Mad Hatter Lives

Living, Loving, Lasting

Archive for the tag “suicide”

Point of Intolerance About the Black Stage

I’ve reached a point of intolerance with skirting issues that pertain to mental health, my black stage. I suspect this is due in large part to my own parachute into the dark depths that is eminent for this time of year in my journey. But the vehemence of my frustration is due in large part to society’s inability to take responsibility for its role in perpetuating mental illness, as well as it’s lack of effective treatment for those actively searching for ways to cope. I’m done excusing anyone and everyone on the topic of mental illness and the ignorance that has somehow become the antithesis for pro activity and efficacious propositions. I must say, above all, if you will not reckon with the mental illness in your life you have no chance of surviving it. No chance. I’m sorry. There it is. I am a 30 year survivor of mental illness. I am an authority on bipolar disorder both personally and professionally, and I’m telling any and all with this illness…there is no way to have any quality of life unless you reckon with the fact that you have it.

Man, we don’t need one more event, one more celebrity, one more death to bring attention to something of which we are all aware. We need honest dialogue. We need to step out of fear and into the reality that life is messy and wildly beautiful, but for some of us, there is literally a struggle every day to find a reason to keep living it. Prevention of suicide starts with honesty and dialogue, and it’s often beyond the family. It takes ownership and the reinforcement that life matters! All the stats and 5k walks in the world will never come close to the impact of honest confession and dialogue.

I know, because this is my life. I live a kind of half life, teetering between hope of life abundant and absolute need to no longer experience the pain involved with drawing breath. Real enough for ya? This is the life of mental illness. Welcome to those just joining the battle, but for those of us who have been a lifetime of trying to fight a monster with sharpened toothpicks…

You are late, and did you bring any weapons to the battle?

Because the truth is, I struggle constantly. I am on a tight rope balancing every single thing in my life on top of my head as I attempt to navigate a life that once was a nice wide road but has been relegated to a thin wire I must traverse. My immediate experience is a slippery slide where I am groping, grasping for something to hang on to that will retard my descent. It is as though my footing gave way while I was sleeping, and I have only just now awakened to find myself in full movement. I am scrambling madly to gain anything that will help me recall myself back to center; back to balance.

Everywhere I look I see dusk settling, and I can find very little about myself or my life that seems worth hanging on for. I have been experiencing this place I am currently in for nearly 30 years now, and yet every season it is as if I am going over the edge for the first time. All stop gaps are…well…stopped.

I mentioned in a previous blog that I have lost heart, and so I am at a loss. I find I cannot care enough about things to expend the energy to make them so; to fix or eliminate. I am scrambling desperately for meaning so that it will kick start the desire to desire again.

The danger with this place is that there is an extensive need to fill the void with something, anything. I find myself struggling to erase or, at best, scratch out my ongoing irascibility. It is as though everything, every origin of feeling and thought has become a tangled mass, and I can never seem to find the ends to begin untangling.

As such, though I have been working to keep up healthy habits, I am now majorly struggling with unhealthy ones I have conquered before of have managed to at least keep on a leash in the back yard. Now, however, it’s a full on assault, and really all I want to do is to eat.

There. I said it. I just want to eat, because it’s legal. Because I get a small chemical adjustment with sugar that helps assuage all the symptoms that accompany the mixed state that is so very problematic . When the healthy fails, I will reach for relief in that which is not so healthy.

So there is more added to the initial struggle. I find there is a mountain of dysfunction added to the the mountain I’m already carrying across that wire. THIS is life with mental illness. THIS is what it is like to live with suicidal ideation as a person with mental illness.

At present I’m on my knees; on my face, really, before God. There is nothing man has that will help me through the living nightmare that I never get away from. I pray for relief always. Sometimes I pray for death. Sometimes I pray for life. Sometimes I pray for peace. Sometimes it’s beauty, because everything is ugly to me. Sometimes it’s understanding. Mostly though I pray for comfort.

I’m so alone. This is the loneliest place on earth, living with mental illness, and I confess my anger at those who enter onto the scene so late due to a personal brush with it and now, suddenly, they are experts; know everything. The arrogance! There are no answers here. There is survival and a small flower of hope.

That is what I always leave with after my time on my face before Yeshua (My Rescuer). I always leave with hope. I know that being alone on the black stage of my life with only a spotlight is the best place for me, because He is the spotlight. If I have to live like this, I’m going to live it with him. If not with him…

I’m just on a black stage.

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Take Life or Retain It

Recent events have pushed me back to a subject I’m really tired of addressing in my journey:  The ability to take life or retain it.  I phrase it that way on purpose.  We can encapsulate a person’s ability to end life as suicide, but as per usual, we human beings feel the need to assign titles and then stereotype based on a narrow definition.  We see it in the news, life ending, on a scale larger than life.

We see it in our personal lives when those near to us make choices that change the direction of the journey for everyone involved.  It’s bigger than one word, folks, and the decision to retain life is as significant as is the choice to take it.  But we don’t focus on, “What ain’t broke,” right?  Well for those faced with the choice as though standing on a narrow ledge with a canyon on either side, one choice is every bit as valuable as the other.

Because of my journey with mental illness, the option to end my life has been a daily decision.  Every day I wake up thinking, “Is this the day I won’t find a reason to keep fighting?  It is a dialogue that is as familiar to me as that to brush my teeth, feed the dog, and do my list of chores for the day.  I have been addressing that commentary for over 30 years.   That is not necessarily the case of someone who does not battle mental illness. You can be taken to the ends of endurance for many reasons that do not include mental illness.

My personal belief is that desperation, disillusionment, and despair occur in the absence of hope, and many of us have lost hope in the midst of endless struggle where we simply knew we were incapable of going on, and an option to jump ship seemed not only the only option but completely rational in the face of ongoing battle and the complete depletion of our reserves.

I do not believe ending life is categorically defined as mental illness.  If so, in order to logically balance that statement, my NOT ending my life makes me NOT mentally ill, which would be lovely, but I have a bottle of lithium, anxiety meds, and a lack of mental control that would present as witnesses to the contrary.

My point in writing this is that we cannot look at the tail end of the life-ending process and attempt to address it there.  We must look at how it unfolds in life, and even then, the ability to determine to continue to live or to end life is the fundamental right of the person making the decision.  I am not advocating ending personal life.  If that were the case, I would have ended mine a long time ago.  I am saying we need to look at what we can do regardless of outcome.

We are such a reactive culture.  We bond together in aftermath.  Watch the patterns in our society, and you can’t miss it.  Our medical practices, our mental health practices, our reasons for changing our life practices are largely seated in reacting to something after it happens.  We lose weight after our health fails.  We address medical issues after the body fails.  We address mental health after we have lost it, and our systems for treatment perpetuate that.

So what is the answer?  I believe that we are always faced with choice.  We cannot change another person’s choices the majority of the time, but we can choose to love greatly, to invest mightily, and live the lives we have been given for as long as we have them.

I have been a public speaker for 25 years.  I have spoken to law enforcement, church organizations, and academic settings about my experience with bipolar disorder and what it has done to my life.  I have addressed suicide so authentically that it makes people very uncomfortable.  I have taught classes on addressing suicidal ideation in self, because it is arrogance to assume you can address this issue in someone else  unless they want to address it.  I adamantly profess self assessment and accountability when it comes to suicide, because it’s as much my responsibility to prevent my death every day as it is to do anything else I have committed to.

I believe with all my professional and personal experience that we need to look at suicide in a different way, because what we are doing is not working.  I am not sure a person who has made a decision to end life can be dissuaded.  It is either something done in overwhelming despair in the moment or planned out based on very thought out reasons and process.  Neither is really a scenario set up for talking through it.

People who reach out for help can be helped, but we need to come up with better ways to help, because what we are doing is not working.  We have to be willing to talk about suicide, what it is, what it does, and the fact that it is permanent.  The young do not necessarily understand this.  Duh.  Right?  Nope.  The brain is missing major logic connections, and there is often an inability to understand that there is no coming back from completed life termination.

We have to be willing to talk about the ending of life when we talk about living it, because it has become an acceptable solution in our current society.  Sometimes having notoriety in death is worth not being here for, just to know at SOME point people knew you were here and that you suffered.

There is a double-edged sword present in talking about suicide.  It can backfire with more suicides because people are often pushed to suicide because they feel alone and misunderstood.  The more we publicize those who have ended their lives, the more it speaks to the person who is so desperately needing to be seen.  But not talking about it causes stigma.  As I said, a double-edged sword.

We must get with people who have survived suicide attempts or ongoing suicidal ideation and learn from them; find out how they have managed living with such a permanent inclination.  We MUST redefine how we address the option to end life.  We are not getting anywhere.

I am going to sound as though I am talking through both sides of my face.  I believe in the right to decide for self.  But I also believe we must educate and open up what life ending does to the person and especially to the people that person loves.  The aftermath of death for any reason devastates those who love that person.  When an individual takes their own life, there is a feeling of betrayal and abandonment that accompanies many who are left behind that does not generally accompany other reasons for tragedy. We have to be ready for that, and when they reach out, we need to be willing to talk about it without condemnation.  It is never our place to judge, unless we have reached perfection ourselves.

The bigger issue is the lack of available treatment for those trying to get away from having to constantly make the decision whether or not to live.  I confess, I have no answers here.  I have largely steered clear of what is available in the professional sector for treatment for my illness.  I am medicated, but I am an authority on my illness.  I believe knowledge is power, and I am armed to the hilt.  I do not view the medical community as knowing any more than I do.  They are my employees, and I hire them to provide what I need.

I pray and ask my Creator to show me how my body functions.  I do not believe he made me with mental illness, but he has allowed it in my life for reasons I do not fully understand, and he has given me means to handle it that are not in the current treatment regime for such illnesses.  I have navigated outside the current system and the damage it does to people, but I have also used it to receive what I need to sustain my life.  I modify, modify, modify.  I surrendered a “normal” life long ago, and now I function at a daily deficit.

But I Function

This is an ongoing problem.  We cannot put a period on the end of this one.  We must start with those in our lives and begin to change how we look at this, one person at a time, and we must remember that as long as there is the option to live, there will be the option to die; the ability to take life or to retain it.

 

The Monster in the Guest House

Over the years I have attempted to describe my special brand of mental illness with vivid imagery like, the monster in the guest house, so as to lend someone who has never experienced mental illness a way to identify if even just a little with what goes on in the life of a person with major mental illness.  I’ve no idea how successfully I have managed to do that.  I know that when I do speaking engagements I often get feedback from those kind enough to listen to me in regards to the vivid imagery I use, suggesting that they have in some way been able to relate.  That positive reinforcement compels me to look further for ways to help bridge the gap to understanding, because stigma exists out of fear of the unknown, and the best way to ameliorate fear is to educate.

The icon I have used that I feel best defines the existence of bipolar disorder in my life has been the monster in the guest house.  I have written this out before, but I have had so many different venues for my writing that I am unable to find my original writing, and there is the fact that I was also writing a dissertation whilst writing blogs, and some things disappeared in the process and my wearing out laptops and not getting everything saved beforehand.

So, without further ado…

My life with bipolar is like having a monster show up on the doorstep of my house, insisting that it is going to move in.  That is what happened at 22 years old.  Now, I wrestled and fought this monster, but I was poorly armed, so while it rampaged in my house, tearing everything apart, I began to search for reinforcements.

There really were no human beings able to help me. They had never seen such a monster, and their response was that I simply control it or pretend it was not there.  But the monster could not be controlled, and I could not pretend it was not there.  It not only tore up my house, but it was a shape shifter and would alter its appearance to look like me, then run out of my house and do things others could see.  They would think it was ME doing those things.

I found a doctor who gave me some magic pills and told me that he could not see the inside of my house or the monster, but the more I explained to him what my house looked like, what the monster was doing, and how I was feeling, he could better help me.  I was relieved to have someone in my life willing to help and who seemed to be able to plot a course for killing the monster.

What I came to realize was that the monster was so attached to me and to my house, that if I killed him, I would also die.  Many times I very nearly killed the monster.  Many times I nearly succeeded.

I decided that I would not be a victim.  I would be a warrior.  I armed myself with as much information as possible, and though the magic pills did not work, I continued to search for ones that would.  I became strong in my knowledge, and authority on the monster.  I became powerful in my abilities to trick the monster, and finally after 10 years, I found a magic pill that helped.

I was able to take the magic pill and close places in my house in a way that rendered the monster limited in its ability to access them.  The magic pill was not a cure, but it was a powerful weapon in limiting the monster, and eventually it only had access to a couple of rooms in my house.

One day I met a brain wizard. He was a doctor of cognitive behavioral practices, and he taught me how to take a thought and remake it into a better functioning thought.  This was valuable, because the biggest power the monster had was to take thoughts that roamed freely in my house and turn them into twisted ugly things that didn’t come close to their original structure.  They would turn on me and attack like little rabid dogs. The brain wizard helped me grab hold of those twisted thoughts and remake them.

I realized I could act on the monster’s weakened state, so I kicked it out the door of my house and locked it in the guest house.  I told it I may never be able to kick it off my property but I was not going to allow it to destroy my house any longer.  I locked it up, and with the magic pills and the skills taught by the brain wizard, I have managed to keep it there…

For the most part.

After so many years of battling the monster, my house is not the same.  There are scars, gouges, from where it sliced through walls.  I have rebuilt the furniture many times, and the appliances work, though not as well as they used to. It is not a pretty house any more.  Things are tidy, but often the walls shake with the monster’s rage and attempts to break out of the guest house, and things fall and break. There are fewer rooms to secure these days.  The last time the monster broke out of the guest house, he broke down more walls, so the house is pretty open.  And though the memory room still stands, there is no longer a door.  That is the room that the monster likes to wreck, and it is the room it takes me the longest to restore.  In fact there have just been too many things that have gone missing from that room.

I feel that for the most part I have been fortunate in my dealings with the monster.  I have had people move in around me who are good neighbors, people who help me watch the guest house and alert me when things are looking unsettled.  Mainly, though I have a Being in my life that is unafraid of any monsters life can produce.  I was angry at the Being for a long time.  I thought he had put the monster on my property, but I have come to realize he has orchestrated all the weapons I have obtained, and the beautiful neighbors who help me are there by his design.

Here’s the ironic part.  The Being has helped me realize my life has more meaning because of what lives on my property. I am a more dimensional, humble, and empathetic person because the Being didn’t kill the monster but helped me submit the monster.  Some days I stand guard very well.  Other days I struggle to make it to my post from the sheer magnitude of stress caused by having such a creature on my property, but I continue in my precarious existence, and I attempt life with grace bestowed on my by the Being and those beautiful neighbors.  I find I have a light of hope walking back and forth between my house and where the monster is housed that reassures me that there is more good for me than bad.  I find I can employ  gratefulness and identify with others, and I believe I am able to do those things largely because of the presence of the monster in the guest house.

Mind, Metaphor, and Getting Tethered

It’s been too long.  It’s not that there was nothing to say, I just didn’t know how to say it.  I am ever at my best when seated with “pen” in hand, as I am not really as adept at verbal exchange as I pretend.  And, well, I have been missing a piece of my self, my soul.  I have been adrift for the past year; just feeling really at sixes and sevens with me, but there have been a few exchanges and events of late that have brought me round to remembering that the best way to get tethered to what matters again is to delve into the depths of me and what has been going on in terms of changes on my lifescape.

I have been in an all out war with mental illness for the majority of my life.  I have been a public speaker about my experiences with major mental illness, a writer, and I have worked with people who are mentally ill, as well as those who have a mentally ill loved one in their lives, for nearly two decades.  Living with mental illness rather than succumbing to it is an ongoing battle that never ends.  It permeates every single function and every singe moment of the day.  It destroys, erodes, overtakes, distorts, fractures, and decays every part of a human life…

If allowed.

In my twenties I found myself adrift on the wreckage of my life in a vast ocean of psychotic malfunction and biological disruption.  There was no compass.  The basics like cognitive control and all the other evolved limbic functions like memory, social acuity, and self-comprehension, were no longer present.  I was adrift on a vast ocean, small and insignificant, on the surface of huge illness that would never fully divulge its secrets, much like the oceanic metaphor I am using.

I determined I would either dive off that piece of wreckage and end my life, or I would commit to living the most “normal” life I could possibly procure for myself.

I was very naive.  I now understand that if “normal” exists, it is not in my sphere.  I had two things going for me,  my loved ones, and my God.  Not the God that is in a white robe with a long beard, awaiting the opportunity to smite me if I step wrong.  That God would be rendered absolutely worthless to me.  Not some nebulous universal thing that plays games with me, using chance and karma as a way to get even with me or devise a series of rewards if I pull the magic ticket or do something it agrees with.  I have no patience with such nonsense.

I needed a meaty God who would roll up his sleeves and get dirty in my life;  a God who would sit with me in the darkest, thickest, most horrible depressions (medicated depressions, mind you) that were so very despairing and hopeless that I would want to pull my skin off in order to balance the horrific pain in my mind that came from nowhere, suffocating every single light in my world with black night.

I needed a God who could break through horrific despair that left me crying out in so much pain, tears could not flow, with a handful of pills in one hand, and the other hand pulling at my hair trying to find release.  I needed a God who could handle rages that came from nowhere allowing no release; a God who would comfort me, help me find answers, and NOT condemn me.

I found him.  I found the God that helped me function not only as a viable human being, but a human being able to perform at an extremely high level of functionality, with healthy relationships, and accomplishments that mean something to me.  I found a God I am not afraid to let see every single part of my vast and open mind that alters between dark void to colors and movement so prolific as to make the Borealis appear blase’; a God that not only loves me anyway but shows me magnificent things about that which was presented in my life to destroy me.

I very much admired Carrie Fisher.  I’m not really a fan of heroes in human beings, but I have very much valued her honesty in dealing with mental illness.  She was authentic and raw, something that is very valuable in a disease that is stigmatized. I find that, since her death, I am less tolerant of excuses and behaviors from people who refuse to be accountable for mental illness they are dealing with.  I suppose the reason for the correlation between the two is because I considered Carrie a success in living with major mental illness, and in her death I find I am less indulgent of stupid mindsets regarding mental illness.  I struggle every day to function in a way that others take for granted.  There are times when I have been at work and only a few hours earlier it was uncertain as to whether or not I would commit suicide.

I maintain balance as precariously as any tightrope walker.  I stay on a schedule.  I toss unhealthy people out of my life like debris on fire, even if I like them.  I say “no” a lot, because I owe it to myself, my husband, my family, my friends, to set boundaries with myself an others in order to maintain that balance I must have to function.  My life is a series of enormous and vibrant spikes stretching beyond view but confined in a space no bigger that than a plastic milk crate.  There are no continual social interactions with limitless potential for more in my sphere of living.  I am constantly over stimulated in my work environments, where everyone else is unaffected.  Some days when I get home, I put in ear plugs to just have a break from continual noise that permeates our cultured in every crack and crevice.

I had a conversation with a young woman some time back where she assured me she had bipolar disorder.  It was cavalierly said, and I confess it rankled.  I do NOT have a casual existence with bipolar disorder.  It has become the poster child for every outrageous behavior, an excuse to be and do whatever with, “I have bp, so I can’t help it.”

Only abut 1% of the population has bipolar disorder, and just as I fall into the 1% category of those in the country with a doctorate, I also qualify in the bipolar category. One I’m proud of.  The other distinction, I could certainly do without, and it annoys me when people who have no bloody clue toss it about like a hall pass to behaving any way they like.

I am medicated, have been for nearly 25 years.  It would take about 5 days without medication for me to be rendered incapable of functioning in the world at large.  Even with medication, I am forced to make major adjustments, especially since I also have agoraphobia, a very severe anxiety disorder. I don’t have the option of partying a little too much.  I don’t have the option of staying up too late several days in a row.  I don’t have the option of jumping from one social event to another.

IF I want to be able to do all the things that healthy functioning adults do, I cannot do a lot of the things that healthy functioning adults do.

I also find I am really, really intolerant of people feeling they need justification or proof of my mental illness.  I told my mom the other day that no matter my age, 23, 34, or 50, those of us with mental illness will always be expected to expand or prove just how mentally ill we are in order to do the things that keep us the healthiest.  The difference for me is that the older I get the less willing I am to humor other people’s requirements for justification.

So if you are mentally ill, focus on health and balance.  Do not spend your time trying to convince other people that you are as sick as you are.  Because the truth is that they won’t believe you anyway, and I have found that people who require you to show them that you are in fact in need of being different because you have a very serious illness, are the people who tend to be least capable of maintaining health and balance in their own lives.

Resolutions to Live

dexter

I do not do New Year Resolutions.  Nor do I attempt to drill down the previous year into a few paragraphs.  The first, because I fail enough without setting myself up for failure right off the bat, and the second because, well, because I tend to have selective memory and a vivid imagination which does not perhaps produce the most truthful of accounts.

One thing I do need to do is be authentic, and since this blog is about mental illness and mental health, generally (hopefully) in tandem, I want to be very transparent in my presentation if it might help someone else.

I began 2016 with the worst month I had had in 10 years.  I stood one night with a bottle of pills dumped in my hand, ready to go into my mouth.  I would have done it.  I am not afraid to die. It was the only time the madness stopped and there was silence in the decision. Sometimes the alternative, living, is much harder to contemplate than dying.

One thing stopped me.

It is funny what the mind will do when chemicals run amuck; what the brain produces as rational in the completely irrational.

As I began to lift a 60 count bottle of pills to my mouth, I looked at my dog.  Dexter.  There he sat looking up at me, and I thought, “I can’t do this.  He will never understand why I am gone.”

Dogs are very sensitive to changes in those they love.  Dexter is very aware when I am not quite right.  He sticks close.  He followed me into the bathroom and sat watching as I flushed the pills, and then followed me back to the living room and sat on the couch with me as I cried.

I was crying because I had to go on living.  I was crying because I was in a place I had not been for a very long time.  I was broken and sad, not because my life was broken and sad, but because my brain is broken, and I tend to be sad because of its brokenness.  And I was so very tired.  Tired of fighting with everything I had for something I wasn’t all that interested in hanging on to.

The newest thing to promote the erasure of stigma with mental illness is a semi-colon.  Have you seen the advertisements?  You get a tattoo or a piece of jewelry with a semi-colon to show you have conquered suicide.  I told my husband I would have hundreds of tattoos with semi-colons if I were to show how many times I have overcome suicide.  I am a veteran of mental illness,

And yet…

I was just there again in November and December.  Fortunately, I have a sister who is in crisis intervention and who walked me through it this time.  It didn’t change much at the time.  I still have to live on the “me” side of my brain, and when it is malfunctioning, it’s ugly, and I can’t get away from it. We came up with a game plan and I held on to the hope it would work.

I am fortunate.  I have a lot of family who love me, especially a husband who supports me and is very much on board with helping me find balance.  My biggest issue is me.

I am able to write this blog because I’m past the worst of it.  I’m back to rationale.  I have three degrees in psychology.  I am an authority, personally and professionally, on bipolar disorder.  I have a high IQ, love passionately many people, and am loved passionately.  None of that matters.

The thing that matters most for me is that I trust God with all of it.  I know I can trust him, because we have been walking this illness out for nearly 30 years.  I can’t generate hope on my own.  I can’t beg, borrow, or steal it from someone else.

But I have to have it to keep going, and I get if from him.

I’m better, but there is no “well” for me.  I will always, as I have since I was a teenager, have a tenuous grasp on stability.  I understand my pathology more than most, and I do not believe in sweeping things out of the line of sight.  I know that things others take for granted are just not going to be part of my experience if I want to maintain sanity.

So be it.

I want to make sure that those who deal with mental illness, especially bipolar disorder understand that this illness is not going to work itself out.  It’s not going to go away, and it will most certainly kill you at some point through impulsivity or despair.  Respect it, but don’t let it own you.  Educate yourself, and don’t underestimate it.  Whether you deserve it or not is irrelevant.  What is relevant is that you manage it.

So a new year, for me, is not about resolutions but about being able to say I ran yet another year’s race, dragging mental illness along with me kicking and screaming, and I’m holding steady for the next.

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