My Family History of Mental Illness

I remember my grandmother in her baggy dresses that covered every inch of her body like the shrouds that covered the furniture when the summer folk had left for the season. My cousin Heidi was surprised when I told her that my grandmother — her aunt — had spent many hours of each day lying in bed.

“But she was always so jolly, so friendly.”

“Yes,” I said. “She could be like that. Like so many of us she knew how to fake happiness.” I do not mean that as a slander. I admire how she could pull herself together despite her suffering and be there.

I know my grandmother loved me. When I was young, she used to get in big fights with my mother for the way she mistreated me. The rows were long and loud — I would go to the very back of the yard so that I could not hear them.

My mother had her own problems: there was a deep-seated meanness in her. She disparaged my grandmother when we were alone together, complaining about what she thought as Stella’s laziness. When I was depressed, she was panicked at the thought that would do the same, so she hectored me about getting a job — any job — no matter how inappropriate or soul-killing it was. Once, when she was in the hospital with roof-busting high blood pressure, I told the doctor about our family secret. A psychiatrist prescribed Prozac. For three months, she was a nice person.

Dealing with anxiety over the holidays

I wrote another article for “The Mighty” that I wanted to share

http://themighty.com/2015/12/7-tips-for-surviving-the-holidays-when-you-live-with-anxiety/

At my house, we celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah. The kids love it; twice the parties, more gifts and more fun. But for me, this means twice the stress and more anxiety. And while most of the severe symptoms of my mental illness are under control, it can be harder to manage my anxiety as the holidays approach.

But I’ve learned little adjustments can make a huge difference. Here are some things that help reduce my anxiety over the holidays:

1. Take two cars to a holiday party.

It’s easier to relax when I know I have an exit plan. If my husband and I take separate cars to an event, I know I can leave at any time.

2. Find a “safe space.”

When we’re at a holiday party or family gathering, I make sure I find a quieter room or place outside to get away from all the noise. Or I spend time with the animals if there are any pets. It just needs to be a space where I can recharge.

3. Give yourself permission to walk away from upsetting conversations.

There’s always that one person who wants to argue about politics or compare achievements. I used to dread holidays mainly because of these uncomfortable interactions. Now, I know I don’t have to listen. I can walk away or not participate.

4. Keep it low-key.

In my house, we don’t feel pressure to entertain guests or worry about buying the “perfect gift.” There’s so much going on already, we don’t want to add to the stress by holding unrealistic expectations. We try to keep it low-pressure and enjoy what we have.

5. Know it’s OK to say, “No.”

Around the holidays there are lots of opportunities to help others, but if making that batch of cookies or running that errand is going to cause me too much stress, I have started saying no. The holidays are a time to give, but it’s important to know your limits.

6. Accept help.

On the other hand, if people do offer me help, I’ve learned it’s OK to accept it. I try to remind myself they wouldn’t ask if they weren’t willing.

7. Remember to actually enjoy yourself.

As much as there are parts about holiday gatherings I don’t enjoy, there are things I like. Certain foods, smells, people and seeing the children’s excitement. I try to enjoy those special moments — it keeps the holidays in perspective.

Review: An Angel at My Table

Janet Frame endured eight years as a mental patient before she went on to become the poet laureate of New Zealand. She was misdiagnosed. While she was incarcerated she underwent electro-convulsive therapy without anesthesia and was lined up for a lobotomy until her doctor learned that she had won a prestigious literary prize and took her off the list. This movie is the story of three periods in her life. Her time in a mental hospital is the second.

I would guess that social anxiety and, perhaps, depression were the demons that afflicted Frame. She would hide in corners. She failed at her work as a teacher. When two of her sisters died, she crashed into a frozen despair.

If Angel at My Table is accurate, Frame was most certainly not schizophrenic. An early scene in the second part of the film shows her riding to the hospital in a car with two women who are severely impaired by their illnesses. She stands out as unafflicted by whatever is troubling her fellow passengers. Things were done to her while she was in the hospital just because they were the latest treatment. Her mother desperately signed the papers for the lobotomy: if Frame had been trapped in a mindless system, we would have lost a great author. Fortunately, a doctor noticed in time and helped her win her release.

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When are remarks “remarkable”?

Not long ago I was listening to the Heidi and Frank show on the radio. They were doing a show on OCD. I don’t listen often and hoped maybe it would be okay. After all, it was mental health awareness month, at the time.

No. It was a comedy bit. I realize that is their job. but they were making fun of callers and people they know. Calling them “Freaks and “Weird”.

I rarely respond to those types of things but I contacted the radio station and NAMI. I didn’t expect to hear back from the station. NAMI told me they don’t deal much with that diagnosis and to contact an OCD foundation. I passed on the info and let it go.

Now I see this article:

Mike Huckabee and Schizophrenia; NAMI Calls for Apology Over Supreme Court Remarks on Iowa Radio Talk Show

 http://www.nami.org/Press-Media/Press-Releases/2015/Mike-Huckabee-and-Schizophrenia;-NAMI-Calls-for-Ap

I understand Mike Huckabee is a Presidential candidate. Is that what makes him a good example of stigma? He called a man with no mental illness (Supreme Court Justice Roberts) “schizophrenic”. I don’t think that compares with calling someone with a disorder “Freak”.

I do think he should be called on it, like others in the media. The choice  just seems arbitrary.

Getting ahead of myself

I haven’t been able to work for over 10 years. Mostly because stress makes my symptoms worse. I have been thinking of attempting to work. I have sent out some resume’s and gone on interviews.

Those didn’t go so well, but I am still looking. I found an agency that places people with disabilities in jobs. The employer gets a tax break. I haven’t been very impressed with the company so far, but I haven’t seen any of the job leads.

But, I have been rolling the idea around in my head. Who will pick up the kids and do the things I do when I am around? Am I making a mistake? What if I can’t handle it? What can/can’t I do?
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Focus

I wake up and throw myself into rants about how I am irritated with a multitude of issues in my life that are all intersecting to make my day frustrating and uncertain.

After ranting for two hours to various people, I start studying. I am fixated trying to complete problem after problem with undying devotion. When I get stuck I force myself to turn my attention to what is more important- the assignments due tomorrow.

What should have been a half hour at best of work, turns into what feels like over an hour. I write an abstract for my lab report and spend an immense amount of time editing it until it is “perfect.”
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Outside Perspective

Sometimes I don’t notice changes in myself. They come on gradually. I don’t think of them until someone mentions it.

People have been telling me for awhile that I seem less anxious. I have been able to give presentations, start conversations, some things that might not seem like much but have been hard for me in the past. I even took part in a podcast once.

I was telling my therapist that I have had trouble with some physical things like fingerprinting (for work) or mammograms where they have to position you. I get tense and the more I am told to relax the worse it gets. Today. I had a mammogram. i warned the woman that I have had trouble in the past, but 1, 2 3 she was able to easily take the pictures.

I also told my therapist I have these brief periods when I feel at peace, happy out of the blue. She thinks I am finally starting to come out of a depression. That my meds are working on anxiety and depression. I really hope so.

How Far Would You Go?

We are quick to judge someone who abuses drugs. But shouldn’t we evaluate what led them to use such methods in the first place?

The first time I smoked weed was because I felt depressed and wanted to feel anything else. I didn’t know I was in a depressive episode at that time.

I no longer use it, I actually rather despise the substance.

But it is not the only drug.

I want to feel guilty about abusing my psychiatrist’s trust but I am not the type to feel much remorse.

The powder can work better than the whole. Your nose may ache and the initial rush is so heavy you feel like your heart will explode out of your chest. But I found if you balance the drug with another… then you can excel.

In a way, it is typical cliche college student. They say a ridiculous amount of college students abuse stimulants but I’m not sure of how accurate that is. I have yet to meet any who do but then again- I don’t have many friends and I’m sure it is not something most will announce to the world.

It is not something I do that often, at least not anymore. It is something I do when I’m desperate. I felt so stressed out that I couldn’t function- I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t get started- and the seconds were ticking away.

The pressure to never fail. Not a single class. You want to go to grad school, don’t you? You want to be a success, you want this career because for some reason you have equated it to happiness.

You’d do an awful lot to get this, wouldn’t you?

There are some who would go further than I am. Sabotage their peers even. I am not so devious.

Shouldn’t I feel bad that I have to use these methods at times? I should but I don’t. Like I said earlier, I’m not the type to feel guilt. Would I feel more accomplished if I did it the “right” way? Eh. Maybe. But I’d probably see no real difference. Either way I got the work done- that’s what matters, right?

I’m driven to these methods by expectations. Expectations that were put on me by family and by myself. Ever since I was little it was like my whole life revolved around my future career. Was it my fault? I don’t know. My siblings are all older than me by quite a bit. When I was old enough to start having a good concept of the future, my siblings were all determining what they wanted to do in this world. It made me ask myself the same question. And for as long as I can remember I have had a career goal. I revolve my life around it. But I don’t want to. I want to be happy and have fun.

So I come to be between a rock and a hard place. I can either spread out the time spent studying by not going out drinking or I can get it done in one night by working excessively (and perhaps with a little help) and go drinking.

I’ve done this to myself. I feel trapped in a world where career is everything. But to get to career, I have to get through college. And let me be honest- I hate college. Or at least, I hate the pressure. The deadlines, the high marks, everything. I wish I could learn in an enjoyable way. But let’s face it, I hate my major. I love my minor. Both are useless unless I can get into grad school. I’ve given up on med school, which is what I have completely devoted my college classes towards and it is too late to go back. I am shifting my goal but it doesn’t exactly align with what I’ve done.

What a mess.

Stability… does that word even truly apply to me, ever? You would think so. But I don’t think so. I am always a little up or down. Always have some unhealthy addiction. Am always a little self destructive.

Tonight I used unethical means to get some school work done.

But will you judge me before you even consider what made me want to?

Don’t call me lazy. But if you want… you can call me desperate.

-Quinn

Yet Another Post- Finding the “Me” in “Meds”

After missing my meds the other night, and then taking them last night, it was like a transformation occurred.

I went to class today and was able to focus the entire time. I was energetic enough to seek out potential professors seeking research assistants. I got stuff done and tonight I plan on going to a club. Most of all- I felt happy to be alive. Maybe a little too happy and productive, but whatever I’ll roll with it.

But my friend texted me something. She said, “With meds. Without meds. Completely different. It’s both terrifying and amazing at the same time how much of an affect they can have on you.”

And I have to agree with her. The times I’ve gone off meds I’ve turned into a nervous wreck, unable to function, vomiting from anxiety, and apparently dangerously suicidal as last night proved.

But what I told her is that, yes, it is frightening. But what frightens me more is that I don’t know who that person is. I’ve only been on meds 3 years (which isn’t a long time compared to some people) but it is weird to me not knowing who I am without them.

I know for me, when I’ve quit my meds spontaneously, part of my reasoning was that I wanted to see who I was without them. And every time I did I was scared beyond belief. I wish there was a way to know that person but it is simply too dangerous. Part of me wants to see just how bad I can get. I want to know. I want to see the difference medication has made.

I do see it, sometimes. If I think back to high school before I turned 18 and got meds, I was a nightmare. I was suicidal, I was erratic, I was pessimist beyond belief… In all honesty, I was really just a horrible person. I won’t deny it, I didn’t like that person. That’s why I wanted to kill her.

Meds changed my life, even if the antidepressants did later further my problems. They started off helping before I descended again. But it was different than before, when there was no meds. On them I was still somewhat sedated. I can’t help but wonder anyway.

A lot of people think the meds strip you of personality. Make you numb. Make you a zombie.

And the right ones in the right dosages don’t.

I know who I am on the meds.

But I can’t help but wonder anyway…

Who am I underneath this safety blanket?

-Quinn

Today

I don’t know if reading through my posts I sound like I have a lot of present mood disorder issues. I wish I didn’t have it or have to deal with it, but I am much, much, much better than when I was first diagnosed.

At that time, I was psychotic, but even before then, I had times when I would cry for no reason or not leave the house. I haven’t been hospitalized since 2005 or had psychotic symptoms since 2006. I have coping skills. I don’t micro-manage symptoms. If i have a good day I enjoy and take advantage without worrying if it is going to turn into mania.

My biggest issue now is anxiety and even that is better. It is hard for me to notice, but people around me tell me I seem more at ease. I do presentations for NAMI which is hard for me to believe with my social anxiety. I am not a great speaker, but they go over well.

I am married. I was diagnosed after 7 years of marriage, so my husband didn’t sign up to marry someone with a mental illness but he has been supportive. I have 2 teenagers, who are doing well, for teenagers. I do some volunteer work, I would say an issue i have now is time management.

lorib