Friday, July 25, 2014

There Are No "Demons Inside"

Joan Raymond wrote an article for NBC News about how teens with mental illness often hide their illness. The article raises the issues of why teens hide their illness, such as how during the teen years, anyone who is "different" is often bullied. It discusses how mental illness is seen in society as scary or weird, and so teens feel unsafe talking about how they are doing. The article also talks about how hard it is to actually even get mental health care for teens. Overall, it's a decent article that raises important issues. (I disagree with putting in the parts about the school shootings, and a quote from a teen accused of plotting violence who self-diagnoses and says "I think I am just really mentally-ill." The research does not support violence being linked to mental illness, and I have written about that previously.) It's an article that is meant to raise awareness so that we can do something, help teens feel safe to speak about their illness and get them proper treatment.

However, the title negates the whole message:

"Demons Inside: Teens at Risk Can Hide Mental Illness"

What teen or parent of a teen with mental illness would ever read this article and feel safe talking about mental illness when the title equates mental illness with "demons inside?" The title is emblazoned across a photo of Kenny Baker and his parents. Kenny died by suicide at 19 years old due to depression and anxiety. I feel for his parents. How it must hurt to see a beautiful photo of them with their child, and have the words "Demons Inside" splashed across it.

Mental illness has nothing to do with demons or inherent evil. Using a title like this promotes stigma and fear- the very things the article was attempting to combat. This "demon" idea is an old, outdated belief that stems from fear, in a time when we had no medical and scientific understanding of the brain. We no longer live in the middle ages. And yet, many people still believe people with mental illness are inherently evil, have let the devil into their soul, or are possessed by demons. Consistently since I started this blog a few years ago, the number one search term that brings people to my blog is "bipolar caused by evil spirits." If you read the comments on the NBC article, you will see quite a few people who think that mental illness is caused by the devil. We can not be promoting those ideas.

I have had mental illness since I was six years old. I remember news stories about murders or violent crime and hearing the terms mental illness, demons, evil, and possession being used all the time as reasons for the violence. I knew something was wrong with my brain, and there was no way I was going to tell anyone. What kid wants to be told they are inherently evil? What child or teen would ever feel safe in that environment?

Equating mental illness with demons and inherent evil that you have no control over also gives children and teens the message that no matter what they do, they will always be evil. They will never get better. They have no future, no chance in life.

There are no words to describe the immense self-fear and loathing this message creates. To be taught that even if you try to be good and kind, you never can be. To be told that at some point, because you are evil or possessed, you will hurt other people. This means there is no hope for you. You have no worth, no dignity, and no soul. And if there is no hope for you, then seeking out treatment is not an option. It's a terrible life sentence, and I am extremely disappointed to see this message in 2014 promoted by NBC News because they chose to sensationalize the title to get more readers.

I emailed Joan Raymond about my concerns with the title, but have not heard anything back yet. Who knows if she or her editors chose the title. Whoever it was, they were being very irresponsible.


Rev. Katie

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

My Days Are Shorter Than Yours

We are driving across the country for our move, and events like this are some of the times when I hate the limitations of my illness. I have a limited amount of time each day when I can be engaged and functional. Most people can drive for 6-8 hours and then have a night out of sightseeing and dinner. I however reach my breaking point much earlier than that, and just can't keep up a whole day of interaction.

I wish that I could spend all day with everyone and go out and do more interesting things. I want to force myself to do more, but at the same time I know if I overextend myself, I will eventually be unable to function at all.

I don't think most people understand living with a chronic illness, particularly one they can not see. Healthy people, understandably, don't know what it is like or what it means to have limited time and energy throughout the day. Basically, those of us with certain illnesses have a shortened day. While other people have 24 hours, we might have 8, 10, or even less. Can you imagine trying to fit in all you usually do in less than half the time?

What is even worse is that since other people don't understand such limitations, you come off as being selfish, not willing to do what other people want. But for me, going out to dinner or functioning past my limit is like expecting someone with a broken leg to run a 5K. It's not a choice to be unable to do something.
The Norris Family, somewhere at a rest stop in Nebraska.

I try every day to live my life in balance, to not do anything that will take away from my ability to function, but it's a circular issue. If I push myself one day and over do it, then I do not have the ability to do the things I need to stay more balanced and have more functional time during the day. For instance, one evening of going out will mean coming home overly exhausted, anxious, and possibly manic. In order to calm myself down from a state I can no longer control, I might eat a whole bunch of sugar to increase the serotonin in my brain. This leads to either not sleeping at all or not sleeping well, which means the next day I have even less energy and then I have to choose: "Do I use what little energy I have to go exercise, which is essential for balancing my mood?" or "Do I use what little energy I have to get my son fed and ready for school?" At that point it creates an ongoing deficit from which I can't recover unless I take a lot of time off to recuperate, at which point I don't even have the energy for the basic essentials in life. Seriously, tasks that are easy and quick for most people, such as getting out of bed and brushing their teeth, is extremely hard for me at times. Those tasks might take someone else a bit of energy and ten minutes of their day. For me it can take as much energy as running a few miles and an hour of my day.

So for me, decisions to go out and do more and have more fun are not actually decisions about myself only. I have to decide how much I can do so that I keep my illness managed well, which is what allows me to take care of other people. It allows me to get my son to school, feed the dogs, get my work done, be kind, be stable, and contribute to the world around me.

It is hard to be the one who is, essentially, the "party-pooper." I don't think the people I am with are required to change plans because of me, but I know many people feel forced to do so because they feel bad leaving me alone or they want everyone to stay together. However, I like to try and make sure my illness limits other people as little as possible. I usually always like to drive my own car so that if I can not stay out as long as everyone else, then I can go home. I get my own hotel room at retreats and on vacations because I don't want other people to have to limit what they do because of my needs.

Of course, the two people I am always with, my husband and son, are often the ones who are effected the most by my limited ability. Often things we really want to do together as a family, I don't do because even on the best planned days, something can go wrong and I end up having far less functional time than we anticipated. It's hard for them, but I always try and be honest that this is my illness and has nothing to do with them. I also show them how I am always learning how to manage my illness better, so that over time I have more functional time or I learn to estimate better so I can follow through on our plans more often.

I hate being unable to do what most other people can do. I hate it not because of how it makes me feel, but more because of how it makes other people feel. Which I know I am not responsible for, but it still bothers me.

It is very hard to have an illness that few people truly understand, which most people see as unreasonable, fake, or selfish because then you feel ashamed of taking care of  yourself. You feel bad for not being able to go out to dinner or going to an event because other people see it as selfish rather than understanding that it is just not healthy or safe for you to do.

I am fortunate to be traveling with family who understands that I can't function after a certain point. I wish the rest of the world was like that though because I know those of us with such illnesses would have a much easier time remaining stable and able to function to the best of our ability, if we were not shamed into doing more than we can handle.

I encourage other people like me to not take on the shame someone else tries to put onto you, no matter who they are. Stick to the choices that make you healthy and able to do as much as possible, for you. And, find friends and family who don't shame you and spend more time with them.


Rev. Katie

P.S. A great post was written on this topic called "The Spoon Theory," which I think everyone should read.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Corseting: Respecting How My Body Works

This post was originally written for The Body is Not an Apology, where I am a Content Writer.

I have had a binge eating disorder since I was in grade school. Sitting down to eat a family-sized bag of Skittles on my own in one sitting was not unusual for me. Now I know that binging on food, especially sugary food, was the only way I knew at that age to medicate my mental illnesses of panic and bipolar disorder. Sugar does a lot to the brain, especially increasing serotonin, just as antidepressants do - except that sugar is unregulated, and you need more and more of it to get the same effect.

Due to binge eating, I gained weight and started dieting - mostly starvation diets and low-fat diets that made me feel horrible and actually did make me crazy. My anxiety and bipolar disorder went through the roof every time I dieted, but I didn’t care, because at least I was skinny and people treated me better. This is what everyone told me to do, even doctors.

With all of the dieting, I lost all sense of hunger cues, I ate processed foods with no nutrition because they were low in “points,” and I rarely ate fruits (too high in calories) or vegetables because you couldn’t eat them with anything that tasted any good. Sandwich Thins and fat free bologna comprised every meal, while I binged on Skinny Cow ice cream bars in between. As long as I lost weight, the doctors were happy - and the weight loss company I was paying was really happy. I would go for half a day without eating to save up my calories for a meal I wanted if I was going out with friends.

Then, two years later, I could not handle the dieting and I would gain the weight all back. I swung to the other side, still eating processed foods, but not the low-fat ones anymore. Whether I was dieting or not, I had constant stomach issues; rarely did food stay in my body for very long. I was allergic to some of what I was eating and had terrible skin problems as well. Basically, I learned to destroy my body - to never listen to it and what it needed. I was told my stomach issues were all Irritable Bowel Syndrome and it was normal for me to be sick all the time. No doctor ever recommended to me that I should listen to what my body was telling me.

This cycle of binging and dieting slowly started to change when I started wearing a corset daily. First of all, as I mentioned in my previous post, due to wearing a corset, I don’t hate my body anymore, so I rarely feel like I have to diet or look different. Second, wearing a corset requires you to know your body. You have to respect your body.

Rev. Katie with her son. Corset by Dark Garden
When you get a new corset, the steel bones are stiff. It needs time to be seasoned and to mold to your body. You have to learn to listen to your body and to never wear a corset too tight, too long, or if it is applying pressure anywhere that makes you hurt.

I also find that I can’t starve myself in a corset. Whenever I under-eat (such as with dieting), I get light headed, tired, angry, and tend to have faster bipolar swings. In a corset, I become aware of when I am hungry faster, and I have to eat small meals throughout the day, which for me is better for my brain. (Some people do great on intermittent fasting and other patterns of eating.) I think since the corset helps you learn to honor your body and listen to it, corset wearers learn what pattern of eating is best for their bodies and helps them function well.

Previously, I had been able to put up with the extreme stomach pain and other daily issues from eating things that did not work well with my body. Now in a corset, when I eat something that bothers my stomach, I notice right away; the extreme cramps caused by allergenic foods are apparent while corseted. Many people while corseted cannot drink carbonated drinks or foods that ferment in the stomach, such as pasta. When corseted, I don’t eat things my body does not like because I know it will be uncomfortable, and because becoming more aware of my body has made me respect it more. Before I could just get away with ignoring my body and abusing it. The corset makes me very aware of everything my body feels and, for me, this change has resulted in being pretty amazed at how my body works.

My experience with corsets is not unique, and it is also not universal. I am sure some people continue to abuse their bodies while corseted. Different things work for different people. But there is so much negative stigma out there about people who wear corsets that it’s important to shed light on the ways in which corsets help many of us. Society sees corsets as oppressive garments that women only wear for attention, but many of us who wear them have found them to be extremely helpful on our journey to radical self-love.


Rev. Katie