Mental Health Realness
As I write this new post, I'm listening to one of my favorite musical soundtracks, Next To Normal. Quite fitting for what I'm about to discuss.
This post is about therapy, access to therapy, mental health medication, and my personal story related to these things. I hope that what I discuss helps some people either with new information, or like they are not alone.
Here are the myths I will attempt to debunk:
1. Depression medication just makes you feel numb and the side effects aren't worth it
2. Couples counseling is a death sentence for a relationship
3. Mommy / Daddy issues are for angsty teenagers
4. Mental Health access is difficult (it isn't, but you have to know where to look and that part is indeed confusing)
They won't be in any organized fashion because I'm edgy and my brain jumps around when I tell stories and just come on this ride with me.
I originally searched for a meme making fun of jumbled thoughts, but then I found this. And now it's meta.
I've tried to find a therapist that fits for me since I was a freshman in college. I would try someone and there just seemed like too much to explain what I was struggling with. The therapists I saw didn't seem to understand what I was trying to convey, and they didn't help me, so I gave up. I also didn't give it much of a chance because it was time out of my day that I could have been studying. I was taking a lot of credits, and therapy takes time and commitment.
I'm not a stranger to depression. It runs on both sides of my family. My dad's side of the family is aware of it, and my mom's side is not. My mother distrusts therapy as something helpful. My aunt on my dad's side is a psychologist, and my dad is very aware and responsible about his struggles.
I remember feeling this chemical feeling in college. It's an understandable time to feel down and lost because you're trying to figure out what you want to do with your life. My mom and I had a strained relationship and I was still trying to please her rather than myself.
Fast forward to my first job out of college at Epic. A fast-paced drop you in the deep end of the pool gift that afforded me good health insurance and a paycheck I was so grateful to have. I decided to try therapy again. I was too busy with my job and traveling that I couldn't keep appointments consistently. But I was diagnosed with depression and was prescribed Wellbutrin. After 2 weeks I remember feeling numb and not like myself. My feelings are important to me because I'm a songwriter, so the numbness was quite unwelcome. I quit the drug and developed an attitude toward depression meds that they are to be avoided.
When I moved to New York I felt depression like never before, like being hit by a truck. I left the best support community and friend group I've ever had to go to a very overwhelming and culture shock of a city. I got a job that was extremely demanding and not why I moved to the city. My boyfriend and I were living together for the first time. My relationship with my mom was even more strained because she didn't agree with my decision to move. It was difficult to figure out how to budget my finances because the city was more expensive than I had planned for.
I made the horrifying mistake of googling "hit by a truck" without the word "meme" at the end. I'm sorry to anyone who has actually suffered or had loved ones suffer at the hands of a truck.
Jake and I signed up for couples counseling to help us communicate better about money. It was extremely helpful. It was like we were just speaking different languages to each other and needed a translator. The reason we were fighting was assumptions about each other's intentions. We just had blind spots to really understanding each other, and counseling helped us see and respect our perspectives.
Individually, I signed up for therapy myself. I saw a counselor every two weeks for a year. He helped me with some things, but a lot of the things we discussed gave me more anxiety that I wasn't doing enough to help myself.
I had a conversation with my dad about how I was feeling. He told me he had gone on a medication when he was going through a difficult time and that it helped him a lot. It was either Lexapro or Celexa. He suggested I go see a psychiatrist and just get the medication and try it.
About 8 years ago I purchased a book of Frasier postcards at a yard sale. This is one of them. 1995, man.
A psychiatrist looks at your symptoms and treats the chemical side of things. They don't need to know your stories, they don't need to know your relationships, they aren't interested in why you might be depressed. They just want to know what it feels like for you. I was prescribed Celexa and told that it will take a couple weeks for me to notice anything. I made a follow up appointment in a month and he said we'll go from there and that there are different meds that work for different people, and it's just a process of finding the right one. I was nervous because of my experience with Wellbutrin in the past. But I knew something needed to change, and I was hopeful from my dad's story that it helped him.
Ray, when your dad says he tried meds and it helped him, you go get DRUGS!
After 2-3 weeks I noticed a difference. I was more like myself, not less. Some people call these medications "happy pills". That's fine and cute. But it's more like "have a fighting chance to be happy pills". When I was feeling depressed, I still found things funny, I still had love in my life, I was financially stable, everything on paper looked fine. But something was very wrong and I could feel it. Like there was something blocking me from seeing everything that I had and being grateful for it, and having an open heart. It felt like a weight pressing down on me, no matter how hard I tried to rationalize why there's no reason for me to feel depressed, I couldn't pull myself up on my own. Celexa brought me to baseline. It gave me a chance to do the work on my own to lift me back up, to get me back to feeling like myself. I've been on it for 6 months and I don't see any reason why I would stop taking it. I still feel every emotion and can explore them fully. I cry, I get mad, I have empathy, I just don't have the "what's the point, nothing matters, fuck I have to wake up today" happening anymore. I mean, I am still not good at waking up, but it's more of a normal grog than dread and a compulsory addiction to sleep because it's not reality.
I got confused and thought Sloth from the Goonies was named Grog. Incorrect. Here they are anyway. Cute.
The "chemical imbalance" phrase is catchy and easy to digest. I wish it were proven and it was that easy to say "look, it's genetic, you have low levels of this chemical in your brain, here this fixes it" but it's not that simple. Mental health is insanely complex and there isn't real scientific proof that explains it or that proves what the medications do is exactly what will help. However, it is also too simplistic and invalidating to chock it all up to greedy pharma companies who are manufacturing placebos to dupe all of us. Many people find depression medication helpful, if not life changing. I've read A LOT of testimonials on independent websites and I can say that meds can help a lot, and they can also make some people feel worse. My personal story is that I tried it because it worked for my dad, and I'm really glad that I did, because it is helping me. It's an individual choice to try medication, and only you can take responsibility for how you choose to help yourself if you're struggling. Listen to your own voice and fuck everything else.
The second time Jake and I went to couples counseling, it was the same feeling of "we've talked about this to death, both calmly and with kindness, and emotionally charged, and we just aren't getting anywhere". It was related to how we were working with each other creatively. We remembered how much counseling helped us with the topic of finances, and decided to try it again. The same thing happened, and we grew newfound understanding and gratitude for what each other brought to our relationship. It only took 3 sessions for us to get back to this place of permission and gratitude. I'm not saying that couples counseling will always help a relationship get better. Sometimes it will bring into relief that two people are ready to move on. Either way, it clarifies the conflict when two people can't figure it out for themselves. I'm a big fan. One thing I will say to anyone considering it for a relationship is that both people need to have an open heart to being helped, be willing to learn, and let go of being right. If the goal for both parties is seeking understanding and clarity, you will receive it. If someone just wants to be right and prove the other person wrong, that person cares more about being right than helping the relationship.
The last thing I want to share is related to access. I've been lucky enough to be employed with health benefits for most of my adult life. But even with this, navigating the healthcare and insurance maze has been far from easy. And I work in healthcare!
When I started my first job in New York, I worked at a hospital and had great benefits. But the therapist I had started seeing before that job was considered out of my network. So I had to pay out of pocket. I was diagnosed with "adjustment disorder" which is one of those great blanket diagnoses that can usually get you reimbursed by insurance. My therapist wrote me up a claim and said I might as well try to get reimbursed if I could. It was overwhelming to try and figure out what to do with the claim. Where do I sent it? How many phone calls am I going to have to make and be on hold before I can speak with someone who can clarify this for me? I ended up saying fuck it and when tax season rolled around I claimed it on my taxes as out of pocket health expenses. That helped a little bit.
Adjustment Disorder is very real, but it's also kind of a hacky way to diagnose someone who is just having a TIME, dude.
A lot of change at once.
Fast forward to now, I started a new contract through a different firm and again enrolled for new benefits. I'm seeing a psychiatrist to continue Celexa (you need to follow up with a psychiatrist to continue to receive the prescription. If you're relatively stable they'll let you go 3 months between follow up appointments.) I'm also interested in therapy again because of recurring issues with my mom. I felt confident in navigating my enrollment and knew that I had to research what the mental health benefits were. I found out that there were only two plans available. The basic plan that covered 100% of any medical physician appointment in the network, but offered zero mental health coverage. The premium was only $40 per month. The second was a "high deductible" plan which required a copay of $30 for each visit, and the deductible was $5,000 with a maximum out of pocket of $6,550. That's a lot. The premium for the high deductible plan was also more per month ($70). I might as well pay for therapy out of pocket! This doesn't make sense, how are these two plans even fair? What if I had more serious mental health issues that needed addressing?
Weakness Coupons sounds like a fun ska band
I made several phone calls to the benefits department trying to get some advice on what to do. I received the information and shrugs. I looked into private plans, which were typically more expensive than the high deductible plan. I crunched numbers about how much it would cost me out of pocket and every avenue was disappointing. I looked up if there were any laws or protections related to mental health access for employee benefits. There is a law called the Mental Health Parity Act. But all that says is that an employer plan can't offer better benefits for medical vs. mental health *if they are offered*. In other words, a plan can't cover 80% of medical expenses and only 60% of mental health expenses. The plan also can't have a ton of in network providers for medical and very few for mental health. But the Parity Act doesn't require employers to offer mental health in their plans. What the fuck is the point.
So I called the Department of Labor. I opened a case with them to investigate whether my employer's plans were cool with the laws. It turns out they are within the law, but the person I spoke with finally had some advice for me to look into an alternative option. She told me that most employers offer an Employee Assistance Program which offers mental health services directly through the employer rather than through the insurance plan. (Are we still confused?! Because I'm barely holding on trying to explain all this.)
All of the health insurance memes suck, so I found this cat one.
I found the number for the Employee Assistance Program and spoke with two different people asking them to clarify what was available to me through the program, and whether my insurance mattered or not. I felt like I needed a couples counselor in order to understand what this health advocate person was telling me. I was getting upset. "Just tell me what it's going to cost me to see a therapist!" Their answers were "It is available for you to get 3 counseling sessions at no cost to you through the employee assistance program, assuming you have the program through your employer, and if you want to continue you'll need to choose a in-network counselor, but you'll still want to make sure that the therapist takes your insurance because otherwise you will need to pay for the visit yourself" WHAT THE FLYING FUCK just help me get a god damn visit scheduled, can I do this thing or not?!
I finally spoke with someone who could explain it to me, and just told me "yes you can do this, would you like me to help you find someone?" YES. Yes I would. (Shaking, bug eyes, shoulders so tense they're up to my ears)
Ohhhhh now I get it.
So I learned that I do have 3 counseling visits for free through this program, and if the counselor says I should continue therapy, the cost will roll under the medical coverage of my insurance plan. But the therapist has to be in network. Which the angel I spoke with at the end of this journey sent me info on how to find one in network, HOWEVER, you still have to confirm that they take your insurance directly even if they are on the damn website. Because Satan.
So! If you're interested in therapy and don't have mental health coverage, look into your employer's Employee Assistance Program and don't give up if it's confusing, because it's your right to have access to care.
I finally found someone who would take my insurance and who had availability. I just saw her for the first time tonight. My life is COMPLICATED, as is many of our lives (this sentence is horribly constructed but caring is have what I not) and as usual I start at the beginning and they ask me why I'm there and I say, with a bit of embarrassment, I need help communicating with my mother. She asks me about my childhood with her, and after not much explanation she says "ok, so typical mother daughter issues" and the hair on the back of my neck stood out and I said "NO. It's not typical at all." Because the last thing someone wants to hear when they have struggled for YEARS with a relationship is to hear that their story isn't unique. Sure, I'm interested to know I'm not alone, but don't you dare say my experience is typical, like I'm some sort of sullen teenager who takes everything too personally and seriously. Someday I'll get into it on this blog, or in some other form of expression, but it's too much to explain now. Basically, it's not shameful if you struggle with your parents or one parent. It's real, and it can be very difficult, and it's never too late to work through it. Hi, my name is Meghan Rose, I'm 32 years old and my mom still makes me feel like shit but she's super nice to everyone but me and it makes me feel insane. (I don't want sympathy, please don't give me any) My point is, I'm emotionally intelligent, I have my shit together as an adult human being, and I struggle immensely with my relationship with my mother. I don't have it figured out. I need help, and I'm seeking it, and it's not fucking typical, and I'm not going to pretend like it's fine, or it's a big shrug. I'm not interested in playing the victim or being treated like a victim, I just want to figure out how to protect myself and maintain a relationship with a family member. I'm writing about this in case other people can relate and feel less alone, and less ashamed, because I know I feel shame that it's still a problem and that I haven't figured it out yet. It's not your fault and it's not stupid, and you're not "typical" whatever you're struggling with. You aren't alone, but you're not typical.
I'm in love with this look. I think I'll wear it to work tomorrow.
Last little bit of rage out - if you're reading this and you're like "yeah, everyone's got problems, you just gotta deal, ya sensitive pansy" uh, ga fuck yaself because guess what? Ya dumb and you don't know what other people are dealing with, and good for you if you've figured it out for yourself. Place your precious judgment stick on a chair and sit on it.
Yes, that's right, now my search history includes "dildo chair" and I am 100% wow about it.
If you look closely, you can see that the back leg is bolted to the ground...*slow clap*
I hope there are parts of my story that are valuable to you, dear people. Thanks for reading.
P.s. I want to get back to writing more regular blog posts because I just gave my site a facelift! Thanks for giving a shit.
P.P.s. Bonus blogment:
If you're struggling with feeling down because WINTER IS COMING (or here already) here are some fun things to remind yourself how and why you're doing just fine. The first two are wise dad quotes. The last one is mine, a sort of remix from a podcast I'm really into called My Favorite Murder.
1. Are you in immediate physical danger? (ex. being chased, threatened, stuck on a bus without brakes) If the answer is no, you're close to doing fine.
2. Could you go make or buy a sandwich right now? If the answer is yes, you're doing great.
3. Are you a murderer or have you been murdered? If the answer is no, take some time to be grateful today.
4. Do you have syphilis? No? Bravo!
That last one was just a fun bonus.
There are many ways to heal. I'm not saying if you feel depressed that you should look into or need medication. I'm just saying don't let other people's opinions or stigma stop you from looking into it if you're curious or interested. They help a lot of people, including me.
Making and appreciating art and music and performing and stories of all kinds also helps us heal. A lot of people like healing in this way rather than therapy. Totally cool, man.
I've always been bad at forgetting my problems. I am someone who has to talk about things I'm struggling with. If you have things in your life that you've never told anyone, no matter how weird or shameful or difficult they might be to think about, it might be worth it to talk about it.
Here's another fun thing I found online that is helpful. It's called You feel like shit. It's kind of fun. Try it if you want.