The buzz of society for the past year has been the “Me Too” campaign. Women (and men) are sharing their stories to shed light on the pervasive nature of sexual harassment; it seems to affect everyone, all day, every day. As a solidarity movement, it brings comfort and courage to those who have felt shame in being victimized, and as activism it says, “Sexual harassment affects everyone; it has become a "normal" part of everyday life; do not become numb to this; IT NEEDS TO STOP.”
What I find grievous is that many other ills of life have their potential “Me Too” moment, but we use them, as a society, for the solidarity but not the activism. It’s a way to pat each other on the head and say, “I hear ya! - it’s normal; I’m in it too; you're not alone” but rarely as a way to say, “Do not become numb to this; IT NEEDS TO STOP.” Poor health, in general, has become a failed “Me Too” commiseration.
Depression, for example, is one I’m all too familiar with - I’ve been through a dozen different antidepressants, a handful of doctors, psychiatrists, and counselors, and wrestled with suicidal ideation for the last 18 years. I used to like the pharmaceutical commercials that “explained” my condition (hereditary/idiopathic chemical imbalance) and made me feel validated. I happily joined the Anti-Depressant Club with everyone else who understood what it was like to just feel like crap, all day, every day, for no reason whatsoever. It felt good to have other people say, “Me Too!” The medication helped at first and gave me periods of productivity and happiness. But the cloud was always there. I couldn’t get rid of it. I was told it wasn’t possible get rid of it. So I sought comfort with the masses. And the masses were there, all playing anti-depressant roulette with me. And none of us healed.
After doing a complete 180 on my lifestyle and health, and learning about trauma and the nervous system, I have joy and contentment that I’ve never felt before. Even in the midst of infection and my life falling completely apart, there is a freedom, a love, a richness to existence that had been elusive for most of my life. And so it grieves me deeply to watch others wear the “Clinically Depressed” badge with pride and solidarity. Because it’s an echo chamber where we comfort each other and say “there’s no way out, but we can commiserate”, and consequently it normalizes depression and complacency.
It breaks my heart with its creeping fog of hopelessness, with the memes that are getting shared more and more, using humor to brush off the despair of depression, anxiety, addiction, loneliness, trauma, and even hatred. I'm not saying we should medicalize sadness. I'm saying we need a better conversation about how to move through it, without becoming stuck in nor pathologizing it.
This is a difficult subject, and I'm well aware that I almost have to hide behind a screen to address it. Saying this to anyone's face is insulting, inappropriate, and likely to get me a black eye. When you’re in depression, you know it’s not your fault (or do you?) You know you can’t change your heredity. You want the world to stop judging you for your medications, your mood swings, your lack of empathy, your inappropriate responses, and your pessimism. The last thing you want to hear is that you’re "wrong", that your own willpower, if you just had enough, could cure you. You know you can't give yourself any more willpower, because of your depression. It’s a cycle that can’t be broken, and you don’t need people who’ve never been in it to tell you how to get out.
But I’ve been in it. And I realize that tuning out the “there’s a cure if you are willing to find it” crowd and listening only to the “accept your fate” crowd robs you of all hope. There IS hope. Beyond the latest drug that *may cause weight gain, nausea, headaches, swelling in hands and feet, tremor, depersonalization, sexual dysfunction, liver failure, heart murmur, fatal rash, and even death. Talk to your doctor if you experience new or worsening symptoms, as these could be signs of a serious reaction. Not for people who are nursing, pregnant, may become pregnant, teenagers, the elderly, or anyone with a history of being human* You don’t have to suffer forever. You just need someone to tell you the truth: you are incredible. You are more than your genes, more than your past, more than your present, more than your diagnosis.
I will admit, it can be expensive, it’s not fun (fulfilling, yes, and also terrifying), it stretches you way out of your comfort zone (are you really that comfortable?), and I’ve had privileges to overcome depression that many do not have access to (though I do believe anyone can take the basic steps). I’ve spent enough time on the Dark Side to know that the Light can be super annoying. I’m not judging or even expecting to persuade anyone to kick their meds - everyone learns in their own time and way. And everyone has different needs and situations. But for people like me, who don't quite believe it's legit, or have the opportunity but are afraid to take it, I am giving you the positive encouragement that you will need to fight against the louder negativity that calls you foolish, a hippie, anti-science, gullible, crazy, or whatever name their cognitive dissonance wants to throw at you, and be well.
It’s become the same with normalizing obesity. We absolutely need to be more accepting of ALL body types and realize how detrimental media is in dictating beauty standards, but obesity, or rather the factors that usually lead to it, is becoming dangerously encouraged. The “Take Control of Your Health” campaign (perfect) has edged into an “It’s Okay to be Fat” campaign (okay...), which has completely dissolved into the “Proud to run on Dunkin'” campaign (wrong). There's a fine and fuzzy line between loving all and hiding truth to make all comfortable. And then there's downright corruption.
Why do Lyme disease, sexual harassment, gun violence, addiction, domestic abuse, racism, suicide, global warming, and cancer get a “Me Too - let’s end this now” fundraising campaign, but depression, anxiety, fatigue, stress, caffeine dependence, alcoholism (a la wino mommies), pessimism, rage, failed marriages, impulsiveness, and antisocial behavior get a “Me Too- let’s suffer together” meme campaign?
Why have we normalized feeling like crap? Why do we accept that our earthen vessels are not only weak, but should be leaking, broken, useless shards?
Why do we shrug off our bodies telling us that SOMETHING IS WRONG? One single ailment can be no big deal, but recurring misery isn't normal. When you’re on multiple medications for your headaches, your seasonal allergies, your thyroid, your menstrual cycle, your depression, your insomnia, your blood pressure, your cholesterol, your acid reflux, there is obviously a serious malfunction in your body.
This is one of the reasons Lyme disease (and other over-looked conditions) is so hard to diagnose: we no longer view feeling unwell as a problem. The doctors encourage this behavior by handing you a pill to placate the symptoms, but not looking at you as a whole, hurting person. The doctors, who should be there to help you, only make it obscenely expensive to do more than put a bandage on it. It’s especially sad to see parents ignore their children’s ailments, when they are exactly the ones who should be advocating for them.
“He can’t focus” - ADD, he needs a pill.
“She throws a tantrum about everything” - if she doesn’t grow out of it, we have pills.
“My neck hurts” -you slept on it wrong, take this pill.
“I have a rash” - you have allergies, take a pill.
“The feeling of my clothes against my skin makes me want to scream”- you’re a brat, take a chill pill.
“I have the flu… again” - it gets passed around, get the vaccine and take some pills.
“My shoulders hurt” -growing pains, have some pills.
“My stomach hurts” - you ate too much, take this pill.
“I have a headache” - pop a pill.
“I have acid reflux” - just like everyone else, have a pill.
“I’m tired” - just like everyone else, have a pill.
“I’m depressed” - just like everyone else, have a pill.
“I hate mornings” - just like everyone else, have a pill.
“I hate people” - just like everyone else, have a pill.
Why do we put up with this? Why do we allow ourselves to suffer, and why do we let our children be miserable, instead of stopping to think, “Maybe there’s a problem here, maybe we need to get help.”
Our bodies are designed to be a well-working machine, and pain, including emotional pain, is the built-in Check Engine light. When the light comes on, you don’t pull out the LED to make it stop, you address the problem. If you just remove the light, that little problem is eventually going to destroy your entire engine, and cause a much costlier repair than if you’d diagnosed the first warning sign. By taking a pill - simply cutting the electricity on the alarm - you’re ignoring the reason the alarm went off in the first place, and the cascade of organ and hormone dysfunction is going to leave you with a very costly repair.
Thousands of dollars and years of your life.
Maybe if I’d addressed my vomiting, nausea, and body aches with a dietary change 20 years ago, my leaky gut-blood-brain barrier wouldn’t have been so compromised and susceptible to infection. Maybe if I’d addressed my hormone imbalance 15 years ago, my adrenals and thyroid wouldn’t be collapsing. Maybe if I didn’t treat medication side effects with more medication, the layers of dysfunction would be easier and cheaper to peel back. Maybe if I’d been taught to take sugar addiction a little more seriously, my body could handle a 9-5 without crashing. Maybe it was Lyme all along, and we brushed off every warning sign in the book (growing pains, bad genes, life sucks, overly sensitive) until it exploded into this incapacitated mess we have now.
I’ll never know. It doesn’t matter. I don’t blame anyone but the corrupt entities that hide and twist information (looking at you, NEJM; JAMA; CDC; FDA). I believe God's grace is sufficient for me and that all things work together for good. But when my miserable outside infects and douses the light of the inside, it does no good for anyone.
Listen to your alarms the first time. Oil the gears, put in clean fuel, don’t ignore the squeaking belt.
"It's expensive. My doctor says it's not true. Everyone has aches and pains. You're just a Google Doctor, you don't know anything." I know pain. I know misery. I know hopelessness. I know I don't ever want to go back to sucking it up and suffering like a "normal person." If you're done being sick and tired, here are my suggestions:
1. Don't go on a diet, change your diet. What you put into your body has a profound effect on what you get out of it. Your cells are made of what you consume - they will function healthily on nutrients, and fail you on processed junk. More on this later, but basically, everything in the grocery store is junk. The biggest inflammatory foods you never knew were hurting you tend to be sugar, gluten, and dairy. Learn to eat your fruits and vegetables, real and whole, not processed and pulverized into a "healthy" chip or pill. Glean free resources from the internet. Read Michael Pollan.
2. Thoughts can change your brain structure. Find a program that will help you reinforce positive neural networks and shut down the negative. Glean free resources from the internet. Read Caroline Leaf, Joe Dispenza, Daniel Amen, Gabor Mate; check out the Curable app.
3. Fire your doctor and invest in a functional, internal, alternative, or integrative holistic medicine practitioner. The appointments are expensive, because they spend 1-2 hours LISTENING to you and helping you HEAL, not comparing you to a textbook and handing you a pill. Believe in what you can't see - acupuncture and naturopathic medicine have done amazing things for me. Find out if your insurance company will reimburse you. Glean free resources from the internet.
4. Find a spirituality that connects you to a higher power and a higher SELF; you may have to deconstruct (not necessarily destruct!) if you find that your beliefs are actually traumatizing.
5. Learn the wisdom of trauma and the body. Glean free resources from the internet. Read Gabor Mate, Peter Levine, Bessel van der Kolk, Nicole LePera.