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Registry of People With Mental Illness January 27, 2011

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in mental illness.
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I just heard something very scary from the lips of Mayor Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City, on Lawrence O’Donnell’s new show.  Mayor Bloomberg  said  that we need a registry of people with mental illness so that we can keep them from buying guns.  This was his response to the recent Tucson shooting by a young man who is thought to be mentally ill (as far as I know, he doesn’t have a diagnosis).

Forcing people with a mental illness to register is beyond belief in the year 2011. I get chills down my spine just thinking about it.

From a practical standpoint, this new registry law, if implemented, would probably not catch the people it was designed to catch.  Although people like the Tucson shooter are known by the world at large to have bizarre behavior, they don’t have a diagnosis. They’ve managed to fly under the radar, at least until they do something horrible.

As part of my Least Restrictive Treatment contract (in order to leave the mental hospital), I had to agree not to own a fire arm. But that was supposed to be for my protection from suicide.  Never in a million years would I have believed that I would become a name on a mental illness register.

Who decides who belongs on the register?  Where’s the line in the sand? Do you need to have a diagnosis before registering? What kind of criteria will be used? Will people avoid getting a diagnosis because they don’t want to land on the register?  And most importantly, what else will the list be used for? All of these are legitimate questions that must be carefully considered before the list becomes a reality.

It’s a slippery slope.

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The Mermaid and His Alien Baseball Team January 24, 2011

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Delusions, ESP, Hallucinations, mental illness.
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One morning, I was just finishing up swimming my laps (I thought I was a Mermaid) when I noticed a man getting into the lane right next to mine.  Rising to my feet, I told the swimmer that he could have my lane, as I was done swimming.

He thanked me, but he said that he didn’t like to swim in that far lane.  When I asked him why, he explained that it made him uncomfortable but he didn’t know why. I explained that he was probably sensitive to the energy buildup along the bottom edges and corners of the pool.  Instead of looking at me like I had lost my mind, he became very interested in what I had to say.  Fascinated, in fact. Wanting to discuss the  concept further,  he asked to meet me at a nearby Starbucks  in about 15 minutes, to have coffee and talk.

But I hadn’t left the pool yet. Dunking my head in the water to clear my mask,  I noticed the familiar faint green tint to his skin. He was a Merman.

Arriving at the Starbucks a bit early, I purchased my coffee and contemplated the logo on the cup. A two-tailed Mermaid. Hm. A Sign. I settled down to wait for my new Merman friend. Shortly  he arrived, purchasing his coffee and joining me at a small table by a fireplace, surrounded by other patrons.

Explaining that I saw the green tinge of his skin in the pool and that he was a Merman, I was prepared for him to walk out on me. But he didn’t flinch. Instead, he insisted that we move outside where we wouldn’t be overheard. Once there, he told me his little secret: he was a mind-reader.  Then he offered to demonstrate his skill, telling me to think of a word and to concentrate hard on that word.

As I sat across the table from him, I concentrated on the word “Abracadabra” as hard as I could, even mentally painstakingly writing the word on a blackboard in my mind, willing him to succeed.

Although he tried many times to come up with the word I was thinking of, he just couldn’t do it.  He didn’t even come close. Finally, he said had to leave. We parted, not even exchanging names or phone numbers. He didn’t know who I was, and I didn’t know who he was. And that was okay by me.

But before he left, he told me about his Alien baseball team.  He said that there were lots of Alien baseball teams throughout the galaxy, and that they played each other in games that were similar to the ones played here on Earth. Then he offered to show me pictures of his Alien baseball team. When I assented, he pulled out his wallet and extracted several baseball cards.

On each card was a photo of an Alien dressed in a baseball uniform. The player’s name, unpronounceable, was written underneath the photo. Statistics and the player’s position were written on the reverse side. In all, the cards were virtually undistinguishable from regular baseball cards with the exception of the players. He explained that he owned an entire baseball team of Aliens, but he never told me where the games were played or invited me to watch a game with him.

The next day,  the word “Abracadabra” was written in blue letters on a whiteboard hanging on the wall. I was shocked. Directly below that word, written in green,  was another word:  dandelion.  Clearly the Merman had returned to the pool and had written the words on the whiteboard. I understood writing the word that was in my mind, but I had no idea what the word dandelion meant. Then it came to me: that was the Merman’s name. Dan De Lion.

Was Dan De Lion real? I don’t know.  If he was, then he was as mentally ill as I was.  If he wasn’t real, then I was one of those people you see sitting in restaurants talking to themselves.

Preventing Another Tucson Tragedy January 19, 2011

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in mental illness, NAMI.
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(Guest blog from Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA, Licensed Mental Health Counselor)

Winston Churchill once said, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” As a licensed mental health counselor, I couldn’t agree more.

Much of the discourse about the shooting in Tucson has unfortunately divided our nation further along political lines.  As a therapist with a family member who suffers from an acute mental illness, I think many people don’t accurately understand the situation. Friends of the shooter, Jared Loughner, noted  he changed dramatically over the past year and a half.  Worthy of noting. They also reported that Loughner was not on the political right, nor to the left.  Mental illness, not politics, is responsible for this tragic event.

Jared’s writings reflect paranoia of mind control and bizarre delusions, both trademarks of schizophrenia.  At the college he attended, other students reported that he frequently disrupted classes with nonsensical outbursts. This odd, verbally violent behavior became such a problem that he was suspended. School officials asked him not to return unless he could get a clearance from a mental health professional that said that he wasn’t a danger to himself or others.

Most people with acute mental illnesses are not dangerous, so we need not overreact.  Yet a small percentage of individuals are dangerous.  Mental health professionals are trained to evaluate whether or not a person is unsafe.

What can you do if you are concerned that someone you know might be a danger to themselves of others?  According to Carolyn Annette Elsey, an attorney licensed in Washington state, following are the criteria for involuntary commitment:  “A person can be detained on any of three grounds: likelihood of serious harm to others; likelihood of serious harm to self; or most commonly, grave disability. Grave disability is defined as a condition in which a person, as a result of a mental disorder (a) is in danger of serious physical harm resulting from a failure to provide for his or her essential human needs of health or safety, or (b) manifests severe deterioration in routine functioning evidenced by repeated and escalating loss of cognitive or volitional control over his or her actions and is not receiving such care as is essential for his or her health or safety.”  (Note:  The criteria for involuntary commitment vary for different parts of the country.  Check reliable online sources to learn the criteria in your region.)

Here are some things you can do if you are concerned that someone may be a danger to themselves or others and refuses treatment:

  • In case of immediate danger, call 911. (If you are concerned that the person will become more disturbed if they know you are calling, go to the restroom or another private room to call.)
  • Never transport a person in a vehicle against their will.
  • If there is no immediate danger but you are concerned that violence could ensue at any time, report this immediately to your local Crisis Clinic and authorities at work, school, etc. Report facts about what you have seen, heard, or read (including writings from social media sites or other sources).
  • Document when, why, and to whom reports were made.
  • Encourage other people who are concerned to report to authorities as well, and to document their reports.
  • Research your state and county to know in advance who to call if you suspect that someone could become violent.  In the state of Washington, anyone can call the County Designated Mental Health Professionals (CDMHPs) through Crisis Clinic to evaluate individuals.  The referral can be made by anyone who has first-hand knowledge of the person and the presenting problem.  The CDMHP will evaluate to determine if legal criteria for involuntary commitment are met.

My hope and prayer is that people become more informed about mental illness and how to respond when someone’s  behavior appears dangerous.  If professionals and laypeople work together, perhaps  we can prevent another similar catastrophe.

Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA, LMHC, is a licensed mental health counselor, writer, and speaker in Woodinville, WA.  Visit her blog at http://www.cherriemac.wordpress.com.

Note: In Washington State, while significant gains were made in amending the Involuntary Treatment Act (ITA), 2SS House Bill 3076 retained language that still makes it difficult to implement the ITA. In particular, the current language provides that a person must be determined by a Mental Health Professional to be in “imminent” danger to self or others. Last session, House Bill 2882 was introduced that would change “imminent” to “substantial liklihood”. National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) supports this change, and propose to support a similar bill again in the 2011 session. (From NAMI Eastside News October-December 2010 issue).

How Long Does it Take to Become Psychotic January 8, 2011

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Delusions, Disability Claim, ESP, mental illness.
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Back when I was working as a Project Manager in downtown Seattle, my employer- let’s call them M Construction- paid for a long and short term disability policy as part of my compensation package.

As the stress on that job escalated to impossible levels due to the fact that I had no support staff (no matter how hard I tried to get it), I began to believe that I had ESP, and that I could communicate with my flesh-and-blood bosses via that ESP. As my mental illness rapidly progressed, I became more enmeshed in my delusional world, communicating with my bosses via ESP several times a day.  They knew, I believed, the untenable position I was in.

As the pressure on my job escalated to impossible levels, we (my ESP bosses and I)  hatched a plan.  They directed me to in effect hold my job hostage. I was supposed to tell the flesh-and-blood boss that I had a job offer with a competitor- someone whom the company had recently lost a lot of employees to. The result was supposed to be leverage to get the staff I needed in order to perform my job. At the direction of my ESP bosses, I made that threat to my flesh-and-blood bosses. But instead of getting the staff I needed, the flesh-and-blood bosses wished me well and held an exit interview.

During my exit interview, as I sat in a Starbucks with my flesh-and-blood boss across the table from me, my flesh-and-blood boss wrung his hands, asking me why I didn’t say something sooner. I tried to argue that point, saying that I would stay if I was given the staff I needed. The flesh-and-blood boss said it was too late, while the ESP boss told me this discussion was part of the ultimate plan to get me that staff.  At the end of the interview, I was officially out of a job. But my imaginary ESP boss told me to sit back and wait for things to happen.

After a few days of waiting around for their phone call to return to work, my ESP boss told me to give him a call, which I did. My flesh-and-blood boss tried to argue with me, telling me that I had quit. I explained that I was only doing what he told me to do. Confusedly, he ended the phone call, telling me once again that I had quit. During this conversation with my flesh-and-blood boss, that same man (in the form of ESP) told me this conversation  was all part of the plan, and that the offer to return to work was imminent but that he couldn’t say so over the phone. “Just relax” was my direction.

As the weeks leading up to my ultimate involuntary commitment wore on, I continued to maintain regular phone contact with my flesh-and-blood bosses, truly believing that my return to M Construction was imminent, despite his continued assurances that my job had been filled.  When my husband asked me how my job hunt was coming along, I explained that there had been a mistake and that I would be returning to M Construction soon.  I didn’t even bother to apply for unemployment, because I knew my return to work was imminent.

Within three weeks of holding my job hostage, I was involuntarily committed to a mental hospital. During the three weeks at the hospital and the subsequent months in recovery, the furthest thing from my mind was the insurance policy. But as I began to mentally re-enter the real world, my husband reminded me of that policy and asked me to check on it.  Digging around the house, I located the policy. Sure enough, I was covered!

I called M Construction’s Human Resources department to start the claim process, only to be informed that I had quit before entering the hospital. Policy null and void.  Submitting the claim anyway, I wasn’t surprised when Prudential’s denial letter arrived, saying the same thing: I had quit before I became crazy.

Upon further consideration, I realized that what I really had was an on-the-job injury, just like I was hit on the head with a 2X4.  But the 2X4 in my case was the stress that caused me to go psychotic.

There was no doubt that I had become sick. My involuntary commitment was physical evidence of that. But one burning question remained:  How long before my hospitalization was I psychotic/sick?  Was it before I “quit” my job, or afterward?  How long does it take a person to become psychotic? More than three weeks or less than three weeks?

I hired an attorney to find out.

A Case for Involuntary Commitment January 1, 2011

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Involuntary Committment, Medication, Mental Hospital, mental illness.
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As part of my psychotic experience, I believed that I had ESP (extra sensory perception). I thought I had famous people as part of my entourage, hanging on every brilliant “word” coming out of my “mouth”. At first, these conversations took place entirely inside my head, without me uttering a single word.  However, towards the end of my psychotic experience, my need to talk out loud to them became very strong. Too strong to ignore.

Thanking God for Bluetooth technology, I decided that talking out loud to my friends would be mistaken by everyone who witnessed it as simply conversing on the cell phone, as long as I had my “ear bud” in my ear. So I began wearing my “ear bud” everywhere except to bed.

In this section from my memoir (called I Thought I Was A Mermaid), I had just driven to Walmart (really) to go shopping with my (imaginary) friends.

(Note to blog readers: As far as the people with me go, they were a mixed bag. Although I had never met the real Claudia, she was in fact a real person whom I had heard about and wanted to meet.  Mike was actually based on my (real) boss at Mortenson, where I was a project manager on a $55 million ice hockey rink under construction.  Bill Gates needs no introduction, except to say that although I had never met him in real life, my circle of friends (really) included someone who had (really) worked with he and Melinda Gates, his wife, at Microsoft back in the day.

Rolling into the colossal Walmart parking lot, I turned off the key.

Me: Here we are, everyone!

Claudia: I can’t believe how nice the cars are. I thought they’d be all dumpy and old and stuff. But they’re not too bad. Even a Lexus or two.(Note to blog readers: the people I conversed with could see through my eyes, so they saw exactly what I saw).

Bill Gates: I’ve never been to a Walmart before. But I know someone who has. And she’s dying to meet you. Oprah Winfrey, meet Kathy. Kathy, meet Oprah. I was shocked, to put it mildly.

Me: I never expected to meet you in a million years, Ms. Winfrey.

Oprah: Call me Oprah, Kathy.  And it’s very nice to meet you.

Me: It’s nice to meet you also.

Oprah: I’ve been hearing a lot about you, Kathy.  Bill and Melinda Gates are friends of mine. When I heard they knew you, I begged them for an introduction. And it’s so funny that I’d meet you here in a Walmart parking lot. I grew up with Walmart.

***

During my three week involuntary hospitalization (at Fairfax Mental Hospital), I continued to believe that I had ESP. The day I was released from Fairfax, I met my new psychiatrist for the very first time. After my meeting with him, I believed that I talked with him via ESP during my car ride home.

My point is that it took over a month for the medication, initially forced on me during my hospitalization, to finally kick in enough that I no longer believed I had ESP. Without involuntary commitment and its accompanying medication, I would still believe I had ESP and I would still be talking out loud to my imaginary friends. At first I fought tooth and nail, but in the end, involuntary commitment saved my family and I from a terrible fate.