What do we do, as a society, with people with mental illnesses?

This is an honest question. I know what we actually do–a lot of them are homeless and we avert our eyes when walking through big cities between expensive stops while on vacation or hurry past after we leave work, trying to steal an extra few minutes by getting home earlier.

Or we blame them for major crimes or talk about they are lazy, self-pitying snowflakes.

So maybe that’s a poorly worded question.

woman standing near neon signage
Photo by Victor L. on Pexels.com

What should society do with people who have mental illnesses? More specifically, people who are so impaired by their mental illnesses that they struggle to function in the ways they need to survive?

Well they live within their means and families take care of them. But what if, as it is in many cases, their families either cannot or will not do so? Often, the trauma that occurs within families can be a catalyst for those who go on to develop disorders or other conditions and the problem isn’t likely to morph into the solution.

We give them medication and they have the same chance as everybody else. If they just live more disciplined lives, exercise, go to bed early, eat right, make healthy choices, they will feel better and will be able to support themselves. But what if they are so impaired they physically shut down and can’t do these things?

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“You never feel well.”

“She never feels well.”

It’s defeating when somebody responds that way, because it’s true technically. Most of the time I really don’t feel well and that is abnormal. I get that and I agree. But it also simplifies it. It seems to apply a sense of simplicity that I could only hope to have. The reason I often don’t feel well is because it isn’t simple and doesn’t have a simple solution. It also implies a sense of judgment and lack of acceptance. And in a world where you already feel that, having somebody closer to your daily life not understanding makes things more isolating.

I don’t feel well. I do feel like I use that as an excuse to be lazy. All of those suspicions people have of others with mental health conditions, I have internalized those and sincerely believe them about myself. Which, when you feel like you are trash, makes you feel like trash and how can trash ever feel well?

I don’t think there is a solution for me. I hate being the one always complaining. Sure, there are so many things I should be thankful for and others have much, much less than me and have the same issues I have still. But those things that make me feel good, they don’t magically drain away all of the things that make me miserable. I’m not saying it’s not my fault. I’m not saying it’s not me.

I’m saying maybe it is me and that’s why there is no answer. But if this is my character and so deeply ingrained, it doesn’t change the fact that I don’t feel well and am stuck with myself. I just feel like I am constantly searching for relief or support that I cannot find. I feel very alone and maybe my efforts to remedy that have been minor but they’ve been efforts and ineffective. I don’t know how to be more effective without being another person. And if I could be another person, I would love to.

Not worthy of “human garbage.”

I am lazy.

I don’t want to put in the effort to enjoy things.

I don’t enjoy things.

I don’t want to put in the effort to think about things long enough to have feelings or opinions on them.

I don’t care.

I don’t care about not caring.

I know underneath the real me cares about not caring and is a passionate person but I don’t care that she is trapped in a cocoon of apathy, swaddled in procrastination, and smothering in chunks of self-disgust, ultimately bathed in a smog of her own fear.

I do not care.

What’s more is I don’t remember how to care or what it felt like to care. I am more emo than I ever dared to be when listening to Simple Plan as a preteen, almost to the point of being a caricature of adult indulgence.

I am ineffective in my life and certainly directionless. I now understand that times when I thought I had a purpose and a plan were willful ignorance, barreling down a path that was bound to fall apart. I feel like a shell of myself, needlessly delicate and prone to degrading and collapsing. Of little use and structurally unreliable. A disappointing remnant of what a person should be, whoever I was meant to be if not for my own sloth.

I both loathe myself and don’t have the investment to dislike myself. I’m just in this state of limbo, worse than I have ever been. I have internalized certain people’s worst perceptions of me to the point those fictionalized versions feel like they are steeped in years of reality. I feel as if I am human garbage but not worthy of so formal a title, or even the respect intended with the word “human.”

I feel I am trash. Disposable. An eye sore when left in the casual view of passersby. Unpleasant and a nuisance to any environment I occupy. Unable to add anything of value to anywhere I go but somehow have residual, negative effects on everything that touches me, a thin, wrinkled cellophane that was once the shiny wrapping covering something more promising.

When divorcing parents turn their kids into hostages, battlefields, and trophies.

People don’t realize how destructive words can be when the intended pain is indirectly caused. Parents going through divorce do this a lot. My parents turned me into their own personal tennis court. Back and forth. Back and forth. Slandering each other and telling me things that would be inappropriate to tell an adult, let alone a young child. A 6 year old. A 9 year old. A 13 year old. Parents like this slander each other as a means of tearing down one another while not realizing it is the child they are tearing down.

Think about it. Regardless of which parent says it, the child gets 50 percent of her DNA from the parent being revealed, no matter how honestly. For me, this tapped into my self worth. It made me feel I was inheriting shame that was not my own and over which I had no control. I felt betrayed by my parents for telling me, for putting their anger above my development. At the time, I didn’t understand what was happening to me and couldn’t have described it that way. I just knew that what was happening was very wrong. I felt trapped by the parent maliciously preaching to me the misdeeds of my parent. I felt like my parents had declared war on each other and made me both the battlefield and the territory for which they were fighting. Only I didn’t want to be fought over and the more they decried each other, the less I felt I was worth fighting over. As I heard a parent disparaged, I connected that to my personal self make-up and therefore watched my sense of self-worth sink.

Some of it I committed to memory. Some of it I forgot. Like Alice in Wonderland, I have little ability to actually know what is and is not true, though, given my mom’s proclivity to shamelessly accuse exes of brutal violence and other acts, I have learned to take everything she has said at face value.

The worst things, however, are those I have forgotten. Those things I didn’t quite understand or didn’t seem significant to my child understanding so I averted my mind, only to have my hostage ears store them away somewhere. Randomly, as I go about my day, that information will pop up and I will suddenly remember it. It could be months, weeks, a year since my last involuntary discovery and it will catch me by surprise gently–not gently because it doesn’t impact me but because when you grow up in a turbulent environment where it is more probable for destruction to happen at any moment than for peace to be prolonged, those ugly, harsh moments that confront you are as familiar as the first symptoms of an oncoming case of strep throat. It’s been a while since you last had it. It can be fairly seasonal and you get a case periodically within your own standard time-frame. The feelings of nasal drainage, swollen lymph nodes, sore throat are painful, inconvenient, and uncomfortable but like an old frenemy you reluctantly greet. At least you know the pattern, what comes next, how long it will last. You know at least you will get to nurse yourself, give yourself some reprieve with nyquil-induced naps and warm bowls of soup.

I think for my own good, and like Alice where the adults behave as children and up is down and down is up, it’s important to write things down. When the irrational occurs, there can be a moment of doubt whether your perception is off or if this unnecessary bad thing is actually occurring. Growing up in a rough home is a lot like that. So I am going to document, whenever I think of them, all the things my parents accused the other of at one point, like a diary of their words which, more than my own, have dominated and written so much of my childhood.

Here is the one that inspired this post, all because it crept in through the bathroom window as I stared into the mirror while brushing my teeth before bed:

I was around 10 years old and one of my parents, getting ready to get separated again, informed me the internet search history had revealed the other parent was looking at child pornography.

This information was not solicited and this conversation was not instigated by anything I had mentioned. It was just told to me as gossip, to shame the other parent and point out what a horrible person my parent was, to humiliate. A child myself, it was ironic the parent haphazardly sharing was not thinking of how that would impact me, how I would make sense of it. It was rarely mentioned again unless in a list of exhibits in the case the parent was angry making against the other parent. Now as an adult, with a nephew, I think of myself as somebody who would mindfully want to protect him from that information AND any consequences it might have. It would not be to directly involve him but to ensure its ability to affect him was mitigated and he was protected.

As an adult who cares about several young kids in my life and takes the weight of my choices involving them seriously, I now see this as the most shameful thing my parents did, worse than those acts of which they accused the other. Impulsive and sometimes premeditated choices were made that had no practical use and would be damaging and confusing to the children. It disgusts me and enrages me that this was done in a sort of out-of-body experience type of way: I can’t be mad at them for doing it to me because it was too normalized into my childhood and I don’t feel that sense of agency where they are involved; however, as an adult who takes care of children in my life, I am appalled at their conduct and abandonment of their responsibilities to the children in their case because of the hatred they felt for each other.

 

 

 

 

Specks of gold perched on a blade.

I peered through the bridge gate. It was a golden rose. Funny. You never see golden roses randomly. But there it was. A golden rose with the most graceful petals. I crouched down and tenderly rubbed one between my thumb and fingers. It was like velvet but teeming with life despite having already been plucked. The intensely gold petals reached out to me like self-assured, delicate fingers, merging together into an ornate palm, all supported by a strong, emerald arm. Looking at them made me feel more confident somehow but still reminded me how small and weightless I was compared to the bridge on which I was standing.

Hoping it was somehow extending from a magical vine that had survived the smog, rattling, and chorus of harried curses from road rage, I stuck my fingers between the grates, feeling for a root and finding only the metal buzzing back. No trace of a beanstalk. The rose was precariously balancing on one of the tiny pieces of metal. An urgent fear suddenly sprang from me that if I didn’t snatch it up, the humming of the bridge would move it just enough that it slipped through the bridge and to the river below. Gingerly, I pulled it from the grate and, ignoring the occasional sigh of other pedestrians stepping around me, stood up with it, turning the stem between my fingers and imagining a pinwheel.

It couldn’t have been perched that precariously and been there long. I looked around me at the stream of heads flowing along the bridge’s footpath for one that wasn’t looking down at a phone or caught in conversation with a companion–for somebody who had cared enough about the rose to place it so carefully but with either the disregard or calculated intention of designating a space with such heavy foot traffic, knowing it was like balancing over a blend, ready to be blended into a polluted river. Maybe an Instagram photographer going for an urban secret garden vibe. Nobody stuck out.

Who would take so much time to place a rose like that and yet leave it with such an uncertain, and likely unattractive future? Adienne and Bill walked up to me.

“Ey, watcha got?” Bill asked, glancing down at my hand delicately cupping the flower while she twisted the city map between her fingers.

“Rose.” Adrienne peered over my arm silently.

“Uh. Okay.” Bill uncrinkled the map and studied a nearby section.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Waiting on you to exit whatever magical moment you’ve created in your head.”

“Not magical.” I said, “But look at this perfect rose. I feel like somebody left it here to be found.”

“Like a scavenger hunt?” Adrienne mused.

“No, like for me.”

Bill looked over at Adrienne and rolled her eyes. Adrienne smirked lovingly and shrugged her shoulders, “American exceptionalism.”

How do you get out of the rat race?

It seems the closer I got to 30, the more everything started to feel like a “rat race.” The dating and marrying scene. Having babies. Jobs. Education. Everybody is ahead of you and the people behind you are going to trample you if you don’t move. You don’t have time to stop and question it because you’re driven as a collective herd by this omnipotent impetus whose reason is so important it does not deign to be explained or questioned.

There are all the people in the cardboard cut-out lives killing it and then the rest of us get labelled for being slackers, troublemakers, mentally ill, deficient, or something. You don’t get to choose to be in the rat race or not. You’re engaged no matter what you do. It is just a matter of whether or not you stay in the flow of the group or get cast aside and put on the permanently injured and out-of-commission list. You don’t get to choose not to be a part of it, to get into a more fulfilling race, or just go off on your own because there is literally nowhere to go.

It feels like we took industrialization too seriously and Henry Ford-ed our entire world, making our work a factory, ourselves the product, and our lives the passing of a conveyor belt, picking up the necessary parts in a particular order at a predestined pace. If we miss a step, we malfunction. This is me, malfunctioning.

The issue is malfunctioning parts in factories cost more time (and often, parts) to fix them and time is money. There are always more products that did get through the assembly line correctly. It isn’t worth it to fix what you have. We have a throw-away culture instead. Grab a new product and write off the one that doesn’t meet the standards. Not to be too… I don’t know… emo or reek of melancholy but it feels like we internalized that and although this system doesn’t work for most of us, it would cost more to stop the system and consider something else so we just keep doing it and those who don’t fit the factory are collateral damage.

30 Going on 13.

I can’t get out of my own head when I want to write sometimes. The teacher’s pet in me feels this compulsive need to appeal to somebody else, to sound smarter than I am, to be 3more compelling. We all want people to want to listen to what we have to say so we can convince ourselves they perceive us in the way we badly want to see ourselves. I’m just one of those people. You’d think it fades away like your teen years do so that before you know it, you’re into your early twenties and certain things that were so vital in your previous decade are subtly forgotten in this one. Doesn’t happen that way.

The day I turned 13 years old it’s like I was bitten by this mosquito with the sharpest pinch that embedded a lifetime of insecurity and subtle, grainy, embarrassing discomfort that feels like a slight but unquenchable thirst. And it has never gone away because it hacks your system.

I just turned 30 two weeks ago and one of the last things a friend said to me when dropping me off at the airport (to go see my boyfriend who was taking me on a birthday trip) was to remember that it is Thirty, flirty, and thriving. Retrospectively, and as I write this, it is kind of a basic white girl tragedy that you watch a movie about a 13 year old wishing she could be 30 and have all the confidences and freedoms that come with it only to realize you are a 30 year old experiencing the perpetual discomfort of being a 13 year old girl. 

Do you ever feel x going on 13 again? Why? 

4

Medications for mental illness are a preferable disadvantage to a lack thereof.

I saw this post at the top of my reader page from MyLoudWhispersofHope and although I was planning to write something else, the end of her post had some questions that I thought were thought-provoking given how they were paired with her entry. It got me thinking and I have been having trouble articulating my thoughts lately so I enjoyed thinking about it. My answers to her questions are below. I recommend checking out the full post here. If it gets you thinking like it did for me, you can respond to it as well. 

“What is living with mental illness like for you?”
I think it’s like living on a leash tied to a stake and any time I try to go too far in any direction that is outside of its radius I’m reminded of my unavoidable limitations.

“What is living on psychotropic medications like?”
It’s like…being strapped to an inflated life vest. It is really uncomfortable and impedes movement in a lot of ways. It is only valuable in certain scenarios and a major setback in others (imagine wearing a life vest during a job interview or a family function) but it’s a necessary evil and I have to live with how poorly fitted it is to 80 percent of my life.

“What is living with anxiety like?”
Like living with a stress and guilt accountant who tallies up and tracks everything that is going wrong, why it is my fault, and forecasts how bad it will be for my bottom line.

Other people build the case against you and you award the verdict.

It’s amazing what the right people speaking to you in the wrong way will do to shift how you not only view yourself but function. I’ve been in a job where people talk to me as if they think I am cognitively impaired (based on how they perceive cognitive impairment, not how I perceive it or the vast types and natures of cognitive impairment). The thing is, I didn’t even notice.

And granted, I have ADHD and PTSD so I certainly have trouble focusing and other challenges that affect the cognitive process. I don’t think having these challenges makes a person unintelligent and I have always been placed in gifted classes and excelled academically so I know from experience cognitive impairments or conditions and intelligence are not exclusive concepts. Despite that, I opened up about some of my issues and it was like blood in the water for sharks. Suddenly every time there was an issue or a mistake, it came back to me and, ironically, *always* had to do with my something that might be attributed to one of my conditions. It was pervasive and constant and even now, I am not sure it was undeserved. I question if maybe I have been able to fool everybody into thinking I am a harder worker than I am, maybe more consistent, more talented, or far more intelligent than I am.

It has gotten to the point where if enough people from one group do it, you question how it could possibly be all of them and not you? Occam’s razor, right? Simplest explanation is typically the most likely and what’s more likely: a handful of people think I am a complete idiot and drain on the team and they are being unfair, or they are right? Right is the simplest answer and I’m still not convinced it isn’t *the* answer.

It has gotten so stifling that I, an extremely motivated person, have just wanted to avoid the environment all together. I think often how I have a history of not meeting my own standards, health issues, and now this, so it couldn’t possibly be anything other than me. I feel like a parasite with nothing to offer and as if my strengths have been mythologized by somebody (me) who can deliver nothing other than big promises and ideas but isn’t capable of actualizing them.

Then today I was organizing some things and came across the most recent cognitive testing I had through a psychiatrist to justify continuing my ADHD diagnosis. This person did not know me outside of the session, had never met me before, and only observed my performance during a 6 hour period of testing and questioning. I will admit, it is a huge comfort to see it given how I have felt about myself but this isn’t to brag so much as to show how starkly different a professional’s assessment is from office gossip, despite the latter having significantly greater weight on how I perceive my own abilities.

*These scores were based on the range of scores for women of my age at the I took it (I believe it also controlled for some other factors but forget).

Verbal Comprehension: composite score 136, 99th percentile
Perceptual Reasoning: composite score: 109, 73rd percentile
Working memory: composite score 117, 87th percentile
Processing speed: composite score 105, 63rd percentile
Full Scale IQ: composite score 121, 92nd percentile (his range topped at 124 because they can’t be entirely accurate)

121 IQ, depending on the scale you use, is labelled either gifted, superior intellect, or above average intelligence. I was given my first IQ test (that I remember) as early as 9 and this test is consistent with all of the assessments I have had in the last 20 years. Before I saw this, I felt like trash to be thrown away because I have nothing to offer the world and can only be a drain on it. I still feel that way but the rational part of me checks that a little.

Long story short: if enough people think the same thing about you, it starts to echo and amplify to a point that it drowns out everything else, including more reliable evidence that suggests the opposite. It’s still hard not to buy into it but if you feel like you’re losing your grip on what you think you’re capable of doing, pause for a second and try to find another reliable, unbiased source of information before you accept the verdict you’re about to drop on yourself.

 

*I found the amazing image I used for this post here. 

The Law of Attraction: why do some people tend to attract creeps and bullies?

Sometimes I wonder if experiencing trauma for extended periods, usually at the hands of those responsible for your care from a young age, has this gradual and invisible branding process. If your jugular, the back of your skull, your confidence, whatever, is the most often exposed, that becomes your branding site, like the way routine traffic through your house tends to wear paths on some of the flooring. It is easier to tell which paths get used the most, walked over the most, stepped on the most and it becomes so commonplace, nobody really thinks of it as anything beyond the way it was made to be.

I wonder if we’re all flooring and some of us by happenstance got placed where the most traffic occurs so the environments we are in change us naturally. It seems, no matter how many thousands of miles I might be from the homes where I was first laid as flooring, people look at me and, as if making practical decisions about which tiles to lay where, note the signs of wear on me and pragmatically put me in places where I will endure more wear as opposed to sacrificing the quality of the more intact flooring. It’s that or I’m branded. It has to be. At least I feel like it has to be because the only other explanation is that I am by some nature meant to feel like this, that I bring it on–and I don’t know if I could settle into the idea of living the rest of my life, however long that might be, under that reality.

My brand is on my throat, right below the jaw on the right side of my face, where if I tilt it just right and lightly touch it with my fingertips, I can feel the frothy spit lazily ooze from the corner of my eye down down my cheek until it pools in that festering, infected spot. That’s my brand, my symbol that tells people, mostly men, who are injured who are angry, that I have been walked on before, that I was made to be walked on and somebody determined it so decidedly he burned it into my skin. And even if most people can’t see it, any man within a thousand miles who has aggression he wants to act on without fear of consequence can see it, like a dusty bat signal outside of a strip club. But instead of being objectified in the name of carnal pleasures a target is painted on me for fulfilling animal aggressions in white collar ways. Regardless, it all comes down to power and I feel as if I will always be branded for hunting.