Sometimes The Monster Gets Loose

Today was a rough day for me.  I’ll spare you the details.  The point is that when you have an obsessive psychological disorder, bad days are dangerous.  Over the years I’ve learned ways to cope and to identify the tendrils of the illness when they first start to squirm loose and to be proactive in staying ahead of them.

But sometimes the little monster I have chained in the back of my mind manages to get free anyway.  I have checks in place and people monitoring me to ensure I don’t exercise for more than an hour each day.  But last night I went out late and worked out hard.  Immediately I got the storm of endorphins letting me know that even though the day sucked that everything was ok.  I kept pushing.  I knew I should stop but I couldn’t make myself.  This was safe, comfortable, and I was combating my own reflection.

I pushed myself until I threw up.  And all the while I was perfectly aware that I was doing this because I’m insane.  My brain was screaming at me to quit, but it was also telling me I couldn’t.  The minute I was done vomiting the first time I got up, went back out, and pushed myself until I threw up again.

I sat there kneeling over the toilet pounding my fist into the wall in frustration, feeling like death, and livid with myself for letting it go so far.  Thank FSM Jen reminded me later that blaming myself wasn’t fair of me.  I’m sick.  There will be days when I lose control.

In retrospect, with my demons squared back away, I can look at down days like this and take a positive from it.  This is better than what it once was.  The self-punishment of working out too much is far better than the self-loathing that drove me to starve myself.  Progress has still been made, and this is the first bad day I’ve had in weeks – that’s real progress!

These posts always suck to write, but I write them because I want people to know that this is what it means to have a mental disease.  It’s like there’s someone out to get you, but it’s not someone you can ever get away from because they hide inside your brain.  You carry them with you everywhere.  Sometimes even when you’re doing something unrelated to food or your body, you can feel them staring at you from within your skull.  It’s a fight every. Single. Day.  And even medicated and generally on top of it, sometimes you lose.

Admittedly, I’m scared of myself.  Walking through a dark alley, there might be a threat to me – but wherever I go, I know I’m potentially a threat to my own well-being.  Even when the illness doesn’t dominate your life, you must always be aware that it can still bite you at any time.  This condition means being forced to admit that your judgment is corrupted in certain areas, which means you must trust that others know what is best, even when you don’t want to do what they say.  It means sometimes worrying when you’re alone because you can’t trust yourself.

And this is what the rough days feel like at best.  For the untreated, for those who feel guilt at their condition and who think they could be well if only they clenched their teeth a little tighter, it is much, much worse.  To all you anorexics out there and to all you people with chemical depression, you have a serotonin deficiency that is no more your fault than an insulin deficiency in diabetics.  It is not a personal flaw, but a condition for which there is treatment.  It’s a nightmare on your own, I know.  Believe me, I know.  I know what it’s like for days worse than this to be the norm rather than the exception, as they thankfully are now.  You get out of it by realizing you may be sick and going to the doctor.  I wish I had listened to my friends, not been such a hardass, and gone sooner myself.

There are people out there waiting to care for you.  Get help.  And if you know somebody in this position, assist them in getting help.  It’s often an invisible disorder and it’s mortifying for those afflicted.  We live in a world that wants to assign blame to the victims of mental illness.  As a result, seeking help can often be viewed as a sign of weakness.  But you’re not weak – you’re sick.  Failing to get treatment when you’re sick is like trying to beat cancer by toughing it out.

Take care of yourself – you’re the only you we’ve got.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • Aliasalpha

    Okay I’m bookmarking this (damned fine) article and sending it to anyone who implies that the solution to my depression is to “just cheer up”. On second thought I might print it and send it to them wrapped around a brick thrown through their car window

    It has made me seriously consider the whole medical treatment option though

  • Pteryxx

    Thanks for this article. I might need to wrap it around a brick and have somebody throw it IN through MY window.

    And, you take care, too.

  • Neato Spiderplant

    Thank you so much for sharing. I admire you so much for being brave enough to be so open like that.

    I know three people coping with mental illnesses and as much as I wanted to understand their conditions better when I learned of them, I always felt awkward bringing it up proactively or asking too many in depth questions for fear that I was being too personal or asking about something I shouldn’t. I guess its a catch 22 because I wanted to ask because I didn’t understand, but I didn’t want to ask for fear that I’d accidentally ask the wrong thing… because I didn’t understand. The more my friends were open and shared with me, not only did I understand more, but it also made it okay to ask questions.

  • mazeRunner

    Hmm thats tough I guess. Good on you that you sought help and you fight your monsters and still do what you do.

  • http://robaylesbury.blogspot.com/ robaylesbury

    That was touching and beautiful and so very human. Of such things are heroes made.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    This degree of openness from your average person is impressively brave.

    From someone who spends a fair amount of time in public debate with unscrupulous crusaders, the risk factor increases exponentially. No doubt you’ve prepared yourself to deal with those who try to exploit popular prejudice against the mentally ill, and/or who contrive to push your buttons and manipulate you into dysfunction, but the combination of your vocation, your condition, and your honesty puts you on a very high, very tight wire indeed.

    Stay balanced. Stay aware. Breathe deeply.

    • Andrew Simpson

      The good thing about my G-d is that I have someone that I can turn to when things overwhelmed me, when my demons came out and wanted satisfaction, I know that I could not help myself, but I can call out to Him and my life focus changes…Where do you turn for help? yourself? you already said that you are flawed, as are we all humans. No one ever cares for you like Jesus. He dealt with inner demons in one simple way He took them out with a brick through their window with His blood on it and they leave….permanently, no warranty work needed.

      • Anon

        Seriously? You have the nerve to come here, on a private blog where someone has just poured out a personal and heartbreaking story and use it as an excuse to have a go at atheism and proselytise for your magic zombie God? With all due respect (by which I mean utter, seething contempt), go and fuck yourself. Hard. With something pointy.

        I have depression myself, and for 20 years I had to put up with people in churches telling me it was because I was turning away from God and if I just let Jesus into my heart, it would all go away. Guess what? It doesn’t and shit like that makes it worse, because it makes you feel guilty for having an illness, like it’s your fault because you’re a sinner. It’s only after recognising my illness for what it was; not a demon, not sin, just an illness, that I was able to get help and start feeling better. People like you with your smug, arrogant religious ‘answer to everything’ make me feel angry and sick.

      • Crommunist

        That is a pitch-perfect Poe. Well done. I have strapped on my LOLerskates and am boarding the ROFLcopter.

      • Crommunist

        I mean it. The level of detail that went into this is exquisite. The removing of the “o” from the word “god”, but the complete comfort in using the word “Jesus”. It perfectly highlights the weird Christian hypocritical craziness of saying that Jesus and Yahweh are the same person, but adopting weird rules about saying one and not the other.

        If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear you were an actual Christian. Then again, if you were, you’d be both a moron and a ghoul for posting that word salad of nonsense (“my imaginary friend is the BEST imaginary friend!”), and I’d prefer to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you’re just an hilarious satirist.

        • JT Eberhard

          He’s not a Poe.

          But he is the forthcoming subject of a blog post.

          • Aliasalpha

            Heh how many times to do plan to use the word arsehole (or asshole if you want to spell it incorrectly)?

      • Nadai

        The good thing about my G-d is that I have someone that I can turn to when things overwhelmed me…

        Yeah, but the bad thing about your G-d is that He doesn’t exist. I’m not convinced that relying on imaginary friends is a sign of mental health.

        *

        JT, thank you for writing this. As someone who’s suffered from depression on and off most of my life, I appreciate your openness and matter-of-factness about what it’s like to live with a mental illness.

      • Melody

        I was an “on fire” Christian at 14 when I first experienced depression. Every year since then (15 years) has been a struggle of trying to stay afloat. The depression is simply biological. I did not understand what it was when I was 14 and experiencing it for the first time.

        I loved Church. I loved worship services and I wanted to serve the Lord. My pastor talked about the “joy of the lord” and how every Christian could be filled with it no matter what was going on in their lives. I had no joy, so I prayed for it. That was the only thing I ever asked God for. The rest of my time was spent asking what I could do in my life to best glorify him.

        I admit, I was thoroughly brainwashed, but I was a good kid and deserved that one simple thing: joy. No god filled me with joy and as depression took over, I found it more difficult to care about anything in my life and I began to doubt that God was even there. It would take me about 10 more years before I gave up all belief in a god.

        I still struggle with depression and as an out Atheist I am aware that many of the Christians in my life see it as the result of being “separated from God”. They weren’t there, though, when I was fourteen crying my eyes out begging God to fill me with joy and being told by adults that I just needed to have faith. I’m not angry at a god, because I don’t think there is one. I am angry at people who should have been able to recognize the signs of depression in a teenager, but instead told me that Satan was attacking me.

        At no point did anyone suggest that I should see a doctor and that is the problem with the “turn to God” suggestion. Mental illness is not a crisis of faith. It is a medical condition and to suggest otherwise denigrates the struggle of millions who work hard to live productive lives despite their brain chemistry. People may find their belief in God comforting when they have a bad day, but he is not going to cure mental illness and there is real danger in telling someone with a disorder to turn to God rather than a doctor.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1108576277 hannahcapps

        Not only is your idea that the way to deal with your “inner demons” incredibly stupid and misinformed, it is also very dangerous.
        Obviously atheists wouldn’t give a second thought to the idea, but many Christians with legitimate mental illnesses are told the same thing again and again. I have a friend who is a die-hard Christian, and she listened to people tell her to “give her problems to Jesus” or “just pray” for years before finally seeking help for her eating disorder. If she had gone with that advice for much longer there is a high chance she wouldn’t even be here today.
        Mental illnesses aren’t some mystical malady that can be prayed away or exorcised. They are true illnesses that need REAL treatment. If you were diabetic, would you let Jesus take care of your sugar levels as well? I doubt it.

        So why is mental illness any different?

    • JT Eberhard

      Thank you for this.

      Yes, when I decided to write about my illness I certainly considered the outlet it would give the religious people I go after. I decided that if we’re ever going to normalize mental illness in society we must first begin treating it like it’s nothing to be ashamed of ourselves. That means being willing to endure the people who would capitalize on it until they’re seen for what they really are.

      I’m doing it. I hope others will too.

      • julian

        You’re a braver man than me, Mr. Eberhard. Much respect and well wishes. What you’re doing with this post and your openness is important. Hopefully seeing this in print well help someone out there going through this realize it isn’t their fault.

  • WD Cray

    The issues surrounding mental disorders are simply frightening. They are frightening in the sense that mental disorders themselves can be frightening (to both the ill and those around her), and they are frightening in the sense that they are vastly misunderstood by most people, not excluding a sizable portion of working professionals.

    JT, I completely agree with you. Working to stop stigmatizing ourselves is an important step toward getting people to realize that mental disorders, like physical disorders (note–by my lights, mental disorders *are* physical disorders) are both widespread and real.

    To echo others, thanks for writing this.

  • fastlane

    Now if only we could get religious nutters the proper help that they so desperately need.

  • Glodson

    I don’t have any disorders, so I cannot completely imagine what it is like to have to deal with that day in and day out. The best I can do is remember the times when emotion took control. And that’s just a far cry from this. So I am glad that you have people near you to help you. And I’m glad that you understand that it isn’t your fault.

    Sadly, one extra layer of suffering that a great many people with mental disorder have to deal with is a social stigma. I am sure that people reading this blog, and yourself, have had really shitty advice given to you by ignorant people. People that don’t understand what a mental disorder is. People that think the depressed should just be happy. People that think you just need some self-control. People that think addicts should just stop. What these kind of people need is education.

    And perhaps posts like this, which must be painful to share, will make a difference. As more people stop blaming those suffering from a mental disorder, as more people start supporting those with mental disorders, maybe the stigma will disappear.

    Keep up the good work, and continue taking care of yourself. I really am glad that you have a web of support around you.

  • Lauren Ipsum

    Thank you. You are incredibly brave to share what you’re going through.

  • Dhorvath, OM

    Wow. Thank you so much for sharing this. It’s hard for me to properly understand, but everytime someone puts themselves out there like this it makes it more likely that I can help someone, whether by strong support or just casual attitude. Mental illness is not something to be ashamed of and so often it’s something that can be helped. Your words made a difference today.

  • HP

    Me: “Clinical depression with obsessive features,” “highly neurotic,” substance abuser. (Personally, I would prefer to be called a “melancholic monomaniac with an idée fixe,” but they dropped that from the DSM around 1860.)

    I mentioned your blog to my therapist last week, and that I hoped to meet you at FIG@20. I told her, “I like his blog because he shows me that you don’t have to always be rational in order to be a Rationalist.”

  • Greta Christina

    No one ever cares for you like Jesus. He dealt with inner demons in one simple way He took them out with a brick through their window with His blood on it and they leave….permanently, no warranty work needed.

    Seriously, Andrew? Are you honestly trying to claim that Christians don’t suffer from depression or other mental illness?

    That, I should inform you, is a testable claim. You are apparently claiming that Jesus exists, and that proof of this is that he magically cures depression for those who believe in him. If it turns out that this claim is false, and that Christians suffer from depression and other mental illness at roughly the same rate as people with other religious affiliations, are you prepared to acknowledge that your belief in Jesus is mistaken?

    • Crommunist

      Anyone want to take bets on what the answer will be?

      Side bet: will he answer?

      • Glodson

        My bet: No True Scotsman type of argument. That came to me in a flash of inspiration as I smashed myself in the head for about a half hour to get into the proper state of mind.

        Side bet: not taking it. I don’t know if it was just a drive by comment or if the troll is just waiting.

    • Aliasalpha

      And I’m tempted to sue, he’s CEARLY stealing my brick through a window idea.

  • Classical Cipher, Murmur Muris, OM

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.
    My monster got loose two days ago. It takes a lot to admit you’re struggling even to trusted friends and family, and you have even more at stake than a lot of us do. You’re brave, and you’re helping. Thank you.

  • Don

    JT,

    You have written this post not only courageously, but brilliantly. I like your style, and I love your passion, compassion, and intelligence.

    WD- Very, very well said also.

  • http://xeroankh.blogspot.com xero ankh

    this made me want to cry and hug you at the same time.

  • Ubi Dubium

    I’m so glad that you are able to share this kind of thing with us. My daughter has severe chronic depression, or at least depression’s the name they are giving her emotional disability right now. Her entire ability to cope with stress comes out of a prescription bottle. Without medication, I’m not sure she would have been able to make it past 13.

    It’s been especially challenging working with her teachers, helping them understand what’s going on with her. When she’s overstressed and loses her cool, and a teacher tells her to “just suck it up and deal with it”, that’s like telling a blind kid “just suck it up and stop being blind”.

    When somebody has a physical disability, usually it shows in some way. And when they cope well with their challenges, everyone admires them for being so “strong”. Well, what about when the thing that’s disabled is the ability to cope itself? There’s little sympathy out there for that. Except from those people who’ve been there.

    • Richard

      Agreed. To agree with you and Cray, maybe we should view mental and physical disorders in the same light.

    • Melody

      I never thought about the discrepancy between physical and mental disability in quite that way. It is true that those with visible disabilities are, like you said, considered “strong” while mental disabilities are seen as a weakness or lack of fortitude. It is something that really affects my self-esteem.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1108576277 hannahcapps

    Another great post! Once again I have to thank you for being so candid.

    A week or so ago I was having a terrible night, and when I went to go journal, I re-read something I had written months ago. I realized that even though I was feeling awful, I had come so, so far from that prior night. Was I completely cured? No, but that’s never going to happen. But just seeing my thoughts from when I was at my worst made me realize that even when I am not at my best, I have still made an astounding amount of progress.

    Thanks again, and I hope your bad days keep on declining in number. :)

  • Melanie

    Thank you for this and all of your other mental health posts. My monster recently bit through its chain, torn down the door of its cage, killed the security guards and disabled the high tech security system. It sucks. And I don’t really have support around me, so trying to reign the little bastard in is quite difficult.

    • JT Eberhard

      Can I help in any way?

      • Melanie

        Honestly, just the fact that even though you’re going through your own problems you’d offer means a lot. But, I’m not entirely sure what others can do to help my what’s going on in my head. I’m aware that none of it’s rational. I’ve asked teachers in the past for help, family members, and it’s either ignored or after a while it’s forgotten about. It’s disheartening.

        But, don’t worry too much about me. Deal with yourself and get yourself in a better place.

        • Melanie

          *help with what’s* Jeepers, can tell my brain is not functioning at the moment.

        • JT Eberhard

          Have you considered going to a doctor? SSRIs changed my life. I recommend them.

          • Melanie

            I tried lexapro at few years back. It made me gain (hard lost) weight and I stopped taking it. Went completely bonkers and lost my scholarship. It seemed I did better off the meds than going on them and going off them again. Again, I know, completely irrational. I was actually doing really well for about year but in the last few months I’ve just been going really downhill, capped off by a return to self injury which I hadn’t done in about 16 months.

            I’ve been here before and it’s scary and I don’t like it.

          • Melody

            I would never discourage anyone from trying a few different SSRI’s to see if they work. However, like Melanie, I do not react well to them. There are other classes of drugs that can be helpful if someone is willing to experiment. I had tried Lexapro, Zoloft, Paxil, Effexor and Wellbutrin before my Psychologist decided to try a different class of drugs altogether. I think the best thing for anyone is to find a doctor who knows psych drugs well (probably not your general practitioner) and will check up on you regularly to make sure you’re not having a wacky reaction. Zoloft sent me into a really dark, weirdly twisted suicidal depression. My family doctor had given me a three month script and said, “It might take a month or two for you to feel better. Call when you need a re-fill.” and never made any attempt to follow up. Not good.

            My current doctor always checks in with a phone call after one week on a new medication and can make slight dosage tweeks if needed. Every one reacts differently to drugs and there’s no generic prescription plan that works equally for everyone, so if you feel like something isn’t right, call your doctor. Now I sound like a pharmaceutical commercial. Maybe I should put a disclaimer on this.

        • DLC

          Melanie: don’t give up on treatment. work with your doctor or psychiatrist to find the right SSRI for you. There are different ones, each with different side effects in different people. You may be able to find one which doesn’t have so many negative side effects for you, or has negligible ones. In any case,I hope things work out for you.

          • http://freethoughtblogs.com/wwjtd JT Eberhard

            What the others said. Treatment/medication is your way to a better life. We all have a reticence to get treated, which makes no sense because we know we’re sick. But please do so. If you need someone to talk you through the doctor visit, I volunteer.

    • http://skepticoloredglasses.wordpress.com Ali

      Melanie,

      Please also let me know if there’s anything I can do to help. My demons and I are experiencing a truce at the moment, but i know what it’s like when they take over.

  • katonine

    So beautifully written, and so true. I only this morning told my 22 year old daughter that she needed to stop beating herself up for not every waking up happy, that she is suffering from depression and there is a valid reason for her feeling so sad and lost. I told her that she needs to understand that I love her even when she is miserable, and that she has a safe place with me, that she will never be alone in this struggle.

  • geocatherder

    Depression sucks, and Christianity makes it worse. For years I struggled with the notion that I was no good, I was stupid and ugly, and only by the grace of God did I continue to exist… and this was emphasized in every damn Sunday sermon. Then I finally reached the point where my sanity unraveled completely and I got help.

    Now, years later, depression finally well-controlled, I have nothing but contempt for the “faith” that kept me from seeking help for so long… and kept me from thinking clearly about the nature of this “God” thingie. It doesn’t exist. It can’t exist, what with the level of evil in the world.

    And now… well, I’m not a particularly smart or attractive person, but I’m not stupid or ugly. And I strive to do as much good as I reasonably can. I’ve only got one life to live, so I need to make as much of it as I can. It’s a shame it took me so long (I’m 52) to see this.

  • Someone That Doesn’t Give a F

    You lack discipline.

    • karla

      says the person reading blogs at 4 am…

  • http://florilegia.wordpress.com Ibis3, denizen of a spiteful ghetto

    Hey JT, what happened to the Power of Religion post? (I actually still have it open in another tab & think it’s pretty good.)

    • JT Eberhard

      Hrm…FtB ate it. I just re-posted it.

  • Alison

    A little bit of lithium (a natural element) keeps me from flying totally off the wall and allows me to manage my bipolarity and live a mostly normal life, despite my inherited brain chemistry. Lithium equals god. Does that make me religious?

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Ani Sharmin

    Thank you very much for writing. Your posts about mental illness are always so touching and show a lot of bravery and kindness towards those who you are trying to help.

  • carolw

    Thanks for posting this. I’ve made the same analogy of mental illness to diabetes to many friends. You take insulin to manage diabetes, so go to the doctor and got the meds to manage the depression or bi-polar or whatever. And it’s such a relief to get meds that work! After “walking the black dog” for years, I finally have a mood stabilizer that doesn’t turn me into an emotionless zombie. It took years of switching and tweaking dosages, but now I’m good. I have a friend who was self-medicating her bi-polar, and not doing well. We didn’t speak for two years because our relationship had eroded because of her behavior. Now she’s on good meds and we’re back together. Prayer never would have fixed this. Mumbling to myself in the dark never did anything, back in my believing days.
    Good luck to all of you facing mental health issues. JT, thanks again for posting your story.

  • cheesynougats

    Wonderful post; found it from Camels with Hammers, as your blog is still new to me. Now I have to spend the next few days not beating myself up for failing to succeed where you have. I think that’s an unfortunate problem with quite a few mental illnesses: Having the tools to solve math problems/write code/speak in public != having the tools to fix what is wrong with yourself. Due to my store switching owners, I’ve been without medical insurance (and meds) for about a year. It’s been rough, and I don’t have enough of a support structure to force me to go to a public health service to try to get my meds back. I don’t know what your bad days are like, but if they’re anything like my bad days you have my sympathy and support.

  • Ringo

    Thank you for this, JT.
    I just went to the Dr. and asked for help with my problem. I don’t know if I’d have been able to frame it as “not my fault” if not for this post and watching your Skepticon talk.

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