Mental Illness in Entertainment: Six Feet Under

a cure for what ails you, memories, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, relationships, self-harm, stigma, suicidal ideation, three hopeful thoughts

I recently binge-watched “Six Feet Under” for the first time (Michael C. Hall and Frances Conroy being the main draw, though my backup plan for life since I was 15 has been mortuary school) and was overall impressed with the show’s treatment of Billy, who has severe bipolar disorder with psychosis. However, though Jeremy Sisto’s* performance was excellent, I had a hard time fully enjoying it because of the painful memories it dredged up—not because of his behavior, but because of other characters’ reactions to it.

As I’ve mentioned several times on this blog, I wasn’t properly diagnosed until I was 24 years old, a full sixteen years after the initial onset of my symptoms. (The disorder is notoriously difficult to diagnose in children and teens because teens are stereotypically “moody” and, in my case, mixed episodes in children can look a lot like run-of-the-mill temper tantrums.)

The result is that in both of my long-term relationships, I’ve been accused of being manipulative and even emotionally abusive simply for expressing my needs. Most of you can probably relate to how difficult it is to reach out for help when you’re struggling, and I’m not sure how telling a loved one that I was worried about hurting myself and didn’t trust myself to be alone counts as either. Each time, I felt guilty beyond belief for making the person in question cancel plans to sit at home with me when I couldn’t stop crying and generally was not much fun to be around. But at the same time, I doubt many people would begrudge, say, a cancer patient for needing company on a bad day.

It’s true that at times, my behavior was what most people would refer to as “a little off,” and I am horrendously embarrassed by it. I try not to look back at the things I said and did back then because I know that my illness was the culprit and that I was not at all myself.

I take comfort in knowing that I’m stable now and haven’t had a major episode in over a year. I am in a relationship again, and though it’s in the fledgling stages, it’s actually functional and healthy and I can handle prolonged absences (my fella travels for work quite a bit) without panicking and worrying and feeling intolerably lonely. For the first time in my life, I’m experiencing true emotional independence. I’m able to take care of my own needs and create my own happiness. For the first time in my life, I am not hinging my happiness and emotional well-being on a man. I actually have object permanence and can trust that he’s going to return and not suddenly decide he no longer cares about me. I have accepted that if that ever does happen, it’s not my fault. And while I appreciate his presence and that he augments my life and has affected it in a very positive way, he is not my entire world.

This is a huge step. I’m pretty much the last person I ever expected to see in a healthy relationship, but amazingly, I’m managing to pull it off. The entire experience thus far has been incredibly healing, and with each good experience, each good day, I am learning to forgive myself for the past.

Since it's official now, here's a super-cute picture of us. :3

Since it’s official now, here’s a super-cute picture of us. :3

* On a lighter note, does anyone else think he totally looks like Kevin Rowland? (Check out the video for “Come On Eileen” by Dexy’s Midnight Runners, then tell me I’m wrong.)

Self-Objectification, Part Two

abuse, major depression, ptsd, self-harm, therapy, three hopeful thoughts

I recently found this gifset on Tumblr, taken from The Sexy Lie, Caroline Heldman at TEDxYouth@SanDiego, and it stirred up a lot of memories and emotions for me.

The best way for me to describe its effect is to copypasta my reaction from my personal Tumblr, written moments after viewing this gifset.

I have been doing this ever since my ex-boyfriend started coercively raping me and abusing me in every other conceivable way when I was seventeen.

I’m almost 25 and I am just now starting to break out of this. I met my now-husband at 19 in the middle of a promiscuous streak (in what I thought was an attempt to reassert control over my body but was actually just another way of validating myself after all the abuse), and it has taken me six years to even begin addressing this. Before my husband and I got into a serious relationship, I didn’t even care about my own pleasure because I was so focused on my (incorrect) belief that if I could make another person feel good, then I was worth something; I wasn’t as scary and damaged as I thought, a belief that my ex instilled in me pretty much after the first week of our relationship.

I had extreme PTSD and undiagnosed (and therefore untreated) ultra-rapid-cycle bipolar I (I was cycling 10+ times a day, every day) when I met my ex. He was the first person I ever (thought) I loved, and I quickly became codependent and terrified of being alone. I thought all the pain was worth keeping him around, so I was complacent and took the abuse.

It took me a very long time to realize that none of it was my fault.

My current therapist told me that even without all that abuse, it’s no wonder that I’m suffering and carrying around so much baggage. I didn’t even realize I was objectifying myself until this summer, and even then I joked that “no one has to objectify me—I’ll do it myself.” I masked the pain with my characteristic dark humor to avoid having to deal with the real problem.

This post made me cry because it made me finally understand what’s been going on in my head for the last eight years.

I think it’s really important for all of us, regardless of gender orientation, to periodically “check in” and make sure we’re being kind to ourselves, mentally/emotionally and physically. It’s something I’ve really been struggling with lately, but as usual, I’m fighting like hell to make things okay inside my head.

I don’t really have the energy to write a proper, full-fledged blog post today and I apologize, but I thought this was important enough to share on DP as a thought to leave all of you with for a while. I’m going to be working pretty ferociously on the memoir outline for a few days; if it were an outline for any other project, I could breeze through it in less than a day, but these memories and observations are incredibly triggering, so I have to be very careful.

In the meantime, I have a homework assignment for my readers. Over the next couple of days, I want you to make a habit of “checking in” a few times a day. I don’t mean checking to make sure you’re still attractive and desirable—I mean making sure you’re treating yourself well: eating properly, being kind to yourself, taking care of your body, getting enough sleep. It’s important, and it’s something I often neglect. If you have the means and motivation to start a mood diary, I’d strongly recommend that, too…it has already proved invaluable over the relatively short course of my treatment.

Please stay safe if you can’t stay happy, everyone (and that’s okay, too!). I hope to have a new post up within the next couple of days.

Sick, sick, sick.

endometriosis, major depression, medication, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, self-harm

As I write this, I am having a little bit of an episode. I got up at three in the afternoon, cleaned my tattoo, took my meds, took my morphine (to ward off the crippling pelvic pain I have every single day, will have for the foreseeable future), ate breakfast, read a book, couldn’t get dressed, dealt with racing thoughts for a few minutes, crippling anxiety because I am home alone until my husband returns from class at 4:00, cried, took an Ativan, stabbed myself in the arm with a fork because of the intense guilt I was feeling at the time.

This is my “normal.”

My sleep patterns are completely fucked at the moment because I’m working 7–2 (third shift) three days a week. I haven’t weighed myself in months, but the last time I was at the doctor (a week after I started dancing), I’d lost seven pounds. My appetite is, by turns, ravenous and nonexistent.

I’m seeing my psychiatrist on Wednesday morning, provided I can drag myself out of bed at that ungodly hour, and then I will tell him that my meds are not enough, never enough. I have one mg tablets of Ativan and am only supposed to take one to two per day, though I can handle much, much more. 150 of Effexor, which I am not even supposed to take because with bipolar (even type two), antidepressants can make you fucking crazy, and 200 of Lamictal. My moods have been more stable, but my default state is still numb and detached. I don’t often swing to hypomania (well, more than once or twice a day, and even then I don’t want to accept that it’s hypomania—I am just not depressed), though the crippling bouts of intense depression hit so many times each day, I can’t even keep track of them. They range from twenty minutes to several hours in duration, and then I’m back to flat.

I can’t get disability because I am technically still able to work, I am too young, I don’t think my doctors will sign off on it. I’m afraid to ask. I should probably ask at my next appointment, just to see, just to confirm that I’m not sick enough to actually get the help I need to take some time off and focus on recovering.

The thought is profoundly depressing.

Obviously, I’m not doing that well these days, though I’m keeping my shit togetheras they say. What keeps me going is the knowledge that eventually this will break and I won’t have to deal with my rapid-cycle bullshit anymore, that I’ll have some reprieve from all this madness.

Recovery is an ongoing process.

major depression, ptsd, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, self-harm, stigma, suicidal ideation, three hopeful thoughts

It’s been a week since my last slip-up.

Last Wednesday, due to a combination of preexisting emotional rawness and the news that a relative had been saying some less-than-complimentary things about me, I had a breakdown and ended up self-injuring. D. caught me before I was able to do too much damage, but it was a reminder to both of us that no matter how “okay” I seem, this is going to be a tenuous, ongoing process. There will be setbacks. It is going to be a struggle for a very long time. Just as a recovering alcoholic fights cravings, I’m going to have to fight against the urge to harm myself. I refuse to beat myself up over setbacks, however, because it requires an immense amount of strength to get better and stay well, keep my thoughts bright and positive and healthy. Some days, I simply do not have the strength, and that’s okay. I’m human.

Please excuse the fact that I have my legs splayed like a hussy in the background. 😛

On Friday, one of my very best friends from college came into town to help us move. Before we all headed to bed, he presented me with a lovely gift: a rubber band he’d decorated with his signature art style. I honestly didn’t know what to say—I was deeply touched by the gesture and really appreciated it. It’s a bit large, but I can wear it up near my elbow. (Snapping there hurts less and causes smaller welts, anyway.)

A close-up of the design.

I’m seeing my new psychiatrist for my second evaluation this afternoon, so I’ll put up a longer post about that later. But I wanted to acknowledge the overwhelming kindness of my friends and family and say that I am incredibly grateful for the people in my life who influence me in positive, life-affirming ways.