Suffering from a mental health issue can feel extremely lonely and isolating, so it is important to remember that you are not alone. The WHO estimates that 1 in 4 people worldwide will suffer some form of mental illness at some point in their lives. So you are not alone, but that feeling will likely persist. I created this interview series to share the mental health journeys of others, and to share insights into different mental health issues.
Today I am happy to introduce Brennan from The Web Shrink. Hi Brennan, please tell me a little about yourself.
My name is Brennan. I’m a licensed therapist living and working in Philadephia. I recently married the love of my life who is also a licensed therapist. In my spare time I enjoy playing guitar, reading, cooking, playing dungeons and dragons, and spending time with my friends.
I started a blog recently called www.thewebshrink.com It is focused on various mental health topics. My hopes are that through the blog I will be able to help readers cope with their mental illness and the stress of life in general. In the near future I hope to add both a book review segment and a Question and Answer segment to The Web Shrink.
What is your mental health diagnosis?
To this day I don’t know if I’ve ever been given a formal diagnosis or what it is. I prefer it that way. I’ve always found that focusing too much on a diagnosis causes far more problems than it helps. The closest I’ve gotten and what I may have been diagnosed with is Cyclothymic Disorder.
What does this mean in simple terms?
The best way to describe Cyclothymic Disorder would be to call it Bipolar’s much faster but less intense brother. I generally have periods of mild-depression for 2-3 weeks, then experience 2-3 weeks of hypomania with little if any period of in between time.
How old were you when you began to have symptoms?
To the best of my recollection I started experiencing these symptoms around 13-14 years old.
Does your illness affect your ‘normal’ life? How?
The upside: When I am hypomanic I feel my most creative. I can knock out blog articles and other creative endeavors very quickly. I need much less sleep to function and feel pretty confident in my abilities. I can learn things very quickly. When I’m depressed, I’m actually fairly healthier in that I drink less (or not at all) and smoke far less cigarettes. I feel motivated to accomplish things to prove my automatic negative thoughts wrong.
The down side: When I’m hypomanic: I get a lot of great ideas, but I lack follow through as I get bored with them before I’ve completed the job. There have been times when I’ve drunk quite a bit more than I usually would. High energy can be off putting to some people. When I’m depressed, I oversleep, still feel tired, and it feels like it takes three times as much energy to do things.
How long did it take you to seek help?
I didn’t seek help until I went to college.
What treatment(s) have you found works best for you?
I’ve never taken psychiatric medication. I’ve seen 3 different therapists at different times in my life. Therapy has been life changing for me.
Do you find the current provisions for mental health in your area are good enough? How do you think they could be improved?
I live in Philadelphia. I feel as though it would be the same in most major cities but the city has just about any kind of service you’d want or need.
What has been your hardest/lowest/toughest/most desperate moment/time?
During the worst episode of mood swings, which I can’t tell whether it was due to the mood issues, the heavy drinking at the time, or more than likely a combination of both I got into a physical fight with one of my best friends. I had also tried to run away while in a city that I was completely unfamiliar with. I had no recollection of this upon “coming to” a few hours later. It was one of the scariest moments I’ve experienced and what caused me to re-enter therapy for the 3rd time.
What has been the best/most helpful coping strategy/strategies for you?
I have a lot of healthy coping skills as I’ve mentioned in my hobbies. The problem is that when my stress is building up, I’m depressed, what have you, I “forget” to regularly engage in them. The best strategy for me is generally checking in and making sure I’m still doing what I know I need to do to stay happy and healthy.
What has been the hardest part of your journey?
I think the hardest part of my journey was my adolescence. I had no idea what it was I was experiencing, why I was experiencing it, or how to cope in healthy ways. I think taking an interest in psychology has been the positive result of these hard times. I truly feel that knowledge is power, especially when it comes to mental health.
Have you found those around you treat you differently?
Generally no. My struggles with depression, anxiety, mood swings are very personal to me. While I’m not ashamed of them and they will always be a part of who I am, they are just that. They are one part of many different things that make up who I am. For those that I’ve discussed my mental health issues with, they are generally supportive and open minded because I’ve made sure they know all of the other parts of me as well.
What do you wish people wouldn’t say to you?
There’s really nothing I wish that people wouldn’t say to me. I want people to be honest whether it offends me or not. I want to know where people really stand on certain things so I can determine if they’re worth the time and energy it takes to build and maintain a relationship.
How can those around you help you?
The best way for those around me whom I trust to help me is to be a second set of eyes. Let me know if I appear as though I’m falling into a depression or getting too destructive in the hypermania. One thing I’ve learned from both my personal and professional experience is that when you’re in the middle of something (whether that be depression, high anxiety, or any other form of mental illness/issue) you are not always the best judge of yourself or what you need. It’s important to have people you truly believe have your best interest at heart to support you, call you out on your BS, and give you tough love when you need it.
What is the one thing you wish people would understand about your mental health struggle/mental health in general?
Just because I have come a really long way in learning how to manage my mood swings and rarely appear on the outside to be struggling at all, it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
Are there any websites/groups/etc. you recommend for helping coping with/understanding/information on mental health issues?
There are so many good blogs, articles, and groups for support online it would really be too hard to pick. Of course I’d suggest checking out my blog as I continue to write it and hopefully you’ll find some helpful information. One suggestion that I do have is to never seek a diagnosis for yourself or anyone else from online communities. Even a professional counselor such as myself would never provide a formal diagnosis for someone online. Any time you do get someone giving “their best guess”, it’s generally either someone who is unqualified to make the decision, or a professional who is not acting ethically.
What is the best advice you have for someone with a mental health issue?
There is absolutely, positively, no substitute for good therapy. If you have the means to see a therapist, do it! Even if you’re not in any particular crisis at the moment, try it out and do some work on yourself. It doesn’t matter how close you are with a significant other, family member, friend and they are a great support, it’s not the same as going to therapy (even if one of these people are therapist’s themselves).
Thank you so much for your interview, Brennan!
If you are struggling with starting the conversation about mental health, check out my top tips.
Brennan is a Licensed Professional Counselor from Philadelphia, PA. He is passionate about sharing information about mental health and the process of therapy. The Web Shrink hopes to reduce the stigma of mental health issues and encourage readers to consider therapy a helpful tool in recovery.