I want to tell you a story that shows that you don’t need to wait until you reach your golden years to do something about your mental health. It’s also one of the big reasons that I am so passionate about the topic and have dedicated much of my life to helping people understand and better manage mental illness.
It’s a story about a person that I love dearly and who I have known for most of my life. It’s a story that is both sad and happy, so do read until the end. You might find that you relate to the person I am talking about it, or that it encourages you with regard to your loved ones.
As Neil Diamond once said when referring to his music, “My hope is that you like it or even dislike it but just that you don’t feel nothing at all.”
The person that my story is about is a woman who is now 66 years old. She was a teacher by profession, but has been retired for a number of years. She has been single since her husband passed away 6 years ago. She lives alone in a small town where she has some good friends but her two children are far away, in the same country but a different province. She has regular contact with them and, while they are close now, they have not always been. She is in fairly good health, apart from a chronic respiratory disease and other age-related aches and pains.
She was brought up in a loving home by working class parents and she continues to have a good relationship with her younger sister. She never wanted for anything, but luxuries were few and far between – much appreciated when they came her way. She had a happy childhood with the usual ups and downs.
She met and married her first true love at a fairly young age. Against the odds, they enjoyed a long marriage. They came into significantly greater prosperity than she had been used to growing up – largely due to her husband’s business success. When he passed she was left in a very comfortable financial position. They had two children that they were able to offer the best education and who have both since enjoyed successful lives and careers.
A pleasant enough story so far, yes?
The thing is, or the “but” as some might put it, as she got older she began to struggle with anxiety and depression. Her ability to cope with life’s usual challenges seemed to deteriorate and when things got really tough for her, she would retreat to the safety of her bed, sometimes for days on end. She would even neglect the needs of her children, her home and her husband. Then she would bounce back and all would be fine again – until the next challenge, when the cycle of withdrawal and neglect would start again. Sometimes she would try to drown her sorrows with a few too many drinks but, as is usually the case, this would only make matters worse. Don’t get me wrong here… there would be months on end of so-called “normality” in between episodes, which were cherished by everyone in her life, including me.
From the time she was in about her mid to late 40s I started to encourage her to try taking some medication that would help take the edge off the anxiety and depression. I had by that time completed my studies as an Occupational Therapist and from my time spent working with patients with mental illness, I knew a bit about such medication. But she wouldn’t.
Why? Because she came from a generation where you just got on with things and you don’t take drugs. Because her mother was depressed at times and she didn’t take drugs. Because if you take the drugs you become an addict. Because to take the drugs is a sign of weakness. And the list of reasons went on and on. Note that she called them “drugs,” not medication.
I persisted in my attempts to change her mind, especially after her husband passed away. But still no, she just wasn’t interested.
And then…a breakthrough! About 3 years ago I was having a conversation with her about it – again. I suggested that she go to her GP, not a psychiatrist, and ask for something mild to take the edge off. It was at this time that I learned her GP had already suggested this to her. I encouraged her by saying that, if it doesn’t work, she can stop but that she would need to give it at least 6 months to take its proper effect. And she did!
For the first few months she said that she felt no difference and she in fact referred to the medication as her “silly pills”. However, she continued to take them and never once expressed thoughts of discontinuing them – a sign that they were working. And they were… the difference, although not massive, was noticed by everyone close to her, including me.
She just handled things better… almost everything. To the best of my knowledge there has not been a single withdrawal into the bedroom since the day she started taking the medication.
And then finally she admitted it… just a few weeks ago she told me that had she not been taking the “silly pills,” she would never have coped with the pandemic, lockdown and everything else over the past 6 months. She in fact said that she would have had a complete collapse and she is not sure if she would even have survived.
I told her to say “Thank you Lesley for persevering” and she said, “Thank you Lesley”.
Who is this person? It’s someone that I love very, very much and who I thank for many things, including the ignition of my passion for spreading the word and reducing the stigma about mental illness.
Why am I telling you this story? Well really, just to encourage you – if you are or if someone you love is struggling with mental health, there is help available. I can’t say it works for everyone but it’s sure worth a try.
Don’t wait and run the risk of going through avoidable struggles. In this particular story, it’s medication that was successful, but there are also therapeutic interventions that can help.
Take care everyone and prioritise your mental health.