Shattering Stigmas: Accepting Help by Shon from Books and Bugs

Welcome to the fifteenth day of Shattering Stigmas! Until October 22 I’ll be highlighting voices from the book community on mental health. I’m co-hosting this event with Taylor from Stay on the Page, Shannon from It Starts at Midnight, and Amber from YA Indulgences so make sure to check their blogs out each day to see different content.

Content Warnings: death of a pet

I’ve struggled with my mental health from a young age. I was diagnosed with ADHD in first grade and depression in early middle school and anxiety starting to show up towards the end of middle school. Back when I unquestioningly did as my mother told me, I did pretty well. I went to the doctor, took my meds – no real problems. But once I started hearing what people outside my family said about it, I started having my doubts about lots of things. Did I really have these issues? A lot of people were discussing the rampant misdiagnosis of mental health problems and saying that prescription drugs were being handed out like candy on Halloween. I heard the teachers and other parents say my anxiety was caused by my mother being a helicopter parent. My best friend’s mom accused my mother of getting me medicated so that I would excel in school – because clearly, my Ritalin was a performance enhancing drug.

I felt awful. I felt like a fake. Was I really sick? I started hiding my medication. Oh, I’d lie and tell my doctor and my family that I’d taken my medicine. Eventually, I’d break down and admit that I hadn’t taken my medication for months. I’d get back on my medication and the cycle would begin again.

While I eventually came to terms with the fact that I did indeed have mental health issues that needed to be dealt with, it never stopped the questioning of whether I really needed the help I was being prescribed. With a nonstop barrage irresponsible of articles likening taking antidepressants to being a junkie or decrying the alarming rates at which psychiatric drugs are being prescribed, it’s hardly surprising that I had my misgivings.

Additionally, many people abuse tools and systems put in place for those with mental disabilities. I know, for a fact, that I could not have gotten through college without my ADHD medication. I know this because I tried and failed. But because of the way ADHD medications are abused as espoused as study aids or a ‘focus cheat’ through college, I always felt wary of taking my medication. Was I not also using these pills to help succeed with focus and studies? I battled with this constantly. It wasn’t until I had a discussion about it with my doctor that I really came to start accepting that I was not abusing the medication and was using it for its intended purpose and that I really had no reason to feel guilty about taking my medicine.

Given the struggle I had accepting medication, you can imagine my doubts I had when my doctor recommended I get a dog as an emotional support animal (ESA) when I started having issues with agoraphobia. I wasn’t opposed to the idea of getting a dog in the least. I’ve always been a dog person and when I did get the dog I was working full-time at a dog grooming salon. My reluctance came from accepting that I really did need an ESA. My entire life up until that point had been hearing about getting an ESA prescription just so you could force your landlord to let you take your pet with you to otherwise pet-free rentals. It wasn’t a ‘real’ thing. The real deal was obviously a service dog.

I ended up getting my ESA, Ducky, in 2011. I honestly thought of him as no more than a pet. He was my best friend and like, we chilled and stuff – you know? Normal dog stuff. I honestly spent this entire time convinced that he was just a pet and really didn’t have any medically redeeming quality until recently. In fact, I was so convinced that this was the case that I didn’t even take him with me to my school apartment because it was pet-free and I didn’t really feel like he was anything more than a pet. Sure, I’d have my mother bring him to me anytime my anxiety spiked (she’s a real VIP who totally drove him to me without complaint), but you know – he was like my best friend there to kick it with me and get me back to breathing normally and convince me the world wasn’t going to end because of an organic chemistry exam.

On the first of this month, I lost Ducky. He got really sick and there was nothing I could do about it. In the weeks that have passed since, my mental health has taken a complete nosedive. There is obviously a lot of grief that comes with the loss of a pet and while I’m sure that contributes some to my problems, it doesn’t account for all of it. Without a little buddy to hold me accountable for sticking to a schedule, I lack the structure I need. The anxiety and depression are back full force. And for the first time since I had to leave my first college, my agoraphobia is back.

I came to this realization when I was standing by my door trying to give myself a pep talk to run my garbage to the dumpster. I’d been struggling with anxiety about going to work every single day but the garbage was a-ha moment of truth. When I thought about it, I was like, “Wow! This hasn’t happened to me in like … eight years! Whoa!”

Eight years ago I adopted Ducky. Eight years ago he started helping me get to the point where I could leave my house without debilitating anxiety holding me back. I spent eight years in denial that the tools I’d been provided were actually tools and not just some vanity.

We live in a society that not only stigmatizes and shames mental health but then turns around and abuses tools and aids to help those of us with issues. They tell us we don’t need these things and then find a way to twist what resources we have been given for their own use, adding only further to the list of ways we keep ourselves from getting help.

If there’s anything I want you to take away from me sharing this, it’s to please accept the help, tools, and resources available for you. Your needs are valid. The help you’re offered is real. There is no shame in using the tools created for you.

Shon is a microbiologist that loves books. She found a way to combine those two interests by naming her blog Books and Bugs. You can also find them on Twitter and Goodreads.

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