Safety, Society, Stigma, Stability: a “Me Too” Movement Moment (repost)

Names and places have been changed in order to maintain privacy in these discussions.

During the fall of 1984 I was working on my thesis with a professor named Professor Dean Flannigan.  My thesis topic was somewhat controversial as I was using Modern Fiction in my research and drawing conclusions from authors of the times like Alice Walker and Flannery O’Connor.  I was looking at the way family is portrayed in Modern Fiction as an indicator of the socio-political developments and historical dynamics of the time.  It felt like the English Department was not altogether in favor of such a modern approach to a thesis, yet approval for my thesis topic was provided by the relevant committee.  This was a couple of years after my approval of a major in American Studies. 

Professor Dean Flannigan is a story in and of itself and one which I will not detail right now except to say I now feel that Professor Flannigan was someone who needed to be revered and admired by his students yet also considered a peer.  This situation was associated with risky behavior including serving cocaine to students in his home and invitations to Chicago which may have triggered my illness.

For me at the time, this was a “me too movement” moment. While I was not physically abused by Professor Flannigan, I believe I was psychologically abused. Professor Flannigan without any training tried to psychoanalyze me through the thesis advisement process and perhaps even tried to make me feel unstable. This unwarranted psychoanalysis triggered the response of a six-year-old child within me that likely experienced child abuse. Professor Flannigan’s attempts to psychoanalyze me I call psycho-social or psycho-sexual abuse. They left me with exposure of this six-year-old child with no way to regain security.

Today, I continue have high disregard for this professor and for Ivy College given the behavior of Professor Flannigan.  I also readily agree now that I was not mature enough to distance myself from his later “come-ons” and “innuendos.”  While an excellent scholar, I was not mature enough to tell Professor Flannigan to go to hell when he started to make advances toward me.  I was confused with feelings of respect I held for him intellectually vying with feelings of confusion and paranoia at being asked to travel with him unaccompanied to Chicago. 

Immediately after my first breakdown, Professor Flannigan began to distance himself from me in an effort to secure tenure.  This effort to secure tenure was after he and I had several thesis review meetings, after he invited me to join him on a trip to Chicago, after he tried to analyze my childhood on several occasions and after he tried to seduce me into coming solo with him to Chicago and after making zodiac references to me like “Scorpio riseth…” I had no idea what that saying was supposed to mean.  I also had no idea how to establish a boundary with Professor Flannigan.  On the one-hand, I thought he was brilliant and a brilliant scholastic role model.  On the other hand, I felt his actions to seduce me (as I understood them) were highly inappropriate.  But I did not have the strength to articulate this to myself much less to him. If I had perhaps been more mature myself, I could have indicated to this Professor Flannigan that while I revered his intellect, I found great fault with his personal behavior.  Bottom line I was emotionally too immature to know how to say no to a trip to Chicago or to an invitation toward some sort of sexual interlude.  I was academically brilliant as a scholar but not so much so as a student to a professor who consistently pushed the boundaries of appropriate behavior.      

Since that time, Professor Flannigan has enjoyed getting tenure at Ivy College and has secured virtually unprecedented popularity on campus.  I, on the other hand, have not enjoyed similar successes particularly in my professional life which has been hampered over the years on numerous occasions by my illness.

If I can do it, you can do it!

I recently have gotten back into a physical exercise regime, what I have not done for about 15 to 18 years. I have been keeping a log of my walks and my yoga. So far it has been five weeks since I started. I have kept the log each day and include any comments like what yoga positions were difficult (code for I could not complete….) or whether the walk was long or short. I also include a day of rest each week.

In my prior life, I was an exercise fanatic, sometimes going on runs twice a day. Later after running I was an aerobics enthusiast and actually taught classes in college and later after I graduated in clubs. Later in life but still before meeting my husband, I was a self-taught dancer. I always considered myself to be very fit, but after my lovely daughter was born, I slipped into a not-so-fit lifestyle. I gave up on exercise and succumbed to the idea that meds cause weight gain.

I also succumbed to stress eating and snacking particularly at night before bed. This is not good for weight control and not so good for being at risk for Type II diabetes either.

I share my recent success with getting into a yoga and walk routine because I am proud to say this is the longest duration in forever that I have kept up such an exercise regime. I also want you to know that if you are on the fence about exercising, motivation can happen for you! If it happened for me, it can surely happen for you, too!

I am also proud to report that I have lost ten pounds and have kept it off over the last two to three months. I still am having my evening treat which I hope soon to discontinue or to substitute with a price of fruit. While ten pounds off is a good initial accomplishment for me, I would like to update that goal with an additional ten pounds more to lose. We’ll see if that’s doable.

Although I have known about the connection between exercise and stress management all my life, I still have been somehow unwilling to get back into the routine of things. This last month has reminded me how crucial exercise is to helping with mental health — especially anxiety management which is one of my biggest challenges.

I keep a basic log in WORD and write down a daily account of my walks and my yoga. I write down what was particularly difficult in yoga and what I did as an alternative pose. There is no room for judgement or for feeling bad if I cannot do a certain pose. I simply do what I can and modify the pose if it is too difficult for me. Whether I complete the class doing all the work or some of the work, I still benefit from a good bit of stress and anxiety reduction.

Anyway, I wanted to share my start back to a successful exercise schedule. Hopefully this will help keep me motivated. Also, I hope if you too are experiencing trouble getting going in this area, you will use the idea of my simple log to help you start your version of the same sort of regimen.

Dear Reader,

Dear reader I am writing to ask you a question. What happens after a person has had some reconciliation of the fact that he/she was very much abused as a small child? If this doesn’t pertain to you, please disregard this post.

I have just undergone gut-wrenching and extensive therapy since December 2020 which for me had its origins in treatment I received as a small child of about 6.

I have been clinging to the earth these last few weeks so as not to slip again into the abyss where for some extended period of time a portion of my psyche had been living.

According to my own assessment, I have successfully crawled and clawed my way out of a 100 foot deep pit with slippery mud sides.

Now that I am completely out of the pit ( I hope), I am wondering what to do with myself, what to work on, what to avoid, what to learn, what to enjoy. Take a shower and wash off the mud? Take into account exactly where the pit is so as not to fall into it again? Designate this exit from the abyss as my new “rock bottom” and be thankful for hitting it so as to get the $%^&* out of there? Allow myself to tell myself, I deserve happiness? I deserve good health and fitness?

As fodder for knowing I have exited the abyss, for the first time in 20 years I have been able to stick to an exercise routine composed of mostly yoga and some walking in the neighborhood. I have recorded a log which is two weeks long and growing which for me is super progress. In my youth I was very, very fit, so getting back to that place with mindfulness is huge for me.

So if anyone here or there has also climbed out of their own pit of abuse or anxiety or depression, I would love to hear your story as to what you decided to do next once you found yourself alongside the edge of that pit but no longer in it.

Of course I will talk my therapist about it, but I thought I would ask you dear reader in the meantime.

My Sojourn through Bipolar Illness – Imprinting (reposted and a continuation from prior post)

What I took away from this first break experience during my Senior winter at Ivy College is that being mentally ill meant I was first a criminal and second a person. I know that first responders were doing their jobs to watch out for the safety of all those who were boarding the plane and/or in the airport. But that experience told me: “You are a criminal. You were trying to bomb the plane. You are guilty of anything and everything until proven innocent. You need to be handcuffed. You do not have the right to have fears much less to express them. You do not have the right to have perceptions that are not 100 percent clear. You are a danger to others around you and you need to be locked up.”

My first episode imprinted me for the rest of my life. For years, I would try to escape the label of criminal that had been imposed on me by circumstance and happenstance. But try as I might, I still felt like I was a criminal every time I had a subsequent break-through episode no matter how big or how small.

In hindsight, things could have unfolded quite differently. I could have reported to the school clinic that I was having anxiety about traveling to Chicago and had been having some trouble sleeping. I could have gone into the clinic for a routine evaluation and perhaps been put on lithium or some other drug for bipolar. But sadly, that is not the way my first episode and subsequent diagnosis of bipolar went. I remember to this day looking at those pictures on the wall in the police station and thinking they must be looking for me as “most wanted.” Being mentally ill simply meant I was a criminal.

I will talk later on about stigma and first responders — including the importance of training first responders how to recognize the signs if a person is a danger to him or herself or whether the person is also a danger to those around him or her. But that discussion about stigma and first responder training is for another day.

My Sojourn through Bipolar Illness – Fear of Flying (reposted)

I am reposting chapters of the book I wrote a few years ago in hopes of catching some more recent readers. Thank you in advance for your readership. These posts provide a graphic account of a life with bipolar illness. Please avoid these posts if that is a trigger for you.

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Note – several names and places have been changed throughout this text in order to keep my story somewhat private. Thanks for understanding that need.

Although I had had no prior fear of flying, my first episode of bipolar illness was in a tiny airport near my Ivy League college (hereafter known as Ivy College).  While I was waiting for the plane to get ready to taxi off the runway and take me to my first interview for a job after college in advertising, I was consumed by runaway thoughts.  My thoughts were anywhere but on my interview for an Account Executive position at Chicago Avenue Advertisers.  I had no specific directions for my fears but I took out some papers I was working on for my undergraduate thesis at Ivy College and was writing and writing furiously in and around the margins of the pages of the papers I previously had written.  The thoughts seemed to co-mingle with the characters in the fiction as well as characters or people I knew in real life.  The writing was fast and furious until I finally heard the flight that I was to take to Chicago on the puddle-jumper called.

For some reason I did not feel safe in myself enough to board the plane once the flight was called and I came to the conclusion that the plane was going to crash.  I did not communicate this fear with anyone.  Instead I determined that I did not want to get on a plane that was going to crash, so I got my suitcase together and asked the airplane attendant if I could check my bags on the plane but not board the plane myself.  For some unknown reason, the contents of my suitcase were of paramount importance.  I recall a navy suit that I had packed and feeling like that suit should reach a friend who I was going to see in Chicago.   The label on the suit became extremely important at the time – it was an Evan Picone double-breasted navy wool suit.  The airport personnel immediately got suspicious and asked me why I was putting my suitcase on the plan and asked me to move away from the plane with them.  When I refused, the safety patrol man exerted more force and tried to get me to go with him.  In my fears, I turned to run down the runway away from the scene of the fears and ran completely down the airport runway up into a stand of pines, one shoe flying off in the process and resting in the snowy runway.  I recall exactly what I was wearing – a plaid pleated wool skirt in muted tones, a long sleeve silk blouse and a double breasted woolen gray or taupe sweater.  I don’t recall a coat or over-coat.   The safety patrolmen at the airport followed me into the woods with snow all around and made a chair with their arms for me to sit on.  I was in some stage of delirium and thought they were providing me some sort of throne to safety. 

Instead the next thing I knew I was being handcuffed to the backseat of a patrol car with the patrol lights flashing blue and white and was being escorted to the police station down the road.  When I arrived at the police station I kept telling the police that I was a Senior and straight A student at Ivy College and they must have made some mistake.  On the walls there were pictures of wanted criminals – I kept trying to figure out what the pictures meant.  There were three pictures:  a young woman who I thought looked like Ayn Rand, a man with a long beard who looked in my state to be like a long-haired Jesus and one other picture of a youngish man whose face I cannot recall.  What I do recall is feeling like a criminal and being treated like a criminal until a kind policeman named Michael started to ask me questions.  Once I started to talk with Michael I began to calm down.

After what felt like days of swirling and runaway thoughts and a myriad of questions, the police finally called my family and called the school clinic and I was escorted there.  Soon after, several of my college roommates arrived to be with me while the admission process continued.  After talking briefly with the clinic staff, I was transferred to the local hospital’s Psychiatric Unit. 

Within the next few hours my parents arrived in town and tried to begin to make sense of what had happened.  I recall my parents visiting me in the hospital mostly my Dad whose anxiety I could sense was through the roof.  Within a couple of days, we made arrangements to go back home to Augusta, Georgia.  I unenrolled from classes and moved back home to live with my parents for the spring and summer of 1985.  No one was sure yet if this was a temporary reaction to stress as a Senior and as a Senior thesis writer or the beginning of a lifelong behavioral health diagnosis and challenge.

There is a pervading sense of calm

There is a pervading sense of calm coming from the United States White House in my little world. There are still many things to do and many things to be done and undone. However, the general feel I get is that experts are in charge of their various areas of expertise and will approach the work in front of them with commitment and passion and compassion. There is no longer a sense of fear and trepidation about what might happen in the future at the White House. There is an emphasis on what can be done and what will be done despite the obstacles.

What is beauty anyway? Gray hair and all?

Please do not read this post if you feel it will trigger any issues or concerns you may have with eating disorders or body image or body weight. This is a blogpost dedicated to thinking about body image. It brings up questions about eating disorders. This is not a professional opinion but one person’s exploration into body image.

I am wondering if anybody would like to comment on the relationship between body image issues and eating disorders. Over the years, as I have gained a good bit of weight largely due to specific meds and comfort/stress eating, particularly after the birth of my daughter. I am now overweight but have lost about ten pounds since the fall.

I feel at the crux of my comfort/stress eating is a real grappling with media coverage for people (mostly women but maybe not more recently men?) with model figures including actresses/actors in Hollywood. I grew up in my twenties in the 1980s when eating disorders were just becoming much of “a thing.” I feel that I suffer from unrealistic expectations of what beauty is for women especially beauty for women post-menopause with graying hair and changing hormones.

Over the last six months of COVID, I have begun growing out my hair and leaving it to return to gray rather than dyeing and highlighting it. I feel good about embracing my natural beauty and not fretting about my roots showing up every 6 to 8 weeks or so. It is liberating!

Also as a note, it does seem now in my daughter’s generation, that body image issues are being addressed more fairly than in my day. The idea of body shaming and the need to refrain from that is front and center in my daughter’s vocabulary. This is echoed by an openness about gender identity which did not occur in my youth or within my generation growing up.

Although I have never been diagnosed with an eating disorder, I do think I have body image issues. I need to be satisfied with a weight and an image of myself that befits a 57 year-old woman who takes life-sustaining meds associated with weight gain. I need to be OK with the fact that my meds cause weight gain. I need to be OK with the understanding that a model’s weight and a model’s figure is representative of .5 percent (I am guessing) of the population. It is an unrealistic goal to attain. Beauty is found from within rather than on the outside or in tandem to images that have been enhanced to make make-up models have flawless skin and no wrinkles. And so on and so on.

Another component to this puzzle is the role of exercise. I used to “work out” on a much more rigorous schedule than I do now. I find it difficult to motivate myself on a daily basis because for years I took working out as a measure of my success, trying to keep up with that model’s figure. Now I seek to exercise more for health than for vanity but it is still something that alludes me on a regular basis or over an extended period of time.

How do you feel about body image issues? Do you see that as synonymous with eating disorders? Or occurring sometimes simultaneously and sometimes not? What is the role of the media and the role of health leaders and every day people in providing healthy body image thoughts and pictures in the mind?

When Christmas Time is Over…

When Christmas time is over, there is always a little bit of a let down for me. All the rushing around for packages and decorations is over and there are five days left until New Years. Then there is all the undecorating to do before New Years. This year is especially so.

New Years is generally not my favorite holiday because all of the substance use – I just don’t get it. So, this will be a pretty regular New Year then with watching the festivities on TV.

Kids have one more week here before going back to school in January. Younger kids are supposed to go back first with middle schoolers and high schoolers coming in later if the in-person learning continues. My daughter will not go back to school until there is a vaccine. That much is decided.

For me the operative word right now is “ambiguity” and I don’t like ambiguity. The state of the US with the presidential transfer of power is ambiguous. The status of stimulus checks in the US is ambiguous. Whether kids will go back into the schools is ambiguous. When we will all get the vaccine is ambiguous. How healthcare will be impacted by covid-19 is ambiguous. Thankfully for me where the next meal is coming from is not ambiguous but it is for many, many people. Or the ability to pay the rent or the mortgage.

For me, this much ambiguity is hard to digest – both for myself and for others I may or may not know. The words “one day at a time” are cliched but very aptly put.

Here’s to hoping you have a restful and peaceful and non-ambiguous New Years. I keep telling myself — just remember the vaccines are only weeks or maybe months away now.

Also, please stay safe in this unprecedented time and enjoy your New Years at a distance.