Friends & Family

I know a lot of what I write in this blog is about me – largely because, well, I only spend time inside my own head, so I find it hard to speak for others. I do know, however, that it is not just people who have mental illness who suffer – their friends and families often do, as well. While our heads may be going haywire and things aren’t working correctly, our loved ones often have even less idea what is going on with us. We act erratically, we do stupid or dangerous things, and we stop making sense. 

I haven’t been in that place, really, but I have some idea what it can be like to be outside looking in, helpless to really do much besides provide support. A lot of my friends have their own mental issues, and as familiar with them as I might be, I can’t truly know what is going on in their heads. So when they start to act strange, or do things that scare me, often there isn’t much I can do besides offer my support and see if there is anything they think I can do for them. I have a slight advantage given that I suffer from a mental illness myself, so I have some idea of the wackiness that must be occurring, but that isn’t a lot of comfort.

I wonder if there isn’t more I can do. Not necessarily for the people who are stuck with their mental issues – though I also want to help them – but maybe to help the friends and family who are stuck on the outside. I know that feeling of fear when a friend is talking about committing suicide; I know how terrible it feels when someone you love feels that they are worthless and unlovable. So I wonder if there is some way – maybe something I could write, since that is one of my strengths – to help get family and friends into a headspace where they can, if not understand what is going through their loved one’s head, then at least accept it and work with them to try to help. I’m not really sure what I can do – my mother has suggested maybe writing a pamphlet, something short and relatively succinct. That might be a way to work. I don’t know that my often snarky tone will always be appropriate, but maybe I could do something to assuage some fears and help everyone on both sides. 

I’m not really sure, though. Does anyone have any suggestions? Any resources they feel might be helpful for something like this? I am open to suggestions, because I don’t really know where to go with this. But I’m willing to find out.

Gratitude Update

It’s been a while since I’ve done a gratitude challenge, and while I don’t really feel the need to do another at the moment, I though I might do something different. I’m just going to make a list of people and things I’m grateful for at the moment, and why; obviously it won’t be complete, because there are a number of people I am grateful to who choose to maintain anonymity here. But I will try to make a list of those who aren’t anonymous, and try to express my gratitude for those who are anonymous in my own way.

First, I am grateful to my parents. They have done so much for me; they supported my coming down to Menninger, they went along with my decision to move to Houston, they have provided valuable support, emotional, physical, and financial, and they have helped me to figure out where I am going. This is, of course, in addition to the support they gave me raising me, educating me, and supporting me even thought they might not have understood what was going on in my head. Without them, none of this is possible.

Second, I am grateful to my sister. It was her recommendation that I come to Menninger, and her education in social work has provided some valuable insights. This is in addition to the support she has given me as a family member; even though I haven’t seen her in months, she’s been a strong presence in my life. I don’t tell her how grateful I am to her enough.

Third, the rest of my family. While many of them may not be aware of the full extent of what has happened with me in the last year, they have all proven to be supportive, and I’m glad that, unlike some people I know, I haven’t been shut out of family support.

Fourth, Calla. She became a very close friend – and possibly more – in a short period of time, and I can only hope to provide the kind of joy to her that she has to me. I look forward to hearing from her, and every time I do it lifts my spirits.

Next, to Laurel. Though we may not always see things the same way, she has been a supportive friend and has helped me to shake myself out of some pretty unpleasant times. I know she’s been having a rough time, but I hope she knows that I’m always here as a support.

After that, Alicia and her husband. They are old friends – my oldest – and they were great supports to me even before I came down to Houston. Even though we don’t talk as often as we used to, I still value their friendship extremely highly; I don’t know when I’ll see them again, but I hope it will be soon.

On to AV and his wife. After Alicia and her husband, they are my next oldest friends, and have stood by me even in my darkest moments. Though we’ve moved to very different areas – both mental and physical – and our lives are very different, they’ve been a great help to me.

To my other friends, you are all very dear to me. While some of you may not be in as much contact with me as others, and many of you may never read this, I owe you more than I can say. You are all amazing people, and I’m honored to be a part of your lives.

To my therapist, you have been invaluable in helping me to realize where I am, where I’ve been, and where I want to go. You listen to all my problems, even the ones that seem trivial and stupid, but you help me to work through a lot of things – and lead me in directions – I wouldn’t go myself. I wouldn’t be where I am now without your help.

To my doctors – both psychiatric and internal – you have helped to keep me physically healthy – something which is invaluable in treating my mental health. Being mentally healthy doesn’t mean much if I can’t also keep my body going. Your work keeps me going.

To my fellow patients, peers, support group members, and class participants – your help and understanding have been invaluable in helping me to where I am. The things I have heard, and the things I have told you, and the confidence they have all been kept in, have helped to build my understanding of both myself and other people, and my knowledge of all kinds of mental illness. I only hope that I have been helpful to you.

To my co-workers, getting to know you has been a breath of fresh air; it’s one of the few areas of my life that really has little or nothing to do with mental illness. Your knowledge of books and the way bookstores work is fascinating to me, and I am glad to be able to spend time with you. My back may not appreciate standing at the cash register, but talking with you has been great.

To my followers here, and on Twitter, and other social networks – your interaction with my words may be silent, but it is nonetheless there. I don’t know if what I say here helps anyone, or provides any insight into the kind of experiences in mental health care and mental illness, but I hope it does. I’m glad you take the time to read what I write.

I’m certain I am leaving some people out, and for that I apologize. These people are all the ones that come to mind, but bear in mind that it is late and I may not cover all my bases. I just felt the need to try and do this, and it feels like a weight off my chest to have this out.

Merry Christmahanakwanzadan!

So, I came down to Florida, by plane, yesterday afternoon. It meant getting up early, and braving the airport on Christmas Eve – which was quite a thing, let me tell you. There were huge lines – mostly to check baggage, which thankfully I avoided by packing everything in my backpack. Then there were the packed airplanes, which were uncomfortable, especially since the one I was on had several screaming children. But I managed to make it here with relatively little mishap.

So, I got to spend Christmas with my family – specifically, my parents and grandparents, because my sister spent the holidays with her in-laws. It was nice to see them, because I haven’t seen my grandparents in about a year, but I think it will be nice to head back to Houston. Getting some time to relax, and go out to eat, and do Christmas stuff was nice, but the arguing my parents do bothers me. I’ve brought it up before, when I was in Menninger, and they moderated it for a while, but it is back to the same old behavior now, and I just don’t like it. 

Now, I love my parents, so I’m not saying they’re bad people. I just don’t like all the arguing and complaining, even during the holidays. About the weirdest things, too – where to park for a restaurant, how someone turned a TV on or off, what flight to take for a vacation they’re planning. I can certainly bring the argument when necessary, but some of this is just so pointless that it hurts my head just being around it.

Still, though, it was good to see my family again, and they certainly seem to have enjoyed seeing me after so long, so it was definitely a worthwhile trip – though I may rethink that tomorrow night, since my plane gets back into Houston all of two hours before I go back to work. 

And, this is my 200th blog entry, on Christmas. Who loves you, huh? Merry Christmas (or appropriate seasonal greetings) to all my readers; I hope things are going well, or getting better, for all of you and your families. I know being here for Christmas has shown me how far I’ve come, as well as that there are still things I have yet to do.

I know Calla isn’t able to read this, but I’ll say it anyway – Merry Christmas, Calla. I miss you. I’m here anytime you need to talk, and if there is anything I can do to  help or be a better friend, let me know.

Holiday Workathon

Well, today at 7:30 PM marked the end of 5 days straight of working. It’s been a pretty exhausting set of days, but then it has been retail during the holidays. I invested in a ton of over-the-counter painkillers, several pairs of shoe inserts, and a back brace, but it’s really all been about pain management, not actually making it go away. It’s exhausting, both mentally and physically – having to be nice to people I don’t know, and who often aren’t terribly interested in being nice to me, is rough on an introvert.

Tomorrow, I fly to Florida, to spend some times with my parents, who I haven’t seen in several months, and with my grandparents, who I haven’t seen in a year. It’s a quick trip – leave tomorrow, come back Thursday, just in time to head right off to work again, hi ho. It should be a good trip, and hopefully it will show them just how far I’ve come since coming to Menninger back in February – man, has it really been almost ten months? Time flies. In any case, I plan to do as close to nothing as humanly possible, because my aching body has no interest in much else. 

I’ve been playing phone tag with Calla for the past few days; we seem to keep missing each other, which is really hard for me because I really miss talking to her. I keep hearing that she’s doing well from another friend of hers, but second-hand info just doesn’t feel like enough. Calla is important to me, and I care about her; I like hearing from her. Good news is good news, of course, but I’d prefer to hear it from her. As the prophet Jagger has said, though, you can’t always get what you want – but sometimes, you get what you need. I don’t know what it is I need, which is, of course, confusing, but I’m hoping I figure it out.

S, to recap – work exhausting, family visit impending, Christmas good, Calla confusing.Life is strange, but good. I hope to have another update for y’all tomorrow or Wednesday, but if not, Merry Christmahanakwanzudan!

New Home for the Holidays

So, Thanksgiving is coming up, and it doesn’t look like I’ll be spending it with my family. Now, I’ve been spending Thanksgiving, and most other holidays, with my family for basically my entire life (and since I’m 34, that’s, of, most of 34 years). So not spending Thanksgiving with my parents, sister, and other family members will be kind of weird for me.

I’m not actually sure what I’ll be doing for the holidays. I mean, I work both the day before and the day after Thanksgiving (yes, I work on the infamous Black Friday), so I won’t have a lot of down time to work on preparing food or finding things to do. I’ve had one quasi-invitation, but I’m not really sure how that will work out. But I have a number of friends in the area, some of whom will also not be celebrating with their families (possibly purposefully, for some of them). I think we’ll find something to do, even if it isn’t the same kind of spread my mother usually puts out (that will definitely be among the things missed, though, along with family).

The build-up to Christmas will be interesting, too, since I’ll be working retail during the biggest part of the year for sales. . It seems likely that I also won’t be seeing my family for Christmas, so again I’ll probably be relying on my friends in the area for holiday plans. I am looking forward to the whole gift-giving thing, because I like giving gifts to friends and family (though some people I know aren’t exactly huge of the gift-receiving, but they write Christmas stories about people like that, right kids?) This may be the first holiday that I’ll be buying gifts with my own money, so things might not work out as well as normal, but thankfully, working for a big retail chain has its privileges – I get some pretty nice discounts.

So I won’t be alone for the holidays, but I will almost certainly be in a situation I haven’t been in before. I know my family is worried about me, and to be honest, I’m a little worried, too, both about myself and at least one of my friends, Calla. I know she’s been going through some pretty painful and nerve-wracking things, and I don’t envy her that; I wish I could do more to help. But I think one of the best things I can do, especially in a time of year where so many people find themselves trying to be close to the people they care about, is make sure she doesn’t feel deserted. So I’m happy I can be around for her. It’s a good time of the year to be supportive of those who we care about, right? Homes is where the heart is, after all.

And for the holidays, you can’t beat home sweet home. (Sorry, never-ending Christmas music loop at work).

A River in Egypt

It really sucks when the people who are supposed to be closest to us don’t, can’t, or won’t understand us. This is likely true for everyone, but since this is a blog that mostly deals with mental illness and related topics, that’s where I’m going with this. Mental illnesses are really hard for loved ones to understand, and that can make life very difficult for everyone involved.

Personally, I know for a long time my parents – or at least my father – believed that depression was something I could just snap out of, if only I found the right trigger – get a job, finish a degree, something along those lines. While that can help with, say, situational depression, clinical depression is not something that can be snapped out of, or cured – it’s a permanent condition, as far as I know. So, of course, this didn’t go well; it made me feel even more depressed, because my father didn’t understand what I was going through, and it frustrated my father, who couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t doing what he clearly thought was so easy.

It took a couple suicide attempts to bring the point home that my depression wasn’t going to be fixed by a job or a degree. It can’t be fixed, only managed – which is what I’ve been doing for the past few months, after a lot of therapy. I was lucky enough to have had a chance to go to Menninger, and have treatment that worked for me, so that I can be in the place I am today. Hopefully, things will keep improving – but I will still always have to manage my depression, with medication, at least, if not therapy.

Watching someone else struggle with that – parents who refuse to believe that depression, or bipolar disorder, or mental trauma, are things that can’t simply be ‘gotten over’, who think that yelling at a son or daughter and shaming and guilt-tripping them is the way to try and fix things, who blame the child suffering from mental illness for bringing it on themselves in the first place – makes me both sad and angry. Sad, because I know what it is like to get that from your parents, the people who are supposed to love you most.

But also angry because they are not only not helping, but they seem to be actively making things worse. Often, this is because they also ignore the recommendations, warnings, and diagnoses of medical professionals simply because they are in the psychology/psychiatry field. Since mental illnesses are all literally in the head, then clearly parents know better than someone who has spent years studying subjects that are so clearly made up, right? They assume they know better, ignore the advice of professionals, and the one who is hurt the most isn’t them, or the professionals – it’s the child who has to see her parents treat her problems like they are imaginary, or just something made up to get attention and money. 

I am tired of watching people I know descend deeper and deeper into their problems – whether depression, trauma, or schizophrenia – because their families refuse to believe that what is happening to them is real, and while it can’t be cured, it can be helped. It is painful, and it brings out emotions that I don’t particularly enjoy feeling this often. I wish I knew what I could do to help, or to make these parents, family members, and other loved ones see what they are doing.

To Car Or Not To Car

Today has been a pretty interesting day, thus the blog being so late. My parents drove down to Houston from St. Louis; they started yesterday, and got here today. They brought down a bunch of things to help make my apartment a bit homier – like a blanket knit by a friend of mine, some framed pictures of friends and family, books, movies, my TV, my desktop computer, some pots and pans, a blender… oh, and a car.

Yes, sports fans, now I have a car, with which to lay waste to the thoroughfares and byways of Houston. I can now transport myself, instead of having to rely on friends to take me places. Before this week, I had been taken places by the staff of the step-down program, but for this week I have had to rely on the kindness of friends. I love my friends, I really do, but I can only imagine that it is a pain to have to transport someone all the time.

I know that is a silly concern, because my friends are good people, and they offer to drive me places because they like me. But it still sticks in the back of my mind that I am being a burden to them somehow. It’s nonsensical, but there it is. Now, with my own car, I can take myself places, and take others places (especially places it is my idea to go), and we can give reciprocal rides. Problem solved, eh?

It’s not a trust issue, because I trust my friends completely. I just don’t like feeling like a burden, even if I am not actually a burden. I already feel like I owe my friends a great deal, I don’t want anything else unbalancing the scales. Again, nonsensical, because I would imagine that if you asked my friends, they would say they don’t feel I owe them (well, except for the ones I do owe money – sorry, I’ll get that right to you, honest), and might even say that they feel they owe me. Weird relationship stuff, right?

Speaking of relationship stuff, it’s been over a month and a half since I told a friend I had feelings for her. That probably doesn’t seem long, but it sure has felt like a long time, and I think being able to face those feelings, and realize they aren’t going to be returned, has gone a long way towards making them dissipate. I don’t know, though; is it normal for feelings to fade so quickly? Granted, there was never any kind of romantic relationship, so there was nothing to build on, but I wonder. Would having thoughts of someone else be considered a rebound? It seems my love life is confusing even when I really don’t have one.

In any case, it’s late, and I have to rest up for tomorrow so I can drive around Houston singing along to my iPhone, something I haven’t been able to do since February. It’s the little things.

Father-Son Camp

It probably comes as no surprise that I have had difficulties with my family. My parents, while very supportive in many ways, have had areas where we did not see eye to eye, which is probably putting it mildly. When it came to teenage rebellion, I, the bookish, introverted nerd, was the rebel in the family – I had difficulties in high school and I had a goth phase (and no, you still can’t see the pictures), while my sister did well all through high school, became co-captain of her school’s cheerleaders, and even dated (and, many years later, married) her high school football team’s captain.

Primarily, my issues seem to be with my father. There are definitely reasons to why I say this, from the fact that two of my three non-psychological fears, sharks and aliens, are a result of being made to watch Jaws and Aliens when I was 9, to the fact that my father is a high-powered businessman, while I am an English student aspiring to be a teacher or writer. There are parts of our personalities that just don’t mesh very well, and it has caused a lot of friction over the years.

Some of it is just that we don’t have very similar interests. I like to read fantasy and science fiction, whereas he prefers crime and thriller novels like those by James Patterson and Vince Flynn. I like to play video games and RPGs, while my father prefers to sit on the beach, go find a good place to eat, or occasionally play Tetris or Dr. Mario. He is a little less picky about his choice in movies,and while I like the occasional good drama, he tends to avoid them. During my teen years, when I was very into being a Boy Scout, my father was one of the few fathers who had absolutely no interest in being out camping. Our chief areas of corresponding interest seem to be action movies and football – though even there can be tricky, since my father liked The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, while I thought it was a crime against film.

On a more personal level, we also don’t have a lot in common. My father works in business, primarily marketing, and has for most of my life. He is very interested in concrete details, numbers and progress he can see, and being in charge. He likes lists and charts and hard data, even if he does still write things out longhand before getting someone to type them out. I, on the other hand, am a classic liberal arts person; I like to think in abstract concepts and metaphorical terms. I read and write long papers on ideas, not facts, and opinions are the rule of the day in my field. I avoid being in charge like any such position would give me the plague, and I am OK without having all available data on a subject.

It has been pointed out to me that my aversion to positions of authority is likely rooted in a desire to not be like my father – which was a false aversion, since regardless of whether or not I held a title or official position of power, I still had power and influence over the lives of those who cared about me, especially when I do something like try to commit suicide. Even after that was pointed out to me, though, it was only with a great deal of anxiety that I took a position in patient government at Menninger. Maybe that’s a trend that will continue, though I think I am happy not always being in charge.

On an emotional level, my father and I were alike for a long time – both seeming very out of touch with an emotional side. My father has said that for him, it is because showing most kinds of emotion was regarded as weakness in business, and I can imagine that is true. But it was also a model for me, because I never saw much in the way of emotion from my father, and so I had difficulty with my own until I essentially just ignored them and pushed them aside – which, as you might guess, had unpleasant consequences for me. Now that I have been to Menninger, it has been a lot of work to realize that emotions are necessary, and they can’t just be shoved aside and forgotten. They need to be dealt with, and felt, if you want to get through them.

There were things that my father never told me that probably could have been very helpful earlier in life – the fact that he used to be shy, for instance. I’ve been painfully shy for a long time, and all my life I have thought of my father as the high-power businessman who has no problems in social situations, but after hearing this, it kind of made sense, because I rarely see my father interacting with someone he doesn’t already know. But never knowing he felt shy too made him seem like an intimidatingly social figure. Knowing that he had had problems in school as well might have also helped, because then I would have felt more comfortable talking to him about it. But those are issues that are in the past, and I can’t change the past.

On the other hand, my father has been incredibly supportive in some ways. He was willing to financially support me through the years I worked on my MA, and while I’ve worked on my PhD, even if he doesn’t always understand what I’m doing. He made a real effort – a successful one – to help me get into the PhD program when I had initially been rejected. He even supported my coming to Menninger, which, no matter how long it took, was a big step. Despite the many disappointing things that have happened in my life over the years, he has never disowned me or thrown me out, though I often feared he would. 

Right now, I’m just trying to work on understanding my father, and trying to show him who I am in a more honest way so he can understand who I am. It’s not an easy process, since this is pretty far out of either of our comfort zones. We both find it tough to try to explain to each other how we feel about things, and so sometimes we rely on my mother and my sister to try and help us out. I know it is difficult for him to talk about, and read about, things like this; I can’t say that I wouldn’t feel the same if my (hypothetical) son were to start a blog along these lines. Our relationship is a work in progress, and while I’m not quite sure where it will end up, I think it will be in a better place.

If not, I can always drag him back to camp.