Every time I call the doctor or health insurance of late, there is an extra message to check that my mental health is okay and offering care options. I feel a little bitterness that it has taken a tragedy for society to take mental ill health seriously – where were you when we had to wait many months or years for psychological help? Clearly, Covid-19 has challenged even those of us who have not had a pre-existing condition. My psychiatrist seemed shocked at the amount of patients presenting with psychosis during this time, although I am not.
My diagnosis/mental health had always been an enigma to me, the people I love and the medical profession. Like many others, my original diagnosis is not my current one. After years of working in the mental health field (and my own personal experience), it is clear that we know less about this complex field of medicine than others. Heart bypass surgery has become almost commonplace and much safer, for example. I was perfectly happy with my original diagnosis of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It was such a relief to find out why I had to check the gas was off a dozen times or more or check that a plastic bag in the road was not full of cats. In the back of my mind, I was sure I had separate depressive and anxiety episodes but perhaps it all goes together, I thought.
As much as we would like a clear cut name for our individual illness, for many of us diagnosis seems to be a wavy, mysterious line. That is not the fault of the medical profession, necessarily. One of my cousins had very different diagnoses in her later years and she ultimately died of an overdose. I imagine her doctors were trying desperately to find a medication to make her feel better. Then there is me. I present a chameleon personality to both my doctors and loved ones. At a social event, I seem like ‘party central’ – confident, amusing and fun to be around. This exhausts me. My mother was so concerned about my shyness as I child, that she made every effort to bring me out of my shell. Drama classes in high school and finding a group of peers helped me to blossom.
This pandemic has had the opposite effect on me – my mental health has rarely been better. Teddy and my doctor express astonishment that I am coping so well. The truth is I always knew what was best for me – isolation and silence. After I married at age 21, I followed Teddy around the world for his career. He was always going to be the major breadwinner with ambition and skill. He kindly says that he couldn’t have done it without my support – who knows? My IQ is above average and I have honed my people skills over the years. As Teddy was pursuing his career as a Geoscientist, I did a variety of dead-end jobs such as cleaner, bar person and fossil picker. That last job sounds more exciting than it was. My husband’s company offered me training and a job looking at tiny fossils down a microscope. I then transferred those of interest to a slide and a micro paleontologist would further assess them – this was all in the pursuit of oil.
It was the perfect job for someone with OCD – timing and precision was critical. Even though I was smarter than the average bear, I was quite happy to stay in this dead end job. Teddy persuaded me to push my ambition further and that is how I ended up in the mental health field. That led to various other jobs where I could use my writing and people skills to their best capacity. But I was always so stressed, even when I enjoyed the plaudits. The job I really longed for was Librarian.
So here we are in 2020. At the suggestion of a doctor friend, I started eating gluten free at the beginning of the year. This was to try to address my curious neurological sensations in hands and feet. I have since read some medical journals on the effect of gluten on the brain – fascinating. It was relatively easy to change my diet – I guess I avoid gluten naturally. At the same time, I stopped working and driving because of Covid-19. Now I don’t know if the absence of gluten or driving/working has helped but my neurological symptoms have abated considerably. It’s another mystery – but a silver lining for me.
Turning 60 in 2020 has given me so much time to think about growing older. Unexpectedly, I have reached an acceptance that I do feel different and a little less sexy. Teddy disagrees – thank goodness! There is a huge sense of relief that I don’t have to work anymore and I realize how lucky I am to be in that position. I am perfectly happy cleaning the house, watering the garden and making very short journeys away from the house. When all this is over, will I enjoy the normal pace of life or need to buy 10 acres of wilderness for peace and quiet? I guess we will all adapt and realize how strong most of us are, even in the most desperate of situations.
For now, my Enigma remains just that and I am grateful for this moment of stillness in society.