Considering how prevalent mental illness is, why do so few bloggers talk about it?

The aim of this blog is to write about my experience with mental illness, developments in my life as well as issues in the field of mental health all the while keeping a feminist framework.

I hope you can take something from this blog, whatever that may be.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Responsibility for Happiness

With mental illness, how responsible are we for our own happiness?

When I am depressed, it is all consuming. There is nothing that I can do to manage the symptoms. There is nothing I can do to ease the pain I feel, let alone make myself feel better. While I think that it is my responsibility to TRY to feel better, I recognize that it is generally an attempt that is in vain. So where do other people fit in this?

A couple of days ago my partner was upset with me. He felt that I was acting a bit down and his attempts to make me feel better were going unappreciated. He was referring to a couple of days that, while on vacation, I was acting particularly (and strangely) subdued and quiet and generally not acting myself. He felt that he had been trying to cheer me up but to no avail. What struck me, however, was that he said it was his responsibility to cheer me up and because it wasn’t working he felt he was failing at his job. This surprised me. While I have myself said to him, upon cheering him up, that ‘its no problem, its my job’, I never knew he took this remark so seriously. It sounds kind of weird to say but I think that while it is my job to TRY to cheer him up, it is ultimately up to him. I think back to the times where, for instance, he is stressed and feeling down because of all the work he has to put in to clear up any sort of bureaucratic mess that he tends to get himself into (like filling out job application forms, or graduation forms or other sorts of boring and annoying tasks). I try to cheer him up, but I know that the only way he is going to get out of his funk is for him to get motivated enough to fill out the forms and get the problem out of the way. I cant do that for him.

So why does he feel such responsibility for my happiness?

Besides being just a empathetic and generous person, which he is, I think there is more to it. He has seen me at my worse. And he was there for me. He would stroke my hair as I cried at the pain of living and would hold me for hours on end. I think he recognized that there was nothing I could do to help myself – I was at the mercy of my illness. Perhaps that is why he felt it was up to him to do something. Stroking my hair and lying with me was about the only thing he could do that had any affect whatsoever, and he would do it. Now that I am healthy, I wonder if he is still stuck in that place where he thinks I have no ability to take responsibility for my own health. I don’t like to think that he stresses over my happiness. It is normal for a person to have ups and downs and I hate to think that he feels responsible for this.

We talked about it and I tried to make it clear that it is, ultimately, up to me. I hope he understood that while it is his ‘job’ to try and cheer me up, it is not his responsibility! Time will tell I suppose.

As for now, I am left wondering about who is responsible for the happiness and well being of a person with mental illness. Is this a task that is lost to an illness?

Night Sweats and Mexico Dreams

So things have been good with me. Ive been keeping up on my medication and it is proving to be doing its job. My side effects are pretty annoying but manageable. One of the more annoying ones is my extensive night sweats. It’s pretty gross to wake up soaked!

I have been having some anxiety symptoms. I know they are symptoms instead of just mild, but ‘normal’ sensations because of the full bodied feeling of them. I can be anxious sometimes but I know its my condition when its this down to the bone anxiety instead of a really superficial and easily managed anxiety.

I think it has to do with my job searching I have been doing. I just graduated with my second bachelors degree in women’s studies and native studies. I have a summer job working at this small arts non profit organization but am looking for something for September. Its been rather stressful because all the jobs I find I am really eager for, but am under qualified and do not get called on. Im nervous I wont find anything for the fall.

Another mentionable thing is that I have been a little down since I got back from vacation. I was in Mexico for a week for a friend’s wedding and getting back I have been faced with a crummy job and a difficult job search. When I think back to the time in Mexico, my heart aches.

But, even with these symptoms I am functioning well and they are not all encompassing. Plus, they are instigated by real life events, vs past symptoms being caused by no stimuli in particular. I am thankful for the time I have feeling well.

(fuck, I am so damn positive when Im feeling healthy, it kinda disgusts me…. well, I guess Im not completely positive as this side note proves)

Monday, July 12, 2010

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden

Like Bitter Medicine, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden depicts a very raw experience with severe mental illness. Reading this book made me realize how fortunate I have been with my own experience of mental illness and how lucky we are to have medicines that help (sometimes).
The story is about a girl named Deborah who is institutionalized in the 1960’s for her supposed schizophrenia (I say supposed because some doctors would diagnose her differently today, plus, how accurate are we really when we try to categorize the illnesses). This story can be considered feminist because of how deeply it delves into the lives and experiences of women. The novel chronicles the experience in a mental institution as she undergoes treatment which primarily takes the form of psychotherapy. She has a unique bond with her psychologist who is warm, caring as well as experienced. What struck me most was the way the doctor spoke of Yri, the ‘fictional’ world in which Deborah coexists. (I say ‘fictional’ because how can we say it is fake if it is experienced so vividly.) Her doctor does not tell her that she is disordered, that the world Deborah has ‘created’ is fictional and needs to be forgotten, but rather shows her that she is being controlled by that world and needs to get to a point where she can choose between ‘reality’ and the world of Yri. She goes so far as to say that she will have a choice and that she will not have to give up Yri if she does not want to. This blew me away, giving so much credit to a patient… if only more doctors were like this.
The depiction of her schizophrenia was moving, especially the time she spends in the world through a black and white lens seen through grey jail bars. She also demonstrates the connection people develop with their mental illness – how they can predict relapse and breakdowns but also the way you can develop emotional attachment to even ‘fictional’ characters.
The relationships between the patients and between the patients and the staff of the hospital were also interesting. An interesting dynamic developed surrounding the idea of failure. Twice in the book a patient is released only to end up returning to the confines of the hospital. The response of the other patients was telling. There was a mix of happiness in seeing an old friend but also animosity for what their ‘failure’ represented. Each time a woman was released there was so much meaning placed on their success; if one of us can overcome our illnesses and function and be happy, then maybe I can too. Their failure served to crush that dream.
I found the readability of this book questionable. I was really curious as to where the book would take me and I wanted to read it through because it was a book concerned with mental illness- a rarity. BUT, I found it a bit tedious. Yri is a difficult place to understand and many times I found myself skipping over sections so I didn’t have to decipher what was written.
I would recommend it for those who are looking to invest some time in a sometimes difficult to read book for a pretty good story and a really interesting and powerful depiction of mental illness.