This is a shout-out to anybody who is listening. We have been dealing with Covid for almost two years. I think we all deserve a shout-out for making it through this in these unprecedented times. Time to look back and say it was a miracle that we have almost passed this 2-year mark and are still kicking. And also to acknowledge with heavy hearts the tragedy that so many people have passed from Covid both in the US and around the globe during that same time-frame.
Beginning in mid-December I am going to start a mini series of blogs that addresses mental health and experience in the workplace and includes mental illness and experience in the neighborhood or place of worship as well. I am certified as a Project Manager Professional (which means I need to be in control of all details of a project no matter how big or how small……). I will talk about how being a Project Manager has helped me with coming to terms with my bipolar illness diagnosis and how it has complicated things for me. I will also talk about jobs I have had before becoming a Project Manager. The idea is to share a thirty-five plus year career (sometimes paid, sometimes not paid) so people can learn from certain aspects of the illness without having to truly live through them. I will also talk about mental illness in the neighborhood or at place of worship and how to possibly strengthen ties there when strengthening ties in the workplace is less or much less accessible.
If this sounds like something you are interested in, jot me a line about what would be most helpful and I will seek to answer those questions first.
I have written before how stigma is more than half the battle against a mental health diagnosis. Today I would like to add that stigma against any kind of mental illness has its roots as far back at the 1800s and early 1900s or before. During the “good old days,” family members with mental illness were sent away quite literally to “lunatic asylums” to suffer and die or to be locked in the attic of their homes. Often times there was not even a diagnosis rendered. There is one such mental asylum in Milledgeville, GA.
For more on Milledgeville, go to http://www.peteearleyhttp://www.peteearley.com/2019/03/15/the-worlds-largest-mental-asylum-from-the-horrors-of-the-back-wards-to-todays-jails-and-prisons/.com/ Sorry if I cannot link up properly here but this is a great blog post by Pete Earley to review. Please copy and paste in your browser if the link is not activating and scroll down till you get to the post above. My apologies for my linkage problems.
In Milledgeville, people who died of mental illness and related complications were buried with no more than a number to their identity. These “unmarked graves” are testimony to the fact that people with mental illness were not people they were numbers in a cog of a wheel that was mostly about doing away with any showing of mental illness in the family through the institutionalization process. There are some powerful pictures at the post above as well.
Here we are in 2021. I would have to say we have made loads of progress in the last one hundred years or even since the 1960s. That being said, the bar for that achievement is really really really really very very low. During this past time, treatment consisted of lobotomies and older renditions of electroshock therapy. Thanks to science and to the pharmaceutical industry we have plenty of medicines to choose from which keep many of us from going into the “mental asylum” or mental health hospital for good. Now we have short hospital stays and more helpful meds. There are some side effects from meds typically including weight gain and that definitely needs to be expressed as an appeal and answered. Also, there are still some of us with persistent or treatment-resistant mental illness.
Why am I harping on and on about the past? I feel the stigma toward mental health is ingrained in our society much like racism. There is no quick fix to either. Both have been on-going for more like 200 to 300 years plus. Mental illness in the home is also something that often is not talked about as are the impacts of slavery on multiple generations of folks who likely came to the US against their free will. Both mental illness and the ongoing impacts of racism are systemic and not easily tackled. In many cases we have only been willing to talk about root cause and reparations for slavery in the very close past weeks and months. I see no such parallel effort to address root cause of mental illness although this stigma is just as prevalent.
I cannot pretend to know the experience of racism in the US. But I do have a clear view of how people can be treated as less than for the color of their skin or the processing speed and accuracy and chemical make-up of their brains. How nice would it be to address stigma against race and stigma against mental illness with the same vim and vigor.
I had a run-in with my therapist yesterday. I was talking about having a lot on my plate with a daughter going off to college soon, a Mom needing cataract surgery and me not knowing for a week or so about a brain tumor and whether that required follow-up with the neurologist. Thankfully it does not.
Where my therapist and I disagreed was whether I had a lot on my plate. It is true my daughter is a stellar student and good athlete. So she is likely to get into some if not several colleges of her choice. But, that does not mean my feelings on her behalf don’t include anxiety. I was diagnosed with bipolar while in college — so that makes me worry about her.
My therapist also reminded me that my sister is the point person for my Mom’s cataract surgery and there is very little for me to do there. From my point of view it is difficult to have my Mom age, it is difficult in having to set limits on how much I can help with her care because of the bipolar (like driving across town at 5:00/5:30am under heavy sedation with meds). It is also stressful for me to see my Mom as she insists until recently on driving herself and I don’t feel that is safe.
The MRI for a brain tumor was stressful because I did not know if I would need brain surgery – literally.
My admiration for my therapist is at a low point. Rather than acknowledging all these stressors, she basically said I did not have a lot on my plate and I should be doing better. She texted me that she thought I had enormous difficulty managing my own life and to stop trying to manage other people instead of managing my own struggles.
This is the first time in 13 plus years where my therapist in my view made the wrong call. If I were in a wheel chair, the doctors would not necessarily believe I should walk again but that I should be making the most of my life albeit in a wheelchair. For the first time in 13 years, I feel my therapist just “doesn’t get it.” I feel she doesn’t get it that anxiety can be really rough even if it looks like things on the outside are pretty much handled. The anxiety doesn’t necessarily go away when life’s challenges are getting managed one way or another.
Has anyone had this kind of fall-out with their therapist or their doctor? Any ideas on how best to move forward?
I got results yesterday from my Primary Care Physician that my Brain MRI is just fine. It was a good thing to do since it had been 15 years since any follow-up. There is nothing much to do going forward except look for new symptoms like headaches, dizziness, etc. Follow-up MRI in another 10 plus years.
Clean bill of health! As far as that goes! Yeah!
During a routine MRI after my daughter was born, a frontal meningioma was found – that is a small tumor in the brain sac likely benign. I was told at the time not to worry about it. In 2013, I asked the doctor specifically if follow-up was needed. He said no unless there were new symptoms. For about the last two years, I have been experiencing additional anxiety and short-term memory loss. I am unsure whether these are signs of the bipolar condition progressing with age or are symptoms of the meningioma pressing on the frontal lobe.
Friday, I had an MRI of the brain and should know the results next week. There is a part of me that is hoping it is pressure on the frontal lobe so that once removed my anxiety and memory loss should be better. It is craziness to think that way, but there you have it.
Some days my anxiety gets the best of me. I have to forgive myself for this and strive again to do better in the future.
I have been journaling my walking and my anxiety levels and it does appear anxiety is worse if I don’t get a walk in. Which comes first the chicken or the egg – I am not sure. Do I feel more anxiety because I have not been on a walk? Or do I not go on a walk because I am feeling anxious?
In any case, the addition of walks to my daily routine is favorable and appears in general to have favorable outcomes – with today being an exception.
Today though I could not let go of my anxiety about my daughter’s wellbeing. This comes at a time when my mother is going in for cataract surgery and I can’t be there because it involves driving across town at 5:00am when my evening meds are still strong in my system. I have had to say no to my ability to pick up my Mom at 5:30am to drive her to the hospital at 6:00am.
This makes me feel guilty that I cannot care for my Mom. It makes me aware of my own limitations in terms of being able to get outside of my regular routine. I am good with routine – horrible without it. I know I am taking care of my health and safety and the safety of others, but I still feel inadequate about it.
To boot, the anxiety about my Mom seems to overflow into anxiety about my daughter and vice versa. I guess you could call this poor boundaries setting at the moment. Realizing they’re not there or not strong — the boundaries — makes me feel even more inadequate.
All in all, I feel like chucking this up to a bad day. Tomorrow will be better I hope and maybe I will go on a longer walk rather than just a short one.
A blogging colleague of mine have been talking a little bit about stigma reduction associated with keeping mental illness symptoms associated with the illness itself rather than with the person. For example, the anxiety that I experience is a feature of my bipolar illness rather than some character defect or short-coming of my person. What if we were to try to represent and talk about mental illness symptoms as being features of the illness or diagnosis itself rather than characteristics of the person or the patient? By way of example, we do not think a breast cancer survivor is cancerous. Instead we say she has had cancer and fought it and is still fighting it and/or is in remission. The disease and its symptoms are not synonymous with the patient. In fact with cancer it is the other way around. People always talk about those people who are able to beat the illness cancer — it it not a part of who that person is but rather a fight to fight and to win and to overcome.
So why do we think of mental health symptoms as somehow the failure of the person experiencing the symptoms such as anxiety, depression, PTSD or some form of psychosis? When it’s mental we tend to assign the symptoms to the patient rather than to the illness. This person is anxious. This person is depressed. This person is psychotic. This makes overcoming the stigma of mental illness even tougher.
So what would it look like if we started talking about mental illness symptoms as part of the illness rather than part of the person experiencing them? It might make us more inclined to believe that getting over anxiety or depression or PTSD or psychosis is a matter of the treatment of the illness rather than the integrity of the patient or the person experiencing the symptoms.
What do you think? Do you think mental health patients are asked “to own” their symptoms in a way that cancer patients are not? Do you feel mental health stigma could be reduced if we were to more often disassociate mental health symptoms from the person experiencing them? Could mental illness be considered a challenge to fight and/or to get through like a cancer but not the result of some character defect on the part of the patient? Do we need ways of talking about mental health that include giving credit for actively working to keep symptoms under control and/or having them be in remission for a time? Do we need ways of talking about successes we have had in combatting our mental illness diagnoses even if those troubles still exist for us on some level? What of all this might help to address the stigma of mental illness?
I have been journaling since March 2021 about strides I am making in practicing yoga or walking on a regular basis. A week or two ago, I decided to include journaling about my anxiety in the same log. Once I started writing about my anxiety, it was as if I could not stop.
I called my anxiety a bully in that it instills pain wherever it goes. I called my anxiety cancerous in that the anxiety causes good health to go bad. I wrote and wrote and wrote about anxiety not being a friend but being a bully and how there was no room in my home for a bully. I do not allow bullying to occur in the neighborhood or at school, so why would I accept bullying at home?
I know I don’t always have control over my emotions and that is why I have a diagnosis of bipolar, but it is soooo helpful to be able to call out anxiety as a bully and think of it as something that is pervading my home rather than a feature of the bipolar I just have to accept. It is true I cannot control the anxiety when it occurs, I can only control how I respond to it when it does occur. But calling it a bully somehow helps me to think of the anxiety as “other than” and not me. I am not my anxiety. I am not my diagnosis. I am not my bipolar. My anxiety exists as a bully as part of my illness. I can call it out for what it is and I can tell it off and I can tell it it is not welcome in my person, in my home, or in my relationships with family and friends.
Does anybody else have coping mechanisms for anxiety that seem to help by differentiating the anxiety from the person experiencing it? Is it helpful to you too to think of anxiety as a bully to be kept at bay?
Come the end of December, I will be writing a series of blogs about my time in the workplace and the various responses I have gotten over the years either when I have exposed my bipolar diagnosis or it has been exposed through circumstance. I believe you may find that not too many workplaces are supportive of a mental health diagnosis. I have struggled over the years as to whether to reveal this “secret.” I hope these several blogs will give the younger folks following this thread some indication of the pitfalls of allowing your behavioral health diagnosis to be open or not in the workplace. My sentiments still remain mixed as to whether disclosure is a good thing or not.