Monday, October 02, 2006

Emphasis on the agony

One of the places where I can be myself is the NAMI-NYC-Metro's Media and Advocacy Group (MAG). We write letters to the editor expressing our concern that people with mental illnesses are not being portrayed in a respectful manner. We lobby state government to stop putting mentally disordered offenders in solitary confinement, where they decompensate and suffer terribly. And we have a Yahoo group that allows us to organize meetings and bounce ideas off each other.

One member posted recently,

I've been reading Primo Levi's "Survival in Auschwitz" and I stumbled on:

Strange, how in some way one always has the impression of being fortunate, how some chance happening, perhaps infinitesimal, stops us crossing the threshold of despair and allows us to live. It is raining, but it is not windy. Or else, it is raining and is also windy: but you know that this evening it is your turn for the supplement of soup, so that even today you find the strength to reach the evening. Or it is raining, windy and you have the usual hunger, and then you think that if you really had to, if you really felt nothing in your heart but suffering and tedium -- as sometimes happens, when you really seem to lie on the bottom -- well, even in that case, at any moment you want you could always go and touch the electric wire-fence, or throw yourself under the shunting trains, and then it would stop raining.

I never thought in terms of how easy it would be for someone in the camps to commit suicide. When I think how overwhelming it is for most of humanity to contemplate life in the camps, and I realize that most didn't hit the point of trying to commit suicide, I feel we're not communicating how horrific depression and mental illness can be. People just aren't getting it. Putting a mentally ill person, especially with depression, in solitary confinement is a horrific, horrific action, only made worse by not providing them with the means to take their life...?

Somehow the movement at large needs to work harder to communicate how horrific these mental states are.

I agree with her entirely. The "normals" don't understand how painful these illnesses are. I gained 20 pounds a year ago because eating cake temporarily shut out the agonizing anxiety I was feeling, until the medication kicked in and I felt better. I wanted to kill myself a hundred times, and stopped myself only by knowing that the pain would ease. Six years ago, I didn't have that certainty, and I almost died.

It's hard not being able to talk openly about overcoming this pain, with the help of medication, my psychiatrist, and my friends and family. Especially when it's difficult for me to maintain a balanced mood. I know my professors and classmates are watching me -- and they don't know how handicapped I am. (I'm not a fan of the term "disabled" and I really hate "differently abled.") When my behavior seems odd or inappropriate, they'll call me on it.

I wonder if I should confide in one of my professors. They've already admitted me, and they should be understanding of someone suffering from one of the illnesses that we're being trained to treat.

I did talk with my faculty advisor about Dr. Jerk. Unfortunately, the adviser's a big psychoanalytic type -- I'll call him Dr. Freud -- so he didn't have all that much to contribute to the conversation. He did give me props for coming to him to talk it out, though -- said that too many people let things get out of hand before asking for help.

I'm slightly anxious because I got an email from the T.A. for Dr. Jerk's IQ testing class. She wants to meet me before lab. I don't know exactly what it's about , but I don't think it can be good. Again, I would love to tell her that I suffer from bipolar disorder, if she thinks my behavior seems a bit off. That I'm struggling to stay on an even keel, and it's extraordinarily difficult.

But I won't confide in her. I'll see what she has to say, and I'll deal with it as best I can. Without the context that would make a significant difference in how I'm judged. I want to plead "Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity," but in the courts that plea is rarely raised and even more rarely successful.
Copyright (c) 2006 "Ayelet Survivor"


  1. Oy. Hashem yishmor lach. It's so hard to be carrying everything around with you all the time and not be able to tell anyone. I hope your meeting with the TA goes/went well.

  2. Anonymousless10/03/2006 2:56 PM

    Hey Ayelet - I don't think you have to worry much about the TA and the "see me before class" message. This is grad school for pete's sake. I'm sure it's a big fat nothing. And you shouldn't let the deep, dark secret of your illness color every interaction, either - you can be upset or defensive or angry or pleasant in any conversation, just like 'normal' people can.

    There isn't always a subtext. Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar.

    Keep up the great work and enjoy much success as the term progresses!