I will do almost anything to stay at home. Granted I have a few chronic illnesses that keep me in but it is mental illness that is the real challenge. Mental illnesses, plural, and phobias, to be more exact. Bipolar Disorder, Asperger’s, OCD, Emetophobia, Claustophobia, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Agoraphobia. And I do what mentally ill people do. I isolate.
Life can be lived through the ethernet. Luckily for me and many others. One can stay in the apartment for days. Today, however, I had to go out. My husband asked me to check the car. And there was shopping to be done and a trip to the post office required. Shit! Forgot to take major meds last night and was not in good shape yesterday either. Dreading going out! A one mile errand for me is like a trip to China. First off, take the missed meds. And make the preparations to go out, hiding money in case of a mugging, packing a phone, emergency meds and emergency numbers for my husband, etc., etc., etc.
Then comes the moment of truth, going out the door. Meet a neighbor and surprised that could handle her in my fragile state, and was, in fact, good with her. Not always the case. Helped a new neighbor and walked out the door into the street. A man coughing. He may vomit. Terrified of vomit and vomiting. I search out the streets and buses for people who look sick or sound sick, coughing, etc. The origin of this phobia– an alcoholic father who was often sick, but knowing that does not help matters. Make it past the coughing man and note his location to look for vomit on the way back.
Then there are all the unknown. This is New York City after all. Dirty, smelly, overstimulating, overcrowded, noisy New York City. People approaching you for good causes, bogus causes, begging, anything is possible. It is not like I am a newcomer here, having lived in New York City for six-plus decades and worked all over the city for three of those decades. Until I couldn’t any more.
Someone once asked me what was there to be afraid of? What could possibly go wrong? Oh, wrong question. I could easily rattle off twenty-five scenarios of disaster and then some. But this morning surprisingly and unusually, am happy to be outside. Greet my Indian newsstand lady friend and my friendly Hispanic super next door. All goes smoothly. The clerk in the post office ends on a kind note after my botched addresses had to be fixed. It actually, and can’t believe I am saying this, but, it actually feels good to be out. Give a beggar a dollar and talk to him. Feeling good outside is a rarity. Perhaps it is the missed medication. Secretly I still believe the medication takes away something good in me. Still suffer from the delusion that all ills come from the medication, though “know” I cannot function without it. Actually perhaps it is doubling up on the dose that helps. Perhaps I should be on a higher dose of the anti-psychotic. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps…
Trip over. Glad to be back home. Didn’t feel faint until back home. One of these days will venture out to shop for a new pair of jeans. One of these days…
(For more writing on battling mental illness please see my e-book, “Eye-locks and Other Fearsome Things” on Amazon. Also available on Smashwords, iBooks and Nook.)
Robin Williams fans mourn the loss of one of the greatest comedians of history today. In this world of wars, and anguish, Robin Williams made us laugh.
For Robin Williams was a most gifted comedian but Robin Williams was also Bipolar.
His Bipolar disease fed his genius. It also killed him.
His Bipolar disease gave him the ability to wildly free associate right to the heart of our funny bones. His performances were floridly manic but his alcoholism was depressed.
In truth of fact, Bipolar disease often does beget genius but far more often Bipolar Disease is the cause of suicide. The most deadly of all mental illnesses, we Bipolars see, and at times, enjoy the mania but far too often are caught in the black hole of depression.
And while fans may mourn Robin Williams, we who are Bipolar cry tears of anguish not just for one of our heroes, but also for a disease that could kill us.
Like most Bipolars suicidal thoughts and wishes are not foreign to me, just as they are not alien to many mentally ill people. But more Bipolars die from their mental illness than any of the other mental illnesses
Fans loved Robin Williams and ignored the Bipolar aspect. Mental illness is still stigmatized and talked about in hushed tones.
We who are depressed are told to “snap out of it”, “look on the bright side,” engage in “positive thinking” as if we have total control over our psyches. If anyone could look at the funny side, it was Robin Williams and yet Bipolar depression sent him to an early grave.
Pay tribute to Robin Williams by accepting Bipolar Disorder and Major Depression and, instead of stigmatizing mental illness, treat the afflicted with acceptance and empathy.
May Robin Williams rest in peace at long last!!
There is a saying in Tibetan, ‘Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.’
No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is, if we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster.
By Dalai Lama XIV
Pema Chodron says Pain has its virtues.
Asperger’s Syndrome (AS), an Autistic Spectrum Disorder on the mild end of the spectrum, is often characterized by a supposed lack of empathy. What it really means, and many professionals still do not know this, is that there is a different kind of empathy. An empathy in which we, Aspies, are so overrun with feelings that our system crashes– to use a computer analogy.
For example, my aunt is on death’s door and my cousin calls to give me the news. Suddenly she starts crying hysterically and shouting that her mother can’t die and leave her, that she needs her mother, and conveying a powerful sadness. I start crying, too, and try to say some words of comfort or of wisdom acquired from losing my own parents. All pales and I am reduced to stuttering. Why does this happen? I am overcome with her feelings and feel them myself. And the computer freezes up. System crash– whereas, a Neurotypical (NT) would know what to say and be sympathetic and empathetic and help my cousin. I make vague attempts that wind up as feeble words. Does that mean I am an unfeeling person? No. Ineffectual, yes. And maybe seen as heartless despite my attempt to convey love and sympathy for what my cousin is going through.
Another example shows me as a monstrous teen. I am 15 and my mother gets a phone call and starts crying hysterically. I immediately know it means that Grandpa is dead. I adored my grandfather and had a very special relationship with him. In some ways which I will not go into here, too special in a not-good way, especially for so young a child. I know there is no room for my grief. It is only my mother’s that counts. There is no one to go to with the devastation I feel inside. So how do I express it? Do I cry? No. I say to my father, “I guess we won’t be having hamburgers for dinner.” A totally callous remark. And my father chastises me for being “unfeeling”—for my lack of empathy, when all the time I am in great pain inside. This on the surface is what Asperger’s lack of empathy looks and sounds like. Underneath the surface there is a chaos of feelings rampaging within. Now an NT might actually feel less deeply, but would act and say something appropriate and certainly wouldn’t make a remark like the hamburger one. It is not that I wanted hamburgers– I hated them. To this day, I don’t know why that remark slipped out.
Things like that still happen. I did not get officially diagnosed with AS until age 61, though I knew I was autistic decades before, having worked with autistic children on the serious end of the spectrum. Aspies feel emotion and shut down, just like an overloaded computer. It does not mean that they have no feelings nor empathy. It is a different kind of feeling and empathy. And I have noticed a tremendous reservoir of feeling for animals that can be expressed more easily, for animals are so less threatening and more straightforward than human beings. If I were more intelligent, I would become a vet. Now, whenever I can the chance with an animal, I give Reiki, which many animals respond to quite naturally. It is definitely easier to give Reiki to an animal rather than to a human being. My husband is the one exception. He is a special case, lumped in with non-humans simply because I am so comfortable with him, a high-functioning Aspie himself.
I learned to try to pass for normal– in some ways, quite successfully. I became an expert observer of people though I could not, and still cannot, interpret what I observe. But I owe my success to my mother having a mood disorder which got passed down to me as Bipolar Disorder– and to my father being an alcoholic. Why? Because in order to survive, to minimize fear and pain, I had to become a keen observer of my mother’s moods before she lashed out at me. I would scour her face for every nuance of mood although I still seldom knew what was to come. This extreme vigilance served to protect myself. Similarly with my father. I would study him, scrutinize his behavior when he came in the door on the rare nights he came home when he said he would, and did not stay out drinking. Just because he came home early did not mean he was not drunk. A facial expression, a different gait wherein he tried to walk normally, the way he said hello, would give it away. I became expert at detecting drinking, often knowing long before my mother did that he was drunk and would tell her. She wouldn’t always believe me. I was terrified of my father when he was inebriated. Once, as a very little girl, I heard him sick in the middle of the night and my mother was with him in the bathroom, semi-hysterical, yelling at him for my father was obviously out of control. I felt sick myself, tried to drown out the sounds with a pillow, and was scared to death I would have to run to the bathroom and be ill also. This turned into a life-long phobia and obsession. I loved my father but when he was drunk I didn’t want him anywhere near me. And sometimes, especially when drinking gin, he could be mean. Were his true feelings coming out—“In Vino Veritas” or were they just drunken ramblings of a disturbed mind? For he did have a disturbed mind, an outcome of a tragic childhood and he used alcohol to self-medicate his demons. His father was an alcoholic, too.
Pain has its virtues. I learned to study people and became so astute that it hid my Asperger’s symptoms for years. Female Aspies seem to be better at hiding their disability than males. I learned to study people but I still cannot decipher what expressions mean. I can see something happening on the face but am often still not be able to tell what it means. This just increases what is already acute social anxiety and is hard to translate into socially appropriate responses.
“Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.” Certainly my childhood was not a tragedy by any means. But parts of it were tough and those parts made me strong.
Next time you see an Aspie act without empathy, especially a child, you might check in with them to see just what they are feeling. I would wager that they are feeling a great deal and simply cannot process or express their feelings.