Love Languages Lost

I am a fan of Gary Chapman’s concept of 5 Love Languages.  His theory is that each person perceives and expresses love in one or more of five ways.  And they are:

-Words of affirmation

-Acts of service

-Receiving (or, I would add, giving) gifts

-Quality time

-Physical touch.

These are all equally weighted.  How it works is:  if I am a “Words of Affirmation,” person and you tell me I’m the love of your life, you’ve just hit one out of the park.

But if I’m a “Receiving gifts,” and all I get is an “I love you,” I’m gonna be thinking yeah, right, ya cheapskate, put yer money where yer mouth is.

Let me give you a personal example.  I am an “Acts of Service” person.  If you mow my lawn before I get home from what you know has been a hellish day at work, I will fall at your feet in worship  and drag us both into a much-needed shower, and what happens after that, happens.  The main thing is that you threw me into a typhoon of passion by mowing my lawn.  Got it?  OK.

Let’s hope the mower of the lawn is a “Physical Touch” type, and also a “Words of Affirmation” type, because if so, he would be so, SO rewarded and feel all warm and gooshy and happy down to the tips of his yummy toes that helped him mow my lawn.

If he’s a “Receiving Gifts” type, then after you get done in the shower and the bed you’d better hop it down to the mall and buy him a Rolex.  That will not only make him very happy, but it will be incentive for next time.  On second thought, maybe not the Rolex this time, because what will you give him next time he does something heroic for you?  The Queen Mary?  Some of us don’t have that kind of income.  So just take the dude to the mall, see what twinkles at him (bad choice of words), take him out to dinner and while he is absorbed in snaking pieces of crab meat out  with a teeny tiny fork, you slip out and buy the prezzie, and surprise him when you get back home.  (N.B. hope you bought enough lube.)

Dandy.  I learned about these love languages too late, after everything with the love of my life had gone horribly, horribly wrong.

We loved each other.  I mean, not just love.  We adored each other.  The sun and moon only went round and round because of our love.  We were stupidly, ridiculously, take off your clothes and dance naked in the kitchen crazy in love with each other.  And we were both in our fifties, fer cryin’ out loud.  That’s not supposed to happen.  But it did  And that’s, unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, past tense.

It was the breakdown in Love Languages that tore us apart.

He loved verbal affirmations of love.  He would read me the Song of Solomon, eyes dripping with worship.  I have to say that although I was touched, I was slightly embarrassed by the sheer effusiveness of the whole affair.  I am a bit on the taciturn side, so I couldn’t help but conjure images of Don Quixote (reading) and Dulcinea (waiting for it to be over so we could go back to bed.)

I’m sure I hurt him by not showering him with similar paeans to all his wonderful attributes.  But I’m just not that kinda girl.

I soon figured out that what you’re supposed to do is figure out what your partner’s “love language” is and the GROW yourself so that you can give them what they need.  Fine and dandy.  But that takes time.  And in the meantime our relationship started looking like–you remember that Simpsons episode where it was Marge’s birthday and Homer gave her this super-extra-special-fine custom-made bowling ball, saying that he wanted her to come bowling with him every night so he gave her her very own ball?  And Marge is all like, “Homeeeeey, you didn’t have to…you’re so sweet…smoooooooch…..and then she sticks her fingers in the holes and realizes that they don’t fit her!!!  “Homey,” she says a little testily, “this ball doesn’t fit my hand.”

“Oooooh,” says Homer, “Let me see if it fits mine.”  And of course it does, because he really bought it for himself, not her.

At this point we want to pound Homer into a grease spot on the bowling alley floor, but really, these things happen all the time.  Homer was a Receiving Gifts type.  The gift he wanted to receive was a new bowling ball.  So since there was a gift-giving opportunity at hand, he capitalized on it to accomplish his purpose:  He both gave and got the ball on the same day!  Brilliant!

Yes, A. and I had just that kind of mis-matched Love Languages relationship.  I am an Acts of Service, as I’ve said before, and he is a Receiving Gifts.  I’m also Quality Time.  Big time.

Unfortunately, he had a divorced family that had extensive grounds with acres of lawn, shrubs, flower beds, whatnot; and he was unable to separate from his former marital task of groundskeeping even though he was divorced and on the cusp of being married to me.  While his former wife owned ten acres of groomed landscape that any country yay-hoo could have climbed on the lawn tractor and taken care of, oooooh no, it had to be my A.  And that meant that by the time he got home from his physically demanding job plus grooming the ancestral lands, there was no energy left over for helping me rip, hack, chop, poison, and tear out by the roots 7 acres of Muliflora Rose that had overgrown the old apple orchard I had recently purchased.  So every evening my Andy would come in and flop himself on the couch, and I stood there feeling like someone else had had my orgasm.  Here I was, cheated out of my Acts of Service and Quality Time.  Drat it all!

On the other side of the fence, I had to be constantly on my guard for small boxes.  This time it was his grandfather’s pocket watch, which he had had all cleaned up and engraved to me.  Another time it was an estate platinum engagement ring with a ridiculously beautiful diamond in it.  I only found out later that he was financing this and several other extravagant purchases by selling off his nest-egg of small land holdings.  He was a Receiving Gifts, and since gifts have never meant the sun and the moon to me, I would never have thought of buying him extravagant baubles.  So he did it himself, and gave them to me; and I’m certain that no matter how hard I tried to be overcome with, uh, whatever you get overwhelmed with when somebody gives you a very significant and expensive gift you didn’t ask for, I’m sure it wasn’t the response that would have filled that particular hole in his heart.

I realize that this was a reversal of the Homer-bowling ball-Marge transaction.  What was really going on was that A. was saying to me, “With my last dollar I am giving you these things of beauty and value.”  But what he really wanted was for me to give him things of beauty and value.

So I gave him a horse.  Doh.

WPLongform

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!

Why Do I Get So Angry?

It’s happened again.  Someone said something that pissed me off so badly that I never want to see him again.  Not that I’ve seen so much of him over the last seven or eight years.  It was someone who I dated years ago, and broke off amiably because, well, because we weren’t right for each other.

Now he shows up in my life again, suddenly, without invitation, and wants to strike up a relationship again.  All well and good: I’m open to new relationships now.

So we Skype for a few hours–he lives far away–and that was nice.  We talk about mutual passions passionately–nice too.  And then he drops the bomb.

You see, I am Jewish, and so is he.  He is much more Orthodox-ly observant than I am.  I’m basically, well, just a Jew.  I’m skeptical about a lot of the Orthodox beliefs and customs.  I used to be very, very Orthodox, and I kind of got over that.  A lot of it has to do with the second-class citizen status of Orthodox women.  Most Orthodox people, men and women alike, would object to that statement, saying that men and women respectively have different roles, and that both of those roles are necessary to make up the whole.  I agree with that, except that the roles that are relegated to women are mainly domestic.  That’s all I will say about that.

So this new hopeful is going along giving me tons of advice about Kabbalistic ways of healing PTSD.  It all looked great to me, except that it required the unrestricted use of a mikveh, which is a Jewish ritual bath.  Religious Jewish men use one nearly every day, for Jewish religious men’s reasons.  Jewish women are restricted to using a mikveh only once a month, after their menstrual period has ended; and sometimes before Yom Kippure, the Day of Atonement, as part of the purifying process of the day.

So we entered a discussion regarding the prohibition on women’s free use of the mikveh, which has to do with the rabbinical courts’ rulings that allowing women to immerse in the mikveh at any time would lead to promiscuity, since a woman who has immersed is now in a pure state for sexual relations.  I know, it’s complicated.  So he sends me all these articles that support women’s free access to the mikveh.

That’s where the trouble started.  I pointed out that one of the articles came from a Conservative rabbi (there are three main branches of Judaism:  Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform, and none of them agree with each other), which would make it more lenient than the Orthodox opinions.

He wrote me back saying that Rabbi so-and-so says that Conservative and Reform Jews are heretics, and he doesn’t associate with them.

That pulled my chain really, really bad.  I flared up like gasoline on a campfire.  You can argue all the theory you want, but don’t call other Jews heretics.  That’s like damning them to Hell, even though we don’t believe in Hell.  It’s completely erasing them as valid human beings.

So he realizes what he’s done, begs me not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, backpeddles, and does everything he can think of to get himself out of the tight place he’s stuck his own *ss in.  I won’t have it.  What’s said is said, and I have no obligation to suck it up, because we really don’t have any kind of relationship yet.

Sometimes I wish I didn’t have such a tendency to get angry when I feel that someone has been wronged–even myself.  I think it would be nice to just coast along, unaffected by the words and actions of others.  I’ve tried, believe me I’ve tried all kinds of ways to stay unattached.  It doesn’t work.

I think it’s all the anger that I didn’t allow myself to feel when I was “scramblin’ down in the streets” (Joni Mitchell) and couldn’t afford to get angry, and during the times that my mother’s wrath kept my mouth firmly closed, lest I get it slapped.

It’s Not Easy Being Brilliant

Last night I had the strangest dream.  I was walking down alleys in some foreign country–it might have been Morocco, judging from what I saw in store windows.  I have never been to Morocco, but I went to the Moroccan restaurant in Disney World and had some fantastic food.  And a store that I frequent in Jerusalem, Rika’s, carries Moroccan stuff, everything from clothing to solid brass mortar and pestle sets, which I regret not getting when I moved to the States.  Never mind, I’ll get one when I move back 🙂

Anyway.  Back to the dream.  I was consumed by anxiety because I was supposed to meet with someone at a restaurant somewhere around there, and I couldn’t find it and my cell phone had turned into a wristwatch, courtesy of Dick Tracy I’m sure.  So I had no way to locate the place, or to tell the people I was going to meet with that I would be late.

In my growing state of panic, I turned out of the narrow lanes and found myself in a cityscape not unlike the South Side of Chicago, which is where I did my undergraduate work.  Dreams, right?  I decided to just let my intuition guide me, since I had no other guidance, and found myself in an underground mall full of fast food joints and cheap clothing stores.  I wandered through the passages in the mall until I found the restaurant: a shiny, upscale place full of chrome and stainless steel, very unlike the people I was going to meet.

And those people were:  my ex-husband, his wife, and my ex’s sister’s husband.  I joined them and apologized for being late, but they were very understanding.  We got right to the reason for the meeting, which was:  my ex was having a breakdown because of the guilt he suddenly felt for how he believed he had treated our son when our son was little.  I was shocked, because although they didn’t have a lot of contact for a few years, I didn’t think he had done anything more than most parents do in the way of mistakes, and he had already been forgiven for those.  But there he was, crying and begging me for forgiveness.  I didn’t know how to feel.  Ah, dreams.

In a few days we will celebrate our son’s 28th birthday.  In the Hebrew system of numerology, 28 is the number for “strength.”  I bless our son to have lots of strength, for now and for many, many healthy years to come.

He was not an easy child to raise.  The brilliant ones never are.  He always wanted more, and better, and faster; but at the same time he would get overloaded and have classic melt-downs, needing to be bear-hugged until he calmed down enough to go to his room and totally wreck it.  And he wasn’t so good with children his age.  In kindergarten he absolutely refused to participate.  I went to the child psychologist he had been seeing since age three, and together with the teachers we worked out a behavioral contract: for each five minutes that he cooperated and participated in class, he got to do whatever he wanted for fifteen minutes.  At first that was reading to himself in a loft they had in the room (he had taught himself to read when he was three).  Then he discovered the laminating machine in the office, and fell in love.  All of his out-of-class time was spent laminating things for the teachers and staff.  I joked that they should have paid him.

First grade was a wash-out.  It was a lovely Quaker school, and each morning the children had a meeting to cooperatively decide what they would learn today.  No dice: my son staunchly refused to participate, and stationed himself in a corner like a wooden Indian.  But somehow managed to get perfect grades on the tests.  Countless phone calls from the sweet young teacher later, I said to him, why don’t you just give him a job?  How about giving him a tape recorder and making him the class documentarian?  It worked.  He followed the class everywhere with his tape recorder.  That was his role.

Second grade was better because the new school had a pull-out Gifted Student program, and not only did he get one-on-one instruction, but he had peers with whom he could interact, that were on his wavelength.  They did stuff outside of school together too, like observing our goats having babies and speculating about how the babies got in there.  Then they observed our stallion in action, and that answered that question.

But then there was the constant bullying, because my son was weird.  Time after time he’d come home crying with a new bruise he’d acquired on the playground or the bus.  Countless phone calls to and meetings with the school principal bore no fruit, as they insisted that the incidents had to be witnessed by an adult, and of course the bullies were smarter than that.

So one day when we were at wit’s end, I said to him, look, the next time someone hits you, you hit ’em back!  And indeed the next day some kid whacked him upside the head while standing in line to get off the school bus, and my son turned around and decked the little bastard.  Oh, didn’t that precipitate an uproar!  The kid’s parents called the principal and threatened to call the police (on a seven-year-old?), and my son was suspended for two days.  But the bullying stopped.  That time, anyway.

After a few years of relative peace, we moved to another state, and there the bullying started anew, and my son stopped doing school.  He went, yes, but once again he stopped participating.   There was a dominant religion there, and the boys used to follow my son around yelling “You’re Jewish and you’re going to hell!”  One day my son turned around and said, “Fine, at least you won’t be there.”  Suspended again, two days.

Things progressed from bad to worse.  He was in seventh grade; I took him for educational testing and he turned out to be working at college sophomore level in reading, and college freshman level in math.  No wonder he wasn’t interested in seventh grade.

But he began to have behavioral issues similar to what he had had as a three year old: tantrums, but now with a simmering anger that frightened me, as he was literally twice my size.  His alternating angry outbursts and silent gloominess had me worried about depression.  We have a long family tradition of depression, and he certainly had both situational and genetic reasons to be depressed.

So I took him to a psychiatrist.  He would not say a word.  The psychiatrist recommended a psychologist, but the same thing happened:  arms crossed, staring at floor.  After five iterations of this, I gave up.  But then I found the suicidal note that “just happened” to slip out of his notebook.  Terrified, I got him into the car by means of screaming threats of calling the ambulance, and drove him to the emergency room, where I showed the note to the doctor and they sent for the psychiatrist on call, who read the letter and asked him if he felt suicidal now.  He shook his head.  Question repeated, response repeated.  Recommend follow-up with regular doctor in the morning.

Please, I pleaded, please just admit him for a 24 hour observation.  This note is really serious.  (As a pediatrician myself, I was trained that there are two kinds of suicide threats:  serious, and more serious.  And this one was more serious, because it specified a plan.)  They sent him home.

Then, it seemed moments later now, the Columbine school shooting happened.  Panic shot through every school in the country.  Some went on lockdown, some installed metal detectors.  Many started conducting regular routine locker searches.  Our school was one of those.

When they searched my son’s locker, they found it stuffed with papers.  Most of them were his homework papers that he never turned in: all done perfectly.  Some of the papers were more concerning: images of guns and missiles and ominous, dark poems about death and mayhem.  They called me in, showed me all the stuff, and threw him out.

It was at this point that I sent him to a wilderness therapy program, one that he couldn’t get out of until he started seriously dealing with his “shit.”  That is a whole ‘nother story, but it was the first of many outpatient and residential treatment programs.  He got into drugs, much more seriously than I had any idea of, as he told me later.  At the age of sixteen he had failed many programs and torn up the family, and his step-mother–I had sent him to live with his father because I couldn’t handle him anymore and thought that being with his dad might help–threw him out.  He went to live with a bunch of gangsters and sold drugs until they thew him out, and then he crashed where he could and ate cold pizza out of the dumpsters.  Somehow we got him into an adolescent psychiatric hospital, and they drugged him into a stupor, and there he lay on couches listlessly watching TV, until some kid started bullying him and he picked the kid up and threw him into a refrigerator, and they threw him out.  So he went to live in a homeless shelter, back to dealing drugs.

Then, serendipitously, he got busted for a small amount of pot.  I called the judge–I worked with the courts in that county a lot and knew all the judges–and begged him to remand my son to long-term residential therapy.  I knew that if I didn’t do something before he turned 18 that he would be lost, in jail, or dead.  The judge did me that favor, and I found a wonderful therapeutic boarding school that helped him find his way out of the hole he had fallen into and discover his wonderful talents.  He also got started on the right antidepressants, and thrived.

And now, bli ayin hara (a Jewish prayer against the Evil Eye, just ignore it), he is working on his Ph.D. in Medicinal Chemistry, doing things with the insides of cells that no one else has done before.  I am so proud of him!  He has taken charge of his mental health issues, working with a therapist and doing DBT.  He consciously cultivates hobbies that round out his life so that he’s not spending all his time in the lab, which he knows he would do if he didn’t do something on purpose to change it.

Looking back on this post, it’s amazing to see how many paragraphs of difficulty and heartbreak it took, to get to this last paragraph of triumph over desperation and despair.  And what I’ve told you is just the tip of the iceberg.  And he still has to work constantly to keep himself on an even keel, and living a healthy life.  But he’s doing it, thank God.  It isn’t easy being brilliant.

 

 

Losing It

Dr. Dina watched with dull interest as the repossessors hauled off her car and her RV and her luxurious horse trailer with the full living quarters.  She watched out the window of the house trailer she had rented after the bank took the real house.

She told herself it wasn’t her fault that she had lost her medical practice, her pride and joy and the pinnacle of her career and of her whole life.  But she knew that it really had been her own fault.  She had stopped taking her medications because in that small town there was no such thing as confidentiality, and she didn’t want her family  doctor telling her colleagues about how Dr. Dina was taking lithium and a whole alphabet’s worth of antianxiety, antidepressant, and antiepileptic drugs, to treat her bipolar disorder.

When she had moved to East Bumfuck, as she now preferred to call it grimly in her mind, she had intended to get a psychiatrist in the nearest city.  But things got busy quickly, and the only time she thought about it was in the middle of the night when she was wide-awake because of hypomania.  She always planned to do it the next day; but the next day was just as busy, and she forgot again.

Soon she found herself crying for no reason; and during office hours she sometimes had to slip into her private office to cry between patients.  Her office nurse would knock on the door to see if she was all right, but Dr. Dina did not answer, or snuffled through her tears that she was on a phone call.

She thought maybe a lover might help.  But how was one to acquire a lover in East Bumfuck?

In the Appalachian county where she had set up her practice, there was a lively music scene, and Dr. Dina happened to be a banjo player. Although she felt uncomfortable around people in general, she forced herself to go to jam sessions and dances and found herself welcome in the community of old-time musicians.

One of them, a guitarist, took interest in her.  He was married, to Dr. Dina’s disappointment.  But she found herself intensely attracted to him.  His guitar style thrilled her to the bones and planted a smoldering fire in her innards.  She loved his ready wit, and found his bulging overall-ed belly endearing.

It was a known fact that his marriage was on the rocks.  Soon he began inventing reasons to do things with Dr. Dina, “just the two of us,” and before long he had filed for divorce and they were sharing a bed.

As a musical duo, they were hot.  Fancy resorts had them on their regular entertainment lists. They used the money for expensive hotel rooms and champaign. Their lovemaking was so hot it threatened to burn up the beds. They fell into hysterics over the image of the hotel manager staring at the charred and smoking bed the next day,

They lived with a furious intensity.  During the high times, it was martinis and champaign, and Dr. Dina would dance naked in the kitchen while Mr. Man played Django on the guitar with joyous ferocity.  But when one or both was bottomed out, they lived together inside the firebox of the inner furnace of hell.

They stayed together because of the ups, and because they genuinely loved each other.  He was a carpenter by profession. She had some experience with wood.  So they built a bed together, a marriage bed.  It was a dream they had, to build the bed that would hold and surround their love, an impenetrable cocoon to protect them from the world. But something in the building of it went wrong: what should have been a warm and loving creation turned out raspy with bickering and stony silences.  It got into the bed.

After a few years of roller-coaster elation and devastation fueled by alcohol-saturated mutual bipolar illness, Dr. Dina threw Mr. Man out.  The night he left, she dragged the  chainsaw into the bedroom and hacked the bed into pieces.

She dragged the ragged chunks out into the driveway and stacked the remnants up teepee-style.  She drenched the thing with kerosene and threw in a match.  WHOOF!  The fire roared into the night sky.  Dr. Dina shivered in the cold, wracked with sobs, watching their bed go shooting up in flames and showers of sparks. She fed the hardwood fire with dry pine boughs until all that was left was a pile of charred remnants of their former love nest.  The next day when it was cool Dr. Dina took the shovel and buried the ashes, and spread new gravel over the scorched earth of their love.

PTSD, Asperger’s, Therapy, and Therapists

I’ve been in therapy since 1984, with a few breaks.  That’s longer than some of my readers have been alive!  I first entered therapy in a panic in 1984 when I was 5 months pregnant with my son.  I had had a miscarriage the previous year, and I was very connected with my 5 month old fetus baby.  One night I realized with a bang that if I didn’t do something to end the generational pattern of abuse, it might continue in my generation–and I would be the abuser!  I was horrified by that thought, and the next day began looking for a therapist.

I had no idea how to find a therapist, so I picked one out of the Yellow Pages.  I will NOT go to a male therapist because of my history of serial rape and sexual exploitation, so I chose the only female one in the book, called up and made an appointment, and showed up at the appointed time.  She had a kind of icy exterior, but I was used to that, being in academia at the time, where everyone was in competition with everyone else and even the feminists with whom I worked tended to circle one another like female dogs sizing one another up.  So I thought that’s what it was.

Now, I didn’t realize at the time that my inability to judge character was in large part due to the fact that I am an Aspie (person with Asperger’s).  I’m notoriously bad at reading people, and it has caused me a lot of grief.  I should have just turned around and walked out of her office.  But I stayed, and answered her angry questions.  Since it was my first experience with therapy, I though perhaps that’s what therapists are like, and I should try it out for a while before I made any judgements.

As I was walking down the street on my way to my second appointment with The Cold Bitch, I suddenly doubled over in pain.  I knew what it was: a Round Ligament spasm.  The Round Ligament is part of the apparatus that holds up the uterus, and when the uterus is growing, it sometimes goes into a spasm that can be excruciating.  Mine was.

Since there were no cell phones at that time, I crawled the block back to my house–luckily it was only a block–and called The Icy Bitch to tell her that I was unable to arrive at her office because I couldn’t ambulate.  She scolded me for breaking the appointment–for ANY reason–and told me she would be sending me a bill.  I told her she was fired.

The next day, I did a more sensible thing and called up Student Mental Health, since I was a student.  They gave me an appointment with the most wonderful therapist I have ever had.  She explained to me that I am deeply wounded by the abuse I lived with as a child, and still lived with whenever I had anything to do with my mother.  She helped me immensely, and I stayed with her until I graduated from med school/grad school in 1987.  Leaving her felt like pulling a wisdom tooth without anesthesia.

After med school I started my residency, with a husband and two year old in tow.  The two year old was having trouble with his mom working 120 hours a week, which was standard in those days.  And the husband, who was emotionally a two year old (I have never been a good judge of character, but he had seemed very benign), was completely lost, as he suddenly became a single parent, essentially.  It took me two years to get him to go to therapy with me.  I told my husband that I felt we were having problems in our marriage; he asserted that I was the one with the problem.  It’s true that working 120 hours a week is very bad for bipolar disorder, which had not yet been diagnosed.  I had been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and was on medication for that, but it seemed to me that that made it even more important that we get couples counseling.  I had to choose between individual and couples counseling, because working 120 hours a week did not leave time for both.

So we went to the Ph.D. psychologist that Student Mental Health gave us.  She was a very strange one.  She dressed in low-cut, short dresses with dark stockings and high heels, not your usual professional attire; but I didn’t judge her on that.  She also had a love-seat instead of a chair, and no desk, and she sort of curled up on the love-seat during our sessions, which made my husband very uncomfortable because he became involuntarily aroused by this behavior, and to tell you the truth I did too.  I didn’t know what to think of it, myself, and tried to focus on what she was saying.

After a few months of this she announced that she felt our marriage was unsaveable.  I had been sure of that for quite some time, but it felt validating to hear her say it, even if she was a bit unconventional.  We stopped seeing her and tried to work things out on our own,  but the marriage eventually disintegrated.

Therapists came and went after that.  I experimented with my bisexual identity, and got a Lesbian therapist for a while, who completely confused me.  A succession of unmemorable ones followed.

Then in 1998, I moved to my present location (from which I have moved several times, but am now back due to filial duties) and over a three year period had a complete breakdown in slow motion.  I was in an insane relationship with another bipolar person at the time (I had been diagnosed, at last, and taking Lithium), and we were planning to get married because when things were good (meaning when we were both hypomanic at the same time), things were outrageously good, and we thought that we could weather the bad times.  But we wanted to get some premarital counseling so that we would be better equipped for our predictably rocky marriage.  I asked my shrink for a referral, and he sent us to B_, who specializes in couples counseling.

We had one session with her, and as we were walking out the door she asked if she could see me alone for a minute.  I stayed and she shut the door on A_.  She pulled herself up to her full four-feet-eleven and said, “I normally don’t do this, but I would like to see you individually.”  I made an appointment.

Predictably, the marriage plans did not work out (that’s another story), and I have continued to see B_ ever since.  That’s a long time.  All of this time I have been the good patient and spilled my guts weekly; but for some reason, for the past few months she has been pissing me off, and I have felt my PTSD kicking in, and dissociating.  I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.  My conditioning as an abused child causes me to just want to run.  The thought of telling her how I am feeling about her makes my hair stand on end.  And yet, I know that’s exactly what I need to do: tell her that for some reason, suddenly she is pissing me off.  I just have to screw up the courage to do it, somehow.

Blog For Mental Health 2013!

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!

Soul Survivor

There’s A Naked Woman In Here!

My dear friends and followers, I admit that my recent posts have been heavy.  Chalk it up to January being World Anti-trafficking Month.  As you know, I take this to heart, being myself a survivor of homelessness, street life, and survival sex, which is a very low-pay form of prostitution.

So today I’m going to give y’all a break.  We’re going to talk about that summer in 1972 when all of us worked at various summer camps in and around Wolfeboro, New Hampshire.  Wolfeboro scatters itself around the shores of Lake Winnepesaukee, a magnificent waterscape populated with countless tiny islands, and marshlands filled with grebes, herons, loons, Canada geese, and all manner of small creatures upon which the former feed.

And the camps surround the lake like a string of pearls.  There are private camps for the wealthy, many of which have been there since the 1800s, like the one where Sandy and Keith worked doing restoration construction on some of the older buildings that decrepitude was creeping up on.  And there are summer camps for children, rich, like the one Martha worked at.  And then there was Camp Urban Opportunity, where I worked.  It was run by some philanthropic foundation, with the purpose of getting ghetto children out of the ghetto for two weeks in the summer.

All four of us were students at Elite School of Visual Arts, a small independent art school, the brainchild of a group of survivors of the Bauhaus Movement who had fled the confines of New York City for the broad vistas of small town New England.  We four were chronic troublemakers even in this hyperliberal incubator, possibly because we all suffered from the combination of ADHD and too much marijuana.  But that’s another story.

It was pure coincidence that the four of us ended up in the same general vicinity that summer.  All of us had parents who were not pleased with our progress in some way or another, and for one reason or another we were disconnected from the familial money tit.  Therefore it was necessary to make our own money.

Martha had actually tried turning tricks, but as she was a very large woman (she once came to my Halloween party dressed as a mattress), her market niche was too small, so in desperation she turned to legal work instead, which was much more healthy although less lucrative, at the end of the day.  She worked at Camp Bambi, which catered to the horsey set, and even though no horse could handle Martha’s 300 pound frame, she held up the arts-and-crafts angle of the camp and was accepted as a Bohemian with her hand-made colorful flowing robes and long beaded earrings, her red-gold hair flowing loose down to the backs of her flesh-enfolded knees.

Sandy and Keith were both refugees from wealthy country club tennis families, and had learned the building trade as a means of rebellion and now worked together as restoration carpenters, doctoring New England’s ailing elderly buildings.  They had been hired by Camp Longago, a private family camp, to repair leaky roofs and combat the inevitable dilapidation wrought by time and weather.

My position had evolved because of my previous employment at the YWCA in a down-at-heel section of Boston, where I worked as a breakfast cook for the women who were fortunate to get a $15 double room, breakfast included.  I slung bacon and eggs, pancakes and sausage, from six to eight every morning, seven days a week.  I was allowed to eat the oatmeal if there was any left, and there was always some left.  “The Oatmeal Diet,” I called it.  I certainly lost weight on it.  If you ever want to lost weight, try it.  The problem was, I did not need to lose weight.

So when the notice came up on the YWCA bulletin board for a camp counsellor at the Y camp in Wolfeboro, I jumped on it.  I had a hard time getting out of the clutches of Ms. Hardass, my supervisor in the kitchen, simply because I was a good egg-slinger and showed up every day, but she finally consented to write me a letter of recommendation, and I nailed the job.

I had to make my own way up to Wolfeboro from Boston.  My other partners-in-crime came from other parts of New England:  Keith from Maine, Sandy from Cape Ann, Martha from Vermont.  We all hitch-hiked to our respective camps on Lake Winnepesaukee, and met up in Wolfeboro for one last brewski together before heading off to our summer fates.

My gig turned out to be much, much worse than the Y egg-slinging job.  From 6 till 8 I cooked breakfast for the little darlings.  Then from 9 till 10 I Washed. The. Fucking. Dishes.  Then I went to the arts-and-crafts room, where I attempted to interest the little pigs in jewelry making, modeling clay, watercolor painting, macrame, origami, everything except for the various forms of murder upon which I continually fantasized so as not to actually commit it.  At night I slept in one of the campers’ cabins along with eight of the little monsters.  I never got any sleep because, being thirteen years old, they were continually crawling out the windows in order to rendezvous for the purpose of fornication with the boys from the “brother” camp down the road.  Unfortunately, it was also part of my set of responsibilities to specifically prevent this, on pain of I-don’t-know-what if one of them turned up pregnant after camp.

I got one one half-day a week, and one weekend a month, off.  My weekends were generally occupied in recklessly climbing the peaks of the Presidential Range, alone, without regard to life or limb.  The worst that came of it was a sprained ankle that I got while running full out down Mount Madison in a terrifying lightning storm.  I ended up spending the night rolled up in a tarp next to the road, awaking covered with mud and leaches.  The kindly man who gave me a ride back to the camp shook his head and clucked all the way.

My half-days were my canoe days.  I would borrow a canoe from the camp and slide out into the lake, taking compass bearings on the various islands; there were so many islands, and they looked so much alike, that one could easily get lost and spend days trying to find open water again.  My favorite thing was to back into some back-water marsh and just sit and watch the life teaming around me.  My very favorite moment was when I had gone out very early in the morning, when the mist was thick on the lake, and was sitting still on the water listening to the loons calling, when a whole family of the loons I had been listening to paddled up to my boat, looked at me with their red eyes, and sailed off again, calling with their eerie looney voices to others of their kind.

We did not spend that entire summer in isolation.  Keith and Martha managed somehow, despite Martha’s bulk, to conceive a child in a canoe in the middle of the lake.  Martha’s family was not at all happy about that situation and tried to make Keith pay for it in one way or another; but Martha was extremely pleased with having a child, and paid her family back by removing herself from their circle and arranging things with Keith so that he could be a father to his child, but that Martha retained her independence, which suited both of them perfectly.

Sandy and I had been friends and lovers already for a long time.  We were friends all the time, and lovers when both of us were between other lovers.  It worked out perfectly.  So on a day when my afternoon off began a bit earlier that usual, I took a canoe and high-tailed it over to Sandy’s camp, where he was basically alone except for Keith, who was working on the other side of the camp that day.

Sandy and I got to fooling around, and since there was a camp mattress in the cabin he was working on, we consummated our mutual desire in a most satisfactory way.  Afterwards, Sandy went for a dunk in the lake to clean up a bit, and I puttered about, naked as a jaybird, getting some lunch together.

There was a knock at the door.  Damn, thought I, I must have accidentally locked Sandy out.  So I unlocked the door and opened it.  There stood, not Sandy, but the owner of the camp, who took one look at me and turned his back, muttering inaudibly.  Then he opened his mouth and hollered, in his New Hampshire accent, SANDY? SANDY!  THEY-AH’S A NAKED WOH-MAN IN HE-AH!

If I Forget Thee, O Jerusalem

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem

Forget, then, the power of my right hand

Make my tongue cleave to my palate

If I fail to recall you.

–King David, Psalm 137

I had intended to write a completely different post tonight, but while I was cooking dinner I was overcome by longing for Jerusalem.  This usually brings on floods of tears and heart-rending grief, and tonight is no exception.

January 11th marked two years since I returned to the States to help my elderly parents. Before that, I had four glorious years in Jerusalem, the only place on earth that feels like home to me.  I will return, God willing, as soon as circumstances allow.  I hope to die and be buried there.

Jerusalem is a city of riotous variety of peoples and ways of life.  You can go to the Old City and bask in the awe of its ancient arches.

Portal into another world: Rehov Habad, Jerusalem, Ir ha'Atiqa

Portal into another world: Rehov Habad, Jerusalem, Ir ha’Atiqa

 

Or you can go to the Shuk, the open marketplace rioting with color and jumbles of cultures, Jew and Arab and Christian all jostling for the best fresh pita, halva, olives, fish, meat, vegetables, cookies, bourekas (the local filled puff pastries), pots and pans, headscarves, seasonal delicacies, etc., etc., etc.

Machane Yehuda Shuk 1

Machane Yehuda Shuk 1

During festivals things get even crazier.  The wonderfully colorful and deeply mystical festival of Purim has many traditions associated with it, one of which is dressing up.

Women's Purim Party at SY's

Women’s Purim Party at SY’s

That’s me on the left, at an all-women’s Purim party that happens every year at Sarah Yehudit Schneider’s place in the Old City.  She’s a Mekubelet, a deeply learned teacher of Kabbalah, and one of my principle teachers.  She’s highly respected among the Mekubalim, the male Kabbalists who take a lot of impressing to be impressed by a woman.  That’s one of the aggravating parts of Jerusalem is the deep rift between male and female.  There are reasons for it, but it still gets to me.

I miss my religious community there…there is nothing like it here in the States, and certainly not here in Grinder’s Switch (any Minnie Pearl fans out there?)

The Men's Side

The Men’s Side

 

The Women's Side

The Women’s Side

I miss walking down the street and seeing Armenian priests in their black robes and tall hats, the nuns in black habits and impossibly uncomfortable-looking headgear, Muslim women cloaked from head to toe walking arm in arm with their tee-shirted, cut-off-jeaned, mulleted husbands.  I miss my own community, the married women seeming to compete for the most elaborate hair coverings, and of course the weddings

Bride Praying

Bride Praying

This is my friend’s new daughter-in-law praying before her husband-to-be comes, escorted by his father and her father, to lift her veil and look into her eyes deeply.  Then he will lower her veil back into place and go away.  I honestly don’t know what the men do between that time and the next part of the wedding ritual, when the friends of the groom come and escort the bride and all the women, singing special songs, to the chuppah, or wedding canopy.  The groom and the fathers will already be there, and the bride and the mothers, who are holding candles as you can see in the picture above, circle the groom seven times clockwise, and the bride then stands on the groom’s right.DSC00042

I got this shot from behind the chuppah because there were so many people packed into the wedding hall that I had no hope of getting a shot from in front.  Orthodox Jews in Israel mostly get married in wedding halls and not synogogues.  The chuppah, or canopy, that you see here is made up of the prayer shawls of the two fathers and the new one that the bride gifts the groom as part of the ceremony.  It’s very beautiful.  After the ceremony there is a huge feast.  The bride’s family traditionally provides the food.  This bride is from Uzbekestan, and we had Uzbekistani food which is honestly the best food I have ever had.

After the food comes the dancing.  There is a partition between the men’s section and the women’s section, for modesty.  The dancing on the women’s side is just crazy.  They will set off fireworks indoors, explode confetti cannons, put the bride on a tablecloth and throw her into the air, and put the bride and the groom on chairs and hold them up above the partition so they can have a little air dance together.

Why nobody gets killed at Jewish weddings, I don’t know.  They do sometimes get killed at Arab weddings, because they have a tradition of shooting off guns and sometimes somebody gets killed by mistake.

Oh right, I wanted to say that the dancing on the men’s side is mostly boring except when they have acrobatics done by young men in suits.  I have watched these things and all I can say is that Jewish weddings encourage me to believe there is a God because everyone seems to walk out able-bodied.

But most of all I miss being part of my huge Jewish family, over six million in little tiny Israel, six million to replace the six million.

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One of my rabbi’s sons, showing us his very long tongue.  The hole-y tights with the star belong to one of his sisters.

 

Psychiatric Service Dogs

Everyone knows about guide dogs for the blind.  Most people know about “Hearing Ear” dogs for the hearing-impaired.  A few people know about assistance dogs for the physically disabled.  Even fewer know about service dogs that assist diabetics by detecting high or low blood sugar, or Seizure Detection Dogs that can sense changes in brainwaves before a seizure occurs and alert the person so that s/he can get to a safe place and/or take preventive medicine.

Almost nobody knows about Psychiatric Service Dogs.  There has been a bit of a flurry in the press about PTSD dogs for returning veterans,  While the Veteran’s Administration has been vocal about acknowledging the benefit of PTSD Dogs in mitigating the disabling and sometimes disastrous sequelae of combat-induced PTSD, they have nevertheless refused to pay for the dogs, preferring instead to underwrite expensive medicines that often do nothing but sedate the sufferer, without providing any definitive remedy.

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), which is an arm of the U.S. Department of Justice, has recently clarified its position on the legitimacy of Psychiatric Service Dogs: 

Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.

I have been using a PSD since 2002.  When I first acquired Ivan, I didn’t know if he was going to work out or not.  Psychiatric Service Dogs are not like Guide Dogs for the Blind, in that their training is not so much task related as it is intuitive perception of its human partner’s mood.  Not every Guide Dog makes the grade, for one reason or another; and many fewer PSDs have the focus and the attentiveness to tune in to its partner’s state of being and respond appropriately when needed.

My PSD partner, 2002-2007

My PSD partner, 2002-2007

Ivan almost didn’t make the grade.  He was a wild and cantankerous puppy, but he had an intensity of focus that made me stick with him.  We got involved in some dog sports that gave him an outlet for his energy, and by the time he was a year old he was cuing in on my moods and literally dragging me back from episodes of dissociation resulting from severe PTSD.  When I retreated to my bed overwhelmed by depression, he climbed up and stood over me, licking my face and looking into my eyes with such a concerned expression that I couldn’t help but laugh.  He somehow knew when it was time for me to take my meds, and if I was zoned out he would tug at my sleeve.

The ADA is very specific about the requirement that a PSD must be trained to do some specific task.  I take issue with this, in that mental illness is not something nuts and bolts like physical disabilities are.  You can train a dog to open the fridge and take the laundry out of the dryer (which, by the way, Ivan loved to do for fun, and he could put it in the basket too), but how do you train a dog to respond to an incipient attack of mania by signaling the partner to take a pill?  Training a dog for a specific response requires exposing the dog to the situation over and over.  You can teach a dog to pull a wheelchair, but the wheelchair has to be present at all training sessions.  Guide dogs for the blind go through extensive training in many situations, over and over.  So how can one respond to the ADA’s insistance that the dog be trained for a specific task?

To further muddy the waters, the ADA position statement distinguishes between Emotional Support Animals and Service Animals by the same requirement that Service Animals must be specifically and specially trained to perform a task, whereas Emotional Support Animals are there to comfort and support:  “Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.”  I think that is a very fine line, when it comes to distinguishing an ESA from a PSD.

Bottom line, though, PSDs share the same access rights as any other service animal: exactly the same as a Guide Dog for the Blind.  It is a federal offense for any business establishment, public or private, to deny access to a PSD.

I never had one single bit of access trouble with my Ivan.  He was a German Shepherd, a breed universally associated with service animals.  We flew all over the country.  He took up a lot of room at my feet on airplanes, which sometimes inconvenienced other travelers, but for the most part everyone was good natured about it.  We stayed in hotels, and he came with me to restaurants, where he lay down under the table and none of the other patrons even knew he was there.  He went to movies and the theatre and museums.  He accompanied me to a ship museum in Baltimore and amazed the sailors by running up and down the ladders between decks!  He loved playgrounds and would run up the ladders and slide down the slides.  He loved everyone, and everyone loved him.  He died at age 5 from kidney cancer, in 2007.  I will miss him forever.

I couldn’t bear the thought of trying to replace Ivan, so I did without a dog until two years ago, when I bought a Lhasa Apso, Noga, for a pet.  I never expected anything from her except being cute and fuzzy and comforting.  But to my great surprise, she started tuning into my moods, and doing specific behaviors related to how I was feeling.  For instance, I often start into a hypomanic attack in the late evening, when I should be taking my meds and going to bed.  If I don’t, she jumps at my legs and bops me with her feet, over and over, and if that doesn’t work she jumps into my lap and flings herself on top of my computer (which is what I am always doing if I am in that state at that time).  If I am depressed she comes and licks me till I laugh.

Noga the Wonder DogNow, as you can see, Noga does not look like what people generally think of as a “service dog.”  She is cute and fuzzy.  She weighs twelve pounds.  I don’t have a picture of her with all her Service Dog gear on, but even with her vest that has PTSD DOG, FULL ACCESS on it in big letters, people still give me the “oh yeah, right” look.  I have been denied access to hotels in the middle of the night when my flight was cancelled.  Oh, and I forgot to tell you, she is registered with a national Service Dog Registry and has the appropriate documentation for that.

The ADA provides specific instructions for businesses that have any doubt that the animal is a service animal.  They are permitted to ask if the owner has a disability, and what specific task(s) the animal performs to mitigate that disability.  They MAY NOT ask anything about the nature of the disability.  All they may do is inquire IF the owner has a disability.

Unfortunately, I have been repeatedly hassled by business owners about Noga, and one hotel desk clerk demanded to know exactly what my disability is, in front of several other customers waiting to check in!  I made a huge scene and threatened to call the police, which I would have done because I was hypomanic as hell after having been turned away by two other hotels.

When I had Ivan I actually carried a prescription from my psychiatrist, which I had stashed among the other papers in his vest (rabies certificate and such).  The very few PSD organizations found around the Internet discourage that, though, because they feel it might cause a precedent for businesses to hassle PSD handlers, since the ADA is very specific that no special documentation is necessary.

If a prospective PSD handler were to ask my advice on what kind of dog to look for as a potential partner, my advice would be something like this:

1.  Steer clear of organizations that purport to sell trained PSDs.  They ask a pile of money and there is no guarantee that any particular dog will partner with you.  The best PSD is an owner-trained one.  Go for a breed that is usually identified with Service Dogs: German Shepherd, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever.  But be VERY careful about breeders:  do your research and ONLY purchase a puppy from a reputable breeder of WORKING DOGS, not show dogs, and definitely NO “hobby breeders.”  The money you spend on a quality puppy will save you thousands in vet bills and heartache.

2. Go to obedience school.  Both of you.  If you get a puppy, make sure you go to Puppy Kindergarten Training (PKT).  I advise people to train their dogs all the way through CGC, Canine Good Citizen, which is a program administered by the AKC.  CGC training assures that your dog will be safe in any public situation, including with other dogs, children, elderly people, wheelchairs, everything.  Not only will you come out of it with a “safe dog,” but the bonding experience of training with your dog is invaluable.

3.  Do fun stuff.  Find out what your dog thinks is fun. Ivan would retrieve a ball or a stick until he died (luckily I got tired first)!  Some dogs love to swim.  Noga is a hike-o-maniac, despite her fluffy exterior.  Not only will you bond with your dog this way, but you’ll have fun too, and maybe get outside more.

4. Give your dog time off.  Nobody can stand being on duty 24/7.  Many dogs get upset about “standing down” from duty, but they need it.  Use a crate if need be, to give your canine partner an hour here and there, when you’re feeling steady.  Mine just knows when I don’t need her and goes off and lies down somewhere else.  But she’s always got an ear pricked for me.  She knows my brain waves better than I do.

5.  Join an online PSD community.  Unfortunately, the main one fell apart some time ago, and there seems to be only one left here.  It is not PSD specific, but does have a PSD message board/forum where you can meet other PSD partners and ask your questions.

In summary, Psychiatric Service Dogs are a valuable resource that can help us cope with our disability more effectively, helping us to lead happier and more productive lives.  Mine have saved my life many times, and I suspect that if more people had them, the morbidity and mortality from psychiatric illness would decrease dramatically.  Anyone who is interested in more information about any aspect of PSD partnering is welcome to contact me.