Kiss5Tigers

The 5 Tigers represent the big things in life. This blog is about facing them.


Leave a comment

Is Mental Illness Real?

I was browsing a Facebook group where I’m a member and one of the other members stated that there is no such thing as mental illness.

Huh.

In a forum of people who have psychological distress, you have stated that mental illness isn’t real.

Not sure where I stand on that.

Well, no, I’m pretty sure where I stand on that: It’s a bit dismissive. It’s more than a bit dismissive. It’s downright belittling.

But also, I get it. I mean, we talk about mental illness as opposed to “being normal” only normal isn’t real. It’s a statistical construct based on the average way people act. It isn’t even based on feelings most of the time because we don’t know what people feel, we can observe how they act.

I suppose that’s why Abraham Low, who might be the first CBT practitioner back in the 40’s and 50’s, talked so much about seeking to be average. I feel like, it’s not about what you really experience, it’s about your ability to pass for typical.

The person’s perspective on the forum, if I understand correctly, is that extreme mental states are part of being human. They are normal and natural, and shouldn’t be pathologized.

Also, there is remarkably little data about brains with mental illness. Or the functionality of brains without mental illness, for that matter. We have some really good ideas about how the brain works, but when it comes to mental illness, it’s a black box. We don’t really know what goes wrong when people lose touch. We think it has to do with chemicals and neurons, and theories have led to some effective medications.

But medication is not 100%. Things like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy are reported to be as effective in shifting mood as many drugs. Does that mean drugs aren’t effective?

Not all drugs work for the same condition in different people. I mean, you can pretty sure that if you and I both have an infection, the same antibiotic will help. But with my bipolar? I take one cocktail of medications and my friend with the same diagnosis takes a different one. Does that mean we have different disorders?

And there is no biological test for mental illness. We can test for high blood pressure or diabetes. We can see a physical injury like a cut or a broken bone. We can detect appendicitis or cancer. But mental illness is invisible in this sense, there is no way to detect it in the body. It only appears in behavior and reported feelings.

So here I am, dealing with bipolar. And I know the big thing is not that there is something wrong with me, but that my moods and feelings stray outside the realm of average and interfere with my ability to manage life.

Does that make me sick? Or maladapted? Or sensitive to mood?

I take drugs that help me with my mood. Mood under control means life is manageable, which is good. Manageable means I pay bills on time, take a shower, sleep daily, have a job. Manageable means I pass for normal, even though my moods are often outside the bell curve. Manageable means you don’t point and stare at me. I can pass.

Who do I take the drugs for? Me or you? Because some days, most days, I feel pretty average and that was true before my diagnosis. Am I making my life more manageable for my own benefit, or because you (whoever you is) are uncomfortable with my difference?

I have been called eccentric for most of my adult life. Eccentric is okay, not as creepy as being weird, not as out of control as crazy. I’m a little odd. You think I’m normal until you find out I’m not. I make you slightly uncomfortable from time to time, but you can pass it off.

For example, I seem to observe people closely, maybe a little too closely. It makes my friend feel scrutinized. I am not aware of doing it. I watch motion. If you happen to be moving, I’m watching you. It’s a habit. I’m not consciously doing it. In fact, my attention may be turned inward and I’m not paying enough attention to actually see you at all. But I’m tracking what you’re doing. I try to be conscious of this because it makes folks uncomfortable and gets me labelled weird. It’s rude. Is it a sign of illness? Or a poorly managed evolutionary adaptation? After all, in the wild, there are advantages to being visually attentive.

But I digress.

Suppose I am not ill. Suppose I am just at one end of the bell curve of emotional sensitivity. Why do I medicate? Wouldn’t it make much more sense to change my behavior? I mean, there’s nothing wrong with being 6’5″ tall or 4’9″. They are just opposite ends of the bell curve. Maybe I am just more sensitive and somewhere there is someone who is less sensitive. Maybe I don’t need medication but understanding.

Yet medication works, so isn’t that an indication that I’m sick? Medicine changes things for me in a way that is an improvement. Doesn’t that mean I’m unwell in some way?

Is mental illness real? I certainly have real troubles and real mood extremes and real cognitive distortions. What I don’t have is a physical diagnostic that shows where bipolar exists in my brain. I can’t have my bipolar removed or point to the area where my bipolar is. I can’t even say for sure what happens when I have an episode. Why am I sometimes depressed and other times manic? It seems like there must be 2 different things going on here, to get two such different mental states.

Personal experience says mental illness is real. Just like chronic fatigue syndrome is real. That’s something that was believed to be made up until enough people reported it. Pain is real. Psychological pain is real.

For me, I just keep on doing what works. Medication helps. Support groups help. Making art helps. Seeking wellness helps. Working helps. Learning about my disorder helps. Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if I need medication to cope or if I can learn resiliency skills. What matters is that I figure out what I need to thrive.


Leave a comment

Deployment, Demobilization

Several days ahead of Hurrican Dorian, I got a deployment request to a processing center. I took it, of course, I haven’t been deployed in a year. But I was not excited about it.

I used to work at the processing center, and I became a reservist so I could keep helping people without having to be on the phone. Choosing to do a job I left seems counter-intuitive, but unemployment will do that to you.

I really don’t care for phone work. There are too many rules and guidelines about how to do it, and too much micromanaging. I know how to get the form filled out and get people assistance (assuming they qualify). I don’t want someone grading me on how many times I say the caller’s name during the conversation. And that has been a common metric in at least 3 places I’ve worked.

But I did a brave thing, and stood up for myself. There is a 50-mile radius that is considered local, ie. close enough to commute. The system showed me at 45 miles distant so I was considered local. Now my odometer said 51.6 miles and GoogleMaps said 52. I decided to see what would happen if I was reclassified.

While I was waiting, I had a day that I left the house about 15 minutes later than usual and I ended up 45 minutes late to work because of the increased traffic.

If you’re in DFW, let me describe my commute: I start on 45, I cross 20, loop 12 twice, and of course everything backs up when I get on 75 heading towards downtown. I cut over to Walton Walker to get to 35 north. I cross the tollway, 114/183 to Irving, 635, George Bush, and the lake. And oh yeah, there’s construction. A friend said, “I am worn out just hearing about that.”

If you’re not in DFW, know that I travel through downtown at peak rush hour and cross all the major highway intersections that slow down.

I did hear back that I was approved for travel, so I took a hotel room in the town where the processing center is. It made all the difference. I was able to get enough sleep and even have some time to unwind in the evenings. With the length of the commute, I was getting up at 4 in the morning and getting home about 7 at night. No time for anything but driving and work, no recovery from the day’s stress. Being in the same town made a huge difference.

It lasted a whole 5 days. Hurricane Dorian did not hit the US as hard as it could have so my particular skill set wasn’t needed. I did get a lot of training though, so that was good. Met up with some friends from other deployments. Made a few new acquaintances. Shout out to Stephanie and Susan, Annie, Haydee, Linda, Jeffrey, Mitchell, Maria, Carmon, Shontoria and Iromara.

I hope they deploy me again soon. I want to get out into the field again. I need to gain some skills to get my crew lead qualification and I need the field to do that.


1 Comment

Busy Weekend

I am busy this weekend, and it’s good.

It’s easy for me to get stuck when I don’t have a support group, and just spend days at a stretch in my jammies.

Now there’s nothing wrong with restful days. I need them. I need days when I stay home and do, well, nothing important.

But this is a 3-day weekend. I just can’t spend all 3 days at home doing nothing. So I am lucky to have made plans for all 3 days.

Tomorrow I am going out with some friends. We plan to hit Dallas Grilled Cheese Company for lunch and head on over to the Perot Museum. Then for dinner I am meeting some other friends for tacos at Taqueria Taxco.

Sunday I have a ceramics class at Dallas MakerSpace followed by a visit with a friend.

Monday I am going to get my hair cut then out to dinner with the roommates at Red Lobster.

Yes it will be a few dollars, but that’s what money is for. It’s a tool for doing the things we need to and want to. I will get some bills paid and I’ve ordered some art supplies to keep me busy. It’s all good. Busy is good for me.

I just need to buy a newspaper so I have something to protect the table top while I paint or do other art activities. I don’t want to get gunk all over the carpet. I suppose I should work outside, and I just might if the weather is suitable. I have a kit with alcohol inks that I’d love to play with somewhere that I can’t damage the furniture. The front porch is probably a good option.

Tonight is shower night, then set the alarm so I get on the road at an appropriate time tomorrow. I’m looking forward to this weekend.


Leave a comment

Shopping

Shopping is bad for me.

And yet I love to do it.

I did some online shopping. I ordered stamps, which I need. I ordered art supplies, which maybe I don’t need, but they are with a purpose. I ordered some really cool yarn for specific projects. I love yarn so one of my rules for myself is that I must have a project in mind. And I went on Etsy and ordered some vintage ephemera for junk journaling.

I also spend money on tickets to the Perot Museum with friends on Saturday and some yogurt pretzels. Then Saturday night have dinner out with friends, Sunday I have a ceramics class, and Monday I have dinner out with my roommates.

I’m hemorrhaging cash.

I need to get this under control.

I also need to put gas in the car, help my daughter pay for a replacement ID and do a little grocery shopping.

Money vanishes so fast! I don’t feel like I”m doing much but I’m spending too much.

In other news, Hurricane Dorian is a thing. It’s due to strike Puerto Rico and Florida, two places that got slammed last hurricane season and aren’t dug out yet. Neither one is prepared for another disaster.

Roommate says I need to clean my room. How do I say, it’s hot so I don’t want to hang out in there? I have an air conditioner in the window, but it’s an older house and if I turn it on while the one in the living room is running, it blows the circuit. I can’t imagine my roommates want to turn off the main a/c in order for me to clean my room. So I will work on it somewhat at the beginning and the end of the day, when I am awake and the a/c is on but it doesn’t interfere with the roommates’ comfort.

And yes, it IS hot. This is Texas. For the past week, temperatures have been over 100 F with heat index around 110. We had a cold front come through which dropped temperatures by 15 degrees, but that’s still over 90. I am just hot and uncomfortable with no air. I should be used to it – there’s no air conditioning in my car either – but for doing a task I am loathe to do, heat is a deal breaker.

Waiting for the cooler weather, thinking of how to tidy my room, it’s all part of life.


Leave a comment

Planning for Spending

I will get paid probably tomorrow (Tuesday). If not, then the day after.

And I like to shop, and to get mail, so ordering online is huge for me.

I think, I don’t need much, though you should see my wish list on Amazon. Apparently I need all the books in the Library of Congress. Or at least most of them.

So, I have the following ideas:

I am going to order zines, from Microcosm Publishing and from Atomic Books. Some of them, even though I find them listed under zines, are more like books.

I want to work my way through a book on mixed media, and I am using it as an excuse to start acquiring real artist’s supplies. That is, for example, Golden acrylic paints with their heavier body and rich pigment, as compared to the $1.59 a bottle craft paint from Walmart. Nothing against that, just I am wanting to move up in the world.

I found this really cool package of Golden acrylics, a sort of sampler pack with a little of everything in it. I ordered that, so hopefully it will get me started. I can always pick up more as I need it from Michael’s or Asel. Or I can order it again.

I am also looking at yarn. Oh my gawd, I love yarn. I love the colors and texture and the way I can take a line and make a 3 dimensional object out of it. So I have 2 carts open for yarn right now, about $150 all together. It’s too much, but I haven’t bought yarn in months so maybe I’m due for a splurge?

Maybe?

Maybe not.

Plus there is a book by Jaron Lanier at Half Price Books that I want. I have looked over about 4 of his books and I want them all, but I don’t read that fast any more. Well, part of it’s the meds, but part of it is simply that print seems so small these days and my roommate doesn’t like bright light so I feel like I can seldom see well enough to read.

But, I need a trip to Half Price Books, and Barnes & Noble is having their half price sale.

Plus I need stamps, which I like to order online because there is a wider selection.

The thing is, I could easily spend $400 on just stuff. I need to keep it under control. I think maybe not going to Barnes & Noble, and just getting the one book from Half Price. Nothing from Amazon. Maybe one yarn order, the other can wait. I mean, I can only use it so fast. And one zine order. Plus the art supplies. I can cut back. I don’t need everything, and things will still be there later.

Shopping is an issue for me with mania, I don’t want to spend wildly and send myself into a manic episode.

Unless I can figure out a way to get more money.


Leave a comment

I Did It

I did the thing.

I have been procrastinating, and I finally forced myself to stop procrastinating.

I opened up my file, and began typing.

I didn’t get much done, but I got some done, and that’s good enough.

Actually, I got more done than usual. I have been writing one paragraph at a time, and tonight I wrote about 6.

I have no deadline, so I’m not worked up about how much I do or don’t write. I just know I need to write.

I also have a sort of outline for this writing. I don’t really like outlines. To me, once I’ve written the outline, I don’t want to write the thing. It’s like, I’m done. But this time, well it’s not really an outline, but I’m finding when I run out of ideas I go to it and pick up the next topic. Writing is progressing.

I just heard about a really cool index card method, too. You make notes in the book as you read it and mark the pages (I would have to use sticky markers) and then a week or so later go back and transfer each item that still seems relevant to an index card. Use correct citations. Because then you can physically organize the cards by topic and you don’t have to remember where you read it. Sounds like a cool way to write a book or paper. I’ll have to try it sometime. Like, for a year, to have a variety of information to work from.

So this is my way of patting myself on the back for making the effort.

Because I am not ready to share the project, but getting over procrastination is huge!


Leave a comment

Just Do the Thing

It’s a simple concept, and I even wrote a whole post about it, but somehow I keep forgetting.

I have been avoiding writing for a while now, no cards, no journaling, no blogging, no working on my book. No writing.

And it got to the place where writing just seemed like the biggest hurdle ever. Getting out the pens or opening the laptop seemed like an insurmountable obstacle.

Of course it’s not.

I went to an artists’ group today and the first part was some guided free writing. Just doing the writing got the juices flowing.

Then we worked on personal projects and I got out my notecards. I wrote about 10 of them during the meeting, with stamps and everything. I mailed them already.

Now I am blogging for the second time in 24 hours.

Do the thing. Don’t get sidetracked. Don’t wait for the right moment. Just do it. (Thanks, Nike.) Start. Because once you start, you gain momentum. The law of inertia says that once something is in motion, it will tend to stay in motion until another force acts on it. And you thought inertia was just for objects at rest!

I’ve been blowing off the morning pages that Julia Cameron recommends in The Artist’s Way. And now I see, for me, even when there’s nothing to say, I need to discipline of daily writing. It primes the pump. It gets things flowing.

Wow, maybe the expert really does know what she’s talking about, fancy that!

So I will finish this entry and go write the rest of the current box of cards, and then we’ll see what happens. I might even work on my book tonight.