Was, Is, Shall Ever Be

There’s a part of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell that rings very true for anyone who’s ever struggled with mental illness. Jonathan Strange has just drunk a tincture intended to make him insane, and wonders if he’ll know when it has taken effect.

After a few minutes he looked out of the window and into the Campo Santa Maria Zobenigo. People were walking up and down. The backs of their heads were hollowed out; their faces were nothing but thin masks at the front. Within each hollow a candle was burning. This was so plain to him now, that he wondered he had never noticed it before. 

Mental illness mocks time, making it impossible to remember what things were like before, or understand how to make things different in the future. Mental illness can feel like epiphany – like you’re only just figuring out the truth. It’s worse when it feels like a truth that everyone else has known all along. “Why didn’t I notice this before? How could I have missed this?”

I’m at the beginning of another depressive episode, and I can tell, not because I’m sad, but because I just don’t care about anything. But the worst part is that I can’t remember why certain things should be important, or what it felt like when they were important. And yet, I know that’s a bad sign. One of those things I’m supposed to look out for. The kind of thinking that, unaddressed, could lead to much, much worse down the road.

My newest doctor asked me why, with my history of illness, I didn’t get help long before. The question surprised me, because it seems so obvious. When you’re depressed, you can barely summon the energy to get out of bed, shower and get dressed – how would you possibly gather the strength to research a doctor, make an appointment and then go? And when you’re not depressed…well, there’s nothing to cure, is there?

Time will tell how this new doctor chooses to tackle the challenges that my last doctor wasn’t exactly up to. Funny, it’s hard to remember how things were when I was seeing that other doctor.

Mental Hell

If you’ve ever seen the internet, you know that there are a lot of people who like to talk about mental illness. I do not like to talk about mental illness. I don’t feel qualified, I don’t feel comfortable, I don’t feel it appropriate. My own experiences of mental health are just that – my own. I can’t imagine why anyone aside from my shrink would want to hear about them, and he’s being paid to listen.

One thing that comes with working with a mental health professional that I can speak to, however, is medication. There is a clinical word for how I react to many psychoactive medications: paradoxical. It means that if I’m given a medication that energizes most people and makes them happy, it will put me to sleep and make me bitchy. Medications that soothe and calm make me jittery and paranoid. It makes prescribing for my particular problems fraught with peril. There’s no predicting how a given medication will work.

All this would just be an interesting thought experiment, if it weren’t for the fact that I have a life, and sometimes, I have to interact with other people who don’t like me.

No!” I hear you gasp. “How could anyone not like you?” And indeed, I share your incredulity. But most of these people are in some way involved with my children. They are teachers or child care providers who have, in my estimation, let my child down. And if there’s one thing that I cannot forgive and for which I will snap your neck like a damp pretzel, it’s letting my child down. That doesn’t mean I need people to be nice to my kid all the time. That doesn’t mean I need you to coddle and baby my girls. Some of my very favorite teachers have been the kind who pile on the homework and give horrendous tests and have improbable expectations. Those teachers have given my girls the chance to show themselves what they’re made of, and my girls know that they are extraordinary.

The ones who don’t like me are the ones who have screwed up. Who have let my children, and therefore me, down. How do you handle someone who has put your child in an emotionally traumatic situation and who refuses to take responsibility for it? Dealing with school problems is emotionally and logistically complicated because this is not just the place where you child gets an education, it’s also most parents’ primary means of daycare for most of the year. Dealing with a school issue means dealing with a whole supply chain of other issues.

Add Is this me, or is this the meds talking? to “my child is under threat, my routine has been disrupted, I’ve now got a host of problems to solve” and it makes me second-guess nearly every decision I make.  Because once I pick up the phone and chew someone out, I can’t very well call them next week and say “Remember when I said I was going to tear off your arm and beat you over the head with the wet end? I’m so sorry, I was over-medicated. Well, not really over-medicated, actually I was…are you still there?….”

My kid was assaulted in school on Monday. Her teacher told me on the phone “she brings all kinds of negative attention on herself.” I told him that violence was unacceptable, and he said he would handle it. He “handled it” by telling her “not to insert [herself] in other kids’ games.” The two boys who knocked her down have received no consequences. During all of this, I’m undergoing a med change. I swear, if I get through this without being arrested, it will be a miracle. A fucking miracle.

P.S. A lot of people are really protective of their mental illness. They get all crunchy if other people talk insensitively about mental illness or use the word “crazy” or whatever. I would like to remind others that words have whatever power you give them. If you let other people’s use of words bother you, you’re giving them amazing power over you. Don’t give away your power. (Letting them beat you up…that’s a different thing altogether…)