Mental Health Awareness – Learning Understanding and Compassion

May was Mental Health Awareness Month.

Though my son and I have struggled with mental health issues for years, I’ve become much more knowledgeable – and compassionate – over the past year.

See, I used to be one of those people who felt a person could just pray or medicate himself or herself out of mental health issues. I avoided the homeless in case they happened to be mentally ill, even knowing that such things aren’t “catching” by casual contact. As a teenager, I kept inside the fear that there was something wrong with ME mentally, while looking down on others who suffered as I did. You know, the whole, “I hate my own weakness in others” mentality.

And then, while I was living and going to school in Texas, I married a man who suffered (still does, I believe) from generalized anxiety disorder and paranoia. And I still didn’t understand. I was patient with him for a while. But when he went off his meds without trying alternate therapy (other than constant computer gaming), and his symptoms increased (paranoia, anxiety, etc), I began to experience symptoms I’d learned to control – my own anxiety and depression. Especially since we had a child and struggled financially. Finally, a supervisor at work told me one day that I needed to get help before my “outbursts” began to interfere with my job (I was an insurance claims processor at the time). I sought counseling for myself and begged my husband to go with me. He kept putting me off. And I lost patience. And I still didn’t really understand.

To make a long story short, I told him I was moving back to Florida and taking our son. My husband could come if he wanted, but I didn’t need him.

hayden
Hayden at six years old.

He moved to Florida with us, but we separated shortly thereafter, he moved back to Texas, and our divorce was finalized in June 2006. After that, almost every time I talked to him, I fell into depression – he depressed me.

I sought counseling that lasted only about six months, because my therapist and I didn’t connect, and I felt she was a bit too critical of my Faith. In 2009, I believe it was, my doctor put me on Lexapro, to keep me “off the edge.” Six years later, I’m still on it, the generic form, and a slightly higher dose than I started out with. The world should be grateful. That small daily dose of generic Lexapro keeps me from becoming even more sarcastic, depressed, and tactless than usual. You’re welcome.

Meanwhile, just before my kiddo started kindergarten, he was diagnosed with ADHD, and ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder – yes, that is a THING). We started him in therapy. I held out on the meds until he was about seven, then gave in to try and control his symptoms, which had him kicking desks at school, and hitting people. His psychiatrist gave him a third diagnosis of “pre-bipolar” because he was too young at the time to add the bipolar label.

hayden-at-14
Hayden at fourteen years old.

Fast forward to 2014, when he was thirteen. Between scheduling hiccups and miscommunication between my mother (who gets my son off to school each day) and I, by the time we compared notes, my boyo had been off his meds for about two weeks. Since we didn’t notice extreme differences in his symptoms, I decided to keep him off the meds. He’s now been prescription-free for more than a year (though I still have to give him melatonin sometimes at night, otherwise insomnia takes over). And he’s progressing. I see more and more frequent sparks of maturity. He’s mouthy and we have to work on respect for authority (namely, mine), but he’s an intelligent, talented and handsome young man (with beautiful blond waves and curls) :-).

I’m finally gaining some insight and understanding into both of our mental health issues, and those of others. And I’m finding my compassion and empathy again.

wendyWendy was born and raised in South Florida. She moved to Northwest Texas in her early 20s, but returned to South Florida eight years later. She holds five degrees, including MA and MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. She’s a poet, reading addict, and collector of interesting clothing tags, which are recycled into bookmarks.

She has served as a copy editor and reader for www.hippocampusmagazine.com, and as a reader for the James Jones First Novel Fellowship. Wendy is a crime analyst for a local law enforcement agency, an editor and proofreader for Booktrope, and lives with her teenage son.

Her first novel Serpent on a Cross (first digitally released by Northampton House Press in October 2012) was published in print and re-released digitally by Booktrope in August 2014. She’s currently working on the sequel.

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