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Waking Up in a Mental Hospital Psych Ward January 6, 2010

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Involuntary Committment, mental illness, Psych Ward, Psychotic.
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I awoke laying on the bed, covered by a sheet and a light yellow blanket. There wasn’t a soul around.   I had no idea where I was or what I was doing there. The last thing I remembered was being wrestled and pinned onto a red four-point restraining board at the hospital emergency room and then being strapped in and  shot up with some kind of drug. After that, I didn’t remember a thing. I didn’t know what day it was, or what time of the day it was.  I had no purse, no money, no identification.  No bra, no underwear, no shoes, no pants, no shirt.  Nothing but my hospital gown.  And my voices and delusions.

My rights had been taken away from me, for no reason.  I was a prisoner and I hadn’t even had a trial. I couldn’t go anywhere.  I couldn’t leave the locked room with the furniture bolted to the floor.  Even if I were allowed to leave, I had no clothes, no shoes, and no money.

Someone asked me later on if I was scared at that point. No, I wasn’t scared.  I was angry. No, I take that back. WE were angry.  All of my voices and I were very, very angry. We couldn’t get over the fact that wherever I was, I was being held against my will. I was being treated as if I had no rights.

I don’t remember exactly when I learned that I had been involuntarily committed to the psychiatric ward of a mental hospital. But I do remember that I simply couldn’t wrap my brain around the fact that in this day and age I could be whisked away illegally from my home and locked in a room with nothing but a bed bolted to the floor. I couldn’t believe it!  I was in shock.

It turned out to be the morning of the 29th of May 2008.  It had been 24 hours since I had entered a hospital Emergency Room.

Note: Under the laws of Washington State, the mental hospital could hold me for up to 72 hours against my will without having to undergo any legal proceedings.

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Delusions December 10, 2009

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Delusions, Hallucinations, Hearing Voices, mental illness, Psychotic.
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The problem with having delusions and hallucinations is that when you have one, you can’t tell. You don’t realize that you don’t know what’s “real” and what isn’t, because it’s all real when you’re insane.

Because delusions and hallucinations affected each and every one of my senses, my whole sense of reality was messed up. Nothing was sacred or safe. And I couldn’t tell.

Hearing:  That delusion is what started all of the others. I heard voices in my head that weren’t there.  I thought I had the God-given gift of ESP.  Famous people, people I worked with,  and even people who didn’t really exist at all in the real world were at my beck and call 24/7. Although she wasn’t a real person in real life, Claudia, my Diet Guru/Shopping Buddy, was real enough to me. She controlled what I ate and what I wore.

Taste: Because I was overweight, Claudia had me on a diet. One of my favorite foods is Costco Cashews. Big bucket. Lots of calories.  When I first opened the jar and started eating the first handful of cashews, all was well. They tasted marvelous as usual. But as I ate the second handful, the cashews started to taste just a tad bit on the moldy side. The third handful was moldier than the first. As I continued to eat the cashews, they became progressively moldier. Finally, they tasted so moldy that I couldn’t eat another one.

At first I attributed that moldy taste to a bad batch of cashews. Costco’s quality control was on the fritz- at least that’s what I thought at first. But as I thought about the situation more closely, I realized that Costco’s quality control system wasn’t at fault here because the more cashews I ate, the moldier they became. Finally, it dawned on me that it was really my “Duet Guru”, Claudia, at work, controlling the taste of the cashews in order to stop me from eating too much. It was actually Claudia’s control system rather than Costco’s at work.

Smell: Although I couldn’t see any of the people in my head with my own eyes, I could smell them. Or at least one: Claudia.  When she showed up in the “room” inside my head, I smelled her before I heard her. Her perfume was, I was sure, a very expensive brand in keeping with her expensive taste. When she left, her perfume left with her.

Touch:  Touch was, in my view, one of the more interesting delusions. Mermaids, it turns out, can’t wear the color pink. 🙂  Neither sheets, socks, clothes, or even racks of clothing in a clothing store could touch my skin without burning me- as if  I’d touched a hot iron. It didn’t leave a blister, surprisingly, but it was hot enough that it could have. So I had to be very careful not to brush up against anything pink. When a red-headed little girl wearing pink passed me at the mall, it was all I could do to keep from calling CPS on her parents.  Speaking of color…

Color: In addition My color delusions were the most amazing. I had no idea how much color delusions shaped my world until after I was hospitalized and the mania left. Only then did I realize that I even had color delusions. Color delusions, like the others, are hard to spot until after they’re gone.

Shopping with my mom at Target (post-manic), I saw a green snakeskin wallet sitting on a shelf that was identical to one that I had purchased while I was manic. Identical, that is except for the color.  Compared to the vivid, explosive shade of green of my wallet, the wallet on the shelf was a ghostly shadow of mine.  When I finally realized that those two wallets were identical in every other respect, I came to understand that  realized that the two wallets were one and the same. that I saw before I was manic, the real wallet was a much paler, washed out shade of green. With the realization that my vivid, explosive colors of my imagination were all delusion-induced came a sadness that all colors had lost their intensity in my new post-manic world.

Vision:  I saw things- like green skin on fellow swimmers that I identified in my mind as fellow Mermaids. I spent several hours speaking with a man who may or may not have been real. If he was real, then he was as bizarre as I was, taking the time to whip out his wallet and show me pictures of the Alien Baseball team he owned. With the exception of the Alien photos, the cards couldn’t me distinguished from real Major League Baseball cards.

Either I was talking to a man who wasn’t there, or I was talking to a man who was just as mentally ill as I was. If I was talking to a man who wasn’t there, I was exactly like one of those mentally ill people you see sitting in coffee shops talking to themselves. Not good either way.

Having experienced delusions in all of my senses, it’s difficult now to be absolutely sure that what I’m seeing or smelling or tasting or hearing in the here and now is “real”. How can I trust my senses after the Hell I went through?  I can’t be 100 percent sure of anything at all.

Why does the answer matter?  Because if I can discern the real from the imaginary, then I can head off a manic episode. But how do you spot a delusion when you’re in one? Is the food really moldy, or is another psychotic/manic episode on its way? Is that pretty shade of blue real or imagined?  Did that woman passing me on the sidewalk really wear perfume? Am I sinking into another delusion? How do I know?  That’s the scary part: you don’t know when you’ve lost touch with reality. It’s all real when you’re insane.

The Voices Are GONE! November 22, 2009

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Hallucinations, Hearing Voices, mental illness.
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When the voices leave, it feels soooo good.

Part of the relief comes from the very fact that I don’t have to bring in the heavy artillery like a return to the mental hospital or electroshock therapy to show them the exit door. I don’t have to wonder what sort of steps we’re (my psychiatrist and I) going to have to take, beyond my current medication, to make them go away.

I don’t have to revisit that horrible, awful, nasty drug, Haldol to get rid of them. The nastiest drug on the planet in many respects, but at least it works. For me.  I don’t have to put up with the crying jags or suicide thoughts the drug engenders in me in the major doses I need in order to get rid of them. At least for now, Haldol and I are distant enemies.

No wondering whether we can even find a drug or procedure that will get rid of them. No more wondering whether I will have to suffer their existence forever.

When the voices are around, it’s as if there are two of us (or more) inhabiting my mind. There are my own thoughts, and then there are the thoughts of my- for lack of a better word- “guest”, swirling around in the confines of my mind. Like an unwanted visitor, they follow me around and get in my way. I trip over them as I do my various tasks. Answering the phone: there they are, interrupting my conversation with whoever’s on the phone with me. Loading the dishes: there they are in a different capacity, verbalizing and echoing my every thought. Everywhere I turn, they’re sharing the space of my mind with me, crowding me out little by little.  And no matter how hard I try, I can’t get rid of them.

It doesn’t take long, to even get used to having them around, especially when I spent months with them before I was finally hospitalized. “It’s really not so bad”, I kid myself.

By crowding me out, I mean that they take over more and more of my mind.  Increasingly louder and more prolific, they start acquiring more of the real estate of my mind than Donald Trump on a buying spree. Like a cancer, they leave me less and less of myself as their girth expands.

When they leave, I am thrilled. Like someone finally rid of unwanted guests, I roam around the recesses of my mind, looking for any sign that they haven’t left. I look in the bedroom. The living room. The bathroom. Is there one stitch of clothing left? A perfume bottle? Shampoo? Have they really gone, or are they just hiding from me, hoping I wont’ notice they’re still around?

And once I can confirm they’re really and truly gone, I twirl around my mind like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, thrilled at being alone again, loosened from their grip like a fat woman from a girdle.

I can finally resume my expectation that when I talk to someone, I talk alone. Nobody’s overhearing my conversation, eager to jump in with their own thoughts with virtually no provocation, like a spoiled child interrupting two adults.

Having someone else in my brain is enough to literally drive me crazy. What can you do about having them inside your head, unwilling to leave under any circumstances?  When crying won’t work? When threats won’t work? When even the threat of suicide won’t rob them of their new “home”?

So it’s beyond description the relief I feel when they’re completely and utterly gone. GONE. .

A Journey Into Madness November 18, 2009

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Delusions, mental illness.
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A journey into madness is not a case where you wake up one morning and say to yourself,  “Oh, no! I’ve lost my mind!”.  Rather, it’s more like someone who gains say 25 pounds over the course of one year.  It’s a very gradual thing.  One little thing after another.  One small step towards madness the first day, and then a leveling off for a little while, as that small step becomes the new “normal”.  Day after day these small steps play out little by little.  Step upon step, all becoming the next “normal”.  It’s not like a heard attack where you wake up and your world changed overnight.  It’s more like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s or some other relatively slow-moving disease where your world changes slowly but surely.

But I won’t kid you here.  The progression of my illness wasn’t in years. It was in months.   I went from being a relatively sane 49 year old professional woman (with no history of mental illness) the first week in February 2008 to involuntary committment to a mental hospital with a full-blown case of Bipolar I with psychotic tendencies at the very end of May 2008. Almost four months from start to finish, so to speak.

That would seem relatively quickly to some, but again think of weight gain.  You don’t feel every single pound of weight gain on a day to day basis. You don’t feel every single daily aspect of the loss of memory that’s the hallmark of Alzheimer’s. One little change at a time, piled upon the other little changes. And so it goes for insanity.

My (Fake) Funeral November 11, 2009

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in mental illness, NAMI, Recovery, Therapy.
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My upcoming 50th birthday has been weighing on my mind, but not for the usual reasons. I have no qualms about turning “old”- whatever that means.  But as the day approaches, I’m dreading it more and more. To celebrate it would be a lie.

Because the person that I used to be suddenly and irrevocably died last year. It was a slow death, sort of. Or at least the process of dying stretched out for months. The mental breakdown that started in February 2008 began the process of cutting away at the very core of my being, and the medication I began taking in late May 2008 finished off what was left of me.  All of what I was is gone, survived by the shell that houses my physical being.

How, then, to celebrate the occasion of the 50th anniversary of my birth?

In my therapist’s office this morning, we arrived at a solution- of sorts. Rather than look at the situation as the anniversary of my birth, I will acknowledge the anniversary in the form of a funeral.  It will, at least for this year, represent my death 16  months ago rather than the anniversary of my birth.  The funeral will be a ceremony in which my grieving can be publicly acknowledged for what it is: the loss of life. The grief is for the birthday that I cannot have.

I returned from counseling and told my husband that in lieu of a big party,  I wanted to have a funeral for my 50th. Not the usual joke-type party where everyone dresses in black and brings old-people gifts. The real kind of funeral. The kind that recognizes the enormity of my loss. I explained that because I died last year (see my blog entry “I Am No More”) celebrating my birthday would be a lie. I told him I’d like just 4 of us, including my sister and brother-in-law and him and I, to go to a nice restaurant, all dressed in black. I said I want a funeral flower arrangement- the kind with the 3 gladiolas. (Did you ever notice that funeral arrangements usually contain those three gladiolas?) One sticking straight up and the other two at 90 degree angles? I told him I wanted one of those. And I want to write my obituary and post it on my blog.

At first, he was in shock (understandably). Then he said that from his perspective, I don’t appear to have changed much. Or at least I have recovered from my psychosis and from those horrible, horrible side effects of the medication I was taking. I no longer believe, sadly, that I am a Mermaid. I no longer have the Parkinson’s, no longer have trouble peeling a banana. I can once again read and write. Getting all of these abilities back after losing them gives the impression that, at least physically, I am back to my old self, whole again.From his perspective, I’m back to normal- more or less.

But it’s really not about how I appear physically to him. It’s about how I am emotionally. And I know that I will never be the way I was. For better or worse, the person that I used to be died. Quickly. Last year. And so for that reason, I cannot in good faith celebrate the 50th anniversary of my birth.  My therapist gave me permission to have the funeral. And after discussion with my husband, he agreed that if that’s what I want, then he’s willing to go along with it also. My sister, I must confess, doesn’t yet know anything about my wishes. But I’m sure that she will honor my request.

We will wear black at dinner. I will purchase a funeral arrangement. I will write my own obituary, to be posted on my blog. The final sentence will say: “In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in her memory to her favorite charity, NAMI”.  Just like the real obituary will say when my shell also dies.

And so we’ll have a funeral. A private funeral, but still a funeral. Because that’s what it really is.

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.

Halloween: Damage Control October 20, 2009

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in mental illness, Psychotic.
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Halloween’s coming around, and with it comes the worn-out old stories about the mentally ill.  The slasher movies and the guts and gore of the horror-filled inspirational costumes- all coming to a theater near you.

Norman Bates in Psycho, a 1960 horror movie, was inspired by Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein.  The insane Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a 1974 horror movie, and Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs were both inspired by the same serial killer, a man whose “guilty but insane” conviction landed him in a mental  hospital.  In The Shining, Jack Nicholson gave a good impersonation of a psychotic man.  Dr. Jekyl was clearly insane when he became Mr. Hyde in the 1931 classic Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde.   Then there’s the classic: Halloween, about a young insane murderer who escapes from his Sanitarium (mental hospital) after being locked up for 15 years- ever since he was 6. Over and over the mentally ill are exploited for the benefit of the media.  In fact, out of the top 50 best horror movies of all time, over half involve mental illness. Mental illness is, after all, scary.

Unfortunately for those of us who are mentally ill, the media makes no distinction between delusional people in the middle of a psychotic episode,  insane murderers, schizophrenics, and what I like to call garden-variety mentally ill people (bipolar, depressed, OCD, etc). We’re all, in their collective minds, the same as Ed Gein, the Wisconsin serial killer who inspired both Psycho and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. There’s nothing scarier, after all, than a mentally ill person.  Especially a psychotic one.   It’s no wonder that nobody wants to be identified as mentally ill. Who, after all, wants to be Ed Gein?