Trigger Warning…

Is it just me or do most people feel a twinge of unease when they read a post on social media that starts with ‘Trigger Warning – Mental Health’? Am I the only one who closes my eyes and keeps scrolling? What is it about that heading that, well, triggers me before I even read the post? I don’t have any mental health issues – which is surprising given my upbringing. I haven’t been diagnosed with anything other than anxiety brought on by menopause. Although I have my own theory about that. My diagnosis reads differently. I think my circumstances – at the time – brought on severe anxiety. Moving to the opposite side of the country and thrust into a life I never expected – throw in the ex from hell who makes the grim reaper seem like a charming dinner guest – leaving behind my own family and friends in the process. It was the stuff of nightmares — my own Truman Show (but that’s another book). Menopause was just the cherry on top of my iceberg. Underneath the surface, the layers of crap seemed endless. I think menopause was made more traumatic in my case because of what else was happening. My experience gives ‘the change of life’ a whole new level of truth and meaning — I should probably be a case study in someone’s thesis.

The stigma around mental health issues is a thing of the past, isn’t it? I had post-natal depression (self-diagnosed) a hundred years ago. Counselling would have helped me immensely then, but at the time that shit was taboo. You didn’t verbalise your feelings – certainly not to a stranger – nor speak about the critic inside your head who told you daily ‘you are a shit mother’. Crazy talk like that would alienate you at best, have you committed at worst and, at the very worst, you’d be prescribed meds without being committed. And if that happened, you might as well get your affairs in order. You were a walking headcase. No hope. Full stop.

Nowadays we all brag about our meds. I think Zoloft is the answer to world peace — and a happy marriage. Word to the unwise. If your husband’s idiosyncrasies make you want to take the lid off your Thermomix and stick your head in at 120 degrees then, trust me, you need Zoloft.

Mia Freedman told us recently on one of her No Filter Podcasts that Lexapro saved her life. She loves it. Her candid revelations about her anxiety put her a step higher on my ladder. For a minute there I thought she was being paid by the pharmaceutical company, but then she assured us she wasn’t. I believe her. I know a kindred spirit when I hear one. Decades ago, she would have been banned from the airwaves for that kind of blatant madness. Things change. Thank God.

My stigma is gone. I think. I am not opposed to mental health issues and suffering. I was brought up with plenty of mental issues in my own family. Some of my closest relatives were just plain mad and should probably never have procreated. Some of my best friends have been narcissists, are bi-polar, have OCD or ADD. I get it. I was married for two decades to a man I didn’t really know as it turned out. He was leading a double life. Not in a Ted Bundy kind of way – as far as I know – but an imposter nonetheless. Two people in one, and I don’t mean a Gemini. He was one person to the world — me — and a completely different person on the inside. You can read about that in my book Every Shitty Thing. Puts a new spin on sleeping with the enemy. Indeed. If that’s not the epitome of a mental health issue – his not mine – then I’m not sure what is. And if I didn’t go crazy from the whole experience, then you can all have faith in the strength of your own human spirit.

Mind you, it did give me some newfound issues. Next level head-fuck, I call it. Any stigma I had about counselling – and I did – I beat down with a big pretend stick. I was desperate. If counselling could help me through that hellish chapter of my life, I would acquire verbal diarrhoea for anyone who would listen to every sordid detail. I was over sweeping things under the carpet. Airing dirty laundry would be my new state of being. I went to counselling for a long time, but never once was it suggested I needed medication. Just when I thought divorce had tipped me over the edge, it turned out I wasn’t a basket case after all. I was no different from anyone else experiencing that kind of loss. And yet, the same counsellor, years later in a phone conversation, told me — well, strongly urged me — to take Zoloft. “You need it, Marce, to cope with your umm… new life.” She said.

Can you appreciate the significance of that statement!

Not my dysfunctional childhood, nor my brutal teenage years — not pregnancy, or post-natal depression, or divorce and secret double lives, not my brothers’ suicide (or wanting my own), addiction, not the traumatic death of my mother or a million other shitty things have ever warranted the need for me to take medication. And yet, here I am on Zoloft, convinced that if I stop taking it I’ll probably go mad once and for all, or fall into the abyss of some subliminal dimension. My husband will surely divorce me. I’m convinced he prefers me medicated. Some days I’d like to medicate him. If only. The thought of living without Zoloft gives me a new kind of anxiety. Ironic really.

From now on when I see a trigger warning about mental health, I’m not going to scroll past at warp speed. I’m a compassionate person. I have empathy. If it sparks my interest, I’m going to read it. Who knows, maybe I’ll learn something. Maybe I’ll leave a wise comment that could make someone’s day, make someone feel better. That would be a nice thing to do. Let’s face it, my life has prepped me for every trigger warning possible to man. I doubt much could unnerve me now.

As Gandhi said: My life is my teaching. I think he’d want me to pay it forward — the experience — if that can help others. I’m pretty sure he’d also tell me to stop taking Zoloft. Not happening. Ever.

Marcia Abboud