Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Not a casserole illness

There is a facebook group for people over 40 who have handled bipolar illness for at least ten years. Small group, some nice folks there Someone on the group talked about how mental illness is not an illness that folks respond to by bringing casseroles and sending get-well cards. No community rallying around, no flowers.Not a casserole illness.
I have had one hospitalization for depression .That was in 1978 when I checked myself in to a hospital in San Francisco for six weeks. I incapacitated by depression and anxiety - those of you who know what that is like don't need a description from me. It was by far the most debilitating period of illness I have ever experienced. I was 27 years old, 3000 miles away from family and scared to death.My body didn't work right, my thoughts were terrifying and out of control.I went for days without sleeping.I had hallucinations.
I begged my family to come and help me. I couldn't function, had to move out of my apartment, had already lost my job. My family refused to come. My sister told me that my parents were very upset and that " I was killing them"- she told me she would never speak to me if I "killed my parents" with my "nonsense". The sad thing is that I actually kept speaking to that woman after that incident and indeed tried to nurture our relationship years later. My folks managed to survive another twenty years after my "breakdown".
No family came to see me at the hospital let alone help me out a bit before things got to that extreme point. They would come out many times years later, once for a fairly minor surgery, a couple of times after the births of my daughters, but I spent that horrendous time relying on friends to help me survive the worst experience of my life. Never got any flowers,cards, declarations of love and support, and certainly not a casserole from anyone. I was a kid, sure that I was going crazy for life, sicker than I had ever been before or since,and very much on my own.
I ended up going back to live with this family of origin, hanging out at my parents house for a couple of months before they kicked me out and put me on a plane for San Francisco. Then it was back to relying on friends again as I returned to San Francisco barely functional. The rest of that awful year I slowly discovered how strong I was. It is indicative of my self esteem at the time that I didn't get angry at my family until many years later. I knew I was bad, because only bad people were crazy, and assumed I deserved the hell I got.
I have since worked as a mental health counselor for years and have heard so many similar stories. Mine is not at all unique. Partly I was the victim of an unenlightened time, but I can't imagine a time, any time, that I would treat my child or sibling like that. I want my fucking casserole.

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