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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hired an attorney to find out.

Mental Illness Medication and Slower Thinking February 18, 2010

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Disability Claim, mental illness, Recovery, Therapy.
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Yesterday, I had a “Flowers for Algernon” moment.  Or rather an hour and a half.  Let me explain.

Distilled into the Readers Digest Condensed Version, Flowers for Algernon, the 1958 story by Daniel Keyes, is about a man with an IQ of 68 who is given an operation to increase his IQ to genius level. He maintains that genius IQ for a relatively short period of time and then reverts back to his former self.

In my case, although I never had my IQ tested, I performed work that was intellectually challenging.  I managed many projects over my 25 year career, and they all required the ability to simultaneously process large quantities of information.  My last job, project managing the construction of a $55 million ice hockey rink, was no different. Building a  project of that magnitude requires some heavy duty brain power.

Thinking quickly, making snap decisions, and processing vast quantities of information in the blink of an eye, skills that I developed from a very early age, were all second nature to me. My intelligence allowed me to walk into any meeting or presentation and do the “Vulcan Mind Meld” with any presenter, routinely asking the presenter a barrage of questions allowing me to acquire an accurate understanding of exactly what the presenter knew and, more importantly, what he didn’t know. That knowledge allowed me to make the kind of decisions I needed to make in order to perform my job as efficiently as possible. That ability made me very good at my job.

I regarded my talent as normal, and was routinely disappointed in people when they couldn’t perform according to my standards. I had difficulty relating to many people, since I believed that they simply weren’t putting their God-given abilities to work.  It never occurred to me that they might not have the ability to process the same quantities of information as rapidly as I could.

When I was hospitalized in May 2008, the medication that I was given began the process of bringing me back to reality. But the side effect of that medication was what I call the “Flowers for Algernon” effect.  The speed that I process information severely slowed down.  Immediately. One minute I thought quickly, the next I thought slowly. That fast. I now think about ½ to 1/3 as fast as I used to.  Unable to hold four thoughts at a time, I have had to re-learn how to think.  More importantly, I have had to re-think exactly who I am, since my identity  is tightly tied to the speed with which I think.

Generally speaking, I have come to accept the new terms of my existence.  The further away I get from my past, the easier it is to forget how fast I used to think and how much information I could absorb.  Very few incidents in my relatively cocooned existence occur that renew my sense of frustration and shame at losing part of my brainpower. Yesterday was one of those days that reminded me of what I have lost.

In consulting an attorney about a personal matter, I was obliged to have an hour and a half consultation in the attorney’s office. As the attorney talked, I found it surprisingly difficult to keep up with the conversation. My brain just couldn’t process the concepts the attorney spoke about. I took notes, but they were too nonsensical to help me retain any information. Despite the fact that I had ample opportunity to ask the attorney any questions I wanted to at any point, I felt, at the end of the visit, as if I hadn’t even been present for the majority of the consultation. This happened, I should add, through no fault of the attorney’s. I’m the one who can’t comprehend relatively simple concepts. That’s virtually unheard of in my universe. Until now.

The woman who ran the meetings and made the snap decisions is gone.  In her place is a much more humble, much slower-thinking person who vaguely remembers what it used to be like to have some heavy-duty brainpower. Flowers for Algernon.

Mental Illness and Disability Insurance December 28, 2009

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Anxiety, Delusions, Disability Claim, Hearing Voices, mental illness.
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5 comments

I finally, after some soul-searching, decided to apply for Social Security Disability. There were over-arching problems that prevented me from applying for that disability until very recently.

The primary problem was that my core being would have to acknowledge in a very public forum that I have an illness so debilitating that I could no longer work. The months of waiting for the return to normalcy so I could return to my job as project manager would have to be officially suspended. Not necessarily forever, but for the forseeable future. In applying for SSDI,  I would be  admitting to the world at large that the disability is in fact significant and permanent.

The second problem was with the process itself.  The point of the application is that I don’t handle stress well. Unlike me, whose disability actually gets worse under the application process itself, someone missing a leg can’t lose more of his leg simply by going through the application process. But I, because of the nature of my illness, had to be prepared for an increase in my “qualifying symptom”.  Back-sliding was to be expected during the application process.

Would it be worth hearing voices for the ability to bring in at least a little income? I had to wait until the answer was “yes” before proceeding with the actual intake process.

The third problem was the enormous sense of guilt and worthlessness that acceptance by Social Security as disabled would entail. Guilt because I’d feel like I’m stealing money from society at large. Worthlessness because I would be getting something (money) for nothing. Nothing, that is, except losing my mind.

The emotional kick in the stomach started with an in-person interview at our local Social Security office. Because I was concerned about what the stress of my interview would do to my mind, I asked my sister to accompany me (and drive) to the interview. I was glad she did.

The interviewer, after learning that I was applying for disability for a mental illness, was very kind.  I burst out in tears as I delineated the specifics of my disability to the world at large and to the government in particular. I “bled” all over the floor, in other words. My sister, having a better grasp of the reality of the situation, reminded me (and the intake specialist) of symptoms that I had forgotten about. Or maybe just wanted to forget about.

After clearing the “intake” hurdle, the next step was sending all of my medical records in to the government for their official analysis. My mental hospital records, my psychiatrist’s records, and of course my therapist’s records- all of these private, personal records became a matter of public record.

After the government reviewed my records, they still had enough questions about my purported disability that they insisted on an independent psychiatric evaluation. They arranged for a perfect stranger, a local psychologist who knew neither my psychiatrist, my therapist, nor me, to poke and prod around in my mind to find out how bad things were. Was I really mentally ill? If so, how mentally ill was I? Too ill to hold down a job?

Not surprisingly, the anticipation of that horrible exam brought on a severe case of stress which, of course, brought on the voices. The worst case, in fact, that I’d had since my discharge from the mental hospital.

Unlike the nightmare that I had constructed in my mind, the psychologist was very kind yet thorough during my exam. I had been warned from my psychiatrist that he would be looking for any possible substance abuse problems ( which I don’t have), since it’s fairly common for drug users to try to get disability in order to finance their habits. Having survived the psychologist’s 2 hour examination, I can bear witness to the difficulty any substance abuser would have getting disability- at least if they had to go through that guy.

When the psychologist told me at the conclusion of the exam  that I was not employable, it was still a kick in the stomach. I didn’t really expect it would hurt that bad. His assessment confirmed my suspicion that the return to my former profession was not in the cards- at least not yet. But he did hold out hope that this assessment didn’t condemn me to a life of forever on the “dole”. He explained that just because I’m sick enough now to qualify for disability doesn’t mean I’ll always be sick enough. But the bottom line is that, at least for now, an independent third party just confirmed my worst nightmare: I’m no longer employable.

The Job that Took My Mind Part 1 November 5, 2009

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Delusions, Disability Claim, Hearing Voices, mental illness.
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Narrative on my Labor and Industries Accident/Illness Report

1. Describe in detail how injury or exposure occurred:

Following is the narrative of how the stress of my job as project manager caused me to have a psychotic break that led to my admission to a mental hospital for a three week stay.

Company policy was strict: no construction work was supposed to start until the Owner and M Construction agreed on a price and signed a contract. But  John, the manager,  violated that policy when he started work on the renovation of a 100 year old hotel in downtown Seattle, WA.

The hotel is actually comprised of two separate buildings joined by a basement. One building has 6 floors, the other has 5.  For whatever reason, the project Architect had never drawn plans for the building’s 6th floor. For whatever reason, Matt, the green-behind-the-ears project manager, chose to start work on that very floor. Absent the 6th floor plans, John told him to just copy the 5th floor work. So that’s what Matt did.

Company policy said that electricians, plumbers, painters, carpenters, and everyone else had to have contracts before they started work. But John violated that policy by telling the electricans, plumbers, etc. to just do the work and keep track of the hours.

Three weeks after Matt started work, the owners decided they wanted Matt to put in new wireless internet, cat 5, phone lines, etc.  But by the time they got done adding all of the lines, the bundle was the size of a fist instead of the size of a couple of pencils. It wouldn’t fit where it was supposed to. So the owner told Matt to just cut a trench down the middle of every hallway and into every room in the entire hotel, which added a mile of extra work (literally). But (again, against company policy) Matt started the work without giving the owner a price for the work.   In May 2007, Matt was fired and John took his place.

Work on a 100 year old building isn’t easy.  Nobody knows where the electricity runs and where pipe runs.  Big holes are punched in walls, ceilings, and floors to get the new work attached to the old building. These things take time and money.  When John took over Matt’s job, everyone assumed he could get the work done. But they were wrong. John was as incompetent as Matt.  The job was losing big, big money.  So in August 2007, my boss fired John and stuck me in his place.

As the 3rd project manager, I stepped into 4 month old job

  • without a real project schedule
  • without a defined scope of work
  • without an executed contract
  • without executed subcontracts
  • without a complete set of plans
  • over budget

End of Part 1

Disability Claim October 29, 2009

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Disability Claim, Hearing Voices, Involuntary Committment, Psychotic.
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Back when I was working as a Project Manager on the renovation of a 100 year old hotel in downtown Seattle, my employer- let’s call them M Construction- paid for a long and short term disability policy as part of my compensation package.

As the stress on that job escalated to impossible levels, I began to believe that I had ESP, and that I could talk with my boss, Mark, and his boss, John. As my mental illness progressed, I became more enmeshed in my delusional world.

As the pressure escalated, Mark and John hatched a plan for me (via ESP), telling me to hold my job hostage by telling John (in person) that I had another job offer. They assured me that this would be the leverage they needed to get me more help.  So at their direction, I made the threat. But instead of getting more help, John held an exit interview with me in which he wished me well in my future endeavor. I became concerned that he seemed to think I was really quitting. That wasn’t in the script.

The voice in my head that was John told me to just play along, that it was part of the plan. So I did. Before I knew it, I was out of a job. I called both John and Mark to ask them what happened, and when I was going to return to M Construction.  They explained to me that I had quit.  I argued that I had only done what they told me to do.  “Hang tight”, they told me via ESP.  So I did.

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

Within three weeks of holding my job hostage, I was involuntarily committed to a mental hospital. During the three weeks at the hospital and the subsequent months in recovery, the furthest thing from my mind was the insurance policy. But as I began to re-enter the real world, my husband reminded me of that policy.  Digging around the house, I located the policy. Sure enough, I was covered! I called M Construction’s Human Resources department to start the claim process, only to be informed that I had quit before entering the hospital. Policy null and void.  Submitting the claim anyway, I wasn’t surprised when Prudential’s denial letter arrived, saying the same thing: I had quit before I became crazy.

Upon further consideration, I realized that what I really had was a workman’s compensation claim thought Washington State Labor and Industries.  I was effectively hit on the head at the jobsite by a 2X4, but the 2X4 in my case was stress.

As I file the claim,  I’m about to cover some very interesting ground.  It will all boil down to one question: At what point did the “2X4” effectively connect with my head? Before I left the company or after?  That will lead to other questions.  How long does it take to become psychotic?  More than 3 weeks or less than 3 weeks? Was I officially crazy the first day I was involuntarily committed to the mental hospital or at some point before that?  Where’s the line in the sand?  The answers will be as fascinating as the logic used to determine them.

Stay tuned.