25 January 2008

And you call yourself a....?

The other day, I was at a women's health thing, a community event that I was working.

The keynote speaker was a woman who is a therapist, with a thriving private practice. Someone who works as a motivational speaker, and has even been on a popular daytime talk show. She was amazing, and inspirational, mostly. She talked about how women take care of everyone but themselves. The kids. Maybe their elderly parents, or their partner's elderly parents. Women choose caretaker careers, and then take care of everyone at work, too.

But we don't take time for ourselves. Know why? Because "good girls aren't selfish." C'mon, when was the first time you remember being told to not be selfish? My bet is before kindergarten.

I preach this to friends all the time, reminding them that no one is going to take care of you BUT you. I do things that are incredibly self-indulgent, on a regular basis, because no one is going to do it for me. But that's a lifelong philosophy of mine, that its OK to indulge yourself in little luxuries like a massage or a pedicure or hell, even some time to read a trashy novel if that's what you want to do. Not daily, maybe not even monthly, but from time to time. So this speaker's message of valuing yourself wasn't lost on me, nor was it particularly revolutionary for me either.

What DID make me sit up and take notice is something I'm still very puzzled over.

She was talking about our perceptions of other people's lives. I'm paraphrasing, but here's the gist of what she said.

Maybe you've got a neighbor or a casual acquaintance who you look at and think, "Damn, her life is perfect. Look at her perfectly clean house, fabulous spouse, great car, fantastic job (or whatever you happen to admire about this woman)." But what you don't know is that maybe her life isn't so perfect. Or if she is all perky and happy, maybe she's on 200 mg of Prozac every day.

And when she said that, the audience laughed.


Roared with laughter, really.

I sat there, appalled, wondering how many other women besides me in that room are medicated for a mental illness, dying a little inside as a room full of their contemporaries AND a mental health professional belittled their brave choice to admit that they've got a problem and the decision to take medication for it. I took a seat shortly before she began, as I was working the event, and ended up with seat front and center as a result. Consequently, I know she saw that I was the only one not laughing.

I'm still disgusted that her casual remark might have dissuaded someone in that audience from seeking help for depression or frankly, any other mental illness.

After the speech, I introduced myself and talked briefly with her about time management. I didn't tell her why I wasn't amused, nor did she ask. I could hardly have berated her for the remark. My employer is unaware that I'm being treated for depression. I'm 'out' about it both here online and out in the real world, but don't feel that I need to share that information with my bosses unless or until it affects my ability to do my job. (Note please that I would never lie if they asked about it.)

What an uphill battle those of us who fight this disease EVERY DAY have to struggle against to get out of bed, second guess ourselves about our decision to medicate ourselves or not, fight the personal demons that tell us we're worthless, useless, unloved, unwanted, unlovable. And then someone we recognize as a professional in the mental health field makes fun of a medication that has probably kept countless people alive. Un-fucking-be-lieveable.

I wanted to introduce myself and say, "450/mg Wellbutrin XL. Daily." Wonder what she would have said.


Dawna said...

I'd be willing to bet that she is medicated and made the joke to hide it.

Lucy Arin said...

Huh, could be. Didn't think of it that way.

MotherMe said...

See, to me it didn't sound like she was making fun of people who take Prozac (or Wellbutrin, or whatever!) at all. I think she's just saying that we all need a little help sometimes. Maybe you reacted defensively to her comment because it was so personal to you? I react very defensively when people talk about the issues that are dear to me, especially if they don't couch their words the same way I would.

But, I agree, professional therapists should be a little bit more sensitive about such things.

Lucy Arin said...

yes, I'm hypersensitive to anyone who I perceive as criticizing my decision to take the meds. I know.


The perception of meds in general and mental illness as a disease will never change if even professionals continue to refer to it like this.

Emily said...

When I first read what the therapist said, I had a really hard time seeing how ANYONE could laugh at it. I wonder if the therapist hadn't intended it as a joke, and it was just something that the audience misinterpreted due to small-mindedness? I wasn't there so I can't offer any kind of opinion, but I'm just wondering how ANY therapist could poke even a smidge of fun at someone on medication for a mental illness. It's incomprehensible. And as someone who has faced the realities of chronic mental illness (in my Hubbers, which is not the same as having it myself) I have to say that I am appalled that ANYONE would laugh at a person with an illness. Any illness. Sometimes I am sad to be human - can't we reject the jerks from our species?

Lucy Arin said...

Hi Emily-

Thanks for your comment! It is always nice to get feedback from someone new.

Her tone with the remark, sarcasm and biting wit, left me with no doubt that she meant for the crowd to laugh.

Casual ignorance about mental illness from the general public I expect. From a professional, however, it is reprehensible.

IMHO, anyway. For whatever that's worth. :-)

Dawna said...

I just have to add an AMEN to Emily. Dealing with a loved one suffering from depression is just like suffering from it yourself.

It really is.