Mental Health Month- I am One in Five

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May is  Mental Health Awareness Month.  It was created in 1949 to raise awareness of mental health conditions and mental wellness for all.  This year’s theme for Mental Health Month is – Life with a Mental Illness – and will call on individuals to share what life with a mental illness feels like for them in words, pictures and video by tagging their social media posts with #mentalillnessfeelslike (or submitting to MHA anonymously). Posts will be collected and displayed at mentalhealthamerica.net/feelslike.

I am 1 in 5. I find it easier to tell you that I am a recovering alcoholic and addict than it is to tell you I have a mental health condition.  I would almost rather admit to being a cat burglar.  Even in our more enlightened time, mental illness still carries a huge stigma.   A friend who works for our local mental health department says, “I wish we could put a huge band aid on the fore head of people with mental illness. Maybe then people would really understand it is an illness.”

I have heard people say there is no real test for mental illness.  It is all just something a psychiatrist or therapist labels you.  I want to take a moment to explain those “labels” to you.  Mental health practitioners make a diagnosis based on the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).  The manual is published by the American Psychiatric Association and covers all mental health disorders for both children and adults.  There is another manual called ICD (International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems.)  Both manuals contain very strict, complicated, and definitive guidelines for diagnosing.

I was 36 years old when I received my first diagnoses (plural for diagnosis). It should have happened years before.  There were several reasons for the delay. Mental illness wasn’t as treatable as it is now.  Most people were afraid of being sent to a mental hospital.  Doctor’s weren’t as knowledgeable as they are now.   I also grew up in a household where mental illness was a taboo subject.  My grandmother sent my great grandmother to the state mental hospital.  They told her she was going for a ride in the country and then lied to everyone about where she was.   That is what I understood happened to people who didn’t behave properly.  She also felt that mental problems were from the devil.  They were perhaps even punishment for a lack of faith and bad behavior.

When I was in my early twenties, I told my doctor some of the things going on in my life.  He smiled.  He said it was just my nerves. He said “all us women” didn’t cope well with stress and pressure.  He gave me a prescription for Valium.  Then he gave me another prescription. And then another. This went on for a couple of years.  Valium was actually one of the worst things he could have given me.  It was my first “drug” addiction.

As I told you, I have several diagnoses.  My first was “Alcohol Dependence”   That code is 303.90 in case you were wondering.  There was also 304.10 (drug dependence for short). They didn’t come first in my life but were my first diagnoses. You can’t get to the problem when you are covering it with alcohol and drugs.  I also have GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) and Panic Disorder.  I have SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder),  BiPolar II,  Clinical Depression (which is actually covered in BiPolar II), and PTSD.

Wow, that looks like I must be a total mess.  Truth is that I WAS a total mess. I don’t have time share all of that here, but let me assure you, my life was a mess.  I tried suicide at one point.  However, medication and therapy have changed my life. Prayer and faith play a big part in life, as well.   I can’t make these things go away.  I live with them.  I make adjustments.  Most of my friends learn the hard way not to come up behind me without warning.  I don’t know who jumps higher, me or them.  It really isn’t any different from someone with diabetes.  They watch their sugar, they exercise, they check their sugar levels, and do whatever treatment it is that allows them to lead a normal life.

The old question comes up about nature and nurture.  Did my genetics cause all of this?  I am sure it contributed to it.  Was it the way I was raised?  Not exactly, but childhood trauma and abuse does contribute or cause some of this.   Scientists and doctors are learning more all the time about our brains and the way they work or don’t work.

Why am I telling you all of this?  We need everyone’s help.  Here are ways you can help.

  1. Fight The Stigma.  Learn the truth about Mental Health.  Often the media portrays people with mental illness in an untruthful, unflattering, and hurtful way.  You can help set the record straight.   Sites like NAMI http://www.nami.org/ or Mental Health America  http://www.nmha.org/  will give you realistic information.
  2. Please don’t tell me (or others) these things:  “Cheer Up, it will be OK”.  “God won’t give you more than you can handle.”  “You are so strong-you don’t really need that medication do you?”   “Oh come on, we all get down sometimes.”  “You have so much going for you. How can you be depressed?”   “There is nothing to be scared of or worried about.”   “Just eat healthy food and exercise!”  ‘It’s not really that bad, is it?”  “Everyone has problems.”    If you want to understand, ask me and be willing to hear what I have to say.
  3. Continue to push for Mental Health legislation.  The Mental Health Parity Act was a great step but some insurance companies are finding creative ways to try to get around it.

So there you have it.  I have an illness that affects my brain.  My serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine are all out of whack.  My reuptake receptors don’t function right.  My prefrontal cortex didn’t develop normally and I have poorly integrated cerebral hemispheres. (Those two are attributed to abuse.)    But I am still me.  I am the person you hang out with, call or text, chat with online, work with, play with, and pray with.  I am a mother, grandmother, and friend. I worked most of my life.   I have been blessed with two wonderful therapists in my lifetime and have found the proper medications that work to keep me in balance.  I have an amazing family and group of friends that support me.   I am a child of God.  God made me and loves me.

As Anne Lamott says:  “You were loved because God loves, period. God loved you, and everyone, not because you believed in certain things, but because you were a mess, and lonely, and His or Her child. God loved you no matter how crazy you felt on the inside, no matter what a fake you were; always, even in your current condition, even before coffee.”

How can you argue with that?

 

If you need help or know someone who does, there is help available…

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline No matter what problems you are dealing with, we want to help you find a reason to keep living. By calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255) you’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, anytime 24/7.   (Chat available as well)

Trevor Project:  The Trevor Project also offers a 24-hour toll-free confidential crisis and suicide prevention helpline for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth. Call 1-866-4-uTREVOR (1-866-488-7386).

National Domestic Violence Hotline   1.800.799.SAFE (799-7233)

To Write Love on Her Arms:  Crisis Text Line  Text “TWLOHA” to 741-741    www.twloha.com

 

 

Church Noise

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I write about church and faith quite often.  If you have followed my blog or read any of these posts, you might recall that church and I have had a challenging relationship over the years. (You can find these posts under the Faith tab on the blog.)   I only returned to traditional church about six or seven years ago. I church shopped for a while before I found a place to stay for a while.  I was part of this church for about five years, however just a few weeks ago, the congregation voted to disband and close the church.  I won’t go into the reasons since this blog isn’t about that.  It did however create the need  opportunity to visit churches over the past couple of months.

As a child, I learned that the church sanctuary was a solemn place to be treated with absolute reverence.  There were many rules including no running, no talking above a whisper, no laughing; you get the idea.  Music was never that toe tapping hand-clapping sort of thing.  It was more along the lines of hymns written in earlier centuries to tortoise paced classical organ accompaniment.  It was only in the fellowship hall that we could have a piano with more lively music; however dancing was still out of the question.

On my summer visits to my brother in West Va., we would attend small charismatic type churches.  Their music was piano, guitar, and a bit more old-time gospel.  The preacher was scary.  He screamed, threw things, and often took off his coat and tie with armpit sweat stains showing the intensity of the sermon.

Over the years, things have changed in worship style and music in many churches; not so much in the one I had been attending over the past few years.  Occasionally the congregation might be moved to clap after the choir anthem, and someone would usually have an “Amen”.  One of things I liked about this church was that the people enjoyed talking to each other.  Before church, there was a buzzing of voices and during the time in worship when people greeted one another, it was sometimes difficult to get everyone seated again.  As time went, on the voices and noise faded.

As I began visiting churches, I became interested in the church noises.  One of the first had a full band with music I love from contemporary Christian artists.  I know many people love this type of “concert” setting, and while I enjoy it, I like a blend of more traditional hymns. From the moment, I entered the building, an excitement and joy could be felt.  The next couple of places I visited were much mellower. There wasn’t much noise at all, even during the worship.

I also attend service at a small church in the country in the upstate every few weeks when I go to stay with my friends.  I love this church.  It has a history stretching back one hundred years.  The organist/pianist is a precious 95-year-old woman. A small group of children in choir robes sing with a guitar accompaniment.  The choir is small, but powerful.  The sounds of children and babies create a sense of delight. The noises in that church are truly joyful ones.

I recently visited a church, and as I entered, laughter and chatter filled the foyer.  Before I could find a seat, several smiling faces had welcomed me as if I already belonged.  During the time in worship to greet one another, the people seemed genuinely happy to be in worship with one another.  Each time I have attended, children and youth have been part of the worship.  Excitement and wonder are the noises that fill this place.  I think I might just stay a while here.  I like the noise.

Of course, I have to add a quote from Anne Lamott:

“I live for Sundays,” she says. “It’s like going to the spiritual gas station to fill up on fuel and clean the dirty windshield and mirrors. 
I usually show up nuts, self-obsessed, vaguely agitated, and I am at once reminded not of who I am, but Whose I am.

“Then everything falls into place, and I smile again at how crazy I (and most of us) are, but how at church, in fellowship, in the arms and eyes of Jesus […] I remember the truth of my spiritual identity. I love to sing in a group – more than anything, and to do the holy dance of swaying, and clapping. Plus, they say that clapping in church scares away the devil.”

 

 

 

 

Just A Day on the Calendar

March 7 Just a day on the calendar, but one that always stands out.

“I do not understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.” Anne Lamott

Cathy's Voice Now

As I looked at my phone to see calendar reminders for the day, I also saw the reminders for tomorrow.  March 7 “meeting at 1pm and Elton John concert 8pm”.  I have known the date was coming.  I even thought I was prepared.  When I bought the Elton John tickets I knew the concert was March 7.  I was so excited to be taking my 14-year-old grandson to hear one of the legends of music. Jan loved music as much as I did.  What a great way to feel close to her again.

I did so well last year; some tears, some remembering, some joy in celebrating her life.  I was so proud of my new, ever so grown up, spiritual way of looking at death and loss.  I was doing so well with everything in life that I no longer needed to see my therapist.  We did good…

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A Different Sort of Christmas

10639723_10153382246019606_766582423469376504_nMy life has always involved changes.  I am not really fond of changes; just ask anyone who knows me. 2015 has been full of changes, and I wasn’t happy about most of them.  There was a lot of loss this year, too.  However, this Christmas will be a very big change for me.  Tonight, I will board a train and head west to San Antonio, Texas (after heading North, then West, and then South to get there) to spend the holiday with my brother and his family.

My brother and I were separated when we were very young.  I did get to spend a couple of weeks with him every summer, but never Christmas.  That might have been in part due to the fact that I lived in South Carolina, and he was in West Va. buried under snow.   We haven’t been able to see each other very often as adults and have only been together during the Christmas season a few times.  We have never actually shared Christmas Day since he was 2 years old.

This will be an exciting time.  I will get to meet his grandchildren for the first time.  We will be able to spend some good quality time together and that usually means trouble.  His wife might have to send us to our rooms or give us time out.  She will have to separate us  when football is on because he is a DALLAS fan. OMG!  We will get to do a little sightseeing, try to piece together memories and share some old pictures we have been able to gather over the years.  All in all, I am so very excited and ready to begin this journey.

This will be a huge change for me.  For the past 19 years, I have spent every Christmas day with my two children, their spouses, and my grandchildren.   We usually begin the day in our pajamas and head to IHOP for breakfast.  We then return home for gift giving and fun.  The day usually ends with playing games and just relaxing.  This year we got together a couple of weeks early to celebrate Christmas as a family.    For the past 4 years, I have shared Christmas eve with my “other family.”  The day often included shopping or last minute gift wrapping followed by Christmas Eve service at church and then supper.  There would be amazing hot chocolate from a crock pot and just enjoying the time together.  The kids would beg to open one gift from under the tree, and then we would exchange our Christmas gifts for each other.

Christmas at my house growing up wasn’t much of a celebration or fun.  It was a day I usually wondered if my mother or father would call or come to see me.  Usually my mother would call, but never my father.  We had an ugly silver tree with a light that revolved around it.  I have written some other posts about all of this.  As an adult, Christmas was made very special because of my children.  I loved watching their excitement over everything that happened during the holidays.  There was then a period of time when they were older that things weren’t as good, but those times passed.

Christmas really is about a time of celebrating the birth of Christ and all that it represents.  It is a time to share with family and friends no matter how close or far.   I will truly miss the Christmas traditions of the past years, but I know this Christmas offers something special as I get to be a “kid” and reclaim some of the Christmas spirit with my little brother.

I wish all of you a wonderful Christmas or Happy Hanukkah or Happy Kwanzaa or anything else that you may celebrate during this holiday season.

 

Life As I Know It

At the end of this semester, I will be junior. I have done far more and far better than I ever imagined. I looked back at this blog post today. This sign still hangs on my door. Thanks, Mia.

Cathy's Voice Now

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Yes, I am attempting the Ultimate Blog challenge again. I am already a couple of days behind because of the nasty flu virus that inhabited my body on Christmas day. It took an arsenal of drugs to push it out of my body, but it left me with broncopneumonia. I have another batch of drugs to fight this battle.

Some may question my resolve in attempting the challenge when I will begin college classes tomorrow. I haven’t been in a college class in over 40 years. My friend Anna, who is a junior at the same school has been very supportive and encouraging. However, as she prepared to return to campus these past few days,  her support has taken a different tone. “Your life as you know it is over” she told me last night. “Just wait and see,” she said with a perverted gleam in her eye.

Tomorrow morning…

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Sister Talk

While I am so grateful to have two best friends that I consider sisters in every way except blood, I also have a biological half sister.  I am sharing an older post today because it is my sister’s birthday.  Those who know me will pause and ask, “which one is this?”  I have seven assorted brothers and sisters, although I grew up an only child.  This post will explain my sister, Jill. (click on the link below)

Happy Birthday Jill!!

https://cathysvoicenow.wordpress.com/2013/04/16/congratulations-its-a-girl/1162404_love_god_and_your_neighbor_1

HoneySuckle, Sugar Cane, and High Tide

I have been blessed with 2 best friends who are not only friends, but they are “sister friends” or “soul sisters”. They both been dealing with challenging times recently. I am reposting this blog post from two years ago because this is a difficult day for my friend Carol, and for me as well. In the post, I mention her childhood home where I found support, love, acceptance, and a retreat from the chaos of my house. Today, Carol moved out of that house taking with her so many memories. I have been lazy about writing personally and for my blog. This reminds me that I want to capture all of these memories, and it is time to get back to my writing.

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Summer was a great adventure growing up.  I grew up along the banks of  the Stono River in Charleston, SC.  I lived in a small neighborhood at the foot of the old Limehouse bridge.  It was a swing bridge that turned sideways to let boats go through.  There were about 20 houses in our neighborhood.  There was a dirt road leading off the main highway that formed a circle of about 1/2 mile. There were houses on the main river, houses on the inner circle with just a view of the water, and just off the circle was a small extension of the circle where my house stood.  We had a dock in the back yard on the main canal that lead to the river.  The lots that were not developed were still thickly wooded areas filled with trees and wildlife.

I was almost 8 when we moved to that house.  There was only one other family with children at the time.  Carol was a feisty, freckle faced redhead just a couple of years younger than I.  We immediately became “sister” friends and still are to this day.   Even though my grandmother was very controlling and afraid of just about everything, she seemed to feel safe letting me roam the small neighborhood.  Carol and I spent everyday together with few exceptions for next ten years.

The tides played a big part in planning our day.  At low tide, only pluff mud and fiddler crabs were in the canal. We occasionally braved the mud to chase the fiddler crabs.  The tide had to be about half in before there was enough water to swim or get in the old john boat.   High tide in mid afternoon was the ideal.  We would be in/on the water from lunchtime until dinner.   In the evenings, we would shrimp or crab from the dock.  A few years later, more families with kids and boats moved into the circle.  We would often go out to the main river on their boats, but the canal was always our first love.

Behind Carol’s house were several undeveloped lots.  There was a very large oak tree with massive branches that touched the ground. One of the branches that came close to the ground was perfect for bouncing. Our tree had several perfectly etched out places where you could sit.  Carol would climb to the one just above the place I chose.  We would sit and talk for hours.  We solved world problems, dreamed of adventures, and planned our futures.

We loved the woods. They were filled with honeysuckle vines.  We would sit and pick the honeysuckle, gently pulling the stem to get the tiny bit of nectar on our tongue.   We picked wild blackberries and ate them on the spot.  We were yet unaware of all the things in our world that would soon prove to kill laboratory rats.  The woods were filled with tics, red bugs, spiders, and more but we rarely encountered any problems.  We did come across snakes a few times, but always outran them.  We loved catching Daddy Long Legs and fireflies.  We would sit and dig in the sandy soil and find shark’s teeth.  We had several small jars filled with them. We were always filled with awe as we thought that our homes were once covered with water and sharks.

We had a small store not far from our neighborhood.  It was also home to the post office.  Close by there was  a fresh vegetable stand.   We would go with Carol’s mom and spend our meager allowance a couple of times a week.  We would often buy a stalk of sugar cane to take home.   After dinner we would  sit in Carol’s yard looking across at the river,  pulling the husk away and chewing on cane to get the sweet sugary juices.   Another favorite treat was Pepsi and peanuts.  We would buy bottles of Pepsi and a small bag of salted peanuts.  After drinking just a little of the Pepsi, we would each pour half of the bag of peanuts into our bottle.   The trick was to get all the peanuts out before you finished the Pepsi.

When people ask about childhood memories, I don’t often have many fond ones to share.  Alcoholism, abuse, abandonment, fear and sadness were all things that filled my house.  Moving to that small neighborhood and finding Carol and her family was the greatest treasure and salvation of my childhood.   Those summer days gave me hope for something more.  Carol and I are still “sister” friends. She moved back into her childhood home after her father died.  I go to the house, and we sit on the front porch looking out at the river or in ever so familiar living room and share stories of those times.  We walk around that block we walked so many times before and smile.  We even stop to pick the honeysuckle from time to time.