Author:Paul Gilmartin

Living with Mental Illness: A Guest Blog by Listener Andrea Schaefer

The Basics

 

I have no shame or embarrassment anymore about having and living with mental illness. The topic of mental health seems to be one of the last taboo’s of our society and yet the reality is more than one third of our population suffers from mental illness. Most never speak out, seek treatment or even acknowledge that something is off in their thoughts, moods and over all mental health.

 

I had no idea I had mental illness. Hard to believe, I know. Three medical labels, a team of emotional and mental wellness professionals and never once did I even consider the fact I suffered from mental illness. I was sent to an out- patient program called “journey to wellness”, and it was there I realized that I wasn’t just a person struggling with major depression, anxiety and PTSD; I was also a person living with Mental Illness. I actually asked the facilitator what she meant when she referred to us as having mental illness. Mental Illness is a broad umbrella term used by professionals that includes most if not all mental illness including but not limited to bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, all anxiety, clinical depression, major depressive episodes and mood disorders.

 

At first when referring to my illness I would always either put mental illness in quotes or call myself crazy sarcastically. It really wasn’t until my youngest sister Sarah mentioned to me that when I did those things it gave the impression I was making fun of it.

 

She was right. Old habits die hard – especially when you don’t want them to. I didn’t want to be stigmatised, I didn’t want to be attached to the label of Mental Illness. I was ashamed, felt like a failure and weak for not being able to handle this and “just get over it” as I was told many times by many family and friends. I also knew being ignorant and not being taken seriously was not what I wanted. So I changed, and owned it.

 

Mental Illness does not go away. There is no cure or quick fix. Once recognized and diagnosed, a lot of mental illnesses can be managed through treatment such as medication and talk therapy. Sounds simple, but it isn’t. Even with regular treatment lapses are a real possibility and personally I have had more than a few. I am always battling my emotions, trying to manage them or figure them out. Consider the idea of consciously trying to change your thought process and perceptions constantly. This involves learning to change the tapes in our mind that have always been there. Self talk is something we all do but not something that can be changed overnight. It is an on-going process, day in and day out and it takes a lot of energy and focus. Even after 18 months I still need to work on this every single day.

 

My reality is I will re-lapse in and out of depression for the rest of my life. I deal with anxiety each day. Some days are good, and others are nothing less than torture. Sometimes I shake and shiver so intensely I can’t button my coat or even hold a glass of water. At its worst, I can’t bear to leave the house, or even my room. Sounds silly – but the feeling is overwhelming. Just thinking about it now makes me want to vomit, that is how overpowering it is. I have medication to help however it is highly addictive. I only take it when absolutely necessary. More than three days in a row and I have with drawl when I don’t keep taking it. In the last 18 months I have had three bouts of dependency and therefore three withdrawal periods. One also included other prescribed medication and was the worst lasting just over 7 weeks. The anxiety is tied into having PTSD. I now know some triggers but they still unexpectedly present themselves to me. Random smells, sounds and sights have all sent me into unexpected and unexplained panic and cold sweats.

 

Revealing my story, thoughts and experiences on here will hopefully help someone. Help them know they are not alone, or help someone understand what living with mental illness is like. Check back often as I will periodically post snippets of my life and journey.

 

If you think you might be suffering – please get help. Please check my resource page for information on how to get started in your journey to wellness.

 

Read more of Andrea’s writing at her blog http://thegreat38.wordpress.com/

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A Common Med Side Effect: Losing Some Mental Sharpness

Hi Paul. I don’t know where to start. I guess, first off, I’d like to thank you for this blog. I’m going through a pretty stressful time in my life right now, and the podcasts I’ve listened to in the past week have really helped me out. It’s comforting to know that I’m not alone, even if I have to connect with people who aren’t actually here in order to feel like it. I’ve been feeling a sort of low grade depression for the past couple of days, which makes studying for finals pretty hard. I thought maybe sending you an email would help more than just typing this to myself. I apologise if it seems a bit disjointed, I don’t think much of my ability to get my point across in writing. I’m a university student at a university in South Africa. I’m female, and in my twenties. I’m not from South Africa, but I am from a SADC (Southern African Development Community) country, so I’m pretty close to home. I had what I always term a “nervous breakdown” when I was 19, attending a different university than the one I do now. I had always been what my family termed “sensitive” – I remember months of primary school (what you’d call elementary school, I guess) when I would come home from school, and cry every fucking day. I don’t even know why. When I was 19 though, I was suicidally depressed. I hate looking at those words written down, because they remind me of the deep hole I was in. I remember thinking that I would never see my parents again, and that they would have to come and collect my body when it was all over. And I didn’t care. I couldn’t get out of bed most days. On the rare occasion that I went to class, I felt like a Spotlight of Suckiness was trained on me, and that people could see how worthless and broken and jagged I was on the inside. I pushed the people I knew away, because I didn’t want to infect them with my poison. Eventually my best friend got me to call my parents and tell them what was happening. To my honest surprise, they were loving and supportive and just wanted me to come home. I was sure that they wouldn’t see the point in trying to help me; I sure didn’t. The next 18 months were a struggle – I had to find a decent therapist (I’ve had a couple that just did not fit), try to finds meds that worked (the struggle continues) and start working through all the shit in my head. I eventually came back to school, in another city, to study a different degree. And I’ve been happy here, for the most part. I was born to be a Humanities student, I think. It’s given me a sympathy for the world, and for myself, that I doubt I would have found in other faculties. But being a student again has also been a huge struggle for me. I’ve always been a smart kid. I taught myself to read when I was barely 3. I helped write a high school textbook when I was still in high school. Before my depressive episode, I never had anything below an A average. (And I mean that literally – I’ve failed one test in my whole life, a Social Studies quiz in Grade 3 for which I got 3 out of 8. That is the only thing I have failed in my 16 year academic career. I think it’s actually pretty sad – failure forces people to accept their limitations, right? That’s something I definitely want to work on.) I’ve always taken pride in my brain, and it’s one of the things that I’ve received the most praise about. In fact, I would go as far as saying that it’s probably my identifying feature. People refer to me as That Smart Girl. Which is why psychiatric medicine has fucked me over. I take lithium, among other things. One of the side effects my psychiatrist mentioned was “mental dulling”. Doesn’t sound so bad, right? During my entire first year of my new degree, it felt like my head was full of cotton wool. I wasn’t quick anymore, I had lost what made me me. I wasn’t That Smart Girl. And the worst part was, everyone tried to make me feel OK about it. My parents, my friends, they all acted as if that was the sacrifice I would have to make for mental health. But I couldn’t be mentally healthy if I didn’t even feel like myself anymore. I’m about to write my final undergraduate exams. In fact, I have one tomorrow. I didn’t think I would make it this far, to be honest. It’s been harder than school has ever been for me. There have been hypomanic episodes, manic episodes, visits to psychiatric hospitals. But the mental dulling has… well, dulled to a large extent. I still don’t think I’m as smart as I used to be, but I’ve sort of come to terms with it. I’m more than just That Smart Girl. I just don’t really know what else I am yet. Thanks again for the doing the podcasts. We’re not alone. That’s a beautiful message. Dee

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I Thought I Was Going To Die – Fiction by Raphaela Weissman

i. In The Elevator

I heard a rumbling. I thought the other guy heard it too, the old man with the shopping bag, wearing a sweater vest and a hat that used to have some kind of special name when he was younger, before my time— fisherman’s cap. No, sandcatcher. Something like that.

It was a special rumbling. It’s always a special sound, when I think I’m going to die. I wanted to ask the old man, can’t you tell that there’s something different about that, that it’s coming from the bowels of the elevator shaft? He’s older than I am and has probably been riding elevators since they were made differently. Maybe rumbling louder than this was what an elevator ride used to sound like; maybe you were taking your life in your hands every time you set foot inside one of these, and they had a cute name for them, death boxes or the devil’s dumbwaiter. I’m just guessing. I would have asked him. It would have been the last thing I ever learned.

ii. Camping

I argued with myself for what seems like an hour in the still darkness of the tent. If I speak, I thought, I will be destroying the silence and everything about it. That will be on me. “Just because it’s a cliché to get mauled by a bear on a camping trip doesn’t mean it can’t happen,” I said.

“Ssssssh,” everyone said.

iii. In My Desk Chair Late At Night

I found a dot I’d never found before. A spot. Irregularly shaped. On my thigh. I’d never seen it before. Maybe I had, but it looked different this time. Difference— the silent killer. I asked the Internet, over and over again, and it grew later and later and the spot looked more and more irregular. I touched it, trying to make sense of an unknown illness with my fingers. Nothing made sense.

When I closed my laptop and shrunk my room into darkness and crawled into my bed, it was because I remembered I was already on the lookout for cockroaches and bedbugs, and I’d promised myself to keep it to one thing at a time for a while.

iv. On the Subway

I was feeling good. But isn’t that always when it happens?

v. At a Play

I would have the good fortune to sit directly in front of the guy with photos of John Wilkes Booth plastered all over his bedroom walls, newspaper clippings from that day saved in a scrapbook with his baby pictures. He’s been waiting his whole life for this moment, and here I am.

vi. In Bed, Late at Night

It must be an instinct, staying up until sunrise, because my parents didn’t teach me, and I didn’t learn it in school. Somewhere I can’t remember, I was trained to interpret shadow shapes on the wall and to pluck out the noises other people can’t hear. At some point I absorbed the knowledge that a human being, armed and with an intent to kill, can make themselves as silent as an empty house. Two voices have been arguing with each other since I was born: One says, Remember this morning? You woke up in this bed. The other one says, This time, I won’t.

vii. On the Airplane

“Just because it’s a cliché to be afraid of flying,” I whisper to the person sitting next to me, “doesn’t mean people don’t die in airplane crashes every day.”

viii. Having Sex

I hope people will allow themselves to think it’s funny, after an appropriate amount of time has passed. I hope someone will point out the fact that my last living act was to make someone a necrophiliac for a few seconds. I hope that someone else will act offended and tell him that the remark was in bad taste, and that later a third person will find him and whisper that she thought it was funny.

ix. At Work

Who would discover me at my desk? Not Cheryl, please, God, not Cheryl. My mother brought me into this world— my mother, lovely, soft-spoken, self-deprecating, patient, generous, my mother whose hands smelled like lemons, who got a thousand paper cuts a year, who’d only wear her pretty paisley blouse for special occasions, who hummed songs from Bye Bye Birdie while she washed dishes and didn’t think anyone could hear, who bought me a box of colored pencils for my eleventh birthday and I didn’t know until I opened it that it was exactly what I wanted, who shushed us in the car while she was trying to listen to NPR, who let me lie on her stomach while she watched TV— and now Cheryl who stares at the blank wall in the copy room while she waits for a fax to go through was going to be there as I left it. Not bloody likely.

xi. Directly After My Broken Heart

It would not be a coincidence. Or would it? He’d never know. He’d wonder and wonder. It would torture him for the rest of his days. He’d excuse himself from the funeral reception to walk outside and sit on a rock and stare at the road. He’d visit my grave and speak to it, to me, and maybe once he’d even sleep there.

That would be nice.

xii. My First Time Doing Mushrooms

“Just because it’s unusual to get a fatally bad batch,” I whispered to my roommate’s asshole friend who got these for us, “doesn’t mean it never happens.”

He sneered at me like I was ruining everything that’s ever existed.

xiii. In the Jardins de Luxembourg

I’ve watched the same boy try and fail to grab the gold ring at the edge of the carousel four or five times now, and I can’t read the expression on his face, which is killing me. I need to know if he’s frustrated or crying or doesn’t care because he’s a child; maybe he’s smiling and laughing, because that’s what the carousel’s for. The not seeing is making me sad; nothing seems right today at the Jardins de Luxembourg. My little green chair isn’t in quite a scenic enough spot, and there was a lone duck on the lawn outside the palatial building whose function I still haven’t bothered to learn, where all the pigeons hang out, and it must have been lost and no one could do anything about it, and every one of these children looks ready to fall at high speed because the ring is just that far out of reach. I’d almost rather meet my end here than sit in the middle of this neat stack of imperfections, knowing it will follow me out into the street and who knows where after that.

xiv. Mid-Failure

“She left the world with nothing,” I imagine the eulogist intoning, “And no one was surprised.”

xv. On Vacation With My Family

I was maybe seven, and we were staying at this cabin practically in Lake George. There were a bunch of other families there and our cabins were all nose-to-nose with each other and we just swam all day, and into the evening. My sister and I made hour-long friendships with all of the kids there, easy as you please— what’s your name, how old are you, and we’d be set. We only brought one bathing suit apiece— mine was red, a little big in parts and a little tight in others, and every morning I’d pull it on even though it was still wet. My father became the most popular guy there, because he’d toss all the kids around in the water and he’d take requests for their style choice— one was called the cannonball, and one was the javelin, where we’d stretch our little bodies out across his arms and put our hands in prayer position above our heads, and he’d launch us out and we’d go, it seemed, for miles.

The sun would set spectacularly, the kind of sunset you’d pay to see, and we were right there at horizon-level, so close we could touch it, like it was just for us. That week felt like undeserved special treatment; there was nothing to it, there was no reason.

At night, the four of us would lie together in one room and I’d know that everyone was smiling in their sleep and it was dark and close and safe, and I’d stay awake, thinking, This can’t be. This can’t last.

xvi. After A Joke

It was finals and we were in the dining hall, me and my freshman year friends I could practically see smiling noncommittally at me when the new semester began and finding better people to spend time with. I was hanging on for dear life.

Stephanie complained that it had been raining all week. “You should write a strongly worded letter,” I said, and everyone laughed.

Like a movie, things slowed down for a moment and I looked at their faces one by one. I felt so good, and then it was there again, the death voice, and this time it said, At least you’ll go out on a good line.

xvii. Watching a War Documentary

It’s all so absurd and so true, that some people will never fully wake from a lifelong sleep and then slip on something and it will end like well-crafted punctuation, and some have seen bodies piled in the streets. It’s so far removed from me that I can bear the sight of limbs piled in mountains, twisted arms ending in hands reaching up towards nothing. It doesn’t move my guts at all, I don’t have to choke anything back when I see it.

I won’t make it all the way through without experiencing something like this, I think. One of those things filling in space on someone’s screen will be me. I’ll learn it that way.

xx. When I Almost Died

The other car came out of nowhere, it seemed. My sister sucked in her breath with this fluidy choke that didn’t sound human and I thought, This is something I never thought I’d hear, and it’s the last thing I’m ever going to hear. My hand went for the handle above the window, but her car doesn’t have one, so I just groped the air, which almost made me feel better. When I closed my eyes I saw white, so I was sure there was a flash of some kind, and I heard a screech of tires and it all made sense, this was what I’d seen before, on TV, in movies, what I’d been waiting for, that panic moment when nothing can stop what’s happening, and I knew I was right all along, that death comes on wings of inertia, for better or worse.

And when I opened my eyes the car wasn’t even stopped, it was still going. The stop light receded behind us and there was the Stewart’s, the post office, places I knew and had never thought about. My sister was speaking. “Hey,” she was saying, “hey, we’re okay.”

And I nodded and choked something. The air conditioning woke up the wet skin on my cheeks; that’s the last thing I would have expected, to cry at a moment like this. I would have thought that all liquid in my body would freeze, like time.

“You’re so skittish,” she said, and even laughed a little. Laughed. The sound was like a door opening at the back of a funeral. “You always were.”

The other car wasn’t around anymore. We were just driving to the mall. It was the most normal moment I’ve ever been in, as normal as waking up in the morning.

 

Raphaela Weissman is a writer and teacher based in Seattle, Washington. Her fiction has received the 2004 Herbert J. Rubin Award for Excellence in Prose from Gallatin Review and won L Magazine‘s 2007 Pocket Fiction competition. Last year she completed her first novel, Monsters, and is currently at work on a second. She teaches remedial reading at an inner-city high school in Seattle.  You can read more of her work at her website www.raphaelaweissman.com

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No Longer Suicidal

I got this email from a listener named Angela Stewart.

Paul,

Just a quick note to say I discovered your show after I caved in got an iphone, discovered podcasts, saw the shows logo, laughed out loud and decided that perhaps, I should listen to the show! I don’t listen all the time but on occasion and some people annoy me (most people do!) but listening to your strong message about getting help, has made me be more assertive in getting the help I need, I have for the first time been given a diagnosis (Bi polar type II and most likely/maybe ADHD and Cyclothymic Disorder) am taking medication that works and a feeling of hope has returned to my life. I was researching suicide seriously a month ago and had made my will and arranged my life so it would be easy for my relatives to close off my affairs after my death. I would cry on waking, working, talking and before sleeping. I have love in my heart again and I can give it back to my dogs, as I was viewing them as parasites feeding on the last shreds of my strength, but at the same time thinking that they would be better off without me. This has been the darkest period of my life but your voice has been a warm beacon in the blackness.

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Coping & Trauma with Brenda Feehery

How do each of us cope with trauma?  Brenda’s story is remarkable for many reasons.  She is a former Div 1 softball player and hockey mom with two kids who endured a day most people only experience in their nightmares.   She shares how she got through it, where she is at today and the role athletics played in honing her mental toughness.  Paul also reads some very intense survey responses covering a variety of ways people cope with trauma.    Not a light episode, but hopefully illuminating.

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Am I Less Mature Than a 4 year-old? A guest blog by Ali Baziak

My friend Molly posted this on her Facebook in regards to going trick-or-treating tonight with her four year old daughter, Boo.

“So – took Boo trick-or-treating to the neighborhood behind us this year. I think she’s the ONLY child who, after filling her bucket about 3/4 of the way, peered into it, nodded her head, and then told me and Ali in no uncertain terms that she was done…

“But… There are other houses – we could trick or treat on the way back home…”

“No thanks. I have all the candy in the world.”

…walking down the road…

“Hey, Boo! There’s one. What about this one? Want to do just one more house?”

“I already TOLD you – I’m done. Thanks!”

*blink*”

 

To expand a little (because I am verbose), I hastily invited myself to Halloween festivities with Molly and Fred. Obviously, this seems like a strange thing for me to do, but I have never felt unwelcome at inviting myself to hang out with Molly. I am very blessed to have her.

So I asked her what she was doing tonight with the wee one, and she invited me to come out trick or treating with her. I haven’t been trick-or-treating in forever, so I was thrilled to be able to witness the event from a different angle.

We trudged outside, umbrellas in hand, and Boo held her little pink pail for candy. She skipped and sang and chortled with excitement. Her first house, she forgot what to say when the door opened. We had to remind her a few times to thank the people opening their doors and handing out candies. “364 days a year, we teach our children NOT to take candy from strangers…” Molly mused. We then burst into hysterical laughter as Sticky Hands McGee (Boo) took FOUR HANDFULS from someone’s bowl.

Because she can totally work the sweet, they smiled and said “no worries” as we shouted apologies.

Boo’s unbridled laughter is like a drug for me. She laughs loudly, with abandon, and has yet to feel self-conscious about the volume she can project. To me, it is the sweetest symphony. It is that last drag on a cigarette where you expected to suck filter and instead get a sweet pull. It is my west coast version of Vicki and Seth’s corny num nums (cornbread with jalapeno).

The sounds of her merriment traveled through the air as ghouls, ghosts, and goblins traversed Suburbia. Not even a ninja hip checking her into a brick wall took her happiness away. She was in the moment and that moment was GLORIOUS.

After a while, she looked into her pail, and the conversation we had (mentioned above) occurred. We strolled past houses we hadn’t visited and she shrugged them off, saying that she had plenty. We got back to the house and Molly relayed the story to Fred and he chuckled.

As I was driving home, I was hit with the thought “I wish I could have a moment like that”. It’s amazing to think that 75% is good enough (considering how hard I am on myself). I remember as a child mapping out the neighborhood to ensure maximum candy retrieval. I was methodical. I was organized. Hell, I separated my candy not only into brand, but flavor spectrum.

The idea that a four year old could see a bunch of porch lights on and have a bucket not filled to the brim and be CONTENT with what she had was so foreign to me. But… I want that. I want the moment where I am completely present and not trying to figure out contingencies. I long for the moment where I don’t think to open my phone to plan for the future and instead live blissfully happy in the present.

Getting a life lesson from a four year old is remarkable.

 

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DC Pierson

The author (The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep And Never Had To), comedian (DERRICK Comedy) and actor (“Mystery Team“) opens up about the loss of his mother to cancer when he was in junior high, overachieving, cynicism, and the terrifying prospect of intimacy.  Paul also reads an email from a listener who sheds light on being an identical twin, and reads the survey responses of a college-educated professional who is addicted to huffing.

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Kathryn Hahn

Most people know her as Lily Lebowski on Crossing Jordan, or from recurring roles on Hung, and Girls.  She has appeared in films such as Anchorman, Step Brothers, How Do You Know and A Lot Like Love.  Funny, nice and self-deprecating, she opens up to Paul about her difficulty in saying what she means and asking for what she wants.   Paul also reads a letter from a veteran having trouble adjusting after returning home, and one from a mother of four married to soldier currently in Afghanistan.

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