Happy News (about the Baby) that Made Me Sad (about Bipolar)

February 2, 2011

I started thinking about babies when John and I moved to the West Coast three and a half years ago. John wasn’t quite on the same page; he wanted some time to establish himself at his new company. He wanted some time to settle into our new life.

About two and a half years ago, we had a bit of a scare that left me thinking—briefly—that I might be pregnant. When I learned that I wasn’t, I was disappointed. I said as much to John, but once again, he wanted to wait. He wanted to make sure his company was stable and his future there secure.

To be honest, his reluctance to start a family pissed me off. It made me feel as though what I wanted was less important than what he wanted for his career.

So I got passive-aggressive.

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Jared Lee Loughner’s Parents: Why Didn’t They Know?

January 13, 2011

In the wake of last weekend’s tragic shooting in Arizona, many people are speculating that the gunman, Jared Lee Loughner, is mentally ill—most likely schizophrenic—based on reports of his antisocial and paranoid behavior.

Many people are also asking why his parents didn’t intervene and get him help for his mental problems, as evidenced by this comment from a recent MSNBC article titled “Ariz. Suspect’s Parents: ‘We Don’t Know Why This Happened’”:

The parents had to have known they had a disturbed man living with them, and it was their responsibility to get him to a doctor who would put him on medicine or hospitalize him. Even if he failed to voluntarily commit himself for treatment, he could have been involuntarily treated. The reports of his behaviors in school and by classmates, “friends” and observers are concrete and undeniable as to the severity of his mental problems! And it’s clear these problems had been going on for some time. The parents were apparently the only ones who failed to see them—it’s called denial. They should feel awful and very, very guilty for responding so irresponsibly to their son’s illness and indications he was a danger to others.

I really don’t know much about the Loughners’ situation, and given that John was never violent, I can’t imagine what they’re feeling right now, but here’s what I can tell you: When John became psychotic, I was the last to know.

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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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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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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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Stupid Things People Say about Mental Illness

November 21, 2010

My father has never been big on expressing emotion, particularly uncomfortable emotion. He’s also the kind of guy who, when playing cards, “knows what’s in everybody’s hand.”

His reaction to the news of my bulimia, then, was really no surprise.

I’d lost a lot of weight by crash dieting the summer before my senior year of high school, and when I went back to school and found that I could no longer stick to my starvation schedule, I tried to keep the weight from piling back on by being a lot less careful about when and where I threw up. My mother figured out what I was doing and told me she was taking me to a doctor. Later that day, while exercising in the home gym in our basement, my father made the only acknowledgment he ever made about my eating disorder when he said, “You’ve got to learn some balance.”

Umm, really, Dad? You think?

Today, with 11 years of Twelve Step recovery under my belt, I know that he was trying to be helpful. At the time, though, it was demoralizing, to say the least. I knew I needed more balance. Intellectually, I knew exactly what I needed to do to maintain a healthy weight. But that didn’t mean I could do it.

The way I thought and acted and felt around food was different from my father. We could order the exact same meal at a restaurant and he’d push his plate away before he was done saying, “I’m stuffed like a dirty pig.” I, meanwhile, would stare at him uncomprehendingly. How could he be 6’ tall and stuffed when I could eat three more plates? I had no mechanism that signaled fullness. I ate like I was bottomless pit.

His assumption, though, that I was just like him and could learn to “push myself away from the table” if I just tried harder, is where a lot of the stigma that’s associated with all types of mental illness comes from. It’s a failure of the imagination, really. An inability to imagine that someone else’s brain patterns could really be all that different from your own.

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Future Tripping about the Baby, Birth, and Bipolar

November 11, 2010

For eleven years now, I’ve recognized the benefits of taking things one day at a time, not dwelling on the past or getting lost in dreams/nightmares about the future. This was a particularly helpful practice when John was in the hospital, “floridly psychotic,”* but before anyone could give us any indication of the cause.

At that time in my life, I had to be exceedingly mindful of staying in the present, because it was easy—it was ridiculously easy—to let my thoughts wander back to the two days leading up to his hospitalization and berate myself for not catching the fact that something was amiss sooner. He’d been saying strange things all weekend, but I’d just chalked it up to stress.

It was also easy to get caught up in worry about what might be coming down the pike. Would the medications work? Would he get better? Would he be paranoid and delusional for the rest of his life?

One morning, maybe the second or third morning he was in the hospital, I got out of the shower and started to sob in the bathroom. There was a strong possibility my husband had schizophrenia, and I was terrified.

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