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Airplanes and Mental Illness May 31, 2017

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Anxiety, Delusions, Hearing Voices, mental illness, Stress, Uncategorized.
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Ever since my psychotic break back in 2008, my world has shrunk. Due to my reduced mental capacity either from the damage done to my brain from the break itself, or the side effects of the medication I take, I am no longer able to process information as quickly as I used to. Trying to think is sometimes like trying to punch a hole through a wet blanket with my fist. The end result is that situations that used to be routine, such as flying so, are no longer so.

Also, to compound the situation, when I get under stress, I hear voices. They sound like telepathy, coming from inside my head. They are genderless and speak in American English. I am well aware that they are a figment of my imagination, but that doesn’t mean I can control them. Far from it. They come on gradually as the stress builds and leave a few minutes after the stress is over. If I took enough medication to never hear them, I would be comatose. I choose instead to avoid stress as much as possible. Between the foggy thinking and stress avoidance, my world shrank considerably.

The dangers of travelling alone were confirmed a few years ago when I flew to Seattle from Phoenix. The trouble started as I approached the security line. At first the voices were just a whisper, telling me that they would find contraband in my luggage. The voices told me I would be arrested and jailed when they found it. I knew I had no contraband because I had packed my luggage myself. But that didn’t stop the voices. The closer I got to the xray machine, the louder the voices got. As the TSA agents began waving a metal detector around my body, the voices got so loud that I could barely concentrate on my surroundings. Within minutes of completing the security check, the voices disappeared, leaving me with a desire to avoid travelling by myself any more.

Five years later, my husband and I planned a trip to Europe for July 2016. To speed up the process of going through security, we obtained our TSA Pre Check clearance. At the airport in July, I was pleased that a reduction in scrutiny by TSA resulted in substantially reduced stress, which meant a huge reduction in hearing voices.

Recently, my husband had the opportunity to spend a few weeks in New Jersey. The timeframe included Memorial Day 2017. He asked me to join him for that long weekend, but because of the previous event, I declined.

But a subsequent discussion with my sister in law worked out the challenges at the Seattle end. Then my husband worked out all the challenges except one at the New Jersey end. The only challenge remaining was getting from the hotel to the airport for my return trip to Seattle. I decided to brave the unknown, fight through the mental fog and stress and go on the trip, pinning my hopes on Uber to return me to the airport in time to catch my flight.

Uber came through beautifully, and my TSA precheck allowed me once again to avoid hearing most of the voices. The adventure was a success, and I am looking forward to flying solo in the near future. My world is expanding.

Mental Illness and Smoking July 29, 2010

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Mental Hospital, mental illness, Mental Illness and Medication, Smoking and Mental Illness, Stress.
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Not a smoker myself, I had the luxury of watching the etiquette of cigarette smoking unveiled right before my very eyes as I roamed the small courtyard at our 15 minute cigarette breaks during my three week stay at “Hotel Fairfax”, the mental hospital.

Without the luxury of time afforded their rich brethren with their ready-made cigarettes like Camel and Virginia Slims, the homeless patients- who comprised more than half the mental hospital population- managed to use their ingenuity and creativity to make cigarette rolling into an art form, combining speed and efficiency.  It was fascinating to watch a patient impress his rolling technique with his own personality. Some rollers – mostly men- fancied thick, squatty joint-looking rolls. Others- mostly women- preferred thinner, more ladylike looking cigarettes. Each cigarette had its own distinct look. It was amazing how much variety could be squeezed out of the same ingredients. Who knew that tobacco and rolling paper could be formed into so many individual shapes while still retaining their purpose?

As a nonsmoker, I was initially offended by this dichotomy: serving cancer sticks to the ill seemed morally bankrupt. Later on, I came to understand the stabilizing influence of tobacco. Its anti-anxiety effects became crystal clear to me as I watched the nicotine-deprived mentally ill patients visibly calm down after the administration of a cigarette or two.  Forcing a psychotic patient to suddenly stop smoking was not good medicine, I came to realize. Besides, if the nicotine was looked upon as an anti-anxiety drug, then its administration to a suicidal patient became an action similar to administration of morphine to a cancer patient. Side effects, in other words, are relative.

Watching the daily calming influence of nicotine became a siren call for me to take up smoking, much to my husband’s chagrin.  His daily visits, usually during smoke breaks, were spent watching me learn to roll cigarettes, and then having to listen to my explanation of why I was going to start smoking. To his credit, he neither discouraged nor encouraged me, sensing that any direction whatsoever to a psychotic mentally ill person- especially his wife- would be useless and even counter-productive.

My announcement to the nursing staff of my intention to start smoking was met with less than enthusiasm. The nursing staff, viewing my intentions as simply another manifestation of my mental illness, did everything they could think of to discourage me from lighting up. But the reality was that the same tobacco and rolling paper the homeless used was also available to anyone who wanted to start smoking. Even me.

My anxiety, from the medications as well as the illness, was enormous. Unbearable, even. It was so awful that I would do anything, try anything, to alleviate as much anxiety as I could.  The prospect of dying of lung cancer paled compared to the anxiety of desperately wanting to crawl out of my skin. If smoking would relieve even a small portion of that horrible anxiety, I reasoned, then the price was more than worth it.

While not outrightly engaging in any sort of discriminatory behavior, the nursing staff nevertheless managed to communicate their dislike of smoking, stopping short of suggesting to the smokers that it might be a good time to quit. They realized the very strong stabilizing effect of tobacco on their charges’ psyche. But while they didn’t actively engage in trying to get people to stop smoking, Hell was going to freeze over before they were going to allow a non-smoking patient to take up smoking.

Their first line of defense was to try to reason with me.  Didn’t I realize that the reason the drug (tobacco) calmed people down was because it was a “fix” from the habit of smoking? That it really didn’t alleviate anxiety like the anti-anxiety pills did?

But I wasn’t buying any of their bullshit. They were lying to me.  I was convinced the drug really was like an extra dose of the anti-anxiety pills. Besides, the doctors limited the number of pills we could take, but not the number of cigarettes we could smoke. It was, I believed, like getting an extra dose of Klonopin.  Besides, all my new friends smoked.

In the end, I couldn’t make my mind up whether to start before I was discharged from the hospital. Once out of the smoking environment, I totally forgot about my desire to take up smoking. Besides, the tools- the tobacco, paper, and rolling machine- were no longer at my fingertips.

M medication is stabilized and I no longer have that incredible surge of anxiety through my system…most of the time.  Although I am glad that I never took the habit up, I no longer pass judgment on the smokers of the world.

Milton Bradley and Mental Illness May 6, 2010

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in mental illness, Stress, Uncategorized.
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Here in Seattle, a huge public display of bizarre behavior by one of our premier ball players has eclipsed the poor record of our baseball team.

Milton Bradley, the tossed around outfielder with a track record of 8 clubs in 10 seasons, has finally admitted that his problems on the field go deeper than simply a case of bad behavior.  His meltdowns,  seen for years as a case of boorish, selfish and childish behavior, are now being speculated as a symptom of a much deeper problem: mental illness.

It’s a rather ironic situation, actually. Those of us familiar with the role stress plays in bringing out the worst symptoms of mental illness realize that the catalyst for Bradley’s recent meltdown can likely be found in the extreme amount of stress he put upon himself trying to help the Mariners  out of the hole they ‘re in.  With some of the best statistics on the team, he looked upon himself as their savior, and when he couldn’t pull through (as in the strikeout looking for a bases loaded at-bat in the 6th inning), the stress was too much. Bizarre behavior, which is a symptom of mental illness, followed the chemical changes to the brain caused by the intense amount of stress.

In Bradley’s case, it appears that his bizarre behavior has always escalated when he was put under pressure. The more pressure he is under, the more bizarre his behavior.  Everyone acknowledges that Bradley’s behavior is way outside the norm, but because it’s negative rather than benign behavior, it’s perceived as “angry” rather than “crazy”.  But who walks off the field in the middle of a baseball game, in violation of every written and unwritten rule of baseball? A crazy person.

The next chapter in this saga is what happens next.  Bradley has, according to management, asked for help. Tellingly, he is having psychological testing done as this is being written, in an attempt to identify exactly what type of mental illness, if any, he has and to come up with treatment options.

Because of the tremendous amount of shame associated with mental illness, it is very brave of Bradley to come out with his plea for help, even at this late date.  He could easily have done as he did in the past and simply ignore the situation.

In all of the material I have read on him, I have never encountered any written record of him seeking out help from mental health professionals for his behavior problems, though there have been a few articles speculating that he has Borderline Personality Disorder.  So this recent cry for help is his attempt at turning over a new leaf.  Publicly acknowledging the possibility of having a mental illness, which is what he is doing, is not to be taken lightly.  Stigma against mental illness is deep and steep, especially in such a male-dominated profession as baseball, which is probably why he never sought help before.

I for one am excited at the thought of a Bradley who is medicated to the point of rational behavior. This Bradley will be far more equipped to give the team what they really need: stability.  Good luck, Milton.

STRESS and Mental Illness November 27, 2009

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Delusions, mental illness, Stress, Therapy.
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Initially, I was depressed about my upcoming 50th birthday (see blog entry My (Fake) Funeral), 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 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 recent 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 months 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 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. 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 that will trigger the stress.

The 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!

The Job that Took My Mind Part 4 November 8, 2009

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Delusions, ESP, Hearing Voices, mental illness, Stress.
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A few hours before I held my job hostage with Ben, Marvin had assigned me the task of unraveling how much money we owed the prefabricated stadium stairs subcontractor, who was threatening to leave the project because he hadn’t been paid enough money. My job was unravel all of the revisions and come to an understanding of how much money I thought M Construction truly owed him. I was supposed to have the assignment complete before Marvin’s Monday morning (May 4th) meeting with the subcontractor.

Believing that I was still employed by M Construction, I drove to the jobsite on Saturday, May 2nd, in order to complete my assignment from Marvin. When I arrived at my desk, my computer password had been changed. Panicked, I called Mark explaining that I had done what he and John N. told me to do and held my j ob hostage. After hearing the story, I asked him what he was going to do about it. He told me that I needed to find a new job, since I had quit mine. I argued with him, reminding him of the direction I received from him via ESP. He ended the conversation without providing me with an answer to my question.

After I hung up the phone,  Ben arrived at the jobsite and I asked him why I couldn’t get into my computer. He explained that I had quit. I argued with him, explaining that he needed to give me more help. Finally, after arguing with me for several minutes,  he told me to gather up my things so he could drive me home. He drove me home in my company car, helped me unload my things from the car, and drove away as my husband stood watching the whole thing. When my husband asked me what was going on,  I told him there had been a mistake, and that somehow Ben had the impression that I had quit. I assured him this wasn’t the case, and that I would be returning to work very soon.

The following week, I waited around the house for the anticipated call from John N that would tell me to report back to the jobsite. Several days elapsed without a word from John or anyone else at M Construction. Wednesday morning (May 6th), John directed me (via ESP) to call him so he could give me permission to return to work. So on Wednesday, May 6, 2008, I called John (as he requested via ESP), asking him when I was returning and reminding him of our conversation via ESP. He explained that I had quit my job and that he had replaced me. At first, I argued with John, until he began explaining (via ESP) that he needed a little more time to arrange things. Hanging up the phone with John, I believed that my return was imminent.

As a Mermaid, my life revolved around the water. I swam at the local YMCA pool several times a day, and took occasional trips to the local beach where I would wade around in the (very cold) water to “refresh” myself. I began eating sea shells and wearing them inside my clothing and in my (new) purses. I also began to observe that many of my fellow swimmers were also Mermaids. I could tell them from their (slightly) green skin, although I didn’t confront them about that point.  At the pool, I met a (real, as far as I can tell now) writer named Dan DeLion who insisted that we meet for a cup of coffee at Starbucks. He told me he owned an intergalactic baseball team, and then proceeded to show me the baseball cards of the individual players on the team.

As the voices became higher in decibal and more numerous, I became more and more distracted by them and less focused on the real world around me. I became increasingly more annoyed that the various voices in my head refused to leave me alone. Finally, I got fed up and on May 8th, 2008 I consulted my primary care physician, Dr. Paul, about the whole situation. After I told him that I was hearing voices (but not the extent of the problem), he wrote out a referral to a psychiatrist. But the voices were insistent that I didn’t need to see a psychiatrist because 1. I wasn’t crazy and 2. I didn’t want anyone else thinking I was crazy. So I never made the appointment.

The Job that Took My Mind Part 3 November 7, 2009

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Delusions, ESP, Hearing Voices, mental illness, Stress.
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My delusion began in February 2008, when I began hearing voices in my head as I was driving to work. Believing that I had acquired the gift of ESP, I was surprised and thrilled to learn that I could communicate via ESP with my boss Mark and his boss John N. As I believed that I was communicating directly with each of them, I also believed that they were each fully aware of the challenges I was facing on a daily basis as I did my best to put the construction claim against the owner together.

As the pressure to perform increased, my stress level increased accordingly. I learned that I was- and always had been-  a mermaid named Pangea.  I communicated via ESP with powerful people, who hung on my every word. The Dalai Lama, Bill and Melinda Gates, and Oprah Winfrey were part of my inner circle, as well as various people I worked with (including Mark and John N.). I talked with fish, dogs, and cats. I began spending money on clothes and plants.

As I sat in John N’s office in mid March 2008, I turned over the $2 million claim to him, which by that time included 15 four inch binders, numerous as-built plans, and an “as-built” project schedule. Receiving my claim, he told me, for the first time, what my new project was, directing me to report for work the following morning at the ice rink. I was shocked that I received no real recognition for my efforts. No thank you, no gift certificate, no nothing for the job I busted my ass for.  Just “Report to a new job tomorrow morning”.

My new job was  managing what is called the Structures Package on a brand new ice hockey rink in a city an hour (in good traffic) from my house (one-way). The installation of the concrete work, including the stadium steps and ice rink floor would be part of my job, as well as installation of the “cat walk”, the bridging system high above the rink that contained the cameras, tv screen, and all of the other electronic gear you see at various arenas. The entire Structures package, I had been told, was valued at $11 million.

Arriving at the new ice rink jobsite the following morning, I learned that Marvin, a man employed by M Construction but supposedly the owner’s representative, made the unilateral decision months before that M Construction’s project superintendent would do double duty, acting as the guy overseeing the entire $55 million project as well as the guy responsible for my $11 million contract. I realized immediately that each job (managing the entire project and managing the Structures package) would require its own superintendent, and that trying to save money by using the same guy for both jobs was a foolish thing to do. The net effect was that the Structures package was given almost no attention by the superintendent because he was involved in the overall picture rather that the minutia. I couldn’t believe it!

I gave my (unasked-for) opinion of that arrangement and requested permission to hire my own crew. I also asked for a copy of the subcontract for my scope of work so that I could understand the nature, scope, and price of my subcontract. Ben refused both requests.

In late March 2008, the President of the entire company, Tom, visited the jobsite and spent 30 seconds talking to me. He immediately joined my entourage of people who talked with me via ESP.  At around that same time frame, I began to realize why Marvin kept the job so short-staffed. It became crystal clear that he was embezzling large sums of money from the company.The best way to get away with it, I realized, was to keep everyone at the jobsite so short-staffed that they couldn’t keep track of what he was doing.  It was a perfect set-up, and explained why he was running the job so short-handed and burning out people right and left. When I explained (via ESP) to Mark, John N., and Tom what Marvin was doing and how he was doing it as well as how to catch him at it, they thanked me (via ESP).  Assuring me they would work behind the scenes to apprehend Marvin, they asked me not to worry about it any more.

Meanwhile, the stress of trying to run a job short-handed continued to eat away at me and the people around me. No matter how hard we all worked- weekends and late into the evenings- it was never enough. I made no secret of my failings, keeping Ben apprised of the fact that I was falling further and further behind. I told him that I had 140 unopened emails. Still he did nothing to reduce my work load.

Realizing that they couldn’t interfere directly in the Kent project, Mark  and John N. told me (via ESP) that they had hatched a plan so I could get the help I needed. They directed me (via ESP) to hold my job hostage by threatening to quit. They said to tell Ben that I had a job offer from a competing company, and that the second I made the threat, Ben would get me the authority I needed to perform my job. I had been begging Ben for my own superintendent and 2 project engineers so I could get on top of the structures package work since I had arrived at the job in the middle of March 2008.

At Mark and John’s direction (via ESP), on Thursday, May 1, 2008, I walked into Ben’s office and shut the door. I explained that although I had another job offer, I wanted to remain there as long as I could have the authority of a true project manager for the Strutures package.

In shock, Ben told me he would check with Marvin, the Construction Executive. I took this as a good sign. Returning to my office half an hour later, Ben told me that he talked with Marvin and that everything was taken care of. Interpreting that statement to mean that I would be getting the authority I needed, I began fielding calls from various co-workers calling to ask if the rumors of my imminent departure were true. I explained they were not true. Thursday afternoon (May 1st), Ben told me to call John N. to set up my exit interview. Via ESP,  John N. told me the interview was just a formality, and not to worry because he was working behind the scenes on my behalf. At the interview,  the real John asked me to stay on for 2 weeks while he found a replacement. Believing that this was his way of buying time so he could work behind the scenes, I agreed.

Guest Blogger: Mental Illness Can Happen to Anyone (even you!) November 6, 2009

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Stress, Trauma.
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People often think of mental illness as a black or white, yes or no question.  But in reality, to be human is to have issues.  And the cold, hard, truth is that mental illness can happen to anyone.  Yes, absolutely anyone – including you.

Mental illness occurs when certain characteristics line up in what becomes the proverbial “perfect storm.”  Many factors combine to create chaos in the life of a person to the extent that they go over the edge unless some preventative measures are taken.  While there are characteristics and environmental factors that play starring roles, usually one of the superstars of the charade of mental illness is stress.  This is why, for example, many people snap during wars.  The monumental weight of the stress is the equivalent of carrying a huge load of bricks on your back.  The weight starts out to be a bit heavy, then as more and more bricks are added, the person crumbles to the ground in a heap due to the stress. The same happens with our mental states.

You can think of life stress as bricks.  Some of the bricks are heavier and larger than others, just like in real life.  And of course a certain degree of stress is good, just like weight lifting which makes you stronger if done properly.   But eventually you become overloaded, and begin to tell people you are “stressed out.”  Your relationship, job, health, and/or financial situation is getting more and more bleak, and you begin to crack.

This is where other parts of the equation of mental illness come into play.   A major one is trauma – especially major types like child abuse.  Some psychiatrists believe that with each incident of trauma, the brain and body chemistry changes.  Of course there is no such thing as a perfect parent, but the more yelling, screaming, controlling, and/or physical violence that occurs (or witnessed by the child these even if he or she child is not the target), the greater the degree of trauma.  Of course sexual abuse also takes an especially enormous toll.

Another starring role in the complex equation of the development of a mental illness is that of genetics.  Just as many physical illnesses can be inherited, so can mental illnesses.  Some examples of this are depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, as well as many others.

Social support strength is another major role in the spectrum of mental illness.  In other words, a solid foundation of friends and family can insulate the person from the effects of stress.  If a person has a deficit in this area, he is more likely to develop a mental illness.

These are some of the key characters in the onset of mental illness, and why we are all vulnerable.  No one is immune.  For these reasons, maybe it is time to stop the jokes about “crazy people.”  Maybe it is time to carefully analyze our lives to see if we are under too much stress.  And in our busy, fast-paced society, maybe it is time to carefully re-evaluate our priorites.   After all, it could happen to anyone – yes, even you.

Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA, LMHC, is a mental health counselor practicing in Woodinville, WA.  She has walked alongside a close family member who was diagnosed with a chronic mental illness.  Visit her web site at www.notjustsymptoms.com or her blog at http://cherriemac.wordpress.com.