Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth." Genesis 9:13

Monday, January 04, 2010

To Julia

Julia wrote a post today that made me cry. Which it seems we're taking turns doing to one another.

I am just so glad that I can help. I remember 3 1/2 years ago, when I was first starting to see that I was going to live, not that I could live well but that I was not going to just curl up and die, I reached a point where I really wanted to find a way to use my illness. Out of long talks about different ways to do this, this blog was born. I was very reluctant to do this because I know that my anonymity goes only so deep and that frightened me. Not so much now; if someone figures out who I am and does something bad to me because of it then that wasn't a situation I should have been in to begin with. And in my typical fashion, a mere 3 months or so after I built the page I started writing, marking my 30th birthday with my first post.

What I wanted so much was to have to way to show people the thing that most kept me from being diagnosed and treated years sooner than I was. Despite my degree in psychology and further training in psychology for my master's, despite my acute interest in psychology that means I've read a lot and know a lot, there was something I totally missed understanding. I thought that if you were seriously mentally ill that it was your life. Grad school especially enchanced this, with so much time devoted to all these wonderful day treatment plans that were alternatives to institutionalization for people with bipolar and schizophrenia. There was not one time that I was introduced throughout my education to the concept that mentally ill people can succeed. Therefore, I lied and hid my symptoms for literally years to avoid diagnosis. It's not like I coherently had thought about being bipolar, it's that I made sure nobody suspected it. I so easily could have been diagnosed after the summer before my senior year of college had I been honest. But I wasn't, and instead of getting lithium I started the years of destructive antidepressants. Two years later bipolar was suggested to me by a new psychiatrist. Her timing wasn't good; my prior doctor had died suddenly and she was the replacement, and so meeting her was weird, and then she didn't take time for me to be comfortable before she was throwing this new diagnosis idea at me. I pretty much ran away and she never even documented the thought. She really did a disservice there, I really wish she'd tried again with me to explore the possibility. And it wasn't for another almost 3 years that I managed to figure it out and come to terms with it myself. And this all was mainly because I thought if I were bipolar I'd lose the life I'd worked so hard for.

So all I wanted when I started this blog was a place to say, hey, look at me, I'm really mentally ill in a bad way and I'm still a productive adult. That can happen for others. It didn't play out quite as I'd hoped; I thought then that I was on a continual improvement. That delusion lasted precisely 9 days, until my next counseling appointment when I found out that my therapist was leaving the country in 4 weeks. That worked out, because that is how I got connected with Dr. Mind, but it was the beginning of a seriously horrible period of time that lasted for years before I had my incredible spell that was broken by the recent months.

And I have gotten to do that, and the results have been priceless. I'm really hoping that the things I've written in the last few months help some scared person about to go in the hospital someday; I needed something like that and could find nothing. But Julia and Gage are special to me, special because I get to see Gage have the thing I never had, a stable, loving family. (Gage and I are a lot alike. Totally differernt situations, but I think very similar PTSD and I suspect similar personalities)And Julia cannot remember so often that this is the best thing she can do, because she wants to make it all go away. So anytime I can help her (or anyone) see that loving the hurting person is the best medicine ever, I feel like there is actually some purpose in what I've had to go through.

The story I told Julia was a pretty simple one, but one of the most meaningful things that has ever happened to me. And I've never shared it here. To tell it here involves some twisting, but essentially there is one person who just sort of decided to care about me when I was an angry, confused kid trying to sort out life outside of my seriously messed up family. And that person outlasted me being a horrible depressed kid, a moody young adult who would attack with all claws several times a year when things got too hard, and thus far every episode of me being a fully grown, extremely sick adult. I don't know how many years it took for me to to learn that I can't get rid of this person just by being bipolar (even before it had a name). Because for the rest of my life everyone had moved away from my moods. I've got a better relationship with my family now and my illness is even accepted and somewhat understood, but back then let's say it wasn't a surprise to anyone when I moved 800 miles away for grad school. By the time that the event in question happened, this person had been letting me be my very moody, very unmedicated self for 7 years. And I had almost nobody who was even trying anymore to be my friend.

That person had been very ill with something physical, in the hospital, and on strong meds. And I was being horribly needy and hating myself for it. Essentially I needed a therapist, but I had had so many bad experiences (about 10 in a row) that I couldn't make myself try again. It took becoming suicidal 9 months later to do that, and it was what then led to diagnosis and finally treatment. Anyway, I finally reached a point I felt that I was too hateful to have to deal with and that I couldn't stand the guilt of this person having to handle me when I was like I was, something they certainly never bargained for. So I wrote an email telling that it was over, that I quit, that I wasn't going to hurt them anymore. I got back 2 simple words "I don't". That was about 8 or 9 years ago now and that person still hasn't quit.

That 2 word email was one of the most meaningful experiences of my life. We both knew I didn't mean it when I said go away, but the only response that let me feel how I felt, as self-destructive as that was, without doing anything but acknowledging that and letting me know I was still cared about was "I don't".

I think that when you are dealing with someone who is mentally ill those words are the most powerful things you can give them. Knowing as I do now that I don't just have one person but a whole TEAM of people who are not going to quit makes me confident that I'll be ok. But back then, all I needed was one person to let me know that I was not so awful that I wasn't worth knowing or caring about.

Whether it is blatantly said, or shown through actions time after time after time, that is what I think people dealing with mental illness need more than anything.


Julia said...

There you go and have me crying again! I am so grateful that you came into my life with your story, your pain, your success. I think without you her to be an example that it can, might, and maybe will get better for Gage is what gets me through a couple of days like this.

So thank you for sharing your story so freely with me. For without you I might not have hope for Gage today.

Michal Ann said...

What a powerful story, JustMe. It's going to stick with me. From what you describe, your friend is a true hero like few others on this planet. Very few of us have that determination and that ethic. What a role model!

I also received two powerful words when I was hospitalized for nine days with a severe wound infection following my first c-section. One wise, compassionate nurse would simply say "I know" when I was overwhelmed with emotional and physical pain. It was so soothing.

I didn't need a lecture or an arguement when expressing my needs in that difficult time. The nurse taught me the power of compassion with the balm of those two wonderful words: "I know."

I'm so grateful that your dear loyal friend had such a clear way to let you know that they would never abandon you. How thankful I am that you have hope and are passing that light to Julia, Gabe and family.

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort that we ourselves have received from God."

2 Corinthians 1: 3-4

Just Me said...

J-It will get better. When I first had Dr. Mind tell me this I thought he was an idiot. I'd been so very sick for so many years, was almost out of med options, and was declining, not improving. But he was right. In my case it was a matter of the right drugs coming out. Which has happened slowly. The kind of depakote I needed came out right when I was about to have to give up on it. Regular Seroquel was ok, but I actually got better on an Extended release form that I begged mercilessly to be put on as soon as it hit pharmacy shelves. And the patch has only been out 3 years.So what they said was true.

M-That's funny. If I tell patients "I know" about pain they generally scream at me.:)

Michal Ann said...

Maybe my remarks are "lost in translation." The nurse would say "I know" so soothingly, not in a way that indicated "I know exactly what you're going through" or "I know, I know, now let's get on with it."

I guess my experience doesn't come across well in this written format. In any case, her manner was the opposite of nurses who would try to argue with me that I had to look at my situation a different way.

Just me said...

Nah, it's not how I say it. It's just that older adults generally believe it's impossible for a 'child" to know much about what is going on with them.