community contributions

Forum member Alan Smithee asked a series of questions regarding what we share and what we keep secret due to mental illness. She asked:

Do you keep secrets from your partner because of your mental illness (MI)? Do you keep secrets from your best friends because of your MI? Do you only share some things with other MI people and not non-MI people?

I’d like to pull two specific threads out of these questions: The first is the basic question of keeping secrets. This is not a matter of whether we keep anything to or for ourselves, but whether we keep secrets specifically because of our mental health. The second thread is the issue of degree — degrees of closeness, degrees of relatability — which, in short, asks whether certain people or certain relationships warrant more honesty.

Lastly, I’d like to add one more layer to Alan’s questions: Do you lie? Beyond simply keeping some things private, beyond issues of omission, do you lie to keep your secrets?


Click for sourceLet’s be serious: it pretty much goes without saying that it’s been a while since I sat down and started a new conversation topic here. And perhaps that should be the topic of discussion as I have been reminded that the discussion helps. I have been thankfully reminded why I started this forum in the first place: that we lack an appropriate venue for support, that we often find ourselves in a place where we don’t feel it’s appropriate to share when we need to share, ask for help we need help.

Define Functioning is a tricky place for me.  It is not a blog, but a discussion forum. It’s a space I truly benefit from as a participant, but also a space that relies on me as facilitator and moderator. So, when my life gets a bit rocky, it is easy for me to doubt what good I can bring to the discussion.

Forum member Alan Smithee sent me an email recently asking that I bring Define Functioning back. My response was that I am not in a place to do it alone right now. To the extent that this is a place for discussion, it is also a place for this little community of ours….and, as they say, it takes a village. I get a great deal out of the conversations we have….I am just not always sure that I can lead the conversations.

So, on that note — the first conversation in the revived Define Functioning is this: What do you want to talk about? I’m compiling a list and will post a new discussion topic at least once a week for as long as we, together, have new things to talk about or old things to talk about more. Just let me know what’s on your mind.

As always, thank you all for everything.

Here we go — a real, nuts-and-bolts discussion topic. One I’m hopeful we all have some suggestion or method or useful tip to offer.

Our friend Dave asked today Does anyone have any tips or suggestions about how to motivate yourself when depressed or when you don’t feel like doing anything?

We’ve never outright had a brainstorming session on what we do when we don’t, won’t, or can’t do anything. So…whatcha got?




[Complete side note as evidenced by the number of times I just hit “Enter”: Clearly I have a new image strategy: For the time being, I’m searching the Flickr Commons (public domain photographs from various library-type sources) for some key words from each post. Easy!]

Thanks so much to forum member Meredith for this Community Contribution Reading Response of Rebecca Shannonhouse’s (ed.) Out of Her Mind: Women Writing on Madness. As always, if you’re reading something you’d like to share with others, shoot ∃ an email at definefunctioning [at] gmail [dot] com. (I’ll add your reading to the Current Reading panel and post your Response when you’re finished.) What follows is Meredith’s response.

Shannonhouse Out of Her Mind: Women Writing on Madness by Rebecca Shannonhouse (Ed.) highlights many unpleasantries about being mentally ill, which can help validate persons struggling with such things and illustrates some of the ways in which the mental health industry has changed. Shannonhouse also chose more current stories depicting the ways in which that industry has not changed. The book confirmed my belief that we mentally ill must take a proactive approach to healing. While reading, I could empathize with all the women, and I recognized my good fortune to have had recent great support and success in living with bipolar. I have become passionate about my care, do research on my medications, stay in regular contact with my psychiatrist, and see my therapist often while working on changing my longstanding behaviors related to being bipolar. Shannonhouse’s book reminds me of the importance of fighting for ourselves and forcing the mental health community to not only see us as intelligent humans and partners in healing, but to alter the inconsistencies in their field.

Shannonhouse began her chronology with an excerpt from Margery Kempe’s The Book of Margery Kempe from 1436. Kempe’s recounting in the third person of a short but intense segment of her craziness is raw, including devils, flames, and being hauled about. Of course, in 1436, people considered crazy were banished to some of the most abhorrent places.

Those places did not change much from Kempe’s time to the 1800s when Dorothea Dix, a social reformer in Massachusetts, went from asylum to prison chronicling the state of the inhabitants to later discuss with the legislature. The despicable conditions of the institutions and other places they kept mentally ill people drove these women to rally for humanity. Though I have never experienced hospitalization, someone I know recently had an eye-opening experience after being checked in by her doctor. She was treated as if she was either five years old or an animal, and she had to fight to be released. And fight she did.

Meri Nana-Ama Danquah, in the excerpt from Willow Weep for Me (1998), very clearly described the painstaking life of a woman consumed with depression. She defined depression, she discussed it as we discuss it and other mental illnesses, and she tied it to social issues. The cyclical logic of being and staying depressed is something I have experienced for years, getting caught up in my own hopelessness and proliferating depression further. By enhancing my awareness of my thought processes and their effects (for better or worse) on my feelings, I have begun to mitigate the negativity as it arises. Early awareness is key.

Some of the more famous women included are Zelda Fitzgerald, who hardly wrote once deemed mentally ill, Sylvia Plath, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman who wrote “The Yellow Wallpaper” in 1892. Gilman’s vivid descriptions of her world around her, the one room in which she was confined due to a “nervous condition,” drew me into the wallpapered hell. I completely identified with her sense of being alone to fend for herself because no one would believe something was really wrong. I also entered her room as she described the living furniture and the woman behind the wallpaper. I could easily have been her. I had been in a similar relationship and for various reasons was, thankfully, able to get the help I needed to see straight, at least at times.

The stories collected remind me of The Snake Pit and others condemning the mentally ill to be at the mercy of others for always. I remember watching The Snake Pit and feeling the frustration of not being treated respectfully and the feeling of desperation at being at the mercy of others. It is certainly a way we can live, but I believe more and more of us are taking our illness into our own hands, doing the research, and questioning the practices of the mental health community. Most of Shannonhouse’s book reminds me why that is so important.

Feeling disconnected from my own mother and knowing I’ve stopped from killing myself because of my children and not wanting to cause them so much pain, Signe Hammer’s story along with Linda Sexton’s, drove home for me the pain, the identity issues, and the being wanted and being loved issues. They are powerful excerpts. All my wonderings about my children’s lives should I commit suicide were realized in those two stories alone. There is no doubt in my mind that I would leave them with much pain and lifelong scars. Even if I don’t keep from committing suicide for me, I keep from doing it for them, and sometimes that is enough.

There are stories about behaviors, those around medication, some with ECT, hospitals, and doctors, and stories with definitions coming from those who suffer. I found myself identifying with nearly every woman in the book on some level. There is an underlying strand of suffering and stigma in the stories of the past to which I certainly could relate with regard to the beginning of my healing journey. Being the daughter of a psychologist who offered no help in my teenage struggles, I internalized the stigma as many of these women did, and many more today do.

However, one of the identities I further developed in myself from reading Shannonhouse’s collection was that of advocate, at least for myself if not for others. The discussions I have with fellow mentally ill people do often center on the injustices of our general treatment by society and the mental health community. Some go on to speak on a more global level for which I am grateful. Making those connections with advocates keeps the torch afire for us to do our own work in managing our illnesses.

Warning and Apology: No question that having been swamped and traveling have taken their toll on the forum. For that I apologize. In an attempt to get as many topics out there at once, I also apologize that the next few will lack accompanying images.

There is a sense of crisis in the air. My own life is in a state of disrepair, the details of which are not currently MI-related but may be partially or tangentially caused by such issues and definitely have major MI-related ramifications. Further, a member of this forum has been wiped from the online map for reasons unknown to me (does anyone know what happened or how jt — aka bipolartude — is doing?) and another is currently hospitalized.

The questions I’d like to post now surround moments of crisis. How do you deal? What are your go-to coping mechanisms? To what extent do you rely on your medical care providers? To what extent do you rely on your personal support systems? To what extent do you feel able to rely on yourself?

Regarding the nature of such crises, I acknowledge that I’ve been intentionally vague. I am not specifying a difference between psychiatric crises and general life crises. This is partially because I am not convinced they are hugely different. While they are surely different in content and surely different in manifestation, I suspect the truth is that they share a great deal of overlap: the stress included, the stress induced, the often felt inability to control a situation, the sometimes felt need to ride it out, those on whom we rely for support…the list goes on. That’s, at least, my suspicion. So, last questions: Is there a difference between general life crises and mental health-related crises? What might that difference be? Does that difference affect how you cope?

Further, I think these questions may also directly involve a few sent to me by forum member Meredith a while back. She asks,

How do you take care of yourself, especially when you can see the future closing in on you with triggers galore? Do you take care of yourself? How often do you take care of yourself? Do you put it off? Do you just take care of yourself short-term or do you make moves to do it long-term (like exercising regularly)?

A little while back, I got this Community Contribution from Bipolartude (jt). As his opening paragraph says, money is a difficult subject. I want to commend jt for openly sharing and bringing up this topic. We’ve talked about work and jobs and professional aspirations, but never come right out and talked about money. And let’s be serious: Mental health care is expensive, and mental illness can affect one’s ability to bring in the cash to pay for that care. In addition to asking the hard question, jt has also graciously provided his answers to the posed questions to start off the discussion. I will be posting his response in the comments.

I know that finances are a hard thing to talk about openly with others, especially in American culture. I imagine some of us would sooner disclose being institutionalized then how we “make ends meet.” I wonder, though, how we all function when money is critical to managing and coping with stressors and triggers for MI.

How do you function financially? Do you have a job? If so, what kind (e.g., work from home, part-time, etc.)? If you don’t have a job, where does your source of income come from? How long have you been without a job (or if you have a job now, in anytime in your experience)? Are you or have you been on Unemployment Insurance (UI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)?

As a follow-up and reminder, I wanted to let everyone know that I’ve devoted a section of Define Functioning’s Mental Health Awareness Month book project to mental health care and its costs. If thoughts or contributions arise from this discussion, please pop back to that topic and share! (The book is coming along great, by the way. Can’t wait to share it with you all.)

what happens when left to my own illustrative devices

A new Community Contribution from Freed on striking a balance between what we’ve become very good at out of necessity, who we are, how we see and have seen ourselves, and fulfilling all those different potentials we have. Thanks, Freed, for bringing these questions to the forum. I can’t begin here to describe the extent to which I can identify with what you have described. My responses will be in the comments with everyone else’s.

So one of the things that has given me the most challenge to the idea of functioning is the career shift and/or complete reenvisioning of a career in response to a more complete understanding of my MI. As I think many of us do, I gravitated toward a career which capitalized on my most highly developed compensation patterns in order for me to be highly successful. Of course, this makes sense in retrospect, they are the defenses I made sure were the strongest throughout my life in order to preserve my appearance to the outside world as High Functioning. The more that they were rewarded in my career, the higher I climbed but (here’s the double-edged sword) the more I relied on them in my career the less I was able to hold the entire fabric of my functioning together. Hence, my breakdown.

Post-breakdown one thing has been clear: My career aspirations must be deconstructed and then reconstructed in order for me to succeed as a mentally stable AND professionally capable person. Has anyone else had to turn their back on a professional vision of themselves? I experience it as both exhilarating (because I am finding a better, more fulfilling fit) and grief-filled (because I mourn the loss of my former self image). Does anyone else know this teeter-totter? I am still very much in the midst of the reconstructing and I would love to hear from the forum about some of the strategies, experiences, or advice that you have for this sometimes painful, sometimes gratifying experience.