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Let's Talk About Brains

So perhaps you've already read about the angry NYU student who very publicly flipped her lid by cc'ing her entire department on a thread of diversely fonted e-mails. It's brought up a lot of questions about her mental state, political leanings and overall sense of entitlement. A lot of commentors on the blogs that have covered this story have diagnosed the student in question as being bi-polar or schizophrenic. Some who claim to know her dismiss this and say she's not "crazy" at all, just annoying. While I have all sorts of opinions on this, the reason I'm posting about it here is this- who says mental illness has to be a grand diagnosis? I know I've had bouts of anxiety or depression that are more akin to a cold than acute inflammation, and I think these short-term cases of the head-sicks are far more common than typically addressed. I don't mean to imply that mental health issues just come and go or magically disappear, rather that you don't have to be clinically insane or identify as "crazy" to suffer from an episode of mental illness.

A personal anecdote: It's no secret that I take celexa to deal with my anxiety. I tried therapy a few times, and never found the right doctor so, as a college student short on time and in desperate need of a solution, I turned to meds. A few years ago I tried to come off of it, and I became irritable, paranoid and somehow both self-deprecating yet self-aggrandizing. In this time I also happened to try the Nuva Ring for birth control and it made me borderline suicidal. I spent two weeks out of every month thinking about slitting my wrists which is, hands down, the last thing I would ever do to myself. I've never been a cutter and, with the exception of my period, I typically feel faint when I see my own blood. The moment of truth came for me when I was in Florida on a family vacation and I couldn't stop crying when I was sitting on a private beach on a beautiful day. Thankfully I know myself well enough that I was able to say "Okay, this is not me, this is not right, this ring has to come out." I had an awesomely blunt conversation about it with my mother on our flight back, with my poor little brother stuck in the middle seat between us. I've never seen him squirm so much in his life. Ha!

But removing the ring wasn't enough. Although it relieved the more serious symptoms of depression and I no longer found myself thinking about wrist-slitting, I still felt miserable and angry almost all of the time. I had angry delusions of storming-out on my then-job, as if I'd be acting out in the name of the little guy like a corporate martyr.  I usually managed to direct these emotions and only act on them when it came to bitching out my cable company, but that's not to say I didn't also do stupid shit I'm not proud of. I've burned a fair amount of bridges thanks to lapses in my mental health, and clearly I'm not alone. I met with my doctor, went back on my meds, and have been significantly happier since (although I do hope to someday give them up, perhaps when I'm living somewhere less miserable than NYC).

So, going back to this NYU student. Although I've linked to the story, I'm hesitant to go into it in-depth or even include her name here. She may very well be mentally sound and deserve all of the criticism she is getting (she does paint a pretty unflattering picture of herself) but if she is indeed suffering from a wave of mental imbalance then I feel kind of terrible for her. Although she certainly seems to want the attention, she might look back in a year and say "Oh God I wish I knew then that I was making a huge mistake." The Internet is an amazing thing, but it can do a hell of a lot of damage to your reputation and, when mentally ill, even in brief spurts, it can be one of your worst enemies.

**Update** Here's a much more expansive piece on attitudes towards depression that is a worthwhile read and offers some great advice. Thanks to Catherine for writing about her experiences so openly!

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