Category Archives: Triggers

Catching Up; The SSDI Denial

At this point, more than one curious person has asked me about my attempt in applying for SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) and to be totally honest, it is something I have been trying to write about for a few months now.

I received my denial letter a couple months ago (I submit my application in December 2012) and after all the time that has passed I was overjoyed to receive this denial letter.

The reason I was overjoyed to be denied was because my path through the application process was neither easy or uplifting, to say the least!

My first hurdle was working with a team of lawyers who told me appear and act a certain way. They strongly suggested I give up this blog completely, which I was very uncomfortable with. On one hand, I wanted to win, but I truly believe (as do my family, friends, and doctors) that anyone who understands my symptoms and has seen me interact with others would not doubt my claim that I am unable to hold a full time job. It was important to me through this whole process to hold onto that and to be ok if things didn’t work out (because I had been honest the whole time), but it was very difficult to feel manipulation and pressure by my lawyers who were advising me to do things that would undermine many of the things that keep me afloat enough to survive (blogging, therapy, spending time with other people, etc).

The second hurdle was the judge I was assigned for my hearing back in February 2014. Apparently different judges who are making the decision regarding SSDI claims have different political affiliations, different beliefs about the way SSDI should be structured, and different viewpoints on the topic of mental illness (among other things). I was told my judge was the toughest in the county and to expect that I had a chance of about zero. While I expected that walking in, what I didn’t expect was the way the judge treated me in the hearing.

On one hand I could understand that it was the last hearing of the week on a Friday afternoon, and that maybe he’d had a bad cup of coffee earlier or was anxious to get home… but I was not prepared to be verbally abused in the courtroom. For the next couple months I became psychotic, trapped in my mind where this judge was constantly attacking me. I was so distraught that I consented to try Seroquel again.

The third hurdle was a full investigation of me, as prompted by the judge and federal government. The investigation happened when I was (naturally) experiencing a hypomanic period, seemingly corroborating the theory that the judge had that I was attempting to commit SSDI fraud. Detectives posed as Seattle Police officers to gain entry to my apartment where my fear of the SPD kept me from mentioning anything regarding my own mental health -again seemingly corroborating the theory that I was faking it.

When I received a copy of their report in the mail (along with notations of voice recordings, notes from being tailed for a week, and copies of blog entries I had made that were taken out of context) I began to nosedive into a second psychotic tailspin. The men who were agents for the government had spoken to my landlord, neighbors, even people in a weaving group I had no longer been part of for over a year -all about my mental health. The paranoia became overwhelming, and I could no longer feel comfortable in my apartment knowing that space had been violated… so we moved.

It might not seem like such a surprise now that I was hospitalized around Halloween last year. I could hardly even talk to my grandmother on the telephone for fear that they were listening to me, let alone send emails or write in this blog. My lawyers told me not to talk about it, so I relied heavily on Corey (my boyfriend), my therapist, and my psychiatrist. I provided my healthcare team with copies of the paperwork I had been sent about what happened and they were both horrified and flabbergasted, but ultimately they had proof that I was telling the truth and could corroborate that the situation had triggered the symptoms I was having.

The final hurdle was a second hearing, scheduled to address the findings of the undercover investigation against me. Initially the hearing was scheduled to take place the same week as my birthday in November 2014 but was cancelled by the judge and rescheduled for April 2015 (the same week as Corey & my anniversary… lame!).

For many months it had been clear I wasn’t going to win, I just wanted the inquiries and fear to end. Honestly I expected the judge to berate me further in the hearing, but to my astonishment he was much more polite (my lawyer said that was likely because of the documentation of his actions directly leading to my most recent hospitalization in my file). After the back and forth with my lawyer he simply looked at me and said my file was inconclusive because of how inconsistent everything was, from the notes from my healthcare team, to my work history, to the report from the detectives, etc.

This was the one small window I was waiting for. For the first time I was able to do what I do best; relate my symptoms and experience with someone else in a way they can understand. I told the judge that inconsistency is the very nature of my disability… that I can be simultaneously the best and worst employee you’ve ever had, and that it feels impossible to remain consistent when I might have strong feelings of joy one minute and intense feelings of despair or fear the next. Most of my employers have considered having an unreliable employee worse than a mediocre one, so that inconsistency has been a huge hurdle in trying to remain employed.

He looked admittedly thoughtful and said he would reconsider the evidence. This, if nothing else, helped me shake off the fear and paranoia that had accumulated the past couple years. It was the first opportunity I had to defend myself and my life and my reason for applying, and even if I was denied benefits at that point I was simply happy to be rid of the specter that had been haunting me.

Several months later I received my denial. I am happy because it means I am free. I am no longer worried that the government is watching me (though who knows), and though I might not be able to take care of myself financially, I do have, however briefly, (heh) my sanity.

Typically I pride myself on being open about my life and my emotions, and I genuinely went into this SSDI application situation with the intention of writing about it every step of the way. The whole experience was much different than I expected, despite knowing I would be at a disadvantage because of my age and my disability being a mental disability as opposed to a physical one.

While not having benefits means I am in a difficult spot financially, I have proven the last five years that there are many organizations willing to help support those with mental illness who do not make the applicants sing and dance, or trigger extreme worsening of their symptoms before they are willing to help. While the point of this post isn’t to shake my fist at the government or attempt to bring shame on those involved, I can’t help but question this system after I have experienced it firsthand.

Of course, this comes with my usual reminder that this was a situation that happened to me. While I have heard many accounts of people in my local support groups achieving SSDI benefits, I haven’t heard many stories like mine… and though I don’t know if they’re out there, I wouldn’t be surprised if people aren’t completely terrified to share them (I sure was!). This is not the inevitable end of every SSDI application, just one, and to me it seems like one worth pondering.

Ultimately, being under the scrutiny of the federal government was one of the least fun adventures I’ve ever had in my life…

I’ve never been so happy to be denied something before!

I do not intend to reapply any time in the immediate future because, well, I can’t without some kind of proof of my symptoms worsening, for one. Even if I could reapply immediately I don’t think I would, based on how emotionally and mentally overwhelming the whole experience was. I really need some room to breathe in the mental health department, and I have always had the outlook that I do much better when I am poor and slightly more content than when I opt to trade financial stability for increased emotional instability.

The last two years involved the longest periods of psychosis I have ever experienced, so thank you to my friends and family and anyone who was even the least bit supportive in that period (well, and ever). Sometimes it has felt easy for me to believe in the power of the judicial system and “justice” in America, but realistically it is the sense of community in the people that rally around me that have done the most to help keep me going.

So, no SSDI? Ok. I still consider myself to be one very lucky girl!

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Brain and Body – One Unit

With my next surgery only three weeks away, any sort of mental stability has been… skittish, at best. The nice weather has helped instill some good hypomanic moments, but I have been randomly transforming into a raging hose-beast from anywhere to 5 minutes to several hours at a time. Highlights include when my lawyer told me to “call him back when I felt more emotionally stable,” (good luck there buddy), or my explosion at my boyfriend for [me] not being able to find a reasonable anniversary gift for him. Whoops.

Overall, pain and eating issues/the fact that my body isn’t interested in going more than 15-45 minutes without requiring a restroom has been a large stressful addition to an already jacked up mental state. Not being able to eat the food I want (that would normally comfort me in times of stress) has been pretty difficult, and the embarrassment of having to ask the deli clerk to watch my basket at the grocery store while I use the bathroom three times in one 15 minute visit doesn’t feel so nice either.

Ultimately, the issue that my surgeon found during the last surgery is that my uterus (having grown diseased endometrial tissue) has become connected to my colon. While this seemed weird (and the doctors expressed that feeling too) I imagined the two bound by a small, maybe quarter size area that could be sliced apart… case closed right?

Uterus vs. Colon

Unfortunately that isn’t the situation. My uterus is now holding my colon hostage and is connected for a long stretch of both. I am happy that this explains the pain, nausea, and inability to eat… as well as some other, less pretty problems I’ve been having, but the fix isn’t quite so quick as I might have imagined.

Why even write about that here? I mean, I thought about that, and I thought about not going so in-depth about a health problem that isn’t mental health related.

Oh wait! But it IS!

The biggest issue my doctors and surgeons have had to wrap their head around is that I have a pretty severe case of bipolar disorder. Because of this, many aspects of my symptoms, my treatments, and my recovery are different from most people.

My symptoms include physical pain, but this is a big purveyor of emotional stress for me, which means triggers for emotional outbursts and episodes . At the same time, my symptoms of being unable to eat a long list of yummy things (dairy, beef, spices that aren’t salt, fatty or fried foods, seafood, acidic foods, the list goes on…) disrupts my typical “self-care” routine when it comes to finding joy in what I am eating. Having less options to draw on in maintaining my mental stability means less stability!

My treatment of this health problem is atypical because all typical treatments (using hormone therapy) trigger severe emotional reactions for me. That means the best option I have is a procedure (hysterectomy) that is normally reserved for women much older than me. Granted, I have never been interested in having children (so I dodged a bullet there) but upcoming surgery is, again, stressful, and despite my disinterest in having children my subconscious is still grappling with the idea and I’ve had nightmares every night.

My recovery will also be different than the norm because I have the added risk of post-surgery medications triggering episodes (like last surgery). Once again, the pool of self-care resources I will have will diminish as I will be immobile, and feeling “trapped” has always been a big trigger for me. The physical pain will continue to be an issue for a while and there is the possibility I will need to be on a liquid diet for a while as well (depending on how much surgery is done on my colon). So, um… stress much?

All in all, there is no separating my mental and physical health from one another. Even though my brain isn’t down in my abdomen having tug-of-war party with my uterus and colon, they are connected. It’s called a body! It is generally considered one unit.

At any rate, this is a situation that I know will require physical work. It will require mental work. It will require emotional work. If that is the price it takes at a chance of feeling better, as usual, I will take it.

 

Whispers in the Workplace

Something I’ve noticed right away after re-entering the world of the cubicle dweller is the amount of whispering.

I mean, obviously whispering is needed, otherwise everyone would practically be yelling everything to hear over one another talking, but whispering also is an important element to workplace gossip, something that I have a huge amount of disdain for.

As I have sat at my desk and heard voices around me drop from their usual volume to a whisper, there is something in that moment that triggers terror in my mind. Maybe it is something that comes with us from our early school years, I really couldn’t say, but I know that hearing that particular transition (of full volume to a whisper) is something that makes my anxiety shoot through the roof.

As disturbing as this situation has been, I don’t find it quite as disturbing as something else involving whispers.

There have been several days at work now where I’ve gotten confused. Not extremely confused, but a little, about where the realm of reality stops and fiction begins. There are times where I wouldn’t call myself psychotic, but more on the precipice of psychosis, where that edge has become blurred and I’m not quite sure at what point I’m stepping over it.

One day, for example, I was feeling quite convinced that every face I saw that day was a face I’ve seen elsewhere. Something of a Wizard of Oz feeling, like waking up and saying, “you were there! And you! And you!”. Many of the people in my office are people I’ve worked with before, so that is where that blurred line comes in. To some degree, I am sure I was recognizing people I actually knew, but I am afraid it may have just been lumping everyone in that category, at that point.

There are other things, like technology, that have played tricks on me and make me believe I am nearing a psychotic state. Sending an email that says one thing, and then getting a reply where my original email attached says something completely different. Is it me? Is it technology? Am I not remembering things happening?

It is scary sometimes, to say the least, but more frustrating than anything.

Nothing, however, brings out those psychotic sorts of feelings like people whispering does. If I ever thought to myself, “you know what would be great right now? Some paranoia,” then by all means, whisper your hearts out.

For some reason, when a lot of whispering is going on around me, I would say it almost triggers psychotic sorts of symptoms for me. I don’t know if it is because of that huge spike in anxiety I mentioned earlier, or because whispers are probably the closest thing to a human voice I’ve ever experienced in an audible hallucination, or something different entirely.

Needless to say, this whispering has been something of an issue.

And it isn’t something I could go around asking, “could you please refrain from lowering your voice?”

I am playing with the notion of using headphones periodically, but I haven’t worked out the details. I am hoping that if I can find a way of blocking out the whispering, I can potentially avoid some of these blurry, psychotic precipices.

Sore Throats and Snowmageddon

Unable to post up to this point. Our internet has been on the fritz and it is unclear at this juncture if it is because of the snowmageddon or something on our end.

Seattle is hilarious in the snow, we’re so hilly that most transportation comes to a complete standstill. Upon the forecast of snow, people will drive their cars to the bottom of all the hilly neighborhoods to have a fighting chance to get their cars out in case of an emergency. The grocery store when the flurries started was packed, and a man rushed up to me (I was shopping for tea) and exclaimed quite hurriedly that he absolute NEEDED hot chocolate! “It is hot chocolate emergency weather,” I said, jumping out of the way.

Yesterday the man and I went out and tromped around in it. Maybe I shouldn’t have, because I woke up this morning with a sore throat. I’ve caught the crud.

I guess this one has been going around, I first heard about it from my dad over the phone a few days ago. The island had become a cesspool for the crud. As far as I’d heard, though, it hadn’t overtaken Seattle.

I do ride public transportation though, so I’m doomed from the get-go. I don’t seem to catch things as often as I did when I was working retail (money is crazy dirty), but the bus doesn’t give me much of a fighting chance.

I woke up at 6 this morning in a slightly delirious state, coming out of a dream where my ex’s brother kept trying to pick a fight with me at somebody’s wedding. “Go ahead,” I kept saying, “hit me! Then everyone will just see that I’m not the crazy one here, clearly you are.” He became a Burmese mountain dog and tried to knock me over. I laughed, jumped up in the air, and hung there. Suspended. So I danced my little freaking heart out.

You can imagine that when my eyes opened this morning I was a little confused (though it never seems to be confusing until after I’ve woken up). I heard the dishwasher and almost leapt out of bed because I suddenly thought my dishes were being ruined. Delirium.

My dishes weren’t ruined, I’m just sick.

Beyond the physical maladies of being sick, I tend to experience something above and beyond even that. My mind takes a serious hit, and things like hallucinations, which I don’t normally experience, become commonplace. Irrational fears. High-speed racing thoughts. Bleck.

The physical stress of being sick is usually too much for my poor little brain to handle, and it triggers episodes. A shame, since I was feeling so stable for the last week!

So far today I’ve done a terrible job of resting. Even though I feel terrible, it is hard for me to sit still when I am experiencing bursts of energy. Now that the internet is up and running again, I should be able to remain stationary for the rest of the day. I’ve got a big week, time to rest up.

The Girl With The (Rabbit?) Tattoo

I’ve been fighting with myself a little bit about possibly seeing the latest release of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but the final decision about going to see it was made the instant I clicked on the movie page within Fandango.

RATED R FOR: Graphic Nudity, Brutal Violent Content, Torture, Language, Rape and Strong Sexuality.

So that’s it. I can’t go.

I can’t do rape scenes, I simply can’t. At least this time around I found out before going to the theater, but it is still frustrating as heck.

Every time this happens my initial thought is that rape and sexual violence is not necessary in movies and it perturbs me that films get made with those themes.

But at the same time, I’m an artist. I understand what it is like to try and tell a story that is too intense for my audience, because I struggle with that every day. Obviously I believe in creative freedom and freedom of speech, but there are just some things that are difficult for me to accept, and impossible for me to watch.

 

Many many years ago I went to a show with the guy I was dating and two of his friends. Basically, the show was a man telling stories and playing the guitar. When he reached the point where he was singing songs about rape, I became extremely uncomfortable and left the room.

I waited in the lobby of this unfamiliar building waiting for my boyfriend to come check on me. Anyone, to come check on me.

Nobody came. I sat out there by myself for two hours, and then when the show was over and I was upset, I was berated by all three of them.

And I’ll never understand it, because that happened in UTAH. In Utah! Rape songs in what is supposedly the most religious and family-friendly of the states? Who knows.

 

Really, all I can ask is that movies with these themes be clearly labeled as such, so I’ll give The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo a thumbs up for that, even if I have to give them a thumbs down.

Dastardly Dan

I had no intention of being awake right now, however that’s just the luck of the draw tonight. Three ups, downs, and back ups so far since noon.

The trigger today was my therapy appointment. As per the last few times, my attendance triggered hypomania, and what has followed is a series of ripples that continue to expand.

Today my suspicions were realized when I came to the final, albeit roundabout conclusion that I have experienced mania much more often than I had originally considered. It has so many faces that the darn thing can be hard to pinpoint sometimes, and its trickery is only surpassed by its evil.

That’s right, evil. Many people talk about mania being fun or invigorating or spiritual, or even inspirational, and it can be all of those things. BUT, at the end of the day, those qualities are almost always overshadowed by irritability, poor judgment, paranoia, or psychosis. Mania wants to be friends so it can use your extra apartment key to slip inside in the middle of the night and stomp on your extensive record collection. Then, when you confront it, it’ll just try to make you believe you’re crazy for bringing it up in the first place. After that, it buys a round for everyone at the bar to neutralize the situation just so you can be friends again.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

Dastardly, I tell you! The more I get to know this character, the more frustrating it becomes.

Anyway, what brought this all about was my therapy appointment, which I already mentioned.

Perhaps there is some kind of mathematical rule that the better one holds up on the outside between therapy visits, the more inclined one is to completely crash, burn, and fall apart during the 50 minutes one is paying for.

Regardless, I have a tendency to believe that the stuff going on over on the mania end of the scale isn’t really affecting me. Or, it is affecting me, but it isn’t affecting my life. That came crashing down pretty hard today, I must say, and I really underestimated the mania game of shadows.

It is so bizarre how my mind can play such vivid tricks on me, and I can only seem to see them when peering through magical binoculars made out of a mental health professional.

Game on mania, game on. You double inceptioned me, altering my perception wildly for a brief moment to take my attention away from the fact that the rest of my perception had been altered as well, but on a smaller scale. Bravo.

Is it sick to say that this makes me a little proud of the level of game this head of mine is bringing these days? I mean honestly, I’m a little impressed.

But hear this my friend, that’s it. We’re over. I’m totally dumping you, mania. I’m not even going to accept your free round of drinks, OOOh or maybe I will and just throw mine back in your face.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me 26 years, well shame on…. you. Yeah, still you.

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.