“Girl commits suicide after being shut out of graduation”

As if living with childhood depression isn’t bad enough, this young teen’s school decided to exclude her from graduation festivities. It was the last straw.

Mental illness is not contagious, but the way it’s treated, you’d think it was.

Mental Illness Not a Factor in Most US Gun Violence, Study Finds

http://m.voanews.com/a/us-gun-violence-mental-illness/3373716.html

Study: News Stories Often Link Violence With Mental Health Illness, Even Though People With Mental Health Illness Are Rarely Violent – 2016 – News Releases – News – Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

This study is helpful in describing the problem, but we need the numbers.  Does anyone have more information on violence and mental illness?  We specifically need the numbers (%) of violent crimes perpetrated BY people with severe mental illness vs violent crimes perpetrated AGAINST people with severe mental illness.

Also, please share this article widely.  We must dispel the myth that every mass murderer/terrorist is “mentally ill”!

http://www.jhsph.edu/news/news-releases/2016/study-news-stories-often-link-violence-with-mental-health-llness-even-though-people-with-mental-health-illness-are-rarely-violent.html

How Stigma Compromises My Medical Care

I don’t know what to do.

I can bet that most of you will say, “Just be yourself, Laura.  Fuck ’em if they can’t relate to you as the awesome human being you are.”

Well, yeah.  I appreciate that.

However.

I have this service dog, see, and she’s neither little nor cute.  Well, she’s cute to me, but a 75 pound Belgian Malinois is automatically not cute to most people, especially the uptight assholes that tend to go into “the medical field” these days.  Even my therapist does not think she’s cute.  Even when Atina climbed into her lap and gave her kisses, because she could see that the dear lady was clearly in distress, it did not help.  My poor therapist could do nothing except beg me to get the monster off of her, which I did, and Atina reluctantly obeyed but was still of the opinion that the lady needed her attention.

On the flip side, if Atina perceives that someone is potentially a threat to me, she stations herself sideways in front of me, giving the unsafe party the hard-eye, which is dog language for “come over here and make my day.”

This is why I have a Service Dog:

I have a perfect storm of Asperger Syndrome, PTSD, and Bipolar illness.  My judgement about people is shot to hell.  I lost it on April 22, 1970, the very first Earth Day, when I was drugged, dragged into a dark basement, and brutally robbed of my virginity.  That, and the prolonged months and years of running from one frying pan into another fire, robbed me of my ability to read people’s intentions.  I think it’s because I simply dissociate every time I have to interact with other people.  So now that I’m on the far side of sixty and no longer give a shit, I’ve stopped making myself do painful things, and aside from the inconveniences of not having friends, family, or a partner when I have a medical emergency, I feel much better.

Have you noticed that sometimes your fridge, washing machine, microwave, computer, and automobile all crash at the same time?  So now you have to get a ride to the Big Box store, to the bank to get quarters for the laundromat, and a ride back and forth to the laundromat, to the convenience store for ice until the new fridge comes, and while you’re on the phone with Tech Support your phone is giving your ear a second degree burn and probably giving you brain cancer as well….

This is what I call a Wear Cycle.  When everything wears out at once.  It generally falls out when you’re between jobs, or just before those gift-giving occasions, or your wedding.

So as some of you are aware, I am in the throes of a Wear Cycle of the most annoying sort.  My body is falling apart.  I thought it just needed a tune-up and maybe a brake job, but it turns out to be the transmission, the universal joints, the head gasket; and every time they fix one thing, another one turns up bad.

The result is a seemingly endless procession of doctors, PAs, Nurse Practitioners, lab techs, snotty Front Office People, sadistic MRI techs who put me in Positions Of Stress for upwards of twenty minutes while further damaging my hearing with the various hammerings and clangings of that infernal magnetic tube, being told that I need surgery for this, surgery for that, and they all worry about my blood pressure.  Surely not!

You must understand that my relationship with The Medical Field is a mine field.  The minute I leave my van in the parking lot of the doctors’ building, the hospital, the lab, I dissociate.  I am terrified.

But you’re a doctor, you say.  How could you not be comfortable in this oh-so-familiar milieu?

That’s just it.  I’m all too familiar with it.  I know exactly what goes on behind the scenes, and it disgusted me while I was in it, and it terrifies me now.

Because I am…one of those patients.

You know, the aging female with so many complaints it throws your schedule off, and she’s slight dotty, and might be amusing if you weren’t running so far behind, and of course–of course, she has to be a doctor, at least she says she is, and she does know the lingo…and she has Medicare and doesn’t seem to have a job, so she must be disabled, but for what?  She’s not saying, and if you ask, she’ll say something vague.

I know this, because I’ve been on their side of the white coat.

So imagine what the reaction would be if they walked into the exam room and there I was with my Service Wolf Dog.

The entire visit would revolve around whether the person who Works In The Medical Field was comfortable with the Doggess, and whether she thought they were Safe.

And of course she would pick up on my instant dissociation because I dissociate whenever I run into One Of Those People, because of the abuse I suffered when I was working In The Medical Field, and the abuse I have suffered as a patient dependent upon these people’s power.

And the shame of being disabled, which is, according to the ancient tenets of The Medical Field, weak; and even worse, crazy.

I just rediscovered a former mentor who was hugely influential to me when I was a medical student.  She was my supervisor in the Public Health Clinic.  We became good friends, and she helped me crystallize my medical practice world view, which is based on compassion and empowerment of the patient to take charge of her own health and well-being.

It turns out that this amazing woman had a terrible crisis, which lead to a suicide attempt.

Rather than supporting her and helping her to rebuild her life, the medical establishment brought criminal charges against her for lowering the esteem of the medical profession in the eyes of the public.

They drove her out of the profession.  It didn’t matter to them that this heinous act might push her over that very precipice she had dragged herself back from.

It didn’t matter that they were persecuting one of the finest physicians on the face of the earth, for the crime of being human.

All that mattered was that she had “failed” to complete her suicide.  If she had died, she would have been another tragic physician suicide; but since she managed to survive, she was pronounced a disgrace to the profession.

Fortunately she is a strong and resourceful woman.  She cleaned houses in order to feed her children.  She struggled her way back onto her feet, and reinvented herself.  Blessed be.

So I know very well what the result would be, even if the Doggess didn’t bite the Assistant (you hardly ever get to see The Doctor anymore):  “Did you get a load of that lady with the dog?  What a crock!”

Yes, fuck ’em.  They’ve no right, legally or otherwise, to prevent me from having my dog with me.  She’s Durable Medical Equipment, just like a wheelchair.

The only thing is…being mentally ill automatically discredits anything I say.  I’ve tried it both ways.  And unfortunately, whenever I’m honest and disclose that I have DSM diagnoses, I get my case dismissed.  No contest.  No service.  Goodbye, and put some ice on that.  It will feel better in seven to ten days.  No need for follow-up.

In awful contrast, when I have withheld my diagnoses, it’s all sympathy and MRIs.

Hell, I even got a few tramadol tablets for my torn shoulder, when I begged the doctor because my left wrist is in a brace awaiting surgery and my right shoulder is so painful that I can’t even get out of bed without fainting if I forget and try to push myself up with my right arm.  (How do I get out of bed?  By wriggling on my tummy until my feet touch the floor.)

You think she would have given me that prescription for thirty, no refills, if she knew that I’m bipolar?

Nope.  Bipolar people are categorically drug seekers.  Even though I asked for tramadol and not Percocet.  Drug seeker, no way.

I’m stuck.

I’m terrified of those places, and I need my dog.  But the presence of my dog would set off such alarms in the mind of The Medical Field Person that my actual medical issues would be eclipsed by Prejudice.  Stigma.

If I showed up in an electric wheelchair, they would be all ears.

But a crazy person with a dog?

Stigma: A Family Tradition, Part Two

I got so excited writing my last post that I forgot to mention the “family tradition” part!  So here it is, in all its sad gory.  Yes, that’s what I wrote: sad gory.

Let’s start with the unfortunate fact that the first time I heard anything whatsoever about my family’s mental health history was when my mother came to visit me during my first psychiatric hospitalization.  That’s when she chose to open up about the fact that her own mother had been hospitalized countless times for depression, and had hundreds of ECT (Electro-Convulsive Therapy) treatments, many of them AT HOME, where my mother and her sister had to hold their mother down on the bed while the doctor administered the treatments.  Apparently at that time they did not anesthetize the patient, but just let ‘er rip with the voltage.

Then poor Nana got hooked on Miltown, and after that, various barbiturates, which the doctors later switched over to benzodiazepines.  When she was put in a nursing home, her dose of Librium was limited to doctor’s orders, far less than the dose she was used to.  “They didn’t want her to become addicted.”  She already was addicted, the fools. She used to get other people to sneak her a stash, which she always put in the drawer of her bedside table, and the nurses’ aides always confiscated.  Then she would call me (I was a med student at the time) and beg me to prescribe her some more.  I always had to say the same thing: “I’m sorry, Nana, I can’t do that.  I would if I could.”

I felt bad for her, since she was really an addict, and why should they deprive a 90 year old woman of her comfort?  Benzodiazepine withdrawal is a terrible thing.   Luckily Tricyclic Antidepressants came along and saved her some suffering.

And now for my father’s side of the family.  The first to come up was my Great-Uncle Benny, who was my paternal grandmother’s brother.  He was a doctor, and the two siblings had escaped from the Ukraine just before the Bolshevik Revolution, when terrible pogroms were decimating Jewish communities.  Their parents sent them to America to escape the atrocities.  Unfortunately, Benny “had a breakdown” sometime after reaching New York, was put into Rockland State Hospital, and was never heard from again.  The family just shut the door on him and assumed that he had lived there till he died.  That’s what my mother told me, anyway.

But.  On a hunch, I looked him up in Ancestry.com and by using all the data that I had about Uncle Benny found a living son, in California.  So it seems that the man the family threw away DID get out of the hospital, and went on to have a life and a family.  But to MY family, Uncle Benny went into the black hole of the hospital and never came out.  And I don’t blame him for not getting back in touch with them!

And then there was my Grandpa on my father’s side, who married Benny’s sister.  Grandpa became overwhelmingly depressed at the age of thirty or so, and never recovered.  His doctor, who was a cousin of my grandmother’s, (and actually a urologist, if the truth be known), advised that he spend winters in Florida instead of upstate New York (where they lived), and knowing what we now know about light and its effects on depression, that was good advice.  But Grandpa was never able to work, never able to do much at all.  He had no treatment whatsoever for his depression.  He lived a miserable life until the age of 91.  I have great pity for him, having to live so long in that hell, even though he was very unpleasant to be around.

Speaking of the doctor who was a cousin of my grandmother, who would have been Uncle Benny’s, um, second cousin once removed, or something like that–anyway, one of his sons committed suicide.

So here I was, in the hospital, having felt terrible literally my entire life, and I do not exaggerate here–I cannot remember a time when I did not feel terrible, as a baseline, with episodes of euphoria that unfailingly got me into some kind of trouble–and only then was I told that the genetic cards had been stacked against me.  And I was forty-five years old.

I felt as if a closet had been opened and a whole family’s worth of skeletons came tumbling out with a crash and a shattering of bones, some of them mine.

Why had I not been told?  The impact on my life was so profound.  If I had known, then I could have sought help as a young adult, after I left home, at least–since my parents believed in psychiatry only for other people, not any of us: that was for crazy people, and they drugged you up and you were a zombie.  Well, that may have been true, for some people, because the medicines they had back then were crude.  But they certainly did have psychotherapists back then, and I sure could have used one.  At the very least I would have had some insight into why I felt terrible all the time, and not have to feel like I was some kind of freak.

But our family history was seen as an embarrassment to be hushed up and stuffed into the closet, skeleton by skeleton, and the door wallpapered over and that part of history as good as erased.  Until I came along and broke up the party.

I will never forget the shock I felt, after I had lost my medical practice and had a serious breakdown as a result, and my first hospitalization–I ran into a bevy of my mother’s friends in a parking lot, and they all started cooing about how my mother had said my practice was flourishing and how well I was doing.  I had a moment of mental white-out and then said, “Well, actually, no.  I’ve lost my practice, and just got out of the mental hospital.”   Then I turned on my heel and walked off, noting with satisfaction their jaws resting on their shoe-tops while flies flew in and out of their big mouths.  But it really wasn’t their fault.  They were just told a pack of lies.

Stigma: A Family Tradition

I think this “SAD light” is helping.  Whereas before I had it, all I could think of was classier and more refined ways of offing myself, now I find myself thinking about ways to get back on the ol’ horse and ride.

Sadly, a return to medical practice is not an option.  Too much time has elapsed since I did my last official doctoring (I say “official” because I take care of the odd mild emergency here and there, without charge).  The face of medicine has completely changed, and to tell you the truth, I want no truck with it.  Doctors now are nothing but machines.  I’m an old-fashioned country doc, and I know it’s a waste but I’m stuck with what I’ve been dealt.

But wait: I have other talents yet to be tapped!  I have a Master’s Degree in Medical Anthropology.  I have spent the past eight years studying Hebrew cosmology, in Jerusalem!  I think that gives me a set of credentials unique enough to shop myself as a visiting professor in some humanities department at some university.  I love to teach.  And what fun!

Good heavens, there’s a university practically next door to me, University of North Carolina at Asheville.  And another one in Johnson City, Tennessee, only an hour away.  It’s worth a try, anyway.  Hell’s bells, they’re still teaching the Bhagavad Gita over there, and the Epic of Gilgamesh, and no doubt Beowulf, and certainly Plato’s Republic, Sophocles, and the rest of the cast of thousands representing contrasting world views.

But I have never, ever seen Hebrew cosmology taught in any curriculum save programs in Jewish Studies, and even there, it’s not presented from an Anthropological point of view, but as pure theology.

And people, the Cosmology I’m talking about is not your Jewish Grandma’s matzo ball soup.  It’s Hebrew physics: a sophisticated body of theoretical systems that explain how the world was created as “some-thing” out of “no-thing,” and continues in its trajectory of creation even now.  In essence, it runs exactly parallel to modern wave/particle theory, and other theories in modern physics and astronomy.

So I had this chiddush (“ch” as in “Bach”), which means “brand new light-bulb-type idea,” while sipping Turkish coffee flavored with cardamom this morning.  I got addicted to the stuff in Israel, and it is one of the things I stuff a suitcase with whenever I come back to America.

So yes, I had this chiddush.  Why don’t I make an appointment with someone important in the Humanities department in Asheville, and pitch my idea to them?  I could even wear my normal everyday Israeli clothes, which do look a bit odd compared to American clothes, but they are authentic and might add a flavor of genuineness to my demeanor.

Since I always call my mother at 11 am to check on how their night was, I did so this morning.  And since I was rather hyped up by my chiddush, I told her about it (minus the Israeli clothes, since she thinks they are bizarre and wants nothing to do with them).

She oohed and aahed over the whole idea, since the fact that I have been on disability is awkward for her; when people ask what I am doing and she has to make up some lie because she doesn’t want to tell the truth.  She is embarrassed by the reason for my disability: mental illness.  She wouldn’t mind so much if it were cancer or MS, but mental illness–disgraceful.

And so it was that right in the midst of her ecstasy at the thought of my doing something “productive” again, she stopped dead and hissed, “Don’t you tell them why you haven’t been working.  You’ll shoot yourself in the foot.”

“What!  Are you telling me that you think an educated person would not hire me because I’m bipolar?” I fairly screamed.

“Yes, that’s exactly what I’m talking about!” Quoth she.

“Let’s look at this thing,” I said more calmly.  “Twenty years ago a gay person wouldn’t dare come out and say they were gay.  That’s because they were IN THE CLOSET, afraid to come out because they were afraid of losing their jobs, among other things. And now being gay is just part of who someone is.  You’re telling me now that you think that I should stay in the closet because I’m bipolar?  Bipolar is a part of who I am.  It’s me, and I’m not going to deny who I am.  Of course I’m not going to shake hands with the program director and say “Hi, I’m Laura and I’m bipolar, anymore than I would say “Hi, I’m Laura and I’m bisexual (only my mother chooses to “forget” that I’m bisexual, so she doesn’t get that part).”

But, if the interview goes well and we get down to nuts and bolts, and the director wants me to teach an 8 o’clock class, then I’ll certainly come out and tell her that I have a health issue that limits the times that I can work; and if the vibes are appropriate, I’ll tell her what it is.

If the truth be known, there’s a huge LGBT population, both in the student body and in the faculty, at UNCA, and I’m sure that like anywhere else there must be a significant percentage of people at the University with various mental illnesses.  I’m hoping that since sexual preference diversity is so much out in the open, that neurodiversity might be well accepted too.  I’m hoping.

Oh, look!  I’ve already made the assumption that they’re going to get all excited about my syllabus and hire me straight away!

“Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead!”–Admiral David Farragut

What. A. Day.

To most of you, having to be somewhere at 10 am might not seem like a crisis.  Far from it.  Many of you have “real jobs” and have to be there at 8, or even 7, in the morning.

I have never been a morning person.  If I’m up at 7, it’s because I’ve been working since 4 pm the day before.  I have always crafted my jobs that way.  Since I don’t sleep anyway, it works out for me.

But.  The “not sleeping anyway” part turned out to be part and parcel of my bipolar, so in the end it contributed to my professional downfall and eventual total disability.

Now I do sleep, thanks to the handful of drugs I take at bedtime.  And those drugs take at least 12 hours to wear off.

I have also developed a strict program of sleep hygiene.  I take my drugs at 9:30, am asleep by 11, and wake between 9:30 and 10 am.  Works for me.

But today I had to see the orthopedist about the crunching noise and pain in my right shoulder, due to the fall I took on September 9 in Israel.  The shoulder bit was part of the damage incurred in the fall that also gave me a nice concussion and a scar that runs from my elbow to my wrist.  Very nice.

So I managed to drag my sorry butt out of bed at 8, and got to the orthopod’s office right on time so I could wait another two hours during which I could have been asleep in my cozy bed.

Once again, I chose not to disclose my mental illness or medications on the intake form.  It has been my unfortunate experience that once the medical personnel see that one has a mental illness, they immediately assume that one is a drug-seeking crank.  So I have adopted the policy of disclosing on a need-to-know basis, and they didn’t need to know.  So much for abolishing stigma in the field of medicine.

The ortho examined my shoulder and of course cranked it in a way that caused me to say (actually scream) bad words, but judging by his non-reaction I guess he hears a lot of that.  He confirmed my impression that something is going “crunch” and “clunk” in there–never a good sign.  Then he proposed injecting it with steroid.  I proposed that we get an MRI before performing any interim treatment measures.  I hate to deprive him of an extra procedure charge to Medicare, but hey, I didn’t go to med school for nothing.  My motto is “first diagnosis–then treatment.”

So he good-naturedly signed me up for an MRI, to be carried out sometime in the next few days.  And he wrote me a script for some pain medication that is way, way too strong for me.  He was astonished when I asked for a specific med that is much less potent, and hesitated to write it for me because he thought it wouldn’t be strong enough.  I told him that if it wasn’t, I could always take a Tylenol with it.  So much for drug-seeking.

My next stop was the Subaru dealer.  Ever since my car was stolen and wrecked, careening into four other cars before running off the road, and despite the extensive repairs that had it in the shop for over a month, the steering has been squirrelly.

In the US, I live in a mountainous area.  Squirrelly steering is just not OK here.  In fact, it could mean the difference between staying nicely on the road and plunging down a rocky ravine.  So I took the car to the Subaru dealer where I bought it, on the advice of the insurance adjuster who has been allegedly supervising the resurrection of my 2011 Subaru.

The dealer’s mechanics also thought the steering was squirrelly, but they refused to fix it because they were not the ones that did the original work.  The shop that did the original work is a body shop 2 1/2 hours away, that deals in American cars, not Subarus.  Why the body shop was allowed to do the mechanical work (the entire front end was caved in in the wreck), I will never understand.

So I asked the service manager at Subaru to please call the insurance adjuster and tell him that they also thought the steering was squirrelly but that they refuse to fix it because somebody else did the original work.

The insurance adjuster called me and said that he saw no reason why they shouldn’t fix it, since they are a Subaru dealer and all this and that.  I told him I thought the same but since I seem to be powerless in this situation that I would let him deal with it, since he is the insurance adjuster and all this and that.

So now I am faced with a fair probability of needing surgical repair on my bum shoulder, and further surgery on my bum car.  Quite the pair, we are.

And just to sweeten the pot, I got a summons for jury duty.  What a day.

Voices of Mental Illness: Breaking the Silence of Stigma

Graham Shiels is the author of The Bipolar Place, and a partner in the stigma-fighting campaign, Faces of Mental Illness.  He is a husband, a mail carrier, lives in Livepool, England, and he is a Voice of Mental Illness.

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

GS:  For me it’s not a simple, x amount of years, answer. I was first diagnosed with a mental illness when I was 22. That would be 13 years ago. However, I think I have had a mental illness as early as the age of 12 or 13. I remember crying myself to sleep nearly every night for what seemed like a year, but I didn’t know what I was crying about. I wasn’t aware back then I had a mental illness, but I also had the feeling that not everyone felt this way.

BSS:  Can you share with us your diagnosis/diagnoses?
GS: Depression & then later Bipolar Type 2.
BSS: When were you diagnosed with these?

GS:  As already mentioned I was diagnosed with depression 13 years ago. I was diagnosed with bipolar just over 3 years ago.

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

GS: I was diagnosed with depression after my girlfriend (now wife) basically suggested I go to see my GP. Not so much, because I wouldn’t go, but more a case of I didn’t know what the hell was going on & I needed the help/push to get me there.

I was diagnosed with Bipolar 10 years later. I saw a psychiatrist for the first time after I had thankfully failed in a suicide attempt. I’d basically decided, that if I was going to live through bouts of depression at least once a year, I’d rather not be here.

I wouldn’t say I had any special testing. I was only diagnosed with bipolar due to my history of depression & then the psychiatrist looking back through my medical details realised I more than likely had been bipolar for a long time.

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?

GS: I think I had been misdiagnosed with depression for a long time. Whether I ever suffered from depression or if my depression transformed into bipolar or if I suffer from both is anyones guess. I honestly think most of the diagnosis we have, linked to our brains, will at some point be re-evaluated. Simply because there is still much we need to learn about the brain. I’d be very surprised if when I’m in my fifties I’ll still be classed as having bipolar type 2.

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

GS: I’ve only been hospitalised when I took an overdose, but that was your standard A&E department.

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

GS: I take Sodium Valproate (mood stabiliser) & Fluoxetine (anti depressant). Yes I think they do help, but I’m a big believer in balancing it with healthy eating, drinking & exercise. I don’t suffer badly with side affects thankfully. Fluoxetine does make me sweat a little more than average, but nothing so it’s overly noticeable. Sodium Valporate can cause diarrhoea, but again I’ve not really suffered from it.

BSS: Have you ever had ECT (Electroconvulsive therapy)?  How did it affect you?  Did it help?
GS: I’ve never had ECT & until much more is understood about the brain I would refuse it. I truly believe to use ECT in a time, where there is so much we don’t know about the how the brain works, is akin to the blind leading the blind.
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?

GS: Currently, I’m working as a postman which enables me to walk & cycle on average 4 hours a day. For me, exercise is just as important, if not more so, than the medication used for treating bipolar type 2. I’ve only been a postman for less than a year. Before this I’ve mainly worked in an office environment. The lack of exercise in an office job, meant I needed to try & exercise in a gym or by running & cycling outdoors. One of the problems with this is finding the motivation to do the exercise outside of work, when all I wanted to do was relax & enjoy my ‘down time’.

Since I’ve been diagnosed with bipolar I’ve reduced the amount of alcohol I drink. I’ve cut out drinking during the week & only drink at most, one bottle of wine when I do allow myself  a tipple. Alcohol is a natural depressant & so as I suffer more from the depressive side of bipolar it seems like common sense to monitor my alcohol intake. If I’m going through an episode of hyperness or depression I cut out alcohol altogether.

One tool I’ve learned,  which surprised me how useful I found it, is my Alternative Journal. It is a CBT tool that helps change how you think about the things you see on a daily basis. I was talking to a counsellor about how, sometimes, when I’m depressed, I struggle to see the positives that are there all around me. He suggested that I begin to log the things that make me happy in a day. Whether it be a stranger smiling at you, a kind gesture or something that made you smile. So it works like this: Grade yourself out of 10, then write down as many positive things that have happened (aim for ten positives). Read through what you’ve written & then regrade yourself. Hopefully you will feel a little more positive. However, I only really felt the full impact of this exercise after doing it for six to eight months. I now automatically  see the positives around me & pause to appreciate them.

Over the last 13 years I’ve seen many counsellors. In general they’ve been very helpful, but I can’t stress enough to be careful that you’re in the right frame of mind for counselling. It’s easy to go to counselling with the aim of helping yourself, but sometimes you just need to let yourself be. After all, picking at a wound isn’t the best way to heal it.

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

GS: I honestly believe the number of redundancies I’ve had (3), have been as a result of my illness. Of course other reasons have been given. Don’t get me wrong, I understand if you’re off work a lot because of an illness, at some point a business may need to cut back. I simply find it annoying that a company won’t just come out & be honest, giving the real reason. Or heaven forbid they actually allow a form of flexible working allowing me to continue in my job.

My education was certainly affected, both in school & university. I had no idea what was wrong in school & ended up leaving two years early, to escape the bullying & isolation I felt. At university I distracted myself with clubs, drinking & trying to have fun. This worked to varying degrees, suffice to say I enjoyed my time at uni, my grades did not 🙂

Relationships have been fine for me.  I’m lucky I have a great wife who has been with me for 14 years. My family is, well, complicated, but those I care about have been great.

I’ve never had problems with addictions to drugs. That’s not to say I haven’t dabbled in the lesser recreational stuff…but errrr… we’ll leave that there 😉

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

GS: Other than losing jobs, I feel were linked to my illness, I can’t say I’ve had any problems. Mainly because, only until recently, I’ve been open about having bipolar. I’m sure if I was open about my illness from day 1 I would have come across some discrimination. Currently I wouldn’t let anyone get away with disparaging comments, as I feel much more confident as a person & would be only too happy to point out the error of their ways 🙂

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

GS: Don’t struggle in silence. Be open with those you trust. If people would rather not be around you after you open up to them, as hard as that is, are they worth your friendship?

BSS: Anything else you’d like to add?

GS:  Don’t give up. The down cycles of mental illness, truly horrible as they can be, are temporary. You can get through them & enjoy your life. That may sound cliched, but I’ve found from my own experience, it to be true.

You can find Graham at his blog, The Bipolar Place, as well as at the helm of the Faces of Mental Illness project, currently found on Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter.

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!

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!