Amy Tries Again

February 13, 2013, 6:10 PM
Filed under: Miscellanea

Hey, reader.  It’s been a while.  I haven’t got much that’s witty to say today, but I’d like to say something because an ill-fated experiment that I was conducting came to an end today.

I’ve been on and off antidepressants since I was 16, and a bit odd in the old brainpan since long before then.  I’ve been to psychiatrists, psychologists, support groups, eating disorder counselors, outpatient programs and, long ago, a carefully decorated, child-friendly room in which a lady called Helen asked me to draw pictures of my feelings.  Everyone has tried very hard to fix me, myself included.  It’s done a lot, it really has.  We’ve just never been able to manage a complete, permanent fix.  Several times in my early 20s I was convinced that it had happened.  I would shout hooray, and taper off my medication, or announce that I didn’t need to continue counseling, or stick a body acceptance sticker to my dressing table mirror and declare that I was well forever.

I wasn’t well forever, and of course it didn’t last for long.  You see, the tools used in managing my condition felt inseparable from the condition itself.  I wanted to be free of them all.  When veganism, or a boy, or leaving university for the third time or whatever magical action that was going to render me complete failed to do so, everything would turn grey.  I didn’t feel my sanity was slipping.  I just felt tired and sad and worried.  Everything I said or contemplated had consequence beyond itself.  Thoughts were sticky.  I knew I had a filter over my eyes, but I didn’t have the energy to remove it.

Eventually, I would ask for and receive help.  Until then, everybody could fuck right off.  I’d be ashamed that I’d been wrong, again, that I hadn’t been cured. I got older, and I had to function.  I still wasn’t cured, but I had to function.  Mad dashes for what I perceived as freedom grew less frequent.  I did what I was told in order to be well, mostly, and it did help. But this wasn’t it.  I wasn’t completely free of it all.

Having dutifully towed the line for several years, I felt reasonably well.  I wasn’t in counseling – my last group of sessions had come to an end with the counselor’s agreement over a year earlier.  I continued to take my medication, considering it a long-term thing, and life was okay.  It wasn’t perfect, but it would do.  That’s when the terrible thought started in the back of my mind…maybe THIS WAS IT!  Maybe I had CURED MYSELF!  Hmm, I thought.  Perhaps I’ll stop the meds.

I went off my medication, hoping and hoping that I was finally over it.  That was four months ago, now. It WAS okay, for a while.  For quite some time, really.  I wasn’t a wreck.  I felt more anxious, and was quicker to burst into tears, but I was able to function.  It sort of escalated.  I don’t think you would have been able to pick it if you didn’t know me very well – even when I wasn’t feeling good at all.  I’m not a bad actor.  I waited for it to go away.  It got worse.

On Monday, I was at work, and I started crying.  I have no idea why.  Sobbing.  Bawling.  They were great fat ugly tears, and they wouldn’t stop.  I muttered something about some bad news over the weekend and got sent home.  Poor Amy.  She’s had a bit of a turn.  Not like her, she’s usually so smiley.

I hid in the dark in my flat, sleeping, weeping, eating condensed soup from the can and generally being extremely sad and tired and worried – until today, when the family cavalry came.  I have been to the doctor, and to the chemist, and to have a blood test, and to my mother’s house to make mini pizzas and talk about happy things.  I am back on my medication.  Obviously, it hasn’t kicked in yet, but all that support has done a great deal towards making me feel better.

When Mum’s partner, Peter, was driving me home, he said something interesting.  He told me about the difference between endogenous and exogenous. I didn’t know the terms, but the roots of the words held clues.  Endogenous means something within you, something internal.  Exogenous means something caused by outside events.  I’d been musing that I couldn’t seem to kick this, and that it’d always been there.  I’d been sad for no reason since I was a small girl.

‘Amy’, garrumphed Peter, who likes to garrumph.  ‘If you send a fellow off to war and kill all his family and burn down his crops, he’s going to be depressed until he gets over it.  That’s exogenous.  But if you’ve just always got it in you, it’s not going to disappear.  It’s endogenous.  Why wouldn’t you take the bloody medicine?  Now, tell me if you think this picture I took on my iPhone of a painting at the gallery looks like your mother.  It’s a nude, but don’t worry, it’s from the back.’

So, there we are.  Endogenous.  From within.  Permanent.  It sounds like a depressing thought when I write it down, the idea of it never leaving me, no matter what I do, but it isn’t.  Endogenous might be the loveliest word that I’ve heard in a while, because it doesn’t mean that I’m not trying hard enough or hoping enough or am not a good enough person.  It’s just in there, and honestly that’s a bit of a relief. I am never going to wake up and suddenly be cured, but I can get on with things, and do what I have to do to keep myself well, and even thrive.  It’s liberating, knowing I don’t have to work towards a miracle.  I just have to do what I can to live happily, day by day.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve let the flat get into a bit of a state.  Time to freshen things up and start again.  Again.


7 Comments so far
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At the risk of sounding cliche, I firstly want to say: well done for publicly discussing mental illness and your experiences with it. There is such a stigma associated with mental illness. The only way to address this stigma is by bringing it out in the open and making it clear to your friends and family that yes, mental illness is real and yes, you, like 45 percent of Australians, suffer from it. FORTY-FIVE PERCENT. That’s HALF of Australia. It’s about time we stopped sweeping this issue under the rug.

I think Peter’s “endogenous” description is a good one. More often than not, mental illnesses arise out of a chemical imbalance in our brains, something we have no more control over than a congenital heart defect. Like a heart defect, we can manage mental illness by taking the appropriate medication, eating healthily, staying in shape, developing a good routine and seeing our doctor regularly.

When someone is having a heart attack, crowds don’t gather around and stare at the person who having the heart attack, calling them derogatory names like “crazy” and asking questions like “why can’t they keep it together?”. Unlike someone, for example, who is having an episode due to a condition such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Nope. When someone is having a heart attack, people call an ambulance. They send the patient flowers and get-well cards in hospital and they don’t judge the patient for their inability to control an endogenous condition of their body. I look forward to the days when people can do the same for people suffering from a mental illness.

And unfortunately, as I am sure you’re aware, we all have to work within the limitations of our bodies. People with congenital heart defects are likely going to have to continue to take their medication and treatment through their lives. And they’re probably never going to be top world-class athletes in their lives. People with mental illnesses are likely going to have to continue with medication and treatment through their lives to manage their conditions too. It sucks, and unfortunately we’re all victims of Mother Nature’s lucky draw.

Well done for recommencing your treatment and staying healthy. And also, well-done on going public with your story. Although we often don’t discuss it, millions of Australians can sympathise, having gone through mental illness difficulties ourselves. And it only takes one person like you to bring it out into the open to help us through the isolation and stigma of experiencing it ourselves.

Your public statement has inspired me to make my first public statement about it myself: I have suffered from anxiety since my mid teens, and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2010. There, no big deal. I should have gotten that out of the way ages ago.

And I’m here to listen if you ever want to talk.

xo Brittany

Comment by Brittany White

I was feeling embarrassed and on the verge of taking this down… and just like that, it was worthwhile 🙂 Thanks Brittany, and bravo for speaking up. xo

Comment by Amy

45%? It sounds strange to say it, but that’s the most beautiful figure I have ever heard. We are never alone.

Comment by aarondoyle

A really lovely post, Amy, and kudos also to Brittany for your response.

Both of you are talented, wonderful women, and it’s very moving for me to hear your stories.

I’m trying to think of more words to say, but anything I type seems trite. The brain is a complicated organ. If only it was a penis, penises are simple.

You see? Trite.

I really like the exogenus and endogenous terms. I had not heard those before. It makes for interesting contemplation, about what may change and what might always be.

Thanks for the enlightenment, and stay cool. 🙂

Comment by Girl Clumsy

Love your mother’s partner’s response, what a character!

Also, great comment from Brittany. I read a comment online the other day, where someone had likened mental illness to diabetes… you can’t fix it with willpower alone, and it’s just something about you that means you have to take some medication to feel good and healthy.

Comment by Kate

[…] further: this is an expanded version of some private scribbling I did during events taking place in the early part of 2013.  Depression has been a part of my life for longer than I can remember, and I find myself writing […]

Pingback by Unmedicated | Amy Tries Again

[…] further: this is an expanded version of some private scribbling I did during events taking place in the early part of 2013.  Depression has been a part of my life for longer than I can remember, and I find myself writing […]

Pingback by Unmedicated | Amy Tries Again

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