hospitalization

Memory and Blank Spaces

This term I am taking a wonderful women’s studies class entitled Women, Writing, and Memoir.  The first two classes of the term involved the completion of free writes on the prompts “I remember…” and “I don’t remember…” My responses were highly reflective and raised my intrigue for these exercises.  I have decided, for this blog post, to combine the exercises and complete a free write just to see, out of pure curiosity, where it goes.

I remember the way I existed in a constant zombie, absent state as I progressed from class to class in that fiery October when I was mysteriously, unprecedentedly called to the high school administrative office for my mother to pick me up.  To the hospital, she said we were going, and all I can remember is the relief that I can finally sleep, sleep, sleep.  Sleep away the demons rooting residence within the fabric of my brain, quickly signing their renewal leases, tenants disruptive and unforgiving, destined to never leave.  I remember the discovery that no, I was to be imprisoned in a psychiatric ward where sleep was a commodity, a rarity, a luxury to be bartered for.  It was Halloween, the mountains of Southern California were ablaze, and they painted my face, me a child, the color strokes not indicative of the fourteen years of age I carried. Visitors presented, yet I was absent, my ties to the world severed, floating in catatonia.  I bowed my head, unaware of the forces struggling to break the barrier and draw me from the depths of hell in which I resided.  I remember smuggling broken tiles from occupational therapy, feeling deftly for the sharpest edges and drawing the points across my forearm until they drew blood.  There was a girl there.  I did not know her well, nor did I express the choice or will to, but I remember the ways she tried to touch me and the protests of discomfort and intense dislike I offered.  I remember the day I was allowed to leave, realizing the broken way in which these two worlds attempted to collide.

I don’t remember the white hot flashes that surged through my mind and danced their bruises across my mother’s arms, her hiding them at work to avoid the questions she knew would be asked.  I don’t remember the rages that possessed me and elicited horrific acts, only that they occurred and that I collapsed in confusion and unknowing.  While I remember the breaking of the glass, I cannot recall how it felt to pull the shard across flesh, nor the specific hue of red that emerged and trickled like a slow-flowing creek carrying away garbage cast afloat by a desperate teenager seeking cleansing and catharsis.  I do not remember the first time I prostrated to pray, but only how I ardently seek to replicate the feeling of connection I felt to God in that moment – the worlds beyond being opened to me and offering solace and forgiveness to and an understanding of the monster residing within me. I don’t remember the first time I contemplated suicide, only that the urge has never left.  I have little recognition of childhood, of a semblance of normalcy, a state in which my mind was quiet and not disruptive, sadistic, or cruel.  Most of all I do not remember familial happiness, a time in which the devils did not dance, the connecting ropes strained by illness and marriage, a time when sisters partnered rather than eschewed.  I do not remember every tear shed from red eyes, but I remember in vividness the ones which I caused.

Drifting

She gently placed three electrodes on my chest.  Sinus rhythm, minimal tachy she assures me as I lay in anticipation of drugs that will float me in tingles to worlds I know not.

What is that symbol on your necklace, she asks?

“It is the symbol of the Baha’i Faith…”

 

This piece is in response to a WordPress prompt to tell a story spawning from a source of inspiration, found in any form and told in any fashion.

Weekly Writing Challenge: Fifty-Word Inspiration

More to the Picture

For much of my treatment career – yes, I am indeed calling the taming of the beast these years have evolved into a “career” – I have painted a two dimensional piece, whether it be a Monet, a Picasso, or an unintelligible charcoal-smeared creation.  The point is, these pictures are flat.  For the last eleven or twelve years, I have relied oh-so-heavily on the powers of psychiatric medication.  I was once again recently hospitalized for bipolar symptoms, and during a visit with my mother following a highly frustrating and disappointing meeting with my inpatient psychiatrist, we made a list of the treatment options I had tried thus far.  First came the list of medications – lithium, depakote, risperdal, lamictal, clozapine, haldol, trilafon, thorazine – the list is endless, and nearly so.  We calculated an approximate trial of 20 to 25 different medications I had endured over the past years.  Next we tracked treatments I had undergone, including naturopathy, acupuncture, electroconvulsive therapy, and twelve inpatient hospital stays.  Is it time to paint a Van Gogh?

The use of psychiatric medication has drastically altered my life.  In fact, I can confidently say it has saved my life.  But then, what is left over?  There is only so much a psychotropic drug can do in the recovery of a person with mental illness.  It propels the car down the interstate, but there must be another driving force to push pass the border.  There must be more to the picture.  Effective coping skills.  Do not undermine the power of the mind to alter a mood state, thought pattern, or to deescalate a crisis through the implementation of learned skills and behavior modifications.  My greatest experience with learning and engaging in coping skills has been through Dialectical Behavior Therapy practice.  I have had much interaction with DBT, mostly beginning with the three week completion of an intensive outpatient program.  For three weeks – three weeks! – I ate, breathed, and slept DBT.  Yet I did not implement the principles into my life – mindfulness, acknowledgment and acceptance of painful emotions, distress tolerance, emotion regulation.  The invaluable things I learned in this program could have served to begin to possibly alter my art into three-dimensional pieces, had I been doubly persistent.

I also received intensive DBT exposure and training in the four hospitalizations I have experienced in this past hospital.  Our days were centered upon groups led explicitly in the informative and practical application of DBT principles.  Yet, I come home and once again fail to implement them into my life.  A few days ago, I came upon my medical records of my hospital stays at UCLA and documentation with the Department of Mental Health in Los Angeles.  I was shocked, disturbed, and distressed reading through the records, realizing how long and arduous a road this has been.  Medication after medication, unsustained improvement.  I suddenly realized that these medications are getting me only so far.  I must begin to exercise my inherent powers to alter my life, use my mind, thought processes, and cognitive abilities to effect change.  It is the only way I will cross the border and enter the adjoining state without disregarding or disparaging the gas the psych medications have fed me.  There is a possibility to work to control my neuroses and obsessions, to combat my suicidal urges, and to attack and smack down the thoughts of self harm and punishment that often plague my mind.

I am slowly working through the practice of these skills.  It is a process – an extremely slow process – to effectively learn and implement them, but I believe they are as valuable as my psych medications.  Perhaps in the future I will be able to exclaim the power of my mind and thought processes in their imperative role in the dismantling of the current and historical blockade inhibiting my path to recovery and the rescuing of my life.  No more Renoir.  Shall I try a Michelangelo?

Broken Lamps and Escorts

As you know from previous posts, I have struggled with mental illness most of my life.  I have had periods of ups and downs and in-betweens.  Since December 2012, struggles have greatly arisen, coming to head and persisting, and the last year and a half of my life has been quite a fight.  As I sit here tonight, I cannot help but recall “what started it all.”  My mind is ruminating and perseverating, and perhaps sharing the story will quiet my thoughts.

Finals had just ended.  A couple of days before I had knocked my ceramic lamp from the end table, shattering it, jagged pieces splayed everywhere across the wood floor.  I was tired, too tired to make any attempt to clean, and haphazardly brushed the pieces to the side.  Over the course of the term, I had been deteriorating – and quickly.  I was forced to leave my volunteer position at the campus Women’s Resource Center due to my declining state, and I barely completed my classes.  With the completion of finals I felt a sense of relief, but also a sense of trepidation.  School had given me purpose, something to consistently strive for and look forward to.  Finals had removed all of what had been keeping me going.  A night or two after I broke the ceramic lamp – which I never cleaned up – the jagged pieces began to look enticing.  I had cut before, but it had been over a year and a half since I had done so.  I made several shallow cuts on my leg and then the next one was deeper, into the fat.  I was shocked and panicked.  There was blood, and I grabbed the first item – a shirt – to staunch the flow.  I ran into the hallway of the dorm to find my neighbor, and of luck, she was there, just returning from walking her dog.  She calmed my hysterics, patched me up, and she and I and two other residents sat in the hall for over an hour chatting and conversing, which worked to calm my raging moods.

Bandaged up, I spent the next day or two going through the motions, but still deteriorating quickly.  About two nights later, I cracked.  It was late, and I went to my neighbor’s room and pled for help, for something to relieve the pain.  We decided to call the Campus Police and let them know we had a psychiatric crisis.  They were going to call an ambulance, but I adamantly insisted that I be driven in the police car to the hospital.  The idea of riding in an ambulance was quite terrifying at the moment.  They conceded and agreed to come to the dorm and get me.  I returned to my apartment to grab my belongings and began to check the level of water in my cat’s bowl, whether the burners were off on the stove, etc. until my neighbor gently ushered me out, interrupting my obsessive behavior.

The Campus Police arrived, wearing purple latex gloves.  At the time I could not comprehend why they would don gloves, but later thinking enlightened me that that they really had no idea what sort of situation they were stepping into.  They searched my bag and led me to the police car.  Once in the car came the questions . . . height, hair color, etc.  The other officer took a statement from my neighbor.  “Wanna talk about it?” the officer asked, and all I could do was shake my head no.

I was driven to the OHSU Emergency Department and walked in – no, was escorted in – by the two officers as the entire waiting room watched.  I cowered in humiliation.  Luckily I was taken back immediately.  I was searched for sharp items or other potentially harmful items and led to a room furnished with a mat on the floor, stuffed chairs, and complete with a camera.  My clothes and belongings were confiscated, and I donned paper scrubs.  I spent the first several hours crying uncontrollably and speaking intermittently with psychiatrists, pharmacy techs, and lab assistants.  Once the decision was made for admission to the psychiatric ward, I finally collapsed into sleep.  I was awoken early in the morning, only several hours after finally succumbing to sleep, to be informed I was being transferred to another psychiatric hospital in the area called Cedar Hills.  They wrapped me in a blanket, protecting me from the chilly December weather, and escorted me to a police-type car and drove me to the facility.  Upon arrival I immediately began intake, which involved – in all humility – stripping down to nothing more than my skin to check for and document marks and scars.  So began my journey, my revolving door, of the psych hospitalizations I have been experiencing for the past year and a half.

I earnestly wish I could say I have improved from this point, but four more hospitalizations and 38 ECTs contradict this notion.  I want so badly to get better – to be well – but the struggle is unrelenting.  I am continuing to fight; I am committed to fight, and I vow, with difficulty, to not give up.  There are bright days interspersed with the dark ones, and I pray for the arrival and multiplication of these days. I believe that sharing stories is important because not only is it cathartic and empowering, it raises awareness of mental illness and the experiences of those afflicted.  Stories should not be hidden and shrouded, shameful tales, but rather used as mechanisms of education.  If there is anything I can hope to do in my life, it is to share my story, educate others, and raise awareness.  Hiding mental illness hurts the sufferer, yes, but it also hurts society, as it loses a vital component that provides betterment and a strong bolster to the infrastructure of our social fabric.

Gratitude

I believe gratitude and the thankful acknowledgment of what has gone well in our lives – in the face of obstacles, trials, and tests – can be an integral component of our satisfaction with life.  Focusing on the negative is counterproductive and increasingly builds feelings of unhappiness and severe discontent with our lives.  When hospitalized in the psychiatric unit, we had a class on gratitude.  The discussion and workshop surrounded on the creation of a gratitude journal, one of the simplest and most fruitful ways to journal for both the experienced and those who struggle.  The point was to shift our attention away from our debilitating illnesses and symptoms to a place of thankfulness for who we are as individuals, and for the things going well in our lives that work to sustain us and keep us going.  I originally found it quite hard to find moments of gratitude in what I perceived to be an unrelenting, blatant accost on my life and emotional wellbeing, but once I began practicing this form of journaling, I realized how much positivity and good were in my life, a life I had once deemed to be dismal and irreparably damaged.  For example, though I may have bipolar, I have gratitude for the support and love I receive from my medical providers, family, and friends.

 

Here is how it works:  At the end of the day, choose at least five components of your day for which you are grateful and appreciative.  They have to be specific.  While you may be highly grateful for your cat or dog, choose something that has happened specifically today – such as, I am grateful for the happiness I received from playing with my dog in the park today.  Start each entry with “I am grateful for/that…”).  So surprising is the joy and sense of appreciation that arises from completing this journaling exercise.

 

Here is mine for today:

1.  I am grateful for my ability to afford a glass of tea and a crepe at the local coffee shop today.

2.  I am grateful that I was able to listen to the rain pattering on roof of our house.

3.  I am grateful for my ability to sleep in this morning without having to worry about obligations or expectations to meet.

4.  I am grateful that I was able to spend the afternoon enjoying a book I have so desperately been trying to finish.

5.  I am grateful for my sister picking me up at the coffee shop on a whim, taking time out of her day and projects she had been working on to cater to my needs.

 

Focusing on gratitude has truly brought me from the depths into light.  When I fall back into the darkness, it tosses me a rope and draws me out once again.  In my August 2013 hospitalization, I was in a psychotic manic episode and focusing on not much more than self harm, death, and suicide.  I eschewed myself from anything positive, as I saw myself not making it out this time and was ready to succumb to my illness.  By chance of attending this workshop, my entire perspective changed.  My illness and symptoms did not change, but my perspective did.  By having a more positive outlook, I began to rewire neural pathways.  Nurturing positivity did not heal the cut on my arm, nor the suicidal ideations and hallucinations, but it created a platform by which I could start to rebuild my life, brick by brick.

 

For a further resource and an expanded perspective on gratitude journals, try this link:

Tips for Keeping a Gratitude Journal

 

Loneliness and Alienation

In an earlier post, I discussed the disappearances people with mental illness can make, evaporating stealthily from social circles following psychiatric hospitalizations and treatments.  Unfortunately loneliness and alienation have become such ingrained components of the lives of people with mental illness.  Not only do prolonged disappearances yield loneliness and alienation due to increasing absence in social circles, but stigma and confusion play a part as well.  When mental illnesses present in adolescence, this creates a prime breeding ground for the confusion that cultivates and fosters alienation.  Adolescents become confused when their friend and comrade disappear for a short – or even extended – period of time, and for reasons that are foreign, and at times, incomprehensible.  If one considers this situation, it may present with partial truth, in a sense, as mental illnesses are complex phenomena that even adults fail to understand.  If adults struggle with accepting and understanding mental illness, expecting adolescents to be entirely understanding and cognizant of the gravity and tragic nature of mental illness is a difficult request.  However this does not detract from the devastation and hurt felt by adolescents experiencing mental illness who make intermittent disappearances in the course of their treatments and who are ostracized when their symptoms and suffering percolate over, spilling into their academic and social lives, where their peers demonstrate limited understanding and eschew connection with things they just do not relate to or comprehend.  As a result of these factors, the social circles surrounding an adolescent experiencing mental illness slowly dissipate, support and friendships disappearing surely and swiftly.  In sets the beginning of alienation.

Loneliness and alienation are not restricted to adolescence.  Adults also experience disappearances – psychiatric hospitalizations, leaving jobs on disability – all of which affect their work lives and social circles.  Loneliness and alienation are such profound experiences, and probably some of the most tragic.  Social connection extends beyond superficial engagements, such as coffee at the cafe or a birthday party.  Rather it is such an integral part of human existence, providing sustenance to our minds and spirits, and the absence of this connection is debilitating.  People with mental illnesses experience this social ostracism and alienation, which peg away at their ability to push forward and, in fact, can hinder treatment and recovery.  I believe people have the power to be incognizant of the increasing distance they are placing between themselves and a friend or loved one with a mental illness, but recognizing this is imperative.  Loneliness is a crippling experience and is the antithesis to mental and emotional wellness.

Since adolescence, I have been battling the loneliness and alienation associated with having a mental illness.  I was lively and social with many friends in middle school, but when I hit my freshman year of high school, circumstances drastically changed.  About a month and a half into the term, I was suddenly hospitalized in the adolescent psychiatric unit at UCLA.  Thus I made a quick and silent exit from both my studies and my social circles.  I spent nearly five weeks in inpatient care before I was discharged, not long before Christmas.  I was psychotic, I was catatonic, and I was severely depressed.  My diagnosis was confirmed as bipolar, and after numerous medications trials, I was deemed well enough to reenter the “real” world once again.  The rumors surrounding my absence were numerous, and it was at this point that alienation began to ensue.

As the school year passed, I experienced four more hospitalizations for mania, psychosis, depression, and often times a simultaneous combination of the three.  Needless to say, my completion of my freshman year was quite difficult.  I tried to reenter my social circles sophomore year of high school, but my debilitating symptoms continued.  It was at this point that the deterioration of my social supports became severely exacerbated.  I felt as though I had lost many of the friends I had previously had, and this feeling only worsened.  I switched schools in attempts to have a fresh start, but that was to no avail.  Friendships never returned, and the loneliness and isolation became constant and  devitalizing components of my life.

At this point in my life, I would love to say that I have rebuilt and revamped friendships and reestablished my presence in social circles, flying high as quite the social butterfly, but I still battle the loneliness and stigma that have seemingly forever plagued my life, although thankfully to lesser degree.  While my significant friendships are few and far between, I feel as though I am gaining some sustenance, but my soul cries for more.  I wish I could regain the social breadth and confidence I held in my middle school years – no, I yearn for it with such intensity, expending my emotional energy and resources.  While I am slowly rebuilding and regaining relationships, but still feeling the pangs loneliness and alienation have wrought on my life, I am ever increasingly seeing the importance of implementing efforts to educate people about mental illness in order to erase confusion and stigma.  Perhaps a greater understanding of mental illness would work to abate the loneliness and alienation that can occur and threaten the wellbeing of those experiencing mental illness.

To Be Free

I often times feel trapped in the world of my illness.  My life is a series of medical appointments – psychotherapy, psychiatric, life skills groups, DBT groups, ECT treatments – which are all consuming, centering solely on the treatment of my illness.  Not only am I trapped in the physical world, but I am imprisoned within the confines of my mind.  My mind is my torturer, offering unrelenting disruption and disturbance.  Thoughts drown out the world around me, and in a sense create an impenetrable bubble and barrier between myself and the world.  I am secured – ball and chains – to this world with bonds that cannot be severed.  My illness has kept me from participating in many aspects of life that are essentially commonplace phenomena, such as advancement and completion of school and studies, participation in social circles, and the partaking of events and happenings that is taken for granted by many.  

I pray to God to be free, to know what it is like to be able to just live, to have the opportunity to participate in the fruits of life without having to question my ability, dependent upon my mental state, to engage in events.  I feel as though I have lost so much, with numerous hospitalizations, outpatient programs, years and years of psychotherapy and medication management, and now thirty-four ECT treatments.  My autonomy has been handed over to hospitals and doctors.  I receive glimmers of hope – progress with therapy and medications, improvements during hospitalizations and in ECT treatments – but yet this is not living.  I think we often take for granted our ability to be, to live and participate in a life that has happiness and meaning, to be able graduate from educational institutions or to go throughout our days without having to check our phones to see what scheduled medication we are long overdue to take.  I am seeing marked improvements with my medication therapy and numerous ECT treatments, but I thirst for more.  I hunger for more.  

Nina Simone’s song, “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free,” touches me deeply and expresses so well how I feel in my search for freedom.

 

I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free

 

I wish I knew how

It would feel to be free

I wish I could break

All the chains holding me

I wish I could say

All the things that I should say

Say ’em loud say ’em clear

For the whole round world to hear

I wish I could share

All the love that’s in my heart

Remove all the bars

That keep us apart

I wish you could know

What it means to be me

Then you’d see and agree

That every man should be free

 

I wish I could give

All I’m longing to give

I wish I could live

Like I’m longing to live

I wish I could do

All the things that I can do

And though I’m way overdue

I’d be starting anew

 

I refuse to give up this fight, to acquiesce my power to that of my illness, but oh,  how wonderful freedom would be.  Perhaps my struggle is what makes me unique, what makes me special.  A defining characteristic of who I am.  I must find my own freedom within this seemingly impenetrable world that is my illness and slowly chisel cracks in walls that are already beginning to crumble.  Will freedom ever come in the sense I wish for it to?  Most likely not, as I do not believe that is feasible.  However that does not mean I cannot be free.  I will find freedom in the quality of the life I create for myself, in the life-saving treatments, with the friends I surround myself with.  Freedom is not as elusive as I believe it to be.  It is there, requiring nothing more than an ardent search.