Guest Post: A Chronic Madness: My Path to a Healthier Existence

Many thanks to Whitney for writing this post!

CW: sanism

 

To whom it may concern,

I am a mad woman. I believe I was born a mad woman. When I was just a zygote the madness was brewing. Nobody knew it was coming. To be honest, as it was creeping in year by year, no one believed my desperate cries for help. My first memory of my madness was when I was around 4 or 5 years old. I saw what I believed to be God while I was playing in my Aunt’s backyard. That image would follow me and shape my beliefs for years to come. At 5 years old, anything you hallucinate tends to be viewed by others as a vivid imagination. I did not mention hallucinating again until I was 12. The abrupt mood swings began to get out of control when I was 9 years old. I would fly into a rage and run out of my 4th grade classroom in search of the school counselor. I wonder now why no one thought that to be unusual. Nobody seemed to think any of my behavior or claims of being crazy were anything more than the dramatic efforts of a young girl to get attention. That is, until it all spiraled out of control on December 26, 2001. I was 16 when my life as I knew it and that of those close to me changed forever. The madness took hold that day and strangled me. Panic set in and I collapsed into a kitchen chair following several hours of screaming, crying, throwing objects, and desperately seeking solace. I looked up from the table at my mother and simply stated, “I think I need some help.” The help came, but slowly. In 2002, mental health parity was not what it is today. I waited for doctors. I was denied hospitalizations. I was drugged into such a stupor I have few memories from that year or the one after it. The madness ebbed and flowed for a long time as I tried different treatments.

Flash forward. I am still a mad woman. I live with bipolar disorder. Madness is a life sentence for me. After years of trying different medications with varying degrees of compliance, I feel mostly healthy. I believe the combination of medications and talk therapy I have utilized over the years has allowed me this state of being. I put in WORK to get where I am on this Madness journey. My choices about how to deal with bipolar disorder may seem conventional, but for me, it works. Kay Redfield Jamison said, “People go mad in idiosyncratic ways.” I believe we also find our healing and coping similarly. Friends I have with the same Madness, throughout the years, have chosen different paths. Some believe substance use, what society calls illicit drugs, are the answer to the pain and suffering their Madness causes. Some believe that god made them Mad and that is the way they are supposed to live. Others believe eating specific foods and getting regular exercise can help them overcome the Madness. Everyone has their own journey. There is no right way to be or treat Madness. That is what I’ve learned working as a mental health therapist.

I am very open about the state of my brain. I do not mind telling people I have bipolar disorder. I do not mind sharing my choices for treatment. I am firm in my choices though. My current therapist disagrees with my choice to take medication for the rest of my life. She asked me if I’d ever thought about using other coping strategies to manage my Madness. I explained that I use a lot of coping skills along with my medication, but that when I’m not taking meds, the pain is too great and I suffer. In my Mad mind, I should not ever have to suffer unnecessarily. If I have something that allows me to have a job, a partner, feed my cat, and take care of my hygiene, I am going to take it!

Most days, strangers would never know just how Mad I really am. Generally, I like it that way. Sometimes having an “invisible illness” is challenging. I do not look sick. It’s difficult to tell my supervisor at work that I’m feeling fragile or agitated when I look perfectly fine. It’s hard to explain to new friends who have never seen me in my dark days that I can’t hang out because I’m too depressed and anxious to get in the shower. These things do not happen as often anymore, but when they do, I feel like a burden from the stigma. I am a healthy person with a chronic Madness. I am a fully functioning adult 95% of the time. When the Madness breaks through the Abilify and the Zoloft barriers I put in place, I am no less worthy than I was before. Madness, while part of my identity, does not define me. So, yes, I am a Mad woman. I am a Mad woman who chose to live. I chose to live true to myself. I sincerely hope you do, too.

With the deepest love,

Whitney H. Applebaum

Guest Post: Trust me, I have already thought about their feelings

A huge thank you to Karlie Ebersole for contributing this guest post!

CW: sanism, ableism

 

A couple months ago, I decided for the third time in my life that I needed to begin to see a therapist. As someone with an anxious and often depressive neurotype, there are generally two options posed to me: talk to a therapist or take meds. Since I feel like so much of my experience with Madness is linked to my experiences and social position in society, I generally feel reluctant to reflexively take the latter option and am more inclined towards talk therapy. I LOVE to talk… even when I often hate myself after I do it a lot. Perhaps subconsciously I truly believe that talking can solve all of my problems. While that might not be exactly true, I do believe that there is a lot of power in trying to confront our emotions and past traumas when we have the resources and/or desire to do so.

The first time that I tried to see a therapist was a process. A game of writing the number to call on my to-do list and watching weeks and weeks pass by without having called to make an appointment. I had recently moved to college and was becoming distant from many of my friends back home if I had not already lost them altogether. I felt scared and alienated from my peers and was coming off from a period where I used alcohol to cope. Because I was beginning to understand and recognize my worth as a disabled person and was beginning to name my queerness, I was only able to start peeling at the outer layers serving as barriers to my self-understanding once finally finding someone to talk to. After all, my therapist was at a short-term clinic and it felt incentivized to make my problems seem tangible and concise. I was able to fool myself into feeling I reached some sort of resolution towards the end of my sessions, completely unaware that resolution and closure should not have been the goal.

The next time I tried to see a therapist was maybe a year later. I decided to go to an affordable clinic. In the college town where I live, this meant that I saw someone who was still in training. Objectively I was fine with this. After all, I really just wanted someone to listen to me and validate what I was saying. Well, she listened to me alright. I found myself just going in there and talking and talking sometimes feeling like I forgot to take a breath. I felt validated but upon reflection I think this might just be because she did not do anything to overtly invalidate me. She laughed at all my jokes including the ones I made to avoid confronting how shitty I felt about things in my life, but I appreciated that validation at the time too. To her credit, she did give me lots of worksheets to help me evaluate my values and she helped me practice mindfulness a few times. I felt like I was being offered tools that would help me in the real world outside of our sessions. Unfortunately these sessions expired around the time that I am assuming my therapist was completing her program. She made me feel like I had accomplished something, but that feeling did not last long. A few more layers were peeled.

Fast forward another year or so to this year and I am realizing that all my past therapy experiences have sufficed merely as band-aids to underlying issues. I am not going to pretend to have a complete understanding of what these issues are, but I do figure they reside somewhere in my unprocessed trauma. And as most disabled folks with able-bodied parents probably know, much of this trauma lies in (or becomes exacerbated by) these familial relationships. More than that, there are nuances to having any relationships with non-disabled people that solicit deep reflection and self-care work; the latter not being really possible without the former. This dynamic is not exclusive to any specific marginal identity, as I have learned by listening to other marginalized folks that this is a common experience. What is important is acknowledging that marginalized folks are vulnerable to their oppressors whether or not the oppressor intends to cause harm. So where can we go to receive the care that will validate our position? Where can we feel safe to express what society wants us to keep silent about– our oppression, often the very core of our problems?

I was inspired to write this because of my most recent experiences in therapy. Right as I begin to make myself vulnerable, expressing basic grief over all the pain I have experienced born out of living and interacting with the world as anomaly, clinicians seem to have a knee-jerk reaction:

“Have you thought about how [insert name of person other than myself] must have felt?”

Here’s the thing about being multiply marginalized disabled person: it is normal to feel like we take up too much space even when we take up a fraction of most others. I was socialized to feel like a burden, to feel lucky if someone decided to pay attention to me in any way that seemed remotely positive. I was made to feel like I should thank people for treating me with the basic respect that is expected to be afforded to white, able-bodyminded, cishet folks. And there are of course layers to this, but even if there is a respect that is not afforded to non-disabled folks, it will never be because of their ability status.

What is it that I am trying to express? In a lot of ways, I am still working through that but a theme has come up a lot lately for me in spaces where I would hope to feel safe and receive care. This theme relates to the pressure to empathize or sympathize with those who have caused me harm, whether that harm was intentional or otherwise. Let me be clear. It is not therapeutic to encourage me to consider how my existence and intrinsic behaviors make other people feel, especially when their feelings are often rooted and/or influenced by ableist/saneist notions of normality. I do not need reinforcement that I am a burden to everyone around me, that I need to prioritize others before myself. I already do this. It is natural for me, reflexive. It is in these moments where I realize how easy it is to slip through the cracks, how critically misunderstood so many marginalized people are and how urgent it is to have more therapists who are informed about vast human complexity. Informed feels like an understatement. They just need to….. give a shit. Our lives cannot be reduced to stereotypical narratives and all of our problems are not going to be directly related to our marginal identities. However, if a fundamental mutual understanding our material experiences cannot be reached, if there is no space for that to be heard, how can we truly benefit from these interactions at all?

I hope that by speaking my truth and connecting with other folks who are marginalized, I will begin to find channels where I can be cared for in ways that will allow me to heal from trauma, or at the very least can allow me to find peace. More importantly, I hope that I find the space within myself to feel worthy of receiving that care.