Mental Illness (an answer to a letter)
Previous - this entry written on March 12, 2004 at 12:07 pm - Next


This was/is meant to be a reply to an email I recieved - I'm posting it, along with a couple of sections of the email, because I think it might be helpful. Much like my vicodin addiction, I intend this entry to focus on a particular sort of mental illness.

First off, let me state that the term 'mental illness' can be extremely deceptive. Everything from paranoia to full-bore insanity to mild depression to the joy of seeing things gets thrown in together. I'm not writing about most forms of mental illness, only the form that I live with and do my best to deal with on a daily basis. Here's where I'm going to put the first quote from the email:

...I have this "mental illness" and the almighty all-knowing doctors don't know what to make of it exactly. The best diagnosis so far is "Borderline Personality Disorder" and that may or may not be right but all I know is that the pain that I feel when it gets really bad...it's honestly like if I could liken it to something...I would say it's like being possessed or being in hell.

That's actually a fairly good description of it. I'll elaborate on the description in just a moment, but first, one more important point. Doctors don't know you. Seriously, pay attention to this bit. Doctors Do Not Know You. They know textbooks, they know other cases, they know clinical studies and special reports but they don't know YOU. If the doctor you see keeps insisting there is/isn't something wrong with you when you are certain of exactly the opposite, don't take that doctor's word for it. Find a second opinion, maybe even a third. If the doctor gives you a medication and it doesn't work well, or has some sort of unpleasant side effect, tell your doctor. Even if you get the 'I've never seen anyone have that reaction' statement with all its accusatory tone... remember that just because the last person he saw didn't have it doesn't mean YOU don't have it. Stand your ground.

Now, back to the symptoms. I too have had various doctors and headthumpers try to figure out what's wrong with me... and I've gotten differing opinions from each. 'Borderline Personality Disorder', 'Bipolar', 'Severe Depression'... you name it, they've told me I had it. BPD and Bipolar are the closest labels. Here's the description:

On my 'good' days I'm happy to the point of mania, hyper, cheerful like a small child that you've just given candy to. LOTS of candy. I'll laugh, I'll joke, I'll bounce around and be amused by everything. I rarely have the patience to write or do anything artistic/creative when I'm on this high, since all of my energy is being poured into movement and talk.

On my 'normal' days - often achieved by the use of vicodin, small amounts of pot, or the aftermath of a round of bad days - I'm fairly calm. I can write somewhat, enough to post regularly in my journal, and I can work with photoshop to turn out simple, clean layouts or sketch simple, sharp images. When I'm in this very rare state I'm able to function as a Normal Human, getting along with people and not annoying them.

However, the 'bad' days... gods. These are the most frequent, and a good or normal day can turn bad far too easily. There's pain, both physical and emotional - whatever my methods for coping with the pain are, none but the most drastic work when I'm sunken into this hell. There's frustration, anger at myself, at anyone else (since the intervention of another person seems to make it worse). There's lust, more often than not... but it's a hunger for more than just sex and it's not pleasant. This is the part of me that craves violence, rough sex, controlled pain, blood, even death. It really does feel like posession...

...I have a mild form of Multiple Personality Disorder. It's barely noticeable when I'm in Normal state, but particularly when I start tumbling down into depression it grows, strengthening, to the point where it's damn near complete. For a large part of my life, these Splits were a protection and emotional shelter I desperately needed. I don't WANT them to go away - it took a lot of work to get them to this point, and they are still useful. Unfortunately, the more depressed I get, the deeper I fall, the more paranoia and lust and even hallucinations work on them, Splitting them wider, sometimes to the point where it takes days or even weeks to get them close enough together that I can think as a Collective instead of one Split at a time. Posession.

Amazingly, there IS an upside to this down, since it's only when I am drowning in darkness and pain that I can actually write well enough to please myself or create images that I will still be proud of a month later. For whatever reason my artistic ability (what there is of it) and my creativity seem to flow from the same source that produces my pain and rage and depression. I'm still not sure why this is, but because of it I have a hard time doing anything truly worth while if there isn't at least a trace of darkness somewhere in my head.

Another quote:

This is all before I ever took my first Vicodin pill either... ...So far the only thing to touch this has been Vicodin.

While I did have some vicodin in my childhood (and there's a LONG rant about that somewhere), this black hole has been a part of me that I am quite sure wasn't caused by vicodin or any other medication, at least not directly. Much like the letter-writer, for a long time the only thing that I could count on for relief from it was vicodin. Codine made me too drowsy to be functional, oxycodone left me too awake, too hyper. Vicodin walked that thin line, waking up every part of me that mattered to me and lulling the rest to sleep. I used to see it as almost a miracle drug, since it not only took care of pain but took care of ME.

Lately I've been exploring other medications. The two that work best for me, particularly in combination, are amatryptaline and celexa. The first makes me very sleepy and in general is only taken before bed. The second, taken in the morning, perks me up and keeps me fairly regulated. If I haven't been writing well or want to finish a particular art project I will skip the celexa - if I take it every third day I still stay fairly level without knocking out my creative aspect. Other things that have helped me include pot (only in small amounts - large amounts leave me silly), red meat or iron suppliments, and phenergan. Phenergan is an anti-nausia medication available in liquid, pill and suppository form. Particularly if I am on vicodin, phenergan once a day helps a LOT. I tend to take it in the morning so I can actually eat breakfast, although sometimes dinner is important enough to rate a second pill. When there's phenergan in my system, the amount of vicodin it takes to ease my agony is cut roughly in half.

Hmmm... medication, basic symptoms, name-calling... what am I forgetting...?

Oh. Yeah.

Suicide.

...I tried to kill myself...I took 30 Xanax, 30 Unisom sleeping pills...about 15 Vicodin and around 20 of something else. Yeah I have a very high tolerance and constitution otherwise I would have died.

My own attempt was foiled quicker and my tolerance, I think, is higher... but I've been there. Some days I still come close, for a wide variety of reasons. Most of it is spurred by the desperation I feel every time I sink down. The only actual serious attempt recently? I did it because I was happy, and I was scared of falling again, aware that things would only go back down. I wanted to die happy. The rest of the time it's easier to fight off, because I know that it's depression, I know it's my head. Mind you, 'easier' still isn't 'easy'. On the worst days when my whole body aches and light hurts my eyes, when even breathing seems like too much effort, when the whole world is ugly... days like that come too frequently and when they arrive, all I want in the world is to die... or, and I'll be very honest here, more vicodin.

The letter-writer also mentions his family, and how loving and supportive they are. That... gods. I can't talk with my parents about this, my sister I never hear from, extended family I never see... but my boys and my friends are more supportive and matter more to me than anything else. They've stood by me through crisis after crisis, they've helped me out and lifted me up, they're the reason I am alive and still fighting. I don't know if they know how much I appreciate them; just their presence in my life makes it better, easier to take each day and live through it.

My suggestion, if this entry sound familiar: touch base with your friends, with your family, with your co-workers, your online friends, your pen pal, your neighbor, anyone and everyone. The stronger and larger your support network becomes, the better each day becomes and the easier it is to keep living. If you have no family, your friends have moved away, you work at home, whatever... I'm here. I know what it's like. I know how much it sucks... and I'll be willing to listen to you tell me how much it sucks. Being able to rant makes a BIG difference.

Tell you what, if you're reading this and you think you're going through the same thing, email me, tell me what YOU feel, how you describe it, what you do about it. I'll gladly post your response if you'll let me. After all, the more information there is, the more people who share this problem, the better our chances for survival and even happiness.

My email address (take out the numbers but leave the periods IN, I hate spambots): 3girl.with.i5nk@gmail.com

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