Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Thank You, Sanity

I have gotten back on the track I want my life to take, I think. My illness is still there, but the symptoms are almost manageable right now. I also have, slowly, gotten in touch with the core of myself more than I was for a number of years. By this I mean, I do activism work now because I care about the issues and because it is what I want to do with my time, on a regular basis, and a purposeful, organized manner within two different organizations.

When my ex-boyfriend, Jim, lived here, I did not do activism work. I also did not write. I did not really do anything that I actually wanted to do when I was with Jim, other than go to movies, where he would humiliate me by playing video games in the lobby while we waited for the movie to start. I was not perfect gem for Jim, but what I was, back then, was inauthentic. I did not actually care about baking chicken, after having been a vegetarian half my life. I did it for him, to please him, much as I have frequently - like so many women - felt the responsibility to please other people, throughout my life.

After Jim, there was the depression of no-Jim. I had no one else in my life, really, and I was miserable and lonely and hopeless. I had no job for eight months, and that was a hell on earth with the financial issues and the weight on my shoulders to find a job, while I was actively hallucinating and having many delusional thoughts. Then, I got a job, which I've been at for the past year and a half, but within that year and a half there have been, more often than not, the daily auditory hallucinations and delusional thoughts.

I can tell you that today, I am not having daily auditory hallucinations and delusional thoughts. A couple weeks ago I was. But today I am not. And that is progress which counts. I have also, gradually, over the past couple of years since Jim left, changed a lot of things about my life, and I'm finally now at a place of relative happiness and peace - at least part of the time. When you are having what my therapist kindly refers to as "perceptual problems" (as opposed to "hearing things"), and the voices of everyone who is around you are distorted so that you hear several secret hidden CIA/mind control/Illuminati messages being said at once, and you cannot do anything without having to question what is real, and what is not - well, it's hard to function like that. This should come as no surprise to anybody, but it's a fact I frequently overlook.

I forget. I think, "Oh I am such a failure/loser/pathetic waste of space", because I haven't "done this, and done that, and gotten this degree, and that job, and had that marriage, or that kid, or whatever". It is easy to fall into that trap. Society generally doesn't take into account the fact that a person might be seriously mentally ill and not look like she is. People don't think, when they ask you what you do for a living, that maybe you cannot do much for a living because you cannot think clearly. So if you say, "I work part time answering telephones", they basically think that you are a loser. At least, this is my perception of what people think.

It's hard to understand that when some one's mind is a mess, that person's life will, inevitably, be a total mess too. This means that the person will probably not be getting adequate healthcare, will probably not be addressing any serious illnesses that they have physically or mentally, will probably not be enjoying leisure activities, will probably not be able to function at a job or a college like they normally would be, will probably not have an active social life, will probably not spend time doing things that require clear thinking, like reading and writing, will probably not have the luxury of being able to consciously make the choice to eat health, non-fattening foods, will probably be eating unhealthy, fattening foods (especially if they are taking medications that make them constantly famished)......A person who cannot think clearly, cannot live clearly. Cannot BE clearly.

I feel that I am near living clearly at the moment. My apartment isn't spotless (and never will be). I don't have an incredibly active social life or a ton of friends. But my apartment is livable, and I do have friends. My job isn't one where I am really challenged, where I learn anything, or where I see a future career blossoming. But I like my job, and it is a low-stress job, and a job that I do well. And that is a good thing. It's important to count the good things, especially when you've been blinded by the bad ones for years. I am not an author of books, but I do write this blog, and I feel satisfaction and usefulness in using my voice to speak what I need to say here. I live in poverty, but I do it without being homeless or without a car. I have a car. It's got a big old dent in the back, but it's an awesome car. I am grateful for my car because for four years I did not have one. I am grateful to not be near homelessness, because I have an income with which I pay my bills. I am grateful that I am not floundering alone in a sea of hallucinations, because I have medication that is working for me right now. I also have an excellent therapist and a thoughtful case manager, who I appreciate very much, and who have helped me a great deal to feel that I can make progress.

I have made progress. Seroquel helps me. I am on 1000 milligrams a day now. That's a lot of Seroquel. Someone I know couldn't take 50 milligrams without falling asleep at work. But I can manage on the 1,000, and the 1,000 appears to be what I need at the moment.

My schedule is busy these days. I am accomplishing things. I'm not watching a lot of TV, lying on the sofa, thinking of the things I wish I could do. I am standing up and going places and doing things. I AM ABLE TO because I am on medication that works for me. That makes all the difference in the world. You can't compete if you're not even on the playing field, and for someone like myself dealing with this illness, without medication you're not even in the game. I believe that the combination of medications, therapy, and good luck, is helping me make great strides, and I want to make note of that here, because so many times I have talked about the things that are the easiest to discuss - the problems. I have concentrated on the problems because the problems where huge, looming, and overwhelming. They overpowered me. They don't overpower me right now. And for this I thank the universe.

Currently, my days are filled with college classes, my part time job, helping to organize a statewide conference for a women's rights organization for which I am the membership director in Florida, attending NAMI meetings and taking notes as the secretary, going to the gym and exercising as much as I can when I have the time, going to therapy weekly, getting my Risperdal injections every two weeks, studying, studying some more, studying some more (because, unlike in my younger years, it takes real work now for me to get good grades), playing with my two kitties who I adore, attending meetings, attending activist events like the recent Hands Across the Sand last Saturday, going to see movies with a friend or my mom and sister, grocery shopping, paying the bills, cleaning the kitchen, living.

It feels good to be alive.

Knock on wood.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Moms with mental illnesses

In an email newsletter I get from Mental Health America today, there was a link to an article regarding the children of parents with Bipolar Disorder developing mental illnesses more frequently than children whose parents did not have Bipolar. My mother has Bipolar Disorder, and has had a lot of problems throughout my entire life, and before my life. I figured a long time ago that mental illness runs in my family. A lot of my family members can't drink without drinking too much. A couple are diagnosed as Bipolar. And then there's me. I'm the only one that I know of who has been diagnosed with Schizophrenia in any form. But I don't think it is just a coincidence that several other people have battled with mental health issues. In a Facebook group I've been a member of for some time, which is geared towards adults whose parents have mental illnesses, I've frequently noticed the way the adult children often have mental illnesses themselves. In fact, I think that it's pretty obvious when you get into a conversation with anyone who has a mental illness that they are not the only person in their family to have one.

But sometimes a person can read too much into this. My sister-in-law informed me some months ago that she didn't want to have children, partly because my family has "bad genes", meaning "mental illness". That was frankly extremely insulting to me. She didn't think a kid was going to be worthwhile if the kid might be, well, like me. I thought it was a very rude thing to say about my family and also knew that it was a statement based on ignorance. My sister-in-law didn't know anything about Schizophrenia or mental health research or the age range for when the average person might develop a mental illness. She didn't realize that there might be cures for Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia in twenty years. She just assumed. It's never wise to assume. (My sister-in-law has since become my soon-to-be-ex sister-in-law as she and my brother are getting a divorce, but not because of mental health issues).

The last time I saw my gynecologist she asked me if I thought I would ever want to have children. The reason she asked is that it might not be possible, since I haven't gotten a menstrual cycle in about a year and a half or so, due to side effects from my antipsychotic medication. I realized when she asked me that it's a question I mentally bypass most of the time. I purposely try not think about it. In some ways, though, I don't think it's up to me. I think it's not really an option. I think about what would happen to me, and further, to a fetus, if I was off my medications for nine months. I'd very likely kill myself within the first month or two, so I don't see that progressing well. If I stayed on the medications throughout a pregnancy, I'd be creating a toxic kid, and would have to worry forever that the kid was going to have all sorts of issues because of my medications. Then, I have to consider the amount of energy and patience and time and health that it takes to be able to raise a child. Not to mention that it is helpful to have a father in the picture. So basically, I guess I'm not having a kid. I guess not ever.

It's kind of a sad thing to realize, in some respects. I think I might have actually made a decent mother. I would have tried to raise a healthy, happy, well-rounded, socially conscious individual, and I would have done my best at it. But at what cost? I might not ever finish college. I might not ever be able to work full time. I cannot manage the same number of tasks that I could if I had good health (physical and mental), and that fact is something that always needs to be considered. And I would possibly be creating another person with mentally ill genes. But of all the reasons I don't think I could have a child, that last one isn't pertinent. I don't want to purposely weed out mentally ill people from the population. Rather, I would like to see a cure or, at least, very effective treatment without heinous side effects, be developed in my lifetime. I think that curing mental illness is possible, and that a cure would be the optimal way ot remove the illnesses from the human species. Obviously, evolution doesn't always work in a nanosecond, and it might take a few thousand years or more before that takes place - unless genetic engineering becomes more widely used, which it probably will.

All in all, I do think that a person with a mental illness can be a "good" mother. I think that it if a person is actively psychotic they can't provide a stable life for a child, however. And I think for a person who is dealing with psychosis, being a parent on top of every other life responsibility is probably a nightmare. So, I guess it is for the best, but I think I will always wonder what would have been or could have been, if things had worked out differently. I think I would have liked being a mom to someone. Such is life.