Oh balls!

12/19/2006


 


IT TAKES A BALL


 


As part of my recent spending spree, I’ve purchased a stability ball.  For those of you who are wondering what one is, a stability ball is like a large round balloon, only sturdier, so that it can withstand the weight of any person seated upon it.  The ball is typically 65 cm in diameter, but there are also 45, 55, and 75 cm balls.  The stability ball is used for much more than sitting–it is a wonderful tool for exercise!  Lie on your stomach on the ball, reach down, and do push-ups!  Or lie with your shoulders on the floor and your calves up on the ball, body straight in a plank position and try holding that position for a half minute.  You’ll feel your core muscles strengthen after only a few such poses on the ball.  I have been using stability balls at the gym for several months, and now at home every day for about a week, and I can feel the benefits already.


 


But before I could work out on the stability ball, I had to pump it up.  It came in a box completely deflated and folded up, smelling brand new and rubbery.  On careful inspection I was able to find a hole in the ball.  The pump came as a round bellows accompanied by a blue shaft, both plastic.  Assembled, the pump looked like this:


<IMG src=”/images/27466-26086/IMG_0344.JPG”> 


Conceivably, the contraption could have been pumped by foot, but I chose to squeeze it with my hand instead, and the round bellows, which thrust air deftly through the shaft and into the receptor ball, seemed to take pleasure in my compressions.   A definitive rhythm ensued.  To make certain that I was pumping correctly, I manipulated the shaft, gently at first, then with an up-and-down motion, smoothly, yet with urgency and excitement, because the ball was filling now, its sides glistening, round, inviting.  I felt my breath come in and out rapidly, and a feeling of warmth fill my torso.  To make sure I kept up my pumping with adequate strength–for the tension was filling me now–I held the pump between my legs, rather at my crotch, and pumped the air, my breath spilling out into sound, more–more now, more, more–until the thrusting is in me and I cannot bear it another moment, and then more and more–yes, yes, yes–


 


They say working out raises one’s sex drive.  I say it happens even before you start.

It’s all in your head!

12/16/2006


 


“IT’S ALL IN YOUR HEAD”


 


True stories:


 


Guy D (not his real name) is treated in the emergency room at a local hospital for mania.  While getting up from a chair, Guy twists his leg and feels a sharp pain in his knee.  More concerned about impending hospital admission than a twinge in his knee, Guy ignores the sensation until he arrives, by ambulance, at the hospital where he is to be admitted and treated.  By then, his knee is significantly swollen and he experiences pain while walking.  He says to the doctor, “I think I injured my knee at the other hospital.”


 


The doctor responds, “What about your knee?”


 


“It hurts.”


 


The doctor, a psychiatrist, responds, “I’ll have the medical doctor look at it.  Meanwhile, I’ll give you something to get your mind off your knee, some Risperdal [an antipsychotic].  And something to help you sleep.”


 


The psychiatrist leaves.  Given that it’s a weekend, Guy won’t be seeing the medical doctor until Monday.  Before he turns in for the night, he shows the charge nurse his knee.  “Yes, that does look swollen,” she says.  “Why don’t you go to bed now, give it a rest.”


 


Later, someone from physical therapy, having gotten the word that a man in the psychiatric unit is experiencing knee pain, brings up a set of crutches.  The nurse sends the crutches back downstairs, saying that Guy “cannot be trusted with such objects.”


 


The medical doctor looks at Guy’s knee on Monday.  He prescribes ice packs and Ibuprofen for swelling.  He forgets to ask Guy if his knee hurts.


 


Again, a young fellow comes up from physical therapy with a set of crutches, and is turned away.


 


Three weeks later, Guy is released from the psychiatric unit.


 


Diagnosis: Torn meniscus, surgery required.


 


 


 


Diana B (not her real name) has a lengthy history of psychiatric hospitalization and drug abuse including heroin use, and is currently attending a methadone clinic.  At one time she was extremely overweight and opted for gastric stapling.  She lost a fair amount of weight afterward.  She lives with her parents who berate her for being a “failure” at life.  She has one son.


 


When Diana develops severe abdominal pain, she decides to go to the local emergency room.  The result is as she expected: the attending physician looks at her chart, then at her, and says, “You want painkillers, right?”


 


“I want treatment.”


 


“And you want painkillers.”


 


“Aren’t you going to do an x-ray, or an MRI?”


 


“I don’t think anything’s wrong with you.”


 


Diana is turned away, and her abdominal pain continues to worsen.  She chooses to go to a different emergency room, where the staff doesn’t know her, in hopes of getting medical care.  But when Diana gives a list of the medications she takes, including a lengthy list of psychiatric medications and methadone, she is turned away again.


 


Finally, Diana returns to the doctor who performed the gastric stapling, and asks if he can help her.  He runs some tests.


 


Diagnosis:  dislocated gastric staple, surgery imperative.


 


Diana is immediately hospitalized, in a psychiatric unit.  She undergoes surgery four months later.

Eating Disorders

As some of you may know, I have had trouble with eating disorders in the past.  Here is a very interesting article on the causes of eating disorders.  I find the biochemical aspects especially fascinating.  Not everyone is alike.  Patients are as different and varied as are the stars of the universe; don’t let “specialists” try to fit you into their molds of what they think a person with an ED is or should be.  Speak up and be active in your care.  Don’t be afraid to ask for medication if you feel you can benefit from it; I waited too long to ask and would have been better off if I had been more assertive.  If your therapist doesn’t seem right for you, ask for another.  Don’t waste your time with someone who isn’t right for you because you’ll never get that time back–time only moves forward!  You deserve the best care.  You are a good person.  You deserve the opportunity to grow. thrive, and enjoy a happy life.

http://www.selfhelpmagazine.com/articles/eating/nih/cause.html

I’ve been out almost nine months now….

12/12/2006


 


REFLECTIONS ON BEING OUT OF THE HOSPITAL FOR NINE MONTHS


 


I followed Devorah, the social worker, into the little room sometimes used for individual conferences, wondering what she had in store for me this time.  I was getting disillusioned with Devorah.  Whereas she was immensely helpful the first time I was hospitalized at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, she was running out of ideas, and I had the sense that she had either given up on me or had dismissed me as one of the “chronics,” or worse, one of the “regulars.”


 


We sat down.  A turned off computer sat on a desk to Devorah’s left, along with file cabinets, and a stray chair here and there made the cramped office even more uncomfortable than the situation already granted.


 


“Well,” said Devorah.


 


“Well what?”  I hooked my feet around the front legs of my chair.  Already this wasn’t sounding like something in my favor.


 


“Dr. R____ and I have conferred.”  Devorah produced a pen from behind an ear.


 


“So?”


 


“She said–you know, Julie, therapists are only human, and they can’t be available to you one hundred percent of the time.”


 


“I’m aware of that.”  I let a bit of sarcasm seep into my response.


 


“She can’t always return your calls.”


 


“Of course not.”


 


“You seem to need–well,” she cleared her throat appropriately, “a little more support.”


 


Shit.  I knew what she was getting at.


 


“You know what I’m getting at.”


 


I nodded.


 


“Julie, not all day programs are alike.  We’ll find a good one for you.  C’mon.”  I shook my head.  “It is my–rather, our, Dr. R_____’s  and my own, recommendation.  You’ve been hospitalized a number of times over the past year.  This is not working.  You want to stay out of the hospital, don’t you?”


 


She didn’t understand.  Going to a day program meant being babysat at a program for six hours a day, five days a week, going to group after group with other patients who had problems similar or worse than my own.  It meant leaving QB alone by himself for at least eight hours a day, and it also meant rarely having the opportunity to work out at the gym.  It meant giving up hope of going back to graduate school in the near future, and resigning myself to possibly becoming a “lifer” in the mental health system.   I knew these things from experience.


 


I knew I couldn’t explain to Devorah my reasoning in a way that would make sense to her.  I didn’t fit into her mold.  I wasn’t the typical “regular” that came through the doors of her unit.  I was a writer, a graduate student; I had a life, a life I wasn’t easily going to relinquish. 


 


I would prove her wrong.  I could do it.  I straightened my back, holding my head upright to face Devorah.  She flinched.  I squinted at her.  “You know, I don’t need Dr. R_____ as much as the two of you think I do,” I said.  “I won’t call her anymore.  I’ll state this in a written contract.  And–”


 


“Okay, but–”


 


“I don’t need you, either,” I breathed.


 


“I still think you need support.”


 


“Support is overrated.”


 


I was discharged March 20, 2006 and haven’t been back.  I have survived my dog’s serious behavior problems and ultimate euthanasia.  I have survived a particularly difficult three-year anniversary of Joe’s death.  Prior to taking Topamax, I experienced severe depression, eating binges, and the torment of the Beings as well.  I have survived changing therapists and changing my outlook on dating and sexuality.  I have survived, mostly, a change in myself.


 


Support is overrated.  Patients get to the point where the more support they get, the more they need.  Therapists have a way of supplying just the right amount of support, giving it and taking it away, sometimes making patients dependent and even needy.  I know this; I’ve been there.  I think therapists love being needed, that is, until they are overworked and realize they’ve gone in over their heads.  Dr. R_____ didn’t set limits with me, which was her fault, not mine.  I chose to correct the situation, and doing so saved my relationship with her.  When Dr. R_____ left a couple of weeks ago for Montana, I felt our relationship was a healthy one and I had no issues with her; therefore parting with her was not as difficult as it could have been.


 


Looking back, yes, I am rather proud of myself for proving Devorah wrong.  I’ll be even prouder on March 20, 2007, when I’ll be able to say I’ve been out of the hospital a full year, and I have no doubts that I’ll make it to that point.  And yes, I wish I could see her now, maybe in the subway, maybe right here in the library, while I sit here at this desk, typing away, while she comes looking for some book on gardening, and upon seeing me, eyes widening, mouth forming a perfect O, I would say, quite proudly, with evenness and pride in my voice, “See, I told you so!”


 

Louie

12/10/2006


 


LOUIE


 


While a patient at Putnam Memorial Hospital’s Special Management Unit (which had been converted into a psych unit) I, at 25, developed a crush on the charge nurse, Heide Merecki, age 43, and upon hearing about my adoration for her, Heide became quite embarrassed and flustered, saying, “I have never been in a situation like this, certainly!” 


 


I could think of nothing to say immediately, so I stared into her green eyes, flaked with a bit too much make-up, and then, feeling myself blush, finally blurted out, “I think you’re, you’re beautiful, and Louie, me and him–he and I, that is–call you Dragon Lady, that’s because you’re strong, and I love you, and–”


 


She stomped off in her inch-and-a-half heels. Hearing her heels tap on the hospital floor normally excited me.  But this time, that familiar sound brought me to tears.


 


“PIX 106 PIX 106 PIX 106!”  It was Louie.  “C’mon, Little Kitty, don’t cry.  Let’s smoke.  Don’t cry.”  Louie was 15 going on 7, and he was the only person that had ever called me “Little Kitty.”   I could have counted every freckle on his face, if I’d wanted.


 


This crush, which perhaps you could call love, with a stretch of the imagination, began to extend to all nurses, and eventually, the field of nursing in general, until finally, after I left the hospital, began taking Lithium and was somewhat recovered from my malady, I decided to apply to nursing school.  The paperwork and testing were a cinch–I placed in the 99th percentile in everything except reading speed (55th)–and I was happily accepted into the Putnam Memorial Hospital School of Practical Nursing in Bennington, Vermont for the fall term.  For the occasion, I quit smoking–in part because Heide was a passionate ex-smoker–and on the second day of school I showed up at the “unit” decked out proudly in my yellow uniform dress, to show the nurses at the Special Management Unit that I was not the loser they first saw dragged into their doors some year and a half ago.


 


“Well, well,” said Heide, rounding the corner of the tiny nurses’ station in the center of the unit.  The two fat LPN’s were filing their nails behind the desk.  I wanted her approval.  I wanted her to say, “You finally made it.  You overcame adversity.  You tried and succeeded.  You recovered,” and most importantly, “I’m proud of you.”


 


“Well, well.  One of the yellow ladies, I see.  Did you want to become like us?”  Heide gestured at the two LPN’s, whose attention had shifted to a shampoo commercial.  Their heads bobbed stupidly.  “Or did you simply want to stay here with us?”


 


Heide looked at her watch, then turned to one of the LPN’s.  “Pat, it’s near the end of the shift.  I need to do report.  Will you keep Ms. Greene amused while I go write my notes?”


 


I bolted.  I didn’t even bother to wait for the elevator; I took the stairs.  Down to the ground floor, down to freedom. 


 


Then I thought of Louie.  Where was he?  He was the only one who knew of my special feelings for Heide.  He alone understood.  Christ, I couldn’t even remember his last name.  I had no way of contacting him.  He could have graduated high school by now, and moved to a different town.  Or he could have been in the state juvenile prison.


 


 


 


After I was kicked out of nursing school, for the reason that–the school director explained, “People with mental illnesses have no place in nursing,” when she found out–I transferred my entire obsession with nurses and nursing to an obsession with smoking.  I wrote poems about cigarettes, smoked several brands at the same time, smoked clove cigarettes.  I smoked marijuana cigarettes when I could get my hands on some, and hung out with men that smoked.  I collected ashtrays of various sizes and shapes.  In one poem, I referred to smoking as “restrained pyromania.”  I refused to go any place where I wasn’t allowed to smoke, sometimes declining invitations that would have been advantageous not to pass up. 


 


And so I found my place in smoking.  Here was something I could do that didn’t take much effort to succeed at, that relaxed me, that reduced the symptoms of my illness somewhat, that at the time was relatively cheap.  Smoking gave me something to do with my hands and mouth.  It was a palatable accompaniment to coffee and television.  There wasn’t much to do except watch TV, drink coffee, smoke, and let my head bob stupidly, anyway.


 


 


 


Right now, I am sitting here at my desk in the corner of nonfiction, near the auto repair manuals and gardening books, and I hear him show some couple the books on breast-feeding, and then his voice, saying, “C’mon, Little Kitty.”


 


Of course.  I’m imagining things.  Who?


 


“Little Kitty.  I knew that would get your attention.”  He still has that toothy grin and the freckles.


 


“Louie?”


 


“Can you stream in PIX 106 on your laptop?”  This is really happening.  I am not making this up.


 


“Louie?”


 


“Never mind.  Hey, how are you?”


 


But his movements are stiff and deliberate.  Readers, I’ve been sitting in the library too long and my mind isn’t quite right.  Louie isn’t really here; he’s lost to me now, and I don’t think I’ll ever remember his last name.


 


He, or what I perceive as Louie, wavers, like a candle flame.  “Let’s go smoke.”


 


“Louie, I–”


 


“No, please.  I wanna show you my new Gameboy stuff.  Pretty please?  Let’s go smoke.  I got a new pack of those Marlboro 100’s that you like.”


 


So he’s caught up with the times, but hasn’t grown up.  “Louie.  No.  I won’t go with you.  I can’t.”  I try to lower my voice.  This is a library, after all.


 


“Look, I knew how you felt about Heide Merecki.”


 


“Shh.  You did?”


 


“It was wicked obvious.  A lot of things were obvious.  The way you looked nervous whenever she walked by.  The way you stared at her.  You’d blush when she talked to you.  I’d even see you sweating.  I haven’t forgotten.  You haven’t, either.  But let’s go smoke.”


 


“Louie, I–”


 


“I know.  You quit.  You quit smoking, you quit a lot of things.  You quit watching TV, you quit marijuana, you quit obsessing about nursing and sleeping with men you hardly know.”


 


“Yes, I quit a lot of things.  I got better and grew up, Louie.”


 


Louie flickers again, then turns into the library stacks, somewhere between the travel section and women’s studies, disappearing as he rounds the corner.


 


Dumbfounded, I type the last few words of my entry, and post it to all of you, my readers.  Heide, if you are among my readers, know that I have not forgotten you.  You were not the first woman to touch me the way you did, nor were you the last.


 


            ~~Little Kitty

The Thing-bearer

12/6/2006


 


DOES ONE BLAME THE ILLNESS OR DOES ONE BLAME ONESELF


 


…for one’s lousy behavior?


 


This question brings me to another: Do I blame my illness or do I blame myself for my lousy behavior?


 


Which brings up the issue of my mother.


 


I am not saying she is to blame for any of this crap.  I’m just saying that when it comes to blaming, she fits right in, because she needs something or someone to blame or she’s not satisfied.


 


Furthermore, when I’ve gotten really, really pissed off at her, she blames the illness for my display of anger–oh no, it couldn’t have been something she did, could it?–


 


DOES ONE BLAME ONE’S MOTHER OR DOES ONE BLAME ONESELF


 


…for a lousy start to a blog entry?


 


The real question is, to what extent am I willing to take responsibility for my own actions?


 


And, to what extent are my actions dictated by an abnormality that most people never experience and cannot fathom, yet over which I, myself, as bearer of this abnormality, am powerless?


 


And, to what extent can I claim that I am only the bearer of this abnormality and that it is separate from myself?


 


There came a woman, sent from the Ward, whose name was Julie.
The same came for witness, that she might bear witness of The Thing, that all might believe through her.


She was not The Thing, but `came’ that she might bear witness of The Thing.


Julie beareth witness of him, and crieth, saying, “This was he of whom I said, He that cometh after me is become before me: for he was before me.  Watch out!  He is Evil!
And I confessed, and denied not; and I confessed, I am not The Thing; I am not my illness!”


 

COMMUNIST LUNCH LADY

12/2/2006


 


LUNCH LADY COMMUNIST


 


She was everywhere, but mostly in places where she could scold me and tease me, saying I’d never grow up, and in part that turned out to be true, as it is for most folks, but that’s another story altogether.  She meant I’d never be tall.  Despite my deep-down wishes, she turned out to be right, but not for the reason she claimed.  It was heredity that dictated my height, not how much of my mushy, out-of-a-can, institutional, bland, school lunch food I ate.


 


She was a Lunch Lady.  Of all the Lunch Ladies, who were all in their 40’s or 50’s, she was the meanest.  They wore their hair, which only hours before had been in curlers, under hairnets, their faces powdered, lipstick neatly applied.  They weren’t at all like Grandma Ruby, who wouldn’t have been caught dead with a net in her hair, or like Grandma Dottie, who made the best, juiciest chicken–indeed, it was the only thing she could cook–and smelled like cinnamon–no, the Lunch Ladies made me think of the fish in our classroom’s aquarium: they moved in synch; they all came to work at the same time and left at the same time, did the same jobs, wore the same aprons, had their hair done on the same day of the week, but if you looked closely you’d notice differences, and like the one fish in the aquarium with the black streak on its side, this Lunch Lady was mean, the meanest of them all, and her single purpose at our school was to pester, tease, scold, harass, and embarrass–me.


 


Even the first time it happened I already hated her for it.  Our school cafeteria was the size of a classroom that might hold, say, 60 students if a class were to be held there, and that was perhaps how many of us ate in that room at lunch time, about ten tables of us, both students who brought their lunch in from home and those like myself who were unfortunate enough to have to purchase school lunches.  On that day, the food, if you could call it that, consisted of mashed potatoes, peas, and fish sticks, the latter for the Catholics who had fish every Friday.  Something green was served on the side of the fish in a little cup; I learned that this was called tartar sauce and I wouldn’t eat the fish stick if any of the sauce had touched it because you never know if one of the lunch ladies had traded her snots for it. 


 


Walking back to my table, I noticed that the peas not only were slimy but some were sunken in like raisins.  “Gimme one,” said one of the girls.  I didn’t know her name, because she had a twin; she was either Susan or Sarah and I didn’t know which.


 


She grabbed a pea off my tray.  “Eww,” she said.  “I don’t want it.”  She put it back.  “Me and my sister ate already.  You’d better hurry up or you’ll be last.”


 


Karen Johnson, who was better at pitching a baseball than any boy, had eaten peanut butter fluffernutter that day.  She was casually peeling grapes.


 


I decided to eat the Jell-o first.  It had what looked like whipped cream on it, and I didn’t know if I should eat that first or the Jell-o.  If I did it wrong, I would be the laughing stock of Mrs. Seaman’s first grade class.  I took one sliver of Jell-o, felt it slide down my throat like a worm, and then went on to the peas, which had some kind of grease in them.  Nope.  Won’t eat.  They smelled like a nursing home, besides, like the one my mother took me to when we went to see some aunt I wish I never had who hugged a dysfunctional teddy bear and howled like an animal in a cartoon.  I took a bite of mashed potatoes but they tasted like cardboard.  


 


(I had in fact eaten cardboard, shirt cardboard from the Chinese laundry; I did it on a dare from the redhead down the street named Italo Rapponi, who was also called Guy.  He said I couldn’t do it and I did, but a few minutes later, after his mother had called him inside to help her match the family’s socks, I threw it up in the berry bushes that separated his yard from the McKenna’s.)


 


Piece by piece, I rejected my lunch that day.   I couldn’t eat any of it, and with Steve McKenna kicking the back of my chair, and Susan-Sarah tugging at my hair, I decided to bring my lunch to the “Return” window uneaten.  Played with, maybe, but uneaten. 


 


It was the first time, so I didn’t know, didn’t know that she was there, didn’t know she would even take note of how little (if anything) I’d eaten, didn’t know she, Communist that she was, would take it upon herself to single me out as the bad one.  I casually left my tray at the window and turned to leave when I caught her eye.  There she was.  Auburn hair.  Green eyes.  Lips with little cracks around them so you could tell she wasn’t young anymore.  And a deep, tenor voice, that said, “If you don’t eat, little girl, you will never grow up; you will always be little.”


 


Pause.  What seemed like a moment of silence in the noisy lunchroom startled and shamed me.  “Little girl, little girl, you will never grow up.”


 


I had to get out of there.  Away from the Communist Lunch Lady.  Away from the other kids, who were probably pointing and laughing forever at me by now.  As I turned, I dropped my fork.  I knew I had to pick it up or I’d be in even more trouble, so I bent over to get it, then thought of my little rear end I was exposing for spanking, quickly straightened, placed the fork at the window and, trying to look casual, trying to look big and tall, I paced myself along the wall toward the back of the lunch room, toward the back door, I would walk past Miss O’Connell, walk past the TA’s, walk past the police lady and everyone else and be on the street and free, free from the laughing kids, free from the Communist Lunch Lady, free from the embarrassment and shame that I lived with every single day, every yesterday, every today and tomorrow even, at that school.  I would shake off the image of “Little Girl” and be someone else for a change.


 


“Hey,” said Karen Johnson.  “Want part of my banana?”


 


I did.  “Thanks.”


 


The Communist Lunch Lady worked at our school for another year, and then I didn’t see her again.  It was a daily struggle to avoid her while returning my tray to the window, and I was generally successful, but when she was impossible to avoid, I’d mix up my vegetables to make them look eaten, which generally didn’t work.  My stance hardened over the months and “little girl, little girl…” didn’t have the power over me that it once had. 


 


I think the fear of never growing up is just as bad as the fear of growing up, and I’ve felt both, though at different times.  It’s kind of the push-me-pull-you that we call maturing.  Or, to quote a cliché, “Two steps forward and one step back,” or, sometimes, “One step forward and two steps back.”  Growing up is the ache and the angst of childhood and adolescence; we want to grow, and at the same time we want to stay right where we are, right where we are at the moment, and stay kids, just for a little while longer.  If there was anything the Communist Lunch Lady taught me it was a sense of bashfulness, which grew into shame and embarrassment as I grew; she was not the only teacher I had of this dreaded concept; there were others.  But while growing up certainly meant learning, it meant unlearning as well, like back-and-forth brush strokes.  Growing up meant unlearning being little.  It meant unlearning shame and embarrassment.  It meant busting out of that whole scene, and becoming myself.  And somehow I did, and am doing just that.

Meds

11/26/2006

MY TAKE ON MEDICATIONS

Most of psychiatry these days has to do with meds, and if you go to a psychiatrist you’re likely to come out of the office with a prescription in your hand. For better or worse, the profession has turned to the “medical model” as the standard treatment for mental illness, meaning that those with MD after their name play a huge role in all this.

When I got started in this business, that is, when I was 22 and didn’t have a clue what was wrong with me, I had no knowledge that there were medications people could take to make them feel better. Rather, I was aware of sedatives such as were given to wild beasts in order to quiet them, and illegal mind-altering drugs that were best avoided. I had never heard of antidepressants, antipsychotics, or mood stabilizers.

I first found out about these drugs that saved my life when I became a “client” at Options Day Treatment in the fall of 1981. I truly believed at that time that this brief experience in this program would cure me, but what I found when I got there shocked me: the people in the program had been in “the system” for years, decades even, and many had no hope of ever getting off the mental health merry-go-round for a long, long time. A fair quantity of the “clients” talked to themselves non-stop. Others could not stop shuffling their feet; this, I discovered, was a side-effect of some of the medications they took. Some contorted their faces into grimaces and twitches. Several were mentally retarded, and many drooled and had significant hygiene problems. One “client” smelled like sour milk; I could never figure out if it was the odor was in his jacket or himself.

I was ashamed, actually, that I came from an upper middle class family, had healthy teeth, and had been educated at UMass and Bennington College. I was embarrassed to admit that I wasn’t on welfare like everyone else, and wasn’t receiving food stamps. In order to convince fellow “clients” that I belonged, I started smoking cigarettes, wearing make-up, and watching soaps. I tried wearing heels, but ended up with nasty blisters.

And then there was the question of meds. I was fascinated. It was more than just “uppers” and “downers” as I had learned in 10th grade biology class. Some medications, which in those days included Imiprimine, Elavil, and the like, took away depression. Lithium leveled mood swings. Thorazine, Prolixin, and Stelazine eased psychosis and mania. And if you were anxious you could take Ativan or Librium.

The list of possibilities increased over the years with the advent of new drugs, the most significant of these being the “newer” antipsychotics that started with Clozapine and continued with Risperdal, Zyprexa, Seroquel (yuck yuck), Geodon, Abilify, and of course the SSRI antidepressants such as Prozac that caused people at least in the US to feel more accepting of psychotropic medication in general. Several anticonvulsants have mood stabilizing properties as well: Tegretol, Depakote, Lamictal, and of course my pal Topamax, and are safer than Lithium.

(In case you were wondering, all this is coming out of my head; I am not reading off some website; this is out of my own knowledge of these meds–impressive, eh?)

Fascination aside, no doctor would give me medication until 1983, though I desperately needed it. Why? I think they had trouble pinning down a diagnosis for me that justified giving me meds. “Spoiled brat” doesn’t have a listing in the Diagnostics and Statistics Manual (DSM-IV), the standard for diagnosing patients.

It baffles me even now why my successive “treatment teams” didn’t give me medication sooner. The Road to Hell was not paved with good intention; it simply wasn’t paved. I think my life may have taken a drastic turn for the better if someone had put me on the right medication early on. By the time I took my very first psychotropic pill (which, incidentally, was Mellaril, an antipsychotic) I was suicidal (and had voiced this to my treatment team),” rarely bathed, had major eating and sleeping problems, drove recklessly, suffered extreme anxiety and panic attacks, and was tortured every day by something I called “Monsters”–these were strikingly similar to the Beings I experience nowadays. I did a tremendous amount of cutting with a dull box-cutter blade I’d found on the front lawn one day that fall; I picked at these arrow-shaped cuts on my arms and they had become infected. And those fools thought I didn’t need meds?

There is one reason I can think of why the docs held off so long. Once you get on the chronic mental patient merry-go-round it’s hard to get off. Meds are a big part of it. Most, I repeat most, people who take medication are not chronic mental patients but “high functioning” people who just need a little help temporarily. For me, though, and for millions of other “chronics” (sorry) taking meds becomes a permanent daily routine. Am I sick of it? Of course I’m damned sick of it! Some people opt for injections they can have once every two weeks or so; that way they don’t have to remember the pills; this is a very popular method used in Canada and parts of Europe to encourage compliance (“compliance”–see?).

Now, I take Thorazine, Risperdal, Topamax, Lamictal, Cymbalta, Abilify, and Synthroid; the latter is for my thyroid. I take enough medication to knock most people out for at least an afternoon, if not all day and all night. Luckily, I don’t get many side effects except for postural hypotension, which is a nuisance and a little scary at times, and I drink a heck of a lot of water.

My medications don’t make me “high.” They make me “normal.” They help me manage my symptoms so that I can function like other people do. Meds help me carry on conversations, take care of myself, eat, sleep, and bathe. Meds help me concentrate on writing. Without meds, I wouldn’t have been able to return to school, earn my degree, and go on to grad school. If there were no such thing as these meds, I’d probably be in some back ward somewhere, if I were alive at all, unable to think straight, unable to converse, unable to relate to others.

It amuses me now to recall that Lithium made my hair curl! It did, better than any perm! Shh…don’t tell my secret…it’ll put hairdressers out of business! (see photo)

Puppy and I

Here I am with Tiger in 1992, and the curly hair is from the lithium I took.