On Mental Illness and Reading About Mental Illness

I am currently reading Folly by Laurie R King. It is about a mentally ill woman going to live on a private island, all by herself, to rebuild the house her great-uncle built years before.

I should note here the I adore Ms King’s writing.  I am a rabid fan of both her Beekeeper’s Apprentice series (a pastiche of Sherlock Holmes where he has retired to Sussex to raise bees and meets a young woman, Mary Russell, who becomes his apprentice) and her Kate Martinelli series (a series about a lesbian cop in San Francisco).  I have actually read the opening bits of Folly several times, as there have been excerpts of it at the end of other’s of Ms King’s work.  I have always avoided it, however.  I wasn’t ready to read about a mentally ill woman.  I guess now I was.  Also, I received $150 in Amazon.com vouchers between Christmas and my Birthday, and Ms King is hard to find here, as she is an American author, so I had a bit of a Laurie R King and Rita Mae Browne orgy with my vouchers!

Now, for the record, Rae, the protagonist, and I do not have exactly the same mental illness. She has hallucinations, which I never have had, and she’s tried to kill herself several times, which I have never done. But there are some similarities that make this a bit of a hard read for me.

Ms King’s descriptions of the way Rae feels, and thinks, could have been written by me. Descriptions of fog on the brain, of blackness surrounding everything.

There are two scenes so far, and I am about half way through the book, that hit me so hard I had to walk away from the book and read something stupid instead.

The first was when Rae was found, after her most recent mental break, curled up against a wall, shivering. Her daughter and grand-daughter walk into this, while Rae is surrounded by police officers. Rae sees her grand-daughter and starts whispering “I’m sorry.” over and over again.

I will never forget, and probably neither will Simon, the time I called him at oh so early in the morning Belfast time (I was still in California when this happened) and all I could say was “I’m sorry.” Over and over again. Sorry for waking you. Sorry that you have to hear/see this. Sorry that I’m sick. Sorry that I can’t be the way I am ‘suppose’ to be. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Even right now, it brings tears to my eyes. Even now, on occasion, that mantra goes through my head. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry.

The other scene that Ms King gets right on the money is one where Rae heads to the nearest populated island to do some shopping, make some phone calls and such.  Rae’s voyage from the dock to the newspaper office, where she is looking up the history of her little island and the fire that destroyed her great-uncle’s house, is so very realistic.  She stops in one shop for a bit, then literally forces herself out into the street, making it about half a street more before tucking herself into a coffee shop, near the back, against the wall, buying a sandwich and coffee she doesn’t want so she can stay where she feels safe for the moment.  Her feeling of inner triumph when she goes the rest of the way to the newspaper’s offices without pause after that is so very real.

I do that, when I’m shopping alone.  Stop into shops I have no interest in, if I see they aren’t crowded, to anchor myself for the next bit of crowd.  I also feel a bit of triumph when I make it without doing that.

I do not know if Ms King herself has a mental illness, but she writes it so well, I wouldn’t be surprised.  The book is, of course, about more than Rae’s illness.  It is actually a mystery and an intriguing one a that.  What really happened to her great-uncle?  And the even greater mystery of will Rae make it through without trying to kill herself again, out there on her island where it is a week between visits, so the likelihood of 59th minute of the 11th hour rescue is very slim.

As I said above I haven’t yet finished the book.  Bits of it are very hard going for me.  But I decided to write and post this before the end.  I’ll let you know if I make it through it and if there are any other parts that make me shudder with recognition of myself.

And do read any of Ms King’s work if you can find it.  She’s bloody brilliant.

There Will be a Slight Delay in Posts

I am trying to write one that is very hard for me, about a book that I am reading where the lead character has a mental illness similar to mine.  Its not something I would normally read, but I really like the author so I am giving it a try.

I will write more about this in a few days.  After tomorrow.  Which is Board Meeting Day.  I’ll be taking minutes from 9:15am to around 5pm.  With two short breaks.

Kill me now.

A Look at the Past

So this morning, while looking for scratch paper to write the grocery list, I found an old journal of mine. It only covered about 3 months, but it included my trip across the US from Iowa to California and a few months after that. It was painful to read.

Every page of that journal screams “chronic depression, anxiety disorder, agoraphobia” and yet my diagnosis didn’t occur until 2 years after that journal was written.

All of my old journals read that way, from the earliest one I can find, from when I was 16 and visiting London with my grandmother and cousin. And I certainly was seeing therapists at all of those points in my life.

So why did none of them *ever* say “Hey, there is something more going on here. Something other than a kid having a hard time growing up and being a total brat about it. Maybe its chemical. Maybe her brain is wired wrong.” But not one did until a GP when I was 28 or 29 who gave me prozac and told me to find a psychologist who could refer me to a psychiatrist.

It wasn’t too long after that that I had my first real mental breakdown. I ran away. I got in my car, with my cat, Kali, and started to drive back to Iowa, because I had never felt like that in Iowa. Yeah, right. I called my boss and quit my job (thank god he didn’t accept that), left a message for my brother so he wouldn’t worry if he couldn’t get me and started driving. I made it just past the Nevada border when I called my brother again, hysterical, having no idea what I was doing. He convinced me to come back to California and call my doctors. I was off work about 3 months that time.

The final break came about a year later, when I stopped going to work altogether. Hmm, mighty similar to when I quit going to school my junior year of High School. And no one thought to put me on meds then.

I asked my mother about that once. She said even if they had suggested it back then, she probably wouldn’t have let them medicate me. But no one suggested it.

I have scrolled through several Dxs. Bi-Polar Disorder. Chronic Depression. And, now, as I’ve said before, Anxiety Disorder and Borderline Agoraphobia. The last one seems to be right, although I do still suffer from depression at times. Mostly I am just incredibly anxious. All the time. Well, 80% of the time. The other 20% I’m asleep! (that’s a joke. There are long periods when I am not anxious at all.)

The attitude about medication in the UK is very different than it is in the US. In the US they put you on and you stay on. Probably forever. In the UK they do their damnedest to get you off meds. So I’ve had some very good treatment here in the UK. And I was off all meds for about a year until last November when I had a small bout of anxiety and was back on them for a month. I see my psychiatrist in two weeks and we’ll see if I’ll go back on them.

I fought very hard to go off of them, actually. You see, Simon and I are trying to have a baby. And most of the Mad Meds (TM Trepenny Peck) I was on make bad babies. But, since they can’t exactly get women preganant and feed them Mad Meds, there is really no way to know how bad those babies might be, if bad at all.

So in two weeks we’ll see what my old psych says. And if he thinks I need to go back on meds, back on them I go. And if he says I can’t have a baby while on them? Well, we’ll see. I don’t think I know a single completely sane pregnant woman anyway.

On Being Agoraphobic and Stuck in a Crowd

So tonight after work I had to go to Tesco at City Centre because a.) I forgot to order the seafood for tonights paella in the grocery order for this past Monday and b.) Simon and I still haven’t gotten our heads around having a real sized refrigerator and only order food to last through Thursday, so we needed something for dinner tomorrow night (I’m making chicken nachos, if anyone would like to stop by for a bite. Although I am making them from scratch without a recipe, so they may suck. You have been warned.).

The worst times to be at City Centre, crowdwise, are after 11:30am on a Saturday (hence my almost never getting to see Saturday Kitchen, with James Martin, my cooking boyfriend, because we are already out of the house and shopping by 10am on Saturdays) and after work on Thursday nights. Thursday night is, traditionally, Late Night Shopping at City Centre. Now a lot of the stores stay open later most nights, but it used to be that the entire of City Centre was shut down by about 5:30, so being open to 9:00 on Thursdays was a really big deal (yeah, not doing 24 hour time today. Deal with it.). And it gets waaaay crowded. And I am agoraphobic. I hate, despise, loathe crowds. I only spent about an hour at Disney World last summer because of the crowds. And the fact that my sunglasses were giving me a migraine. But that’s another story.

So there I am, at City Centre, after waiting in the queue for the World’s Slowest Cashier (TM) at Tesco, surrounded by crowds. And panicking, just a little. And when I panic? I get rude. Really rude. All my ‘excuse mes’ and ‘sorry, can I get bys?’ go right out the window when I am in a crowd. I push, I shove, I glare and I mutter. “Dammit, did you have to stop *right* in the middle of the fucking side walk?” “Hey, old man, get the hell out of my way!!” Yeah, polite, I ain’t.

Obviously, I cope. Cuz here I am back in my flat, safe and sound. But it was touch and go for a bit. I nearly cried. Literally.

I fucking hate crowds. Can I move to a desert island? Please? Just me, Simon and all of our DVDs, CDs, games and game consoles? And the internet? K?

You May Have Noticed

that I tend to post in this blog very early in morning. Or maybe not because I don’t think I have a time stamp on here!

Anyway, I do. Right now it is 0504. Yes, 5am. I’ve actually been up since 0430.

I have insomnia. I don’t actually have to be up for work until 0700, but here I am, 0500, up and posting.

Except for being tired all the time, I don’t actually mind being up this early. Its quiet, I get to use the computer without my husband asking me when I’ll be done and I do actually like having the extra time to myself in the morning. Of course I prefer waking up this early on the weekend, when I can get a nap in the afternoon, but I don’t really mind it during the week.

The reason I have insomnia, I think, is my aforementioned Anxiety Disorder. Not because I am particularly anxious at the moment, I’m not anxious at all, actually, but because my brain chemistry is off. I fall asleep fine, sometimes as early as 2130 (that’s 9:30pm to those of you who don’t do well with a 24 hour clock), but I don’t stay asleep. If I sleep until 0530, I consider that a good sleep.

People ask me why I don’t just go to bed later. Well, I don’t really see the point. Even if I went to bed at 2200 or even 2300 I would still be up about 7 hours later. It would just be later in the morning!

I have been trying to convince myself to join the gym across the street from our flat so I could go when they open at 0600 and use my time wisely, but I just can’t seem to motivate myself to do that. I really do enjoy sitting here, catching up on writing my blog, reading other people’s blogs (see my blogroll for the blogs I follow religiously) and sometimes writing fan fiction (and I really want to know why the word blog isn’t in Firefox’s spellchecker, here in the 21st C).

So I will continue to get up at 0500, or 0530, or sometimes even 0400. And some part of me will continue to enjoy it.

More About Me

So, as I am pushing this thing all over the internet, I thought I’d tell y’all a little bit more about me.

I was born in Massachusetts, grew up in Connecticut and have lived pretty much all over the US, with the exception of the deep south. I visit the deep south on occasion as my father lives on the Panhandle of Florida, or, as the locals call it, Lower Alabama. But I have never lived there full time.

I went to University at University of Iowa, graduated in either ’94 or ’95 (and you’d think I’d know, since I just uncovered my degree in the Great Flat Clear Out of 2008, but I can never remember. I suppose I could check my CV…) with a BA in Liberal Arts, Theatre Design emphasis. This is why I am now a Personal Assistant. And because when I got done with the damn thing I realized how much I actually hated working in the theatre. Well, I did then, I got over it a little later, but I really didn’t want to do it professionally.

I have gone through a long long process of medication and therapy to get to my current diagnosis of Anxiety Disorder and Borderline Agoraphobia (which is: an abnormal fear of being in crowds, public places, or open areas, sometimes accompanied by anxiety attacks. In case you weren’t sure which phobia that is! Thanks Dictionary.com). I can and do go out in public, but I would be perfectly content to never leave my flat again. Or ever talk on the phone again. If I could, I would live my whole life right here and use the ‘net for everything. I am not currently on any meds, and except for some insomnia, am feeling good!

I live in Belfast (well duh!) with my husband Simon. We’ve been married for 3 years. Our anniversary is 4th September 2004 (which I did not pick for the symmetry of the date (04-09-04) but I do like the symmetry of the date!). No kids. Yet.

Oh and in 12 days, I will be 39 years old. That’s 5th February, in case you want to send me a card or anything. 😉