Tag Archives: Mental Illness

Overheard

cartoon---criminally-insane

 

 I about 15 or 16 the first time I realized that everyone else in the world did not walk around thinking about suicide at least once a day. The revelation came after a school assembly on the subject when our class was herded into separate rooms where intimate groups of 50 or so giggling, super-sensitive teenagers were invited to play a quiet game of True Confession.

The assembly leaders asked us if any of us had ever contemplated taking her own life, and I raised my hand. I was only one dumb enough to do it.  My candor earned me a private session with one of the leaders who assured me I wasn’t normal and offered me a pamphlet to a nearby church. I decided not to tell him about the coupon for the box of sleeping pills that I carried in my backpack every day. I decided not to tell anyone because I already had a few labels at that school – ugly, strange – and I wasn’t excited about adding loony tunes to the list.

A few years and suicide attempts later a shrink helped me pin the manic-depressive (as bi-polar disorder was more commonly called back then) label on myself, but it wasn’t something I wore around in public.  I was worried about being able to get a job. I was worried if I ever had kids, I wouldn’t be allowed to keep them. And I worried I’d be put on some kind of government list.

Now the State of Vermont is getting ready to do just that to people with mental illness.  Under the guise of gun safety and protecting people from themselves, they have pushed a law through the senate that will put people with mental illness who have been deemed (by a court) to be a danger to themselves or others on a special FBI ‘pre-crime’ watch list of people who are not allowed to own guns , even though mentally ill people are rarely violent and many may never actually go to buy a gun.

I got a little nervous when I read this.

I’ve been out about my bi-polar situation for many years. It was harder to hide it than be honest about it, but as anyone whose stood at the kitchen counter, gripping a knife during a manic episode and seeing visions of their own amputated wrist can tell you, being a danger to oneself kind of goes with the manic-depressive territory.  I called a shrink the last time that happened, knowing I would find help and a medication adjustment.  I do know that one thing, however, that would keep me from walking into his office and talking openly about an urge to hurt anyone (myself or anyone else) is the fear of getting on some government list.  It might keep me from going at all.

Now, I’m not saying that if I walk into my shrink’s office next week and tell him that voices from the planet Crapulon have told me to kill everybody whose name ends in ’s’ that he shouldn’t report me and take steps to prevent a clear and present danger to someone else (which, by the way is already the law).  He should probably help me get into an institution at that point which would certainly keep me from getting a gun.

I don’t think, however, someone who has never actually committed a crime should be put into some national pre-crime database simply because they are mentally ill and because they might one day buy a gun.

You can call me paranoid to worry about a government that has never passed a law  data to prevent crime or terrorism that ended up drag-netting the private communications and records of thousands of innocent citizens into databases that kept them from getting on planes or had them erroneously detained without counsel before, if they want off the government watch list, requiring them to prove their innocence (and nobody is innocent) because they’ve been assumed guilty, but in my addle-pated mind, nothing says stigma like putting a mentally ill person into a national FBI database.

Never mind that this doesn’t keep guns out of the hands of mentally ill people living with mentally healthy people – unless we want to add them to the list. It also doesn’t keep hands out of the hands of mentally ill people who don’t seek help because they don’t trust shrinks – unless we just want to add a random 5.3 million people to the list to be on the safe side (Do you feel safer?).  But it does do something.  By creating a special database just for mentally ill people at the nation’s largest crime investigation organization, it is taking the first step toward classifying them (us) as criminals.   Excuse me, pre-criminals.  I’m not sure if that’s much better.

Save

Save

What Goes Up

what goes up

Sometimes it isn’t a crash.

Sometimes everything just recedes.

You go from feeling everything to feeling nothing. To wondering why you’re here.

To wishing you believed in a higher being that had a purpose for your life and being fine with not knowing what it is because knowing it exists is enough.

To realizing every battle can’t be fought and others can’t be fought at all without ammunition.  To picking the fights of getting up for the job and the kids each day and retreating from the others until the arsenal is stocked with little pills that still need a glowing fuse to work.

How I Explain It

Blog-Post---Roller-Coaster

When we heard that Robin Williams had committed suicide, I hoped we would google it and learn it was just a new, creepy urban legend.  But it wasn’t.

We were mostly without internet at the time, so I just caught snippets of reactions from the electronic consciousness.  One snippet seemed to echo frequently.  It was the idea that Williams hadn’t focused on the good in his life or that, unlike the pontificating pundit of the moment who had also been through really hard times, he had simply chosen to wallow in his misery.

I’ve heard variations of that sentiment my entire life because while I can’t say I know what it was like to ride a mile in Williams’ roller coaster car, we are in the same amusement park.  I don’t know how all the rides work, this is how I explain my experience at the fair.
 
I had a fresh ticket in my back pocket a few weeks ago when I bounced into my shrink’s office, plopped down on the couch, and, without taking more than one breath, chattered non-stop for 45 minutes.

I chattered about a book I’m wrapping up, an idea for a play I’m going to write in September, an idea for a novel I’m already fantasizing about writing in October and had spent the previous half hour drafting a 20 page synopsis of.  I chattered about reorganizing the linen closet. I walked to my car, still dictating a dozen to-do’s into my to-do-a-maphone.

You could say I was up.  I was real up.

I have a family I adore, a great job, and a growing creative life, but there was a lot on my mind that week.  I’d learned of a friend’s recent death and a serious illness of another. There was a mountain of work that wasn’t getting smaller, a world panicking about Ebola, Russia and the Middle East, a fresh diagnosis of a degenerative eye disorder (I’m blaming that for any drawings that appear subpar) and more than a few bills marked ‘Freakin’ Urgent – Pay UP Loser’ waiting in the mailbox.  

I, however, was helicoptering over the planet, suspended by a thread-thin seatbelt over a world that looked technicolor perfect and sparkling with possibility (it could have been the algae blooms in Lake Erie).  

I would have been up if you had told me I had a special type of cancer that made my butt look even fatter when viewed from outer space with the naked eye.
I can admit the flying is fun when it’s not scaring the shit out of me, but it does scare me.  I become SuperWoman, taking on too many obligations in a single phone call and exercising the purchasing power of a regional big-box store, leading to a crash whose destructive force would make Michael Bay drool with envy.

I’ve been doing this part of the roller coaster ride since I could talk.

I’ve tried working with my brain’s air traffic controllers, but the littlest things (medications, for example) can inspire strikes and and even walk-outs.  My current shrink has been helping me find new ways of negotiating with the control tower.  We haven’t ruled out new and improved pills to pop, but my brain, like my diet, is a work in progress.

But like my diet, if there were an easy way to be ‘normal’  (or thin – the ultimate fantasy) by just ‘snapping out of it’ or ‘deciding to be well’ without having to medicate and journal and snap rubber bands on my wrist and sit with a shrink once a week for many of the last 30 years, I would jump at it – even if I had to jump for “it”  from a plane without a parachute to grab it out of the sky with a pair of tweezers.

Because I know that in a few months, even if I found out I’d sold a zillion copies of my soon-to-be-imagined bestseller “How to Not Dust a House for 365 Days or More”, Santa was real, both kids had landed scholarships to Harvard and Yale, and peace on earth prevailed, I would still feel like closing my eyes on a deserted highway so that the Big Guy and the kids could call my death an accident and not know that I had intentionally left them forever. 

I know this because I’ve been doing this part of the roller coaster ride in one form or another since before I could talk – long before I was old enough to understand the words, “snap out of it”.

Safe Spaces

IMG 3125

 

Last week after work the Big Guy came home from work and soberly announced that the son of a neighbor had taken his own life.  It took me a moment to start breathing again, and, out loud, I wondered what the rest of the town was wondering that day. “What was he thinking?” 

Privately, I had a pretty good idea of what he’d been thinking.  Only earlier that day had I been wrestling with those urges as I hugged my mother goodbye and had the irrational thought that I would never be happy again once she was gone. A vision of achieving perfect permanent peace flashed through my mind as I smiled at her and my father as they left. It was so strong and so clear that if I had not been having these urges and images since I was 10, I might not have chased it away.

My guess was that this kid, who, for as long as I had known of him, had exhibited self-destructive behavior, had been living with those urges for a long time.

My morning vision and the afternoon news brought me back to a high school assembly on suicide. After a movie and lecture, the hosts separated us into groups. I remember them asking us if any of us had ever contemplated taking our own lives. I was the only one in my group raised my hand. 

One of the adults took me aside and asked me how often I thought about it. I answered, “I don’t know, every day. Doesn’t everybody?”  The counselor  shook his head no and gave me a pamphlet for nearby church. 

Back then I don’t think I had even heard the word bipolar disorder. Manic Depression was just the title of the Jimi Hendrix song.  I did know that just getting out of the house – even out of bed – was often an enormous task when depression hit. When mania was pushing me to outer limits, I was the life of the party.  People thought (and still do) I was a drama queen.  I was told to snap out of “it” but wondered why I couldn’t.  I did know I couldn’t tell anyone about the places and pictures in my head.  I could barely explain them to myself, and trying to describe them to other kids – or any of our teachers – would have added just one more oddity to my already odd personality.    

It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized that I might not just have the blues.

I was lucky.  When my own bipolar disorder was diagnosed, my family was overwhelmingly supportive, and our home, at least, was a safe place to talk about mental illness.  The rest of the world is not so safe, and not everyone is so lucky.

I don’t know if this boy had a safe place to talk about the suicidal tendencies he had been exhibiting for as long as I had known of him. I do know that we still live in a world that makes opening up about mental illness – or even its symptomatic emotions – is like baring your throat to the wolves.  There is still stigma where there needs to be safe spaces.

Our very small town of 300+ people has talked of it regularly since it happened.  I hope we all continue talking about it. Mostly I hope we start talking about giving other kids like him a safe place to talk about their visions before they become reality.

Magic Pills, Ills, and Long Forgotten Cures

IMG_2785

As I’m lying down with my little one for his bedtime snuggle, I’m realizing that I haven’t retreated to the fantasy world that gets me through depressions lately.  At first I though it was the magic pill I’ve been taking, but I think something better is happening.

When I first started taking the pills, I tried to get in and I couldn’t.  Something was blocking the door.  It wasn’t me, it was the pill.  But in the last few weeks I’ve begun taking care of my physical health, and while that switch took a herculean effort to move to the on position, it’s like watching a compact fluorescent’s power grow as it absorbs powers.  At first it’s only little successes, but then a sense of physical well being takes over, charging the mercury until all the rooms in my head are bright, and my vision is clear.

Now running about a mile or mile 1/2 a day, hoping to get up to three so I can run with my sister in August, I’m starting to feel the effect of a natural magic pill.  As I was lying next to my beautiful sleeping boy, I noticed I still couldn’t get into the room, but for the first time in a long time, I didn’t need or want to.  Some of that need may have been quashed by pharma, but it’s nice to know that at least some of that lack of desire may be my own doing.