My husband and I were talking yesterday. Well, actually I was complaining and he was listening, but at the end of my rant, I said: I know I’m hard to get along with and my standards are too high so I’m not actually going to say anything to [person I ranted about].
Scott agreed and we made some jokes about him being the same way and said: It’s a good thing we ended up with each other because no one else could’ve put up with us.
Scott and I are both quirky. Weird. Odd. I once had an entire year of crying on Tuesdays. That same year, I found Scott sitting in the dark under a tree and his reason was: I have a hard time with Fridays. (Scott says I’ve told y’all that story before — another quality of mine is telling the same story over and over.)
Nowadays, I get terrible anxiety before going somewhere new — sometimes going somewhere old but alone — and my husband doesn’t really go anywhere.
We’ve rebelled with red and blue hair and Mohawks and piercings as conservatives. We live the suburban life as liberals except Scott thinks the death penalty is fine. We believe in God in a very hands-on and intense way while believing in global warming, evolution and a woman’s right to choose. We often get mistaken for attachment parents even though I hated breastfeeding, and we love the existence of vaccines because I also loved my sling and hated when my kids cried. I am also helicopter-y while fostering independence, and we don’t even do time-outs let alone spanking.
There are so many labels out there. Some are less consequential than others. Being labeled a certain type of parent doesn’t offend me or have much affect on my life except on mom forums. Being labelled with psychiatric disorders means I can’t get life insurance.
So I wonder where the lines are. Do we de-stigmatize all the labels or do stop labeling so much so often? Labels can get a person medical services and play groups and support. Labels can also make people feel left out or believe they are unable to get better.
In medical school, we were taught that after a second depressive episode, 90+% of patients will need medication for life. But what if the depression was misdiagnosed and the person is going through a few temporary tough times or what if the graph is just not true (with “true” meaning “fate” not “scientifically sound”)? After 2 episodes, will patients ever attempt to go off medication or find support for such the idea? Should they? Depressed people are among the many stuck between “I should go off my medication so I can be normal” and “I should stay on my medication so I can be normal,” but what if the problem is the definition of normal?
From the outside, Scott and I seem normal. Big house in a nice neighborhood, kids in a good school, well-dressed, well-fed, well-educated, well-spoken. Are we just good at hiding our quirks? Are our quirks just enough to make us interesting without scaring people? What if I said that sometimes I scare myself with my thoughts? What if I admitted that I’m 33 years old and still afraid of the dark. What if I called them symptoms instead of quirks?
Our society seems to embrace a little difference because it’s cool to be different until it makes other cool people feel uncomfortable. We can be dark and depressed as long as it’s mysterious and deep and artsy, not ugly and needy and constant. Or I think back to fourth grade when I tried to pick up snorting while laughing because a popular girl did it. Had an unpopular girl done it, I would’ve mocked it. Just different enough and on the right person, it’s cute. Had it been a tic, well, she probably wouldn’t have been popular. Is it a tic?
These questions are even bigger with children. Labels, access to care and belief in change and outcomes have long term consequences and often conflict with each other. Without a label, a child cannot get proper intervention and without medical invention, a child’s outcomes are much worse. But symptoms fluctuate based on development and environment and a label can narrow everyone’s view of a child. This plays out in doctor’s offices and medications prescriptions and schools and homes. What is the difference between illness and maturity and individuality?
The mental health lines are confusing and ever-shifting as though we, as a society and as individuals, can’t decide what to accept, what to emulate, and what to fix. I’d rather be anxious than be medicated for it. I make that choice and live my consequences without judging those who chose a different path. However, I would not rather be suicidal than medicated. The consequences are too high because death is permanent. However, suicidal ideation is an extreme symptom of depression; if I couldn’t leave the house due to anxiety, I’d want a pill because I need to leave the house.
I do have more tolerance for my crazy. I like feeling what I feel even when it hurts. I like being as strange as I am even when it makes me think that I am less lovable. When I dig deep, I realized that I’m more comfortable at the edge, which maybe makes me more crazy. Or maybe I’m popular enough or funny enough or normal enough to get away with it. Maybe normal is wide and personal and not found in a checklist.
The answer is not simply to get rid of labels or embrace them all, nor is it to medicate less or more. We must each draw our lines with our doctors and our families. The questions I have us each ask are: What can I, the patient (adult or child), handle? What can the family handle and afford? What does medicine have to offer?
These questions aren’t warm and fuzzy and deep. They are facts that vary based on circumstance and science and gauge our tolerance levels before our problems. I don’t know what I am supposed to think and feel and bear, but I’ve learned what I can handle, what my children can handle and how much we can afford to take society out of the equation. Mostly, I’ve decided that normal is not as important as laughter.