I've had this post in my hands for a long time. I've shared snippets of my psych history, but am like the rest of the psych patients (who have half a mind to know better) who are filled with shame and embarrassment over their mental illness.
For those who have read my blog for any length of time or who have read back a fer piece, know I am still newly out of a serious 6-month long depression that included a brief (and I do mean BRIEF) stint in the hospital. It's frightening to write this because clients and friends and sister midwives and doulas in my community read my words. But, a blog post here moved me to "come out" about my own struggle - and triumphs - with mental illness.
The official diagnosis is Bipolar Disorder II with forays into seeing, out of the corner of my eyes, fuzzy things running across the floor or people whispering unintelligable somethings into my ears. On meds, the mind-pets and talkative ghosts are kept at bay, but depression continues lurking just under the surface.
I was misdiagnosed for over 15 years; common with BPD. In retrospect, it's amazing it wasn't figured out when I was diagnosed with postpartum depression in 1987. Medications used to be given and then recalled by doctors who felt sorry for my "do I have to stay on this?" When I found a strong doctor that hollered, "FUCK YEAH, if you want to keep your head on straight!" my life has been infinitely more sane.
I have always struggled with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) whenever I don't live in Florida. Washington State and Germany were painful trips into deepening darkness that took plenty of Elavil to climb out of.
Last Thanksgiving, I was blog-attacked because a client thought she recognized herself and outed me all over the place, bringing stinging wrath around my heart. I removed my blog and started another private one only to feel constipated and impotent. During the ensuing 6 months, I discussed, debated, explored, thought and prayed about how to blog while also protecting my clients yet also sharing the really cool aspects of being a midwife and how interesting they can be. I decided to ask permission of clients and they all have said I was welcome to write anything about them. Everyone else is fair game because it is my experience in the world and my right to write about them. (It took me MONTHS to be able to say those two sentences.)
In my life, I have stopped writing a few times, whether because someone read and made fun of my words or because they stole my journals and contaminated them with their sneakiness. Each and every time, I have found my way into depression. Not consciously, but quite literally anyway.
After the blog-attack, I could barely write chart notes. Within a month, I fell hard and deep.
When I go on meds or have them tweaked, it usually takes 2-3 weeks to stablize and begin the ascent again. This time, however, I was so immobilized and so fearful of writing anything, I couldn't get the words out and couldn't find a place of (self) healing (or forgiving). My psychiatrist and I tried med after med and I started yacking therapy, dealing with chronic pain via self-hypnosis, praying to whomever would listen and I kept trying so hard to not drown in the toilet of pity or say good-bye to all that I love.
I'd never been so close to dying as early 2006.
(These are thoughts normally reserved for my psychiatrist or my partner, by the way.)
I don't want to die. I am not an imbecile thinking dying would make things better for others. I get queasy thinking of the ways one might slip from this worldy location.
The thoughts come unbidden, however. Nothing brings the thoughts of evil and violence (to self and others) - they just show up in my dreams and behind the facade of my face and eyes. Startled, I blink the visions away, but they hover oh-so-close, sometimes floating just above my head.
When it isn't scary stuff, it's disconcerting whiffs of movement or sounds - just enough to make me think, "huh?" Earlier in my depression life, I really wasn't sure what the line was between real and fake, but now I have the whole thing mapped out and know, without a doubt, when the sweet nothings in my ear are coming from a suitor or a phantom.
God(dess) love my psychiatrist. She stayed with me throughout the downs and down-furthers of this latest depression, trying this, offering that, worrying with me, talking to me each day as I fought with all my soul to get better.
Some friends knew some of my pain, but only my psychiatrist and partner knew the extent of my inner turmoil and drama.
I told very few people when I went into the hospital.
I know people write all over the place about their psych hospital stays, but I haven't written about it before and I don't know any other midwives who've had the un-pleasure of the experience.
I was told I would be able to write while in there. No computer, but pens and paper were fine. I was told shoelaces and strings on clothes were fine, too. (Damn! I'd never even thought of strings being an issue in the world. See how un-suicidal I was?) I was going in to de-tox off of some psych meds while starting some new strong ones. I needed a place where I would be watched and safe if side effects got yucky. I thought I was going to a resting place.
Within moments of entering, I knew I was in trouble. My belongings were searched and all of my pens, pencils, journals, and paper were taken away. Frantic and crying (and probably not very gracefully), they had to call my doctor because I was near hysterical wanting and needing my writing tools. Didn't they know that not writing is how I got there in the first place? Didn't they know how horrid it is for me not to write?
While they were on the phone, they began cutting the strings off my pj's and only stopped cutting when I screamed at them to not cut the strings on my skirts. "No strings," I was told. Great. My stringed clothes were locked in a safe.
With the doctor, a compromise regarding writing was made: I would be able to write on the table next to the nurse's desk - at any time I wanted or needed to. Not 100% happy, I agreed to chill out long enough to talk to the nurses.
When I looked out at myself while this was happening, it was almost amusing - how distressed I was at not having writing materials. I watched closely to hear my own message to my Self. It was in the hospital that I "heard" what I was supposed to do.
And not stop.
I wrote most of the night.
Two men wandered in and out of the un-locked rooms, bickering with each other and scaring me (kinda). I didn't want to be awakened by one of them at my face, so felt sitting by the nurse's station writing was the safest bet. When I ran out of words to say, I studied my psychology (ha!!!) homework (I was in school - and still maintained straight A's even with the hoopla).
Near dawn, I restlessly slept next to an excruciatingly snoring woman.
When the doctor I'd never met before came in late in the morning, she mumbled her hello and didn't look at me with glazed-ly bored eyes. Oh, yeah... here I am... number 43785.
"I don't think your meds are working."
No duh, lady. Why do you think I'm in here.
"We've run out of options. You need to have ECT (electroconvulsive therapy - shock therapy)."
Blinking, I looked at her and almost laughed out loud.
"We've run out of meds? I've only tried about 12 of them. Aren't there, like, 400 more out there?"
"They won't work. All that will work is ECT."
I laughed and told her I was not going to have ECT. I told her I knew the risks and the benefits and that I was not anywhere near depressed or sick enough to warrant ECT.
She said it wasn't as bad as I thought.
Looking at her, I asked, "Have you had it done?"
I repeated that I wasn't doing ECT and I wanted in the ward where I could write without supervision. She said if I was well enough to be in an un-locked ward, I was well enough to be home.
I smiled and said, "Point taken. I'd like to go home now."
Laughing smugly, "I am a voluntary commit. I'm going home."
I got up and walked out, telling the kind nurse at the station I was going to be leaving, to please get the paperwork ready for me.
I called my partner who was there within 10 minutes, I signed out AMA and left transformed.
I don't think the transformation was quite what I or my psychiatrist expected, but it was complete nevertheless.
Walking out of the hospital, I breathed clean air that didn't smell like crazy old men who stalked drug-induced sleeping women or freaky German psychiatrists slamming ECT on unsuspecting victims. I felt like I'd been in the mikvah.
For whatever reason, the next combination of meds kicked in and I began climbing out of the cesspool of depression.
Each depression seems to get deeper and more dramatic. This is the frightening aspect I live with every day.
Why do I have to contend with depression/BPD and Disseminated Coccidiomycosis? Why do I have to be fat again even after a gastric bypass? What is it about me that draws all this drama into my days and nights?
I know that all that I endure makes me have loads to write about. I carry an empathy not all can touch.
Clients with a wide array of mental illnesses seek me out, not even knowing why. Fat women know I will respect them. Women with chronic illnesses that don't hamper their pregnancies know I will see them in whole light.
I write about my bipolar disorder because people need to know. My family, my clients, my friends, my blog-readers... I can't wear the shame anymore.
I need to keep breathing that air of healthy freedom.
I have too much to do to remain silent.