Thursday, August 27, 2009


In the last few days I've had news from two friends - one an old friend who has been supportive of me for all the years I've known him; another a new, Interwebs friend. Both have recently spent time in psychiatric care of one sort or another - hospitalized for a few days.

I'll call them "OF" and "NF" - again, I won't abuse anyone's privacy on this blog.

OF taught me years ago to play my mental health cards very close to the chest - or, to be fair, I thought that's what he was teaching me; I may have got the message completely scrambled. But that's the lesson I learned, and one I have followed, with one exception (which I quickly regretted.)

NF simply announced, on the net board where his true name is known, that he'd been in a hospital for psychiatric treatment for nine days and he was glad to be home.

I was really quite surprised at his honesty. And he was well received, with comments about openness and trust and honesty, all of which were well deserved, and then a comment that openness "is the only way to go."

All of which I watched from deep in my own little Narnia, in my little mental-health closet, which seemed awfully small suddenly. It made me think about my own situation - some of that thinking healthy, some of it less so.

For example: as I read the conversations between NF and other members, I bent them a bit and reacted as though they were about me. That is, NF is brave and honest and open and therefore Julia is cowardly and dishonest and sneaky. Amazing how quickly the warped thinking comes back, isn't it? I finally convinced myself that the conversation was about NF, not me, and that just about everyone I know would understand my unwillingness to open the door of my closet.

It's also true that NF worked for himself for many years, and would be only too happy to do so again. I work for an employer, who would most likely not fire me if my history were known, but would certainly not trust me in the way I am currently trusted. And my field is a fairly incestuous one; word would get around unofficially, very fast, and my future earnings could be compromised. As a single woman of almost 50, I have only my own earnings to rely on. I'm not willing to put those at risk. So, although I found myself NF's ability to speak openly about his experiences, I'm glad I've never taken that step, and I'm happy for the lessons learned from OF - whether he taught them to me or not.

I also had to spend a bit of time thinking about the phrase "mentally ill." I will freely admit that I tend to avoid that phrase; for me it conjures up hearing voices and having a very slim relationship to reality - in short, people much sicker than I ever was (she says, praying that it was always true.)

I tend to think of myself as mentally healthy - as someone who was mentally ill, is now mentally healthy, will stay healthy as long as I take my medication, and will be mentally ill again if I stop. Even at that, I don't like the phrase "mentally ill." (Well, who does?) It just carries way too much baggage. While I don't mind choosing to stay in the mental-health closet, labeling it the mental-illness closet just seems to lock that door from the other side. I've never been hospitalized, and I want always to be in control of that lock.

Until society - more importantly, employers - have a better attitude about things, I'll just call it a salt deficiency. Lithium is made from lithium chloride, after all, and I wouldn't have to take it if I wasn't short of it, right?

Cowardly, maybe. Dishonest? I prefer "private." But I've been stable for 12 years, I'm still paying the rent, and I'm still putting money in the retirement account, and I'm not willing to give that up because other people are still hung up about words like "bipolar."

As for my old and new friends - I wish the best of health to them both, for a very long time to come.

No comments:

Post a Comment