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Psych Writes

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."

"You can't."

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.

Reader Comments (17)

My affection and admiration for you has just grown stronger from reading this, you really are one in a million! I can only imagine how hard it is to share that given the potential repercussions, to risk that as someone many trust and respect - but I cannot imagine someone not recognising what amazing strength it takes to reveal a personal "weakness", and respecting that above everything else.

Thank you as always for sharing, I really love reading your blog. And I am so glad to read that writing is so essential to you, because it hopefully means it will keep on coming :)

June 29, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterLeah

Hey. All love and no shame. Love you, Mo

June 29, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Thank you so much for sharing your experiences.

I love this blog. I love the way you write. And I love that you have been able to share this in such a public manner.

If only mental illness was approached so openly and candidly more often...

Thank you.

June 29, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterKate

Clients seek you out because of their mental illness. When I found my midwife, it was because she understood my mental state as a Bipolar with Anxiety and SAD. She agreed that as soon as I gave birth I return directly to meds to avoid Post-partum issues, and she was there when I was having serious doubts about bringing this baby into the world with such a screwed up mommy. I've found that I am drawn to others with mental illness of some sort. In fact, my best friend is Mr. 'Scary without meds' and is probably not so far off of ECT.

I am so happy that you decided to share this. I've been reading for a little while now, because I'm fascinated with L&D, and love your birth stories. It makes things much easier when you are able to say it aloud. I've found that it helps me, anyways. I may not tell EVERYONE, but I feel that my close friends and family should know the extent of it. They should know how fragile I am when depressed and should also know how looped I am while Manic. They should also be aware that I eat while Manic and don't eat AT ALL while depressed. Maybe someone could take the damn brownie out of my hand or give me a sandwich.

AND AMEN to your doc. Nice to have one of those, instead of one that doesn't care or is just a pill pusher. Sane is good. :-)

June 29, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJillian

Leah: Thank you so much for believing in me. Thanks lots for enjoying what I write! I'm amazed sometimes what a compulsion writing really is for me. Do others feel so driven?

Isn't it interesting that people reading my words previously stifled me and not having a blog (where hundreds a day read my words) makes me ill? I keep thinking how odd it is that I adore writing in a place where folks "see" inside my head yet have a conniption when my private letters or journals are read. What's up with that?

Mo: thank you. And love you, too. :)

Kate: Thank you!! Thank you.

Jillian: I've read your blog and didn't find that we had so much in common, but enjoyed your words nevertheless. And now, here you are - and we DO share something deep and tender. You are welcome to email me anytime with your heart and mind pain. I get it.

(Because these comments are moderated, if you send me a msg via a comment I will see it. Give me your email address and I can write you privately.)

Thank you all. (Those words seem so inadequate.)

June 29, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife


June 29, 2006 | Unregistered Commentermm

I don't know what to say or how to help, just to say that I have a great deal of respect and affection for you and am thankful you are okay.

Wishing I could give you a hug.


June 29, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterLindsay

Courageous Woman (your new, official title),

Your light shines now, into the darkest reaches. There is no corner of the universe that has not felt your warmth. You are the shining sun, and a forceful wind - flaring at times, gusting at others, but always a creative and destructive force. You are finding balance among the things that would weaken you, by claiming them.

I love you, love you, LOVE you. :)

Keep breathing and putting one foot in front of the other, putting pen to paper (or skin, or walls, or wherever you must). Tell us the truth. :)

I've learned that if I tell the truth about my scary dark parts that it helps other people to tell the truth, too. Keep shining!

June 29, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterKristina

I remember.

I'm glad you're blogging openly and that it's so healing. You are helping even more women/people than you have have in the process.

You know how I feel--I don't have to say it.


Thank all of you for believing in me and supporting me even with my craziness. It's funny, because I *am* the same person whether you knew I had the diagnosis or not. But, I know that information absolutely changes people's minds. I expect this information to eventually bite me in the ass.

Oh well.

June 30, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

At least you're putting your 'ass' out there. ;)

June 30, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterKristina

I have great admiration for you. My sister lives with us and has for the past 14 years she is bi-polar but is also schizoaffective as well. I have watched some of the people in a group she belonged to do various things to help prevent hospitalization- one gal in particular would draw or color in very detailed pictures- she said when she would feel some changes she needed to focus- and it kept her on the surf rather than pulled under-- I have watched my sis when moving into a psycotic period she would go with out her glasses and not focus on anything her pupils would be huge one difference was she wanted to go there- atleast for first part of the trip- the highs ( I feel wonderful- and the world is a fantastic place) but after days of no sleep and solid paranoia that lasts not for minutes but days on end with shapes and shadows speaking directly to you your darkest thoughts and fears - she wants out- the prevention meds help some but she wants that great feeling too and she has experimented with taking some but not all- to see if she can have the high with out the dark experience- but no. At one time she did try some alternative things and one thing that did work was very very high doses of hexathanated inisotol (works like niacin but no liver toxicity) and it changed the experience from full blown hallicnation to" You know S I am not thinking right." all in the span of 1/2 hr- unfortunately she does not want to keep up with the vitamins.
take care

July 1, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

You made me cry.

You are so wonderful.

July 5, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

What an incredibly brave piece of writing. My heart is so touched by how you have opened yourself here. And your words have helped illuminate some shadowy areas for me. Many years ago, long before my medical training, I was involved in a relationship with an artist who I now feel sure was Bipolar, though she carried no diagnosis. We met during the hypomanic phase and I was quite taken in by the whirlwind energy and on-top-of-the-world exhuberance which lasted for months, but then was followed by crashing depression when she literally never got out of bed and cried all the time. I was a 24-yr-old who had no clue what was wrong or how to deal with it. The relationship lasted 4 years, mostly because I so loved her young twin daughters for whom I was the surrogate parent most of the time. I've never revealed this era in my life before, and am somewhat amazed that I'm doing it now. See what a door you have opened? Amazing Amazon woman!

As you noted, writing is an incredibly therapeutic tool. Any time something significant happens in my life, I understand my own experience better when I write about it. It is truly a clarifying process. Like you, I couldn't do without it.

What a blessing that you have a partner who is strong and supportive, and able to be there for you. And thank you for the deep sharing that touches us all.

July 11, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterTheTundraPA

Bravo! My problems are a lot milder than yours, (though they certainly screwed me over in their own fashion). But the only way that worked to deal with them was to learn about them, and confront them. As a "regular" depressive, bipolars are pretty much my "man with no feet". ("I wept because I had no shoes...") It's good to see how you've managed to rise to meet the challenge of your illness.

Your strength and insight in the institution also speaks volumes for your character, and also for your personal integrity. Consider that the essence of what "they" did wrong there, almost everything that freaked you out and ultimately pissed you off, was that they didn't hold to the promises you'd been given. And for all the crap you already had to deal with, you almost immediately recognized: That Was Wrong. Hallucinating or not, there was surely nothing wrong with your moral sense. So be confident in this, that what you've done here is the right thing to do.

And you know, the information probably will "bite you in the ass" at some point. Like they say, "no good deed goes unpunished". But that's no reason not to do good deeds! If or when you do get flak for this, remember that there are people out there who remember you with gratitude and sympathy. There's always a cost, or at least a risk, in giving of yourself. But there are also returns beyond measure.

July 11, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Harmon

You are a very brave person to talk about your depression. I am also bipolar, and have occational thoughts of suicide. It takes more guts to keep living than it does to kill yourself. Keep choosing life. We would miss you if you took the easy way out.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

July 12, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

I've been on antidepressants for years. Will probably stay on them forever. I have an agitated type of depression (with anxiety; not the sleep 23 hours a day type). It's why I can look at a patient with a "mental illness" and see a person WITH a diagnosis and not THE diagnosis.

I'm fortunate. Even off medication my depression is a mild dyphoria.

But yes, I get the "mental" patients because I know how to talk to them. And it's talking to them as normal human beings.

Because they/we are!

You keep writing. Looks like I need to do some reading of your archives!

Not only is writing theraputic for you, but....you're good at it!

July 13, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterkim

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