Braincrazy

June 18, 2009 at 1:37 am (Life) (, , , , , , )

Mental illness is a recurring theme here. My family has a history of it in various forms. I am severely unstable when not medicated and, while it makes me a little sad, I realize that this is in no way my fault. My body has a faulty configuration. I have no influence over how much or how little serotonin it produces – my medication patches up a hole in my body’s programming. I will not find out for quite some time how effective this medication is or will be in the long run; I have had too many breakdowns – episodes of major depression, if you will – that went untreated¬† to say how long I will be on medication.

I was told two years for one or more major depressive episodes. More than that, and a patient is never taken off the medication.

I sometimes forget how fortunate I am to have grown up in a family where, for most part, it was understood that I had little to no influence over my irrational, sometimes violent, behavior, my self-injury, my low self-esteem and my anger. It was understood that it was a matter of genetics. It was never something I had much control over – gaining even a modicum of control takes years of cognitive therapy. I have no ability to put that much trust in one person nor the strength to start over each time as I physically move away and have to find a new therapist. I am not seeing anyone right now and I am quite comfortable with this.

It’s outside of my family that the misunderstanding and the queer looks started. People do not know how to separate the symptoms of the invisible illness from the personality of the person fighting it. In the minds of the unafflicted, they merge and you, I, we become the disorder. Suddenly a nameless, looming, silent evil part of the psyche has a face. Suddenly they do not know how to treat you anymore or describe you.

And thus, we remain silent to save face. We become bearers of a stigma and feel as though we carry the plague into the unwitting masses. We are taught by others that our illness could be contagious, even when we rationally know it is not. When we are found out, we are shunned as lepers for something beyond our control.

My aunt’s friend has a severely ill daughter who was recently hospitalized for her mental issues. This friend, let us call her Joanne, had never let on how sick her daughter – henceforth Hanna – truly was. Hanna spent her first night in the high security ward under suicide watch and remained in the institution for a week. She was released on a combination of three medications, mood stabilizer, anti-depressant, anti-psychotic. I had assumed Hanna was severely depressed and had equally awful body dysmorphia. What I did not know was how she would sneak up on her mother when Joanne was brushing her teeth until she was inches from Joanne’s face, only to start screaming incoherently. What I did not know was that Hanna randomly threatened to kill herself in order to pressure her parents into pitying her. What I did not know was that Hanna’s therapist was somehow unaware of his client’s behavior and the true extent of her mental illness.

I am sad that Joanne did not feel as though she could turn to either my aunt or someone else she trusted. I know Hanna was sick; sometimes, in those rare instances when Joanne and I had a spare moment together, I would reach out. I told her my parents had almost institutionalized me at one point. I told her I, too, was ill, much like her daughter, and that it would pass if they all pulled their share. I told her Hanna would have to be ready to make changes because her parents were currently doing all the work. Medication and treatment would make Hanna better, I promised, and if there was anything I could do, I would do it. I offered to reach out to Hanna once she was ready.

My own experiences make me capable of empathy, but I also find it almost too easy to be judgmental. Hanna is deeply entrenched in her illness at this point in time. She does not see that she is acting immaturely, that her hostility will eventually wear even her sweet parents’ patience thin. I do not expect her to make sudden changes and see the light of how stupid she was acting, but I still find myself wanting to be angry about how she treats others.

I did this. I should know better.

I hope I did the right thing in opening myself up to Joanne that way. I wanted to let her know that her experience was not out of ordinary, that it happened to other families as well. I wanted her to see that, with the right help, her daughter would be alright. Most of all, I wanted to comfort someone who needed it.

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2 Comments

  1. Britni (VadgeWig) said,

    What an amazing post. And you did the right thing and you did all that you could. The ignorance and stigma surrounding mental illness in this society is a terrible thing. It’s why I’m so grateful when celebrities speak out about their own struggle with it (much like when celebrities come out). It normalizes it and makes it easier for other people to talk about it and discuss it. Many, many people battle some form of mental illness, whether they are biologically predisposed to it or it is the result of environmental factors or it is a combination of the two.

    Yes, many of my clients receive a “diagnosis” from me. But that in no way defines who they are. They are a depressed *person,* not JUST depressed. They are a *person* with anxiety, not just anxious. Because they are also a wife, mother, artist, CPA, and Italian woman. And these labels define them as much, if not more, than the label of their mental illness. Their mental illness is just a symptom of something in their life that has been out of their control and it’s my job to help them regain the control over it so that they can overcome and cope with it. It will never go away fully (for most), but at least I can help provide them with the tools to function more normally.

    As I’ve tried to fight my depression on my own (a fight I’ve given up and begin therapy on Tuesday), I’ve become fairly sure that there is a biological basis for it in me. I have all the tools and the understanding to overcome it, yet I cannot. It is beyond my control right now, and I’ve acknowledged that it’s time to get help.

    You are a fighter, and you are an amazing woman. I’m here for you every step of the way, whether it’s a step forwards or backwards. I’m rooting for you because you’re not giving up and you’re facing your demons head on. Not many people can say that.

    • Daniela said,

      I am really, really glad to hear you are getting the help you need and deserve. It takes a lot of courage to admit you may not be at the point where you can yank yourself up by your own bootstraps. Sometimes the greatest strength is admitting weakness.

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