Daily Archives: January 18, 2015
Here’s the NAMI Advocacy Update I received January 14, 2015. Go to NAMI.org, become a member, subscribe to your choice of informative emails, and you, too, can receive content like what I quote here. Follow @NAMIPolicyWonk and @DarcyGrutt on Twitter to keep up…
My policy on this blog is not to post trigger warnings; in this case, I make an exception.
If you are a survivor of sexual violence, think carefully about reading this post. It contains graphic images of sexual predation, and could be triggering to anyone who has suffered sexual violence. Please be careful.
Some of the following is included in my upcoming memoir, A Runaway Life, and in my novel-in-progress, The Beanbag Chair. I’m sharing it with you here because I know that for every survivor of sexual violence who seeks treatment, there are untold numbers who don’t, and who live with the horror, shame, and destruction of the integrity of the self and the soul that sexual violence begets.
My first personal encounter with a Male-factor–as we used to call them during my tenure as expert examiner on child sexual abuse cases for a State District Attorney’s Office in a Northeastern state in America–was at age sixteen.
Earth Day, April 22, 1970.
I knew nothing about sex beyond veiled inferences gleaned from “Lady Chatterly’s Lover,” swiped from my parents’ library and read over and over, to try to figure out what all that language was referring to. I had seen the heifers in heat mounting each other in the pasture next door, but had no idea what they were trying to accomplish. I had no frame of reference.
I was sixteen. My interests were Latin, natural science, poetry, music, and art. At sixteen I was permitted to date, but the boys in the country backwater school I attended were either brutish dolts or eggheads like myself who tended to stay at home trying to teach themselves Greek.
My mother continued her perennial assault on my self-image via an uninterrupted stream of verbal, psychological, and sometimes physical abuse. My depressions grew blacker, my desire for relief by any means more intense, until finally I despaired of ever finding truth in living, and debated within myself whether this life was actual reality, or perhaps was a construct by some demonic mind for whom I was a toy.
An older man I met in the burger joint where I worked on the weekends admired my legs and asked me for a date. I was flattered. Someone thought I was attractive. I got my mother’s permission–she was thrilled–and I went with him.
The details of that date have been published elsewhere.
“Don’t make any noise and you won’t get hurt.”
I woke up to those words, still muzzy from the drug he had slipped me. In the dark basement, his hand clamped over my mouth, my back squashed painfully into the cold concrete floor covered with moldy carpeting…..and the searing pain jolting through my body until at last he tore through, not through my hymen, but to the side of it, so that for many years I had not one but two openings there. (At last in my 40’s I had the courage to take at least some of my body back, and had that part surgically removed. Later I had a second surgery to try to repair the damage to the muscle between my vagina and my rectum, but that has mostly failed.)
After he finished with me, he bundled me back into his car and let me out in the dirt circle that stood in for my parents’ driveway, my blood soaking through my new spring coat.
That was my initiation into the cold, dark terrorism that is rape. My virgin sex, shredded beyond repair.
I ran away from “home,” hoping to find relief, but ended up homeless, being raped when I asked for bread, for shelter, for medical care.
I look at the few pictures of myself from that time. I was so young. I looked thirteen at the most. I had no figure, even though my mother’s pet name for me was “fat-ass.” The eyes looking out of the delicate triangular face were hollow and haunted.
Fast forward two years, and I was living with a kind and honest couple who had taken an interest in helping me pull myself out of the life on the street.
The Viet Nam war was still raging, and I was a dedicated anti-war activist, a still-passionate Peacenik who believed that Good could triumph over Evil if only The People would shout it out loud enough.
Young Mr. Doctor-To-Be frequently managed to take time out from his medical studies at Boston University to help organize rallies. We were Peace Rally Comrades, nothing more.
That time, I had incapacitating menstrual cramps in the midst of a rally on Boston Common. The rally had such a huge turn-out that the riot cops were exercising their batons. I was fainting and nauseous. Mr. Not Yet Doctor fanned my sweaty face with his poster and proposed that we go to his apartment, where he had some medicine that would relieve my cramps. Even though I had recently come off the streets, I did not doubt his intentions. Have I told you that I’m Autistic? I’m Autistic. I can’t read intentions.
He half-carried me to his apartment. I remember a dark stairwell, and being “helped” up the stairs. I remember the small white bedroom with its unremarkable furnishings. I remember being told to take off my panties and lie down. I remember wondering why that was necessary, but he must certainly know because he was the Almost-Doctor.
I remember his voice as he hissed in my ear:
“Don’t make any noise and you won’t get hurt.”
He took something out of his shirt pocket: a penlight, such as all doctors have in their pockets. I thought he was going to look at me with it, and froze.
He raped me with it, and as he did, he masturbated, and when he was finished he told me to go.
I climbed down from his bed, numb and bleeding, fumbled my way down the dark stairway and into the bright-white sunlight, dazed, blood running into my sandals, squish, squish.
I was in a part of Boston I had never seen before. I managed to get home somehow, my long skirts hiding the blood.
Fast forward three years and many events less dramatic than those.
Irish flute master classes with a famous and now dead Irish flute master. (NOT James Galway, thanks to G-d. And NOT Cathal McConnell.)
One day he refused my payment for my lesson. I thought that was odd, but did not understand the implications. I Am Autistic.
He got his tween coat, and off we went to the Custom House Tap, where we played duets for Black-And-Tans until we were both solidly drunk. He invited himself to my place for tea. We had not even got off the sidewalk when it started. This part I cannot write, for it is too triggering for me even to remember. But I didn’t run away. I was like a rabbit transfixed by the hard gaze of the wolf. I went along. I let him into my apartment. It got worse. Then it got horrible. Then he left me, gagging and bleeding, and I never heard anything more from him. Several years ago I went about trying to find his whereabouts. No purpose in mind; I just wanted to know.
The obituary said he had drowned while taking a swim off his private dock in Martha’s Vineyard. The pit of my stomach was cold: just as cold as that night that he rammed himself down my throat until I lost consciousness, waking choking on my own blood and his disgusting fluids.
Why do I wonder that it’s so hard to trust? Why do I feel as if around every corner there is something huge waiting for me, a muddy black smudge beckoning, threatening to take me over and obliterate me again and again and again?
Why do I feel a terror of closed spaces, a dread of not being able to escape? Why must I always have my back to a wall, facing the door, and know every escape route?
Why, when I think of being imprisoned, does the panic rise in my throat, and thoughts of suicide race through my head?
“Don’t make any noise and you won’t get hurt.”
Originally posted on Longreads Blog:
In this week’s list, I wanted to share the experiences of those committed—voluntarily or not—to a psychiatric facility. From One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to Nellie Bly’s 19th century expose to American Horror Story: Asylum, the “madhouse” occupies a weird space in America’s psyche, equal parts fascinating and feared. But the experiences of the patients and their caretakers are, obviously, very different than sensationalized cinematic accounts.
1. “Something More Wrong.” (Katherine B. Olson, The Big Roundtable, July 2013)
In this well-wrought essay, Katherine B. Olson profiles Alice Trovato, a woman and patient who mothers her unofficial charges and strives to make the most of her stay at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in the greens of Queens.
View original 147 more words
I’m in a good place right now. It isn’t often that I get to say that, and certainly never out loud. When most people get up in the morning feeling good, they understand that they’re in a good mood, and never give it a second thought. Most people never have to stop to wonder, they just know. There’s a part of me that will always question whether or not I am heading into a manic episode, otherwise known as mania.
I’m laughing a lot, sometimes at nonsensical things. I’m staying up too late, walking around singing, and reminiscing about the good old days. Quite possibly, I am in denial about a few things too. I’m getting a lot done during the day, and I seem to have a lot of energy out of nowhere.
Mania is defined as – mental illness marked by periods of great excitement, euphoria, delusions, and over-activity. I know for certain a few of those apply to me at this point. So, the question remains…should I continue to question where I’m at, because inevitably there will be a crash, or do I just go with it, and enjoy the ride?
How I wish I didn’t have to spend every day of my life interpreting my own moods, and trying to plan for the possibilities. Yet, this is my life and like it or not, these are the cards I’ve been dealt. It’s the crash I fear most of all. There’s no considering if it will happen, only when and how badly. As my thoughts begin to race, I have more and more trouble focusing on the task at hand.
Someday perhaps very soon, I will find myself deep in the depths of despair. I don’t mean to sound as if I am dwelling on that eventuality, but I must force myself to be realistic and prepare for the worst. I worry the most for my husband, who has been able to reap the benefits of my heightened mood, but will also suffer the consequences of my depression. What a tangled web this disease weaves. Being happy but not being able to enjoy the happiness? Well, that’s borderline ridiculous. Sometimes being so self-aware is a curse in itself.
Today I can safely say that while I know in my heart that I have entered a state of mania, I truly and wholeheartedly fear for my future. I will push those feelings to the back of my mind once again, and just hope. Sometimes that is all I have to hold onto is hope.
I will continue to be optimistic about what 2015 holds for me, but at the same time I am guarded. This could be one of the worst years of my life, or it could be a great year. It simply depends on the sequence of events. I won’t attempt to predict the future. For now, I will continue to live my life the best I know how, and try my best not to be so hard on myself.
I am sitting on one of the beige sofas – fake leather, probably plastic. Chosen for its ability to be mopped clean of tea, and sweat, and less savoury substances.
Next to me, Andy. Chain-smoker. Creator of some of the rather disturbing collages which hang on the walls of the stairwell down to the so-called recreation room.
Ahead, the doors to the lifts, and the other stairs.
The ones out.
I have had that exit in my sights for what seems like days, is probably hours. Time passes oddly here: in fits, and jerks, powered by visits, and ward rounds, and meds, and started each day by the little nursing assistant with her bray of: “Breakfast!”
I’m off, I tell Andy. Out those doors. Back to life, if not reality.
It is my lack of reality which brought me to this badly adapted set of rooms and corridors, its bland furnishings, and puce and brown colour schemes.
It is dull, dull, dull.
How is boredom supposed to calm me, when all this place does is make me want to escape to the Big Outside World which will almost certainly drag me back to Dullsville quicker than you can say Jack Nicholson?
My plan is hazy. I am at the black end of the colour spectrum. My mind is as flat and brown as the floors the cleaners are forever mopping around us.
Had I been at the other end, I would have been awash with ideas: each one a pinwheel or a merry-go-round, whirling with colour and song and popcorn smells and head-spinning motion.
On the beige couch, Andy takes a seat next to me. Today, I top his crazy like Everest tops Snowdon, like Jeremy Brett pips Basil Rathbone to the Sherlock Holmes post, like Pavarotti out-sings OneDirection … yes, all four or five of them.
Don’t go, Andy says.
Andy: who, in retrospect, probably had the same bi-coloured flavour of illness as myself. Don’t do it, he says. You know they’ll only bring you back. It will just make things worse, he says.
So I didn’t.
I was talked out of trying to leave a secure ward, by a chap who quite possibly had been pinging around them for years. Perhaps he still is.
I don’t know. The last time I saw Andy, it was to visit the sheltered accommodation he was staying at, a week or so after I was released. I took him some baccy, and a tobacco tin.
It was the least I could do.
1- Thank and link the person(s) who nominated you on your blog.
Thanks on the rocks! I can’t resist memes with questions.
2- Post the award in a visible area.
3- Answer the 10 question’s you will be given.
4- Nominate 7 other lovely blogger’s.
Nope, I don’t want to startle the horses.
5- Make sure you write out 10 new question’s for your nominees to answer.
Okay I will just in case anyone feels like it.
6- Don’t break the rules
Don’t lecture me. Your apostrophes need fixing.
1. If you could turn back time, would you? Why or why not?
No, I really don’t like Cher. Okay yeah I would actually. I’d go back and give my mother much less of a hard time about my sexuality and suicidality. I’d leave the other conflicts, just those two things.
2. What is your all-time favorite song?
R.E.M. – Wall of Death (the answer will be different day by day.)
3. Sweet or Salty?
Both together is yummy. If there is a gun to my head, salt.
4. Biggest fear?
5. Best Childhood memory?
6. Turn on iTunes, Spotify, Pandora, or what have you, and randomly shuffle through to the third song. What is it? How does it fit in your situation right in this moment?
Nick Cave – Brompton Oratory
The reading is from Luke 24
Where Christ returns to his loved ones
I look at the stone apostles
Think that it’s alright for some
Nick is my favourite Christian in the world, I think. I am an atheist, but I love the poetry in religion and the compassion and serenity of followers (good ones). So … the song relates enormously to memory for me. I bought Boatman’s Call in Nottingham and Brompton Oratory was my favourite song on it fairly fast. Idk how long later, I was au pairing in Knightsbridge for a French family with 264548 kids and we walked to Brompton Oratory for mass on xmas eve. And and and. Returning to the present, it’s about loss and intense grief – and so am I.
7. What movie best describes your life at the moment?
Three colours: Blue (Trois couleurs: Bleu)
8. What was the deciding factor in finally starting your blog?
I needed to write. I needed to process my diagnosis. Oh look, another clang assoc.
9. Religion, Spirituality, or Science? None? Combo?
Science and mystery.
10. You are given the choice between living in your dreams or living in your reality. What do you choose and why?
Reality, unless I can take all loved ones and dogs to dreamland. My dreams are safer, but my reality is beautiful despite a few wounds.
1. Who are you and what are you doing on my blog?
2. What is the meaning of life?
3. I’ve just set fire to your home, you can take three non-living things – what do you pick? Don’t worry, your family and pets are safe.
4. You have just won ONE MILLION DOLLARS (of the US variety), what will you do with it?
5. You can go back in time and change one historical event – what, why and how?
6. You can be someone else for a week – who and why?
7. You can hook up with your dream date – who and where?
8. Who do you respect the most and why?
9. What’s your guilty pleasure?
10. Does my ass look fat in this?
[The illustration features a house, seemingly unstable, perched precariously upon a cliff. The author, Sam Dylan Finch, is standing at the edge of that cliff, looking down with uncertainty. Inside the house, there are words in frames that read, “Everyone feels stressed sometimes.”]
I know this is an unexpected entry, seeing as I usually blog once a week. But it feels like the right time to talk about this.
One of the scary parts of bipolar disorder is that it often begets company. Co-occurring disorders are not uncommon for people who have bipolar, and yet they are conversations we tend to have behind closed doors. There’s something about having multiple labels assigned to us that really terrifies us.
Or at least, it really terrified me. I’ve been very open about my experiences with bipolar disorder, and have even discussed my history of disordered eating, yet I’ve never talked about my anxiety publicly, despite it being a disorder that has disrupted my life in undeniable and painful ways.
Not long after a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, I was given a second diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). And I promptly told no one.
The stigma associated with one disorder was already overwhelming. But a second disorder? It hardly seemed fair.
I was afraid of the judgment that came with not one disorder, but two, as so many people with co-occurring anxiety disorders feel.
While people were comfortable thinking of me as having bipolar after years of advocacy surrounding it, what would they think if they knew about my anxiety? I was afraid that I would be less respected as a survivor and advocate, and instead, be seen as “too crazy.”
I’m not alone in that, either. Sometimes when we talk about mental health, we feel pressured to be selective about what we share, or pick and choose how much we disclose. It’s like we’re allowed to be a little unstable, but we can’t be unstable to the point of being unapproachable. It’s a sort of respectability politics that many neuroatypical folks are constantly navigating.
Yes, even me. I was afraid at first to talk about my anxiety. Even the person who went viral for talking about co-occurring disorders.
And that kind of juggling act? Crazy-but-not-too-crazy? It takes a lot of energy.
GAD is not the easiest thing to put up on a shelf, and it became difficult to hide. As someone who has suffered from panic attacks and debilitating anxiety for as long as I could remember, it has been a consistent obstacle that has only worsened as I reached adulthood.
My tendency to lock myself in and frequently cancel plans, for example, did not go unnoticed by friends. Take the bus? To your house? But that’s a bus route I’ve never taken! And I could get lost! And what then?
Simple things were daunting – visiting a new place, taking the bus, even going outside – and in order to soothe my anxiety, I had a system of complicated rules that eventually descended into dysfunction.
Never take a new bus route without practicing it first.
Never take the bus after nine o’clock pm.
Never take the bus without a friend.
Never take the bus.
Never leave the house.
The “what then” and “what if” scenarios were never very likely, but felt real and threatening enough to discourage me from doing what I wanted and often needed to do. I was intimidated by seemingly simple things, stressed to the point where I eventually decided to do nothing at all. I would self-isolate or make excuses to avoid the things that scared me.
After one too many unexplained disappearances, cancellations, and panic attacks while I hid in public restrooms, I had to fess up: my bipolar had a companion, and that companion was called GAD.
If I had to describe generalized anxiety, I would describe it as chronic fear.
Fear of public transit. Fear of strangers. Fear of disappointing others. Fear of making mistakes. Fear of being abandoned. Fear of failure. Fear of mold. Fear of bugs. Fear of judgment. Fear of big crowds. Fear of being alone. Fear of talking too much. Fear of not saying enough. Fear of being disliked. Fear of the future. Fear of natural disasters. Fear of the “what ifs” and all the things that could go wrong.
And fear of absolutely nothing, fear for fear’s sake, fear of just being alive in a world that was inexplicably scary to me.
My life, on paper, could be going perfectly well. And yet I would still find something to be anxious about. My brain was incredibly skilled that way.
It was the kind of fear that gave me aches and pains, exhaustion, and nausea for weeks on end. The kind of anxiety that makes it impossible to eat or sleep, further draining my body and weakening my defenses.
There was a continuous dread that I felt in the pit of my stomach – the unwavering conviction that something terrible was going to happen, and I would be helpless to stop it.
I spent years at a time in a panic that I could not control or affect.
And when it reached a peak, I would have awful panic attacks – hyperventilating in a car, my hands going numb, my heart palpitating wildly in my chest, tunnel vision, unable to speak, cold chills sweeping over my body, unable to breathe and gasping for air that never seemed to reach my lungs.
I felt constantly on-edge, as if I were at the top of a roller coaster that was suspended, prepared to drop at any moment. And yes, in case you were wondering, I’m also afraid of roller coasters.
Bipolar and anxiety were a toxic combination that, alone, I could not overcome.
It took years of therapy, self-care, and medication before I began to make a dent in my anxiety. It has taken time, and to this day, it is something I’m still in the process of overcoming. And like everyone else that lives with chronic anxiety, I have my good days and my bad days.
Co-occurring anxiety disorders, and anxiety disorders in general, are not rare. But the stigma surrounding these disorders is all too common.
We are often faced with invalidation (“everyone feels stressed!”), disbelief (“I’m pretty sure that’s not a real disorder”), or worse yet, misguided advice that seems to suggest that we can simply “think” our way out of anxiety. All of these responses misconstrue chronic anxiety as something it isn’t – in our control and of our own choosing.
The reality is, people with anxiety disorders can’t just “fix” themselves. It’s an uphill battle, and one that warrants compassion, patience, and understanding.
As a mental health blogger, it would be against everything that I stand for to allow the stigma around anxiety disorders to discourage me from sharing my experiences. So I offer you this glimpse into my struggles with GAD with the hopes of creating a safer space for us all to talk about it — not just now, but in the future, too.
Yes, bipolar disorder and generalized anxiety too often go hand-in-hand.
But no, I’m no longer ashamed to say that this is what I’m up against.
Sam Dylan Finch is a queer activist and feminist writer, based in the SF Bay. He is the founder of Let’s Queer Things Up!, his blog and labor of love. With a passion for impacting change through personal narrative, Sam writes about his struggles and triumphs as genderqueer and bipolar with the hopes of teaching others about his identity and community. When he isn’t writing, he’s probably eating takeout and dancing to Taylor Swift.