September 26, 2016 | Josh Simpson
World Suicide Prevention Day was on 10 September 2016. People shared their stories of advice and hope, warnings and cautions. Here is mine. For over twelve years, I’ve had depression and anxiety. I’ve been in treatment for most of that time as well. If you’ve been in treatment, or know someone who is, then you probably also know how difficult it can be to find the right mix of medications, that elusive drug cocktail that actually works. In the past two years alone, I’ve been on Effexor, Propranolol, Chlorpromazine, Ativan, Mirtazapine, Prozac, Seroquel, Wellbutrin, Klonopin, Trazodone and Ambien. Toss in some Tylenol PM, too.
Most of the meds were only partially effective, even when combined; others caused severe side effects. For example, Ambien caused me to believe my pillows were alive and trying to attack me. The “pillow people” were, perhaps, one of the more humorous side effects I experienced. Others, however, were not funny. Trazodone caused severe headaches. I took Wellbutrin and had an anxiety attack at work, where I hid in a stairwell for over an hour.
My husband and I moved to Scotland one month ago. I’ve had three meetings with my new doctor and taken assessments called the Patient Health Questionnaire 9 and Generalized Anxiety Disorder Assessment 7. The maximum scores are 27 and 21, respectively. I scored 22 and 19. My psychiatrist appointment is coming by mail.
For two years, though, I ignored my symptoms because the person I was dating dismissed my troubles as easily as he did the weather. I was tangled in a hurricane but he felt only raindrops, which he nonchalantly flicked off. He told me I did not need to see a therapist because all I had to do was talk to him and he would help me (he was in marketing, not medicine). I didn’t know how to tell him that what I needed was, in part, to talk about him and our relationship, about the insults and yelling and intimidation. So instead I talked about work and dinner and drinks and a future I knew we couldn’t have together.
He also didn’t want me on any medication. And if I attempted to talk about it around anyone else then he would act aghast at my being “so embarrassing,” and again insist all I needed was him. I pictured him stuffed inside a drip bag connected to my arm, his poison dripping into and withering my veins. I don’t need to address how absurd and dangerous his position was, but I do wish I had an explanation for why I let him dictate my health, my life. Maybe my allowance of such control, or maybe even the relationship itself, was symptomatic of the help I needed.
Needless to say, he’s now in my past. Or maybe it isn’t “needless to say.” I let his negative attitude feed mine about my own health and my own treatment. I allowed him to stand in my way. I stood in my own way, even apologizing for how I felt. But if I wouldn’t apologize for a broken arm, why would I apologize for a broken mind, especially one I’m trying to heal? Mental illness takes away so much already from those of us who suffer ; I couldn’t exacerbate it any longer by ignoring it or placating someone else.
With that decided, I also started writing – nonfiction, fiction, snippets of stuff in the red notebook I now carry everywhere. I use writing to discover, word by word, what I’m thinking and what makes sense to me. That has made all the difference because it allows me to pierce that ever-present membrane of depression and anxiety that muffles the world around me and translates it into, at best, confusing signals. Writing is a way to pierce that, to hack away at it and let in some clarity and light, however little that light might be. To put it, perhaps, more concretely: writing helps change the way I think about issues by taking my problems from something internal to something external that I can then look at, analyze and weigh.
Writing, of course, isn’t a cure, but it helps. And that’s what counts: finding help and hope and holding onto it, even when treatment is not exactly working yet. Piece by piece, we build a ladder out of the dark holes in our souls. Every step is one step closer, one step brighter, one step further from the bottom darkness. Keep going.
A note from the editors: If you or anyone you know is suffering from depression or anxiety there are a number of services you can contact. In Edinburgh, these include The Samaritans on 08457 909090 at any time day or night. Edinburgh Crisis Centre is open 24 hours – free phone 0808 801 0414.
Josh Simpson is a student on the MSc in Creative Writing program at the University of Edinburgh. He previously practised law for ten years in Miami, Florida, and now is currently working on a fiction novel based on his struggles with mental illness and survival. You can find him at firstname.lastname@example.org and @misterjsim on Twitter.
Article edited by Amos Abrahams.