Ill

The topic of mental illness came up again with the latest large-scale hate crime against women to make national news. It’s a nice easy narrative for George Sodini to be a psycho, to be crazy, to be mentally ill because then we don’t have to understand him. We don’t have to relate, because we’re not like that.

Thing is, we’ll never know if Sodini was mentally ill or not. We can’t tell from what he left behind, and he’s no longer around to ask. The things he wrote aren’t all that unhinged; he just took the workaday hatred of black people and women that is everywhere in our society and picked up a gun and went hunting.

And the mentally ill means violent narrative is false anyway. Mental illness correlates with an increased risk of being a victim of violent crime, not of committing it.

It’s been said before, but it bears repeating because there’s so much silence and stigma and ignorance surrounding mental illness. I’ve had kind of a lot of experience with mental illness and the mental health professions. Some of it may be triggering.

I have taken (in no particular order) Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Effexor, Serzone, Xanax, Ativan, Risperdal. I’ve self-medicated with alcohol a lot and smoked cannabis and taken LSD when I could get it. I have been diagnosed, at various times, with clinical depression, bipolar type I disorder, bipolar type II disorder, borderline personality disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, gender dysphoria disorder, depressive psychosis, and paranoia. I strongly suspect that I have Asperger’s Syndrome, which would explain a lot of my symptoms, behaviors, and difficulties. I have spent time in private and public psychiatric hospitals and spent years in weekly or twice-weekly therapy. I have damaged myself in ways ranging from very small — pulling on my hair repeatedly — to very serious — shooting myself in the left hand between the third and fourth metacarpal bones. I still have PTSD-like symptoms from the last and from growing up in an abusive environment, though episodes of it get farther apart as time passes. I have had suicidal thoughts that became elaborate plans. There were times that the only thing keeping me alive was someone needed to feed the cat. I am not alive for big important reasons; I am alive for small stupid reasons. I am alive because I didn’t want whoever found me to suffer the trauma of it. I have suffered delusions and intrusive thoughts and I have always had minor hallucinations (words printed on a page are red instead of black, patterns on a floor or wall shift while I look at them). I often have trouble understanding people when they talk and try to pass it off as being hard of hearing. I’m not; I hear fine. I have trouble processing auditory information and especially picking conversation out of background noise.

You’d think I was dangerous. I’m not. Really. I’m not even dangerous to me. Damaging myself — like it is for so many people who self-harm — is a way to stay alive, to cope with trauma. I have better ways to cope now and I don’t do that any more, but sometimes when I’ve had a really hard day and I hurt a lot and the noise in my head is very bad I remember how comforting it was to draw a blade across my arm, to feel the skin part, to see the blood well up, and how it made the noise go away for a while. Maybe it makes me crazy, but that is a warm fond memory for me. And it is what I needed to do when I needed to do it. I have the same memories about smoking, and I don’t do that these days either.

I’m much better now than I was. There are long periods where I don’t need psychiatric meds at all. But I am not cured and I never will be. I will always have mental illness in my life, just as I will always have fibromyalgia and physical pain. I’m back on an SNRI now and it’s helping and that’s good, because I could feel the old illness patterns coming back. Things have been bad lately with the economy. But I’ll be okay. I know how to cope with the bad things in ways that aren’t so drastic. There are people I can ask for help. I’m not alone.

Even if I am crazy.

10 Comments

  1. Thanks for posting this. I’ve been diagnosed as having depersonalization disorder and schizoaffective disorder or bipolar I (depending on who you ask). I also spent years self-harming, floating in and out of inpatient facilities, and trying nearly every medication out there. It was suggested that I drop out of high school. At time when all of my peers were being encouraged to succeed, I was told “not to worry about that,” because the focus was purely on survival.

    It’s endlessly important to tell the stories of people with psychiatric illnesses, and talk about how they affect our lives. Ignorance surrounds it: from the “violent crazy” myth to the idea that those who have depression just need to “take some initiative, go outside, and get over it.”

  2. Stationary patterns don’t shift for me, but words going from black to red might be a visual light / refraction problem. I’ve ‘got’ the same thing there, sunglasses negates it. Much easier to read with a good pair of sunglasses. Also easier if you stay out of direct light and magnifying surfaces, like windows.

  3. I’ve heard that last one a lot, Curtis. Often in even more dismissive language — “Just kick yourself in the ass and get out of bed.” Gosh, why didn’t I think of that? What an amazing insight!

    A.W., thanks for the suggestion. The different colors of text hasn’t really bothered me, though sometimes the pattern-shifting can make me feel a bit vertiginous.

  4. I really, really needed this. Last week, I was told that the only way for me to get the therapy that I need is to become an inpatient first. Which is not only kind silly (I live ten minutes away and am perfectly capable of looking after myself), it’s also not the thing I need, because the last thing I need to cope with intense therapy is being in an environment that means even more stress and pressure and anguish for me. I’ve been an inpatient before, and it didn’t help anything then either. I don’t care if it’s the best thing for 75% of the people, that doesn’t mean it’s the best thing for me too.

    And then it struck me how helpless people in my situation are. We’re desperate, we want help and we need it, and we’re totally at the mercy of those who offer us help. Many take it on any terms. And I hate it because those people will almost always put me into a category and dismiss anything personal about me. That doesn’t help me one bit. Yes, I took meds, but I went off them because they took away the one thing that means the most to me (my creativity). No, I don’t want to just think about alternatives for the things that I really, desperately want to do in my life because other people think I won’t be capable of doing them. I’ve done enough of that. I am not weak. I don’t need babying, I need help.

    At least I don’t get told to take a walk in my park by my family. They don’t dismiss my depression as a mere mood. But then again, they can’t help me much either – they’re taking meds to barely cope. Now if only people would stop dismissing my social anxiety as simple nervousness …

  5. Thank you so much for this. I needed it this week.

  6. I’m really glad y’all found this helpful. It’s what I hope for when I share my life, to let people who’ve been in similar situations that they’re not alone.

  7. “There were times that the only thing keeping me alive was someone needed to feed the cat. I am not alive for big important reasons; I am alive for small stupid reasons. I am alive because I didn’t want whoever found me to suffer the trauma of it.”

    Thank you so much for expressing this. I’ve never really been able to explain it to others, how I survived my twenties by lurching through one more ‘I can’t die this week/month/semester, because X needs me to Y”. (and yes, feeding the rat was one of those things.)

  8. You’re welcome, fred-mouse. And yeah, rats can make such wonderful companions; I miss mine.

  9. Thanks so much for posting that. I just found this site today and it’s awesome. I’ve had mental illness my whole life and have experienced the self injury, hospital stays, hallucinations, fear, and stigma. I think it is so important for people to know that we are not violent. I’ve been the victim of crime many times but have never hurt anyone. If you look at TV or the media, violence is often blamed on mental illness. Thanks so much for posting that. Its great for people to read to bring awareness to the issue. Thanks so much!

  10. Thank you for posting this. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.