The “Glamour” of Mental Illness

December 29, 2010

New research conducted by mentaline.com reveals that approximately 11% of teenagers think mental illness is “fashionable.” Three percent of them have even faked having a mental illness, believing that this would make them “unique,” more like celebrity sufferers, or “just cool.”

Of those teens who’ve faked illness, the most popular choices are:

  • Eating disorders – 22%
  • Self-harming – 17%
  • Addiction – 13%
  • Depression – 12%
  • Bipolar Disorder– 9%

As someone who’s suffered from both an eating disorder and depression, whose husband has bipolar disorder, and whose sister has overcome self-harming, I’m fascinated by this data. In a way, I can even relate to these kids.

But the funny thing about mental illness is that, while it may look cool or glamorous from the outside, when you’re trapped inside it, it’s the least glamorous thing you could ever imagine.

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Christmas Chez Whistler

December 25, 2010

John and I married in 2006, so this is our fifth Christmas as a married couple. It’s also our third time spending Christmas by ourselves.

The first year we were married, we couldn’t leave the States to go to Canada due to Green Card issues. We were living in Boston at the time, and we spent the holiday on Martha’s Vineyard at a quaint, old inn.

It was my first Christmas without my family, and I had a hard time with it. Although we went to Christmas Eve mass in an adorable church, had a lovely holiday brunch, and saw a cadre of wild turkeys while touring the island, I cried when I spoke with my family on the phone—I missed them so much.

Two years later, John had his breakdown. He came out of the hospital on December 15, and I just didn’t feel comfortable going anywhere. (I’m glad I listened to my intuition on that. He was definitely psychotic again by Christmas Eve, and he ended up checking back into the hospital on New Year’s Eve.) He also was happy to stay put, as Christmas with his mother (who was an alcoholic) was always stressful for him. I still missed my family, but that year I was more focused on John, so there were no tears when I spoke with them on the phone.

Last year, we made it up to Canada. I’m grateful for that, because it was my grandmother’s last Christmas. She passed away in July.

This year, we were all set to go home for the holidays, but my appendicitis got in the way. I was having contractions for a couple days after the surgery, so it wasn’t just my weakness that convinced us not fly anywhere, but also concern for the baby. I’m not even disappointed that we’re not in Canada today.

Of course, it would have been nice to be with the family, but I suppose that after four years, John and I really are our own little family. Mini Whistler has also developed quite the karate kick, so he/she makes sure we don’t forget that baby’s about to make three!

Merry Christmas, everyone!


Hospital Care for Physical vs. Mental Illness

December 19, 2010

In late 2008/early 2009, my husband spent a total of 16 days in a mental hospital due to a psychotic break. I recently came home after spending nearly five days in the hospital due to an emergency appendectomy during pregnancy. I feel compelled to share a few keys differences between our experiences.

  1. During my hospitalization, John was allowed to stay with me 24/7. The regular hospital makes it easy for family members to provide comfort and support to sick loved ones. Not only was John permitted to hang out with me all day, but my room even had a pull-out chair that transformed into a cot so that he could sleep over at night.When John was in the mental hospital, visiting hours were very restricted. I could only see him for 90 minutes a day, usually between 7:00 and 8:30 pm, or 1:00 to 2:30 pm on the weekends. I wasn’t allowed to join him in his room or even walk onto the ward’s floor. Instead, I was confined to the visiting room.

    Although the limited access was almost certainly a safety precaution, that knowledge was cold comfort on the day John left the visiting room weeping and I couldn’t follow him to reassure him that everything would be okay. When someone is as confused and disoriented as John was when he first entered the hospital, having a loving spouse present would go a long way toward keeping him/her calm.

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Authenticity vs. Anonymity

December 13, 2010

When I was a teenager, all I wanted to do was blend in with the crowd. I never raised my hand in class, I never raised my voice.

When I went away to college, I’d wander off the small, safe campus of my liberal arts college and walk aimlessly around the mall to avoid seeing people I knew.

I sat in dark movie theaters by myself for hours at a time bingeing, because eating while watching other people’s lives unfold onscreen was safe. It required nothing from me.

Bingeing in anonymity meant I didn’t have to know who I was, and I didn’t have to explain myself to anyone.

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Being the Weak One

December 12, 2010

Last Sunday night at 11:00 pm, I woke up with a bad stomachache. I’d been having minor stomach pains at night for a few days prior to Sunday, but I wrote them off as some kind of normal, pregnancy-related thing.

Anyway, I got up that night and sat on the living room couch for an hour or so, to see if being upright would help the pain go away. It didn’t, so I woke up John around midnight and told him what was going on.

He phoned the on-call OB, who told us to go to the hospital to have everything checked out “just in case.” Before we left, I threw up.

On the labor and delivery floor, I got hooked up to two monitors: one to measure the baby’s heartbeat, and one to see if I was having contractions. Everything looked normal, and the nurse suggested it was probably just a case of food poisoning. Before she took us down the ER, I vomited again.

As soon as we got into the ER, they slapped a blood pressure cuff on my arm. My blood pressure was 70/35, and all of a sudden, there was a whirlwind of activity around us. People hoisting me onto a gurney, drawing blood, inserting an IV drip into the crook of my elbow. I threw up again, and then again.

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Surviving Trauma in Your Marriage

December 6, 2010

Seeing your spouse suffer is a terrible thing. You want to make things better. You want to take away the hurt.

So much of the time, though, you can’t. Or at least not fast enough, and not to the degree you’d like.

A recent post on Marriage Gems references the book HEALING TOGETHER: A COUPLE’S GUIDE TO COPING WITH TRAUMA AND POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS. Marriage Gems quotes the authors of the book as saying, “Trauma puts up a wall that for a time locks a couple out of their familiar world and leaves them frozen in the traumatic event. Suddenly there is no past, and the future feels impossible.”

God, can I relate.

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Why Community Can Be More Healing Than Therapy

December 2, 2010

I love therapy. Truly, I do.

My husband and I have been seeing a therapist since he came out of the hospital two years ago. She’s great, and going to see her has improved our communication by leaps and bounds.

John also sees a therapist on an individual basis, and honestly, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable with him coming home from the hospital if he hadn’t been willing to go. Seeing his therapist has helped John come to terms with his diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and it’s given him the tools he needs to cope with it.

That said, though, I haven’t always derived great benefits from therapy, and there have been times when having the support of a community of my peers has been way more transformative than participating in therapy ever could be.

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