The Piano has gone

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Today I loaded the last thing that my Dad owned, his piano, onto a removal truck.

He never learned to read music but he could play his piano by ear. The memories I have of my Dad and his piano have sting. When he was manic he would play his piano for hours on end often starting at 2am and playing through til the dawn.

The sound of Dad playing the piano brought no joy to me, no admiration for his skill and his passion. What the piano did was trigger feelings of dread and impending doom. Dad’s high again. What are we going to do about it?

His refusal to accept that he had a BiPolar disorder until his dying day was a problem because he wouldn’t allow early intervention or any family involvement that could prevent the disasters that occurred when he was unwell.

I cleared a room filled with medical professionals when we had a family conference to discuss his release from Hospital when my frustration and anger boiled over and I shouted at him “The problem is you have a fucking BiPolar illness and you wont accept it” My Mum fainted.

What we believe about ourselves defines us. He could not accept the two versions of definition that described him of “I am BiPolar” or “I have a BiPolar disorder”. I am and I have are interesting distinctions. Physical ailments are usually described as “I have…” Mental illness are nearly always defined as “I am…”

My Mum had programmed us as kids that we must never tell Dad what he was like when unwell and we must never let on to anyone that Dad was unwell to the point of making us lie about where he was when he had been hospitalised.

In spite of my frustration and anger of Dad’s unwillingness to accept his diagnosis I am totally with him. I don’t want to accept mine either.

I haven’t the courage to tell my kids about my own mental health issues. I guess the only difference between Dad and I in this regard is that I will allow help and intervention.

I used to think to myself that when Dad died it would end, this hatred of mental illness and the impact it had on my family.

Dad and the Piano have gone. The hurt and the sadness of what his mental illness did to my relationship with him hasn’t.

That fucking Piano.

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The Day after the Funeral

It’s a grey day outside. A normal overcast grey day, nothing symbolic, nothing special just grey.

Yesterday it was colours, the coffin, the dresses, the stories, the flowers.

Today the alarm goes off just like normal. It’s a grey day outside.

Yesterday every word had meaning, had colour, special significance.

They held the contrast of life and death. A lifetime, summarised into 45 minutes, after a weeks work.

Today the words are grey, not special, not charged with meaning, just transactional. Hello and excuse me and please and thank you.

Yesterday, raw and painful and somehow not real. Like a magic trick, here it is…Now poof! It’s gone.

It’s a grey day outside. No tricks, no speed, no contrast.

Yesterday was about memory, recalling and recounting.

Today is just grey, not moving forward but no desire to look back. Not yellow, holding the promise of a bright future. Not black and miserable stuck in sorrow, just grey. Plain old empty grey.

The ugly side of vulnerability

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When I decided to be a bit more vulnerable and allow myself to be real with a few more of my friends and acquaintances I was unprepared for the fall out.

I had this sneaking suspicion that it would somehow breed some courage and allow me to get free of some ugly stuff by owning it. The owning of something that I resist highly may be painful at first but I instinctively know that it should generate a sense of power in a kind of “you don’t own me anymore” way.

If I resist it, it owns and controls me and I am it’s victim yet if I own it, I turn the tables and I become more powerful.

So the theories make sense to me but how does it actually play out in real life?

Well my way of owning my mental illness has been to stop hiding it and to disclose it to people I feel some level of safety and acceptance with. Male friends are the most scary targets. Oddly enough the majority of people I have come out to have been supportive and have told me that their level of respect for me has increased rather than diminished. Not all have reacted that way, some have been shocked and uncomfortable and have cut off contact with me.

A side effect of me being more honest about who I am and dropping my guard is that once I start the process of exposing the real me I don’t seem to be able to censor my thoughts, feelings and opinions. I find myself exposing the ugly side of who I am involuntarily and I see people flinch at some of the things I say. It appears that when I decide to stop the show, drop the pretence and get real the authentic me shows up warts and all. Darn it.

I have found that this more transparent more real me is less acceptable because not only do I have the capacity to be really good I also have the capacity to be really bad and generally the bad side is repugnant.

Dropping my guard and exposing the real me has not been easy. Once I put myself out there I am open to judgement and rejection and both of these things really sting.

On the upside owning the real me has opened the door for others to be more authentic with me and I have had comments from a number of friends that they feel they can be themselves with me and don’t have to pretend anymore. Some have told me that they feel that they can tell me anything no matter how terrible and that they don’t feel any judgement from me when they do.

The feeling of no judgment has been a surprise for me as I can be extremely judgemental and opinionated (I suspect that this may have been a learned behaviour during childhood).

Perhaps owning the ugly bits of who I am and exposing them to others breeds an empathy and compassion for the parts of them that are not so pretty and acceptable..

Being the real me has been scary and I often experience  vulnerability and shame. Sometimes I am OK with it and sometimes I am not. What I hope for is that the fallout is mostly non toxic.

And the Academy Award goes to…..

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The thing I have realised about social media is that many people reveal their true selves without meaning to. The woman who continually posts pouty selfies shows how shallow and empty her life is.

The endless photos of food at fancy restaurants show the lifestyles of the well off and privileged and they don’t even know that what is normal for them is not normal for 80% of the worlds population.

The Mum who only ever posts pics of her kids shows that her attention is totally on them and that the husband is really just a sperm donor.

The gay guy only ever posting shots of chiseled bodies shows his obsession with external beauty and how tragic it must be to live thinking that the next hottie will make him happy.

Me I lie. I don’t want people to meet the real me. I post stuff that makes people laugh to hide my misery, post thoughtful ponderings to make me seem like I have my shit together when really I am anything but together. I try to write shit that is inspiring to make it seem like I live life with this awesome sense of possibility and courage when I am actually  pessimistic and cowardly.

Writing allows you to craft stuff. You can write and rewrite and edit until you are satisfied with what you want to present to the world. It can be a total act, characters are created by writers all the time.

I am an actor. People don’t like to be around people who are miserable. When they ask you “How are you?” they don’t want to know that you are depressed or anxious. Misery sucks energy out of not only the sufferer but also those around them.

When I was a little kid I had little ability to regulate my emotions. If I was sad or upset it was obvious. I found that children were like a pack of dogs. They sense weakness and instability then attack it without mercy. After a couple of brutal non physical assaults I soon learned that this weakness thing could get me in a lot of trouble. The answer; hide how I feel, even better switch my feelings off. Replace the weak sensitive heart and replace it with a heart of stone. Become immune to insults and teasing, learn to cover the vulnerability with some deflector shield that diverts attention so that no one really knows what is going on.

The weakness and instability gets a disguise of strong and confident and it works. People are not only fooled but they like this character, this manufactured thing. Like the person who lies so much that they begin to believe their own lies I struggle to seperate what is an act from what is real. The act becomes so convincing that I even start to believe I might be this way.

Like Hollywood actors who lose themselves in their parts, I deserve an Oscar for losing myself in mine. For them it’s an accolade for a job well done, for me it’s a hollow empty victory as the part is a mixture of truth and fantasy and in total is not the real me .  It’s the price I pay to fit in and be acceptable and hide my vulnerability. It’s a fairly tragic state but I don’t know how else to do it.

My goal and intention is to  let more people know the real me. Some will accept it, some will reject it, most won’t even care. In order to do this I must embrace the shame of my label (mentally ill) and the vulnerability of exposure and possible scorn and rejection. I suspect that the people who will scorn or judge me are in the minority but I have the painful past experience of having people react badly towards me when they know the truth. People will tell me that the ones who reject me were not worth having as friends. That may be true but it doesn’t make the loss any easier to handle.

I modify my behaviour depending on who I am with to fit in. Sometimes I modify my behaviour to be accepted by one group and excluded by another even though I am quite comfortable with both groups. Belonging is one of my top 5 values so the drive to fit in and be accepted is very strong. The thing about being mentally ill is that the stigma of it is strong like being a black american in the 50’s or gay in the 80’s. When people are uncomfortable with my label (the mentally ill one) they can unwittingly push me away. It may be their prejudices or just fear of something that is different but I can feel the push away even though it’s not physical.

To drop the act and be more authentic is probably what I should be doing, but right now I don’t feel up to it, so more Oscar winning performances will be required

 

When life can be sweet and sour

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Where I live they offer free bowel screening for early detection of cancer. I sent away my sample and the result was positive meaning that a colonoscopy was required to investigate further. 

What struck me was that I wasn’t the slightest bit concerned about the possibility of discovering that I might have cancer.  The weird part about living with mental illness is that there are many times when death seems like it would at least offer a release from the mental suffering. The recent suicide of Robin Williams has had many people pondering on what agony someone would be experiencing in order to choose to die to escape from it.

I totally get it. The illness creates the experience that is so unbearable and no one in their right mind would choose to take their own life but people with mental illness often aren’t in their right mind.

At the moment I have a lot to live for. My eldest daughter is about to have her first baby, This is the sweet part of life. To die from cancer or any other thing right now would suck. 

What sucks even more is that the mental misery will return from time to time even when the things to live for are all around me. That is the sour part of life when even the most awesome things can’t be enjoyed. 

I lost my independence on the 4th of July

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This years July 4th marks the 6th anniversary of me being locked away in a Hospital in Orlando Florida during my one and only psychotic episode. In NZ we obviously don’t celebrate the declaration of independence.

There is nothing like being locked up against your will to give you an understanding of what independence actually means. I have always taken for granted that the removal of independence is necessary for criminals and for people who are mentally ill and a danger to others or themselves. My father has been hospitalised multiple times for his mania and as a family we always felt a huge sense of relief when his manic self was locked up and we could feel safe again.

Although I tried to escape multiple times when I was locked up I didn’t actually mind being locked away as it appeared to have a purpose as part of a conspiracy that only a psychotic mind could create.

The real loss of independence came on my return home to NZ where I was placed under the care of of a local mental health team.

What I found hardest to deal with was that the Health Workers treated me like I was a moron and as though my mental state had more to do with stupidity rather than illness. I had to meet a number of health professionals and each of them wanted to understand what the circumstances were leading up to my Hospitalisation and all of them spoke to me in a condescending manner and as though I had the IQ of a fence post.

I had to submit to their diagnosis of my condition and the medication that they prescribed. As someone who had been treated for depression and then experienced psychosis the DSM IV determined that I was BiPolar. The fact that I experienced sleep deprivation for a week leading up to my episode, the high levels of stress I had been under and the fact that I had been on a 9 day self improvement course that explored consciousness and deliberately induced altered states of consciousness seemed to be irrelevant to them.

I in no way resisted that I had been psychotic but I did resist my diagnosis of being BiPolar. Having to submit to Health Professionals who treated me with condescension and to take medication that had awful side effects was where I felt my loss of independence most keenly. Putting on 20Kgs, having tremors that made it appear that I had Parkinsons disease and being constantly exhausted felt demeaning to me.

After 2 years of being a good boy and having no manic episodes I finally convinced my Health Board appointed Psychiatrist that I should be allowed to stop taking Lithium. As soon as I was weaned off the Lithium my weight returned to normal, my tremors disappeared and my energy returned.

Four years on without any signs of mania I have accepted that I have a genetic predisposition for mental illness and still take antipsychotic medication and antidepressants. I am very aware of my emotional state and am particularly vigilant about being aware of my mood and on the watch for any signs of an elevated mood. As I look back on my life I can see that there were times when I have had lots of energy and creativity and that perhaps this was not just “normal” levels of excitement. None of these bursts of energy and creativity caused any difficulties in my relationships or my work.

How I see myself now is as someone who has a mental illness (mostly consisting of depression and anxiety) and has BiPolar tendencies rather a true BiPolar condition that needs medication to stabilise the potential highs.

Before my psychotic episiode I functioned well in the high pressure, high stress, corporate world. Post psychosis the biggest differences are that now my ability to handle stress and pressure is severely diminished, my short term memory is shocking and now instead of taking on big challenges even small challenges can trigger debilitating anxiety.

Initially my loss of independence came with having to submit to diagnoses and medications that I did not like or want but I have moved on from that now.

This 4th of July I still mourn for the independence of a self determined being who believes anything is possible. I now have to accept that my illness does provide me with some limitations that I didn’t used to experience but I celebrate that I still have the independence of someone who is free to choose to live in the present moment and not be stuck in the regrets of the past or totally fearful of the future, and for this I am grateful.

What is normal?

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When I was growing up pretty much most things I experienced in my family were normal, at least that was my perception. It wasn’t until decades into adulthood that I reassessed some of those things and came to the conclusion that my normal was actually pretty screwed up.

The values my family had were normal values, the way my parents behaved was normal (except for when my Dad was manic). The way my Mum made us keep Dad’s illness a secret was normal.

Here is a smattering of other things that I used to think were normal which were actually unhelpful indoctrinations from my parents:

  • People who drink alcohol  are morally deficient.
  • When I got a hiding it was because I deserved it (My Dad used to make me get his rubber soled tennis shoe from his closet when it was time)
  • The frequency for a really good hiding was 3 months. My Mum joked that around the 3 month mark I would always start begging for it and if I hadn’t done anything to deserve a hiding it was probably because I managed to keep whatever it was concealed from them.
  • Whatever I did in public I needed to represent the family and therefore I must always be on my best behaviour and never bring any cause for embarrassment to my parents.
  • What other people think of you is very important and life needs to be lived based on what other people might think of us.

On the other hand my parents passed on a set of values and beliefs which I admire them for. Beliefs like:

  • Be kind to others.
  • Tell the truth.
  • Look after those less fortunate than yourself.
  • Treat others with respect and be courteous.
  • Try to look for the best in people.

Clearly my parents had a big influence on me and the natural process of indoctrination that occurs within a family unit had both its positives and negatives. Some of the beliefs were the result of religious affiliation, some were more cultural (In the 60’s and 70’s giving kids at school the cane or the strap was the norm and both of my parents were school teachers) There were beliefs that were clearly generational as my Mum believed job security was very important along with many other people who grew up around the end of the second world war. Getting a Gold Watch after 40 years of faithful service to one company was something to be proud of whereas today it would be mocked. Other beliefs were probably picked up from their own families and their own indoctrinations growing up.

In my early times of questioning my beliefs I was shocked at how I could see something like my Dad beating me until I couldn’t sit down with a heavy rubber soled tennis shoe as normal, but the fact is that was the way life was at that time and therefore was normal. Although I was terrified by it and hated the experience of it I didn’t think it was strange or shocking that he did it, I just thought “That’s what Dads do”

I have seen major shifts in the belief systems I live with in in my lifetime. Smoking is no longer something that is considered normal and acceptable in any situation (when I started work it was OK to smoke in the lunch room while other non smokers were eating). In New Zealand we have made same sex marriage legal but when I was in my teens gay bashing was seen as pretty normal, after all those sick depraved poofters deserved it right?

With time and effort what is normal and acceptable changes. In NZ The stigma of mental illness is being worked on through educational TV campaigns as it’s hard to ignore the reported figures that 20% of the population experience some form of mental illness. When I was at school one of the insults that got frequently used in the playground was “You belong in Oakley.” (Oakley was the name of our highest profile Mental Institution) Another insult was the question with the answer  embedded within it “What are you… Mental?”

What was normal when I was in my formative years 40 years ago is not the same normal that I experience now.

What scares me is that kids that grow up in homes riddled with physical, emotional, spiritual and sometimes sexual abuse will be making sense of the world from their own point of view and for them to be OK they will probably normalise what is happening.

I learned very young that not being normal separates you from a group and our fundamental need to connect and belong gets challenged the moment we don’t fit in or go along with the crowd and be normal. I wonder how many weak willed men become part of a gang rape atrocity or some other group controlled abuse of others because to not join in would challenge their status within the group and risk them being outcast or physically harmed by the so called normal members of the group. The “Everyone is doing it”  is a poor defence of stupid or cruel acts but it does indicate the power of a group and the need to belong or normalise.

Bucking the trend, questioning our beliefs and having the courage to decide to be OK with being different or “not normal” puts you at risk of the cruelty of others who need to preserve the norms that serve them.

What is normal? Well that is entirely dependant on your point of view or your reference point and these can be changed, and Mum if you are reading this, much to your disgust, it’s no longer normal for all men to wear suits to a funeral.

 

 

 

 

Hello, my name is Nigel and I am……

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Hello my names is Mary and I am an alcoholic.

Hello my name is Fred and I am gay.

Hello my name is Cindy and I am a drug addict.

Hello my name is Roger and I am a wife beater.

Hello my name is John and I am addicted to porn.

Hello my name is Bruce and I am schizophrenic.

Hello my name is Denise and I am HIV positive.

Hello my name is Simon and I am a diabetic.

Hello my name is Gina and I am anorexic.

Hello my name is Gary and I am a pedophile.

Hello my name is Fiona and I am a bully.

Hello my name is Michelle and I am bulimic.

Hello my name is David and I am a kleptomaniac.

Hello my name is Brain and I am bankrupt.

Well hello, my name is Nigel and I am mentally ill.

All of these definitions of I am can be experienced in many ways. Probably the definition that has had the most major work on it in recent years is the issue of sexuality. While Gay Pride is now celebrated most of the other definitions are more associated with shame than pride. 

Shame is what causes those of us with an unfortunate I am identity to suffer alone.

My kids don’t know I have a mental illness, it’s not something we have ever talked about. My wife never asks me how I am doing even though she knows I suffer from depression and anxiety. I think her coping mechanism for living with a depressed and out of work husband is to pretend that my mental illness doesn’t exist.

When I grew up my mother would lie and encourage my sister and I to lie about why Dad was in Hospital after one of his manic episodes. We were forbidden by Mum to ever tell Dad what he was like when he was high and when he came home from hospital we had to pretend everything was normal. No doubt my Mother’s shame and enforced secrecy around my Dad’s illness may have something to do with the shame I feel about mine. 

For two years now I have repeated the cycle I learned as a child about keeping mental illness hidden and secret. Psychosis, depression and anxiety have all taken their toll.  It has cut me off from the world.  When asked “What are you doing these days?” I have two standard answers. The first is to embellish the actual things that I do to make them sound better than they really are. Painting the interior of my daughters house gets translated into “I am doing some property development”. The second standard answer that I use is for people who don’t really know me. For them my answer is “It depends on who’s asking, If I am worried about what you may think of me then I am semi-retired, if I don’t care what you think then I am unemployed.”

I find it way easier to admit to being unemployed than I would to saying I am unable to work because I have a mental illness. Many of the people who know me would not believe that I cant work at the moment because I cant cope. Unfortunately many of the definitions I had for myself years ago now fall into the category I was… or I used to be …

I can empathise with anyone who decides to come out, whatever it is they are coming out about. It takes tremendous courage to expose yourself to the world and say this is me I am…. It’s a lottery as to what the response will be. Coming out is something you can’t take back. When you out yourself you are exposed and vulnerable so I will need to be good and ready when I do it.

A small number of people know of my illness and it’s various labels. Some of them have been understanding and empathic others have been judgemental and some have been repulsed. 

It’s the judgemental and repulsed that I fear. Judgement and repulsion let’s you know that you are unacceptable and that you don’t belong. 

Shame is partly what is keeping me out of work. If I get a job that I can cope with it will be something way less than I have been capable of in the past. At the moment I can pretend that I am self employed but the moment I get a different job I will have a new definition to contend with. Having roles reporting directly to the CEO of large corporates in the past I will have to learn to get comfortable with peoples response to their perception of any new role.

I can empathise with people who have been extremely financially successful and then are declared bankrupt. For them the shame they experience is public whether they like it or not. For me at least there is some ability to keep my illness a secret if I choose to. 

I know I need to do it to move on but I fear it may be some time before i am courageous enough to face the shame of my illness and out myself.  Even pressing the publish post button has me experiencing fear and anxiety. Perhaps I need to take a tablespoon of cement and harden the F****up!

Oh well here goes …

 

Funny shit I have heard in Church and how what you believe can explain anything and everything.

My Blog is meant to be about Mental Illness but sometimes I feel the need to postulate on other stuff that impacts me. This is one of those other things.

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The concept of God or gods requires faith. If you have faith in God or gods you can then attribute things in your life to something external, something outside of you, something with more control over the events and circumstances of our lives than we have. Somewhere a line gets drawn between superstition and religion but it’s a fuzzy one.

A faith in God or gods or in anything really creates the framework through which we make sense of the world.

In Christianity like many religions the concept of faith is an important one. Asking a being for their interest and involvement in your life requires a level of faith that the being will respond to your requests.

I was in church once when someone prayed that the All Blacks  (our national Rugby team) would win in their next game over Australia. It was humorous at the time but it actually sparked some serious questioning of the faith I held.

Some of the Questions it raised:

Does God actually intervene in our lives as a result of prayer and faith? The bible tells us to have faith and to ask our Heavenly Father for what we want and actually promises that our prayers will be granted if two or more believe. I have heard people attribute things in their lives as an answer to prayer and then when what they asked for doesn’t eventuate they say that God must have had other plans. For example I ask God to heal me from a disease and it doesn’t happen and I die. What’s the story there?

What level of interest does God have in our lives and how specific would this interest be? For example if I ask God to help choose some wallpaper for my home, is he interested? I actually heard a lady praying for God’s guidance on this issue. Most people would say that God gave us a free will and expects us to use it but can we define the point where God’s involvement is not only wanted and needed but where he will actually respond?

If a Farmer prays for rain and their next door neighbour prays for a fine day for their daughters wedding and they are both Christians which prayer will be answered and why? Yeah I know you could trot out the scripture that God sends rain on the just and the unjust to neutralise the question so do we assume that God is not going to intervene in the weather even if it means that many of his followers will be killed by storms and floods?

What does God do when his believers request opposing things?

Is it actually possible to determine if an event or situation is God responding to a prayer request?

What is the difference between faith and superstition?

Does God answer requests for healing and how important is our faith in determining the outcome? All my Christian friends who have died from cancer must not have enough faith or God wanted them in heaven with him instead of with their families.

When God doesn’t answer prayers why not?

If I pray with my family that God will protect us on our journey and we are involved in an accident and one of my children is killed and the other one has permanent brain damage what happened? Did I not have enough faith? Did God let the Devil interfere so he could test our faith? Did God hear my prayer but chose not to answer it for some reason? Did God decide to punish me for some sin in my life by making me experience the living hell of one child killed and the other permanently damaged?

How much does my will and my intention determine outcomes vs God’s will and God’s intention vs random stuff that just seems to happen?

I have heard it said that God always answers prayer but sometimes his answer is no. Is this a sensible view or just a cop out to explain what happens when nothing happens?

I believe that prayer may be a useful practice for focussing one’s attention and energy and that it may have some value as part of an authentic spiritual practice but does it actually have the power to change anything other than one’s own mind?

My conclusion. Faith can be an important part of peoples lives and for some provides a much needed moral compass however people often pray some really dumb assed prayers.

Mid life Crisis #3

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I had my first midlife crisis at 30. I looked back on the last 10 years of my life and thought. Is this all I have achieved? It was scary to think that in the decade of my 20’s I had experienced a lot and enjoyed a lot but achieved little. It was a shock and it was depressing. To add to this my Christian faith was effectively on the rocks and I just didn’t know what I believed anymore.

My second midlife crisis happened at around 40. Looking back on the last 10 years I had achieved an enormous amount if you measured it by income and assets and career progression. But I was unhappy and felt unloved. This caused me to project the reason for my unhappiness onto my wife and blame her for my misery. I paid her back for 17 years of faithful marriage by having an affair with a woman who was 15 years younger than me. Selling useful assets (a Beach House) and purchasing stupid liabilities (A brand new Mercedes Convertible) and dying my hair blonde. In spite of my stupidity, unfaithfulness, and self worship  somehow I managed to come to my senses and plead with my wife to take me back and we started again.

My third midlife crisis happened in my late 40’s with my first ever psychotic episode. My previous mid life hiccups were the result of reflection and an unhappiness with the state of my life. What I chose to do with that was up to me.  I had gone from being uncertain of what I believed to being very very sure. My psychotic episode redefined me the moment it happened and without my permission and it turned my beliefs upside down. What I do with it is still up to me.

Clearly I have experienced many things for which I can feel deep and intense shame for.

If you had asked me how I defined myself prior to my psychosis I would have used words like:

Sharp, Onto it, Clever, Insightful, Successful, Charismatic, Impactful, Big Picture, Healthy, Wealthy, Winner, Anything’s possible, Persuasive, Expansive, Productive, Contributor, Mentor, Coach, Leader, Certain, Inspirational.

After my psychosis I define myself with words like:

Anxious, Loser, Shaky, Insular, Forgetful, Slow to understand, Incapable, Lazy, Broken, A shadow of what once was, Withdrawn, Irritable, Protective, At a loss, Spent, Finished, Worthless.

I know the way that I choose to define myself is up to me.  Being anxious is what I experience but is it what I am?

Loser on the other hand is a judgement label that I choose to apply to myself and is a comparison of what I used to be capable of compared to what I am now capable of.  It encapsulates my sense of loss. It is a rejection of what has happened to me. Sure holding on to the sense of loss is not helping me move forward but I am finding it really hard to let go of.

I sat with a psychotherapist once and she asked me “What do you want to achieve from our sessions?” I took a long time to answer and the answer I finally gave her was one that I still resist. I said to her “I need to be comfortable with the fact I have a mental illness” Even now I am anything but comfortable with it.

I get that embracing who I am may be the key to escaping my own personal hell but embracing implies a willingness that I just don’t have at the moment. I am angry and I feel ripped off. I have lost a mental acuity that was extremely valuable to me and now I don’t have it. I don’t know how to build a new life. My previous life was based on what I had, what I could do and who I was able to be.  My current life is based on the fragments of capability left over and what I can do seems so much less than before. Who I can be perhaps is still open to be defined  but how do I do this? I just don’t know. I am at a loss. Being at a loss is such a good description because what I feel so keenly is the loss, what has gone, not what is left over.

There are dozens of inspirational stories out there of people who have overcome adversity and who are winning their battles. Many of them overcome the results of physical injury or disease to still achieve amazing feats. What many of them have in common is a positive mental attitude that seems to arm them with some resilience and determination. What I find most challenging is that the very thing that I need (a healthy mind) to overcome my own challenges is the thing that is the lets me down the most. I somehow need to channel the energy that I have for despising my mental frailty to make me stronger because I want to live an inspirational life not a life that is to be pitied.

 

10 things I’d rather admit to my boss than me being mentally ill.

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I’ve spent most of my Career working in or with Large Corporations. I have been an Executive Director for a subsidiary of one of the Worlds 40 largest publicly listed companies.  To survive in this world for any length of time you need your lift to go all the way the top floor, your picnic basket to have a full compliment of sandwiches, all the knives in your draw to be really sharp and for you to be at home when the lights are on.

What is common in senior executive roles is stress and pressure and for some burn out.  The concept of execs being stressed to breaking point is fairly widely known but the acceptance of stress related burn out is mixed. To buckle under the pressure of a gruelling workload and stressful environment can elicit reactions from “He was under such extreme pressure, I don’t know how he lasted as long as he did” to “The dude flipped out and couldn’t handle the pressure” the implication of the last comment being that it was due to the individuals weakness.

As the attitudes of our society changes over time things that used to be stigmatised or taboo can become more accepted and mainstream. I remember around the year 2000 some employees for the company I worked for having a float in a gay pride parade with the Banner “My Boss knows I’m gay” At the time it was revolutionary and coming out in the workplace was still fairly new and fairly risky.

What I have found though, is that Mental Illness carries a stigma with it that makes it something that those of us who suffer from it still want to keep hidden and for me there is a strong sense of shame attached to my affliction. I know that many people are suffering and to add to the suffering is a need to keep their suffering a secret.

I am not sure how many people I could find to participate in a parade on a float entitled “My boss know’s I have a mental illness” I suspect the number would be quite small.

I suspect that different types of mental illness also have different levels of acceptance.

Employing someone who suffers from Depression may be seen as less risky than employing someone with BiPolar disorder for example but the truth is I don’t really know because it’s not something our Head of HR ever started a discussion on. In contrast we did have some interesting discussions around which toilets our transgender employees should use.

I suspect that different industries have different views as well. The creativity of someone with BiPolar disorder can be a huge benefit to the craft of an artist a musician, writer or actor but perhaps not so beneficial to the Futures Trader working for a bank in the money market or the Actuary who works for an insurance company.

So here’s a list of 10 things, some true and some hypothetical, I’d be more comfortable admitting to my boss than having a mental illness:

1. I have a problem with alcohol

2. I use recreational drugs from time to time

3. I have viewed porn on the internet

4. I have had an affair with another employee

5. I over claimed expenses on one of my expense claims

6. I took some sick days when I wasn’t sick

7. I dont like employing people of a certain race

8. I am HIV positive

9. I have testicular cancer

10. I gave employees I didn’t like poor performance reviews so they would get pissed off and leave

What I do notice on my list is that most of the admissions are character flaws or moral shortcomings rather than illnesses or diseases hmmmm.

 

What things would you rather admit to?

I didn’t sign up for this crap!

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Often I bleat on about the raw deal I have as a sufferer of mental illness. Oh poor pathetic miserable me. Well I am not the only one who has gotten a raw deal.

My Mum didn’t know my Dad was BiPolar when she married him. His first episode that required hospitalisation didn’t occur until I was 7 years old and unfortunately it was the first of many. My Mum stuck by my Dad when I would have called it quits on the relationship if I were in her shoes.

My wife and I got married when I was 23 and I didn’t get treatment for my depression until I was 30. My wife loves me in spite of the difficulty of living with me and my moods. I once asked her if we had the opportunity to do things all over again would she still marry me knowing what she does now. “No of course not” she replied.  I must admit I was shocked.

When I asked my Mum why she stayed with my Dad in spite of the frequent spiritual and emotional abuse she suffered at this hands when on one of his religious highs, her reply was “I made a promise Until Death Do Us Part”  Her faith in God gave her the resolve she needed to handle the shitty deal she got by marrying a guy that refused to acknowledge he had an illness and left a path of destruction, heartache and regret in his wake.

My wife has also had to deal with the disappointment of discovering that the person she married was different to the one she fell in love with.  She stays with me because like my Mum she takes her marriage vows seriously and somehow her faith in God makes the keeping of these vows possible.

I am a bit of a mocker and scoffer when it comes to Christianity, a faith I held fervently for many years. Yet it is this faith that enables my wife to stick by me when others I am sure would have said “Screw this, I’m off!”

So at this moment I feel gratitude for the sacrifices my wife has made by sticking by me in those times when I am not fun to be around and I acknowledge that while I don’t have a choice about living with mental illness, she sure as hell does.

 

 

Handling a sudden change in mental capability

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What do you do when something you used to be good at and could do easily is now difficult or even impossible?

I have had a mental short circuit. My short term memory has been affected and as a result my world has changed. I hadn’t realised how many activities and tasks I actually rely on memory for!

Imagine what it is like to not remember how to sign your name or what the PIN number on your bank card is.

Many people have to deal with reduced physical capacity due to illness or injury.The suddenness of a change has some shock value. As people age the reduced capacity is often a gradual change over a long period of time and I suspect allows people to adapt gently.

I am certainly not as fit now as I was in my late teens and this doesn’t bother me. Dealing with a sudden and significant reduction in mental capacity really irks me. I used to be able to rely on my mind. I was sharp, onto it and had been quite successful as a result. The blank spaces that are there when I try to recall what I did yesterday or last week or in a meeting I attended 2 hours ago scare the crap out of me.

Losing chunks of memory makes my mind seem like a defective and untrustworthy apparatus. I am told that I am not my mind but my experience is that when my mind lets me down I feel defective and broken not that I have a piece of me that is defective or broken.

Strange isn’t it? I have broken my collar bone in the past and I experienced “I have a broken collarbone” not “I am a broken collarbone” but with my mind it’s different. I have trouble identifying with the concept that I am not my mind. Perhaps I have become so fused with my mind that the “I” that is aware, can no longer view it as something belonging to “I”

I feel like the slow kid in the classroom who just doesn’t get it. It is as though the world is moving along with speed and complexity and I just can’t keep up.

Intellectually (how ironic) I get that I am not my mind but it is such a large part of who I am that it appears to define me almost by default. I could be a good father even if I had lost a leg and I am sure my daughter wouldn’t view me as any less of a Dad without it. No longer being able to jump with her on the trampoline only affects the future it doesn’t take away the happy times in the past when we bounced away together. However when my daughter says to me “Hey Dad remember when……?” and I cant recall the event I feel robbed of a special bond between a Dad and his little girl created in the past. Not being able to remember things may be great especially if they weren’t that pleasant but what about losing the good memories too?

Many current ideologies talk about living in the Now and not living in the past or the future which takes us away from being fully present. I like the idea of being able to be fully present yet only being able to be present in the now means that the past or the future don’t exist and if they don’t exist I lose the ability to remember or to imagine which seem like essential ingredients to bring contrast and meaning to everyday moments.

I had never contemplated what it would be like for someone with Dementia or Alzhiemers. The idea of losing one’s mind has been a fairly abstract concept for me. It didn’t occur to me that you could be aware of the loss and that this awareness could cause distress. The other day I had a person come up to me and greet me with enthusiasm. The enthusiastic greeting was an indicator that the person was more than just a passing acquaintance. They looked somehow familiar but I had to bluff my way through the first few minutes of conversation looking desperately for clues. Eventually it came to me that this person worked for a company that I did some consulting for only 6 months ago and I had spent a week working in their offices and had spent a couple of hours interviewing the person, something I would have easily remembered in the past. The memory was eventually retrieved but the length of time it took to dredge it up felt embarrassing.

It’s quite possible that I will forget writing this post. I have looked at my notebooks and seen notes I have taken of a meeting I attended and even with the aid of the notes I couldn’t recall attending it.

Anyway where was I?

I forget.

Christ flavoured Psychosis takes me by surprise.

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When I had my one and only psychotic episode.  Weird shit happened. Kind of obvious really.

I had grown up in a Christian Family with fairly conservative but fundamental beliefs. In my 30’s I had a crisis of faith where I couldn’t reconcile what I said I believed and what I actually experienced to be true. The outcome was that I shelved many of the beliefs that came with the particular brand of Christianity I grew up with.

So onto the weird shit. 20 years after I shelved my Christian belief system I had a psychotic episode at a time when I was on a personal development course that could be described as a bit New Agey.

What I would have expected is that my psychosis would amplify the most recent belief system and that I may experience that I was some New Age Guru reincarnated to come and save the world with my I am one with everythingness. But no, I suddenly started seeing the hidden meaning of everything but related to an earlier belief system. The 12 people I go out to dinner with in the evening I believe are my disciples. When I got locked away I saw the psych ward as a metaphorical hell that my Heavenly Father was allowing me to descend into to do battle with Satan. This convinces me that I will be released victorious on the 3rd day after my being committed.  And the Madness continued.

When I was chatting with a shrink a few years later about my psychosis she told me that it was common for people with strong beliefs to experience their psychosis through the particular lens of that belief system. For example someone with strong new age beliefs may start to see hidden meaning in leaves falling from trees and someone with strong religious beliefs would commonly see extra special hidden meaning in scriptures.

When my Dad who has strong religious beliefs is in the midst of a manic episode he becomes uber religious and I get that. What puzzles me is why did I have a strong religious experience during my psychosis when I had shelved those beliefs some 2o years previously?

My conclusion is that the natural process of indoctrination we experience as children as our parents instil us with their values and beliefs has way more impact than we may be aware of.  It seems that those childhood beliefs wether they be about money or sex or religion can follow us way beyond our childhood and reside at some subconscious level even after we have re evaluated and tried to change some of them.

Its a pity I had to have a psychotic episode to become aware of it.

 

What Hollywood feel good movies have in common with the survival of our species

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I was watching a movie last night with a friend starring Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughan as interns at Google. Yeah yeah I know most Hollywood movies have all the depth of a bird bath and are an insult to most peoples intelligence but humour me for a bit.

A number of things struck me.

The first was how many times Owen Wilson’s Character in movies plays the underdog character in where he gives the overcoming adversity and staying positive speech when the rest of of the world looks upon you as a dork that could never possibly succeed.

The second thing was that the don’t give up speech strikes a chord with so many of us. There is always the challenge to give up and risk the pain of failure and it tugs at our innermost being because let’s face it everyone of us has wanted to give up on occasion. Most of us have overcome the fear of facing whatever defeat is staring us in the face by choosing not to give up. The speech is so powerful because it reminds us that escaping the fear and the pain by quitting will not leave us feeling happy that we avoided it, rather it will leave us feeling like a miserable loser. When we watch the movie it strikes a chord with that part of us that manages to overcome adversity and we feel good no matter how unrealistic and pathetic and schmaltzy the movie is.

The third thing was how this need within everyone of us to overcome adversity rather than quit is something that allows man to tolerate indescribable things in order to survive. Worldwide men, women and children survive in spite of the incredible cruelty of other men, women, and children and how they do it is a mystery to me.

The fourth thing was how mental illness can interfere with this human need for survival and messes with our brain chemistry enough to allow some of us to actively seek non survival as an option to escape from the suffering. How did Owen Wilson who gives so many of these speeches in his movies get to the point in real life where he was immune to the positive talk and in fact wanted to end his own life? (the suicide attempt has been reported as speculation rather than fact) I don’t know why but I can empathise.

I guess it is just another lesson on how mental illness can be an uninvited, unwanted,  debilitating and cruel companion for some of us.

Who am I and who are you to judge those who have made the choice to escape the suffering?

 

Fanny Fatigue. A case of being misunderstood.

I once had a boss who was an American in his 50’s and he had never travelled outside of the USA before he came to NZ.  Not long after his arrival we were having a particularly long and uncomfortable exec meeting where he was doing his boss thing and grilling us each on our areas of the business. Several hours into it he realised that the energy levels were abysmal and we needed a break (I was getting ready to stick my pen in my eye or staple my scrotum to the underside of the boardroom table for some light relief).  “Well it looks like some of us are suffering from Fanny Fatigue so let’s take a break for 5 minutes” he says in his American accent.

Well,  talk about pissing ourselves. The poor guy could not understand why some of us were laughing so hard that we had tears streaming down our faces including one of the women on the team.  Our HR Director (a woman) taking pity on the new boss who was totally bewildered by our reaction had to explain that fanny had a different meaning in NZ than in the US (for any readers who aren’t from NZ, Fanny in the US means your bum and Fanny in the NZ is not your bum but its only an inch or so away!)

If you have the slightest ability to empathise you can imagine how the boss was feeling when we were all laughing at him and he had no idea why. I imagine he felt misunderstood, bewildered and suddenly excluded by the rest of us.

Yeah well welcome to my world bitches! If I want to feel excluded and misunderstood I will just tell someone that I have a mental illness.

I had a friend who once said to me “I don’t understand why depressed people don’t just decide to be happy”  Her comment was both insulting and delightful. Insulting because when she made the comment she had no idea what is like to be so depressed that deciding to keep on living takes all your strength. Delightful because she had no idea what is like to be so depressed that deciding to keep on living takes all your strength.

What mental illness has in common with orgasms and why I wouldn’t share either on Facebook.

I don’t really like facebook. Living your life in the public domain seems a bit gauche to me. I put up with the constant posts about who is having lunch where and what someones baby just filled their nappy with, but to be honest I don’t really give a shit about your latest pouty selfie.

It does however seem a useful way to share stuff with people who have some interest in me no matter how slight. I usually save it for boasting about something my daughter has been up to and it’s something I generally try to do sparingly.

The me that I present to the world through facebook is an edited version of my life and exploits and I try not to post thoughts on how I am feeling at any point in time.

Although I would like my Facebook friends to know a bit more about the real me, the me that experiences mental illness, I just don’t think I am ready for that right now. If I put it out there on Facebook then I have no control who knows and what impression they will form. I have heard prospective employers often visit someones facebook page to see what they are really like because you only ever present the best possible version of you at an interview. Photo’s of you with your tits out while off your face drunk may not make the best impression but I have seen it done.

At least with a blog I get to share my thoughts from behind a semi anonymous wall so I can afford to be a bit more real. Even with my blog the me that I present has  an element of falseness. I try to present some thoughts that tell a story of what life is like for me in what I sometimes describe as my extraordinary messiness of being. The real me is not as cogent as my posts and  if I posted every messy thought I had the blog wouldn’t be worth reading.

In my posts I do want to share my version of being mentally ill and the effect it has on me and others and I definitely want to share it in a way that increases understanding and hopefully reduces stigma rather than reinforces an idea about what mental illness is like if you haven’t experienced it.

What mental illness has in common with orgasms is that hearing a description of them and what they are like and actually experiencing them are often as different as depression is from mania. Sharing your mental illness on Facebook is a bit like posting it on a Billboard beside the Motorway. Lots of people who see it don’t give it more than 3 seconds of attention and the impression that they get in their 3 seconds is often not the one you wish them to have.

So for now I will keep my mental illness a secret from my facebook page.

 

Fanny Fatigue. A case of being misunderstood.

I once had a boss who was an American in his 50’s and he had never travelled outside of the USA before he came to NZ.  Not long after his arrival we were having a particularly long and uncomfortable exec meeting where he was doing his boss thing and grilling us each on our areas of the business. Several hours into it he realised that the energy levels were abysmal and we needed a break (I was getting ready to stick my pen in my eye or staple my scrotum to the underside of the boardroom table for some light relief).  “Well it looks like some of us are suffering from Fanny Fatigue so let’s take a break for 5 minutes” he says in his American accent.

Well,  talk about pissing ourselves. The poor guy could not understand why some of us were laughing so hard that we had tears streaming down our faces including one of the women on the team.  Our HR Director (a woman) taking pity on the new boss who was totally bewildered by our reaction had to explain that fanny had a different meaning in NZ than in the US (for any readers who aren’t from NZ, Fanny in the US means your bum and Fanny in the NZ is not your bum but its only an inch or so away!) Talk about awkward.

If you have the slightest ability to empathise you can imagine how the boss was feeling when we were all laughing at him and he had no idea why. I imagine he felt misunderstood, bewildered and suddenly excluded by the rest of us.

Yeah well welcome to my world bitches! If I want to feel excluded and misunderstood I will just tell someone that I have a mental illness.

I had a friend who once said to me “I don’t understand why depressed people don’t just decide to be happy”  Her comment was both insulting and delightful. Insulting because when she made the comment she had no idea what it is like to be so depressed that deciding to keep on living takes all your strength. Delightful because she had no idea what it is like to be so depressed that deciding to keep on living takes all your strength.

If you have a mental illness being misunderstood sometimes just goes with the territory.

 

God, Medication and Mindfulness. Will any of these cure you of Mental Illness?

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My Dad, The dude with BiPolar that wont admit it, has ended up in Hospital manic as hell after believing that God had healed him of his affliction so he stopped taking his meds. Being the son of a Baptist Minister and born in Africa on the mission field you can probably understand his bias. The problem is he is still BiPolar even though he wont admit it because that would a lack of faith. This has resulted in needless pain and suffering not just for him but by all those around home when he is off is rocker on a Religious Nutcase High.

Mindfulness can be a useful tool to practise if you notice that your random thought generator is starting to speed up and is generating thoughts that are well.. just not that helpful. As a daily practise for some it helps ward off the effects of the thinking that can lead to depression or mania. But I have found that there is a point where mindfulness loses to a mind adept at treating me cruelly and then it becomes an exhausting and futile exercise.

If you are one who believes that our bodies were never designed to take medication and that taking meds always comes at a cost ranging from unpleasant side effects at one end of the scale and medication caused disease and illness at the other end of the scale then you may look down on those of us who need them to stay sane. Sure there are too many people being prescribed meds for depression and ADHD and a whole host of other complaints when there are some non medication alternatives available

As far as a I can tell there are no cures for mental illness, not God, not mindfulness or CBT or exercise , not medication, not anything.

It appears that the best we can do is help people manage the illness with a variety of methods and there seems to be no hard and fast rule about what works. Some people’s faith helps them manage it, some peoples natural health regime helps and for me Meds are an essential part of the mix.

If you tell me that you have been cured of mental illness then I am afraid that you just might be nuts.

I predict that there will be no cure for mental illness discovered until there is a cure for cancer. Until then take your meds and be a good boy or girl.

I am so……….. IRRITATED !!!

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One of the things that I notice happens to me when I am not so mentally well is that things that don’t normally bother me irritate the crap out of me. Some shrink out there will be able to tell me why but it would probably just annoy me.

I have 2 things that seemingly intelligent people say that just don’t make sense and therefore are irritating.

The first one is when people say “I got up at 6am in the morning”. The “in the morning” is redundant damn it!. It can’t be 6am in the evening can it? Wait maybe it can. If it is 6am in the evening that would mean that I am simultaneously in two time zones on opposite sides of the earth. No wait,  if I was doing that then it would be 6pm in the morning as well as 6am in the evening and 6pm in the evening and 6am in the morning all at the same time. How irritating is that???

The second one is when people from New Zealand say the word pacific when they mean specific or pacifically when they mean specifically. Now come on, these 2 aren’t even close. Pacifically would be somewhere in the area covered by the Pacific Ocean which covers millions of square kilometres and is pretty bloody general. Specifically by definition is clearly defined or identified. The only time that Pacifically and Specifically when used interchangeably could make sense would be if I was somewhere in the Pacific Ocean but I knew exactly where I was.

My daughters messy room doesn’t bother me too much when I am well but when I am not it can irritate me to the point of rage and I imagine all sorts of punishment and torture for her for daring not to care.

I have a last one that is only mildly irritating but somewhat interesting. It’s when people pronounce the word ask as arks. I wonder what the brain does to muddle the order of the letters in the word. It seems much harder for me to say “What are you aksing of me ?”than “What are you asking of me?”

Minds can be a pain in the arse at times and that doesn’t make sense either!

 

I only understood the movie A Beautiful Mind after my own psychosis

 

I am amazed at how much I just don’t get. It’s like I see stuff but nothing registers. Have you ever met a person who can never tell when people are joking or being sarcastic? Like someone with Aspergers, they don’t seem to pick up on social cues that would inform them that the person they are talking to is actually pulling their leg.

Well I suffer from the not getting it sometimes. In the movie A Beautiful Mind the main character has hallucinations and delusions. The movie makers film the delusions as reality so you get to see what the main character sees when he is unwell and then they show the contrast with what was actually there which is so different to the imagined reality. Like someone who is hallucinating you see what the movie makers wanted you to see which was something that appeared to be completely real but was illusory. It was a clever trick and in a way  It was  a perfect replication of psychosis because it gave the experience of seeing stuff that wasn’t there but believing it was real.

In my psychotic episode I thought I was aware of what was real and what was delusional and it was like I was observing what was going on from a place of superior knowledge. My wife came and visited me in Hospital 8083 miles from home. I thought that I was invisible and that my captors (The staff in the psyche ward) couldn’t see me. My wife and another visitor could see me and I thought that this was only because I was allowing it. I told them that I was invisible to others and they could only see me because I wanted them to.

It didn’t hit home for me until a while after returning home. I was reading through the medical file that I requested from my local GP and I got to read the e-mail the other visitor had sent describing how I was completely off my rocker. As I read the words on the page I was slammed with a feeling of hurt and humiliation and had a profound reality shift. I don’t think until reading that e-mail I actually believed that there was anything wrong with me.

Here’s the thing, my psychosis didn’t have well defined edges. I had thought that it did and that I was sick and then it was over but it carried on way longer than I realised. After reading the e-mail I was suddenly aware that I couldn’t rely on my mind to feed me correct data. I hadn’t taken LSD and had a bad trip that lasted for only a few hours. I’d had a full on psychosis which carried on for how knows long after my discharge from Hospital.

I was only in Hospital for 12 days and the only reason I was released was I was a foreigner who couldn’t pay so they released me early.  I became the problem for my wife and a friend who had to get me on a plane and back to NZ under heavy sedation. The Doctor told me that I needed to be Hospitalised for at least 6 weeks.

It wasn’t a beautiful mind at all. It was an intensely powerful but broken and unreliable mind and it let me down.

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I’d rather have a full bottle in front of me than a full frontal lobotomy!

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I have heard it said that people self medicate to avoid feeling stuff that they don’t want to feel. This statement on the surface seems like a judgement to me, it’s like these people are just weak and have avoidance issues.

I think every adult will identify with the intensity of volume that one can experience by turning the dial on their Stereo or TV up to full volume. It’s uncomfortable for most people to have the volume on full strength for anything but a short period of time. The volume level of comfort is different for most people but I’d hazard a guess and say that most are relaxed and unbothered by the volume when it is around half strength.

My ability to feel stuff has a lot in common with the volume knob on a very powerful stereo. I have the ability to feel stuff with an intensity that is way beyond comfortable. I have experienced the intensity of feeling where I can sense where someone is in a room of a thousand people (now you know I’m crazy right!). When the intensity is this high its like my perception of feeling is so strong that it is painful. On a dial that goes up to 10 at a maximum I feel like I am at a 12.

My wife on the other hand seems to feel things at low volume consistently say a level 3 or 4.

I imagine the intensity at which our bodies and minds feel things is different for everyone. There is probably the traditional Bell shaped curve that puts the majority of the Population in the mid range where you could class feeling at a normal level and then at the extreme ends of the curve you have the percentage of the population that feels almost nothing and the percentage of the population that feels everything with the intensity of an exposed nerve ending.

A frontal lobotomy used to be an answer for people with psychiatric illnesses by damaging  the part of the brain thought to generate the unwanted symptoms or behaviours. The resultant personality after the lobotomy is often devoid of normal feelings. so it seems a pretty severe choice.

Drug and alcohol addiction are not good for our society and I don’t condone the lack of willpower or responsibility that accompanies many addicts however I cant say that overall I am against alcohol or consciousness altering drugs.

I have times when my feelings are too intense and I am powerless to turn down the volume just like a BiPolar sufferer not being able to turn off their mania with willpower. When my feelings are at full volume for a prolonged period of time I want to go unconscious for a break, some rest and respite from the intensity. At these times I choose to self medicate. My drug of choice is a full bottle in front of me. Some of my friends use marijuana to chill out, others use prescription drugs like valium.

Dont judge me for being weak, realise that maybe for me the intensity is way higher than what you experience, so gimme a  break, sometimes I deserve it!

Blogs about Mental Illness are miserable and so god damn depressing.

When I am depressed a create what I call an attention and energy suckhole. You know what it’s like, hanging out with depressed people can be a real downer. Energy and Life can get sucked out of you just by being around them.

Some people find blogging their feelings and their pain therapeutic. Their supporters leave encouraging comments and maybe the process is cathartic for them. I don’t know.

I dont want my blog to be a chronicle of my own misery so I am going to resist the temptation to find new ways to describe the indescribable misery of depression. Screw that!

I am going to battle the demon of depression rather than paint dark and miserable impressions of it. Obviously the fact that I have some fight and bravado in me at this moment means that I am not in the depths of a deep depression right now.

Have you ever heard the saying “It’s not the size of the Dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the Dog that counts” Well the black dog of depression is different because it’s the size of the dog that makes it overwhelming and the fact that you have no energy for a fight that leaves you helpless and defeated.

So Big Black Dog, PISS OFF! GO AWAY! GET!

 

Imaginary foes

ImageEvery now and then the super sensitive switch flicks on of it’s own accord and plays havoc with my mind. Things that would not normally bother me suddenly capture my attention. My random thought generator a.k.a my mind, hypothesises about possible meanings in text messages, emails, skype chats and phone calls that don’t occur.

The filter that my mind sees the world through is called “Have I done something wrong?” Some people would call it paranoia but it’s not severe enough for that label.

The filter isn’t just a passive thing that I view the world through, it’s aggressive, it goes looking for things to confirm or deny it’s own existence. When it’s in full swing it erodes normal self esteem with self doubts. When it’s occurring I would gladly swap my identity with one of those self confident (possibly completely self unaware) people to whom things don’t stick to. Perhaps they have found the secret to emotional nano particles which stop any negative impressions getting any purchase.

Sometimes it is accurate but most times it’s not. I think maybe it’s just the product of a self-esteem that grew up a bit odd and one that self flagellates as a way of keeping the ego element in check.

The part of me that’s made to keep me safe from Tigers seems to have maladapted to this modern day world where people now have to contend with issues like cyber bullying which attacks the psyche instead of the body like the bullies did when I was at school in the 70’s.

Perhaps the key is to recognise that sometimes my mind can be a bit like an angry dog and needs a calm but  firm command to get it under control. Down boy!

 

Anxiety disappears when I am in a true crisis. WTF?

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I suffer from high levels of anxiety now which I never used to before my one and only psychotic episode. Until finding the appropriate meds to help out I lived in an almost constant and debilitating anxiety about the future. I had physical symptoms to add to my racing, out of control, calamatising brain. My chest would feel tight and tense and I would be on edge and unable to relax or find respite even when practising mindfulness techniques. My anxiety was always an extreme introversion of my attention.

One day I came home from barely surviving another day at my awful job and as soon as I drove into my garage I could feel that there was something wrong. I wandered down the hallway and encountered my adult daughter upset and distressed about her long search to find a job and the inevitable endless series of instances where she was rejected.

An almost instant calm descended on me and suddenly all of my available attention was with her in her suffering instead of with me in mine. The empathy and compassion I felt for her seemed a healing balm for us both as we chatted and she cried. It was OK how she was feeling and I just felt the need to be with her and love her and not try and DO anything for her. Let’s face it, as men we are not usually good at letting our loved ones experience problems or difficulties and we frequently  jump to giving solutions and problem solving when that’s not what they need.

I had another occurrence this weekend when I experienced true crisis rather than the imaginary crisis of the future that my anxiety feeds me. I was on a boat fishing with my 11 year old daughter which is how she gets special “Dad time”. After a summer of really poor fishing this weekend was different. The fish were breaking the surface around our boat as they chased smaller bait fish. Our excitement levels were rising as we started to hook up with some reasonably heavy fish over 50cm in length. As we landed a fish that my daughter had caught in the cockpit of our boat, the fish was thrashing wildly around and knocking stuff over. My daughter in her excitement yelled at me “Dad! Don’t let the fish get away!” I instinctively grabbed it and a treble hook hanging off the bottom of the lure embedded itself deep into my pinky finger. Every wild flap of the fish was now directly connected to my own nervous system and the pain was intense. Our boat was drifting and I had a fish of about 5kgs shaking my arm via the hook in my finger. I started to panic and shouted at my daughter to try and cut the line so that I could hold the fish down with my left hand and stop the transmission of energy from the moving fish into my well hooked finger.

Then in a moment the panic was replaced with a slow steady calm. The trigger for this again seemed to be my shift of attention from my own pain and distress to my loved one. I didn’t want her to be upset and panicked by my suffering so something kicked in that overrode the panic reflex and had me wanting to nurture and protect.

The boat was drifting in a channel and fairly close to rocks so I needed to get the boat underway and to get some help as we were at least 2 hours away from our home port and one hour away from decent medical assistance. Unlike other times where I have been injured and needing hospital attention this time I didn’t go into shock or have a massive adrenaline burst. I called Coastguard on my radio and calmly advised them of my situation and that I needed medical assistance as there was no way I was going to be able to remove the hook or the lure it was attached to myself. My daughter and I then started to clean up the blood in the back of the boat, some of it mine and some of it the fishes as we waited for the Coastguard to arrive. It seemed no different to how we would would normally feel cleaning the boat back at the wharf at the end of a successful trip.

The first thing they said to me was how they were struck by my calmness on the radio when asking for assistance. Again it seemed that I had the ability to be calm in a real crisis (I needed a Hand Specialist Plastic Surgeon to operate and remove the hook without damaging the tendons or nerves in my finger)

The following day when the Coastguard returned me to my boat after my discharge from the Hospital they again commented on how calm I was on the radio as they normally hear the panic in the voices of the people who need to call for assistance.

Strange isn’t it? Post Psychotic Anxiety has plagued me for a number of years and even though I know that a fraction of what my mind is worrying about for the future will never come to pass and can make my life utterly miserable, yet if this unruly thing called “my mind” is given something real to worry about it seems to serve me really well.

I just don’t get it. It seems all back to front. I worry when there is no real danger or distress, yet in real distress for a loved one or even myself this thing that feels broken and unreliable can serve me really well.

For this I am grateful and gratitude is a good medicine for my frequently sad and worrisome mind.

Confidence is a funny thing

Having experienced a full blown psychosis and now high levels of anxiety I can really relate to this post.

I am not OK with my Mental illness or living with the stigma associated with it.

Having a mental illness is not something I can comfortably live with. It pisses me off and I wish I didn’t have it!  Most of the TV ads regarding mental illness irritate me even though I know they are meant to make kiwis more understanding and to reduce the stigma but for some reason they  irritate the crap out of me.  You would think that as a fellow sufferer I’d be more understanding. Well I’m not. I am prejudiced and I can understand why others can be too.

I have had debilitating depressive episodes throughout my life but fortunate enough to fake my way through my times of uselessness. In spite of this weakeness I have managed to hold down some very senior corporate roles and have worked Internationally.

During my time in a high profile NZ company I recall having a discussion with new employees in our induction program about the high instance of heart attacks for senior managers in corporations where the focus of the work was on productivity and results and making money and in contrast the high rates of depression in senior managers in organisations that were more socially or “heart” focussed. A lady in the front row said loudly “I’d rather have a heart attack than suffer from depression!”.

It got me thinking. Why is it that mental illness is so repulsive to so many? and why the level of discrimination around mental illness?

Well here’s a few reasons. If I have heart disease or diabetes or gout my illness doesn’t really affect you. I can have these diseases and you can be oblivious to them. On the other hand if I am manic or depressed then I certainly have the ability to impact your comfort level. My mania can make you feel unsafe or anxious in my presence. My depression can make it uncomfortable for people to be around me as the downer of my mood can take the shine off chrome when it’s at its worst.

For years I tried to hide my illness from everyone . I finally got so desperate that I felt if I didn’t get some help from my Doctor I would do something drastic to escape the suffering.  I sat with him in his consulting room for half an hour unable to speak such was the terror of voicing what was wrong with me.

20 years later I still am uncomfortable admitting that I suffer from depression. I did decide in the year 2000 that I had to be more open about it and to tell people who I was friends with and who I worked with my terrible secret. The responses I have had from people from whom I have confessed my affliction to have been varied. Some think it has been courageous of me to make it known. Some have given me the inevitable advice to “Take a tablespoon of cement and harden up!” Some friends have strangely disappeared. An employee of mine told me that they ignored the poor performance review that I gave them because they thought it was because I was just in a bad mood. I feel very fortunate that a very small number have accepted me for this messy being who sometimes changes into some miserable version of the “normal” me and are loyal and supportive regardless.

I have also been very fortunate in the past to have bosses that have made allowances for my instability but the fact is that I’m a liability compared to someone who doesn’t have a mental illness. You cant rely on me to be productive all year round as you never know when I will be in a state where just getting out of bed and coming to work takes all the reserves that I have. You cant be sure that my decision making will be up to scratch and trusting me to be responsible for 500 staff and Hundreds of Millions of Dollars in revenue is a risk.

When I sit in the waiting room for my 3 monthly catch up with my Health Board appointed Psychiatrist I don’t like the feel of the place. It gives me the creeps. People all around me are behaving strangely. Some of them are on manic highs and they are waiting for an appointment with a judge who will decide if they need to be hospitalised for the safety of themselves and of others. I don’t identify with these people, I don’t see myself as one of them. Just sitting in the waiting room seems to label me as crazy or miserable or broken in some way and it’s not OK.

You may get the impression that me being not OK with it is because I see myself as superior to others and that I see myself as special and different. Its not that. I would be not OK with it if I had cancer or aids or had lost a limb or was morbidly obese. I get that my resisting the fact that I have a mental illness doesn’t change a thing and can actually add to my suffering, but that’s how it is and its not OK.

I am not OK with the fact that when I was psychotic I thought I was invisible, I am not OK with being crazy enough to require restraints. I am not OK with the way that my mind let me down and caused me to be locked up. It should have protected me from danger not created it.

I am not OK with the fact that my Travel Insurance didn’t cover my Hospital fees because they related to mental illness and I came home with a $60K bill for a 12 day stay. I am not OK with the fact that I could have got rip roaring drunk and fallen through a plate glass window and slashed myself to pieces but would have been covered for it. I am not OK with having to fight my Income Protection Insurance provider for a pay out for over 5 months when I was at my lowest ever.

I am not OK that the Hospital put my debt with an international debt collection agency who hounded me for payment when I was too sick too work.

I am not OK with the impact on my family of me returning home from Hospital so sedated that my speech was impeded and that I was incapable of signing my own name and I had trouble keeping my balance.

I am not OK that when my Dad was ill I was frightened of him and I am not OK with my kids being frightened of me when I am unwell.

I am not OK with the way I get treated by my so called Health Professionals some of whom seem to equate mental illness with stupidity. I am not OK with the ambiguity of depression. Do I get depressed because I think unhelpful thoughts or do I think unhelpful thoughts because that’s what you do  when you are depressed.

I am not OK with the side effects of my medication.

It’s not OK that my peers cant rely on me for consistent mental clarity and its not OK that I cant trust myself either.

it’s not OK that I’m not mentally strong and tough and resilient and it’s not OK that I experience so much mental agony at times that suicide seems like a sensible option to experience relief from  the suffering.

Some people come through an ordeal feeling or tragic circumstances stronger for having survived it, but how does living with my weakness make me feel anything but weak?

Sure, it is what it is, and I could accept it as part of who I am but I am not at that point where I can be OK with being mentally ill. About the only thing I am OK with about my mental illness is that I am not OK with it.