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Multiple Personality Disorder and Psychosis May 14, 2015

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Talking with my two friends with multiple personality disorder (also known as Dissociative Identity Disorder or DID) led me to thinking about the similarities and differences between my psychotic episode and their disorder.
During my psychotic episode, people came into a little room in my head. They sat in a chair and looked through a pane of glass that acted as a window to my world. Looking through the glass, they saw what I saw. They weren’t able to read my mind or know what I was thinking. I conversed with them via esp. Sometimes there was only one person in the room and sometimes there were many. The scary part was that I couldn’t see who was in the room, so I never was sure whether I was alone. The only way I figured out that someone had been in the room when I thought I was alone was when someone said something to me that they only would have known about if they were in the room and I didn’t know they were there. Had they not “slipped up”, I would never have known they were in the room. The fact that they could be in the room without me knowing made me paranoid.
DID means that someone has multiple personalities. Each personality has their own name, own mannerisms, own likes and dislikes, and is an entire person. The person with DID shares their body with these other personalities. With one friend, she goes into a “room” when a particular personality takes over. She is aware of what is going on but powerless to stop anything. With the other person with DID, she disappears entirely and the other person takes over her body. She is not aware of what is going on with the personality that takes over. Each different personality is called an “alter”. One friend has six “alters”, the other nine. Each “alter” is a different age, but they don’t age with the person with DID. Once a six year old, always a six year old. Once a 70 year old, always a 70 year old. Both these women have some men “alters”. These “alters” reside in a room in their heads. One friend’s room is black, with beds for each of their “alters”, complete with nightstands and lamps. Each friend can “feel” the other “alters” even when they’re not taking over their bodies. All the “alters” ask permission to take over before actually taking over. In one friend, the asking for permission is a relatively new thing. Both of my friends are married to two special spouses, who tolerate and are supportive of the “alters.
In my psychotic state, I got comfortable having people inside my “room” all the time. After I got over my paranoia, I started to enjoy the company of the people in my head. They kept me amused and entertained all the time. There was never a dull moment.
As a young woman, my mom made me join a swim team. Every day we had to go to swim team practice. That consisted of jumping in the (usually cold) pool and staring at the bottom of the pool for hours on end, doing laps. Every day was the same.
When I became aware that I was a mermaid during my psychotic break, it became clear that one of my duties as a card-carrying mermaid was swimming. I swam several times a day for several hours at a time. But unlike my time as a swim team member, I wasn’t alone in my mind. There were always interesting people around telling me I was brilliant. I thought deeply about how to solve humanities’ problems, and discussed my lofty ideas with the likes of Oprah Winfrey, the Dalai Lama, and Bill and Melinda Gates. Together we solved the world’s problems as I swam laps for hours several times a day, every day.
With DID, there is a treatment involving “integrating” the various personalities into the DID person’s personality. The idea is that each “alter” sees their own counselor and resolves their issues. As this happens, there is no need for the “alter” to exist anymore, so that “alter” disappears. As each “alter” gets integrated and disappears, that alter in effect dies.
Both friends declined integration therapy. They are so used to having their “alters” in their lives that the thought of losing them terrifies them.
I can relate to how lonely their lives would be without their “alters”. When I began my medication in the mental hospital, at first I didn’t feel anything was changing. But as I kept on the medication regimen, all of the people in my room disappeared. I became lonely inside my head. The individual people who inhabited the room in my head turned into disembodied voices inside my head. They left a huge void in my life, and I missed them terribly at first. I had to stop swimming because it became exceedingly boring again when they were gone.
I can really appreciate how scary the thought of their “alters” going away must be. I only had my “people” for a few months, and I was very attached to them. I can’t imagine a lifetime of relationships ended like that. I understand perfectly why they decline treatment.

“Rules” At Mental Hospital March 5, 2015

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Involuntary Committment, Mental Hospital, Uncategorized.
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Fairfax HospitalNAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) has a few signature programs for people living with a mental illness. One such program is a series of 10 classes called Peer to Peer. The classes are designed to help people with a mental illness understand their illness better and build a fulfilling and satisfying life. All classes and programs are free, and are led by volunteers. The Peer to Peer class is led by two people who are successfully living with a mental illness. NAMI Snohomish County is holding their first ever Peer to Peer class, and last night was Class 9.
In that class, we discussed a stay in the mental hospital, which most people in the room were familiar with, including me. The focus was on the “rules” of the stay. Some are known, and some are not.
One of the biggest “rules” was how long the stay was going to be. Although there are guidelines, there are no hard and fast “rules”. During my hospital stay, I was told by several patients who had been in the revolving door of the hospital that their average stay was 2 weeks. But no one in authority gave me any indication of how long I would be there. When I point blank asked my psychiatrist daily, he was cagey about this point. He wouldn’t even give me a ballpark number. I was held, against my will, in a mental hospital and no one would tell me when I could leave- or even what I had to do in order to be released.
In the days before I was involuntarily committed, I was supposed to be helping my best friend, Becky, move from her home in Washington to Minnesota. But as the day of her move got closer, my psychotic episode worsened. I was supposed to help her drive back to Minnesota the day I was hospitalized. In retrospect, the added stress of her move was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
But the nature of my psychotic break was such that I suppressed the memory of helping her move.
Unfortunately for me, about all my psychiatrist had to go one was this one thread of information. My husband told the people at the hospital emergency room that I was supposed to be helping my friend move, so that’s what went on my chart. My psychiatrist read the chart, and, absent much else, laser focused on that one fact and built a treatment plan around it.
Day after day, my psychiatrist tracked me down and asked me the same question: Who was I supposed to be helping move?
I was bewildered by this question. I had no memory of anyone I knew moving, much less helping anyone move.
After a few weeks of this, I figured out that the answer to the question was my passport out of the place. But I couldn’t figure out the answer, much as I tried. My mind was blank.
Eventually, I came to believe that my husband and sister were having an affair (not true), and that they were keeping me locked up so they could continue. I even told my theory to my psychiatrist, who didn’t seem convinced.
After every one of our “sessions” where he asked me the question, I asked him when I was going to be released. He told me he didn’t know, but that I would be there awhile longer.
I realize now that my psychiatrist was using my ability to remember that event as some kind of “wellness” gauge. In his defense, he had very few tools at his disposal. All he knew was what was written on my chart.
As it turns out, my hospitalization was a good thing, but I didn’t see it that way until months later, when I was in recovery. My civil rights were violated, and no one explained why. There is no written documentation that I was ever told I was being held because I was a danger to myself or others. And although you aren’t supposed to hold someone involuntarily because they don’t remember who they were supposed to be helping to move, that is in fact what happened to me. Oh yeah: and I wore gold clothes.
Apparently my psychiatrist picked up on the fact that I favored gold colored clothes. When I figured this out based on some comments he made, I switched to blue and turquoise colors, and he noticed. But it wasn’t enough to get me released.
Even the day before I was released, my psychiatrist told me I would be there awhile longer after he asked me the question I had no answer for. I didn’t believe my court-appointed attorney when she told me I would be released the next day, because my psychiatrist told me something different that morning. I didn’t know who to believe, so I chose to believe my psychiatrist because I thought he had the most power. As it turns out, he didn’t.
Although I understand the difficulties of treating someone in my condition, I feel my case was mismanaged.

Robin Williams and Suicide August 17, 2014

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robin_williamsIf you haven’t had a brush with suicide, you probably don’t understand how someone like Robin Williams, with so much to live for, could selfishly end his own life. Having had my own brush with suicide, it is easy for me to see how it happened. It all has to do with brain chemistry.

Shortly after I had been released from involuntary commitment at a mental hospital, I had just gone to bed at my parents’ house. Suddenly graphic images appeared out of nowhere. My mind filled with graphic images of my parents’ blood spilled all over the living room. It was clear that in these images I had killed them. I tried to make the images go away, but they overpowered my brain. I became alarmed, not knowing whether this was some premonition or whether the voices were going to take over and make me kill them. I got out of bed and went to my mother, who was watching tv. I told her I was seeing graphic images, but didn’t tell her what they were because I didn’t want to scare her. She woke my dad, and I made them promise that if I told them to call 911 they would, no questions asked. I thought if the desire overpowered me, being locked up in jail would be the best thing. The night passed without incident, but my parents insisted on taking me to see my psychiatrist the following morning.

After I explained to my psychiatrist what was happening, he told me I had a choice. I could return to the mental hospital, or I could take Haldol. He asked me if I had ever heard of Haldol. I hadn’t. But the memory of being locked up was fresh in my mind, and I was loathe to return to the mental hospital. I would try anything to avoid another stay there. In retrospect, I should have returned to the hospital.
My psychiatrist put me on 50 mg of Haldol twice a day. The regular dose of Haldol is 5 mg once a day. But he wanted to get it built up in my system as fast as possible to make the graphic images go away. He didn’t want to take any chances.
Within hours of taking the Haldol, the graphic images disappeared. As I continued the high dosage of Haldol, I gradually, over a period of days, descended into a deep depression. Then it went beyond depression. It became an obsession with dying. I wanted to die worse than I had ever desired anything in my entire life. It was painful to be alive. I had to die to escape the incredible pain of living. I laid around on the couch, trying out various scenarios of ending my life.

During this time, I had absolutely no thought of the consequences of my actions. I was focused on the act of dying, to the exclusion of all else. It wasn’t about my real life at all. I had absolutely no thought about the pain my suicide would inflict on my friends and family. My kids and husband didn’t matter. Nothing mattered except my desire to end my pain by taking my life. It was a powerful itch that I had to scratch. It was like being ravenously hungry and having no food in sight. I wanted to end my life and end it now!
Surprisingly, although I had this insatiable itch, I was averse to telling my psychiatrist about it. I didn’t want to bother him with this trivial matter. It took a lot of persuasion by my husband and sister to get me to call him and tell him about my suicidal thoughts. I was relieved when the call rolled over to his answering machine, because for some reason I didn’t want to bother him. As his voice mail came on, I started to hang up the phone, but my husband insisted that I leave a message. I did. “This is Kathy, and I don’t want to bother you, but I really want to commit suicide.”

Within an hour, he was on the phone with me, telling me to discontinue the Haldol, which he said was the culprit. As the Haldol left my system, my intense desire to end my life dissipated as well.

I understand perfectly Mr. William’s desire. I was there once myself. It’s not about rational thought. It’s about brain chemistry.

l

 

Suicide By Cop Wannabe September 15, 2013

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At 9 am, a handsome, barefoot 60 year old man wearing a hospital gown obviously open in the back wheeled into our group meeting at Fairfax Hospital. His medium frame was covered in scratch marks and black and blue bruises. His dark blue bloodshot eyes were ringed with purple and black. He looked like he had survived a terrible car wreck. He said his name was Chuck.

Chuck explained that he had been bipolar for years, but like many manic-depressives, he never experienced the manic state. He only experienced the depressed state. And alcohol made things much, much worse.  As he sat at a bar in downtown Seattle downing drink after drink, he became increasingly depressed the more he drank. He became so depressed that suicide started to look like his best option. But he was too chicken to do it himself.  He wanted someone to do it for him.  Then it came to him:  he could get a cop to kill him! And so he decided to go the “suicide by cop” route.  His intent was to escalate his bad behavior to such an outrageous, over-the-top point that a cop would be forced to kill him.  He proceeded to put his plan into action,  stirring up quite a scene until at last the cops were called. He fought hard with the cops, trying to force them to kill him.  But instead of killing him, the cops were forced to beat him until they managed to subdue him. Then they hauled his ass to Fairfax.  That outcome wasn’t in his plans at all. He expected to be dead.

Chuck was very angry about being at Fairfax.  Know why?  Because he was supposed to either be dead or ship out on a fishing boat back to Alaska in three days. He clearly wasn’t dead, and it didn’t look like he would be able to make that trip to Alaska. When the boat left, he would remain behind, locked up at the psych ward as an involuntarily committed mental patient. Boy was he pissed!

Clifford Beers and the Mental Health Bell April 24, 2013

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Mental Health BellIn 1900, Clifford Beers, a Yale graduate and young businessman, suffered an acute breakdown brought on by the illness and death of his brother. Shortly after a suicide attempt, Beers was hospitalized in a private Connecticut mental institution. At the mercy of untrained, incompetent attendants, he was subject to degrading treatment and mental and physical abuses.

Beers spent the next few years hospitalized in various institutions, the worst being a state hospital in Middletown, Connecticut. The deplorable treatment he received in these institutions sparked a fearless determination to reform care for individuals with mental illnesses in the United States and abroad.

In 1908, Beers changed mental health care forever with the publication of A Mind That Found Itself, an autobiography chronicling his struggle with mental illness and the shameful state of mental health care in America. The book had an immediate impact, spreading his vision of a massive mental health reform movement across land and oceans.

“I must fight in the open.” Clifford Beers, in 1909, used those words to respond to critics who suggested he start his consumer movement anonymously. During his stays in public and private mental institutions, Beers witnessed and was subjected to horrible abuse. From these experiences, Beers set into motion a reform movement that took shape as Mental Health America.

During the early days of mental health treatment, asylums often restrained people who had mental illnesses with iron chains and shackles around their ankles and wrists. With better understanding and treatments, this cruel practice eventually stopped.

In the early 1950s, Mental Health America issued a call to asylums across the country for their discarded chains and shackles. On April 13, 1956, at the McShane Bell Foundry in Baltimore, Md., Mental Health America melted down these inhumane bindings and recast them into a sign of hope: the Mental Health Bell.

Cast from shackles which bound them, this bell shall ring out hope for the mentally ill and victory over mental illness.

—Inscription on Mental Health Bell

Now the symbol of Mental Health America, the 300 pound Bell serves as a powerful reminder that the invisible chains of misunderstanding and discrimination continue to bind people with mental illnesses.  Today, the Mental Health Bell rings out hope for improving mental health and achieving victory over mental illness.

(Note: A Mind that Found Itself is a free Kindle book on Amazon).

The Case for Insanity April 10, 2013

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The case for insanity is compelling.

I had ESP.  BIll and Melinda Gates, Oprah Winfrey, the Dalai Lama, and numerous others all thought I was a genius.  They fawned over my every idea and were at my beck and call.

God gave me my very own store.  Science Art and More in Seattle contained some merchandise for everyone but most of it was for my eyes only. Scientific concepts that I had formerly believed were known to the general public were actually only presented to me.  Bill Gates offered me a million dollars for a coffee cup in that store with scientific formulas written on it that would solve world hunger.

Bill and Melinda Gates offered me a job at The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. They promised me world travel and millions of dollars, along with a new car and new wardrobe as a signing bonus.

I counted a time-traveler with special abilities as one of my friends.  He went back in time and cleared out parking spaces for me in a crowded mall parking lot. He formulated makeup, designed clothing and made jewelry especially for me and arranged for them to be placed inside a nearby Fred Meyer store for me to find.

I had a shopping buddy- a woman who shopped for outfits with me. She had exquisite taste and I had an unlimited supply of money.

I owned millions of dollars worth of  jewelry, including a 3 carat yellow diamond in a platinum setting, and a priceless abalone bracelet that had once been owned by my (Mermaid) grandmother.

Trees bared their souls to me. I conversed with my (deep-voiced) rat terrier and my friend’s impossibly self-centered cat. I talked with a nasty blood pressure machine in a hospital who craved electricity like people crave food.

Last but not least, I was a genuine mermaid whose real name was Pangaea.  Fish talked to me. I felt the webbing between my toes, which were my fins. I had a beautiful tail whose weight showed up on my scale (accounting for why I weigh more than I look like I weigh).

I was beautiful.  Wealthy. Brilliant.

What’s not to  like about mental illness?

NAMI Connections Support Group March 28, 2013

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I am facilitating my first NAMI Connections support group this coming Thursday, and I’m excited.

NAMI Connections is a signature program of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) in which people with a mental illness meet at regularly scheduled intervals. People come to the group for camaraderie and support from people sharing similar situations. It’s one thing to talk to your friends and relatives about issues concerning your mental illness. It’s quite a different story when you talk with someone in the group who has been through the same situation that is challenging you.

My issue that I talk with at support groups is my inability to hold a regular job, especially doing what I love, which is project management for major construction projects.  I can no longer do that job for several reasons, including the slippage of my I.Q. (due either to the medication I take or simply the damage done by my mental illness) and my inability to successfully manage stress, which that job is full of.

When I talk about how much I miss my old job with my therapist, I call it my “pity party”, which she loathes. She tries to help me through my episodes of self-pity, but she can’t really relate. We’ve talked about this numerous times.  I just couldn’t come to terms with never being able to do the job I love again, despite the fact that my job put me in the mental hospital.

When I tried to talk with my family about this, they couldn’t relate either.  They’re all gainfully employed and don’t seek to gain identity and self-worth through their occupation.  They don’t wake up at 5 a.m. every morning (without an alarm clock) panting to go to work.

Coming to a NAMI Connections support group and meeting a guy who was a Senior Project Manager for Microsoft before he had his nervous breakdown (also called a psychotic break) helped me immensely.  He could relate to my identity crisis because he’d been through a similar situation.  When I talked about self-identifying with a profession, he understood perfectly.  Since he was coping well with this, it inspired me.  When I asked him what he was doing to successfully combat the frustration of not being able to work at his chosen profession, he had some suggestions that he could share from personal experience.

Although he didn’t have a “magic bullet” for me, simply seeing his success gives me hope.

The great thing about a support group for mental illness is that the facilitator doesn’t have to have all the answers.  It’s simply a way for people suffering from their medication side effects or symptoms of their illness to find companionship and understanding from their peers. That’s why it’s called a “peer support group”.

I hope the people who come to my support group get as much out of the experience as I do.

Airport Security and Mental Illness February 28, 2013

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I was recently invited on a “girls weekend” to Arizona, which is about a three hour flight from my house.  My husband bought my airline ticket a few months ago, and I was excited about the trip. Before I left, he printed my boarding pass and handed it to me.  My brother-in-law drove my sister-in-law and me to the airport and dropped us off.  My sister-in-law and I were on the same flight, and together we made it through security, to our gate and to our destination without incident.

On the way back home, my hostess dropped me off at the airport. I was alone and hadn’t printed a boarding pass. I hadn’t traveled alone on an airplane since before I was hospitalized (almost five years ago), and back then you didn’t print the boarding pass from a computer (at least I didn’t).  I managed to figure out how to print the boarding pass at the kiosk and was on my way to the security check point, luggage in tow. Suddenly, the voice returned.

Voice:  They’re going to find something in your luggage. You’re going to be arrested and jailed.

The voice came from outside my head, as if there was a person standing next to me in line.

I fought back.

Me:  I know there’s nothing contraband in my luggage.  I packed my own bag and know exactly what’s in it.

Voice:  They’re going to find something.  Just wait and see.

Me:  No they won’t.

Voice:  Yes they will.

I had been expecting to walk through a scanner, and I was worried about that. Unfortunately, my fate was worse. I realized as I stood in line and watched the people in front of me that Security wasn’t allowing people to walk through the scanner. They were making people put their hands on their head and spread their legs apart as they “wanded” them.  The voice intensified.

Voice (louder and more insistent):  They’re going to find something on you.

Me:  I don’t have anything to hide.

By this time I was shaking and had broken out in a sweat.  I began to worry that security would suspect something was wrong by the way I was behaving.

I knew logically there was nothing in my bags or on my person, and I knew the voice was just figments of my imagination, but that didn’t make it go away.  It intensified as they “wanded” me. The conversation went on like this until I picked up the luggage from the conveyor belt and slipped my shoes back on, which was probably about 15 minutes.

With mental illness, you never know when the symptoms are going to rear their ugly heads.  I know I will never travel alone on an airplane again.

Mental Health Courts January 17, 2013

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Mental health courts link offenders who would ordinarily be prison-bound to long-term community-based treatment. They rely on mental health assessments, individualized treatment plans, and ongoing judicial monitoring to address both the mental health needs of offenders and public safety concerns of communities. 

Mental health courts share characteristics with Crisis Intervention Training (CIT), jail diversion programs, specialized probation and parole caseloads, and a host of other collaborative initiatives intended to address the significant over-representation of people with mental illness in the criminal justice system.

In the early 1980s, Judge Evan Dee Goodman helped establish a court exclusively to deal with mental health matters at Wishard Memorial Hospital in Indianapolis. This court was a dual purpose court. It to handled the probate court needs of people needing to be on a civil commitment for psychiatric treatment and it established a docket to deal with cases of the mentally ill offender who had been arrested on minor charges. This was necessary as the mentally ill were frequently arrested and had charges pending when the treatment providers sought a civil commitment to send their patient for long term psychiatric treatment. Judge Goodman’s court at Wishard Hospital could serve both purposes. The probate part of the mental health court would handle the civil commitment. The criminal docket of the mental health court could handle the arrest charges. The criminal charges could be put on diversion, or hold, allowing the patient’s release from jail custody. The civil commitment would then become effective and the patient could be sent to a state hospital for treatment. Judge Goodman would schedule periodic hearings to learn of the patient’s progress. If warranted, the criminal charges were dismissed, but the patient still had obligations to the civil commitment.

In addition to arranging inpatient treatment, Judge Goodman often put defendants on diversion, or on an outpatient commitment, and ordered them into outpatient treatment. Judge Goodman would have periodic hearings to determine the patient’s compliance with the treatment plan. Patients who did not follow the treatment plan faced sanctions, a modification of the plan, or if they were on diversion their original charge could be set for trial.

Judge Goodman’s concept and the original mental health court were dissolved in the early 1990s.

In the mid-1990s, many of the professional mental health workers who had worked with Judge Goodman sought to re-establish a mental health court in Indianapolis. Representatives of the county’s mental health service providers and other stake holders began meeting weekly. After a couple years of lobbying local authorities the in Marion County, Indiana, the mental health court began as a formal program in 1996. Many consider this to be the nation’s first mental-health court in this second wave of mental health court initiatives. Since the PAIR Program did not operate with any new funds, there was not much scholarly research and therefore the accomplishments of Judge Goodman and the PAIR Program are frequently overlooked. The current PAIR Program is a comprehensive pretrial, post-booking diversion system for mentally ill offenders. A program launched in Broward County, Florida was the first court, to be recognized and published as a specialized mental-health court. Overseen by Judge Ginger Lerner-Wren, the Broward County Mental Health Court was launched in 1997, partially in response to a series of suicides of people with mental illness in the county jail.

Shortly after the establishment of the Broward County Mental Health Court, other mental health courts began to open in jurisdictions around the U.S., launched by practitioners who believed that standard punishments were ineffective when applied to the mentally ill.  In Alaska, for example, the state’s first mental health court (established in Anchorage in 1998) was spearheaded by Judge Stephanie Rhoades, who felt probation alone was inadequate. “I started seeing a lot of people in criminal misdemeanors who were cycling through the system and who simply did not understand their probation conditions or what they were doing in jail. I saw police arresting people in order to get them help. I felt there had to be a better solution,” she explained in an interview. Mental health courts were also inspired by the movement to develop other problem-solving courts, such as drug courts, domestic violence courts, community courts and parole reentry courts. The overarching motivation behind the development of these courts was rising caseloads and increasing frustration — both among the public and among system players — with the standard approach to case processing and case outcomes in state courts. In February 2001, the first juvenile mental-health court opened in Santa Clara, California.

Since 2000, the number of mental health courts has expanded rapidly. There are an estimated 150 courts in the U.S. I was “processed” through my involuntary commitment through King County’s (Washington State) court, one of the first in the nation. Snohomish County (my county in Washington State) just opened theirs in October 2012.

(From Wikipedia)

Chenille: Reality Check Service Dog December 16, 2012

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Delusions, Hallucinations, mental illness, Uncategorized.
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RandyI met the cutest service animal the other day at a mental illness support group. She’s a friendly, bouncy Chihuahua named Chenille.  I never thought about using a service animal for help with mental illness symptoms, but that’s exactly what she is.   She is a reality checker for her master.

As with many people suffering from mental illness, her master’s symptoms include hallucinating. He sees people and things that aren’t there and hears things that aren’t there. Her job is to help him determine what is real and what isn’t.

For example, if there’s someone suddenly sitting in a chair in his living room that he’s never seen before, if she barks he knows it’s a real person.  If she doesn’t react, then he’s seeing someone who isn’t really there.   The same goes with noises.  Dogs are sound-sensitive, and if there’s a lot of racket or unexplained noise, the dog will react to it.  If someone calls his name from another room (and he thinks he’s alone in the house), and she doesn’t react, he knows he is hearing things that aren’t there.

What a relief it is to be able to tell reality from fantasy by using the unbiased opinion of a dog.

People not suffering from mental illness take for granted their ability to tell reality from fantasy every waking moment. They can’t appreciate what a gift it is not to have to questions whether what they see or hear is real.  If the average person sees someone new sitting in their living room, he doesn’t even have to wonder whether that person is really there. But for people with certain forms of a mental illness, they can’t depend on their eyes to know whether that person is real. It is challenging to live in a world where your mind plays tricks on you.  You need help detecting reality. Who better than a dog to do that for you?

Imagine hearing a loud noise coming from the bedroom. Or hearing someone call your name from the room next door that you thought was empty.  There’s no one else with you in the house. Or is there? What would it be like not knowing the answer to that question on a regular basis?  A dog can be a lifesaver.

People who use the “reality challenged” phrase in jest might want to reconsider whether that term is appropriate, given the fact that certain people are living the embodiment of the true meaning of that phrase.  In order to leave a semblance of a normal life, they need a way to tell whether their perceived reality is real.

During the height of my psychotic break with reality, I met someone at a Starbucks for coffee who was probably not real. He was a green-skinned merman who I thought was my long-lost son from 500 years ago. Long story. But the point is that person was as real to me as anyone I have ever met.  I sat across a table and had coffee with him for several hours. Now at this juncture of my life, I realize I was probably one of those people you see who are sitting there in a restaurant talking to someone who isn’t there.  Imagine going through this every single day of your life.  You need an outside, unbiased source to tell you whether that green-skinned merman sitting across from you having coffee is real.  For my part, it never dawned on me that it could be anything but real. But what if it wasn’t?

This use of a service animal is a clever and fascinating way to help people manage the symptoms of certain mental illnesses.  This is the first time I have ever heard of this use. I wonder if more people could be helped by these service animals.