Steve McEllistrem

The Devereaux Dilemma

Mental Illness: We Should Do Better

I took some medication recently that caused me to suffer from almost crippling anxiety. I didn’t know at the time that the medication caused the anxiety, nor did I know for the first day or two that I was suffering from anxiety. I just began to feel anxious, less energetic and less motivated to do things.

Later, the anxiety worsened to the point that I had a minor panic attack over the idea of shoveling snow. I almost couldn’t force myself outside to clear off the driveway. I somehow managed to get the job done, but I worried the whole time I was shoveling whether I was having a heart attack.

I felt slight pain in my arm and a little tightening in my chest – not enough to drop my shovel and run into the house to call 911, but enough that I seriously wondered if I might die right there.

As the days passed and my anxiety eased slightly, I considered seeing a doctor. I knew that my anxiety was a problem, that I shouldn’t be that concerned about six inches of snow. I feared that I might have undergone some sort of chemical imbalance in my brain, and that I might have this kind of debilitating anxiety for the rest of my life.

What a terrifying prospect.

To live one’s life in a constant state of nervousness and indecision, to worry about small things as if they were life-changing events, to worry about larger threats as if they were imminent: this struck me as a horrible life.

I also thought about how if I had owned a gun, I might someday decide to use it on myself if the anxiety worsened. I worried about killing myself and I also worried about living with such an emotionally painful disability.

Eventually, the anxiety disappeared and I learned that it had most likely been caused by the medication. The first thing I resolved was never to take that medication again. But the second was that I needed to have a greater appreciation for those with mental illnesses who live among us every day.

We can’t know what it’s like to experience that kind of suffering every waking moment, but I can tell you that from my brief flirtation with it, it was the worst time of my life.

We have a tendency to blame the victim in this country, to say that these people need to buck up and get help, even though we don’t want to pay for it. We want them to get jobs despite the fact that doing so requires a motivation and energy they often cannot locate. We think there’s something wrong with them and that’s true; but what’s wrong with them is a physiological disease, not a mental deficiency.

We need to put more effort into treating mental illness, a disease that nearly 1 in 5 Americans suffer from every year. For more information, check out this link:

https://www.nami.org/learn-more/mental-health-by-the-numbers

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