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Since 2005, I've been a member of an organization which is now called the Creative Wellness Center (originally called the Creative Living Center). It's a Berkeley institution that has been around for about 45 years to offer a supportive community for adults with mental illness. It was announced on Friday that there is going to be a massive overhaul of the program, and I'm pretty upset about it.

Who Are the Members of CWC?


In order to become a member of CWC, a person goes through a screening process that involves providing a reference (usually a therapist, psychiatrist, or case manager who explains the person's mental health issues) and an interview, but membership is not too strictly limited, as members vary widely in their type of mental illness and their level of functioning.

There are members with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, dissociative identity disorder (DID, previously called "multiple personality disorder"), depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and traumatic brain injury, to name just a few. Some have a "dual diagnosis," meaning that they are battling addiction and mental illness at the same time. Some live in "board-and-care" group homes with "payees" to handle their money; some live with family; and some live independently. Many of us have been hospitalized at one time or another for mental health reasons.

There are members who barely speak, or who only mumble incoherently, or who speak at length in seemingly nonsensical rambles, but there are also members who can carry on a deeply intellectual conversation about academic topics or the state of the world. There are members who have graduate degrees, who are married, who are caring for elderly parents suffering from dementia, who have held serious jobs such as an urgent care nurse. Some have adult children; some even have grandchildren.

There are members who function well enough to co-facilitate therapy groups, and there are others who suffer from debilitating delusions, hallucinations, paranoia, or other psychotic symptoms, people who disrupt groups with sudden paranoid accusations that someone has been saying mean things about them or who rant at length about the extremely restrictive messages Jesus has been sending to them through the radio about what foods they shouldn't eat. Some are able to control themselves quite well, while others have outbursts they can't control. Some drool. Some interrupt when it's inappropriate or laugh at odd times. And some are people you would meet out in "the real world" and never guess that they suffer mental illness at all. Some of us seem quite "normal." Some of us definitely don't. We all accept each other at CWC.

The membership is somewhat racially diverse, consisting of perhaps 50% white members, 25% black members, and 25% Asian members. There is very little Hispanic or Latino presence. We range in age mostly from mid 20's to mid 70's. We have openly gay/lesbian members and one openly transgender member. Most members do not talk much about religion, but I know some who are devoutly Christian, Muslim, or Hare Krishna. Several members have significant mobility problems and use canes or walkers. Three members have service dogs. Most members live financially on some sort of government assistance, either SSI or SSDI, and so do not have a lot of disposable income. Most do not own cars, let alone homes. There is a heavy reliance on public transit, including "Paratransit" (a service for the disabled who are not able to use mainstream public transit independently for whatever reason).

It's a fairly diverse population, ranging widely in age, cultural background, life experience, level of cognitive/emotional functioning, severity of mental illness, and amount of external support. Some live very lonely lives and get most of their socialization and emotional support from CWC.

Despite this diversity, the community at CWC is very tight-knit, very supportive and kind and accepting. When someone makes a paranoid outburst during a support group, we reassure them that the perceived personal attack is not real, that everyone supports them and that everything is okay. If they can't calm down and have to leave the room, that's okay too. If someone begins incoherent shouting during the community meeting, we try to calm them. As long as everyone does their best to behave responsibly and not threaten others in any way, the community tends to be very patient and understanding of the ways that mental illness can disrupt our lives. It's the one place where we don't have to fear stigma or judgment about this particular struggle.


What Happens At CWC?


As long as I've been a member, CWC has been located in Berkeley churches that donate space during times when they are otherwise not being used.

CWC operates on Mondays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., with some much more limited "art room only" on Tuesday mornings. It is completely voluntary, and members can attend as often or as rarely as they like. Sometimes we won't see someone for months or years, and then they will return. Other people never miss a day. Some people come for just an hour or two, while others arrive when the doors open at 9 and don't leave until the doors close at 3. It's completely flexible to the needs of each individual.

On Mondays and Fridays, there is always a "community meeting" at noon (attendance optional), where official announcements are made, members can speak up about successes in their lives that they want to share with the community, people can give information about local resources others might not know about, there's often a word puzzle, there's often a "word of the day," etc. It's just a time to bring the community together.

And then, at 12:30, a generous, healthy lunch (often very delicious) is offered for $3. (But members can earn vouchers for a free lunch by doing chores such as sweeping the floor, leading the noon meeting, serving lunch, doing dishes, cleaning brushes in the art room, washing the tables after lunch, etc. Many members with limited financial means find this very useful, as they can get a free meal by doing some work to help the community.) The cook, Mitch, uses a lot of interesting ingredients and tries to make creative meals. We get a lot of fish, salads, unusual vegetables and grains that we might otherwise never have tried, etc. For many members, these are the only healthy meals, cooked from scratch with fresh produce and such, that they get each week. And twice a year (around Thanksgiving and around Christmas), there is a special fancy celebratory meal that is free to all members.

The downstairs of the church is mostly a large common area (with tables, chairs, and a couple couches) where people can just sit and talk, play Scrabble, play ping-pong, play pool, or use the program's one open-use computer (with Internet). Upstairs there is an art room with lots of different art supplies available for anyone to use. And there are a few smaller rooms (up other flights of stairs) where groups can meet or where individual therapy sessions can take place.

There are a wide variety of different groups that members can attend if they wish. All participation is optional and voluntary. There are support groups (including co-ed groups, a women's group, and a men's group), a writing group, art therapy groups, a walking group (they go for a 50-minute morning walk around the neighborhood together), and other groups that vary based on what people are currently interested in (a yoga group was quite popular; there used to be a "self-esteem" group; there is sometimes a "current events" group in which members take turns discussing articles in the newspaper; lately there's been a "wellness" group that seems to focus primarily on meditation; etc.).

There are occasional outings (2 or 3 per year), where the program rents a bus to take members to local parks, museums, or other sites. At least once a year, there is a talent show, in which all members are welcome and encouraged to participate.

There is a small permanent staff (Merrie, Paula, and Jim) who are licensed therapists but who primarily work to just keep everything moving smoothly. They step in if someone becomes disruptive, they talk with people who are having a tough day, they take care of the day-to-day bureaucratic necessities of the organization, etc. And then there is a group of interns, students currently working toward becoming licensed therapists. There are generally about 6 interns at any one time, and they each stay for a year, so there's a continually cycling "changing of the guard" as one intern leaves and another begins their year with us. It's often very difficult when an intern leaves, because the members become very attached to them, and the reverse is also true.

The interns are in many ways the lifeblood of CWC. They lead support groups, hang out in the art room to offer help when needed, hang out in the common room to casually chat with whoever is there, and conduct weekly one-on-one therapy sessions with individual members. Wherever you go at CWC, there's pretty much always an intern present, and they are always there to offer support, defuse any difficult situations if someone becomes disruptive, coax the lower-functioning folks to get involved in things, etc. They dramatically impact the atmosphere by keeping things positive and calm and by keeping people engaged.

What's Happening to CWC


So on Friday Merrie (CWC's director) announced that CWC is going to be changing dramatically due to some new funding arrangement with Berkeley Mental Health and Alameda County. Berkeley Mental Health is overworked, and apparently they want CWC to become a place that picks up some of the slack.

So, first of all, CWC is going to become a full-time program, open all day, 5 days a week, with some early evening hours as well. This was the first thing Merrie announced, and I thought, "Cool!" This does means that CWC will need to move to a new location, since the church that currently hosts the program has their own uses for the property sometimes, but this location has been very problematic, so a change of venue would be welcome. They're hoping to find a property that is more accessible to people with mobility issues, since the current location has tons of stairs and tiny, non-wheelchair-accessible bathrooms. This would be a VERY good thing.

BUT ... there are a lot of unknowns at this point, as the new program has not been clearly defined as of yet. It is unclear whether the current staff (who have always been a major presence) will continue with the program. It is unclear whether there will continue to be interns. It is unclear (and apparently unlikely) whether lunch will be offered. All of these possible losses concern me, because they would change the nature of the program significantly, but apparently decisions haven't yet been made.

There are some things that ARE known that sound very bad to me. For one thing, there will be a new emphasis on "recovery," which makes absolutely no sense when applied to most current members at CWC. Nobody's going to "recover" from schizophrenia or bipolar disorder or traumatic brain injury. We've got issues that we just need to deal with for the rest of our lives. CWC has been great at accepting and supporting us in living healthier, happier lives while dealing with mental illness. But (from what Merrie said) it sounds like the new program is going to emphasize stuff like encouraging people to get jobs, instead of supporting people AS THEY ARE, WHERE THEY ARE RIGHT NOW. It sounds like it isn't going to be a program focused on emotional support; it's going to be a program focused on fixing problems. Obviously I don't object to programs that fix problems ... I just would prefer that they don't appropriate a program that serves a different purpose and transform it into that. There are already other programs that address that particular problem—expand them or whatever, but don't destroy CWC to make it into something else.

Another thing that will be changing is that the program will no longer have a membership screening process. Anyone will be welcome. Apparently, just random people off the street will be able to come in and join our support groups where we talk about our deepest feelings and troubles. And if anyone can just walk in off the street, how do we even know that they have a mental illness? When I expressed concern about this, Merrie assured me that the program would still be intended for adults with mental illness ... but she didn't explain how they were going to achieve this while still making the program open to everyone. And the "open to everyone" sounded like it wasn't optional, like it was part of the mandate coming from Berkeley Mental Health and Alameda County.

What I worry most about is that it sounds like they are wanting to massively expand the size of the CWC user population—introducing a lot of new people, many of whom will probably come from the extensive Berkeley homeless community—while simultaneously talking about getting rid of the interns who keep CWC a safe, supportive, and fairly orderly place. I'm very much afraid that they are going to double the number of mentally ill folks in the community, while simultaneously reducing the amount of support available.

Mentally ill people can be unpredictable. Sometimes somebody who previously seemed perfectly nice goes off their meds and unexpectedly starts behaving violently. Sometimes someone suffers a bout of paranoia and decides that Random Stranger has been doing something mean to them, and that they have to fight back to defend themselves. Sometimes somebody just has a really bad day and doesn't have the emotional stability to control themselves, and so it overflows onto other people. Having a healthy ratio of staff/interns to members/consumers/crazies is what keeps CWC safe. If there aren't enough authority figures around, then the more vulnerable members of the community (for example, people who are lower-functioning) will be at an increased risk, because they are unlikely to seek out help if they are feeling threatened.

Also, CWC currently has rules about appropriate behavior, and if someone breaks those rules (threatening someone, spouting hate speech, carrying a weapon, not respecting confidentiality, etc.) repeatedly and/or egregiously, then the staff suspend that person's membership temporarily. I think they usually give a 1-month suspension if someone has been refusing to follow the rules despite warnings. If someone comes back after a suspension and continues the bad behavior, then their membership can even be revoked and they won't be allowed back. But if there is no membership and anyone can come in whenever they like, how do you make people follow community rules, and how do you keep out the people who are consistently violent and abusive? I'm not sure how they'll manage it ... especially if they have fewer staff members!

So I'm pretty much afraid that the CWC that has been such a great support to me over the past several years is basically going to cease to exist, and is going to turn into another type of place entirely. A less safe place, a less supportive place, a less friendly place, and a less helpful place. I imagine a common room full of smelly unmedicated homeless people carrying knives, occasional unpredictable explosions of threatening behavior, and no staff to be found except some crab-faced woman grilling me about why I don't want a job.

I'm aware that my anxiety is causing me to come up with a bunch of worst-case scenarios, but ... dude! That's because I have a mental illness! Which is why I need CWC!

Well, we're planning to move in 2020 anyway, so I was going to have to abandon CWC eventually. It just appears they will be abandoning me first.

We'll see. Merrie wants to form a "task force" of members to help guide the decisions about how to run the new program, and I've volunteered to help with that. At least it might help me feel a little less powerless in this situation.

On Feeling Broken

My therapist (Melissa) has been on vacation for the past two weeks, and normally I would just take a brief break from therapy while she's gone, but things have been so unstable for me lately that I decided to take her up on her offer to arrange for a colleague to see me once a week while she's gone.

The colleague's name is Ilene, and I hadn't expected great things from two 1-hour appointments with a stranger, especially since I've been working with Melissa for something like 8 years and we've established a really effective, productive rapport. But something interesting came out of my two appointments with Ilene: I sort of had to tell her my story in a "big picture" kind of way that doesn't tend to happen with someone who already knows you ... and it led to me having some realizations.

I told her about how I was a massive overachiever for the first 30 years of my life. I was always the best student in the class, the most dedicated worker at my workplaces, the most involved friend, the most talented this-or-that at everything I committed to. And I committed to lots of things.

I got my first paid job when I was 15, and worked steadily almost constantly afterward (stopping working only while attending school in Scotland in 1991-1992 [because it wasn't legal for me to have a job there] and during the few months in 1998 when my tendinitis became so bad that I couldn't use a computer for a while). I worked the whole time I was in college (except, as I mentioned, in Scotland) and grad school. I generally did people-oriented volunteering in addition to my paid work, both during school and while just being a normal person working in the outside world. And during that year in Scotland when I wasn't permitted to have a job, I took a full load of classes and worked very hard during the week so that I could spend every weekend traveling to places I'd researched. I didn't have a "job," but I was still constantly achieving things, even if it was only visiting the places I "needed" to see. (My mom is very big on the obligation of traveling, the requirement that you see as much as possible. I'd totally bought into this without even noticing.)

For those first 30 years of my life, I was working extremely hard to be the person my mom had always required me to be. She'd never allowed me to be vulnerable, to fail, to need anything, to want anything, to feel anything. If I showed vulnerability, I was mocked. If I asked for help, I was criticized for causing problems. Pretty much from birth, I was expected to help her, support her, agree with her, and make her proud. When she told stories about our life, I was always heroic and superhuman (such as her take on our life with Ernie, in which this 7-foot-tall violent man was supposedly "scared of Kimmy because she was smarter than he was"). I was expected to do great things with my life, probably become a famous author (this was what she most often predicted for my future).

And so I spent those first 30 years of my life building and maintaining an unconscious persona, unknowingly putting on a performance for my mom even when she lived hundreds of miles away. I didn't know any other way to live a life, because this was all I'd ever known. Doing anything else—failing, being weak, letting people down—was terrifying to even contemplate, because it had always been punished. I wasn't aware of this, of course. Looking inward at all was something I'd always been pretty much forbidden to do, so I focused on performing for the audience that was the world and didn't even realize that I should be experiencing an internal life as well.

I thought of myself as extremely capable and accomplished. I thought of myself as a very happy, stable person. I was never depressed (except for a couple months after someone I dated broke my heart in a really harsh way, but that seemed pretty justified, and I got over it reasonably quickly and never allowed it to affect my work or anything). I worked hard; I volunteered in my free time; I nearly always had a boyfriend; I had a very active social life in which I was often the person who organized events and pulled groups of people together. I was energetic and upbeat and succeeding at life!

This all started to crumble a bit when the tendinitis in my arms got bad enough in 1998 that I wasn't able to work for a while. I'd always derived much of my sense of self-worth from my achievements at work and school, and suddenly I was unable to function as expected, and that rocked my world a bit. I felt down sometimes. Then a close friendship exploded in a rather dramatic/traumatic way, and the former friend said a lot of very mean things to and about me, and that left me pretty hurt and confused. (I'd been trying so hard! I'd been doing everything right! Why were things going wrong? Why would someone hate me? This was like my worst nightmare!) But I stayed pretty positive, given the circumstances, moved in with a more supportive friend, and eventually was able to get another job, where I was working when I started grad school and met Shannon.

Now, looking back, I can see that I entered a hypomanic episode somewhere around this time, when I started taking on more and more and more responsibilities. I decided to work in two different graduate degree programs simultaneously, working on an M.F.A. in Creative Writing and an M.A. in English Composition. I was something of a star in both programs, partially because I put in ridiculous amounts of time and effort. For a paper that might need 10 sources, I might consult 30 or 40 sources instead, putting in far more work than the teachers required or requested. I would just get started on research and be unable to stop myself.

While I was commuting to SFSU to attend grad school full-time, I was also taking in a lot of freelance proofreading work at home, amounting to around 40 hours/week. Then Shannon and I decided to get married, and instead of waiting a year or so as originally planned, "we" started planning the wedding right away (I put "we" in quotes, because I took on most of the planning myself). Then my in-laws offered to help us buy a house, and I took on pretty much all the house-searching, and then all the arranging of inspections and such when we did find a place to buy. I just kept taking on more and more and more. And then my English Comp program at school started pushing me to start my student teaching (which was a crucial part of the program) ... and things started to crumble in a more dramatic way. I found the idea of student teaching terrifying (What if I'm not good at it and I let the students down?), and anxiety started to escalate. I've always been an anxious person, but I'd never really actually *noticed* it until then, when it started to get really, paralyzingly out of control.

And then I started to get sick. Sick enough that I had to drop out of school and had to stop working. We had no idea what was wrong. I was having all kinds of wacky symptoms (severe dizziness being the worst) that seemed unrelated to each other, and doctors were stumped for months. Eventually, a smart neurologist figured out that I had a disorder called Chronic Hyperventilation Syndrome (which causes all kinds of seemingly unrelated symptoms because it drains your blood of oxygen, and oxygen-starved blood starves every system in your body), which is generally caused by anxiety and is usually treated with talk therapy and anti-anxiety drugs ... so they sent me to a therapist and a psychiatrist for the first time.

The year was 2000/2001. I was a grad school drop-out. I was no longer able to work. I'd been diagnosed with a mental illness (which was causing a physical illness). I WAS FAILING LIFE. My relationship with Shannon deteriorated as I became depressed and withdrawn but had no idea how to understand what I was feeling, let alone communicate it to anyone else. In therapy, I talked almost exclusively about my relationship with my mom (which I had never previously considered problematic in any way), and lots of stuff got stirred up, but it stayed pretty superficial for the first few years. Shannon and I worked things out with some couples therapy, but I still didn't really understand what was happening inside me or how to deal with it.

I went on disability in 2002 or 2003, because I hadn't been able to work for a couple years and figured maybe it would take me another year or two to get back to my old self.

And now here we are, more than a decade later, and I am still on disability, still not "back to my old self," and I've come to doubt that I will ever "get back to my old self," because I've realized that "my old self" was a persona, a performance, a facade I presented to the world because I didn't realize that people were supposed to be something more than that. Up until my crash-and-burn in grad school, I thought I was "doing it right," that I was "succeeding at life," that I was HAPPY. The periods where I thought I was most successful, I now realize, were probably times when I was hypomanic without knowing that's what it was. But I thought I was "winning." And now I look back and see how empty my life actually was. Don't get me wrong: I did a lot of fun stuff, and I made a lot of great friends, and I learned a lot of great things ... but inside myself I was hollow. I didn't know how to want or feel things in any *real* way ... I only wanted or felt things I thought I *should* want or feel. Things I was *allowed* to want or feel. I was performing for an audience, and didn't even realize that I was doing it, because I didn't know life could be any other way.

Now I know there's another way. I've learned to stop directing all my attention at the "audience" and have figured out how to direct some of that attention inward. I've looked inside myself, paid attention to the fact that sometimes I feel things or want things or need things, even when it's inconvenient for other people (or even inconvenient for *me*). It took me a long time to figure out how to do it with any degree of grace or skill, and I fumbled badly at it for years, but that journey started with my grad school crash-and-burn and a smart neurologist who told me what I really needed was a therapist. I'm very grateful to that neurologist, but she started me on a very painful journey.

I feel like an egg that's been cracked open, and there's no way to stick the slimy stuff back inside and seal up the shell to hold things in like it did before. I used to see myself as this extremely capable person, and now I just seem ... broken. When I try to work—whether it's freelance proofreading or clerical temp work or even just volunteering playing Scrabble with someone in a nursing home—my anxiety inevitably begins to mount, eventually becoming unmanageable, usually resulting in a major depressive episode. Once even resulting in psychiatric hospitalization because I became suicidal. Will I ever be able to be a "normal" working person again? Will I ever be able to be a contributing member of society? Or will I forever be this egg with the hideously cracked shell, with my slimy insides just leaking all over the place, unable to hold in what everyone else is able to contain in order to function in the wider world?

It's like, as long as I was "performing," and didn't *know* I was "performing," I was the perfect citizen. I was a great student, great employee, great friend, great whatever. I was *successful*. And now I feel like all I'm successful at is ... well ... being a good person? Honestly, I think I do a decent job at that. I'm pretty successful at listening to other people, being flexible in my world view, questioning my own assumptions, but then taking my own thoughts/feelings/needs/opinions/experiences into account when making decisions. I'm pretty successful at looking at myself (at my slimy, leaking, yolky emotional mess) and figuring out where it's coming from, seeing how it affects me and the other people in my life, and coming up with creative ways to deal with it. I think I've done a pretty darn good job at working with Shannon to create a strong, supportive, loving, intimate, truly *deep* friendship and marriage.

But you can't put "Being A Good Person" on a resume. You can't list "Marriage Development" as a job you've performed. You can't list "realizing that I have feelings" as an acquired career skill. You can't say, "Trauma therapy," when you meet a stranger and they ask what you do. I've spent the past decade+ working really hard at stuff that is more important than any paid job I've ever had, but it still leaves me feeling like I'm not a "whole" person. I'm that broken egg. I can't hold down a job, like any "normal" person can. Increasingly, I wonder if I'll ever be able to do that again, and that is absolutely terrifying to the part of me that still fears the judgment of the audience/mom. Shannon shrugs calmly and says, "If you aren't able to work again, we'll manage," like it's no big deal, and I know he's being honest about how he feels, but it's difficult for me to be so accepting of that possibility.

Some part of me still defines my worth by what I'm contributing to society, and I feel like mostly all I contribute these days is to myself, to my own health and well-being, and I don't have a lot of internal resources left over to contribute to the rest of the world. I feel like I don't even have enough left over to contribute as much as I should to *Shannon*, let alone the other people I care about, let alone society as a whole! I feel like in 1998 I started failing at life, and in 2000 or 2001 the failure became catastrophic, and I don't know if I'm ever going to bounce back. I think I probably need to change my definitions of "success" and "failure," but I don't know how to do that in the context of the society I live in and the past that forms my mental framework.

I guess that's my next "career challenge," if "Facing Mental Illness" is now my career.

I have bipolar disorder. I have generalized anxiety disorder. I have PTSD. These are challenges I have to face every day. For much of my life, I was able to hide these ugly truths inside that fragile egg shell where no one could see them, not even me, but now the shell is broken and those truths are out in the open, and I can't pretend they aren't there now that I know how to see them.

I have to figure out how to live a different kind of "successful" life, how to stop seeing myself as "broken." I'm not sure how to do that. But all I can do is try.
Spent an unhappy 4 hours at the hair salon on Saturday. Now I have interesting blue-and-green hair, but don't plan to return to the same woman who did the job. Here's how the day went:

First, Gina (the woman coloring my hair) showed up significantly late. Maybe half an hour? I wasn’t really paying close attention, just sitting on the salon sofa, playing Ascension on my iPad. But we got started late.

The first thing she did was completely bleach my hair. It was pretty weird seeing myself as a blond for the first time ever! (I should have snapped a pic, but didn't think of it.) The bleaching process took FOREVER. Seriously, Gina spent about an hour just applying the bleach to layer after layer of my thick mane of hair; then I sat about 45 minutes letting the bleach do its damage; then a thorough washing to rid my hair of the bleach; then probably 20 minutes of blow drying (again because my hair is so thick).

Then I got my hair dyed some various sort of randomly-placed splotches of blue and green. I requested a sort of striped look—even brought in a few photos from the Internet to show what I meant:

cool striped hair

cool striped hair

but I ended up with something more like an aquatically-toned giraffe:

my mermaid hair

I was surprised by the end result, because we’d discussed my intentions at length before we started, and I had corrected her assumptions repeatedly. I’m okay with the result, but it is not what we discussed.

During my 4 hours at the salon, I was not left alone for more than a minute or two at a time (and even then only when Gina was mixing the bleach paste or preparing the dye), despite the fact that I repeatedly explained that I had brought my iPad to keep myself quietly entertained during the waiting periods. Gina insisted on constantly talking (i.e., complaining about her life) to me, even when we were just letting bleach sit on my head for 45 minutes or letting the dye sink in for an hour. I kept taking out my iPad and starting to play Ascension, but then she would walk up and stand next to me and start talking, and I’m too polite to just say, “Leave me alone!” so I would look up and nod or whatever. So I had a solid 4 hours of NO QUIET. This sucked and made me very anxious.

Along the way, I also listened to Gina spout all kinds of racist crap. She is apparently Philippino and apparently prefers Philippino customers but will tolerate us whiteys, but she had racist things to say about Chinese people, Japanese people, Black people, and … well … pretty much everyone she’s ever met. Every person she talked about (and she had bad things to say about a lot of different people), she mentioned their ethnicity, which I thought was really weird. Why does it matter that the guy who’s really picky about his haircuts happens to be Mexican, Gina? At one point, she started grilling me about my ethnicity, asking if I’m “mixed” (WTF? Isn’t everyone?), if I’m part Mexican, etc. (Was this because I’m picky about my haircuts? Has she decided that this is a Mexican characteristic? Sheesh!) This all sucked and made me mad/anxious/uncomfortable.

I also listened to Gina swear a lot when she was describing various bosses she currently works with or has worked with in the past. Lots of shits and fucks. (She especially dislikes some Chinese woman in Alameda. It seemed very important, this fact that she is Chinese.) Very unprofessional! This sucked and made me uncomfortable. I mean, I swear a decent amount, but I don't expect it from someone in a professional context.

After about 2 hours, Gina apparently became comfortable enough with me that she started calling me “girlfriend.” Like, about a million times. So she’d say something really racist and mean about somebody, then look at me and say, “Am I right, girlfriend?” and then wait expectantly. She wouldn’t look away until I made some kind of response, so I practiced a wide variety of non-committal noises. She had a fair amount of power over the fate of my hair at the moment, so I didn’t want to say, “No, bitch, you are not right. You are a bigot who seems to hate pretty much everyone and has nothing good to say about anything.” So I just made “um” kind of noises and avoided eye contact as much as possible.

About 3 hours into the process, the owner of the salon (where Gina "rents a chair") began yelling quite angrily and aggressively at Gina for taking too long (requiring the owner to stay after closing time so that Gina didn't just abandon my dye job half-finished). I surmised from various things said during this yelling that Gina has done this before and so the salon owner is justifiably upset but really quite unprofessional to let loose with this diatribe while a customer was sort of trapped there to witness it. At first, Gina offered to wash the dye out of my hair sooner to get us out of there on time, but I gently but firmly reminded Gina that I was spending a lot of money and wanted her to follow the directions on the dye box, because it would suck to spend all that time and money, then walk out and have the color not stay because she wouldn’t let it sit for the necessary amount of time. As it is, she let it sit for less time than I did when I dyed my hair myself (I waited about 2 hours, about twice as long as we did this time), so it may not last as long this time, but at least she did wait the minimum amount of time indicated on the box. I felt proud that I stood up for myself, even in the face of the salon owner foaming at the mouth. (When I left, I thanked the salon owner for staying late so Gina could finish my hair, and she was very nice about it. It was like a Jekyll and Hyde sort of situation. These two ladies really freaked me out.)

And lastly, to top it all off, over the course of the 4 hours I was there, I got some ridiculous amount of hair forcibly yanked out of my head because Gina insisted on combing it during pretty much every stage of the process. My thick, wavy hair tangles too much for a normal comb even when it's at its best, let alone when it is full of dried bleach paste! She just kept aggressively pulling this damn comb through my hair, over and over again, with chunks of my hair coming out, despite my repeated protests of pain and concern for the breakage of my hair. Unfortunately, I had become so anxious (as a result of not getting any quiet time, the racist rants, the salon owner's rant, the concern for my hair, and my awareness that Shannon had been expecting me home hours ago) that I wasn't in an emotional position to be forceful, and so I just kept quietly pointing out that she was hurting me and breaking my hair, and never said, "Stop doing that!" So I’ve been sort of beating myself up in a “blame the victim” sort of way, because I told her she was hurting me but never said, “Stop it.”

So, as you may have guessed, I will not be requesting Gina’s services again. I don’t even want her to be my bang-trimming gal anymore, let alone come near me with dye and that fucking comb! When I told my friend Crystal about Saturday’s experiences & that I plan to just dye my hair myself from now on, she said that she would be happy to help me, and together we could work on getting me the kind of stripes I originally wanted. It sounds like fun! So now I’ll just wait for this color to start to fade & my gray roots to start to grow in, and then Crystal and I can have our own hair-dyeing adventure. With no racism, no swearing, no yelling, and no hair pulling.

Instability

So, yeah, haven't written in my journal in a while.

It's been a month of pretty intense instability. I started taking the Zoloft to help with the depression, but after 2 weeks it sent me hypomanic, so I had to taper off, which I did slowly (with input from my former psychiatrist, who I phoned to consult, since I've been doing all this medication management on my own for the past month+).

Anyway, so I finished up with the Zoloft on Tuesday & now I'm anti-depressant-free, but still hypomanic & having serious anxiety issues. Luckily, I'm seeing another prospective new psychiatrist on Tuesday. I am optimistic. And boy could I use the help!

Whenever I'm hypomanic, I feel like I should jump on the stuff at the bottom of my To Do list, the stuff that never gets done, because why not take advantage of the crazy? So today I finally finished filling out the paperwork to file a complaint against the Evil Meds Doc with the California medical board. I started filling out this paperwork back in 2014, but things have just been rocky since I went off the lithium when the kidney disease was diagnosed in 2013, and I've never managed to finish it up. So today I finished it up and plan to send it in this week. It probably won't have any effect, but at least I will feel like I've done *something* to stand up for myself and for the other people whose health he has the power to ruin.

Um ... what else? I've become a Tyler Oakley fan on YouTube lately, because I love how perky and positive he is, and he has the funniest laugh ever, and he's my personal antidote to Trump. I'm having trouble dealing with all the stuff that's been going on in the world right now, with all the shootings and the racism and the hatred and The Donald, so I keep thinking I should stay off Facebook until my mental health is a bit more stable, but I keep going back, because I want to know what's going on. It's like when my anxiety was really really severe 10 or 15 years ago, and I was convinced that murderers were going to break into our house during the night, and so I was afraid to sleep upstairs, because then they could break in and I WOULDN'T EVEN KNOW! So I insisted on sleeping on the living room floor, so that I would hear if someone came in through the back door, because if there was going to be danger, then I would rather at least be aware. That's how I feel now about all the stuff that's going on. Some people say ignorance is bliss, but ignorance scares the shit out of me.

Need to not talk to my brother for a while. All I have posted on Facebook for the past couple days is grief over the police shootings, and all he has posted is support for the police / blaming the victims / denying that racism exists. I've been tempted to respond to one of his most offensive posts, because it's hard to see it there and not point out how statistically inaccurate and emotionally inappropriate it is, but I know I wouldn't accomplish anything except potentially embroiling myself in a debate with his racist friends that would upset me further.

I probably should stay away from Facebook for a while, because it isn't helping with my mood at all. I'm not really strong enough to face the world's darkness right now—I'm struggling enough with my own.

Depressed

Been depressed for about a week and a half. Still don't have a psychiatrist, despite the numerous phone calls I've made. Most are not taking new patients, some don't do medication management, and some simply don't call back at all. One guy said he was willing to squeeze me in if I couldn't find anyone else, so I went to see him after a couple weeks of fruitless phone calls seemed to be starting to trigger a spiral into depression. This was Monday last week. He was really aggressive and dogmatic, insisting on factually incorrect information about bipolar disorder ("mood changes cannot be triggered by external events such as lack of sleep") and harassing me about why I don't have a job. I left much more depressed than when I arrived, which seems like an indication that he is not the right psychiatrist for me. So I continued to make more fruitless phone calls. Finally, today, on my therapist's recommendation (she's been getting increasingly concerned about me), I called the actual insurance company, MHN, and they said that *they* will make the calls and find me the names of some appropriate psychiatrists who are accepting new patients. So at least I can stop going through these stupid lists and making phone calls every day, only to get turned away over and over again.

In discussion with Shannon, I decided to start taking Zoloft again, as of last Saturday morning, because it *did* help with my last depressive episode ... it just means I'm back to daily headaches, nausea, and sedation. It's just a short-term plan, until I can get a new psychiatrist who can prescribe me something that will hopefully not cause me so many side effects. I just didn't want to let the depression keep spiralling downward while I was endlessly searching for a Meds Doc.

Been very withdrawn, not wanting to interact with people at all, just wanting to be left alone.
The Zoloft caused me a lot of intestinal distress for a while when we raised the dosage, but all the badness went away when we reduced the dose back to 25 mg. We're holding there for now. It can take 4-6 weeks for Zoloft to take effect, and I've only been taking it for about 3 weeks.

My mood has been showing some slight improvement lately, though. I'm not making any assumptions, because there are still lots of symptoms of depression (sleeping 12+ hours/day, feeling socially withdrawn, complete lack of appetite, etc.), but I've been feeling a bit more emotion lately, not just the flat BLAH of the past couple months. I'm hoping this is a good sign.

The past 5 weeks or so have been pretty unpleasant, with side effects of Rexulti, food poisoning, and side effects from Zoloft. I may not have any appetite right now, but at least my body is working correctly and isn't uncomfortable!

Depression

Depressed.

The Rexulti was helping, but it was causing me severe nausea, so I stopped taking it. My insurance was refusing to cover it, anyway.

Right now, I'm on Zoloft, supplemented by Delpin. Both can take a while to work. I'm just hanging in there in the meantime.

I'm feeling very withdrawn, but am forcing myself to go to CWC. I know it isn't healthy to isolate, even though that's all I want to do.

Water heater

Our water heater has died, leaving us with no hot water this morning. The old one (and it is old, more than 12 years at least) needs to be torn out and completely replaced. We're going to replace it with a tankless one, which is going to cost us a lot of money and involve a lot of plumbers over the next couple days. Shannon and I were both already stressed for various reasons, so this is poor timing, but ... hey ... it'll increase the value of the house, right? (That's what I always tell myself when something goes wrong and is going to be expensive to fix.)

I'm just working on managing my own stress level and being supportive for Shannon as much as I can while we get through this. In a couple days, we'll have hot water again and everything will be back to the already-somewhat-difficult-but-we're-managing place it was yesterday. We can deal.

I'm just really happy that I washed my hair yesterday and that neither laundry nor dishes are clamoring for attention. It's like frontier days around here, without hot water.

Also, we keep getting ant invasions. Ants, leave us alone! We have enough to worry about!
I'm feeling better, physically. Tests showed that my joyous adventure last week was due to a bacterial disease called campylobacter. Luckily, I did not object when my doc pressed antibiotics on me, because otherwise I would still be sick today, since it was a bacterial problem and wasn't going to go away on its own.

I'm feeling the same, emotionally.

Recent blood tests showed some unexpected liver abnormalities. My (relatively new) GP said, "Let's wait 2 months and test again to see if anything has changed," but my nephrologist thinks she's being too relaxed about the whole thing and recommends that I get an ultrasound. I really don't feel up to fighting for an ultrasound, so I'll probably just wait the 2 months and do the repeat blood tests. I don't have much fight in me right now.

My health insurance has decided not to cover the latest med my Meds Doc had me trying, so I'm in meds limbo, waiting to hear back from Meds Doc re: what I should do now. It's a complicated situation, because I'd just gotten to to the effective dosage of the mood stabilizer (the med that isn't being covered), and so had just finally added in a bit of antidepressant ... but now I have to go off the mood stabilizer, and I probably shouldn't be on an antidepressant without one or risk causing mood cycling. And, in the meantime, I just continue being depressed.

I'm anxious about what Meds Doc and I are going to do, because I think I've tried all the mood stabilizers, and they all were eliminated for one reason or another. What do we do if there aren't any more mood stabilizers to try? Am I just stuck with unstable moods? Do we gamble, and try an antidepressant without the support of a mood stabilizer? Stress. And I just want to stop being depressed. A healthy liver would be nice, too.

Oh, and I saw my nephrologist, and it turns out that my kidneys haven't actually improved; it was just a temporary blip in lab results. As of now, I'm back to a creatinine of 1.41, which is where I've been since going off the lithium. So ... the kidneys aren't worse, but I thought they were better and they're not. Sigh.

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