So I had a little poll on Twitter asking what people would like to see me write about next. More information about me personally and my experiences won, so that’s what this will be about.
However, I’ve already written quite a bit about how my illness affects me. So I’ll try not to be too repetitive here.
(See: Bipolar disorder: my personal experience and what it is for me and associated/linked posts)
In addition, I asked for suggestions about what I should include specifically and got a few that I’ll talk about.
Let’s start with some of those…
My childhood and how it may have affected my mental health
Thinking about my childhood isn’t exactly a fun thing to do. There were good times, but I also have quite a few bad memories.
When I was very young, I do know that I was happy and smiled a lot.
I personally feel that a lot of this is due to not having experienced a lot in life at that stage. For the most part, everything is new to you and exciting. Babies and young children often smile at the smallest things. You don’t normally worry about the future. You’re naturally more optimistic, which gives freedom; less weight on your shoulders, you’re more open-minded, trusting of others – including animals. More trusting of your surroundings, content and just having that sense that everything’s “okay” …
That’s just my opinion.
My family was somewhat wealthy and at times I was (overly) spoiled with toys. For a while, my father would bring me home a new one nearly every time he came back from a long distance job once or twice a week; not sure where we even kept them all! This actually continued into my teenage years and the “toys” got more expensive — recreational vehicles like ATVs and a snowmobile, my first truck and so on.
But my point in writing that is that I felt like things being bought for me were used as a method of affection and/or helping me cope with pain.
Don’t get me wrong, I know my parents loved me, but sometimes they either weren’t (or at least I felt like they weren’t) there when I needed them.
The above is especially true after they got divorced, which is one of the traumatic experiences I had as a child. I know a lot of people have been through that too, and I’m sorry for that. It really hurts you especially at a young age, and sometimes even blame yourself for it even though it really had nothing to do with you — I did that. It was also frightening to me, hearing them yell at each other constantly — it doesn’t feel normal for your parents to be fighting. So suddenly your “perfect world” as a child changes and you realize there are problems. I cried a lot both before and after the divorce, and it still bothered me for years after. I felt that marriage was supposed to be permanent; that they’d love each other and be together regardless.
After the divorce, things just became worse for me. My mother moved out and I rarely saw her – or at least not nearly enough as I wanted to. I remember crying in my bed for her, missing her, needing her. My father did the best he could, but nothing could make up for the loss of connection and affection from my mother. In later years, this turned into anger. More so when my father would tell me stories about how my mother (apparently) cheated on him; I don’t know whether it’s true or not, but I heard this so many times that it lowered my trust in people exponentially even to this day. So – anger. I started taking that out by “rebelling” against everything, including my father, teachers in school, the law, etc. – and it also made me reckless on multiple occasions, since I was also angry at myself (self-blame I mentioned) ..
I’m sure it affected me emotionally/mentally in other ways too. But enough about that…
Something I’ve only told 2 people in my life (until now)… but you wanted personal information, so here it is.
When I was around the age of 6-8, my cousin used to come over and hang out with me, play outside, inside with toys, etc. while the rest of the family did their own thing. Well, I think something must have happened to him because one day he decided to play a new game which was very foreign to me. At the time, I didn’t feel it was even strange because I was so trusting of others and hadn’t had experience with my own body. Can you see where this is going? The “game” he said was called “Chinese penis torture”. This is very difficult for me to admit and still upsets me even thinking about it now, but he basically had me take down my pants and underwear, then yanked on my penis multiple times which actually hurt. I told him that and he said that’s why it’s torture. He also proceeded to smack my nude butt and various other things. So basically, I was molested ..by my own cousin, and I didn’t know it was wrong until years later. I’ve not talked to him in over 20 years now, as it’s just too awkward. This incident caused another huge trust issue for me, and scarred my mind.
I think those are the two most influential experiences that happened for me. I’ve had others, a lot that most people have such as relatives dying at young age, pets dying or running away, etc. but I don’t think those impacted me too horribly.
Oh, but I was also bullied. I can’t forget that…
I was somewhat overweight growing up and 2 of the high school kids would call me “Orson” and make oinking noises at me. They also threw gum in my very long/curly hair that for some reason was never managed well, and some of it had to be cut out with scissors. I had gym teachers telling me I’m fat (and also watching me shower, oddly – another thing I didn’t like), kids laughing at me because I couldn’t climb the rope, among many other things.
This all stopped as I grew a bit older, got braver and started talking / fighting back. There was one time that a kid who was older than me kept pushing my buttons on purpose to see if he could make me angry, and I ended up throwing him through the library window and then kicking his head repeatedly into a desk; he got a concussion from that and many bumps/bruises to say the least. I’m not proud of that, but I was glad because nobody messed with me after that.
Alright, let’s move on…
Do I find my diagnosis helpful, does it hinder me, or both?
I think I’ll have to say both, but it’s more helpful than anything. It helps me because I understand what’s going on with myself that I can’t control. I understand why I experienced things growing up that I had no explanation for, why I felt “different” than others, why sometimes I felt amazing and was up to do anything with friends, including risky activities (sexual & illegal included), and why sometimes I completely needed to avoid everyone or even stay in bed all day wanting to die. There’s a whole list of other symptoms that I’m not listing here because it would be repetitive, but you get the point.
Finally, after years, it’s gotten me treatment that, although isn’t perfect, has made a huge difference in my ability to function even just to do day-to-day things (most of the time). Without proper treatment, I wouldn’t even be writing this for sure. The understanding I’ve gained from the diagnosis is very important to my well-being and to family and friends who I need support from. And I wouldn’t be able to (attempt) to help other people in similar situations!
As far as the diagnosis hindering me, that would mainly be due to the stigma associated with mental illness. I’m still not able to work full-time, but there is definitely discrimination against people with mental illness in the work environment – and unless you’re an amazing actor, they’re going to notice something is off. Technically, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) law is supposed to help protect us – and even have employers make reasonable accommodations for us (including more frequent breaks etc.) .. but does this really happen often? I don’t think so. And that’s just one problem. Let’s not forget how people label, judge and treat us in general. I’m not writing a book about stigma though, so let’s continue…
Good days? Bad days? How do I cope?
Well, first – to say I’m having a good day, even with my treatment, is kind of like “my mind isn’t quite as fucked up as it usually is, but it still is, and things still bother me but I’m choosing to distract myself from them as much as possible in attempt to feel content” ..
I don’t really have any “perfect” days. It doesn’t matter what I do, what I’ve accomplished, or what other good things have happened. There is always something of my mental illness there holding me back, even if I’m not particularly having an “episode”. I believe part of the reason for this is because of the way I have to cope with it the rest of the time, and the habit of lifestyle that has formed for me. It’s like having an episode / having at least some symptoms is the ‘norm’, and I don’t even know of existence otherwise.
With that said, it’s basically … some days are better than others.
Bad days are when my symptoms are at full-force. And they do come up even with treatment.
I might be cutting this short, but I have a partial list of coping skills that I use to answer that part of the question.
Breakthrough symptoms // hallucinations
As mentioned, I still have symptoms that occur even with treatment. They seem to happen more when I’m stressing about something – especially hallucinations for me (which I believe is why I got my Schizoaffective diagnosis, because they don’t always happen during a Bipolar Disorder episode)
In addition to that, I have irritability, delusional thinking, anxiety, loss of interest in things / lack of motivation, trouble concentrating or even using my full vocabulary, social isolation, impulsiveness, times where I feel suicidal, etc. – the list goes on…But the person who mentioned this wanted to hear more about hallucinations, so I’ll go with that for now.
Hallucinations are a scary thing. As I start getting used to them, the worse and more startling they get. For example, I think I mentioned my arm being grabbed by a shadow person who was creepily saying my name into my ear in another post – it both felt and sounded just as if a real person did it. One of the worst I’ve had is almost straight from a horror movie where I saw a girl with a ripped white dress float fast across the room in front of my face and laugh evilly, then disappear like she was never there.
The most common hallucinations I have are shadow figures. Second to that is voices, which are always negative – and often trying to convince me to harm myself (e.g. by crashing a car, jumping off a motorcycle, jumping in front of other vehicles, cutting my veins open). Sometimes the voices tell me to harm other people too, which isn’t a good thing. One example is when I had an axe in my hand while helping someone and I was incredibly urged to use it on him; and I’m really glad I didn’t, as that’s terrible and totally out of character for me. I don’t want to hurt anyone, even animals (I’m actually vegan too) …
For me saying that about the voices telling me to hurt others, I can kind of understand why people think people with mental illness are dangerous — but I feel like it takes evil people to actually act on these things, because everything else in your mind/body is telling you not to.
I’m probably one of the most honest people writing about my mental illness, at least that I know of. And I’m really not ashamed.
If you are struggling with mental illness, just be yourself and don’t let the stigma change who you are or how you act.
And to everyone: talk about it, educate people!