Thursday, April 16, 2015

Recognizing Paranoia and Feelings of Low Self-Worth

I would like to explain my last post. So, what happened was, someone left a comment (which I deleted), which said, "Jennifer, I saw you speak at a NAMI event a couple months ago, and my son has Delusional Disorder, and you were inspiring. God bless you for all you do!"

This was perceived by my mind as being obviously fake. I did not speak at any events in the past couple months. I also have been having issues with my chiropractic clinic. Therefore, I came, via thoughts I will describe, to have the belief that chiropractic interns were conspiring against me to make fun of me, and that's why they came to my blog and left that comment. I think a day or two went by, and I got an email from the woman who really made that comment. She had seen me speak at a NAMI Pinellas monthly education meeting, where we showed the film Out of the Shadow, which is a documentary about a woman named Millie, who has Schizophrenia. I spoke about myself a little bit. That meeting, which we called, "Dinner and a Movie" I think, was my idea. I thought the film, which I own (though I have no idea where it is), would be good for people to see, so I volunteered to talk too. We served popcorn. There were over 55 people there. I had advertised it all over the internet. We never usually had that many people at meetings.

Anyway, once I got this email from the woman who actually did leave the comment on my blog, and I remembered that last year (I guess at least 8 months ago), I had spoken at that meeting, I realized she must have actually been there. Hence, it was not a conspiracy of chiropractic interns who had left that comment on my blog to make fun of me.

So this is what happened. I've been having, as usual, lots of thoughts that people are talking about me negatively. It sort of gets out of control, like a spiral, and it never stops. I try to put it out of my mind, but that doesn't always work. Then, I few weeks ago, I went to the chiropractic clinic where I see interns for free because they are associated with my workplace, and this new guy was basically flirting with me. My friend told me, when I described what happened with this dude who is obviously at least 15 years younger than me, that I should "Cougar it up!", which made me laugh. However, the guy actually made me really uncomfortable. I'm a feminist, and I don't like inappropriate behavior by men in general, so telling me, while you're working on my neck, "what perfume are you wearing? It smells really nice", when no one else is in the room, well, that's not professional. Medical professionals should no better. Also, it made me extremely uncomfortable. But the next week, I went to see this guy again. This time he said some weird thing about having applied for a job, which is actually my job, which I had told him about, at the same place where I work. Obviously, that is pretty weird. I started to think he was going to stalk me.

Then, I called the clinic and told the receptionist I would not be seeing this guy again, due to the weird things he said to me. I was told that I could see a female intern, as if my problem was with men in general, when it isn't, it was just with this weirdo. So, I went to see the female intern. I was convinced the interns were talking about me behind my back, as I went to leave. I was totally convinced. Here is when a person needs to use logic, of course. Why would the interns waste their time talking about me, as if they have nothing else to do? I figured it was because I had given a copy of my book, Episodes of Schizophrenia, to an intern who left there, and I thought that he had shown it to everyone, and that they were all laughing about me behind my back for being a nutcase. As my therapist would say, "Does it even matter if they are talking about you, or not?" It shouldn't really matter, but it did to me.

So then, when I got that blog comment, I freaked out. I assumed it was from the interns. I was quite convinced I was right (and, who knows, maybe they are making fun of me, but why should I care so much?). So I wrote my last blog post, directed at them.

I hope you can see here, sometimes when paranoia comes, and it is obviously illogical, it can seem like your illogical thoughts are really true and accurate. I really bought into these thoughts. I almost deleted this entire blog! I thought about how I couldn't ever write here again, and that upset me too. I don't want to have to hide from the world because people make fun of me.

It is a bit of a relief to know that the email actually came from a mom who had actually been at that meeting, and she was just writing something nice.

I often do not comprehend why people are nice to me. I become convinced they are faking it, and they really hate my guts. I know this sounds odd, but this is how I've been my whole life, and it's hard to change your thoughts. It's really difficult.

Growing up, I was often yelled at for doing things wrong. I had one parent who blamed me for all the misery the world ever inflicted on her (which was and is quite extensive in her mind), and another one who expected me to be perfect ("I'll send you to Paris if you get straight A's in seventh grade." I got straight A's. Still haven't seen Paris). And I think that, even after years of therapy, my issues with thinking everyone dislikes me, and thinking that I never do anything "right", because there is something innately "wrong" with me, continues to screw up my life.

Another example: I resigned from the board of directors of an organization I really care about. Then I was convinced, because of the things I said, that everyone there hated me. I am still pretty convinced most of them do, to be honest. I got a call a few days ago from someone who said they weren't going to accept my resignation, and they wanted me to come back. My thought: "This is a lie. He is just trying to be nice because he pities me for having a mental illness. He is being condescending by claiming people are "concerned" about me. He really just thinks I'm a nutcase".) What I said was, "I really don't believe anyone else feels that way". He said, "Jennifer, we all feel that way!" I said, "Are you being serious?" He said, "Yes, we all are concerned and want you to stay involved". I said, "I will have to think about that, I guess." I still don't buy it, but who knows. Stranger things may have happened.

Another example: I had a job interview. I thought I really sucked at it. I assumed that everything I said was incorrect and would be perceived as me being stupid, particularly because most of the people who have this job possess Master's Degrees, and I don't even have my Bachelor's yet. I walked out hearing people making fun of me (they probably weren't). I didn't know if I had the job, even though when I asked, "How many other people are you interviewing for this position?" the answer was "none". Even though the person interviewing me said something to the effect of, "It's just a matter of fitting you in on the schedule", I walked out baffled. I didn't understand if this person was serious, and I figured that I did not have the job. The more time I spent thinking about this, the more negative the thoughts became. I then resorted to writing a rather ridiculous email to the person who interviewed me, in which I disclosed that I had a disability, that I don't do well in interviews, that I really am a good tutor, etc. (it was for a job as a writing tutor). Then, after I wrote that email, my thoughts said, "Oh my god, I cannot believe I just wrote that horrible email! Oh my god, I just made a complete fool out of myself and made myself look like a nutcase!"

A couple days later, I got the job. I actually started the job last week.

Do you see where the problem is here? The problem is in my perceptions. I perceive the world as being a place where I can't be liked. I perceive that people really don't care about me at all. My therapist reminded me this morning that 46 people came to my birthday party two months ago, and suggested that I remember that. I do remember that. I still tend to think none of those people like me much. Is that neurotypical thinking? No. I am really not neurotypical. So I have to work at fighting these thoughts. I actually do work at it all the time, every day, all day long. I tell myself, "No you are not an idiot; you are just a human being who makes mistakes. You do not need to hate yourself. You do not need to be perfect; no one is perfect", and on, and on, and on. Sometimes I guess it helps, but it doesn't really get rid of the tendency to hate myself.

I really learned from a young age to hate myself, so unlearning it is very difficult. Do you know, the first time I saw a psychologist, I was nine years old? My mom was convinced there was something wrong with me, because I didn't have very many friends at school. I recall this so clearly. The psychologist (and this was at a tiny, Pentacostal Christian school, where I learned absolutely nothing), gave me an IQ test. I remember thinking, "This guy is trying to see if there's something wrong with me, so I'm going to draw this house without a roof on it to make him believe there is, because that would be funny". So I did that. I drew a weird house. The conclusion, which I must have heard from my mom, was that I had a high IQ. So one time (and this is the only time), my uncle was teasing me, and I responded, "You are not smarter than me. I have the memory of an 18 year old and the maturity of a 14 year old" or something like that. My dad was furious, totally furious. He had never been that furious with me in my life. He took me into my parents' bedroom, and he yelled at me to "NEVER!" tell anyone that again, and to never brag, and to never talk about my IQ test results. So I never did again.

I worry a lot about sounding arrogant. I don't like to sound arrogant at all. I worry that people think I'm an egomaniac, even though I've spent my whole life battling myself from the inside out. I spent all my teenage years, and some of my early 20's starving myself and cutting myself with razor blades and knives. I even, at age 16, carved the words, "I HATE ME" into my left arm. This resulted in a crisis unit hospital stay, which ended when my mom, who was furious at me for doing this because it made her "look like a bad mother", came and took me home against doctor's orders. We left like that Against Medical Advice (AMA). A few months before that, I'd had my first suicide attempt, after which, while she drove me to the ER, she screamed at me the entire time for "making her look like a bad mother" and making her life miserable. I was totally used to that though. That never ceased. I don't remember ever feeling, as a kid, or a teenager, or a young adult, like my mom loved me, or like my dad loved me much. Never. I remember when I was in first grade, my teacher brought my mom in, and they both got mad at me, because when Mrs. Bell wanted to show my mom the stories I had written, I had to tell her that I had thrown them all in the trash. I had assumed no one cared, and that they weren't important. Mrs. Bell thought they were very important. My mom yelled at me for "making her look like a bad mother" by doing this. Why would I have saved them? My mom never treated me like I did anything well, so why would I think she would like my stories? I was six years old, for god's sake!

Things are different now, of course. I've taught my mom over the years that she can't treat me like that anymore. So she doesn't, really. My dad is still not proud of me for anything. I don't even think he knows I co-authored a book. I am not sure I ever told him, since it's not like he would really like that book. When I got my AA degree with honors in 2010, I was pretty proud of myself because it had taken going to school off and on since 1997 to get that degree. My dad didn't come to the graduation. My sister got pissed off at him and called him during the ceremony to ask him why he was not there. He was at the mall with my youngest brother, he said. To this day, he has never said anything to me about graduating with my AA, because, you see, he thinks I'm a total failure at life. He is ashamed of me. Always has been, for many years. I didn't get the PhD or whatever I was supposed to get that everyone knew I should be able to get. I didn't graduate from college at age 21. He never actually offered to help me pay to go to college in the first place, but that's not the point. I didn't get married. I have no children. I don't own a house or anything. I don't even work full-time. I can't work full-time, but that's not the point; people in my family actually believe I just prefer to be lazy, apparently. I'm pretty far from lazy. I just cannot work full time and go to college. I cannot. So my dad compares me to all his nieces and nephews with their degrees, marriages, and children, and I embarrass him. I have nothing, in his eyes, to be proud of.

So that is part of the reason I get these negative thoughts about myself. I'm not saying anybody intentionally created thoughts inside my head, but you learn from what your parents say to you, and how they treat you, to think a certain way. It's hard to undo. To this day, my dad has never come to one NAMI event, and I've been involved with NAMI since 2007. He doesn't like the topic of mental illness at all, so we never discuss it. I've discussed at length with people I do not know, but I cannot discuss it at all with my father. That makes me pretty sad, to be honest with you. It's rather depressing.

However, my dad came to my birthday party in February. He came, and his wife came, and my dad cooked hotdogs and hamburgers and veggie burgers on the grill for people for hours. Later he said to me, "I'm glad I finally got to meet your friends". I found this odd, since he has not really ever shown interest in meeting my friends, but it was nice to hear. It was nice he was there, and my mom was there, and there was no arguing or anything. I think a lot of people realize that it is pretty amazing I have lived to see age 40. And if they don't realize it, they obviously do not know much about my life!

In any event, what I have to work on now is facing the paranoid thoughts. I cannot let them take hold, and I cannot afford to walk around avoiding humanity because I assume people dislike me. I didn't go to my non-church church Sunday, because I was so paranoid about people disliking me there. I have no idea why I let myself get into that thinking, but it was pointless and stupid. Later, my friend/mentor sent me an email that said they missed seeing me there. Then last night, one of my professors who goes there asked me, "You didn't go to church Sunday, did you?" I was surprised these people actually noticed I hadn't been there.

When you're facing paranoia and negative thoughts, you have to use logic and reason. I do this a lot. I have to look at the facts. "Okay, so why would chiropractic interns have nothing to do on a Friday night but harass me on the internet?" "What did I actually do that would make these people despise me or make fun of me or talk about me?" "Why would people be watching me through cameras? Are there really any cameras on this building?"

A few nice things happened on my last day at my old job. I had worked at this call center for nearly seven years. It is getting outsourced, so I had been looking for new jobs since last fall. On my last day, everyone signed a card they gave me, and it was really sweet. I am going to save it. I sent an email to tell everyone goodbye, and numerous people who I barely knew responded to it. One of them was a young woman, who had a position above mine, and who I thought always looked down on me because I wasn't part of her little clique. She said in her email, "I'm really glad that you are moving on to bigger and better things. You are far too talented to be wasting your time in this place!". That meant a lot to me. My boss hugged me numerous times; two coworkers hugged me and we promised we'd stay in touch. And someone who called demanded to talk to my supervisor that day, not because he wanted to complain, but because he wanted to to tell her what a helpful employee I was. She actually took that call (she never took complaint calls), and listened to him. (Perhaps because it was my last day of being screamed at on the phone after nearly seven years, there was a very happy tone in my voice when I spoke to him....).

It actually ended on a great note! And now, I am doing work I actually like. What could be better than tutoring people in writing, when I love to write myself and love to do things that help other people improve their lives? It is really a great fit for me. I am glad someone suggested it. The thing I have to work on now is my thoughts, while I'm at work, while I'm at school, while I'm anywhere where I feel like I'm not doing things well and people don't like me. I have to also work on my feelings. My therapist suggested giving myself a feeling of kindness. I don't really know what that means, but I try to listen to what she says and actually do it. For example, when the dishes aren't done and I'm freaking out about the overwhelming mess in my apartment, I ask myself: "How can you be kind to yourself right now?" The answer is, "By doing the damn dishes!" So I do the dishes. The feeling that comes from not doing them is intense anxiety. The thoughts that come are visions of myself homeless, after being evicted. I cannot afford to let that anxiety fester inside me anymore. I must deal with things as they come. I try to do this, because it is important.

These are lines from one of my favorite poems, which I have loved for about 15 years, which is, "Poem About My Rights" by June Jordan:
I am not wrong: Wrong is not my name
My name is my own my own my own   
and I can’t tell you who the hell set things up like this
but I can tell you that from now on my resistance   
my simple and daily and nightly self-determination   
may very well cost you your life
Share this text ...?

Saturday, April 11, 2015

mental illness is not correlated with diminished intellect

So, I will be editing this at some other time, but if you have come to my personal blog to make fun of me, creating a fake blogger account and claiming you heard me speak somewhere at which I was never present, perhaps you need a psychiatrist and a therapist. Real, professional medical care (not some pseudoscience chiropractic stuff) could be useful to you if this is the way you feel the need to treat a human being. You might also find something to do with your time that is actually useful, such as volunteer work. I find it bizarre that anyone would be ignorant to the legalities of harassment in 2015. Thank you for no longer bothering me in the future.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Cutting Negativity Out of Your Life

One of the more important things I've learned over I-don't-know-how-many years in therapy and/or just thinking to myself, is that I need to reduce the amount of negativity in my life. There are a few ways to do this that are important. The most obvious one is probably reducing the negativity in my own head. Then there are the negative comments and voices of others. What I was talking about to my therapist today was other people, and she made a point, like therapists are prone to do, of saying how I need to be kinder to myself. I find this challenging. And I think if you don't find it challenging at all, perhaps you are some kind of egomaniac or someone with a really inflated sense of self-worth. However, it is crucial, when you're dealing with pretty much anything difficult in life, to be kind to yourself.

Let's step back for a second. I said something about reducing the negative voices of other people. I mentioned in other posts here over the years that setting boundaries is important. I recently had a few experiences where people, for their own reasons because of whatever causes anyone to do whatever they do, were really treating me an inappropriate manner. And then there are a couple of people in my life who have pretty much always treated me badly, due their own neuroses. Specifically, I mean, due to the fact that these two people have what I would call undiagnosed Borderline Personality Disorder, and they really believe wholeheartedly, both of them, that they don't have any problems at all requiring therapy, that their only problem is actually Bipolar Disorder, and that it is just a weird coincidence that their medications for Bipolar Disorder have never helped them much. I decided to stop talking to this one friend - who really was for a long time the friend I spent the most time hanging out with -  I guess about five or six weeks ago. I just could no longer deal with the massive level of dysfunction in our relationship. We really never had anything in common except a mutual like of certain movies and a mental illness, although my mental illness was not the same as hers. I met her in a group home in 2005. So for ten years, I've been friends with this person. And for ten years, this person has sort of taken some kind of weird joy out of involving me in phone calls that last for hours, which go in a bizarre, revolving nature that leads nowhere, much like the circular conversations discussed here.

The other thing that always went on with this friend was an incredible amount of passive aggressive behavior, a need to literally nit-pick at everything I thought or said to tell me that I was wrong (I can take constructive criticism, but that's not what I'm talking about at all; I'm talking about when I know something and a person who assumes she is always right about everything insists on telling me I know nothing), and an incredible amount of ridiculously immature behavior which would lead to me being extremely irritated every time I ever spent time with her. The thing is, first of all, when you have nothing in common with somebody but a mutual desire to go to the movies, the time comes when you have to ask yourself, "What am I doing here?". And then if the answer is, "I'm just being stupid", you might want to cut your theoretical losses and move on. Then, when the person is so passive aggressive that everything that comes out of her mouth is a comment about how miserable she is, followed by your suggestion of something she could do to make herself less miserable, followed by her retort that you don't know anything, or something like, "That looks like a new dress. Where did you get it? Why wouldn't you want to tell me where you bought your dress? I buy all my clothes at the thrift store.", which is exactly why you didn't want to say you bought your dress at a store that was not a thrift store, because you have learned to avoid having a conversation about anything related to money because all this person will do is detail her level of poverty for you at great length when you never even mention to her that you're in just as much poverty as she is.........anyway, can you tell I just got off track? This is the longest run-on sentence of all time. So, yeah, this person gets on my goddamn nerves, to be blunt. When I spend time with her, I am inevitably left saying to myself, "Why did I just do that AGAIN??!!" And the only answer I come up with is some denigrating ideas about how dumb I supposedly am (I'm not really dumb).

The point of what I am trying to say is that when somebody acts like a five-year-old, and in reality their biological age is 50, or 55, or 60, you might want to be alert that this is not really healthy. I'm not saying it's wrong to have fun, as she would accuse me of doing. I'm saying, if you're sitting in a movie theater throwing popcorn at your friend, and you are 60 years old, and you're only doing it because you know this really, really annoys your so-called friend and you take great joy in annoying her, then perhaps it's about time to find a freakin' therapist! Perhaps you might pay attention to the number of times your friend says, "Therapy could really help you." Perhaps I meant that this person actually, desperately needed a therapist when I said that 300 times. Perhaps I know what exactly I am talking about in this realm, having been a person who has herself needed a therapist for some time, and having benefited from therapy. My friend would scoff and say how she sees someone at the mental health center every couple months (I know this therapist, and no this is not going to help), and how she doesn't really even need therapy unless she's depressed (her problem has never, ever been "depression"). My friend would then throw more popcorn in my face and laugh like some kind of imbecile. Then she would talk or sing during the movies.......I would not only give her dirty looks for this, I would eventually say, "PLEASE STOP!" And did she listen to me and stop? No. She lacks that level of respect for her so-called friend, so instead of stopping, she would talk or sing even louder and say, "I'm doing this on purpose because you cannot tell me what to do! You are not my boss!" This is a grown woman, who is actually older than my mother.

Then there were the guys. Every time we went anywhere, she'd find some man (really) who was 25 years or 30 years or 35 years younger than her, and throw a let-it-all-out "flirt" party. Generally these were waiters at restaurants who were polite because they wanted a good tip and they didn't know that she did this every single time she went somewhere so it had not much to do with her actually like them. It had a lot to do with her trying to act like she was 20 years old, because she spends pretty much all her time when she's talking about something good speaking of things that happened 40 years ago. As if it was yesterday. Example, "I don't have kids yet, because I haven't met the right guy". What? You are older than my mother, and I am too old to have kids myself! Are you serious? No, you're delusional. Or, "I used to be a waitress". 40 goddamn years ago she was a waitress, not last month, or last year. Seriously, 40 years ago! So every time you go to a restaurant, you feel the need to tell the waiter that you "used to be a waitress"? No, it's just all part of the weird way this former friend of mine lives in total time-warp. If you spent ten years of your life talking with her, you would understand what I mean. Perhaps you can surmise it from the above. I think the problem here is that this friend is in so much incredible denial about the actual state of her life, she cannot handle reality, so she just pretends like it's 1980, and we're at some nightclub in Tampa, and she's getting drunk with her coworkers, and she needs to find a guy to flirt with, who ends up being the waiter at Chili's who is actually young enough to be her grandchild. But that's reality. And she doesn't like reality, not because she's psychotic (she's not, and I do know what it's like to be psychotic), she's just someone who chooses to remain........stuck. She is as she would call it "stuck in a rut", but she's not just like that when she says she's like that. She's like that 24/7, 365 days a year.

I don't want to be stuck, and I no longer want to be stuck in a friendship with someone who chooses to remain perpetually stuck since change is so supposedly hard. If that is what she chooses, that is her choice to make. I just don't choose to be around it anymore. I don't feel like hearing another story about how she's been hurt by the same guy who has always done nothing but hurt her feelings and alternately reign as the deity in her own little universe for the past 8 years or so. I don't care! I don't want to have that conversation again, where I say, "So someone who forces you to kiss him is your friend? You do realize that if you weren't his "friend" you would be reporting this to the police?" I am tired of it all. This revolving door conversation would always involve me trying to instill some logic into her thought process, while she would pretend to want my advice and then proceed to tell me everything that was totally wrong about everything I said about her "friend". I don't want to hear about how her "friend" is so nice he takes her out to dinner, and then how her "friend" made her made because he pressured her to have sex with him again, and then here, "But you don't understand, he's so nice the rest of the time" again. I am tired. I don't care. I just want it to be over.

So, I ended it. I told her, point-blank, "I think you have Borderline Personality Disorder, and you should read this article". I did it stupidly, late at night, while I wasn't really thinking too much - or maybe I was. Most likely my real reason for doing this was that I knew she would get angry, lash out at me, and not want to talk to me anymore, which is, frankly, exactly what I wanted. It's easier to make someone choose not to talk to you anymore than it is to say, "I do not want to talk to you because you are like this". That was what I meant to say, but it wasn't what I said. I know, I'm not nice all the time. It's not nice to tell someone who, in all likelihood, has had a personality disorder for her whole life, that she has a personality disorder. Even if you are really sure you are doing her some kind of favor by telling her, and you're not doing her a favor by enabling her pathetic behavior, it's still not nice. But I did it. I own that. However, I don't really regret it. I am actually immensely relieved that I don't have to listen to another pathetic voicemail where she berates me for not calling her often enough, because, in her head, I should revolve my entire life around her.

And that brings me to the other problematic person. So, when you're setting boundaries, sometimes the first and most important ones you have to set are with toxic family members. I have this one person in my life who, for pretty much my entire life, has been someone I take care of. I do mean "entire life", here. So, I'm not going to point out who it is, but you can guess. I have tried so many times to get out of this whole phenomenon, in so many ways. I stopped giving out money. I stopped putting up with abuse and outrage. I try not to be an enabler, but I'm pretty lousy at all of this. It's hard, because when somebody really taught you from birth that your job was to take care of them, and not the other way around, you do not really know how to not take care of them. So you go to therapy! A lot. But the guilt trips never end, the blaming never ends, the passive aggressive, self-pitying behaviors never end. And what do you do then? I cannot cut this person out of my life. I did for a while in my 20's because I was young and very angry and also very sick, and she didn't care about me at all. So I did cut her out. I lived in Virginia, and I was out of my mind, so I no longer felt the need or ability to take care of others in any kind of fashion; I couldn't take care of myself. And then things changed. I got told by a psychiatrist that he was going to send me to Trenton, N.J., the state hospital in the state I was hospitalized in, unless I agreed to go home and live with her in Florida. So I did, and it didn't work. One day she dumped me off at a homeless shelter in St. Pete. Other days, she'd visit me in the hospital, and usually she was the only one who did that. She was the only one who was there during my hospital stays. Sometimes this made me feel better about things. Other times, when she'd scream at the staff of the hospital and tell them to take me off all the medications they were drugging me with, I didn't feel so great about seeing her. The nurses would say, "Jennifer, you do NOT have to see her. You can refuse visitors." I was a person who believed she was Jesus and Anne Frank on alternating days. I did not possess the ability to know that it was actually unhealthy, at times, for me to see her. So I'd see her, and I'd get embarrassed, and the staff would resent me because I let her come in and scream at them. I always used to let people blame me for her behavior. I don't do that anymore.

A few months ago, we were at a movie theater. Bad stuff occurs sometimes with her in movie theaters. She hauled off and screamed at this really overweight woman for chewing popcorn too loud, and ruining the movie. This was after the movie ended, when it would have been just as easy to simply go home. I walked out into the lobby from the restroom, and this woman was literally waiting for me with her husband. She asked me why my mom had treated her this way and yelled at me about how mortified my mom had made her feel. Um, do you think I was not mortified, too? I looked right at her and said, "I am sorry, but I am not responsible for the way she behaves. I do not control her behavior." The woman kept yapping at me, and I repeated myself. Finally, I just walked away. I'm done with apologizing for crap like that. Those apologies got old in elementary school. I have cried enough tears over stuff like that in my life. I don't have the energy to waste on feeling guilty because a grown adult behaves in an infantile, ridiculous manner. It doesn't matter who the adult is. Whether the adult is your friend or your mom, you don't have to apologize for them, and you don't have to apologize to them either! I love my mom. I will always love her. She is a woman who has been through a lot of hard stuff, just like my friend. I will always have compassion for that. I will always honor her experiences. But I no longer wish to feel bad for not being the be-all, end-all answer somebody is looking for in their life. I no longer wish to hear my friend's jealousy about how I did something with my mom (who can't stand her) without the friend, or my mom's jealousy about how I did something with my friend (who can't stand her), without my mom. This is not adult behavior, to act this way.

So sue me, but I do have a life. I am so tired of feeling guilty about having a life! I'm so tired of feeling like I did something wrong, or I AM something wrong, because I socialize with more than one person, or because I work and my friend thinks she cannot work, or because I go to college and my friend never did. I am so tired of feeling guilty because I hung up the phone to protect myself from being screamed at again. Do you know how many times, over how many years of my life (all of my life), I've been screamed at, at  great length? Countless! We're talking infinity here. I'm not into math, but if I was, I would not be able to grasp the equation that could calculate the amount of this one person screaming that I've listened to. So now, I just hang up. I just leave. I just walk away.

This also is why I know I do not need to let anyone else scream at me; I've been screamed at enough already! I was very involved in an organization for a long time. I just left it last week. I did that after the final straw in a long ordeal that involved two particular people with leverage in the organization, both of whom thought they had the right to scream at me, and both of whom did so. I don't deserve that crap. I didn't scream at them. They could sense that I was timid - or so they thought for a while - that I would be an easy victim, and they treated me accordingly. I'm glad I don't live with these people, or work for these people. I decided after some recent events that I didn't need to put up with these people anymore. So I walked away. It was upsetting, the entire thing. I spent the entire Saturday of last weekend crying in my pajamas, until I finally called a friend (who is NOT the friend I was talking about earlier) and said, "Hey, do you think you could give me a little pep talk, because I need to do my dishes and clean my apartment and I'm just sitting around depressed?". She did give me a pep talk. She said, "Ok, Number 1, you don't want to be evicted. Number two, Spooky and Ribbit deserve a clean living space" (those are my cats). Number three, the longer you let it go, the more overwhelmed you will get, and then you will get an eviction notice and be even more overwhelmed." Then she said, "You know, it's a beautiful day outside." I said, "I know, I should go for a walk." She said, "Yes, you should go for a walk! Do it as soon as we hang up the phone." And I did. And then I did my dishes and cleaned up. She knows how to be a helpful friend, and I appreciate that so much! I don't have anybody else I could really call and discuss my supposed inability to get dressed and do dishes with. I mean, I was just falling into the depression and anxiety space I don't want to be in, and I knew it. So, I am so glad that I have this friend who could say, okay, here is what you need to do. Now.

I was so upset about the things within the organization, and still am, that I cannot even read emails from anybody there or answer my phone. It still hurts. It also still makes me anxious. I'm pretty sure that not a lot of people there would care about this if they knew it, but the entire experience very well could have led into a downward spiral that landed me in the hospital, if I had let it. I'm not saying that it would have been a particular person's fault if that happened. What I mean is, I have to really limit the amount of stress and negativity in my life. And when faced with that fact, you have to decide, "Okay, what is more important here? Is it more important to be polite and feel like garbage, or is it better to cut your losses and said adios?" So, sometimes it's really better to say adios. Sometimes you just have to do that.

Today my therapist looked at me and said, "Can you just be KIND to yourself??" I don't really know very well how to do that. I feel guilty for sticking up for myself when I do it. I get those old tapes in my head. "You are ruining my life! You are the worst thing that ever happened to me! I am so sick of you, I just want to kill you! I HATE YOU!" This is stuff I heard growing up, in my teenage years, in my young adult years. So those old thoughts get stuck in your head, and then it becomes you saying them to yourself. The person might have apologized for all of it later, but it doesn't matter by then. You have already perfected the art of self-hatred, just like they taught you to. So, you have to really work at undoing that. It's hard. Every time you stand up for yourself or cut your losses with someone, you are going to experience a major guilt trip about it if you spent the majority of your life being trained to feel guilty. So you feel guilty. But then, maybe you just stop. You just say, "OK, enough! I'm not listening to this crap in my head! Get out. Be gone. I don't need these thoughts. They're unproductive, and I DON'T HAVE TIME for it anymore."

It's a learning process. I'm still learning.


Thursday, March 26, 2015

How to Build a Support System

I used to browse the self-help section of bookstores, as a teenager and young adult. I would always be searching for answers, most of which were hard to find. I used to read a lot of psychology and mental illness books, looking for something, though I was not quite sure what that something was.

What I think now, in retrospect, that I was looking for was support. I didn't have any. I had no friends for a long time. I had very little familial support at all. I was a very lonely, isolated person. It was because I hated myself so much that I had a horrible time ever making friends, for most of my life. I had a horrible time believing I was capable of pretty much anything. It wasn't that I was really incapable; it was that I did not know I was capable. I was so used to being told all the horrible things about me by an abusive parent that I ended up believing them. None of them were true; it was all that person's issue. It was really not mine.

It occurred to me the other day that, out of all the self-help stuff I've read in my life, I've never actually seen anything entitled, "How to Build a Support System". I also thought about my last post on hope, and how the reason why some people totally lack hope relates to their lack of a support system. It is so hard to believe in yourself if you have nobody in your life who believes in you and lets you know they do. Conversely, it is so hard to have people in your life who treat you well if you don't like your own self in the first place. It's a real catch-22.

So I am hoping to offer some advice on what has worked for me in trying to build up a support system over the majority of my life.

1. Start with books. If you don't know how to make friends, I'm not going to tell you to go join some club and get out there and meet people, because that might not be possible for you. I found some of my first, best, and oldest friends in literature. I found support in poems by authors who were strong women like Adrienne Rich, Marge Piercy, Joy Harjo, June Jordan, Alice Walker, and Maya Angelou. Other strong, female poets like Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath wrote about issues I could relate to. I found some support and help through them. I happen to love poetry; not everyone does. I find for me that it is much easier to read a poem than a novel; I honestly cannot read novels. It requires too much concentration, and I don't really like novels. But lots of people find inspiration in novels, so maybe you would too. Nonfiction work is where I found the most hope. I'd read books like Girl, Interrupted, as a very young woman to understand that other young women had experienced mental illness and survived, even thrived, and got better.

2. If you are financially able to, find a therapist. Make sure you like your therapist. It's very important that you feel like you are being heard in therapy, and that your therapist possesses enough skills to really help you. It is very important that you develop trust in your therapist, which sometimes takes a while. It is vitally important that your therapist knows about your illness, has read about it, has a working knowledge of it, but at the same time, that she/he is interested in learning from you about what it is like. Not all therapists are helpful. I have had some that were not. I have had others who changed the entire course of my life. My current therapist is fantastic, and the one before her was quite great too. The one I had as a teenager helped me get through anorexia (sort of, most of that work had to be done by myself later), and helped me survive things I didn't think I could handle. That is what good therapists can do for you. Everybody needs somebody to talk to, and people with mental illnesses get much better with therapy than without it, most of the time.

3. Support groups are not all bad. I know in my post on hope, I said that I don't like support groups. One of the main reasons I don't like them is that, when I experience auditory hallucinations and paranoia, I think everyone in the group is talking about me, calling me things like "Jew" and discussing how I'm going to die in the upcoming second Holocaust. I think they are saying hateful, covert things using what I refer to as, "double speak", and it makes sitting through a group a living hell. The other reason I don't like support groups is that I find them depressing, and I cannot afford to let depression into my existence anymore. So for me, they really don't help much, unless for a short-term period. When a family member of mine was severely ruining his life with alcoholism, I would go to Al-Anon. I am related to many alcoholics - one reason I never touch alcohol and wouldn't do so if you paid me. But I only went to Al-Anon when it was needed. I didn't want to stay in it for a lifetime like a lot of the people involved in it do. I just am not that kind of person. But for other people, Al-Anon is a great support, NAMI Connections groups are a great support, other 12-step groups are a great support (particularly if you have an addiction yourself), Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance groups are a great support, and groups I don't know anything about, all over the U.S. and all over the planet, are a great support. If you want people to talk to who can relate to you, support groups are not a bad idea for something to try.

Another type of support group is online groups. When I wasn't doing as well as I am now, I relied heavily on those groups to get me through, for a while. I felt like I found kindred spirits there. I felt like it was a good place to vent. Now, I don't find them helpful and I rarely go to them, but that is largely a personal choice. It is all about what works for you, not me. You have to figure that out for yourself. I wouldn't recommend spending hours on end in internet support groups, however. I wouldn't recommend that because, as I mentioned in my post on hope, some people actually do just go there to elicit pity from others, and this negativity and constant reading about others' crises will only bring you down. It isn't uplifting to read that stuff all the time. I can't afford to spend large portions of my time doing things that bring me down, because I don't want to be down!

4. Join some sort of place where you can meet people who you share a common interest with. For many "consumers" (ie, people living with mental illnesses), this will be a mental health organization. In the United States, the biggest mental health organization is the National Alliance on Mental Illness. In the U.K., Mind is a well-known organization. There are other organizations I listed here, a long time ago.

People involved in mental health organizations may or may not have a higher level of awareness about mental illness and stigma, and the damage stigma creates, than people you meet somewhere else, but hopefully they will have this higher level of awareness. And sometimes, you will find them to be more understanding to you than other people are, and more kind than some others may be in your life who do not possess this level of awareness. This will not always be the case, but if circumstances are right, you can find some strongly supportive people within these organizations. I met people there, and those people have visited me in the hospital, and encouraged me to do things I did not always believe I could do at all, like public speaking, for example. A real bonus to getting involved in a mental health organization is that you can make a difference in the world you live! You can create awareness in those who are unaware about what it's like to live life with your illness, and you can get involved in advocacy and education efforts. You can even become a support person for other people, which is when you will really feel rewarded. It totally changed my life when I started volunteering for NAMI. It gave meaning to days that were otherwise meaningless.

What about if you don't want to get involved with a mental health organization? Or if you know longer feel like that is where you want to dispense your time and energy, maybe because you have other interests? Look into organizations for a hobby you have, a fitness group, a reading club, a church, etc. When I joined what I refer to as my non-church church, I met all sorts of intelligent, intellectual, kind, supportive people. It was wonderful, and it was one of the things I did right in the past year that helped improve my life.

Social justice causes are my favorite type of activity. If that's up your alley too, then, by all means, become an activist! You don't have to hold protest signs in front of the White House for months like I did when I was younger to be an activist. You can help run organizations, organize petition drives, do tabling at events, and spread the word about your cause. There are a myriad, million causes to get involved in that thrive on energy and effort, not money. If you want to do that, think about women's rights! Think about animal rights! Think about world peace! Think about combating climate change and corporate greed and taking the money out of politics and increasing the minimum wage! Think about any cause that you care about. I guarantee you there is another person who cares about your cause, and probably a few organizations that revolve around it. All you have to do is introduce yourself and try it out.

The National Organization for Women also radically changed my life. I joined NOW after my abusive, drug-addicted, loser boyfriend left me in 2008. I hated myself, largely due to having wasted three years devoted to a guy who taught me to hate myself. He would tell me how fat I was (I gained 100 pounds in my first two years on antipsychotics; it does wonders for your self-esteem when the guy you love points out to you every single day how fat and disgusting he thinks you are, especially if you have the bonus of being an eating disorder survivor), and he and I really never had anything in common. The only thing we had in common was dysfunction. We met in a psych hospital, after all. Great meeting place! After he was gone, I wasted about a year grieving the "loss" of this jerk, and it was during that time that I returned to my feminist roots, and got involved with NOW. I made friends there of all ages, mostly women older than my mom though, and I volunteered right away. Pretty soon I was very active and remained that way for years. I'm not really active now, but that's simply because I do not have time. It isn't because I didn't love the involvement I had there or that I don't cherish the friends I have from there. I do.

5. Do you have a case manager? Or a home health nurse? You might need one. I suppose I should have put this at the top of the list. I had a wonderful case manager for seven years. She was the first person in my support system who understood what I was going through and kept tabs on me. We talked every week. I met her right after I got diagnosed with Schizophrenia in 2005, and she stayed in my life. When the agency would want to her to close my case, because due to lack of funding where I live case management is hard to get, she would fight for me, because she knew I needed her. It broke my heart when she left the agency, but I will always have the memories of that time. When my apartment was in bad shape, she's the only person I'd let inside. She'd make me let her in; she was quite persuasive, but more importantly, she didn't judge me. She'd see the mess and say, "Okay, let's start cleaning up!" She didn't get on the phone with somebody and try to get me evicted. She'd actually help me clean. She wasn't paid to help people clean. Later, I'd have a friend I paid to help me clean, but she did it because she was incredibly kind and always went above and beyond the call of duty. I am doing better now, and I don't need people to help me clean, but back then I was not doing well.

So you don't know how to get a case manager? Well, usually in the U.S. they come via community mental health centers. The best care is not always found via these centers, because particularly where I live, these centers are severely lacking in efficient funds to operate, but the benefit of going to a community mental health center for your psychiatrist and therapist appointments is that you might also get a case manager there. You can also sometimes find a program that offers case management, call them, and tell them you need their help (I've done this, and it worked).

6. If you go to school, and you like it, try talking to your professors about your interests. For me, one of the most supportive people I've ever known started out as my professor a long time ago. I am still friends with him; he's a good mentor. Other professors I've had have also been very helpful. They helped me by teaching me to believe in myself and my capabilities more than I ever did before I knew them. They made me believe my brain wasn't all bad, after all. They taught me to value my intellect. I am still in college; it has taken me many, many years to get to be close to graduation (December!), and so professors are still helping me. Right now I'm thinking about graduate school in the future, mostly because of professors who have believed in me. I might not be able to do it, but I used to be convinced I couldn't get through a bachelor's degree at the university I attend. I have gotten A's in every single class there. It was professors who convinced me not to drop out when I had psychotic breaks, and it will be professors who I thank when I graduate.

7, If you work, try to hang out some time with your coworkers, maybe just one coworker. I had mostly just one friend I made at my job where I've been for almost seven years, who I would do things with outside work. It's not the kind of job that is conducive to being able to socialize with people. But I like her a lot, and although we never talked about a lot of personal things, we did have fun when we got together a few times. I'm not good at making friends at work, or anywhere else (I know this sounds weird to say after I just got done talking to you about the ways I found support), so this is not an area where I am some kind of expert at all. But, for other people, simply finding someone at work to go to a movie or have coffee with can be a big change that helps.

The same is true for doing volunteer work. Sometimes in volunteer work, you don't make friends, but you do make coworkers, who you can at least chit chat with about things. If you're unable to work for money at all, then volunteer work may be something you want to consider. Some areas of the world have "clubhouses" for people with mental illness. There is an excellent one where I live called Vincent House. It has helped many people with mental illness by giving them volunteer jobs that sometimes lead to employment for money.

8. Get a pet. I don't know what on earth I would do without my cats! I am the perennial creepy cat lady, and  always will be. If I had more space for them, I'd have more than two, probably I'd have ten!
Having a pet is an excellent idea when you lack support, and a good addition to your life even if you do have some support. Many, many animals die every day on this planet because no one rescues them (rescue a black cat, they are least likely to be adopted), and many find happy homes when someone like you learns to love them. Pets are kind, compassionate, insightful, and strong companions. Not only that, they give you a reason to get out of bed if you're depressed or apathetic. They have to be fed; dogs have to be walked; litter boxes have to be cleaned. Even better, you can talk to them. My cats love it when I talk to them. They come up to me and climb on top of me. One of them follows me around my apartment and tries to "talk" back to me. It is hysterical. We have these conversations: "Hi Ribbit, how are you today? What did you do today? Did you try to kill Spooky again or were you nice to her? Did you play? Did you sleep a lot? Mommy went to work.." "Meow, meow, meow, meow". "Yes, I'm sure it was a rough day for you, Ribbit, you work so hard, perhaps you should start paying rent now!" "Meow, meow, meow, meow". "Are you hungry?!! Let's have dinner!" "Meow! Meow! Meow!"

9. Visit your neighbors. I had an elderly woman who lived below me for years. I'd go to her apartment and just sit and chat with her. We both had mental illness, but she was more isolated than I was. You have to branch out to others when you're looking to build your support system, and sometimes, being supportive to someone else is the most important aspect of your support system in the first place. She would get so excited when I'd take her to lunch, because she had no money or transportation or support at all. She would say, "That lunch was so WONDERFUL, Jennifer! Today is like Christmas!" and I would just laugh because the tiniest things that didn't mean much to me really meant the world to her. She still tells me I'm her best friend and she loves me.

10. Call someone once in a while. I don't have a lot of friends I call. I have more friends I never call than the few I do. I don't have a lot of friends I go places with either. I do need to work on this at some point, I guess. But I have two friends I call, and they are close friends of mine. One of them, I find now I don't really need to spend as much time with as I used to because it drains me a lot, but I still value both of these friends. You need at least one or two people you can call on the phone.

11. Finally, make sure you keep non-supportive people out of your life. If someone is negative all the time, critical of you all the time, bullying to you, or mean to you, or abusive to you, then get them out of your life. You deserve to be treated with dignity, respect, and love. You don't need to waste your time putting up with a bunch of crap from someone who wants to bring you down. Cut that person out. It's not always easy, but I've had to learn that if you do not send boundaries with some people, what you'll end up doing is resenting them a lot and feeling incredibly miserable. Don't waste your time. The people in your support system aren't just people you need because they exist, you need to have people who are worthy of spending time and energy on. You don't need to take care of people or be kicked around by people to have a support system. Eliminate the negativity, and you will feel much better.

12. The most important person in your support system looks at you in the mirror. If you don't learn how to take care of yourself, be kind to yourself, and, yeah I know it sounds cheesy but even to love yourself, then you will not be a happy person. It is vital, crucial, and necessary to be your own best advocate, and to take care of you. Nobody is ever going to care as much about your existence as you do, after all. You have a lot more at stake in so far as what happens to you than anybody else does; after all this is YOUR life. You must learn to take care of yourself. And I put this last on purpose. It's very hard to love yourself when you feel like nobody cares about you. So first, in my opinion, you need to find some people who are going to care about you. But, then, eventually, you must care about yourself more than anybody else does, because self-love is vital to thriving.

I hope this article made sense and was helpful to at least one person. Leave a comment if it helped you; that lets me know things are worth writing! Thanks!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Criminalization of Persons Living with Mental Illness

I have been doing research for my senior seminar course in the social sciences. *(Yes, I am graduating later this year!). My research is for one, big paper that will be finished at the end of the semester. I wanted to talk to you about my project, because many of you may be interested in this. I am researching how the era of deinstitutionalization (the clearing out of people living in psychiatric hospitals in the U.S.) led to trans-institutionalization, which is the people who have mental illnesses and end up going through the revolving door of jails and prisons. My argument with this paper is that more funding, in the state where I live (Florida), and the county where I live, for programs such as FACT (Florida Assertive Community Treatment), intensive case management, and programs that provide housing plus treatment would be a way to combat the problem of rampant homelessness and incarceration of people living with mental illnesses.

In 1955, there were half a million people living in state mental hospitals in the United States. Now, there are fewer than 40,000 people living in those hospitals (and most of those hospitals are now non-existent). Where did the people go? Well, since funds were never adequately provided by the federal and state governments to create the community mental health system that was supposed to help all of us with serious mental illnesses, many people have ended up living in shelters, on the streets, and in jails and prisons.

The reason many homeless people go through the revolving door of the criminal justice monstrosity we have in this country is that they get caught committing petty crimes such as trespassing (which can be sleeping on a park bench), public urination (the parks where I live keep the bathrooms locked so homeless people can't go into them), carrying open containers of alcohol (many people with serious mental illness self medicate to deal with their issues which are not being treated), and other ridiculous things.

When they go to jail, people with mental illnesses who are receiving Social Security Disability (SSDI or SSI) benefits end up losing those benefits, and therefore, they lose their Medicaid and Medicare insurance. This means that when they come out of jail, and they are not set up with the proper social supports to provide them with an income and a way to obtain their medication, they go without their medication. When you are psychotic, and you go without your medication, you are likely to do weird things that may land you right back in jail. And that is exactly what is happening in this country.

The Miami-Dade County Jail is the biggest "mental health provider" in the pathetic state of Florida, where mental health funding is so ridiculously low that we rank 49th out of the 50 states. The biggest mental health "provider" in the United States is the Los Angeles County Jail. You see, jails and prisons are the new state hospitals. That is where people are ending up. Once they end up there, they are not only costing tax payers tons of money, which is what every right-wing conservative seems to care about the most, and they end up not getting the medications they need. Sometimes, in jail, people go without any medication at all. Other times, once they do get their medication, it is a different medication than what they were on before, which is cheaper for the jail to provide than the med that helped them. Do you see how this is a problem?

Additionally, more people commit suicide in jails (and particularly in solitary confinement), than the average suicide rate for the country. I mean, you are far more likely to end up killing yourself in jail than you are outside of jail. I have actually found this through extensive research.

I am so lucky that I never went to jail. It was an amazing thing that, while psychotic, I stole cars and got away with it, and entered stores pretending to work there, but never got arrested even when people figured out what I was doing. One of the reasons I got away with these things was white privilege. I have white skin, which automatically makes me less likely to get arrested in this incredibly racist country than if  I was a woman of color. Also, I am female and white too, which makes me less likely to get arrested than a man of color. It is a phenomenon of racism, but it saved me from being incarcerated, because nobody thought I was a criminal. I didn't "look" like a person who would steal a car. I just did it, because the voices told me too, and I got away with it. I should mention, all of this happened over 11 years ago, so by now I am way better and do not do illegal things other than sometimes jay-walking when there are no cars at an intersection. Further, I have talked to the police in Crisis Intervention Team trainings about the things I did and the fact that I did not get arrested for them. I tell the police this because, should I have come into contact with law enforcement during any of these encounters, most likely if they were not CIT trained officers they would simply have arrested me. I could have been charged with felonies.

It angers me a great deal that there are so many homeless people and so many incarcerated people in this country. I have been homeless myself three times, though each time I lived in a shelter, never on the streets except for a few weeks when I slept in the back of my car. That all happened many years back, before I was diagnosed, before I even knew I had a mental illness that was not just depression, and before I was on medications that I needed. I was lucky I didn't end up in the streets, sleeping on park benches, getting raped like a woman I met in a homeless shelter had been while she was sleeping on a park bench, and getting arrested for trespassing like so many others have been. But it could have been me. When I see the people experiencing homelessness and living on the streets in my neighborhood, I think, "That could have been me". I also smile and say hello to them, because this does not happen much to people who are homeless on the streets. They are dehumanized by the people who ignore them and look away from them and think they could never BE those people living on the streets. Anyone of us could be those people. Anyone can develop a serious mental illness. Those who do not have them are fortunate. Those who have them and are able to keep roofs over their heads and stay away from the military industrial complex are also fortunate. But being that we are fortunate, we owe it to the people whose voices are not being heard to speak their truths for them. We need to speak up about this topic.

We need to speak to legislators about it. We need more programs like FACT (Florida Assertive Community Treatment) or ACT (as it is called in many other states), more intensive case management, more low-income housing. And we need the funding for all of these sorts of programs. Florida slashes it's budget for mental health funding every chance it gets, because the legislators do not care about us, and those of us who are living with these illnesses are not making enough noise to get their attention.

I want to live to see the day when 10,000 people march on Washington to express their demand for mental health care. I want to see that. I have been in marches on Washington which did have 10,000 people protesting the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, but I have yet to hear of a march on Washington about mental health. I have been to a protest in D.C. for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (my former diagnoses, before Lupus), and there were only about thirty people at that protest (but it still meant something). I want to see US, me, you, your friends or family members living with mental illnesses, NAMI advocates, all of us, march on Washington and demand Assertive Community Treatment, Crisis Intervention Team trainings for all law enforcement officers, well-funded community mental health centers in ever area of this entire country, mental health courts, and other necessities to combat the trans-institutionalization problem that exists. I want to see that happen in my lifetime.

Any suggestions on how to make this occur?


Related Posts with Thumbnails