Oct. 21st, 2012

tori_angeli: (Joshua)
You know how people say a sign of insanity is the belief that you're sane?  There are a lot of things wrong with the statement itself, but what's behind it is truth.  It bothers me when people gripe about mentally ill people as using their illness as an "excuse" for their behavior.  To be sure, some people do.  But let me explain to you the big fat cow turd you're stepping in when you get into "who is to blame, the person or the illness?"  Because it ain't simple.

"Insanity" is not a medical term at all, so I won't use it again here.  Instead, let me define mental illness.

According to the interwebz, mental illness is "any disease of the mind; the psychological state of someone who has emotional or behavioral problems serious enough to require psychiatric intervention."

By that definition, I have never had a mental illness.  I'm not 100% sure why.  My intervention had to come from a physician, but not from a psychiatrist.  My problem didn't stem from childhood trauma or anything, just out-of-whack body chemistry.  The issue wasn't psychiatric, it was strictly hormonal.  Nevertheless, I had whole days where I shook from anxiety.  I had days where I wanted any excuse to lash out because it felt good and I felt like I deserved to let loose.  Then I had days where I thought about killing myself because it was the best possible gift I could give everyone around me.

This sounds so obviously irrational, and I was.  I knew what was going on.  Knowing what was happening to me didn't actually put everything in perspective the way you would think.  Even when I had a name for it--premenstrual dysphoric disorder--it did not strengthen me one bit against the irrationality.  All I could do was warn my friends beforehand--and these episodes lasted three weeks out of the month, sometimes longer--and explain to them that it wasn't their fault.

The anxiety days were the worst for me because absolutely everything bothered me.  Everything was a big deal, no matter what anyone said.  My heart fluttered, my hands shook, and I thought I was going to wear my heart out.  On the other hand, my mind was clearer on those days, which was a mixed blessing.  I really, truly felt on those days like I was going crazy.  The other days, I felt like I was seeing clearly for the first time.

The depression days I won't get into much.  They were awful.  Sometimes I would just go to bed and stay there because it was all I wanted to do.  Sometimes I planned how I would kill myself.  Sometimes I thought it was the best option for everyone.  Those moments happened with total clarity, like an epiphany.  My eyes were opened.  My friends and family were better off without me.

The anger days were insane.  I slammed books down to try to relieve it and it only made it worse.  At one point on an anger day, I knocked over a cup of water at work by accident.  I stopped and stared at the water pooling, how fascinating and beautiful it was, and suddenly knew that if/when I killed myself, it was going to involve blood because of how lovely it would look pooling like that.

These days were the hardest on my friendships, I think.  I would get in arguments over the smallest, stupidest things.  You have to understand that at the time, the things I said and the feelings I had made utter and perfect sense.  Almost a harmony.  I believed with no uncertainty that the hormones had nothing to do with it, no matter how much my friends tried to blame my outbursts on my disorder.  The outbursts and bashing and anger felt so very good, like it was the first time in my life I was able to let those feelings out--even the feelings I'd never had before.  I felt liberated.  Overjoyed.

Not so much on the mornings after, when I would see what I'd said and beg for forgiveness.  Thing is, as often as that happened, it was impossible to tell when it was happening.  It always, always felt like I was following a logical course of thinking and of action, and that whatever we were arguing about was a huge problem and we couldn't go on without it being corrected.  It's why to this day I can apologize, I can say I was out of line, I can say it wasn't my friend's fault, but I can't actually blame myself or even accept much responsibility for my lack of self-control because I remember with horrific vividness my mindset of the time.  I really felt like I was in control, and that I was following a logical course.  Looking back on it, it was like becoming a monster.  But the monster wasn't a separate entity inhabiting my body.  I was the monster.  Whoever I normally was didn't exist as long as I was the monster.

It's weird to write about now, but I'm thinking about it and I want to explain something to people who say that mental illness, or a hormonal disorder, is no excuse for bad behavior or a lack of self-control.  That's the thing.  With something like this, self-control has nothing to do with it.  You're not really the same person under the influence of the disorder.  You have an utterly different logic.  And believe me, it was hard to make my mother come around to understanding this.  I could do damage control while I was a human being, try to arm my loved ones against the monster that would eventually appear, but once I became the monster, I lost every perspective.  It's like putting a blindfold on me and expecting me to drive well-known routes.  Yes, I drive them every day without thinking, but I still need my sight in order to keep from bumping into things I didn't expect to be there, such as other cars.  I could get through work tasks with effort, but any disruption was a huge deal and I reacted very strongly to it.  The magnificent circle was that the disorder disrupted everything.

The one place when I felt I might have some kind of control was in my pursuit for a treatment.  I tried for months to find something to help (and that is paltry compared to the years some people spend).  I researched the hell out of PMDD online.  I tried herbal cures, exercised until I hurt myself, and got put on anti-depressants.  The anti-depressants helped for about a month before the symptoms started to come back.  I decided I was not willing to get on the medicine ladder for a problem often treated with birth control, so I stopped the meds and saw an OBGYN.

It took.  So long.

When I went on the birth control pills, I had constant symptoms for almost three months.  Instead of having about a four-day break once a month like usual, I started out with outrageously strong symptoms that very, very slowly tapered off.  During this time, I had an impossible time focusing.  I tried every trick.  I tried to snap out of it.  I still couldn't focus.  I couldn't grow up and get over it.  It resulted in being rude to a friend of my mother's by barely responding when they spoke to me.  This was when I had to beg my mother to understand that getting out of bed was an effort.  I could look at faces but it took me a few seconds to realize who they belonged to.  It was like being expected to run a race with a handicap as well as someone without one.  I was doing my best.  That's not something you can prove to anyone.  Everyone thinks with enough effort you can act just like a normal person all the time, that all you need to do is be strong like everyone without a mental illness or a disorder like mine.

Sometimes I wanted to say, "Sorry the emotional mess I'm in every day of my life was hard for you for a few seconds.  You got to go home and feel miffed and get over it, while I got to go home and feel like something's trying to claw itself out of my skin the way it is every minute of every day.  I hate hurting people.  I hated hurting you.  I hate hurting me, too."

And me?  I'm really freaking lucky.  I'm lucky because unlike most women, I managed to find something that cures my PMDD.  I haven't had a single problem with it since I went vegetarian.

For someone with a real mental illness, like my brother?  Like my friends with profound depression or anxiety or bipolar disorder?  I don't know how you do it.  The only reason people say you're not strong is because they've never had to carry the kind of weight you carry every day.  All the same, surround yourself with support.  Maybe only one or two people are willing to help you (not enable, but actually help).  I've been on that side, too.  Remember it's hard for them, too.  Remember how someone empathetic enough to help you is also empathetic enough to be brought down by you.  That's why it's important to have multiple friends who will support you, if you can.  Don't be afraid to ask people for help.  Really good friends are honored by that kind of trust.

End ranting.


tori_angeli: (Default)
Tori Angeli
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