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'A Mento-Chart - The Faculties Classified in 1860' Alesha Sivartha

So it occurs to me that I’ve been posting on this blog for about a month and a half now, and I have never gone into detail about my mental health issues except for a bit about depression. Depression is only one part of the Unholy Trinity of mental poop that I have going on in my head.

Mental poop. Don’t you love how I just throw around the technical jargon?

It’s not an easy, fun subject to write about (or to read about for that matter), but when I first came here to the South I wrote a note that I put on Facebook to clue in new friends and catch up old friends on what was going on and why. It was just easier to refer people to the note rather than explaining my life to people over and over again.

Maybe that sounds rude or lazy, or both, but here I go again.

Have you ever heard somebody say “I’ll spare you the gory details?” Well, here they are if you want them. With a few modifications, this is that original note from October 2008:

So I thought it might be a good idea to write a note to catch people who care up on a few questions you might be having about me and my life.

Questions such as:

How’s Joe doing?

What’s he up to?

Is he working?

What’s all this about moving to the South?

So, in an attempt to answer all those questions, I’m going to fill you all in on what’s been happening with me the past couple of years and what’s next. Right at the start I want to apologize for how long this is, but I’ve tried to trim it as much as I can.

2003 was a big year. Boodles was born and I graduated with my Masters in Social Work – the culmination of a long journey that began when I went back to school ten years earlier. By the time I graduated, the strains in my marriage had already become very serious, and they continued to deepen. I won’t inflict the details on you, nor will I try to set myself up as the innocent victim. First of all, I contributed to the strains in ways that I am just now beginning to understand; and secondly, Tania has stood by me and remains my friend. We’re not going to make this about her.

One of the things we studied in the social work program is about how major changes in your life are stressful, whether they are positive or negative. Well I had a lot of changes in 2003: New child, new job, marriage trouble, and to make it worse (and to possibly indicate the depth of the denial we were in) we bought a house. There are scales that have been made that assign a number value to stressful events, and when I went through one of those scales recently using what was going on in 2003, my number was over 300 indicating that I would have a high probability of major physical illness in the next two years. Well, that’s essentially what happened, but in my case it turned out to be mental illness along with exacerbated hypertension.

Low-grade depression and ADHD (predominantly inattentive type – formerly called ADD) have probably always been with me. As I look back at my life with the knowledge that I now have, I can see that there have been many times when I knew that I should do something, I may have even known what to do, but I was paralyzed. I was unable to bring myself to do what I needed to do. I can see this in play during the second year of the social work program when I became Faculty Liaison for our class. I felt then, and continue to feel like I wasn’t really doing the job, but I felt powerless and overwhelmed by the circumstances. I call this “stuckness” and it’s not unusual for depression. Long before I experienced it myself I remember listening to a woman say that she would stand in front of the closet in the morning, staring at a closet full of clothes but not knowing how to choose clothing and get dressed for the day. This stuckness, caused by the depression, of course also feeds the depression, the depression exacerbates the ADHD, and the vicious cycle goes on.

On top of all this, one therapist that tested me feels like I may have a minor case of Asperger (or Asperger’s) Syndrome. That rounds out what I call the Unholy Trinity of my mental issues. When you look at the diagnostic criteria for AS (which I have done over and over again) it may not look much like me. If in fact I am an Aspie, I would fall under “high functioning,” but parts of the diagnosis make some sense. There is sometimes a pattern of misinterpreting social cues, and perseverating on some tasks to the detriment of more important ones. It’s hard to distinguish where one element in the Unholy Trinity begins and another one ends. They tend to feed off each other and mesh together; at least that’s how it seems to me.

So after graduation I got my first job working as a nephrology social worker at a dialysis clinic in Southern Cal. That job started off well, but the personal issues and the depression deepened, and it affected my work and relationships with co-workers and bosses. I lasted at this job until November 2006 when I was fired.

Can I whine about how unfairly I was treated? About how, through no fault of my own I got off on the wrong foot with the wrong co-workers? About how misunderstood I was? Yes, I can…and have, but now that I am a couple years removed from the experience I can see the patterns. Patterns that stem from my illnesses/disorders/syndromes, that mix with my personality, and were repeated in subsequent jobs. I have been hired and fired from two more jobs since then for a grand total of three jobs lost in two years.

Additionally the stuckness has affected my finances to the point where I now have to consider bankruptcy. In April I was evicted from my apartment and I’ve been staying at a motel that has weekly rates ever since. I have looked for an apartment or a room to rent but it’s difficult because of my credit.

I decided to go on Disability while I get myself together. For obvious reasons I don’t have custody of Boodles but Tania has been very understanding about what I’m going through and she makes sure that I get plenty of time with Boodles. Also she has been letting me store my stuff in her garage. We separated in 2005.

More than once I’ve been compared to the turtle in the Turtle vs. Rabbit race. The turtle is not the odds-on favorite, few think he can do it, and he doesn’t move in a way that exactly inspires confidence, but in the end he wins the race. That’s the positive side of the turtle analogy, the negative side is that the turtle has a shell, and when things get complicated he can easily withdraw into his shell and isolate.

That’s what I do, even when things aren’t bad, I isolate even from the people who care about me the most. Since the loss of my most recent job and the eviction in April, friends and family have been encouraging me to reach out and accept help – because obviously what I’ve been doing on my own hasn’t been cutting it. Specifically those who are closest to me have encouraged me to reach out to my mother and sister who live in here in the South while I recover physically, spiritually, and financially.

The reason I have family in the South is because my sister and brother-in-law lived here in the 80s and when they retired they decided to come back. My dad had died around this time and my mother sold her house in California and bought the house next door to my sister and brother-in-law. They went on a cruise last month and asked me to come and stay with Mom while they were gone (she’s in her 80s and pretty independent but needs some help). At this time I noticed that I was immediately more relaxed and comfortable than I had been for a long time, I slept without taking medication for the first time in months.

So I have made the decision to pack up my urban assault vehicle (otherwise known as the world’s smallest SUV) and move here for a while. It’s going to be difficult to be away from Boodles, but she seems to understand that Daddy has to go away to get well, and when I get back I’ll be a better Daddy.

It’s not going to be easy, but nothing that’s worth doing really is. I now understand that I do have support and it’s OK to let others help me. Part of my learning curve with all this has been that I have to reach out to family and friends (old and new).

Again I apologize for the length of this, and to those of you who have hung in there and read this whole thing, I applaud your patience and I thank you for caring. My faith tradition tells me that none of this will be wasted. When I do go back to work I will be a better advocate for people who have hit a rough patch, and this is all going to make a great book one of these days.

So that was the outlook on October 6, 2008. Now you have a better idea of how I got here. Sometime in the not too distant future I’ll pick up where this note left off.

Thanks for reading it, Joe

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3 thoughts on “The Gory Details

  1. I think that a lot of people have mild cases of this or that mental challenges/illness/disabilities that go undiagnosed. I am pretty sure that I have a very mild case of autism. It runs in our family. My younger brother had it full blown, but some of his siblings to varying degrees are somewhat …. socially distant.
    In my case, there is sometimes SO much going on in my head that I have to spend inordinate amounts of time sorting through it and putting it in various mental files. As long as I keep my thoughts organized, I’m fine. If I don’t attend to them, they will start blurting out aloud, uncalled for. You would hear me speaking a word, a phrase … which is my brain spilling out exaggerated alarm or exclamation that most people quietly keep inside, if they even have those thoughts at all.
    Its a lot of work. I love hanging with people, but I NEED downtime to sort and categorize the world in my brain. I have a need to make sure everything fits somewhere.
    My autistic brother used to have a need to run down to the end of every trail through the woods till he got to the end of it. As a kid, he caused my parents a lot of anxiety. We were constantly chasing after him.
    I do the same thing with thoughts. I need to see where they go. I will think till my thinker is run out of logic or creativity and then I will stop. Not before. If I am called away by someone talking to me, it is a mild annoyance and I try to get back to my thought path as soon as I get rid of that pesky human.
    I love quiet. I can sit in a room by myself for an hour or more and just think. No tv, no radio, no internet, no sound, no reading, light is optional. I am not idle. I am thinking and its work.
    So, is this normal? Probably not. I have learned the art of placing on hold the thought trails to follow down later while I am at work or in social situations. That keeps me looking somewhat “normal” on the outside.
    Our brains are so complex that it is a miracle that any of us have perfectly functioning ones!

  2. Yes…as much as I complain (which I hope this post isn’t complaining, but trust me I do) my mental stuff could be a WHOLE LOT WORSE.

    I put it in capital letters so I’ll pay attention to it.

    The trick for me is, as you have learned, to find ways to work around my stuff and even make it work for me.

    I like the Jamaican guy I heard one time who said, “We run ting, ting not run we!” Which, translated into white boy means, “We run things, things don’t run us!”

    I like his way better.

    PS. I’m not sure anybody has a perfectly functioning brain, just some of us are better at using what we got.

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