Therapy, Psychiatry and Anti-Depressants, Oh My!

Before Tony died, I thought of therapy and anti-depressants the way a lot of people do.  First of all, they were this dark, mysterious thing, much like the forbidden forest in The Wizard of Oz.  They were unknown creatures.  Second, they were not for me.  They had nothing to do with me, and I wanted nothing to do with them.  Admitting that I might need either seemed a weakness to me, although I certainly had no problem thinking that, for example, therapy would probably help Tony.  I was, we all are, part of a society that has marginalized such things.  Oh sure, there are little pockets where everyone has a therapist and talks about it proudly, but for most of us, that’s not the way it works.

Since I started blogging, I have had several indirect communications – people who’ve said these things to my friends or relatives but haven’t actually said them to me, here, on the blog – letting me know that these people think that anti-depressants are a crutch, therapy is a joke, etc.  I also know from direct experience with Tony and from talking to others that there are many people out there who have never been in therapy or tried it once with the wrong therapist, and so they have decided that therapy cannot, under any circumstances, help them.

I want to reiterate, again, that the brain is a part of the human body.  It produces chemicals like cortisol, serotonin, adrenaline and endorphins that help regulate how we feel.  This is no different, NO DIFFERENT, than the way pancreas produces insulin.  When a person’s pancreas fails to produce enough insulin to regulate blood sugar, that person gets diabetes, a medical condition that is treatable with drugs.  Would any of us walk up to an insulin-dependent diabetic and pontificate about how the insulin that they rely on to save their lives is a crutch?  For that matter, would any of us tell someone with a broken leg that they should throw away their crutch and just get on with it?

For me, therapy has been an eye-opening, life-changing thing.  There are so many ways in which we do ourselves disservice.  I wasn’t able to get out of my own way, and now thanks to therapy I can see that and I am beginning to see the ways I can change it.  It occurs to me that therapy is the study of myself and my own behavior.  Some might dismiss that as navel-gazing, but is it really?  I would argue that it’s not.  Why would we not want to know as much about ourselves and why we behave the way we do as possible?  I can honestly say that my interpersonal relationships are better now than they have ever been. 

The hardest thing for me about being in therapy (besides the occasional painful breakthrough) has been thinking about Tony and how insistent he was that therapy could not help him.  That anti-depressants could not help him.  That I should be able to, but couldn’t, help him.  We have a long way to go in terms of how we view and treat mental illnesses, but there is help out there.  It’s true that we can’t see these illnesses the same way we can see a broken leg, but we can’t see diabetes or congestive heart failure or heart disease either.  Yet for those, we have no problem seeking help.  Therapy could have helped Tony.  Anti-depressants could have helped him.  He could not get out of his own way, couldn’t see the forest for the trees, and couldn’t get past his fears about what other people might think if he said that he needed help.  I wish, every day, that he had sought the help he needed.  He didn’t, and I will never be the same.

What I hope, the reason I am taking these medications and going to therapy every week, and reading books by Brene Brown and Dr. Kristin Neff and Thich Nhat Hanh, is that while I might never be the same, I can become the best possible version of myself.  I hope that I can take the tragedy of losing Tony and turn it into something that will help other people.  I have to be honest – without therapy, I don’t think that would even be a possibility.

PS – I have to tell you that the day I got the idea for this title, I was lying in bed feeling quite pleased with myself.  I decided to check on one of my favorite blogs, Woulda Coulda Shoulda, written by my friend Mir.  I clicked over and the title of HER latest post was Teenagers and Travel and Moths (Oh My) and she assures me that this is because she and I share a Borg mind.  I believe her.  At any rate, you really should go over and read her blog because she’s an amazing writer and an even better person. 

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11 thoughts on “Therapy, Psychiatry and Anti-Depressants, Oh My!

  1. I’m so glad you’re seeking psychological help, Aimee. I too had to seek help when my brother ended his life two years ago. He, like your Tony, didn’t think he needed any “outside” help. He didn’t believe in therapists nor pills for such things. Unfortunately, guys are brought up in our society to be tough; to be our pillars of strength. My brother and I grew up in a very disfunctional family, where he played the surrogate father on many occasions. He grew up feeling he had to be strong for the family; to be there for my mom, me and my sisters. That huge responsibility at such a tender age robbed him of his true sense of self. I’m sure that is a large factor in his inability to seek medical help when he was faced with the extreme duress that ultimately ended in his demise.

    I miss my brother every day and always will. We were best friends growing up and in adult life. I speak to him often and can sometimes actually hear his laughter and witty responses. It helps. I wish you the best in your healing, my friend. The journey is indeed a bumpy ride.

    • Thank you, Loretta. I talk to Tony too, almost every day, and there are times when I feel like I can hear him, or imagine what he’d say or how he’d respond to certain things. You’re certainly right about the societal expectations that men have to deal with — and women too, but women tend to be more geared toward seeking help, I think. I know I can’t change what Tony did and didn’t do, but I have to believe I can make the rest of my life better and I know I’m the only one who can do that.

      Thank you as always for reading.

      • “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

        ~Elisabeth Kübler-Ross.

  2. Dear Aimee: I just felt compelled to let you know how absolutely true your words are and how brave you are for sharing these truths. I’ve been on anti-depressants since I had post-partum depression with my first child and still battle feeling somehow “broken” that I will need to take this the rest of my life even though I don’t feel broken about taking allergy medicine everyday. Thank you for talking about this and putting it all in such an understandable way. My sincere condolences on your loss. I lost my dear cousin 20 years ago the same way and we all still reel from it. I’m so happy it appears you have a good family support system. Best wishes to you

  3. You have great wisdom to get the help that you need. Fear is an obstacle for many, and it is also generated by the brain, so maybe Tony’s brain prevented him from getting the help that he needed. You are inspiring others and opening the eyes of many who do not understand mental illness! Love you for all that you do in Tony’s honor, and from your kind, brave heart!

  4. My youngest brother had considered suicide as early as age 10, although I didn’t know that until many years later. There is a huge genetic link to depression in my family, and while some of these people are finding meds beneficial, others will not even consider them. One of them is this brother. He is one of those “I can handle it myself” guys. I was very worried about him when he lost his marriage and job in the same year, and then had housing problems. The second and third were simply because he was a victim of the bad economy.

    After some very tough times, he has a job that is okay but not great; he is in a house that needs a lot of work. He has also found a woman who means a lot to him. While I am glad that things are more settled for him, I don’t know that I will ever quit holding my breath for him, just a little bit. How do we get people – mostly men? – to see that asking for help is okay? Much like you said, Aimee, if you broke your arm, you wouldn’t hesitate to see a doctor. If your brain isn’t functioning in a healthy way, then seeing a doctor is a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

    Do we have to re-name things? Think about it: mental health is a fairly neutral term, even “good mental health.” “Mental illness,” on the other hand, has horribly negative connotations in almost any context. “Mental illness” = “crazy” = “scary and probably dangerous.” What will it take to make it easier for people to get help?

    • Such good questions! I think we need to just take the word mental out of there. There’s a societal perception that all of us should have control over what we think and how we feel, and that’s just ludicrous. The very idea that any kind of less-than-perfect brain functionality should be classified differently than that of any other internal organ or physical body part is laughable, and yet it’s accepted. I have pretty much unlimited coverage for most things, and a maximum of 20 visits for so-called mental health — and only then if it’s considered serious. Apparently losing your husband and writing partner is not serious, at least not to the insurance powers-that-be. It’s infuriating, truly. In terms of your brother, maybe just try using the examples that I used, or if there’s another one (like, if he has had to seek medical treatment for something that he never questioned, like a broken bone or whatever) to try to get him to see it in a different light. It really is a re-education process.

  5. Pingback: Angelic Voices, Kitchen Tales, Creativity and Camille Claudel: Mental Health Monday | A Way With Words

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