National Mental Health Awareness Week

What is mental illness?

nami 2A mental illness is a medical condition that disrupts a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are medical conditions that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.

Serious mental illnesses include major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and borderline personality disorder. The good news about mental illness is that recovery is possible.

Mental illnesses can affect persons of any age, race, religion or income. Mental illnesses are not the result of personal weakness, lack of character or poor upbringing. Mental illnesses are treatable. Most people diagnosed with a serious mental illness can experience relief from their symptoms by actively participating in an individual treatment plan.

Learn more about treatment and services that assist individuals in recovery.

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Find out more about a specific mental illness:

Find out more about conditions sometimes related to mental illness:

What does recovery look like?

As people become familiar with their illness, they recognize their own unique patterns of behavior. If individuals recognize these signs and seek effective and timely care, they can often prevent relapses. However, because mental illnesses have no cure, treatment must be continuous.

Individuals who live with a mental illness also benefit tremendously from taking responsibility for their own recovery. Once the illness is adequately managed, one must monitor potential side effects.

The notion of recovery involves a variety of perspectives. Recovery is a holistic process that includes traditional elements of mental health and aspects that extend beyond medication. Recovery from serious mental illness also includes attaining, and maintaining, physical health as another cornerstone of wellness.

The recovery journey is unique for each individual. There are several definitions of recovery; some grounded in medical and clinical values, some grounded in context of community and some in successful living. One of the most important principles is this: recovery is a process, not an event. The uniqueness and individual nature of recovery must be honored. While serious mental illness impacts individuals in many ways, the concept that all individuals can move towards wellness is paramount.

Merely Agog

Mental illness by the numbers

Check out NAMI’s fact sheet, Mental Illness: Facts and Numbers, to find out more about mental illness.

(Thanks to Kitt O’Malley for posting the information from the NAMI website.)

Mildred’s Grog

Mildred's Grog

Oh, for a cup of grog.  Or a hot toddy.  Just when I thought I was shaking off the annual lung crud, I’m back to being feverish and sore-throatish.  Methinks a secondary infection is taking naughty advantage of me.  I’m afraid this means a trip to the quack on Monday if this new development doesn’t skedaddle by then.  Poo.  Ah, well.  At least the first round of depression has come and gone.  That’s lovely.  So much easier to deal with one bully at a time.

Alrighty, Then

Gee, You Look Old

You’re minding your own business, washing your hands at the bathroom sink, when you look up in the mirror and freeze.  Is that really what I look like now?  Holy Methuselah, Batman!  You lean in, touch the flesh, pull it tight, let it flop back into place.  You bare your teeth.  That’s not the color I remember.  Leaning into the sink gives your back a twinge, but get close and look into the eyes (not the bags around them).  You see something familiar.  Blink.  Look again.  Ah, there I am.

With a deep breath, you can straighten up.  And Ace Ventura comes out of your mouth:

Follow Your Wild Self

Follow Your Wild Self

Just a pretty while I work my way through this year’s case of bronchitis.  It’s not so bad.  I’m eating what I want (lots of Häagenn Dazs bars) and shuffling from bed to chair either watching episodes of Call the Midwife, or cruising Pinterest, or sleeping.  The weather is fine, so the windows are open and the boys enjoy the sniffs as well as burrowing under the covers with me.  Maybe it won’t take until October to de-crap my lungs this time.  Wild hope.

Pulling the Plug

I am What I amAfter my session with Luke Skywalker yesterday morning, I decided it was time to call it quits on my stint as a Peer Support Specialist.  I’m quite proud of myself for hanging in as long as I did, and for staying relatively stable through the stress and uncertainty.  I learned a lot about what I need and what I will tolerate.  But, I have bronchitis now, and that means being sick for at least a month.  I was waiting for something to tip the balance on whether to stay or go, and this is it.

The part of me that thinks in black and white wants to consider this a failure, but I’m not having any of that.  I may be returning to a less stressful life, but I’m not the same person I was when this whole job journey started.  I’m more flexible and resilient than I was.  I bring all that back with me.  And, who knows?  There still might be a job out there for me.  But, first, there’s bed and Kleenex.

The Magic of Showing Up

Collage art, Greeting cardsI figured flying to England and back would give me a cold.  And I thought the spotty sleep over there mixed with the inevitable drop in adrenaline might bring on depression.  Check and Check.  What I really hoped for, though, was magic.  Alas, no.

I hoped a break from this weird job I started in July might help me see a clear path.  Stay or Go?  Jump in with both feet and start setting up mental wellness support groups?  Or resign and look for a position with less chaos, less pressure, less ambiguity?  You’d think leaving the freaking country might shift one’s perspective, throw a little light into the shadows, turn the fire up under the subconscious, but no.  I’m still sitting just as squarely on the fence, the pros and cons equally balanced.  I’m still in this Neither/Nor space—not able to fully commit, but not able to back away.

Sick and depressed, the impulse is to quit, crawl back into my safe, old life and nurse myself back to health.  But, I don’t know if going back is the answer.  I’ve spent the last two months pushing my Distress Tolerance envelope, and now I have this new space around me.  When the impulse says, “Run!” I can actually take a step back from it and answer, “Wait.”  And when I do that, the emotion and the thoughts settle down, and I simply show up for whatever is in front of me.  Sure, I could take this skill back to my old life, but I’ve had a taste of more.  I can have more if I just wait and stay present.

Yesterday, I felt too funky, physically and mentally, to meet my friend, but I also knew it would be good for me to get out of the apartment and into the sunshine.  So, I went.  Allison and I get together to write, which is always good, and to connect, which is even better.  We sat in our booth, doing our thing, aware of the noise in the booth behind us—two very young mothers with their combined litter of small children eating lunch—when it suddenly got very quiet.  We had heard the bonk of a little head hitting something hard and anticipated the bawl that would follow.  We both turned and saw that the baby was choking.

Allison asked the mother if she needed help, and she rushed the toddler to our booth.  I picked him up without thinking, and started doing the Heimlich.  One.  Two.  Three.  Four.  Out flew a wad of chewed food.  And he started crying.

The mother grabbed him and the whole crew went back to their booth.

I looked at the baby crying in his mother’s arms.  I looked at Allison.  She looked at me.

“I’m glad I showed up today,” I told her.

I believe in synchronisity and looking for lessons in the moment.  But, this was a little much.  My legs felt like jelly as I walked to my car.

Just Show Up.

Well, I asked for magic, didn’t I?

 

Ghosts in the Fence-Line

She's a FighterA friend once introduced me by saying, “This is Sandy—she has shitty boundaries.”

At the time, he was absolutely right.

I was coerced into a sexual relationship by a doctor who was treating me.  One of my therapists was a sexual predator.  I didn’t see either of them coming.

Since then, I’ve worked hard at keeping control of my own power.  It still takes time to realize I’m being stepped on or pushed, but when the lightbulb goes off, I push back now.  It’s difficult and painful, since the old traumas tend to rise from their graves when I stand up for myself.  I’m told this is a form of PTSD.  Great.  One more acronym for my file.

Like everything else, if it takes too much effort to push back, or the discomfort of it is too much, I bolt.  Run from the danger, run from the past, run-run-run.  But, I’m working hard at that, too—working to stretch my tolerance for distress, which includes the distress of planting my fence posts in the ground and defending them.

I had to do that at work this past week.  I have a set schedule that I can count on now—1:30-4:30, Monday-Friday.  I can plan around it.  I can plan on it.  But some of my co-workers keep trying to undermine it.  “Can you meet with a client at 10:00?”  No.  “Can you come with me at 1:00?”  No.  “If you could flex a bit,” they say.  Or the last straw for me on Monday—”We can wait until you’re ready.”  Ready for what?  To be valid?  To be Normal?

I watched my brain do it’s thing—thrash around with the Ghosts of Boundaries Lost and make preparations to quit the job.  But, then a miracle happened.  I’ve been watching this s-l-o-w shift for a while now.  It’s like my mind puffs out, a little more air in the pink balloon up there, and other options present themselves.  Suddenly, I remembered that my boss is on my side, that she wants me on the team.  So, I sent her a careful email.  “Help.  Do you have any ideas?”

Her response was immediate.  “I didn’t know this was happening.  I’m sorry.  It will never happen again—I’ll make sure of it.”

So, when I met with Luke Skywalker yesterday (my interim therapist), the Ghosts were swirling.  Just walking into his office brings them up anyway—he’s my care-provider, he’s a guy.  The Crypt yawns wide.  He gave me some options—stick them back in the vault for the time being and play a game of Uno with him instead or take them on.  I’m not one for pussy-footing, so I said, “Come on, let’s go.”

Most of that work yesterday was simply staying with the feelings as they rose and fell—terror, shame, guilt, self-hatred, self-recrimination.  There were moments I couldn’t catch my breath, moments I cried so hard it scared me worse than the emotion.  As I write about it now, a sudden swell of despair passes through me.  It’s so strong it washes in the idea that death would stop the pain.  The return of that old impulse, however fleeting, shocks me.  And pisses me off.  How dare those old perverts still have any control over me!

It’s always a restless night when the Ghosts swarm, so I’m heading off to the pool a little bleary-eyed and emotionally hung-over.   But, I’m heading off to the pool.  And then to my new therapy group, and then to work.  Because I’m getting good at mending my fences.  And I’ve got the barbed wire scars to prove it.

The Other Shoe

It was inevitable.  Stress + Bipolar Disorder = Bipolar Disorder.

Also a Dark SideI flopped around all yesterday morning, hoping this dive might even out before it was time to go in to work, but, alas, no.  So, I Instant Messaged my boss and a couple of my co-workers, and tried not to feel like a dip-shit on top of the bipolar mess.

It’s still really hard for me to believe that a workplace—any workplace—will put up with my limitations as an employee.  On top of what we’ve already negotiated, I have these days—these unpredictable absences.  They’re why I’ve lost or quit every other job I’ve ever had.  But, so far, everyone seems very cool about it.  More than that, all the responses have been incredibly kind and supportive.

Don’t worry.  Take care of yourself.  Sending Light and Healing.

I honestly don’t know what to do with that.  It’s a completely new experience for me.  And I’m afraid to trust it.

I’m also in a deep dive, so whatever my brain is churning out is unreliable.  My best course is to ignore all thought happening up there and concentrate on clearing an easy path through the weekend.

ITS FamilyPart of that will be to indulge in a little Richard Armitage.  His new movie “Into the Storm” is out this weekend.  It’s basically a horror movie with a killer tornado as the monster.  It’s special effects-driven—bad news for an actual story or interesting characters.  Oh, well.  It’s Richard.  And when I meet him in London (because I will wait at the stage door with the rest of the Armitage Army), I can tell him his Midwestern accent was spot-on.

I’m also going to Anytime Fitness since the Y is closed for cleaning.  Losing my pool for a whole week always throws me, so I knew I needed a real option this year.  They’ve got a nice recumbent bike, and I’ve got my iPod.  It will work.

I also started working on new cards with the old photos I found at my parents’ house.  I haven’t felt like doing art for a long time, but I know how it can help keep keep my brain busy on something positive.  I will make myself sit at my art table.  Something will come of it.

So, there’s A Plan.  And there’s Acceptance.  And there’s Waiting.

And that’s the best a bipolar girl can do when it’s raining shoes.

A Reluctant Rock-Star

Miss RockstarThese past four weeks have taught me a few things about work and me in a post-electroshock, ongoing-recovery age.

First, I need a steady schedule.  Routine is my best friend.  Without it I become crazy batter waiting for a nice oven to turn me into cupcakes.

Second, I need a place to use my skills.  I do have some and like to trot them out on occasion, if only to remind myself what they are.

Third, I’m pretty good at handling a crisis, but it takes a toll on me.  There’s a reason I never worked in an emergency room or intensive care.  Some people thrive on that adrenaline rush.  Me, it just makes hysterical.

So as I tallied up the week’s events at work, I noticed a disturbing trend.  My schedule resumed its rubber ball act, trying to land on all the meetings we’re forced to attend.  I spent most of my time making cold-calls to crazy people who really didn’t want what I was selling.  And everyday brought some kind of client crisis.

I knew it was a risk to campaign for a job that no one could describe.  I had no idea what I was getting into, but I was willing to wait and see what happened.  After sticking it out for a month, I decided it was time to pull the plug.  I typed up a resignation letter and gave it to my boss today.

I felt good about it.  Four weeks working in chaos and on a learning curve like the Himalayas felt like success to me.  I hadn’t blown up in a bipolar blitz.  I even contributed.  I could leave gracefully, without torching any bridges.  I looked forward to recovering from the stress and getting back to TechCon.  I’d left Carrie and Robert alone for too long.

But my boss had other ideas.  She simply refused to accept my resignation.  I can’t remember all the incredible things she said about me, but it was clear she would do anything to make me stay.  I needed a set schedule?  Done.  Never mind that the government says some meetings are mandatory.  “I will take care of it,” she said, “because this is what you need.”

I don’t like making the enrollment calls?  Forget about them.  I’m uncomfortable dealing with clients in crisis?  Let the Care Coordinators do that.  So, what the heck would I be doing?

I’m to be a consultant for the rest of the team and maybe, if I feel like it, work with a few clients each week.

Are you shittin‘ me?

What do you do when someone values you so much they take away every obstacle?

Jeez, I guess you stay.

Stronger and More Frayed

Vistas of BewildermentMiraculously, I’ve finished another week of work.  My life is both easier and harder.  Holding this paradox seems to be the Work set before me.

Easier:  Mom left me her 2011 Honda CRV, a car with features and comforts I never thought I’d have again.  I can hardly believe it’s mine.  After scraping a few dollars off the top of my disability check each month to save for a Smart Car, this thing of luxury dropped into my lap (or parking lot).  The first time I filled the gas tank, I cried.  It cost about half of what it took to fill my dad’s truck.

When Mom bought the car after Dad died, she said to me, “You know you’ll probably get this soon.”  It was just one of hundreds of references she made to her own death (It’s that thing old people do—”I won’t be around much longer, so you better…”).  I didn’t pay much attention.  I was glad she had a zippy little car that she loved.  Driving made her feel safe and in control.  I absolutely understand that.

Harder:  My schedule at work is all over the place—mornings, afternoons, mid-day.  I’ve told my supervisor that I need consistency.  I need time for my own self-care, and I need to be able to depend on it.  I’ve tried to hold my fifteen hours a week to afternoons, but this week was the worst so far.  And it’s all to make sure I attend an endless parade of mind-numbing meetings.  Some of them have been important—orientation to the organization, introductions to other agencies working with us, procedure—but most are irrelevant to my position.  Our boss wants us all to be cross-trained.  Part of that, I think, comes from not knowing what our jobs really are yet.  But the more of these meeting I go to, the more I can see what’s mine and what’s not mine to own.

Easier:   My boss relented on the meetings.  She created a buddy system, so my buddy will let me know if I miss anything important.  That allowed me to take charge of my own schedule.  I’m working 1:30-4:30 every day starting next week.  Good for me, but also good for the team.  Now they know when I’ll be available for client interviews and care conferences (what I should be doing).

Harder:  I had built up a reservoir of stability with my routine and daily monitoring.  That’s used up.  Everyday is a fight to turn my fear and negativity around.  Everyday I feel myself sliding toward lethargy and old habits.  I’m hypersensitive and my concentration is fragmenting.  I can still see it happening.  I can still pause, breathe, and choose not to react, but I’m getting so tired.

Yesterday I had to leave a meeting.  The woman leading it was one of those people who starts a sentence, restarts it, jumps to another topic, restarts that sentence and never gets to the point.  I know a couple of people like this.  They drive me ape-shit.  It’s a neurological thing—my nerves want to grab them by the throat.

Luckily, it was the end of my day, and I ran to the Chinese restaurant to eat lunch, listen to my iPod and journal.  It helped, but I’m not getting back to my set point like I used to.  I’m not able to repair the damage each day all this stress creates.  It’s only a matter of time before I really blow.

Easier:  Our parents left us some money.  It’s not enough to live on the rest of my life, but it will give me some breathing room.  I can do my laundry every week.  I can get some work clothes.  I can even plan a trip to the Southwest this winter to see if more sun and open space will keep me from needing hospital-level care come spring.  Poverty has been the biggest stressor in my life.  Mom and Dad knew that.  They planned their last act of love carefully to ease that for me.  I’m so grateful.

No matter what happens, no matter how the easy and the hard continue to play against each other, I am a success.  I have gone to work every day for three weeks.  That’s a miracle.  Walking through the office door is a miracle.  Waking up and doing it again is a miracle.  Even if it all stops today, I’ve triumphed.  No one can take that away from me.  It’s all mine.

Man, I freakin’ rock.

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