From this morning’s notebook:
“It’s incredible how terrifying it is to feel you’re slipping back into old habit – worrying and drifting off is beginning to sink in again. The worry that you’ll never do it all, that you’re wasting time but can’t get started, indecision on every activity, piling on and piling on and piling on!…I can’t read – I can’t manage – I’m all fumbles of thought and terror and overwhelming. … I’m trying to hold my thoughts in my hands long enough to push them back into my forehead, where they can be small… I feel if I just stay home for one more instant, just this afternoon I won’t get behind, I won’t spend money, I’ll do all I have to and then it will be ok. I’m bargaining with my to do list monster.”
I expect that this was a lapse.
We discussed lapse vs. relapse in our last class, the “reunion” class. One month after group ended we re-met and lapse vs. relapse was a key point they wished to convey. Lapse is temporary, lapse is brief. Lapse is a daily up and down sentiment that can easily be construed as relapse. The dreaded Relapse seems to suggest in its title that reoccurring, frequent lapses are relapse. My image of relapse that I left with was an unlikely beast, best combated with continued practice of our exercises, easily avoided with constant vigilance. This morning’s whatever-it-was has still left me with my heart beating fast in fear, and the beast that seemed like a tamed deer now prowls about my cognizance like a caged tiger, waiting for me to make a mistake when feeding it, and leave the cage door open.
This morning brought meaning to what I have always known: a mental disorder is for life. I always joked that group should be called Panic Attacks Anonymous, and the scientific truth of that joke is written in my neurons. Once addicted, it’s easy to go back. Once the pattern of your mind has been set, the ghostly imprint of synaptic connections may always be there, waiting to be used.
Panic Attacks Anonymous. Also known as Panic Disorder CBT Group, or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Group.
Hi. I have panic disorder. I have generalized anxiety disorder. I have depression. I take antidepressants as of a month ago.
My name is Christina. Well, no, actually, it’s not. My pseudonym is Christina. Call me Christina as you called Ishmael Ishmael. I have a journey to tell you, and I cannot disclose to you my real name.
It was my mother who told me not to. It was an old friend from high school that made me realize she was right.
Of course, you should never tell people your real name on the internet. It’s the internet. But I had thought it would not be a big deal to simply not mention my name, to show people I knew this blog, to spread it around, to link it to my other accounts or websites, anything like that. My mother said, “No. You cannot link your name with a mental disorder publicly.” I was shocked that she would say this. “It’s 2011, I said! We aren’t backwards! I’m not a closeted homosexual in the 1950s!” ‘If an employer were to discover this about you, you would lose the job interview, the scholarship, the gig, even be fired.” Of course, this is illegal, at least in Canada, but the truth is they could cite any other reason against me and I would have no evidence to the contrary.
I didn’t believe that everyone was like this. I thought it was just, you know, the stupid people. The beaurocrats. The nameless ones in power. Then, in March, I met an old acquaintance on the bus. I was going to CBT. He was on his way to class, for his Masters. We chatted, and eventually he asked where I was going. I told him.
“Oh, what are you doing there?”
“Going to a cognitive behavioural therapy group.”
“Cool, what do you teach?”
“I don’t. It’s for me. I AM taught there.”
We picked up on a new thread of conversation and awkwardly managed until parting (at CAMH, I might add. He gave the building ominous looks). He never asked what I had.
I wasn’t that embarrassed. I was bordering on amused, but really I was surprised. Perhaps it would seem more justified if I explain that this was one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met – incredible logic. He used to question me, Socrates-style, when I was just in grade 9, about my worldviews and philosophies. And somehow I had stymied him.
It’s not his fault. There is no social precedent for how to deal with talking to the mentally ill. There is no easy way of broaching the topic, rather like if someone had a yeast infection or sexually transmitted disease. You don’t ask, “Oh, I’m sorry. How did it happen?” as if they had a broken leg.
My mom, however, likes to compare it to diabetes. When I didn’t want to take medication, she asked, if you had diabetes, you wouldn’t think twice, it is the logical alternative. Why is this different?
Why indeed. My mom compares it to diabetes because diabetes is common, it’s for life, and it is invisible. She and I argue about how “biological” it is (diabetes being your pancreas, mental disease your mind) – but that’s for another day.
But my mom was the one who pointed out the stigma associated with mental disorders. She is the reason I am Christina. Everyone is the reason I am Christina (even me).
I am here to talk. I am here to document. I am here to share. I am here to tell you about my life with mental illness, as up-close and personal as I can possibly explain.
I am a spokesperson. I am a case study. I am a human.
I am opening the doors to my mind with you, as best I can. I hope, for both our sakes, that we end up finding mutual humanity.