Ramblings

So, I sat down at my laptop today to try to do some creative writing, since I was in a strange mood and also because I haven’t set any time aside for non-academic writing since the semester started. What followed was pretty unnerving, when I re-read it. Mostly, because I can’t tell if it makes any sense at all, or an uncanny amount of sense. It’s probably just the former, and I’m still thinking strangely. 

For the bored or curious, here’s my semi-psychotic rant:

Life, you know, is madness.

Well, I believe the term used is “absurdity.”

The term used by philosophers. They chose well.

Absurdity. Not many people get it, if one really can get it (and I believe I have.)

Evokes laughter, doesn’t it?

Laughter. Yes. I laugh a lot, don’t I?

At the absurdity. At everything. Well, it’s all one and the same, really. You see, I’ve realized that laughter isn’t madness. It’s the most natural response in the face of the cold, serpentine gaze of “reality.”

Why?

Well.

I’ll tell you. Ha.

The meaninglessness of everything gets to a person rather quickly, once you accept that as the truth. Life was a random accident, evolution, a curious coincidence. All we are, all we do—it’s all temporary in the face of the void beyond the existence we know. (Assuming, of course, I’m right. This is all assuming I’m right…)

Yes, we can search for meaning. We can create meaning. I’ve done plenty of searching myself. Lots and lots of searching. But when we die—what then?

I was afraid of sleep once, you know. Death, while awake, you can mostly see coming—sure, sure, there’s the occasional split-second freight train accident and such. But for the most part, you feel the pain and know it’s coming. But sleep, death’s bastard brother, is much more sneaky than life, when it comes to its dealings with death. One minute, you’re dreaming, the next moment, you’re not. So simple. So completely fucking terrifying.

Don’t worry. I can sleep now.

Most nights.

I once visited a cadaver lab, as a student. I was making jokes the whole time, which my fellow students either appreciated or tried to ignore (the ones that weren’t passing out from the mere sight of the gray-skinned, well-preserved, bony corpses, that is.)

The one I dissected was an old lady. Had been an old lady, in life. Now, it was a cadaver. Of course, hair, clothing, eyeballs… that was all gone.

When we got to the stomach, the girl to my right passed out. I helped catch her, keep her from heading face-first into the cadaver’s open body cavity, and the professors led her into the hallway.

Once they were gone, curiosity overcame me.

I had to see the face (so tastefully covered with a towel.)

So I pulled off the white, stained towel, to look the corpse in the eyes. Sockets.

Was it grinning? It seemed that way for just a moment.

I left that day thinking of laughter in the face of death.

That’s why I laugh. You see now.

If I weren’t laughing, I’d be crying.

Those empty eyesockets beheld a terrible truth. They saw non-existence itself.

Laughter, madness, sanity, solemnity…

(Perhaps I am the sane one.)

(I know why skulls grin.

Yes, perhaps it has to do with having no lips.

Perhaps.

But maybe, just maybe, it’s because they know the terrible, mind-crushing, amusing truth.)

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Unfamiliar Territory

So things really haven’t changed much since my last post–which is great. Really. It is. But why do I feel so… I don’t know, weird?

I haven’t had any delusional incidents with knives, or any crickets conspiring against me, or imaginary voices keeping me awake at night (which managed to be as annoying as it was disturbing), or the urge for suicide. 

I’m setting aside time for my friends, I’m enjoying my classes, I’m finding the time for things I enjoy doing. 

So… why the hell do I feel like I don’t know what to do with myself?

Don’t get me wrong–I’m definitely not complaining. I wouldn’t want to backtrack for all the money in the world (and as a typically poor college student, I think that’s saying something). 

It’s more like… when you’ve been in a room with loud music playing and suddenly the music stops, but it still echoes in your mind and you still find yourself shouting to be heard, even though the room is quiet now. 

Unclear? Here’s a better example, then. 

It’s like when you’ve spent most of your life, if not the whole thing, living in literal darkness. Underground, maybe. Or in the shadows. It doesn’t matter. But then suddenly you discover the light–and your eyes have to take a while to adjust, but once they do, the daytime world is worth seeing. 

My mental eyes are adjusting, I think. 

I guess a person doesn’t go from severe, psychotic depression to “normality” overnight. There’s a transition involved. 

It’s a transition I’m willing to make. 

I may have wandered into unfamiliar territory here, but… I plan on staying. 

The Thing with Feathers

Happy belated New Year, everyone. I know I’ve been absent for quite a while; the end of my semester got really busy. It turned out well, though. I’m proud.

I’m proud of something else, too, and that would be my progress with my own mental health. I’ve been doing really well lately. And I’ve realized something, too. Discovered something, rather. Something I’ve never let myself become acquainted with before.

No, not alcohol.

Hope.

In an earlier post, I compared my mental illness to a corvid, always with scaly talons digging into their perch (my shoulder) and inky black eyes watching my every move. To continue the bird symbolism, my hope for my own future is a fledgeling right now.

I’m keeping it from leaping off because I’m afraid it might fall and die.

At least, however, I’m keeping it alive.

I’ve never allowed myself to have hope about the future, to have hope that things wouldn’t always be the way they were for me. But somehow, as things have gotten better, I’ve started looking up, so to speak.

And I’m doing well. I haven’t felt this good about my life in years. Things are going great for me–relationships with others, my classes, my lack of psychotic breaks lately–and I have no immediate reason to believe this will change. And even if they do, I’ve already come to the realization that misery really can be only temporary, and that is a realization that I hope will stick with me.

Who knows, maybe my new outlook on life will grow and take wing.

I know that my mental illness will always be my dark companion, but I can ignore it now and focus on my future.

New year.

New attitude.

Yeah, things are looking pretty good.

Ghosts

I think I’ve hinted at this before, but I am a terribly haunted person. I’m plagued by phantoms of my past. Memories like ghosts. I’m trying to move on, and I’ve made progress overall, I think, even though it seems like for every three steps I take in the right direction I fall back two more.

I’ve been having disturbing, compulsive thoughts lately, and I admit that I am writing this at this very moment in part to distract me. And where does my mind tend to wander when I let it? To my past.

I’m going to write about one of my worst memories here, one of the many events in my life that have made me who and what I am. A warning: this is a pretty dark memory, and if you don’t care to read something troubling at the moment or if you think it might trigger an episode within yourself, please, by all means, go read something else.

For anyone left, here we go.

Rewind time to several years ago–I was still in middle school, living with my mother and my brother and sisters. My biological father was still in the picture, and I had not even met my adopted father yet. My father had, at this point, nearly killed me and had sent me to the hospital a few times, but this memory is not about one of those times.

My parents fought often, as they always did, and usually, things ended violently, though it was never my mom doing any of the violence. Frequently, I would collect my frightened and/or crying siblings and take them upstairs to the spare room, shut the door, and pop in a Star Wars DVD and turn the volume on the sound system up. Eventually, they would become engrossed in the movie, and since this often happened late at night, they would fall asleep. And I would sit and worry, and sometimes, if they were all three asleep, I would sneak out of the room to listen at the top of the stairs, and worry some more (what I heard there was never reassuring.)

On one particular night, my parents were in their room fighting. Well, shouting loudly. The fighting hadn’t begun yet. It happened in a flash–my father traded berating my mom in favor of hitting her.

Then, he drew the gun from the closet. And aimed it at her.

I was terrified. In that moment, I was certain he would kill her. I was sure of it. And in my stress and terror, I really think I dissociated a little bit, because this next part felt more like I was watching myself do it.

I ran to the kitchen and got the biggest knife I could find (and my mother, being quite the culinary expert, had more than a collection of kitchen tools) and then dashed back to the room.

The son of a bitch, my father, had his back to me, and only my mother saw me approach. She wanted me to leave, I know it, but I couldn’t. I was going to kill him and end this once and for all, in my early-teenage mind.

Did I mention that my father was a muscular ex-Naval officer?

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that when I held the knife to his neck, he easily twisted it away from me, tossed it to the ground as easily as he had my self-confidence and trust in people.

But he had set down the gun to do it. For just a few seconds.

It was enough.

My mother had dashed forward and obtained the gun.

“Get out,” she commanded to him.

He stood there, I swear to god, with a grin on his face. My mom repeated her statement, and he shook his head and walked–out of the room, out of the hallway, out of the house. I ran to the door and locked it.

I was shaking, physically. My mom and my family were safe; I expected to feel relief.

Instead, I wanted to die. I was miserable and confused and my heart was racing. I went to the kitchen, grabbed a bottle of wine that belonged to my mother as well as a plastic glass, and sat down at the table, and succeeded in leaving my mind for a little while. I managed not to pass out at the table, and must have dragged myself to my room first, because the next morning, I woke up on floor.

It was the first and only time I had intentionally drunk to get, well, drunk. Afterward I vowed that I would not allow myself to self-medicate my misery with alcohol again, and though at times it’s come close, I’ve managed to hold by that promise to myself. Because ultimately I know that if I started, I would not be able to stop, and that is not how I want to end up.

So, there you have it. I’ve revealed one of the ghosts that stalk the corridors of my mind. And to be honest, I do feel a little better now. Reflecting on this incident from my past has reminded my that my situation is better now. My mom is now happily married to a genuinely great guy who is proud to be my father, I hear my siblings are doing well in school, and none of us have heard from my monster of a biological father.

I don’t feel entirely better, but at least reminding myself that that situation is far in the past helps with my mood a little.

Coming Out of the “Crazy” Closet

It’s tough to be mentally ill, especially with a psychotic disorder, especially around Halloween. It’s even tougher than it has to be because people equate “mentally ill” with “dangerous,” and this is not the case. I can’t help but spout the statistic here that most people who are mentally ill are non-violent, and most violent criminals are not mentally ill. But the media perpetuate this stereotype, as I discussed in an older post. This is especially true around this time of year. And let me be clear here: I love horror films. I’ve been enjoying watching as many as I have time to watch on TV the past few weeks. I love the old Psycho, Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Hellraiser, and all their cheesy sequels that are as much fun to laugh at as the originals were creepy. And the list goes on. But I, unlike so many others, am capable of realizing that the depiction of mental illness in these films is no more real than the zombies in The Walking Dead, or the superpowers in The Avengers.

A lot of people, unfortunately, aren’t.

This stems from the fact that many people don’t believe they are exposed to real people with mental illnesses outside of the movies (I say “believe” here because chances are they do indeed know someone with a mental illness and just don’t realize it.) The few studies that have been done on the impact of film on stigma of mental illness indicate it really does have a negative impact because of this (I’ve been doing a lot of research on this lately for a presentation I’m putting together for one of my classes.) The news media also don’t help; news channels are likely to showcase sensational stories about people with mental illnesses committing crimes.

All of these leads to the fact that most people with mental illnesses don’t go around talking about it, especially not those who are able to hide their mental illnesses from the general public. This is bad because it creates more stress on the mentally ill who hide their illness, and also because people who hide it tend to internalize the negative stereotypes of people with mental illnesses and of mental health practitioners (if anyone is portrayed almost as badly as the mentally ill, it’s mental health professionals, who are also likely to be insane killers in films) and not want to seek the care they need.

I admit here, even I’ve been very closed about my psychotic depression in the past, not on this blog, but in my real life. But I’m becoming more open. Many of my friends at the university are aware I have psychotic depression, and this gave me the opportunity to educate them about mental illnesses and show them with an example (myself) that people with mental illnesses are just people, not inhuman monsters. I’m becoming more open in general, too. No, I don’t go around telling everyone who will listen intimate details about my suicide attempts or psychotic breaks. Rather, when people ask why I’m a psychology major, or why I’m so determined to eventually get my Ph.D. in clinical psychology, I explain that I have some experience in the field, on the patient end.

If they regard me as crazy after that, they at least don’t show it. But I’ve realized it’s really hard to be a mental health advocate when you aren’t being honest about your own mental health. Serving as a human example also makes the arguments of mental health advocacy more powerful, I think. I’ve also decided to find what mental health advocacy groups the university has, and if there are none, possibly start one myself with a group of people.

So, that’s it. I’m becoming more open. I don’t expect to face no adversity at all for this, but rather, I’m willing to face whatever I face.

It can’t be worse than sitting in shamed silence when a clueless friend casually mentions “crazies in straightjackets.”

Here we go.

Emotionality and Me

I was talking to my therapist yesterday, and she brought to my attention my ever-flat affect. We discussed my lack of emotionality, and she told me that I likely dissociated from my emotions as a child. Basically, it went like this: when all I felt was pain, my mind basically said to itself, “Well, if this is what it means to feel emotions, this sucks,” and for the most part cut itself off from emotions to protect me. With the notable exception of anger. Even if I don’t always express it, anger is the one emotion that has been my constant companion for years.

However, now that I am no longer in constant immediate danger, this lack of ability to properly feel and express emotions is sort of a problem. I long ago realized that it made it difficult for me to empathize with people–a large part of empathy is sharing in others’ joys and sorrow, and my version of joy or sorrow is but an empty shell of what I once felt and what I believe others feel. This effectively leaves me feeling isolated, even when surrounded by friends.

I often feel numb. Sometimes, I imagine I should be feeling something, but it eludes me. It’s true; I sometimes feel nothing at all. That used to scare me, but I think I got used to it somewhere along the way, which somehow makes it all the worse.

I could try to work on changing on all this, but there are two problems with that, the first being that I don’t know how. The other issue is something that may exist only in my head, but it’s a very real issue to me: I more or less know who I am with low emotionality. What would happen if I were to suddenly become a very emotional person? I feel like I wouldn’t know myself anymore. Would I seem like a different person? I don’t know. Because as much as I sometimes feel numb and alienated, I at least know who I am.

Guns For the Mentally Ill?

In the United States, those with mental illnesses severe enough to land them in psychiatric wards are not supposed to have guns by federal law. As someone with a mental illness (that did indeed lead to my being put temporarily in a psychiatric ward) and as someone who would like very much to own a gun, I’m not sure how I feel about this.

First thing’s first: you’re probably wondering why I want a gun so badly. Well, the answer is self-defense–I’m paranoid of people breaking in. I know what they say, that Americans love their guns, but really, the fact of the matter is this: in a country where guns are legal, it may be necessary to own a gun to defend yourself against them. If guns were outlawed by some kind of blanket federal rule, then no, I probably would not want to own a gun. But that is a very unlikely event.

But in the wake of Virginia Tech disaster, the public panicked, and the bureaucrats needed to reassure people that laws would be put in place to help prevent it from happening again. They accomplished this by targeting the mentally ill.

Now, yes, Cho (the VT shooter) was severely mentally ill. And obviously, he was violent. Yet this does not mean that the mentally ill population at large is any more likely to be violent than the sane population. But here’s the thing: the law does not apply to everyone with a diagnosis of a mental illness. If it did, then I would absolutely be against it.

The law only applies to those mentally ill who were committed, due to representing a threat to oneself or others.

And this seems to make sense to me. I mean, why hand a gun to someone who in the past had to be put away from society to prevent him from committing a suicide or homicide? And yet, again, as someone with a mental illness, it kind of stings.

I mean, other factors, including gender, are more likely to contribute to violence than mental illness is. Should we then ban all men (the most likely population to be violent) from having guns? Somehow I don’t think that would go down too well.

After doing a bit of research, I believe the law only applies to those who were involuntarily committed. As I was officially voluntarily committed, (I had zero choice in the matter; I simply did not resist being sent to the hospital and so my psychologist had no need to call it involuntary) I believe this means I could still legally own a gun.

But still, the law bothers me.

 

Hanging On

I haven’t posted anything the last few days because I haven’t felt up to even doing that. I’ve just been so miserable lately, for no reason at all. Times like these, my psychologist reminds me, are due to the neurochemical aspect of my mental illness.

So here I am, in the pit of despair, to the point of even wondering what is keeping me going.

I see my psychologist today. I’m actually looking forward to it. I need someone to talk to right about now.

I feel like I’m hanging on to the edge of a steep cliff. Let go, and wham! I’ll hit the bottom hard, and I probably won’t survive the fall. But my grip on the edge is holding. I’m not letting go. Even if I feel the strain of hanging on, even if my fingers are starting to go numb and white, I’m not letting go. I’ve worked too hard to throw it all away.

Like the Passing of a Dream

Last night I found myself afflicted with a bizarre, psychosis-fueled insomnia. I found I couldn’t sleep, and my thoughts were picking up speed like a freight train and becoming obsessive.

I lay in my bed, staring at the ceiling, when suddenly, I “realized” it. I was the only one in the world who could see what was wrong with world; I was so special. And it was my job–my duty to fix it. I was meant to. I almost felt a sense of divine purpose.

And as I lay there stricken with delusional thought, my eyes brimmed with tears.

It was so wonderful, so powerful. I thought I had been appointed a sense of purpose, perhaps from some higher being. My mind was totally enraptured by the idea.

Then, eventually, the psychosis passed as it ever does, and I was left grounded abruptly in reality, my delusion shattering at my feet. And I was not some kind of messiah. I was just another member of humanity.

I had not realized anything.

And this is how I fell asleep.

Understanding the Un-understandable

“We are not ourselves/ When nature, being oppress’d, commands the mind/ To suffer with the body” –William Shakespeare, King Lear

We are not ourselves, indeed. I was talking to my mother the other day, and during the conversation I realized that the hardest part of having a daughter with mental illness, second perhaps only to seeing me suffer, must be not understanding it. She had asked me why I couldn’t try to ask myself if what I was thinking was rational if I felt a psychotic episode coming on. I tried explaining that I didn’t know when I was splitting with reality, that my thoughts always seem perfectly normal and logical at the time. But I don’t think she understood.

After detecting that something was wrong during the course of our conversation, I asked her about it. She told me that her best friend had attempted suicide, and her friend’s mother had called her, as per her friend’s written request, to inform her. Her friend is currently still in the hospital, in an induced coma. My mother was deeply hurt.

“I made her promise me she’d call me if things got bad again,” she told me tearfully. “Why didn’t she call me?”

Not only was she terribly sad about the whole ordeal, but she was also furious with her best friend. She told me repeatedly, “How could anyone be so selfish? People don’t realize the hurt that they cause when they do this.”

First, I did my best to calm my mother down. Then, I explained to her that when someone is in that state of mind, he or she is not thinking rationally. Even promises made to best friends become meaningless. Everything grows meaningless, and the dismal “truth” looms ever greater against the horizon of suffering: the only way out is death.

When my mom continued to press the “selfish” thing, I asked gently if maybe it was a little selfish to think immediately of the pain that she was feeling, and to try to imagine the pain that her friend must have been feeling. I told her that when (I was careful not to say “if”, though in all honesty, her recovery is a great uncertainty) her friend recovers, she should go visit her, and not to “kick her ass” as she had stated earlier, but to offer comfort and reassurance.

Unfortunately, that may be not immediately possible. My mother isn’t the only one with difficulty understanding mental illness. The law (yet again) shows an uncaring lack of understanding about mood disorders: attempting suicide in some states, including the one in which my mom’s best friend lives, is illegal. And yes, punishable by jail time. How incredibly stupid is that? I understand it’s meant as a deterrent to potential suicidals, but no mere law is going stop someone in that state of mind. And then, when they survive their suicide attempts, they are sent not to a hospital, where they could receive adequate treatment, but to a jail, which undoubtedly amplifies their misery. Nice fucking job, politicians.

Anyway, here’s to a better understanding of and compassion for the mentally ill. And also, here’s to the recovery of my mother’s best friend.