Category Archives: Opinions

“It Will Help You” is Not Good Enough

As I wrote about in my first blog post, I was diagnosed with clinical depression and ADHD at age six. Even though I was diagnosed when I was six, I didn’t receive psychiatric medication until I was 12. The medication they prescribed at the time stopped working for me after a while, but I got a glimpse of what medication could do for me. I thought about the years of failed therapy and asked my mother why she didn’t give me medication when I was diagnosed. She told me child psychiatry was relatively new and that she was hesitant to put chemicals into my body. All those years I had to wonder why I was lonely in the company of friends and wonder why my mom was still sending me to therapists when I was sure there was no solution. That being said, I can’t blame her for being hesitant and I don’t blame her for my suffering. She didn’t necessarily keep me in the dark, but I do wish she had helped me understand mental illness much earlier on.

Contrary to popular belief, kids are smarter than you think. If you are looking into psychiatric medication as a form of treatment, you cannot expect your child to willingly take an antidepressant if you haven’t even helped them understand their mental illness. Learning that depression was also called a “brain disorder” was not enough. To me, “brain disorder” addressed the brain in its entirety and equated to “your brain is broken.” I needed to learn that there is less serotonin in brains of people with depression and that antidepressants could fix the chemical imbalance. Last year, I found videos of a doctor’s ADHD seminar where he did an intensive teaching that included the biological causes of the disorder. I sat in my chair and watched the videos for hours. I finally felt like I understood myself and I felt comfortable with my mental illnesses.

“The pill will help you” is not good enough.

“You need therapy because I want you to talk about your feelings” is not good enough.

It’s time we answer with scientific fact as opposed to extremely vague, desired outcomes.

Ming Cooke is a freshman, studying web development in the iSchool at Syracuse University. Through her battle with ADHD & clinical depression, she became a mental health advocate and created The Best Weapon documentary. You can contact her at mrcooke@syr.edu or follow her on Instagram @mingrosec

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Just Like Me

When I was a kid, I did not see anybody on TV, in the movies, or in books that was like me. 

Asperger’s did not have that kind of exposure back then.  The term “Asperger’s” did not show up in the psychiatric handbooks until 1994 and, for the first few years afterwards, there was very little information and a lot of misinformation.  The term “autism” had been around since the 1950s but “Asperger’s” was seen as something completely different despite technically fitting under the autism umbrella.  Growing up, in my personal life, I also did not know anyone who had Asperger’s.  In my home life, there was a huge emphasis on me becoming “mainstream.” I was not allowed to tell anyone about my condition and I was frequently criticized for not exhibiting “normal” behavior.  There were so many times during my childhood where I wanted someone to talk to, preferably someone with Asperger’s, who understood what it was like to be me.  I did not feel like anyone understood me and I did not even feel like I understood myself.  Whether it was hobbies or treatments for my condition, everything was trial and error to see what stuck and what didn’t.

As a kid, I was an avid reader and entertainment watcher.  I still am.  Personally, I think that the reason that I love these things, and why I have such an imagination, is because I hated my everyday life, where I was rejected and misunderstood and belittled at school and at home. I needed some kind of escape.  In my book reading, TV watching, and movie watching I found myself frequently gravitating towards characters that were off-kilter.  I identified with the characters who felt like outcasts and who were trying to fit in and who were trying to find where they belonged.  I admired the characters that were always true to themselves, even when they were told that they couldn’t be themselves.  I found myself identifying with the characters who were different.  None of them had Asperger’s but they were going through the same kind of identity crises as me.  And there were characters that I wanted to be because of some character trait that they had that I admired about them. During the down days of my life, it was these characters and their creators that kept me going.  Even today, against my father’s words, I still credit fictional characters and their creators for getting me through life and for inspiring me.  And I wholeheartedly feel that way.  I remember being so inspired and blown away by The Incredibles when I was eleven that I went as one of them for Halloween.  As a child, Peter Pan was my favorite fairytale and, when I got to, at seventeen, see a production of Peter Pan as they did in 1904, it was hands down one of the greatest experiences of my life.  And, in recent months, Wes Anderson movies have become like a warm hand over my heart.  These and more have reminded me of what’s important to me in terms of the person I want to be.

These days, Asperger’s has been pushed front and center in pop culture and in news media.  Personally, I feel that the character of Max Braverman, from NBC’s Parenthood, started that movement of increased awareness.  At the same time, though, there is still a lot of misinformation.  For every Max Braverman, we get an Adam Lanza. And, sadly, the bad news always sells more papers and gets higher ratings.  Why can’t we live in a world where the good news gets more attention?  I was at a Barnes & Noble the other day and the sign at the front door was advertising a new book about Asperger’s, written by someone with Asperger’s.  Ten years ago, those kinds of books weren’t published.  I’m glad that those books can get published these days.  We in the Asperger’s community are finally starting to find our voices and people are starting to listen to our voices.  Someday, I want to publish my own book about Asperger’s.  Because I love literature and entertainment so much, I want to give my own input to those worlds.  Because of what they did for me growing up in helping to forge my identity.  Because I want to send a message to any kids out there who feel like being different is wrong, to tell them that being different is fantastic and that they shouldn’t be afraid to be different.  I know what it’s like to feel different and to feel like you’re alone and to feel like your own voice isn’t worth hearing.  I want the other Aspie kids in this world to feel good about themselves and to tell the world to not act like it’s a bad thing to have Asperger’s.

The Weather Is Not Bipolar

Until recently I hadn’t paid much attention to how often “bipolar” is used as a descriptive word on a daily basis. If you pay attention you will here any number of people say, “Man, the weather today is so bipolar” or “I am feeling so bipolar today”. Most people say these things without a second thought, knowing deep down that the weather or they themselves for that matter aren’t actually bipolar. But then why do they say it?

Most people would reply that it’s because they are simply trying to characterize something that changes from one extreme to the other frequently, and that they see no harm in it. But think about it this way: people with bipolar disorder don’t suffer from changes in mood temporarily. They have a medical condition that impacts their daily lives and will continue to impact them for the rest of their lives even if treated. When we, as a society, use bipolar as a character trait for things as arbitrary as the weather, we are invalidating the seriousness of an illness that is a neurological condition – not a personal quality.

We have made it taboo to call someone “retard” because it is offensive to those with down syndrome and is typically used to insinuate negative qualities about the person being called that name. So why is it any different for the word bipolar? When you describe your moody friend as bipolar it is certainly not a term of endearment. Instead, it is used to convey that there is something wrong with them or that the way they are acting is bad. Think about the message that conveys to those who actually have bipolar disorder. You are telling them that something is wrong with them, that they are “bad” simply because they inherited a biological trait that they had absolutely no control over. The society we live in already makes those with mental illnesses feel like they don’t belong or that they are weird or “crazy.” The everyday use of neurological diagnoses doesn’t help promote the inclusivity that all people, regardless of mental illnesses, deserve. So the next time your friend is acting especially moody or the weather is changing back and forth at an unusually frequent rate, remember to consider those who are actually affected by bipolar disorder and how your words may affect their lives.

Kylie Kerker is a freshman at Syracuse university and new to Active Minds. She’s studying biology and Neuroscience and hopes to study the biological basis of mental illnesses. You can contact her at kmkerker@syr.edu or follow her on instagram @krekrek5.