From Fear to Feasibility
I was asked to write about coping with my mental “illness.” For that purpose I need point out that I can’t always separate “dysfunction” from “disease.” I’ll have to write about both.
My father had a violent temper and my mother was a ‘malignant narcissist.’ My sister was beaten daily for being born with a birth defect and I hid in the closet. Fear kept me captive most of my life. We were told what we couldn’t do, and how we were a burden. Mother often told us “Don’t you ever have children or you’ll regret it, like I did.”
In 1982 my husband of ten years left me. I was forced to make some changes in my life. I went to seminars, workshops, and even had one good therapist for a few months until she, too, left. I put a lot of knowledge in my head, yet felt immense mental anguish.
Classic bipolar mood swings began in the early 1980’s. I’d lie in bed for weeks then I couldn’t stop racing in circles for 4 or 5 days. I had a phone number I found in a newspaper and I’d pick up the phone, dial 6 digits, and hang up. Eventually, I found my way to Recovery, Inc. meetings. With their tools, I reduced the symptoms to a manageable level and went on with my life several more years without medication.
In many people’s view I was successful. I finished college completely on my own, and went to work in the mental health field. I had the most incredible work environment. When I had problems, my supervisor told me to go into the hospital and report back for work when the doctors said I was stable.
The hospital experience was a nightmare. Summer in Florida and no air conditioning, no windows that opened, smokers everywhere, bathrooms broken and feces smeared on the walls. The only night I slept was the night they restrained me and gave me a shot of Haldol and Ativan. In those days it took 28 days to treat you, if you had insurance. I stayed home another 2 weeks to catch up with sleep, then returned to work. That was the only full-time job I kept more than the length of a school year.
Under supervision, I was billing as a therapist. I was a good listener, but never once thought to express my needs or wants to anyone. The job had been paying barely minimum wage, with the expectation of licensure and better pay after 5 years. But, the state didn’t accept my supervision because my degree didn’t match my supervisor’s. I moved to New Mexico seeking greener pastures.
The move started the pendulum swinging again. It took years to get my mood stabilized. Eventually, I began receiving social security disability.
In New Mexico I was active with AMI-NM, president of the Consumer Council, and director of the Mental Health Association in Las Vegas, the location of the only state hospital. I was also on committees in Santa Fe with the Department of Health, Division of Mental Health. I’d have done fine, but I found myself in another dysfunctional relationship. Again, I lost myself. I was no longer Connie the professional; I was Connie Jean the wounded child.
I’ve been homeless, afraid, almost frozen to death since then. I ended up in western North Carolina where I managed to get housing with HUD assistance and started to get my life together. I founded SEASCAT, which stands for Supportive Environment for Adult Survivors of Child Abuse and Trauma. I thought it was for my ex who was a dissociative identity disorder, but it’s more. I got back into another relationship much like my last one at about the time my mother suffered a stroke and needed me to be her caretaker.
When I hit bottom this time, I found Co-Dependents Anonymous and, finally, a therapist who took Medicare with a very small co-pay. It’s been work, but the puzzle is finally coming together. I had the pieces, as I’d gathered them a few at a time over the past 30 years.
I have a God of my understanding and gratitude. I find peace working in my plots at the community garden, and in listening to contemporary Christian music. No longer do my actions come from a place of fear and anger. The life I knew is finally over, and a life of hope has begun.