Saturday, January 30, 2010
It is very rare that I feel comfortable or confident when writing my posts. They can take me hours/days to do. Quite often I get part way through a post and find myself so conflicted that I don’t finish. Sometimes I don’t begin.
It seems I’m always apologizing for the content of my posts and the timing gaps between them. I worry that they don’t contain enough information and resources to assist those who read them. I don’t give many facts and figures; I don’t cite many authorities on the subject of mental illness.
My blog is personal. Because it’s personal, it’s difficult for me to write. It seems I’ve been apologizing for my mental “illness” all my life – both before and after it being recognized as an “illness”. As we “mental health consumers” begin to find our voice much of what is related seem like horror stories. They are discouraging to hear, over and over. However I don’t believe the stories are told simply for dramatic effect or to solicit sympathy – the events are, after all, horrific to experience.
A couple of days ago on the Minds on the Edge Facebook page a posting suggested that while it is comforting to commiserate over the stigma of mental illness, perhaps it would be helpful to post actions we are taking to fight it. While I agree that it is important to move beyond the pain to empowerment when we relate to each other, I do not think we are yet ready to stop telling our story to the general public. It is with the general public that stigma must be stopped.
On Wednesday night President Obama spoke in his State of the Union Address of the anger that the American people are feeling right now. He said (paraphrased) “they are afraid for their lives and their livelihood. They are frustrated because they continue to ask for, vote for change and get instead the same status quo of immovable personal interests, and end up feeling they are not being heard. Fear makes us angry.”
I will be following up this blog posting with one on how I feel the statement "Fear makes us angry" can directly relate to mental illness, specific to my personal experience.
The mentally ill are often seen as violent, to be feared, and put away from others. Indeed, our voices can be angry and may continue to be in the near future. I submit that quite often it is because we are afraid – for our lives. We are frustrated with the lack of true understanding, consideration and concern for our health, our safety and our quality of life.
Yes, we're angry. We're afraid! Quite often we have been living a nightmare. We are asking to be heard.
The President also spoke of not giving up on working together to bring about change.
Neither should we. But in order for change to occur, it must be recognized as necessary. In order for others to come together with us to create change, they must be educated as to exactly what needs to be changed and why, and to recognize its importance. Sometimes a large pendulum swing is necessary for change to occur.
No, the general public does not want to hear our horror stories. They don’t want to hear or experience the angry voices. Much better those voices be sedated - relegated to inferior, unworthy, shameful beings much easier forgotten.
It is needful that we continue to make our voices heard – to Bring Change to Mind – to educate and promote understanding and compassion. I am not whining. I am not less than others because my inter-personal education and physical genetics could use improvement and assistance. I do not deserve less than others – in my health, my safety, or my quality of life.
I stand with Dr. Fred Freese when he said, “I refuse to be ashamed any longer”. I refuse to stop telling my story - difficult and uncomfortable though it is – for myself and those who may read it. I refuse to stop providing links to other stories.
With that in mind, please check out this blog posting by John McManamy entitled Clinicians - Worst Purveyors of Stigma. Be sure to also read the insightful comment by Loretta that follows the article. This is a mind-set/practice that needs to be changed.
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Yes, I’m still here. Where else would I be? I’m sorry that my blog entries end up being more like a long newsletter when I wait so long to post. The darn fatigue and discouragement are still doing what they do – keeping me from doing what I want to do.
Today I’m a little optimistic in a few areas and (as happens with me) the ideas seem to relate to more than one issue in my life and flow along themes.
A recurring theme this winter has been: Not Giving Up! The idea was presented to me in at least three ways just yesterday and today. It seems almost funny (and sometimes I think almost has a “spiritual intervention” aspect to it) when these occurrences happen, especially when “giving up on life” is the reason I give for sitting home in discouragement and depression doing nothing.
I was inspired and encouraged by the President’s State of the Union address last night; not necessarily because of any specific detail in the speech, but more because of his attitude. He said last night that he’s not giving up on Healthcare.
Now it seems to me that if anyone has the potential for being discouraged, it is the President right now! The bickering and fighting, the absolute refusal to work together, the constant sniping and disparaging remarks, looking for any and every possible situation to twist, color, and mislead that occurs with our “leaders” in Washington and in the media – certainly has had me discouraged and angry. Much of this is pointed straight at President Obama. Yet he calmly spoke of continuing to work together, with no seeming resentment or retaliation in his words or voice.
The President spoke of the millions of Americans that go out to work every day or post one more resume, attend another job interview – not giving up or giving in, but continuing on, not allowing disparaging events to discourage them. He said we give him strength and he continues on for us. Though I’m not one of the working contributors any more, I felt strengthened and encouraged by his words.
And I thought: “Wow.” If he can do it – not give up – not give in - to discouragement, anger and frustration, after all that has happened (and not happened) over these last months (year!) then maybe I can too. Maybe hope is not dead – for our country or for me personally.
Yesterday was also my Doctor’s appointment that I spoke of in an earlier post. It went fairly well, without any large incident to increase the anxiety that I felt as I left the house. What did happen was that even with four months lead time, my records (for whatever reason) did not get to them. So I had to recount my whole long history as well as try to address why I was currently there. And of course, trying to recap the circumstances and events of my life that resulted in a diagnosis of mental illness (PTSD) and the medical history of it all – put me in tears with elevated blood pressure and anxiety – and the Doctor got to see first hand “why I was there”.
When asked why I didn’t continue to see a Psychiatrist or continue with meds I told him that I didn’t see the point – I see no future that would be different from the past. I have given up hope that things can be different for me. Neither “chatting” with a Psychiatrist nor meds would change the circumstances of my life it seems, after years of trying.
The thought of trying to be out in the community or work place once again without emotional stability; thoughts of past events and fear of future ones of the same result fill me with dread to the point of near panic, and so I have “given up on life”. I need to learn to cope (which obviously I haven’t) and putting out thousands of dollars to the medical community only increases another major contributor to my anxiety – lack of financial stability and security.
The Doctor responded that he would encourage me to consider once again, to “not give up”. He seemed genuine in his understanding, interest, and concern. We talked about an anti-depressant that I would take at night, that would also help with the inability to get to sleep. We talked of my other current physical issues, worked out a plan, and I left with a faint little glimmer….
Lately, the winter, isolation, and boredom have me wishing for “something (of substance) to do”. Though my circumstances mostly keep it wishful thinking, the little glimmer last night and this morning had me trying to think (realistically) of just what I could (and would) do, if I can find the courage. The years of frustration from too much thinking and not enough action do have me determined to live my beliefs, so I guess something good has come of it. Now more than just rhetoric, I honestly feel strongly that whatever I do, I want it to be of service to others.
Even if I’m not ready to return to the regular workplace or schedule, perhaps I can begin with volunteering. It would get me out of the house, maybe could be on my schedule, and could be a minimal amount to begin. Baby steps, but steps just the same. So I did a Google search for volunteering in Vermont. I found the Vermont RSVP website (which by the way is not only for “retired” or “Seniors” anymore) and opportunities within the Nature Conservancy of Vermont.
Everything about The Nature Conservancy website made me think of Beth, as she’s also been looking for places to volunteer, and she already loves and spends time at some of the "Wildlife Reserves” spoken of on the site. I excitedly called her to tell her about it. I caught her just waking up and she seemed less than interested. She was also a little testy as she stated that she had already told me about it a while ago.
This happens so much with us – we can’t seem to get together at the same time with our enthusiasm about a subject! When she’s down or having a hard time I wrack my brain for ideas - things for her to do, past-times to keep her busy and move her thoughts elsewhere. She’s rarely receptive. I end up feeling frustrated and burdened because I’m unable to help her, though I try and try repeatedly.
And repeatedly she comes to me looking for that help, only to be disinterested in whatever I offer. At those times I feel “helpless to help” Frank reminds me that we “can’t really help” Bethany – because she’s an adult. He’s trying to soothe me and deal with his own frustration.
I think about the idea that sometimes you can’t help a person until they want or are ready to do it themselves. I understand that.
But I can’t stop. Because she is my daughter. I also understand that sometimes it is just a matter of a person finding the info or clicking with the possibilities for themselves. But that doesn’t mean you stop offering support or suggestions as we all travel our way in our own time.
All these thoughts occurred to me this morning as we talked on the phone and couldn’t quite seem able to get together. Regardless, I still thought “I’m not giving up” when it comes to trying to help Bethany in any way.
When Beth came over later in the morning we talked of it all. She said she had talked to her counselor just yesterday of how she and I had gotten upset with each other the other day – because she’s always trying to “help” me and I’m always trying to “help” her, and we both end up frustrated with each other!
Today was an easy conversation that left us both feeling loved and supported, each a little stronger and determined to move forward.
So, that’s today’s view from “Life on the Edge” in Vermont: baby-steps towards the recurring theme of Not Giving Up.
Friday, January 8, 2010
Its a powerful and heart-wrenching story. I ask you once again to help make some changes to the Health Care System in this country. Talk to others. Stop the stigma. Write your Congressmen.
Please watch: He's My Son . Please be patient, it takes a while to load.
I got this from the Bring Change 2 Mind website.
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
I get very scared when I'm experiencing what I assume are heart related issues - coughing, tight chest, shortness of breath, extreme fatigue and exhaustion. At those moments I pray I just make it to Jan. 27 without having a stroke in the meantime.
Even with these symptoms I continue to soothe my fear (to "comfort" myself) with food and grab for a cigarette when the anxiety and discouragement are high (which is most of the time).
So, there's that fear.
Then there's the fear of who this person will be and their manner. Will they be a compassionate person and have concern and understanding for mental illness? Will they consider that the anxiety, depression, discouragement, and other life issues keep me from having the strength to get over the addictions that have led to my poor physical health? Or will they see me as fat and disgusting, and tell me that they're not going to waste their time if I don't quit smoking and lose weight.
Quit smoking and lose weight is obviously what I need to do. But how do I do that? Sometimes I wish there was an AA for smoking and weight loss. Actually, (I know) there are programs out there. But what I'm talking about is the level of support given, the recognition of the degree of support needed by some folks, the feelings of powerlessness that some folks experience in feeling capable of doing it themselves.
The AA program is usually recognized by most people as a complete transformation of a person's life - necessary in order to overcome the addiction. If you've ever read the AA's "Twelve Steps", you know that the first is that the person state/admit/accept that they are an Alcoholic and that they are powerless (have been powerless) to get over it by themselves. They need help: Help from a Source beyond themselves - and help from a community - on a day to day basis.
So they come together at meetings to support each other. Oftentimes you can attend a meeting somewhere close to you on any given day of the week. Then they give you a "sponsor" - not just any person - but a person who has been were you are now. A person that you can call any time of the day or night, wherever you are - and they will be there for you - helping to provide whatever you need at that moment: motivation, strength, comfort, determination...
I would think that being a sponsor is a daunting task, time consuming, certainly very difficult at times. I see it as taking a certain caliber of person, one with a huge amount of willingness to help another.
Let me move in another direction here..... the reason for the name of this post: "Which Came First"...
The compassion, understanding and support that I talked about relative to the AA is what I long for, have deeply ingrained in me that I need, in order to "heal" - emotionally and physically. I don't believe that any person can be truly healed of anything without treating the "whole" person. (The lack of understanding of that is a whole 'nother discussion for another day.)
I need compassion, support, and understanding. But that's not what I've gotten.... Oooooowwww... that seems like an awful statement - accusatory, self-pitying, laying blame. That is not what I intend.
I want to talk about what actually has happened in my experience because it leaves me with such confusion, makes my mind swirl, leads to depression and discouragement. I can't figure it out (obviously) and so here I sit... overweight, "heart"sick, and waiting to die.... Though I don't want to die..... I just want life to not be like this.... I want to die if this is what life has to be like.. But then I'm told from my Spiritual reading that "death" solves none of it.... because we continue beyond.... and I believe that too....
Anyway, the other side of compassion, support, and understanding feels, to me, to be lack of interest, caring, concern for a person, not desiring to understand, or take the time to understand, not believing in "supporting" another. I often see this as a "fault finding" attitude, a singularness, a separation and a desire to maintain such manners and actions. All in all, a critical attitude.
Frank (hubby) and I are both Virgos - a sign known to have the trait of being critical. We both sure can be at times. In many ways, we take the same attitudes; in others we are total opposites. We both have very strong belief structures, deeply seated, that I think are the result of both our persons and our upbringings.
In understanding my needs, and the needs of others, he often seems (to me) to be totally devoid. This has always led to a huge amount of personal pain for me. But let me explain.... Frank is not devoid of compassion or love, he just believes very deeply from the perspective of the individual - that it is each individual's responsibility to learn and do for themselves - that to "help" another is to enable them to be less... and to keep them from doing for themselves. He sees things in a very black and white manner, without emotional attachment. He can't seem to understand emotional attachment, because it doesn't come in to his realm of thinking. Deeply seated also, I'm sure, is the old thought that to be emotional is to be weak. To him, to be a strong person, you must be self-reliant, independent, capable of functioning totally on your own, and not blown away by the attitudes and actions of others. When you allow emotion to reduce your person, you lose your strength. You don't waste your time "thinking about" anything, not the gray areas of any issue and especially not yourself. You simply recognize what needs to be done, you make your decision from a singular perspective (yours), you DO IT, and move on...
I, on the other hand, cannot see the world from a singular perspective. I believe that we are One, in Essence, and that each action we take has the potential of affecting others. I see it as our responsibility to love and help one another - always. I cannot take the emotion out of the equation.
So, yes, I am emotional. And yes, I expect "help" and support from others. And when I do not receive it, I feel personally rejected and unconsidered - or "considered" unimportant or of no value in the others' eyes.
I also add the connotation of "good" and "bad" to this. To me it is more important to be a "good" and "considerate" person than to be a "strong, independent" person - inconsiderate of others' needs.
Old manners of thinking, on both our parts, and extreme, on both our parts.
To "have understanding" and "be compassionate" of others, I always strive to "see both sides" of any issue or opinion. That doesn't mean I always agree with it.... but I do try to listen and educate myself to it. And so I have tried very hard over the years to understand Frank's view of things. I can see the value, the importance, and the need for some of it. I can see how some parts of it are necessary for a person to "be strong". But to agree fully with his opinion is to see me as weak, and the continued years of "emotional" thinking as the cause for "illness" in my mind and body, the result being the very "poor" individual that will appear in the Doctor's office on the 27th. Is that the way the Doctor will see it? - Take a hard line that I am a result of my decisions, my thinking, and thus a poor specimen of an individual... unworthy of consideration?
I digress... again...
This afternoon, in actually being able to talk with Frank about all this (that's a new one!), the thought occurred to me that it is not one or the other - perhaps it is both. There is much validity in Frank's view, and there is much validity in mine. That is the "Yin and Yang" of the world. You don't "choose one or the other". You recognize that there is both.
And perhaps it is only in the extremity of either - the total refusal to consider the other - the extremes of "emotional pain" - that we lose sight of "health". A belief that I am totally helpless, less than, and weak, does make me weak, and keeps me from seeing and experiencing my capabilities. However, a belief that in order to be "strong" you must be totally independent, in "need" of no-one, without emotion, leaves a person without the experience of love and compassion and without learning all that can be accomplished together.
There is an idea - in mental health counseling, self-help books and spiritual practices - that advocates to "remove yourself" from certain people and situations that are detrimental to your "growth", emotional state, and overall emotional "health". All these years I saw Frank's view as such a hard line - a meanness, lack of compassion, love, and understanding. And I often thought that it greatly contributed to my "illness" and insecurities. Yet, I refused to believe that God would have me leave this man that I knew to be such a wonderful person in so many other ways. Eventually I learned to stop laying blame on either side, but to look for the positive aspects of both, without an excess of emotion and extreme thinking. In refusing to give up, we have learned of each other, softened, and come more to the center of understanding.
Perhaps that is what life is all about. I don't know.
I started this post from my confusion - am I right? - am I wrong? (Which came first - the chicken or the egg?) Is there an answer? I don't know...
I had wanted to share with you the confusion that comes from trying to consider so much, not find an answer, and the "vicious cycle" of that, that has seemed to contribute to, and keep me in this "mental illness". And yes, I was looking for your "help" and opinions..
Now I feel a little better... a little less insecure... and a little better able to take a "wait and see" attitude about the Doctor (as Frank suggested)...
But I guess I'll put this post out there anyway... regardless of what the cyber-world's attitude may be (that bothers me also, each time I write)... as a potential contribution to understanding....