I have been a person with mood swings since I was a teenager. My journals from as far back as 15 log this. However, I thought of these swings as just who I was. I chucked it up to being the Wednesday’s Child “full of woe.” Since moving to the U.S. and being in activist circles I have come to know intimately the word, Angst. And that aptly describes much of my adolescent years. Not in the privileged child sense of acting-out, but one riddled with angst over being alive in general. I over thought, then over compensated then beat on myself then isolated because I was so bad who would want to associate with me anyway? I thought it was your normal teenage unpopular kid narrative. I talked to my best friend, the campus chaplain, and I prayed about it, a lot! Everything could be solved by prayer back then. I figured I wasn’t praying or fasting hard enough since I was still so “ill at ease” (what does this phrase really mean?)
When I arrived in the U.S. some major life changing things happened and our family found itself “sanctioned” to family therapy. So my first encounter with a secular therapist occurred. It has been a rollercoaster ride since then. I’ve had some amazing ones who I wish I could take with me from place to place, and I’ve had ones for whom the color of my skin determined the nature of our relationship. I wouldn’t wish those on my worst enemy. Some who disagreed with my diagnosis and others who thought it really was all in my head. (It IS! but that’s beside the point)
Because I was brilliant at weaving stories, I went years eluding some of the best of them. So long as I could dress myself, I was able to present a front to society. Of course, never mind that it took me 3 hours to pick out the same pair of jeans and tank top I had worn the day before, and I hadn’t slept or eaten in days. Minor detail. I was dressed and could pass for sane. Showing up “presentable at all costs” was my mantra. Just cos the inside was a hot mess didn’t mean the outside had to be.
This attitude renders the worst of the episodes invisible because not even the therapist I am seeing that day, can tell that I am on my way to the lake. For all intents and purposes, I should have been hospitalized, at the very least, 3 times in the last ten years. These would have been the episode that happened my first year of my first graduate program, the Spring I was correctly diagnosed, and April 2012 when I had gone off meds for 8 months. There are other episodes here and there, but these three, I really could have benefited from someone taking charge of my daily affairs. But the stigma around hospitalizations is real and I wasn’t about to lie on my forms. So even in my most depraved of states I still knew not to go in the ambulance. Apparently, somehow this makes me “higher-functioning.”
There are pros to being higher-functioning as the Shrink put it. It means that I would be your classic “oh we didn’t know it was that bad” case. Meaning I will be functioning until I let my foot off the brake pedal with the car in drive at the edge of the lake. I’ve got everything down to a science. It means that I can “pass” for sane on average 90% of the time and the 10%, I fake the Flu. Cons of being this so-called higher-functioning is basically the same, no one knows until it’s too late. I suffer needlessly.
I am in year seven of med regimen coupled with weekly counseling when I can afford it and the disease is still unfolding. We knock on wood when my therapist and I speak on the subject of hospitals, but sometimes I wish that hospitals weren’t such a sore spot. Imagine if it really was a place to have your cares taken care of for sometime while you caught up with your wits. Of course in my line of work, I’ve checked some of my students in and have been the one to bring them their personal items post admission so I have seen the inside. The inside in some of the ones I’ve been in, are not pretty and people really do “take charge of your affairs” on the inside. The people I have encountered while visiting someone on the inside have not always been pleasant. Just because someone has an episode does not mean they cease to be human or lose their membership card. People with mental illness at its worst need the most gentlest of care. This is what bothers me about this illness and it’s treatment and probably why we will continue to knock on wood.
I have been honored to read my blogger friend, Kathryn McCollough’s, experience of being on the inside on her blog. Please read and share.