When my daughter was young, her extreme sensitivity to bright lights, loud noises, smells, and sudden movements led me to shield her from situations I knew would set her off. In doing so, I often heard the question, always with an accompanying all-knowing smile, "Is she your youngest?"
My answer? "No," but you're an idiot.
Of course, I didn't say that last part, but it was hard not to think it. My daughter deals with anxiety, she has since very small, and she had her first full-blown anxiety attack at barely six years of age. The hospital diagnosed her with an upset stomach and told me I shouldn't bring my child to the ER unless there was really something wrong. I'd never seen an anxiety attack. I'd always assumed her sensitivities were a more acute version of the common ones held by her gifted siblings. With some research and the help of a psychologist, we we helped her learn to cope with the anxiety, and we've prescribed medications at appropriate times.
But even the professional medical staff of a hospital presumed my child pampered rather than recognizing her difficulties!
Between the recent indiegogo project, Altered Perceptions, a fb post I read from James A. Owen about chemical imbalance, and a meeting I had with one of my daughter's school administrators, mental health has been on my mind lately. Mental health awareness has improved over the years, but there are still so many people out there who tend to judge rather than understand. As someone who struggles with depression, and has needed medications at certain points in my life, I find this personally frustrating as well as narrow-minded.
I had someone say to me once, "If people had more faith then they wouldn't get depressed."
I was going to go on my own rant/explanation on this, but I found James A. Owen's experience and explanation via fb says everything I wanted to say, and probably better, with less ranting. He focuses on a chemical imbalance, but that's essentially what mental health problems such as ADD, anxiety, and many others are...a genetically inherited chemical imbalance. With his permission, here it is:
I'm a pretty big proponent of both individual free will and individual accountability, and yesterday I had a discussion with a mentor about how both of those things relate to someone dealing with a chemical imbalance. Not a mental disorder or illness - but a chemical imbalance, specifically speaking, some of the mental and emotional cloudiness I have dealt with over most of the last year, due in large part to a big thyroid problem.
With proper treatment, I've been doing significantly better in every way the last couple of months - but the problem I've been grappling with now, and the question I posed to him, involves the fact that I still remember every choice I made, and I wondered how I could have made some of them, which seem impossible to countenance now. I told him I know that when my thinking is clear, I definitely make better choices - but that I also remember making some really lousy ones. Choices I would not make now, six months later.
How, I asked, could I take accountability for those choices that I made, when I don't recall my own reasons for making them? Because I want to be accountable - which is the only way to learn and improve - but I also don't want to beat myself up over choices I made because my damaged thyroid was having a negative impact on my judgment. How could I reconcile the fact that my thinking was affected, but that I still want to take responsibility for the choices I made at the same time?
He said that first, sincere understanding of and regret for the lousy choices I knew I'd made, along with a sincere effort to change, and do better, was all the accountability needed for those choices, full stop.
And as to the choices I made that were the result of the thyroid imbalance, he repeated one of my own stories about when I first realized I needed glasses. I was sitting on a balcony in San Diego and I pointed to a Nike sign atop one of the buildings, and made several shoe jokes that no one else laughed at. And they were GREAT shoe jokes. The reason no one got them is that it wasn't a Nike sign - it was a Coca-Cola sign.
Once that was pointed out to me, I switched to cola jokes, and made an appointment for an eye exam. His point being, it was the clarity of my vision that was the main problem, not my joke-telling judgment. I didn't regret telling jokes that fell flat - I simply switched behavior when I understood why.
On that same line, he said, I shouldn't regret the choices I don't understand making, because my thyroid clouded my vision, so to speak. Those choices were not errors in judgment as much as they were an inability to see clearly, and now that I can, I'm simply making better choices. The benefit of having clearer vision is that there is also - hopefully - an improvement in the quality of the choices that were all mine, too. And the reason I am sharing all this personal information is so you understand the end of the discussion:
"Have you taken the steps you needed to clarify your vision? Have you taken responsibility for all of the choices you made, no matter the cause? Are you trying to be better today than you were yesterday? If your answer to all of these is yes, then that's all the accountability you need."
If someone needs counseling or medication for their illness, please understand that it's not much different than someone needing an optometrist and a pair of glasses, and be understanding of their "near-sightedness" while they're trying to find the right pair.
I'd like to put in one more plug for the short story collection, Altered Perceptions. It looks to be a fabulous book, with some of the best and most famous writers in the business, and it could really make a difference in one family's life, and possibly help many more. It's 55% funded and only has 11 days left to meet the goal.