Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Jim and Death

The mechanic heard the noise my husband and I complained of when he drove the car into the shop. Thank goodness. You don't want the mechanic thinking that the noise you are complaining about is a figment of your imagination. He showed me two bolts, one on either side of the car. One bolt was rusty, the other was not. The rusty bolt had rust coming out of the inside of it, meaning that it was probably rusted clear through. The mechanic suspects, though he cannot promise, that rusted bolt is the cause of the noise. The rest of the car on that side seems tight. This rusty bolt, if it comes off while you are driving, is very dangerous. It will cause the whole wheel to come off. So when he offered to fix it, not promising that he had absolutely found the cause of the noise, worrying that I would angrily come after him if the bumping noise continued, I said yes, replace the bolt. I like to drive a safe car.

My therapist Jim says that when I want to die, something inside of me wants to die. He says that feeling suicidal, is a reaction to when a part of my psyche, the inside me, needs to go through a death and then a rebirth. So thinking about suicide, is like taking a metaphor of the mind, too literally. When I hurt there is no need to kill myself, only, a need for some part of me inside to die and then be reborn. According to Jim people go through deaths and rebirths often - sometimes everyday - I suppose it is how people grow and change.

I said that I could understand hating my illness so much that I wanted to kill it. In the process of killing my illness I got caught up with killing my body. I do fight mental illness. Perhaps the fight has gone on for long enough.

I said to Jim that my mental illness is a part of me, so it does feel wrong (in a soul searching, sensitive moment) to hate that which is a part of me. It is like instigating warfare against the self. It is exhausting and self-defeating. You only end up wounded.

The idea to fight mental illness came from somewhere. It came from the psychiatric professionals I worked with in my first hospitalization who hated psychosis and hated depression and hated anything that deviated from the norm. They, and I, hated anything that prevented me from returning to the life I had before the onset of my illness. Mental illness is the enemy, I have never viewed it as any different from that.

I think that the mental health professionals wanted me galvanized and motivated. I know for a fact that for a while they said that I was choosing to be mentally ill as a ploy against taking responsibility for being an adult. They said I wanted to stay sick and dependent and a child. After a while, when I remained sick, they gave up on me and predicted only that I would be able to buy groceries for myself and cook my own meals. The change of plans they had for me was drastic. I was young and impressionable and listened to them. I despaired greatly for what the illness was doing to me. The mental illness was causing all my dreams and hopes to go down the drain. I glamorized being normal. I glamorized not having a mental illness. The fact was that I had become institutionalized. Too much hospitalization is not a good thing. I realized this once I started working at the art museum. I was more free, more myself, saner, happier, and competent, in my job.

When I am catatonic, and cannot move, my fury against my illness is all that I can feel. My fury against being powerless and having a brain that malfunctions leads easily into thoughts of killing myself. Rarely is suicide not accompanied by feelings of utter contempt, of total self-hatred. I hate my illness so much that nothing else matters but the hatred. And the illness. So much about life is completely forgotten and disregarded when you are suicidal.

I am not normal. I have normal ethics, normal emotions, and normal ways of interacting with other people. But I lose energy early, am fragile, and have periods of time, when to preserve myself, I have to disassociate a little from reality. I wonder what it would be like to accept this version of me. A gentler, less impressive, less effective, smaller person than I was before the onset of my illness. It would probably be a big relief.

What is most frustrating about being mentally ill is not being able to earn any money. Without much money, I find that there is uncertainty about the future. Having money makes you feel like you can meet any challenge and over come them. Not having much money makes you feel like you are a child of fate - adrift in a boat, destined to rock with the waves of the ocean - never quite being in control, always doomed to make the difficult decisions in a way that you can't be happy with.

The funny thing is, the difficult decisions haven't yet arrived. We have a car that has 56,000 miles on it and we don't drive it much. I have all my teeth and none of them hurt. I have my physical health and am working on becoming even more physically healthy. Today there is money in the bank to cover the costs of fixing the car. Hopefully this fix is a fix that will solve the problem. I have a long standing job to do tomorrow (return to work on my book) and a dog and two cats that fill the house with love and affection. I have a husband who is a best friend. A husband who, my sister says, adores me. My husband is good at his job and his boss knows it. The company he works for seems to be weathering the recession pretty well. We live in an apartment that is ours for the rest of my life. It is not quite the same as owning your own house, with all the mortgage paid off, but it is close to it. As long as I pay the rent, my mom won't kick me out. My parents love me and do not show any signs of wishing that I had turned out as a different kind of person than who I am. My brother and sister always treat me with the utmost respect. You kind of get used to this being the eldest. Being the eldest is a position in life that never goes away. And what is best of all, what I am currently very happy about, is that I haven't felt suicidal for over a month and a half.

Ever see the tee-shirt with the slogan, "Life is good"? This is how I feel. I was able to go to sleep at an early hour (quarter of 9) so that waking at 7am wasn't too difficult. I was able to arrive at the mechanic's at 8, talk to the mechanic without anxiety, and walk home. I waited for the phone call that the car was ready and typed this essay. I then walked again to the mechanic to pick up my car. On the ride home I heard not a thump or a bump from under the car. I believe fully that the problem is fixed. Since this is our only car, having it in good working order is necessary for peace of mind. We do not have so many friends that we can call to help us if we are in trouble. We must be self-reliant.

I have to believe that accomplishing this small chore of fixing the car is a great achievement. In my small life, it was needful and worrisome. For some other people it would be no big thing. But I can't imagine my life in terms of what it would mean for other people. I have to think about what things mean in terms of myself and my capabilities. I have to live at my own speed. I have to listen to the beat of my own drummer. The rhythm of my life is not the rhythm of other people's lives. On my terms, I was successful. And so, at this moment, I can honestly say, "Life is good."

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