Therapist Intern Erin Fox Bishop opens up about her struggles (adolescent and postpartum depression, co-dependence, suicidal ideation), and the therapist who inspired her to become one.
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The 62 year-old opens up about living with Bipolar I (with psychotic episodes and rapid cycling), battling alcoholism, being in abusive relationships, being married 5 times, having a son with Schizo-Affective Disorder and getting support from her sister, actress Glenn Close. Jessie and Glenn co-wrote the book Resilience: Two Sisters and a Story of Mental Illness. and started the foundation to advocate for people with mental illnesses Bring Change 2 Mind.
The author (Electroboy: A Memoir of Mania) and divorced father shares about his tumultuous life in the grips of manic episodes, including art fraud, sex work and prison as well as receiving ECT (electroconvulsive therapy or shock treatment)
Follow Andy on Twitter @electroboyUSA
Andy’s website is www.electroboy.com
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Ah, my old friend Bipolar Disorder. You’ve reared your ugly head again. What I love/hate about this disorder is its unpredictability. Just when you’ve spent years believing you’re fine, wham! it rises up again and swoops in like a plague of locusts.
I had had no real issues since 2008. I don’t know what triggered that cycle but I ceased to need sleep and on top of a full time job I decided to teach a Saturday morning English class for high school students who were in danger of failing but wanted to go to college. I loved doing it but I don’t remember sleeping much at all during that time. I finally recognized this manic cycle when I started flipping through my journal and saw the changes in what I was saying and doing.
I found myself a good psychiatrist (my old one was in Tucson and I was now living in Phoenix) and got back on medication, which I had been off since I started having children in 1998. I somehow had thought that with pregnancies and hormones I’d been cured but apparently not.
With my psychiatrist’s help, I received a re-education in bipolar disorder and began again with my medication. In fact, I was so compliant and stable, that just last year, in 2015, I asked if it was possible that I would be able to get off my medications. It seemed as though my psychiatrist might laugh but he takes his job and patients much more seriously than that.
And then in November I began seeing things out of the corners of my eyes. Strange things: on the right side, I saw a large block of marble that seemed rather like a sheet except I knew it was cold stone. Behind that, a fleeting glimpse of a head, also made of marble. On my left side there were dark figures dancing. These actually have a name: shadow people. They were moving stealthily but in rhythmic motion.
My doctor said I was having a minor psychotic episode. It didn’t feel very minor to me but ever compliant, I took the new medication my doctor prescribed home and took some that night. It made me feel as if I wanted to crawl out of my own skin.
That manic episode lasted through the middle of December. And I thought then that I would be stable again. But now, today, another manic episode is beginning.
So what can I do to help anyone else going through this? What can I say to make anyone else’s struggle with bipolar disorder any easier?
First of all, accept that you have it and there is no cure. It’s not cancer and you’re not going to “beat it.” This is frustrating because our instincts tell us we should go out and find a cure for things, make things all better, keep them from coming back. But this doesn’t go away. You’ll have to accept it in order to move forward at all.
Second, see a qualified psychiatrist you feel comfortable with and trust. It may take some time for this one. And insurance. But even without money (I’m broke, trust me, and applying for my state’s Medicaid program), there are good psychiatrists there for you. It’s important to find one who is right for you and who will be there when you call. Because I can almost guarantee you will have to call.
Third, TAKE YOUR MEDICINE. Yes, I was yelling that. Many people, myself included, feel stable and think we can stop our medicine. That is one of the most dangerous situations with bipolar disorder. It can result in very risky behavior during mania and such intense depression that suicide seems like a bright and shiny option. If your meds are not right for you, talk to your doctor. But don’t just stop taking them. There may be no cure but stability is possible.
Fourth, don’t give up. I know that sounds so trite. Why bother if there’s no cure, or the meds make you sick? Well, you are important. You need to grow into believing that. The world needs you. It took me a long time to learn to believe that about myself. I still have a hard time. But when the strength comes from inside, you will have the ability to survive and thrive.
So, even though life is a roller coaster with bipolar disorder, you can learn to ride it without falling off. I’m going to hold on tight during this new manic episode and take my meds. I’ll get frustrated and irritated and angry and find ways to deal with it that don’t involve yelling at anyone or attempting to harm myself. And when this is gone, I’ll probably be depressed. And I’ll survive that too, even if I have to keep the crisis hotline number right next to me at night. I’ll survive and I’ll thrive. And I know you can too.
Brooke is a freelance writer and blogger, living in Arizona. Check out her personal blog Brookesworldofwords.blogspot.com . She will be starting a new blog shortly about Tea and Organic Food.
Follow her on Twitter at @bfred58
Sleep is a challenge lately. Life is…hard lately. Not bad, quite good in some ways, but hard and exhausting.
A long while back you said something that’s stuck with me…how the word “enough” can be so damaging. “Not good enough, not cool enough, not pretty enough, not strong enough…” ways of telling ourselves we should be more than we are and that leave us unable to take joy in ourselves as we are.
It’s that last one that gets to me..”not strong enough.” Sometimes it’s an endless chant in my head. I’m not strong enough to do this. I’m not strong enough to get out of bed, to get the kids ready for school, to deal with my mother’s oddities or my ex’s lack of planning. I’m not strong enough to manage all that with a full day of work in between. Constantly those words in some variation and I’m so tired that it seems believable.
And the thing is…I obviously am strong enough because most of those things get done every single day. Week after week, no matter what new stress or pressure comes along, I make everything work. So I am strong enough…. But I think sometimes I wish I wasn’t.
Every now and then I’ll hear a story where someone has a breakdown, gets locked down for a while. The hospitals sound miserable, but even though I understand that it would be a terrible experience, I find myself just a little bit envious.
Sometimes I wish I could just lay in bed and ignore everything. I never do. I’m not even sure I could. Not for long at least, but it’s become a sort of daydream. Of somehow reaching a point where I just don’t care enough to make the effort. But I do.
The licensed psychologist and author (Running on Empty) talks about the effects of childhood emotional neglect and how parents can be more attuned to their child’s needs. This is a particularly good episode for people who struggle but feel guilty because they have no abuse or trauma in their past.
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For tickets to the upcoming taping Thursday Jan 21st at the Uptown Nightclub in Oakland go to www.uptownnightclub.com The show starts at 7:30 and the guest is Guy Branum. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door.
The LCSW shares her experience in advocating for and counseling survivors of sexual trauma, especially navigating the legal system and helping survivors heal. She is based in NYC.
This episode is sponsored by SquareSpace. For a free trial and 10% of your first purchase go to www.squarespace.com and use offer code MENTAL.
To purchase tickets for Paul’s Live taping of the podcast in Oakland with guest Guy Branum on Thursday Jan 21st go to www.uptownnightclub.com
Spiritual Abuse Survivor
You wouldn’t know from looking at my life now, but as a kid, I used to reenact exorcisms during play dates. As a teen I spent my summers doing dramatic, religious, crucifixion mimes for onlookers in third-world streets. As a young adult, I could be found trying to convince Buddhist kids they were sinful, and there was a hell waiting for them if they didn’t convert. Most of you with church backgrounds reading this don’t have such extreme stories, but many of you may have baggage around harmful beliefs you were raised with and some of you are survivors of spiritual abuse.
Spiritual Abuse Definition: Harm, or control inflicted on a person in God’s name, or under the guise of religion.
I was raised in The Jesus Movement, a Christian counter-cultural response to the Hippie Movement. The Jesus Movement was characterized by living in communes, and helping others in need. Some major beliefs and practices of this movement were speaking in tongues, exorcisms, spiritual warfare, and the End Times apocalypse. Our family of five, lived “on faith” with no income, and were meant to be a sort of healing agent for people who came to live with us. This included people with criminal records, addictions and untreated mental illnesses. We lived with some very dangerous humans.
My memories and personal formation in The Jesus Movement are mixed, sort of like a crazy circus filled with laughter, then changing to absolute horror, then back to laughter.
The horror part, the part that is connected to trauma for me, is something that I’m still working on even now. I was subject as a small child to beliefs that were overwhelming and terrifying, which are the very definition of trauma. I’ll name a few: Hell for unbelievers, The Rapture, Satan/demons seeking to destroy Christians, and not trusting others outside of our belief system.
Imagine if you will:
The results were:
Spiritual abuse is openly evident to most people who witness the awful televangelists taking advantage of people financially, especially the poor. Or it’s clearly exposed in high-profile cults such as Scientology. But it’s often not validated in the general public in every-day church experiences.
Some common examples are: being treated differently or poorly because you dared to challenge a pastor/leader, being slated as dangerous because you asked too many questions about doctrine, being viewed as “less than” because of your gender or sexual orientation, being used up as resource in church, but never acknowledged or thanked, and being shamed and manipulated for any religious reason.
For children, spiritual abuse can look like: being scared into making a conversion decision, using God to shame or scare a child into good behavior, teaching violent, complicated scripture inappropriately, and teaching children they so bad/sinful that Christ had to die a violent death for them.
These abuses, often unintentional, can be both implicit and explicit. They often represent the ultimate double bind – damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
If I honestly acknowledge the depth of my own spiritually abusive trauma, I can say I felt like I was living in a Saw horror movie with a Jigsaw God playing sadistic games with humanity. He asked me to either commit violence on myself (don’t ask questions about anything, keep in line and ignore my doubts, fears and abusive experiences) or commit violence on others (other people are going to hell to be tortured forever, and I have to be ok with it to keep my community, and retain my salvation).
In short, many people have walked away from church for spiritual abuse reasons. The ultimate “fuck you” from the church is to call them “weak, fallen, or deceived” or some other invalidating or diminishing label. I see a tragic and tangible example of this horrible double bind in the high rate of suicide in LGBTQ youth coming from religious backgrounds.
Is it any wonder that there is a mass exodus from churches? Between doctrine that is engrained into children as shame and fear, to invalidated adults not being able to question and be honest about human struggles, to the church being judgmental and politicized, people are leaving. They are sadly not finding many places to process their pain, or be understood. People who’ve experienced spiritual abuse often feel utterly alone, and unseen in their struggle.
I’m not saying all churches or religions are bad here. There are many great, faith communities who do wonderful, healing work in the world. But, religious systems overall need to do a better job for those who have been harmed in God’s name. The Church especially needs to practice non-judgment, non-violence, acceptance, kindness and speaking out publically against all forms of abuse.
If you have experienced any of my story, or this type of trauma, find a safe mentor or counselor to help you process your feelings. Spiritual wounding goes deep, and we need others to help us navigate our healing like any other trauma in our lives.