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Stress and Mental Illness (Reprint) March 28, 2011

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in mental illness.

Initially, I was depressed about my upcoming 50th birthday, but not for the usual reasons.  Rather than a celebration of my birth, I wanted to hold a funeral to grieve the part of me that died when I became mentally ill.

When mental illness claimed my mind, it killed a part of me. While I realize that nobody is the same from year to year, my extreme mental changes came from mental illness, first by the psychosis that literally edged me out of my own mind, and then by the drugs that made the voices go away (for the most part) and brought the mental illness more or less under control in part by stripping me of my identity. The core part of my being- my mind- had been altered in a fundamental way. With those changes went my sense of self. I was lost.

But with my counselor/therapist’s assistance, I’ve made tremendous strides to integrate my old self with my new self.  We have been working- she and I- on this integration for several years now, ramping up the effort of late in anticipation of the fallout of mental illness symptoms if we couldn’t get some fundamental building blocks in place to fortify my mind from the meltdown.

The way it works with mental illness, at least with me, is that my mental illness is on one side of the scales, and medication and therapy are on the other side. In a perfect world, the two sides balance each other out, and I’m kept in a relatively “stable” state. But the balance is precarious, and the scales can tip easily from the “neutral” position into manifested mental illness symptoms such as, for me, psychosis and delusions. The trigger for my illness is STRESS. Any kind of stress, good or bad, has the same effect: off I go into psychotic oblivion to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the amount of stress.

The fact that I have been able to realize this in myself is due in a large measure to a great therapist and to a lesser degree a lot of hard work on my part. Now that I understand the enormous role that stress plays on my mental well-being, and how a minor or major dose of it destabilizes me,  I am learning to anticipate and address those events in advance (as much as possible) that will trigger the stress.

My earlier blog entry about my funeral, planned out to the very last detail, was part of my therapy. Designed to acknowledge the real loss of a large part of who I used to be, it allowed me to mentally play out the grieving process in a physical way, and to come to terms with acknowledging that grief in a very public fashion, complete with the black clothes and even an obituary. Taking me through that grieving process, holding my hand (figuratively) allowed us – my therapist and me- to enter that scary room of grief together and allowed me to look that grief squarely in the eye.

Allowing the grief to wash over me, and even embracing that grief, gave me the strength and knowledge I needed to come to terms with that grief, thus dissipating some of the fear that it would and already had consumed me. Dissipating the grief also dissipated the stress, like pushing a pressure relief valve allowed the steam that would burn my skin to safely vent into the atmosphere without harming me.

With my therapist’s help, I pushed past the grief, more or less, arriving on the other side without caving into either a minor or major full-blown episode of mania or psychosis. At least for now, my sanity- such as it is- is safe. That’s what a lot of hard work and a good therapist can do.  Happy Birthday To Me!





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