Mental Illness and Disability Insurance December 28, 2009Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Anxiety, Delusions, Disability Claim, Hearing Voices, mental illness.
Tags: Disability Claim, Hearing Voices, mental illness
I finally, after some soul-searching, decided to apply for Social Security Disability. There were over-arching problems that prevented me from applying for that disability until very recently.
The primary problem was that my core being would have to acknowledge in a very public forum that I have an illness so debilitating that I could no longer work. The months of waiting for the return to normalcy so I could return to my job as project manager would have to be officially suspended. Not necessarily forever, but for the forseeable future. In applying for SSDI, I would be admitting to the world at large that the disability is in fact significant and permanent.
The second problem was with the process itself. The point of the application is that I don’t handle stress well. Unlike me, whose disability actually gets worse under the application process itself, someone missing a leg can’t lose more of his leg simply by going through the application process. But I, because of the nature of my illness, had to be prepared for an increase in my “qualifying symptom”. Back-sliding was to be expected during the application process.
Would it be worth hearing voices for the ability to bring in at least a little income? I had to wait until the answer was “yes” before proceeding with the actual intake process.
The third problem was the enormous sense of guilt and worthlessness that acceptance by Social Security as disabled would entail. Guilt because I’d feel like I’m stealing money from society at large. Worthlessness because I would be getting something (money) for nothing. Nothing, that is, except losing my mind.
The emotional kick in the stomach started with an in-person interview at our local Social Security office. Because I was concerned about what the stress of my interview would do to my mind, I asked my sister to accompany me (and drive) to the interview. I was glad she did.
The interviewer, after learning that I was applying for disability for a mental illness, was very kind. I burst out in tears as I delineated the specifics of my disability to the world at large and to the government in particular. I “bled” all over the floor, in other words. My sister, having a better grasp of the reality of the situation, reminded me (and the intake specialist) of symptoms that I had forgotten about. Or maybe just wanted to forget about.
After clearing the “intake” hurdle, the next step was sending all of my medical records in to the government for their official analysis. My mental hospital records, my psychiatrist’s records, and of course my therapist’s records- all of these private, personal records became a matter of public record.
After the government reviewed my records, they still had enough questions about my purported disability that they insisted on an independent psychiatric evaluation. They arranged for a perfect stranger, a local psychologist who knew neither my psychiatrist, my therapist, nor me, to poke and prod around in my mind to find out how bad things were. Was I really mentally ill? If so, how mentally ill was I? Too ill to hold down a job?
Not surprisingly, the anticipation of that horrible exam brought on a severe case of stress which, of course, brought on the voices. The worst case, in fact, that I’d had since my discharge from the mental hospital.
Unlike the nightmare that I had constructed in my mind, the psychologist was very kind yet thorough during my exam. I had been warned from my psychiatrist that he would be looking for any possible substance abuse problems ( which I don’t have), since it’s fairly common for drug users to try to get disability in order to finance their habits. Having survived the psychologist’s 2 hour examination, I can bear witness to the difficulty any substance abuser would have getting disability- at least if they had to go through that guy.
When the psychologist told me at the conclusion of the exam that I was not employable, it was still a kick in the stomach. I didn’t really expect it would hurt that bad. His assessment confirmed my suspicion that the return to my former profession was not in the cards- at least not yet. But he did hold out hope that this assessment didn’t condemn me to a life of forever on the “dole”. He explained that just because I’m sick enough now to qualify for disability doesn’t mean I’ll always be sick enough. But the bottom line is that, at least for now, an independent third party just confirmed my worst nightmare: I’m no longer employable.
I’m Finished with my Book! December 24, 2009Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Delusions, Hearing Voices, Mental Hospital, mental illness.
Tags: Bipolar Mermaid, Delusions, mental illness
At my mother’s suggestion, I started my book back in July 2008, right after I was released from my three week stay at the mental hospital. She and my sister (a licensed mental health counselor) encouraged me, telling me that my story needed to be told, and that it could help other families going through the same situation that they did.
Faced with the prospect of their daughter, wife, and mother tripping into the unknown world of mental illness, they were desperate for anything that would give them a clue about what I was experiencing and what they could do to help me. And, more importantly, what to expect. Sadly, there was nothing out there to help them understand the detail they were seeking.
There are a few well-written books out there about mental illness in general, written by mentally ill people. But their perspective was all wrong for the specific situation my family found itself in. An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamision was more along the lines of the impact of mental illness on professional careers and on life after the psych ward. Though an excellent read, there were few gritty details about the day-to-day stay at a mental hospital and very little about the actual delusions themselves (did she hear voices? What did they say specifically?). Manic by Terri Cheney focused on her delusions a little. Her delusions weren’t laid out in a specific languages format of “he said this, she said that”. Again, no specific voices telling her she was a Mermaid. None of the books I read detailed exactly what the voices were saying (if there even were any voices) and none of them treated the voices as ESP with specific people ranging from bosses to spectacular friendships with the Dalai Lama, Oprah, etc.
None of them feature delusions identical to mine. Nobody thought they were a Mermaid named Pangea. There were no talking fish, dogs and cats. No green-skinned people. No ESP. No intimate conversations with the likes of the Gateses. And, most importantly, no involuntary commitments to a psych ward.
My 300 page memoir, I Thought I Was A Mermaid, is a chronological breakdown of the nature of my descent into madness. Insanity from A to Z. Unlike the books described above, because my meltdown was so fresh, I was able to pinpoint various stages of my breakdown with shocking accuracy. Sadly, most of the other authors didn’t suffer immediate breakdowns: they were long-drawn-out affairs starting in most cases around puberty and culminating in the actual book-writing many, many years after their initial onset. My details were “fresh off the press”, so to speak. My entire nervous breakdown, almost day by day, blow by blow, laid out for the world to see.
Many, if not most, of the mental illness memoirs, tell the story in terms of years and decades. Generally, their stories start at around puberty, which coincides with the onset of most genetic forms of mental illness. Mine, with its onset in the late 40’s, is far easier to write a chronological account of, given its short, compressed nature. The timeframe of my initial breakdown was so compressed (February 2008 to June 2008) that the storytelling behind it is much easier for me.
Initially, my plan was to end the book at the point where I walk into my first Writers Group and announce to them that I’m going to write a book. At first glance, that seems to be the logical breaking point for my story.
However, I reconsidered that viewpoint today, realizing that the true end is actually the end of my first visit to my psychiatrist. From that point forward, the story is about maintenance of my relative “sanity”, adjustment of medication and medication side effects. Nothing really exciting in that stuff, especially compared to talking fish and friendship with Oprah. I realized today that the timing for the finish of my story is actually the point where the maintenance begins. So today, I’m officially done with my book, with the exception of the never-ending task of editing.
Wish me luck in finding an agent and publisher!
Mental Illness and Homeless People December 16, 2009Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Mental Hospital, mental illness, Psych Ward.
Tags: Homelss, mental illness, Psych Ward
Walking the streets of Seattle this afternoon as my husband and I shopped for Christmas gifts, I scanned the face of every homeless person we passed, trying hard to remember the faces of the homeless people I shared three weeks of my life with while I was hospitalized at a mental hospital over a year ago.
Did any of the faces look remotely familiar? Would I recognize anyone if I saw them? Are they still alive? In Jail? Dead? Whatever happened to them? I would love to have run into any one of them today, to ask how they’re doing, and if there’s anything I can do to make their life more comfortable. What would they say?
Edie, the little cherub looking woman who looked much younger than her 52 years- where is she now? Is she warm and safe? Is her schizophrenia under control with medication? Did her boyfriend, who visited her in the hospital, marry her like he said he would after her illness was under control? What color was her bride’s dress?
How about Michael, the strapping young bipolar man who taught me that each tear tatoo around someon’e eye symbolizes the life of someone he took. Micheal had, in other words, murdered three people. And he so badly wanted to kill his older sister when he was released, which was going to be very, very soon. Did he kill her? Does he now have 4 tear tatoos?
What of Tonya, the twenty-something depressed Samoan woman? Each day she was there, she told all of us in group therapy how badly she wanted to kill herself. Even on the day she was released from the mental hospital. Did she succeed in killing herself? I put the odds of her success, if you can call it that, at around 85%. Is she buried somewhere in an unmarked grave? Or is she one of the many people who step out onto the train tracks, not having the guts to actually swallow the pill or pull the trigger themselves? Is she still alive somewhere? I very much doubt it.
Does Terry, one of the most colorful personalities, still think she was from Saturn? Does she continue to speak gobbledygook to people, claiming that it’s the language of her planet? Is her bipolar disorder and schizoaffetive disorder under control? How many times has she returned to the mental hospital? It had been 3 times in her 30-something life when I left. Is it now 4?
If it wasn’t for the terrific support system of my friends and family, as well as the wonderful care I continue to receive from my psychiatrist and my mental health counselor, I would be out there on the streets with them. I was one of the lucky ones.
Where are they now?
Mental Illness Rebranded (Revised 12.16.09) December 14, 2009Posted by Crazy Mermaid in mental illness, NAMI.
Tags: mental illness, NAMI
The tainted reputation of the age-old term “mentally ill”, used to describe people with Brain Functioning Impairment (BFI) has added to the burden of suffering caused by the malady itself. In general the public’s only contact with people suffering from BFI is when the term “mentally ill” is used in the news media to describe a person with BFI who committed a crime (usually murder).
One of the most fascinating points of Brain Functioning Impairment is the way criteria in the health spectrum are defined as either “physical” or “mental”. For example, migraine headaches, although technically a BFI, are considered part of the physical rather than mental health spectrum. This is because the manifestation of that BFI is a physical pain in a specific locale. In general, if you can perceive the manifestation of the injury in physical form (cuts and/.or bleeding from blunt trauma to the head) or “feel” it at a specific location (migraine headache), it’s thrown into the “physical illness” category. If you can’t see a direct physical manifestation of the disease, then in most cases it’s deemed a mental illness. This practice of forcing the separation of “physical” from “mental” would have to stop with the re-branding. Brain trauma, brain cancer, dementia, depression, migraine headaches, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder would all fall under the same general category: “Brain Functioning Impairment”. Imagine the political and economic powerhouse of a category whose umbrella spanned such a wide array of ailments. It’s enough to make a lobbyist salivate all over himself.
Eventually, with the advent of the new brain imaging tools, the term “mental illness” will become obsolete, taking its place next to the “bleeding” done to people a hundred years ago in the name of “health”. Until the changeover diagnosis tools such as MRI’s and brain scans take deep roots, we can speed up a more empathetic public persona with one simple action: Rebranding.
Re-branding the current term “mental illness” to the more accurate description “Brain Functioning Impairment” (BFI) will go a long way towards solving our stigma problem. We can reposition the impairment term as the politically correct term, and phase out that awful connotations of that old term “mental illness”. At a minimum, re-branding and expanding the definition of BFI to encompass ALL brain-impacted impairment will go a long ways toward forcing the general public to change its perception of people with BFI.
Lance Armstrong’s “yellow” campaign focuses on the association of the color yellow (the shirt color of the winner of a well-known bicycle race) with success and winning. Similarly, it’s natural for the breast cancer survivors to fasten onto the color pink because that color has long been associated with women. The color red is a natural for heart disease. But mental illness aka Brain Functioning Impairment? Nothing. Nada.
Because the color blue is already associated with depression (having the “blues”) publicly promoting identification of the color cobalt blue with BFI is a natural first step in the re-branding effort. (NOTE: I don’t really care about a specific color as much as the selection of SOME color). Selling cobalt blue wrist bracelets similar to the ones sold by the Lance Armstrong Foundation (with a cute little saying similar to LIVESTRONG )would kill two birds with one stone, generating both positive publicity and money to further support the re-branding effort. Putting a well-known face and personality to BFI (Kay Redfield Jamison comes to mind) will go a long way towards the re-branding effort.
Please join me in pushing to effect this change by actively working to persuade major organizations like NAMI (National Alliance of Mental Illness) to become a front-runner in our re-branding effort. It won’t be easy, but it will be well worth the effort.
NOTE: One of my readers told me that someone “beat me to the punch” HAPPILY!!! The color’s silver, not blue……. check it out at http://www.silverribbon.org/
Delusions December 10, 2009Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Delusions, Hallucinations, Hearing Voices, mental illness, Psychotic.
Tags: Delusions, ESP, Hallucinations, Insanity, mental illness, Psychotic
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The problem with having delusions and hallucinations is that when you have one, you can’t tell. You don’t realize that you don’t know what’s “real” and what isn’t, because it’s all real when you’re insane.
Because delusions and hallucinations affected each and every one of my senses, my whole sense of reality was messed up. Nothing was sacred or safe. And I couldn’t tell.
Hearing: That delusion is what started all of the others. I heard voices in my head that weren’t there. I thought I had the God-given gift of ESP. Famous people, people I worked with, and even people who didn’t really exist at all in the real world were at my beck and call 24/7. Although she wasn’t a real person in real life, Claudia, my Diet Guru/Shopping Buddy, was real enough to me. She controlled what I ate and what I wore.
Taste: Because I was overweight, Claudia had me on a diet. One of my favorite foods is Costco Cashews. Big bucket. Lots of calories. When I first opened the jar and started eating the first handful of cashews, all was well. They tasted marvelous as usual. But as I ate the second handful, the cashews started to taste just a tad bit on the moldy side. The third handful was moldier than the first. As I continued to eat the cashews, they became progressively moldier. Finally, they tasted so moldy that I couldn’t eat another one.
At first I attributed that moldy taste to a bad batch of cashews. Costco’s quality control was on the fritz- at least that’s what I thought at first. But as I thought about the situation more closely, I realized that Costco’s quality control system wasn’t at fault here because the more cashews I ate, the moldier they became. Finally, it dawned on me that it was really my “Duet Guru”, Claudia, at work, controlling the taste of the cashews in order to stop me from eating too much. It was actually Claudia’s control system rather than Costco’s at work.
Smell: Although I couldn’t see any of the people in my head with my own eyes, I could smell them. Or at least one: Claudia. When she showed up in the “room” inside my head, I smelled her before I heard her. Her perfume was, I was sure, a very expensive brand in keeping with her expensive taste. When she left, her perfume left with her.
Touch: Touch was, in my view, one of the more interesting delusions. Mermaids, it turns out, can’t wear the color pink. :) Neither sheets, socks, clothes, or even racks of clothing in a clothing store could touch my skin without burning me- as if I’d touched a hot iron. It didn’t leave a blister, surprisingly, but it was hot enough that it could have. So I had to be very careful not to brush up against anything pink. When a red-headed little girl wearing pink passed me at the mall, it was all I could do to keep from calling CPS on her parents. Speaking of color…
Color: In addition My color delusions were the most amazing. I had no idea how much color delusions shaped my world until after I was hospitalized and the mania left. Only then did I realize that I even had color delusions. Color delusions, like the others, are hard to spot until after they’re gone.
Shopping with my mom at Target (post-manic), I saw a green snakeskin wallet sitting on a shelf that was identical to one that I had purchased while I was manic. Identical, that is except for the color. Compared to the vivid, explosive shade of green of my wallet, the wallet on the shelf was a ghostly shadow of mine. When I finally realized that those two wallets were identical in every other respect, I came to understand that realized that the two wallets were one and the same. that I saw before I was manic, the real wallet was a much paler, washed out shade of green. With the realization that my vivid, explosive colors of my imagination were all delusion-induced came a sadness that all colors had lost their intensity in my new post-manic world.
Vision: I saw things- like green skin on fellow swimmers that I identified in my mind as fellow Mermaids. I spent several hours speaking with a man who may or may not have been real. If he was real, then he was as bizarre as I was, taking the time to whip out his wallet and show me pictures of the Alien Baseball team he owned. With the exception of the Alien photos, the cards couldn’t me distinguished from real Major League Baseball cards.
Either I was talking to a man who wasn’t there, or I was talking to a man who was just as mentally ill as I was. If I was talking to a man who wasn’t there, I was exactly like one of those mentally ill people you see sitting in coffee shops talking to themselves. Not good either way.
Having experienced delusions in all of my senses, it’s difficult now to be absolutely sure that what I’m seeing or smelling or tasting or hearing in the here and now is “real”. How can I trust my senses after the Hell I went through? I can’t be 100 percent sure of anything at all.
Why does the answer matter? Because if I can discern the real from the imaginary, then I can head off a manic episode. But how do you spot a delusion when you’re in one? Is the food really moldy, or is another psychotic/manic episode on its way? Is that pretty shade of blue real or imagined? Did that woman passing me on the sidewalk really wear perfume? Am I sinking into another delusion? How do I know? That’s the scary part: you don’t know when you’ve lost touch with reality. It’s all real when you’re insane.
Psych Ward Male Night Nurses December 2, 2009Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Delusions, Involuntary Committment, Mental Hospital, mental illness.
Tags: Delusions, Involuntary Committment, Mental Hospitals, mental illness, Psych Ward
The Psych Ward was in reality a maximum security prison. Nobody left of their own accord. Every 20 minutes, the nursing staff made their rounds to track down every patient. Whether we were in the shower, asleep or whatever, they always knew where we were. As we slept, the night nurse came into our dark bedroom with a flashlight and shined it on our face and chest to make sure we were still breathing. If we were in the bathroom, they stood outside the bathroom door calling our name. If we didn’t open the door to tell them we were there, they assumed that we were either trying to hide, trying to kill ourselves, or already dead. So they opened the door and hunted us down. There was no such thing as patient privacy.
A 10 foot barbed wire fence (with razor wire at the very top) surrounded the entire building, including the tiny courtyard attached to the building. We weren’t allowed outside except for supervised group smoke breaks inside that tiny little courtyard. There was no such thing as structured exercise- or even unstructured exercise. If it happened at all, it happened at 8 pm, provided we could talk a staff member into walking us down the hall and out the steel double doors to a gym. Most days, the nursing staff was too short-staffed for that, but occasionally we got the chance to actually stretch our limbs out and break a sweat.
The hospital was always short-staffed, and the hardest shifts to fill were the night shifts. Nobody wanted to be a nurse on a psych ward at night. Most nights the only people they could get to handle the night shift were male nurses. So usually there were two male nurses on the night shift overseeing about 25 patients. Sometimes only one male nurse was on the night shift. Night nurses had unlimited and unsupervised access to all of those drugged up people (everyone was given sleeping meds) lying in their dark bedrooms . Were there cameras? In a few rooms. But not all.
Night nurses were required to walk into those dark bedrooms and shine a flashlight on the patient’s face and chest every 20 minutes to make sure we were still alive, so they had every right to be in a patient’s dark bedroom alone. Under those circumstances, it would be child’s play for an unscrupulous person to take advantage of a patient lying alone in her dark bedroom- a patient who was so full of sedatives that she wouldn’t wake up under almost any circumstance. Even a patient sharing the bedroom with another patient could be a target, since both were heavily medicated. Added to that was the fact that the general reputation of a psychotic patient was that they were unreliable and their memories untrustworthy, and the psych ward was a virtual hunting ground for an unethical night nurse.
The morning following a night with one male night nurse on staff, I thought I might have been violated by a male nurse. But I couldn’t make my mind up. Was it my imagination? I just didn’t know. I admitted to myself that I had been heavily sedated. Even then, I was in a fog. Was it real? Or wasn’t it?
Realizing that I had to let the people in charge know about my suspicions, I complained to the head nurse on duty. I explained to her what I thought happened and that I couldn’t be sure, since I was sedated during the night. But certain things pointed in that direction.
Although she brushed off my complaint, I watched as she returned to the nursing station. A look of shock flash across her face as she read my chart. She immediately sought out the male night nurse on duty, and I overheard her berating him. The head nurse was obviously shaken up by what happened, but nothing further was communicated with me. I was, after all, just a psychotic mental patient, obviously delusional and unreliable.