Thoughts on Carrie Fisher’s Cause of Death Being Released

Content/trigger warning: death, addition

“My mom battled drug addiction and mental illness her entire life. She ultimately died of it. She was purposefully open in all of her work about the social stigmas surrounding these diseases. She talked about the shame that torments people and their families confronted by these diseases. I know my Mom; she’d want her death to encourage people to be open about their struggles. Seek help, fight for government funding for mental health programs. Shame and those social stigmas are the enemies of progress.” –Billie Lourd

So the coroner’s report is in. Kind of. (Manner of death is still undetermined.) But essentially, Carrie Fisher died of her mental illnesses.

I don’t want to think about it. I don’t want to think about how I’m on an atypical antipsychotic that’s known to cause heart problems, but damn does it help with unreality and mood swings. I don’t want to think about how, considering I have found the idea of suicide comforting since I was 10, there’s still a high chance that I will die of my illnesses too. I don’t want to think about how I have hyperempathy and a master’s in biomedical sciences, so it feels like I know exactly what Carrie was experiencing when she died.

But as long as I am thinking about it–can’t exactly help it; fucking hyperempathy–I’m not wild about how Billie went on to talk about “a cure” for mental illness. I could see that for addiction and bipolar, sure, but some mental illnesses aren’t curable. I will always be borderline. I will never know the person I might have been had I not experienced trauma. But I do think Billie is right that Carrie would want her death to encourage people to be open about their struggles.

Well, right now I’m on the struggle bus. Part of me wishes I were dead so I could be with Carrie. (Look, mental illness causes irrational thoughts. Get over it. My brain will latch on to anything that makes me want to die.) I also know that my idolizing of Carrie probably is because I’m borderline, and I genuinely have zero idea how I feel about that. When Carrie first died, I couldn’t help but feel that it was unbelievably unfair that so many disgustingly saneist people were still out there and Carrie, who was so famously open about dismantling saneism, was gone. That’s hitting me again.

I’m also dealing with some residual suicidal ideation because my CPTSD got triggered to hell and back last weekend when someone I was trying to protect myself from told me my attempts to protect myself made her suicidal. I also got gaslit about my sexual orientation and some important personal choices I’ve made. I had hella suicidal ideation on Sunday and Monday, and I’ve been sort of fragile since. I also am going through a career change; I’m going from [redacted because I have a cyberstalker, but it has to do with improving the human condition] to [redacted because I have a cyberstalker, but it isn’t so impactful]. When I was younger, I decided to devote myself to [redacted] because I used to believe that my existence was a cosmic mistake and that I had to contribute to humanity in a major way in order to make up for the fact that I’m alive. So I’m having Feelings about that.

So for the most part, I agree with Billie. Be open about your struggles. Find coping mechanisms that work for you. Donate to mental illness advocacy organizations. Take care of yourself.

Especially if you think you might relapse.

Yes, I heard about the drugs found in Carrie’s system after her death. I think she would be okay with me saying that that means it’s important to know that with many illnesses, relapse is always possible. Recovery is a lifelong process. There will never not be a possibility of relapse. In this case, it looks like Carrie may have paid the ultimate price for her relapse (even though it looks like she was sober when she died). It’s not fair. And it hurts. But it happens. And I think she’d be okay with me saying to my fellow MI people that there is no shame in relapsing, but if you think you might, seek help. I may be reaching, but I would think she would want other to learn from her death, and to know that while relapses do happen, it is always best to try to prevent them with every resource available to you.

I miss you so much, Carrie. It hurts so badly that you died of the illnesses you fought so hard against. I’m trying to keep my head up. For you, Carrie. I miss you. And I swear I will smack the living shit out of anyone who shames you for relapsing.

Carrie Fisher quote of the day: “The only lesson for me, or anybody, is that you have to get help. It’s not a neat illness. It doesn’t go away.” (To me, that doesn’t necessarily mean therapy and meds; it means whatever works for you. But yeah, it doesn’t go away.)

Awareness vs. Acceptance, Revisited

I’m tired.

Mental Illness Awareness Month isn’t as hellish as Autism Bewareness Month. That’s partly because autism awareness and mental illness awareness are two different forms of bullshit. Autism awareness is ableist fearmongering, while mental illness awareness is…a little more complicated than that. But all too frequently, mental illness awareness takes the form of cheesy inspiration porn about people ~overcoming their illnesses and doing ~inspiring things like rock climbing or walking across the country. And putting up with that doesn’t fill me with wrath like autism bewareness does, but damn is it tiring.

An excellent example of this inspo porn—which, much to my chagrin, comes from an actually MI person, but we all know internalized saneism is a thing—is the music video for “Sick of Me” by Beartooth. It can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GCCEhNYOJbk&spfreload=10. Beartooth is a metalcore band fronted by Caleb Shomo, who has, in the past, been locked in a fierce battle with depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. Many of his lyrics ring true to me, and Beartooth is one of my go-to bands for when my brain is being a douchebag. But unfortunately, Caleb doesn’t seem to have gotten the message that every MI person deals with their illness differently, and that presenting only one narrative on dealing with mental illness isn’t all that helpful. In fact, it can hurt.

The video for “Sick of Me” details the experiences of three people with depression. All three of them “overcame” their depression through hobbies. One took up rock climbing, one walked across the United States to raise awareness of mental illness in war veterans, and one took up cosplay. Although I will admit it was cool to see cosplay presented in such a positive light, there’s a major problem with this: depression frequently saps people of the ability to enjoy hobbies. The message that getting into a new hobby is the best coping mechanism for depression flies in the face of how depression actually works. Did certain extracurricular activities, especially music, keep me alive when I was undiagnosed and suicidal? Yes, but I also don’t go around claiming that getting into music or any other hobby is definitely going to help a person deal with depression.

And the “get a hobby” message isn’t the worst part of the “Sick of Me” mental illness ~awareness video. No, the worst part is that Caleb Shomo said “If you can choose, like really choose, to not let anxiety and depression run your life, you’re gonna make it…it’s your body, it’s your life, it’s your choice.”

Fucking excuse me, Caleb? 

Yeah, it’s my body and my life, but it’s also my serotonin imbalance. I can’t choose to change my neurotransmitter levels. I can choose to seek help and support, and to engage in healthy coping mechanisms. But I can’t snap my fingers and say “depression and anxiety can get fucked; they won’t affect me anymore”. Simply saying that a mentally ill person can choose how their mental illness affect them is reductive at best and saneist at worst. I know Caleb’s heart was in the right place, but way the message was transmitted? Yeah, it left a lot to be desired.

“Oh, Mara,” you might be saying, “that’s just one music video! What about organizations like To Write Love on Her Arms?” To which I would reply, “TWLOHA is bullshit and The Semicolon Project can kiss my borderline ass”. Harsh? Especially in light of the fact that the person who started The Semicolon Project just died by suicide? I don’t think so.

TWLOHA claims not to be a Christian organization, but the “story” of TWLOHA, about a girl named Renee who had carved the phrase “fuck up” into her arm, includes the line “[we would be] her body of Christ, to write love on her arms”. The founder of TWLOHA and writer of this story—Jamie Tworkowski—gives all the credit to God instead of the actual members of the church community who helped Renee with her recovery. Why do I have a problem with an anti-suicide organization being Christian? Because pushing religious conversion on mentally ill teens isn’t healthy, and I have a major problem with the evangelizing tendency from Christian orgs even when they aren’t targeting vulnerable young people. In its early days, TWLOHA was also promoted by Christian bands, which…yeah, I’m all for bands using their fame to promote important causes, but not only were these all Christian bands, TWLOHA ended up smacking of a desire to get famous and sell T-shirts as opposed to actually helping anyone. Speaking of which, TWLOHA commercializes the issues of self-harm and suicidality. It makes money because neurotypicals want to sport apparel that makes them feel like they helped when they didn’t actually do shit. Writing “love” on one’s arm doesn’t help one learn how to care for a loved one with depression. A rubber bracelet with a so-called charity’s name on it doesn’t make one more aware of the warning signs that a friend is suicidal. It’s pointless, money-making ego-stroking.

The Semicolon Project isn’t a scam, but it is faith-based, which makes my skin crawl a little, as I mentioned above. And the reason I say The Semicolon Project can kiss my borderline ass is because while the Project claims expertise in all (or at least most) mental illnesses, their information section on personality disorders on their Web site? Yeah, it leaves something to be desired. When I first read it, I thought it was vaguely stigma-enforcing, and then I got to the end of the section and nearly put my fist through the computer screen. The Semicolon Project suggests that people with family members with PDs get therapy because living with someone with a personality disorder is that harmful. Talk about lateral saneism.

Mental illness awareness: usually useless, money-making ego-stroking, occasionally lateral saneism, and very, very frequently bullshit. And I think that’s all I have to say on the subject.

“Wait, Mara, you can’t end the entry there!” you might be saying. “What about acceptance? What would contribute to mental illness acceptance?

Sigh. Fine.

Honesty. Honesty and openness.

Mentally ill people sharing their numerous and varied experiences, acknowledging that different coping mechanisms work for different people, and that no two MI people—even those who share illnesses—are the same. Mentally ill people speaking out against saneist stereotypes. Mentally ill people talking about the ugly realities of mental illness, no matter how much it might scare mentally healthy people, because being aware that a mental illness exists doesn’t mean knowing anything about what it’s like to have that illness. Mentally ill people discussing how therapy and medication helped them. Mentally ill people discussing how therapy and medication weren’t right for them.

Mentally ill people, speaking. Speaking for ourselves. Not mentally healthy people speaking for us or selling T-shirts and bracelets to make themselves feel like they did something good. Knowing mental illness exists is a poor, poor substitute for accepting mentally ill people’s lives and experiences as deserving of respect.

Carrie Fisher quote of the day: “We have been given a challenging illness, and there is no other option than to meet those challenges. Think of it as an opportunity to be heroic—not ‘I survived living in Mosul during an attack’ heroic, but an emotional survival. An opportunity to be a good example to others who might share our disorder.”

 

30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness Challenge

I should really do an entry on how mental illness “awareness” is usually useless inspiration porn. But I’m in the middle of a career change, which is keeping me pretty busy, so have the 30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness Challenge created by Marci of “Marci, Mental Health, and More”.

Day 1: What is/are your mental illness(es)? Explain it a little.

-MDD (major depressive disorder), characterized by low self-esteem (and self-hatred in my case), suicidal ideation, self-harm, sleep disturbances, false beliefs (e.g., my existence is a cosmic mistake), and low energy

-GAD (generalized anxiety disorder): constant excessive and irrational worrying about everything

-CPTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder): unstable sense of self/lack of sense of self/the personality is subsumed by reactions to trauma and the need to avoid further trauma, nightmares, flashbacks (may or may not involve full-blown reliving trauma; may just be flashbacks to feeling unsafe), dissociation, hypervigilance, tendency to view people and situations in black and white, tendency to idolize and cling to people I feel are “safe”/intense fear of abandonment by said people, rage in response to feeling unsafe/controlled, and chronic feelings of emptiness

-OsDD (otherwise specified dissociative disorder): trauma-related dissociation (best described as “my soul fucked off”) in response to stress

-BPD (borderline personality disorder): unstable sense of self, unstable interpersonal relationships, self-harm, self-hatred, splitting (black and white thinking)

…it’s a miracle I can do anything ever.

 

Day 2: How do you feel about your diagnosis?

What a weird question. Mostly I’m glad I’m properly diagnosed, so I’m aware of the shit my brain likes to pull and can as such address it properly.

 

Day 3: What treatment or coping skills are most effective for you?

EMDR. EMDR is my shit. It has done more for my flashbacks than any other form of treatment. This includes techniques I learned in EMDR such as grounding and going to my safe place. Also, cognitive behavioral therapy has been very helpful for my depression.

 

Day 4: What are the pros and cons of having a mental illness(es) or your specific illness(es)?

Being mentally ill turns you into a badass. You have to fight with your brain, sometimes daily, in order to get through the day. If you can do that and survive, you pretty much have to be a badass.

On the other hand, I have to fight with my brain over things that neurotypicals find easy, which leaves me exhausted at best, and at worst, there are things I’m unable to do or only able to do while suffering. Which does suck.

Oh, and saneism. That’s a real bitch and a half. Especially in the field where I work.

 

Day 5: Do you believe nature (biology/physiology), nurture (environment), a mix, or something else has an impact on mental health?

Wait, really? This is a question? Mental illness can come from nature, nurture, or a combination of both. That’s just a fact.

 

Day 6: Do you have a family history of mental illness or mental health issues?

Yes. I’m fairly sure I inherited a serotonin imbalance.

 

Day 7: Do you think there are any triggers or patterns to how your illness(es) effects you?

Yes. My depression and anxiety rear their ugly heads when I’m already under a lot of stress, especially when I’m having interpersonal struggles or I’m feeling a lot of impostor syndrome. My CPTSD symptoms show up when I am reminded of the person who caused it. That means I have some pretty weird triggers, unfortunately.

 

Day 8: What age you were diagnosed at? At what age do you think your symptoms began? (You can make a timeline)

TW: suicide, self-injury

I learned what suicide was when I was ten, and I found the idea of it comforting. I’ve never been afraid of death. I think that was when I first told my parents that I felt like I wasn’t in control of my life and that I wasn’t happy. I started self-harming about a year later. So I think my serotonin imbalance started kicking my ass right around puberty.

I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder at 19 when I ended up in the psych ward due to suicidal ideation. My next diagnosis was borderline, at 22. After that, I was diagnosed as Autistic and with GAD and CPTSD at 23, then I was diagnosed with OsDD at 26.

 

Day 9: What are some of the important events in your life, that may have effected your mental illness(es) for the worse or better? (You can make a timeline)

There are too many events that affected my brain for the worse. Complex PTSD comes from repeated trauma.

I spent four days in the psychiatric unit of a hospital once. That got me on medication and helped affirm that my problems were real and I wasn’t just “throwing pity parties” or being overdramatic.

 

Day 10: What is the best thing in regards to your mental illness(es)?

I’ve learned a lot about myself and how my brain works. And I have really made some great breakthroughs with my mental health that made me…realize how strong I can actually be. See my earlier note about how being mentally ill makes you a badass.

 

Day 11: What is the worst thing in regard to your mental illness(es)?

TW: suicidal ideation

The near-constant need to tell myself I deserve to live kinda sucks. And ugh so do the flashbacks. It’s a tough call.

 

Day 12: What do you think about your diagnosis in general? (Some ideas are: stereotypes, commonalities, misdiagnosis, over diagnosis)

Content/TW: self-injury discussion

Ohhhhhh boy. Let’s go over the diagnoses one by one, in chronological order of diagnosis:

-MDD (major depressive disorder): Oh man I’m such a stereotype here. I’m a white woman with a socioeconomically privileged upbringing who self-harmed in high school. While we’re talking about stereotypes, I’d like to debunk some. I like debunking stereotypes. Self-injury does not just take the form of white women cutting their wrists. It can be depriving yourself of something you enjoy, triggering yourself, restricting food intake or purging, exercising past what you know you can handle, or any other number of things. People of genders other than “female” can self-harm.

-CPTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder): More stereotype debunking! You don’t have to be a veteran to have PTSD! Also, there’s a difference between CPTSD and PTSD. Many differences, actually, but the main one is that CPTSD is caused by repeated, similar traumas and PTSD is (usually) caused by one event. CPTSD flashbacks can also be different; they can involve reliving only the feeling of being in danger or out of control, instead of the full-blast reliving-the-memory-in-its-entirety flashbacks you see in movies. I’ve had flashbacks I didn’t know were flashbacks until later.

-BPD (borderline personality disorder): Borderline people are not any more manipulative, selfish, or abusive than neurotypicals. Personality disorders do not inherently make people abusive. I REPEAT, PERSONALITY DISORDERS DO NOT INHERENTLY MAKE PEOPLE ABUSIVE. If you disagree with this, stay a good distance away from my fists, or they may collide with your face.

-GAD (generalized anxiety disorder): Yes, anxiety is an actual mental illness that can be very debilitating. No, it isn’t just being nervous about stuff. No, it can’t be overcome with kale and yoga. If someone with anxiety says they can’t do something because of they’re anxiety, they’re not overreacting or being too sensitive, and if you push them to do it anyway, you’re being a cockwaffle.

-OsDD (otherwise specified dissociative disorder): This is more of a side effect of CPTSD than its own thing, hence the label “otherwise specified”. Um…hmm…oh, here’s a misconception I can debunk. Not all dissociative disorders are dissociative identity disorder. I dissociate when I feel threatened, but I don’t have alters.

“Mara, you forgot autism!” you might say. No, I didn’t. That’s not a mental illness, it’s a neurodevelopmental disability. And good thing too, because if you got me going about autism and stereotypes, I’d type out a post longer than my grad thesis.

 

Day 13: If you know the criteria of your illness(es) which ones do you think you meet? Or what are your most common symptoms?

Well, this is gonna take a while.

Major depressive disorder:
-depressed mood: yes
-loss of interest in usually fun things: not really
-suicidal ideation: yes, often; probably my most common symptom
-self-harm: yes, from age 13-19
-sleep disturbances: kind of

Generalized anxiety disorder:
-fatigue: eh, kind of
-nausea: yes
-stomach upset: yes
-body aches: sometimes
-insomnia: no
-inability to control anxiety: I’m gonna say yes

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder:
-“classic” flashbacks: yes
-emotional flashbacks: yes
-nightmares: yes
-hypervigilance: yes
-lack of sense of self: yes

Otherwise specified dissociative disorder:
-alters: no
-dissociative trance: I’m in one now
-identity disturbance: yes
-depersonalization/derealization: sometimes, usually depersonalization more than derealization

Borderline personality disorder:
-impulsive behaviors: thoughts, yes; behaviors, no
-substance abuse: no
-unstable sense of self: yes
-unstable interpersonal relationships: kind of?
-splitting: ohhhhhh yeah; probably my most common symptom after suicidal ideation
-“favorite person” attachments: yep
-self-sabotage: sometimes
-self-harm: we’ve been over this
-being constantly convinced that everyone I love hates me: and here we have another super common symptom

 

Day 14: Have you ever experienced stigma?

“Stigma” is a manifestation of saneism and, more broadly, ableism. I feel like that’s important to mention when talking about stigma against mental illness.

And yeah. Yeah, I’ve experienced it. Every time I hear some fucker calling immoral behavior “cr*zy”, it feels like I’ve been fucking stabbed. Need I say more? Actually, I could, but I won’t. It’s been bad and I don’t feel like talking about it right now. Maybe in a later entry.

 

Day 15: How has your life been effected by your illness(es)? (Some ideas are: relationships, career, school)

TW: mention of suicide

My illnesses damn near ended my life. Or at least, they made me come pretty close to ending it. They also seriously affected my attendance in college and grad school, and they’re kicking my ass so hard now that I’m seriously considering (read: desperately aching to do so) leaving my chosen career for something less flagrantly inaccessible.

 

Day 16: How many people are you “out” to with your mental illness(es)? Why?

I’m out to basically everyone because I’m naturally open about mental illness. And it’s kind of hard to combat saneism while hiding that one isn’t sane.

 

Day 17: If you could get rid of your mental illness(es) would you? Why or why not?

I wouldn’t get rid of the BPD because it’s an inherent part of who I am. I wouldn’t want to change who I am. The others can fuck right off, especially the ridiculously inconvenient CPTSD.

Although that brings up an interesting quandary, come to think of it. I wouldn’t be who I am without the trauma I experienced, and CPTSD means a huge part of who I am is a reaction to trauma. But I’ve accepted that. I amend my statement: in terms of the CPTSD, my personality can stay the way it is, but the flashbacks, hypervigilance, and nightmares can fuck right off. So can the anxiety, depression, and dissociative disorder.

 

Day 18: What do you wish people would understand in regards to mental illness and/or mental health?

I could write an essay longer than my grad thesis on this topic. I’ll just make a list of my top 10:

  • When a mentally ill person says their illness is keeping them from doing something, they are being truthful. They are not being “lazy” because their disability is not immediately visible. (Not that physically Disabled people don’t get called lazy too, but you get my meaning)
  • Yoga/kale/acupuncture/exercise/acai berries/nature walks will not cure a mental illness. Full stop.
  • Medication isn’t right for every MI person.
  • Therapy isn’t right for every MI person.
  • It should be more acceptable for MI people to not seek treatment. The medical-industrial complex is ableist and violent. That I choose to make use of it doesn’t mean all MI people should. Also, there are a lot of shitty therapists out there. Trust me. I’ve had plenty, and heard horror stories. Try finding a good therapist while being queer outside a liberal metropolitan area. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
  • Mental illnesses often have measurable and statistically significant effects on the brain. On one hand, this demonstrates that mental illnesses are valid…and on the other hand, rights and respect should be granted to MI people regardless of what an fMRI shows.
  • Personality disorders don’t make a person abusive. Don’t “what about ASPD” me. No diagnosis means a person will become abusive.
  • No mental illness makes a person violent.
  • Functioning labels are used to deny agency to “low-functioning” people and legitimacy to “high-functioning” people. I see this all the time with autism and now I’m seeing it with mental illnesses, especially anxiety. Can we not?
  • Instead of flat discouraging unhealthy coping mechanisms, healthier alternatives should be offered. That’s more helpful.

 

Day 19: Have you ever read a self-help book or a book related to psychology? What is your opinion on them? If you have read them do you have a favorite?

Self-help books. Ohhhhhh boy, that’s a lot to unpack.

If it’s written about a particular disorder and it’s not by someone with that disorder, I don’t trust it. If it’s about a personality disorder or other “scary” disorder and it’s not by someone with that disorder, I REALLY don’t trust it. The only exception to this is The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk, which was recommended to me by one of my few therapists who wasn’t shit.

Why am I like this? Because mentally ill people are the real experts on our conditions. I’m not saying neurotypical psych professionals can’t have helpful insights and ideas, but damn have they given me no reason to trust them as a group.

 

Day 20: Where do you get your support?

My friends! And the awesome woman I’m dating. I have an excellent support system. Unfortunately, no family members are in it, but I deal.

 

Day 21: Many people say stress triggers symptoms, do you agree or disagree?

…seriously? Of course stress triggers symptoms. What the hell kind of question is this?

 

Day 22: What is your opinion on medication used to treat mental illness(es)?

I think it’s an excellent tool that helps many people and saves lives, but that it isn’t necessarily right for every mentally ill person.

 

Day 23: What is your opinion on therapy?

I recognize that the medical-industrial complex is ableist and violent, and sadly, that can bleed into therapy, especially when it comes to involuntary commitment *shudder*. Also, there are a lot of shitty therapists out there; neurotypicals who went into psychology because they find mental illness ~fascinating tend to make terrifyingly bad therapists. It can also be terrifically hard to find an intersectional therapist; I could tell horror stories about therapists who were shitty about my sexual orientation. And heaven knows that more MI therapists need to exist, because the real experts on mental illness are MI people. Still, I think that therapy is a good idea in general and that many MI people can benefit from the right form of therapy. Often one can go through multiple therapists or types of therapy before finding the right one, and I feel like many people don’t understand that. Some people think the therapist/patient dynamic is always toxic and abusive, and I wonder what life is like on their planet.

 

Day 24: What is your opinion on alternative treatments or treatments that aren’t commonly used? (Some examples are: EMDR, hypnotherapy, herbal or vitamin supplements, acupuncture, massage therapy, art, music, or recreational therapy, ECT, VNS, TMS, DBS)

Okay, this list puzzles me. There’s total pseudoscience in there with techniques that have a legitimate scientific basis. Being a scientist, I think that people are welcome to seek “alternative” treatments if they really like the placebo effect that much, and as for less common but scientifically backed techniques (like EMDR, which has done wonders for my CPTSD), well…they’re right for some people and wrong for many.

 

Day 25: What is your opinion on forced/coercion in mental health treatment? Can be legal (law enforcement or psychiatric holds) or a “helping” friend/family member.

It should be considered a civil rights violation.

 

Day 26: How is your day-to-day life effected by your mental illness(es)?

Well, right now I hate my job so much I’m fighting off suicidal thoughts every day, so that’s annoying. Usually the only mental illness of mine that has a profound effect on me is the CPTSD, and only when it’s triggered (usually by someone yelling at me or getting me in trouble).

 

Day 27: Explain a “good” day.

Um…I don’t have any symptoms, I guess? I don’t think I understand this prompt.

 

Day 28: Explain a “bad” day.

There are plenty of ways I could have a bad brain day. The most common one would be that my CPTSD is having such a field day that I can’t go to work because I will definitely be triggered or because I’m dissociated and having trouble grounding myself.

 

Day 29: What are a few of your goals regarding your mental health?

TW: suicide mention

The main one is to die by something other than suicide. I don’t have any other particularly concrete goals with mental health.

 

Day 30: What does recovery mean to you?

I don’t think being fully cured is ever possible, so not that. Recovery for me would mean no more flashbacks or dissociation, or at least being able to deal with them promptly if they happen. I also don’t think I’ll ever be free of suicidal thoughts, but I am in a good place regarding how I deal with them.

 

Carrie Fisher quote of the day: “I really love the Internet. They say chat rooms are the trailer park of the Internet, but I find it amazing.” I know, not mental illness related, but this is a blog on the Internet.

 

This is the most literal mental health day ever

Content/trigger warning: suicidal ideation, self-harm

I took the day off work because I was triggered badly on Sunday night and spent most of that night looking up the LD50 of my psych meds to see if I could kill myself with them (I can’t, and decided not to anyway), and was a wreck most of yesterday. And I’m realizing something.

I was diagnosed with BPD once. The doc who diagnosed me didn’t believe I was Autistic, so I didn’t want to believe anything he said. But he also realized I had PTSD. And he was obviously angry at the person who had caused my PTSD, and that person believed I “had Asperger’s”, and I didn’t the doc wanted to lend credence to any of that person’s ideas.

Here is a list of BPD symptoms I have:

-paralytic fear of abandonment
-splitting (failure to bring together the dichotomy of both positive and negative in people, leading me to believe the person who gave me my CPTSD is nothing but a big scary monster as opposed to a flawed person who fucked me up by accident)
-self-hatred, feelings of worthlessness, and constant self-deprecation (although some of that may be depression-related, because my SSRI does help)
-self-harm (over bad grades because my identity was dependent on my grades)
-imprinting on people and idolizing them (they become my “favorite person”, or “FP”)
-unstable sense of self/easily influenced by other people’s ideas (this is why I’m such a hardass about ableism; it keeps me from being swayed by bigots)
-overreacting to, like, everything
-disordered eating patterns (in my case, restricting and purging)
-very intense emotions, especially rage/intense anger
-suicidal ideation (although, again,  I think my depression is responsible for some of that)

I thought that these were caused by depression, CPTSD, or being Autistic–the black-and-white thinking is also an Autistic thing–but the overreacting, the idolization, and the feelings of worthlessness (which I remember pre-dating my trauma), and the fucked-up eating patterns…I think the diagnosis of BPD fits. I feel like it fits. I feel like “borderline” is an accurate description of me.

Mental illness count is up to five. That’s a depressive disorder (MDD is the diagnosis, but I think double depression is more appropriate), GAD, CPTSD, OsDD, and BPD. Is it any wonder I reclaim “crazy”?

So obviously now I will be talking about neurotypicalism against personality disorders at some point, but for now, I want to present another list: how to treat a borderline person with care and respect.

  1. Say you care. People with BPD often deal with their brains constantly whispering “everyone you love hates you”. In the absence of hearing other people say they care, borderline people assume that no one cares.
  2. Tell them what’s real. Sometimes we lose track of reality. If a person with BPD needs to hear “it’s Tuesday” or “that shirt is green”, please indulge them, even if it seems silly to you.
  3. Little concrete gestures mean everything. Even if it’s just a post-it note that says “hey, you’re cool :)” left on someone’s desk. It provides some nice physical evidence when a person with BPD has issues with their brain is being a douche.
  4. People with BPD will often come to the incorrect conclusion that you’re mad at them. Please don’t get annoyed if a borderline person asks “are you mad at me?”. Our brains lie to us. That’s not our fault. Please take the time to say “no, I’m not mad at you”.
  5. Understand how hard people with BPD may cling, and that sometimes we may push you away just as much as we may cling. Both mean we are afraid of losing you, or we may be afraid of how close you’re getting because we don’t want to get hurt. If a person with BPD is either pushing or clinging, this is a good time to ask us if a hug is okay.
  6. Don’t listen to the bullshit that’s floating around about how people with BPD and other personality disorders are inherently manipulative, selfish, or abusive. If someone with BPD comes to you asking you to tell them they aren’t a bad person because of their disorder, tell them what they need to hear. No mental illness makes a person inherently abusive.

That last one is especially important. You may hear that people with BPD are dangerous, manipulative, selfish, etc. It’s not true. Don’t avoid us. We need love the same as anyone else.

Carrie Fisher quote of the day: “If my life wasn’t funny, it would just be true, and that is unacceptable.”

Normalizing ND Symptoms & Traits

Content/trigger warning: mentions of abuse and police brutality, reclaimed slur

Today I want to talk about normalizing neurodivergent symptoms and traits.

I mentioned in a previous post that I have experienced a metric crapload of invalidation of my mental illness. (I don’t believe I gave an amount, but the correct technical term is “metric crapload”.) Thinking about invalidation made me wonder what could possibly motivate an asshole NT to tell someone they weren’t actually mentally ill. Could it be because they had never seen me being visibly mentally ill? A week or so later, I found myself ruminating on how I was born with a near-inability to lie. (It is a stereotype that Autistic people cannot lie. Also, I am an eight-foot tall ferret with purple stripes and opposable thumbs.) But at this point in my life, I can lie as easily as I can breathe. Many abuse survivors can do this—lying to our abusers could keep us safe—but even if I hadn’t been abused, I think I would have learned well to lie. Because I find myself telling small lies all the time. I get asked if I have a cold and I say yes, although the reason I am blowing my nose is because I was crying, not because I’m sick. I tell my supervisor I am physically sick and cannot come into work, but the organ that is misbehaving isn’t my stomach but my brain. Someone asks if I’m stressed or nervous, and I laugh and say “no” even though my spine feels as though it has turned to ice water because something has just tripped my PTSD and I’m a hair’s breadth from dissociating.

You might be asking, “Mara, why do you do that? You’re such a loudmouth about mental illness stuff.” Well, first of all, sometimes I have to lie to my abuser. (Yes, I’m still in contact with that person; it’s a long story about a lot of things I can’t change.) But also, I’m not as brave as I would like to be. I stay afraid, but can’t always do it anyway when I’m having a symptom and someone wants to know what’s happening. And sometimes I’m not even afraid; it’s just a reflex from the days before I was diagnosed but knew something was wrong with me, but I felt like it would be wrong to talk about what was really happening. Maybe, even at that young age, I was already afraid of invalidation. Maybe I knew enough to be afraid of saneism. But it became a habit that is hard to break. I catch myself lying about symptoms and then mentally kick myself.

I once had a combination flashback and meltdown—that’s my best description of it; I’m not sure exactly what it was, but it really sucked—on public transportation. Specifically, I was on a bus. I was already dissociated after finding out I had gotten on the bus going in the wrong direction, so I don’t remember what the bus driver said to me to set me off, but I ran to the back of the bus, screaming and pounding my fists and my head against the seats. I’m lucky the bus driver didn’t call the police. If she had, I might have been shot. (No, that’s not an exaggeration. The police are not properly trained to handle neurodivergent people.) One of the other passengers was a nurse who was able to identify what was happening to me; she talked to the bus driver, and thank the gods, I was left alone until I calmed down. This scenario could have gone very, very differently had there not been someone who knew what was happening to me, and I was nonverbal and too panicked to tell anyone what was going on or flash one of those (admittedly handy) apps on my phone saying I was having a meltdown.

Formal medical training shouldn’t have been necessary to know what was happening to me. Traits and symptoms of neurodivergence should be common knowledge. Perhaps they could be taught in middle and high school health classes, along with what to do to help (hint: ask if the person in distress needs anything, and if they do not respond, let them be, and for the love of chocolate don’t call the police unless they are actively threatening someone). Stigma against mentally ill and other ND people is a safety issue. (Note: this also means that if you feel safest hiding your symptoms, please hide all you want. Stay safe.) A society that doesn’t know how to handle neurodivergent people is literally dangerous to us. (More on that in another entry.)

I’m sure that having symptoms or talking about them in front of NTs makes those people uncomfortable. To be honest, sometimes I get a thrill watching them squirm because I hope they’re confronting their biases against neurodivergent people. It’s not a day if I haven’t made an NT uncomfortable. You might think that making so many people uncomfortable would be counterproductive and make NT people hate us ND people more. Well, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the root of stigma is NTs thinking of ND people as Other. If they could see or hear about people they know exhibiting symptoms, maybe they could understand that those symptoms happen in those they already think of as people. It’s easy to Other someone if you don’t know their name, their ambitions, their likes and dislikes, etc.

I try to do what I can to normalize being obviously neurodivergent. I make neurodivergent pride gear. I post pictures of my pill bottles on Instagram and tag them “#medicatedandmighty”. I tell my friends that I don’t have the spoons for a social event instead of faking sick. My Facebook profile picture reads: “I’m not neurotypical and that’s okay”. Unfortunately, sometimes I still balk at discussing symptoms during interpersonal interactions. When I insisted to a friend on the bus ride to work that yes, I am Autistic, and she would find that easier to believe if she had seen me melt down, my heart was beating so hard felt like it was trying to escape from my ribs. When I first told my girlfriend that I had been hospitalized for suicidal ideation, I thought I would start shaking. It’s hard to power through that fear sometimes.

I’m not going to ask every mentally ill person to start showing or talking about their symptoms more openly. That wouldn’t be practical or fair. The onus should never be on the oppressed to make their case to the oppressors, anyway. NTs need to learn to accept that neurodivergent people have neurodivergent traits that affect their lives. Yes, yes, I know that that sounds contradictory to how much I talk about what I, a neurodivergent as hell person, do to try to dismantle saneism and other forms of ableism. But I have to do something, because that’s who I am. I do what I can even though I know I shouldn’t have to. I dream of a world where neurodivergent people can freely discuss their symptoms and/or traits without fear, and in the meantime, I fight like hell.

Carrie Fisher quote of the day: “I’m what the psychology journals refer to as ‘batshit crazy’. It’s a delicate mix of bipolar disorder, which I’m able to control through serious medication, and a completely untreatable case of ‘I just don’t give a shit’.” Yeah, replace “bipolar disorder” with my cocktail of mental illnesses and you’ve got me too, Carrie.

Definitions and Abbreviations

Well, here I am at my second entry. Looks like I’m really doing this. (For you, Carrie.)

I’m going to be using some abbreviations and terms that many people may not use or be familiar with. So for the sake of making this blog easily comprehensible, I’m making an entry on some of the aforementioned terms and abbreviations.

Terms
Ableism: the oppressive system that privileges abled people over disabled people; bigotry against disabled people

Allistic: not autistic

Autistic (capitalized): autistic and proud; a political identity as well as a neurodevelopmental one

Favorite person: someone who is idolized by a person with BPD; the person with BPD’s happiness and self-worth depend heavily on how their FP treats them

Microaggression: casual degradation of any socially marginalized group, often through language

Neurodivergent: having a mental, neurological, developmental, intellectual, and/or psychological disorder and/or disability

Neurodiversity: a movement dedicated to the acceptance of autism as a natural variant on the human experience and not a disorder 

Neurotypical: not neurodivergent

Neurotypicalism: the oppressive system that privileges neurotypical people over neurodivergent people; bigotry against neurodivergent people

Saneism: the oppressive system that privileges mentally healthy people over mentally ill people; bigotry against mentally ill people

Spoons: units of wherewithal; used by disabled people to describe their ability to accomplish tasks, e.g., “I actually had the spoons to clean the kitchen”; reference to spoon theory, developed by Christine Miserandino

Trigger: stimulus that causes or exacerbates symptoms of an illness or other disabling condition

Abbreviations
ARFID: Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder

ASPD: Antisocial personality disorder

BPD: Borderline personality disorder

CPTSD: Complex post-traumatic stress disorder

CW: Content warning

DID: Dissociative identity disorder

DP/DR: Depersonalization/derealization

ED: Eating disorder

FP: Favorite person

GAD: Generalized anxiety disorder

HPD: Histrionic personality disorder

ID/DD/LD: Intellectually disabled/developmentally disabled/learning disabled

MD: Mood disorder

MDD: Major depressive disorder

MH: Mental health

MHCP: Mental health care provider

MI: Mentally ill

ND: Neurodivergent

NPD: Narcissistic personality disorder

NT: Neurotypical

OCD: Obsessive-compulsive disorder

OSDD: Otherwise specified dissociative disorder

OSFED: Other specified feeding/eating disorder

PD: Personality disorder

PTSD: Post-traumatic stress disorder

TW: Trigger warning

I also think I’m going to close each of my posts with a Carrie Fisher quote. Some of them will be humorous (since she was hilarious) and some will be more serious and related to mental illness. Today I think we need some levity, so here is what Carrie said when Stephen Colbert asked her about being asked to lose weight for filming Star Wars: “They want to hire part of me, not all of me. They want to hire about three-fourths, so I have to get rid of the fourth. The fourth can’t be with me.”

Something else I’m doing today is donating to the Bipolar International Foundation in Carrie’s honor. I think she would approve.

First Post (Intro?)

Content/trigger warning: death

My (pen) name is Mara Lee, and I loved Carrie Fisher.

I don’t say that lightly. I didn’t know it was possible to care so much about someone I had never met. But Carrie Fisher was that important to me. While I’m a huge Star Wars nerd and I adored Leia Organa, it was Carrie Fisher’s mental health advocacy that I admired most. Well, that’s not exactly it, although I took strength from her stance on mental illness. I loved how unapologetically herself Carrie Fisher was. She was hilarious, witty, brave, a talented actress, a skilled writer, open and honest about her struggles with addiction and bipolar disorder, and she embraced her fans calling her “space mom”. I loved her personality.

I’m mentally ill. Not bipolar like Carrie, but about everything but; I have been formally diagnosed with major depression (although I think double depression is more accurate), generalized anxiety disorder, borderline personality disorder (added to this list in mid-May when I finally accepted that diagnosis), complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and otherwise specified dissociative disorder. (Note: I’m pro-self-diagnosis; I just happen to have had the good fortune to be properly diagnosed by a professional.) Every word Carrie spoke about mental illness made my brain jump up and down screaming “yes, yes, exactly”. In the absence of someone I knew in person to be my mental illness-related beacon of strength, I needed someone like Carrie. When I was first diagnosed with depression, I resolved to not shut up about it because I hated the stigma surrounding mental illness and wanted to do something about it. Carrie was my confirmation that I wasn’t wrong to be so vocal about my mental illness.

I’m also Autistic. I’m planning to talk mostly about mental illness on this blog–more on that later–but being Autistic is inexorably entwined with who I am. And Autistic people often have special interests. A special interest is something that consumes an Autistic person’s life: we think about it all the time, we want to know everything about it, we won’t shut up about it (verbally if we’re capable, in any other form of communication if we’re not), we can hyperfocus on it for hours, etc. etc. Carrie Fisher became a special interest of mine when Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out and I watched General Organa walk off of her ship to greet Han Solo, and my tiny lesbian heart could not handle the General’s awesomeness. I had never had a special interest in a person before. For the longest time, I thought it was my first celebrity crush. But it was something more than that.

And it was something more than a special interest. Maybe it’s the shock and sadness talking. Maybe I’m just that nerdy. Maybe my hyperempathy is having a field day after the outpouring of grief I’ve seen on social media over Carrie’s death. But the statement “I loved Carrie Fisher” does not feel inaccurate.

And I want to do something in her memory.

I’m not famous and probably never will be, unless this pen name ends up on any of the sci-fi or fantasy novels I have in the works. But like I mentioned before, Carrie Fisher and her badassery were my confirmation that I was doing the right thing by trying to destigmatize mental illness. So, here’s this blog. I’m going to try to post about once a month on a topic related to mental illness and stigma: neurotypicalism in the medical-industrial complex, mood disorders vs. “scary” mental disorders and the differences in how they’re perceived, the relationship mental illness has with the horror genre…trust me, I have plenty of soapboxes. I’m also prone to blathering about my personal life, so I will probably also post occasionally–okay, maybe a ton–about my collection of mental illnesses and how they affect me.

If I may be frank, I don’t know what I’m doing. I have never set out to destigmatize mental illness in this format before…hell, I’ve never done anything to destigmatize mental illness besides run my mouth to my friends. And this is the Internet, so I’m afraid I’ll do something wrong that will be immortalized, or get tons of hate that my sensitive Autistic ass is not going to be able to handle. But as Carrie Fisher once said about MI people pursuing their dreams, “Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.”

So I’m doing it anyway.

This is for you, Carrie.