Monthly Archives: February 2009

What price mental health? part I

I’ve decided to publish this article in most-likely-three parts, after seeing how long just the preamble was, then how much length the now-lost (thanks, iPhone) second part added to it, and knowing how much I wanted to talk about in the final section. The overall piece is on the literal and figurative costs of bipolar disorder: getting to sanity, staying sane while parenting, and raising a child with a high likelihood of inheriting the tendency. Part one is the preamble, which gives a glimpse of my history and offers some of my perspective on recovering from and living with this disease.

As previously mentioned, I have a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder Type II, Rapid Cycling, with Mixed States. There are lots of other places that talk about mental health and emotional disorders and bipolar disease, although if you hang around here long enough you’ll doubtless get a good picture of what it’s been like for me (since it’s a different experience for everyone; just in my immediate family, there are three of us with more or less the “same” disease, and three vastly different experiences). But what you really need to know to understand my story is:

  • Psychotropic medicines suck. They are a kind of bandage: sometimes they are a well-placed Ace bandage over a sprained ankle, which is great and effective; sometimes they’re a dirty wad of guaze over an arterial hemorrhage, which is not not so great but might be better than nothing; and sometimes they’re the Disney (R) Princess (TM) Bandaid (TM) that gets lodged in your throat and on which you choke to death, which is, y’know, bad. For me they were probably dirty guaze: they kept me, barely, from bleeding to death, but gave me a raging infection to struggle with as well (if you will excuse the overextended metaphor).
  • Bipolar disorder sucks worse. Mixed state, which I basically lived in for several years, especially sucks horrifically gawdawfully bad; think of it as high energy self-hatred. You know, the self-loathing of depression but with the energy to actually do something about it. This aspect of this disease is not only not enjoyable, it is highly lethal, with suicide attempts (already ridiculously high in the bipolar population) being even more likely in those with mixed states, and possibly more “successful”.
  • Bipolar disorder is a highly complicated disease, with biological and psychological and environmental components (as though the three can ever be separated); it is, however, fundamentally a disease, like diabetes, or fibromyalgia, and deserves no more or less infamy or stigma or survivor-blame than any other disease, which is to say none at all. I think we’d all appreciate it if you understood The Spoon Theory, but we are, basically, just plain persons, just like you. It is not catching; you do not need to avoid us like the plague, or as though we were beset by demons.
  • And yet, I get why people with mental illness used to be (and in some areas still are) considered possessed. I do feel at times like the disease is an It, a thing with a life and a mind of its own, and what it wants more than anything else in the world is for me to be sick, so it can be strong. Feeling inhabited by a dark, inimical Other that would, if its will be done, bring about your destruction is a curse I would not wish on anyone.
  • At the same time, bipolar is part of my identity. It is a part of the indefinable me. I would not choose to not be born, or to be born without it. (I would not be me if I had been born without it.) I obviously did not choose to avoid having children to avoid passing it on, as some psychiatrists have infamously advocated, and the thought of a genetic test with its resultant “therapeutic” abortion for fetuses carrying the genes horrifies me. I don’t romanticize the disorder, but nor would I rid humanity of it even if I could; if the problem is in part that we are at risk for premature death, then it is the world that must change so that we can survive, not we who must be made not to exist in the first place.
  • Being a rapid cycler with mixed states, I don’t think (much) in terms of “up” or “down”, I think in terms of being stable or not. I never knew stability in my adult life; I went straight from childhood to adolescence and instability, with the instability growing ever stronger even as the wild hormonal ride of adolescence receded. Truly it could be said that I did not know who “I” was. Struggling toward sanity was searching by feel in the darkness for something I had never known and had only the vaguest descriptions of from others. When one has never known normalcy, how does one know whether one has it? When every mood swing has been a potential disaster, a symptom of illness, how does one know what a “normal” or “healthy” range of mood feels like? When each change of mood brings anxiety over what it might foreshadow based on what it’s brought in the past, how does one settle into the contentedness of now?

The things it took to bring me from hell to now (not heaven, but the glorious mundanity of earth) were: talk therapy; psychotropic medications; massage therapy; acupuncture; lots and lots of fish oil; and lifestyle and thought pattern and dietary changes too numerous and subtle to list here (arguably the biggest and most important of those: regular and regulated sleep, which is one of the many reasons new parents whether biological or not are at risk for PPD and other postpartum disorders). It took several years, and a hell of a lot of work, and ultimately required moving across the country out of a psychic-black-hole cesspool of a house and to a city where my heart sang “Home!” to get to a real, lasting, joyful stability.

And it cost a lot of money.

cont. in part II

Say WHAT now?!

In the car, The Man had NPR on to entertain the Boychick whilst waiting for me to bring the pizza (drool) out. We drive off, too busy munching and avoiding downtown traffic to turn off the radio. There’s some interview going on about a “lunch lady” (yes, the reporter actually called her a “lunch lady”, which should have been my first clue) who took the job just to have something to do while her kids were at work, ended up staying to pay the bills, still here 15 years later, etc, yadda yadda. And then, says the announcer, it’s time for the part of her job where she calls up the moms that haven’t paid their children’s lunch bills*.

The moms.

The moms.

The fucking MOMS.

Excuse me? Excuse fucking me? Is this “lunch lady” living in the district of exclusively single mother (or two mother) households? Do not a one of their students have a father or two hanging around? (Being raised by grandparents or other relatives, perhaps?) No? So what the fuck is with calling the MOMS?

Oh I’m sorry, I seem to have temporarily forgotten that dads’ responsibility ends at ejaculation. Wait, no, we need them to pay the bills. Oh this was a bill? Oh right, we just need them to earn the money, but it’s up to the mothers to actually make sure the chil’ens are actually fed, because we can’t can’t expect dads to keep track of little things like the survival of their kids.

Did you perchance notice my ire on this topic? Why, you ask? It’s one word. Just one word. What’s the big deal?

It’s one word that carries with it the world of burden that sexist assumptions about parenting brings. It’s one word that says sure there may or may not be men in the picture, but it’s certainly not their job to keep track of lunch bills and permission slips and PTA meetings. It’s one word that tells women fine, you can get a job if you need to, but heaven forbid you ever share the responsibility of childrearing; no, unto you falls all the hassles of work AND keeping track of everything about your children; only men are allowed off work after 5, you just shift jobs. It’s one word that perfectly sums up the double standard of parenting, and it’s one word that makes radfem instructions to avoid procreation to avoid perpetuating patriarchy seem to make sense. It’s one word that if changed could change the world; it’s one word that will probably only be changed when the whole world changes first.

I didn’t hear the rest of the piece; my blood was boiling too loudly, and I snapped off the radio in self protection. The story actually had nothing to do with the calls to moms; that was just an aside, a fun little half-second bit to prop up the patriarchy and keep the wimmins in their place. Nothing, really. Just the dimminuization and essentialization of my entire self as woman with child. Just the erasure of my coparent’s existence and responsibility. The story moved on, even if I could not, stuck and struck as I was by how much misogyny just one little word could convey.

But hey, the pizza was good.

* For an excellent piece this reminded the tiny part of my brain that hadn’t just imploded at the word “moms” of, see Womanist Musings on If you’re poor in New Mexico.

A quick plug for a new forum

Friends of mine have recently launched Raise the Change, a website whose purpose I can wholeheartedly get behind:

Raise the Change is committed to respectful and open discussion about political and cultural topics that affect us as women, mothers and global citizens. Our worldview is liberal and progressive.

Although when I first saw just the name, I thought it was one of those “25c a day can send a girl to school for a year!” charities (get it? raising some change?), I quickly figured out it was a take on Ghandi’s famous dictum “You must be the change you want to see in the world”: as feminist women, we have the chance to raise the change we want to see in the world, which is exactly what I’m trying to do here at Raising My Boychick. They, however, propose to offer just what I lack: the dissemination, discussion, and dissection of the world-issues that create the stage on which we are trying to raise our own individual chicks. Same topics, different angle.

Plus, Bethany and Jessica rock my socks.

So go, check it out, join the forums, post some articles, bring some issues, hash them out. Help get the conversations started.

It’s all about the lunches

I have determined that my sanity as a parent and our ability to do the paid-work/care-for-kid split without the usual resulting disconect and resentment is due to lunches. Specifically, that The Man comes home for lunch every day, with rare, difficult exceptions (like today). He also has been known to go in late (er, sometimes really late), take long lunches, and views 5pm as his deadline for leaving the office; staying late means not getting out until 5:15, and happens maybe once a month.

But mostly, it’s the lunches. It’s the fact that I never have to face 8 or 9 uninterrupted hours by myself with the Boychick. It’s the fact that thanks to sleep schedules and naps, the Boychick is usually without his dad around for no more than half his waking day, often less. It’s the fact that if dinner needs prep work, we usually do it together at lunch. It’s that I do get a lunch break, during which I don’t have to deal with another’s feces, I can eliminate mine in peace, I can shower with the child on the other side of the door, and I get hugs and adult conversation and a sympathetic ear. It’s that sometimes, even, I can have lunch out without having sole responsibility for an always-potentially-cranky toddler. Lunches together make all the difference in the world, which is never so clear as when I find myself alone for lunch with no alternate plans and a roast to start and a loaf to shape and a toddler to save ffrom himself, such as today.

It is part luck that allows us this, and a heap of privilege as well to be sure, but it was also something worked for, chosen, deliberately and determinedly pursued. He guards his lunch jealously, and his evenings rigidly, and refuses travel that by rights his work could demand of him or release him for; and it costs him in networking and advancement and annual review points, but it gains him so much: his family, his lover’s sanity, his child’s delight. This, far far more than any earning potentially lost, is his responsibility and his right as a father. This is how men can work and sacrifice for the good of their family. Not 80 hour workweeks, but 5 hours of lunches. Just by coming home. Just lunch.

Readers’ choice!

So, since it looks like I’m only going to have a chance to do one good-sized post this crazy week, I thought I’d ask you, my loyal readers, which of my several potential topics you’d like me to write about next. There are many fermenting in my brain as we speak, and while I’d love to get to them all today (hah!), school and family and work and health obligations dictate only ONE must be chosen for now! So for your selection and control freak pleasure, which of these would you have me pick:

1) Breastfeeding and choice (a sort of follow up to my prochoice abortion post)
2) What price mental health?
3) Privilege and getting called out on -isms (a sort of response to a recent piece at Womanist Musings)
4) Passing for straight: parenting with a man as a queer-identified woman

So there you go. I guarantee that vote count will be fair and accurate and may have no relevence to the final outcome, and both welcome your alternate suggestions and reserve the right to get caught up in a totally different topic that simply Must Get Covered Now. But odds are good that my next post will be on whatever you, yes YOU, pick for me. So vote now!