Zurich’s Drive-In ‘Sex Boxes’ Off to a Modest Start

I ran across this and got so sad…it’s like, here are these “cribs” like they had in ancient Rome, where nameless, faceless women are sold over and over and over. Are they voluntarily selling themselves in “sex boxes”? Why would they? What a bleak, sterile existence. Yes, as the article says, it might be better, safer than having sex with a strange man in the woods or a parking lot. Yes, I’m sure of that. But that kind of sex is always, always connected to drug addiction, pimping, trafficking, or all three. I’m ashamed of a country that can purport to legalize prostitution and then put women in boxes like packaged meat at the grocery store.

Traffick Alerts

Greeted by a press pack rather than prostitutes, the first customer to roll up to Switzerland’s sex drive-in on opening night took one lap of the facility before making a hasty exit.

The second car, a family vehicle driven by a man in sunglasses under cloudy evening skies, broke down and needed jump starting in front of a host of photographers, sniggering into their cameras.

Zurich authorities had said they expected a modest start to the country’s first so-called “sex boxes”, a row of drive-in wooden garages on a looping track where clients in cars can visit prostitutes, shielded from prying eyes and security cameras.

With an estimated annual turnover of around 3.5 billion Swiss francs ($3.79 billion), prostitution has been legal in Switzerland since 1942, with sex workers in Zurich required to have a special permit, health insurance and pay tax.

The number of prostitutes in the Alpine nation…

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Voices of Mental Illness: Joe and Jess Speak Out

Every Wednesday on Bipolar For Life we have a special feature: Breaking the Silence of Stigma.  It’s an interview and/or personal essay format guest appearance from one of our brothers or sisters who suffer with a mental illness.  In addition to talking about the mental illness itself, we talk about how the stigma of having a mental illness affects our lives.

Today’s guest appearance turned out to be so different, and so compelling, that I decided to change the whole thing.

I first met Joe through his powerful piece on his blog ManicMedic about the recent rash of public figures openly mouthing discriminatory epithets against people with mental illness.  I recommend you go and read it right now, if you haven’t already.

We got to chatting a bit through the comments, as the topic was at the top of my consciousness just then:  two of our fellow bloggers and I have been slowly but surely building a social media (and soon to have its own blog!) platform called Faces of Mental Illness, which is meant specifically to counter the horrible images that public figures, news anchors, and random others have been spewing all over the media.  Don’t worry, a post will follow which will clarify all the mysterious things I have just said.

At any rate, I asked Joe if he would be interested in doing a Breaking the Silence interview with me, and he said he’d be delighted; and by the way his girlfriend has a few DSM diagnoses herself, and would I be interested in interviewing her too?  Of course!  Says I, all unknowing that I was about to enter a world of passionate intensity that I haven’t felt since I started taking Seroquel.

They sent their interviews right away, and I sat there reading them with flies flying in and out of my open mouth.  Here are two people, each with their own brands of internal pain, doing it all together.  They support each other, they actively participate in each other’s lives, and they are clearly well-developed individuals who think and feel for themselves.

Having a mental illness is hard enough; having a relationship with a person who has a mental illness is hard enough; combining the two, and managing to not only stay right-side-up but to thrive, is a labor of love.

So without further ado, please allow me to introduce first Joe, because I met him first, and then Jess.  It’s a bit of a long read, but worth every word.

Joe

BSS: How long have you known that you are living with a mental illness?

Joe: Ever since I can remember as a child something was not right, especially during high school I would get so depressed. I would let my feelings out in my writings for English class. I would also get “inspired” a lot as I liked to call it and got involved in as much as possible at school.

BSS: Can you share with us your diagnosis/diagnoses?

Joe: I am currently “officially” diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder II, I also show signs of anxiety disorder, especially in social situations.

BSS: When were you diagnosed with these?

Joe: I was diagnosed as depressed during college, it wasn’t until much later.. around 2009 if I remember correct that I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder.

BSS: How were they diagnosed?  Did you have any special testing?

Joe: It actually took a couple of hospitalizations to receive the bipolar diagnosis, no special testing… just observation of symptoms that I’ve reported and staff had seen on the unit during my hospitalizations.

BSS: Was your illness diagnosed correctly the first time, or did it take time before the right diagnosis was arrived at?  Do you feel that you do indeed have the correct diagnosis now?

Joe: No, as I mainly got depressed at the time of my initial diagnosis I was just simply diagnosed as “Depressed”. It wasn’t until after my second hospitalization in a month that I received the Bipolar diagnosis

BSS: Have you ever been hospitalized due to your illness?  How many times?  Do you think it helped?

Joe: If I remember correct I was hospitalized 7 times in 6 months, I wasn’t out of the hospital more than a month during that time. It helped me get to the diagnosis and treatment that is “somewhat” working now. I don’t think it will ever be 100% perfect.

BSS: Are you on medications for your illness?  Do they help?  What about side effects?

Joe: I am currently taking Abilify 15mg daily as well as Serquel XR 50mg as needed for sleep. With the Abilify I am currently experiencing muscle spasms, mainly at night when I’m in bed. I’m told they will most likely be perminate. As far as the Serquel, it takes me a little longer to get going in the morning when I take it the night before but other than that no issues.

BSS: Have you ever had ECT (Electroconvulsive therapy)?

Joe: No, I have not had ECT

BSS: What other things do you do to help with your illness?  Do you go to individual therapy?  Group? Other things?  What, if anything, seems to help?

Joe: I go to individual therapy once every two weeks as permitted by scheduling. I had been going to a peer support group but have lost track of them. Both somewhat helps.

BSS: How has your illness impacted your life (jobs, education, relationships, children, alcohol, drug abuse….._)

Joe: I have had to keep it from my jobs, I worked in the Emergency Medical Services field where we on a regular basis treated patients experiencing psychological emergencies. You would never believe how they are spoken about sometimes after they are dropped off at the hospital. I didn’t want people to think of me like that.

BSS: Have you ever felt discriminated against because of your illness, or had to deal with disparaging comments, denied a job or other opportunities?

Joe: I have recently lost my job, in my first job interview back searching I had mentioned my mental illness along with one of my weaknesses… it wasn’t planned, it kinda slipped out….. I don’t know if it mattered or not to them but I did not get the job.

BSS: If you could give advice to someone else struggling with mental illness, what would it be?

Joe: Don’t hide, get help!

BSS: Anything else you’d like to add?

Joe: Thank you for this opportunity!

Jess

BSS: How long have you known that you are living with a mental illness?

Jess: Really I have known since I was 13 when I started having suicidal thoughts. I kept it all to myself but would have days where I was moody and my parents thought I was just being a teenage girl. They sent me to a counselor where I lied and said what they wanted to hear because I was already dealing with epilepsy and refused to have another diagnoses.

BSS: Can you share with us your diagnosis/diagnoses?

Jess: Absolutely. I was originally diagnosed with depression and anxiety. As time went on I was diagnosed with bipolar, borderline personality disorder, PTSD, and anxiety. I also believe I have a social anxiety because I can’t be around a lot of people or else I have an anxiety attack.

BSS: When were you diagnosed with these?

Jess: I was originally diagnosed in February of 2010 but November of 2012 was when I got the updated diagnosis.

BSS: How were they diagnosed?  Did you have any special testing?

Jess: I was having suicidal thoughts and my fiancé Joe who also has bipolar said I needed to get to the hospital. Through a week of supervision and what seemed to be a year’s worth of questions regarding family history and such the hospital said I had major depression.

BSS: Was your illness diagnosed correctly the first time, or did it take time before the right diagnosis was arrived at?  Do you feel that you do indeed have the correct diagnosis now?

Jess: The original diagnoses was somewhat on the right track. After being in a group setting they figured out that my major depression was really the bipolar which I agree with and borderline personality disorder which I in all honesty am still trying to come to terms with. Is it a correct diagnosis? I believe with everything I am it is. Once the descriptions of each were read to me a lot of childhood memories came to mind and the “a-ha” moment came into play.

BSS: Have you ever been hospitalized due to your illness?  How many times?  Do you think it helped?

Jess: I have been hospitalized many times. In the year I was diagnosed I was in the hospitals probably three times. The year after I think two maybe three times I was hospitalized. Last year I think was two times and this year once in the hospital. It helped when I worked it and when I didn’t have distractions. There was one stay where a girl would cause fights with everyone and we would be on eggshells so treatment wasn’t really there. There were two other stays where all I wanted was to go home so I told them whatever it took to get me out.

BSS: Are you on medications for your illness?  Do they help?  What about side effects?

Jess: Currently I am on Lexapro. It did work for the longest time but now my body has adapted to it and it’s like I am taking flinstone vitamins. My last hospital stay I said I needed a change and they said I am already on the highest dose so I am stuck with it. Which kind of pissed me off because I know for sure there are other meds that I could have been put on. I have an appointment with my regular doctor soon to discuss a change.

BSS: Have you ever had ECT (Electroconvulsive therapy)?  How did it affect you?  Did it help?

Jess: I am actually scared to try it. It has never been offered to me.

BSS: What other things do you do to help with your illness?  Do you go to individual therapy?  Group? Other things?  What, if anything, seems to help?

Jess: Right now because I was raped by a fellow group member last year I am not in treatment. I left and now because I have no job or insurance it is very hard for me to find help. However I like to do mad libs, word searches, coloring, drawing and call me crazy but my fiancé will find me playing board games by myself. I have a love for board games and when no one will play I just play on my own for a distraction. I have recently applied to volunteer at a farm to work with horses, dogs and cats. I am a HUGE animal lover and would rather be around animals then humans. Animals are none judgmental and comforting.

BSS: How has your illness impacted your life (jobs, education, relationships, children, alcohol, drug abuse….._)

Jess: Oh jeez where to start. As far as education, I was going to Kutztown University and started having the lack of energy bursts as I call them. I didn’t want to get out of bed, take the 35 minute drive and sit in a class and hear what I always heard “blah blah blah”. Other factors played into me dropping out but I just couldn’t concentrate anymore. I was able to get my associates degree in Criminal Justice from a community college before I even attended K.U. I also went to school for my EMT which was easier for me because it was hands on. However, I couldn’t keep a job for more than six months. I couldn’t and still can’t take criticism and that is all I got. If a stranger walked up to me and said “you’re ugly” I would break down and say I am a horrible person and can’t do anything right and I am better off not around.  Being in a relationship with someone who is also bipolar is not the easiest thing. But if I were in one with someone who didn’t have a mental illness I don’t think I would still be here. He saved my life because he knew what to look for and saw it in me. When I feel lost and unsure of myself he knows what needs to get done. We really are each other’s support. I think either one of us would be lost without the other. We become codependent at times but we work through it together.

BSS: Have you ever felt discriminated against because of your illness, or had to deal with disparaging comments, denied a job or other opportunities?

Jess: Every day!! On a broad stand point every time I hear that someone who can’t take responsibility for a crime they committed so they claim insanity, I feel hurt and in a way discriminated. I went to get a gun recently so I can start hunting or just for shooting like I did when I was younger and I was told since I had a mental illness I wasn’t allowed to buy it. People call me crazy all the time. I was working for a company that let me go because I had said I needed off one day to go to therapy.

BSS: If you could give advice to someone else struggling with mental illness, what would it be?

Jess: Never give up. It is hard when struggling and you feel like you hit rock bottom. It is hard to believe in yourself and believe that you can get through this. But the one thing I have always done was think of two people I could hurt if I hurt myself. Giving up is always one of the best options for us. But you have to believe that no matter what is going on you can get through it. The second you give up is when you end up in the hospital. Also, never stop your meds. A big thing I have done was stop taking my meds because I “felt better” when in reality it was the meds working. People claim doctors are poisoning you by filling you up with meds. These people I hate. These meds can take up to 6 weeks to start to work and sometimes they don’t work at all. So the med has to be switched. It took almost a year to get on the right med and now I know I need another med change. It isn’t poison. Rat poison is poison. Meds are to help you. Give it time and give yourself a chance. Remember meds aren’t the only thing you should be doing. There are three parts to you getting better; medication, therapy and the most important you! Use positive coping skills. Treat yourself every once in a while and if you need it do not be afraid to take a time out from your daily life and take a couple days to get you back on track.

BSS: Anything else you’d like to add?

Jess: I must say up until now, I have fought back tears while going through this interview. Many people would never take the time to get to know someone with mental illness. I have been really lost because I push a lot of people including friends and family away. Are they disrespectful to me? No, I just feel the less people in my life, the less I hurt. Because of that I bottle stuff up and this interview has gotten me to open up about how I feel.  I am 26 years old, with a college degree, an EMT license and sadly on social security disability. I hate that I have to say that but I know I need it because I can’t work due to my illness right now. I get tossed in the system as I am told I am and then not eligible for Medicaid due to how much I make on ssd which is only $920 a month. I currently am fighting with the state to get something so I can get into treatment. Everywhere requires at least Medicaid or is $100 a visit. That alone is $400 a month. I have rent, phone, car insurance, a car payment and loads of bills. And truthfully if I could afford $100 a pop I really don’t think I would have issues right now.  At the moment I feel like giving up. I have felt that way for a while. If you aren’t suicidal you don’t get help. I think that is messed up. There is no way right now for me to get the help I need and am begging for and it bugs me that I know of people who caused their illnesses i.e. drug addicts and alcoholics who are in treatment and get right out and use again and don’t work the program. I didn’t cause this and I want treatment. They don’t make it easy for us to get the help we need. That is why most of us DO give up. Why should we care if no else cares enough to help us? But, this interview made me think that someone actually cared and that is why I now have tears. For the first time in a year someone other than my fiancé and family, I actually feel like someone cares enough to really get to know what it is like to suffer from these illnesses and for that I thank you greatly!

Jess can be reached through her blog, The Flip Flop Girl

Thank you to Joe and Jess, from the bottom of my heart, for your candor and openness.  I have a feeling your generosity in sharing yourselves here is going to help a lot of people!

My Karma Ran Over My Car, Ma

When my mother called from America to give me the news (I’m in Israel trying to be spiritual), I was in the middle of a scrumptious Sushi dinner (kosher of course) with my gay boyfriend.

She begins with, “Um, I don’t know quite how to break this to you, but I have some kind of bad news for you.”

Well, at least it wasn’t bad news about people, or else she would have used her special terminology for that.  So I knew it must be some material thing.

“So,” I said, finishing my mouthful of rice and raw fish, “what’s going on?”

“Your can was stolen,” she says resolutely.  I burst out laughing.  My car was stolen.  OK, Universe, what else are you going to fling at me?  I already found out with an unpleasant bang that I have bedbugs (yes, BEDBUGS, ugh), and that is foremost in my mind right now, since I am phobic about creatures climbing on my body at night when I am sleeping, sucking my blood.  FUCK.  Compared to that, having my car stolen is a laughable piece of cake.

I mean, WTF?  It’s only a piece of metal and plastic and assorted other material junk cobbled together.  Yeah, yeah, it’s only two years old.  Big fucking deal, I have about $6,000 in equity on it, so it it gets totaled I’m in the black for a down payment on another one.

Oh.  I haven’t told you the story yet.

OK.  So when I go to Israel, which is several times a year, my dear cousin is kind enough to let me park it in his apartment complex lot.  It’s a big lot, and nobody ever objects.  And his apartment complex is in a nice neighborhood with a low crime rate, so it’s safe enough.  Or so I thought.

But.  Some scallawag criminal type had the forethought to steal a dealer tag, take off my wonderful vanity tag that says AZAMRA, which means “I shall sing” in ancient Hebrew, from a psalm by King David composed 3000 years ago more or less, and put his nasty dealer tag on instead.  So this ain’t no random joy-rider.  It’s a professional, is what it is.  And how the dude gained entry to the car is a mystery.

OK.  Next scene: either this same thief, or his designee, gets totally shitfaced drunk in the middle of the day and decides to go somewhere via the high-speed beltway around the city which will remain unnamed.  He’s cruising in the passing lane when he PASSES OUT and the vehicle (MY vehicle) rolls to a stop, blocking the passing lane.

A random ambulance in cruise mode happens to come along and sees this vehicle stopped in the passing lane and decides to investigate.  They pull up alongside and lean on the siren.  The driver of MY car wakes up abruptly and STOMPS on the gas, resulting in a game of caroms, bouncing off of and sideswiping FOUR different vehicles before crashing into a police cruiser that had blocked the road up ahead.

Said policeman gets out and makes the guy, who is still alive and conscious, blow for alcohol level, and the guy blows 0.5!  That, my friends, is officially incompatible with life, except for professional drinkers whose livers are all tuned up.  So of course the dude is now in jail.

Unfortunately, two of the people he hit are in the hospital.  I know nothing about their condition, but send them healing juju and apologies that even though I personally had nothing to do with it, it WAS my car after all that plowed into them at high velocity.

Now I’m dealing with the intricacies of trying to manage a car theft and subsequent use of the car for criminal activities and vehicular battery, and the fact that my car is impounded in a police car pound, from 6,000 miles away.  My cousin is acting as my agent, which is a good thing for me but a pain in the ass for him.  Many questions remain unresolved, and I wonder if answers will bubble to the surface as the facts unfold.

Strange things have already happened, such as, when I called my insurance company to open a file and give them the police report, I discovered that a certain attorney (for whom? the crook? an ambulance chaser?) had called it in and a case was already open.  I didn’t know that unauthorized people could get access to one’s insurance company.  Well, now I do.

At least this has lightened my mood up (except for the people who were injured), because it seems that just when you think the Universe is out to get you (bedbugs), you find out that….the Universe is out to get you!  So I may as well give over being depressed and find something to enjoy, because you never know what’s going to happen next.

Screw you Brian Williams…..

manicmedic has done a great job at gathering all of the “bad stigma actors” we’ve been talking about lately into one place. He’s also reprinted the entry in the Associated Press (AP) Style Book, which is their internal guideline, on how to write about mental illness related topics. I didn’t know there were such guidelines, but now that I do I’m even more horrified to see what’s been allowed to get through the cracks. Granted, if they’re quoting someone who’s going off on “keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill,” that’s a quote and they would be violating Free Speech if they censored it. Or would they? What if (and this is a HYPOTHETICAL EXAMPLE and does NOT reflect my personal opinion in ANY way, just a really lurid example to bring this closer to the light of day: What if some ignorant public figure said we need more laws to keep guns “out of the hands of criminals and n*ggers”? Would they print that, citing Freedom of Expression? I very much doubt it. I bet they would censure the speaker for making racial slurs and not print what they said at all.

That is my vision. I want slurs against the mentally ill to be seen as just as offensive as racial slurs. We can do it. Only recently there has been a campaign against using the word “retard” as a slur. It’s taken hold, and is being reinforced and enforced in schools, on school buses, etc.

So if kids can be taught that being developmentally disabled is not something to joke about or use as a slur, certainly supposedly educated television personalities can be taught that serious illness is not something to mock or sneer at? That one I’m not so sure about….that one might take one or two hefty lawsuits to resolve. It’s the pockets, people, it’s pain in the ol’ wallet and bad publicity that talks to these idiots who think they’re above common decency.
Thanks, manicmedic, for a great job, well done!

Breaking The Silence of Stigma: Laura P. Schulman

alien woman headThis Wednesday’s Breaking The Silence of Stigma interviewee is….me!  So, without further ado, let’s jump right into the shark pool!

BSS: How long have you known that you are living with a mental illness?

LPS: When I was putting myself through a very expensive college, scrambling for every dime I could earn, I saw an ad in the campus newspaper recruiting paid volunteers for a pharmaceutical study, for some kind of psychoactive drug.  Get paid to take drugs?   Oh boy!  Pennies from heaven!  So I applied.

I had to take a whole day’s worth of psychological screening tests to determine if I was suitable for the study.  I’ve always been good at tests!  I aced ‘em all!  Or so I thought.

The following evening I got a call from somebody in the psychology department.  He told me that the tests indicated that I was suffering from Major Depressive Disorder, and he ordered me to appear at Student Mental Health the following day.  And, oh my, I was disappointed to hear that I would not be accepted for the drug study.  Rats.

I couldn’t really figure out what all the fuss was: Major Depressive Disorder?  Hell, I didn’t feel any different than I always felt.  I mean, I’ve got an artistic soul, and those are always tormented, aren’t they?  If I didn’t feel intensely sad and/or elated all the time, how could I make my art, write my poetry, go without sleep for virtually days at a time….certainly there had to be some mistake.

But I showed up at Student Mental Health at the appointed hour.  A nice poufy lady welcomed me into her office and sat down on the other side of the desk, gesturing me into the chair on my side.  She perused a chart.  It was my chart.  This is significant, because I had never had a chart before.

She looked up at me and smiled.  She looked down at my chart and frowned.

“It says here that you’re depressed.  My goodness, you’re a straight-A student.  You have a good job in a lab.  You’re good looking.”

She looked up at me again and smiled again.

“So why are you depressed?”

I got up, thanked the nice lady, and walked out.

 BSS: Can you share with us your diagnosis/diagnoses?  When were you diagnosed with these?  How were they diagnosed?  Did you have any special testing?

LPS: I have Bipolar Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Dysthymia, and a touch of OCD.  And I’m an Aspie, as in Asperger Syndrome.  In 1996, I had a battery of tests at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.  They totally missed the Bipolar and came up with Major Depressive Disorder, probably because I still didn’t think any of the hypomanic things I was doing were abnormal.  In 2005 I had the tests repeated at the University of Washington in Seattle, and they nailed the BP, the PTSD, the Dysthymia, and told me I scored pretty high on the OCD scale.  The Aspie-ness was diagnosed collaboratively with my Ph.D. psychologist, along with some testing.

BSS: Was your illness diagnosed correctly the first time, or did it take time before the right diagnosis was arrived at?  Do you feel that you do indeed have the correct diagnosis now?

LPS: As I said above, the diagnostic process was pretty choppy, until I arrived at the University of Washington Mood Disorders Center, and got what I consider to be a very comprehensive and correct work-up.  I feel confident that my diagnoses are definitive and correct.  This has helped immensely.

BSS: Have you ever been hospitalized due to your illness?  How many times?  Do you think it helped?

LPS: I have been hospitalized twice.  The first time was because I was off meds for fear of being “discovered” by my hospital administrator.  I know, right?  The second was because of wrong medication from a terrible psychiatrist, combined with an over-the-top relationship with another poorly medicated Bipolar.  They definitely helped, because they kept me away from lethal things long enough for my suicidality to blow over.  The second hospitalization was great in another way.  My then-psychiatrist, who was terrible, was on vacation, and my current shrink-o-matic, who is wonderful, was covering for her.  I loved him immediately and begged him to let me be his patient.  That was in 2002.  He’s still my shrink-o.

BSS: Are you on medications for your illness?  Do they help?  What about side effects?

LPS: Oh yes. I’m currently on six different medications.  Yes, they certainly help.  My symptoms are, thank God, mostly under control.  I think.  Side effects….lots.  The worst is from the Lithium, which causes me balance problems (I took a bad fall just a couple of days ago, got a nice concussion), and a tremor that is sometimes so bad that I can’t type!  My handwriting has become deplorable due to the tremor, too, especially my Hebrew!

BSS: Have you ever had ECT (Electroconvulsive therapy)?

LPS: No. I have had nearly 100 rTMS (repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation) treatments, which literally saved my life. I have had lasting (and I hope, permanent) positive results.

BSS: What other things do you do to help with your illness?  Do you go to individual therapy?

LPS: I have a really wonderful therapist whom I have seen on and off for fourteen years.  She really hits me where I live, and, in a compassionate way, kicks my butt regularly.  In addition, I’m a compulsive blogger and am blessed to have an ever-expanding group of wonderful fellow Mental Illness bloggers, who are a huge support to me.  Thank you, Mental Bloggies!  I find that being a Mental Health advocate gives me direction and a great deal of satisfaction.  I also have a Psychiatric Service Dog, who helps me in many ways.  She helps me to stay grounded, on task, provides structure to my otherwise fairly aimless life, and she is invaluable when I have a PTSD episode.  If I dissociate she licks me till I come back.  And if I am having a flashback that someone is in the room, all I have to do is look at her, because if someone was really trying to enter my house she would go off like a barking bomb.  So if she’s quiet, I know that I can be sure it’s “just” a flashback and will go away eventually.

BSS: How has your illness impacted your life (jobs, education, relationships, children, alcohol, drug abuse….._)

LPS: Ugh.  Can’t you ask me something else?  Damn me.  OK, here’s your answer:  Yes.  Everything.  I have never held a job for more than two years, because I eventually get manic and fired, or depressed and fired….Now I’ve been certified by a Federal judge to be 100% disabled.  That has taken some getting used to, and I still get weepy when I think about my lost dreams.  I was born to be a doctor, fought through thick and thin to be one, was a really good one, and now allthat is gone…it’s rough.

Education has not been a problem because I am an Aspie and I get straight A’s.

My relationships have been very typically Bipolar:  elation, crash, elation, crash…and then my paranoia sets in, and I’m out of there.  I recently took a seven-year break from relationships, consciously.  Then I opened myself to someone who showed up in my life, and….turned out to be waaaaaay crazier than I am, so….I’m really happy with my life as a single person, and I don’t really trust myself with relationships.  So I might just stay single, except for my dog!

Alcohol—I have tried and tried to become an alcoholic, but it never took.  I’m only half kidding about that.  I hung out with alcoholics much of my life, and drank right along with them, but in reality I can’t handle more than half a beer, so I got disqualified.  Drugs, now, that’s something different.  I did a lot of psychedelics when I was young.  And I smoked a lot of pot.  But thank goodness I never took pills (other than acid or mescaline LOL), and I never shot up.  I did have a cocaine addiction though, which lasted for years.  Cocaine cured my depression, until it wore off and the crash was terrible.  I’ve been clean from that for over 30 years.

BSS: Have you ever felt discriminated against because of your illness, or had to deal with disparaging comments, denied a job or other opportunities?

LPS: Yes, yes, and yes.  As a doctor, having a mental illness is tricky business.  First of all, there’s the terrible schedule: being on-call overnight two or three times a week, which is horrible for stability in general and for medication schedule in particular.  Secondly, if one discloses one’s mental illness, one gets one’s license limited and one must have a supervisor, even if one is a senior physician who has never had a mishap of any kind in terms of patient care, clinical judgment, or even paperwork.  It’s humiliating.  I tried to go back into medicine after taking a break to get stable, and the licensing system made me go to a rehab program—even though I am not a drug addict (they never knew about the long-ago cocaine), because they lump mental illness in with addiction in what they call “behavioral medicine.”  They made me show up for a drug test once a week.  I was to do that for a year, before they would even give me a supervised position.  I was so humiliated that I gave it up and went back to my disability status.

In addition, one’s colleagues do not like to hear about one’s illness.  They tend to do things like turn around and walk away if one shares one’s mood or diagnosis.  So one learns to suffer in silence.

BSS: If you could give advice to someone else struggling with mental illness, what would it be?

LPS: Get the best psychiatrist and psychologist you possibly can, and keep them.  Do what they say, and if something doesn’t add up and you feel uncomfortable with their assessment or treatment, say so.  And if they get haughty about it, fire them and find a better one.  Your life is precious.

Find a genuine support network, in whatever way speaks to you.  I, for instance, relate better online, because face-to-face human contact makes my teeth itch (Aspie).  Others find great satisfaction and validation in volunteering.  Seek out a peer group.  Loneliness kills.  Get an emotional support animal, or a Psychiatric Service Dog if you need one.  If you are in a long-term relationship or marriage, and if you have children, be sure to keep everybody in the loop.  Don’t keep your illness a secret.  Secrets kill.  Open and honest relationships, including couples and family counseling if needed, are life-saving.  And don’t forget the kids!  They need help dealing with their feelings too.  My own experience has taught me that it’s tough being the child of a mentally ill person.  Get the kid(s) their own counselor.  It’s a great investment in your children’s future.

And when things get really dark and scary…..get help!  Reach out!  Don’t be embarrassed!  Get help!

Exhausted

Today has been utterly exhausting.

First of all, my apartment was invaded by hordes of tiny cat fleas from the gazillions of cats that flood Jerusalem like a heaving tsunami of fur.  Someone long ago had the bright idea of bringing in cats to get rid of the rats, and it worked very well.  We have no rats here.  What we have instead is a steadily increasing population of feral felines with no natural predators.  So they spread themselves and their associated vermin as far as the eye can see, and farther.

So today was the day of the extermination.  The exterminator, Simi, is a nice guy.  He doesn’t speak a word of English so my Hebrew got a workout.

My dog, Noga, has an ear infection, so after I let Simi in to do his thing, I went to the shuk to buy a muzzle for Noga so I could take her on the train.  That’s the law.  400 shekel fine (about 120 USD) if you get caught without.  Noga took it like the champ she is.

We got to the vet OK, and found out that we were illegal in a number of bureaucratic ways, so we fixed that.  The bureaucracy fix plus the exam and the medicine for the ear infection amounted to around NIS 650, which is around $200.  An expensive day.

Then I had to leave Noga at a friend’s while I washed the poison off the floors–not an easy thing, because the floors are made of chunks of stone with some kind of mortar loosely holding them together.  This apartment is cobbled together from materials that range all the way from the 1700s to the 1960s.

Now I’m washing the sheets and towels that were exposed to the poison.  I’m washing them in a friend’s machine, and he has just discovered that a guest from America brought him a present: Bedbugs.  OH NOOOOOO!!!!!  So after washing these sheets in 90 degree Centigrade water (100 C. is boiling) I’m going to take them right down to the laundromat and dry them on HOT HOT HOT.

Meanwhile I have no sheets to sleep on.  I was planning to borrow some from said friend, but…nooooo…..

So it’s almost 6 pm, and my strength is gone.  I’m hoping the linens place in Davidka Square is still open, but first I have to muster the strength to walk over there.

I’m very grateful that Marci came through early with her interview last Wednesday, and it was a powerful one at that.  I’ve had a rash of people canceling at the last minute, and she saved me from having to interview myself!

Tomorrow, however, you will get to hear from me, as my interviewee this week was unable to make it.  So tune in for the next edition of Breaking the Silence of Stigma, tomorrow morning starting at 7:00 EST, as I reveal the deepest darkest depths of my journey with mental illness and stigma.

A Call For Support

Great thanks to bpshielsy at The Bipolar Place for sending this shout-out for support for our joint project–joint being bpshielsy, Mrs. Bipolarity, and myself. This project was inspired by TV anchorpeople behaving badly, grossly discriminating against people with mental illness. We want to show the world that people who happen to have mental illness are just….people, that’s all. Please come out and support us, support YOU, and help make the world a better place for all of us.

The Bipolar Place

I’ve been pretty busy lately with one thing or another, but something I really wanted to get a post out about is Faces of Mental Illness.

I’ve been working with Laura SQ from Mrs Bipolarity & Laura P. Schulman from  Bipolar For Life, on creating the real faces of mental illness. Initially it was in reaction to Brian Williams’ stigmatising negative comments on mental illness. He stated of Ariel Castro, who held three Cleveland women captive for a decade was the face of mental illness. So, here we have an NBC Anchorman claiming this repugnant man is the face for people who suffer from all manner of mental illnesses. Such comments from a public figure can only do harm to any organisations out there trying to educate people & reduce the stigma around mental health.

As mentioned, this was originally what prompted the two Laura’s & I to start…

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Taking It On The Chin (literally)

Before I started practicing Judaism seriously, which means abstaining from anything that doesn’t have to do with Shabbat from sundown Friday evening to sundown Saturday night, I often watched the Friday Night Fights with my dad.  It wasn’t so much that I loved watching grown men beat the shit out of each other; it was the camaraderie with my dad, drinking Scotch or Bourbon and critiquing each punch: the armchair referees.

Thus I came to know a little bit about the boxing lexicon: uppercut, jab, roundhouse, body punch, slug it out, slugfest, knockdown.  I learned the various strategies for attaining the desired end-point to a match: a Knock-Out.  That is exactly what it sounds like: the guy gets knocked unconscious.  Yeah, I know.  It’s like, Cro-magnons duking it out for a fair damsel or a haunch of mammoth meat.

Next best to the Knockout, or KO, is the TKO or Technical Knockout, which means the dude is knocked down and can’t stand up before the referee (joined by the audience) counts to ten.  Blood lust.

There are lots of ways to score a KO.  One is to wear your opponent down with a long series of body punches.  Hey, there are only so many jabs to the kidneys and liver the poor body can take before it becomes incapable of either staying out of the way of the next punch, or mustering the strength and accuracy to land a good one on the other guy.

The most effective KO, though, is the direct route: a solid uppercut to the chin.  For some reason, a sound blow to the chin causes instant unconsciousness.

I got to experience that first-hand ten days ago when I somehow fell into a hardware store on Rehov Agrippas (Agrippas Street), around the corner from where I live in Jerusalem.  I can’t remember how it happened.  I remember waking up hazily, watching somebody pick my other sandal up off the sidewalk and throw it into the store.  Toda rabbah (thank you).

Then a man and a woman, who seemed to be the proprietors of the hardware store, pulled me up off the floor and deposited me in a chair.  They brought me a glass of cold water.  I thanked them, and pulled off the hanging strip of skin that used to be attached to my arm from wrist to elbow, and threw it on the floor.  I wasn’t pleased with the damn hardware store for KO’ing me.  I drank the water, dripping blood on their floor, then asked to wash my wound.  They led me to the hardware store sink, which wasn’t meant for wound care, but it had water, so it had to do.  Then I wrapped my arm in half a roll of paper towels and bought the desk lamp I had intended to buy when I fell in and then fell out, and wobbled home.

When I got safely in my own door, I systematically assessed the damage.  My bottom front teeth all felt dicey.  It’s a good thing I have metal braces on the inside of my front teeth (yeah, I know, that’s another story).  Otherwise I think I would have lost them.  As it was, the whole inside of my lower lip and gums looked like hamburger.  Yecchh.

Everywhere else on my head looked fine.  Then I noticed the lump on my chin.  Damn!  How did that happen?  With the exclusion of the skin avulsion on my right arm, which must have slid down the metal door of the store, I had no other evidence of injury.  I must have taken one squarely on the chin!

The question is, how?  Maybe I tripped on the one step leading into the store.  I do tend to have a foot-drop when I get tired, due to old injuries.  Maybe that was it.

There is a theory that I might have seizures sometimes, because on one other occasion I found myself on a Jerusalem stone floor with a huge goose-egg on my head (and a whopper headache), and no clue how I got there.

At any rate, I certainly got a lovely concussion out of this one.  My generally poor memory has disappeared altogether.  Hell, I might have written a post on this already, and don’t remember writing it.  If I have, please forgive me.  My brain is still somewhat addled, even ten days later.

No, I did not go to the doctor.  The last time I went to the doctor for a head injury was so useless that I decided not to bother, since all they did was to observe me for six hours, and since I was still alive after six hours, they sent me home with a prescription for a pain medicine that I’m allergic to.  So I decided to wait it out at home, and if I kicked off, so be it.  I let my neighbor know so he would check on me and if I was unconscious call the ambulance and take care of my dog, and if I was dead call the Chevra Kadisha (Burial Society) and invite people to my funeral.

But none of the above happened.  I’ve been doctoring the wound on my arm and it’s healing nicely.  I put some ice on my chin and the swelling went down and a purple bruise showed up, which made people stare and wonder if I was a victim of domestic violence.  Nobody asked.

The headaches have gone away, and in their place is a vague disorientation: I can’t remember if I did what I set out to do, or whether I ate breakfast.  Actually, it’s immaterial.  Whatever is really important will either happen on its own, or remind me in one way or another: like Noga, my dog, sitting patiently yet expectantly at my feet looking up into my face, which means I have forgotten to feed her.

I am reminded of the proverb that accompanied my doctoring days:  “Time heals all wounds; all bleeding eventually stops.”

Breaking the Silence of Stigma: Not What You’d Expect

Marci:

I have my days, more than most.  I am mostly depressed.  Walking to the mailbox is exhausting and considered an accomplishment.  I stay in my room and hide from the world.  I don’t feel like eating, it seems pointless and food has lost its flavor anyways.  All I want to do is sleep but I can’t.

The thoughts won’t slow down long enough to allow me to rest.

“Why me?  This isn’t fair?  I just want it to end. You’re over reacting.  I wish I could escape.  What did I do to deserve this?  You’re stupid.  Just snap out of it.  Why me?…” 

I can’t sit still, my legs shake and my heart pounds as I try to anticipate what is coming next…  How bad will it get this time?  Will I need to be hospitalized again?  Have my medicine changed again?  Should I call someone?

I live 75-90% of my waking hours actively psychotic.  I hear voices that live in multiple places in my head as well as voices from the outside that belong to real people.  The voices say many things: including demeaning comments or suicidal and homicidal conversations.

The voices scream and sometimes I listen to what they say or bargain with them.  I am often paranoid that my family is talking about me behind my back and plotting together to get me institutionalized so they do not need to deal with me.

I self-harmed for over 10 years, usually cutting open my skin with something sharp and occasionally burning myself.  I think about suicide constantly, not only from the voices urging but as a relentless thought.  I plan my death, what will be done with my body and possessions, what my funeral will be like.

I fantasize about the pain finally being over.

I will no longer be a burden to my family and others.  I’ve written a few notes and had a couple attempts the first being at the age of 10 when I tried to suffocate myself.

I often have no feelings, a numbness and emptiness in life.  I’m afraid people will leave me or reject me, so I mostly stay away from people and have only a few close relationships.  I’m terrified of conflict and cannot handle it, this stems from experiences in my childhood.

Much of my childhood was spent raising myself and sometimes my sisters. My parents were often physically unavailable and never emotionally available.  Alcoholism and anger outbursts were standard in our family throughout my developing years.

Before the age of twenty-five, I had more than 80 Electro Convulsive Therapy (ECT) treatments also commonly known as shock therapy. I have been in numerous medical studies not commonly used yet to treat my different symptoms, including having a stimulating device implanted inside me by surgery (VNS  therapy).  I’ve been hospitalized, in a psychiatric hospital, over a dozen times in the last 8 years, mostly involuntarily.   I’ve also spent time in crisis residential housing, which is similar to being hospitalized but with more freedom and fewer patients.  I compare it to being in a “group home.”

Along with these overnight stays I have been in many different programs that take place during the day and I am able to go home and sleep at night.  These programs vary in length and duration but all are outpatient services. One program is called a Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) that is Monday-Friday 8am- 3pm for at least 2 weeks and sometimes as long as a month.

These programs take place at psychiatric hospitals, where the group does group therapy, art therapy, skills based learning groups, and one-on-one appointments with psychiatrists and social workers.  Enrollment in a PHP generally is a step down from hospitalization or used to prevent hospitalization.

I’ve been in weekly therapy since I was 19 years old, in addition to any groups or classes I might have been in at the time.  I’ve been on psychiatric medication since I was 10 years old.  I have been on over 30 different types of medication and at my worst was on 11 different prescriptions, taking over 20 pills a day.

With just this information, what do you picture? 

What would you expect?

Believe it or not, I’m a (mostly) functioning adult.  I am 30 years old with blond hair, blue eyes and I am a college student.  I do have schizoaffective disorder bipolar type and borderline personality disorder.  I am on four psychiatric medications and still go to counseling once a week.

I am not “dark,” I have few visual scars, do not dress in all black, or wear black eye liner.  I’m not an EMO teenager or someone just going through a “phase.”  I do not walk around mad at the world talking about how everything is depressing and pointless.

I am not an “attention seeker.”  Few people know the extent of my illnesses.  I am not homeless and do not walk around dirty or talking to myself or the voices.  I am not a zombie devoid of any emotion or intelligent thoughts from my brain being shocked too many times.

I will not approach you to tell you how the government is spying on us and has been for years.  I am not a serial killer or a danger to anyone except maybe myself.

You do not have to worry about setting me off.  I am not stock piling weapons or making a list of innocent people to kill.  I do not use street drugs and have never been arrested.

I am not “psycho.”

Who I am is intelligent and compassionate.

I have above a 3.9 grade point average and over 100 college units.  I am always trying to lend a helping hand to those I know personally and strangers as well.

It is likely I am one of the least judgmental people you will ever meet; my illnesses have given me empathy as well as a unique perspective.  I love children and have worked as an after school teacher.  I also teach Sunday school and have done reduced cost child care for families that needed it.

My favorite place on Earth is Disneyland and I go there at least a few times a year.

I am not my mental illnesses. 

I am not a stereotypical “crazy” person.

I am not what you’d expect.

Marci can be found on her own blog here

 

Just What the Doctor Ordered (NOT!)

So I was doing my Friday-before-the-Sabbath errands, and I happened upon a hardware store that looked like it just might have the small desk lamp I wanted for my new tiny Jerusalem apartment.  Oddly, hardware stores here do not carry lighting fixtures.  You have to go to a lighting fixture store in one of the industrial districts for that, which entails buses and such, and I have not quite got over my jet lag enough to want to go adventuring.  But this store looked promising, so I turned from my trajectory to go in and check.

And that’s when it happened.  I’m not sure exactly what happened.  I think I might have caught my left toe, the one that drops because of some old neurologic injury, on the highish step one has to step onto to enter the store.  However it occurred, I woke up with people dragging me to my feet.  I saw someone throw the sandal that had ended up on the sidewalk into the store (thank you), and I was placed in a chair and given a glass of cold water.  I noticed blood dripping down my right arm, and upon inspection saw that somehow a piece of skin had been torn all the way from my wrist to my elbow, and was hanging in the breeze.  I tore it off, to the hardware store’s owners’ great dismay.

I asked to wash the wound, and was shown to a sink that looked like it was usually used for washing grease of implements.  I washed the blood off, and asked for a paper towel in which to wrap my wounded forearm.  I sat back down in the chair, feeling a bit dizzy, and listened to the proprietors speculating in Hebrew about how I had tripped on the step because I was wearing sun glasses and a big floppy hat (which everyone wears in the blazing sun here).

All I could think of was getting to a pharmacy for dressing materials before everything closed down for the Sabbath.  I collected my previous purchases, which had scattered all over the place, thanked the proprietors for their help, and fought my way through the surging multitudes of last-minute shoppers at the shuk to the Russian pharmacy that was, thankfully, still open.

I had to specify exactly what bandage materials I wanted, since after I showed the pharmacist my wound he looked rather ill.  Taking my stuff, I headed home to wash and dress my avulsion.  As I was walking home I noticed that my lower front teeth were sore.  I wondered if they were loose.  Then I noticed the bruise on my shin.  Classic KO punch (for those of you not familiar with boxing, a direct hit to the chin is a good way to knock someone out).

But: I went down before I got the KO punch.  What precipitated the fall?  The drop-foot?  Or perhaps….the thing that made me fall a few years ago, in the middle of the night coming back from the bathroom, that resulted in a concussion that caused all kinds of mayhem in my already compromised brain for years?

Anyway.  Three days later I’m still feeling headachy, nauseous, and grumpy.  The first day I fell asleep immediately upon returning home (after dressing my wound) and slept through till the next day, with one break to take Noga out to potty and to feed her.  She wouldn’t eat, but curled up next to me on the bed.  Yesterday I slept most of the day and went to bed at nine and woke up at ten today.  The wound is getting better every day.  I’m getting better every day.  I decided not to go to the doctor because last time I went to the doctor for a mild head injury it turned out to be a big balagan (pain in the ass, in Hebrew) and they didn’t do anything anyway.  So I figure if I turn out to have a subdural hematoma (blood clot on the brain) I’ll do it quietly and without a big fuss.  My friends are checking on me, so if I don’t answer the phone they’ll know something’s up and come looking for me.

Kind of cynical, but that’s how I am.  I guess I’m passively suicidal, always have been.  It’s like, I’m not afraid of death.  If something comes to get me, I’m on that bus.  If not, I’ll just keep on keepin’ on.