Author:Paul Gilmartin

Sometimes the Illness Wins: A guest blog by “Emily’s Twin Sister”

On this night, my husband and I had come home after a full day of driving.  He lay sleeping on the floor.  I lay on the couch, watching television.  I learned of Robin Williams’ suicide.  I snapped off the television immediately.  I avoided all news coverage and Facebook posts regarding him.  I did not tell my husband.  I answered monosyllabically when he brought it up days later when the news entered his sphere of reference.

“Robin Williams is dead?!”

“Yes”

“He Killed Himself?!”

“Yes”

I didn’t say anything to his statement “You would think he would have had everything to live for.”

You would think, and you are right.  But when you live with mental illness and its many accompanying demons- each day can be a struggle.  Giving up.  Not giving up.  We are trying.  Do we wake?  Or sleep?  This is the lonely life of one who suffers from mental illness.

You see, because as much as it seems to have become fashionable to say that collectively as a society we accept one another blemishes and all, body defects, physical differences, emotional problems, behavioral issues, mental illnesses…. You still do not want us around you. You fear us.  You wonder if you might be like us, and you shun us.  Or you tell us to shape up and act right.  You tell us it’s a self-discipline matter and it’s under our own control.  You throw up your hands and ask if we want to give up?!  Would you ever say this to a person with cancer or ALS?

I wish I could say this is my coming out of the closet, being brave enough to say that among all of the things that I am, I am also mentally ill.  I wish I had the courage to follow other groups of ostracized who have bravely stood in the daylight at some point and said:  I AM HUMAN.  Whatever other labels you give me, or I give myself because of how I was made or because of things that happened to me.  I am human.  Don’t push me away because I frighten you.  I am human I need only for you to touch me.  I am isolated.  I am pushed here.  I am pulled here.  Mental illness and its isolation are cruel jailers.  They create cravings that they will not allow to be filled.

And this is why I and probably many like me grab from every candy jar in front of us, whether it is filled with poetry, food, cocaine, alcohol, men, women, or weed.  We need to fill the hole that isolation makes.  It’s so fucking huge.  And we can’t fill it with you.  It’s not your fault.  It’s not our fault.  It’s living with mental illness, it’s these voices and the reality is that even though it’s crowded, it’s no party. It’s not something you get over.  There are treatments, often only temporary in effectiveness.  Currently, there is no cure.  You are born with brown eyes or blue.  You are born with mental illness (or the disposition to develop it) or you are not.  You can open your soul like a can of artichoke hearts or you cannot.

I wonder if I will have the nerve to put my name at the bottom of this page.  Will I face my family who would prefer not to talk about this at all?  Will I be willing to face my spouse who thinks I can lose my weight to health or will I remain isolated?  Will I continue to walk through the world like a stranger looking at others, feeling separate, feeling different, and feeling apart?  Will I be able through therapy, through meditation, walks in the woods, the support of friends be able to maintain the castle walls against the assault of my enemies?  But then, I remember. These enemies, my enemies, are inside the walls.  Though with them constantly, I am alone.  They are what keep me isolated.  These demons.  These voices.  I carry them with me everywhere.  They are the voices of self-doubt, self-hatred, of guilt, of shame.  The voice that says you do not belong here.  You do not deserve to live. And you never have.  Why are you still here?

Will I ever become strong enough to silence this voice?  To keep control long enough to use my hands to reach out?  And this is what frightens one who lives in the isolation of mental illness- when one of us falls.  We are reminded how close we are to the edge of the cliff- one thought, one criticism, one stupidity, one death, one breath away from no way out.    I can mouth these words to therapists, to friends, to cops on bridges, over suicide hot lines but when you are truly in that moment, there can be no one with you.  There is no room for anyone else.  Nothing else.   Just the ache of the loneliness you’ve felt your entire life overwhelming you.  Your desire to silence it.  To escape it, just for a minute to be without the crushing weight of failure upon you. It feels like that until you’re on the other side for whatever reason, your dog comes over and licks your face, or something your therapist said makes it through the fog, or there is something in the drawer upstairs calling you.

Having made it through, the intensity, the isolation, the fear, the anguish and desolation of that moment turn right around and stand directly behind you again, pressing into you, like someone in line for bread and they haven’t eaten in a week.  We are deathly afraid that we won’t make it through the next moment when it comes, we are afraid to tell anyone this.  They will think we are crazy and lock us away.  And we are already locked up.  In our brains.

We NEVER choose to give up right out of the box.  But we might get tired earlier in the day.  We might not be able to go in to certain buildings because they are not wheelchair accessible.  We might not see the path we’re walking just the same way- my path might be blurry at the edges because of my eyesight.  And there may come a day when our spirit is weak and our body is willing to let go of the struggle to keep up.

This is not saying we are not capable of achieving great things. We can be great friends, loving wives, good bosses, fine authors, competent team members, amazing artists, intense human beings, literal rising phoenixes!

Not giving up is lonely.  Yes, it means you  continue to live, but live in isolation. Giving up seems like bliss.  To be no more.  No more puppy love(literally, the love of a dog), no more daisies, no more thunderstorms on the porch, no more poems, no more laughter, no more fingers entwined in mine, twisting, bending, kissing.  So I stay.  I must learn better ways to endure the pain.  The pain I inflict upon myself.  The injuries inflicted when you feel are alive in this world alone because you are mentally ill.  Even though I am married, have many friends, family and a therapist.  I feel utterly alone.  Is this self-pity?  Am I playing the victim card? It does not feel like it.  It feels like I am hunting elephants with a fly swatter.

There is nothing quite like being isolated.  Being criticized and ostracized for it and then criticized further and judged when the loneliness bears down on you like an 18 wheeler and you let it mow you down.  When you let go of the edge of the hole; when you fall in.

 

But I am trying.  I am trying to find a little equilibrium among the shards of glass that are the pain of any variety, new (young soul-mate cousin six-month apart-age dying suddenly) or old (your mother dying on the occasion of your birth) and the isolation (the constant companions of loneliness and depression).  This deep pit of blackness- its deepest depth that from which we don’t return.  This is when you fall – Sylvia, Jimmy, Philip, Robin.  And the countless numbers of those whose names we don’t know.  They didn’t WANT to fall.  None of us do.  When we say “I want to kill myself” we are really begging “please, give me a reason to live.”

I want to stay.  Robin did not want anyone, let alone his precious daughter, to know of his last anguished moments of isolation – and to have a physical description of his body now to give weight to them.  That would give him great sorrow that would exacerbate his guilt but it would not stop him.  Agony.  Isolation.  Stiff competitors to the quiet voice saying “live.”  There are so many yelling “Why!?!” “You don’t deserve it!” “You’re shit!” “Die Already!”

I know my therapist would say it is up to the individual to give themselves that reason to live.  He is right.  But I maintain equally adamantly, that it is an indisputable fact that for some of us this is harder than for most.  Just like some of us have shorter legs and can’t walk as fast as others.  Some of us have weaker eyes and have to wear glasses in order to see well.  Some of us are born with malformed limbs and cannot walk or use our arms or legs or move our bodies at all.

Every fiber of my being strains to walk.  My mind is screaming at the muscles to move- but the synapses do not fire.  You chide me continually as I remain paralyzed.  I can’t say anything in my defense.  I cannot speak.

 

Despite all this, today, I’m still here.  I’m still living lonely in this world.  I am in agony nearly all day.  But I will laugh.  I will do my job.  I will put on countless masks. I will avoid any conversation that seriously addresses my situation because no one, aside from perhaps my therapist, really wants to have that conversation.  Honestly, don’t lie about it.  But look me in the face.  Understand that I cannot look in the mirror unless I’m drunk.  I hate myself that much. No one in my day to day world can handle that.  Nor should they have to.  They are not professionals.  They don’t usually last long.  They fall away to safer places.  I remain isolated.  I hate the trail of wounded bodies that my mental illness has left behind me.  More reason to stay isolated.  Exposure will mean retribution for sins and crimes committed.

There are places I can turn to for distraction, comfort, support, and help:  friends who have remained, my therapist. But I still feel myself slipping.  The sheer walls of the loneliness cavern rise high over my head.  Hearing someone say they care or tell me I’m not alone helps.  Sometimes it’s enough – sometimes I can’t even hear the words.  My enemies are making too much noise.

For those who find a way out of the cavern, I say and mean most fervently, Bravo, Congratulations and shut my mouth if I sound defeatist.  But the mirror, look in mine – look at me, for me. The rules of isolation allow for two outcomes.  I have to acknowledge that I might not make it out.  And I do realize this means, I also might.

And I will continue to hope for a different life for people like me.  I will hope until my last breath that someday, like they found a cure for polio, and like they can see you when you are in utero and do surgery to fix things, maybe someday they will find a better way to reach the mentally ill like me who live in a world where we feel we don’t belong.  A world where we wander in the solitary confinement of the isolation of our illness.

My therapist urged me not to get lost in the sadness over Robin’s suicide.  To remember all the laughter he gave us and I do.  But as someone who suffers from mental illness as Robin did – I know the isolation that the laughter was hiding.  I know how it feels.

We have to acknowledge that sometimes the illness wins. We must research the disease to find a cure.  We must first see that which we are afraid of in order to begin not to fear it.

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Matt Oswalt (voted #8 ep of 2014)

The 43 year-old comedy writer/director opens up about his idyllic childhood, and a couple of traumatic events he believes contribute to his isolating and fighting the demons of depression while being single, unemployed and living alone.

Follow Matt on Twitter @Puddinstrip

To purchase the live video stream of the upcoming LAPodfest recording on 9/26 at 7pm Pacific time go to www.lapodfest.com/live and use offer code “Gilmartin”   You’ll get $5 off the $25 price which includes access to the dozens of other podcasts recording there.   The show will stream live and be available to watch for three weeks afterwards.

This episode is sponsored by Bulubox.  Visit www.bulubox.com, click on the microphone in the upper left-hand corner and enter the promo code “HappyHour

This episode is sponsored by SquareSpace.  For 10% off your first purchase and to show support for this podcast go to www.squarespace.com and use offer code “Mental“.

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Aparna Nancherla (voted #10 ep of 2014)

The first generation Indian-American comedian opens up about her low self-esteem, perfectionism, depression, anxiety, eating disorder, the trap of becoming the “good child” and the constant struggle to not compare herself to others.

Follow Aparna on Twitter @Aparnapkin or visit her website www.aparnacomedy.com

This episode is sponsored by Bulubox.  Visit www.bulubox.com, click on the microphone in the upper left-hand corner and enter the promo code “HappyHour”

 

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Lance L

The pansexual Iraqi war veteran talks about his plans to come out to his homophobic family, growing up with a mother who picked terrible men,  his deadbeat dad and meeting a half-brother & doing a joint road trip to confront the father that abandoned them both. This episode is sponsored by GoDaddy.  For 30% off your purchase go to www.GoDaddy.com and use offer code Mental199 This episode is sponsored by Harry’s shaving products.  To get $5 off your first purchase go to www.Harrys.com and use the offer code Mentalpod

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Ask Erika Holmes MFT

Marriage and Family Therapist Erika Holmes answers listener questions from Facebook and Twitter.  Topics include Eating Disorders, Borderline Personality Disorder, PTSD therapies, Neurofeedback and damage caused by parents who are religious zealots.   Erika can be followed on Twitter @ErikaHolmesMFT and her website is www.erikamft.com

PillPack sponsors this show.  To check it out (and to help the podcast) go to Pillpack.com/happyhour.

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Susanna Lee

The comedian/burlesque dancer (she goes by the name Lucky DeLuxe) talks about the power, pitfalls and rush of performing with and without her clothes on, including being a sex worker at a “jack shack” to make ends meet.  She opens up about her low self-esteem, fear of the future, struggles with her dad and desire for truth no matter how bleak it may be.  She also opens up about being attracted to unavailable men who often hide their relationship with her from friends and family.

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Freedom From Childhood Trauma Part 2: A guest blog by DP

In part one I recounted my most serious suicide attempt, spoke about a series of violent events that happened to me as a child and began opening up about my direct experiences recovering from trauma. And I sought the answer to this question, “Do you know anyone was worked through trauma and is now a happy functional adult?”

My abuse was worse than most, less than some and some died. I lived a very atypical life first as an adult child of an alcoholic, as an Army brat and then torture survivor. Having moved many places around the world, I grew up in the distorted world of an emotionally disengaged sex-negative family.

I lived most of my life as a “hungry ghost” trapped inside of myself and constantly under threat of re-experiencing unresolved trauma anytime my emotions were triggered.

Ok, so to the answer I found… the answer trauma survivors seek to replace the dread and horror we live with inside every minute of every day.

Instead of committing suicide I decided to sell the gun and use the money to help pay for my next therapy session.

In therapy and 12 step programs I did the journey of 1,000 miles one step at a time and it wasn’t enough. I wasn’t free of trauma. So I did it again. And it still wasn’t enough. So I did it again. And I still wasn’t free… I experienced relief but I never experienced freedom. And I wanted nothing less than freedom.

Looking back I realize I was somehow blessed with energy that allowed me to sell that gun and begin the process of recovery. This was grace even though I didn’t know it at the time.

The short answer to recovering from trauma is that it is the journey of 10,000 miles, one step at a time, or two lifetimes (!) to resolve trauma at the level I experienced it.

At the suggestion of my therapist I also began work in a 12-step program. With my history of drug and alcohol abuse I certainly qualified as an alcoholic and with my inability to psychologically separate from my family I qualified as a codependent.

Addicts and co-addicts stay current by doing the 12 steps over and over as things come up in our lives. I did the 12 steps like my life depended on it. I went to five meetings a week for five years and had 25 commitments (as a greeter, literature,

secretary, cleanup, etc.) in my first journey of 1000 miles. I experienced relief and I experienced joy. But it was temporary.

So I worked the 12 steps again. I continued to go to meetings and continued to hold commitments. I also went to therapy a minimum of once a week, tape-recorded all my therapy sessions and listened back to every session at least once. I experienced relief and I experienced joy. Once again it was temporary.

One time, my first therapist became very excited during our session and told me that I had gone farther than most people go in therapy. Here I’d spent all this time yet I knew wasn’t free. Inside myself I knew I’d found some relief, but not freedom.

I took time off from therapy but after two or three years I decided to try again. It’s possible my first therapist lacked experience or training with trauma. It’s also very likely that my communication skills, the pain I felt inside, prevented me from talking about my reality so I could get more help from my first therapist.

At one point my second therapist told me that she had never met anyone who had done so much work on themselves. And yet I still wasn’t done because I still wasn’t free.

So here it is no matter how you do it, freedom from trauma is the journey of 10,000 miles. It’s 1000 miles one step at a time, and then 1000 miles one step at a time, and then 1000 miles one step at a time, and 1000 miles one step at a time… It’s pure determination. Or is it? What is it inside, what is it inside us that drives us to first seek relief and then freedom? What is it inside that drives us to want the answer? What is it inside that creates energy to seek truth from our troubled reality?

Where did the energy come from that inspired me to sell the gun?

Well for me it’s the Universe, you could also say: God, Buddha, Allah, or whatever. One thing I learned in life is that I am not breathing myself – the universe is breathing me.

During my second pass through the 12 steps I began a meditation practice as part of my work on step 11 (Google AA step 11 for more info). Fortunately I discovered an aptitude for meditation. It was quite a challenge to bear discomfort in my body and take on an even greater challenge in quieting the thoughts that were running rampant in my head.

So there I was, without knowing at the time, I had developed a set of tools that would see me through the final exam of my recovery. My tool set included communications skills developed through 12 years of therapy, thoroughly working the 12 steps twice, and learning to quiet my body and mind through meditation.

The final exam for my recovery began when the Universe removed almost every physical asset I had. I lost everything. I could not find work for several years. I almost became homeless. I equate this time in my life with that section of the Bible that says, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of death…” I lost my sobriety and became suicidal again.

Interestingly my life began to turn around almost immediately once I restarted my sobriety and started working with a new sponsor.

My exam became more serious as I discovered an opportunity for a financial windfall. This is where my recovery tools really kicked in and I worked the 12 steps a third time in order to restore my faith.

I had a real opportunity to go left or go right. In one direction, I could take the financial windfall and go on a fabulous sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll tour of Western Europe, and parts unknown. I would have a great story, one I could share with my friends that would increase my standing in the community as a great speaker who had done it all! But I knew deep inside of me that no matter what I did, no matter what I had, I would still feel the same lifelong despair. I would not be free.

Or I could have a Plan B and go into one of the best treatment programs in the world and dedicate myself to recovery by seeking freedom once again.  I will touch on that in Part 3.

To read Part 1 click here.

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Why Isn’t Mental Illness Treated Like Other Health Issues?: A guest blog by Maia Akiva

I have read many heartfelt, emotional posts the past few days about the passing of Robin William from a possible suicide. It’s a horrible loss of a great entertainer and person.  The first thing that came to me when I heard about it – was to my surprise huge gratitude for all the healing and deep work I have done that brought me to a place where I am learning to live next to my darkness and have a much more healthy relationship with it, than the days of complete darkness and thoughts of suicide. If you know me you may have heard me talk about this before: the thing that makes me the most upset about this (for all of us) is how, I believe, that as a western society with very clear rules, structure and a support system we don’t treat addiction, depression and emotional disability as a problem like we treat physical illness. It’s hard to ask for a meditation break at work but very easy to get a smoking one. It’s hard to go to a 12 step meeting once a week on work time but easy to go to a Dr. appointment. It’s hard to get sick days to go to an emotional retreat to heal your heart but easy to get sick days to heal your foot. Of course there are exceptions of people and companies who respect and understand all of this. But not a lot. I hope, and am going to do my best to continue to share my voice about treating emotional problems like physical ones. Both are human being problems that affects a life and both need to be supported equally by all of us.

https://www.facebook.com/maia.akiva.1

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Jimmy Doyle

The former Second City improviser turned drug & alcohol counselor talks about his mother’s suicide when he was 12, coming out at 16 (in 1981), getting physically sober but being emotionally toxic and being fired from the prestigious improv company.  They talk about the breakthroughs felt in doing EMDR (and CBT).  Paul also reads some surveys and emails on the topic of suicide given the nature of this week’s news about Robin Williams.   On the surface this may seem like a very dark episode and while it has its moments, it is ultimately not a downer.

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