The Impossible Chart

Somedays my math brain struggles with monitoring my mental health.

My token line lately is, “My anxiety started getting much worse after the election.” It’s a good line because a lot of people have it and it gives us something to bond over. A clear data point to mark on a graph.

But it’s not entirely true.

My anxiety was actually pretty severe even before the election, so maybe it actually ramped up as soon as DT won the Republican nomination? I definitely can point to certain campaign-related news stories that ramped things up so I find myself using those as data points on a chart and therefore using the campaign as a starting point of when “things got worse” in my life.

But that’s not really true either.

You see, I was going to therapy for a good chunk of 2017 and I was doing better in many ways, but I was also not, and it hit me recently as I was trying to map out my anxiety and depression that sometimes? There’s no clear road map to show where you’ve traveled on the road to mental health. There’s no clear path from SICK to HEALTHY with a consistent road of improvement connecting the two…AND I WANT A CLEAR PATH OF IMPROVEMENT, DAMMIT.

Because sometimes and in some ways I was doing great because of therapy, but I also know if I’m being honest there were ways I was not doing well AT ALL. I charts and graphs and logical start and end points and trending patterns that show things getting better or things getting worse so I can treat and monitor and improve.

And mental health is NOT like that and it is REALLY difficult for me.

And if you’ll recall, my token line for when I started therapy was, “I am just really struggling with grief which seems alarming since my Dad died in 2009.” And that was a good line because it garnered sympathy and it gave me a concrete: CAUSE of me seeking therapy. There was a chartable “Start” point and I could draw the lines marking improvement from there. LOOK! I KEPT GETTING BETTER!

But that wasn’t really true either.

I’ve had to start admitting lately that there’s no clear path with start and end points that my anxiety takes. There’s not always a point: “EVERYTHING WAS FINE UNTIL…” to chart on a graph. And there’s definitely not a clear, “I WAS MUCH BETTER WHEN…” ending point which is what I think I’ve found frustrating with trying to find a good medication.

It’s even hard to describe the anxiety and depression in a way that can be measured. They give you these questions you answer on a scale of 1-5 indicating severity, so somehow I’ve turned that into some metric system to how to monitor my mental health so I can see if I’m getting “better” or not with the medication so we’ll know what works. This process has really frustrated me because I want to draw out that clear map.

POINT A: Anxiety got intolerable
POINT B: Anxiety still intolerable even with medication #1
POINT C: Anxiety tolerable again! Medication #6 is the key!

I want to be able to quantify the anxiety consistently which is impossible since it’s not really quantifiable. I’m also dealing with weird rage issues lately which could be a side effect of an SSRI (rare, but happens) or it could be pre-menopause (WOO!) it’s hard to really tell but I know I’m using the phrase, “F*ck you,” in my head a lot more than I ever had before AND WHERE DOES THAT GO ON THE MAP OR THE CHART?

The truth is, there’s no map or chart. There’s not even always clear “good days” and “bad days.” Sometimes I have really terrible days where my head is gray and I just want to quit everything and then I have a good moment with a friend or a family member that shakes off the dust of the depression or stops the panic of the anxiety and I feel good. And then other days feel good all around but then there’s some sort of trigger and I wish I could drive into a tree and never deal with anxiety again.

It’s hard to quantify or measure. It’s hard to say, “I’m doing better!” or “I’m doing worse,” because there’s not always clear data points charting progression in a logical path. And I’m having to come to terms with that and figure out how to evaluate my mental health in a way that doesn’t require charts or lines with clear measurable data sets.

I also need to know what “normal” is. I was shocked when my doctor looked at my survey results and said, “I was expecting your anxiety to be extreme the way you talked but your depression is also severe.” What is good mental health? Where is someone at who has balanced treatment – whether medication, therapy, or simply just a mentally healthy person naturally? Where do they fall?

But that’s another quandry for another day. Today I simply need to quit expecting simple charts marking progress and understand this is a complex dataset that needs to be analyzed with algorithms instead of simple dot graphs. This data set is full of variables that are undefined and characteristics that are not quantifiable. I can’t expect a pretty dot graph that charts UP when things are going well and DOWN when things are worsening. My math brain needs to recognize the complexity of mental health and maybe just sit back and understand that it requires a totally new perspective to evaluate.

I’m just not sure what that perspective is. I just know I still feel pretty damn shitty.

14 thoughts on “The Impossible Chart

  1. J.A. from Amsterdam says:

    Longtime reader here, rarely comment. Just wanted to say… We are here listening. This sounds really hard.

  2. Rebecca says:

    It is hard. I know your pain. I know you recently started meds and they will help. However, it’s a struggle to find the right one/ right dose. It’s a long journey, especially when you are sick. Hang in there and keep fighting. Love you!

    • KL says:

      Remember in “Fried Green Tomatoes” when Kathy Bates rams the girl’s car who stole her parking space? As someone of similar age, I believe perimenopause comes with a health dose of rage. My doctor said it can last ten years and the mood swings are common. I also have the anxiety/depression mix but hormones make it worse. Combined with the uncertainty of change (like moving) and I would osciallate between weeping, eating and acting like she-hulk. I get it. You’ll get through it. I believe in you!

      • KL says:

        I meant same age as you, not Kathy Bates in Fried Green Tomatoes. Also, I was told my hysterectomy can make perimenopause kick in faster and I wonder if ablation could do the same.

  3. Cheryl says:

    Another traveler on the road. I actually had a therapist stop me once when I was telling her something as an aside by saying, “stop, you know that’s not normal, right?” To me it was just like saying Tuesday isn’t normal. The really weird stuff hadn’t even happened in my story yet. Long way of telling you, it will eventually get “better” when you will realize one day that the days are generally much better than they used to be. It’s not something you can plot on a graph, but I promise there will come a time with the right medicine/therapy combination where you will realize that you feel more “normal” more of the time.

  4. EJ says:

    I’m with you – I wish I had a chart for mental health. Anything to tell me if I am doing better or worse. I had a breakthrough with therapy and medication last year but they aren’t the only factors. I found out I had more good days when I had low or no sugar – how is that a thing?! There are so many variables that can help or hurt, it gets frustrating finding what works for you. Hang in there, lady! You got this!

  5. heidi says:

    I would say this post proves the meds aren’t working yet. I’ve been there and it is so frustrating trying to pin down when things started working or not working. I have found that if I’m wondering if I’m depressed, I probably am. When I find myself trying to convince myself I’m not depressed… I am. When I’m not depressed, I don’t think about it. And I certainly don’t perseverate about it. You’ve got this. It’s so hard but worth the fight.

  6. Lucy McConville says:

    I’m sorry you are struggling so much. I think you are right part of this might be menopause beginning to rear its head…and that is a whole different kind of rollercoaster thrown into the mix. (SO grateful to be on the other side of that now!!!)

    But I feel like what I’m really hearing might be a problem with acceptance and letting go of control. I absolutely do not mean that as criticism, just maybe insight. Acceptance of imperfection…in yourself, in others, in the universe at large.

    I’m not spewing “12 Step” stuff here…I’m not sober. But, I gotta tell you, some of that stuff is spot on! When I was going through a similar struggle to yours a few years ago, I was hanging out a lot with a friend who is sober and heavily involved with AA. I used to listen to his end of phone conversations with people he was sponsoring and think, “Wow…that is GREAT! I can apply that to ME, even though I’m not an addict.” One day I asked him from where his thought process comes. He said there were many roads that lead to his peacefulness, but a big one was this book: “The Spirituality Of Imperfection” by Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham. It does have a bit about AA peppered through it…but that just makes it interesting and gives insight to sober addict friends you might have. The “spirituality” part isn’t Christian spirituality, although there is some of that. The authors grab stuff and stories from all different religions and non-religions. I’m not kidding you, Kim, this book was a real game changer for me. It helped me in so many ways! I’m more atheist than not, like you. So don’t be afraid this is some kind of religious conversion thing. And, like you, I am most comfortable with being able to SEE things fitting neatly in their box…see it all on a chart…put the puzzle together and not have to search so hard for that piece that is missing.

    So, anyway, I hope that helps. Give that book a chance. If nothing else, it is a very interesting philosophy study!
    Hang in there!!!

  7. Lucy McConville says:

    PS: I did not mean to imply medication is not also a good thing when it is needed! I am a true believer that there are those of us who absolutely need medication, and finding the right “cocktail” is a long road sometimes. Dealing with mental health issues is a many-pronged fork. As one read commented here, her diet had a big impact, also. As does exercise. As does the right meds. As does getting your ideas about life straight by reading good books and talking to the right therapist. It IS a struggle, but it is worth it!

  8. Lindsey says:

    Yes. Nodding along with all of this. I don’t have it figured out and you have given me much to ponder.

  9. Colleen says:

    No answers here. Please know you can always call on me to listen anytime. I wish it fit better with math brain (I have one too!)

  10. Beth says:

    I have a non math brainDepression and anxiety are caused by chemical imbalances. The meds help restore the balance. Just as weight fluctuates, so does body chemistry and hormones. I listen well to the mental health professionals, don’t I. You are rushing and want an answer too soon. Even when the right combo of strategies is reached, things can shift or even topple. As for grieving , I never truly grieved my Mom’s death until the 10 year anniversary. I had grieved her illness, but not her death. I never sobbed until that day. Be patient, keep working. You are a good person. Also please talk to the counselor about the fact that you still occasionally think that driving into a tree would end the depression.

  11. Ashley says:

    I had/have the same problem…it’s really hard to figure out where you are in the process. What helped me was to ask my good friend Jane. She could tell me if she thought I was going down into the downward spiral before I would even realize it. Could Donnie or maybe your running buddies help quantify things for you? Also, probably your blog would be a great history to use to monitor when you started going down and also when you have some peaks. It’s just hard. You’re doing the right thing for yourself. You’ll get there, I promise. Mush love to you!

  12. MrsDragon says:

    “I also need to know what “normal” is. ”

    110% THIS. I went to therapy because I was RAGEY for two days straight after an upsetting incident. Which…is not like me at all. The therapist was like “…two days doesn’t really seem bad”. Wha?

    But then she named my anxiety which I had always considered “stress” and never realized that my responses weren’t “normal”. She really blew my mind when she pointed out my “OCD tendencies”, which in retrospect, DUH. But I’d never considered them in that light before. I just figured I was a little bit particular and everyone has things they are picky about. Turns out most people didn’t flip their shit as a kid when someone else reordered their markers or lose the thread in lectures because the professor had improperly organized the subject matter and they were busy trying to reorganize the material in their notes….

    Anyway, yes, it’s really hard to know what “normal”, especially if it’s always been that way for you.

Comments are closed.