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January 3, 2014

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in mental illness.
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1 comment so far

(from a blog posted by my friend Bowling Joe)

My friend Kathy Chiles and I go way back.  As teenagers we met on Maui, Hawaii as our respective fathers were part of a two-year construction project which imported a bunch of workers and their families from Washington State.  Being uprooted from a stable teenage life and tossed into a public high school on Maui at age thirteen in 1974 was one of the worst years of my life.

I’m guessing it wasn’t great for Kathy either, but it it’s hardly a blip on her life experience radar compared to what she and her family went through in recent years.  She believed with all of her heart and mind that she was a mermaid.  Not just any mermaid though.  A mermaid who bought luxury items her family couldn’t afford.  A mermaid who had the gift of ESP and was able to communicate with the likes of Bill and Melinda Gates, as well as the Dalai Lama.  Eventually she was involuntarily committed to a mental hospital, as things were on the verge of getting really, really bad.

She recently wrote an incredible and noteworthy book about her experiences, called Pangaea:  Confessions of an Erstwhile MermaidIt’s a fascinating read and has been a true learning experience for someone like me, whose knowledge of mental illness has been primarily driven by what I’ve seen on TV and in the movies.  (Spoiler alert:  it’s NOT at all like what you’ve seen on TV and in the movies).

Kathy’s book is available for download on Amazon or Nook. http://www.amazon.com/Pangaea-Confessions-Erstwhile-Kathy-Chiles-ebook/dp/B00BZZ8R18. Barnes & Noble noon: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/pangaea-kathy-chiles/1115285887?ean=2940016728599.
I recently asked her a few questions about her book and experiences.Spence JPG file for book cover  3 23 13

What motivated you to write this book?

The idea of writing my book came from my mom.  When I got out of the hospital and went to their house so they could “babysit” me while my husband was on a Boy Scout outing, I told both my parents some of the psychotic thoughts I was having.  She and Dad were initially afraid, and she suggested I write them down so I would remember them later. Then, later on, she complained that when I went into the hospital she looked for books and resources to get an understanding of what might lay ahead of them, but there was nothing out there.
The only book remotely close was An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jameson. But that book wasn’t really pertinent to my situation as she saw it.  So once my ability to read and write returned, she suggested I write something that would instruct people on what to expect when their loved one became mentally ill.  I did some research and learned that she was right.  There isn’t anything out there like what I was able to write.

You seem to have a crystal clear recollection of what took place on your journey.  Did you paraphrase your words on occasion or do you really have a brilliant sense of recalling situations?

Initially, my memory was so bad that I couldn’t figure out how I had ended up in the mental hospital in the first place. My brain simply had hidden the information about the zombies in the pool from me.  The zombies were, of course, what drove me to go to the hospital emergency room which led to my subsequent involuntary commitment. Once I was committed, the psychiatrist kept asking me who I had been helping to move before my commitment.  I couldn’t figure out what he was talking about. 

Once I began writing my thoughts and memories down, it was as if the blanket slowly lifted.  The more I wrote the more I remembered. It was therapy.  In the end, it was like sitting down in my living room and watching a movie and writing down what I saw. Easy as pie.  It was all crystal clear once the memory surfaced.  Then, at the hospital, I met so many interesting people that it was easy to remember them.  I have been told that having a psychotic break is like being on LSD, and I think this accounts for some of the clarity of memory. 

Mental illness is getting more mainstream press these days, probably due to many tragic occurrences involving weapons.  What are some things we can do as a society to help further enhance awareness of what mental illness really is and approach the level of attention that a disease such as breast cancer receives?

The problem with mental illness is that the tremendous stigma attached to having a mental illness keeps people from getting help.  Also, the nature of the illness itself precludes people from getting help, because one of the symptoms of the illness is a failure to understand that you are sick.  It’s called anosognosia. 

One of the other problems is that people’s civil rights get in the way of treatment.  There’s no way around the fact that involuntary commitment is the ultimate violation of civil rights.  The law makes it almost impossible to involuntarily commit people, and when they do they don’t keep them long enough for adequate treatment.  A hospital stay is driven by the number of beds available and the insurance of the person being committed.  Ideally, we would make it socially acceptable to seek treatment and get someone involuntarily committed and keep them long enough for their medication to fully take effect.  This means months of treatment rather than the two weeks currently in vogue. 

Had the stigma not been so great, I could have avoided a hospital stay.  When the voices took over my mind, I went to my physician and got a referral to a psychiatrist, but the voices convinced me it would ruin my life if I went.  They said my bosses would find out and fire me.  So I didn’t seek treatment and ended up hospitalized involuntarily.

But things are getting better as far as stigma goes, and people like Katherine Zeta Jones are proof of that.  Her voluntary commitment to a mental hospital hasn’t seemed to affect her career.  Her brave action might help others seek the help they need.

What would you say are the most common misconceptions people might have about mental illness?

In terms of involuntary commitment or even voluntary commitment, people have the impression that once you’re released you’re “fixed”.  But it takes months for the medication to build up enough in your system to get the symptoms under control.  My family is surprised that it took me so long to get rid of the voices.  And in reality, I still hear them when I get under stress.  So the thought that I will eventually be “disease free” is a misnomer. 

How have your relationships with family and friends changed since your diagnosis and subsequent stabilization?

One of the things my medication does is change my personality.  I don’t have the ups and downs that normal people have.  I am stuck in “neutral”, neither high nor low.  And being stuck in neutral means that my personality changed.  Compared to before, I am now boring and predictable.

Additionally, I have changed my personality as a result of my illness. I was a risk-taker and a workaholic before I became ill.  Now I am neither.  I can’t be a risk-taker any more, since with risk comes stress. Stress brings back the voices. The voices don’t bother me, but they bother the people around me. My psychiatrist is especially bothered by them, but I refuse to take so much medication to eliminate them that I am comatose, which is what it would take.

Changing my behavior and my occupation also changed my interests, and with that change came new friends.  I have mostly dropped my old friends, having nothing in common with them except memories.  I don’t face the same daily challenges I did before I was ill, so I can’t relate to my old friends any more.

Having very few challenges in my life (to avoid stress) also changes my personality.  I have been told I was a steamroller/bitch before I became ill, and that I am much more pleasant to be around nowadays. That is all to the good.

I have met many new friends through my association with NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), an organization I learned about in the mental hospital.  I can relate to these people better than “normal” people, since we share similar experiences.  Talking with someone about the challenges of hearing voices is comforting.  I feel I’m not alone.  And friends and family members whose loved ones are mentally ill have been especially kind to me.

Do you have any challenging side effects as a result of the medications you use?

When I first left the hospital, I couldn’t read or write.  My balance was off, my hands shook and I couldn’t drive because I couldn’t get up to the speed limit or determine the distance between my car and the car in front of me.  These side effects have mostly resolved, and I am left with short term and long term memory problems and sleep problems.  Sleep is critical to me because without proper sleep I will become psychotic again according to my psychiatrist.  The biggest side effect I have is that I can’t retain information or understand information like I did before I became ill.  I prided myself on my high IQ before, but I have lost that. Remember the book “Flowers for Algernon“?  That’s kind of what I feel like.  It takes me a long time to understand concepts now, and in some cases I simply give up.
According to my psychiatrist, that could be due to my medication or the changes in my brain chemistry caused by the mental illness. Either way, it’s not going to resolve itself.  I’m stuck this way.  It was initially depressing, but the further I get from my pre-high IQ self, the more my memory fades of what it used to be like to instantly grasp and retain information and process multiple thoughts simultaneously.  Those things made me very good at my job, and i was paid well for my skill.  It has been quite an adjustment to get used to my “new normal”.   If I could return to my old life, I would in a heartbeat.  But that world is closed to me now.

Are you involved with any organizations which promote education, funding or treatment or mental illness?

My family and I first learned about NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) when I was discharged from the mental hospital.  They recommended I attend the weekly group therapy meetings (called Connections) held by NAMI.  I went to them, and found them important in my recovery.  Relating to people with similar problems helps. Sometimes I learn about successful solutions from someone who went through what I went through.  It’s amazing how many people hear voices, although the term “hearing voices” has many different variations.  It’s fascinating to learn about other people successfully (or not) meeting the challenges of living with a mental illness.

I now co-facilitate a Connections group in Everett, WA.  I also speak to people about what it’s like to live with a mental illness through a program called In Our Own Voice.  Additionally, once a year NAMI meets with police officers and educates them on how to handle mentally ill people they run into during the course of their work.  This is called CIT (Crisis Intervention Training) and is designed to keep police officers from accidentally killing people in the throes of a psychotic break as well as to keep mentally ill people out of prison or jail when possible.

We also go to Olympia, WA during Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday to lobby legislators on behalf of mental illness issues. NAMI’s purpose is to make the world a better place for those living with a mental illness and their friends and loved ones.

One of the best examples of what NAMI accomplished is the new “parity” law, which says that insurance companies who pay for regular hospital stays must pay for mental hospital stays to that same degree, Also, Washington State is making it easier to involuntarily commit people by allowing the Designated Mental Health Professionals (who assess people for involuntary commitment) to gather information from friends and loved ones and other interested parties of those being assessed.  Previously none of the bizarre behavior witnessed by others could be taken into account for assessment purposes. 

Also, a certain percentage of taxes must go towards mental illness, and that money is spent on mental health issues.  This is resulting in things like Mental Health Court and Triage Facilities (places to handle the mentally ill without entering the criminal system).  There are more beds being built right now in King and Snohomish Counties.  None of these things would have happened without NAMI. 

Book Review: Surviving Manic Depression by E. Fuller Torrey September 3, 2012

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Bipolar Disorder, Book Reviews.
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I just finished reading Surviving Manic Depression: A Manual on Bipolar Disorder for Patients, Families, and Providers by E. Fuller Torrey, M.D. and Michael B. Knable, D.O.   I’ve read books devoted to exploring Bipolar Disorder, but none of them hold a candle to this one.  I heard about this book when a gentleman from NAMI graciously provided me with the name of this book after I asked him how Manic Depression re-branded itself to “Bipolar Disorder”.  Dr. Torrey meticulously wades through society’s current beliefs, making a compelling argument that Manic-Depressive is a more accurate term and should be brought back into general use.  Besides providing an excellent platform for his argument, the book delivers on many different levels.

I found my hardcover copy at Amazon.com, for about $4 plus $4 in shipping in the Used Books section.  The publication date of my copy is 2003, but there is a 2005 paperback version that I can’t speak to. Anyone with information on the newer book is welcome to send me your thoughts. I’d love to hear them.

Dr. Torry wrote his first book on Schizophrenia (which I haven’t read yet), which qualifies him to compare the two illnesses with authority.  He takes advantage of his knowledge to bring his audience on an expedition to explore those differences in great depth.  When I finished the book, I had a better working knowledge of Schizophrenia, which I wasn’t expecting from a book on Manic Depression.

My only complaint is that he doesn’t really get into depth on definitions until Chapter 3, and I would have liked to see that done right up front in Chapter 1.

Risk factors, causes, medications, and treatment strategies are all areas I’ve found in other books, but this one is done better than most I’ve read. He uses the lens of the Scientific Method to standardize knowledge, allowing him to easily gut some of the urban myths that have grown up around Manic Depression, while moving others from that urban myth category into reality. No sleight-of-hand here.

The coup d’gras is the appendix section. It’s amazing. He’s done a review on every major book I’ve ever heard of having to do with manic depression as well as on ones I never would have known about any other way. He’s reviewed websites, and in the process opened my eyes up to organizations I’ve never heard of but want to explore now that I know about them.  This part, at the very end of the book, is worth the price of the book. He wraps up the book by declaring that we need a 21st century Dorothea Dix- someone to research and meticulously take note of the existing system and shine a public spotlight on the broken parts.  I couldn’t agree more.

ADHD Is A Mental Illness September 21, 2011

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Depression, mental illness.
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It’s amazing how many people split hairs when it comes to having a mental illness.  Take the cases of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and depression, for example.

Although the National Institute for Mental Health considers ADHD to be a mental illness, few parents would put it in the same category as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder- what they perceive to be “real” mental illnesses. But that’s where it belongs.

I know that when my elementary aged child received the diagnosis of ADHD a number of years ago, I didn’t put that illness in the same category as a mental illness, and neither did my son’s doctor. That thought was the furthest from my mind. Had I identified ADD as a mental illness, things would have been different.

I wouldn’t have been so forthcoming about his illness, since the shame and stigma of a mental illness would automatically follow my son’s new identity as a mentally ill child.   I would have vehemently disagreed with anyone who tried to tell me that my child’s brain chemistry problem shared many of the same characteristics as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.  Hell, I hadn’t even heard of bipolar disorder back then, and schizophrenia to me was a scary, violent disease that people needed to be locked up for.  That was my perception of reality back then.

I have since met parents whose children have been diagnosed with schizophrenia, and I realize the fallacy of my previous assumptions.  And then there’s the new reality that bipolar disorder is in fact diagnosable in children, contrary to what people perceived even ten years ago.  In fact, scientists are now learning that many cases of  bipolar disorder have been misdiagnosed as ADHD.

Things are not so black and white any more.  There’s a lot of gray in the world of mental illnesses.

According to the National Institute for Mental Health, somewhere between 3% to 8% of children suffer from ADHD.  About 1% of the population suffers from schizophrenia. Bipolar disorder occurs in about 4% of the population.  And about 8% of people suffer from major depression in any given year.

That’s a lot of people with mental illnesses.

Splitting hairs, separating depression and ADHD from “real” mental illnesses, has done no favors to those suffering from all mental illnesses.  Were the umbrella reflective of real statistics, there would be much more money and energy available for studying more mental illnesses. It is difficult to sweep 20% of all people into the “mentally ill” category and not change people’s perception of mental illness. Let’s expand our minds to include mental illnesses like ADHD and depression in the category of “real” mental illnesses.  It would make the world a much better place.

Note: Sarah sent an interesting article regarding the over-prescription of ADHD medication at  http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/adhd

Mental Illness and Stalking April 26, 2011

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Bipolar Disorder, Delusions, mental illness.
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Stalking is a matter of perspective.  From the standpoint of the stalker who is stalking a celebrity,  the stalker is convinced  that he has a very real, very personal connection to the person he’s stalking. He would be shocked to learn that what he’s doing- trying to fulfill the celebrity’s perceived request for that contact-  is viewed by law enforcement as well as the celebrity in question as stalking. How can it be stalking, he reasons, when the person he’s accused of stalking wants desperately to see him? It must be a misunderstanding.

When I was slipping into the final stages of my delusion (right before I was involuntarily committed to a mental hospital) I was absolutely convinced that I had Extra Sensory Perception (ESP), and that Bill and Melinda Gates were among my many powerful friends-friends that included the Dalai Lama and Oprah Winfrey-  who talked with me via ESP. When they talked with me, it came through as a voice in my head.  For those not familiar with the Gateses, they are some of the richest people in the world.  Anyway,  one of my hobbies was making jewelry, so it wasn’t surprising that (as part of my delusion) Bill and Melinda Gates begged me to make them some jewelry.

I agreed to their request for some of my fabulous jewelry, provided they give me direction on their tastes.  One of the capabilities of people who shared ESP with me was their ability to see the world through my eyes. Literally. It’s kind of complicated to explain, but suffice it to say that they looked out through my eyes and saw everything that I saw.  So it was perfectly natural for Bill and Melinda to wander around the bead shop with me, picking out beads for their own special necklaces as if they were actually in the room with me.  When Bill began picking out expensive stones, I balked. But Bill assured me that price was no object, since he (the richest man in the world) would be reimbursing me in the very near future for the money I spent.  With that guarantee from the richest man in the world, I allowed him to choose whatever stones he wanted.  So at his direction, I purchased expensive stones for the necklaces of him and his wife Melinda.

“We”  returned to my home where I spread the expensive loot  out on my kitchen table and began putting the necklaces together with “their” direction.  When “we” finished the jewelry,  “we” discussed how they were going to get the necklaces from me.  Should I mail them?  Should I send them via UPS?  Should I send them to their house in Medina? Or to Microsoft’s campus in Redmond?  At first,  “they” directed me to mail them to the Gates’ in care of their (real) nonprofit organization, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. After further discussion, “we” agreed that I would give the necklaces to them when I met them in person, which was going to be in the very near future.  In the real world, I live about 20 minutes from the Gateses. So the thought of driving to their home didn’t seem out of reach at all. Fortunately for all of us, I ended up in the mental hospital before I could do any real damage.

It is easy for a delusional person to cross the line into what appears to the real world as “stalking”.  I had lost touch with reality to the point where I was convinced that the Gateses wanted their jewelry so badly that had “they” insisted, I would have, without question,  driven to their home in Medina (about 20 minutes from my home) with the intent of personally delivering the necklaces to them as they had requested. I would have been absolutely convinced that they were desperate for my jewelry, and wouldn’t have believed anyone who tried to tell me differently.

Had I followed that plan of action (rather than wait to meet them as we finally agreed), I would have been carted off to jail, labeled a stalker.  But in my mind, I would have been absolutely certain that the Gates’ were dying to see me, and I would have insisted that this was so.

In revealing this very personal and embarrassing episode that was part of my psychotic delusion, I hope to show how easy it is for someone suffering from delusions to become a stalker. I ask for the law profession to understand that when they are investigating a stalker, in reality they’re likely with a delusional mentally ill person.  I ask for them to show that “stalker” some compassion by getting an immediate psychological evaluation before sending him off to jail. With proper medical intervention, their  delusion, like mine, will evaporate and the psychotic individual will return to the real world.  And when it’s all over and they’re medicated and back in their right mind, they, like I, will be extremely embarrassed and ashamed of their behavior.

Catherine Zeta-Jones and Mental Illness April 13, 2011

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Bipolar Disorder, mental illness.
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Mental Illness can happen to anyone in any situation, given enough stress.  The latest victim is a very public figure: Catherine Zeta-Jones.  The tabloids say that the stress of her personal life pushed her into what used to be called a nervous breakdown.  Nowadays it has a name, and that name for her is Bipolar Two.

While Catherine appears to have entered the facility voluntarily, I’m sure that she and her family considered their decision carefully and deliberately before deciding that hospitalization would be the best course of action.  A terrible dilemma- whether to go or not- was magnified by her status as a celebrity.

The celebrities who told the world about their mental illness and escaped the situation unscathed are few and far between. Not only is she a beautiful woman who is getting older, but now she has the label “unstable” attached to her name forever.

Anyone who has been diagnosed with a mental illness knows it isn’t good for the ego to be labeled as damaged goods.  “I should have been stronger. I should have been able to shoulder my responsibilities without cracking.”  These thoughts and more come bubbling to the surface when the diagnosis of mental illness is made.  Like the rest of us, she will think it is her fault that she broke under pressure.

I think things will be worse for her in some ways than they were for me when I was admitted to a mental hospital.  Admittedly when I was diagnosed I didn’t exactly yell it from the tree tops. But I also didn’t have to sneak into the hospital as quietly as I could, aware that a crowd of paparazzi waited in the wings to make money on my personal trauma.

The good news is that her illness will serve as crash course in mental illness to a very large audience.  People who had vaguely heard the term Bipolar will now learn about the illness. They will hopefully recognize mental illness simply for what it is: an illness.

The bad news is that her illness will almost certainly be thought of as a sign of weakness and possibly even moral bankruptcy.  She will probably lose some of her fan base because of her perceived weakness.   Producers might not want to risk their money on an unstable celebrity.  So her “outing” may be the end of her career.

Like her husband and his lung cancer, I hope she will choose to use her illness as a “teaching moment” to the world at large, rather than try to hide from it.  The cat’s out of the bag. What to do about it is the next question.

The World Is Flat October 17, 2010

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Bipolar Disorder, Medication, mental illness.
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It’s an obvious point, but the point of mood stabilizers is to stabilize moods.

What’s not so obvious is the unintended consequences of mood stabilization.  When your mood is stabilized, it makes life flat. Nothing makes you sad, but nothing makes you happy either.  That fact hit me squarely in the face this week when we bought a new house.

While the purpose of the mood stabilizer is to avoid manic or depressive episodes that are so characteristic of bipolar disorder, there is a down side to the medication.

When you get ready to purchase an object of the magnitude of a new home, a normal person goes through various stages of emotion.  The process of finding a home should  be filled with excitement, both good and bad.  Excitement at finding that perfect place to live. Excitement at seeing that perfect house for the first time in person.  Excitement at going through that perfect house for the very first time. Excitement at making the offer, then getting the offer accepted by the seller.  All of these processes elicit a roller-coaster of emotion in the normal person.

But in the medicated, stabilized bipolar person, these emotions are missing. Where there should be trepidation at undertaking such an enormous obligation as a house payment, there is an absence of fear.  There is no thrill of getting a good deal, of finding the perfect place to live. There’s just nothing there. It’s flat.  Neither up nor down.

In the old days before my illness, I would have taken a great amount of interest in the whole house-hunting process. The thought of spending that much money would have sped me into action, to make sure that we got a good deal for our money, to make sure I wanted the house.  But this absence of emotion has had a profound effect on the degree of my involvement in the whole house-hunting process.

When I can’t get excited about the house-hunting process, I can’t get emotionally involved in it either.  I stand apart, waiting for my husband to make all the moves, all the decisions, in this major undertaking.  I watch, like a spectator, rather than as a partner, as he signs us up to the bottom line of a major monetary commitment. It simply doesn’t matter any more.

I miss the old days, when I had the rush of excitement of the hunt.  Looking for the perfect house, excitement at finding a possibility. The thrill of stepping over the threshold of what might prove to be our next home.  Will this be someplace I would want to live? Do I like the house? Love it? Or hate it? How do I feel about it?  How do I feel about the entire process of house-hunting?  About committing the money to purchasing it?

The answer to these questions is: nothing. I have no feelings about any of it.

While the mood stabilizer keeps me on an even keel, able to avoid manic and depressive episodes, it also keeps my life flat.


LSD and Mental Illness October 8, 2010

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in mental illness, Mental Illness and Medication.
Tags: , ,

Everyone knows that LSD is a dangerous drug, capable of driving us out of our minds.  We’ve heard this refrain all of our lives:  LSD is the most dangerous of the dangerous drugs. Stay away from this drug at all costs.

But new evidence suggests that we reconsider this idea. It’s quite possible that this drug is a solution rather than a problem. Instead of driving us out of our minds, new evidence suggests that LSD is capable of restoring a sense of sanity to the insane.

Even in the early 1960’s the drug began to change the face of psychology as we know it. Prior to this, it was common “knowledge” that mental illness was caused by environmental factors.  For example, bad parenting, the theory went, was responsible for schizophrenia.

But LSD’s ability to induce psychotic symptoms in otherwise perfectly normal people gave rise to the concept that chemical changes in the brain were causing the psychotic symptoms characteristic of certain mental illnesses such as schizophrenia.  A paradigm shift in thinking about mental illness resulted, and we began to seek solutions to the terrible symptoms of mental illness in pharmacology.

So how did a drug with so much possibility end up on the short list of the most dangerous drugs in the world?

First synthesized in 1938, the drug was made illegal in the United States in October 1968 after it became synonymous with out-of-control counterculteralism of the 1960’s.  The last FDA approved human study with LSD, for use in dying cancer patients, ended in 1980. Even Switzerland stopped its use in 1993.

But today, we are reconsidering the advisability of this action.  Banning a promising drug because of social unrest associated with it seems unwise at best and foolish at worst. As it turns out, current research points to successful use of LSD and other psychotropic drugs to reduce the clinical symptoms of mental illness such as bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder, and schizophrenia.

In the mid-1990’s Franz Vollenwider’s research showed that LSD, combined with behavioral therapy, could alleviate the symptoms of various psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. With the ability to study the effects of the drug using new tools such as functional magnetic resonance imaging, scientists are now able to use the new technology to see which areas of the brain are specifically affected by the psychotropic drugs. With this new knowledge, they will be able to make inroads into new treatment options for mental illness, including the administration of LSD.

It’s time to dust off the medicine cabinet and take another look at LSD and other psychotropic drugs. This is 2010, not 1960. We can’t afford to hold possible cures to mental illness hostage to long-ago prejudices.


Hearing Voices and A New Identity September 16, 2010

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Delusions, ESP, Hallucinations, Hearing Voices, mental illness.
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I admit the first time I heard the voice of my boss, Mark, while driving down the freeway alone in my car, I was surprised.  He wasn’t in the car or on the cell phone, and yet he spoke to me as clearly as if he were sitting next to me. I realized immediately that I had a special power: ESP. It didn’t seem unusual at all to be gifted with special powers, and it didn’t even cross my mind that I could be mentally ill. I was simply gifted.

I assumed from the very first time I heard Mark’s voice that I had control of my ESP. I assumed that I would be able to simply stop hearing the voices whenever I chose to, and that was how it worked. At first.

Then things changed, and suddenly I was no longer in charge.  The voices were. As the voices slowly increased in number- around 50 at the high- they also increased their grip on my mind, ultimately refusing to leave. When I eventually begged and pleaded with them to leave, they wouldn’t go away.  That’s where the strength of my personality played into the situation.

I should have been terrified when the voices wouldn’t leave. I should have sought immediate medical intervention when I felt my mind being smothered by theirs, wrapping their thoughts around mine and choking me off  like morning glories on a rhododendron.

But because of the nature of my personality, I felt strong enough to handle the situation. I had always succeeded in everything I had undertaken before, so this wouldn’t be any different. I fought hard to keep a sense of self, knowing that I would prevail, despite the increased smothering of my ideas by theirs. To keep things from unraveling, I learned not to express fear. To express fear brought on the evil voices. But to embrace the voices with love kept the voices slightly off-balance. Where there should have been fear in me there was a sort of pity for them.

My saving grace was that the voices never learned how to read my own independent thoughts. This situation is hard to articulate even now, but suffice it to say that they tried to smother and replace my thoughts with their own, but they never knew what my thoughts- my real thoughts- were.

Trying to maintain my separate being from being taken over by the voices was like being in a room with someone fighting for possession of increasingly more space. Never satisfied with taking just a part of the room, they moved their line of possession to increasingly larger sections of the room. As long as I could maintain even a tiny portion of the room, I could hold on to my identity.  That was what protected me from total destruction.

Eventually, the voices took over my entire mind, cleanly breaking my mind off and replacing it with their own, plunging me into a total and complete break from reality. Their reality became my own.

In the days and hours before my involuntary commitment to the mental hospital, my independent personality was a sliver of what it had been before the mental illness took over. As my husband drove me to the emergency room, the last shreds of what used to be me disappeared, replaced in totality by Pangea the Mermaid, the identity of the new inhabitant of my body. The old Kathy was lost forever.

Only strong medication administered in a mental hospital under constant supervision broke their thoughts from my mind. But as their claw-like grip on my mind receded, what remained in the room was not what used to be there. The thoughts that took over my mind also took over my identity, and the medication that wiped out Pangea never replaced it with the old Kathy. My former personality was destroyed first by the voices and then by the medication. The mind emerging from the tunnel isn’t the mind that entered it.

As you might imagine, this situation created an identity crisis of major proportions. I’m not the old Kathy, and neither am I Pangea.  I’m someone entirely new. And that’s where therapy comes in.  My therapist has slowly, over a two year period of time, helped me define and identify who this new person is.  I hate to think about how empty my life would be  without the help of my counselor. Her assistance in rebuilding me from scratch has made life worth living for me and my friends and family.  Without her help, I would be in a horrible place- neither one nor the other. Now I realize that I’m not Kathy 1, and not Pangea. I’m Kathy 2, and that’s just fine.

Mental Illness, Hypersexuality and Tiger Woods September 8, 2010

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Bipolar Disorder, mental illness, Therapy.
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Bipolar Magazine had an issue that discussed the hidden symptom of mania: sex.  As in lots of it.  BP Magazine’s September 9, 2009 issue “Confronting Mania’s Secret Symptom” addressed the issue of sex as it relates to manic behavior.   It is a well-known but rarely discussed fact that many people in the middle of manic episodes have a very high level of sexual energy, and they use that energy in different ways. This high degree of focus on sex is called hypersexuality.  It’s way beyond regular sexuality. Check out the article at  http://www.bphope.com/Item.aspx?id=522

Mental illness has been known to break up many marriages and family relationships simply because the relationships couldn’t withstand the emotional devastation that this particular symptom caused. That’s not even considering the health risks of sexually transmitted disease, AIDS, and pregnancy resulting from that risky behavior.

If someone has been diagnosed to have a particular mental illness with hypersexuality as one of its symptoms, it would probably help many marriages and relationships heal if they could view the sexual hypersexuality in the context of being a symptom of a mental illness. It is worth it to at least rule out the possibility that the person exhibiting that behavior might have a mental illness. If they are found to have a mental illness, the hypersexuality symptom needs to be viewed as another symptom of mental illness, just like hearing voices might be a symptom of someone with schizophrenia or forgetting people might be a symptom of Alzheimer’s.  Putting the hypersexuality symptom in that perspective might save relationships.

That doesn’t mean that every philanderer has a mental illness.  But those exhibiting the hypersexuality behavior so characteristic of someone with a mental illness should be assessed. The more flamboyant the actions, the greater number of partners, the more symptoms of hypersexuality a person demonstrates, the more important it is to rule out mental illness as the cause of their over-the-top behavior.

One of the most famous cases of possible undiagnosed mental illness is Tiger Woods.  His larger than life hypersexuality behavior gives one pause.  Is this a symptom of a mental illness?

According to the news media, right after Tiger was “caught” by his wife having sex with numerous women, he went into treatment for a sex addiction in an (unsuccessful) attempt to save his marriage. At that time, after learning of the large number of women that he was having sex with (I think the number got to 12 before I stopped paying attention), I wondered if he had been assessed for a mental illness.  It certainly wouldn’t be surprising, given the circumstances of his stressful life in a fishbowl.

Because of the stigma of having a mental illness, Tiger isn’t likely to come out in public with any mental illness diagnosis that he might have received.  I can only hope that, if he indeed was diagnosed with a mental illness, his wife would have waited for his treatment plan to kick in (including any medication) before throwing in the towel.  Theirs is a scene played out privately all over the world on a daily basis.

With the education of people that hypersexuality may be a symptom of a mental illness, I hope it will encourage people to seek out help before giving up on their marriage or relationship. “In Sickness and in Health” were part of their wedding vows.  This is the “Sickness” part.

Depression versus Bipolar Disorder August 24, 2010

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Bipolar Disorder, Depression, Medication, mental illness, Mental Illness and Medication.
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The stigma of having a mental illness has hit in yet another tangible way.

For the second time in a row, a friend who has suffered for years from depression went to a psychiatrist because her medication was no longer working for her  Or at least it was no longer working well enough for her.  She had been on an anti-depressant for about 15 years, but had wearied of the side effects. So she had gradually weaned herself off all but a tiny amount of the medication.  When she recently encountered a tremendous amount of stress, she got very depressed and a severe panic disorder reared its ugly head.  In desperation, she went to see her General Practitioner, who referred her to a psychiatrist.  She made an appointment with that psychiatrist but the earliest she could see her was 2 weeks out.  So she waited it out, trying her best to work though her bouts of panic disorder and depression.

Two weeks later, arriving at her new psychiatrist’s office, she was given a battery of questions and interviewed at length by the psychiatrist. Finally, after much interrogation, she was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder Type 2.She wasn’t devastated at the news but she was definitely unpleasantly surprised as she relayed the turn of events to me. She had expected her new psychiatrist to simply regurgitate the previous diagnosis of depression, and it hadn’t occurred to her that her diagnosis might be something else.

In her mind, she had depression. End of subject.  She never considered the possibility that she might have anything else. In most people’s minds, depression doesn’t really qualify as a mental illness. It isn’t spoken of in the same breath as schizophrenia or Bipolar Disorder, which are both generally accepted by society as full-blown mental illnesses. With depression, it’s socially acceptable to admit you have it and that you’re taking medication for it because nobody considers you to have a mental illness. But with Bipolar Disorder you can’t hide from that label “mentally ill”.

With Bipolar Disorder, society in general puts that problem into the mental illness category.  There’s no getting around the fact that it’s a genuine mental illness.  And with having a mental illness comes all of the stigma associated with such a thing.

Furthermore, the use of an anti-depressant for treating depression is commonplace.  There’s even a book called “Prozac Nation” that intimates that many, many people are on Prozac. It isn’t viewed as a mental illness in part because too many people have it.  A mental illness is thought by the general public as being something that is uncommon.  Depression is not uncommon.

According to her new psychiatrist, the medication for Bipolar Disorder Type 2 is a mood stabilizer. The concept of being put on a mood stabilizer rather than an anti-depressant is bad, because of the stigma associated with a mood stabilizer.  By definition, it means that your mood needs to be stabilized.  That your mood is unstable. That your mind is unstable.  That you are unstable.  All of the negative ramifications of having an unstable mind come to the forefront.

It’s okay to suffer from depression, which doesn’t have the connotation of instability.  You might feel terrible- possibly like committing suicide- but at least you’re not considered to be unstable or out of your mind.  But Bipolar Disorder Type 2 is another story. With Bipolar Disorder, you’re unstable.  That’s why you need a mood stabilizer.  And, as the theory goes, people who are unstable have all kinds of problems. They’re not to be trusted.

No matter than with the mood stabilizers the thoughts of depression go away.  No matter that they feel better than they have for years.  The important thing, in their mind, is the stigma associated with having to take a medication that makes them stable. It means that they weren’t stable to begin with.

It will take my friend awhile to come to grips with this new reality.  In fact, she plans to visit another psychiatrist to get another opinion. In the meantime, although she can hope that her diagnosis is wrong, I hope that she will continue to take her mood stabilizer.