Category Archives: mental illness

Symbiotic Salvation

As you may know, I’ve been feeding/caring for a random cat that’s shown up at our apartment. I can’t help myself, and to be fair, Chris can’t either.

While we’d seen him strolling around the neighborhood regularly, we first “met” him in January, when he marched up to us while leaving the house early one morning, chatty & looking for attention.

We named him Vic (Very Important Cat). And then we didn’t see him again until March, when he started appearing at our place on a regular basis, wearing a collar that was a bit too tight.  So we continued to feed & care for him, and he returned regularly, one day without the collar. He started spending so much time at our kitchen door, we bought a collar & attached a note, asking his “people” to call or text us if he was their cat. Within 12 hours, the breakaway collar was gone — and no calls, despite our best hope. Whether or not a human removed it, we’ll never know. He’s a great cat. Affectionate, chatty, handsome. Content to just be “around”. But he deserves better, as he’s clearly domesticated, but uncared for — at least in recent weeks, as evidenced by some wounds that could use a vet’s attention.

Caring for Vic has been a lifeline for me in some regards. Over the past few months, I’ve been falling down the rabbit hole of mental health issues. Again. It started with what I considered run of the mill anxiety & I found myself in familiar, unpleasant territory. I couldn’t focus on everyday tasks, regular duties & responsibilities were overwhelming, additional projects sent me into a full-blown panic. The harder I tried to rein it in, to maintain a level of “normal”, the worse it became.

When the physical symptoms of chronic neck pain & headaches arrived, with the new addition of auditory issues, I knew it was time to schedule an intake again at My Therapy Institute. It’s been about 4 years since I’ve been in treatment, and I’ve found myself here again, back in therapy & on medication. And a new diagnosis of Bipolar II. The diagnosis isn’t “new”, I just wouldn’t hear it last time. I had previously fought against it, saying it wasn’t me, it didn’t apply. But the reality now is that it does apply, and I’m okay with it.

Over the past few weeks, caring for this random cat has given me a little light while I navigate these waters again, armed with a compass & spyglass this time around. I’m taking care of him, taking care of me.  We both deserve better.

 

this time we go a little lower

My lifelong battles with depression & anxiety are well-chronicled on these pages. Just words.

Last week I fired up a limping laptop that I haven’t used in a number of years, looking for specific photos to move for future use. While scrolling through a untitled album that contained roughly 1000 photos, I found a series of self portraits taken when I was in my deepest, darkest places around 2006-2008. Before the hospital, before therapy, before medication. They knocked the breath from me. So often we don’t know how bad it is until much, much later.

My photo editing skills have dramatically improved over the years, and I must have deleted the original files, as I’d edit them much differently now. Maybe that’s okay. They speak for themselves, to specific point in my life. A place I don’t want to revisit, but always lives in the fringes.

Extraordinary Machine

One of the mantras that I keep on mental speed dial is the fact that I’m not alone in my brand of crazy. When Jenny Lawson posted this yesterday about how mental illness has affected her & what she’s learned to help others, I figured I’d toss in my two cents. Because loneliness & feeling like you’re the only one can really put the thumb screws to you.  And me.

How Mental Illness Has Affected Me: I’ve been like this as far back as I can remember, cycles of years, a roller coaster. There are labels: Major Depressive Disorder, Chronic Anxiety, PTSD. Therapy, meds, a hospitalization or three, therapy. It affects every area of my life, every relationship that I have. Working in retail, I sometimes fight regularly to keep my head up and get on with it. More often than not, one issue will outweigh the others, like my recent bouts of crippling anxiety.

What I’ve Learned: While the past few years have been relatively even keeled (compared to the mid to late 00s), I know that I become suicidal every year, like clockwork, from the end of January to the beginning of April. As a result, I know how & when to ask for help. I know that my body lies, that my issues manifest themselves in my limbs, my stomach, my neck, in chronic infections that don’t clear up despite the antibiotics.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned, and just in the past few months, is that I have to try. To make a conscious effort despite what the choir of assholes in my head tell me, to prove them wrong with my actions. The world will continue to rotate on it’s axis despite the crushing feeling in my chest. The more I invest in myself, the more I take care of myself, the better I feel. Some days I do better than others.

I have to keep hope, even if it’s just a nearly invisible silk thread. If I have a really lousy day, when my head is all fucked up & I can’t seem to keep it together for one more goddamn minute, I know there’s tomorrow. If I can keep that hope, hang onto that silk thread, I can make it.

And maybe tomorrow won’t be as bad.

You are not alone, I promise. (I’m writing this for me, too)

Ghosts of Hospitals Past

Every once in awhile, usually in the shower or while grooming cats, I find myself thinking about random people I’ve been in treatment with over the years.  In 20 years, I’ve been inpatient 3 times.  Once was for rehab, the other 2 for mental health, although I found myself on the dual diagnosis units for all my visits.  I wrote about that once.

During my last visit, a little over three years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting a young woman named NaNa.  She was not a pleasure.  At about 22, with expensively colored hair & top of the line cosmetics, she played tough, bad ass.  She & her cronies sat in the back of every mandatory unit meeting or group function.  Sometimes laughing, bickering.  Sometimes causing such a disturbance she had to be forcibly removed by staff.

NaNa’s legal name was Pauline or Melissa or Michele.  At least that’s what it said in the bracket outside of her room, which was next to mine.  I kept my distance from her at every opportunity.  There was something about her that frightened me, even when she’d been sedated to the point of wearing the same pair of hospital scrub pants for three consecutive days.

She had a tic.  She clapped.  In the middle of an AA meeting, she’d sit towards the back of the room, cause a ruckus, and clap twice.  The clapping was a precursor of being removed – she’d get so angry afterwards, even though the rest of us mostly ignored her, maybe out of a similar level of discomfort.

At morning “goals group”, we gave our moods on a 1-10 scale, our goals for the day (family meeting, seeing about discharge/halfway house/jail/etc, not puking up one’s guts) and whether or not we could “contract for safety” (i.e. not gonna harm yourself or others, right? RIGHT?)  When it was NaNa’s turn, she sighed dramatically & mumbled something about being nice to everyone today.  Apparently, her therapist/social worker/shrink gave her the challenge of complimenting each patient TO said patient.  Everybody.  Every single last one of us.

She got to me in the afternoon, outside on smoke break.  I sat at one of the metal table-bench combos that were affixed to the concrete in our enclosed courtyard.  I had been writing & smoking furiously and when she approached me, I was annoyed.

“Hi.”

“Hey NaNa.”

“Can I have a smoke?”

I pulled one from the pack & handed it to her.  I learned years ago to never just hand a pack over.  I held out my cigarette so she could light hers from mine, saving her the walk back to the tech/lighter nazi at the door.

“What’s the deal with your hair?” she inquired.  I had dreadlocks at the time, long & snaking down my back.  Most of the time, I wore them up.  It was summer & and they were hot, and quite the conversation starter when you’re locked up with 30 other people.

“Well, I’ve always thought they were beautiful, so I thought I’d grow them”, I explained.

“Huh.” she muttered.

She spun on the bench away from me, her “8 shades of butterscotch” hair cutting through the space.  She stood up, crushed her barely smoked cigarette & yawned.

“You’d look better without them” she advised as she stomped away.

And then I realized that was my compliment from NaNa.  I laughed and resumed my time allotted smoking & writing session.

I always wondered what happened to her.  The day I was discharged, she went to court, only to be sent back because she “acted out”.  The last time I saw her, she was pouting in borrowed clothes, knees up at her chest.  Her hair & makeup were amazing, but you could tell The Crazy bubbling at the surface.  She’s probably in the system somewhere.  Correctional, psychiatric.  Either/or.

When you’re on a unit or in a hospital, you learn more intimate details about people in three days than you may know about a friend you’ve had for twenty years.  These people have stuck in my head for various reasons.  Like the young artist at first hospital who huffed paint.  Or the two women I shared a room with during my second “stay”.  Women with husbands, kids, careers. I was only 19, their lives & challenges were unfamiliar.

Maybe I felt sorry for NaNa, despite how she frightened me.  Maybe I wanted to hug her.  Maybe I was so fucking glad I wasn’t her.

Dr. Bat’s Last Word

re·sil·ience

   [ri-zil-yuhns, -zil-ee-uhns]  Show IPA
noun

1. the power or ability to return to the original form, position,etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched; elasticity.
2. ability to recover readily from illness, depression,adversity, or the like; buoyancy.
Apparently this is a quality I lack, according to my now ex-psychiatrist.  Let me explain.
When I cancelled my therapy appointment on Tuesday to spend it with my husband’s family as my brother in law died, my therapist called me to check in.  I gave her the quick & dirty, then she cracked a joke “So I see you have an appointment with Dr. Bat tomorrow. Getting in on her last day, huh?”
What.The.Fuck.Chuck.
I did not know that my psychiatrist was leaving MyTherapyInstitute.  A bombshell.  Yes, I have had my arguments, disagreements & butting of heads with Dr. Bat, but in the past six months, I had to learn to trust her. So I was fairly pissed off at not being notified of her impending departure.
On Wednesday I showed up for my appointment with my jaw set & a crappy attitude.  Part petulant teenager, part seething adult.  She noted my sarcasm immediately and was dismayed that I had not received the letter that was sent out notifying her patients.  I grunted at her in acknowledgement.
We went through my meds & decided, just for kicks, to give one last spin on the Medication Roulette wheel.  Wheeeeee! While I gave a rousing “HELL NO” to the Ritalin regime she offered, I did concede to switching out one anti-depressant for another. So it’s still four meds, just a brand new flavor.
While she wrote my scripts, I eyed the clock, noticing I had about 7 minutes left.
“So in ten minutes you’re no longer my shrink”, I stated.
“That’s right”
“So tell me, straight out, how I can get better?” I asked.  Like I thought she’d been holding out on me these past three years.
She leaned back in her chair & looked me in the eye.  After apologizing slightly for not feeling like she was truly able to help me, she laid the word out.
“Resilience, Barbara”
And then she continued, “I have a patient, a woman with MS who is wheelchair bound, who comes through my door smiling every time…”
She prattled on, but I had already tuned her out.  I failed at being a good, functioning nutjob.  Isn’t that funny?
At one point during the session, she confessed to not really knowing me, or knowing enough about me to truly help me.  But I only saw her for 20 minutes at a clip, a few times a year.  She only asked about my medications, a few general life questions, and if I had any suicidal thoughts.  Like clockwork.  It’s my therapists job to “know” me, and my psychiatrist’s job to chemically “right” me.  At least that’s how it works at MyTherapyInstitute.
I’m not resilient? I’m alive.  I’m breathing.  I have a job.  I pay my bills.  I am in a healthy, stable relationship.  I have hobbies and friends.  I’m nice to small animals & most children.
I’m not resilient? I’ve lived though rape, choosing adoption for my only child, divorce, miscarriages, deaths of loved ones.
I’m not resilient? I’ve owned a small business (or two), read voraciously & make weird magnets and things.
She handed me my scripts and I stood up.  I walked over to her, shook her hand, and wished her luck on her future endeavors.  At reception, I was given an appointment for the next month, with the doctor’s space left blank.
I never really saw eye to eye with her anyway.

My Human Emotions are Illogical

One of the biggest hurdles I battle with my particular brand of Crazy is feeling invalidated with a dash of slight paranoia.  As in, if I’m legitimately upset/angry/frustrated/sad, it’s not perceived by others as such.  Frustration is not something I handle well on the best day.  Even in grammar school, there were always caveats on my report card next to “Handles Emotions Appropriately”.

When I’m upset/angry/frustrated/sad, I cry.  It’s a knee jerk reaction.  The more I try to control it, the deeper the sobbing.  If I try to communicate why I’m crying (upset/angry/frustrated/sad), I feel this is what people are thinking:

– Damn, is Barb on new meds? Hope they kick in soon.

– Damn, did Barb go OFF her meds?

– Damn, Barb is a mess.  You’d think all those meds & therapy would make her better.

– So Barb’s upset. AGAIN. Big fucking deal.

– Let’s poke Barb with sharp sticks to see if she’ll cry some more.

– Damn, get a fucking grip, Barb.

Projection much?

I’m always wondering if I’m being taken seriously when I’m in a major depressive period.  Is it ME? Is it THEM? Is it the CRAZY? Is it just normal life stuff that normal people handle without incident?  I’m constantly checking & rechecking my emotions to see if I’m “well within my rights” to be upset/angry/frustrated/sad.  It’s exhausting & somewhat confusing.  I’m always reading people “wrong”, hence the paranoia.

There are times when I think it is a miracle that I’m still here (and living to write about it).  I try to keep my focus on “better” times, knowing they’ve surely got to swing back in my direction, that it can’t rain all the time.  In the meantime, however, I’ll be giving you the side eye when we talk.  Even if you don’t notice it.

It’s not you. It’s me.

Flying Monkeys

I’ve had a pretty weird couple of weeks.  In my head.  Yeah, Hurricane Irene was a pleasant distraction for a few days.

I’ve had to change my priorities.  I threw myself a big ole’ pity party for myself.  Although pleasant for awhile (I do throw engaging parties in my head), it’s been time to just snap the fuck out of it.  I think I’ve had enough baby/child/motherhood loss for a lifetime.

Moving on.

(I may feel differently next week, of course)

Moving on.

I’ve spent years trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.  Some things are just not meant to be.

He & I, we’ve been stuck in this rut.  This constant cycle of mourning, sadness, depression.  There’s a better life out there for us.  I think we need to open up the curtains a bit & see.  Maybe just a little at a time.

It’s okay to re-prioritize. Shake things up a bit.  Coming to a place where I can finally say “I’m okay with not having children”, is a hard, weird road for me.   Perhaps I need to sleep at the Rest Stop for awhile.

Moving on.

 

365

a year ago i was sitting in a behavioral hospital, medicated to the gills.  while this isn’t something that i advertise in daily life, i’m not exactly ashamed of it either.

i’m no more mentally ill than you.

grief is a tricky little demon.  because i walked around those first few years buying into the dream of OA, i couldn’t see the big picture.  i didn’t grieve, because this was GREAT!  the best option, because The Kiddo “deserved someone better than me”. when the fog lifted in full a few years ago, it was an unfortunate bitch-slap.

i started howling.

not baying at the moon in the backyard, but internally.  hence the ulcers, the years of stomach problems in general, the gradual settling in of deep depression.  i still believed that the people in my life who love me didn’t want to hear how much emotional pain i was suffering., how i hurt.

i’ve learned somewhere along the way that some external howling isn’t such a  bad thing.  literally.  i’ve waded in some deep water, howling my fucking head off in my therapist’s office.  it has allowed me to get to the root of some issues, to say things that i’ve buried because i believed it would make me a lousy person if they came to light.  through the tears & the sobbing & the inevitable gnashing of teeth that come with my particular brand of howling, i’m finally getting somewhere.

adoption has become part & parcel to who i am.  finding a proper place for it has been the tricky part.  fortunately, there is & always been plenty of space for the Kiddo.

n00b

i’m on my third therapist at YourTherapyInstitute. my first one left and the second one i was assigned ended up not being able to see me due to insurance foul-ups. i could tell that Ivana Know, the Outpatient Director, was feeling pretty poorly about assigning me AGAIN. but assign me she did. unfortunately, i ended up going about 6 weeks without therapy while all of this was going on, which is a long time for someone like me.

i’ve now seen my New New Therapist, Samantha, 3 times. i dig her. she gets my sense of humor, and although she’s primarily a Children’s Therapist (the irony is NOT lost on me), we seem to get on just fine.

at my last session, we were all over the map topic-wise, finally settling into adoption. my ire was provoked, and stoked, by the impending holidays. she let me ramble, reining me in when necessary for clarification purposes.

“imagine everybody you know (family, friends, The Agency) telling you that it will get better, that the pain will lessen in time. that one day, when you have ‘children of you own’, it will be better. ‘CHILDREN OF YOUR OWN’? WHAT THE HELL IS THAT? everyone tells you these stupid f*cking platitudes and you know what? IT’S BULLSH*T” i howled, sobbing.

Samantha shifted her weight in her chair. “why do you think people told you that?”

i leaned forward, looking her dead in the eye, my elbows on my knees, “because if they told you the truth, that there are no guarantees, that you might NOT get over it, that maybe you wouldn’t have the opportunity to parent again, that you might regret and feel the grief of this decision every day of your life, nobody would do it. and it makes them feel better. ultimately, its a means to an end. for someone.”

Samantha folded her hands in her lap, her eyes fixed on me. “Barbara, i honestly don’t know what to say at this moment.”

well, that makes two of us.

The Great Pink Elephant Analogy

much like how The Great Dorito Analogy hit me like a ton of bricks, my boss tossed another one at me on Friday, while we were catching up on things.  sometimes it’s really great working for a small business: we’re more like family.  she knows about the Kiddo, about certain circumstances in my life that make living and breathing difficult.  and she’s eternally supportive.  i’m ridiculously lucky in that regard, considering we just got through a very rough patch, and she could have made it unpleasant for me.

i’m driving again!” i exclaimed.
she looked at me blankly, not comprehending.
“um, yeah. i haven’t driven in months.  guess you didn’t know that, huh?”
i went on to explain that i certainly wasn’t going to verbalize, at the time, the things i wasn’t doing.  it was one thing to know that they were watching me toboggan downhill, but to have them actually understand that i was withdrawing from life, well, that would have been TMI.
she cocked her head, shading her eyes from the sun.  “its like there’s a huge pink elephant in the room, and everyone sees it.  you just think everything’s pink, therefore normal.”
well, raise my rent.

specifically when it comes to adoption, Chris is really the only person in my life who understands how difficult (and sometimes traumatic) participating in open adoption is for me.  if i’m sad or grumpy, and tell him that i’m “having a crappy adoption day” (not that there are “great adoption days”, mind you), he understands exactly what that means.  and maybe i’ll talk about it, maybe not.
but i haven’t really talked it about in detail, specifics, in quite awhile.  compounded with the miscarriages, the pink elephant on my life doubled, tripled, quadrupled itself without me even noticing.  indeed, everything looked pink and “normal”.
while the elephant hasn’t diminished in size, i have a little perspective.  i can see the other colors in the room.