Christina Jasberg

Christina Jasberg

She was raised by a father with Schizo-Affective Disorder (whose symptoms can include delusions and paranoia) who would often break from reality.  By her twenties she was battling the same disorder along with bulimia, anorexia and cutting.  She has had over 80 psychiatric hospitalizations and she shares about coming out the other side, including the people, support and therapies that helped her.

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Episode 135:  Christina Jasberg

Paul:  Welcome to episode 135 with my guest, Christina Jasberg.  I'm Paul Gilmartin, this is the Mental Illness Happy Hour, an hour or two of honesty about all the battles in our heads, from medically diagnosed conditions, past traumas, and sexual shame to compulsive negative thinking.  This show's not meant to be a substitute for professional mental counseling, it's not a doctor's office, it's more like a waiting room that doesn't suck.  The website for this show is mentalpod.com, it's also the Twitter name you can follow me at.  Also please go check out the web site, go to the forum, read some blogs by me, blogs by other people, you can support the show by going there, but especially the forum.  Oh, and take some surveys.  There's about a dozen different surveys that you can take and you can also see how other people responded to those surveys.  And those of you familiar with the show know that that's a big part of me getting to know you and you getting to know each other, so those of you that have done it, I really, really appreciate it.  I want to give a final plug to LA Podfest, which is happening this weekend, Friday-Saturday-Sunday, October 4-6, and I will be appearing on a live taping of Marc Maron's WTF, Friday night at 7:00, and then I'm doing a live taping of this podcast on Sunday, October 6, at noon, and my guest is Aisha Tyler.  I'm really looking forward to that, and that episode will air at some point unless it's a total train wreck, but I can't imagine it would be.  For more information go to LApodfest.com.  It's taking place in Santa Monica.

I have to share this with you guys...Those of you that are regular listeners know that the litmus test for where I'm at emotionally and spiritually in my life is usually revealed when I'm playing sports, and I play hockey a couple of nights a week, and lately I've been really good with losing graciously.  The two teams I play on are struggling, I'm gonna even go further and say we suck, and I've actually had some games where we've gotten beaten badly, and I've been able to shake the hand of the other team afterwards and congratulate them and really mean it.  And that's such a brave, new feeling because I'm learning not to take it personally, but I have moments where it's hard and there's this team that we play...I don't know if it's because they have a guy who is in the stands, and literally, nobody is in the stands except this one guy for the other team and he comes and he cheers them on.  And he seems a little off, I don't know how to describe it, but he's like a one-man organ, like singing the songs that you would hear an organist play at an event, and he cheers, and it gets on my nerves, especially when they score a goal.  So maybe that was kind of at work when we were playing this team, but we were getting killed by them and I start micro-managing, telling people 'Do this, do that,' and we're out on the ice and I play defense, and one of the forwards wasn't rushing towards the guy on their team that had the puck, what we call forechecking.  I kept saying 'Go to him!  Go to him!' to try to force the guy to either pass or turn the puck over, and the guy on my team wasn't doing it.  And I could just feel the rage bubbling up in me and there was a pause in the game, the ref blew the whistle, and I skated up to him and said 'You've gotta go to that guy!  You've gotta forecheck him!' and he just looked me right in the eyes and said "I love you."  And it was so awesome and I immediately laughed and I gave him a little pat on his butt or on his back, and I just said 'That is the most awesome thing I've ever heard.'  It just completely sent me the message that he could have said fuck you, but...And I said to him, 'That is the nicest fuck you I've ever had.'  And I've been laughing about that for the last two weeks.  The other two things that made me laugh happened today, I was at my favorite coffee place and six cops are surrounding a guy who is handcuffed, and I'm walking past, and I hear one of the cops say to the handcuffed guy "So, have you recorded a CD yet?"  No idea what the story is on that, but it made me laugh.  And then five minutes later, some lady with two lattes in her hands walks to the glass door, apparently isn't paying attention, walks straight into the glass door.  She was okay, but spilled a latte, the foam from the latte flew up onto her face and formed a perfect walrus moustache.  And I probably shouldn't have rushed up and said 'Oh my God, that is the greatest moustache I've ever seen,' I probably should have waited about a minute to say that, she didn't seem to find it as funny as I did, so I helped her clean up and then she was able to laugh.  But oh my God, what a beautiful day.  I think I can tell sometimes when I'm in a good place when I'm able to see the beauty of that slot machine that the universe is.

Anyway, I want to read an email that I got from a listener who filled out a survey that I read a couple of episodes back, and the gist of her survey is that she's filled with a lot of self-hatred, self harms, beat herself on the back almost to the point of being bloody because she had kissed a boy and cuddled with him, so she wrote me a letter thanking me for reading her survey and i thought her letter was really kind of beautiful, so I wanted to read it.  She calls herself Ang Marie, and she writes "Your non-judgmental attitude has helped me realized I am not dirty or terrible for whatever feelings I have, and that I can cut myself some slack.  I'm still not quite there, but I'm working on being more open with myself.  Your encouragement to be honest with a therapist also helped me talk to her about my self-injury, which is a ridiculously difficult topic for me to broach.  Now here comes the hard part--it is rather strange that things worked out the way they did, but I was listening to your podcast on Thursday, the day after I attempted suicide.  I didn't call it suicide at first, all I wanted to do was sleep, or that was what I told myself.  It took three days in the hospital before I realized that when you take pills like that, you don't want to sleep, you want to die.  That realization sucked, and I'm still dealing with the fallout.  I'm still surprised that I didn't die, I just slept for 20 hours.  Guess I got my wish in a strange, roundabout way.  By the way, it's always okay to email me after stuff like that happens, but please don't put the burden on me by saying you're considering it.  I know I said this last week, but that is beyond the scope of my abilities and my emotional makeup, so please call a suicide hotline if you're considering that.  Continuing, "It took five days in the hospital but I now realize that I've been in denial about how terrible I felt and needing help and just the general state of disarray in my life.  I realize I have a support system around me that is more than willing to help but I desperately didn't want to be a burden that I forced them from my life and lied through my teeth every time they asked me how I was doing.  I've decided to be honest with them and when they ask how I am I say 'Terrible', or 'Not bad', or whatever I'm feeling.  Being honest takes some of the pressure off having to appear perfect.  One of the things I found in the hospital is that I have a really hard time asking for my needs, or even acknowledging that I have needs.  I try so hard to be perfect, to not be a bother, to be the 'golden child'.  That has become my identity.  When I was in the psych ward I waited two days to ask for Chapstick.  Two days, all because they were busy, or I didn't want to bother them, or I can go without.  I realized how uncomfortable I am with asking for anything and accepting help in any form.  I feel this massive amount of guilt about it, but my brother said something that helped.  He said 'How can you have a relationship if one person doesn't have needs or wants?  Would you want to be in a relationship where your partner never asked for anything?  Wouldn't that make you feel useless, or like you weren't really wanted?  Fulfilling someone's needs is what makes a relationship worthwhile, a relationship is give and take.  Who wants to be in a relationship where there isn't that balance?'  Anyway, I'm doing my best to express what I need, little things right now like a hug or someone to talk to.  Getting out of the hospital was a great and difficult exercise in need expression, because I couldn't drive for a few days and had to ask for rides.  I'm still not comfortable with doing it, but I figure practice makes perfect, and I keep in mind that when I was in the hospital my brother said 'I want to help you, let me do it.'  Having someone help you out of love, instead of obligation, which I thought was the only reason people would help me, changes things.  I just wanted to say thank you, please keep doing what you're doing, mental illness can be terribly lonely and a taboo subject.  Having someone talk about it with such openness and compassion makes it more bearable and it makes me hate myself less for experiencing it because I realize other people have too, even if very few are talking about it."  And one of the reasons why I wanted to read that letter, other than I love seeing people turn a corner or feel the return of hope, is because this episode I'm about to play is like a love letter to your email, Ang Marie, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

[Intro/music]

I'm here with Christina Jasberg, and Christina was recommended to me by my good friend Janet Varney, who was my first ever guest on the podcast, actually recorded right at the same table I'm sitting at right now, we're at Janet's place, and we were talking before we started recording, Christina's a childhood friend of Janet's and we were just talking about what to cover, because Christina's also going to be a guest on Janet's podcast, and we didn't really want to cover all of the same territory, so since Janet's podcast focuses mostly on the adolescence of people's stories, Christina's going to save that part of her story for Janet's podcast.  You're gonna give me the broad strokes, any big seminal stuff, but we're gonna focus mostly on your struggle with mental illness and your trips in and out of psychiatric hospitals.  Also known as the sexy shit.

Christina:  Oh...sexy.

Paul:  Where would be a good place to--and Janet is free to chime in at any point because she knows Christina very well, and I said to Janet if it feels like we're skipping over something that you think the listener would want to know, please feel free to chime in.  And for those of you that haven't listened to Janet's podcast, it's called The JV Club, and it's a great podcast.  Her guests are all female and it kind of focuses in on their adolescence years, but it goes beyond that as well, but if you love humor and vulnerability and honesty, check it out.  Alright, back to Christina.  So where would be a good place to start with your story?  Are you from Arizona?

Christina:  yeah, basically.  I've lived there most of my life, 30 years, and I'm from LA to start out with, but we moved when I was seven years old to Tucson, and things started out fine.  But when I was in grade school, my dad became very sick with a mental illness, schizoaffective disorder, which is like schizophrenia with--he had mostly the depression part, it can be with bipolar disorder.

Paul:  How is schizoaffective different than straight up schizophrenia?

Christina:  Schizophrenia I think has less emotion involved, there's less of the emotional, where schizoaffective has the depression element or has the bipolar element to it.

Paul:  I see.

Christina:  So he had a double whammy.

Paul:  And schizoaffective has some psychotic components to it?

Christina:  Mmm hmm.

Paul:  So where they hallucinate and paranoid?

Christina:  He definitely had paranoia, delusions, and hallucinations.  It was my norm, so I didn't really know anything...I knew stuff was different, but at the same time, I was so young that that's kind of what my household was.  And it wasn't all the time, he got on medication, he would get better for a while, and the medications back then had really bad side effects, so I could definitely tell when he was off.

Paul:  And was your mom in the picture?

Christina:  Yeah.  My mom and dad have been married for over 40 years, I'm very happy to say that, because they've stuck with each other through some very hard times.  I have a brother and a sister, I'm the middle, so even through my dad's illness my mom has been a rock.  And my dad too.

Paul:  Give me just some highlights, kind of seminal moments, in your battle with mental illness growing up, and then we'll get to the part when you started seeking treatment and going into hospitals.

Christina:  Yeah.  It happened really fast.  I kind of took the role of the perfect child, that's kind of the role I thought was best for me, and it was sort of a survival type thing, where my sister and brother rebelled a lot.  So I got great grades and did all the things you were supposed to do, and then at age 17 I started with bulimia and anorexia while I was still in high school the last year.  Then I went to the U of A--

Paul:  And had you been treated for anything up to this point?  Had you seen a therapist or a psychiatrist?

Christina:  Yeah, for the eating disorder, when my mom found out, but prior to that, no.  Even with my dad's illness we never went to family therapy or anything that I remember, but--

Paul:  Was it talked about?

Christina:  No, that's the thing.

Paul:  Did you know he was sick?

Christina:  I knew he was sick, that's the word my mom used--"Dad's sick again."  I didn't really know what sick meant, I mean really know.  Back then it wasn't talked about at all, so it was sort of the family secret.

Paul:  did you think that your dad was experiencing reality?  Or did you think your dad was broken from reality?

Christina:  he was definitely broken from reality.

Paul:  And even as a kid you recognized, 'OK, something's off.'

Christina:  Yeah, because he would think we were his students and he was a teacher, and he would be off, where I knew inside of me that something was not right about what he was saying.  and it was really scary, it was some of the worst times.

Paul:  I can't imagine.

Christina:  But I dealt with it how I could, and it kind of bit me, I think, back, the perfectionism, definitely, with the eating disorder, and then when I started college I only made it three months in and then I was just so depressed I couldn't get out of bed for three days, I remember it was three days and three nights, couldn't get out of bed.  Then I was just off the wall, couldn't sleep for three days, and then I took a razor and cut myself for the first time.  And that was the first of many.

Paul:  To get the rush of self-cutting?  Or to try and kill yourself?

Christina:  That first time was to stop everything.  So it was more of a suicidal gesture, I would say.  I did write out a note saying I loved everybody, although I didn't picture myself dead, or anything like that, it was more on that tone than what later it turned into.  But at that point I did take myself to my therapist's office, who I was seeing for my eating disorder, and he told me I needed to go into the hospital because I had cut my arm, and that was my first of over 80 psychiatric hospitalizations of my life.

Paul:  What does it feel like the first time you're admitted not by your own choice to a psychiatric hospital?

Christina:  It was always my choice.  I was never petitioned except one time I petitioned myself, which sounds outrageous but I'll get into that a little bit later on, but I always went willingly.  There was always part of me that wanted to help myself no matter how I resisted, there was that resistance inside.  So the first time that I went in I said 'OK, I'll go in.'
Paul:  So you didn't fight that therapist when they said "We need to check you in."

Christina:  No, and maybe it's 'cause I was used to seeing my dad go.

Paul:  How many times did you see him get checked in?

Christina:  I have no idea.

Paul:  A dozen?  Twenty?

Christina:  Maybe like six.  I just pulled that out.  Yeah.  So...

Paul:  So what was your first visit like and were you diagnosed with anything?

Christina:  Yeah, they diagnosed me really fast.  They have to, I guess, when you go into a psychiatric unit.  for insurance reasons they have to give you a diagnosis within a certain amount of time.  And they diagnosed me with schizoaffective disorder because they asked me--this is my take on it--they asked me do I have mental illness in my family and I said yes, I told them what my father had, and it was just like boom, that was what I had.

Paul:  Were you hallucinating though?

Christina:  No, I don't remember hallucinating.  I have no recollection of that.  They also diagnosed me with borderline personality disorder because of the cutting.

Paul:  Did that turn out to be true?

Christina:  I think I had borderline traits, but I really don't define myself by any diagnosis.  I mean, for the show purposes, yes, I will, but it's changed so many times I can't even tell you.  If you can imagine 80+ hospitalizations--

Paul:  I can't imagine.

Christina:  --and having a different doctor diagnose you every single time you go in.

Paul:  Do you at least get frequent flier miles?

Christina:  Well, I should!  I should be going around the world with those 80+ visits.  Actually, I was what they call a frequent flier, because I was in so much they knew who I was.  It was embarrassing, really, for me.  I would hide my face when I would go in 'cause I'd be tearful and stuff and I wouldn't want to even show them I was there again.

Paul:  You felt like you had failed somehow?

Christina:  Oh, yeah.

Paul:  Like you were just genetically flawed?  Was it the feeling that I was born a mess, it's something that's beyond my control?  Or I am weak and if I were only trying harder I wouldn't be showing up here?  Where was the shame pointed at?

Christina:  Definitely the second, I'm weak, I messed up, it's all in my control and I messed up.

Paul:  And if I had done it perfectly, I wouldn't be here.  That makes sense that the perfectionism thing would...If you're a perfectionist, that voice is the loudest and it just constantly wants you to feel that you are less than, that the perfect solution exists but because you're so weak and stupid you either didn't do it or you couldn't see it to do it.

Christina:  Yeah, definitely.  And you can see how the eating disorder would fall into the place of perfectionism, and even the cutting.  Because the cutting evolved from that first hospitalization.  The cutting got worse and worse over time and I did start having symptoms of schizoaffective disorder, I guess.  I don't know if it was the meds I was on, or what, but I--

Paul:  The cutting, the first time was a suicide attempt, that was the first time you took a razor to your arm, but then afterwards it became a pain release?

Christina:  Yeah, I met some girls in the hospital that first time who actively cut and harmed themselves, and it gave me an idea.  That's what it felt like.  I was like 'I have an idea of what I can do now', and it was matter-of-fact.  Kind of like my eating disorder.  It kind of felt like a decision, in a way, but then it takes over you and it's not a decision anymore.

Paul:  That's what they say about addictions, it's like dancing with an 800-pound gorilla.  You don't decide when the dance is over.

Christina:  No.  It's so true.  And I look at the cutting and the eating disorder definitely as addictions for me.

Paul:  Describe what you would get out of controlling your eating, or cutting, or both.  And your feelings and your thoughts and describe, if you would, a situation you would be in and what would make you want to then cut, if you can think of any specific instances.

Christina:  I would get a bad grade on a paper and the anxiety would build up and the stress would build up and I would feel like it would be punishing to me if I cut myself.  Like I deserve this, and then everything would just build and build and build, and that cut--

Paul:  And would you feel it in your body or just your mind, or both?  What did it feel like?

Christina:  The actual physical cut?

Paul:  No, the building up, when you describe it building.

Christina:  Yeah, i would feel it physically and mentally.

Paul:  Can you describe?

Christina:  Just an overwhelming wave...You know how water will fill up a tub, it was almost like I was filling up with this overwhelming sensation that something needed to happen with that sensation.  It was encapsulated in my body.

Paul:  Would you feel a change in your heartbeat, in your breathing?  Would you feel something in your chest?  Would your face get flushed?

Christina:  I think it was just a feeling that I had known for a long time but just intensified a thousand times.  I've always been a really anxious person but times that by itself a few hundred times, and that was me at those moments.

Paul:  Would it be fair to say, and I've heard people describe mental illnesses before, especially people who've made suicide attempts, that the reason they attempt suicide is not because suicide sounds like a great idea, it's like they're fleeing from a burning building, where the feeling that they have in their body or their mind is so overwhelming and intensely negative that it's like they're escaping from something, there's an immediacy to it.

Christina:  And that's kind of what I meant by the tub kind of thing, it felt like I was drowning.  It would fill up and higher up my body to where I couldn't breathe and release needed to happen in some way.  Some people do it differently, of course, than cutting, but to me, I was hurting so bad on the inside and I had no words to describe it.  And for me cutting was a way to describe it to myself.  I did it on my arms, so I'm not sure now when I look back on it, was that to show it to other people because it's so prevalent?  And it was a sign of 'I'm hurting', to me.  And that's what I've gone over and over in therapy, trying to figure out what it all meant.

Paul:  Christina just showed me the scars on her arms.  What do you think and feel when you look at the scars on your arms?

Christina:  The strong part of me feels like they're battle wounds, that's more of the optimistic part of me.  I do feel a sense of sadness.  I hurt a lot emotionally.  Those days were not good days in my life.

Paul:  When I look at your arms they look like battle scars to me.  Because I know what it's like to live with mental illness and it's a battle.  It's a raging battle.  But if you've never lived with mental illness or with the particular mental illness that somebody is struggling with, you can't really understand what it is that they're going through or where they've been.  But I mean, my God, 80 hospital visits! 

Christina:  Yeah, and one to the state hospital which, I was there for three months. That's the one I put myself into for cutting, mostly.  I was in and out of the hospital so much, every month about, I was back in again for about four days, they release you, you're on new meds, you're trying to get used to those new meds, you think you can do it, you get out there...the world was just too much for me.  Too stimulating, too evil, it felt like it was out to get me.

Paul:  Can you be more specific?  Were there certain things that were especially triggering to you?

Christina:  Yeah, people, loud noises, surprise.  I always feared getting kidnapped.  I actually believed--and kind of still do to this day--that I was kidnapped when I was little.  And even though we have no proof, I have this memory that plays in my head that I was kidnapped when I was little.  So through my adult years I had many bad memories of that.  My mom says no, but it's just a fear, maybe, that turned into visions inside my head, but it was real.  I remember walking to school, to college, and looking behind me thinking 'Who's gonna nab me and what am I gonna do?'  And after a while--

Paul:  I highly recommend you never do a conga line.

Christina:  I'll keep that in mind, that's a good point.

Paul:  You were starting to say, in school?

Christina:  In school cars would drive by and if there were men I would be very leery.  I didn't want to be surprised about anything, I wanted to know what was going to happen.  And you can link that back to my dad's illness.  It was often a very negative surprise when he would get sick.  Maybe surprise isn't the right word...jolt to my system.

Paul:  Yeah, when I imagine what it would be like, just an average parent who is emotionally volatile but living in reality can be terrifying to a kid.  But to then have a parent who is broken from reality, so there's nothing that is off the table.  Anything is possible, any terror or horror.  That has to be--

Christina:  It was confusing, because with his medication he's the sweetest man, and without it he was someone I didn't know.

Paul:  Why would he stop taking it?  Like everybody else does, because they think they're better?

Christina:  No, back then the side effects were really bad, it was medications like thorazine, haldol, and he would get back cramps in his muscles, tardive dyskinesia, which I don't know if you're familiar with, it's like involuntary movements of your face and mouth that can become permanent.  I actually got that, I'm not proud of it, but...

Paul:  Temporarily?

Christina:  Yeah.  I guess I still have some vibration of my tongue.

Paul:  Was that from the medication?

Christina:  Yeah.

Paul:  Is that medication no longer--

Christina:  It's off the table.  As soon as they saw it, they took me off the medication.

Paul:  What was the medication?

Christina:  It was haldol.

Paul:  OK.  Do they still prescribe that to people?

Christina:  They do.  I think they do.  I actually worked back into the public mental health system, after I got farther in my recovery, and some people did get haldol.  But I think they're very careful to monitor, they have you do these certain things like stick out your tongue and close your eyes, and they do these different weird tests to try to see if you have it.  I did get that when I was in the state hospital.  I was on 12 different medications.

Paul:  I don't get that.  I don't get how...Isn't there a diminishing return on prescribing that many medications to somebody?

Christina:  At that time I think it was just to maintain people.  It was a maintenance model.  Now it's more the recovery model, that people can get better and less is more.  Back then, that was 20 years ago, it was like "Let's keep her alive but let's not have her hurt anybody or hurt herself."

Paul:  "Or feel anything."

Christina:  Yeah, exactly.  And I didn't feel anything.

Paul:  And that's the other thing that I think a lot of people that don't experience mental illness don't realize, is there's so often with medication a sacrifice of quality of life, especially with the more toxic medications, and you can almost understand why somebody would go off their meds, 'cause it's like they both have side effects.  Your meds have side effects, your not being on meds has side effects, and you're always convinced whichever side effect you're dealing with 'Oh, that other side effect wasn't as bad, I want to go back to that.'

Christina:  You forget very easily what one was like or what the other was like, and with medication, though, you can get it down to a tolerable amount.  Right now, I don't have any side effects from my medication.  I'm only on three, but...I mean, I say 'only' because it was 12 at one point.  Then I remember my mom having to dress me, having to help me brush my teeth, comb my hair, because I was shaking so bad from the medication.  I was doing the--have you heard of the thorazine shuffle before?

Paul:  I've heard of it, yeah.

Christina:  I was drooling, I was that in the state facility.  They kept everybody pretty--

Paul:  When you're like that, are you aware you're like that?  Or are you so out of it that you don't notice you're drooling or shuffling?

Christina:  I knew that I couldn't move how I wanted to move.  I remember when I was in the state hospital some of the girls there wanted to beat me up.  I felt like I had to watch my back all the time and I felt like I couldn't protect myself because my medication made me so slow and shaky, and I moved in slow motion, I felt like.

Paul:  What are the meds that you're on now?

Christina:  What are they?  Um, I'm on...

Paul:  I forget too, sometimes, when people ask me.  I've been on so many different ones, sometimes I'm like uh, uh...

Christina:  Yeah, that's how I am right now.  But what I have to say about medications is that it's good to remember they work differently for everybody, and I know probably everybody with a mental illness has heard that from their doctors, but it's true.  Maybe this is a subconscious thing that I'm doing right now because I'm kind of hesitant to even mention what I'm on because I don't want someone to say "Oh, I want to try that."

Paul:  Okay.

Christina:  Do you know what I mean?

Paul:  Yeah, yeah.

Christina:  I simply can't remember right now, but I'm just saying maybe there's a reason for that.  Do you understand what I'm saying?

Paul:  Absolutely.

Christina:  'Cause I've had a lot of people come to me, parents especially, who want to know what I'm taking because they would hope that it would work for their loved one, and it so varies with biology and all that, that it's really hard to know what's gonna help one person, can help another, and what combination, too.  It's very tricky.  I don't want to be a psychiatrist because it's pretty tricky.

Paul:  Yeah, it's not like diagnosing a liver or a heart.  The brain is so incredibly complicated.  What are some seminal moments in your hospitalizations that kind of stick out, or things in your post-18-year...?

Christina:  Well the one that comes to mind first is when I was restrained for the first time.

Paul:  Was that on your first visit or which visit was it?

Christina:  I don't remember, it was somewhere in my later 20s.  I had found a piece of metal in the hospital, and I had already had stitches on my arm from prior cutting, and that was why I was in the hospital.  And I took the piece of metal and I gouged those stitches, and they restrained me.  And I felt like a beast.  I--

Paul:  Why did you want to take the stitches out?

Christina:  Why?  I really just wanted to cut myself again, and that was the easiest way. They saw that and they took me to the back room where--

Paul:  Could you understand why they were doing that in the moment, though?

Christina:  Yeah, I was mad, though. 'Cause I wanted to do what I wanted to do.  I was like a kid.  I really regressed in those years, I really did.

Paul:  Yeah, 'cause it strikes me as how could the adult in you not understand why they would need to do that?

Christina:  I guess because there was no adult in me.  I got sick at age 17, that's pretty young, and because of how sick I was I didn't really progress as a normal adult would, or a normal 20-year-old would, going to college, learning from different things.  I was in hospitals the whole time, and it was just like how could I progress?  And my dear friends, including Janet, I would tell them that I felt like they had a life, and I missed that.  And they said "You're getting life education", because they were going on and some of our friends have families and things like that.  And I always wanted to get a degree, that was always one of the big things, and they were saying "You're getting life education, that's more valuable."  I didn't get it then, but now that I have come out of it I see it now.  It's like a blur, it really is.  Those 15 years, it's like a bad dream.

Paul:  What do you feel like you've taken from it that you can sometimes go 'Well, I got that from...'

Christina:  Empathy.  That's the first thing that pops into my head--

Paul:  For yourself and others?

Christina:  Yeah, and I've used it to its full capacity now.  I'm reaching out with it.  I have a better understanding, I think, of the human condition.  Like you said, one of those pivotal moments that I remember, not only just being restrained, there was a time where I was in the room where they restrain people and I fell to the ground and I got into the fetal position and I started sucking the fingers that I used to suck when I was little.  And I was watching myself do this because I had a lot of issues with dissociation, so I was watching myself on the ground like a little baby just sobbing and sobbing and sobbing.  And the staff was trying to get in there to get me, probably to help me, and every time I saw a shadow come over me I would scream bloody murder, so they couldn't even approach me.  And then one of the doctors crawled in and she took me by the hand, and I let her.  That was the only person I let near me, was someone who was down at my level, at a kid's level.  And it was like I had totally regressed, and that's how I feel about a lot of my years, not to that extreme, that was a one-night deal, but there was a lot of growth that didn't happen.

Paul:  Thank you for sharing that.  That's so heavy.  And God bless that doctor for understanding what it was that you were going through.

Christina:  Yeah, she kind of knew at that moment what her instinct was and followed it, and it was what I needed.  Otherwise I think they would have had to just come in and grab me, even though I wasn't harming anybody or myself, unless they just let me lay there.  I don't know.  It was a very hard time.

Paul:  Can you give me any other seminal moments, or an arc of your being hospitalized?  Any type of progression that occurred?  Or regression?

Christina:  I'll tell you about the time where things changed for me, it was the moment that changed my life for the better and it was one of the darkest moments of my life as well.  I'm sure you've heard that from people, when they hit bottom sometimes that's the thing they needed.

Paul:  The biggest gift you can get.

Christina:  Yeah.  And I had cut myself the worst time ever, in the dark with a utility knife razor.  I don't know if I can be that graphic, but--

Paul:  Yeah, you can.

Christina:  And it was horrible, but I didn't see it until I got to the hospital 'cause we just wrapped it up and I wouldn't look.  And it didn't hurt--

Paul:  And this wasn't a suicide attempt, this was just--?

Christina:  No, this was this.

Paul:  That one right there?  That is incredibly severe-looking.

Christina:  Yeah, it was very severe.  Fifty stitches, something like that, just to describe to the...

Paul:  And was it just a single pass, just pushing down as hard as you can and that was enough of a release to get what you wanted in that moment?  Was the sight of the blood part of the release or just the feeling of the razor going--?

Christina:  Just the feeling of the razor and the release of what it did, like the blood, I guess.  I didn't see the blood, but maybe the feeling?  It's hard to know, but I remember just going in with all my might.  and it wasn't a suicide attempt, obviously.

Paul:  Did you damage the muscles?

Christina:  That's the thing, when I got into the ER they kept having me do finger and hand movement tests, and I did almost cut the muscle in my arm and lose the use of my left arm, but I didn't and for the first time I was scared.  And I had never been scared before about my cutting, I never thought I could accidentally die from it, but at that moment in the hospital I said to my mom 'Please find me a place I can go to get help', and she did.  She found a hospital in Chicago that was one-of-a-kind at the time, that helps people that self-injure, that's all they do, and I went there for a month--

Paul:  Can you say the name of the place?

Safe Alternatives.  And I went there for a month all by myself, this little girl in a grown-up's body.  I worked and worked and worked.  We had eight hours of therapy a day, it was awesome.  It was.  It was everything you would want an experience to be that's therapeutic.  It had art therapy and role playing and private sessions.  But the thing is when I went there I was determined to stop and that was 2001, and I haven't cut myself since.   And I haven't engaged in my eating disorder.

Paul:  Wow.  That's amazing.

Christina:  Yeah. It changed my life.

Paul:  So you haven't had to be hospitalized since then.

Christina:  I have, but not for those things.

Paul:  Okay, just for meds stopping working and you feeling like--

Christina:  I wasn't sure at that point, I probably hadn't found the right meds yet for the depression and for the other things that were going on with my head.  I kind of had a lot of double-whammies going on, but that was the end of the cutting and that was the end of the eating disorder because I considered, and still do, that the eating disorder is self-harm.  So when I went I pledged to myself that I would stop it all, and I did.

Paul:  And are there things that you have to draw on to keep that from being an option, or was just the obsession to do that removed?

Christina:  It's only felt like an option maybe a couple of times since.  At first it was real tender, it was very easy to see falling back into, and I knew I had to stay on top of things.  But now, 12 years later, I don't think about it hardly ever, maybe once in the last year or two, that 'Maybe I should cut' fleeting thought.

Paul:  How many times do you think you've cut?  Or how many scars do you think you have on your body?

Christina:  It's hard to say.  At first they were very superficial so I wouldn't have the scars, but I've probably cut over a hundred times.

Paul:  And was it always your arms, or would you cut on different parts of your body?

Christina:  I'd cut on my legs sometimes, or my stomach, but mostly on my arms.

Paul:  Would there be a different feeling based on what part of your body you were cutting on, or was it always the same feeling and it didn't really matter where you were cutting?

Christina:  I don't think it mattered, because I didn't feel anything in the first place, I didn't feel anything.

Paul:  You wouldn't feel pain?

Christina:  No.

Paul:  Really!

Christina:  That's why it's as severe as it is, because I didn't feel any pain.

Paul:  Oh my God, I had no idea.  I thought the pain was the rush.

Christina:  No, it never hurt, ever.

Paul:  Oh my God, I had no idea.

Christina:  Yeah, people always ask me "How could you do that to yourself?"  'Cause it didn't hurt.  I was so numb.  Maybe that's how I did feel, maybe doing it brought feeling to me in the aftermath.

Paul:  It would hurt later, then, and you would feel something then?

Christina:  Yeah, later when I would have stitches and stuff, it was sore.

Paul:  So how long typically from the cut to you feeling a physical sensation would it be?  Seconds, minutes, hours, days?

Christina:  Probably minutes.

Paul:  And would that pain have a pleasure component to it, or was it just pain?

Christina:  It was a relief component, and then it was like all of the sudden my stomach, the bottom would drop out, and I'd be like 'What did I just do?'

Paul:  Which is like the back end of every addiction.

Christina:  Exactly.  That's why I can totally see the connection.  And I was doing a training with a sheriff's department yesterday, I train people on crisis intervention, and he's like "Why did you choose cutting?"  And I thought about it and I couldn't answer him.  I don't know if it was a choice.  I said I felt like it chose me.

Paul:  Yes.  I was just gonna say the exact same thing.  I don't think people choose addictions.

Christina:  No.  That's what I was saying.  But it made me thing, and I was just like 'Hmm.'  I guess he couldn't understand because there's that social component that can be to how do you start drinking or how do you start doing drugs.  How do you start cutting?  I don't know, I just did, I didn't really have a good answer for that.

Paul:  Yeah, it's like asking somebody "What made you wanna start masturbating?"

Christina:  Right.

Paul:  I don't remember, it just was a feeling that needed taken care of and I had a thumb.

Christina:  Exactly.

Paul:  So, what--oh, Janet had left a little note that said 'Déjà vu'.

Christina:  It's something I'm supposed to talk about.

Paul:  Oh, okay, you wanna talk about that?

Christina:  But it's further along, I don't know how much...

Paul:  We're good on time, yeah.

Christina:  Okay, so what I wanted to say about after that going to Safe, that hospital in Chicago, and coming back home, I still had symptoms of paranoia and depression, definitely depression, and I was still going in and out of hospitals a lot.  Not as much, and not for the same reason, but I was depressed, you know, and i think I got too conditioned to go to the hospital.  That was my way to retreat from the world instead of not getting out of my bed, I would just go into the hospital and retreat totally from the world because you're not really in the world when you're in the hospital.  Everything's controlled.

Paul:  That's why I think it sounds so alluring sometimes to me, I fantasize sometimes about being checked into a hospital and just being able to completely collapse, to not have to go 'I can't even make toast', somebody would make toast for me.

Christina:  Exactly.  And everybody tells you what to do when, when to take your meds, and it's kind of like you sleep, eat, take meds.  Sleep, eat, take meds.  It's not complex.

Paul:  Can it be addicting in its lack of responsibility?

Christina:  I think so maybe on a facade or on the outside, it might look like that, and it might have that component to it as well, but I think there's a need there that hasn't been met yet.  And for some reason I needed the hospital instead of finding out what I truly needed.  And I did finally find that out.  One of the psychiatrists in one of the hospitals I went to, he came to me and said "I would like to try this therapy with you, are you willing to do that?"  And it's psychodynamic therapy, psychotherapy, generally, and I said 'Yeah, I’ll do anything.'  He started meeting with me three times a week, and then he moved and so the lady who trained him became my psychotherapist, and that's what I needed.  That's the kind of therapy that worked for me, and it's because I didn't know anything about myself.  I was the kind of person, whoever you wanted me to be, I would try to be, it's the perfectionism in me, and I didn't have a clue.  So exploring with her who I was, and then kind of liking that person a little bit, not hating her so much, and then not hating her at all, and then actually moving to like and then love, I was able to implement all of those coping skills that people had taught me through the years of hospitalizations, and all the coping skills that I started wanting to implement into my life and taking care of myself and getting myself better.

Paul:  She must have been an amazing therapist to walk somebody through that, to be that template for a healthy relationship, which ultimately is what a good therapist does.  The relationship between the patient and the client is the thing, they're the training wheels that the client learns to begin to move on, but starting from such a deep, dark place with you to a place where you love that person?  Can you walk us through the arc of that and any seminal moments that you remember in how you were changing and adapting and beginning to function?

Christina:  Yeah, she met me, I was in the hospital and she came and saw me in the hospital to meet me, 'cause I was very upset when the first psychotherapist left and I felt abandoned and that we were supposed to be in this together and I didn't really understand him leaving.  So she came in and I was in a gown, I remember, and I was at some of my worst times of depression, and she just sat there with me.  And that was our first meeting, just sitting together.  And then talking, our relationship deepened and deepened to where I felt safe enough to not be perfect with her, and I felt safe enough to yell at her, which, I'm not much of a yeller, but to actually be mad.  Anger was not something that was in my family, so I didn't feel like anger was an okay emotion, and she actually helped me get angry for the first time, and after that, watch out!  You don't want to get in my path!  I was angry.  I would tell off anybody who did me any kind of injustice, I would tell them off.  And she walked that path with me--

Paul:  So she helped you tap into this anger that you had been burying for so long, and clearly it was very freeing for you to begin to realize that you could express that emotion and the world wouldn't abandon you.

Christina:  Exactly, and things wouldn't fall apart.  And that was okay to do.  Like I could even feel anger and that was okay, instead of taking it out on myself when I wasn't speaking about anger or letting that be a natural emotion.  I was being angry, I was taking it out on my arms, I was vomiting up my food, I was not eating at all.  I was angry, I just wouldn't let myself admit that I was angry.  So she helped me through bad relationships, very unhealthy relationships, I sort of clung to the bad boy, and I was definitely the classic enabler in my earlier relationships, and she helped me get the confidence enough to move out of my parents' house, I lived there until I was 28 years old, and she helped me get the confidence to apply for my first job, which was in my 30s, which was really hard to do.  I was on social security disability for a long time, and then I started working back in the field, the public mental health field where I received services from, doing peer-to-peer counseling, and that was a pivotal moment, definitely.

Paul:  Describe what that pivotal moment felt like, emotionally, intellectually.

Christina:  Well, I was actually asked to apply for the position, and I couldn't believe that I was asked to do anything.  I had started doing some public speaking training about recovery, I started learning more about recovery, but when I actually turned in that application and stuff, I was scared out of my mind.  But at the same time there was the excitement that wow, I was going to do something with my life.  It was never an option before.  It wasn't something I thought about or let myself think about, that I could have a future.

Paul:  Well, I would imagine that once you began to recover and progressed and began to express emotions in an adult way, and you had that template of that relationship with your therapist, so you could function in the real world as an adult, who is a better candidate for peer-to-peer than you?  It's like you have the greatest job resume in the world.

Christina:  Yeah, they're recognizing that, where I'm from.  I can't speak for every state, what they're doing in every state, but actually in Tucson they have a great program and I became certified as what's called a Recovery Support Specialist.  And they're hiring people that have received services or are receiving services to help in a lot of different capacities of the job.  I actually was an employment specialist, of all people, a girl who'd never had a job!  But I was an employment and a school support person for people, I was a recovery support specialist where I would use my life to help other people see the glimmers of recovery, and that it's possible, and I would share my life with them.  And I also worked for a place that oversaw the frontline workers, so actually I was in an administrative-type position, and I was on their board of directors.  People saw the value in my recovery, they even saw it before I really saw it, they helped me see it.

Paul:  Most people do see it before we see it.  We're usually the last ones to see the good in ourselves, or the silver lining to what we've been through.

Christina:  Definitely.  And I started getting a lot of attention, in a good way, for, this time, instead of for cuts on my arms, this time I was getting attention for what I knew and what I had to offer other people, which was hope, that from being said to being institutionalized, that's what I overheard two nurses saying about me once, to being someone who's sought after in the community to help other people was just such a contrast for me.

Paul:  How did that make you feel about the universe, or your place in the universe, or the meaning of your life?

Christina:  It felt like there was a reason for all this to happen.  I'm a person who tries to see the good in everything, and all that I went through...Janet, her note is about--it says 'Déjà vu' by the way--and I was diagnosed in my earlier 30s with a seizure disorder, and the symptom was that I got déjà vu all the time, and they kept putting me in the psychiatric unit because I would tell them 'This feels like it's already happened before', and I would get it 24/7, déjà vu.  And I'm not explaining it very well, but anyway they would put me in the psychiatric hospital but it turned out to be a seizure disorder, temporal lobe epilepsy, and that is one of the symptoms of that.

Paul:  Symptoms of...?

Christina:  Déjà vu is a symptom of temporal lobe epilepsy, it can be.  And with all that I'd already been through, the state hospital, all the hospitalizations, here I have a medical thing, another thing to what I felt like this plate that's stacked to the ceiling, another thing to add, and I was exhausted at that point, but I fought through it.  I guess I just have it in me to fight through things.

Paul:  So do you feel like we've touched on all the big seminal moments?

Christina:  I think there's one more that I'd like to include.  I was still having my depression these last few years, recurrent depression, and I found out that--

Paul:  And was this unipolar depression or bipolar depression?

Christina:  Unipolar.  And I started hooking it to it was happening monthly, happens to a woman every month sort of thing, and I told the doctors that and finally I found a gynecologist who believed me.  And it happens to be true, a lot of my depression was caused by my hormones and I ended up having a total hysterectomy and I haven't been depressed since.

Paul:  Really?!

Christina:  Yes.  That was about a year ago.  I wonder how much of my life I wouldn't have been depressed, but...and I'm not saying go out and get a hysterectomy, by all means, please, but what I'm saying is for me I think that you should be treated as a whole human being, and whatever is causing something in your head could be in your body, and everything's connected, and I guess that's just what I want to add in the end, is that I found out that there was another component to everything, and it was so complex, and that's why it took so long, I think.

Paul:  That is the thing about mental illness, is you can't isolate any one thing, everything overlaps, everything is tangled in with something else, and a lot of it begins with events, maybe, that happened,  environmental stuff that you need talk therapy to talk about, and then maybe there's a biological component, and then maybe there's diet or exercise, or--

Christina:  And the biology can get turned on by an event, like from my dad, he had a breakdown, his first psychotic break was because of something that had happened, it kind of switched that biological component that he had had, and that's why it's so complex, and that's why I don't give advice over the airwaves about any of this.  As to what to try, what not to try, all I can do is say what worked for me.

Paul:  Well, Christina, thank you so much for sharing all of that stuff with us.  Man, some of that stuff's so deep and heavy, and the fact that you've come through the other side of that must feel great, having meaning now assigned to everything you've been through, instead of just torture for the sake of torture.

Christina:  Yeah, it really does.  I mean, I'm here on your podcast, things are happening for me now.  I'm going back to school, which I've wanted to do since I left school after those three months, going back to the university, I'm doing things with my life, I've been on TV, I've been in the paper about my advocacy work.  And it feels really good to me that I can change the world, in a way, even in a small way.  I do a lot of talks where I'm speaking to audiences of maybe 10 people or maybe 500 people, and I'll have people come back and tell me "Something you said changed my life forever", and that makes it all worth it.  It happened to me the other day, a woman came up to me, she had seen me speak in 2005, and said "I haven't cut in a year, and it's because of you."  And I was like 'What??'  And it just blows me away, I mean, I don't think it's all because of me, but something I said made sense to her, so.

Paul:  Yeah, sometimes we can be that spark that somebody then believes that they are worth working on also, and they want to give us all the credit, and it's not.  They're the ones that went ahead and did the work.

Christina:  And I think that's why this podcast, I have to say, is so awesome, because you're having people with an array of experiences come on and say what worked for them, what didn't work for them, how their life was, how it is now, and it gives people hope.  You've gotta hold the hope for people sometimes.

Paul:  And the bottom line, I think, too, is it's ultimately endlessly interesting because it's so complex.  I learn stuff from every single person that I interview, there's something that I'm like 'I had no idea'.  You're probably the 20th guest that I'd had that had talked about cutting, but there's parts of it from your story that opened my eyes to a different part of it that I'd never had any idea, because I guess everybody's personal experience with it is a little bit different, or they express it a little bit differently, either way.  But if we weren't talking about it, we wouldn't be able to get this beautiful silver lining to it, which ultimately it's really nice to know the universe isn't just taking a big loose dump on us, you know?

Christina:  And it's also combating the stigma which is huge, but it's getting smaller, I feel, the fact that we can talk about this right now, we're complete strangers, but we're not anymore because we can share what we've been through.

Paul:  Well, Christina, thank you so much.  Is there a web site or something where people can contact you if they want to know more about you, or get you to speak, or anything?

Christina:  Yeah, definitely.  It's not up yet, but it will be up and coming very soon, www.christinajasberg.com.  Or, I do have a blog called empoweringjourney.wordpress.com.

Paul:  Okay.  Well, Christina, I just want to thank you so much and thank Janet for arranging for us to get together and talk about all this stuff.

Christina:  Definitely.  Thank you so much.

Paul:  Truly one of the most inspiring stories I've heard in 10 years of recovery and the two and a half years of doing this podcast.  Many thanks to Christina.  Before we take it out with some emails and a survey or two, I want to remind you there are a couple of different ways to support the podcast.  You can support it financially by going to the website, mentalpod.com, and making a one-time PayPal donation, or God bless those of you that are monthly donors.  You can sign up to be a monthly donor for as little as five bucks a month, set it up and you don't have to do anything unless you want to cancel or your credit card expires.  It's kind of the financial foundation that I'm able to keep this podcast running on, but I could definitely use some more support.  I would love to get to the point where I can support myself doing this podcast, I don't know if it's a dream or a pipe dream, but would love to be able to do that someday.  Alright, enough of my begging.  You can also support us financially by using our Amazon search portal, it's on the home page, right side, about halfway down.  And you can support us non-financially by going to iTunes and giving us a good rating, or by just spreading word about the podcast through social media.

Let's get into it.  Mostly just emails today, I think we really have only one or two surveys.  The first one I have is from a listener who calls herself Allie, and she writes "I've been in a live-in relationship with my beautiful boyfriend for six months now, I love him very dearly and feel lucky almost every day and he loves me in return. Almost every day.  On some other days his significant general anxiety disorder throws up in my face.  I find it hard to let myself be honest with myself in thinking that when he's unwell, the relationship is incredibly fucking difficult.  I assume it's all worth it because he's a wonderful, wonderful person, funny, smart, caring, and unconditionally supportive.  I would also like to think I could reciprocate that unconditional support, but some nights I'll get home from working with depressed, anxious people, see his face pale and filled with dread, hear him breathing sporadically while clutching his chest, and honestly I fantasize about either being anywhere but there or pushing him off the fucking balcony.  I understand he can't help it, I really do, and I understand that how I feel about his illness means nothing compared to how awful he must be feeling inside his brain.  I understand that I will not be able to fix him, and I understand that his disorder is something that he may have to manage for the rest of his life, but on nights like tonight, when I can't get a response from him, he doesn't talk about what he's going through because he physically can't, and he'll likely sleep on the couch because being close to me at all will spin him out, I just want to feel entitled to be angry and disappointed and hurt that I can't be enough for him to feel okay.  So that's a mini-thesis on my feelings.  Writing them to you is enough for me to feel okay again.  Thank you for sharing that, Allie, I imagine there are a lot of people that really relate to that, and that's one of the reasons I want to read that.  And I know a lot of you want to hear my wife be interviewed on the podcast and you've asked me that.  She is extremely private person and she is not interested in doing that, I've asked her, even though I knew she was gonna say no.  But if you live in the Los Angeles area and you are the loved one of somebody who has had a difficult time or has a difficult time with mental illness, please email me and we can talk about maybe recording something.  The email address is mentalpod@gmail.com.  And the other shout out I want to give is to parents of kids that have mental illness.  I know a lot of times we make that link between childhood trauma and neglect, needs not being met, and mental illness.  And while that is the case, there are also parents out there that are awesome and loving and they just have a kid that was born with something that is a fucking nightmare to deal with, and you don't get the compassion that you deserve, and in fact you probably get the opposite because people leap to judgments and think "Oh, you must be the reason why this kid is acting up", and etcetera etcetera.  So I just want to send a hug out to those of you, 'cause I've gotten some emails from those of you and read some of them on the show, and I can't imagine how difficult and draining and emotionally alone you must feel, so sending you some love.

This is from the very rarely taken survey called The Young Male Abused by Older Female survey.  That's got a catchy name, though, doesn't it?  Doesn't it just sound like fun?  This was filled out by a guy who calls himself Rainbow Dash, although he used to be male, he is transgendered male to female now.  Straight, 30-39, and writes "At age 16 I my mother died all of a sudden. With my father mostly gone I began spending more time at one of my friend house where I begin a friendship with his mother. At the time she was 43 years old and our friendship was strictly platonic. She was kind of a mother to a whole group of friends but about a year after my mother died she started taking more interested in me. In the beginning it was small stuff such as taking me to lunch or buying small purchase like clothing, but as time passed the purchases became more expensive and she begin taken me on trip with her. Our relationship during this time became more physical as well. We started off with innocent massages (backrubs) and it would progressively move to genital rubbing and eventually to sexual intercourse."  If something happened, did you ever tell anyone?  "Years later I would tell my therapist about this. But is still something that I am ashamed of.”  What feelings come up when you remember this?  "Shame, regret, sadness."  Do you feel any damage was done?  "Damage was done, I will leave it at that."  Sending a big hug to you, Rainbow Dash.  It sounds like you've been able to take the blame off of yourself, and I hope you can get to the point where you can take the shame off of yourself, because you were groomed.  You were absolutely groomed.

This is from a listener who wants to be called George Chickenopoulos.  He and I had emailed a couple of times before, I got one of my favorite emails in the world, which is "I've started therapy.  From listening to your podcast and your urging people to go to support groups and therapy, I'm now in therapy."  So sometimes I'll email 'Give me an update, I'd love to hear how it's going,' so he gave me an update and then this third email and he wrote "Hey Paul, so I responded to your invitation to update you with therapy breakthroughs, etc, by saying 'Oh, nothing major, really, it's just been really positive in general' and then I think probably the next session after that I finally came out with the fact that I had realized a few years ago that within me there is some degree of wanting to be and/or dress like a woman.  I'm not a woman currently.  We've talked about it for a couple of weeks in a row, and while I've gotten a little more clarity around this, it's still super confusing.  Also sometimes exciting, and frequently terrifying, but I keep going back to the point you're constantly making, that there are shades of grey for everything and we don't need to try to fit ourselves into binary extremes, so I'm just trying to let it swirl around in my head and not rush it too much or worry about what it's going to turn into.  Then the episode from last week.  I saw the episode name in iTunes and just had to laugh.  Good timing, all around.  This is still so new and confusing for me, I'm not even sure what I got out of the episode, but it's definitely relevant to what's been going on in my head and very appreciated."  Thank you for sharing that, George Chickenopoulos.  The episode he's referring to is with Pigeon, who is a transgendered listener that we recorded.  And I also got an email from a listener who told me about her sister who is a trans woman, who was born male and is now female, and I said 'Do you think she would be interested in writing something that I could either read on the podcast or post on the website?' and so she sent me this and her name is Alicia.  "Dear Paul, on episode 134 of Mental Illness Happy Hour, you introduced the listeners to the trans community by interviewing a guest who identified himself as gender fluid/gender queer.  Thank you.  There was an important aspect, however, that was left out of the podcast, that of physical changes for transsexuals which require far more commitment, have far higher stakes, and require more sacrifices than living a gender fluid lifestyle.  I am a male-to-female transsexual in my mid-30s and have lived as a post-op trans woman, meaning I underwent sex reassignment surgery, for the majority of my adult life in both liberal and conservative areas of the United States.  I went through my transition as soon and as fast as I could, because for me there were only two options available--change my body or kill myself.  Suicide would have been the far easier and cheaper option, but I didn't take such a cowardly cop-out and opted to become a transsexual instead.  But what does transsexual mean?  By my and many others' opinions, a person's status of transsexual means that they have an identity in their mind different than that of the body in which they were born and have made physical changes to their bodies to attain congruence between their mental and physical identities.  Trans men, born as women, may have their chests reconstructed, undergo surgical alteration of genitals, and sex reassignment surgery, and/or take injections of testosterone. Trans women, born as men, may undergo hormone replacement therapy with estrogen, have their faces poked thousands of times with electrified needles during electrolysis to remove facial hair, surgically alter face characteristic in ways more invasive than typical plastic surgery, breast augmentation surgery and/or sex reassignment surgery.  The outcomes of these procedures vary and lead to various challenges and problems.  There are financial problems, because medical interventions cost tens of thousands of dollars.  Some transsexuals have more money to pay for medical procedures, and a fortunate few even work for companies progressive enough to force their medical insurance providers to fund their employees' transitions, medical insurance generally does not cover transitions, social and professional success as a woman depends on an excellent presentation in the transformed gender, and medical intervention is crucial for this but money often gets in the way.  There are legal fights to have sex and gender changed on important legal documents, getting the appropriate legal identity is crucial to gain legal protection of one's identity and not be forced to live as the wrong sex with regards to public restroom usage, professional dress codes, marriage licenses, and so on.  There are professional difficulties because some organizations do not want their workforce tarnished by gender-variant individuals, and such organizations can use overt and subtle methods to either accept or reject transsexuals from their workforce, leaving transsexuals with restricted work options.  Finally, there are social and personal problems.  For married transsexuals, transition often means immediate divorce, immediate and extended families may or may not accept or respect them, and transsexuals often have to accept the fact that they reach a limit to modifications for their body and therefore hit a wall in their acceptance as man for trans men or woman for trans women.  Can transsexuals live in a state of gender fluidity?  Yes, some embrace an androgynous and fluid lifestyle out of choice because they pass perfectly as their desired sex.  Some are forced to accept a gender fluid lifestyle because they cannot pass effectively as their transformed sex.  As a member of the transsexual community, I wanted to bring physical action back into the dialog and highlight the sacrifices that transsexuals must make in order to live a life of psychological peace, or as close as they can get to it.  Thanks for reading this, and thanks for doing the podcast.  If you have any questions, let me know."  And if you guys have any questions, I'd be happy to forward them to Alicia.  And I gotta say, I love that we're getting the dialog on this podcast going about this because I walked into this podcast not even knowing that the term she-male was offensive, and I feel like one of the things I'm really proud, if this podcast does accomplish anything, it's that we give voice to people who are misunderstood or under-represented, and it just makes me feel good when you guys jump in and open up and let us know who you are and what you're struggling with.

I wanna read an email from a listener who calls herself Andrea, and I had read one of her surveys a few episodes back, and she had done some sexual stuff as a kid that filled her with a lot of shame, she didn't hurt anybody but she had a lot of shame about it, and apparently I said something on the podcast telling her to forgive herself and that it wasn't a big deal, etcetera etcetera, and so we exchanged a couple of emails and I just thought the most recent one that she had sent me was something that I wanted to read, and so I'm gonna read it.  She writes "I didn't grow up in an environment where feelings were ever shared.  Rare communications consisted solely of people yelling at each other, so I kind of cling to hear and share embarrassing, icky feelings whenever possible.  Filling in all the surveys was hugely cathartic.  By just getting it out and looking at those feelings on the screen, I could feel an iron fist in my chest unclenching.  I was heading down the porn route again last night, but I decided to fill out a few surveys first.  That's why I was dwelling on all the sexual stuff, I think.  I remember a while back on the podcast hearing you talk about not being present and breaking up with girlfriends as soon as you knew they were into you.  I had to pause, pick my jaw up from the floor, and sit quietly for a long time.  The truth of what you'd said and how perfectly I identified with it hit me like a freight train.  I have an extremely limited sexual experience, but the instant I felt my partner might be interested in me for more than my body, as soon as I felt like he loved me, it was like a light went off in my head.  I objectify women and I objectify myself, and in all of my fantasies I am something men like to put their dick in, and nothing more.  Often now, I avoid equal sexual contact altogether.  I'd much rather get him to finish quickly and personally stay out of it, claiming to not want any reciprocation and blaming my depression medicine as a libido killer, which it is, but obviously I['m still watching porn that gives me a quick orgasm and makes me feel terrible.  I know fantasizing is a compulsion, or even addiction.  It is really setting back my recovery from depression.  I'd love to hear you talk more about it on the podcast.  A few allusions have been made by some guests, but I don't remember any who really struggled long term.  I'm a total fantasist.  I like how you describe it--as a drug.  I've been on fantasy since I can remember, and when coupled with the perfectionism of depression, it's an immobilizing cocktail.  I can't even enjoy music anymore.  I've ruined all my favorite bands by dreaming up some story in which I play an integral part in them.  I cringe with embarrassment when I think about how detailed and pathetic my fantasy life is.  I was going to go into some detail but I won't.  Suffice it to say I know what you mean, and I'm desperate to get out of my head in the bedroom and outside of it.  God, if it was just sexual fantasies I struggled with, I think I'd be okay.  As it is, I'm just going to go back to disappearing into the SIMS for 12 hours.  For me, it's fantasy or oblivion.  Oh Christ, is there a 12-step program for escaping reality?  My first doctor was unsympathetic, to say the least.  I went to him maybe three different times in two years, and he would prescribe a different pill for my 'mood swings' each time when I was trying to explain through tears that I cry every day and want to die.  All of this some four years after I first took an overdose at 15.  But I went to a new doctor who listened--actually read, every time I'd gone to the doctor to ask for help I had this embarrassing habit of crying and forgetting things and feeling fucking stupid so I wrote down everything I wanted to tell her about how depressed I felt and how regularly, etcetera, so I was careful to not under- or over-state anything, and as predicted, as soon as I sat in her office I lost the ability to talk so showed her my scribbled notes and she gave me meds and now I don't want to kill myself all the time.  through opening up, I've made a friend, my first new friend in four years, who is a customer in the coffee shop I work at, a domestic violence survivor and anxiety mentor.  We talk about porn and meds and our crushing insecurities.  It's amazing I made it here.  I'm 22 and I managed to move out, escape my cruel, draining mother and soul-draining childhood home and support myself.  I wouldn't have considered that an achievement before I found your podcast.  It's brought me and my partner closer together.  I started to share my favorite episodes with him and we've never been closer in the four years we've been together as we are today.  We pause interviews sometimes and talk about memories and feelings it's brought up in us, he started to share with me parts of his idyllic childhood that were maybe less than idyllic so I don't feel like the 'fucked up' one so much.  Yay!  And I'm certain one day I will play him you reading my survey and we'll laugh about how worried I was."  Thank you so much for that, Andrea.  Right now I'm feeling a pang of anxiety because I feel like I'm stroking myself too much with the things I'm reading today, because I think that was the second one that complimented the podcast, and I'm gonna go out on a happy moment that involves the podcast, but I have a feeling it's probably just my low self-esteem, that voice that was planted in my head as a kid that is telling me that if people say nice things about me and I don't hide it, that I'm being a pompous ass.

This is from the Happy Moments survey, filled out by Crystal, and she writes "It was this past summer and I was driving. I don't have air conditioning in my car so my windows were wide open. With the breeze in my car, it causes me to turn the radio really loud. So I am driving around my somewhat conservative city listening to the podcast. I stop at a light and I am in my own little world, unaware of my surroundings when Paul decides to say cock, rape, sex, and probably blow job all in a red light's moment. I become very aware that my windows are open and I am at a light. I look to my right and a woman in her mini-van is staring at me utterly disgusted. The only thing I could think to say was "The Mental Illness Happy Hour podcast! It's awesome. Go listen to it", and I drove off laughing wondering what was going through her head." Oh, that made me laugh when I read that.  Made me feel good, too.

Thank you guys for helping me do this show, letting me get to know you, filling out the surveys, being my guests, and reminding me that I'm not alone, because I need to be reminded of that every day.  'Cause you know what happens if I don't?  I punch guys in the face, whether they're on my team or not, and that's no way to live.  So if you're out there and you're feeling stuck, I hope you know that there is hope.  You've just gotta get out of your comfort zone and ask for help, 'cause mental illness and addiction and all this other stuff, it's bigger than what we can handle on our own and we need someone to talk to.  At least I do, that's why I started it.  you're not alone, thanks for listening.