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

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Removing the veil of secrecy: Meet the real me. (Or, for Gage all the other kids)

This is a repost because I forgot to change the post time from the original draft, and i want to be sure people see this.

As most of you know, I have a friend named Julia. Julia was the person who wrote on this blog for me while I was too sick to do it in the hospital. Julia is the mother of Gage and Quinn. Both of these children have undergone kidney transplants, Quinn's only months ago (and Quinn's transplant story made the Today Show.)

One of the things that has attracted me to Julia and to coming out of my usual very private shell with her has been that Gage reminds me so much of myself as a child. Gage has some mental health issues that make parts of his childhood all to familiar to me. We share PTSD and display it similarly, although I've of course moved on to more adult expressions. So many times though stories about Gage resonate with me, and make me see that Gage has something that could have made such a huge difference with me: parents who do something. I fell through cracks as a kid. My mother was too busy dealing with her own problems with my abusive father to really see that there were problems, certainly not that there were big ones, and besides, everything I did was explained away by my messed up home life. It would have been odd if I was not depressed.

So I did not get help for my issues until a few months before I turned 19. I was basically failing college, partly because my education did not prepare me adequately to compete against students who had planetariums in their schools while my school didn't even have electric microscopes. The other reason, the main reason, was that tests were making me panic and then I failed them. I went into counseling thinking I could learn to relax with tests, move on, and never go back. The initial form though asked about history of counseling and I had to write about CPS working with me. Which opened up lots of questions about my past. I kept insisting that the past was over, and the therapist kept insisting just because I said it was over didn't mean that it didn't hurt. So we met for the next 6 months or so, fighting huge wars to get me to trust him, although I didn't see it as such exactly. Eventually I did learn to trust him and began to learn to live with the obstacles of my past, and eventually with the beginning of what was going to be my mental illness of choice, recurrent major depression. Which was oh-so-wrong, but that's another story.

Recently Gage had to be hospitalized in a psych unit. And people who read about it on Julia's blog used it to hurt him. Adults actually deliberately hurt a child because of an illness. When I first read this, I wrote to Julia that I'd highly recommend blogging about this part of Gage more anonymously, because of the many, many bad things that have happened to me whenever I've not been anonymous.

And then I started thinking. I'm an adult. I live with a debilitating illness, but I do it well. I manage my symptoms, I am in control of myself, and I have built a very careful structure around myself to support me when I can't. I've done things in the last year that I'm still amazed by. Taking myself off (with the doctor's help) of my not-working-great antidepressant and signing myself into the hospital to trial the unknown was the bravest thing I've ever done, quite possibly will do. And I'm very proud of myself for having done it. It was the scariest risk I've ever taken with my health and the pay-off is a woman who is finally, for the first time ever, NORMAL. But I live a huge part of my life is secrecy, and what's more, in terror that someone will find out. Someone at work today noticed my huge pupils from meds. I can't do a thing about that and it does make me look like I'm on drugs. They do at least know I'm on an MAOI, so that explains it, sort of. But I'm so tired of partial explanations.

I realized after what I wrote to Julia that I've resigned myself to living this secret life. It's not the best thing, because it is beneficial to have people who know and who can support you. But for so long I've refused to think about what a world where I could be me, illness and all, would be like. But then I thought about it, and I realized that the consequences are not just for me. If I keep this mental illness of mine secret, what am I doing for all of those that follow me? That world of openness can exist, but it has to start somewhere. If I don't help people see that mental illness isn't scary and dangerous then how can I expect that Gage will live in a word that is a bit different when he is my age? I live like this because after they quit shutting everyone with serious mental illness up for life, most people remained silent. They (and I) have for decades put on a mask for the public, pretending to laugh at jokes about psych meds, "craziness", mental illness, "retarded", etc., when those things sting every time.

I picked the name "Just Me" years ago because it's something I find myself saying over and over. I knock on doors, and when the patient knows me I say "hey, it's just me. Ready for some therapy?". I call myself that hundreds of times per day.

But today it is time you know me as a person. I am Jen. I am 34. I live in the northern part of southeast Ohio, which is one of those divisions that is more cultural than geographic. I grew up in definite southeast Ohio, so close to West Virginia that I was born there because it was the nearest hospital, in a tiny town that had mainly been employed by coal mines until I was 2 and the mines were shut down. Consequently I grew up in a very poverty-stricken area. Even though my parents both had jobs we had little money, I know now due to my father's bipolar spending habits. After high school I went to college in Pennsylvania, and I spent my summers at a camp in central PA, one of my favorite places on earth to this day. I spent my happiest months of my life there, mainly free of illness and when it was present it wasn't devastating. I then moved to Michigan for my master's degree, then back to Ohio to find work. I've worked throughout eastern Ohio during my career.

Because of some weird twists to my care and allowances that are made for me, I won't say precisely where I am treated. However, since I was really diagnosed I've been treated mainly at Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic. I've been spoiled to have access to such incredible doctors at both institutions.

I live, as described before, in a very tiny (1300 people) town in the midst of nowhere. I work for a company based far away, and have never even met a single person from my company and probably never will. I own a small home which I bought in 2003 while interest rates were nice and low. I have 2 cats, Anna who is 15 and a spoiled brat, and Noah, who is 7, the funniest cat I have ever encountered. Noah is one of 2 cats I adopted together in 2002, and the adoption of 2 random cats was a factor in my diagnosis. The other one died a year ago.

I have a very scattered family. I have 2 brothers and a sister. One brother is a half-brother and I haven't seen him since he was 4, 9 years ago. One of my greatest hopes is that when he turns 18 in a few more years he'll seek me out. I work miles from where he lives and I often wonder when I'm in the city if I'd recognize him if I saw him. I live close to my mother. I haven't seen, spoken to, nor heard from my father in 12 years. My extended family is extremely scattered, and while a core group has kept in touch, others I haven't seen nor heard from in almost 25 years. Most of my extended family is on my father's side, but they all keep in touch with my mother and with us, rather than him. My father is truly horrible person. It's sad because meds would make him so much less awful but he'd never admit to having a problem. I grew up extremely close to my maternal grandmother. I think in some ways I was the daughter she wanted desperately and gave birth to, only to lose her a few days later. I still miss her every day and she's been gone for 16 years now.

What else? I'm not going to post a real picture of me, although I do plan to change the picture with my profile soon because I'm sick of it. You did get to see me from the neck down in my new pajamas last week I believe. I'm 5'3", probably most aptly described as a little chubby now, which is hard to even imagine since I've gone from a size 20-22 to a size 12 in a year. I have brown curly hair that is just below my shoulders. I wear glasses and a left ankle brace that mainly looks like a mismatched sock.

I am, and will remain, Just Me, but now you know who I am as well. Hopefully eventually my article will tell the professional world about me. That scares me slightly, more because my employer doesn't want my contracts to know anything about my illness (they only know I have depression themselves, but they don't want the contracts to stress abve about it or something), but I have a right to be me, and it's time to take that back.

Again, I am Jen. hello.

(This post will disappear eventually; I don't want my family finding this blog).


otgirl said...

!Wow! You're so cool!

Emilija said...

You are so brave Jen! I'm not so brave. I'm not "out" at all at work. It is something I am very conflicted about.

Julia said...

Wow. Just wow. I am so completely blown away by your courage I don't even know what to say.

Thank you, thank you for your bravery. I thank you and I bet Gage will too.

therapydoc said...

Aw, let em find it. It's a great post, Jen.

Rachael said...

Hi Jen, I'm Rachael. I'm a friend of Julia's, she used to work with my husband. My son is a year ahead of Gage. Thanks for your bravery. It's a pleasure to meet you. (Picture me giving the handshake where you put your left hand over the handshake for emphasis). I'm Rachael, and I'm pleased to meet you.

Jennifer said...

I admire your bravery so very very much. I went through an episode of depression - just depression - recently and found it so hard to talk about openly. I wrote about it on my blog, but talking about it with people who know me? Uh uh. And my blog is safe because nobody I know reads it..

You are amazing. I've been reading for a while, but haven't commented, other than once when Julia asked for notes while you were in the hospital. Thank you for sharing your story so freely and honestly. It takes a special kind of strength to do what you do and I commend you for it. I am so happy for you, that you are doing so well now.