Monthly Archives: December 2011

This New Year Bring Change 2 Mind

1 in 6 adults has a brain-related illness including depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD and schizophrenia.

A week or two ago I stumbled upon an article that intrigued me by Glenn Close. Yes, the celebrity Glenn Close.

“Mental Illness: The Stigma of Silence” discusses both Hollywood’s portrayal of mental illness and the steps Close has taken to try and help alleviate the stigma around mental illness. Close has a sister with bipolar disorder, and a nephew with schizophrenia.

More interesting to me, though, is the group that she helped found called Bring Change 2 Mind.

I held off on writing about it because it seemed like the perfect topic for the new year.

I’m not one for making resolutions, especially when so many people associate new years resolutions with dieting. BUT, I encourage you to visit bringchange2mind.org and consider taking the pledge.

Bring Change 2 Mind is all about helping erase the stigma that surrounds mental illness.

The website boasts two goals:

  1. Provide people who have misconceptions about mental illness quick and easy access to information that combats stigma.
  2. Provide people who have mental illness, and those who know them, quick and easy access to information and support.

The Pledge is for anyone who is living with a mental illness, knows someone with a mental illness, or anyone who just wants to help. The goal is to make a change one person at a time.

Here’s the pledge, taken directly from the website:

I pledge to follow the Bring Change 2 Mind principles:

For people living with mental illness:

  • I am living with a mental illness that is treatable and manageable.
  • I am a valuable and valued person and I deserve to be treated with respect.
  • I am responsible for the decisions and choices I make in my life.
  • Educating myself about the symptoms of my illness, and any side effects I may have from treatment, will help me find and use the resources I need to work toward stability.
  • Communicating about my experiences with others will help them support me in difficult times and keep me “on track.”
  • If I am feeling suicidal, it is critical that I reach out for help, for in the face of real pain and suffering, it is others who can help me with a commitment to live.
  • I can reduce stigma in myself and in others by being open about living with mental illness, naming it out loud, and raising people’s awareness.

For everyone:

  • It is likely that someone I know is living with a mental illness and that fear of stigma may be preventing them from accepting their illness and seeking help.
  • I can make a difference by learning about mental health issues and the devastating effects of stigma.
  • If someone I know exhibits sudden changes in behavior, I will pay attention and reach out to them.
  • If someone I know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, I will take it seriously and make every effort to ensure they get help.
  • I will not perpetuate or tolerate stigma of any kind and will commit myself to changing the way society views people living with mental illness.

The website has a form you can submit in order to solidify your pledge, and I encourage anyone who is serious about helping erase stigma to check it out.

We need your help in order to make change, please consider ringing in the new year with a pledge to improve the lives of those living with mental illness. I made the pledge, will you?

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2011: KO

This has been a big year for me. Huge. It has certainly been rough. Another hospitalization under the belt, the loss of three more jobs, 15 more medications that I’ve crossed off the list to try, and I know I could go on forever lamenting about how 2011 wasn’t my year.

Instead I’ve decided to consider what I’ve accomplished.

At first, the only thing I could think of was that I am now able to make a mean pizza (dough and all) from scratch. That doesn’t sound like much, but you haven’t tasted it! That is something I’m pretty proud of.

In the realm of food, I’ve made huge improvements this year. I’m eating vegetables, broccoli, and a multitude of other things that I never imagined I could ever like. I’ve really wrestled the portion of OCD that was trying to control what I was eating to the ground, which is excellent.

I joined the Seattle Weaving Guild, wove my first rug, legitimately sold my first pieces of art, built a loom in my living room, applied for my first grant, and started this blog. Some good, solid advancement in my creative endeavors, certainly more than I did on that front the year before.

I helped (as much as I could) with wedding arrangements as a bridesmaid in my friend’s wedding while being severely depressed. That one alone still shocks me a little bit because of the fear I had at the time that I couldn’t do it.

I found myself a therapist.

I found myself a psychiatrist.

I taught Luna (our dog) 3 new tricks, including shaking hands.

I “came out” to many friends and family members as being both a bisexual individual and having bipolar disorder.

When the time came, I chose to be hospitalized again instead of choosing violence or suicide. Anyone who has had to make that decision knows that in the moment, it is not an easy one to make.

I tried the path of modern medicine & pharmaceuticals again, despite my inclination not to, and my psychiatrist respected the decisions I made about them.

I applied for state disability (even though I felt ashamed) so I could still put food on our table.

I’ve put one foot in front of another to drag myself out of the obnoxious pit of depression, even if some yucky squid-type creature is down there and going to pull me back down again.

I am making an effort to be more open about having bipolar disorder.

I completed 6 months of documented mood charts that will help me identify patterns in mood changes and other possible triggers.

I got a new job, one that I have actually been enjoying!

Together, these things make me feel strong. Even though it was a difficult year, that just means all the more triumph when I’ve defeated it.

2011, consider this me punching you in the face*.

*Que that terrible "I Get Knocked Down" Chumba Wumba song.

The thing I saw this year that truly amazed and inspired me was my boyfriend’s reaction when I began to get seriously ill this spring, and when that triggered an episode of major depression and hospitalization.

He could have bailed on me, made me feel guilty about disrupting our lives (and especially about losing my job), or he could have let bipolar disorder (which has been there all along, he just hadn’t seen it in full bloom yet) shake the foundation of our relationship.

Somehow, he didn’t do any of those things.

He has been supportive and reassuring in a way that I didn’t know was possible. This year I’ve been channeling his strength and patience, and somehow that paid off.

Ghost of Seattle Past

You know those moments where you run into someone from your past you had a bad breakup with? It doesn’t even have to be a romantic breakup, it could be a platonic one. Either way, the feeling isn’t usually good.

I’m not sure why I blunder into these situations feeling so optimistic. It never seems to enter my mind that there’s a possibility that we’ll be standing in the same room and the other person will just continue to hate me. Outwardly. And it is never really angrily, just shyly. Shy hate. Shate.

Apparently it had been too long since this happened to me because I felt good walking into this situation last night. I was excited to see this ghost from my past, we used to be like two peas in a pod. So how weird is it to be somewhere, still somehow saying the same things at the same time, being two peas, when one pea hates the other?

The second pea is actively attempting to cut its own pod off just to get away from the pea that is me.

In this situation my brain switches over to competitive mode, and I always believe that I might have a chance of winning this friend back. Unfortunately, any additional laughter, reminiscing, and charm only makes the person run away from me faster, further, and more tight-lipped.

And I’m left with that feeling of rejection all over again.

 

It’s been a few years since I’ve been straight-up friend dumped, but when the flood of feelings and memories returned last night from the last time it happened I was a mess.

It isn’t often that I slip away from myself on the bus, letting my eyes glaze over without caring where we’re driving. I almost missed my stop, and that spiraling negativity in my brain resonated above any amount of chatter in my ears.

I don’t know the last time I fell that far that fast, and I spent all night pretty violently ill. The nausea was so bad I couldn’t sleep.

 

Thankfully this morning I am feeling a lot better, and I’m able to recognize that this is a pattern for me. It is easy for me not to be friends with ex-boyfriends, but what about wanting to be friends with ex-friends? I should really have a policy on that, a straight up no frexes rule (no being friends with exes).

It was really hard for me to draw the line in the sand with not being friends with people I’ve dated. Being friends is something that seems like a great idea in theory, but I’ve seen myself getting hurt by those friendships over and over and over again.

I guess that just means I need to do the same thing with friends who have dumped me. It is just hard when these are people I had so many fun times with, but clearly the aftermath isn’t good for me -even years after the original dumping.

Well, I have a ton of great friends now, and until last night I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything anyway.

Friends, you are awesome.

Where the Wild Things Are

Last night I was re-watching the new Spike Jonze remake of the children’s classic Where the Wild Things Are.

The first time I saw it was at the Imax downtown, and as I left the theater I was engulfed by a sea of grumbling parents. The movie, in their opinion, was too depressing, and therefore not suitable for their children.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this story, Maurice Sendak’s original book is about an unruly child named Max who is sent to bed without supper as punishment for his bad behavior. Max, who dons a wolf costume not dissimilar to footy pajamas, uses his imagination to enter the land where the wild things are.

Now the movie adaptation is a little different, and Spike Jonze (who is famous primarily for the films Adaptation and Being John Malkovitch) is notorious for intricate layering of themes. Let me just describe to you what this film said to me.

In the beginning of Where the Wild Things Are we watch Max doing the usual kid stuff, building snow forts, throwing snowballs, but he is alone. He can’t get the attention of his sister or mother, and when he becomes upset his temper explodes. He destroys things, makes a huge mess, and at one point even bites his mother. After these tantrums you can watch him come back down to earth, realizing what he’d done, and becoming depressed about his actions and how he can’t seem to control them.

Instantly I was invested in this film because I saw myself in this child. I too had a wicked temper, and beyond explosively breaking a number of things I shouldn’t have as a child, the minutes afterward are what I remember best. Suddenly realizing what I had done and that I couldn’t undo it, and being upset that I didn’t have control over myself.

Max’s mother shouts, “What is wrong with you?”

To which Max replies, “It’s not my fault.”

Max sees himself as a “wild thing” -as a monster basically. He can’t control himself, and that’s why he runs away to live among other wild things.

And this is where one might argue that meeting and befriending these monsters suggest Max is familiarizing himself with the monsters within himself, the part of him that makes him act out or feel depressed.

When he meets these monsters, Max is elated (and a little frightened) so he composes grandiose lies about himself until they crown him king. He promises to unite the monsters (whom have been having fights lately) so they can all live peacefully.

Joy, adventures, and impulsiveness ensues.

Sound familiar? This portion appears very similar to mania to me. Max makes himself the king of the world, then creates grandiose plans to build the most epic fort ever built.

The monsters biggest concern for Max is this,

“Will you keep the sadness away?”

The sadness in the film is very much like depression for those of us with bipolar disorder. It shows up no matter what we might do to combat it sometimes, but it can be easy in times of mania to think we have the power to keep it at bay.

As you can imagine, as hard as Max tries, he can’t keep the sadness away. It creeps back into the story until the monster’s turn on both him and each other, and then another destructive outburst takes place.

The expansive loneliness and sadness that Spike Jonze depicts hits depression right on the nose to me, and the whole story felt so familiar and true that I was surprised to hear the parents exclaim the movie was too depressing for their children.

This film is a perfect representation of what it felt like to be a child to me, and the subsequent struggle of wrestling with those “inner monsters” that kept turning on me.

No, there are no musical numbers, no brightly-colored cartoon characters, but there is humor. It may not distract from the difficulty of being a child (or in my case the difficulty of mental illness) but I consider that valuable.

When the monsters turn on him, Max returns home with a suggested new-found appreciation for his mother. He’s had to spend time looking closely at those monsters so he can now appreciate how difficult it can be to parent him.

Now, I’m sure my interpretation isn’t the singular interpretation of this story, and Spike Jonze stories always have more interpretations than most. Maybe he meant to capture something of bipolar disorder in this film, but it is just as likely that he didn’t. What I do know, though, is that it says something pretty bluntly about how I grew up and how I still feel. If that makes this inappropriate or dangerous for children to watch by normal standards, all the better.

Pants on Fire

So I mentioned manipulation, but it’s a complicated matter.

When I was young I lied. A lot. It was almost a compulsive thing for me because I reached the point where I was constantly testing people to see if they could discern my lies from the truth.

For the most part, they couldn’t. And that’s where I begin to feel shame about the matter, because for a time it seemed that I could use this skill for good or for evil, and I didn’t exactly use it for good. I let myself run away for a little bit with the idea of being a con artist, and for a few moments it went flawlessly.

And that’s when I began to get nervous.

What fun is life if people just give you whatever you want?

The thrill came from the idea of being caught, but everything I did seemed too easy. It may seem bizarre, but I’m the sort of person that needs a challenge.

And on top of that, the relationships I was creating were completely fictitious. It was a game, and when I began to try to make real relationships I found that I was having trouble stopping myself from lying.

So I’ve instigated a “no lying” policy, I did so a long time ago. I don’t need to lie to get people’s attention or to get them to like me because I am a genuinely interesting person. That, and I don’t care if people like me anymore. With 7 billion people in the world, if a handful don’t like me I’m not going to lose sleep over it.

Every once in a while something will slip out though, a not-exactly lie that morphs into a lie later. Or maybe I’m trying to say one thing, but I’m feeling a little manic and something else comes out of my mouth.

It usually happens with therapists, that’s why I hadn’t had one in a while until recently. It is difficult for me to have a professional relationship built on trust because once one little lie happens, even if accidentally, I feel compelled to keep lying about it. Since this usually compromises my “no lying” policy I sever my ties and get a new therapist.

I need to be able to be honest with my therapist, so once I feel the need to compulsively lie I’m really bad at knowing how to stop. So much so that it has always seemed easier to find a new therapist than stop.

Back when I first met the man who is now my boyfriend I knew right away that he was going to be an important person in my life because I made some kind of comment (that may have been a lie) and he totally called me out on it, right then and there. Nobody has ever done that in my life, and the concept that this guy had just seen right through me felt like a miracle.

This creates an interesting dynamic between the two of us, and for every time he’s thwarted one of my lies my anxiety about lying to him increases ten-fold. Somehow this is positive anxiety though, it’s a beautiful buffer that keeps me from even thinking about lying to him, and it keeps the relationship honest.

Well the problem I’m facing now is that it happened again. Not with my therapist, but with a co-worker. I said something which was true one day, but then the next day it became a lie. When asked, I  continued talking about it, and it has rolled into a big snowball now that keeps chasing me around.

I talked to my therapist about it and obviously she wasn’t thrilled, and I know I need to kill this thing once and for all.

The biggest issue here is that I’m pretty sure I’m going to need to erase the first lie with a second lie, which just feels ridiculous. If I get found out, if I tell this person that I’ve been lying there could be serious consequences.

I should know better by now, and I can’t believe this is an issue again.

It is those moments when I finally feel like I break free from the stigma around mental illness that I get pinned down by it again. If I could have been open about my situation I wouldn’t be having this problem, but after the things I’ve heard this person say to me just “between the two of us” I know they wouldn’t respond well.

I’ve lost two jobs this year because of discrimination and stigma, after getting burned like that I’m not sure I’m ready to put myself out there to lose anything else. At the same time, I’ve dug a hole for myself and lined it with sharp, pointy sticks and I keep waiting for myself to fall inside.

I’m going to decide on my next move before going back to work in 2012. I’m sure I can make this work out, I just need to figure out the right thing to say.

Holiday Headache

Last night was the first night in weeks that I slept 9 straight hours without waking up once.

Normally I wake up anywhere from 3 to a dozen times over the course of the night while I’m trying to sleep but last night I was so exhausted from the Christmas whirlwind that within minutes of laying down I was completely out. That chunk of sleep left me feeling more relaxed than I have felt in weeks.

I had a pretty fierce migraine for the duration of Christmas day but enjoyed myself as best I could. By the end of the day I was having some trouble speaking and my mind’s eye, like looking down a long paper tube into the living room, had shut itself down and was residing a comfortable distance from the action.

Thinking about that pain today brings back my concern about the mega-headache.

Not long after new year’s this last year I had a headache that had me almost completely incapacitated for six weeks straight. No amount of CT scans, MRI’s, injected pain medication, or migraine medicines were able to pinpoint or solve what it was, and for months afterward all my neurologist would say is, “well we’ll just have to see if it happens again.”

Since then the headache broke up until I went from having a headache for 23 hours a day, to 22, 21, and so-on until it dissipated, leaving me with random, more sporadic crippling, migraine-like headaches.

I was very thankful to hear that I don’t have a brain tumor or something of that nature, but it is very frustrating to be living in fear of this phenomenon recurring without warning. Any time I feel that unrelenting pain like knives in my head, it brings with it the concern that it might not end.

Otherwise, Christmas was good. Lots of good food, good stories, and family time. No particular bipolar-type episodes, which is lucky because those migraines can trigger them for me.

It’s a Christmas Miracle!

We planned on getting a rental car to head up to Whidbey Island today. There has been a little bit of discrepancy about it because of the requirements for getting a rental car, which we’ve ran into once before in Los Angeles.

Though we’ve lived together for 4 years, we are not married. That means that rental car agencies will not let us pool our resources between the two of us. I’ve never had a driver’s license (I’ve always had too much anxiety to be able to drive) so I can’t get a rental car on my own, but even if my man did the driving, the rental car companies wont let me pay or use my credit card for the deposit.

I had nightmares all night about the car not working out (particularly because of the lack of a back-up plan). We made plans with my dad, with my grandma, and with my mom over the course of the next two days -all of which are very heavily dependent on us being able to reach Whidbey Island.

First thing this morning my nightmares were realized.

We didn’t get the car.

I’ve made a pact with myself about not manipulating people (something I’ll come back to in a post in a couple days), but boy was I sad about that when I heard we weren’t getting a car. I hate to say this, but as a woman I have a useful tool for situations like this one: crying. Had I been given about 20 minutes in that rental agency (I stayed home this morning) I honestly believe I could have gotten them to change their minds.

But it’s better this way, right? Christmas isn’t about lying and cheating, so it is probably best that I left that one alone.

In any case, four phone calls later and my dad has agreed to drive the two hours each way to come pick us up.

Have I mentioned that my dad is a rockstar? He just single-handedly saved Christmas!

That isn’t the miracle though.

The Christmas Miracle is the fact that I didn’t find the news that the rental car fell through completely devastating (as I normally find anything that puts a huge dent in my plans).

I didn’t have a panic attack!

I didn’t even cry!

I didn’t have to lock myself in the bedroom for 30 minutes to let my brain rework what happened so that I could move on.

Today the Christmas Miracle is the beautiful (albeit probably singular) instance of flexibility that I was able to exhibit. It is a rare and mysterious thing to me normally, so I can’t be grateful enough.

Merry Christmas!