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.