Monday, November 22, 2010

Mental Illness

The taboo of mental illness still exists, but it's shrinking. My own bouts with depression in high school were neither long enough nor severe enough to warrant more than a few visits to a therapist (as opposed to a psychiatrist), but I wasn't embarrassed; if it were necessary, I wouldn't have been embarrassed to seek further treatment. Actually, though, more crippling and at times even devastating to me throughout my childhood and teen years was my shyness. As a *fully-functioning adult, now, I wonder how my story would change had my severe social anxiety been treated.

On the Diane Rehm show earlier this week (Katty Kay was guest hosting), the panel discussed anxiety disorders, their treatment, and their stigma. A mother called in to talk about her 10-year-old daughter who's been on medication since age six. She describes recognizing the symptoms early on:

...I noticed it when she was born, literally. I mean, she was my second child, and in the hospital -- I was in the hospital for three nights -- she would not go to sleep. And finally one of the nurses said to me, you know, why don't you put her next to you? And that immediately helped, and so it was this -- throughout her infancy and then as she became a toddler, severe sort of attachment issues. And then when she was three -- she was in preschool -- she actually developed selective mutism, where she literally did not say a word at school for two years. And so that's when we started the talk therapy, and we got her to the point -- when she transitioned from preschool to kindergarten, we got her to the point where she could speak in school and be a relatively normal student in school....

And she's continued needing occasional talk therapy, and we've even had her in a group therapy with other kids with anxiety disorders. So we continue to do, you know, whatever it is that she needs and try to give her as many tools as we can because I do suspect -- as has been, you know, said earlier in the show -- that this is probably a lifelong battle that she's going to have with this disorder.

I wonder. Were I born twenty years later, would I have been put in "talk therapy"? Would I have been on Prozac by age 6? My mom tells me stories about my sheer terror around crowds of people, about my unwillingness to be touched or held by anyone but a chosen few. And I still remember my own fear of new people and situations that stayed with me through all my years in school. It affected--limited, really--so many of my choices.

Perhaps indirectly, though, it also shaped my world view. Would I have spent so much time observing others, watching their habits, trying to understand them, if I wasn't so scared of approaching them? Would I have as much empathy as I do?

*at least, I try to be one!

1 comment:

Tonja said...

I have had anxiety since I was a child too. I recently took a B-complex vitamin for something unrelated, which immediately calmed my nervous system and made me feel normal - the normal I imagine other people feel every day. I am sure this isn't true for everyone, but for me the anxiety and depression was a simple vitamin deficiency. I wonder who I would have been if my mom had bothered to give me a vitamin when I was younger. I wonder how my kids would be today if I had discovered this simple fix years ago....