You can't help but go among mad people. We're all mad here. I'm mad, you're mad. You must be mad, or you wouldn't have come here.
~Cheshire Cat

31 July 2012

Tell me

I have been writing this blog for about a month now and I'd like to know:

Are there any topics you'd like me to write about?
Do you have any questions regarding anything I've written about or said?
What would you like to read about?

Let me know; I'm curious.

30 July 2012

They tell me this is my worst fear

This blog has been nothing but intent seriousness, focusing on the deep issues that arise in people with invisible mental illnesses.
My aim is to ultimately help people understand the strides and struggles of living this way, and in doing so I hope to include every aspect of this life. Those would include triumphs as well as pitfalls; pleasures as well as pains; highs, lows, and in-betweens; humor in response to tragedy; humor for humor's sake; and anything else that can aid in the appreciationapprehension,perceptionpercipience, conceptionvisualization, awarenessconsciousness,enlightenment, and realization of the subject.

That said, I hate to bring up another grave topic rather than focus on something light, but in the midst of yet another criminal with the label of mental illness, I can't help but focus on my worst fears.

Reading stories such as this, "Suspect In Killing And Kidnapping, Was Diagnosed With Schizophrenia," makes me wonder if the stigma of mental illness will ever cease. People always want to believe that a healthy person could never commit such a travesty; pinning it on a mental disorder is more appealing. 
Headlines like this only perpetuate the stigmas attached to mental illness: that those suffering are dangerous, unpredictable, unreliable, and unaware of their own actions. In reality, millions suffering from mental illnesses would never think that committing such an act would solve anything, and that millions of crimes are committed by those of "normal" health. 
Where is the line?

Of course, the most salient of these in the news currently are those of the Aurora, Colorado shooting tragedy. This proves it: those who are quiet and different are mentally ill and it should not be surprising that someone like this committed a horrendous act. Right?

But it should be no surprise that someone like this committed a horrendous act for another reason: those suffering mental illnesses often don't get the treatment they need.

Reading things like this always make me wonder if I could be capable of something like this. 
I have a mental illness, those with mental illnesses often commit horrible crimes, therefore, I am capable of committing a horrible crime because I have a mental illness.
Not quite valid logic (fallacies ad hominem, ad ignorantiam, etc), but it makes sense. 
"Therefore, those with mental illnesses commit tragic crimes."

If the goal of these news stories is to make me afraid that I could be capable of doing this, well, then, mission accomplished. 

Something awful happened to a very close friend of mine a few years ago. This is a very personal story and it has affected me deeply. I will not reveal any names and I will try to be as vague as possible because this has greatly affected the families of those involved.
A very close friend of mine (whose family has become very close with mine) growing up had an older brother. He was kind of a trouble-maker, and from what I remember, not very nice much of the time. That was in one context, though. I usually only saw him on the school bus, and being that he was much older than me, those memories are some of my earliest and possibly most distorted. 
I spent a lot of time with this family when I was between ten and fifteen. My friend's brother was about five or six years older than us, so we didn't have many interactions with him. I heard stories, though, from my friend and her sister. Stories about how their brother would disappear for days at a time, that he was expelled from their expensive private school for setting his locker on fire, that he got arrested for stealing this or that, etc. I remember very vividly that my friend told me that her brother "is bipolar." And she oddly seemed to be bragging about it. Who knows? We were just kids.
My memory of him was different, though. 
While I was definitely afraid of him, I saw a lot of good in him. 
One year, he took us to the state fair. Just the three of us. I thought that was really nice of him. 
Sometimes he took us and his other sisters to the park, where he'd amaze us by jumping from structure to structure, tower to tower, swings to monkey-bars, slides to balance beams. 
I thought he was absolutely insane for even thinking he could do it. But he did, and he'd bring us back unharmed. 
One memory I have of him was from the first time I went with my friend's family to visit their land up north where they were building a cabin in the middle of the woods where there were no roads and no motorized boats allowed. They took advantage of the below-zero temperatures to tow lumbar and a huge wood-burning stove over the frozen lakes via snowmobile. 
The family was used to dressing for the cold: I was not. And as the rest of the family (all 7 of them) was busy zipping their snowpants and securing their boots, my friend's brother noticed that I didn't have the proper gear and offered me his. He helped me put the long, insulated gloves on and secured them for me.
I guess having 4 little sisters (and their friends) made him a little more perceptive than most other people. 
But that is my last memory of him. Everything else I know about him is from word-of-mouth or, thanks to the internet, news articles.
The family kept quiet about their son/brother for a very long time. I knew not to ask questions. I don't know if he graduated high school or what he did after that. But I always wondered.
When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I was hesitant to tell my friend because of her experience with her brother. I still don't know if I ever officially told her.
But 2 years later, it was thrown back into the faces of the family. 
The person that they didn't talk about had been arrested on suspicion of murder.
How could this happen to such a wholesome family? The four other children, all girls, were doing really well. My friend had been accepted to a prestigious private university, and the rest of the girls were all working hard and studying. Their family is beautiful. Each of the girls could be models: they're beautiful and athletic and really smart. Everyone respects them and their family. They don't deserve shame.
When the arrest happened, no one knew.The family's vow of silence remained strong. I found out about the arrest months later when it went to trial.
For some reason, it hit me hard. I read about the crime, the court hearings, and the sentencing. I read about the retaliation against my friend's family by the family of the victim. I was heartbroken. 
But what stood out to me the most was that his lawyers urged him to plea insanity for not being treated for bipolar disorder. But he refused. 
Would insanity be a better plea? I didn't get it. But the more I read, the more I realized that people were blaming his refusal to accept treatment on him and that he was perfectly aware that he was capable of committing murder. His awareness of needing treatment and refusing it incited scores of articles and blog entries.
"What a monster!" was the title of one such article. 
Monster? Because of his bipolar, he's a monster? And only monsters can be so heinous? 
If his bipolar made him a monster, what did mine make me? What DOES it make me?

Without revealing too many details about the crime, it's hard to express how disturbed this made me. 
I do believe that he made a mistake. He made many mistakes. He was confused and instead of doing what he should have done (which is call the police if he suspected that the victim was injured), he tried to cover up any mistakes that could be traced back to him. In his attempt to cover it up, the victim ended up freezing to death outside of her home.
While many people consider him to be a "monster," I can understand his thought process: I meet someone, she gets hurt, she might report me, I should try to make it seem as if she was never in my company, I panic, I try to drop her off at her house but can't bring her inside. I flee.
Of course no one fell for that. And his lack of emotion during the hearing didn't help, He came off as unremorseful. I think he was mad that he got caught.
He was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Soon after he went to trial, my friend and I met up at a new year's celebration. Of course she was stressed and upset, but at that point only I had heard of the arrest - the rest of our friends were completely unaware. I guess the stress of remaining silent for so many months was too much for my friend, and in a moment of desperation, she blurted out how upset she was. Panic showed on her face. I quickly scooped her into the bathroom of the hotel room we were in because I was sensing a break down. 
I was right, and of course curiosity arose in the other party goers, and soon the bathroom was filled with five or six girls trying to help our friend calm down.
The secret was out. Her brother is in jail (though she never said why) and he will probably be there for a very long time.
At that point I felt the need to defend myself, even though I hadn't done anything. I felt that I needed to stand up for myself and the hundreds of thousands who suffer from bipolar. 

But that feeling has fled. 
I think about it and I get upset. I feel ashamed that I have this. I feel like it is expected that I will do something horrible, but that if I do it will only perpetuate that expectation. 
I also am afraid that I might use my illness as an excuse to do something bad. I can't lie and say that I haven't thought about it; I have. Sometimes in a rage I will think, 'I could easily get in the car right now and drive through a red light causing cars to swerve around me and probably hit me. It wouldn't be my fault. I'm crazy.' I sometimes fantasize about the life I will have after that: I will probably live in a hospital, with everything brought to me and having no responsibilities. That would take care of needing a career and a family. It would be so easy.
So why don't I? 
I don't know. 
I have gone this long without getting into trouble: why would I start now? I've been making very clear progress; this would only upset those around me who have been helping me. All of their effort would have been for naught. The guilt attached to that is pretty strong. 

It is a very real fear that I may be capable of harm to myself or others. It's even worse thinking that I am unaware of this capability, and that it might arise in an unexpected scenario. 
I am afraid of this demon that might be inside of me waiting to get out. I am afraid of losing all control. I am afraid of being outside of myself. I am afraid of the illness taking over. I am afraid of my bipolar. 

25 July 2012

Is it even real? Or am I just pretending?

What is bipolar disorder?

Is it a personality flaw, or is this a real illness?
Society hears the politically version and conclude, "Oh, well, yes. It's an illness, sure. That's why they call it 'mental illness.'"
But even I have a hard time really believing it.
You can't see it, there are no tests for it, you can't map it in the human genome, and many people lives completely normal lives with the diagnosis.

"We're all mad here."
People are afraid of those with mental illnesses.
But why?
People with mental illnesses are stereotyped as being irrational, crazy, unreliable, embarrassing, and violent.
In some cases, it can be true.
The stigmas against bipolar disorder are so prevalent that sometimes even I believe them, and I find myself having these assumptions against others with bipolar disorder. I somehow assume that I am different.
I often find that upon the discovery of my illness, some people change their attitudes. What is their assumption?
Am I craving attention?
Will I suddenly turn violent?
Does it say something about the status of other people?

With some more serious mental conditions, such as autism, it's easier for the public to believe that something is not right in the brain. It makes more sense that some wires are crossed and some connections aren't being made because most people with more intense symptoms DO have a hard time living the life of normalcy. Sometimes they can't get a job; or the jobs they can get are menial and degrading. They usually live with family members and may never marry and have a family of their own (this is obviously not true in all cases. The majority of those suffering from autism do very well in their lives, but it's much easier for the public to focus on those cases which prove the opposite). Those are easier to see, and the general public is more likely to acknowledge (and perhaps better understand) that this is an invisible illness that in some cases are not conscience and coherent decisions.

Having bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, major depression, generalized anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), adhd, ptsd, etc are still stigmatized because they haven't been "proven to be real" illnesses in the medical sense.
In fact, until 2010, mental illnesses were considered completely separate from physical illnesses, not only in hospitals, but by insurance companies, doctors, etc.

How long will this distinction continue?
Major research is being done and steps are being taken by neurologists, psychologists, neurobiologists, psychiatrists, and geneticists, to help put a "stamp" on mental illnesses.
How long will it take for the public to be aware, understanding, and accepting of these conditions?

We've come a long way in the past 75 years, from institutionalizing individuals at the first sign of madness, to conducting research to accommodate those who are affected.
But the public "view" and the private "views" are not synonymous. 
Despite research conclusions, public awareness, and health reform, peoples' private opinions will be hard to change.
Until then, we have to walk around knowing people are looking down on us, are afraid of us, or frustrated with our madness.

So is this "real?" Am I just "pretending?" Or am I so used to people expecting me to act as one with bipolar disorder should act, that it has changed my cognition and behavior completely? Or worse, have I become so accustomed to being treated a certain way that I never learned how to behave "normally?"
Have I in fact not grown out of having fits and tantrums because of the label that has been placed on me? Does this happen to me because it is expected to happen in someone with bipolar disorder?
In other words:
Has the stigma of this diagnosis, and not the diagnosis itself, shaped my behavior, or has the illness shaped it?
Do I play into the label? Or does the label play into me?

Am I just pretending?
I don't think I will ever know. 

20 July 2012

Famous People: Lewis Carroll

To learn all about the author who wrote the Alice books, click the link

"Haven't you learned?"

This is either the best time, or the worst time, to be posting.

It could be the best, because it will demonstrate the intensity of living with a stigmatized "condition" (not an illness, not a disorder, but a personality flaw) that is the elephant in the room. The elephant is alluded to but never mentioned outright. It may be through facial expressions. But worse, it is usually through unfinished sentences or insults.

It could be the worst, because I am in no condition to be writing anything because it will end up being incoherent nonsense. It doesn't even make sense to me as I'm writing it - and it is coming out of my own brain.
Ignore grammar. Ignore comma splices. Ignore fragments. They don't make sense, nor are they needed, in a situation like this.

But I hope you can follow along:

I am upset.
I don't even know if that is what I am. I don't know if there is a word for it.
And when I am upset, my body doesn't know what to do.

Instead of getting mad and angry and eventually coming down, I shake, scream, kick, hyperventilate, and sob loudly. Tears won't stop flowing from my eyes. It is like I'm not even crying - tears are just falling.
`I wish I hadn't cried so much!' said Alice, as she swam about, trying to find her way out. `I shall be punished for it now, I suppose, by being drowned in my own tears!

If the stigma of mental illness didn't exist, I wouldn't be so upset.
But because it's the big elephant in the room everyone is trying to ignore, everything blows up.
No one wants to say, "Listen, your mental dysfunction is making you stupid. Get over it."
Well, actually, they very well may want to say it. But they've said it in the past. And it didn't do any good then. So what good would it do now?
I've caused everyone to walk on eggshells.
They don't say it outright, but I know that is what they mean.

The situation itself doesn't matter because it could be this, it could be anything.
It all has the same underlying theme. It could be where I parked the car. Or that I decided to go into the lab to finish up my projects. Or that I drank the juice that was in the fridge.
It's always the same, "Can't you ever learn?"

The assumptions that I am stuck in my childhood and can never "grow up" or "learn" isn't just in the heads of those around me: it rubs off.
I believe it, now, too.

The frustrating part is that the very people who are "helping" me are the same people who are baffled that their "help" is countering what they assume they are doing.
It's like yelling at a dog who is barking to try to get him to stop, but he wont. So you yell louder. The louder you yell, the louder he barks. Yelling, "BE QUIET!" at a barking dog does nothing to calm him down; it further excites him.
"Listen, I know you're trying to be an adult and you're trying to do everything on your own, but..."

But what? I'm failing? That is the worst insult.
Yes, I am trying, but when the people around me are suppressing my ability then it does not work!
I can't "be" an adult and I can't "do" anything on my own when all the control is taken away from me!
So when I do "try," it's suddenly my fault for being too stupid to assume that I'd be able to do anything on my own.

It is the same conflict every time. It has little to do with the context, and everything to do with the idea that the people around me may never trust me.
And it's not because of me.
It's because there's something wrong with me.
Well, the part of "me" that they don't trust is the illness, but they will never be able to separate "me" from the "wrong" in me.
To a degree, it is not possible to distinguish between the two; attempting to do so would be irresponsible.
Having bipolar affects my every day.
But it does not mean that is who I am.
It is part of me, but it does not define me.

There are no isolated incidents.
For those close to me, as well as for most of society, this is something that happens all the time and it will never change, and they treat it as such.
Of course, they see the world through a different lens than most: they live with me. They always have.
Their experiences from the past are still with them.
Their earliest memories of me breaking down are still their current assumptions.
They claim to see progress, but then come to me telling me that I never learn and just repeat the same things they've been saying all along.
Repeating it like I'm stupid does no good.
I heard you the first time.

Yes, something that happened last week due to a miscommunication was unfortunate. But telling me what I "should have" done and why it "doesn't make sense" does not solve anything.
So what am I supposed to do about it now?
There is no going back in time.
So something that happened last week with an outside party has not gone away. But it's not my fault for that.
What happened happened, and it was not my fault.

So what am I supposed to do at this point?
I can't calmly explain myself when I am being insulted and interrupted.
And as it escalates, I find myself screaming,

And of course that doesn't help my situation.
I have just proved them right.

I have just proved that I can't keep composure when I'm being ridiculed and criticized.
And that feeling of failure eats away at me while it just proves that they were right in assuming that I can't "handle" anything.

And I walk away believing it, too.

I am not making this sound as bad as it is.
But I don't want to say something I regret.

But you can't call anyone stupid, especially when you know the person is not stupid but rather they have a mental block that might make it seem true.
It gets under my skin.
Is it not enough that I have been proving myself by doing well in school? That I can continue with studying and doing projects? That despite all of the deep, dark, looming demons, I can live a "normal" life?
Doesn't it say a little something that I tend to regress when I am stuck in a situation that is not conducive to leading a conflict-free life?
It's not living in blissful ignorance that got me through everything: it's knowing that I am in a safe space.

The assumptions from others have convinced me, too.

But if I did the right thing medically, that would cost money.
And that's what this is about.
My stupidity is costing everyone a lot of money.

That is where the guilt lies.
The guilt isn't in that I have an illness; it's in the fact that my illness is seen as something that just keeps costing more and more money.
Money that doesn't really seem to be going anywhere promising, because I'm still "wrong."
Of course, going the hospital would cost money. And that would make me stupid again. Because anything that I do that costs money makes me stupid.
Circular logic might work on stupid people. But it doesn't work on me. Hence...

But here are the common assumptions that I hear all the time:
-Having bipolar doesn't make me sick.
-Having bipolar isn't an illness.
-It's an excuse for not being able to grow up and learn.
At least, that's what I'm being told.
And it's what I'm believing. They're probably right; they're the ones telling me what I apparently can not see, and because they can see it, I should believe it.
And I'm not being told anything else except by myself.
But I'm told I shouldn't believe me.

19 July 2012


Every journey begins somewhere. If we think back enough, we might be able to pinpoint the exact place and time we embarked on this quest.

Some journeys are easy to pinpoint; we probably made a conscious decision to take on a task.

I remember the precise moment that I decided that Hamline University would facilitate my academic interests.
It was the day of senior prom: 25 May, 2005. It was also the day that my decision cards were due for The University of Wisconsin, Madison. All I needed to do was to mail in a post card with a check-mark in one of 3 boxes: "Yes, I plan to attend The University of Wisconsin, Madison this fall," "No, I do not plan to attend The University of Wisconsin, Madison," and "I plan to attend, but not yet." Also indicated on the post card was that if UWM didn't receive this post card, a phone call, or e-mail response by 5pm that day, my application and subsequent acceptance to the University would be deleted and that I would not be eligible to attend without reapplying. I sat on this that entire day. I kept the unchecked post card in my purse with me while I picked up corsages and extra hair pins, and as I chose which lipstick best complemented my dress. Maybe I hoped the decision would make itself (the lipstick as well as Madison).
Slowly the time crept closer and closer to the deadline, but I ignored it and went on doing my hair and makeup for photos at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.
I didn't look at the card again until the next day.
Maybe it wasn't a single moment, but I had made my decision that I did not wish to go to UWM and it just did not manifest itself until I woke up in a hotel room the morning of 26 May, 2005.
Not sending in that card is one of those beginnings that I can look back at and analyze. Not all beginnings are so lucky.

My lifelong journey of battling mental illness could have started anywhere, but looking back, hindsight is always a demon.
"How could I have ignored that?"
Of course all signs from the past are bright yellow. We just couldn't see them at the time.
But this journey, the one I am still on and that I will never finish, might not have a beginning. Maybe it is, always has been, and always will be.
Maybe I never needed to notice. Maybe all of my behavior was in response to (and not responsible for) trauma. Maybe my mental blocks kept me from seeing it. Maybe it didn't exist at all until one single moment.
I will never know, but I do remember the moment that was the catalyst:

When I was in 10th grade and in my Advanced Placement Writer’s Workshop class, something unexpected happened: I got a D on my first paper of the semester. For some reason, I couldn’t seem to shake it. My teacher gave me another chance which resulted in a B+, but I was never able to erase that D from my memory. The odd part about this all was that I was used to being an average student. For me, getting a D in an AP level course would not have been a major concern in any other circumstance. I wasn’t expecting to do well on this particular assignment (which was a compare/contrast essay on two very historical speeches that had to be 4-5 pages in length). At the same time, I was expecting that I could just skate by like in any other class. I didn’t put any special effort (or any effort at all) into this work, but when I was presented with a giant red “D,” a flip switched.

It was not the grade that was unexpected; it was my reaction.
There was the sudden shock that I am human, that all of this actually matters, and that I may be fucking it all up.
I didn't speak the rest of the week. I was easily irritated. I drove recklessly. I had fits of crying and hyperventilating.
How could I?
I distinctly remember the feeling of my blood boiling and thinking that I had proven myself to be incapable of doing what was expected of me.
I remember the sudden and intense knots in my stomach and that lump in my throat that hasn't gone away.

Once the initial shock wore off, my anger turned into a deep depression. I flipped up the hood on my sweatshirt, turned my CD player up, and held back tears in between classes. When I got home from school, I'd hide in my room until I emerged the next morning.
I wasn't sad; sad goes away. I wasn't angry; anger can be resolved. I wasn't anything. People often say that in this stage of depression they "feel numb."
I wasn't even numb. I wasn't. I just wasn't.

Shortly after this, I carried with me the diagnosis of moderate-to-severe depression. I was treated with a spectrum SSRIs, but they didn’t seem to help me get past little speed bumps that everyone else seemed to fly over.
I didn't expect that anything would shake this nasty depression, but I expected that doctors knew what they were doing and that they'd make me better.
I was referred to a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with bipolar disorder within 15 minutes of my first visit. I was a senior in high school. I was not even 18.

And so began my love-hate relationship with a mental illness: with a compare/contrast essay in the 10th grade.
How symbolic.

18 July 2012

We All Fall Down

Maria Bamford is easily my favorite and most admired comic.
Not only is she a woman in a competitive industry, but she doesn't give in to stereotypes to be there.

Maria Bamford is how I see myself when I'm in my 40's - still not stable, having relationship troubles, having to prove myself to everyone around me 24/7, and masking my neuroses under the guise of a pleasant and quirky professional.

I don't know how, but she does it. Every day.
She has never come out with a true diagnosis, but she claims to suffer from depression and anxiety: two symptoms of my bipolar disorder.

When I see someone like her get defeated, I understand. Some days, insults, slander, slurs, jokes, criticisms, and irritants just roll off my back and I never think about them again. Some days, the slightest murmur can tear me to pieces. It's impossible to predict, though a pattern might be developing.

While I understand her defeat, I do not accept it. I get upset that she's not stronger by now; she should have become accustomed to it. She is a face that represents mood disorders, doesn't she know that everyone is watching?

Of course, I'm being hypocritical; this is what everyone else is thinking. None of that helps.
Perhaps she has become accustomed to defeat, and that is the worst part.

Obviously I don't speak for her. But what amazes me the most is that she hasn't given up. For a short while she had to take a breather. Most people in entertainment do this, but hers was highly publicized in the comic community because of how she got there. It just happened to be one of those unpredictable days when something trivial gets under your skin and infects your mental stability with doubt and uncertainty. The infection spreads throughout your mind and into your very core. Once it's there, it takes over, and the person you are now sharing a brain with is not you; it's your infection.

When I see someone like Maria Bamford fall, I wonder how I will ever handle a world outside of psychiatrists' offices.

Then I remember: who cares? She's fucking hilarious!

17 July 2012

I heard you fell into a rabbit hole

At this point I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing with my life or where it's headed.
I often feel as if I'm floating in someone else's reality.
The connect
The disconnect
The reconnect
And repeat

Maybe I should just walk on concrete.

All In The Golden Afternoon

All in the golden afternoon
Full leisurely we glide;
For both our oars, with little skill,
By little arms are plied,
While little hands make vain pretense
Our wanderings to guide.

Ah, cruel Three! In such an hour,
Beneath such dreamy weather,
To beg a tale of breath too weak
To stir the tiniest feather!
Yet what can one poor voice avail
Against three tongues together?

Imperious Prima flashes forth
Her edict to "begin it"--
In gentler tones Secunda hopes
"There will be nonsense in it"--
While Tertia interrupts the tale
Not more than once a minute.

Anon, to sudden silence won,
In fancy they pursue
The dream-child moving through a land
Of wonders wild and new,
In friendly chat with bird or beast--
And half believe it true.

And ever, as the story drained
The wells of fancy dry,
And faintly strove that weary one
To put the subject by,
"The rest next time"--"It is next time!"
The happy voices cry.

Thus grew the tale of Wonderland:
Thus slowly, one by one,
Its quaint events were hammered out--
And now the tale is done,
And home we steer, a merry crew,
Beneath the setting sun.

Alice! a childish story take,
And with a gentle hand
Lay it where Childhood's dreams are twined
In Memory's mystic band,
Like pilgrim's withered wreath of flowers
Plucked in a far-off land

~Lewis Carroll