Update!

explanations, housekeeping, Uncategorized

Good afternoon, readers!

I have not abandoned you–on the contrary, I’ve been busy doing research for the upcoming series on deinstitutionalization and the history of psychiatric hospitals here in the United States. (I’m also back in school now and taking three classes–counseling techniques, diversity and social justice, and legal and ethical issues of counseling–all of which are very interesting!)

I do post more regularly on the Facebook page for The Dissociated Press, so you can check out (and like, if you’re so inclined) the page for updates and other bite-sized posts.

I hope to be back on a more regular posting schedule soon!

-Jess

News Day Tuesday: Bipolar Awareness Day!

a cure for what ails you, explanations, major depression, medication, mood diary, News Day Tuesday, ptsd, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, stigma, therapy

Happy Tuesday, readers! Today (October 4th) is Bipolar Awareness Day, so I wanted to share an article with you that outlines the basic symptoms (for the uninitiated, as I know there are some new readers here) as well as what’s on the horizon in terms of treatment.

First of all, let’s hear about what bipolar disorder actually is. I’m referencing bt.com for the purposes of this tidbit, as the article I found gives a really great Reader’s Digest condensed version of the illness.

National charity Bipolar UK characterise the condition as “a severe mental health illness characterised by significant mood swings, including manic highs and depressive lows”, and note that, “the majority of individuals with bipolar experience alternating episodes of mania and depression”.

According to this article, it takes 10.5 years on average (in the UK) for people with bipolar disorder to be properly diagnosed. The National Depressive and Manic Depressive Association (NDMD) paints a similarly grim picture: it can take ten years or more for a diagnosis to be reached, and 69% of cases are misdiagnosed.

What are the symptoms?

There are two sides to bipolar: mania and depression.

During a bout of depression, it is possible to feel: grumpy, without hope, guilty, self-doubting, suicidal, pessimistic, worthless, lacking curiosity and concentration.

And with mania: elation, full of energy, ideas and plans, easily distracted, feeling invincible, risky behaviour including spending huge amounts of money.

Both can feature: lack of appetite, insomnia and delusions.

-bt.com

My experience began very early. I remember fits of agitation and depression as early as eight years old, which at the time was chalked up to the incredibly rough hand I was dealt–a broken home, a mother who struggled with bipolar disorder herself as well as alcoholism, extreme bullying, and persistent nightmares (which were later diagnosed as a feature of PTSD). NAMI states that rapid-cycling bipolar disorder, the most severe form of the illness, seems to be more common in individuals who begin exhibiting symptoms early in life.

From NAMI.org:

Early Warning Signs of Bipolar Disorder In Children and Teens

Children may experience severe temper tantrums when told “no.” Tantrums can last for hours while the child continues to become more violent. They may also show odd displays of happy or silly moods and behaviors. A new diagnosis, Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD), was added to the DSM-5 in 2014.

– See more at: http://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Bipolar-Disorder/Overview#sthash.l0XKtkSy.dpuf

When I was eighteen, I decided to see a therapist and psychiatrist for the intense mood swings that had plagued me for most of my life. I was initially told that my deep depressions were the result of PTSD. I was prescribed fluoxetine (brand name Prozac), which only made the agitation worse. And I was still depressed.

At 22, I relocated to Wisconsin and began the search for something, anything, that would finally help me feel “normal.” The misdiagnoses continued: major depressive disorder, for which I was prescribed Abilify and trazodone. I felt amazing on Abilify for about two weeks, and then I crashed. Trazodone made me a zombie. (Note: It is not atypical for antipsychotics to be prescribed to treat both MDD and bipolar disorder.)

Bipolar disorder is most often misdiagnosed in its early stages, which is frequently during the teenage years. When it is diagnosed as something else, symptoms of bipolar disorder can get worse. This usually occurs because the wrong treatment is provided. Other factors of a misdiagnosis are inconsistency in the timeline of episodes and behavior.

-healthline.com

When I was 24 and in my first “adult job” with health insurance, I found a wonderful psychiatrist who, over the course of several sessions, examined my family history and asked very specific questions to find the root of my illness. At first, I didn’t even think to mention my “up” periods, because even with the agitation and sleeplessness, I actually felt good–and no one goes to the doctor when they’re feeling well. But upon deeper probing, he came to a conclusion: first bipolar II, then, after further investigation and a few weeks of mood tracking in a journal, rapid-cycling bipolar I.

That first year was rough. I cycled so frequently that the days were exhausting. One day, I bounced between depression and mixed episodes several times in a single 24-hour period. Slowly but surely, the medications my doctor had prescribed (venlafaxine/Effexor, lamotrigine, and lithium) began to take effect. I began to stabilize. There were no more florid creative periods, but I was also able to sleep for more than an hour a night for the first time in weeks. My misery began to ebb, and though it didn’t disappear completely (a dysfunctional marriage contributed, among other things), I began to feel like a person again instead of a defective thing that needed to be turned off and fixed.

Aside from pharmaceuticals, NAMI’s website mentions cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychotherapy that focuses on self-care and stress management, and, in rare cases, electro-convulsive therapy (ECT). Learning to recognize the triggers for each type of episode is key; one suggestion offered by the numerous therapists I’ve seen over the years is mood tracking/journaling.

However, I had to stop at one point because, in the heyday of my illness, I began to obsess over the cycles, sometimes tracking up to ten or eleven times a day. Instead of the journaling soothing my mind, I began to worry that I was untreatable. I found my mood journal during a recent move and it was difficult reading, to say the least. But it was also a reminder of how far I’ve come and how much my quality of life has improved since receiving a proper diagnosis.

These days, I’m doing much better. My medications have been adjusted slightly to accommodate the deep depressive episodes I’m prone to during the fall and winter months, but I am proud of myself for being able to recognize that the winter storm was a-comin’. Three years ago, I would not have been able to see the symptoms for what they are: a warning sign and a signal that I need to not only keep up with my medications, but to practice good self-care. In the past, I saw fall and winter as something awful that I had to endure. Now, I realize that I can still enjoy life even when the days begin to get longer and darker. The seasons are no longer a metaphor for the overall “climate” in my head.

How long did it take for you to receive a proper diagnosis, readers? Are you taking care of yourselves as winter approaches? I hope you’re all doing well and staying healthy and safe. And spread the word–this illness is massively misunderstood, even by mental health professionals, so it’s our job to reach out and counter-strike against the misinformation and discrimination.


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Roar, roar, the thunder and the roar.

a cure for what ails you, Authoress, explanations, major depression, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, stigma, three hopeful thoughts

I am in the throes of my first major depressive episode in over six months. I know exactly what caused it—money problems, worrying about my grandma (who is now 91, essentially nonverbal, and raised me on her own, which basically makes her my mom), frustration over the slow divorce process, trying to figure out what’s going on with my headaches—but remained wilfully ignorant of the warning signs because I hoped it would pass.

I finally accepted/realized what was happening in my brain last night. I’ve been really horrible to myself lately in terms of inappropriate guilt and self-loathing. I’ve been blaming myself for a lot of things, most of which are completely out of my control. Once again, it’s not that I’m unaware of these problems. It’s that I have no idea what to do with the insights.

But I’m trying to stay positive because I know this will pass. My depressive episodes tend not to last very long—usually a month or two, and I’m about a week and a half into the really bad phase of this one. The final divorce hearing is on November 5th. Last night, my ex and I had an appointment at Green Path to figure out the debt situation, which is bad but not as bad as it could be. My fella’s coming back from his latest business trip tomorrow night. I’m one step away from completing my graduate school application; all I have left is the personal interview.

And I’m reminding myself of my plans for the future, too. Once I have my license, I plan to work as a counselor for a while, then go on to pursue a Psy.D and possibly a degree in Criminology as well, just for kicks. It’s looking more and more likely, given the progression of my various illnesses, that I won’t be able to have kids by the time I’m ready—and even if I’m able to retain some shreds of fertility, it’s probably not a good idea because I have so many health problems that are heritable. In other words, I have no reason not to go ridiculously hard at the school/career thing.

Once I’ve attained a certain level of credibility, I want to combine my love of/talent for writing with my passion for psychology (and, of course, fighting the stigma) and gain access to a psychiatric hospital with the goal of eventually writing a book about the hospital, perhaps some of the staff, and most importantly, the patients.

I want to tell their stories. I want to show people that we’re really not that scary. Even when our brains are doing some freaky and perplexing things, we still have hopes and dreams and fears and all the other little things that make neurotypical people “tick.”

I want to paint a picture of the hospital to prove that Hollywood has it wrong—I had the opportunity to tour the state hospital in Independence, Iowa as a senior in high school and found the facility stunningly different from what we’re fed through popular media. I’m tired of cringeing every time I hear the words “multiple personality disorder” on TV or see a straitjacket Halloween costume. I’m tired of being “The Other,” and I suspect most of you are, too. I’m tired of being seen as exotic and dangerous and unpredictable and sort of otherworldly just because my brain tends to misfire sometimes. I’m tired of having my struggles used for shock value. I’m tired of seeing symbols of our oppression used as fashion statements by the oblivious.

I want to fix that obliviousness or die trying. This is the one topic that has gotten me consistently fired up, regardless of my mental state. Even when I’m so far down that I can barely get out of bed, I can still muster up enough passion to call out the horrifying things I see, to correct the misinformation, to have a meaningful dialogue where I and the other person walk away feeling as though we’ve learned something.

As a nihilist, I reject the concept that anything has any inherent meaning; therefore, I don’t believe in the idea that anyone has a “calling.” That being said, I find this to be a very hopeful philosophy because it means each of us can choose our path in life. I believe that the things I’ve been through, the abuse and my brain chemistry and the various horrors I’ve seen, were formative in such a way that I feel compelled to devote my life to psychology. I guess this is how theists feel when they decide to become members of the clergy.

At the very least, I have to believe that my suffering (though I hate using that word because it feels incredibly maudlin and self-absorbed) has meant something. I have to believe that it’s redemptive and that it’s not too late for me, that my life has meaning. I constantly look for motivators, little signs that I’m meant to be here and that my existence has a purpose. I think that when a person is pushed to their absolute limit, they either try to find a reason to stay alive or they completely give up on life. I’m not ready to give up.

I am tougher than Chinese algebra and I am going to be okay.

I remember.

abuse, explanations, ptsd, three hopeful thoughts

I remember the way the cold March wind felt against my pale blue spring jacket as I stood alone on the playground, looking up at the dead trees creating a black labyrinth against the white sky.

I remember that wind, warmer now, ruffling my hair on an overcast day.

I remember rainy early-summer days where it was so dark outside, the lights in the living room were on and cast a soft glow on the miniature city I’d constructed with my figurines.

I remember painting the room overlooking the garden at my friend’s house. It was, again, overcast, and the coolness of the dark hardwood floors beneath my feet, spattered with seafoam paint, was the most wonderful thing I’d ever felt.

I remember riding my bike around the neighborhood at sunset after a thunderstorm, inhaling the heavy air and taking time to admire the myriad of colors in the oil spots on the wet pavement as if committing each one to memory.

I remember waking up in my mother’s boyfriend’s house in the spare bedroom he’d made just for me. They had just returned from a date. I remember seeing the door open, his frame silhouetted against the yellow light of the hall, and then nothing.

I remember my very first mixed episode. I was fourteen and stressing over what outfit to wear to a “graduation from middle school” party a wealthy friend was throwing. In my frustration, I grabbed a coat hanger, desperate and aching and crying and full of rage, and slashed up my upper arms. I wore a sweater in May.

I remember waking up before dawn and walking to my aunt’s station wagon in the frigid air. I piled blankets and my chapter books into the back in preparation for the two-hour ride to the penitentiary where my mother was being held.

I remember the twelve years during which my mother and I communicated only by phone and letters.

I remember going up to see her at age 19 with my new boyfriend, who later became my husband. She was already drunk when we picked her up, but I think we had a pretty good time.

I remember when my great-aunt died. She was like a mother to me. I got the news early in the morning on the day I planned to visit her in the nursing home, then promptly sat down and churned out a 20-page psychoanalysis of Dorian Gray. Then, I spent the next two weeks crying. We sent out our wedding invitations the day before her funeral.

I remember the first time a boy ever hit me. I was seventeen. It was my boyfriend.

I remember the first time a boy ever told me I was worthless. I was seventeen. It was my boyfriend.

I remember the first time a boy raped me. I was seventeen. It was my boyfriend.

I remember the last day I cut myself: December 16, 2013.

I remember the first time I felt stable and glad to be alive in years; it was three weeks ago.

 

Baby steps, readers. Don’t let anyone tell you your past doesn’t matter; it is your story and has made you who you are. Just don’t let it repeat itself.

Stay safe and lovely, readers.

– J

Five stigmatizing/problematic phrases and why you should stop using them.

abuse, explanations, stigma, three hopeful thoughts

I’m generally a pretty tolerant and patient person when it comes to talking about mental illness— I want to be polite and educate people and I think it’s counterproductive to get pissed off about every single thing (also, I don’t have the energy for that). That being said, there are a couple of phrases I hear on a regular basis that make my blood boil. They’re often used out of ignorance, not actual malice, which is why I believe it’s so important to call people out and use the mistake as a teachable moment.

1. “I’m so OCD about that!”

What people usually mean: “I have some quirks and like to have some things a certain way.”

Why it’s hurtful: Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a mental illness, and by misusing this phrase, you’re essentially invalidating the everyday struggles of those living with the disorder.

One of the main characteristics of the disorder is obsessive, invasive thoughts, ideas, or behaviors that often interrupt other thoughts or activities. In order to alleviate these thoughts, the person typically has to partake in a certain behavior or set of behaviors (sometimes called rituals)—this is the compulsive part of the disorder.

For example, I’m sure you’ve all heard of the fear of being contaminated/hand-washing obsession/compulsion. What people don’t realize is that many people living with OCD find the disorder distracting, disruptive, and embarrassing. By saying things like “I’m so OCD!” you’re minimizing their very real concerns and struggles and turning it into a cutesy one-liner. Don’t do that.

2. “I don’t want to go to that party; I’m so antisocial.”

What people usually mean: “Well, ‘social’ means you like being around people, right? So ‘antisocial’ must mean the opposite!”

ImageWhy it’s hurtful: This one actually does piss me off because the people who say this are completely misusing the word. It doesn’t even mean what you think it means so in addition to trivializing a very real and serious disorder, you’re also making yourself look like an uneducated ass-hat.

In reality, “antisocial” refers to a specific personality disorder, the hallmark of which is a persistent disregard for the rights and feelings of others. There’s a whole list of diagnostic criteria at the linked page, but the most common example/trope used to describe this disorder is the person who hurts people and feels no remorse for what they’ve done.

People with antisocial PD are not bad people. It’s problematic and can cause a lot of emotional damage, but again, the thing to remember with any mental illness is that the person suffering from it did not cause it.

3. “I’m so bipolar!”

What people usually mean: “I had, like, one mood swing today and it took me off-guard so I’m going to misappropriate a mental illness because of my very general and poor understanding of what it actually is.”

Why it’s hurtful: Like most of the examples on this list, “I’m so bipolar!” is problematic because it minimizes another really serious disorder by presenting it as one-dimensional, and that one dimension everyone knows about is the mood swings. If you ask a person on the street what they think bipolar is, nine times out of ten they’ll say “mood swings.”

That’s why this phrase is so damaging—it completely ignores all the other symptoms of this very complicated illness. I’m assuming most of you have been following this blog for a while, so I’m sure you’re familiar with what goes on in the brain of someone who’s bipolar. (I prefer the term “manic depressive” because while it’s technically outdated, it’s more descriptive than “bipolar,” implying a range of emotions rather than two strict “poles.”)

If you’re new or need a refresher, check out NIMH’s website for an awesome and relatively simple description.

4. “He’s so schizo/psycho!”

What people usually mean: “He is behaving erratically or in a way that does not make sense to me.”

Why it’s damaging: This is two-fold.

First of all, schizophrenia is a particularly severe mental illness; there is no cure, and treatment options are kind of dismal at the moment. When you call someone “schizo” when you’re referring to nonsensical or erratic behavior, you are (once again) minimizing the actual severity of the illness and all of its nuances.

This is bad for one simple reason: it perpetuates misinformation and makes it seem like having a mental illness makes someone “bad,” which perpetuates the stigma.

The same goes for the term “psycho.” I’ve actually cut people out of my life for repeatedly using the term after I’ve explained why it’s so harmful and offensive. “Psycho” usually refers to “psychosis,” which is a break from reality. It can happen for a variety of reasons—trauma, substance abuse, or mental illnesses like schizophrenia (the one most people associate with psychosis) or bipolar type I (psychosis/hallucinations/delusions are not at all uncommon during severe manic or depressive episodes).

You say “He/She is psycho/schizo,” and what happens? People laugh. When you misuse those words (and really, you shouldn’t be using them at all because they’re offensive abbreviations that are always used in a derogatory manner), you’re telling people that it’s okay to laugh at people with mental illnesses because they’re “different.” They’re “crazy.” I’d like to think that the people who fall into this category are simply misinformed, but the reality is that there are a lot of terrible people out there who are unwilling to learn or change their behavior.

5. “She’s crazy!”

What people usually mean: This can mean one of two things. It’s sometimes used as a positive descriptor, in which case it means something like “She’s wild and uninhibited, which makes her fun.” I really don’t have a problem with it being used in that context because “crazy” is one of those words that can be used in a variety of ways, and this one happens to be complimentary. If you want to use that term to refer to yourself as a coping mechanism/making light of the situation, that’s totally fine. It’s when other people begin to use it that it becomes an issue (if you haven’t given them permission to do so). But in general, I still believe that people who aren’t mentally ill have no right to use that word to describe someone.

When it becomes problematic: When it’s used to hurt people or make a generalization about someone’s mental health. I’ve had “You’re crazy” thrown at me hundreds of times in the last twenty-some years, and it has almost exclusively been used to mean “You’re unhinged, you’re different, you’re not like us, there’s something wrong with you.”

That’s what stigma is—perpetuating the idea that the mentally ill are somehow “different” or “wrong,” not like the general public and certainly not worthy of being treated like people who are mentally healthy.

I’m sure you’re having the knee-jerk “Jesus H. Christ” reaction when you read it broken down like that—or at least, I hope you are. I hope you realize that it’s definitely not okay to discriminate against another human being for any reason, and I hope you’re doing your part to call people out and be more mindful of your own phrasing.

What to do when you’re called out: This is pretty simple. There are three steps to dealing with being called out for saying something problematic:

  1. Listen to what the person is saying and make every effort to understand why they’re upset.
  2. Apologize sincerely. Say something like, “I’m sorry for saying x. I didn’t realize it was hurtful, but now that I know, I am going to do my best not to say it anymore.”
  3. And then move on. Don’t get butthurt or dwell on it (“Those mean social justice people! They’re too uptight, they made me feel bad, bawwww.”) Just take it as a learning experience and try to use what you’ve learned to educate other people.

That’s really the only way we can fight this thing, the gigantic stigma-beast that makes life unpleasant, if not downright hellish, for most of us. At some point, we’re going to need people on the outside, allies who aren’t mentally ill (and remember, “ally” is a verb, not a noun) to help spread the word and back up what we’re saying.

The sad reality is that a lot of people are dismissive of our experiences with mental illness because we’re mentally ill, and therefore we’re apparently not credible sources about our own oppression. (Lollll.) And common sense tells us that the more people are fighting this battle, the more people we’re going to reach and the more minds we’re going to change.

Informational post: panic attacks versus mixed episodes.

a cure for what ails you, explanations, medication, ptsd, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, self-harm, stigma, suicidal ideation

In May, I woke up feeling rather odd—jittery, teary, completely unable to calm down. I’d felt this way before, but it had never been that bad. After about an hour of trying (and failing) to steady myself, I asked my husband to take me to the emergency room because I was afraid for my safety.

I thought I was having a severe panic attack and spent four and a half hours confined to a bed in the ER on suicide watch; after demonstrating that I really was okay and didn’t need to be committed to the psych ward upstairs, I was released with a prescription for lorazepam. At the time, we thought panic attacks were a reasonable explanation, given that I have C-PTSD and a couple of dissociative disorders as a result.

I continued taking lorazepam whenever I felt that way, even after I’d learned I was having mixed episodes and not panic attacks. I needed a couple of milligrams before I started feeling okay again, but that much knocked me out for a couple of hours…not really the most productive way to handle the situation. I talked to my psychiatrist and learned that benzos are pretty much the worst thing to take during a mixed episode because they heighten the feeling of detachment, which can lead to more anxiety and make things worse. He prescribed quetiapine (Seroquel) and so far, it’s worked; I usually don’t need a very high dose, about 50 mg, whenever I feel a severe mixed episode coming on.

Having learned more about panic attacks, it seems strange to me that the ER staff didn’t recognize my mixed episode for what it was. While panic attacks tend to produce more physical symptoms (racing heartbeat, shortness of breath, chills, hot flashes, nausea, trembling, sweating), mixed episodes (also called mixed mania) tend to produce more mental symptoms, such as the highs of mania with the lows and despair of major depression, urge to self-harm or attempt suicide, and uncontrollable swings between moods and thoughts.

I think the reason the two were confused that day was because of the mental symptoms present during a panic attack—fear of loss of control and a sense of impending doom, which is how my fear of self-injuring or attempting suicide was interpreted. I was having cold sweats and my heart was racing, but as I’ve started paying closer attention to my moods and symptoms, I’ve found that those, along with an overall feeling of panic or being out of control, generally accompany my mixed states.

There are many great resources online about how to help and what not to do when someone is having a panic disorder, so I won’t touch on those. Below are a list of things that I find particularly helpful when I’m going through a mixed episode (and what to avoid doing). Feel free to chime in with your suggestions in the comment section!

  • I really dislike being touched in general, so touching me is likely to make things worse. However, I’ve found that if my husband holds me in a particularly tight embrace, the compression is soothing and helps me calm down and feel safe and loved. During a mixed episode, I tend to feel very guilty and my self-worth plummets, so the physical contact from a loved one helps reassure me that I am worthy and do not need to harm myself as “penance” (the main reason I used to self-injure) or “eliminate my own map” to relieve loved ones of the burden.
  • Obviously, confiscating my sharps prevents me from hurting myself and is very helpful.
  • If I’m too far gone to realize I have medication that will help me calm down, being brought a Seroquel (which is an antipsychotic) and a glass of water with tons of ice cubes in it (which I love) is very helpful. It takes a few minutes for it to kick in, but when it does, the noise in my head quiets down, the psychomotor agitation goes away, and I’m able to focus again. The worst case scenario is that it knocks me out for a few hours if I’m given too much, but at least I’m not in danger of harming myself.
  • Saying comforting things that are not in the form of absolutes is very helpful. For example, saying specific things such as “You are worth something because you’re spreading the word about mental illness” is much more helpful than saying “Stop it, you’re not a bad person.” If you reference specific things, my brain can recognize those as true—I am writing about mental illness in the interest of raising awareness and fighting the stigma—I will not be able to argue with it, whereas I could go in circles all day long with all the reasons I think I’m a bad person.
  • Playing music or doing something over-the-top to make me laugh has been a good way to “break” the episode in the past. It’s important to note that not everything works as a distraction, but if you can get me laughing (which is not difficult because I have an entire folder of gifs/images/text posts that have made me laugh hard enough to cry in the past; also, my sense of humor runs extremely dark, so saying something really fucked-up is likely to make me lose it), there’s a good chance it’ll shorten the duration of the episode by giving me something else to think about.
  • I cannot stress enough how important it is to avoid saying the things I mentioned above: “It’s going to be okay,” “You’re not a bad person,” “Stop getting down on yourself,” “Just try to calm down,” etc. They’re not helpful, they just make me feel worse, and they usually cause the situation to escalate.

I’ll put together a post like this on C-PTSD and what my specific triggers are, what people can do to avoid triggering me, etc. I’d really like to hear from my readers, though—I want to hear about your coping techniques and how people can avoid triggering you.

Love and antipsychotics,

J.

“You! Yes, you! Stand still laddy!”

abuse, explanations

I don’t like to air dirty laundry like this, but I feel that this anecdote is particularly important because it extends past bullying and moves right on into harassment territory without stopping.

When I was in the fourth grade, my mother was finishing up her prison term for domestic abuse (out early on good behavior). I had been the target of bullying ever since she lost control of her drinking problem when I was seven years old and the other parents decided they didn’t want their children exposed to that. Now, I realize that things like “You’re trash because your mother is trash” aren’t phrases that schoolchildren make up on their own; it starts in the home with the (vindictive, frightened, ignorant) parents who don’t understand the situation at hand one bit.

I was in the lunch room one day—I’m pausing here to note that every single day in school, from grades two through twelve, were hellish—when the girls at the next table over started whispering and looking at me funny. It wasn’t long before I learned that one girl, who I had been friends with since kindergarten, had started a rumor that my mother was in prison because “[my] mom tried to kill [her] mom.”

In reality, all I know for certain is that my mother had frequently taken me over to their house to play and gone off to hang out and drink with the girl’s father, which (knowing my mother) meant that they were likely having an affair. The only way I can wrap my head around this grade school viciousness is that perhaps, once my mother had gone to prison, the girl’s mother had found out about it and said something particularly off-color, which my classmate then overheard.

This is pure speculation, of course; I’ve been the target of some unspeakable things over the years at the hands of my peers, and it helps to at least speculate about why people are so damn horrible. (Since becoming a misanthrope and existential nihilist, existence is much easier because I no longer feel the need to find logic in the terrible things other people do.)

When I went to my teacher to report what had happened, she told me it wasn’t her problem and that I had to deal with it on her own. A nine-year-old was expected to deal with a vicious rumor about a supposedly homicidal mother that everyone in the grade (which was a decent number of people) believed. I had spent a lot of time crying over being bullied in the past, but this is the first time I can remember that I was actually afraid of what my peers might say or do to me, and by extension, my family. I didn’t want their parents to find out and start shit with my aunt, who was stressed out enough trying to provide for us, and my grandmother, who had enough on her plate with raising a child and having a daughter in prison.

Sidenote: While the teacher was reading us The BFG one day, a book I had previously adored, I found a paperclip on the floor and began nervously unwinding it. When I approached her to ask a question later, she responded by saying “Don’t you come at me with that thing.” I’m guessing she thought that because my mother had supposedly attempted murder, I was a particularly evil child with purely malevolent intentions rather than an unfortunate kid who was fidgety because she was a goddamn nervous wreck by that point.

There’s really no point to this, other than sharing one particularly horrendous scene from my grade school days. I have countless others, but none are quite as terrible as this (other than the time a classmate with some behavioral disorder beat me over the head with a backpack on our way out of school; when my mother called to complain, the teacher and principal insisted that I “must have done something to provoke him”).

When I confronted by mother a few years ago about the special hell her bad decisions had created for me, she refused to acknowledge it and retorted, “You think you had it bad?” and went on to rant about her experiences in prison. We’ve since developed something of an uneasy friendship, like a cobra and a mongoose (I like to think that because she’s getting on in years, I am more like the mongoose, having learned how to quickly detect someone’s weak points and be vicious when absolutely necessary; those times are few and far between). But we have never discussed those years since.

And it still hurts.

Manic Depression: A Brief Explanation

authoress in motion, explanations, major depression, medication, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, self-harm, stigma

I finally got around to editing the explanation video on bipolar disorder/manic depression (I prefer the latter term as I feel it’s more descriptive).

In the video, I talk about the different categories of bipolar disorder, what each phase (from depression to mania and mixed states) is and what it feels like, and tips for dealing with a mixed episode.

Third anniversary.

explanations

Today is the third anniversary of my great-aunt’s death. It happened on a Friday morning; I called my grandma’s house to see if my aunt-mom wanted to go visit her in the nursing home with me and was informed that she’d passed early that morning from congestive heart failure.

I helped my aunt-mom and grandma take care of her from when I was fifteen until twenty-one. She’d begun to show early signs of dementia when I was younger, but went downhill quite quickly after she had a valve replacement when I was a young teenager. She moved in with us and stayed in our house until my grandmother had a stroke…then, unfortunately, we had to move her to a nursing home. I was working and busy with college, and my aunt-mom was also working two jobs. Gran was in the hospital for about a month, and her health was beginning to fail as well.

She met D when he was visiting me for the first time and staying in our house, and though her Alzheimer’s was quite advanced by that point, she always remembered him and was quite fond of him because he’d sit for hours and talk to her and my grandma. My previous boyfriend, who had abused me, never really said much to my family, and my great-aunt never remembered his name. But whenever I’d take D with me to visit her in the nursing home, she greeted us with a huge smile and always gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek before we left.

When I was told she’d passed, I didn’t cry. Instead, I sat down and wrote a massive 25-page psychology paper analyzing Dorian Gray and coming up with a treatment plan for his disorders. Ha. It was a weird time in my life, because D and I had decided to scrap the plans for a big wedding, push the date to December 2010, and were sending out invitations the weekend of her wake/funeral. During both events, I was inconsolable, though my family didn’t really talk about it and I barely saw any of them cry. I don’t mean to imply that they’re cold; it’s just that most of my family believes in keeping a stiff upper lip and soldiering on. I would have been able to do so, too, if it weren’t for the fact that my great-aunt was the first major death I’d experienced and she was essentially a mother to me—she was always there to help my grandmother when I was a child and stopped by every single night after work to spend time with me and feed me when I was a baby. We went everywhere together during my summer and winter vacations from school, and I spent many weekends at her house learning to cook and bake. She was a fantastic bowler and sharp at cards, and she and my grandma spent quite a bit of time playing cards and reminiscing about the “old days” and their friends from when they were young.

Today has been really hard for me. She was an incredible woman and I’ll always miss her. I want to get a memorial tattoo for her, probably yellow roses (which decorated her coffin and are symbolic of friendship) and some type of bird on a branch. I know it’s sort of a cliche concept, but I can’t think of anything that represents her more accurately.

I’ll end with some of my favorite photos of her. I’ve never fully grieved and think of her every day, but I’m hoping the sadness will start to fade after a while and be replaced with happy memories. As an atheist, I don’t really believe in heaven or hell, but I’m making an exception for her. She was an incredible woman, and I hope there was something better waiting for her on the other side. She deserved it.

 

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Self-objectification

explanations, ptsd, therapy

I never thought I was one of those girls who uses sex to get love. When I slept around, it was because I was being a sexually liberated woman, asserting my agency over my desires and my body. I spent two years in a relationship where I was told how to dress and act, who to speak to and who to avoid at all costs. In the bedroom, I was allowed to do only a small number of things my partner deemed acceptable, and if I expressed desires of my own, I was shamed for them.

“Why are you so sexual?” he’d ask time after time. In response, I’d always cry and feel like a damaged human being for having preferences and needs.

After that relationship ended, I went out into the world on shaky legs, determined to reassert control over my body. I was going to act how men acted—doing whatever I damn well pleased with whoever I wanted without regrets or feeling the need to conceal my activities. It wasn’t born of any need for love or acceptance, even after I got my feelings bruised again and again when, despite my efforts to be the flavor of the week’s dream girl, the person in question ghosted on me. I didn’t get it–I was charming, easy to talk to, funny, pretty. Good in bed. They all said so…why wasn’t it working? Why couldn’t I hold onto anyone?

Years later, D. told me he wished I’d treat my body as more sacred. The turn of phrase seemed unusual, given that we’re both atheists.

“I’m not saying you’re easy,” he said gently, stroking my back as I cried. “But maybe you need to look at your motivations.”

He was right. Every damn time, all I wanted was to be somebody’s baby, to have someone care about me. Thankfully, my relationship with D. (which started as a hookup) panned out and he decided, for whatever reason, that I was worth keeping around. I got spooked, naturally, but his sweetness, the way he looked at me, was different. I decided it was my only chance at happiness with another human being, so I stayed. Over time, desperation and fear turned to love.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about how I relate to others, the types of people I typically become attached to (and then have trouble letting go of). It seems to come down to a lack of affection when I was very young—my family is not cold at all, but it was impossible for them, for anyone, to give enough love to cancel out all the bullshit I was getting from other sources. Bullying and outright harassment about my family situation at school, emotional manipulation from my mother’s end. And then, the abusive relationship in my teens. I gravitated toward that particular person because he was handsome and funny, and by the time I realized what a mess I was in, I was too terrified of being alone to let go. But I finally realized I deserved better and found the strength to leave…only to repeat my patterns of self-objectification over and over and over.

You can’t really harass or pressure a girl who’s willing to sleep with you right away, after all. It always started with attraction, naturally—”So and so is good-looking, so why not?” But then, inevitably, I became attached to the person I’d allowed to use my body and got my poor little heart trampled when I was inevitably cast aside within a few weeks.

I can’t say I really blame any of them. I know I’m sometimes difficult to be around, and I have enough emotional baggage to fill an airplane’s cargo hold by myself. (Side note: Does anyone else hate the word “baggage”?) And I realize that not everyone is equipped to deal with that. To this day, I can’t figure out how D. does it…deals with my moods, my depressions, the threat of my extinction. But he does, and I’m so grateful for that unconditional love.

I’m not completely healed yet. I haven’t really dealt with any of the abuse in therapy, and I’m still working on correcting my belief that because of my emotional problems, my body is compensation—the only thing of worth I have to offer anyone. However, the first step, as they say, is realizing you have a problem, and now that I’ve identified the unhealthy thought patterns that lead to the unhealthy behaviors, I can work on correcting them and dealing with the issues that got me here in the first place.