Daily Archives: August 21, 2013


Trying to find the light
Seems like an endless fight
No longer sure what is right
I want to take flight
I try and try
But I can’t fly
I don’t know why
I am be confused
Too tired, worn, and abused
I’m not amused
I want it all
But I’m afraid I might fall
Is it success I fear?
Or is there someone whispering in my ear
What do I want
It’s a thought that haunts
I don’t know where to go
And so, I have nothing to show
Like a raven in the snow
If it stuck out I would know
I’m having a slow go
If I knew what I wanted I would know

Aching Heart

Do you remember your closest childhood friend? Are you lucky enough to still be friends? I am fortunate enough to still be very close to my best friend of nearly 20 years. But my heart is aching right now because she is having health problems. I don’t really want to talk about it but I just needed to write something about it.

What do you do when your best friend gets a neurological disease? I am just at a loss. I think I should make her dinner once this week or clean her kitchen and get some laundry going but I don’t want to make her feel guilty. She is so precious to me. Thanks for listening.

Feeling a Little Better

Today is the first day that I've actually felt a bit better. I still have a long way to go but I feel like I've got a bit of my fight back. I'm nowhere near back to normality but I'm planning things in my head. That's definitely a good sign. I think I've been way too hard on myself. I need to give myself a break. Even without the bipolar, I've had a lot going on lately, which would be enough to stress even the strongest of people out. I'm not superwoman after all.....well only sometimes! 
 I need to get back into a routine. I need to tidy my flat and look after myself. Sounds so basic but I don't think I can even think about work or holiday until I get the everyday things sorted. I've decided to stick with the medication for a bit longer. I don't think it would be wise to try and come off it yet, not now that I've started to feel half human again. I'm still not convinced that its doing me any good in the long term but I can't worry about that now.
It's amazing how my thinking can change so dramatically in just a few days. Last week I really couldn't see an end to it all. It frightens me how my mind works. I still keep crying at the drop of a hat. I've got so many things to do and its overwhelming and frightening. I'm finding it hard to know where to start. I do worry about the future and what will happen to me but for now I need to focus on today. 
Having my son stay with me for the last week has been difficult. It's impossible to get into a routine and that's what I really need. I couldn't turn him away. He came out of prison with nothing but the clothes he was wearing. His flat was repossessed while he was inside and he doesn't want to go back to his girlfriend. He hasn't used heroin for three months and I am really proud of him for that. It's probably the first time in about seven years that I've seen him looking well and able to have a proper conversation. That's definitely something to be thankful for. I feel like I'm on the way to getting my son back. He still has a long way to go. He's still on a small dose of methadone, so he's not completely drug free but this is the furthest he's gone towards getting clean. He has a far harder job than me in order to get some normality. He has to find a job, find somewhere to  live and stay heroin free. I worry that he's inherited bipolar from me. I can't say that I've seen any signs that jump out at me but its hard to tell what someone is really like when they're always drugged up to the eyeballs. Right now he is a thoughtful, polite and nice person to be with, just like he used to be before heroin.That's all I can ask for, only time will tell. He deserves a chance and I will do my best to make sure he gets it.

Wednesday’s Quote: Laura Davis

“Although healing brings a better life, it also threatens to permanently alter life as you’ve known it. Your relationships, your position in the world, even your sense of identity may change. Coping patterns that have served you for a lifetime will be called into question. When you make the commitment to heal, you risk losing much of what is familiar. As a result one part of you may want to heal while another resists change.”

– Courage to Heal Workbook by Laura Davis”

Interview Series: Marya Hornbacher

I was recently given the honor of interviewing New York Times Best Seller, Pulitzer Prize and Pushcart Prize nominee, Marya Hornbacher.   Her second memoir, Madness: A Bipolar Life is ah-mazing, thought-provoking and intense.  I read the entire thing in one sitting y’all.  One sitting.  (It’s amazing considering three small kids, a dog, a blog, and a husband–who is wonderful and thankfully so patient with me. And maybe I should start cleaning my house sometime soon).  Her book was intense and such a good read. It’s an understatement to say she’s a talented and inspiring person and writer.  I’m thrilled that this outstanding author gave me the opportunity to interview her.

Hornbacher Headshot1

Marya Hornbacher

1. Finding a good psychiatrist and therapist is essential for a bipolar person.  In your book, Madness: A Bipolar Life, you tell about your experience— from really good to unbelievably bad— with psychiatrists and therapists.  What advice would you offer a bipolar person on finding, keeping and dropping a psychiatrist/therapist?

First, and I don’t mean to be picky, but I tend to use the term “person with bipolar” rather than “bipolar person.”  It’s a small difference, but it does allow that we are more than our illness, which obviously is the case; bipolar is not a cultural or personal identification but one that indicates a disorder, and as such is not in itself something with which I tend to identify my personhood… {Point well made}

That said!

The importance of both a solid psychiatrist and a very good therapist can’t be overstated–and whenever possible, we do benefit enormously from having both, not just one or the other. People just getting into recovery might be unsure whether it’s really necessary to see one person for medication management and physiological supports, and another person for psychological and psychodynamic recovery strategies, but the research really does bear out the theory that work on multiple levels of ourselves gets us to optimum health.

INSURANCE: Finding mental health providers is an unbelievably variable process–it will depend, first, on whether you have insurance. If you don’t, make sure you’re getting information on the insurance plans available to you under Obamacare–this is critical. Look into Medicare, Medicaid, Medical Assistance, any form of insurance, because you really do want the backup of hospital coverage should need arise. If you are waiting on insurance, there are some excellent low-cost or sliding-scale fee mental health clinics in all the major cities and many small towns; if you need help finding one one, get in touch with your local mental health support chapter such as NAMI.

PROVIDERS: What I think most of us are looking for–at least many people I hear from in my own life & in my work as well–are providers who hear us. The model of mental health care that’s getting a lot of attention these days is the “collaborative care model.” This is a huge shift from the top-down approach of telling patients what they have to do–increasingly, providers are aware that they need to both listen to and educate us. Communication needs to go both ways. So when you’re looking for psychiatrists, therapists, and group leaders, look for people who listen; look you in the eye; speak with you rather than at you; and address the concerns you raise.

STRATEGIES: Come prepared. If it will help, bring a member of your support system, but speak for yourself as much as you possibly can. Bring a list of topics you’d like to discuss in your session, and be specific–don’t just raise general problems; be clear about your concern and your ideas for solving it, and be ready to listen to what the provider has to say. Bring a list of symptoms you’re experiencing, and how those are affecting your ability to function. Note things others have observed as well. In therapeutic settings, know your goals for the session and clearly identify them, enlisting the help of your provider and/or group in helping you meet those goals. YOU ARE YOUR OWN ADVOCATE! Be assertive, not passive or aggressive; ask (appropriately, constructively) for help!

2.  You seem to have a good support system, (your husband, parents and friends).  What advice would you give to the loved-ones of a bipolar person?

My parents, family, and friends (and ex-husband :) ) are amazing. The first thing I’d say to the loved ones of someone with bipolar is: EDUCATE YOURSELF. Knowledge is power, and knowing about bipolar disorder will help you know your loved one better, because you’ll know more about what he or she is experiencing, both positive and negative.

Next: COMMUNICATE. Listen carefully to your loved one, your partner or spouse, your other children; and also speak clearly about what you’re observing and what YOU need.

Next: BALANCE. It’s important to keep the power dynamics in all relationships healthy and appropriate. Attempting to “control” the person or their illness by force of will is ineffective; so is letting the relationship be dictated by the needs of the illness. Your person is entirely capable of having and developing healthy relationship skills, just as you are. Please respect that person, and respect yourself!

Next: SELF-CARE! You cannot be supportive of anyone if you’re not supporting your own mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Make sure you do (at least!) one thing extra to take care of yourself every day. Take time for yourself, go for a walk, have a bath, get or give a massage, make yourself a treat, take a nap, meditate, spend time with your own friends, family, and partner. If your person is struggling a lot today, make sure you don’t forget yourself!

3. You talk a lot about alcohol in the book.  Can you tell me what your thoughts are on alcohol and bipolar disorder?

The statistics on alcohol and bipolar are grim: more than 50% of those of us diagnosed with bipolar I or II will meet the criteria for substance abuse at some point in our lives. Alcoholism and addiction tend to cluster in the same genetic trees as the mood disorders–look at the family history of a person with bipolar or depression, and you’ll find a fair number of people who struggle with addictions as well. They’ll know what that link is as they learn more about what mental illness really looks like at a genetic level. For now, it is my belief–both experiential and research-based–that people with bipolar disorder would do well to steer clear of alcohol. Those of us genetically predisposed to addiction will have that triggered when we drink, and our already-volatile mood systems often go careening completely off the rails. Those of us who are NOT predisposed to addiction will nevertheless be pouring gasoline (call it alcohol) on a fire (call it the bipolar brain). Why make a tough situation a complete disaster? I believed I was managing my moods with alcohol. Actually, I was just making my moods impossible to control–or tolerate–at all. Basically, what I know is this: whatever your mental health concern, drinking or taking substances that effectively kill brain cells and destabilize chemical equilibrium is flat silly–at best. I had to quit drinking completely before I could make the slightest dent in restoring my mental health. Once I did, the peace of mind, chemical stability, and life skills that had eluded me since I was a kid were things within my reach. With time, I got ahold of them–and I’m not about to give that up for a drink!

4. Here is a brilliant and touching excerpt from your book;

    “Sometimes I have an uneasy feeling that I am fooling everyone. In the middle of a gathering of friends, at a party, at a show, on a walk with Jeff, I’ll remember the past.  It leaves me a little shaken, bewildered by how I’ve gotten from there to here.  I feel it in the pit of my stomach, the shame of it, the feeling that I am getting away with something, living a life I don’t deserve.  It’s someone else’s life.  I’ve snuck in and am squatting in it.  I’m wearing someone else’s wedding ring, occupying someone else’s house, and everyone loves the woman I’m pretending to me, not me.  Who would love me?  I hate the person I was.”

In your experience, are these feelings something that come with the bipolar territory?

I think they’re very common, yes. The experiences that sometimes come with having bipolar can lead a person to serious frustration & eventually elements of shame, not least of which is imposed by the stigma that we live with and that we internalize. A lot of the project of recovery is the restoration of faith in oneself and one’s mind. We have pretty awesome minds, bipolar or not–they deserve our care & respect, and so do our spirits. I’ve had to spend an awful lot of time in therapy re-framing my sense of who I am–BEYOND someone with bipolar. I needed to (and keep working to) develop a sense of my own integrity as a person with a solid, excellent self at the core, NOT as someone defined by a way in which I’m “disordered.” My chemistry can get disorderly, true–but my core self rocks. :) So does everyone’s, and we have spent way too much time apologizing for who we are. That doesn’t mean we get to let our mental health go running around unchecked and steamrolling everyone else’s stuff–not at all. It just means that we have choices: we have the choice to care for our health, and when we make that choice, our choices of how we get to live, what we get to do, and who we get to be exponentially increase. The first order of business is self-care–but then we get to become ourselves. That is a joyful process, and it heals us, body and soul.

Madness: A Bipolar Life

Madness: A Bipolar Life

5. I must share a couple excerpts from your book about memory loss.  There were a few parts in the book where I literally had to stop and re-read half a page or so to my husband.  We were giggling hysterical (because we totally relate!) when we read this story about you and your husband, Jeff. (Referring to memory and time loss)

(However, he periodically makes things up and insists that they happened— Of course they did! You can’t remember that?— and then her laughs so hard he cries when I panic, hopping up and down and saying, What? What? I did? I did not! I really did? We’re on a plane and a movie I’ve wanted to see comes on— Hey, look! I cry, punching Jeff in the arm, that movie I wanted to see! And he glances up and shakes his head and sighs.  But you already saw that! he says. Did not! Did not! But you did— and to this day I have no idea if he’s just fucking with my head for fun, or if I really did these things, went to these places, said these words.  He finds it endlessly entertaining. Jerk.)

On a more serious note when discussing memory loss, you say elsewhere in the book, “Madness strips you of memory and leaves you scrabbling around on the floor of you brain for the snatches and snippets of what happened, what was said, and when.”

This is something I completely relate to. I too have time in my life that I don’t remember, that is lost, from days to years.  Could you share how you feel about having missing sections of your life?  Do you think the loss of memory is some form of repression?

If I knew more about repression, I’d be able to answer that better, but I know very little about the psychology of that. I do know that as I’ve spent more time in recovery, my memory has improved dramatically. The brain is positively remarkable in its ability to restore itself, and much of what heals it is maintaining health over time. I think there are some solid chunks of my very ill years that I’ll never have a great grasp on, but I know that my healthy years are nice and clear. My effort, then, is to store memory carefully as I go: this is done, in part, by living NOW, not worrying about what happened back then or what’s going to happen tomorrow, but by taking really exceptionally good care of TODAY. I find my memories stick around better these days, and there’s a lot more I’m glad to remember. :)

6. What advice do you give to someone newly diagnosed with bipolar disorder?

DON’T FREAK OUT. All will be well. People do this all the time. Mental health disorders are NOT a death sentence! Like any other medical problem, this takes education, effort, and management. The most important thing, for starters, is to take the diagnosis seriously; don’t think you can ignore it, and don’t try to be your own psychiatrist. Beyond that: 1. Ask for help, AND do your part. 2. Educate yourself on what your options are for optimizing treatment–this doesn’t have to be just a matter of popping pills and learning to “maintain.” You can feel a hell of a lot better, steadier, and more productive than you have–medication will probably be a part of that, but look at a holistic, whole-person treatment approach. 3. Be patient with the process. 4. Laugh. A lot. 5. Do. Not. Give. Up.

7. At the end of your book you say “I relish my life. It is a life of which I am fiercely protective.  I have wrested it back from madness, and madness cannot take it from me again.  I will not throw it away.”  What does STABILITY mean to you?

Stability means a couple of things. It means not being so swept up by moods that I lose my footing–so it means maintaining a healthy level of detachment from those moods, and being able to take action to keep myself steady at all times. It means knowing that sometimes I’ll be steadiest in bed, meditating and chilling out. It means knowing sometimes the right thing is NOT chilling out, but doing something active. It means healthy relationships! That might be the biggest joy of stability–the ability to really give back to and take delight in the warmth and mutuality of friendships and love. It means making myself useful. It means being defined by LOTS of things–not just my brain disorder–in fact, that’s probably what defines me least of all. I’m not ashamed of it, but it’s not the core of me, any more than it’s a core fact of me that I’m short. No question, I’m ridiculously short! But who cares? Same with bipolar. I learn to live better with this thing every day–it takes acceptance, humor, support, love, and commitment to my own happiness and that of the people around me, so it’s a lot of work. But it is absolutely worth it. Never question that. Even the rough days are worth it. Hang in.




To learn more about this author and her work, visit her website at maryahornbacher.com

A sincere thank-you to Marya Hornbacher for this interview,

Mrs Bipolarity

I *AM* Trying: The Story of Counseling Not Working (Ever)

One of the biggest things recommended for coping with a mental illness is going to see a therapist. Talking therapies are considered a gold standard, and many people consider those who aren’t going to therapy to not be trying.

Hi, I’m Virginia. I don’t go to therapy. That doesn’t mean I’m not trying my hardest to take care of myself.

You see, I’ve been exposed to counseling and therapy most of my life.It started when I was five or so, when another girl in my neighborhood began acting out her sexual assault on myself and my sister. I didn’t think anything of it — it was just playing as far as my brain was concerned. But when my parents found out, they dragged me to… someone. I don’t know who. I know that she wanted me to pay attention to the dolls she had, but I wanted to play with the Finger Paints. I couldn’t, because they were dried out, and that’s what I remember about that event — not that the adults were panicking and fretting and worrying about the ramifications of kissing another girl on the butt, but because the Finger Paints were dried out and unusable.

My (step)father contracted HIV in 1986, so I was told from then until 1994 that he had ‘stomach cancer’, and was going to die. Want to know what my brain savvied of that? Well, I’ll tell you — I spent a couple of years being vexed that I kept getting pulled out of class to see the counseler for reasons I didn’t see a need to be chatted about. Dad was going to die, and I had made my peace with it pretty damned quickly. I actually got in trouble for hurting my parent’s feelings in that regard when I was nine — I told Dad he didn’t need to stay around in pain for us, and that we could manage. I didn’t mean it cruelly — I was trying to tell him that I loved him enough that I didn’t want him to suffer. I couldn’t tell you anything that went on in those counseling sessions, because I frankly didn’t care to be there, nor could I see the point.

When my parents admitted to dad’s AIDS in 1994, we started in on the rapture that was family counseling. This happened on and off over the years. In earlier years, I shrugged and would play with the play kitchen. In latter years, myself and my siblings were dumped off in a group for teen children of parents with AIDS. I recall how quickly that failed for me — I was ever amenable to trying new things, but having one of the counselors express shocked amazement at a 17 year old being intelligent, articulate, and philosophical quickly demonstrated to me that we were not going to find any common ground.

The next time therapy reared its head, I was four years into my Air Force enlistment. I’d been moved into a job that I didn’t get on with, and as my job *had* been the only thing keeping me sane in a town I hated full of people I loathed, my depression took over pretty hardcore. I was bullied into seeing the therapist, who was a genial old fellow. I did do my best to take advantage of him, but:

A. Crying about mommy problems isn’t cathartic, or solve any problems.
B. I ended up his therapist.

To be fair, he was a smart fellow, and he was trying to find a method to draw me out and help me. But also, to his favor, there were a lot of things I felt I couldn’t talk about, because I didn’t want to risk going to jail, or sending members of my family to jail. But it would have been the same result — crying because things still hurt and I had no idea how to let go, and knowing that absolutely nobody in my life gave two shits.

So, of course, I thought there might have been a better result when I had a support base. After my daughter was born, I realized just how bad I was, and that I needed help to be better for the entire family. I called and connected with the talking therapy folk, and went in for an initial interview. They told me that all appointments were telephonic in spite of me explaining my severe issues with phones, and told me the date. I sat by the phone for two days, only to be told I was wrong and that it had been in person. Um, okay, you TOLD me phone, but whatever. And the information they had handed me to prepare between appointments was useless to me — it was things on goal-setting. I know how to set goals — I graduated from art school, successfully completed a term in the Air Force, and managed to immigrate to another country with no issues, and to establish myself as a citizen. I wrote a novel last year, for Pete’s sake! I *know* that if I want to do something, it requires practice and establishing steps. I was pulling out my hair over it, because I DID want to try and show that I gave a crap, but that fell through to the point where they won’t even acknowledge me anymore. *shakes head*

Through all of this, I’ve been applying cognitive behavioral therapy, and a stiff dose of cheer. While a few people have noticed that I wasn’t okay over the years, most people just wrote me off as weird or socially awkward, and left it that. I am a victim of my own competence, which definitely makes it harder to get some folks from the history of my life to accept that I’m not okay, and have never been (there’s probably some residual guilt issues on their part too, but I try to not speculate or attribute things to people unfairly or unknowingly). I’ve succeeded in my life. I have held jobs, formed relationships, and started a family, so I’ve been doing *something* right. With diagnosis and medicine a part of my life now, my quality of life has gone right the way up, and I’ve been more of a boon than a burden to my family (in my own head; I’m sure I’ve been less of a burden than I think I was).

Now, I’m not saying that therapy is a non-option for everyone. I can’t remember where I saw it, but I read once that 20-30% of people don’t respond to therapy. I think there’s a similar percent who don’t respond to medication. Whatever the case, people are different from each other, and respond to different things differently. So why is it okay to suggest someone like me isn’t trying because I don’t have a therapist in my life? That would be like me saying that someone who doesn’t respond to drugs isn’t trying hard enough because the meds available don’t help. I would NEVER say that to my friends who I know have drug resistances, NEVER.

And, I think, my regular readers would agree that I must be doing something right if my wilder mood swings have been tamed, and having reached a point of calm stability rather than hypomania (knock on wood, I think that’s the case!). Were talking therapy to be thrust at me again, I would certainly suck it up and try to give it my best for the nth time… but you’ll forgive me if I don’t think that it’s going to start working suddenly.

I hope everyone out there is doing well.


The post I *AM* Trying: The Story of Counseling Not Working (Ever) appeared first on The Scarlet B.

Ah, my old friend, Lithium side effects

Been on Lamictal two years, never once had to take it with food. Back on Lithium 5 days and BOOM. Pukefest after taking my lamictal this morning. I did NOT miss this side effect. In fact, it was this side effect that made me go off lithium in the first place because generally, eating before pill times did the trick. But sometimes it didn’t and nausea and vomiting as a way of life seemed a high price to pay for mood stability. I thought taking the lithium at night, after supper and before bedtime, would take care of that aspect. I was wrong. Very very wrong.

Live and learn, I guess. (And for those who have taken Lithium and want to say it didn’t affect you that way- I know, everyone tolerates things differently, but this IS the way it affects me. In fact, this is probably the only real noticeable side effect for me.)

I’m gonna suck it up because the shrink’s idea of better alternatives are Abilify and Seroquel. I can’t say I am against cross labeling meds for different treatments. Lamictal is an anti seizure med, after all, and has worked great for mood stabilizing. But part of me wonders if the doctors are getting kickbacks from the makers of those anti psychotics when they use them to treat bipolar because man, every doctor wants to use them for bipolar now. They didn’t do shit for my bipolar. Come to think of it, they didn’t do shit for paranoia or anxiety, either, so what’s the fucking point?

I went to bed, with the help of trazadone, around 11 last night. Kept waking up. Had alarm set for 4 am. Got up at 4:30 because frankly, it’s been too hot to get anything done any other time. Plus there is the shrieking fighting kid circus every afternoon and evening which makes it difficult to do anything when they’re screeching “NIKI!” every 5 seconds.

Wanted to get a start on things. Got a desktop pc from the shop with corrupted LAN drivers I need to fix, had some research to do on some TVs, pack the munchkin’s backpack for her first day of pre-k, feed the cats, get a shower. Thus far I have done what I can, the computer is just gonna have to wait until I have time to get into depth with the issue. We removed 200 pieces of Malware from that thing. I’d like to beat the guy who owns it, because it is a fully decked Win 7 tower, card reader, boucoup USB ports, everything. NICE. I’d sell a kidney for one and he goes and gets it infected to the nth. (Your IQ must be THIS tall to own a computer, he wasn’t even running anti virus!)

Not even 6:30 am and I feel a sense of accomplishment. Also some anxiety, this is a big change and begins the years long battle of school and all it encompasses. Oddly, my big concern is how it affects my right to dress the way I want. (Yes, I am narcissistic that way but freedom of expression is my thing.) I mean, is my kid gonna get suspended because mommy wore a grim reaper shirt and it gave one of the snowflakes nightmares because they saw it for the 60 seconds it takes me to drop her off? And how will my style of dress impact her social standing? These are things that should not have any impact on me. Yet it does because I love my kid. Damn. I’m a mini van away from being a fucking soccer mom.

The mom who bought into the bedbug lie came to get her kids last night and I just told her flat out about my allergies and offered to get her a doctor’s note to disprove that little brat’s rumor mongering. That woman barely said two words to me. But then she didn’t speak to me at Spook’s birthday party either, I don’t know if that’s just her personality or if there is something about me that rubs her the wrong way. It would be reciprocal because she emanates about as much warm fuzziness as Charles Manson. I don’t like unapproachable people who can’t even be bothered to fake the social niceties thing. If a lazy disturbed psycho like me can fake it, then they can too.

People baffle me.

Hopefully pukeapalooza is done for the day. (Yes, I know, I have oodles of class in the way I express myself.)

Now…Yeah, now what? Oh, yes. Music and chain smoking til I wake the spawn, then fluffy omelet time. (I add water and man, they puff up like monster marshmallows.)

Once I drop her off it’s to the shop. After that, I have to go to Nancy’s to see what she has infected her computer with this time. Fuck you, Vista.

Then home to kids pouncing on us before I even park the car.

I can’t wait for winter. Cold, snow, getting dark early. The depression I can live with if it means a break from this summer anxiety. It’s been hell. I need my world to slow down a bit, become calm for awhile. It’s pretty sad when you’d rather deal with non functioning “kill me now” depression because the anxiety is just so bad.

Breaking The Silence of Stigma: Laura P. Schulman

alien woman headThis Wednesday’s Breaking The Silence of Stigma interviewee is….me!  So, without further ado, let’s jump right into the shark pool!

BSS: How long have you known that you are living with a mental illness?

LPS: When I was putting myself through a very expensive college, scrambling for every dime I could earn, I saw an ad in the campus newspaper recruiting paid volunteers for a pharmaceutical study, for some kind of psychoactive drug.  Get paid to take drugs?   Oh boy!  Pennies from heaven!  So I applied.

I had to take a whole day’s worth of psychological screening tests to determine if I was suitable for the study.  I’ve always been good at tests!  I aced ‘em all!  Or so I thought.

The following evening I got a call from somebody in the psychology department.  He told me that the tests indicated that I was suffering from Major Depressive Disorder, and he ordered me to appear at Student Mental Health the following day.  And, oh my, I was disappointed to hear that I would not be accepted for the drug study.  Rats.

I couldn’t really figure out what all the fuss was: Major Depressive Disorder?  Hell, I didn’t feel any different than I always felt.  I mean, I’ve got an artistic soul, and those are always tormented, aren’t they?  If I didn’t feel intensely sad and/or elated all the time, how could I make my art, write my poetry, go without sleep for virtually days at a time….certainly there had to be some mistake.

But I showed up at Student Mental Health at the appointed hour.  A nice poufy lady welcomed me into her office and sat down on the other side of the desk, gesturing me into the chair on my side.  She perused a chart.  It was my chart.  This is significant, because I had never had a chart before.

She looked up at me and smiled.  She looked down at my chart and frowned.

“It says here that you’re depressed.  My goodness, you’re a straight-A student.  You have a good job in a lab.  You’re good looking.”

She looked up at me again and smiled again.

“So why are you depressed?”

I got up, thanked the nice lady, and walked out.

 BSS: Can you share with us your diagnosis/diagnoses?  When were you diagnosed with these?  How were they diagnosed?  Did you have any special testing?

LPS: I have Bipolar Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Dysthymia, and a touch of OCD.  And I’m an Aspie, as in Asperger Syndrome.  In 1996, I had a battery of tests at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.  They totally missed the Bipolar and came up with Major Depressive Disorder, probably because I still didn’t think any of the hypomanic things I was doing were abnormal.  In 2005 I had the tests repeated at the University of Washington in Seattle, and they nailed the BP, the PTSD, the Dysthymia, and told me I scored pretty high on the OCD scale.  The Aspie-ness was diagnosed collaboratively with my Ph.D. psychologist, along with some testing.

BSS: Was your illness diagnosed correctly the first time, or did it take time before the right diagnosis was arrived at?  Do you feel that you do indeed have the correct diagnosis now?

LPS: As I said above, the diagnostic process was pretty choppy, until I arrived at the University of Washington Mood Disorders Center, and got what I consider to be a very comprehensive and correct work-up.  I feel confident that my diagnoses are definitive and correct.  This has helped immensely.

BSS: Have you ever been hospitalized due to your illness?  How many times?  Do you think it helped?

LPS: I have been hospitalized twice.  The first time was because I was off meds for fear of being “discovered” by my hospital administrator.  I know, right?  The second was because of wrong medication from a terrible psychiatrist, combined with an over-the-top relationship with another poorly medicated Bipolar.  They definitely helped, because they kept me away from lethal things long enough for my suicidality to blow over.  The second hospitalization was great in another way.  My then-psychiatrist, who was terrible, was on vacation, and my current shrink-o-matic, who is wonderful, was covering for her.  I loved him immediately and begged him to let me be his patient.  That was in 2002.  He’s still my shrink-o.

BSS: Are you on medications for your illness?  Do they help?  What about side effects?

LPS: Oh yes. I’m currently on six different medications.  Yes, they certainly help.  My symptoms are, thank God, mostly under control.  I think.  Side effects….lots.  The worst is from the Lithium, which causes me balance problems (I took a bad fall just a couple of days ago, got a nice concussion), and a tremor that is sometimes so bad that I can’t type!  My handwriting has become deplorable due to the tremor, too, especially my Hebrew!

BSS: Have you ever had ECT (Electroconvulsive therapy)?

LPS: No. I have had nearly 100 rTMS (repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation) treatments, which literally saved my life. I have had lasting (and I hope, permanent) positive results.

BSS: What other things do you do to help with your illness?  Do you go to individual therapy?

LPS: I have a really wonderful therapist whom I have seen on and off for fourteen years.  She really hits me where I live, and, in a compassionate way, kicks my butt regularly.  In addition, I’m a compulsive blogger and am blessed to have an ever-expanding group of wonderful fellow Mental Illness bloggers, who are a huge support to me.  Thank you, Mental Bloggies!  I find that being a Mental Health advocate gives me direction and a great deal of satisfaction.  I also have a Psychiatric Service Dog, who helps me in many ways.  She helps me to stay grounded, on task, provides structure to my otherwise fairly aimless life, and she is invaluable when I have a PTSD episode.  If I dissociate she licks me till I come back.  And if I am having a flashback that someone is in the room, all I have to do is look at her, because if someone was really trying to enter my house she would go off like a barking bomb.  So if she’s quiet, I know that I can be sure it’s “just” a flashback and will go away eventually.

BSS: How has your illness impacted your life (jobs, education, relationships, children, alcohol, drug abuse….._)

LPS: Ugh.  Can’t you ask me something else?  Damn me.  OK, here’s your answer:  Yes.  Everything.  I have never held a job for more than two years, because I eventually get manic and fired, or depressed and fired….Now I’ve been certified by a Federal judge to be 100% disabled.  That has taken some getting used to, and I still get weepy when I think about my lost dreams.  I was born to be a doctor, fought through thick and thin to be one, was a really good one, and now allthat is gone…it’s rough.

Education has not been a problem because I am an Aspie and I get straight A’s.

My relationships have been very typically Bipolar:  elation, crash, elation, crash…and then my paranoia sets in, and I’m out of there.  I recently took a seven-year break from relationships, consciously.  Then I opened myself to someone who showed up in my life, and….turned out to be waaaaaay crazier than I am, so….I’m really happy with my life as a single person, and I don’t really trust myself with relationships.  So I might just stay single, except for my dog!

Alcohol—I have tried and tried to become an alcoholic, but it never took.  I’m only half kidding about that.  I hung out with alcoholics much of my life, and drank right along with them, but in reality I can’t handle more than half a beer, so I got disqualified.  Drugs, now, that’s something different.  I did a lot of psychedelics when I was young.  And I smoked a lot of pot.  But thank goodness I never took pills (other than acid or mescaline LOL), and I never shot up.  I did have a cocaine addiction though, which lasted for years.  Cocaine cured my depression, until it wore off and the crash was terrible.  I’ve been clean from that for over 30 years.

BSS: Have you ever felt discriminated against because of your illness, or had to deal with disparaging comments, denied a job or other opportunities?

LPS: Yes, yes, and yes.  As a doctor, having a mental illness is tricky business.  First of all, there’s the terrible schedule: being on-call overnight two or three times a week, which is horrible for stability in general and for medication schedule in particular.  Secondly, if one discloses one’s mental illness, one gets one’s license limited and one must have a supervisor, even if one is a senior physician who has never had a mishap of any kind in terms of patient care, clinical judgment, or even paperwork.  It’s humiliating.  I tried to go back into medicine after taking a break to get stable, and the licensing system made me go to a rehab program—even though I am not a drug addict (they never knew about the long-ago cocaine), because they lump mental illness in with addiction in what they call “behavioral medicine.”  They made me show up for a drug test once a week.  I was to do that for a year, before they would even give me a supervised position.  I was so humiliated that I gave it up and went back to my disability status.

In addition, one’s colleagues do not like to hear about one’s illness.  They tend to do things like turn around and walk away if one shares one’s mood or diagnosis.  So one learns to suffer in silence.

BSS: If you could give advice to someone else struggling with mental illness, what would it be?

LPS: Get the best psychiatrist and psychologist you possibly can, and keep them.  Do what they say, and if something doesn’t add up and you feel uncomfortable with their assessment or treatment, say so.  And if they get haughty about it, fire them and find a better one.  Your life is precious.

Find a genuine support network, in whatever way speaks to you.  I, for instance, relate better online, because face-to-face human contact makes my teeth itch (Aspie).  Others find great satisfaction and validation in volunteering.  Seek out a peer group.  Loneliness kills.  Get an emotional support animal, or a Psychiatric Service Dog if you need one.  If you are in a long-term relationship or marriage, and if you have children, be sure to keep everybody in the loop.  Don’t keep your illness a secret.  Secrets kill.  Open and honest relationships, including couples and family counseling if needed, are life-saving.  And don’t forget the kids!  They need help dealing with their feelings too.  My own experience has taught me that it’s tough being the child of a mentally ill person.  Get the kid(s) their own counselor.  It’s a great investment in your children’s future.

And when things get really dark and scary…..get help!  Reach out!  Don’t be embarrassed!  Get help!

What Does Mental Illness Look Like?

Mental illness, like friendship, trust, and love, is an abstract concept. There is no mark that identifies a person as having mental illness, no secret freckle or mysterious blemish. But what if there was?
That was the inspiration behind this photo shoot. I teamed up with my new friend, Megan Bishop, to photograph some wonderful models. Each girl chose a mental illness/disorder, and Megan helped them translate their choice into makeup. 
Here are the results:
Carly – Eating Disorder
Megan – Schizophrenia
Sydney – Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Norah – Bipolar Disorder
Jenna – Anxiety
For every person, mental illness looks a little bit different. Our idea of what it looks like is shaped by our own experiences; maybe this images will resonate with you, maybe they won’t. Maybe they will help you shape your own concepts of what mental illness looks like.
My hope is that we will look at these pictures and realize that a face clear of vibrant colors and patterns is not a sign of a clear life. When we look at other human beings, we can’t see their struggles and their pain. It’s imperative that we go through life treating others with respect and understanding. We don’t know their circumstances.
Thank you again, Megan, for agreeing to collaborate!
(Click her name to check out her page)