Category Archives: Justice

Of Semicolons and Hotlines

In the wake of celebrity suicides, people on social media show sorrow, shock and often outrage. Almost always there is a tagline at the end of articles shared and comments made. That tagline is that if you are in need of help or thinking about suicide, please call this national hotline.

800-243-TALK is the national suicide prevention hotline for anyone who is contemplating suicide – or for those who know someone who is contemplating suicide. You are immediately connected to a person who will provide counseling and local mental health resources.

I have called the hotline before. It was helpful for me to talk with someone – anyone – who would understand and help me sort out options.

I have called a local hotline that ended with the police showing up at my home for a wellness check. They wouldn’t leave until family showed up to take me to my hospital of choice rather than take the ambulance to the nearest hospital. The person on the other side of the line said I should be ashamed of threatening suicide because of the pain it caused my family. I have never threatened suicide that didn’t seem imminent based on the pain I’m in.

That local hotline was not a helpful call, and that shame has never left me, even though their statement was patently false. I am ashamed that I couldn’t reach out to family and instead called both hotlines. In both cases I had expressed to family that I was depressed. But I couldn’t tell them I was suicidal. Being suicidal felt shameful and I was already in emotional anguish.

That is why giving me a hotline to call at the end of your post about someone’s suicide is Not Helpful. I am already lost in pain. I already feel ashamed of the way I’m feeling. I already find it difficult to talk to close friends or family who, according to you, cares about me very much. What makes you think I can reach out to a stranger?

What I need is someone to reach into my life, through the pain, and sit with me. Physically or virtually. A hotline can’t reach into my life. It can ask me the same questions you should ask: are you thinking about dying? Do you have a plan? Tell me what you’re thinking about. But a hotline can’t sit with me and be a person I know who says I am not alone.

Being depressed is enough of a sign to ask someone these questions – and to reach in and be present in their lives. Know the behaviors of depression and of mania, and telltale talk that shows someone is depressed or manic. Both mind states and mood states can lead to suicidal thinking and actions, though depression is more common. Some signs of these moods and thinking are indicated in the link above “Ways You Can Help Me.”

The same reasons hold for why I dislike intensely the semicolon as a symbol used in mental health circles. Originally the semicolon indicated that a person had stopped self-injuring and decided that there was life before while hurting themselves and life after they stopped. There was a semicolon put after the first part instead of a period.

The semicolon was then co-opted to indicate putting a semicolon instead of a period after a suicide attempt. A decision to keep living despite the pain.

Then the semicolon was co-opted to mean putting a semicolon instead of a period for any suicidal thinking, for depression in general, and finally for any mental health issues.

It has lost its original significance.

And for someone who lives with chronic suicidal thoughts – and there are Many of us – there is no semicolon. The thoughts come around constantly for me, and serious contemplations are always just around the corner.

If I feel as though I can actually reach out to you virtually or in person, please don’t semicolon me. It belittles the seriousness of my thoughts. And it misuses the original intent of the semicolon as a symbol for the end of self-injury or after a suicide attempt. I need you to reach into my life and sit with me. Ask me the questions. Remind me that I am not alone because you are with me.

And while I am criticizing symbols and gestures, watch how you spread news of deaths by suicide. Just hearing about other deaths by suicide makes my own plans more plausible. There is such a thing as suicide contagion. Deaths by suicide rise after a celebrity dies that way. And never ever tell how another person killed themselves. There is such a thing as copycat deaths.

I would suggest expressing your sorrow about someone’s death, and leave out entirely how the person died. The news does enough of a job saying it was a death by suicide. And then check in on your friends who struggle with suicidal thoughts or with depression or mania. They need you in your lives, not hotlines and symbols.

Legion

I’ve been thinking about this post for a while. There is a show on FX called Legion. The main character, David, is diagnosed with schizophrenia and lives in a mental hospital and has unusual delusions and paranoia (normal symptoms of schizophrenia). Except maybe that’s a dream and he has special powers that haven’t been harnessed. He even visits the astral plane of existence. But then we return in the next episode to discover that all of those people who talked of his special abilities are also hospital patients. 

So is he schizophrenic, or does he have special powers, and the hospital is a dream or projection? That seems to be the central question of the series.

My question is about the portrayal of mental illness and mental hospitals in this series. Is it sympathetic, and does it help people understand illness and hospital life better? Or does it drop to society’s most basic fears of mental illness and being “locked up in the looney bin”?

The show hasn’t answered its own question yet about whether David is schizophrenic. But if he is, he is having the grandiose delusions and paranoia typical of schizophrenia. And the hospital is the right place to keep him safe from living out his delusions in a way that could hurt himself or others. And the show is honoring the role of hospitals and the reality of living with mental illness. 

If, however, he has special powers, perhaps his mind is retreating into mental illness and a mental hospital to keep himself safe from his powers. Does that mean the series is portraying mental illness and mental hospitals as a place for weakness and hiding from reality? 

That is my fear, as a mental illness/health advocate. 

Residential, Part Two

Still plugging away at the hours of group and individual therapy every day. There is a little more space from Friday afternoon through Sunday afternoon, but there are still groups and there is always the homework your individual therapist gives you to do.

I’m doing well and progressing rapidly. My insurance is not happy and I may not get my full 30 days, however necessary my therapist, psychiatrist and I think and feel. Next review is Monday. Might be home next week if they stop paying. A real shame since I’m doing so well in this intense environment.

I hear I missed a good blizzard in my area by being here. Kinda bummed about that since I love snow. ūüė¶

Thinking of all of you and glad for the cards and good thoughts. Keep ’em coming! Check with Barb for the address.

The Financial Costs of Bipolar

<rant>

bill1. I just received my first bill for the 58 days I was inpatient hospital this winter (plus another 21 outpatient). It only covered the first 11 days and was OVER $30,000!! I have pretty good insurance, which knocked my deductible/copay portion down to $1200 – which again, is only for the First Eleven Days!

Eventually I will run into my co-payment maximum for the year as these bills come in, thank goodness! (I think it’s near $3000, again, I’m lucky). But I will be on an 18-month repayment plan. Do you get that? I will be paying on Winter 2014’s hospitalization until FALL 2015!

What if I need another hospitalization in 2015? Then 2015’s deductible and copay are in effect, and I’m paying on that until 2016, and so forth and so on.

This has been going on for nearly 4 years already. Just 2 months ago, I finally finished paying off Winter 2013’s hospitalization.

 

2. While in the hospital for 58 days, I had to resign my job because I couldn’t work then or with the projected state of recovery I’d be in. Another financial cost. My part-time job could have paid for the medical bills. It could have offered some cushion in my savings, which is fast dwindling. It could have gone toward philanthropic giving which is important to me.

 

insurance3. I’ve spent A YEAR arguing with an insurance company about paying a provider that I see several times a month. I pay a copay amount each time, and so the provider gets some money. But they have not been paid in Over A Year!

I’ve told the insurance company that Medicare won’t pay. I’ve shown them the Explanation of Benefits that shows that Medicare won’t pay. The provider has sent letters saying they don’t work with Medicare – all of which have been lost by the way.

And the insurance company keeps sending out forms to fill out “We think you have another insurance. Please fill out the information here for coordination of benefits.” I think I’ve talked with every coordination of benefits officer they have at the company.

And it seems straightened out. Until a bill is submitted. And a denial comes out. And I ask what do you need to pay this? And I do this and the provider does that, and the bill still doesn’t get paid.

Finally I talk with a super-supervisor (since the company won’t give me a dedicated account representative. “Any of our staff are qualified to handle any issues you may have” my ass.) She understands exactly what is going on, sees what I’ve submitted most recently, thinks all shall be paid.

And then I get a call from her. Nope. My provider needs to send in Another Letter, Identical to the Ones They’ve Sent In Numerous Times. This time it will directly to her and all the appropriate notes will be made so that there should be no more trouble.

A Year.

A Year this has taken.

And I have no faith that this won’t happen again with this insurance company or any others. I spend hours each month coordinating benefits between Medicare and my secondary carriers. What do people do who are not able to do that? At least I have the faculties most of the time to do it and follow what they are saying (even when it’s out of both sides of their mouths).

::SIGH::

</rant>

Able to Work or Not?

So, with last month’s sudden hospitalizations…

I’m questioning whether I could even hold a job that wasn’t as flexible as the one I have now. While they were Not Happy to have me gone for 3 weeks so suddenly, no one died, the little bit of important work was picked up by very capable board members, and the non-important work was blown out of proportion for having been missed.

That said…

This was the first time I had to take time off for my mental illness. I was off for 3 weeks because of cancer surgery. The office knew weeks in advance that I was heading out, and had 2-3 weeks notice of the surgery date. However, my dr very much under-estimated the amount of time I’d need to be out. I’ve taken off 2 other days because of headaches from hell. One day because of an all-day dr appt downtown. All the little flexibilities or single days here and there, I have made up the hours. It’s not like I’ve left anyone high and dry. I schedule appointments outside my work hours. Most of the time I have to change my work schedule because the office wants me at a meeting or fundraiser that is in the evening.

This was the first time off that was sudden. First time for me to have to wonder very deeply whether I can work a job with a lot of structure, whether part time or full time. Is that an accommodation I can ask for? Do I ask for it up front?

I checked ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) for info. First off, it applies for workplaces with 15 or more employees. So I’m SOL at my current place should that be needed. But in the future, do I ask for reasonable accommodation regarding the need for unpaid or paid medical leave, even with short/no notice? I suppose so. I don’t know that I can ask for that legally at my current place because of the employee number restriction, but also that the “reasonable accommodation” could be considered a hardship to the business. Debatable of course (considering the evidence of the 2 times I was gone for 3 weeks).

I hope one day to work full-time again, likely in non-profits or medical or some kind of justice, compassion, social-awareness field. I’m questioning that again. Maybe this goal will take longer until going into the hospital is an anomaly instead of something that could happen at any time, as the situation currently stands.

Interesting side-note, but relevant none-the-less, I’ve been flirting with the idea of being a CT technician. I learned a bit about the training process quite a while ago. Then this week I checked into the College of DuPage program here. Yeah, um, there is NO Way I can pass the physical exam required of all students. I will not be able to position patients and move heavy machinery into place. To be a CT Tech, you get trained as a radiologist (x-rays) first, then additional work afterwards for CT. Even though CT would be physically easier for me, I can’t get there if I can’t be a radiologist first. Disappointing!! I was looking forward to that kind of schooling and job!

So back to questions and wondering and depressing outlook on my possible work ability. What in the world am I supposed to do with my time if I can’t work??? (Ok, volunteer – less stressful and more flexible for medical crap I deal with) How am I supposed to pay the rent?? Who am I supposed to be if working isn’t even a small part of who I am and what I do?

SIGH.

Another Round

I had the wonderful privilege to hear the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus in a benefit concert for The Trevor Project, which¬†is the leading national¬†organization providing crisis intervention and¬†suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay,¬†bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth. Beautiful music, fun spirit, and we raised twice as much for The Trevor Project as the group expected.

Despite taking it easy this morning so that I’d have energy this afternoon for all the face-time with people and being in public, I came home completely wiped out. One reason, sadly, is that this afternoon I have NOT been in a good place. Lots of shouting thoughts about leaving the planet, not wanting to be alive and ways to do make it so. I hate this!!! Such a waste of decent energy to combat the thoughts, stay in the present moment, follow safety plan, use skills. All so that I don’t follow through, when I’m not even sure that I want to stay. I hate this!!! Did I say that already?

What boggles my mind is that I can have had a lovely time at the concert and be lifted up and plunged down deep by beautiful music. AND I can hear an internal voice that wants to push me over the edge into suicidality again. Both at the same time. It’s similar to putting one foot in front of the other and doing things I’m supposed to in order to get better: volunteering, exercising, taking my meds, being social, eating healthy, increasing care of the house and cooking. And I can enjoy many of these things. AND not have hope that I will get better or get to the next stage of health. I realize I’m so much better than I was a year ago. Yet I have this never-ending tickle and voice in my head that I will not make it and there isn’t enough to live for.

I didn’t use to be this way. It’s wearying to be this way, for two years. I wish y’all could just hand me hope so I can hold on, but it doesn’t work that way. It has to come from inside.

I’m Blogging for #MentalHealthBlogDay

http://www.healthyplace.com/ is doing a Mental Health Blog Day. Come hear the voices! Check out the blogs at @healthplace or the hashtag #mhblogday

 

I blog about Bipolar Disorder because I need a community to help me understand what I’m going through and remind me I’m not alone.

I blog about Bipolar Disorder because I need to understand what I’m going through, and as a writer, I can process my thoughts and feelings best through words.

I blog about Bipolar Disorder so others can see a face and hear a voice of a friend who has a mental illness. Perhaps they learn about mental illness because it has touched someone they know.

I blog about Bipolar Disorder because I’m allowed to have a voice and exercise it. Bipolar Disorder is something I have lots to say about right now, and feel I can be most vulnerable about, despite the stigma.

I blog about Bipolar Disorder because the more stories that are out there, the less stigma will grow. We are neighbors and friends, coworkers and family.

I blog about Bipolar Disorder so that others might click on links I have on my page to find others’ stories, or help when they are feeling dark and alone.

Since I started blogging about Bipolar Disorder I have come to a better understanding of my own disease and how it progresses. I’ve seen movement toward stability – especially when others point out when I’m doing better.

Thank you for reading and being a part of the larger community we all share.