I grew up in a world where mental health concerns were the stuff of humor and ridicule. Mental health hospitals were deemed terms like “looney bin” and “psycho ward” and the like. Conversations about people with mental health issues included terms like “bat-shit crazy” and “psychotic” in ways that indicated derision and a derogatory tone. Mental health issues were a shameful thing, best dealt with quietly, in the darkness, and out of sight. Nobody admitted they were on pills to cope. Ever.
For years, I cast off any suggestion that I had depression, or needed therapy, or any help at all. I denounced all mental health meds as just “crutches for the weak” (again, ableist as fuck) and denied myself the care I clearly needed because of the stigma around not being normal.
That stopped, fully, last year, when I started down a path towards my own mental health improvement. My anxiety and depression had gotten so bad that it was affecting how I interacted with the people I love. I was sleeping maybe 4-5 hours a night, my insides were always in a knot, and my drinking had grown exponentially. I needed to come to terms with my old ways of thinking, and admit that I needed help.
Thankfully, I had (and still have) a wonderful support network around me to lean on when shit hits the fan. Dad’s not as strong as he’d like to be, but then again, the definition of “strength” is malleable. I’m learning a lot about the bullshit I carried around for years. I’m working through it. Part of that journey meant coming to terms with my needs at work. I finally applied for an intermittent medical leave, a protected right under the federal Family Medical Leave Act, which will help me both keep my job, and work even harder on my mental health needs and growth.
Today, I finally took advantage of this protection for the first time.
I woke up feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, and as I looked at my scheduled day – 12 hours at the handle of my train – and felt myself already mentally crushing under the weight of that. I made a choice. Today is a self-care day. I have been running hard for a few days straight now, and I’ve hit a wall. Mentally and physically. I lost track of myself yesterday, forgot my meds, and started to grind my own self down.
This decision runs smack against everything I’ve ever been taught about work and reliability and all of that. I still struggle with these old ways of thinking, still refer to myself as “broken” when that’s not fully accurate. Perhaps, today, as I recover and pull myself together again, I will ruminate on the way I talk about my own mental health and wellbeing.