Sunday, July 20, 2014

Illusions in the Rain

Visual prompt for this weeks FSF Challenge.
The rain poured thick and loud, obscuring the buildings that lined the street and roaring over our voices no matter how loud we tried to talk or how hard we tried to listen.

Seizing the hand of my long-time friend, who rather like Big Bird's Mr. Snuffleupagus existed only in my imagination, I pulled him eagerly down the middle of the narrow street slowly filling with water.

I laughed, sang, and twirled in his arms to music that existed only in my mind as we approached the arched tunnel through a stone pedestrian bridge which stretched across the road we sloshed along.

When we stepped into cover of the small underpass I pointed to the curtain of water hanging over it's opposite end and announced, “Leaving through that side, in a magical moment, will take me to another point in my life," and then I snarled, "it might even be a time when my mind is not lost and you don't exist.”

I saw bewilderment on his face and a touch of fear in his eyes as I loosed my fingers from around his hand and shoved him back into the downpour we just left and then I rushed through the enchanted veil of rain which promised to free me from my madness.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Don't Judge Me (POSSIBLE TRIGGER WARNING)

NOTICE: This post may be a trigger for you.

I think I manage the anxiety I experience rather well. Most days I can keep my darker emotions from ganging up on me and I've done a great job of successfully beating them off. There is a certain threshold, though. Somber turns to despair and I feel defeated, crushed beneath the weight of my own sick brain. Grumpy morphs into a full blown rage and the catalyst will be something ridiculous. Discomfort becomes humiliation and shame as my brain brings to the forefront of my conscious mind everything it believes I've ever done wrong. What happens beyond the threshold is not anything I'm proud of.

I scratch and cut myself. It makes sense to me in the moment. I've done it enough throughout my life that I no longer carry sharp things with me when I feel the stable ground beneath me tremble, a sign that a terrible fissure threatens to open under my feet. Leaving the pocket knife at home interferes with my attempts to cut myself. Most of the time, the appeal of cutting fades away before I can gain possession of an object capable of drawing blood. Sometimes cutting is so terribly seductive that, unable to access anything sharper, I resort to using my fingernails. They don't cut per se; they scratch well, though. They become claws that scrape at the skin of my thighs in moments of desperation.

I don't know if it's seeing the stripes or feeling the sting that helps me keep my demons at bay. I guess it's both. I make more cuts and scratches when my distress is more intense. The more my efforts fail to ease my anguish, the more ferocious my actions become. The physical pain is probably the larger part of it although the blushing lines swelling on my skin do create an odd feeling of satisfaction - gratification blended with disgrace.

Don't judge me for this behavior. I know it's messed up. I don't need to be reminded. I don't even want to talk about it most of the time because the people I confide in almost always focus on the action and make me feel even more ashamed which isn't helpful. The problem isn't the cutting or the scratching. They are symptoms, physical manifestations of the dark hurt and anxiety that have escalated beyond my ability to fend off in a manner deemed healthy by the normal people of the world. Let's deal with the emotions I can't handle and the scratching will go away.

Don't judge me for this behavior. Other peoples' actions are mesed up, too. Making an 11:00pm run to the stop-and-rob for a cheap six-pack of beer because you can't slow down your mind enough to go to sleep is damaging to the body, too. It's just not exposed. Is harming your liver somehow more nobel than injuring your skin? I'm not even referring to alcoholism, just the occassional "had a rough day" gin and tonic. What about smoking when stressed? Over-eating? Going on spending sprees? All of these have consequences.

Don't judge me for this behavior. We all have our coping methods and mine usually heal within a few days.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Little Gratitude Please

What are you grateful for?

The usual answers include:
  • My family
  • My friends
  • My health
Other common answers are:
  • A good home
  • Healthy food
  • My pets
The answers are all legitimate and I'm sure most people are being truthful in giving them. They aren't unique, though. They are so common as to be cliche and, like any old adage, the words fall out of our mouths without a moment of consideration. The thoughtlessness of it all only registers when the words land with a heavy thunk across the top of one's left foot. Saying "I'm grateful for my family" has become an antiphone that doesn't require the least bit of contemplation. "I'm grateful for my friends" is an automatic reply, a reflex similar to the startle response we have when someone sneaks up behind us. It just happens.

"For my dog" or "for my health" are comfortable replies when playing the I'm Thankful For game round-robin style with people we might call friends but we're not particularly close to. They are safe, true statements and, most importantly, they don't even hint at the intimate matters living closer to our hearts. I get it. Don't get me wrong. I use those standard answers, too. I think I've even gotten pretty good at the Sincere Smile which dresses up the shallowness of my randomly chosen, standard answer with the guise of heartfelt earnestness.

All of this begs the question, what are you grateful for? Peak into all the little crevices in your brain to find something particular to you and your life. When you're being candid with your real self, who and what rise to the top of your Grateful List.

Me?

I'm grateful that a certain someone picked me up after work one day, like always, and took me directly to my doctor. We did not pass go or collect $200. This person told me s/he was scared for me, told me I was sick and I needed to get help. This person got me the help I was incapable of getting for myself and promised to stand strong for me until I was able to stand for myself again. That event took one hour out of one day and changed the course of my life.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Silence

A few years ago I attended a women's retreat. I shared a little of that experience with you not too long ago. One of the "rules" (really more of a recommendation) was to spend a certain amount of time each day in silence. Attaining that goal meant more than not talking. That was the easy part. It required being alone and away from a million little things. Phone, TV, music, the obvious stuff. Once I eliminated those things I realized that my surroundings were far from silent. The ceiling fan and fridge whirred and, without other noises to conceal it, they seemed loud. I left my room expecting to find a quieter space outside, perhaps on one of the gentle trails or on a bench beneath the sprawling branches of an old tree. I had to share the trail with other people and, although they were quiet in the normal sense of the word, they still made noise that filled my ears. Even when I was alone on the trail, the gravel beneath my feet crunched with every single step I took. Silence, true silence, was eluding me. Eventually, I returned to my room and decided it was quiet enough. I was able to exist with my thoughts, my journal, and my pen.

Several years before that, I went on a spiritual journey of sorts. This was long before I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and I was desperately grasping for something, anything, that would give me some peace. Upon arriving at the spiritual retreat center the first evening, I was instructed to be silent until a specified time the following morning. No talking and no turning anything on to listen to. Being alone with myself like that was unnerving. I didn't much like myself at the time and I definitely did not respect myself. I was trapped in an illness I did not know I had and the silence outside my body made the noise inside by body seem that much louder. My thoughts jumped from one traumatic experience to another while my inner critic picked apart every little decision I had made, proving to me how bad my choices were and how terrible a person I was. My skin crawled with tension and my stomach hurt. I did the only thing I could think to do. I wrote. I had no watch or clock so I have no idea how long I scribbled in my journal. I continued until all the jumbled mess in my head was transferred to paper and until I had described all my emotions and body sensations as well as I could. Finally satisfied, I carefully closed my journal. I felt lighter. I still needed to deal with the awful things I had written but, for the night at least, they lived in the journal and not in me.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

1000 Paper Cranes

Legend says if you make 1000 paper cranes then you can make a wish and it will come true.

A much more recent story, one about a little girl growing up in the toxic world created by the Hiroshima bombing, is attached to the paper crane legend. The little girl's name was Sadako Sasaki and she developed Lukemia when she was a child. She started folding origami cranes with the goal of being able to make a wish. Some stories say her wish was to be well again while others say it was for world peace. Some versions say she finished 1000 cranes before she passed away at 12 years old. Other versions say she didn't and that her friends and family finished them for her. You can read one version of Sadako's story at 1000cranes.com.

I suspect the little girl was originally wishing to be well and that the wish morphed into one of world peace as she succumbed to the illness. I'm a grown woman and I would wish to be healthy again. Forget world peace; I want to live. Maybe I'm just selfish. Of course, maybe she really was a child of the light, mature beyond her years, and destined to help usher in a change in this world.

Would I wish to be free of my illness?

Bipolar Disorder comes with a lot of ugly characteristics. If I were to make a chart listing the pros and cons of living a life with Bipolar Disorder, I suspect the cons would far out number the pros. The pros, however, include some amazingly positive things.

  • increased confidence
  • increased creativity
  • more outgoing
  • higher goals
  • increased intelligence
  • better performance
If you live with Bipolar Disorder, though, then you know those things are not permanent. It's a terrible truth and it often feels like a curse. I can taste success and then the mania wisks me away in an updraft, a tell-tale sign of an impending storm. How high I go reveals the strength of the storm and the level of destruction it will do.

What if the legend is true? Just pretend for a moment and believe with 100% certainty that making 1000 origami cranes would allow for the granting of one wish.

Here is paper crane #1.



Monday, June 30, 2014

Reflecting on a Post about "The Monster"

I read a blog post the other day criticizing a couple of musicians and the lyrics of a song they perform together. It struck a chord in me. Maybe it was a nerve that got hit. Either way, her post has been rolling around in my head for a few days. It's called "Don't Sing About Mental Illness" and it was written by a blogger named Maddy. The entire blog post can be found at http://chattymaddyhealth.blogspot.com/2014/06/dont-sing-about-mental-illness.html. She focuses specifically on "The Monster" rapped/sung by Eminem and Rihanna.

If you've never heard it, here's a link to the video. Warning: he uses some foul language.



This next video shows the lyrics as the song is being performed. It only shows lyrics and the explicit language is still there.



One part of Maddy's post discusses the chorus.


I'm friends with the monster that's under my bed
Get along with the voices inside of my head
You're trying to save me, stop holding your breath
And you think I'm crazy, yeah, you think I'm crazy
That's nothing
She writes,
First of all, "voices inside of your head" is a sign of psychosis, which is associated with schizophrenia and bipolar I disorder. As someone who has experienced voices in her head and knows how terrifying it is, I can assure you, you don't want to be "friends" with them. It's an experience that will leave you shaken and confused. 

I appreciate what Maddy is saying here and Maddy, if you're reading this, thank you for being so honest and sharing this part of your experience. She's right. Auditory and visual hallucinations are not necessarily the greatest experiences in the world and they are certainly symptoms of a number of serious mental disorders that need to be addressed. I've flown from my own dark bedroom to a fully lit kitchen or living room more than once because of such experiences. They are just part of my condition, my illness, and I've had no choice but to accept them into my life. They are a few of the many monsters, demons, issues, problems, beasts, symptoms, creatures, whatever you want to call them that hide in my surroundings. None of them are friends in the sense of "Hey, wanna go to a movie? We can share a popcorn." They are, however, friends in the sarcastic sense of being an undesired familiar thing like the heartache that comes to visit after a relationship ends. Saying two people are friends also means they accept each other and they've established a relationship that allows them to move on with some grace and dignity - most of the time at least. The beasts that wander through my life fall into that category. We are companions but not buddies. I'm not always thrilled that they travel with me but I've had to make friends with them in so far as being able to play nicely together.

She goes on to say,
Some people say the line isn't literal, but instead referring to self talk. I still have a problem with this because those aren't voices in your head. That's YOU speaking to YOURSELF. You shouldn't try to refer to a mental illness to describe something that is in fact NOT a mental illness.
That's an important distinction to make and most people don't (in my experience anyway). Lumping auditory hallucinations and self talk together undermines the significance of having hallucinations. I can't help but wonder how many people, trying to deny that they are sick, have avoided getting help by calling the voices self talk.

Regarding the line "And you think I'm crazy, yeah you think I'm crazy, that's nothing" she writes,
People are desperately trying to remove the stigma that surrounds mental illness. One of the most painful words you can say to someone who is struggling with one of these disorders is that they are "crazy". It's hurtful. Period. And again, since Eminem and Rihanna are both people who have experienced this, they should understand more than most of the population that this word can cut deep. So why are they referring to themselves as this?
I've already expressed my feelings on the use of the word "crazy" in a previous post: Go Ahead. Call Me Crazy.

When it comes to the last two words in the chorus, "is nothing," the blogger says,
They are implying that "crazy" doesn't even begin to cover what kind of emotional state they are in. Again, why? They are further stigmatizing mental disorders and painting us in a horrible light.

I don't understand this critique. I don't see how this final piece of the chorus is stigmatizing. Why would it be wrong for me to tell someone they have no clue how I feel? I don't see that as stigmatizing but rather revealing, almost educating. Conveying intensity of feelings opens people's eyes to the broad spectrum of human emotion and human beings are capable of higher highs and lower lows than most people will ever experience first hand. That's important to understand. That's why "pick yourself up by your bootstraps" is sufficient advice for some and impossible for others. I need to be able to tell someone that how they are describing my emotional state is correct but woefully inadequate. It's the difference between bumping your head against the back of the sofa when you plop down too hard and getting a concussion after falling down the stairs.

One final quote from Maddy,
Music is powerful. It should be a tool that is used to help those who suffer from mental illness. ...[W]e need to spread awareness that Eminem and Rihanna's song "The Monster" is NOT okay.
I agree 100% that music is powerful and it can be used to help people deal with their mental illness. It's a valuable strategy to consider including in our individual mental illness toolboxes. Should all music help people who have mental illnesses? Absolutely not. Creating music isn't about helping others, it's about expressing ourselves. It's a form of sharing and it helps us when it resonates with our own lived experiences. "The Monster" resonated with me. It's not a pretty picture but I connected with it. 

A couple final notes.

While reflecting on Maddy's post and the song, I came across a website that I found to be interesting and informative. You might like it. When you click a line in the song, a short commentary about that line shows up in the panel to the right.

and

I've never been a fan of rap music. It's not my thing. Grappling with this song, though, I must admit that it is poetry - something I never thought I would say.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Go Ahead. Call Me Crazy.

I am a middle class woman with a middle class job holding onto a middle class life. My money and my time are limited. I need to thoughtfully decide how to use those resources and be intentional about when and where I engage the larger community in a conversation about mental illness and stigma.

Stigma is definitely a problem, one that is well known among people with mental illnesses. We, meaning me, worry about the consequences of the wrong people finding out about our, meaning my, diagnosis. Whether it's fair or not is irrelevant when the job, custody, or respect of peers has been lost. The damage is done and it can't be undone.

Patsy Cline singing "Crazy" written by Willie Nelson

Stigma must be addressed. People must be educated. I get that and I agree whole-heartedly. How to address it, though, that's the million dollar question.

Recently, I've come across a number of blogs and facebook posts that focus on the use of the word "crazy" and, invariably, the writers are upset about it and are insisting that it should be removed entirely from our language. They are vehement about it, almost as if they were fighting against using words like "nigger" or "retard." I mean no disrespect by writing those words here. I would never use either of them to describe anyone. I'm only making the point that those two words are exponentially more offensive and hurtful than the word "crazy." "Crazy" isn't even in the same league.

Unlike the other two words, "crazy" has a lot of nuances, meanings, and connotations. The derogatory interpretation is just one of many. The word isn't the problem so much as the context. Who is saying it? And why? I don't care if my sister is calling me crazy as a synonym for being goofy or if my best friend says I'm crazy because I did something that she can't imagine doing herself. I see no harm in saying things like "I'm crazy in love" or "crazy about going to the concert." Patsy Cline does not offend me with her song titled "Crazy." It's actually one of my favorite songs of all time.

Just to be clear, certain uses of the word "crazy" cut to the bone. Those five little letters have been thrown at me a time or two (or more) by loved ones who were angry with me. It makes a great little jab when disagreements turn ugly. Saying I'm bleeping crazy as a synonym for demented, psychotic, or delusional can bring me to tears, especially if it comes from someone who knows about my mental health battle. Most of the time, though, it's just not a big deal. I'm actually more offended by being called "sweetie" or "hun" (short for "honey" in the south).

I'm sure it feels like I've gone off on a tangent in this post but I haven't. Returning to the fact that I'm middle class with limited resources, I must ask myself if I really want to spend my time fighting against the word "crazy."