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Will Whatley: Keep the conversation going

By WILL WHATLEY, Alabama Daily News

I’ve written about my mental health situation and struggles here before, but I feel it’s important to continue to keep this topic in front of folks.

Back when I was on Facebook, I posted a link to my story and was overwhelmed by the response of my friends. I had countless people message me privately to tell me that either they themselves struggled with mental health or they had a close loved one who had a story similar to mine. The response was great for me because, after opening myself up like that, I received encouragement from a lot of people, and those private messages especially let me know I wasn’t alone. So, in hope of letting someone out there know that they aren’t alone, I’ll give an update of where things stand for me now.

Personally, I’ve found that medication and therapy have enabled me to manage my conditions quite effectively. But I didn’t get to this position overnight.

One of the biggest things that has helped me is regularly taking my medication. It took me a long time to find the right combination. Some of the meds I tried didn’t work. Some didn’t feel like they worked the first time but worked beautifully a second time. My last couple of psychiatrists have taken the time to not only understand my conditions but my work and family environments as well. That knowledge combined with what they observe from me enabled them to get me to a point where things started to improve.

Looking at the totality of my situation, I’d probably have to say that my biggest issue was anxiety. A bad or embarrassing memory, of which I have quite a few, would pop up and my mind would latch on to it like a tick. Instead of being able to let go of that, my mind would jump to another bad memory and keep me in that state. That anxiety fueled my depression which just made me feel worse. It was paralyzing me.

Only recently have I started taking a medication that’s allowed my mind to relax and let bad memories pass. While it’s still early, it could be a huge deal for me. I’ve even had instances lately that have left me seeking medical intervention because I was in such a good state of mind that I thought something was wrong. I had no idea what being happy and content felt like. Frankly it’s still taking some getting used to but it’s a problem I’m happy to deal with.

While getting the right mix of meds was crucial to improving my mental health, going to therapy was almost as important. Most folks have a negative connotation with therapy and will judge those who are in it, but I’m here to tell you that A) it’s nothing to worry over and B) screw those people. The dashboard of your car has signals that tell you if you need to check the engine or a new battery or even air in your tires. Therapy is basically the equivalent of looking at your dashboard to make sure nothing is wrong with your car.

I’ve been in therapy for years but for the longest time I couldn’t describe what was wrong with me because I only knew one way of doing things. I had no clue what “normal” was so I had nothing to measure up against where I was. I’d often just go to therapy sessions and just bumble my way through them. But I was able to slowly start chipping away at things. Each time it got a little bit easier to look inwards and start to figure out what was eating at me. Eventually I got to a point where I could see things start to take shape, then I was able to chip away bigger pieces until I could finally see where things stood. Once I knew what I was dealing with, it didn’t take long for me to talk about and figure out a way to deal with it. I’ve heard from many people who tried therapy but gave up because they weren’t getting anything out of it. That’s sort of like picking up a guitar and expecting to shred like Trey Anastasio after just a few lessons. If you stick with it and don’t just go through the motions, you’ll get there.

Therapy and medication have finally got me to a place where I’m able to fully appreciate so much. Getting to watch my 10 month old twins discover the world is an amazing thing to behold. I have the most unbelievable wife who does so much for me every day and loves me unconditionally. I seriously can’t stress enough how wonderful she is. If you know her then you know what I’m talking about. Getting to spend time with my family and staying in touch with aunts and uncles and cousins reminds me of spending holidays with them and it warms my heart. Seeing good friends and laughing about old times is something that never gets old.

For so long I never knew what love was because I never loved myself. I’m still not crazy about me but I’m okay with who I am now. I’m very weird and strange but those things make me who I am and I’m cool with that. I’m not stuck trying to measure myself against people I know. Now all I’m concerned about is trying to be my best me. I can’t describe how good that makes me feel.

Mental health conditions are something that stick around longer than awareness months. These problems are like chronic conditions such as heart disease or diabetes. They take diligence to deal with. Like the tides, they can recede sometimes and then come surging back. What’s important is being able to keep your ship steady and, when able, enjoy your time in port. Godspeed sailors.

Will Whatley is a writer and columnist at Alabama Daily News. Reach him at [email protected].

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