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Posted: August 31, 2011 12:00 a.m.

The joys of ‘Happy Pills’

They say that every family tree has a few nuts on it. Well, you wouldn't have to look hard to see that the branches on my tree have just about as many nuts as leaves.

As someone who appreciates her daily dose of Zoloft, I really shouldn't joke about people's struggles with various mental illnesses. But the combination of my and my husband's relatives could keep a team of psychiatrists busy for a while. It's a motley mix that indicates this particular gene pool could use a hefty splash of chlorine.

Depression is probably the most common ailment, with various degrees of narcissistic personality disorder running second for the most relatives suffering. But, of course, the narcissists aren't the ones suffering. The suffering is done by those who have to put up with their self-obsessed delusions. They are blissfully unaware there's anything wrong with them, and wouldn't believe it even if Dr. Phil insisted that it was "time to get real."

There are a couple of bipolar disorders, some social anxiety issues and several who need anger management counseling. There's this weird mother-complex issue that would inspire Freud to resurrect himself if he could. And the brutal PMS most of us women experience makes it a miracle that any marriage has lasted more than a month or two.

You know it's taboo here in the south to talk about mental illness. So we veil it in humor, nodding at crazy old Aunt Clara, then whispering jokes about fruitcakes and being a few light bulbs short of a full box. We were brought up with the firm admonition that southern belles do not voluntarily air their dirty laundry. Better to pretend it doesn't exist than to face it head-on.

So, I was ashamed to even consider medication for depression until my therapist said that it was likely rooted in a genetic disability to make enough serotonin - or happy chemical - to keep myself on an even keel. Knowing that it had a physical component lessened the shame, and I decided to give it a try.

And I'm so glad I did. Zoloft has truly been a Godsend to me, and I wish I knew how to convince other relatives to partake of the Happy Pills, whatever kind is needed for their particular ailment. It sure would make life easier, for them and for those of us who have to deal with them. And of course, talk therapy and spiritual counsel wouldn't hurt, either.

Because in all seriousness, one of the hardest things I've had to do is explain to my kids why some people who used to be in our life weren't going to be around anymore. Trying to explain mental illness to children is neither easy nor pleasant.

I don't know if I handled it correctly or not. I talked about it like I might explain any other handicap. "His brain doesn't work the way that yours or mine does, and because of that he does hurtful things that we can't choose to be around anymore."

Because what else can you do when people continually cross lines with their behavior, leaving behind a hurtful trail of toxicity whenever they're around? After a while, it's no longer a matter of forgiveness-it's simply protecting kids from developing their own mental illnesses from trying to figure out how to be around these people.

I had to discontinue Zoloft during my last pregnancy. You can just imagine how fun that was for all of us - raging hormones amplifying the moodiness no longer quelled by medication. I'd forgotten how miserable I was without my meds, as I lapsed back into impatience, anger, stressing over things I couldn't control and constantly questioning every decision - if I could make one at all. I wasn't that way all the time, but battled it frequently enough to know that a grouchy, anxious, stressed-out mom was not what I wanted my kids to remember having.

Even now, I regret all the years I wasted being miserable and making others miserable when all it took was humbling myself enough to accept that I needed help. Life isn't perfect now, but I can go with the flow more often than not. And there's no shame in that.


Kari may be reached at kari@kariapted.com.

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