Dancing to White Noise #flashfiction

Within the white noise of the fan, she heard music and she danced. Her mind arranged the notes. Her body responded. Music and dance made sense. White noise, not so much.

The white noise bombarded her senses — too many notes. She picked out those that felt beautiful, that made sense to her. Her mind found and arranged the notes to quiet the noise.

The music was so soft, the volume so low, it faintly played in the background of the senseless cacophony of white noise. When she turned off the fan, the music was gone. Her room quiet. She no longer danced.

Advertisements

Writing to Discipline My Thoughts

Disciplining My Thoughts By Writing

This morning I attended an OC Writers’ write-in. I haven’t attended a writers’ group in a long time. Been isolating myself and focusing on my son rather than my writing, rather than myself. Today, I left him home in bed, then left the meeting early to get him to class on time. When I got back home, he was dry-heaving in bed. Crap.

Hate spending my mornings trying to wake him up to do his homework and go to school. He will be seventeen next month. Time to wake up and do homework on his own. Unfortunately, his private school is not within walking distance, nor would it be a safe bike ride, and my kid has no interest in getting his drivers’ license yet. So, I’m still driving him to and from school.

The first week of June, during my son’s summer break when I didn’t have to act as alarm clock and chauffeur, I started cleaning my house with help of my next-door neighbor. She did most of the cleaning and organizing. I chatted and did a wee bit of organizing. We tackled the kitchen, spending two hours on Monday and two hours on Friday.

The second week of June was my son’s first week of summer school, so I took the week off cleaning and organizing. He has a full schedule this summer. He attended most of his classes last week, perhaps because I offered him $10/class/day. He’s motivated by money. It costs more to reschedule his classes than it does to pay him to attend.

Hypomania Raises Its Head (Again)

Last Tuesday in therapy, I said I no longer felt hypomanic. At the time, I seemed relaxed, at ease. By Wednesday my mind was racing. At night, when it was time to fall asleep, to slow down my mind – instead of thinking in my usual monologue, as an orator narrating my life – I heard a cacophony of voices.

I wondered if, when those voices crowded my mind, I should have written them down to see if I was thinking in dialogue. Were the voices characters wanting to be heard, auditory hallucinations, or thoughts racing so fast, I could not make heads or tails of them? Most likely speeding thoughts.

When I couldn’t fall asleep, instead of writing, I medicated myself to sleep. I force sleep when it won’t come on its own.

As I wrote last week during the day, while my son attended school, I could not hear the noise. Instead, I focused on my voice and that’s what I thought. Writing disciplined my thoughts.

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

Am I Still a Mental Health Blogger?

Self, Wife, Mother, Caregiver, Writer, Blogger, Mental Health Advocate

What defines being a blogger, specifically a mental health blogger? Must I write regularly or frequently? Must I always write about mental health? What if that is not my focus ALL the time? What if I’m so busy that living with bipolar disorder is not in the forefront of my mind? What if I’m overwhelmed by my life circumstances? What if I’m simply taking a break?

I’m not the most disciplined writer. Never been one for discipline; though, I do brush and floss my teeth every night. My house is a mess – dusty and cluttered. I bathe or shower (I prefer to bathe) at least once a week. (You are probably disgusted by this admission. I try not to move too much, so I don’t sweat and get stinky. Yes, I know I should exercise daily. And, eat better. Just because I know better, doesn’t mean I do better.)

Followers of my blog say they miss me when I write once a month, and not more often. Not sure if it’s nice to be missed, or if it’s stressful, if I have an obligation to write.

No, I have no obligation to write.

That’s why I blog.

It’s mine. All mine.

Yes, I interact with others here and enjoy doing so. I respond to those who comment.
Recently, though, I’ve been busy with life. My illness, bipolar disorder, hasn’t been the focus of my blog. I’m fairly stable. My symptoms are more or less in remission. But, the concepts of remission and recovery can mislead. Serious mental illnesses, like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, are chronic, lifelong brain disorders. You can live with them. Medications can help you treat the symptoms. But, the brain disorder remains.

To stay stable, I must be careful. I must plan for how certain circumstances affect me.

Last month I presented and next week I again will present as an individual living with mental illness for NAMI Provider Education at the hospital where over a decade ago (12 years now) I was treated two weeks inpatient and for a few months in their partial hospitalization program until I got bored.f

I get overstimulated in social situations and must recover. I cannot sustain that level of social functioning without paying a high price – psychiatric instability, hypomania and subsequent depression, mood cycling. So, I must keep in mind that I will need downtime afterwards – time to recover.

So… I started writing this piece wondering about the effects of my recent lack of “mental health” blog posts. I’ve also slacked off reading and commenting on others’ blogs. Sorry, folks.

I’ve been too busy doing taxes (scanning tons of receipts), driving my son to and from school and numerous doctors’ appointments (unfortunately, he isn’t motivated to get his driver’s license anytime soon & knows we didn’t get ours until we were 18 & 19), and making sure my parents are happy.

When I haven’t been busy, I’ve been exhausted – too exhausted to write, to read, to do anything verbal. Instead, I took up doing jigsaw puzzles on my iPad – enjoy that they are visual, non-verbal, and engage my mind.

Featured Blogger: Kitt O’Malley – Art by Rob Goldstein


Thank you, Robert Goldstein, for featuring me on Art by Rob Goldstein as his November featured blogger. The original interview is posted at: robertmgoldstein.com/2016/11/06/featured-blogger-kitt-omalley/. Here I reprint it.


This month’s featured blogger is writer and Mental Health Advocate Kitt O’Malley. In this interview we talk about internalized stigma, learning to accept and taking up the challenge of advocating for change.

Thank you for accepting my invitation Kitt, it’s an honor to have you as November’s featured blogger on Art by Rob Goldstein

Tell the reader a little about where you are from and how that shaped your worldview.

As a child, I moved back and forth overseas (living five years in Saudi Arabia) and between the East and West Coasts. As an adult, I moved back and forth from Southern California and the San Francisco Bay Area, with one year in Eugene, Oregon and a couple of years in the Mojave Desert.

Moving often throughout my life has both positively and negatively affected me. I’m flexible, for I’ve lived in different cultures and subcultures. I’ve lived most of my life feeling like an outsider. Though, now, as a mature adult raising an adolescent, I see that everyone – no matter what culture, race, age, socioeconomic status, belief system, or diagnosis – has more in common than not. We all have the same basic needs – food, shelter, health (physical and mental), and love (a basic need of mammals to thrive).

What kind of psychotherapy did you practice?

I was educated in psychodynamic and family systems theory, with a sociopolitical slant. New College of California was a left-wing school – appropriate for someone planning on practicing in the Bay Area (well, at least San Francisco, Berkeley, or Oakland). To prepare for licensure, everyone must understand the basics about the major theories and modalities, so after graduation, I crash-studied other “types” of psychotherapy.

While in graduate school, I worked as an administrator at a battered women’s shelter. All staff members took shifts backing up our crisis line volunteers, and doing intake. My field placement involved doing play therapy with severely emotionally disturbed elementary and middle school-aged (latency aged) children. Working with children excited me. Object relations theory, or attachment theory, informed my work.

After graduation, I specialized in working with severely emotionally disturbed adolescents. I took additional training in sand tray therapy, similar in many ways to play therapy, as it is nonverbal. Sand tray therapy has its roots in Jungian theory. I worked for a residential facility which used a moral development model built upon the directors’ studies under Lawrence Kohlberg at Harvard.

To help my clients, I did whatever worked. Employed at non-profit agencies with multi-disciplinary treatment and education teams, I had the advantage of other professionals’ knowledge and training. I’m a huge believer in a multidisciplinary approach. The private practice model isolates and confuses individuals and families. As a mother, I can tell you first hand that I find coordinating my own son’s care (and my care) frustrating, to say the least.

As a child or adolescent’s psychotherapist, I worked with the parents and the child. On top of individual, family, and group psychotherapy, I did case management and coordinated care. Working with pregnant and parenting teens as a case manager and counselor, I coordinated care and, frankly, nagged young women to finish high school and get the job skills and/or university education that would enable them to rise above poverty.

The last position I had in the field was as a psychotherapist at a day treatment program for severely emotionally disturbed adolescents. The program heavily used behavioral modification techniques. My observation was that heavy use of such techniques taught the young men how to work the system. They were trained for a lifetime of external control. Insight is necessary for change.

I left the profession after an attempted rape by one of my adolescent male day treatment clients. Unfortunately, my position there started immediately after I lost a friend from high school to AIDs. The combination of both traumas threw me into a deep depression at the age of thirty. I have not practiced psychotherapy since then.

Does your knowledge in the field help or hinder the management of your illness?

At first, it hindered it. When I was first diagnosed bipolar type II at thirty-nine, I thought that I had a serious progressive mental illness. I had not realized the extent to which I had internalized stigma against bipolar disorder, as opposed to depression. The clients that I had worked with were so ill that they required residential or day treatment. All of the sudden, I thought of myself as not fit to be a mother. I put my son in daycare and returned to work, only to eventually fall apart and require hospitalization and partial hospitalization.

When you think of encounters with stigma, which stands out as the worst?

My own internalized stigma stands out. I thought my son better off without me. We stopped trying to have a second child. That’s some heavy stigma. My first psychiatrist, who was a woman, reassured me that I could have another child, just on different medication. We decided, though, that one was enough.

What prompted you to start a blog?

My father-in-law suffered sepsis while traveling. My husband and his siblings immediately joined his parents at the hospital. The incident, having someone I love on the precipice of death, triggered hypomania. I channeled my hypomanic energy and anxiety into writing. I simply had to. Many people prayed for my father-in-law’s healing. He is still with us today. For that I am grateful.

What specific kinds of skills do you think mental health advocates need to bring to their blog?

Self-care. The ability to see blogging for what it is and for what it is not. Not to expect writing to be a cure, even if it can be therapeutic. To realize that you may not get positive feedback for what you write. Realize that it may trigger symptoms. Be discerning as to whom you follow and to whom you listen. My best online mental health blogging friends have recommended that I see my mental health professional team when I appear to be symptomatic.

Medication has helped me to maintain stability. I am pro-science and pro-medication. My interest in the field of medicine preceded my interest in mental health. For those stable on medication, stay on your medication. Be skeptical of claims to “cure” mental illness. Vet sources. I like to rely on sources such as the National Institute of Mental Health.

As a mental health advocate, what kind of policy changes do you want to see?

Multi-disciplinary treatment teams. Housing. Changes to privacy laws so family and friends can participate in treatment. Better health and medication coverage.

Is there anything you regret about the decision to go public with bi-polar illness?

For myself, no. For family members, perhaps. But, I’ve always been open. Just my personality.

What is the one thing people can do right now to combat stigma against people with mental illnesses.

Treat others kindly.

What is the question you would ask yourself as an interviewer and how would you answer it?

I have no clue. As I’m exhausted and overwhelmed, perhaps it would be: How do you deal with exhaustion and feeling overwhelmed? For which, I do not have an adequate answer. Figuring it out as I go…

Thank you Kitt!