I was and could only be an obligation.

Depression told me people I knew loved and cared about me didn’t. That the things I thought were true and safe were anything but, and I needed to try harder to be better or retreat all together. The crushing insecurity depression wrought upon my thinking led to out-of-character behavior and the need for constant reassurance from those to whom I was closest.

The insecurity also led to building up giant walls and demanding space from others who cared about and sometimes needed me to be there. At times, the insecurity depression gave me meant doing both things in tandem: demanding reassurance while not offering the same back. Or worse, believing those reassurances were just there so that I would offer something back, even though I believed I had nothing worth offering to anyone.

The fourth lie depression told me was that I didn’t suffer from anxiety.

I didn’t have real problems. I had a house. Friends. A job. A family. Real anxiety involved trauma. Real anxiety involved fears outside of the things that I had complete and utter control over (because I could control everything, remember?).

Depression told me the anxieties I had were all made up, even as it fueled the feelings and demanded behavior that exacerbated my anxiety.

The truth is that anxiety fueled the depression that lied to me. Depression thrived off my low-grade anxieties, helping them grow, which in turn made my depression worse. For me, depression and anxiety weave together like a strand of DNA. They twist around and around and around, rooted and connected to one another.

The fifth lie depression told me was that it wasn’t “bad enough.”

Depression told me getting out of bed in the morning meant I was functioning. That turning in work on time — sometimes really great work that showcased my sharpest thinking skills — meant I didn’t have miserable, self-flagellating, relentless thoughts circulating through my head. Depression told me sleeping my afternoons away was fine, even restorative, rather than part of a dangerous cycle. Depression told me near-constant exhaustion came from pushing myself too hard on projects I’d taken on, not from being up half the night because I couldn’t shut off the voices or thoughts. Because I’d already slept eight or ten hours that day. Because I wasn’t eating enough and I was working out too much.

Depression doesn’t present one specific way. It doesn’t feel one specific way. It doesn’t function one specific way. But it will insist that it does, encouraging you with lie after lie after lie to explain away very real signs and symptoms of its existence, which only causes more pain and hurt.

Finally being able to untangle those lies and turn them into the truth of the situation — that I suffered from depression — was like discovering a whole new, different world: a healthier world where I did not have to be my depression, and my depression did not have to be me.

The first truth I told depression was that it existed, but it did not define me.

This post originally appeared on the To Write Love on Her Arms blog.

What I Hid by Drinking Like a ‘Normal College Kid'


Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

I’ve been diagnosed with depression for about eight years now. In high school it was your typical, textbook, mild depression. I was put on some medicine and got back to my life. It wasn’t until one of my lowest points when I realized my depression had gotten worse. But it took falling again — this time deeper into the hole —  to really open my eyes to change. I fell hard before I realized how much I needed help.

When I went to college, I started partying and going out with my roommates, just like a normal college kid would. I started out great, going to every class and loving the independence. But soon I started skipping classes so I could sleep, going out on weekends and isolating myself on weekdays. Alcohol was my motivation to get through the week. I started getting bad grades and questioned if college was even for me.

After barely getting through that first year of college, I came home for summer break. I was excited to see my old high school friends and have a care-free summer. My friends and I started hanging out by a river, drinking alcohol to loosen up. We would go out during the day and come home when it got dark. I knew deep down all that drinking wasn’t good for me, especially on the water, but it felt good to have fun. I numbed the hangover with more alcohol. One week I barely ate anything and just consumed beer, calling it my “beer diet.” At the end of that week my parents noticed something was wrong. I had lost my phone and keys in the muddy water of the river, so they had to come get me. I hated them that night. Furious, I yelled and slammed doors. But the next morning when I woke up — sober — every feeling I’d been suppressing with alcohol emerged. I cried for days, and after various phone calls finally agreed to get help from a different doctor.

But even then, after it all blew over, I chalked it up to being a “normal college kid.” I just wanted to have fun and binged a little too much on alcohol. No big deal, right? Wrong.

Fast forward to three years later. After family issues, a car accident, a death in the family and a bad break up, I found myself living in a house by myself. With my newfound independence I could do whatever I wanted. I could eat whenever, do my laundry whenever and drink wine by myself whenever! I began suppressing my feelings with alcohol again. A couple glasses a night turned into wanting to get wasted on a weekday. I hated the feeling of being sober and alone. I was drinking with a friend one night when we decided to go down by the river, that popular hangout. I remember sitting in the car, looking at the water and wondering what it would be like to fall in and never come back up. I was so at peace with this idea, and that scared me. But who could I tell?

I knew drinking was a trigger for me, but I was convinced I could handle it. I knew I needed help, but just didn’t have time. I would just stop drinking, I told myself. A few months later I cut down to drinking about once every two weeks or so. But I couldn’t stop after just a few and usually got pretty intoxicated. I came home one night, pretty drunk, and sat on my kitchen floor with a knife. This was my lowest moment. I called one of my friends to come over and help me. I sat on that floor and cried every ounce of tear I had in me. When he came I didn’t stop. I told him everything I was feeling. Without a word he hugged me and didn’t judge. I knew at that point I needed help. A few weeks later I saw the therapist who I’m currently working with weekly. I’ve realized alcohol is a trigger for my major depressive episodes, and I’m working on cutting back. I’m also more consistent with my medication, which has made a world of a difference.

Sometimes it takes the lowest moment in our life to evoke change, and sometimes it even takes more than one low moment. But we should never feel ashamed for these lows, or feel like no one cares. It takes one phone call or message to talk to someone who does. If you’re suffering, please let someone know. I can promise you the ones who judge you aren’t important, and the ones who don’t are the only people you need to get through.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

When You're Blinded by the Fog of Depression


I can feel it coming. This darkness gradually creeping up on me. It’s not the first time it’s been around and I know it’s not going to be the last. I fear for what each time will bring. I don’t want to go back to that dark place and I question whether I’m strong enough to survive it again.

It starts to latch on to me. Grasping its hands around my neck. Squeezing out all my hope and destroying any will to live with each touch.

It’s pulling me down to that dark place I know oh so well. The darkness is closing in on me and my mind is racing with even darker thoughts. I’m not thinking rationally and I can’t see clearly because of this overwhelming darkness.

It’s consuming me. Like black fog clouding my face so I can no longer see the light. This black fog I’m caught in by no choice of my own rules my life. It’s isolated me from my support and from all of those who care about me. I’m blinded by this fog. Everything is black, so I can’t see see my family and friends. I can’t see their arms, reaching out, trying to save me from this horrible fog. I can barely think about getting through the next five minutes, let alone the next day or week. It’s clouding my vision, making my life a horrible shade of black. With this fog everything seems so impossible.

But somehow in amongst all this darkness, I find hope. It’s sometimes triggered by something as little as a stranger’s smile, a child’s greeting or a loved one’s touch. The smallest thing can give you hope. And it’s hope you need to get through this rough time. You hold on to that hope — that’s what gets you through.

Being in the fog is not a pleasant experience. It can make you a miserable person and it certainly challenges you. But if you can hold on to even a tiny bit of hope, it will help. This might give you the strength to grab on to that loved one’s hand who’s trying to support you.  And with that support and hope the fog will ease, and the sun will come out again.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Why Social Media Shouldn’t Just Be for ‘Good Days’


I am someone who strives to be honest. And by honest, I mean sharing the bad just as much as the good, showing the ugly and not just the pretty, being unapologetically who I am and how I am feeling. I fight against the belief that social media is everyone’s “best version” of themselves. I share when I’m happy. I share when I’m depressed. I share when I’m having a good day. I share when I’m so anxious I can’t sleep. I share so that others can feel comfortable sharing their whole selves, not just the parts people like.

I’m writing today not because I have some insight to bring or experience to tell. Rather, I’m writing because today is a Bad Day. On Bad Days, I don’t often write. Bad Days mean sleeping, fighting off suicidal thoughts, keeping the tears at bay and trying to get out of bed. Bad Days mean difficult days for the ones who love me. And I’ve realized lately that my Bad Days are only shared when I’m on the Other Side — when the fog is cleared and I’m telling people that things get better.

To me, Bad Days are only shareable when they’ve ended.

I’m stopping that now. Today, and the past couple days, have been Bad Days. I’m still in it, still waiting for it to pass, because I know it will. The hardest part is that I don’t know when. It could be tomorrow, it could be next week, it could be months. This is what chronic depression feels like.

Recently, my therapist explained to me the difference between “recurrent” depression and “chronic” depression. I was under the impression mine was recurrent — I have depressive episodes that hit me every so often, and with treatment they’ve gotten fewer and farther, but never more than three or so months without at least a small one. But that actually means that my depression is chronic, so it’s sort of the opposite — my baseline is depressed, and occasionally I’ll have breaks of time where I feel better. These can be weeks or months, but they fade away and leave me with the depression. 

Chronic depression is hard. It’s knowing that the darkness is going to come back again. It’s knowing that the light is temporary. However, it’s also knowing that nothing lasts forever — the good and the bad come and go like tides. Accepting this is the key to managing chronic depression, because without acceptance, every episode is a disappointment.

So today, I’m accepting this Bad Day. Even though I feel depressed, I still got out of bed, went outside, ate food, drank water and even wrote two blog posts. Yes, a Bad Day means constantly feeling flat, crying at every miniscule slight and worrying in the back of my head that this episode could end in a hospitalization. But a Bad Day also means hope, because the Good Days are coming.

If we don’t share these Bad Days, we’re not sharing the whole picture. We’re showing a curated picture of what our lives or our disorders look like. Honesty is so important in advocating. If we pretend like the Bad Days don’t exist, or that they’re there but we don’t show them in their entirety, who is going to understand the depths of what you’re talking about? We always hear that social media is damaging because we compare our lives to the highlight reel of others’. People usually only post the good. But we can change that. With every post during a Bad Day, with every honest description of “what’s on your mind,” with even a small sentiment of the maybe-ugly truth, we can shift the online culture to be more of an authentic view of this complicated life.

Alyse is looking down, her hand over her eye. A pattern of red thread spans across her face.
Photo from Alyse’s photo series, Kindred.

Follow this journey on Alyse Ruriani‘s blog.  

Real People. Real Stories.

8,000
CONTRIBUTORS
150 Million
READERS

We face disability, disease and mental illness together.