This is my small contribution to #lismentalhealth week. On Thursday, I met with a therapist for the first time. The good news: she doesn’t recommend long term therapy. The bad news: I probably could have used it years ago.
In 2012, I discovered I had a chronic illness. I had been told by my doctor that there is a strong link between the illness and depression, but I ignored his suggestion that I should seek out a therapist. What I didn’t realize was that I was slowing slipping into a perverse apathy for all the things that used to give me joy: professional development, networking, technology, wine, food, gardening… I had no desire for any of that. I wanted silence and solitude and sleep.
Then something remarkable happened. In fall of 2015, the medication (mercaptopurine) that I had been taking for almost 3 years stopped working. My immune system started to shut down. I received one of those late night phone calls from my doctor shortly after some blood work. Stop taking the medication, he said. Right now. My blood had turned, in his words, “toxic.”
I was immediately given steroids and within a few days my personality completely changed. I wasn’t the only one who noticed. My family noted the change as well. I suddenly had the desire to do things. I wanted to get up early, exercise, cook a decent meal, talk with my wife, play with my children, work on research projects, read professional literature, and explore new areas of study. Since that time I’ve started a new medication (Humira) and while some of the old physical side effects have returned (fatigue especially), I haven’t lost the boost in motivation.
It wasn’t until I stopped taking the mercaptopurine that I realized how dark my outlook had become. So as a preventative measure, I reached out to a therapist and set up an appointment. We talked about managing stress (a primary cause of regression), the connection between the illness and my job performance, how it’s affected my personal life, etc. The therapist did not recommend long term care, but we are planning to meet again in month to re-assess. After all, this new medication is intense (lots of needles) and I don’t know what the long-term affects will be. What I do know is that I don’t want to go back to where I was last year. It’s very likely that I’ll continue to live with this illness for another decade and that is far too long to live a passionless life.