By Heather Hunter
**It should be mentioned, first off, that I am not a medical doctor, a therapist or a counselor. All I am offering in this space is my opinion and personal experience for you to interpret and use as you like.**
I’ve always been a sensitive person.
Everything in my world tends to be either beautiful or horrible, amazing or wrought with anguish. My extremes are something I have come to love about myself because they feed my creativity.
Seeing life through this lens of very real, raw intense emotion has been an amazing and powerful tool as I have learned (and continue to learn) how to flex and feed my imagination.
It’s not that I am incapable of experiencing the many shades of grey that life has to offer, but life feels much more dramatic, pulsating and alive to me at the edges.
Another fact about me: I’m also a pretty empathetic person, which means I’m keenly aware, 24 hours a day, of how others around me feel or seem to feel. And not just humans.
In my lifetime thus far, I’ve empathized with everything from the kids in my neighborhood, to the stuffed teddy bear lying alone and crushed at the back of the shelf, to the shelter dog that no one seems to understand and even the grieving people in war-torn countries I’ve seen on the news that are half a world away.
Although I have grown to love having my heartstrings stretched and twisted like rubber bands, seeing the world like this can be incredibly overwhelming at times, even exhausting, but you learn to exist in this world where everything is magnified and there is no off switch.
It’s both a blessing and a curse.
When I was younger, counselors used the words Manic Depressive to describe my dilemma of being drawn to extremes, and, at least with the folks I was taken to see, it was generally accepted that, unless you were hurting yourself or others, you’d likely outgrow it and learn to be a fairly normal and functional adult member of society.
If you were considering becoming violent, there was cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) that could be utilized so long as your family could afford it and you were willing to give the techniques “an honest effort.” Only in extreme cases involving physical violence did it seem medication was prescribed for such ailments.
Now, things are a little bit different.
Now, it seems that if you even so much as look sad, there’s a pill that can (and will) be readily dispensed to help numb your pain.
My affliction got a new name, bipolar disorder, and now nearly everyone I meet has some form of mental illness, whether it is unipolar depression, bipolar disorder, social anxiety disorder, one of several eating or exercise disorders or a host of other hang-ups.
Suddenly, it’s almost as if none of us is capable of dealing with how we feel. Sitting here, with my sense of empathy lit up like a Christmas tree, it seems the whole of humanity is hopelessly lost and sad.
And it breaks my little scarred heart.
I’m not against psychiatry or psychoactive drugs when necessary. Lord knows, on more than one occasion, the ability to pop a pill to help me chill out a bit while I learned other effective ways to manage stress has literally saved my life and the lives of numerous people that I care deeply about.
What seems so wrong to me, though, is that for many people taking antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications has become a way of life and a long term solution, which it definitely shouldn’t be all on it’s own.
When I have been on medication, often I just felt dumbed-down and hazy, like I couldn’t be bothered with really giving a crap about life.
I also felt like somehow I had failed, that these ups and downs that were part of living were something I had let get the best of me- again- and that all I was doing was looking for a medical excuse that would let me give up in a way.
For a while, I actually believed that, without medication, I wouldn’t ever be “myself” again. I hope, in reading my words, that maybe I can save a few other people from buying into that lie, because that’s what it is. Just complete and utter bullshit and nothing more.
As I reflected more about why I was taking meds, I began to notice a pattern of feeling out of control and victimized, of feeling dissatisfied with the way things were and then defeated when they didn’t just get better with medication.
Throughout these times, it felt like life was happening at me or to me, not something that allowed me any choices in how I participated. I swung back and forth from victim mentality to self-righteous anger, not really sure who I was for most of my life and trying to decide who to blame for how miserable I was.
Getting an actual “diagnosis” of bipolar disorder did nothing to help me change things.
Instead, for a long time, it just gave me what felt like a more legitimate crutch to use—some me that wasn’t really me was in control in my head.
I began to realize, with time, that what I was suffering from wasn’t a Prozac or Abilify deficiency, but a thousand other deficiencies I had created for myself over a lifetime.
I had a body image deficiency, because the one I have isn’t perfect.
I had a money deficiency, because I didn’t realize that enough is a relative term.
I had a severe exercise deficiency because I was too busy trying to make money, trying to build a career in a job I couldn’t stand. (Read: searching for a sense of meaning, purpose and a sense of identity in my life.)
I had friendship and love deficiencies as well, because I failed to make time for just being with people without having to accomplish something in the process.
My life, I discovered, was a horrible mess, and I was a victim on a lot of levels, but only because I made myself into one.
I had denied the very things about life that made me feel fully alive. As I woke up to all this, I realized that just taking a pill would never make things better and things would never suddenly be okay overnight, so I gradually stopped taking them.
The only way out is through, as they say, and I only began to feel better when I took the time to really listen to myself, to my heart, and separate out the noise of my mind from how I actually felt.
As I said, I am not a medical professional and if, right now, you feel as if you can’t possibly deal with life without medication, please know that your choice is valid. No matter how it may feel, you are never alone in this. You are loved and you can be broken and still be beautiful, but to ever truly heal, you’ll have to face the hard stuff on your own and sometimes that means staring it straight in the face.
If you are ready to stop taking medications, please talk with your doctor beforehand.
These drugs create customers, not cures, and going off of them the wrong way can be just as nightmarish as why you began taking them, if not more so. If you are looking for other ways to cope with weird ass mood swings, life’s daily stressors, or even just want to read how you can observe your thoughts without getting lost in them, take a look below at a few of my favorite things that help me find some equilibrium in the storm.
Cool Stuff and Helpful Resources
Yoga is awesome exercise and a great way to center your breathing and calm your mind. Check out Melissa West. My favorite is her Cultural Conditioning Series, which can be viewed for free (and done in the privacy of your home, if you’re nervous) on YouTube.
If you need a good laugh, turn to Hyperbole and a Half, where blogger Allie Brosh wrote about her depression, among many other things. It’s a great reminder you aren’t alone, and, if you look hard enough from the outside, this stuff can be pretty damned hilarious.
The Icarus Project is a great website with resources on living with mental illness as well as some fantastic forums, a place for artwork and suggestions on how to cope.
• The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown
• Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn
• Fix Your Mood with Food by Heather Lounsbury
• Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm by Thich Nhat Hahn
• When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chodron
• The Ten Things to Do When Your Life Falls Apart by Daphne Rose Kingma
• Calming Your Anxious Mind by Jeffrey Brantley, MD
• Exercise for Mood and Anxiety by Michael Otto
• Mental Health, Naturally by Kathi J. Kemper
• The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael Singer
HealthyPlace.com has some great resources for alternative, non-medicinal treatment options for depression and bipolar disorder.
And, hopefully you won’t need if, but if you do, the folks at the Suicide Prevention Lifeline are always available, 24/7, if you need someone to talk to. If you need immediately, please call 911.
Please remember I love you, you are beautiful despite feeling broken and you are never alone.
(This article was previously published on Rebelle Society.)
Heather Hunter is a seeker, a purveyor of words, and on a perpetual journey of the soul. She also doubles as a mom, veterinary assistant, and wife. Her goal is to uplift and encourage others as they fight their own internal battles and learn to live more vibrant, intentional lives. She shares her story of self-discovery and empowerment on both her blog at www.heather-hunter.com and on Rebelle Society, where she is a contributor. Her articles and award-winning poetry can be spotted both online and in print magazines. Her words have been used to deliver messages of positivity and hope to both individuals and a variety of businesses. She is currently at work on a book that will offer hope and practical advice to others. You can find Heather on Facebook, on Twitter and on Instagram.
Editor: Jes Wright/Dana Gornall