I’ve spent the second twenty years of my life battling anxiety and depression.
“Why do you go all the way to Bergenfield to pick up your Xanax pills?” my wife Lauren asked me.
“Drive-thru window. I can avoid people.”
“I think they should up your dose.”
I was joking actually. I love going inside, grabbing a Snickers bar (or M&M’s if I’m on a diet) and eating it while I wait for my prescription. I then dispose of all evidence of the candy bar event to avoid Lauren’s wrath.
The real reason I travel to Bergenfield is the pharmacy clerk at the Walgreens near us always says the name of your prescription loudly to confirm the medication is correct. Of course, half the store then hears what horse tranquilizer my doctor has prescribed to keep me upright.
I am using a pseudonym for this essay as well as for my blog and upcoming book. Grayson is too cool a last name for me to really have. Ostensibly, I’m using this name to protect my kids’ privacy. In reality, that’s just a small part of the reason.
The major reason: there’s a good chance the book isn’t going to sell enough copies to allow me to quit my day job as a lawyer, and I’m worried that the mental health struggles I talk about in the book will make people hesitant to hire me.
Am I just being paranoid, though? Maybe there isn’t the significant depression stigma and anxiety stigma I fear. Maybe I’m ripping the label off my bottle of Wellbutrin before throwing it in the garbage for no reason—because there have been thousands of instances of people rummaging through garbages and exposing depressed people.
So I’ll ask a simple question: You need heart surgery and you see two equally renowned surgeons; one surgeon takes cholesterol medication; the other surgeon takes Xanax when needed. Which surgeon are you picking?
A few caveats, first:
One, I am aware that my decision-making as a lawyer isn’t quite as important as that of a heart surgeon. Some might even say it’s exactly the opposite of being a heart surgeon. Some might call me an ambulance chaser and throw rocks. I digress.
Second, there’s no way you would actually know this information about your surgeon. But since I’m telling you about my mental health struggles, the exercise is relevant. People now have more information about me that they will use in whatever way they want.
I guess I should answer the question myself, first. If it were my own heart surgery, who would I pick? I’d love to say I’d pick the Xanax surgeon. Then I could declare myself victorious, and we could just end this blog post.
But the truth is, without further information, I would probably choose the surgeon with high cholesterol. It just seems like the safer move to shy away from the nervous or depressed surgeon, lawyer, or financial advisor.
So the anxiety and depression stigma I feared is real. Even I buy into it.
Now the more important question: Is it fair?
Probably not. There appears to still be this big bag that people with all forms of mental illness are thrown into. To many in our parents’ generation, they all fall under the nervous breakdown category, the Kennedy sister who no one talked about. Grouping those who manage their anxiety and depression with those who have non-functional forms of mental illness is as inaccurate as grouping arthritis with paralysis.
I’m not saying anxiety and depression are fun. There are times it can be debilitating. No one enjoys feeling like a dog in the waiting room at the vet. The neuroses can be time-consuming and annoying. My OCD won’t allow me to change the radio station in the middle of a song unless the last word I hear is a positive word. Do you know how few positive words Taylor Swift has to say about all her ex-boyfriends?
But the more serious stuff—panic attacks, dips into depression—is controlled by medicine most of the time. The neuroses that drives a lot of my quirks is the same neuroses that causes me to obsess over my cases, to over-prepare to counter the built-up anxiety, the 110 percent I put into trials because of the fear how losing will affect my fragile self-esteem. I mean, freaking Abe Lincoln was depressed, and he basically ended slavery and saved our country and all that stuff.
Are we at least making progress in destigmatizing anxiety and depression? Well, celebrities have begun to open up. Singer Lady Gaga is one of many entertainers who has been open about her depression. Numerous professional athletes including NBA player Kevin Love, have recently shared their experiences.
While commendable, I’m not sure Lady Gaga’s openness has quite broken down the barrier for the everyman; the doctor; the lawyer; the businessman. As an artist, quirkiness is given a free pass, and there’s a certain “tortured soul” mystique that artists are permitted. I blame Van Gogh.
Lady Gaga and Kevin Love are also millennials. That makes me optimistic for my kids, but it doesn’t help people of my generation, in which almost all of this is still a secret. In the circles I run in on Twitter, there are thousands of people talking about their struggles, hiding behind a twitter handle. No one knows each other. Go over to Facebook where it’s family and friends. It’s all balloons over there.
That seems silly to me. Mental health struggles are prevalent and part of the human condition such that I have trouble getting an appointment with my psychiatrist. I post a tweet about depression and it gets twice the amount of attention of my non-depression tweets.
It’s time to acknowledge that we live in the year 2018, A.D., or as it’s properly known 2018 (A)nxiety.(D)epression.
I’m going to stick with the name Grayson for now. As someone supporting a family, I just can’t chance my law career being compromised. I hope one day soon it will be a non-issue.
Oh, and by the way, in real life both heart surgeons you went to see take Xanax. You should go see the third surgeon. You know, the alcoholic.
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