Sunday, May 27, 2018

There Will Be No Casserole

I'm not doing so well right now. Once again, I've only gotten about 10 hours of sleep total in the past two weeks. This is after going with only 25 hours of sleep in a month about six weeks ago. It seems like my body has forgotten how to sleep. Difficulty sleeping has always been one of my issues. Bipolar disorder and OCD play a role in that. And there are some physical health problems, like severe chronic pain, that contribute to my inability to sleep as well. We have been unable to find a medication that works for this. I saw a new psychiatrist last Tuesday. He told me he didn't know what to do for me. We can try one more medication, but there is no guarantee that it will help. He believes that the one medication that I am currently on (and I'm only on one medication for bipolar disorder right now) is my best shot at sleeping and stabilizing my moods. I've already been taking it for two months now. He said that I could go into the hospital to get my body "reset", that they can give me something that I wouldn't be able to take as an outpatient, just to get some sleep. I've already gone down that road, too many times to count. True, they can knock me out, so much so that I usually end up wetting the bed, which means that they will prop me up on a shower chair and bathe me in the middle of the night because I am too sedated to do so myself, and then tuck me back into bed. After three days of this, I will be sent home to continue on medications which aren't working for me and within a week, I'm right back where I started. That is if they will even admit me to the hospital in the first place. It is almost impossible to be admitted if you are not suicidal, with a definite plan for taking your own life. When you're manic and unable to sleep or eat, dealing with racing thoughts and physical restlessness to the point where you can't even sit still, you're more often than not told that you just have to ride it out because those symptoms are not severe enough to require hospitalization. This has been my life since this past September.

I have also been hospitalized for numerous physical health problems in the last 20 years. I've been in for a severe flare-up of ulcerative colitis, pneumonia, hemorrhaging, a TIA, and more. I've had 17 surgeries in the past 20 years. So, why am I telling you all of this? Not to whine or complain. I know that there are others out there who have experienced this, or worse. But I want to shed light on yet another difference between how mental health and physical health are viewed differently still to this day.

I was reflecting back on all of the times I've been hospitalized for a physical health condition. Let's take the time I had pneumonia and was in the hospital for five days for example. I think that I received three or four "Get Well Soon" cards. I had several friends come to visit me. Others called to check up on me. When I was discharged home, the ladies from my church arranged for people to bring me meals for the first week I was home. Usually casseroles! But they were wonderful, and greatly appreciated. I still had very little energy when I initially got home from the hospital. Even something as simple as getting dressed wore me out. So the meals were a tremendous help. I also had someone volunteer to come over and help me with the laundry and cleaning when I first got home. These same things happened when I was hospitalized for my surgeries. Lots of people were there to step up and help.

But, that never happened following a psychiatric hospitalization. Now, before I go on, I will say that I have not always notified friends and family when I'm admitted to the psychiatric unit. I typically notify four or five close friends, and my family, but give them the permission to share with others where I am. That is in part due to the fact that the use of a phone (you cannot have your own cell phone with you) is more restricted and the number of phone calls and the length of your phone calls is monitored by the staff. Also, visiting hours are more limited than those for the medical units. And, as much as I hate to admit this, part of it is due to shame. There are times that I still feel "less than" due to my mental illnesses. Now, back to my point. I get the feeling that a lot of people still look at psychiatric hospitalizations as kind of a "retreat", for lack of a better word. I mean, you get fed. They help you sleep and encourage rest. Your day to day responsibilities are temporarily put on hold. You are encouraged not to worry about your job, your family, or any other potential stressor while you are inpatient. You are there to focus on you, your needs, and to as I mentioned earlier, "reset" yourself. That's all well and good. And that is what I need when I'm there. But I don't leave the hospital ready to conquer the world. If there has been a change in my medication, it takes about 4-6 weeks for the new medication to fully take effect. The fatigue lingers. The ability to complete even the most basic of daily tasks like brushing my teeth still challenges me. I don't always have it in me to jump right back into my daily life and do my own cooking and cleaning. I have never had someone offer to bring me a meal following a psychiatric hospitalization. I have never had someone offer to help me with my housecleaning, or volunteer to run errands for me. I have only ever received two "Get Well Cards" from friends, over a period of 22 years of dealing with my bipolar disorder, OCD, and PTSD.

I'm not writing this with the intention of making anyone feel guilty. I'm writing this to say that even in 2018, mental health and mental illness are still more often than not, "awkward" and uncomfortable to talk about. We worry that we won't know the "right" thing to say to someone who is anxious or depressed, or someone who has attempted to take their own life. We may want to help, but hold back out of the fear of insulting the individual or making them feel like they are incapable of taking care of themselves. Some of us may think that the best thing for someone who has just been released from an inpatient unit is to jump back into life and their responsibilities; we don't want to see them just sitting around, doing nothing. Mental illnesses are still not handled the way that physical illnesses are. And that needs to change. Fortunately, there are organizations out there, like NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), and MHA (Mental Health America), and others that are working hard to increase awareness of mental health issues and to fight the powerful stigma against having a mental illness. I have to do my part too, by not being ashamed or apologize for my mental illness. I have to be willing to ask for help. But, sometimes, a casserole would be nice. Or help with daily tasks. At least initially, when I get home from the hospital. I guess what I'm trying to say to you is don't be afraid to reach out and ask if it's okay to provide a meal. Or even just come over and sit and talk for an hour. It's not an insult. It's not doing something for someone that they should be doing for themselves, any more than it is when I have ankle surgery and am non-weight bearing for six weeks. It's okay to talk about it. No, it's imperative that we talk about it.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Happy Mother's Day?

Well, here we are. Sunday, May 13, 2018. Mother's Day. My Facebook page was flooded with Mother's Day tributes. Friends honoring their own mothers and grandmothers. Friends being celebrated by their children. Everyone seemed to be happy. The stores have been stocked with greeting cards, flowers, candy, and jewelry for the past month. There are cards for first time mothers, mothers-to-be, husbands honoring their wives for doing an amazing job raising their children, mothers and grandmothers in heaven, silly cards for little ones to give to their moms...and just plain old generic "I love you" cards, and a few other miscellaneous cards mixed in.

I found myself thinking tonight about all of those women for whom Mother's Day is a bittersweet holiday. And I found myself wondering where all of the cards for them are kept. I personally know two women whose children were murdered within the past two years. Where is the card for that? Where is the card for the mother whose child has committed suicide? Where is the card for the woman whose child is miscarried or stillborn? Where is the card for the mothers whose children are in NICU clinging to their lives? Or for the mothers whose children are being abused by their fathers, uncles, grandfathers, babysitters, strangers? The mothers who are watching their children struggle with addiction? The mothers whose children have run away from home? What about all of the single moms, trying to balance work, childcare, school, and home? What about the mothers whose husbands are deployed to Afghanistan? I've never seen a card for the woman who deeply longs to be a mother but for any number of reasons, can't. What about the woman who felt that there was no way she could be a "good" mother and made the difficult decision to terminate the pregnancy?  Or those women who, after giving birth, knew the best thing for their child was to give them up for adoption in the hopes that their child would have a much better life than they themselves could provide?  There are no cards for the thousands and thousands of women who are foster mothers or temporary guardians. I couldn't find any cards for those who have strained relationships with their mothers and for whom those "You are the best mother in the world!" cards don't reflect their reality. There are no cards for the mothers whose children have been removed from the home by DCS. Or the mothers who lose custody of their children in a bitter divorce. And then there are those women who make a conscious choice not to have children and not to be mothers - not to not take on what is "expected" of them. And...I know that I'm still leaving some out.

To all of those women out there who are rocking it as moms, my hat is off to you! Raising children takes a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. I'm not trying to take anything away from that or to imply that mothers don't deserve to be recognized and honored for the millions of things they do for their children every day. I'm simply wanting to acknowledge that for some, this day is one of longing for, remembering, second guessing, and wondering what if things had been different. Today, in the midst of celebrating my mother, grandmothers, aunts, cousins, sisters-in-law, and siblings, I set aside some time to honor those women for whom Mother's Day is one of the hardest days of the year.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Why I Don't Love Myself - A Treatise on Self-loathing

I don't love myself. I don't know that I ever have. Why, my therapist asked? Hmmm. That's not an easy question to answer. Not because I don't know, but because I know that I should love myself. I hate it that the sexual abuse I experienced as a child and the rape at age 18 turned me into an eating machine. First my body was violated by others and then it is violated by myself as I continue to store fat to protect me from being hurt again. I'm in a constant battle with my body, losing 20 pounds and then regaining it when someone comments on my weight loss. My fat forms a shield around me but that leaves me feeling horribly alone. I fail to appreciate all that my body does for me because I'm caught up in how ugly I look in the mirror. There is nothing pretty about 402 pounds. And I'm tired of hearing that I have such a pretty face because that "but" packs a real punch. So I eat a whole box of Girl Scout cookies while pretending that I'm eating celery and hating the fact that I am so weak willed.

I feel like I'm failing as an adult. I am embarrassed by my mental illnesses that prevent me from working. The OCD and bipolar disorder leave me fighting just to be okay. I hate that I have to write numbers in a frenzy in order to calm myself down. I hate that I have to have everything lined up just so on my bookshelf and that I can't leave my apartment without checking my books to see if they are still in alphabetical order. I hate that I see bugs crawling everywhere when I haven't been able to sleep. I hate that my racing thoughts prevent me from reading a book most days. I feel like my mind is controlled by outside forces that I can't stop. I used to be a successful Occupational Therapist. Now I'm barely able to do my own ADLs. I'm afraid to meet new people because inevitably the question "So, what do you do?" is asked and my answer is sadly "I exist". I often feel like I have nothing to live for. That makes my existence almost unbearable.

I struggle with accepting my sexuality. I feel like God made a mistake. I feel guilty and ashamed that I am gay. I don't like believing that my attraction to women is wrong but what if it is? Do I want to take that chance? And so I try to ignore my feelings and pretend that I am "normal". I'm angry that I'm not married to a man and the mother of three children. My feelings prevent me from having a family because I so rigidly define what constitutes a family. My life would be so much easier if I could just accept the truth about myself and stop second guessing my Creator. I so desperately want to be loved by someone but I am afraid.

I'm angry that I think so much. I spend way too much time in my own head. When will I get tired of living this way? Is it too late to learn to love myself? I hope not because I am the one who is hurting.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

In Order

The books haven't moved.
They haven't moved.
Each one is in it's proper place
just like they were
two minutes ago,
just like they will be
two minutes from now,
and yet I cannot walk away from them.
What if?
Just what if
Lit by Mary Karr
tumbles from the top shelf
where it is the 19th
book from the left
and lands between
Naked by David Sedaris
and like the red panda by Andrea Seigel?
I mean, it could happen
and then they wouldn't
be in alphabetical order by author
and the book police
would come knocking on my door
and I would lose custody
of the books forever!
So I check them again.
They still haven't moved.
But they might.
So I will stay home again today
and stand guard,
a sergeant at the tomb of the unknown soldier,
lest I dare forget to check.

Me Too

Me too. Those are two words that I wish I didn't have to say. But they are a part of my story. Its been thirty years now since I was raped. Sometimes it seems like yesterday. I still have nightmares on occasions and they are so real and so vivid that it actually feels like I'm being raped all over again. I struggled for a long time with blaming myself for what happened. I played "if only". If only I hadn't been drunk. If only I'd left the party with my friends. If only I hadn't worn makeup and perfume. Yes, I had too much to drink that night. Yes, I stayed behind. Yes, I wore makeup and perfume. But I didn't ask to be raped. I said "No!"

No!
He's calling me a bitch.
No!
He's pulling my hair.
No!
He's sticking his dick in my mouth.
No!
He's ripping off my jeans.
No!
He's forcing his way in.
No!
He's thrusting hard.
No!
He's hurting me.
No!
Why did I wear makeup?
No!
Why did I get drunk?
No!
Why didn't I leave with my friends?
No!
Why didn't I fight back?
No!
Why didn't I scream?
No!
Why didn't I report him?
No!
Why didn't I die?
No!
I said "No!"
No!
No!
No!
No!
No!
No!
NO!

My "Nos" should have been enough. They weren't. I now know that it wasn't my fault. I did not deserve for that to happen. No one does. I wish that I hadn't been afraid to speak up at the time. I wish that I hadn't run straight for the shower and stayed in there for hours, douching and scrubbing my insides with a tile and grout brush. All I could think about was getting him off of me. Showering has never been the same since that night. I have obsessive compulsive disorder and that event triggered a bathing ritual that I still can't break today. It's as if I'm trying to wash away a sin that isn't mine. I now understand that I did the best I could at the time to survive. I pray that one day I will get past surviving and learn to thrive.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Melancholy

Melancholy sounds like such a pretty word. It's much too pretty to describe my depression. No, my depression is like being strangled by a boa constrictor. A squeezing that I can feel deep inside my bones, that sucks the life right out of me and leaves me wiping sweat and blood from my brow. My heart bleeds blue blood that bypasses the lungs, failing to pick up the oxygen molecules needed to sustain me. I sit in my overstuffed recliner, leaning to the left, lacking the strength to hold my head up. I'm wrapped tightly in a blanket. A cocoon of sorts. Maybe I'll emerge a butterfly one day. Until then, I'll continue to watch the shadows dancing on the walls in the light of the moon coming through the living room window.

My cats are adjusting to my new normal and go about their business despite me. I don't shower. I don't get dressed. I don't brush my teeth. I don't eat. I don't talk. I don't watch TV. I don't read. Sometimes I don't even breathe. One day of doing nothing turns into four days of doing nothing and eventually the week passes. The longer I go without doing anything, the harder it is to do something. Terrible thoughts race through my mind and I think about murdering them with whiskey or brownies but I know that won't help. I dream of breaking out of this prison cell but fear that I'd only be buying a first class ticket to hell. My mattress has a permanent dent in the middle of it and I lay in bed until my body aches so bad that I can't stand it. Then I cry. My tears stream down my hot cheeks and are dry before they reach my lips, leaving me thirsty and confused. I miss myself. I don't even remember what I was like before. Will the sun rise when this is over?

Saturday, December 30, 2017

October 2, 2005

I mixed a cocktail.
Lamictal, 200 mg, 60 pills.
Trileptal, 300 mg, 30 pills.
Trazodone, 300 mg, 60 pills.
Remeron, 30 mg, 30 pills.
Seroquel, 300 mg, 60 pills.
All taken together, at once
with 64 ounces of milk
to coat my stomach.
I thought I could make it
to the park bench by the courthouse fountain
but I collapsed 200 yards into my journey.
My legs just buckled,
my body ignoring the commands
to get up out of the middle of the road.
I vomited.
Retching, spewing pill fragments and milk
all over my face, all through my hair,
and I remember thinking
"Oh my God, I've really done it this time!"
It.
Suicide.
Death.
The end of my life.
I was instantly gripped by panic.
It's not supposed to feel like this!
Where is my sense of peace,
that amazing white light to welcome me home?
Then everything went black
and there was nothing.
I was intubated in the street
and wheeled into the ER
as a Jane Doe, suspected drug overdose.
No ID.
Just a cryptic note crumpled up in my
right front pocket of my jeans.
I awoke days later
to the hiss of the ventilator
ringing in my ears,
my eyelids fluttering in time
to the rhythm of the heart monitor.
Five bags of fluid on the IV pole.
Wires everywhere.
I tried to move
but my wrists were in restraints.
I began to cough,
choking on the tube down my throat
and I heard my mother's voice saying
"Get the nurse! She's waking up!"
Who? Me?
But that can't be!
I did it.
I really did it this time.
It.
Suicide.
Death.
Now what the fuck am I supposed to do?
Am I okay
or am I going to be a vegetable?
Why is Days of our Lives
on my hospital room TV?
My days were supposed be over
but now there is a social worker in my room
talking to my parents
about the number of days
I'll need to be under inpatient psychiatric care!
Again.
Dammit, again.
I want to say "I'm sorry", but I can't.
What am I sorry for?
For putting my family through this?
For asking them to love me anyway?
For not dying?
It,
suicide,
death
is such a mess.
I already sent out invitations to my funeral
because I wanted to be sure
someone would be there
to remember me for me
because I sure as hell
don't remember me.
My mind's long term memory
is racked with guilt and shame and pain
and my short term memory
is, well, what were we talking about?
It.
Suicide.
Death.
And the day I almost, almost died.