Tuesday, September 30, 2008

the place of the disordered senses

I have come back to the place of the disordered senses.
-Anne Sexton, "Flee on Your Donkey"

Psychotic symptoms for me are a bit like fireworks going off in my brain. Sometimes you get the whole, giant shebang, and other times there are the little hand-held sparklers that get hot in a few minutes, drop to the ground, and are forgotten.

For the past three years, since I've been steadily taking antipsychotic meds that usually work pretty well, I mostly only have had he sparkler variety of psychosis. This involves things like hearing random voices (auditory hallucinations), having delusional thoughts (most frequently about the same themes that have been "stuck" in my mind for years), or visual hallucinations. Whenever these symptoms come up, I get extremely frustrated at their presence. I fret over whether I'll have to go through yet another medication change, and the accompanying period of psychosis that comes during the interim before the new medication works.

I'm having one of the psychosis periods right now. Just a little question of reality here and there. Just a little hearing messages from this person and that person. Just some ridiculous thoughts about horrible things that are supposedly going to happen to me or other people. The hall of mirrors. Smoke and mirrors. What is real, and what is not? These are the questions I ask myself at such times.

Parallel universes are hard to describe accurately to people who have not visited them. I found myself at a total loss for words at my therapist's office today. I could not even look her in the eye because of the delusional thoughts and extreme anxiety I was having. She noticed that I looked "a bit off", or something like that.
I'm trying to keep up with school, although not completely successfully. I'm trying to be friendly and upbeat at work. I'm trying to not concentrate on the suicidal thoughts that have come back as they always come back. I'm starving myself to lose weight, because I am so desperate to be a normal weight again. I'm trying. But things don't seem to be clicking right now.

The thought occurred to me today that medications which can't completely rid me of symptoms are only valuable up to a certain point, and then one has to compare their value with the costs of taking them. When one gains as much weight as I have (and particularly after years of anorexia), it seems a bit unwise to keep taking them as if they are worthwhile. The weight, after all, is the main reason I want to die right now. Not the psychosis. The damn weight.

My mind is fluttering like a butterfly, here and there. I have the physical sensation in my wrists, like an itch, which I get from time to time when the thought of cutting myself returns. Cutting used to provide me some stress relief many years back, and for some reason, recently I have thought about it every day. Cutting or hanging myself or shooting myself in the head or crashing my car, or any other number of violent methods of self-harm. All these seem attractive now. I know I will not follow through with them, but the thoughts are there because I'm "a bit off".

I hope this post made sense to whoever reads it. Thanks again for all of your kind comments and for coming by to read my words.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Not waving, but drowning

I miss my best friend. I chased him away, because I'm an idiot who has an obsessive-compulsive personality and a lack of social skills, as people terrify me. I chased away my best friend. This was one of the stupidest things I have ever done in my life.

Sorry to be cliche, but "things fall apart".

I am thinking of hanging myself, or shooting myself, pretty much whenever I'm not busy with something deeply engrossing to me. This is not a great situation. I am supposed to increase my antidepressant, but if I do that, I'll be too tired to go to work and keep up with school, and so, I'm probably not going to do it.

I am so tired of being alone in this. Alone in life. All we are is all alone. Alone.

"I'm not waving but drowning". That's an excellent poem. People often seem to think I'm waving at them. I'm not.

Sorry for this. Next post will be more upbeat.

"Not Waving But Drowning"

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he's dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

-Stevie Smith

friends and addicts and stuff

My friend Kathy is a great friend. She calls me; I call her. We go to bookstores and movies, and stuff. We have a lot in common; we're also very different. She's my mom's age, but she acts young for her age. I called her in New York the other day, where she's at on a trip, and left her a message. She called back and said, "What's wrong?? I could tell by your voice something is wrong." So I told her what was wrong. I have been having a lot of suicidal thoughts. "I need you here," she said, like a true friend. "I know what you're going through," she said, like the empathetic person who she is. We talked about my doctor's visit, my medication change, and what her last bout with suicidal depression was like for her. We talked about the hospital. No, I said, I don't need to go. Yes, I said, I'm sure. Yes, I said, I'll call you if I need to.

Kathy listens. Kathy cares. These are the kinds of friends I really need. In truth, I'm that kind of friend myself, so I feel that it's okay to say this. I care about my friends. I listen to them. I think it's nice to have a friend who does that for me. I have a few such friends. I have a former professor who's been a mentor and friend to me for about eleven years and is a genuinely extremely kind person. I have another friend from the support group I used to run. I have a friend named Lauren I've known online for eleven years, who is just as close to me as any friends I've known in person. I have some good friends. I'm grateful for these people.

At the same time, I seem to develop relationships with other people who are not such good friends (or boyfriends, as the case may be). My ex-boyfriend, of three years, who moved out this past January after we had lived together for a year and a half, called me yesterday. I did not answer, as I was in my psychiatrist's office. Well, a psychiatrist's office (mine was out sick). He was calling because he's relapsed back onto drugs, and he's broke, and he lost his job, and he apparently is having trouble getting unemployment benefits, and he assumed that I had been paying for his car insurance for him, even though I have not heard from him in three months. I kept him on my insurance policy as a favor to him, for six months after he broke up with me. I collected the money from him when he had it, which was usually at least one month after the bill was due, and I paid the bill on time, as I always have, every month. Of course, after six months of this, when I stopped hearing from him at all, I realized this was a ridiculous situation, and that there was no reason why I should continue carrying him on my insurance policy, so I had him removed.

I figured, being 38 years old, and not incredibly stupid, he would figure out that when he stopped paying his ex-girlfriend for his car insurance, she would probably remove him from his policy. But, being a narcissistic drug addict, he did not figure that out. He assumed that, considering the doormat-like stance I took for the whole time I was involved with him, I would still do anything he needed or wanted me to do for him, despite the fact we rarely ever spoke to each other anymore at all.

Of course, that kind of behavior is typical for drug addicts. I have another friend with an addiction problem who only calls me when she is bored, or when she is looking for a favor of some kind. I called her recently to talk when I was feeling horribly low, and told her I was having problems with suicidal thoughts. "I'll call you later," she said. "I'm playing cards right now." Very helpful. Very kind. Something I would never do to her in a million years.

I'm not trying to write something disparaging about drug addicts here. I'm just mentioning this because I've found that there are some common themes among the people I've known with addiction problems, and being completely self-absorbed is one of them. They don't make for good friends to have. I don't know if I'm the best person to have as a friend, either, but I do know that I don't call people asking for favors all the time, and then ignore them when I don't need something from them.

Just some thoughts.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

On the outside looking in, etc...

The other night, at the poetry reading I went to with my sister-in-law, hippy-chick, Dara (who's very fun to hang out with), the little coffee house was packed full and overflowing with writers who had Masters Degrees and PhDs and college students who were working on their degrees. Dara was my saving grace, because I was completely intimidated, as I often am in social situations, by all the other people there. As she was leaving a bit earlier than I was, we stepped outside. As we stood, talking on the sidewalk, a woman, about 45 years of age, wearing a t-shirt neatly tucked into her jeans, a belt, and graying long hair, walked up to us. "Hi. Can I ask you something?", she said.
"Sure," we replied.
"Am I all over the Internet?"
"Have you seen me on the Internet?"
"Well, I'm wondering if there is stuff posted about me on the Internet because I just moved here and everyone is being really mean to me around here."
Without skipping a beat, Dara replied, "Well, there are a lot of mean people who live around here. That's how Tampa is. Don't let them get to you."
"Yes," I added, "It's not you."
"The people in that coffee shop are nice, though," we told the skiddish woman.
"Oh, but I don't look good enough to go in there."
Oh...Yes, I understand this thought. This I understand very well.
"Are you sure they're nice in there?"
"Yes," we both said. "There are nice people in there."
"And, there are nice people over there, at the Tampa Theater, around the corner, quite frequently," I added, trying to think of some way to be helpful.
"Well, I've been without a home, so I don't look that great, and I just moved here and I don't know anyone. But you said that's a theater over there? They have plays there?"
"Well, they have movies and concerts and things like that. It's a really beautiful, old theater."
"Ok, maybe I'll check that out." She began to walk away. "Thank you, you've been very kind," she told us.
Dara and I stared at each other for a moment. Then I said the obvious. "There's lot of Schizophrenic people around..."
I told Dara her responses to this woman were so smart, she should be a mental health professional, to which she responded that she is a mental health professional, since she's married into my family, and we both laughed.

I thought later about this woman with the jeans and the grey hair. I thought about how well I understood her, and how much I had in common with her. I thought about how I felt more connected to her than I did to all the English majors in the coffee shop, because, though I might be an English major (albeit sans degree), I am also a person who lives with Schizophrenia and who, because of that fact, often feels like she is on the outside looking in. I thought about what it was like when I was homeless, or when I wandered the streets, asking odd questions of random people who usually looked at me like I was a crazy loon. I thought about how I wished I had given that woman the number or address to a homeless shelter, or done something, anything at all to help her. But I hadn't. Even I couldn't think of anything much that I could do to help her. And I've been her.

I hate this damned disease.

Thanks, as usual, to everyone who comes by and reads my posts. You are the people who choose to learn about mental illness, which most do not seem to want to learn about. I am grateful you exist.

In other news, I participated in a fundraiser today for NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, along with another member of the Consumer Council. We sold coupons at Macy's department store for a few hours and raised some money. It went quite well, I think. NAMI, of Pinellas County, FL, has a local website at http://www.nami-pinellas.org. I have listed the main NAMI site here already, more than once. It's an excellent organization.

Also, the Obama campaign and various antiwar groups such as MoveOn.org, United for Peace and Justice, and Code Pink, are trying to recruit people to knock on doors for peace. This was happening yesterday, but apparently will continue next weekend as well. If you can get involved in some way, please do! This is a really important election coming up, and it would be very detrimental to many of us people in this country who do not own Monsanto or Exxon, if there was a McCain-Palin victory. So do what you can, folks...I'm going to do do something next Saturday.

Feeling like a failure

I had been using Myspace for a few months, because earlier this year, when my boyfriend an I broke up, I found myself going online much more frequently, and my friend, Kristyn, who I met at a group home we lived in a few years ago, convinced me to join Myspace. I found it somewhat useful, in saying hello to people I know who also used it, and in finding groups to post messages about Schizophrenia, or about feminism, or other issues that interest me. But mostly, I found the demographic there to be comprised of people much younger than I am, who I have nothing in common with, really. And then, I destroyed - as I mentioned here before - a close friendship, and after that I just decided, no more Myspace for me. So, in case you found this page via myspace, I'm not there anymore.

I went to an amazing poetry reading Friday night with my sister-in-law. A former professor of mine is a published poet, and a very nice person, and he was one of the people reading there, along with other poets from throughout the state of Florida. While it was fun, I found the time before my sister-in-law arrived, and after she left (early, because she had to work the next day), to be difficult, as I was there by myself, and did not know most of the people, who were, mostly, highly educated, talented writers. It is really difficult for me to know how to act in some social situations, especially when I find everyone intimidating, because they have, ostensibly, accomplished more than I have, and I do not feel comfortable in my own skin, basically.

The other day, I emailed a former professor of mine in Maryland, who taught a class I took there and also directed the honors program at that college, which I was a member of, back in 1999. She was the person who suggested I apply to Smith College's Ada Comstock Scholars Program then, and who wrote me an excellent letter of recommendation, which helped me to get admitted there. I have always avoided her since then, because I never actually went to Smith. I ended up homeless that year, and was becoming psychotic, though I did not know that at the time. But since I recently came across a profile of her on Facebook, I emailed her. And she said, "Is it really you?? Write to me!", so I sent her a rather long email describing some events from the past nine years of my life, because she asked me to tell her what I had been up to. Unfortunately, what I was up to, during much of that time, involved losing my sanity, so it's rather difficult to write a positive description of my activities, without mentioning the fact of the mental illness that dictated my life for so many years before it was properly diagnosed and treated. I suppose, just like I had always feared, she was very disappointed to hear that I did not ever go to Smith, and perhaps she also did not want to hear such personal details about my mental health status. So she never responded to my message.

It's been four days now, so I think it's safe to assume she has chosen to not respond. That really hurts, I have to say, because this is a person who is extremely open-minded, conscientious, and compassionate, in other respects. Also, I trusted her immensely. And so, I thought it was safe to tell her, I had Schizophrenia. Apparently, I thought incorrectly, however. It's not as if this is the first time such an incident has occured. In fact, I never tell most people at all, because, if I do, this is often the type of reaction that occurs. Silence. "Silence speaks louder than words."-Adrienne Rich, I believe, wrote that.

So, yesterday (it's 2 AM now on Sunday), Saturday, for whatever resaon, I became completely overwhelmed by the school work on which I have fallen behind, and by life in general. I spent the entire day in bed, alternately sleeping and composing suicide plans. The suicide urge has returned recently, and I'm not really sure why that is. I don't know if it's partly hormonal, or if one of my medications has ceased working correctly, or if I'm just too overwhelmed by school and the attached emotion of shame about my personal failure to earn an Associate's, a Bachelor's, and a Master's Degree by now, or even one of the three. I know my therapist made a good point about the fact that I place an extreme level of importance on school, which denies the impact of Schizophrenia on my ability to perform well in school. This is true. I do this. I try not to, but in my mind, I do.

I feel that other people do it too, however, such as that professor and former mentor who did not even bother to write one sentence in response to an email in which I gave her many personal details about my life. People think, if you really wanted to, you could have gotten a degree by now. People think, if you really tried hard enough, you could have gone to a good college by now, and graduated. People think, you gave up. People think, you sabatoged yourself. People do not get the fact that your brain, however inexplicably, does not WORK correctly anymore, and you cannot fix it by willpower.

One of those people is me.

I do realize this is a problem.

Also, it is very painful to have lost my close friend, as I mentioned here before. He appears to have no desire to ever speak to me again, which is very understandable considering my personal behavior. I do not blame him, but it hurts, regardless. I have no one else I trust like I trusted him for the past eleven years. No one. And that leaves me feeling rather alone in the world.

I apologize if this post sounds a bit depressing and a tad pathetic. This too shall pass.

On a more positive note, I have become more involved with NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. I have been on NAMI's email lists, and attended support group meetings on occasion for years, but in the past year I've been more involved with their advocacy efforts. I took the peer-to-peer advocacy training class last spring, and I am now a member of the local Consumer Council, which does advocacy and awareness work. We have a fundraiser going on this weekend at Macy's in Pinellas County. For more information on NAMI, visit http://www.nami.org. It is an excellent organization to support!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

I am not well.

I have gotten very angry at a few different people recently, which is odd, because, ordinarily, I am not a very angry person. It could partially be related to hormonal issues, and beyond that, I do not know what the problem is. I just keep getting ticked off and feeling very irritable. Hence, I managed to utterly and completely destroy the relationship with my closest friend and confidante. I told off my therapist. I told off one of my sisters. The therapist said she was happy to hear she got the supposedly important reaction out of me, that I was pissed off, because she was trying to "provoke" this. I think that's a bunch of therapist mumbo-jumbo nonsense.

My mom came over ostensibly to help me clean my apartment today. After 15 minutes, she could not stand being here any longer, and left. The mess, she said, was too disgusting. I did not blame her for leaving. I mentioned recently that I had gotten the 7000+ emails in my email account from the past 5 years down to about 4,000 in recent days. My mom said, profoundly "That is your whole problem. You need to learn to get rid of things". This is quite true. I hoard junk. Stuff. Paper. Trash. Everything. I know when I started this. In truth, I've never been a neat person. But it was definitely after Jim moved out that I just ceased cleaning altogether. I stopped cooking. I stopped washing dishes. I eventually began to use only disposable dishes (paper plates, styrofoam bowls, plastic spoons - the only thing I eat is often cereal now anyway). I stopped cleaning. Stopped. As in completely stopped. Jim moved out of here in January. It is now mid-September. Nine months of not cleaning anything really creates quite a mess. I have no idea when the last time I took the garbage out was. All I know is it's something I ceased to do at some point. I began to just keep the trash. All of it.

My mother, confused, apparently, at how low I have really gotten, asked, "When did you start KEEPING bowls of cereal and banana peals laying around on the floor or the furniture?" My mother, herself, is a total slob. Her home is not much better than mine, so she can't really criticize me too much. But I used to be better at this stuff. I used to be more functional. My therapist told me, "you are not functioning at your full capacity right now", last week. I know this. Touche.

I am not even functioning at HALF capacity right now. I am barely managing to get through the day at this point. I continuously contemplate slicing my skin up with razor blades, as I used to do many years ago to deal with the angst inside me. I continuously contemplate suicide. I don't really want to be alive right now. And I cannot read anything at this point, so school is just futile, which is really, really not a good thing, considering this is my last year and I have a chance of actually getting a degree soon if I can just do the damn work. At the moment, I feel like I'm one breath away from a hospital trip. I feel like my pulse is barely managing to exist. I don't know what exactly the problem is, but I know I am not well.

The problem with the apartment being in this condition, is that, I have a case manager from the community mental health center whose job dictates that she is supposed to visit me at home every two months and inspect my apartment. She is supposed to check, basically, to make sure I'm not living in squalor, that I have food in the fridge, that my meds are here...It's been a lot more than two months since she's been here, because I've been refusing to let her come over, and coming up with excuses to avoid her visits. The fact is: I am living in squalor, there is no food in the fridge, and I'm about to run out of all my meds, because I had to work the day I was supposed to see my psychiatrist. The fact is that if she saw my home right now, she would probably feel obligated to report me to the other mental health agency which owns my apartment, or to social services or the health department, or something. This is my fear. She promises me she won't do these things, but I don't believe her. She has seen my apartment in terrible condition several times, but she's never seen it when it was this bad. It has never been this bad before. Nobody has seen it like this, except now for my mom.

All I can say to explain it is that the mere thought of cleaning now fills me with such dread I would prefer to come up with a suicide plan than to try to clean this place. It fills me with extreme anxiety to even think about throwing things away, because maybe I'll need them someday, and because the task is so overwhelming it seems impossible. It's so bad now, I have no idea how to manage to clean it all up. Of course, I will clean it up. Of course, it's silly to think that it has to remain in terrible shape. Of course, no boyfriend or ex-boyfriend is worth getting so depressed that you live in squalor. Of course, I'm a feminist and I know that living this way over some guy is ridiculous and stupid. I will pull myself out of this rut, eventually.

I suppose my irritability is partly anxiety, partly hormonal, and partly related to the fact that I'm not eating much. I'm on a strict diet, trying to lose all the weight the medication has made me gain. I know i can lose it; that is not the issue. But to avoid moodiness in the process could be tricky.

I may have to delete this post later. I do not particularly want to be sharing the information written here with, well, anybody. So if it disappears, that is why.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

everything is easy but wrong

Living by habit doesn't hurt. And the butter melts, as Ani Difranco said, out of habit.
I have a habit thinking about and talking to a particular person, who I have mentioned here before (though I also deleted most of the posts about this person). He lives in another state, and has a full life there. But out of habit, I thought for over eleven years about how great this person was, how important he was to me, how much we supposedly had in common, and how - hopefully - we would someday know each other in a manner more real than pixels on a computer screen.

Old habits die hard. What happens to a dream deferred? It festers. Some dreams lack the beauty of raisins, and simply wreak havoc on the soul. Some dreams are so life-like, you forget you're dreaming. Some dreams last too long. Some dreams distract from reality, and confuse a person about what reality even is.

My dream was about meeting this person, who - oddly enough - I've known since 1997 and never met - and how, someday, we would end up being friends, in person, or, perhaps, get married, or some such thing. These were the dreams. However, when you put someone on a pedestal that's a bit too high, you end up frustrated that they did not live up the expectations formed in your imagination.

And sometimes people, for whatever reason, will try to convince you that your dreams have meaning, when they know this meaning is not really there. This person would always tell me how he didn't really want to be in his relationship with his girlfriend, how talking to me was much easier than talking to her, and, like a thirsty sponge, I soaked up these words and clung to them with my life. Life depends on hope. Hope depends on dreams. But dreaming too much is unhealthy, not productive, and sometimes dangerous.

Sometimes dreams must be let go, like a flower picked, and discarded. You open your hand, release it, and go on.

The below has long been one of my favorite poems. It relates to this post.

"Old Dominion"
By Robert Hass

The shadows of late afternoon and the odors
of honeysuckle are a congruent sadness.
Everything is easy but wrong. I am walking
across thick lawns under maples in borrowed tennis whites.
It is like the photographs of Randall Jarrell
I stared at on the backs of books in college.
He looked so sad and relaxed in the pictures.
He was translating Chekhov and wore tennis whites.
It puzzled me that in his art, like Chekhov's,
everyone was lost, that the main chance was never seized
because it is only there as a thing to be dreamed of
or because someone somewhere had set the old words
to the new tune: we live by habit and it doesn't hurt.
Now the thwack . . . thwack of tennis balls being hit
reaches me and it is the first sound of an ax
in the cherry orchard or the sound of machine guns
where the young terrorists are exploding
among poor people on the streets of Los Angeles.
I begin making resolutions: to take risks, not to stay
in the south, to somehow do honor to Randall Jarrell,
never to kill myself. Through the oaks I see the courts,
the nets, the painted boundaries, and the people in tennis
whites who look so graceful from this distance.

Escape the United States: A Survival Kit in Case McCain-Palin Are Elected

Folks, things are not looking good for those of us who do not want to experience another four years of the same old, shameful, war-mongering, anti-choice, idiotic, right-wing, neocon, fundamentalist, corporately-funded, Republican Regime in the White House.

Those of us who cherish freedom, human rights, mercy, women's rights, reproductive freedom (including birth control, which is not the same thing as abortion, Sarah Palin), peace, co-existence, environmentalism, and other basic tenets of living an ethical life, need to consider something. Do we really want to spend our one and only lifetime in the United States? Do we want to be here when McCain-Palin start World War III, and every country with nukes around the world (which they got from us), starts attacking the U.S.?

Do we really want to continue to pledge allegience to "one nation under God", when God is used to justify homophobia, hate crimes, subordination of women, war on people who have religions other than Christianity, racism, stereotyping, sexism, and other forms of hatred?

Do we really feel that we are in the best possible place for us to be living, if this place is going to be led by the right-wing neocons who are responsible for nothing less than global destruction?

Folks, the time for taking matters into your own hands is here. We must flee, and we must flee quickly, if McCain-Palin are elected. Women, especially, should fear the loss of Roe v. Wade. Therefore, with your best interests in mind, I have compiled the below Survival Kit for Escaping the United States if McCain-Palin are Elected in November.

Women, especially, should look into nations where women are leaders, have been leaders, or have a chance of becoming leaders. The United States, as you might be aware, has NEVER had a female President. I have included in the survival kit, a list of countries that have been or currently are, led by women. Don't vote for Palin like a dog begging for scraps on the kitchen floor. She might have female chromosomes, but a feminist she is NOT. She does not care about women's rights, and in fact, hates women's rights. We need to exercise our Right to Exit the Imperialist Empire that the United States has become, in the event that McCain-Palin are elected.

Good luck to you, wherever you choose to move to!

Some Basics on Leaving the United States (from a 2004 article):

Reasons for LGBT people to leave the United States (an article from 2004):

Finding a Job as an Immigrant (to various countries):

Countries that Provide Universal Healthcare (sometimes referred to incorrectly as 'socialized medicine'):

Expatriate Women site (a bit too commercial and fluffy, but has some useful information):

Links to Clubs for American Women who Have Left the U.S.:

Reproductive Heath Clinics and Abortion Services Worldwide:

Current Female Presidents/Heads of State:
Michelle Bachelet of Chile
Helen Clark of New Zealand
Luisa Diogo of Mozambique
Tarja Halonen of Finland
Myeong Sook Han of South Korea
Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of the Philippines
Mary McAleese of Ireland
Angela Merkel of Germany
Portia Simpson-Miller of Jamaica
Dr. Vaira Vike-Freiberga of Latvia
Khaleda Zia of Bangladesh

Countries that have had a female head of state/ president since 1950:
Listed by: Individual, Title, Country, and Years Elected

Angela Merkel Chancellor Federal Republic of Germany 2005
Jennifer M. Smith Premier Bermuda 1998
Soong Ching-Ling Honorary President Peoples' Republic of China 1981
Suhbaataryn Yanjmaa President Mongolia 1953
Maria Estela Martinez de Peron President Argentina 1974
Lydia Guelier Tejada President Bolivia 1979
Vigdis Finnbogadottir President Iceland 1980
Agatha Barbara President Malta 1982
Corazon Sumulong Cojuangco Aquino President Philippines 1986
Sabine Bergmann-Pohl President German Democratic Republic 1990
Ertha Pascal-Trouillot President Haiti 1990
Mary Robinson President Ireland 1990
Violeta de Barrios Chamorro President Nicaragua 1990
Tansu Ciller President Turkey 1993
Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga President Sri Lanka 1994
Ruth Perry President Liberia 1996
Rosalia Arteaga President Ecuador (Interim) 1997
Mary McAleese President Ireland 1997
Pamela Gordon President Bermuda 1997
Ruth Dreifuss President Switzerland 1998
Vaira Vike-Freiberga President Latvia 1999
Mireya Elisa Moscoso de Arias President Panama 1999
Tarja Kaarina Halonen President Finland 2000
Megawati Sukarnoputri President Indonesia 2001
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo President Philippines 2001
Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf President Liberia 2005
Michelle Bachelet President Chile 2006
Janet Jagan President Guyana 1997/98
Christina Fernandez de Kirchner President Argentina 2007
Pratibha Patil President India 2007

Monday, September 08, 2008

When you're happy and you know it, clap your hands..updated

This post was UPDATED on 9/9/08
September is Suicide Prevention Month. I was going to post a list of resources for people feeling suicidal, but then, upon further thinking (and having already posted such lists in other places), I thought, it would make more sense to discuss methods of saving one's self from the realm of suicidality. In this vein, I present you with, Things that Make Me Happy:

Recent Things That Made Me Happy:

-I saw an excellent movie called Transsiberian which I recommend that you see yourself if you are a bit bored and looking for some entertainment.

-I am back in school, and finally, finally, finally, about to finish my little degree (and move on to a better degree directly afterwards)

-I found out that a failing grade I got when I was sick and unable to think clearly enough to withdraw myself from a course that I could not finish, might be changed to a W (for Withdrawal) so my GPA will go back up to where it should be.

-My first assignment in Math for Liberal Arts II was to write a paper! I kid you not. I have dreamed all my life of a math course that would allow me to write papers for math credit. It exists.

-I have been encouraged by people in NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) to get more involved in advocacy work with them, and I plan on doing that by, among other things, writing an article for the newsletter, writing some more letters, and eventually speaking to some legislators in Tallahassee

Overall Happiness Inducers:
-My beautiful, loving, adorable cat, Spooky
-Fall is coming soon! The end of Florida's torturous August heat is near.
-Having a sense of humor. There is much to laugh at in life. Laughing helps heal wounds, and distracts from problems. One way I amuse myself is making up things like a new religion where I am the prophet of the feminist God; such things may be primarily only amusing to me, but they often have the benefit of making others laugh as well.

Ok, your turn. Take out a piece of paper, a journal, or get online and write to yourself about things that make you happy. Do this regardless of whether you are happy right now or not. It doesn't have to be some daily happiness journal, like the type recommended by Oprah and pals (who regularly annoy me with their stupidly simplistic advice), but it should list a few things to cheer you up.

One can be creative with this as well. I did the following project some years ago in a hospital:
-took a shoe box, and covered it with glued-on pictures of flowers and gardens, making it look like one big garden box
-cut up construction paper in various colors in the shapes of flowers
-wrote "reasons to live" on each flower
-filled box

Example of reasons to live:
-"I admire Sylvia Plath for her poetry and not her suicide".
-"I love my family".

Do your own! It's a fun project, especially if you're as bored as I was on the hospital unit where I came up with that idea.

You might want to keep a journal that lists reasons to live, or keep it on a blog or in your email account, or in your pocket, or some such place, particularly if you are prone to suicidal thoughts. One of the best ways to cope with suicidal thoughts is to combat them with positive thoughts. This is not as easy as it sounds, but it can be done. Trust me, I know what I'm talking about in this arena.

Other things to do to pull yourself out of the Bell Jar, if you are feeling suicidal or depressed are:

1. Talk to someone. If you have no one to talk to, call a hotline such as 1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-SUICIDE (both these numbers lead to the same people)

2. Deal with whatever is beneath your depression. There are always reasons people feel so low. Whether it be a chemical imbalance, or horrific life events that happened to you, getting to the root of the issue will help. Therapy can be very useful in this endeavor. If you have been sexually assaulted or abused, you may wish to call the RAINN hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE or the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE.

3. See a doctor. There are many, many medications widely available to treat psychiatric illnesses. There is no reason to suffer without treatment. If you have no insurance, there are community mental health centers across the United States that will see you for a sliding scale fee or for free. Find one. Make an appointment. Go to the appointment.

4. Go to a support group. NAMI has support and advocacy groups across the United States. The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance also has groups across the United States.

5. Get involved with some type of advocacy, or activist, or volunteer work. Giving to others will make you feel like you are making a difference, and will increase your self-esteem. Plus, there are thousands of causes on thousands of issues that need your support.

6. Keep busy!

7. Write happy thoughts. Think happy thoughts. Sing happy thoughts (okay, maybe that is a bit much...) But really, for all the animosity I feel towards self-help books like Chicken Soup, etc., there is some basic advice they have which proves true in life: changing your thoughts can change how you feel.

8. Read this article on "cognitive restructuring" (also known as thinking different thoughts).

9.Read a book by SARK, or visit her website Planet SARK, where you can find some of her inspirational words of wisdom which help to do no less than cultivate creativity and transformation of the soul.

10. Read poetry that addresses life difficulties such as depression. May Sarton wrote many such poems. You can read "Now I Become Myself" here.

11. Find a few other inspirational words to read, here.

12. If you can't concentrate too long, because of depression or other mental illness, try reading poetry. Visit the Academy of American Poets site.

13. Find solace in reading memoirs of other people who lived through depression and other mental illnesses, and survived intact. A few of these and other informative books on mental illness which I've read over the years are: Darkness Visible, by William Styron, Madness by Marya Hornbacher, Manic, The Myth of Sanity by Martha Stout, The Beast by Tracy Thompson, An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfied Jamison, You Are Not Alone: Words of Experience and Hope for the Journey Through Depression, Julia Thorne, Undercurrents: A Life Beneath the Surface by Martha Manning, Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel, Manic Depressive Illness by Kay Redfield Jamison, et al, Surviving Schizophrenia by E. Fuller Torrey, M.D., The Quiet Room by Lori Schiller, Just Checking by Emily Kolas, Manic, a Memoir by Terri Cheney, Whispers by Ronald Seigal.

13. Find free ebooks about depression at the About.com depression site

Friday, September 05, 2008

advocacy efforts

In regards to my post about the mental health care cuts in the area where I live, and the letters I sent out about that, I have some news. Bob Barrios, who works for Governor Charlie Crist, in the Department of Health and Human Services, I believe, responded with a personalized letter that exhibited evidence someone had actually read what I wrote to the governor. He basically said, yes, we care about mental health, but the budget had to be cut and our hands are tied. I did, however, get discouraged by this response. As you may know, most emails sent to politicians and government officials are responded to only with form letters that go out automatically to say, "yes, we got your letter", and show no proof that your letter was ever read by anyone.

Also, I got an individualized response from the Chairman of the Pinellas County Commission. He, and all the other commissioners, had received a lengthy letter from me. Last night, I went to a NAMI meeting (National Alliance on Mental Illness), as I am a member of NAMI and on occasion I go to meetings. I mentioned to everyone there that this man, Bob Barrios, might like to hear from them, and encouraged them to write letters themselves. Elliot Steele, who founded Vincent House - a well-known clubhouse for people with mental illnesses, along with his wife, after their daughter developed Schizophrenia, was at the meeting. I spoke with him and learned that Bob Barrios has been of assistance in getting State money to fund clubhouses like Vincent House, or at least, in attempting to do so. This encouraged me a great deal. A former professor of mine who I talk to frequently suggested that I call the governor's office and speak to Bob about the closing of the long-term rehabilitation facility in Pinellas County (which was known as "short-term rehab treatment" although, in comparison to other facilities it was long-term). So I plan on doing that next week. I will keep you posted about the results.

I am a firm believer in using one's voice, and I think, perhaps, if more people with psychiatric conditions spoke up as loudly and as frequently as people with medical illnesses that are not psychiatric in nature, we would not have as much stigma and discrimination in this world as we do right now. Last spring I took a peer-to-peer advocacy training course at NAMI, and I plan on getting more involved with the NAMI Consumer Council and the training of police officers in crisis intervention in the future, so I spoke with people at the meeting about those efforts last night. It feels empowering to say, "hello, we have a problem here..." sometimes, when you know that there is such obvious evidence of a problem, you have experienced the problem, and you have seen the effects of the problem on dozens of people, but you haven't heard anyone talking about it. An article in the NAMI newsletter this month, by Donald Turnbaugh, described the absence of public outcry when the SRT program closed as ludicrous; he compared it to what would be likely to happen if a unit for cancer patients to receive treatment was closed, and there was no other place in the area for them to go, and the likely outcry that would result in that situation. I think this is an excellent analogy. Of course, people are not ashamed to admit they have cancer, or demand that there be treatment for cancer. People with mental illnesses, including myself, are often ashamed or rightly afraid to let others know about their condition or to speak out about it in any kind of public way. This shame results in silence, and as Audre Lorde said, "your silence will not protect you".

Even though I can say all this, when I wrote the letter to the St. Pete Times about the closing of SRT, that I wrote a few weeks ago, I was afraid to put my last name on it, in case it was published. The reason for that is I have already lived through the results of people at a workplace learning that I had Schizophrenia, and that was not a pleasant experience or one which I wish to relive at my current place of employment. Someday, perhaps people will be able to speak out without fear about any experiences they live through, whether it be the shamed life of being gay in a homophobic world, the hated life of an obese person, or the stigma surrounding mental illness. We have come quite a long way from the days when Dorothea Dix demanded the building of state mental hospitals to protect people with mental illnesses from being sent to prisons and alms houses, but we still have quite a way to go.

I have more to write about, and will post again on another topic soon. Thanks for stopping by.