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My Best Friend, Anxiety, and Cuthulu

My best friend Jennie is half crazy.  I only say half crazy because no one can figure out what the other half is yet.  If I were forced to put my finger on it I’d have to say paranoid, but last week the National Association for the Advancement of Paranoid Schizophrenics sent me a cease and desist letter.  Evidently Jennie is too extreme for them.  They threatened a defamation lawsuit if I kept referring to her as paranoid.  But only after the Invasion was over.  And only if we weren’t all replaced by doppelgangers hatched from green seedpods.

Which some thought maybe Jennie was.

No one was able to reach a consensus, though.   One group put out the opinion that Jennie was being manipulated by broadcasts from alien satellites.  Another claimed the satellites belonged to the CIA.

The rest felt like groups one and two were the aliens.

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Apparently the organization still believed she was giving them a bad name.  They couldn’t make up their minds because no one could pinpoint exactly whose mind needed to be made up when someone was already doing it for them.

Groups one and two thought maybe it was group three.

Group three said it was the CIA.

The rest said that they were the CIA.

Whatever the case, I knew exactly who it was because one of the organization’s members tried to cover their tracks by employing a clever bit of misdirection.  The letter came attached with a bomb, but it was postmarked as the Ted Kasczynski Institute for Better Living.  I was suspicious when I noticed that the package was shipped wearing a tinfoil hat.

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I think that these people might be onto something, though.  Really, I do.  Jennie has good reason to be a bit off kilter.  She graduated from med school almost 15 years ago and works for the DOD as a medical provider.  I live with her now because she is going through a bit of a rough patch.

And by a rough patch I mean when she comes home she has to be kept from going outside because there’s a busy intersection in front of her subdivision and she likes to stand at the corner prophesying the coming of Cuthulu.

Problem is, when she gets that way she thinks my van is Cuthulu.

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That’s why I park it around back.  I’m afraid I’ll come home one day to find out she’s raised an unholy demi-god into my Dodge Caravan from the Outer Realms.  It’s going to totally suck to see a wholesome family vehicle rampaging across the mortal realm demolishing cities with wave after wave of legions of undead Ford Edsels running over small puppies and old ladies, or something like that.

Jennie regularly tells me that if I make her mad, she’s going to slit my throat with a scalpel.  Maybe she’s not paranoid, but rather a tad bit homicidal.

All joking aside, Jennie was abused physically and emotionally by her mother.  She fled home following high school, where she worked her way into med school.  Several years into her marriage, her husband realized that the one thing he was missing in his life was a punching bag.

Eventually he realized that’s what Jennie was there for.

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Matters went from worse to Jerry Springer when he had an affair with Jennie’s own mother.  Two years later my best friend’s older brother killed himself after falling into a severe bi-polar spiral exacerbated by a fatal addiction to the designer drug marketed as “bath salts.”

THEN… while she was going through this excursion into hell, she was assaulted by a man who was supposed to be a good friend.

You really would be hard pressed to make a story like this up.  I heard even Jerry Springer turned her story down because he couldn’t believe it.

Or maybe that’s what the CIA mind controllers wanted him to think….

I honestly cannot imagine what it must be like to wake up every night in to feel wave after wave of an unnamable dread sweeping over me. That’s just one of the leftovers from her past that Jennie has to deal with now.  I’ve sat beside her couch and held her hand as she attempted to soothe herself by rocking back and forth, as if each metronome-like sway could somehow move traumatic past events away one millimeter at a time.

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More, I’ve stood beside my best friend and watched—literally watched—her fall asleep standing up because five days of catching sleep in brief snatches does very rude things to the body.  A week ago Jennie fell asleep at the dinner table with her hands in ranch dipping sauce.

My ranch dipping sauce.

If it had been my girlfriend, I’d have done something slightly naughty to get the sauce off of her fingers, but Jennie’s not my girlfriend.  Plus, she really does know how to use a scalpel.

I hate seeing what fear and incessant anxiety attacks do to my friend.  Currently she resists seeing a therapist.  I think that is one of the worst decisions she can make, and all I can do is watch.  No amount of talking is doing any good at the moment.  For now it’s extremely painful to watch moments of irrational panic take an amazing, vibrant, and professional woman to her knees.  If you suffer from anxiety attacks, there is help.  The first step is to know the nature of the beast that you are facing.  Please realize that you are not alone.  Get help.  There are people out there waiting with techniques that can alleviate the symptoms you are facing.  YOU have to do something about it, though.  YOU.  Please don’t wait.  That’s what Jennie does, and it scares me a lot. I suspect that when she falls off of her wall, it’s going to take a lot of the king’s horses and men to put her back together.  Age, experience, and wisdom tell me that I, alone, am not enough.

Please get help!

 

Depression, Succubi, Adultery, and the Damn Travel Channel

Depression is a lot like an all day sleep-and-bingeathon, only there aren’t any cool accolades if you eat more than a human reasonably ought to.  I watch TV sometimes. There’s a show called Man Versus Food on Travel Channel where the show’s host, Adam Richman, goes around the US in search of restaurants with customer challenges that would send any sane man crying home to his mama.  I’m serious.  Try doing something like eating a ten-pound burger in less then five minutes.  The rare select few whose intestines don’t explode get some kind of reward, like a T-shirt and their name on a plaque.

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I don’t know why they do that.  I’ve seen the fat that drips off of cooking hamburger meat, and if you’re crazy enough to eat a ten-pound burger then the plaque comes post-attached to your arteries.  Following that, if your intestines have the fortitude to withstand the culinary punishment, it’s your heart that explodes instead.

I’ve always thought they should forego the T-shirts in lieu of toe-tags for this very reason.  Whichever part of your body bursts first, the tags make for easy identification.

How unfair is all of this?  After all, when I get depressed, I eat a lot.  Adam Richman eats more than I do and he doesn’t look a bit depressed.  In fact, he looks positively bubbling with gaiety.  Maybe it’s because he sleeps a lot, instead.   That’s the damned thing about depression.  When you sleep all day, you tend to wake up hungry.  Then, once you’ve eaten until the capillaries in your eyes all pop, you get sleepy again because of the carb crash and have to call someone to come over and help you back to your bed because you’ve eaten yourself blind.

My grandmother used to tell me if I masturbated I’d go blind, but that wasn’t true, though I did walk in on my roommate doing that once in college and seriously contemplated putting my eyes out.  I guess grandma had it half right.

I went to the Golden Corral steak buffet and tried to eat the image out of my head.  It didn’t work.  I just gained three pounds.  And when I found that out, I went for some serious comfort food then.

Oh.

And I started knocking on the door before I went into my dorm room.

Because of depression I ruined a wonderful job once.  For one brief golden year I taught English at a college.  The job was a dream-come-true.  Then Rebecca, the girl of my dreams, dumped me for a man who makes a quarter of a million dollars.  I was already in a bad place because I had left my wife for Becky and my conscience kept telling me I had to mask the pain by eating at establishments with names like Fat Daddy’s or Gut Busters.  Otherwise I knew I was going to have to face what I did.  Facing up to your own treachery and betrayal never, ever tastes good.

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To make matters worse, Becky was suicidal.  That’s enough to drive anyone into a depressed state.  Especially when you’re taking phone calls four and five times a night to talk someone off of a potential ledge.

Not only that but she suffered from a mood disorder that drove me to the edge of my own personal cliff.  I’m sure she suffered from several other disorders, actually.  Unfortunately being a life-sucking, gold-digging succubus hasn’t been entered into the DSM-V yet.  There’s no medicine for that.  Instead of pills I found out the hard way that they were handing out well-paid computer engineers instead.  When that happened I hoped Becky would get an STD.

She got a BMW instead.

The worst thing about all of this is that Adam Richman never seems to gain a freaking ounce.  It would be different if he were as round as a basketball and half the size of Jupiter.

Luckily I’m six foot four.  I don’t look like Jupiter, but most of the weight is in my stomach.  I look like Saturn instead.  After all, that’s pretty fitting because Saturn was considered the Roman god of generation and noting generates like binge eating and sleeping all the time.

Unless you’re Adam Richman.  But I bet with all the money he’s not too depressed about anything unless he get salmonella after eating a ten mile sausage dog.

Seriously, depression not only takes the life out of you, but it takes you out of life.  That’s the real mischief of depression.  Instead of doing my job I went home and curled up into a fetal position until the next day.  Working with my students was what got me through each day.  But in the end I sabotaged that.  The main thing I want anyone reading this to take away is that if you find yourself in the same place I did, GET HELP.

And not the kind that comes from buffet bars or hiding in your bed and praying for your life to go away.  If I do my blog correctly tonight there should be a link to the signs and symptoms of this sometimes debilitating disorder.

As for the life-sucking succubus, dump his or her ass and fork over the fee for eHarmony.  I found two amazing girls there.  One is a physician and she’s my best friend.  The other I’m going to marry.

Grab a stake, not a steak.  Use a crucifix if you think it will help.  Get the toxic partner out of your life.  Leave the vampires to Stephanie Meyers. That voice telling you that you won’t find anyone else is a liar.

You can.

You will.

The Price of Adultery: Part 1

My ex-wife Julie and I met one night at college as we each walked alone along separate paths.  I was lonely, and she told me later that she had been drawn out onto a lonely walk because of another guy.  She liked him, but her feelings had gone unrequited.  That night she walked to let go of the idea of him and reconcile herself to the fact that something she had hoped for would never be.

By that time of my life I have discovered that I was already in a lifelong battle with depression.  As I passed groves of mountain evergreens lining the walking paths that skirted the campus, I remember the faint emotional sirens singing insidiously to me the same song that seems to tug at people with depression.

I felt like I was not “good enough” to be a part of the company of other students I admired.  My life was always the life of the outsider standing in the cold night looking into a window spilling out warmth, light, and laughter of people within . . . groups of people, the voice within me chided, that I could never possibly belong to.

I always watched from the other side of that window, pretending to smile, hoping that the grin on my face showed those inside that I too was one of them, one of the blessed elect, and that except for my solitary errand, I would doubtless be elsewhere enjoying the same mirth and happiness they reveled in.

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But I knew inside that I was really one of H.G. Wells’ Morlocks, a collegiate J. Alfred Prufrock not fit to share a smile or a laugh with a pretty girl or a close friend.  I knew in truth that it was time for me to go, always time for me to go.  Only the ghost of me remained.  If all I left in others was the believable pretense of a smile and the veneer of acceptability, then I felt like I broke even.

That night we both secretly carried our own baggage of disappointments and letdowns.  We met and walked together, and at some point I held her hand.  Neither of us suspected how far things would go, or how far things would fall.  I sensed from the beginning that we weren’t the best fit, but two months later I discovered I had MS and Julie was the one person there for me.  6 months after that she was pregnant and 10 months after that we were married.

Julie was a wonderful girl.  Gentle.  Sweet.  Thoughtful.  Considerate.  Unsure of herself and full of her own self-doubts.  And why shouldn’t she have been?  When Ju was born, the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck, choking her.  The resulting brief reduction of blood flow to her brain left her with a number of learning disabilities.

Growing up, she attended a prestigious and expensive private Catholic school, and it was hell for her.  All of the kids came from families with money and they possessed the kind of self-confident arrogance that sometimes accompanies children born among the Eloi, or the elect.

Julie attended special ed. classes to help her learn to work with her learning disabilities.  But you can imagine what it looks like to snooty school kids when one of their classmates has to leave regular class in order to attend “special” classes taught by the same teachers who were also working with mentally retarded children.

Julie knew that almost everyone looked askance at her as far as perceived academics went.  The boys liked her because she was thin and cute and more jock than preppy diva.  Julie has always been extraordinarily modest.  Any nascent arrogance got beaten out of her by a father that walked out on her when she was young.  And then there were the cruel remarks children made behind her back because she obviously wasn’t like them.  More, Julie never knew how pretty she was when she was younger.  The girls did, though, and they had their ways of making her feel ostracized . . . like a Morlock.

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Our marriage was full of trouble from the beginning.  I was always impatient with Julie.  Despite her learning disabilities, Ju was bright and just as capable as any other girl.  She just took longer to process and sift through things she read and heard.  I was book smart and grasped literary and philosophical things easily—the kind of guy who never opened a book and hardly went to class but still pulled a B effortlessly.

Julie worked and fought for every academic accomplishment she earned.  I had little respect for her at times because I constantly had to stop in mid-conversation and explain things to her I found self-evident.  She frequently became passive-aggressive and defensive whenever issues arose.  On top of that she suffered from what was at times a severe social anxiety.

Despite all of this, Julie loved me wholeheartedly and with the kind of devotion many people would shave years off of their lives to experience from another.  For all her love and fidelity, I returned her affection with an affair that left her shattered and devastated.

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Julie spent most of her life unsure of herself and afraid to live, to step out and take a chance.  Most of the time she got by with just existing.  This took its toll on me over the years.  That’s about the only thing I can offer up as an explanation as to why I cheated on her.  For a long time I clung to it as a life raft, excusing me from the deep and damning waters of my betrayal.

One day I finally let go of the raft and allowed myself to sink into the depths of that pitiless and self-recriminating sea.  Not a day goes by now when I do not in some way or another pay for the emotional toll I exacted on her.  I know that we weren’t good for each other.  Intellectually we had very different needs.  But this knowledge doesn’t do a bit of good to buoy up so my head remains above water.  It’s all I can do to hold on and tread.  Guilt is such a thinner thing than water that when we let go of the defenses we cling to in order to keep it at bay, we sink.  And down below, where the water is deepest, the guilt exerts a pressure that is unbearable.

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Julie has the kind of tenacity and spirit that will allow her to remain afloat in even the worst storms.  I am not so strong or resilient.  But rarely are the souls of the damned made of such durable stuff.  She sails in better and safer waters.  I live at the bottom of a sea floor littered with the wrecks of torpedoed relationships, walking and stumbling blindly among other lost souls in the dark, hoping for a redemption that remains ever elusive and forbidden.

Natural Disasters–mental and otherwise

I’m a bit of a statistical oddity.  I guess some people just are.  I heard of a guy who won a lottery not just once, but twice.  My luck never runs in that kind of directions, though.  I won a lottery of a different kind altogether.  You see, in 1995 I found out that I had hit a statistical health marker that most Americans manage to miss.

My last year of college I was struck by Multiple Sclerosis.

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The term multiple sclerosis comes from Latin meaning “it sucks to be you.”  That’s what sclerosis means.  Multiple is merely an adjective meaning “over and over again.”  If you’ve got this disease, you know it frequently pops up whether you want it to or not.  Sort of like the annoying friends who come over unannounced when you are in the middle of something incredibly important.  The moment you’ve gotten the house all alone and you’ve finally convinced a hot chick that you were house sitting for your parents and not that you still lived with them, for example.

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No, I don’t live at home with mom and dad.

But I do live in my body and this disease does, too.

And unlike annoying friends who have a knack for showing up at the wrong moment, MS never leaves.  It just takes a vacation and when it’s rested up can come back even worse than before.

I did know a couple of guys in college once who came to my dorm room just as I was about to make out with a really cute sorority babe.  They were so into Dungeons and Dragons that they could have led Tiamat through a Soviet Gulag blindfolded without ever having to roll two D 10s.  When the two of them walked in, they were actually debating whether dark elves were acceptable crossover characters in a Star Trek roll playing game.

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And they wouldn’t shut up.

Thanks to Dan and Eric I never got to third base with Cindy McArthur.  They did find out that their natural armor class didn’t protect them from being kicked the hell out of my room, though.

And the following Friday I found out when Dan’s dark elf appeared on the bridge of my starship that my helmsman wasn’t all that immune to a chain lightning strike.  I had to create a new character.  I also found out that weekend that Cindy thought I was a bit geeky and decided to go out with a Pike instead of me.

I was pretty lucky in the end because the Pike ended up admitting he contracted Herpes from Cindy.

Statistics.

The fact that I was diagnosed with a neurological illness that produced hard plaques in the brain and spinal cord (the sclerosis) was a random roll of the dice.  A statistical oddity.

I’m an oddity in one other thing that doesn’t happen to most people, even once in their lives.  I have survived not one but two encounters with tornadoes.

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Have you ever noticed that Hollywood makes forces of nature seem like loads of titillating fun?  Think about all the glitzy characters picked in leading roles for movies like Volcano, Dante’s Peak, Twister, The day After Tomorrow, and 2012.  I have it on first hand experience that there’s absolutely NOTHING glitzy about a tornado.  There’s just a lot if running, screaming, and praying you don’t get lifted with the roof of your house into someone’s else’s yard three neighborhoods over.

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And not a single one of the people with me looked like Tommy Lee Jones or John Cusack.  Nor was there a cool heroine babe like Linda Hamilton or Helen Hunt to impress as I stood my ground against Nature and showed the green goddess who was in charge.

Actually, she was.

And it turns out that Nature didn’t really like the farm I lived on or several nearby sub developments.  I also think Nature had a taste for mainline Protestants, because when the tornadoes were finished vacuuming everything that wasn’t tied down, a Baptist church had been blown away.

Both tornadoes were rated as F3s.

I like the rating systems we use for natural catastrophes.  Tornadoes get the Fujita scale.  Hurricanes get categories and earthquakes get Richter scales.

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I think we should have a personal rating scale for other types of natural disasters in our lives.

Like neurological diseases.  My MS has remained relatively mild for 20 years.  For the most part, what I would classify as an F1 in what I call the Personal Fujita Scale of Social and Life Disturbance (or just PFS for short).  It has hit me a couple of times at higher levels.  Like the morning I woke up and couldn’t talk.  That little joyride lasted about a week.  But since MS can render even the best people para or quadriplegics, I give a week without speech a low F2 on my PFS system.  Last month my uncle died of ALS, which is always fatal, so it automatically gets an F5.

I’m all for using the rating system in other areas, too . . . hence the part I added about social disturbances.

I’ve heard from a number of people who’ve had bad experiences with family and loved ones suffering with mental illnesses.  Borderline Personality Disorder seems to be the one I’ve heard about the most.  I’ve written about the girl who broke my heart.  I give her an F3.  I’ve also heard others who’ve been through far worse than me.  One friend is married to a lady from India who dumped his pain and heart medications down the food disposal and then went on a rampage destroying his computer and calling his little daughters “whores.”

She gets an F4.

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I like my rating system.  It helps me make sense of my own depression.  Most of the time if I’m on my medication I hover around a nice, level F0.  But if I miss enough doses my mood turns dark and I can be so passive-aggressive that when someone pisses me off I spontaneously lie down and take a nap.

No.

I only wish the passive part worked that way.

When I cut my wrist and ended up in the nuthatch for a week, I’d say that was a solid F4 event.  But that’s only happened once.  And for the record, the nuthatch wouldn’t have been so bad if it had been full of actual nuts.

I love Brazil nuts.

If that had been the case, then maybe cutting my wrist would have been mitigated by lots of crunchy, hard-shelled goodness.

I’ve always thought Hollywood totally missed the mark on mental illness just as much as it’s missed the mark on natural disaster movies.  On TV, Monk is OCD, and being OCD never made anyone I’ve known look quirky in a cute kind of way.  And not a single one of them has solved a murder.

Everyone I know with OCD says it sucks.

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I saw a show once about a schizophrenic professor who heard voices and talked to people.  The voices and visions helped him foil criminals as well.  In real-life, my ex-wife’s uncle dated a girl who was schizophrenic.  When her illness was at its worse, life for her was a nightmare.  She became the criminal.  And actually, she had a lot more wrong with her than schizophrenia.  One day she arrived at a friend’s house upset over an argument with someone.  She had a gun.

Her friend locked his door and called the police.

If her life had been a movie, the gun would have actually been for a homicidal psychopath hiding in her friend’s pantry, ready to kill him for stocking the kitchen with the boxed macaroni instead of the kind that comes with cheese in the squeeze packs.

Instead, what they found was a 24-year-old lady, a mother of two, who refused to put her gun down.

The police had no way of knowing that they were dealing with someone in the middle of a psychotic break, more than likely drug induced, or that if they had given her enough time, the episode might have passed.

They shot her.

Her name was Anne, and she died on the way to the hospital.

I really do wish for once that Hollywood would pay attention to my PFS scale and get mental illness right.  After all, the hobgoblins of the mind are little mini-natural disasters in their own right.

And the people suffering through mental illnesses deserve better.

Borderline Personality Disorder

Over the course of my life, I’ve been sidelined, streamlined (that happened every time I started a diet program), off-lined, hard-lined, close-lined, and once in a boating accident, shore lined.  It wasn’t, however, until I began a three-year long affair with my old high school sweetheart, my first real love, that I came into contact with mental illness from the other end of a relationship.

Ever since high school I’ve always run what a therapist once told me was a low-grade depression with occasional severe flare-ups.  Depression is bad.  Sometimes really bad.  It led me once to cut my wrist into hamburger meat with a steak knife.  My housemate came into the kitchen and saw what I was doing.  She called 911 and very well might have saved my life.  That was the day that I realized a number of things: 1) steak knives, while readily on hand, make terrible instruments of suicide, 2) I needed seeeerious help, and 3) not all mental illness were created the same.

That’s when I discovered I had been borderlined.

Becky, the girl I was involved with, had a personal history of suicide attempts as well as a family history of it, too. I cannot tell you how many nights she called me multiple times seeking comfort and reassurance.

I was always there for her.

I guess you could say in that respect I was a lot like the all the other guys she screwed around with.  But I think they were always there for her with an entirely different set of priorities in mind.

What I knew and none of then had a clue about was that in addition to suffering from severe depression with a history of suicide, Becky was also diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.

If you’re not sure of the difference between depression and borderline personality disorder, please take a few minutes to review the following links:

  1. Depression:  http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/depression/index.shtml
  2. Borderline Personality Disorder: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/borderline-personality-disorder/index

Borderliners can be amazing people.  They can also be nightmares.  I mean no disrespect to sufferers with this clinical diagnosis.  None at all.  But if you are in a relationship with some one who is a borderliner, please keep in mind studies show that loved ones and close associates of borderliners need therapy as well.

That’s because in my experience, comparing living with depression to living with BPD is like the difference between playing with bottle rockets in your backyard and tinkering with fat man at the trinity test site.

If you have BPD, you know how terribly the mood swings push you into dark places you’d rather not go.  Kind of like Frodo without the benefit of a lava lake and a ring to toss it into.

If you suffer with BPD, not only do you wear a ring you cannot take off . . . you discover somewhere along the way that to your horror, you are the ring.  Statistics show that borderliners not only frequently attempt suicide, but they are also statically more likely to succeed in their attempts.

Currently the mainline treatment regimen for BPD involves finding and effective SSRI or some other medication in combination with Dialectical Behavior Therapy, which can be accessed by this site: http://psychcentral.com/lib/an-overview-of-dialectical-behavior-therapy/0001096

I now what a hell it can be for people on both ends of this spectrum.  If you suspect someone you love suffers from BPD, feel free to email me and I will be happy to help you access the latest studies and literature on the subject.

Remember.

You are not alone.

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