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Why Mental Illness Is Like a Field Overgrown With Weeds

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In the South, there is a weed called kudzu. It is a fast-growing vine that essentially kills everything underneath it. Kudzu grows uncontrollably and is nearly impossible to get rid of. Once it is there it might never completely go away, kind of like mental illness.

Imagine a farmer with a field, and in the middle of the field, a single kudzu plant begins to grow. The farmer thinks nothing of it. It was not hurting anything at the time, so he just let it stay.

“What harm can a little vine do?” thought the farmer.

This was a bad mistake because, as a farmer with many different fields, it could be a week or two before he was able to even check on the field again. When he came back, the vine had taken over the entire field. Without any thought to controlling the kudzu, the plant overtook the field and killed all plants which may have grown there. So, with the field out of commission, the farmer had to call his family over so they could take care of the problem before it spread to other fields and ruin the entire farm.

The process of restoring the field back to a functioning, producing field again was going to take some demanding work and the help of his family.

For days, weeks, months the farmer worked hard and slow. Kudzu doesn’t go away overnight. Suddenly it came to the day when the kudzu was the size it was when the farmer first saw it. He looked at, and shook his head. “How did this little thing get that big overnight?”

His son came over and said, “When you saw this plant it was under control, but it was only that way because you were watching it and there to manage it. The second you looked away it began to grow.”

Then the farmer’s wife walked over and snipped it as close to the dirt as possible. “It’s not gone, even though you can’t see it. It digs its roots deep and even the smallest root can sprout a new vine.”

The farmer understood that he would have to trim this vine daily to keep it from hurting his plants.

Mental illness is just like kudzu. Whether it is acknowledged, it will still grow. That is not the important takeaway from this story. The biggest thing is the farmer not stopping his management of the weed. He works for weeks until it gets to a point that it is even manageable.

The farmer is like medication. When you get diagnosed, you cannot give up and just walk away. You have to get your “family” support systems and doctors together and begin chipping away at the problem.

This may mean medication or therapy. Either option may take time and be hard to make it work, but you can’t stop. If you stop when the issue is manageable, but not completely gone, your issue can get bigger. It can take over your life.

Another important step here is continuing management regularly, especially with medications. Taking them daily is crucial to having them work correctly.

Authors note: The story was told to me by a social worker at a hospital during my stay. Her words were, “If the meds help and make it better, why stop taking them and get bad again.”

Editor’s note: Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

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Unsplash photo via Aleksandr Ledogorov

Originally published: April 25, 2017
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