I'm a mentally ill person raising another mentally ill person. With chickens.

Archive for the ‘Disability’ Category

Decisions Gone By

I think I accidentally started attempting to find myself.  I don’t actually believe in that sort of thing, or mid-life crises, or any of that Eat, Pray, Love journey to self discovery stuff (except the Eat part, which I wholeheartedly believe in, ask the scale at my doctor’s office).  I’m more of a “play the hand you’re dealt” sort of thinker.  I enjoyed reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s book about her journey of self-discovery,  but not for the self-discovery part.  I kind of thought that throwing away relationships and jobs and an entire LIFE was pretty selfish.  I also thought that it was something only a white person with money would do, because most of us are just trying to get from one day to the next hoping we have our kids’ schedule right, that there’s milk in the fridge, that someone paid the utility bills, and that there’s a refill left on the Lunesta. I enjoyed her book because I liked reading about the places I’d never visit and the food I’d never eat;  the rest was kind of ridiculous to someone like me; I don’t have time for that much thought let alone that much energy or money for travel.  But somehow I found myself on an introspective, self discovery “journey” anyway, although journey isn’t really the right word for it as I’ve mostly been in my bed but, my brain has been all over the place, and any other word I use for that just isn’t flattering for someone with ADD and bipolar disorder.

It really did start by accident.  I made amends to someone.  Not because I’m in a twelve step program, but because after over twenty-five years, wise words from a friend, and some serious contemplation, I finally realized that I needed to.  It was too little too late, but the response I received overwhelmed me a bit.  I really did not know how much of the fault lay with me, or how much pain I had inflicted,  because I had pushed the entire relationship so far down inside myself that I literally couldn’t remember whole stretches of time and entire people from that time.   If there was an Olympics of Emotional Suppression I would be a world record holder.

And once that bubbled to the surface other stuff did too.  I spent a morning laying in bed messaging back and forth with another old friend who I had reconnected with after too many years apart. (On a side note:  I know Facebook has a lot of flaws, but I’m glad it’s there for finding people I thought were lost to the winds of time.  I am someone who went to boarding school in high school, and who has moved way too many times; without Facebook I would have lost touch with many people who I dearly love, but Facebook and its pros and cons are a discussion for a different day.)  My friend and I were reliving our glory days as call center employees in Kansas City, a job that we both loved for its ease, for the friends we made, including our missing third “musketeer” Joey, and for just being a good time most days.  She and Joey drove from KC to Minnesota to attend my wedding to the hubby way back in ’95, and the day/weekend wouldn’t have been complete without them.  Somewhere between reliving glory days, deciding on a quest for the missing musketeer (followed by many Holy Grail gifs of course), and talking about our lives now, I typed a sentence that might be the truest thought I’ve ever had.  A thought I didn’t even know was in my head until it came out of my fingers:  Moving away from there is the biggest regret of my life.

Moving away from there is the biggest regret of my life.  It doesn’t seem like such a monumental revelation just on its on like that.  It is though, because there’s a lot of context that goes with it.  The most important thing to know about moving from the KC area back in 1995 is that it was not my idea and I wasn’t happy about it, but I didn’t say no.  I expressed some reservations, but I never said:  “NO. I do NOT want to move. My family is here, I have friends here, I grew up nearby, and I am not ready to start over again right now,”  even though those are the things I was thinking.  I didn’t say those things because I was afraid.  Afraid that if I did say no I would end up twenty-five and TWICE divorced; afraid that if I did say no I would end up with a husband who resented me and would always blame me for everything; afraid that if I did say no to his big idea he would consider me his reason for not being fill-in-the-blank, or whatever it was he wanted to become.  I didn’t say no, and twenty three years later that sentence finds its way onto the screen:  Moving away from there is the biggest regret of my life.

I think that I landed where I was supposed to.  I don’t want to be in KC, or even Missouri, today.  I am comfortable here on the prairie, and the only thing I would change is finding a house outside of town, so I could have some roosters and raise my own baby chicks in a proper barn.  I don’t regret where I ended up at all, but the road to get here?   That is not a smooth one. I have done every thing in my power to fill in the pot holes and pave over the cracks, but I’m afraid this little self-discovery journey my brain has decided to go on is going to take this road back to gravel.

 

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Not your scapegoat

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This is me, shooting an AR-15. I am a mentally ill person. I didn’t buy this AR-15, but I have access to it.  I could have bought it. I have no criminal record and I’ve never been “adjudicated mentally ill” (so I wouldn’t be lying on the background check if I bought it).
I’m not dangerous. I brake for squirrels and turtles and once even a snake. I do kill spiders if they’re small (I scream and run from large ones) and spray wasps’ nests, but that’s about as scary as I get. Being mentally ill doesn’t make me a dangerous person; my illness is my own, like my DNA.  People are unique, and so are their illnesses; mental health care is a piece of the mass shooting puzzle, but it’s not the only piece or even the main piece.   Don’t use me and the millions of silently mentally ill people like me living normal, quiet, mundane lives to justify your refusal to acknowledge a problem that desperately needs attention. I’m tired of being your scapegoat every time one of these tragedies happens.

I get that you want to buy an AR-15 because it’s “Fun” to shoot and “looks cool”.  I know it’s fun to shoot, especially with a laser sight!  It’s like a live action Big Buck Hunter arcade game (only you look way cooler), with noise, and that fireworks smell, and pieces of fence post shrapnel flying through the air. What’s not to like about that?
I’ll tell you: it doesn’t feel real.  Not even a little bit real. I’m 44 in this picture, and I had to remind myself after this was taken that guns are not supposed to be fun and that this was a weapon designed to kill people, not fence posts. That disconnect between how shooting a weapon like this feels, and what a weapon like this actually DOES is a big part of the mass shooter problem.

There are people out there who have become desensitized to the reality of what a gun like this does to a PERSON. They play video games and watch shows and movies that show guns like this AR-15 being used with no consequences. The Columbine shooters, the Sandy Hook shooter, and this most recent Parkland shooter spent HOURS  shooting guns like this one for “fun” before their attacks. Is their (and too many others’) apparent desensitization to the consequences of firing on fellow human beings a brain problem, a parenting problem, a bullying problem, or a cultural problem? All of the above.
Is it a gun problem? Yes. Without guns–really easy to use, really easy to obtain, really fun to shoot, guns–I wouldn’t be writing this, and the country wouldn’t be talking about seventeen more dead children.

D is for Determined, Decided, and Depressing

So I am behind again, but I am letting myself off the hook for it and plugging away, because I don’t want to give up. I may not do this challenge perfectly, but I am determined to do it the best that I can.  Getting back on the horse isn’t easy, but it is worth it.

So the decision about back surgery has been made.  It’s happening because it has to.  The nerve root needs to be decompressed sooner rather than later.  I am afraid that it is already too late to prevent at least some permanent damage, and the fact that all the doctor will say is that the numbness is the last thing to go away is not reassuring.  But I keep telling myself, and everyone else, that the one positive thing about having the bottom of your foot be numb is that I can step on a Lego and barely notice. So I guess that’s a perk. I could have had surgery Monday,  but I didn’t get to my physical on time Thursday, which was also the day my phone was broken, and the surgeon’s office set one up for Friday but due to a lack of communication on their end didn’t call the house phone number I’d left them, so I didn’t get to that one either.  Sigh. It was a tough couple of days and I think there’s a few more tough days ahead, but I am on the surgery schedule for the 19th and I have a physical scheduled for the 13th.  They ARE going to try and move that up, because the situation is deteriorating, but I guess we’ll see.  Rural medicine does have its downsides. 

And that brings me to this depressing article from the Washington Post that my father in law posted on Facebook.   We don’t know why it came to this’ is about the increasing number of early deaths of white, lower middle class, women from the Midwest.  We lost my husbands cousin to circumstances similar to the ones described in the article, and I have a friend who I expect will not see 60 for these same  reasons.  I didn’t realize, though, that this was a wide-spread and recognized phenomena. And that is truly a depressing thought.

Brave

I’ve been watching American Idol this season, because it’s the (cue stadium announcer voice) FINAL SEASON. I admit to having a love/hate relationship with the show, and can honestly say that if it hadn’t been for the invention of the DVR I probably would have given up on it a long time ago. That fast forward button is what kept me watching (or not watching) through parades of idiots hoping for their fifteen minutes, through Paula, Ellen, and Kara refusing to say anything meaningful, through Randy Jackson, Steven Tyler, Mariah Carey, and Niki Minaj forgetting to speak English, and through the endless vitriol and narcissism that is Simon Cowell.  I can honestly say that the show today is much improved and I am a bit sad to see it go.

I am also thankful that little fast forward button helped see me through til the end, because I think I am witnessing something great this season, and I would have missed it if that little button hadn’t saved me from all the trash that came before.  I can only imagine what you’re thinking of me right now.  Greatness and Reality television are not synonymous by any stretch of the imagination. And music is subjective, so how dare I tell you that these particular singers are “Great”.  But it’s not the talent that is making it great, and its not the game show format.  I’m seeing something unexpected from the land of all that is fake and vapid and cookie cutter.  I’m seeing BRAVERY shine out of the television, and I am surprised and humbled by it.

 Leaving an abusive man is HARD. Being okay with it is even harder. Twenty-five years later I can barely talk about what happened to me; but, LaPorsha,she OWNS her story, she OWNS her strength, and she KNOWS she deserves someone who likes the things about her that she likes: “my hair, and my church, and my singin'”.  On her home visit she told the women at her former shelter that she sang Mary J. Blige’s No More Drama “for us” and I choked up a bit because I heard my name in that “us”.  Even if LaPorsha didn’t have the hair (that glorious hair!) and the voice, she would still be blessed with strength and bravery.  And the crazy thing is, she isn’t the only one!

LaPorsha has been on my radar from the beginning (with that hair, she may be on NORAD’s radar 😉 ) because her story touched my heart. But when they had the artists tell something about how they came to be artists I didn’t fast forward (probably because I was eating) and I heard something that totally shocked me. Dalton (aka Billy Joe Armstrong 20 some years ago) was talking about how as a kid he would “Feel everything so much more than other kids”. He went on to say that at nine years old he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I couldn’t believe my ears. I actually hit the REWIND button and listened again. Yep, he said bipolar disorder. Wow. Just, WOW.  That may not sound like a big deal to a neurotypical person,  but admitting that you’re bipolar to anyone, let alone millions of people is incredibly brave. I have still told very few of the people I see every day.  I never told anyone at the job I had for almost six years. I told TWO people in my Master’s program, and only one was a professor and she DID use it against me.   The stigma attached to mental illness is real, and its scary. I have a Masters in counseling, and I will never get hired in this town because everyone knows I’m a client. That’s just life. BUT,    since that sound bite Dalton has talked candidly about his disorder, including a conversation with the artist Sia where she states that she is also bipolar, which is truly amazing and a huge step forward for everyone out there dealing with a mental illness and hiding it. We all need to be as brave as Dalton, and as Sia, if we want the stigma to go away. I aim to try harder. This illness is not something to be embarrassed about: It makes me the person I am as much as my blue eyes and my sweet tooth and my inability to get up early and that’s totally fine.

Just a quick step onto my soap box: Bipolar disorder is a disease that unfairly strikes creative minds. There’s even a book about it: Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament  by Kay Redfield Jamison. Entertainers of all kinds have kept this illness a secret and self-medicated with whatever they could get their hands on rather than face the stigma attached to having a mental illness. Far too many brilliant artists have left us too soon, and we wonder why?   Using words like crazy, messed-up, not right, off their rocker, psycho, etc. makes you part of the stigma, and could be keeping someone from seeking help they desperately need.

And because Idol is “pulling out all the stops” for their final season, the brave moments don’t end with Dalton Rappatone.  I have no words for the beauty and pain of Kelly Clarkson’s Piece by Piece, or for how hard it must have been to sing that song, on that stage, while being that pregnant. And hats off to Keith, Harry, and Ryan for being guys who can let real emotion show. Oh, THE FEELS!!!!

 

 

 

 

Awake

I almost missed day one of the A to Z challenge, but since I haven’t gone to sleep yet, I’m calling this good.  And being awake more than usual lately has me concerned, actually, because I think that it is messing with my mood.  I can feel that I am just a bit out of sync, but I can’t quite put my finger on what the problem is.  I’m a little to chatty with people, and I am a bit too rambling in my emails and messages. I THINK mostly only I am noticing it right now, although one of the nurses kind of gave me an odd look today when I got my epidural spinal steroid injection, so I might be talking kind of fast too. And it all comes back to being AWAKE too much, or awake at the wrong times.  Sleep deprivation is a common trigger for a lot of people with mental health issues, and it’s definitely my main trigger.  I think hypomania induced by lack of sleep pretty much describes my time in my Masters program, which wasn’t all bad. I got shit done!!! and for the most part done well, I just crashed really hard after graduation, and it took awhile to bounce back from that crash.  Bigger ups and downs aren’t as catastrophic to my life now that I’m middle aged and maintaining my med regimen all the time. I don’t get fired, or kicked out of places, or flirt with strangers, or drink, so not a lot of risk taking or dangerous behavior anymore.
I think that they’re harder on my overall health though, mentally and physically:  Too much binge eating and avoiding people, too much pain; slow response time, not enough attention span to read a book, forgetting things.  Bipolar in middle age is quieter now than it was in my twenties, but, lying here awake at 3:30AM AWAKE for the I- don’t- know-how-many nights in a row now makes me wonder if quieter is better. This seems somehow more insidious.

Decided I needed more space to answer these questions:

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How has mental illness affected me personally:  I have bipolar disorder, type 2. I also have an ADHD diagnosis. My son has autism, and my daughter has ADHD. So mental illness is the everyday norm around here. My bipolar isn’t the interesting kind that you see on TV with people going off their meds and then becoming a complete wild child. It’s mostly depression where I sleep and eat a lot mixed in with periods of time where I can get a lot done but don’t always have the best judgement. I’ve never heard voices, or ran around naked, or stolen anything.  My first manic episode, and probably most manic thing I’ve ever done, is marry my first husband on a whim. It was a random weekday, he asked, I said sure, two hours later it was done. Impulsivity is a thing I’ve learned to watch for now, but at 21 I had no idea that anything was up. Oddly, I WAS seeing a counselor at this point, and had been for some time, and she never suggested bipolar disorder either, even though when I look back on this time period it seems pretty obvious.
Having a mental illness makes simple things harder for me. I’m easily overwhelmed by tasks that aren’t broken down into small steps. Like housekeeping. I look around and just see the giant mess and don’t know where to start, so I just don’t start because that’s easier (even though I prefer order). Oddly, I manage my children’s issues pretty well, I’m just exhausted by them fairly often. I find that everyday interactions with people are often rather exhausting. But if I’m even a little bit manic the opposite is true. It’s a weird thing, but on a Myers Briggs test I will score as extroverted if I’m a bit manic, and introverted if I’m a bit depressed.
Having a mental illness, and then having my first child be mentally ill as well made me rather reluctant to have a second child. There are eight and a half years between them, and my daughter was honestly quite a surprise. A very good surprise. But pregnancy and bipolar disorder was challenging, because the medications I was on were not safe for the baby, so we had to find something to use to keep things mostly normal. The drug we used wasn’t ideal, I gained way too much weight, but my mood was good without being too good, so overall it was a success. I did not breastfeed, getting back to my meds and avoiding a postpartum crash was just too important.
I can think of many ways my illness has changed my life from what I thought it would be. I studied to be a teacher and a mental health counselor, but I’m not. I’m a stay home mom whose main job these days is chaeuffeur. Sometimes I am frustated by the fact that I have no career, that I am completely dependant on my husband, but most days it’s ok. I’m a big believer in the idea that things work out the way they’re supposed to.

What did I learn from it that might help others:  In my first graduate class the professor made a comment about people with mental illnesses being drawn to the counseling profession, and that it wasn’t appropriate for them to work in the field because they weren’t mentally fit. I was angry about this comment, but I didn’t say anything, and I hid my illness from everyone in my department for the next three years. And that was wrong of me. That professor was wrong to make a blanket statement about “people with mental illnesses” and I let her intimidate me into hiding and I shouldn’t have. Don’t hide your illness because you’re afraid of what people will think. It’s just an illness like diabetes or lupus or arthritis. You take your medication and you go to your therapist, same as anyone with any illness, and you learn to live with it just like anyone else. When you hide it you’re saying it’s ok for people to stigmatize mental illness and it is not ok at all. We are as important and valuable as anyone else. Never be ashamed of your disorder, and never apologize for it. It’s part of what makes you, you.
I have a much easier time saying those things than I do actually acting on them, especially when it comes to my kids. I do find myself apologizing for their behaviour more than I should. It is what makes them unique, and I should be happy just to have healthy, happy children, not apologizing for their lack of perfection.
The one thing that has helped me the most along the way is learning to share that I have an illness. I’ve found that when I have opened up about my own illness I have found a community of others who have similar issues and who were also looking for someone who understood. None of us are alone in this

This just made my day a little

So I am still engaged in an epic battle of wills with my son’s school over what “transition” is supposed to be, and what his education is supposed to be accomplishing at this point. We’re at a bit of a stalemate, because I’ve called for reinforcements and they’re desperately trying to get me sign something before those reinforcements take over. A bit shady, but that’s how the game is played. No one wants to get caught being non-compliant with IDEA.
It’s mentally exhausting. It shouldn’t be, I am not new to the autism spectrum after all, my son is 18. But it’s wearing me down anyway. I guess I thought by this point it would be easier, and I would know where we were headed. But nothing is ever that simple, is it?
Anyway, today I found this piece, and it was uplifting:
I know what causes Autism