In gaining a deeper understanding of madness, we gain a deeper understanding of the core existential dilemmas with which we all must struggle, arriving at the unsettling realization of just how thin the boundary really is between madness and sanity. Rethinking Madness – Towards a Paradigm Shift in Our Understanding and Treatment of Psychosis. Paris Williams Ph.D.
Well this blog went dark for a week or so because of traumatic dealings with my daughter who is mentally ill and addicted to drugs. I sort of ran out of things to say and was starting to feel and sound unhinged, even to myself. As a result I went into hibernation mode. For a couple of days I was depressed and stayed in bed all day watching the entire 2 ½ seasons of Titus High Performance, a show that was on the Fox network years ago.
It’s a show starring Christopher Titus a stand-up comedian, and is loosely based on his life. He was raised by an alcoholic father and a manic-depressive, schizophrenic mother. He married a girl who also came from a dysfunctional family of Irish catholic alcoholics, the brother a burglar and a drug user, the sister constantly having babies by different men without being married, the younger sister selling drugs….you get my drift. One episode is a thanksgiving dinner that turns into in a food fight and escalates to a brawl and shootout and the entire family ends up in the emergency room covered with food, burns, a dislocated shoulder for Titus, bumps and bruises.
So anyway I watched this show to “ground” myself, as in I’m not the only one with an insane family of origin. Then the next day I started percolating into a rage of “I’m sick of this shit, I can’t take anymore.” I was so angry that I was shaking. I ended up screaming at the dishes in the dishwasher. “When all the dishes are clean there is no place to put anything!!!! We have too God damned many coffee cups!” Mr. Husband caught the tail end of this when he walked into the kitchen and I turned to him and yelled “STOP BUYING COFFEE CUPS!!!!” That just made his day, lemme tell ya. All he had really done was to cook a wonderful 4th of July dinner. So sorry Hubman, really I am.
In this down time I read a bunch of books about dysfunctional families, substance abuse, etc. There are many different perspectives on these issues. Then main thing I take away is that I’m not alone in this struggle and I don’t have to put up with unacceptable behavior from anyone, including from my children.
When I get extremely stressed out I tend to turn in on myself and get quiet and hide. Fortunately for those around me, I don’t turn actively psychotic and start throwing rocks at the neighbors or burn down the house. But inside my head there is all kinds of freaking and shrieking going on. I get stuck in a loop of repetitive thoughts. Things like what I’m going to say to my daughter next time she calls, and blah blah blah. It’s absolutely crazy making and exhausting.
The thing I realized is that when this happens I become physically and emotionally paralyzed and just sit there staring into to space or at the TV. Being a writer and budding artist I decided to sit down and try to get this out of my head and onto paper. That was an interesting development. I tried to draw a sort of combination infinity sign or yin yang. What I discovered was that I was having trouble making the 2 sides connect, how odd. But then I started writing in all the things going on in my head versus all things going on physically. When I was done I had a graphical representation of what was going on in my head. The revelation was that the mental side of the drawing had tons of stuff in it…fear, guilt, anger, frustration, apathy, boredom, while the physical side had not much of anything except ills such as a headache, stomach ache, neck pain and so on.
That’s when it hit me. God grief, I’m stuck in my head! I need to get out of here and start living in the physical world again. I need to get moving around and doing things again. I hate when I get stuck in my head. It’s like mental plumbing trouble. I wonder if there is such a thing as a laxative for my brain.
Got my eagerly awaited copy of Silver Linings Playbook in the mail today. I’ve been waiting see what Hollywood’s latest take is on mental illness. It’s a story of a man, Pat Politano (played by Bradley Cooper), who is fresh out of mental institution. He was there for 8 months as a plea bargain for assault. He came home early from work and found his wife naked in the shower with a co-worker and beat the crap out of him. Yea he went nuts – extreme stress will do that to you if you are already on the edge with an underlying mental disorder.
I was wondering if they managed to capture a bit of how it feels to be labeled as bipolar. How it feels to have some force reach down in and rip your life out by the roots and throw it out the window. Pat has lost everything at this point; wife, house, job, friends. It was pretty much spot on. I also found it interesting that the movie managed to capture how mental illness can run in a family.
Pat grapples with not wanting to take medication and not wanting to accept that he is ill. Not long after coming home Pat has a spectacular middle of the night breakdown that ended up in a brawl with his father. Not long after this he decides to go back on medication. When he was standing there at the kitchen sink looking at the pills in his hand I felt like I had a brick in my throat. God is sucks to look at these little pellets in your hand and try to believe that they are what is keeping you sane, or “normal,” keeping you out of the hospital or jail, and able to interact with other people. And not wanting to believe it at the same time. Maybe it’s just too much for one mind to accept.
There was one scene that was so funny that I choked on my water. He was lying in bed in his parent’s attic reading, sat up and yelled “what the f@@k?” then threw the book out the window. The scene cuts to the yard and you see the book smashing through the window glass of the attic and splats in front yard. He was reading Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms. Oh my God, I so identify. When reading becomes your only solace, a bad ending can so absolutely enrage you to the point that you want to destroy the book. I’ve thrown books I’m mad at across the room, into the fireplace, even broken the spine and tore them in half. Somehow deleting them off my Kindle is not as satisfying. I’ve even been tempted to buy a hard copy of a book I hate just so I can destroy it.
He then goes down to his parent’s bedroom at 3:00 am to rant about Hemingway and bad endings to books. Yup, poor impulse control. He demands a personal apology from Hemingway. I wonder why it is that bipolar mania seems to catch us at 3:00 am, the most wicked hour of the day.
Throughout the story Pat is struggling from the obsession or delusion that he can somehow get back together with his wife. That’s a little tricky because his wife and the school he worked for have restraining orders against him. He is not allowed to come within 500 feet of his wife and is forbidden to communicate with her in anyway.
Enter Jennifer Lawrence in her Oscar winning role as Tiffany, a broken young widow who is struggling with her own demons. She agrees to help Pat contact his wife via letter in exchange for him helping her with her dream of entering a dance contest. The beginning of their relationship is so awkward that it’s cringe worthy. But, really how many relationships start off smoothly and always go according to plan.
I’m left with a sense that some things that are broken can never be fixed. And too much time is wasted trying to fix unfixable things. Maybe life is more about learning to coexist with lunacy.
I follow a blog called International Liberty – Restraining Government in America and Around the World. Written by Dan Mitchell. I don’t always agree with his views, but I do share his aversion to rampant passing of an endless stream of laws.
He posed a question today: “You Be the Judge: Should the Law Discourage People from Becoming Vagrants?”
Not going to reblog his entire post here because it was a long one, with lots of questions to ponder. An interesting and rather disturbing read.
My comment on this post was:
I think that turning homelessness into a crime is similar to the way modern medicine treats illness – by addressing the symptom instead of the underlying problem.
Granted some bums are just bums because they damned well feel like it. But the majority would prefer not to be homeless. The National Alliance for Mental illness estimates that 1/3 of the homeless population in the US are veterans. Another 45% have untreated mental illness, and few options to receive treatment if they tried. Since the 50′s the population of people cared for in mental hospitals has decreased by 90%.
So who are the homeless? They are the lepers of the 20th century. We just want them to go away or lock them up out of sight.
I have a lot of siblings. 2 of them drift in and out of homelessness from time to time. They are both drowning in untreated mental illness and substance abuse problems. My brother is mentally impaired due to severe brain damage as the result of a fall when he was intoxicated. The severity of the brain injury is the direct result of being taken to jail because he was drunk instead of taken directly to the emergency room to treat his head injury.
He finally managed to get placed in government subsidized housing. But he has many restrictions attached to this home. The biggest is that he is not allowed to let anyone live with him. How’s that for ostracizing and warehousing one of our less than savory members of society? Seems like it would be cost effective to allow him to have a room mate.
The recent conundrum he faced involved a sister who ran out of bipolar meds, didn’t get refills and careened into a 3 week drinking binge and manic depressive episode. As a result she got kicked out of the place she was living. She ended up on my brother’s sofa alternating between sleeping, being out of her mind, and panhandling for money to buy beer.
So his choices are 1) let her stay and try to help her while risking losing his home? Or 2) throw his own sister, a mentally ill woman, out on the street to fend for herself.
What a horrifying decision to be forced to make. I don’t know what I would do in his shoes. I finally told him that my vote was that he had to protect himself and not risk losing his home. But why should he even have to make that choice? It doesn’t seem fair or even remotely humane. It makes me want to rip my hair out!
This sister’s “drinking buddy” who suffers from the delusion that she is a friend came and took her to a women’s shelter. The time limit on that stay is 3 days. So it’s up in the air about what happens next.
I’m dead serious here. I don’t know what to wear to an intervention. A black business suit complete with pearls and high heels? Full body armor? Jeans, boots, hazmat apron, and a hockey mask in case spewage or violence? And it seems that soon I will be leading the charge on an intervention.
One of my siblings is in an extreme mental health crisis. She’s been passed out dead drunk and depressed on a brother’s couch for months now. She not eating or bathing, the only time she gets up is to stagger down to the corner store to pan handle for money to buy cheap beer. She’s sunk to the point where she will do anything, and I do mean anything for money to buy alcohol. Basically, she’s trying to drink herself to death.
My fear is that she well swim up from the depths of her despair long enough to have a semi-lucid moment and try some method of killing herself that may get more immediate results and she dies. Or gets raped and murdered in the alley she was lured into in search of funds for booze. However her alcoholism is not a stand-alone problem. She spirals into episodes because she has an untreated severe panic disorder. For lack of medical treatment to help her, she drinks. People in pain will resort to desperate measures to relieve that pain.
When you get right down to it, it is a horrifying situation. I think it’s the reason why I’ve never gone in for horror movies. Enough scary stuff going on in my family tree to keep me properly terrified at all times. Don’t need to drive somewhere, pay 7 bucks for a ticket, eat popcorn, and squirm around in my seat while viewing gruesomeness in high definition.
The catch 22 in mental health treatment is the prevailing opinion that “we can’t help you with psychiatric treatment or medications until you stop drinking.” You may as well tell someone with a broken leg “we can’t fix your leg until you stop screaming from the pain.” It’s ridiculous that otherwise intelligent, compassionate, professional people believe this.
I’m not going to use that tired old line about “why pay for a horror movie when I get it at home for free” because that is total hogwash. Mental illness is not free, it’s unbelievably expensive. Insurance coverage for mental health issues is sick joke. It is legalized stigma at it it’s finest. More often than not people who are in the throes of severe mental illness are not capable of keeping it together enough to have jobs and health insurance.
The main task of the day for the sick person is just living through it until the next day, and then make it through that day. When you start adding up lost jobs, lost relationships, lost homes and possessions, and treatment for stress induced illnesses, the cost of mental illness soars into the billions.
Patient rights advocates have been busy these past decades and posed the question “should someone be incarcerated or medicated against their will, if mentally ill?” Our bureaucracy has pounced on that as an excuse to close down mental hospitals nationwide and put thousands of mentally ill patients out on the street. You’d have to be living under a rock to have not heard the statistics of how many homeless people suffer from mental illness. “Let’s just pretend they don’t exist” is the mass delusion we’re suffering from. Just because someone can speak doesn’t mean they are capable of making rational decisions about their care.
And it is a total delusion. With new studies of the brain and genetics, scientist discovered that there is a genetic marker that indicates a risk of contracting a Mood Spectrum Disorder, such as severe depression, schizoaffective disorder, dysthymia, cyclothymic disorder, and manic depression. Similar genetic markers as those that indicate a woman’s chance of developing breast cancer. Does anyone yell at someone with cancer and say “Just snap out of it, take a shower, get off your pity pot and get a job?” No! Or at least most don’t. I won’t even go in to alternate new age, blame the victim, bull dung theories about illness is caused by Karma from a past life or any other nonsense.
Where the nature/nurture conundrum comes into play is in families with cyclical and generational mental disorders. Without intervention these families become more dysfunctional with each passing generation. Part of the problem is that no one has the coping skills taken for granted in a functional family. A healthy person might say “I’m feeling a bit down today, I’m going to take a bubble bath, go to bed early with a cup of herbal tea and a good book.” A person with a genetic propensity towards mental disorder raised in a generational loony bit will say “I’m feeling down today, so I’m going to down a fifth of vodka, wrap my car around a telephone pole after driving on the sidewalk for 3 blocks, and then strip down and flee the scene naked to the nearest sleazy bar and dance on tables for drinks, wrapped in a bar towel.
There’s a major disconnect here. Anyone growing up a midst of this madness is blessed by all the saints in heaven if they emerge unscathed. Chances of winning the lottery are more likely.
Back to my sister. In the past few months she been taken to the hospital by the police 3 times because she was in an alcohol and mental illness induced violent psychosis. What do they do? Keep her at least over night or give her a psychiatric evaluation? No. Send her to a detox unit? Nope, not a chance.
What they do is tie her to gurney until she is sober enough to string 2 words together and then RELEASE HER, as in just boot her out the door in the middle of the night; drunk, filthy, disheveled, penniless, out of her mind, partially clothed, barefoot and in the worse part of town.
Do they bother to inform a family member that they dumped a young woman on the street at 2:00am without even pocket change to make a phone call? NO. I think there should be a special section of hell for any insurance company executive or politician who pretends to think this is humane treatment of a human being. If someone treated an animal like this they could be facing hard time in prison.
OK, I got off a rant. But yes, I’m extremely angry about this. I’m so angry that I’m going to take my soapbox on the road. I’m going to try to get help for my sister. If I didn’t try I wouldn’t be able to live with myself.
In the Middle Ages, it was called melancholia. In the early 1900s, it was known as neurasthenia. From the 1930s to about 1970, it was known as a nervous breakdown. “Nervous breakdown” is a term that the public uses to characterize a range of mental illnesses, but generally it describes the experience of “snapping” under immense pressure, mental collapse or mental and physical exhaustion.
My lovely daughter once dropped a quote that I thought was pretty funny at the time; “Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.” Now I think back on it, she was acting as a prophetess.
I’ll always remember the winter of 2012 as that pesky time when I lost my freaking mild altogether. Losing one’s mind is way more inconvenient thank losing one’s cell phone for example. You can always call yourself from the house phone and follow the ring to where the darned phone is hiding…this time. If you haven’t silenced the ringer – then you have to turn off everything in the house and listen for the vibration.
Checking all your coat pockets and purses you’ve used recently doesn’t help much either. A lost mind tends to lurk around in the shadows and pounce on you at inconvenient moments. Say, just long enough for you to put 2 & 2 together and realize that your answer, 42, is not quite right.
It’s really weird to be on the inside of a mental meltdown. Part of you decides to play the part of spectator and stands off on the sidelines, cheering and wincing. “Come on Girl, you can do it. Just put your pants on one leg at time, it’s not that hard once you get started.” Or “Oh, I can’t believe she said that, that’s going to be hard to explain.” Or “Oh crap, she’s never gonna live THAT down.”
I spent the majority of December 2012 and January 2012 feeling like my brain got put into a food processor and spun around on high until I ended up with a bizarre brain puree not suitable for consumption by anyone.
The whole meltdown thing started innocently enough. I began to display evidence of losing my aplomb. Minor incidents were suddenly earth shatteringly serious. I went from being annoyed by the self-destructive antics of friends and loved ones to being annoyed by their very existence on the planet.
I think one of the things that saved me from total chaos is that I can type really fast, almost fast enough to keep up with my thoughts when they are raging in a manic episode. I can sit down with a cup or 2 of coffee and bang out a novella on the outrages of using a poorly constructed can opener, 8 to 10 thousand words easy – no problem. And it all makes sense, at the time. I’ve saved a few of the crazier ones for a private look back guide to tell when I starting to careen off the rails. I just wish I could channel some of this energy into the book I’m writing. Sometimes I can.
Well, all of this nonsense ended up in an enormous train wreck from my perspective. I spent a lot of time being profoundly grateful that I was retired and didn’t have to suffer the humiliation of melting down on the job.
I saw it happen to a work friend and it was not a pretty sight. She was suffering from “forced speech” that frequently accompanies a manic episode. This meant that she couldn’t sit down in her cube and couldn’t shut up no matter what. She took to walking around wearing a blood pressure cuff as a bracelet and updated everyone on her stats on a continuous basis, about every 15 minutes.
This went on for 2 days in a row. Being the one responsible for keeping track of employees at that time, I had to be the one to have HR call her husband to come get her. Actually I was relieved that he came and quietly spirited her away. We spoke for a few minutes and I thanked him for coming to get his wife. He thanked me for doing something instead of just ignoring her. I felt terrible that she went through that. The company ended up giving her a generous retirement package and we never saw her again.
I heard through a mutual friend a year or so later and she had received treatment and was feeling much better. She was working part time in a low stress, small grocery store owned by a family member. She was able to get out of the house, and a huge benefit was that they were kind and patient with her when she had “one of those days” and was unable to handle being in the store.
I’m grateful for my beloved husband for bearing with me during this episode. I don’t know how he stood it really. I couldn’t even stand myself. It must be incredibly challenging to face someone who switches from “I’m pissed that you left the toilet seat up, please don’t do that” – to – “I’m pissed that you left the toilet seat up, therefore I’m leaving and moving to Brazil!’ in the blink of an eye.