Saturday, August 28, 2010

Can I hope? Saturday, August 28, 2010.

“In all things it is better to hope than to despair.” –Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Something happened last week that made me feel hopeful for the first time in almost two years. It had an impact. I smiled and laughed more. I slept better. I woke up with less of a feeling of dread in my stomach.

But this feeling of hope is tempered by another feeling. I’m not sure what to label this other feeling. Is it guilt? It’s from a part of me that questions whether I have the right to hope that something good happens to me, when there is so much suffering going on in every direction.

The Law of Attraction, which is fashionable right now, tells me that anything in the universe is mine for the taking if I believe it’s already mine, that I deserve it, and that I can have it. It sounds like a nice theory, but I don’t believe it. There are too many outside factors – unscrupulous investors that wipe out savings, droughts that wipe out food, hurricanes and earthquakes that wipe out dwellings – outside of our own personal points of view that can cause loss or prevent gain. Are you going to tell a starving child that she has no food because she doesn’t believe the universe is abundant enough?

No, real life us much more complex. I can believe I am a grapefruit with all my heart, but that doesn’t mean I will become one. Still, my attitude DOES make a difference, and hope is part of that. Without hope, I have no reason to try to improve my life. Without hope, I have no impetus to take action and attempt to make positive things happen. Without hope I have no energy. Without hope I want to die.

Do I deserve something good to happen to me? In a social kind of way, yes, I believe I do. I’ve had a pretty bad couple of years, and it would be nice for something good to happen. But in a spiritual kind of way, no, I’m not so sure. There are so many people worse off than myself. I don’t “deserve” a better life than anyone. The universe doesn’t owe me anything just because I’m here.

Still, I hope. And I wish. And I dream. And that’s better than it used to be.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Number 37. Friday, August 27, 2010.

“America's health care system is neither healthy, caring, nor a system.” -Walter Cronkite

When I started my blog, I planned to keep my politics out of it, but I’m realizing that’s going to be hard to do. Politics aren’t just some fuzzy theoretical thing – they affect every facet of our lives. And one way politics affects me personally is in my access to health care.

I’ll say it here: As someone who has a mental illness, I’m very angry that I live in a country that does not have universal health care when ever other wealthy, industrialized nation does. Supposedly, I live in the richest, “best” country on the planet, yet 47 million of my fellow Americans are uninsured, and even many those with insurance have woefully incomplete coverage.

Last year the World Health Organization rated health systems of the world’s nations, and the United States – that shining beacon on a hill – ranked no. 37. Yet the US spends twice as much on health care per capita than any other country, and that amount is expected to increase exponentially over the next decade. America ranks 43rd in lowest infant mortality and 47th in highest total life expectancy. Half of our bankruptcy filings are due to medical expenses.

Singer Paul Hipp has made an amusing video, “We’re Number 37.” The video makes me laugh, but the reality scares me to death. I have a chronic health condition, bipolar, which almost killed me, and it requires expensive medications. My husband also has a potentially fatal chronic illness. Going without health insurance is not an option for us.

But our insurance is connected to my employment, and private insurance is not available yet for someone with our conditions. When I lost a job seven years ago, I had no choice but to continue paying into my former employer’s plan through a program called COBRA – a perfect name. The insurance cost $1,200 per month, and that did not include an additional $600 per month in medication.

I was forced to pay with a credit card. It took me a few months to find a new job with health insurance, and I’ve been paying several hundred dollars a month toward the balance since then; it will take a few more years to pay it off. Now my current employer’s future is in question. God forbid I should have to pay for COBRA again.

Live in another industrialized country? You have the option of starting your own business to support yourself. I don’t. My insurance must be group insurance, through a company, or else it won’t be required to cover my bipolar or my husband’s medical condition.

What’s more, I can’t have my pick of jobs. I could find the perfect position, but if the company has less than 50 people, it might not offer health insurance as a benefit.

A new health plan has passed, and it addresses a few of these problems – but by no means all, and not for several years. Anyone with any illness, whether physical or mental, should not have to live in terror that a lost job would not only mean a lost home but also an inability to get medical care.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

But I’m crying on the inside. Thursday, August 26, 2010.

“My one regret in life is that I am not someone else.” –Woody Allen

Woody Allen, man of much angst and many phobias, has put his experiences with psychotherapy out there for all the world to see. But Allen is just one of so many funny people who fight clinical depression or bipolar.

Drew Carey attempted suicide by overdose when he was in his 20s. Hugh Laurie, of “House,” suffers from clinical depression and is as morose as his character. Jim Carrey has bipolar (maybe not too surprising!). So do Jonathon Winters, Ben Stiller, and Robin Williams.

Rodney Dangerfield was diagnosed with clinical depression late in life, but believes it started in his unhappy childhood. Owen Wilson, who was in the hilarious dark comedy “Little Miss Sunshine,” attempted suicide not long after the film won accolades. (Interestingly, the movie begins with one of the characters attempting suicide.)

Rosanne Barr has been open about her depression. John Belushi and Chris Farley likely self-medicated their depression with drugs and alcohol, which resulted in their deaths. Richard Pryor was abandoned by his prostitute mother, sexually molested on several occasions, and almost burned himself to death in the early 80s by freebasing cocaine. Freddie Prinze suffered from depression for many years, and shot himself to death after his wife left him.

How is it that these people can make us laugh, but be so desperately sad inside? In fact, it’s hard to find a comedian (with the exception of Jerry Seinfeld) that doesn’t have a background of depression, bipolar, anxiety, phobias, or addition to alcohol or other drugs.

It does seem that people with mood disorders are drawn to the creative arts, including (and maybe especially) comedy. Perhaps many of them had difficult childhoods and needed to make others happy in order to be accepted or escape abuse. Many of them were their “class clowns,” and a person who is constantly trying to make people laugh is constantly seeking approval.

Fifteen years ago I won an award from my state’s Newspaper Association for Best Humor Column. Although I was far from suicidal at the time, I was still dealing with bipolar, and had recently been hospitalized. I wrote about life’s average frustrations in an ironic voice, and people loved it. I was recognized on the street, and people wrote letters to the editor about how much they liked my column. And it felt good. Really good.

If you can’t smile on the inside, make ‘em laugh on the outside. And if they pay you, so much the better.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sorry. Wednesday, August 25, 2010.

“What else should I be? All apologies.” – Nirvana

I have a co-worker who is always angry. For more than five years I’ve been working at Sandie’s side, and listened to a never-ending list of complaints. After two months, I ordered a book on dealing with negative people, because I was going home every night depressed, listening to her tirades.

These days our environment is even more stressful than before – Sandie and I have survived many rounds of layoffs, which has made our workload heavier and caused us to be constantly looking over our shoulders. Personally, I’m happy with every project I get; it’s a reminder I’m still employed. If I have to stay late or come in on a Saturday, I’m not going to complain. It’s a paycheck.

But Sandie’s howling louder than ever. Bitch, bitch, bitch. The other day, I was just wasn’t in the mood. She told me she was worried about getting a project done in time. In all these years, she’s worried that every project would be late, and yet we have never missed a deadline. I said, “Sandie, you’re always worried about that.” She slammed her door in my face.

I went back to my desk and sent her an e-mail with the subject line, “I’M SORRY.” I then wrote that I was stressed out, that I didn’t mean anything by the comment, that I just felt bad that she was concerned when we have never dropped a ball, yada yada yada.

Three days later, Sandie’s still not speaking to me. We’re working together, but she’s keeping contact to a minimum, and when I smiled at her in the hallway today she glared at me and looked away.

I don’t know how long I’m going to be on Sandie’s shit list, but I know one thing for sure – I really didn’t need to apologize. The truth of the matter is that I can’t stand to have anyone angry at me, and as long as I can remember I’ve been quick to assign blame to myself, even when it’s not mine to accept.

My friend Kim teases me about the time in high school when I ran into a tree and said, “I’m sorry.” Your bad mood? I’m sorry. Rain during the event we planned? I’m sorry. World hunger? I’m sorry.

Maybe I should spend less time being sorry for other peoples’ problems and attitudes and more time standing up for Me.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Dreams. Tuesday, August 24, 2010.

“Dreams are answers to questions we haven't yet figured out how to ask.” “The X-Files”

It’s just a regular day at the office, when suddenly three men appear at the entrance wearing back ski masks and carrying semiautomatics. I stand up to get a better view over the cubicles, and I hear the tat-tat-tat-tat of the firing of the weapons and watch as our receptionist Traci falls down to the ground.

Wanda, who works in the cube next to her, screams, and she is next. “Oh, my God,” I think. “They’re going to kill us all, one by one.” I jerk awake, hyperventilating and covered with sweat.

That’s a nightmare I had recently. Working in a field beset by layoffs, I don’t have to dig up Sigmund Freud to understand its meaning.

Luckily, despite my depression and anxiety, I don’t have very many nightmares. (At least that I remember.) Maybe I worry so much during the day that my mind takes a rest at night.

What are dreams? Why do we have them, and what do they mean? Philosophers, psychologists and scientists have been trying to answer these questions forever. Some people, especially people with PTSD, are plagued constantly by bad dreams. Other people claim they don’t dream at all, but the truth is that they do but they don’t remember them.

For people that suffer from insomnia, dreams are a coveted state. To remember the trailing-off of a dream when the alarm goes off means that you were actually able to get some sleep.

As long as your dreams aren’t scary or disturbing, you might be sorry to wake up from them. I often wish I could return to a dream after I awake, and find out the answer to a puzzle, or how the story ends.

A friend of mine has “lucid dreams” all the time. In the dream, she realizes that she is dreaming, and she is able to make things happen in any way that she pleases. I only have had one lucid dream, but it was sublime – I found a fountain that brought forth both chocolate and champagne!

I’d like to learn the art of lucid dreaming. Since there are so many elements of my waking life I can’t control, I’d love to be able to control my dreams.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Safe. Sunday, August 22, 2010.

“It was then that I carried you.” – Footprints in the Sand

“I'm not trying to be cynical, I would just advise against using religion to help other people,” a member of the Suicide Attempt Survivors group recently wrote on the wall. “As far as myself, and I’m sure many others are concerned, talk about “God” and “Blessings” and “Jesus” only anger me and make me more hurt and confused. If I didn’t have spiritual issues I probably would not be dealing with suicide.”

I was so glad that she wrote. And I hope she doesn’t mind me using her words today, because I think what she had to say has great merit.

Last week I removed myself from a suicide-related FB group because the administrator had put up a YouTube video about hell. A couple of people had clicked “like,” but if we had ever gotten that coveted “unlike” button, I would have clicked that.

Before I left the group I wrote a message pointing out that hell is often used to scare people into not committing suicide, but that it is triggering and can have the opposite effect. For me, personally, thinking that God would throw me into hell for killing myself simply reinforced my belief that God hated me, and made me feel even more hopeless. Besides, I reasoned, I was already in hell. And in many ways, I was.

My parents weren’t very religious, but I grew up believing in a God that loved me. I joined a church as a teenager, and derived a great deal of comfort from my faith. But I joined a particular religious group in college that believed the vast majority of people on earth would go to hell, and it was up to us to save them. “God” and “Jesus” and “religion” became triggers for me, and I became deeply depressed, anxious, and suicidal.

When I left the group, I had nowhere to go, because I no longer trusted God. I believed he hated me and everyone I loved. For more than 15 years, I held everyone in my life at arm’s length. I was afraid to feel too close to anyone, lest they die and go to hell, leaving me devastated.

My mother developed cancer, and I was barely there for her. When I spent time with her, I was only reminded of the fact that she wasn’t the “right” religion, and that I had failed in converting her. Friends and family had weddings and funerals, and I could not go to any of these events because I had panic attacks inside a church. Even seeing a Bible was enough to make me break out into a cold sweat.

I met my husband because I had seen a newspaper article about a book he had written about religion. The topic of the book led me to believe there might be a different way to understand God. I attended his book-signing, and the rest, as they say, is history. I’m now married to a pastor, and our lives revolve around our small church.

But the dark night of my soul visits me again and again. And no one understands better than me that religion can be a source of pain instead of comfort. That’s why I don’t use my page or my blog as a bully pulpit for my particular faith. That’s why I see where people are at before I tell them I’m praying for them, or ask others to pray for them. That’s why I refuse to use hell as a warning for people who are already depressed and hopeless.

Are you a Christian? Are you Jewish? Are you Muslim? Are you Buddhist? Hindu? Baha’i? Pagan? Atheist? Agnostic? Not sure? Don’t care?

I want the Suicide Attempt Survivors group to be a safe place for you.