Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Trustworthy or Untrustworthy Self

I have always tended to operate under a series of hard rules. Hard Rules; you know, like “oh crap, I just touched that burner and it was hot!”

New rule: don’t touch hot burners!

This is a rule that is always true. If I see a hot burner, I don’t touch it (at least, never on purpose but I’m a bit of a klutz). Having said that, many of these sorts of rules that I’ve gathered up over the years have been helpful, some even life-saving. Don’t throw temper tantrums at your boss. Don’t swim out into Puget Sound where the undertow can drown you. Don’t get in a car with a random stranger. Don’t ever wear black and brown together.

Sounds useful right? Well, for the most part it is, but I have always had a tendency of somehow shuffling all rules into the “hard rule” category. Inflexible. Rigid. Once it is there, it is there forever.

Even though that is a concept that seems useful when it comes to ideas like “don’t touch a hot stove burner,” it is useful because a hot stove burner is always hot.

On the flipside, there are aspects of my life and of having bipolar disorder that might be true sometimes and not true others. Of course, in my life having a mental illness is true, but to say that I am always manic or depressed or agitated or homicidal or suicidal is not true.

These sorts of facts lead me to strange places somewhat reminiscent of math class where these rules become much more complex.

“My suicidality warrants hospitalization if and only if it is a level three on my suicidality scale, requiring x, y, and z… (you get it).”

Despite all the nit-picking and tweaking that has gone into these rules, these ways in which I keep myself alive and relatively healthy, there is one that somehow slipped under the radar. It managed to sneak into the hard rule category without any real revisions over a period of years:

Because of my bipolar symptoms, I am not trustworthy.

These days I can see the difference between a generalization and a rule, but the truth of the matter is that despite how my understanding of myself and my symptoms have improved, there has been a wall of fear that has kept me from being able to edit this statement.

I don’t know exactly where it came from, I don’t know if it was something external that I was told or that people suggested or if it was purely created out of the fear I had of myself and my inability to control myself sometimes. Yes, there have been some incidences that have scared people, but I expect this rule is probably more about how much I scared myself.

For me there was always a big fog around my symptoms or any number of the unhealthy urges swirling around inside me at any given time. I mean, what if something happened? What if they just slipped out before I could realize it?

For many years I allowed myself to defer back to this rule. When people would ask me,

“Oh, do you want to hold my baby?”


“Can you watch the cash register for me for a minute?”


“Mind unwrapping this new kitchen knife set with me real quick?”

The answer was always no. No, sorry, I might punt your baby. Or steal all the money. Or suddenly believe I can juggle knives.

A few years ago I had a friend who had a baby and she insisted I hold him. As it turned out, I held him and he didn’t burst into flames. Or turn into a squealing pig. In fact, nothing weird or inappropriate happened. After returning the baby to her I considered two things that really shook the foundation of the untrustworthy rule I had created.

  1. My friend trusted me so much she practically forced me to hold the baby.
  2. In that moment with that baby, I was trustworthy.

This friend did not know much about my past, but she knew my diagnosis. While part of me clung to the notion that she trusted me because she didn’t know about the bulk of my untrustworthy behavior, it felt meaningful that in that moment on that day, she considered me trustworthy enough to hold the most precious thing in her life.

On top of that, the fact that nothing went wrong was kind of like a slap in the face to the rule that had been created. I could be trustworthy. Er… maybe not all the time, but sometimes, yes.

Even though this one moment was the key to begin revising this rule I had created for myself, it has taken thousands of situations and the knowledge I gain about myself and my symptoms every single day to keep reshaping it into something more true.

After all, when my symptoms first started I was really just a kid. I had no idea what they meant or why they were happening, and I had no skills or knowledge to help me keep them from exploding out from me whenever they felt like having a party. When my mind wove a terror filled tapestry for me, I didn’t know I shouldn’t believe it.

Really, getting to know how my different mental states work have been like working out any other part of my body. I couldn’t walk into a weight room and bench press 300 lbs on the first day because I had to build strength first, I needed to learn my own limits in order to push myself to my goal, and be able to take care of myself and heal up if I pushed myself too hard.

Even though having mental illness is a constant for me, my understanding of myself and my symptoms have changed over time. Living with it means adapting as my understanding and knowledge grows, and affording myself more trust over time because that unknown I have been so afraid of? Well it is shrinking every day.



When In Doubt, Give Thanks

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays, despite landing around (and sometimes on) my birthday. It isn’t the football that gets my gears going or the food (though I love turkey), but what the day often causes so many people to stop and do that they don’t do every day.

Consider the things we are thankful for.

In the circles I roll in I’ve heard a lot of backlash about Valentines day, simply because many of my friends believe that we should be telling the people we love that we love them whenever we have the chance… not just once a year.

However, I rarely hear this sentiment about Thanksgiving. Taking time out of a holiday to consider the things we are thankful for has always been one of those warm, fuzzy moments for me because it forces people to look at the world in an appreciative way… something I think we could all benefit a little more from every day.

When dealing with depression or difficult family/relationship situations or even just the general stress of the oncoming holiday season it can be genuinely difficult to shift gears into considering the things that we cherish as opposed to focusing on the things that are seriously stressing us out… but to me that is the magic of Thanksgiving. People across the country are practicing shifting their perspectives, often taking a brief moment to improve their moods and the moods of those around them without potentially even realizing what they’ve done.

And if people can do this once a year, who knows? Feeling thankful might be something that starts to spread amongst us once the rain has settled in Seattle for two months solid, or when the sun peaks out again, or when we’re having too much fun in the Summer to even remember the long winters.

For those reasons, this year one of the things I am most thankful for is Thanksgiving for reminding me,

when in doubt, give thanks.

Tug-of-War Psychiatry; Fighting for Better Policies

This week is one of those rare weeks where I find myself in limbo, last week was my last appointment with my psychiatrist and next week is my first appointment with a new (potential) psychiatrist.

The last five years I have grown very close to my recent psychiatrist, and I could tell both over email and when we met that he was deeply apologetic that we wouldn’t be able to work together anymore.

After he told me why he was leaving the hospital he was currently working at though, I abandoned all regret and any frustration I may have been harboring. He was making the decision to leave because a group of psychiatrists (the majority) quit after the hospital was implementing new policies to try to make their office visits with patients shorter (mind you, they were already 15 minutes a month) and forcing psychiatrists to pass some patients off to primary care doctors to make room for new clients (among other things).

The first thing I did was blurt out, “um, no I think you’re doing the right thing!” and he looked at me perplexed. Even though his departure from this hospital means we can’t work together anymore, I was thrilled to hear the reason he was leaving.

Obviously I am not thrilled that the hospital is trying to implement policies that treat patients in the mental health arena as little more than cattle that need to be herded in and out as quickly as possible, but I AM thrilled that the mental health professionals acted in such a way as to denounce these efforts and protect the right of their clients to receive proper treatment.

“Most of my clients have responded the same way you just did,” he said to me. Unfortunately, this is just a situation where our doctors leaving us means they are protecting our rights, they are standing up for us (in places we can’t stand up for ourselves) and I am happy to think that if I have to work to find a new psychiatrist (trust me, not an easy task) it is because there are other good, ethical people fighting for me and my rights to be treated fairly.

From what I’ve heard, the hospital has began to backpedal in regard to the new policies they were attempting to implement and while some psychiatrists may be returning to work there, mine isn’t. I don’t blame him, think being put in an environment where major decisions about patient care are being decided by board members (and not their doctors) is ridiculous.

In the last five years I have been down this road twice, finding myself without a psychiatrist (and not of my own accord). The first time was when I was put on the state disability program and was no longer allowed to see my regular doctors. After six months they still had not paired me up with a psychiatrist so I dropped the program. Being able to see my competent doctor through a charity service was a much better investment for me at the time than $200 a month and being able to afford the medications I couldn’t get prescribed without the doctor!

The second time was during the healthcare reform, the psychiatric department at the hospital did not want to accept my medicaid insurance but I managed to pick the one subgroup my psychiatrist was able to accept. After several months I was able to start seeing him again.

To say I am not nervous about finding a new doctor and explaining all the odd quirks about my mental health, about my resistances and intolerances to so many medications, and potentially finding someone who is capable of listening as much as they speak would be… well, a lie. However, I have three things on my side that I didn’t have the last few times I went looking for a psychiatrist.

1. I have insurance. Say what you will about Obama, about politics, I don’t care. Ten, even five years ago in Seattle doctors were lined up to turn me away without having hundreds of dollars to make a deposit before a psych appointment or insurance to cover the appointment. Though I am lumped in with a group of people, many who desperately need psychiatric care (with very few psychiatrists to treat them) I cannot be turned away completely. For that, I am grateful.

2. I know who I am. I know so much more about my symptoms and how they effect me than I did five years ago, and also how my body reacts to medications (generally poorly). Knowing these things makes communicating them much simpler, to say the least.

3. I can tell the difference between a good doctor and a bad doctor. In my life, a pychiatrist is the one person I want to be able to trust explicitly. Luckily, I have also formed bonds with many of the good doctors in the city, each of whom has passed on the names of good doctor colleagues to me in case I might need them. I am not willing to see a doctor who is going to be detrimental to my mental health by being manipulative or uncommunicative. Period.

Ultimately I know all of this is just another situation of fallout coming from the healthcare war that happens every day. As much as I don’t like finding myself in a stressful situation, the fact that it has come around because my doctor is trying to be the best advocate for me that he can be is uplifting.

Thank you, Seattle psychiatrists who have been willing to make big life changes to advocate for better mental health policies. I know I am not alone when I say it is appreciated.

Ten Days in a Mad House – An Historic Expose

Nellie Bly

Nellie Bly

There have been times I have consider the treatment and care I’ve received in psychiatric inpatient units to be practically medieval; sleeping under blankets so thin I could see through them, eating portions too small to warrant any condiments, and witnessing both incompetent doctors and vicious nurses. Granted, not all of these places have been created equally, and while some psychiatric hospitals or wards have been brought up to date, others remain wanting.

With those feelings in mind, I began a journey listening to the account of a 19 year old woman living in the 1880’s who purposefully had herself committed to the local asylum in a journalistic effort to report on the conditions therein.

I believe I was directed toward Ten Days in a Madhouse by Nellie Bly by an episode of one of my favorite podcasts, Stuff You Missed In History Class. I secured an audiobook version of Nellie Bly’s account through my local library (I’m not sure I would recommend it, the accents done by the recording artists have little bering on the actual places the people in the account are from) but you can also find the entire written version (initially published as several articles and then as a compilation in 1887) for free here.

While the inpatient system these days can still seem somewhat barbaric (especially if you aren’t there voluntarily), Nellie Bly’s account of the Blackwell’s Island Asylum in New York shows how far things really have come. I must warn you, there are some accounts of violence that can be shocking (though not incredibly graphic), and the lack of human decency is completely deplorable. On top of that, if you aren’t familiar with historic language at all (or the fact that anyone suspected of having mental health problems was simply considered “insane”) you might find the language jarring, but I think it is important to realize that the lack in any tasteful language around mental health in the 1880’s came from a real misunderstanding of the issues themselves at the time.

One thing that really stood out to me in this account (aside from the terrible treatment of some 1600 women living confined to an island asylum) was the actions of the citizens, the police, and the doctors. Nellie (who has never seen anyone “insane” before) must convince people she is unwell enough to warrant a trip to the asylum. She pieces together several symptoms concocting a performance including forced insomnia, paranoia/nervousness, and amnesia (with no violence or aggression, primarily just confusion) and within 48 hours citizens have had her brought to the police and a judge has sent her to the Bellevue Hospital staging area before taking the ferry to the asylum.

The “tests” the doctors perform to determine each patient’s level of mental health are laughable, and while one doctor perceives Nellie’s case to be the result of being given drugs, the next doctor concludes,

An Insanity Expert At Work

“Positively demented,” he said. “I consider it a hopeless case.”

In this account there seems to be no knowledge of any of the aspects one might consider “mental health” today. Unfortunately, being sent to the asylum was practically a hit or miss situation, and part of the problem was that even when perfectly rational people ended up there by mistake (being a foreigner and having no translator, or being requested to go to the poor house and accidentally being sent to the asylum) they often became irrational very quickly because of the very harsh, very poor conditions.

In one of my favorite passages, Nellie accounts;

“If the confinement was but for a few days one might question the necessity [of a translator]. But here was a woman taken without her own consent from the free world to an asylum and there given no chance to prove her sanity. Confined most probably for life behind asylum bars, without even being told in her language the why and wherefore. Compare this with a criminal, who is given every chance to prove his innocence. Who would not rather be a murderer and take the chance for life than be declared insane, without hope of escape?”

At this time in history, being declared “insane” (whether you were or not) was pretty much a death sentence unless you had family or friends willing to take care of you.

Even after trying to speak rationally to the doctors in the asylum, Nellie is not given a second chance to prove she is rational, and her claims of not belonging are considered further proof of her insanity.

As I mentioned, her account goes on to describe several vicious and brutal actions by nurses, the inedibility of the food, and how each cell needed to be opened with a key individually; proposing that if there were a fire, all 1600 women would likely burn to death (the nurses would not be willing to risk their lives to try to save any of them). Her description of bathing time is equally as distressing, and the women were likely to only be allowed to change their scant clothing once a month.

After Nellie’s friends come to bail her out (with a tongue in cheek promise to the staff to take care of her) the subsequent articles published by Nellie created a huge outcry from the public and produced an investigation of the Blackwell’s Island Asylum by the grand jury. Nellie’s ten days in a madhouse and her expose of her experiences ultimately resulted in a one million dollar increase in the budget “for the benefit of the insane”.

Though her written account of most patients who did exhibit symptoms of mental illness was one primarily of fear and pity, I must personally consider Nellie Bly to be a true hero of mine. Not only did she singlehandedly plunge herself into an extraordinarily terrifying situation in an attempt to benefit others, she also did go on to help raise the standards in asylums in our country.

If the history of mental health in America is a subject you are interested in exploring, I would call Ten Days in a Madhouse a great reference. The book itself isn’t very long, however if you aren’t used to reading historic writing it can be tedious at times. Some of the violent accounts once inside the asylum -though not extremely graphic, may be triggering, but overall I would say I learned a great deal from this piece of work.

“Mixed” Up

Things have taken a bad turn via a rough mixed episode. I am unable to write very clearly, but wanted to note that if things don’t improve soon, hospitalization may be imminent and posting through next week may not be possible. I would really appreciate some good vibes… thanks for your support, hopefully things will bounce back soon.

The Heart of July 4th

Propaganda of the American Colonies

Propaganda of the American Colonies

I would never refer to myself as an ardent patriot, but I do (on occasion) have the opportunity to spend time researching history and then living in a manner that our forefathers (and mothers) were accustomed to. The time of the American Revolutionary War is one that is of particular interest to me.

What is it about the period leading up to the war and the transition into a unified country I find so fascinating? Well, while others are roasting their hot dogs today and lighting off fireworks, I’m thinking about why July 4th is a holiday in the first place.

It is a story of a group of people being taken advantage of; an example of a true tale of the underdogs fighting for the rights they believe they deserve until they have achieved them.

This is an important story, and though it is one that comes up again and again in US history focusing on many different groups of people, this is a story that is still in its early stages when it comes to our story.

The American Revolution itself faced difficulty in reaching unity within the colonies. It provided a period of thought and contemplation about what basic rights should be afforded to all people, and (what people usually remember) also included a brutal struggle through the physical act of fighting.

You might be surprised to hear it, but I see a lot of similarities between the fight for American independence and the fight for fair, competent mental health services in our country and the need to bring people together on this issue. I don’t expect our journey to involve a navy or muskets, but I’m sure that is for the better!

The snake, for example, in the propaganda banner above is broken down into pieces representing each of the colonies that needed to come together to create a unified force. I think we face similar issues when attempting to unify people behind the cause of mental health because many of us have different viewpoints, different backgrounds, different disorders, different symptoms! Still, if we can find a way to work together we will find we are a force to be reckoned with; a snake you’d better not step on again!

Guerilla Warfare

Guerilla Warfare

During the American Revolution the British soldiers greatly outnumbered the colonist militia, so the militia changed the rules of war; hiding in wooded areas in an attempt to shield themselves while making an attack.

Most of us with mental illness have felt like we have needed to hide in order to keep ourselves safe, and being smart about when we share our experiences or staying calm and choosing our battles is a strategy that has already began to show some improvement in our nation’s social dialogue.

I know that while I feel comfortable coming forward and being open with everyone in my life about my experiences, I understand there are others in situations (like in a questionable workplace, family, or school environment) who have to be very careful about the battles they choose to fight and when they can fight them. I know these situations can be distressing, but I don’t consider this to be a drawback because when a hidden warrior chooses to finally make themselves seen there is a big impact.



One of the things I’ve found is that the act of hiding makes discovering a sense of community ten times more rewarding. This is part of what makes us strong; we truly appreciate much of what each other has to offer. Though I know there is still a little work that needs to go into unification for our cause, our community is constantly growing.

I expect that this 4th that there will be picnics and a sense of community and giddy children lighting off fireworks in the streets, but I hope that today you will also think about the reason behind it all.

No, it isn’t our right to bear arms, nor our hatred of paying taxes. It isn’t about guys in powdered wigs or military prowess. July 4th is about being someone who has struggled, someone who has been walked on, and demanding a better life.

If nothing else, that thought inspires me because I see myself in itIf that is what it truly means to be an American, maybe I’ve been a patriot all along?


Jagged little pill: has the recovery narrative gone too far?

There has been a post floating around right now that sheds a little light on something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. Since I couldn’t have said it better myself, I’m pleased to pass this one on. Thanks!


I feel that in writing this post, which has been brewing for a long time, I am saying something that some might see as controversial. So let me start by making something clear. This post is not intended to criticise the work of the big charities – I am a proud member of Mind and Rethink Mental Illness and have undertaken both paid and voluntary work for both organisations. I have also volunteered for Time to Change and made a TTC pledge at last year’s Mind Media Awards. A huge amount of good work is being done on a daily basis to challenge public perceptions of mental health and to normalise discussions of the topic. Time to Change is entirely right to highlight just how peculiar it is that mental health stigma continues to loom so large given that a quarter of the population is thought experience some form of…

View original post 1,074 more words