Mental Health in Two Steps

Resting Smile by Carisa Miller

Step one: Deny mental illness and seek naturopathic treatments, alternately, for about twenty years.

Step two: Sing praises of Prozac to any who will listen.

I received no congratulations for "handling" anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive, and more recently, premenstrual dysphoric disorders without medication.

I was awarded no additional points for qualifying as highly functional.  Maybe if people could have tapped in and listened to my internal soundtrack of irrational fears, and self-loathing monologues they might have chipped for something. 

A nicely framed certificate perhaps. 

I hate medication. It doesn't fit my lifestyle or spiritual views. (Parenthesis: I meditate and clean the house with vinegar.) I do not enjoy feeling altered, having my capabilities diminished or falsely enhanced. I have a hard enough time feeling like myself without inviting interference. I drink a single cup of caffeinated tea a day. Any more than that, lookout. I won't even take cold medicine. It’s either too strong or I’m too sensitive.

When I was a kid, I was the spitting image of my four year-old daughter who knows no strangers, no limits, no bounds. She runs at the world with open arms—and also once at a lady in the lobby of our dentist’s building who was waiting for the elevator. So far, the world receives her enthusiasm with adoration and encouragement. Not everyone will always be so supportive of who she is, but her parents will be. I know them, they’re awesome.  I don’t have to imagine the effects of stifling the pure spirit of my spitfire daughter, or of treading on the delicate nature of my thoughtful daughter. I know the debilitation intimately.

“I don’t care what you think.”

“You don’t deserve my respect”

“You don’t get to have an opinion in my house.”

"Who the hell do you think you are?"

If a parent’s daily messages to a child is that she is of no value, what are the odds that child will grow into a confident woman who considers herself worth the space she occupies?  

At some point I switched my father’s voice out for my own. I internalized the message until I could no longer trace its origins. The call was now coming from inside the house.

Have you ever confronted a bully? How about defending yourself against yourself? You have to fight as fast as thoughts, and as long as you're awake. If you can do it so no one can tell you're doing it, as a reward, you’ll be able to say you’re not on medication. If anybody asks. Which they won’t.

I’m struggling—is a ridiculously difficult thing for me to say.  I need help. Why is that so hard? Everyone needs helps. I would never shame someone for needing help. Needing help isn't shameful. But I shamed myself. Just one more thing wrong with me. When I made the call to the doctor’s office prepared to ask for medicine, I choked on the answer when the scheduler asked, “And what is this appointment for?” I’m failing, I thought. I can't control my mind. I know it isn’t my fault. It feels like it’s my fault.

The choice to finally try medication didn’t change the fact of my condition. Admitting I needed help didn’t cause my need for help. I would have been pleased to figure this out sooner.

That Prozac has virtually obliterated my inner turmoil, when I have struggled with so many alternative treatments, is the strongest evidence to me that taking the proper medication to correct a chemical imbalance in the brain is no different than grandma taking her blood pressure pills. I am treating a physical condition that affects my mind. As plain as the physical existence of a father demeaning his child.

My biggest fears were unfounded. (About the side effects of medication. I still mentally rehearse emergency vehicle evacuation in the event of bridge collapse over water.) Prozac hasn’t dulled my edge, it’s sharper because I feel like myself every day. Every day. Do you hear the excitement in those italics? Prozac is my whetstone.

I no longer burn the majority of my energy in a conscious effort to balance the negative thought chemicals in my brain with forced positive thinking. That doesn’t mean I’ve taken up giggling or stopped cutting the bows off my bras and underwear. To repeat: I’m even more myself.

I recently had a typical PMS for the first time in years, moody but not debilitating. I punched my fists into the air and ran through the house yelling to my family. “I got my period! I had PMS and I only hated all of you, not me! I’m normal again!” Victory is sweet. I’ve got Prozac to thank for taking the cliff dive out of my PMS, but the nut-job singing and dancing about her menses—again, all me.  

Prozac has also done wonders for my hair. My hair doesn’t look any different, it’s just that I don’t hate myself anymore. I don’t look in the mirror and see myself as ugly, because I don’t feel ugly.  This to me is a shocking example of how dangerously reality warping a distorted mind can be. 

With my little buddies in the turquoise capsule in charge of wrangling my serotonin, synapses, and other brain science-y things, I can step away from my thought-stream for a peek at the world outside. Participate in it even.  

I have several times caught myself wearing a resting smiling face like one of those creepy people who walk around wearing a resting smiling face. There is time to notice what a pleasant day it is when I’m not actively loathing myself.

Let the naysayers nay. They won’t get far with me. I love myself now.

My brain was made for Prozac.

And get this: I can clean the house with vinegar and baking soda, eat organic, not wear makeup, do yoga, meditate, be into holistic medicine, and take Prozac at the same time.