First, I want to thank Marci Miles for her brilliant blog idea (see link below) that inspired this post. Writing about this is challenging but I believe a much needed read for many. The last taboo: Mental Illness. First there was shame of being a woman, then gay, then smoker, then fat and many more preceding taboos… let’s bust them all flat for good… together.
Marci, While I know we are to answer daily, here are my 30 answers all at once because I
may probably will forget otherwise…
This could not be more timely for me as I have been pondering ways to tell the world (sans cuss words) that mental illness is like any other. It can happen to ANYONE. ANYTIME. Just like stroke and heart attack suddenly pounce upon a body, so does shock. Too much shock all at once can render us immobile, paralytic or as I was two years ago, rocking for hours on end and stammering as though I had some kind of nervous tic. I did. I still do under great stress or abuse of ANY measure. It startles me. But I am doing everything I can to work my way out of this and let people know: NOBODY PLANS ON HAVING THIS KIND OF TRAUMA OR EMOTIONAL INCIDENT IN THEIR LIVES. NOBODY. We are ALL vulnerable and nobody has the right to judge another for falling into a state they never planned on any more than losing all your money to financial fraud is planned. Freedom 55? Not for many of us, that is sure. But I am rich, I think, because I have food and shelter and love. Yes. I am rich. Working my way back to me a minute at a time.
Day 1: What is/are your mental illness(es)? Explain it a little.
Trauma. It manifests as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and encompasses severe anxiety, depression, disocciation, sleep disorder, fear, shame, grief, panic attacks and many other ways nobody plans on. Crying for two years has left me with chronic eye condition that means I only have minutes at a time to read, write or watch a movie, often close my eyes to rest, relieve the pain.
Day 2: How do you feel about your diagnosis?
It is accurate.
Day 3: What treatment or coping skills are most effective for you?
Coping skills: Avoidance of triggering situations, people and stress wherever I can. Sometimes motor through something I must do such as court and come unglued for a week or two after, just need quiet, rest and to replenish myself.
Day 4: What are the pros and cons of having a mental illness(es) or your specific illness(es)?
Really I can’t think of a pro or con. My one sentence I have clung to and continue to cling to is this: “You do NOT lose your intelligence, you only lose your COPING SKILLS.”
Day 5: Do you believe nature (biology/physiology), nurture(environment), a mix, or something else has an impact on mental health?
A mix is likely in my opinion. Despite having eight siblings, I have no biological family nearby. I have limited friend support because as I learn what I need to in order to live healthy, the patterns of our friendship alter severely and they no longer want to be with me because I am not able to be their leaning post. I have needs. I have the right to have my needs met. I just never really demanded it. Well, in my marriage of 35 years this month which I left four years ago, I said, “All I want is my 32 years all about me like you had.” Currently in court due to end of marriage days and it is very triggering as learned two years after leaving that best friend is with HIM despite knowing all the horrific abuses visited on me and others, some kept secret and bombing my brain after decades when he confessed. He and she not only emotionally assaulted me but together, physically assaulted me. A sister believes they planned it. I’ll never know. But they hurled me into a vat of roiling PTSD I have been unable to climb out of totally. Safety. Safety. Safety. If I don’t feel safe, I must leave, go to safety, safe people, healthy people.
Day 6: Do you have a family history of mental illness or mental health issues?
Yes. Some siblings took medications for depression or self soothe in unhealthy ways. Some of their children exhibit signs of mental health issues (substance/alcohol dependence or abuse, eating disorders/emotional eating, cutting, depression, anger. Mother attempted suicide when I was 13 years old and I found her, called the medics. She lived into her 80′s.
Day 7: Do you think there are any triggers or patterns to how your illness(es) effects you?
Yes. Triggers are cruelty, abuse, using me for whatever is needed whether physical, financial, reference or other type of help/support and tossing me away like yesterdays garbage as some siblings have chosen to do over such trivialities that, as is the pattern, they usually can’t even remember exactly why they ditched me when they need me again. No wonder I was such easy pickings for my ex at just 19.
Day 8: What age you were diagnosed at? At what age do you think your symptoms began? (You can make a timeline)
I did attempt suicide at age 11, 13 and 15. After that I never had any memorable issues of depression until I made it out of my marriage only to be betrayed by the people I thought loved me most and my psyche was crashed to the place where I wanted to die again. Many sided with him, saying poor him or whatever. They had no clue what I had endured. Of course, they believe his lies and some openly chose to continue supporting his lies because they are not well or addicts themselves. I never told. I am tellling now. It is part of my healing. Health and truth or I don’t go now.
Day 9: What are some of the important events in your life, that may have effected your mental illness(es) for the worse or better? (You can make a timeline)
When my dad left I was 13, Mom attempted suicide and it left me feeling worthless. Like Dad didn’t care, Mom didn’t care, NOBODY cared. I do realize now that they did, in their own sometimes bumbling ways. But in your teens, you have no world knowledge, no life skills to measure anything by. I busied myself for decades, educating myself, holding positions of trust and responsibility full time while working part time 20 years for husband’s business. Nothing I did was good enough, I was still stupid, useless and it was all MY fault he CHOSE to do the awful things he did (inhumane to use his own words when he once apologized). When I escaped my marriage, I thought I was free. I had no idea my best friend was studying me with her black eyes planning to take my place in my own former home. It was a defining blow of female betrayal to my psyche I may never recover from. I am still fighting to work my way back to me. If I ever can.
Day 10: What is the best thing in regards to your mental illness(es)?
The best thing is that I have learned a LOT Of new life skills in the past three years and whenever unhealthy people try their crap, I call it. The best thing is that I may have fewer relationships but those I still have are as healthy as can be (little brother and my stepmom, some nieces, nephews, in-laws and boyfriend and his family are all beautiful to me).
Day 11: What is the worst thing in regard to your mental illness(es)?
People still think of me as I was (my full resume is on Facebook writing/fan page). I am no longer who I once was. I may never be her again. That is okay. I am learning as I can how to live better so I don’t attract users/abusers ever again. My tolerance for bullshit was never high. It no longer even exists. I have none. This can cause some differences with others but we do work our way to clarity or, if they are not willing, they are not healthy and I break it off, move away from them to keep myself safe. This means I have no desire to fire up any new relationships at all. It is so overwhelming and so much work.
Day 12: What do you think about your diagnosis in general? (Some ideas are: stereotypes, commonalities, misdiagnosis, over diagnosis)
I think PTSD is an over-used term like Fibromyalgia years ago became a catch-all, as my doctor puts it. There are many different levels as with depression. Some people who were in adrenalin rush careers get it. Some work there all their lives with a mild form of it. Others, like me, grow unable to function because every sound is so amplified in our ears, it shocks us, stops us from doing anything. I can’t take lots of stimulation or prolonged periods of noise. I really feel the stereotype of shell-shock from war is wrong and needs to be re-examined. War takes many forms and sometimes the war on the psyche is all it takes to take a body down.
Day 13: If you know the criteria of your illness(es) which ones do you think you meet? Or what are your most common symptoms?
All of them ( see above). Brain overload. Inability to function productively.
Day 14: Have you ever experienced stigma?
Yes. A doctor thought stomach issues when it was chest wall injury, said it was “mechanical” and self resolving. Same for foot injury. Everything gets tagged as mental now by many people. Again, I remind them, I have no coping skills but my intelligence is intact. Sometimes they still CHOOSE not to listen/hear me. I don’t care. I cannot help that.
Day 15: How has your life been effected by your illness(es)? (Some ideas are: relationships, career, school)
I am unable to write as I once did. Posting many old or already published pieces on here lets me appear reader loyal which I really am because blogging saved my life. It really did. That and the women’s centre. My trust is compromised but I am not closed to people. Just takes me longer to feel safe with them. What they do not what they say is my measure. If walk is consistent with talk, we are good to go. If not, I go alone.
Day 16: How many people are you “out” to with your mental illness(es)? Why?
At first, nobody. I was so ashamed and embarrassed. I used to be so strong and capable. I felt weak and useless, very ashamed. Now I am talking out loud here to the whole wide world. Because this, too, can happen to you. More awareness is needed so that shame will not prevent people from growing healthier, taking life skills or classes BEFORE the trauma/drama so that they can cope better if it should ever cruelly strike them down as it did me.
Day 17: If you could get rid of your mental illness(es) would you? Why or why not?
Yes. It has impaired me as a drunk person and I do not smoke anything nor even drink. This question has two sides though. On the positive, I am glad to have learned all I have learned and continue to learn with another class starting this week in another very SAFE setting with very SAFE people.
Day 18: What do you wish people would understand in regards to mental illness and/or mental health?
It can happen anytime to anyone. Even if you never really had a history of mental health issues, you can be crashed down like an overloaded plane whose wreckage you cannot escape. Some of the most brilliant people in the world have endured this darkness, William Styron wrote a book on his experience with depression as well as his famous “Sophie’s Choice,” Margaret Trudeau has videos on YouTube that are very helpful for many and so many more, I can’t think right now.
Day 19: Have you ever read a self-help book or a book related to psychology? What is your opinion on them? If you have read them do you have a favorite?
Many. They are very good. David Burns writes many helpful books. Enough is Enough by Carol Orsborn, Highly Sensitive People by Elaine Aron, The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, The Verbally Abusive Husband (forgot author, sorry, others are on bookshelf I can see from here), When Love Hurts: A Woman’s Guide to Understanding Abuse in Relationships by Jill Cory and Karen McCandless-Davis. Many more, just all I can think of now.
Day 20: Where do you get your support?
The Women’s Centre staff, counselors and peer counselors and women who attend the classes/groups who often have much more horrific stories than mine they have survived. A social service sponsored counselor that only funds one year for each person and then you have to re-apply and wait approximately one year. I am waiting right now as I did for the year prior already. Am applying for social housing as I cannot afford to live where I have been for four years and happy here as is my landlord and family with me. Another forced change but again, takes a long time to get in, was told may not even get into another apartment, some people are turned away period.
Day 21: Many people say stress triggers symptoms, do you agree or disagree?
Absolutely. It is like struggling through a mind cloud that won’t let go. If they are too impatient, abusive at all or raise my angst, I withdraw myself, hang up, whatever it takes to feel safe again.
Day 22: What is your opinion on medication used to treat mental illness(es)?
It is helpful. As a whole remedy, I don’t think it could work without CBT or other forms of help (counseling) unless it was a purely psychotic situation held at bay by the drugs. For me, it only works sometimes but I am so afraid of addiction, I try not to take anything at all that could lead to life long dependence.
Day 23: What is your opinion on therapy? (It can be any type, some examples are: group therapy, talk therapy, social skills training, exposure therapy, ERP,DBT, CBT, ACT, marital counseling, and many more)
My mum-in-law, bless her heavenly heart, said No education is ever wasted. I’ll go one further. No education, learning or help is ever wasted. Sometimes we have to try it all to see what will work best for us or the situation we find ourselves in. It’s as individual as mental illness or break downs are. Everyone is different. Everyone will need different types of help.
Day 24: What is your opinion on alternative treatments or treatments that aren’t commonly used? (Some examples are: EMDR, hypnotherapy, herbal or vitamin supplements, acupuncture, massage therapy, art, music, or recreational therapy, ECT, VNS, TMS, DBS)
If they work, I have no problem with anything healthy and effective. If it is not working and a person has spent a great deal of time (say a couple years in the treatment with no result), I would guess that is not right for that person. I try to find what works for me and stick with it.
Day 25: What is your opinion on forced/coercion in mental health treatment? Can be legal (law enforcement or psychiatric holds) or a “helping” friend/family member.
Where violence or harm to others may occur, this is a no brainer, including suicidal. Sometimes I think mental illness should be treated as other issues with healthy interventions where a person’s family watches them self-harm, self-soothe with substance or alcohol, etc and cannot effect any improvements in their lives for themselves. Just my opinion.
Day 26: How is your day-to-day life effected by your mental illness(es)?
Energy limitations. Can only do so much, last so long. Often cannot even write. Am really tiring now but want to finish this today for Marci, this is important to me to add my voice if it will help at all. Also have: Problems remembering. Disocciation: driving somewhere I know for decades and everything looks strange, I don’t know where I am. Have to pull over and ground and get calm and have to allow lots of time (ie an hour for a 15 minute journey) because it once took me four hours to do a 45 – 50 minute drive. Just get lost and can’t recognize things, even my own old neighbourhood I lived in for nearly two decades. Memory issues. Sleep disturbance to the point I claw myself awake from nightmares leaving gashes on my shoulders and arms from my fingernails that are open. Still. Two years plus since. It’s just something I live with.
Day 27: Explain a “good” day.
This. Being able to answer these questions is a good day. Self care (chores, laundry, food prep/buying, etc) all takes a lot more time and energy. I have to plan everything out carefully. Can’t handle any surprises. Especially if they are bad.
Day 28: Explain a “bad” day.
Can’t even open my eyes because they hurt so much. Spend the day with blinds down, in bed a lot, can’t even think, mind just goes numb somehow. Even remembering my dislike of runny porridge can set me to tears because I complained of it so when my mom cooked it. The poignancy of understanding fully as an adult why she made it runny to stretch it for all of us just reduces me to tears. It can last hours or minutes. I never know how long or how hard I’ll be taken down. But the struggle is to just get through those days, period.
Day 29: What are a few of your goals regarding your mental health.
To get functional enough to write daily. After that to get functional enough to maybe write a book. There is nothing else I want to do or feel I can do anymore. Even repetitive tasks lose me and my focus. I find myself folding laundry for hours just because I stop so much but wasn’t really aware I had sat down to think again. Hard to focus. But writing takes me some place safe where nobody can hurt me. Some place beyond the black place that held me in its clutches for so long, I didn’t think I’d even be here now.
Day 30: What does recovery mean to you?
Right now just staying alive. Maybe more someday. That’s it for now. If I can do more, that’s great. But I cannot pressure myself to do more. It has to come naturally. Or I just lay low and keep myself protected. Even from the news. I never even knew the Peruvian miners were trapped last year until the day they were rescued. It was good I didn’t know until then. Being able to hear news or manage challenges of loss/change/hurt without tears would be good.