Mind Spinning

Let Me Off This Ride

Mind spinning
In circles
Like a hamster
On a wheel
Racing
Round and round
Going nowhere

Going nowhere
Too quickly
To safely
Get off

Mind spinning
Sick to my stomach
Let me off
This ride
Right now

Please slow down
Please brake
Cannot take it
Anymore

Maybe I shouldn’t
Have had
Two cups of
Coffee
This morning

Verbal Non-Verbal

verbal

Sometimes, I’m verbal
The words rush
They press
They insist on getting out of my head
They keep me awake at night
Unless I shut them up
Turn them off with meds

Sometimes, though,
I’m simply not
Sometimes, I’m non-verbal
The words are not there
I do jigsaw puzzles
Watch TV
Play with numbers
Rather than words

When the words fly
They are raucous
Noisily filling my mind
Needing to get out
I need relief
So, I write

Then, I must get
The racing commentary
Out of my mind
Onto the screen or paper
In black and white
Where later I reshape them
Edit them into something coherent

Perhaps
Or, perhaps,
Sometimes, I leave them
In a jumbled mess
All over the page

In My Own Voice

The weekend after I attended BlogHer16, my local NAMI Orange County office hosted an In Our Own Voice (IOOV) training.

In Our Own Voice (IOOV)

Hi, I’m Kitt O’Malley

  • Mother of a teen son, wife, mental health advocate
  • You can find me any given day on social media
  • I enjoy reading, writing, art, photography, flowers & nature
  • Relate to audience

The National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, is the nation’s largest grassroots organization dedicated to improving the lives of persons living with serious mental illness and their families. Founded in 1979, NAMI has become the nation’s voice on mental illness. With organizations and affiliates in every state, NAMI effectively provides advocacy, research, support, and education about serious mental illness. Members of NAMI include those living with mental illness, families and friends of people living with mental illnesses, mental health providers, students, educators, law enforcement, public officials, politicians, members of faith communities and concerned citizens.

Services NAMI provides include mental health education and support programs. NAMI Orange County offers numerous programs and support groups.

When NAMI volunteers do official IOOV presentations, we show a 15-minute video divided into five different segments: Dark Days, Acceptance, Treatment, Coping Skills, and Strategies & Successes, Hopes & Dreams. After each segment, we pause the video, tell our own brief personal story, and then leave time for discussion and questions. Here I share my story. Haven’t yet done this in person, just been trained, but I look forward to it.

Dark Days

When I was an 18-year-old freshman UCLA student, I fell into a deep suicidal depression. It truly was a living hell. I believed that my family, the world in fact, would be better off without me. But, though that time was dark, and I’d never wish the pain of deep depression on anyone, those were not my darkest days.

At my friends’ insistence I sought help. I lived with chronic depression with the help of therapy and later medication until I was a 39-year-old mother of a very active toddler. At that time, I experienced a feeling of elation believing that God was calling me to attend bible study at one church and spiritual direction at another.

As a former psychotherapist and as someone who had to be carefully dosed with antidepressants, I recognized the feeling of elation as hypomania. The change of my diagnosis from depression to bipolar disorder type II changed my perception of myself.

I believed I could be a good mother with depression, but as soon as I realized I had bipolar disorder, I put my son in daycare and returned to work. I thought my son would be better cared for by someone else.

I was the same person before I got that diagnosis, but my internalized stigma, my own negative thoughts about what having bipolar meant, that I now had a serious progressive mental illness, my belief that my son was no longer safe when in my own care – that was my darkest days.

Eventually my illness made it too difficult to work and parent. I ended up hospitalized. Since then I’ve been home with my son, who actually needed me at home with him. As it turns out, I’ve been a great mom to my son.

Acceptance

Acceptance has been an ongoing process for me. Not just overcoming denial or stigma – but owning my diagnosis and allowing others in to help me. I had been a high achiever, a perfectionist. Accepting that I have a mental illness has involved accepting myself as broken.

To that extent, acceptance has allowed me to forgive myself for not living up to early life expectations. I quit UCLA after my freshman year. Took a semester off. Attended community college part-time before transferring to UC Berkeley. I never became a doctor or a lawyer. But I did get my bachelors, a masters in psychology, and much later even attended seminary (but didn’t finish).

My journey to acceptance has been essentially a spiritual one. I am not weak. I am vulnerable. I am not perfect and flawless. I am loved, lovable, and loving. My life has meaning. My life experience gives me purpose in helping others. And, I am grateful that I am here today speaking to you.

Treatment

My treatment has changed over time. When 18-years-old I sought help at UCLA’s student health services. The cognitive therapy I got helped me to identify my suicidal thoughts, stop them, and rewrite them to more rational thoughts. That skill stays with me to this day. Later in my mid-20s, I studied and sought therapy that explored the effects alcoholism and family dynamics had on me.

Then at 30, as a psychotherapist of severely emotionally disturbed teens, following the deaths of my grandmother and a friend from high school, I fell into a depression so deep, psychotherapy alone was not enough. As I couldn’t even get myself out of bed, with my parent’s help, I went to see first my internist and then a psychiatrist for medication. My reaction to rapid changes in antidepressant medications led to a week of sleeplessness and psychotic thought process.

Once a stable antidepressant regime was found, I remained stable on antidepressant medication and psychotherapy until I was 39. With no changes in medication, like the rapid changes in antidepressant medications that led to manic symptoms when I was 30, I recognized symptoms of elation which I knew from experience and education was hypomania. I called the advice nurse on my insurance card who advised I see a psychiatrist or go to the ER ASAP. I could not get into see a psychiatrist until the following week, so my internist prescribed an anti-seizure medication for me to take until then.

Since that time, I’ve taken a variety of medications as my needs and my body chemistry have changed. I rely on medication, supportive psychotherapy, and group therapy to maintain my mental health.

Coping Skills

Honestly, it’s taken decades for me to develop excellent coping skills. I’ve always been good at asking for help and getting support from friends and family. My social skills have helped me to surround myself with loving and supportive friends and family. I’m honest and open about my symptoms and what support I need at the time. That may mean that I have my husband get take out or make dinner when I’m wiped out and not up to the task.

I make sure I get a good night’s sleep every night. I’m aware of stressors that may make my mood to go up or down. I read and write. Every night before I go to bed, I read to calm my mind and often pray or meditate. During the day I write, blog and use social media to connect with others in the mental health community.

Humor is a fabulous coping skill both for me personally and for my husband and me in our marriage. Finally, I’ve attended NAMI Peer-to-Peer program which introduced me to the concept of mental health recovery.

Successes, Hopes & Dreams

My success has been when I fall, when my journey is interrupted, I reassess and adapt. When I quit UCLA, I took a semester off and then went to community college before transferring to Berkeley. I had hoped to become a doctor, a neurosurgeon, actually. That hope, that dream, that goal changed. I learned that I must take life as it comes, adjusting my goals as needed.

When I fell into a deep depression and later a week of mania, I couldn’t return to work right away. I decided not to return to my profession as a Marriage, Family and Child Counselor, took time off, then worked in a temporary job which led to a decade long career in commercial real estate.

Now, my success is to be a good mother, loving wife, and mental health advocate. I’ve always hoped to be a public speaker. I’m living my dream by telling my story to you. I had hoped to be an In Our Own Voice speaker, and now I am. My hopes and dreams for the future are continued public education about mental illness, overcoming stigma and discrimination, and better research and treatment for brain disorders.

Father’s Day Bits and Pieces

Fathers Day MTB

We plan to do some mountain biking today. When my husband and son do steep downhill runs (downhill mountain biking), I just have enough time to drop them off at the top of a mountain and pick them up at the bottom. Hopefully today, if we ride (they went on a very long ride Friday which our son is still recovering from), I can ride, too.

***

On the Way to Father’s Day with My Dad

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Mental Illness and Violent Acts

My response to Marisa Lancione’s excellent post: Can we stop blaming mass shootings on mental illness?

Honestly, some mass shootings are perpetrated by people with untreated mental illness. I’ve had to stop myself from doing violent things. I’ve had completely horrifying thoughts and impulses, which I’ve had to tell myself not to act on, had to harness all my self control to not do. At the time, in fact, I was amazed that more violent acts don’t occur.

***

My response to Henrietta M. Ross’ post: We’re All Serial Killers Now

Brilliant. Just responded to another article that I have fought murderous (and postpartum incestuous and cannibal) thoughts and impulses. At the time, I was amazed that more murders don’t occur (and more infants not eaten).

Meaning and Mental Illness

I wrote this post for Lisa Bortolotti’s project Imperfect Cognitions: Blog on delusional beliefs, distorted memories, confabulatory explanations, and implicit biases.

The blog was founded by Lisa Bortolotti in May 2013, after receiving the happy news that she had been awarded an AHRC Fellowship for a project entitled “The Epistemic Innocence of Imperfect Cognitions“. The core idea of the project was to see whether a variety of cognitions (beliefs primarily, but also memories, narratives and explanations) could enhance knowledge even when they were inaccurate or ill-grounded.

Source: Blog History

Meaning and Mental Illness

Monday, 28 December 2015

For our series of first-person accounts, Kitt O’Malley, blogger and mental health advocate, writes about her experience of altered states and what these mean to her.

When I was twenty-one upon returning from my grandfather’s memorial mass at which I gave the eulogy, I first experienced a series of altered mental states which I chose to interpret as God calling me to the ordained ministry. I questioned that sense of call due to my intellectual skepticism, my agnosticism, and the fact that I had a history of mental illness, namely major depression and dysthymia. God did not speak to me in my altered mental states. I heard no voices and saw no visions. The altered states I entered were sometimes ecstatic and sometimes tempting and dark. My interpretation of my experiences was influenced by my familiarity with the works of Alan Watts and D.T. Suzuki on Zen Buddhism, C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, and Roman Catholic mystic saints.

As I received no definitive instructions, I didn’t know exactly what God called me to do, but I chose to identify with mystic saints and believed that God called me to seminary training. I did not pursue a seminary education at that time. Later when I was thirty, after being prescribed antidepressants, I experienced a week-long psychotic state in which simultaneous thoughts raced through my mind in binary (zeroes and ones), about chaos theory, and about Roman Catholic mystic saints. Even after the psychotic break, my diagnosis remained dysthymic, with the episode believed to be a reaction to antidepressant medication.

Again, I believed God called me to seminary, but I had to address my mental health before I could follow through on my sense of God’s call. At the age of thirty-nine I once again started to experience euphoric sensations and the belief that God was calling me. At that point, I was a mother and wanted to be stable and grounded for my active toddler son more than I wanted to be a mystic. As a mother, the practical trumped the mystical. I sought help for bipolar disorder from a psychiatrist. My diagnosis changed from dysthymia to bipolar type II and my medication changed accordingly with mood stabilizers and sometimes an antipsychotic added to the mix. Finally, after a psychiatric hospitalization at forty-one, I applied to and attended, but did not complete, seminary.

My belief that I am both a mystic and have a mental illness remains. I believe that God has a purpose for me and that I am fulfilling that purpose in blogging about living with bipolar disorder and in my volunteer work as a mental health advocate. At the same time, I am skeptical of my own belief and realize that such a belief can be dangerous and can lead to destructive behavior.

In spite of my skepticism, I decided to embrace my own experiences as meaningful. I straddle both biological and meaning-based understandings of both my mental illness and my experience of divine calling. I believe both perspectives could be true. For me, what is key is that the meaning I glean from my experiences is positive in its effects.