Life Sentence – Living with Mental Illness

 

I need to preface this story by assuring my friends and family that I am OK.  I am in no immediate danger, to myself or others.  To those that know me personally a lot of this story may be a hard read, it has certainly been a hard write.  It’s sad at points, but understand that it has been my love for you and your love in return that has kept me strong.

A second preface (post preface i guess), I started out this story as a Facebook post but while digging to put it together I’ve come to realize that it’s far too long of a story to tell in one post, so I’m going to have to put it out in chapters or as the kids say, a blog.  the web address is http://www.whenslypigsfly.com

The TLDR version of the story and why I feel the need to tell it now is this:  I deal with mental health issues but I’m pretty sure I’ve got it under control.  However, when I hear news stories about  “seemingly normal guys” who shoot ….a lot…. of other people I wonder that if 20 years ago, when he was the age that I am now, if he was fighting the same fight i am fighting now.  Then i look at how my issues haven’t gotten any better, but worse, ,and I wonder what my fight will look like 20 years from now. Let me tell you, it scares the ever living hell out of me.

So I am sharing my life of living with mental issues while remaining a functional citizen in the hopes that others will do the same and we, as a nation, can take a long hard look about an important issue we universally agree about but are still uncomfortable talking about.  The following is the start of that post.

 

Every time there is a mass shooting in this country not only is there an outcry for gun control but there is also plea from many that goes unheard.  That plea is for a national conversation on Mental Health.  I understand why that plea goes unheard even though every one agrees that that it is a serious issue.  The reason is that it is a very complex and very uncomfortable subject to talk about.    So I’m willing to put myself out there to start it off but it’s up to all of us to continue it. So if any of my story resonates with you,  please share it with others.  (breathe deep) Here it goes,

My name is Ryan and I’m crazy.  Functional crazy, but crazy none the less.  Now I know i may get a lot of folks criticizing me for saying “crazy” instead of “mentally ill”,  “clinically depressed” or “anxious” or any of the other medical terms for what ever it is I am but crazy is how I feel and how most people still view folks with mental illness.

I hallucinate rooms filled with smoke and smell the stench of a wood fire about once a week.  This all stems from an apartment fire a few years ago.   My downstairs neighbor’s apartment had a slow fire burning in  it, some boxes left on a stove burner. Her place was filled with smoke, that smoke started to leak into my apartment.  When I went downstairs to check on her, knocking at her front door.  I heard a weak moan.   I opened the door, all I could see was black.  The thickest darkest smoke I have ever seen from floor to ceiling.  Long story short,  I called 9-1-1 and while waiting for help I  decided to go into the apartment myself and pull my neighbor out of the smoke.  The fire chief said it was the worst case of smoke inhallation he had ever seen where the person lived.   That should have been a good day and in many ways it was, I mean I saved someones life, that’s an awesome feeling I draw on when things look there bleakest.  But it was also a traumatic experience that somehow chipped away at my sanity and caused me to hallucinate on a weekly basis.

The smoke in my hallucinations is light and whispy most of the time but some times when I wake up in the middle of the night it is the black thick smoke from the night of the fire. At first it would fill me with a panic when i saw the smoke.  I would get my dogs out of the house and then search the place top to bottom to make sure that there wasn’t an actual fire.  After it happened a few times I was able to rationally deduce it was just a hallucination but if I am alone I still have to check because I’m afraid that some day there may be another fire and if I ignore it people could get hurt.  When i am out in public and I hallucinate  I have to rely on the fact that no one else seems to notice the smoke ( what if it’s just too light for them to see it?) but I keep a sharp eye out just in case(what if it’s a cook in the back, slipped, knocking himself out and starting a grease fire?). This can be distracting.  When I am with close family with whom I’ve shared this with before I still ask, “There’s no smoke in here….right?”.  Even though I can read their  faces it makes me feel better to get an objective answer.

Now, the hallucinations weren’t my first foray into mental illness, it’s just the first I mention because most folks can agree that seeing shit that isn’t there is kinda crazy.

At 13  I started getting what I have always called “mind aches”.  A mind ache isn’t a physical headache like migraines, it’s an emotional headache.  The closest thing I can compare it to is the headache you get when some one close to you dies.  Not the crying headache, that comes later, the initial emotional shock that makes the headache feel larger then your actual head and all reality too much to bear.    I thought these were normal.  “Everybody gets sad sometimes.”

The mind aches would last anywhere from 15 min to 4 hours.  The first few big ones were accomponied by “visions”.  They weren’t like the hallucinations I get now, they never felt “real”, but more like the film of a waking dream being played over reality. After a couple of years of this I started to suspect maybe this wasn’t normal, none of my friends had mentioned crippling headaches but then again I never told them about mine.

I told my girlfriend at the time, but I didn’t tell anyone else and I certainly didn’t even think about getting “professional help” because I  wasn’t crazy.  “Psychologists are for crazy people”.

I wasn’t going to give in and “be crazy”, I was going to beat crazy.  I was nerd, before it was cool, and my plan was to out smart  my own crazy with logic.  That’s why i was able to handle the hallucinations as well as I did.  I had been practicing how to distinguish reality from delusion with logic since my teens.

The mindaches started to precede a cycle of depression.  I get three to four cycles of severe depression a year with each cycle lasting about a month to a 45 days.  They started out minor but quickly got worse.

When I was 15 I wrote a page long suicide note, with my own blood, while in first period study hall.  I gave it to my girlfriend in between classes.  She, thankfully,  gave it to a guidance counselor who called my parents.   I was eating lunch when a teacher told me they wanted to talk to me in the office, I saw my parents through the lunch room windows walking quickly towards the office.  That was the first time I saw fear in my Dad’s eye’s

We briefly talked to the guidance counselor, i assured them that I wasn’t going to kill myself and they let me go home.  I was exhausted and went to take a nap.  My Dad laid down on the floor next to my bed as i slept.  That was the day I promised myself that I could never commit suicide because it would hurt the ones i loved too much.  I thought of it, and still do a times, as a “Life Sentence” instead of a “Death Sentence” and some how, I find that tragically hopeful…..but tragic.

 

Here We are Again

     It’s been a tragic month for America. Starting in Vegas with 58 people murdered and 489 wounded. Days later a terrorist attack in New York killing 8 more people, injuring 11 others.  Not even a week later and a lone gunman murders 26 more (so far, 10 more are in critical condition, 4 others stable).  So, can we talk about this yet?

     Trump has blamed two of these shooting on mental health (and one on immigrants) but you will forgive me if I don’t trust him to lead the conversation about how or why these shooting have gone from rare events to yearly tragedies to monthly occurrences and now we are heading straight towards weekly mass killings.  It’s up to us to show the politicians how to lead by furthering this conversation ourselves. Hopefully they will follow in our example.

     So, is this a gun control issue or mental health?  Both?  Here are my thoughts.  The attacks themselves are mental health, obviously, guns don’t kill people without intervention from man and sane men do not kill random people.  However, the astounding number of folks that they are able to kill with these attacks is a gun control issue.  

     I think the evidence for mass shootings being mental health related is that if the shootings were “rational” in the shooters mind then they would be terrorists, there would be a “reason” for the killing. We haven’t seen a manifesto yet. No sane man decides to kill at random for no reason. It’s a “snap” effect built up after years of untreated mental weakness. I’m betting the snap takes place well before the actual shootings. This is why we do see the intricate planning but no meaning beyond personal pain. For months I imagine it’s just a fantasy they live in their heads, the typical “revenge fantasy” ala Death Wish (pretty much all of Charles Branson’s career really). Then they seclude themselves and after a while they become dehumanized. With no attachments to people, people soon become the enemy. That self imposed solitary confinement is what blurs their reality enough for them to either not think of people as “real people” but characters in the story of their life…or they feel like the solitary confinement isn’t self imposed but instead that they are being ostracized. Then one day life is too painful. They decide that they want out and instead of just leaving they want to share just how much they hurt before they go.

     These people aren’t evil.  They are sick.  If you leave any disease untreated long enough it kills you.  But unlike cancer this disease convinces you to take your own life and apparently, sometimes, as many other lives as you can.  Sure, many diseases are contagious but this one can kill you even if you have never met patient zero.  He can be hundreds of yards away and his illness can touch hundreds others.  If that doesn’t creep you out,, then maybe you misread the last paragraph because a disease that not only kills but turns men into killers is horrifying. 

     Which brings us to the numbers.  I don’t think it’s an outrageous idea that the better guns get the more people you can kill.  I don’t even want to get into “gun control” at this point.  I’m just pointing out a fact that the better weapon you have the more damage you can do.  Can we agree to that?  

Suicidal Thoughts vs. Thinking about Suicide

First thing first.

Whether you are thinking about suicide or think you are having suicidal thoughts, TALK TO SOMEONE!!! Anyone! Father, Mother, Husband, Wife, Brother, Sister, Cousin, 2nd Cousin, Friend, Stranger, Boss, Employee, The guy at McDonald’s taking your order, LITERALLY ANYONE! (maybe not “The Cure” fans, but mostly anyone else)

Surround yourself in as many people as you can.  People care. If you ask them, they will give you a million reasons why not to take your own life.  Not only will they make it physically difficult for you to kill yourself by just being there but they drown out the self destructive thoughts with their chatter.  That second part sounds a bit harsh, I know, but hear me out.  If you are thinking about suicide on a conscious level, then talking about anything else, anything, keeps your mind occupied, if you are talking about suicide with some one else then most likely you are working out some stuff.  Thumbs up on both accounts.   If you are having “Suicidal thoughts”…. you will crave the chatter. Anything that quiets the voice in your head that tells you that you are not worth anyone’s time is a good thing.

Second thing second.  I am not a doctor, although I played Dr. Jekyll in the 5th grade (maybe not the best example of a doctor but perhaps the best example of my medical background).I have not formally studied psychology beyond high school and what I am saying may not be medically factual.  In fact if any of this is not medically accurate, please, I encourage you to educate me in the comments section.  These are only the truths I have learned through my own personal introspection.  These are the tools and techniques that I made up to help me out-smart my crazy. If any of this helps someone deal with their issues, awesome, but this is by no means a treatment.  I’m not sure how long this can work for me without getting professional help, let alone you the reader. So if at anytime you are not sure if anything I have to say means anything to you or not, refer to “First thing first”

So in my head there are two voices.  The main, thinking voice.  The one that….well thinks most of your thoughts before you say them.  This is akin to Freud’s ego, I’ve never liked that term so  I prefer to just think of it as  “The Real Me”.   The other voice, the second voice, is more of a sounding board most of time.  It says “Yeah, that is a good idea” when I have a good idea and “Hmmm….maybe we should call a real electrician/ plumber/ possum catcher” when I have a bad idea .  To which The Real Me says (in both situations) “I agree, high five!”  This is Freud’s id.  I call it “The Blackness”.

Let me explain. When I am in the middle of a bad depressive cycle that 2nd voice gets very loud and abusive.  Like a really drunk Ralph Kramden (for kids, Ralph was  a sitcom character whose catch phrases were all threats of physical violence towards his wife”Right in the kisser, Bang Zoom to the moon Alice!”).  “No one loves you!  There is no love here for you!  Pain is all you get because that is all you deserve.  No one likes hanging out with you, they just put up with you,  Can’t you see that!  Can’t you see any of that!”  These are the words of The Blackness.  As you can see it doesn’t pull many punches.  It finds what weaknesses you have and claws, hammers and picks it’s way into that weakness until it’s a hole then moves on to your next weakness, showing no mercy.

When the Blackness first started to speak up, it was hard to distinguish it from The Real Me voice.  This is the one of the most dangerous points in time for folks with depression, when you think these “outside”thoughts are reasonable, when you are not able to distinguish the black from the white.  I can not stress this enough, if you find yourself in this situation talk to someone.  Trying to tackle this by yourself is stupid.  I was stupid for trying it.  Yes, I survived, but many don’t.  It is the third leading cause of death for teens behind unintentional accidents and murder LINK  And in our military, suicide now kills more soldiers than war LINK  ….or if you think USA Today is “fake news” (cough bullshit cough fuck you Trump cough), let’s just agree it’s too fucking many LINK

Through meditation, both traditional and what I call “active meditation” (which boils down to personal introspection.  Removing myself from the emotion and examining my thoughts, actions and even emotions themselves  from a logical point of view) I decided the thoughts were not my own.  They were part of the illness/injury, the crazy, and I had to figure out a way to fend them off.

I started practicing meditative visualization.  The Real Me is like a white ball of silly putty, kinda like that glob guy from Herculoids. The crazy thoughts are like a black tar that would push outward from the base of my skull.

Every time the blackness yells at me (You’re lazy!) it  grows a little bit (You are a burden to every one around you!) squeezing The Real Me’s” white putty ball towards my forehead (You deserve the misery you live with!) till it’s about the size of a golf ball.  And every time the blackness grows (Your parents are disappointed in you!) it yells louder (Your friends and family not only don’t respect you, they don’t even like you!) and louder (Love is for good people and YOU ARE NOT GOOD, YOU ARE AN ABOMINATION!) and it becomes more vicious the larger it gets (JUST GET IT OVER WITH ALL READY!  THIS IS AS HAPPY AS YOU WILL EVER BE, SO WHY NOT JUST EXIT NOW!).

I studied Martial Arts when I was younger, getting my black belt at 16, so when cornered my first instinct is to fight back, and that’s what I do.  I mentally take a fighting stance. Now the white blob has a mental Warrior Ryan on the inside of it. He yells to intimidate his enemy (FUCK YOU! YOU DON’T GET TO TELL ME WHAT TO THINK ASSHOLE!), it works!  The blackness shrinks back for a moment and then I strike with a front kick (or side kick, just depends on how the blackness flinches).

When I strike, I key-up (key-up is what the laymen thinks of as the karate “Hi ya!”) , both mentally and physically with all the force I have, my muscles all tighten at once and I grunt.  In Martial Arts the purpose of the key-up is two-fold. One, to quickly empty your lungs of any air in case of a counter attack to the solar-plexus.  Getting hit in the solar plexus while you have air in your lungs is what leads to “getting the wind knocked out of you”, which,  as you can imagine, is not good in a fight. This is most likely the origin of the “Hi-ya” fallacy, because when you exhale all at once it kinda sounds like “Hite” with a soft to non existent “T” and often times is mistaken for a grunt.   The second reason for the key-up is to focus your energy, both the inner mental/emotional/spiritual (whatever it is you call it) and your physical energy by tightening all of your muscles for just and instant as you deliver the strike.  Why am I spending so much time explaining the “key-up”?  Because the key-up is the key to the mental strike.  It’s the key-up that breaks through the inky blackness causing it to shrink back.**  

Just like it, I am merciless.  As soon as I see it’s afraid of me I push forward with a quick combination ending in another key-up. (GOD DAMN MOTHER FUCKING BITCH, I’M GOING TO KICK YOUR ASS!…..from this point on most of the “internal verbal conversation” is just a bunch more posturizing potty mouth nonsense, so I’ll let you imagine from here on out).  Once the white is about equal with the black, the fight turns into working on a heavy bag.  I beat and pummel the blackness with punch after punch till my knuckles are bloody (mental knuckles).  Each punch beats the blackness smaller and smaller, causing it to retreat back to the base of my skull.  If you’ve ever worked on a heavy bag, you know how tiring it is ,– same thing mentally.  At this point mental fortitude is the key factor in winning the fight.  Just keep punching and punching and punching.  When the black is small enough I strangle it and stuff it back into its box.  Not a literal box, that would be crazy; it’s more like a large mole at the base of my skull (, a perfectly sane idea,  (right?).  

So that’s how I learned to fight back my definition of  “suicidal thought,” but I have also “Thought about suicide.”.  In fact, my suicide note that I wrote in high school started out as a conscience thinking about suicide. Thinking about how sorry my girlfriend would feel for hurting me, and how maybe the world would see this tragic story of love and learn to care about one another and other such romantic nonsense.  Anytime you find yourself thinking about suicide as a sort of “revenge”, that’s “thinking about suicide”.   Thinking about suicide is just as dangerous but it can be beat with logic.  

Luckily (?) I had this experience before the real “suicidal thoughts” came.  That’s why I was able to rationally decide after seeing the effect it had on my father that  it was something I could never do.  That no matter how heavy the weight is I am going to bear it for my friends and family.  “Never give up” has become my motto.  But seriously, talk to someone.

 

**Here’s a link to a short video of one of my heroes, Bruce Lee, explaining both the “make your mind like water” philosophy but also demonstrating the power of the key-up with the power of his one-inch and six-inch punches…..and you might want to stick around for the “nunchaku ping-pong” because it demonstrates his mental acuity and it kicks ass: LINK    

 

 

 

*Here’s my problem with Freud.  He had good ideas but was very shitting at naming things.  In case you don’t remember Freud neither did i so I wikipidiaed it and here’s my basic understanding.  The Ego which is the conscience mind.  The Id is the devil on your shoulder and primal instincts.  The Super Ego is the angel on your shoulder, the part that suggests you not steal candy from babies and then makes you feel bad if you do.  Why the fuck didn’t he just call the “devil” Ego, the “Angel” the Super Ego and the “you” the Id, like I.D. It just makes more fucking sense! And quite frankly I don’t believe that the Super Ego on the Ego are two separate things.  Fuck you Freud!  if anyone can help me make sense of this please do.  However, in his defense,

“Cocaine….it’s a hell of a drug!”                                                                                                                                                            ~D. Chappelle

 

 

Suicidal Thoughts vs Thinking about suicide pre-blog question

Before we go on, I have a serious question.

How many voices are in your head?   

I would appreciate it if everyone would ponder on that for a sec and post their answer below.  I say it’s a serious question because in my next blog, “Suicidal Thoughts vs Thinking About Suicide”, I’m basing everything off of how I think. And it’s been my experience that most folks believe that everyone thinks like they do, except crazy people…and Republicans (or Democrats, which ever makes you laugh and not hate me).  I also realize that I am human myself and prone to the same mistake and what I consider “rational thought”, may in fact be “signs of schizophrenia”.  And….I think it might be interesting to see what the answers are.*

*I fully expect a few friends to leave joke answers, you know who you are, I probably couldn’t resist myself, so by all means if you’ve got a good joke answer please leave it and then maybe leave your real answer at the end.  Thanks.

Thank you for Hearing Me

Thank you to every one who read my last few blogs on my battle with mental illness, and double thank you to those of you who shared the link to this blog on your own page.  I feel like the more folks that hear my story the better chance I have of reaching at least one person who can really identify with and benefit from my experiences.

I can’t seem to find the words to properly describe just how freeing it has been to finally share all of this….madness.  The overwhelmingly heartfelt responses that i got, from the comments section, to personal messages, to real personal interactions has led to a tremendous break through that I had never imagined possible. And I feel I have all of you to thank for that.

I truly haven’t felt like “me” in decades…until a week ago.  Believe me when I tell you that I have tried to self medicate myself with my fare share of drugs, both prescribed and …not so prescribed (I’ve taken month’s off of work to follow jam bands around the country if that gives you any clue….thumbs up Tidwell, vegi-burritos and two beers for five bucks), but none of them had even come close taking this mental/emotional weight off my shoulders like sharing did.

I feel like I’m a Re-born Agnostic.  My future looks open and free again.  I don’t feel like i have to voluntarily put myself into “solitary confinement” anymore. It’s like I’m Peter Pan again and world is my Neverland (The Lost Boys tree house Neverland not to be confused with the pedofile playground built buy the King of Pop).

The struggle isn’t over, not by a long shot.  I still have a lot more to deal with and a lot more to tell but because writing about my depression takes an emotional toll, i can’t make this whole blog about that.  I am a man, I am more complex then any one issue.  My goal is to put out content on at least a weekly basis and the main focus will remain on mental health issues and what we as a country can do to help but I may dabble in politics, art and other societal issues from time to time, for my own sanity (no pun intended).

And just to kick a dead horse, once again, thank you all from the bottom of my heart for supporting me in this project.

October 18th, National Hug a Republican Day

Hey everybody,  I decided that I’m going to make up a holiday, well two actually, because …..why not! From hence forth October the 18th will be know as “National Hug a Republican Day“.   They need to be reminded that you care about them as much as you do spotted owls.  Now Democrats, be real here, don’t be a smug ass. Find a Republican you have had some heated discussions with, but are still friends (or family) and think of something you can agree upon beforehand (NASA, the Opioid epidemic, how much cancer sucks, you get the idea), give them a hug, then tell them that even though you don’t always agree on every little silly detail about how to best run our country you know that he/she is fighting for what they believe is in Americas best interest, just like you and it kicks ass that we live in a country where we can do that.  Then discuss that issue agree about for a bit, and leave with a smile.

Don’t worry Republicans i’m not leaving you out! Tomorrow, October 19th, is “National High Five a Democrat Day”!  It’s a lot like Hug a Republican Day but less mushy…..maybe talk about cars or something.  I’ll brainstorm tonight.

Near death hallucinations and then the football game

When I was about 15 I had a seizure.  The seizure started while I was playing a game of Super Street Fighter 2 with a couple of friends.  For me the screen went blank then quickly filled up with green “0”s and “1”s.  Then everything went dark from the edges out and I could feel myself falling over.  The next thing I know I’m in an ambulance and I puke.  Then it goes dark again.  Now I’m dreaming that I’m out side of an apartment I lived in with my Dad when I was 6.  My Dad is there  standing in the glare of the sun.  A blinding sun.  He tosses me one of those large two foot styrofoam airplane gliders from the 80’s.  It slowly floats toward me.  As I reach out to grab it with my right hand some one grabs my shoulder from behind and says “Not yet”.  I wake up, still in the back of the ambulance as  it pulls up to the hospital and I can see my Dad through the back windows.  He beat the ambulance there and was waiting for me.   I pass out again.  This time there are no dreams, I just wake up on a bed in the hospital with electrodes glued to my head.  The doctor is explaining that he can’t find any sign of epilepse but thinks that it probably had to do with the video game and refresh rates or something like that.  After that I went to the High school football game.   I just had what I thought of as a “near death experience” and then went to the game.
Now, here’s the weird part.  According to my friends who called the ambulance, I passed out while playing the game and started to seize.  One of my best friends stuck his finger in my mouth to keep me from swallowing my tounge. Knowing full well that I would bite him, he did it anyway.  I bit him.  Thanks Bryan.  In fact I asked Bryan recently if he could recall what happened that day:

‘Here’s what i recall. We were at Scottish Forher’s (all names have been changed to protect the innocent) playing street fighter. Maybe sophomore or junior year. That i don’t recall. But i was Dalseem and was finally beating you. Apparently that was only because you had rolled backwards in a seizure.

We rolled you off the water bed(ha water bed ) and banged your head on the wall denting the drywall.

Sorry

Then while i tried to keep you from swallowing your tongue Scottish called 911 or the ambulance because i don’t think Marietta had 911 yet. Anyway i was trying to get your tongue and i think you bit me.

You had calmed down, were a little dazed and very sweaty when the Emts showed up. All in from me beating you to getting in the ambulance was maybe 10 minutes.

We both rode in the ambulance. i got a tetnus shot and you spent the night after we went to the football game. I think your parent’s were going to pittsburgh to see aerosmith or something.

Anyway the ER doctor didn’t find anything in your catscan and as far as i know you never had another seizure.”

 You will notice from his account of the story there was no “passing out” besides the initial seizure.  That’s because, evidently, I was dazed but I walked to the ambulance and was talking with the EMTs and presumably the doctor and my parents while they ran the CAT scan.  To this day I have absolutely no memory of any of that.  In my head the time line goes: seizure, video game dream, puking, Dad airplane dream, Dad’s face through the window, Hospital bed, every thing is ok, go to the high school football game.