Some Little Things

It’s been a long period of silence.  I’ve never been very good at blogging regularly — even back in my teenage Livejournal days it came in fits and starts.

Since my last post, I’ve gotten married, moved to an awesome new city and I’m about to start graduate school in my dream program.  Part of me can’t stop waiting for the other shoe to drop, but I need to keep telling myself that’s not a good way to think.  Sometimes I just can’t help it, though.

I had a “bad brain day” a few days ago that I’m still recovering from.  It’s interesting — it kind of works the same way my asthma does, with a severe attack followed by tapering symptoms.  I made myself go out with the husband-creature and go grocery shopping the day after the attack, which really helped me, even though I was logy and slow all over and just generally thin-skinned.

There’s something about this city that helps me feel better, I think.  There’s always an interesting person to meet or someone walking a ridiculous dog or even just shawarma marinade at the grocery store that makes me realize that things are okay and they’re going to get better.  That’s why I decided to save up to get this tattoo that I’ve been thinking about for some time:  a lantern with the words “Sometimes I have a great notion”.

For those familiar with early 20th century music, the text, at least, is pretty self-explanatory.  It’s a reference to the song Goodnight, Irene:

Sometimes I live in the county / Sometimes I live in the town / Sometimes I have a great notion / To jump in the river and drown

The lantern, though, is partly a reference to St. Dymphna, but mostly just a symbol of hope.  It’s acknowledging that these times are going to happen, but also reminding me that they are a transitory state.

Well, and also it would look bitchin’ on the same arm as my brass compass 😉


An Important Clarification

I know I said I would leave all the stuff in the first post behind me, but I have a very important clarification of intent that needs to be read.

I do not, by any means, think that there are “good” psychiatric drugs and “bad” psychiatric drugs.  The only “bad” psychiatric drug is one that is unnecessary for the individual, and that varies as much as human brains do.  Just because *I* didn’t need antipsychotics, mood-stabilizers and stimulants doesn’t mean that there aren’t millions and millions of people out there who benefit greatly from them.

I sincerely apologize to anyone who took that meaning from my first post.  I never intended it to be a polemic against certain modes of treatment, especially since I am nowhere near qualified to make any statement of the sort.  In fact, if you took that meaning away from my post and are using it to try and hurt other people, please either go and get some remedial reading comprehension classes or fuck off and die.


Moving Forward

This has been an interesting ride.  I wasn’t expecting anyone to read what I wrote at all, let alone thousands of people.  I’ve been honestly floored by the outpouring of love and support and learning that I’m not alone.  I think it’s important to keep moving forward in life, so the rest of this blog will be about the present and the future, except in cases where it is appropriate to reflect on the past.  It is possible to forgive without forgetting.  It is possible to learn from your pain and try to spread awareness of the causes without it becoming the focal point of your life.   I apologize if the content from here on out seems banal in comparison to my first post, but I think that is a pretty apt metaphor — if you start your life in a world of trauma and drama, healthy and functional things sometimes seem a little boring.   I guess I just want this blog to be a record of a journey and hard proof for anyone who doubts that things can get better, whether they are struggling with internal or external problems… or both.

I think the hardest part of the last few days hasn’t necessarily been the “oh my god, I bared my soul on the internet and people are reading and talking about it”.  I admit, that was scary, but the scarier part was “oh my god, what if my mom somehow sees this?”  Despite our difficult history, I still love my mother very much.  I know her intentions were never consciously malicious. Sometimes she still can be difficult to deal with, but I’ve slowly come to accept that I can’t change the way she reacts to things and that she isn’t able to be there in the way I would like her to be.  I’m still learning to accept my mother on her own terms and our relationship on its own terms without compromising my own needs.  Boundaries, yay?

So what am I doing right now?  Well,  mostly, I am artfully avoiding writing my statement of purpose for my grad school applications.  I admit, I am a master of procrastination.  I think my best procrastination move was the time I attempted to donate blood instead of working on a paper.  Of course, my veins decided to be wholly uncooperative and the nurses didn’t have any “I almost gave blood” stickers, but it’s the thought that counts, right?

On a small rodent note, my rats are very very bad.  Very very bad rats!  They have a little house on the third storey of their cage.  T hey love their little house.  They also, apparently, love loudly dismantling it in the middle of the night.  I tell them that they are bad bad rats, but they just look at me with their big cute eyes and give me kisses.  Then I give them snacks.  I think they’ve got me whipped.

I am “Michael”

Hello, world.  My name is Leah.  I am a 27-year-old student about to graduate with her bachelor of arts in history, in the process of applying to graduate school.  I have a wonderful boyfriend, two pet rats and two amazing sisters.  I enjoy knitting, singing with my college a capella group, cooking, lifting weights, playing D&D and cooking.  I am mentally ill.

However, the mental illnesses I am being treated for, anxiety and depression, are not the ones with which I contended as a teenager.  I was, by all measures, a very bright, outgoing, gregarious child.  My mother is also mentally ill, but never sought appropriate treatment.  Let me preface this by saying my mother is not a monster.  She did wonderful things, took us on trips, sent me to summer camp… but there was another side, too.  The abuse started when I was about nine.  By the time I was twelve, I was big enough to start trying to defend myself and smart enough to start reporting the abuse.  That is when my mother started calling the police on me.  She would scream and hit me with objects and, if I dared to raise a hand to defend myself, she would call the police saying I was “out of control”.  The local police saw the marks.  They knew what was going on.  They chose not to deal with it and instead told me to “respect my mother”.  My father tried to stop her — one time, when she was beating me with a broom, he physically pulled her off of me and she started hitting him, screaming at him that she should be allowed to “discipline her child”.  My father left my mother around this time and things got worse.  She found a perfect tactic to stop me from reporting the abuse:  She was (and still is) a teacher, and she told me that if I reported it, she would lose her job, we would lose the house and it would all be my fault.  She was my mother.  I believed her.

Me at age twelve

Me at age twelve

When I was thirteen and still fighting back and also defending my sister when I could, the psychiatric abuse started.  I was dragged to psychiatrists until one would give me the diagnosis she wanted — bipolar.   She knew exactly what to say and nothing I said was believed.  As a young teenager, we look for labels and identities to cling to as we discover who we are.  I believed it.  I believed that my normal teenage mood swings were “rapid cycling” and that I had to tell my psychiatrist every time I was angry or sad, because that wasn’t good or normal.  However, the medication didn’t work because I was not bipolar, but it just confused my brain.

When I was fifteen, I could not find my glasses one morning before school.  My mother flew into a rage and smashed my guitar over my body.  She then called the police and I was taken to school in a police car.  I came home that day to learn I was kicked out of the house, so I went to live with my father.  At this point, the combination of unnecessary drugs and trauma led to a total breakdown.  I was hospitalized twice.  I never finished high school, but rather was given nominal “home instruction” and a pity diploma.   Even though I was being treated for bipolar, I never really presented any of the typical signs.  However, they kept stretching the definition of the diagnosis to try to make it fit, eventually ending up at the frankly absurd “atypical bipolar II without mania”.   I gained an ungodly amount of weight and the unnecessary drugs (at one point twelve pills a day, a cocktail of stimulants, benzodiazepines, SSRIs and a mood stabilizer for which I had to undergo weekly blood tests to make sure it wasn’t damaging my liver) wreaked havoc on my already fairly chaotic traumatized teenage brain.

Me at age fifteen, before things got really bad.

Me at age fifteen, just before things got really bad.

Age seventeen, at the worst of it.

Age seventeen, at the worst of it.

In my mid-twenties, I went off of my medications and it felt like I was born anew.  It was as if I had been living the past decade with a sack over my head.  A few years later, a successful student, finally in college, I made the difficult decision to seek psychiatric help for my anxiety — something I never knew I had, because it was accidentally controlled by all of the drugs I was on before.  I was terrified that they would think I was bipolar and just didn’t want to take my medication.  I was so afraid of being that powerless child again.  However, the psychiatrist I saw was willing to listen.

“I’ll give you a theraputic dose of an SSRI,” she said.  “If you’re bipolar, you’ll go manic and we’ll know.”

I agreed.  I didn’t go manic.  It just started controlling my anxiety.  I still struggle with self-regulation of mood sometimes, an effect of never learning to do that myself in my formative years.  I am working to accept that it is okay to be angry sometimes and it is okay to be sad sometimes.  All told, though, I am now a very successful person, maintaining a 3.6 GPA and with excellent graduate school prospects.

On Saturday, I read Liza Long’s “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother” post.  It read like something that could have been written by my own mother.  At that same age, she would tell the police that I was abusing her and she was afraid of me after incidents such as one where she rammed down my bedroom door and beat me with a belt, so I kicked her to try and stop her.  One incident that struck very close to home was the jumping out of the car story.  I know that feeling all too well.  There is screaming, insults, verbal assaults… and you, a child, would rather jump out of a car and die than deal with it.  You believe the horrible things your mother says about you and feel you don’t deserve to live.

I read that post and I smelled a rat.  Not a cute one like my two pet rats, but a big, ugly, greasy, yellow-toothed monster.  Not only is this woman telling an incomplete story, she is exploiting her child for media attention.  Sure, she gives him a flimsy pseudonym, but she uses her real name and his real photograph.   I know that if I was “Michael”, I’d sure as hell be suicidal now if I wasn’t suicidal before.   I’m sure he does have problems.  I know there are kids out there with severe psychiatric issues and good parents.  Most of those parents don’t ruin their children’s lives in this manner.  Now, I am not ascribing malicious intent — I firmly believe that both Ms. Long and my mother truly felt they were doing what was in the best interest of their child, but their beliefs are not in line with reality.

I agree with her on the issue of access to psychiatric care.  We have a care access crisis in this country.  When I tried to get help for my anxiety, I had to jump through incredible hoops and, if I was less dedicated to my own self-care and didn’t have a father willing to help me foot the bill, I would have given up.  I disagree that care needs to be accessed to keep people with mental illness from hurting people — that’s not the point.  This is a cliche at this point, but still true:  People with mental illness are more likely to be victims of crimes than commit them.  Access needs to be there for the issue of basic healthcare and human rights.   However, psychiatric abuse is a real issue and one that needs to be acknowledged both by the mental health profession and society at large.

I am one of the few victims of psychiatric abuse to make it out both alive and functional enough to tell my story.  Many of us successfully commit suicide or end up addicts or otherwise incapacitated.  Whenever I run into one of the kids with whom I was in partial-care group, I find that they are on disability, never finished school and spend all of their time going to similar partial-care groups — basically outpatient institutionalization.  I don’t know what makes me different.  I don’t think I’m special or better than they are, just happened to luck into a set of circumstances that allowed me to take control of my life and move forward.  Of the people I’ve met with similar circumstances, I am the only one like me.

I wish I could write a letter to Michael.  I wish I could tell him that, to borrow a phrase from the GLBTQ community, it gets better.  It doesn’t get better overnight.  It will hurt.  It will take a lot of hard work.  However, if he is committed to getting better, he will get better.  In a few short years, he can distance himself from his mother.  From that distance, he can cultivate a civil relationship, if he wants, while building his own life.  Maybe his high school career, like mine, will get screwed up and college won’t be an option immediately, but a few semesters in community college will let him go wherever he wants as a transfer student.  I wish I could hug him and let him know that this media attention won’t last forever, that the public eye is fickle and won’t remember in a year.

Maybe he will read this someday.  Maybe other kids like him will read this and find hope and strength.  Most likely, I either will not be believed or will be shouted down by people who miss my point entirely.  This is the internet, I get it, but I had to use my voice.  I was silenced for too long and now, after all of my hard work, I believe that I am credible and deserve to speak, so I will.

Me, age twenty-seven, holding my baby sister.

Me, age twenty-seven, holding my baby sister.