I am a loser.

Posted: April 11, 2017 in Uncategorized

Source: I am a loser.

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About 8 years ago my sister asked me if I thought I was addicted to anything. She was trying to help me get into a facility focused on mental health and addiction. I gave it some thought and told her, “If anything I’m addicted to chaos”. I knew that sounded weird, but my life had been chaotic since I was little. And since chaos was so often around I must be addicted to it. Somewhat surprisingly to me both she and the facility accepted my theory. I started treatment the next week. 
 I was 36 at that time and had already been through 3 marriages, at least 20 jobs, and 15 moves. I knew I had so many problems and tried very hard to correct them but I couldn’t. At least not consistently. Thus chaos was all around me. 

Since chaos was all around me I must be addicted to it, right? I thought so then and continued to do so for years. But I didn’t want chaos. Didn’t enjoy it, didn’t crave it, didn’t need it. It gave me no high or satisfaction. So I started to look deeper and saw that chaos really wasn’t my addiction. It was a consequence. A consequence of wanting to feel better. From wanting to feel better? Really? Yes and yes. Unusual for sure, but true. 

I was desperate to feel better and had been for a long time. Things around me had been yucky since I was little and kept getting more yucky. My mom had an anxiety disorder and my dad was bipolar. Neither was diagnosed and had no treatment. That caused real problems for us. On top of their issues I was a mess inside. A mess that kept getting worse and worse causing even more problems. I was suffering from undiagnosed mental illness too. I longed for us to have good health instead of illness, steadiness instead of instability, and unity instead of being alone and out of place. Most of all I desperately wanted to feel better. 

All that wanting to feel better would bring chaos. I would do things that were unwise- overspending money, immoral- messing up marriage and being a father, and even illegal- felony theft. All fueled by my desperation to feel better. As weird as it sounds, wanting to feel better brought chaos. Truly it did. Ask anyone involved in my past and they’d tell you. 

I’m sharing my experience hoping to enlighten and encourage. To enlighten you to see how a person with chaos always around them does not mean they’re addicted to it. And I’m encouraging anyone surrounded by chaos to seek true help. I’m also encouraging anyone who sees another in chaos to try to help in some way. It was my seeking and finding help that things have gotten much less chaotic. Together we can make things better. 

  

Hello, my name is Mark. My life has led me to have a lot of experience in trying to get help for my psychiatric issues. I write this to share some of my story hoping it might increase awareness and maybe even help someone.

I’ve had struggles with mental illness since I young. Up until about 7 years ago I was able to be resilient and keep things patched together enough to get through. That all stopped then. I went into a serious breakdown and lost almost everything. I was desperate for help. Desperate for change.

A couple months later I started having overbearing thoughts of suicide and was hospitalized. I would go on to be hospitalized around 15 times the next 2 years. Antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, anti-psychotics, and mood stabilizers were tried. If any did good at all it was short-lived. Diagnoses of bipolar, borderline personality disorder, and anxiety disorders were given but none stuck. I saw multiple therapists with differing opinions on what I needed, but none had an answer.

As you might imagine, all this trying and failing grew very frustrating for me. But it was also frustrating for the hospitals and outpatient treatment facilities. I would be accused of faking and heard “there’s nothing wrong with you”. I was told that I was making my own messes and just needed to try harder. Told that I wasn’t really suicidal because I had never attempted suicide. This experience seemed to prove what I had thought and felt for a long time: That there was no help for me and the world would be better off without me. The keywords there are thought and felt. More on thoughts and feelings to come. I was still desperate for help. Desperate for change. Even more so than before.

Though tormented by my own thoughts and feelings that told me to die, I was able to conclude that I was not ready to give up on life yet. I wanted to keep trying, but I also knew I needed to try differently. I identified that there was something that was in my power to change. I began to see that it was, and still is, very hard for me to express negative thoughts and feelings. I wasn’t able to outwardly convey the mess I was inside, and I felt that could be why I was so misunderstood and thus mistreated. I thought if I could learn to express myself better that it might change the treatment and maybe the diagnosis I get. That the cycle of reaching for help then not getting any then reaching again for help and still not getting any could be broken.

Mostly because I hadn’t yet found good treatment, I had spent 6 months out of a hospital. And in those months I had made a really big mess. Lost everything again. It was time to put changes in how I communicate into practice and be hospitalized again. I was able to choose to go to a hospital that had always been good to me. There I felt safe enough to really try to open up and give details of what was going on inside of me. My effort rewarded me with being taken seriously. I got understanding and empathy from the staff there. They went out of their way to help improve my self-esteem. My psychiatrist there however did not connect with me, but that led to good too. For the first time I had found someone who agreed that I needed long term treatment. They would send me to Warren State Hospital to continue and further my treatment.

Within two hours of meeting him my psychiatrist there gave me a diagnosis that I had not even heard whispered for me before: I have Obsessive-compulsive Disorder. And he was so right. Mine is an untypical case. Along with it I also have fairly untypical Bipolar disorder. I would go on to spend nearly 2 years at Warren. In that time my psychiatric diagnoses were proven true and truly treated with proper medication. I also received long term and high level therapy from a doctor of psychology there. My life has been far more stable and beneficial since I decided to not give up on life but to seek treatment in a different and better way.

I want to tell you to not give up on what is good, and to stop banging your head against that which is not working. It’s very hard to get good treatment without a true diagnosis. And it’s hard to get anything good and lasting if you’re not able to express yourself. My experience, and thus this essay, echo these points.

 

 

 

Dear Unnamed,

Posted: September 21, 2015 in Uncategorized

Defying Shadows

Dear Unnamed,

It’s been a year since I have been diagnosed. The past year through my struggling, my recovery and my new found strength, you have struggled to understand me and what I am going through. This is me trying. This is me telling you what I wish you understood about my Mental Illness.

  1. I wish you understood that Bipolar Disorder is not something I have made up to excuse my bad decisions. Bipolar Disorder is defined by the National Institute of Mental Health as “a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. Symptoms of bipolar disorder are severe. They are different from the normal ups and downs that everyone goes through from time to time. Bipolar disorder symptoms can result in damaged relationships, poor job or school performance, and even suicide. But bipolar disorder can be treated…

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Thanks to the trend of being able to see what you posted in the past years I saw that I was having an awful day 5 years ago today. This was a couple years before I was properly diagnosed and thus properly treated for my mental illness. I was on Facebook asking for help with suicide thoughts and wanting to die. What ended up happening was I would receive good encouragement from family and friends but it was overtaken by the illness in me. The illness had me full of despair which is the epitome of discouragement. It had to be frustrating for those trying to help me. They were using sound logic and knew me to be a person with good logic. But illness is so often illogical and during that time I was lost in illogical despair. I’m thankful I got through that. I ended up finally getting the treatment I needed. Treatment that continues through to this day and every day.

Medication and me: It’s been quite a rocky road for us ever since first giving meds a chance around age 14. It would be best summarized as an all or nothing relationship. I would come to the meds feeling hopeless and helpless, aka despair. Then with an open my mind and heart I’d take the medicine then sit back and wait for it to help and make me feel better. I just wanted to feel better. Who doesn’t? When that betterment didn’t come I’d give up on medication and issue a decree that I need to just suck it up and handle it myself. After all nearly no one believed I was ill. They’re statements like this- You’re too smart to be sick. I would agree with them at that point and it gave me temporary victories; temporary because I would always crash and burn at some point. This would lead me to feel helpless for most all my life. It was definitely a no-win situation. After feeling helpless and doomed to not win no matter what I tried for so long a time, I began to get swallowed up by despair. That engulfing feeling would turn to belief and take me down the path to where suicide not only became desired but wholly felt necessary. But I had so much to learn.

 

One lesson was to learn that if you don’t know the rules of the game it’s nearly impossible to win that game. Even worse than not knowing the game and the rules is thinking you do when you just don’t. I was twisted in both ways- not knowing all the rules but thinking I had learned them. In this case I had learned that life would be better with me gone and totally unaware that genuine help was out there. I was so wrong on both accounts.

Shortly after turning 39 I looked back on my life thoroughly following the most recent of huge messes I had made that hurt others and myself. I saw clearly I had to do things differently. I saw that if I was going to get better, and I needed desperately to change, I would need determination. Not just determination but use my brain much more effectively too. Because determination on its own can be harmful. For example, pouring yourself into breaking through an unbreakable

My education started by checking myself into Clarion Psychiatric Center. It was summer 2011. They did a good job of helping me, but it became clear to my staff and me that I needed more than they could give. They are a short term hospital and I needed long term help. They arranged for me to go to Warren State Hospital, where I could literally stay until I was better. Clarion brought back a desire to live and nearly 2 years at Warren showed me how to live. They showed me that I needed far more than just medication to get better. The following quote they had on a poster there echoes that:

“It’s my recovery!

Medication can open a door, but it takes a strong and

courageous person to step over the threshold into recovery.

That person is me.”

When I first read that, I could not grasp all of it. I was still held down by many twisted distortions in my head and heart. But after reading it several more times it struck me to the core. What changed? Simply put, me. And that change had allowed me to see the truth in that poster where before I could not. My time at Warren made me a new man. They combined medication, individual and group therapy, 24/7 nursing care, a chapel for spiritual needs, a library, and even therapeutic recreation, all over a long term. All of that plus my best efforts changed me. I didn’t just recover, I was uncovered and discovered too.

You mean all the Warren State Hospital provided wasn’t enough? You had to put in your best effort too? Yes, indeed. That was my experience. A Bible verse, Colossians 3:23, that I’ve known and loved for quite some time, says- Whatever you do, do it with all your heart… And now I can clearly see that to do really anything truly well one has to put their heart and genuine effort into it. But for those of us like me with mental illness we need more than just our best efforts. More than just adding medication to our best effort. More than adding therapy. We need to combine these all together to enable ourselves to be the best we can be. After all, it’s OUR recovery. So let’s open a door with medication and keep it open. Then be strong and courageous and step over the threshold into our recovery. From there let’s take the bull by the horns and live the life that’s best for us. It’s so worth it!!!

Try (updated and expanded)

Posted: March 4, 2015 in Uncategorized

Try

Let me start with a quote- “Do or do not, there is no try.”  Was this a famous saying of some great philosopher? Nope. Not even close. The quote is from Yoda. Yes, the Star Wars character. Taking life advice from a fictional character is not always the best way to go. That said, can you believe I was in a group therapy setting where the moderator taught this as a principle of life to be followed? Well it was. And for me it triggered despair. You see I have illnesses that can make me prone to all or nothing thinking. That if you aren’t guaranteed success, why bother. Hearing this moderator say ‘…there is no try.’ made me even more prone to not even try at things. Despair is a harsh combination of feeling and/ or being helpless and hopeless. And I believe that only doing or not doing with no such thing as try is a despair maker. It certainly was for me.

I want us to know that not everyone believes that there is no try. In fact, trying can be a very good thing. Webster defines try like this- 1) to make an effort to do something, to attempt to accomplish or complete something. 2) to do or use something in order to see if it works or will be successful. 3) to do or use something in order to find out if you like it. To try using these definitions is to be smart. For instance, free trials of products can save us from paying for and continuing with things that are harmful or useless.

A song I love contains this lyric- “If I limp then I will run with a limp, I’ll win some and lose some but I’ll make my attempt.” Often to try is an act of courage. I like to think of it as concede and proceed. Concede you don’t know everything then proceed trying until you can truly see if it’s a good idea or bad one. By not trying many locked doors will stay locked. I dare us to at least knock on those locked doors and see what happens.

I want to add that I believe there is one form of try that can be unhelpful and even harmful. It is when we know we have the capability to succeed at something but you’re content to not put your best effort in. To be happy with mediocre. This form of “try” is no try at all. Instead it is relinquishing the good you’re capable of.

In closing, this writing wouldn’t exist if I was not willing to try. This came together as I worked on it. Started with that Yoda quote in my head. And now, I have benefitted by completing this. I hope it may encourage a reader or two along the way.

I leave you with lyrics from another song I love that I think reinforces the sentiment of this essay-

It’s not about success

Life is not a test

You don’t pass or fail you just do your best

To see the view from wings of courage

To push on through when we’re discouraged

It’s all about the try all about the ride

Learning how you were meant to touch the sky

Failures are fliers who touch down

Only they know what it’s like to leave the ground