An anniversary: Or, another one of those narcissistic “a story about me” posts

July 18, 2007 was, and remains, the happiest day of my life. (Just why that is so, is a story for another day.) It was also the day I realized I was, in a sense, terminally ill.

The fact that I realized I was dying was BECAUSE I realized it was the happiest day of my life, and I still couldn’t help feeling sad and getting suicidal impulses. I was so happy, I was enraptured, entranced, I had reached Nirvana. All I can think of is that Nickelback (lame, I know) song and that line in the chorus: “Something’s gotta go wrong cause I’m feeling too damn good.”

Then something did go wrong. Just like that, like flipping a switch, I was screaming and crying in the car and trying desperately to fight the urge to drive it into the nearest brick wall or off a bridge or something. I went from smiling to sobbing in less than a minute.

Now, this sort of thing had happened before, though usually not as bad. I would just be sitting there minding my own business and suddenly begin “feeling black” (as I called it, after the Rolling Stones song) and become extremely depressed, often suicidal, and this black period would last for hours or a few days or maybe a whole week sometimes, and then vanish, just as suddenly as it had arrived. This had been going on for years, at least back into my teens, maybe since I was a child. I thought it was just another part of being me. And I certainly wasn’t expecting it to happen that beautiful day where so many great things had happened.

And I got calmed down after twenty minutes or so, and I went back to the hotel, and thought: “Meaghan, let’s be realistic here. If you can’t keep these black periods from happening, even on the best day of your life, a day when so many wonderful and unexpected things have happened to you, when this whole WEEK has been nothing but great, there is no hope at all. You are doomed. You will die a suicide and probably it will be sooner rather than later.” And I considered this, and wondered how much time I had. A year perhaps, maybe two on the outside if I was very lucky, but probably less, and then it would be over.

Now, many people at this point would have sought out psychiatric treatment rather than just give up and accept their fate. I did not do this. It never even occurred to me to do so. That was stupid of me and negligent. I make no excuses for myself.

(Had I done so at the time, and told the psychiatrist about my vacation and how during the happiest day of my life my mood crashed in an instant, and how this sudden change in mood happened to me quite a bit actually, I might have gotten the right diagnosis immediately instead of having to wait years for it. The feeling happy and then having your mood rapidly swing to terrible, on a regular basis, is a classic sign of bipolar disorder type 2, but I was initially diagnosed with just depression and the bipolar bit wasn’t added until four years later when I gave the doctor my diary to look at. It was full of entries saying things like “I felt really happy today and then I felt really sad and don’t know why” or one day would be “happy happy joy joy life is beautiful” and the very next day “I wish I was dead.” But I digress.)

I started making preparations for my upcoming demise. For example, I made a list of people who needed to be contacted, internet friends who, most of them, lived hundreds or even thousands of miles away and away and would need to be told what had happened to me. I even checked out life insurance policies. (Yes. they do cover suicides, but only if you’ve held the insurance for a minimum of two years.) The Charley Project was a conundrum I could not solve. I made sure I had a few people who knew the password to get in, but I had no idea as to how to dispose of it — that is, dispose in the sense of “give or transfer to another,” not in the sense of “throw away.”

Well, long story short, obviously my prediction was wrong because I’m writing this now, eight years later. But in a sense my prediction was right because in June 2008 — eleven months after I had pronounced myself terminally ill — I had what was essentially a complete mental and emotional collapse and was more suicidal than I had ever been, and would have taken my own life had I not been hospitalized at the time.

“Can’t you see that I’m dying?” I kept asking them. They asked me why I felt that way but I had such little energy in me that it was hard enough to get simple sentences out, never mind a kind of long story involving a dead writer, a living writer, a Roman Catholic priest, two libraries, two librarians and two children. I just kept repeating, “I’m dying.” I think they weren’t sure whether I was delusional and meant dying in a physical sense, or just meant I FELT like I was dying. It was more like something between.

I didn’t die. In fact, I rapidly recovered (and just as rapidly decompensated again, two months later, when my anti-depressants suddenly stopped working just for fun and games). It felt like I had been in a dark room and suddenly the lights came on. Or had been underwater and then surfaced and got a breath of air.

Eight years, one psychiatrist, a zillion different medications, three caseworkers, three therapists, one rape, one resulting breakdown, one short stay in a halfway house, one Great Headache Crisis, innumerable mental health crisis interventions and several short hospitalizations later, here I am, alive and not entirely unhappy.

Make-a-List Monday: Teens with bipolar disorder

This is a list of MPs who suffer from bipolar disorder and are nineteen or younger. This condition usually manifests itself in the late teenage or early adult years, but can appear in childhood or early adolescence also. It’s estimated to affect about two and a half percent of the adult population and a list of every Charley MP who has it, I decided, would be too long — over one hundred names, I think — so I focused on the younger ones.

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depression, is characterized by periods of depressed mood alternating with manic states, where a person can become irrationally happy and/or irritable, have a greater sex drive and less need for sleep, and, in the more severe cases, become aggressive and develop paranoia and psychotic symptoms. People joke about it — “I’m was in a good mood this morning but now I’m feeling crappy, I’m just so bipolar today!” — but I wish they wouldn’t; this is a serious illness and isn’t to be taken lightly. Psychiatric drugs are pretty much essential for controlling the condition, but various forms of psychotherapy are recommended too.

I myself have a mild form of the disorder. For me it’s the depression that’s most noticeable, and at first I was diagnosed with depression only; years passed before my doctors realized I was also having manic episodes. I’ll become really happy, as in “bouncing around the house singing at the top of my voice” happy, and I’ll talk too fast for other people to understand, and often ambitiously start some project or other that I’ll never finish and didn’t have the ability to finish in the first place. Then, after two or three days or sometimes a whole week, I’ll be in the “I wish I was dead” mode, and that will usually last a lot longer than the happy period did.

(One time, for example, I got this idea to start a business selling a certain herbal appetite suppressant, and excitedly told all my friends about how I was going to corner the market on it and make loads of money. As far as putting my plan into action, all I actually did was order some seeds for planting. I never even bothered to plant them because by the time they arrived in the mail I was back in depression mode again. It was the wrong season anyway.)

Since I started taking a mood stabilizer in mid-2012 my mood swings have smoothed out a great deal, but my emotional pendulum still swings some and I have to keep an eye on myself. The mood stabilizer is a pain in the butt because I have to take it several times a day. But it works. And compared to many people with bipolar disorder, I’m very fortunate.

Diagnosed bipolar disorder:
Julian Carrozza, 13
Stacy Lynn Carson, 19
Mark Anthony Degner, 12
Virginia Anne Greene, 19
Bryan Andrew Hayes, 13
Juliandra Elizabeth Jones, 19
Ashley Renee Martinez, 15
Bianca Noel Piper, 13
Kyla G. Porter, 19

Honorable mention:
Kara Nancy Nichols, 19, listed as possibly having bipolar disorder

I wouldn’t be surprised if these were not the only teenagers listed on Charley who have bipolar disorder. To begin with, I rarely have much in the way of information on runaways, which comprise the majority of teenagers listed on the Charley Project. And also, often a person can have bipolar disorder for years or even decades before it’s diagnosed.

One of the most famous books on bipolar disorder is Kay Redfield Jamison’s An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness. I didn’t really like it very much, though I really liked her book Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide. I haven’t read that many books about bipolar disorder, but I would recommend A Mood Apart: Depression, Mania, and Other Afflictions of the Self by Peter Whybrow or The Pits and the Pendulum: A Life with Bipolar Disorder by Brian Adams.

Make-a-List Monday: Autism

This list is of people on the autism spectrum, which includes autism, Asperger’s Syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder (PDD). The most current psychiatric parlance is to lump all those conditions under the term “autism spectrum disorder.” Given how common the condition is (and how often it goes undiagnosed) chances are pretty good there many more people on Charley who are autistic and I just don’t know it.

Allison Taylor Bayliss
Samuel Savage Becker Boehlke
Daniel Patrick DeSimone
Donald Leo Dietz (possibly)
Oded Gordon
Gary Dale Finck
Emanuel Ocampo
Gordon Thomas Page Jr.
Zev Ephaim Patt

Annual assessment

Today my therapist and I did my annual assessment, where they ask me a bunch of questions and write down a lot of things in order to:

1. Determine what, if any, progress I’ve made in the past year
2. Prove that I’m still bonkers and justify my continual psychiatric care to the evil insurance people and/or the state

There were a lot of silly questions she was required to ask me, although we both knew the answers:

HER: Have you used any heroin in the past 30 days?
ME: No.
HER: Methadone?
ME: No.
HER: Methamphetamine?
ME: No.
HER: Crack cocaine?
ME: Yeah, I smoked a few rocks before I drove over here.
HER: I’m going to check “no” for that one.

My apologies

Sorry for being absent and not updating as of late. I’ve been doing other things — nothing in particular, but stuff like playing Sims 3 and Civilization. Just chilling out. I’ll update today, I promise.

In the meantime, yesterday I did update my missing person of the week. It’s Margaret Unger, a middle-aged woman from Missouri with late-onset schizophrenia who, in 2010, ran into the woods during a fit of paranoia and never came out.

And I had another Executed Today entry posted: Marianne Kurchner. I don’t know the date of her death, but she was condemned for sedition in Nazi Germany on June 26, 1943. She made a joke at Hitler’s expense, and that is quite literally all she did, but that was enough.

Missing people and schizophrenia

I seem to be in a list-making mood tonight, and thought I’d make up a list of MPs on Charley who have been diagnosed with schizophrenia, or were thought to have it but were not officially diagnosed. I believe it may be most common mental illness diagnosis among my cases, although depression and bipolar disorder are more prevalent in the general population.

For the uninitiated, schizophrenia is a terrible mental disorder that usually starts in adolescence or early adulthood, although it can strike later or earlier in life. People who have it may have delusions of various kinds, and/or hallucinations, hearing voices and so on. But it goes beyond that; their whole personality and thought process are shattered, and they have a very high rate of suicide.

Schizophrenia is a profoundly disabling condition. Although the person’s intelligence is unimpaired, many of its sufferers aren’t able to complete their education or live on their own successfully, and many of them wind up homeless or in jail. However, contrary to popular belief, they are usually NOT violent and are much more likely to become the victim of a violent crime than to commit a violent crime, because other people take advantage of them.

There are psychiatric drugs to control the symptoms, but they have mixed results as far as how well the work, many of them have bad side (even potentially life-threatening) effects, and it’s often a job to get the person to take the meds at all, since a common symptom of schizophrenia is not believing you are sick. And on top of everything else, you will see from my MPs that the illness is frequently co-morbid with other mental illnesses as well as alcoholism and drug addiction.

If you want to learn more about it, you can of course check out the many and various mental health websites, but there’s a lot of writings on personal experience out there. I’ve been following the blog of Michael Schofield, whose daughter January has severe childhood-onset schizophrenia, and am slowly reading my way through six years’ worth of posts on the blog Schizophrenia: A Carer’s Journal, written by a British man whose adult son has the disease and has been in and out of hospitals and other institutions.

I’ve also read The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness, a memoir by Elyn Saks, who is a very high-functioning schizophrenic. The doctors basically wrote her off after her diagnosis, but she got degrees from Vanderbilt, Yale and Oxford, became a successful lawyer advocating for the mentally ill, and won a McArthur Genius Grant a few years ago.

Anyway, back to Charley’s schizophrenic MPs, in the order which Google spat them out at me. There are over a hundred of them:

Audrey Lyn Nerenberg
Rachel Louise Rice
Clifton Patrick Leonard
Adam Christopher Kellner
Steven James Needham
David Ristovski
Jennings Lee Hart
Merle LeRoy Ryan
Margaret Ann Unger
Richard Burks Hart
Penney Faye Cruser
Faith Marie Van Nortrick
Arlene Day Abbas
Jerald M. Gelb
Paulette Susan Jaster
Kevin Edward Lenting
Jeffrey Lynn O’Carroll
Joseph John Formica Jr.
Elizabeth Turvey Brown
Alvin P. Bradshaw
Stacey Jane Morrison
Dedrick Bernard Smith
Destiney Ann Hicks
Neal Louis Boware
Mouy Tieng Tang
Abril Marie Magdaleno
Faime Lynette Francis
Lucely Aramburo
Gerald William Carroll Sr.
Rita R. Rahn
Robert Albert Ahtonen
Julia Christine Aul
Ricky Laverne Bethea
Terry Lynn Hattaway
Robin Joy Heitger
Gabriel Ovando
Laura Lee Alber
Matthew Nolan
Aaron Michael Torres
Travis Bingham
Travis Jeremy Wilson
Elmer Coron
William Charles Jones
Jennifer Jean Gordon
Raul A. Martinez
Ricky Wayne Anderson
Ruth Sharon Hoffman
Edith Margaret Claver
Wendy M. Kimura
Elizabeth Ann Lande
Beverly Ida Harrington
John Chocha Jr.
Jennifer Marie Peters
Mark David Zeichner
Brenda Nell Dearing
ReJean Joseph Bowman
Barry Keith Douglas
Laura Ann Breding
John Clifton Butler
Pamela Pendley Biggers
William Ensley Hipp III
LaTonya M. Hill
Salvador Bonadona
Marilyn Lanier
Vickie Ramona Baliel
Gaudencio Cazarin Carbajal
George Alfred Davisworth III
Calvin Ray Deets
Cathy Dickson
Lisa Lee Chandler
Edward James Terrebonne IV
Bonita Landi
Maurice Tyrell Cammon
Louis Jefferson Wills
Steven William Branston
Kamau Jawara
Robert T. Hiney
Arturo Nunez
Donald Beams Wallace
Jack Eugene Waller
Alfredo Gonzalez
Elissa Rachel Martin
Mary Alice Cox
Yu Chin Chang Goodson
Wade Michael Aughney
Cris Tademy
Luke Robinson
Carl Joel Swinney
Thomas Patrick McLaughlin
Rossana Miliani
Robert Carl Rock
Dennis Lee Anderson
Sherline Johnson
Stephen Wayne O’Neall
Michael Allen Jarvi
Sherry Audrey Walker
Tracey A. Jessup
James Johnson Jr.