I am proud and humbled to have been pledged by Ruby Tuesday of A Canvas of the Minds as a Mental Health Blogger for 2013. It’s not an award, but a commitment to keep on blogging with the aim of erasing stigma and creating community among those of us who live with mental illness. Our Mental Health Blogger community is a place where people living with mental illness as well as their families and loved ones can come together in mutual acceptance and support. It’s awesome! So here’s the pledge:
I pledge my commitment to the Blog For Mental Health 2013 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.
Here is where I’m supposed to write a short summary of my own journey with mental illness. Where to begin? I’ve had issues all of my life with PTSD and dissociation. Likewise, I cannot remember a time when I was not depressed. I ran away from home, permanently, when I was 16 and only by the grace of G-d did not die or end up trafficked to Mexico, although there were some close calls. I didn’t know I had a mental illness till I was in college and desperate to make money. There was an ad in the student newspaper: take drugs and get paid! No, really, it was a study that the Psychiatry part of the medical school was doing. So I went and applied, and had to take a whole day’s worth of psychological testing before they would give me the drugs. Some guy called me the next day and said, “You have to go to Student Mental Health right now! Your testing shows you are Severely Depressed.” Humph. I didn’t feel any different than I always felt, but if I had to go to Student Mental Health in order to get my drugs, that’s the way it was. I went. There was a nice lady behind the desk in a cozy room. She smiled beneficently and asked, “Why are you depressed?” “I’m not depressed,” I said. “Then why are you here?” she asked. “The Psych Drug Study made me come,” I said. She shuffled through my slim chart and said, “Your testing shows you are severely depressed.” She looked up at me with that saintly smile and said, “You get good grades. You have a good job. You’re good looking. So why are you depressed?” I stood up, thanked the lady, and walked out.
The next time I got an inkling that I might be depressed came when I was in medical school, married, with a baby who never slept. I adored him, and many years later I still adore him, but the fact is, he never slept through the night until he was five. So at that time I think he was maybe ten months old, and I had not slept since he was born. I was in the middle of my Cardiology clinical rotation. Everyone had gone to lunch, but as usual I had no appetite and was uninterested in hanging out with people, so I was sitting in a study carrel reading EKGs. My Cardiology attending came over and said, “Aren’t you going to go get some lunch?” And I said, “No thanks, I’m not hungry,” avoiding eye contact by studying the EKG. “Look at me,” he said, and I did, mechanically. “You’re depressed,” he said. “I want you to go home and get some help. You need to see a psychiatrist. Please call me tomorrow and tell me what you have done about this.” And head hanging, I went home. My ex-husband came home and said, “What are you doing home so early?” since I usually stayed late studying. “I’m depressed,” I said. He turned on his heel and walked out. “Let me know when you’re better,” he said on his way out the door. I called somebody at the medical school whom I trusted, and told him the situation. Five minutes later I got a call from a psychiatrist, who gently demanded that my (ex) husband accompany me to an appointment on the following day. He did. The shrink explained to him that I was physically incapable of doing what I was doing, taking care of our son all night and being a medical student all day (and sometimes all night too). He explained how to give the baby a bottle.
He also gave me my first psych drug, imipramine, which not only knocked me completely out, but gave me a horrible itchy rash from head to toe. Then he gave me antihistamines for the rash. I dimly remember lying on the cool hardwood floor wishing I was dead but having no control over my body and therefore being unable to act on it, which was good. After I got over that, he gave me some other drug, which allowed me to make it through med school in one piece.
Then I got to my residency in Pediatrics, where the standard work week was 120 hours. More sleep deprivation. And still with the non-sleeping child, who, bless his heart, sleeps like a baby now that he’s in his 20’s. And then there was the husband who needed attention too. So I went to a shrink and got Wellbutrin, which is very good for some people, but me it tipped over into hypomania. Only nobody in the medical world in which I lived seemed to know about Depression and Mania and those kinds of nervous system brain sorts of things. They only knew about Show Up For Work And Keep Your Mouth Shut. I had this private joke: if one of us residents died, they wouldn’t give us time off to go to our own funeral.
As it happened, three of us residents DID die, and another one got taken out of service for accidentally giving someone the wrong medicine, which caused their death; so instead of every third night call, we had every other night, and sometimes “every every” night, which meant we didn’t get to go home much. I really don’t know how the program directors thought that flesh and blood human beings could tolerate that for three years and not kill themselves or die in car accidents falling asleep on the way home, both of which things did happen in our little corner of Hell.
Anyway. Fast forward from the late 1980’s-early 1990’s when all this shit was going down, to Y2K. That’s right, the nearly infamous Year 2000. Well, it WAS infamous for me, because a whole conflagration of disasters hit me that knocked my pins right out from under me and I ended up in the hospital. And I became disabled, just like I am now. The only good thing was that some shrink finally noticed that I’m bipolar, and put me on Lithium. But by then my medical practice was in ruins, my family life in tatters, my finances non-existent, and worst of all, I had lost my identity.
I’ve wandered around some more since then, and although I’ve just been declared permanently and totally disabled by a Federal Social Security judge (and that feels pretty rough), I’m writing more than I ever have. I’m blogging, and have become part of this wonderful community that is centered around A Canvas of The Minds. I’m FINALLY writing my book, having used NaNoWriMo for the past two years to give me the kick-start I’ve needed to get two of the volumes well into progress. I’m slowly redefining myself, and even though I still have attacks of “the mentals,” I’m bumping along, and that’s OK.
Oh all right, that was not short. I am Incapable Of Writing Anything Short.
Now comes the part where I am supposed to pledge five other Mental Health Bloggers. OMG. How am I supposed to choose???? I’ll just start, and when I get to five I’ll stop. Maybe.
PAZ, of Melancholically Manic Mouse
Lunch, of Lunch Sketch
Nicolas, of Puncture Repair Kit
bpshielsy at The Pipolar Place
survivor55 at Bipolar and Breastless
I hereby pledge to remember to let all of the above know I’ve pledged them.
Lastly: I am supposed to remember not to forget to link back to Canvas, so here it is. I think I’ve linked back to Canvas about six times in this post, but I’m feeling kind of wacky today so if I’ve messed up in some of this stuff I hope everyone will forgive me. And feel free to let me know!
Love to everybody and sending good juju for staying healthy this winter, and looking forward to another wonderful year of Mental Health blogging together!