My last post focused on the first time I tried to get help for my discombobulated brain. In this post I am going to talk about the first time someone else tried to get me help for my mental health, which ended up being far more harmful.
When I got into middle school, things started getting difficult. that is a time in all of our development where we begin to move away from the bright colors and ‘you can be anything you want to be!’ mentality, to starting to learn that we have limitations. When you think about it, it really is like hitting a brick wall. Academic subjects get more difficult, your fellow classmates begin developing their personalities, and puberty draws nearer whether you want it to or not.
I was a very shy kid in elementary school, and this didn’t change as I got older. In fact, I began to really dig into my own self mental isolation. Nothing seemed to make sense. I was terrible at school, and I was constantly fighting my internal demons about my gender identity, which I wouldn’t be able to put into words until decades later. I have mentioned before that I don’t come from a family that has any respect for mental health. The typical suck it up, I didn’t need help and I turned out fine approach that many adults, who, did not turn out fine, like to take. In fifth grade I was given a nickname from my parents that I would never shake, even the last time I spoke to them in my late twenties, they still referred to me as Grumpy. They called me this because they interpreted my shyness and awkwardness as just being, well, grumpy all the time. For Christmas I would get shirts, magnets, pictures, anything they could find bearing the likeness of Grumpy, from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Again, It’s not that I was grumpy, I was just in my own head 24/7, but even so, nobody ever bothered to ask why I might seem grumpy.
With the necessary backstory out of the way, let’s jump ahead to that same summer after my first year in college where I had tried to sneak into counseling to get some help. I think because I had been away for so long in college, my parents were even more aware of how quiet, sorry, ‘grumpy’ I was. Without consulting with me, my mom approached me one day and said,
“I made an appointment with the doctor, your dad is going to take you to figure out why you’re such a grump all the time”
I gave a lazily agitated “…ok” and before I knew it I was in the car on the way to see the doctor. I didn’t speak much with my dad on the way, the older I got the more awkward I felt around him. I remember feeling a mixture of relief and embarrassment. By this point in my life, I had a pretty good idea that my parents were lost causes when it came to getting help. I read between the lines of what my mom said, and what it felt like in my head was “You’re always an asshole, we’re going to see if a doctor can give you something.” So, I was embarrassed. I was relieved because this time, I was going to see a real doctor and not a religious nut masquerading as a counselor. Even though my parents intentions were not good, it seemed I had inadvertently caused them to get me some help.
We get to the doctor and when we head back to the exam room my dad did most of the talking. To his credit, he did try and talk about my struggles in school, but the main focus was ‘can you make them less grumpy?’ Much like my experience with the ‘counselor,’ whatever excitement I had quickly disappeared. The doctor opened some web page on his computer and read off a bunch of feelings.
“Do you feel sad a lot? Tired? Hopeless? Do you have negative thoughts?”
What am I in a Prozac commercial or something?
I answered ‘yes’ to all the questions he read off, and when he was done writing some stuff down, he handed me a prescription for Proza- dammit, I am in a Prozac commercial… He didn’t explain much beyond ‘You have depression.’
Just like that, the appointment is over and we’re on our way to the pharmacy. Still feeling embarrassed over the situation, and not being too thrilled that my doctor didn’t talk to me but rather asked a bunch of generic questions, I was excited to finally try something, anything that would make my head make sense. If you’re not familiar with Antidepressants, some take a few weeks to build up in your system and take effect. As we got closer to the end of the summer there was a pretty noticeable difference. I was a little more talkative, I didn’t have this constant awkward feeling in my brain, and I seemed to have a little more vibrance in my outlook. This felt like a huge step in the right direction so, happy ending! Right?
Summer ends and I head back to college. Nothing went any better for me academically or within my own major, but this time around I just didn’t care. I wasn’t really sad or down, but I happily didn’t care about anything. I would sleep through class and think ‘eh, better luck next time!’ I would fail an exam and forget about it within an hour. I pretty much hung out with friends and slept in a dorm but was skipping the rest of college. I remember hearing a joke about Prozac when I was younger where it was called Fuckidol, because it literally makes you go, ‘ah, fuck it’ when any problems arise. I didn’t realize at the time how badly this was affecting me, I was just super happy to finally be social and have friends. That part was great!
I want to be very clear here, I don’t in any way think Prozac, or any antidepressants are bad. They can be immensely helpful and have been huge positives later in my life. What was bad was being dragged to a doctor and put on a medication with no resources or insights as to how it would make me feel. It was literally ‘take these and you’re fixed!’
I came home for winter break and things picked up where they left off. I was being fun and social and the general vibe in my family was that I was finally ‘normal.’ Until one day…. From starting the medication until this point, every day wasn’t happiness and rainbows, I still had days where I was feeling down, just a lot fewer. My parents and I went out to get some groceries and I wasn’t feeling particularly talkative that day. I didn’t need to be there, so I was mostly just people watching and looking at random foodstuffs. Out of nowhere my mom turned to me and said,
“Are you going to have this attitude all day?”
It was like a kick in the stomach.
“I don’t have an attitude. I’m just not feeling very talkative.”
“Bull, you have been in a mood all day. What’s your problem? Did you not take your pills today? You’re being an asshole!”
I had no idea how to respond to that. Seething with rage, I knew it was best for me to just walk away. I made some laps around the store until they were done shopping and met them at the exit. My mom was now giving me the silent treatment, and after an awkwardly quiet fifteen-minute drive home, I went straight up to my room where I stayed to the next day. Luckily this was my last day at home before going back to school for spring semester.
I would normally leave to go back pretty early in the morning. As was typical of my mom, she acted like yesterday didn’t exist. We said our goodbyes and then off I went. My first stop was at our local gas station to fuel up for the drive and grab some snacks for the road. When I was all set to go, the last thing I did before pulling out of the parking lot was empty the bottle of Prozac into the trash can. I was convinced the only reason I was taking them was for my parents to not think I was an asshole, so, fuck ‘em.
So, no happy ending here, but I did learn some valuable lessons. The primary of which was to be extremely careful of anyone trying to get me help. I didn’t know how to differentiate between someone who wanted to help me, and someone who wanted to help me be more tolerable to them. I didn’t know it then, but what I needed more than anything was for someone to hear me out. I needed someone to help me work out what I couldn’t work out on my own, and not judge me, but believe me.