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

Posts tagged ‘Mental Illness’

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!!!!

 

 

 

 

An introduction

I signed up for Blogging 101 this month, to get my groove back, and the first assignment is to introduce myself. You would think that would be easy at my age, but it isn’t. I always hated it in college when professors  made you go around the room and say something about yourself.  I think they just do that to waste time, and in a half-assed attempt to remember your name. Even graduate school professors do this which is just silly. I was a grad assistant and I did NOT make my students do this.

I guess I’ve told a few things about myself already: I went to graduate school, I don’t really like speaking in public, or talking about myself, I taught at least one class, and I’m trying to get my groove back. Also, I seem to have a bit of bad attitude these days. 
I’ll see if I can be a bit more positive. Tomorrow is my birthday. I’ll be 43 and I’m actually pretty ok with that. Being younger no longer seems like that much fun, and I don’t feel too old for anything. I feel like there’s enough time ahead of me to do and see at least some of the things on my bucket list and I don’t feel like I wasted my youth.
I’m a mother of two: an eighteen-year-old son and a nine-year-old daughter. They could not be any more opposite. He is large, always was at the top of the percentile charts, and she is tiny. He likes to stay home, and to watch the same things over and over again, and to talk through movies and shows. She likes to go everywhere, she hardly ever sits still, she likes new things, and when she does watch the tv she doesn’t want anyone to talk. She is a dancer with five practices a week, he avoids exercise like the plague. He is on the autism spectrum, and she has ADHD. They are the joys of my life, and there is never a dull moment at our house.
I’ve been married for 19+ years, it’ll be 20 in July. My husband is not what anyone expected “back in the day”, but he is the perfect match for me. We’ve weathered many unexpected challenges over the years, and I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else by my side. He is never rattled by anything, he’s my rock. And he fixes things, which is something every woman should look for in a man.
I do have an abundance of education I guess. An undergraduate degree in English and a Master’s in Counseling. I’m not using any of it. I’m a stay home mom who gets a disability check every month. Sometimes I’m disappointed by the fact that I’m not working, but I’ve mostly come to terms with it. I have bipolar disorder type 2, and ADHD inattentive type. Those things do not make me a great employee, unfortunately. I’m a creative teacher and counselor, and I’m a good listener. But paperwork? I just get overwhelmed. I’ve never been as sick and exhausted as I was at the end of my counseling internship year. I finished everything and then I slept for roughly ten days. I knew I’d never be able to work like that full time. I did apply for a counseling job, but I’m a client at that agency so it was kind of a long shot. This is a small town, so I probably should have thought about that sort of thing before busting my ass in grad school and wracking up tons of student loans, but you know what they say about hindsight.
I need to find a focus for my blog. I’m not sure what exactly I want to talk about. I think the world has plenty of autism blogs, and plenty of mental illness blogs, and plenty of parenting blogs.  I can’t say what exactli makes my perspective unique, other than it’s mine, and while I hope others find it interesting and entertaining I am not sure what actually sets my voice apart from the masses. Something to continue to ponder, I guess.

Thoughts on purpose

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.

So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.

Make your mistakes, next year and forever.”

–Neil Gaiman

I stumbled across that piece of Neil Gaiman’s commencement address today, and it suited my mood. Partly because I couldn’t really decide what to write about but I didn’t want to skip a day, and partly because of a conversation about mental illness and failure that I had with a friend yesterday.

He brought up the fact that he felt his life was a failure. And usually I can find something positive to say to things like that, but I didn’t want to give him a bunch of BS, so I told him the truth. I struggle with that too. He and I have similar stories: loads of education that was hard-earned, but that is now not going to use because we are at home receiving Social Security Disability benefits. And we need those benefits, because neither one of us can function without medication and regular visits to a psychiatrist. Before I had disability I went without insurance and medication for long periods, two of which ended in the psych ward. That is the reality of mental illness: it has to be treated like any other illness or it’s dangerous. But like any other treatment, psychiatric treatment isn’t without side effects. I’ve had meds that made my weight balloon up, ones that made me constantly nauseous, ones that gave me headaches, ones that gave me “cognitive difficulties”,  ones that kept me awake for days, and ones that made me sleep for days. Finding the right medication combination for a person is really an art, more than a science, and that is one of the things that makes working difficult. The other thing that makes it difficult is the illness itself of course.

I don’t always know that my mood is off. A lot of the time I think something is physically wrong with me because I will be sore or tired or have a stomach ache. But those things can signal depression too. Several of the times I’ve been fired have been for having too many sick days, and that’s more than fair, because I’ve thought I was sick, or maybe stressed myself sick, more times than most people. During my practicum semester at the middle school I had the stomach flu NINE times. And I wasn’t faking, my stomach did act up; I was very stressed out and unhappy and those are conditions that make for all kinds of symptoms to show up. I knew I had a mental illness when I went back for my Master’s, I just underestimated it. I assumed that because things had been quiet for a long time that they would stay quiet.  I hadn’t really challenged myself  in years, and it turned out to be too much. I can run on caffeine and hypomania for a while, but that takes a toll.

I ended up taking a part-time semester after the stomach flu semester and almost didn’t finish my degree. I probably shouldn’t have, seeing how much use it’s getting. But I had plans. That’s where the whole “my life is a failure” thing comes in. I had plans. My friend had plans. Being mentally ill was NOT part of those plans. I don’t know how to tell him his life isn’t a failure because it’s hard to find purpose in mine too.  Yes, I know, I’m a mom and a wife and those are important jobs, but they aren’t all I intended for myself.  In that semester that I cut down to part-time I took a creative writing class in order to still have financial aid and it was the most fun I had throughout my whole Master’s program. It was the most motivated I was too, I actually did assignments ahead of time. It’s been interesting to do this every day, because once in a while I remember little things like that class that was kind of an accident. Maybe it was a “mistake” that I needed to make, so that now, when I’m looking for purpose, I can remember that there’s something I enjoy?

As my son would say: f* off

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2014/10/29/holding-my-son-with-autism-accountable/

So this has been making the rounds of my Facebook page today. And I am a bit irked by it, but I’m not sure I’m irked by the article or by the people who are posting it. One of the them doesn’t have kids, she just works with developmentally disabled adults, which is totally not the same thing. The other two have autistic kids, but are also besties with my son’s teacher who I really have an issue with.  So I kind of question if they’re really thinking the article has something good to say, or if they just want to stick it to parents who they don’t agree with. One of them is the my son’s former middle school teacher, (and I would say my former friend, because I haven’t spent time with her in almost a year) and she tends to think a lot of  parents let their kids “get away” with too much stuff.  I have real issues with people telling me, or anyone else, how to parent. You don’t live in my house, you don’t live with what I live with every day, so don’t think you know how to do what I do and certainly don’t think you can do it better.

It’s not that I believe my son with autism SHOULDN’T be held accountable for his actions, of course he should. But who gets to define that accountability? I don’t limit my son’s screen time normally, that’s not a battle I’m going to have, but I do set parental controls on what he’s allowed to watch and I only allow certain video games into the house. I don’t much care if he swears randomly, but I don’t like to be called names or told to F* off. If he chooses to get angry and break something of his I figure going without whatever it was he broke is consequence enough so I don’t do anything further.

My issue with his teacher is that she puts him in situations where she knows he is going to fail.  She’s a die-hard ABA believer (Applied Behavior Analysis for those who don’t speak autism) and one of the tenets of that is to provoke a behavior over and over again so you can correct it. I think that is complete B.S. and I also don’t think that research backs up ABA (I can prove that if you want, but not right this second), but people who believe in it are like hard-core evangelicals or Tea Party radicals, you can’t convince them of anything else. So she continuously puts my son in situations that make him unhappy. He already doesn’t like gym class, and then she put the one kid he has never gotten along with in the gym class with him, so guess where a lot of his behaviors happen?  His first year at the high school he had a job doing laundry, which he liked, but when this teacher came she wanted everyone to do the same job (its part of the vocational element of the program I guess) because its easier for her to supervise so they cleaned the cafeteria after lunch. Alex does NOT like this, so we had behavior issues there last year until I pitched a fit at our IEP meeting, but he’s back there again this year, and still having behavior issues there. I called the job “demeaning” in our meeting last year, and the principal got mad at me, but I didn’t mean that custodial work was demeaning in general, I meant being forced to do it when you don’t want to because that’s all people think you’re capable of is demeaning. I still think that, and if that is the only kind of job skill he’s going to be taught, then I question what we’re doing there anymore.

The article says:  “Now is the time to give him every tool he needs to be calm, happy and productive as he grows into an adult.” and I do agree with that completely, but I don’t know that he is getting the right tools at school and I don’t know that he ever will. I do know that if your kid is practically non-verbal, or has no manners, or if you don’t have kids, then maybe you are not who I want to hear about accountability from.

Crabby pants

I got asked yesterday if I was going to host Thanksgiving this year.  I used to host it every year, for a fairly large group of people. I think I’ve done it around 15 times. Maybe not quite that many, but it’s got to be close.  And I used to really enjoy it.  It started as just our family and a friend who didn’t want to attend his family’s dinner and then it grew into the no-relatives or after-relatives celebration. Many years it was preceded by a Wednesday night out on the town. But last year I cancelled about a week before. I had honestly wanted to cancel the year before because my daughter had been sick the week of Thanksgiving, but everyone freaked out about where they would go so I hosted anyway, but last year I just didn’t want to. Alex had been having a really rough time at school including getting suspended and the people who were my friends and supposed to be on my side when it came to this sort of thing were decidedly NOT, so I didn’t want to spend time with them. One of my other friends had been recently fired and was showing up at my house unannounced whenever she felt like it and I really didn’t want to schedule a day with her either. Throw in friend whose boyfriend I don’t like and friend whose kid I don’t like and hosting really just wasn’t something I wanted to take on last year at all. So I didn’t. I think my husband and kids were a little disappointed, because it usually is a pretty big party. But I was super relieved.  I enjoyed just being able to cook what I wanted and not having to referee my three women friends who don’t really like each other while finding something my friend’s picky teenager will eat, and keeping another teenager from being bored while keeping my own teenager from driving people crazy talking about super hero movies and star wars.  It was so nice not to have to be “on” all day, you know? So I don’t know if I’ll host this year. Just thinking about it kind of makes my stomach hurt.

Since last Thanksgiving I sort of had a wake-up call about how I spend my time, too. My friends would probably say that’s about when I started acting “weird” or “depressed”. But that’s not really what happened. I just realized that I didn’t want to spend my time doing things I didn’t really enjoy. And I don’t really enjoy drinking anymore (kind of weird, actually, as I used to be quite the wine snob) especially not getting drunk and that’s basically all my one friend does for fun (she seriously just uploaded a picture of drinks to her Facebook five minutes ago). And I don’t enjoy people who only talk about themselves and make everything about them, and I don’t enjoy people who make themselves a martyr all the time, and I REALLY don’t enjoy people who feel the need to make themselves smarter or better at my expense (even if the think they’re being helpful). So around Thanksgiving last year I started spending a lot less time with people. I accepted fewer invitations to hang out at people’s houses or to go out for coffee and I started shopping on my own. And I actually like it quite a bit. Now everyone calls me a hermit because I “never” go out. But I do, I just go on my own. Or I go places with Audrey, which is usually more fun than most grown-ups I know anyway.

Its been kind of interesting, this distancing. I think there is a lot of talk of me being depressed, but I’ve checked in with the doctor about it a few times and she doesn’t think so, and I don’t either. I’m actually pretty comfortable with myself. I don’t feel like I need anyone’s attention or approval, I can just do what I want. I definitely don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything. I mean how many stories about boyfriends or drunken escapades does a person really need to hear anyway?  It’s not that I’m incapable of listening and being a friend when someone needs truly needs one. I just resent having my time wasted. If you don’t want my input don’t tell me how mad you are at your boyfriend (who you have gotten back together with more times than I can count). And don’t assume that, at 40+, I am interested in your sex life. And keep your backhanded concern: “I just don’t know how you manage on one income” to yourself as well. Maybe I am turning into a crabby old lady? If so, I guess I’m fine with that.

Daisy and I

Exhausted by it all

Today is a tired day. I slept into the afternoon after the kids went to school, and I dragged through laundry and chicken chores. My Adderall and coffee were just no help at all. Some days are just tired days.

Honestly, it’s probably stress.  There is a lot going on here. I’ve been delving into the past, and relationship stuff, but the reality is there is a lot happening under my nose that I would rather not deal with. My son has autism, as I’ve mentioned before. And he’s 18. So we’re in the process of becoming his legal guardians because he is not capable of making most decisions on his own.  He doesn’t really understand money beyond getting stuff at concession stands and using Target and Amazon gift cards he gets for his birthday. He’d never go to the doctor if we didn’t make him, because he’s terrified of them. He doesn’t drive because he doesn’t see well and also because I highly doubt he has the judgment necessary to do so. He has a very hard time telling the difference between what happens in a movie or on TV and what is appropriate for real life.

It’s that last one that is getting us into trouble at school. He has absolutely no filter at all. And he may be developmentally delayed, but he’s still a moody teenager. SO, when something gets on his nerves at school it’s entirely possible that he will let fly a string of expletives or threaten to “kill you while you sleep” or attempt to punch or kick you. Which is bad. He’s not actually violent by nature I don’t think, or mean. He just is kind of a parrot. He repeats things he hears or sees and he tends to do it in context, like a parrot who says “good morning” in the morning or “hello” when the phone rings. He’s always been like that, but it wasn’t so bad when he watched Toy Story or Aladdin over and over again. But his tastes have changed as he’s gotten older, so there’s a lot more anime and video games, and even though I have parental controls on EVERYTHING, and really limit what he’s allowed to watch or play, there’s a lot more violence and threatening language in things rated PG than you realize. People say “I’m going to kill you” all the time on TV, because everyone knows that it’s a joke. And kids on TV hit each other and trip each other all the time, because physical comedy is funny. But none of that is funny in real life, and he just does not get that. And YouTube is impossible to control. You have to either block it completely or hope he watches appropriate things. He LOVES to watch video game play-through videos on YouTube, which you would think wouldn’t be that big of a deal, because he only watches games he’s allowed to play. But even those games rated E or E-10  are usually narrated by some of the most foul-mouthed people I have ever heard (And I swear like a sailor on occasion!) and he just does not get that you can’t talk to people like that in real life. Or if he does, he doesn’t have the impulse control to stop things coming out of his mouth.

He usually knows after he’s said something that he’s going to be in trouble, but often times that just causes things to escalate because he doesn’t WANT to be in trouble (that usually results in losing his electronics at home, which he hates). When that happens he will lash out and hit whoever’s closest, or the kid in his class that he doesn’t like. So this week we’ve had a couple of incidents, one of which was pretty bad. He had a bad morning at home and I took his stuff away and said he could have it back as long as his day was good. Well it started good, and then he told someone to F-off, so he got sent to his alternative classroom per his behavior plan and all seemed well until someone decided to talk to him about it. Then he got mad and picked up a dumbbell used for PT and raised it at the teacher’s aide like he was going to hit her. So he’s basically been in in-school suspension since Monday, and things didn’t go much better when he was let back into the classroom this afternoon.

There’s a lot more to it than a week’s worth of behavior of course. There have been a lot of medications over the years, and we have a therapist and a psychiatrist.  We didn’t have this much trouble in elementary or middle school, but the environment at the high school is just not comfortable. It’s one of those buildings that just FEELS oppressive when you walk in, and if I notice that I can’t imagine what it’s like for someone on constant sensory overload. And we haven’t had much luck with teachers or curriculum at the high school, so I think he’s bored and I know he hates the job training that they’re doing (cleaning the cafeteria after lunch, not a job he’d ever choose). So right now I’m torn about school for him. Technically the district is responsible for him until he’s 21, and I had always planned on leaving him in school ’til then, but now I’m questioning if it’s the right place for him. He’s 18, he doesn’t have to be there and if he hurts someone, even accidentally, he could end up arrested or in a state facility which is certainly not what I want for him. And I know that won’t happen at home. I don’t know what he’ll do all day at home, but at least everyone will be safe. Too much to think about for sure. I do have plans to talk with Adult Services, but I’m pretty aware of what’s available in our town and its not really geared toward people on the autistic spectrum at this point. So we’ll see.

Alex

So yeah, it’s a tired day here.

I can’t foucs

If my posts were a fashion collection Tim Gunn would tell me they need to be more cohesive.

I feel like I start typing and random stuff just comes out of no where. And it surprises me! I had no idea that yesterday’s post would end up where it ended up. That is more than I EVER share, so its a little uncomfortable. But maybe that’s part of the process? Kind of like taking out the garbage or really more like clearing out a hoard (it always comes back to Hoarders). You have to clear away all the STUFF to see what’s there. And my brain is certainly full of stuff.  Stuff is a very non-writerly word, but I can’t come up with a more specific one right now. I don’t really KNOW what’s buried in all the stacks and piles in my brain, and I guess I won’t know what’s in them until I start dragging the piles outside and going through them.  Just like on Hoarders.

I have Hoarders on the brain today, because my house is EXTRA bad. Seriously, I ate yogurt with a fork this morning because all of the spoons were in the sink.  And the laundry is absolutely ridiculous (yet everyone still has clothes?).  I really haven’t been feeling well the last few days. Apparently I put myself into a bit of a withdrawal state when I forgot to fill my Cymbalta last week. It was sort of like a hangover only the headache was worse. Who knew forgetting for a few days would make me feel so yucky? Most of the time the mood meds don’t really do that to me, so I thought I had the flu and just sat around for the whole weekend. AND I’m not the only one who knows how the dishwasher works. My husband hasn’t exactly been busy lately, he’s been on a new computer game.

Yep, I’m a gamer widow again. Sigh. He’s on the chat thing for HOURS, and I swear their little guild thing has more drama than the fourth grade girls in my neighborhood (I’ve suggested a headset on several occasions because I don’t enjoy overhearing them all that much). I honestly don’t get the appeal of these MMORPG games. From what I can tell from my 15 years of observation (Oh yeah, been a gamer widow since the first Everquest came out, lucky me) you make a big group called a guild who you then argue with or call inappropriate names 90% of the time you’re online. The rest of the time you do little “quests” or “raids” to get “loot” and get your character to a higher level.  It’s all pretend, except for the people who pay real money to get virtual stuff or get their characters to a higher level, which I REALLY don’t understand. I think my husband likes the social part of it, because he likes to be in charge, AND he likes to kind of embellish his personal details. Online you can be anyone you want. In person eventually people will have heard all of your stories, and they start to figure out that your personality is just a bit TOO big, but online when that happens you get a new guild, or a new game. I shouldn’t complain TOO much about the gaming, it provided my Master’s research material back in 2009 and 2010. I focused on internet addiction, which was a new idea then. Gaming and social media were just starting to get big, so I had to really dig to find any source material that wasn’t about porn and gambling. It was fascinating! And interestingly, he quit playing for a pretty long time after he realized I was calling him an addict. Apparently it bothered him, but not enough to never play again. Just goes to show that you can never trust a junkie.

Today is a very not-focused kind of day. I’m going to go be disappointed by some election results.