Oh, and it is a life story, too. I realized as I thought about where to start that I didn't know where the beginning *was*. Some people go crazy at the beginning of college, and that's that; I decided that the only beginning I could be sure of was my birth. So that is where I started. As you will see.
ETA: God in heaven, this feels so self-indulgent. And... whiny! God, is this how all the rest of you felt about posting about this stuff? I bet your entries wouldn't have been ten years long though. I don't even know what the point of posting this was. Hmm.
You could probably start the story of my mental problems at birth, actually. Literally. I was apparently a horribly difficult birth, a full-face presentation, and the doctor somehow didn't realize that I couldn't be delivered vaginally. So he waited until my mom's blood pressure dropped way down and my heart stopped, or something, and then he sliced my mom open with what she describes as "a pair of gardening shears". And went in with forceps. I came out horribly bruised and battered and dented by forceps to boot. I've heard various theories on the ways in which this may have affected my brain, and who cares, really? Until they invent time machines, there's not much to do about it now.
Anyway, despite this I was apparently a very happy and well-adjusted kid through my earliest years... taught myself to read through Sesame Street and was reading books by the time I was three, socially adept (imagine!), so on and so forth. Then, at age four, I had a grand mal seizure, which no one has adequately explained yet. They theorized it had something to do with the chemicals off the cranberry bog near our summer cottage, but who knows. Either way, it was scary as hell, and is one of my first memories. I was blind for a little while and partially paralyzed for a little longer than that. I had a few more petit mal seizures in the years following, nothing major, but what really screwed with me were the medications. They put me on phenobarbital at first - I know nothing about this drug's general effects and I'm not bothering to research it now, but it completely messed with my head. I was completely disoriented, couldn't focus, got words mixed up (not something I ever did before), was so spatially disoriented that I was walking into walls. My mom says this is when all my social problems descended, abruptly and severely - it wasn't helped by the fact that I was too unsteady on my feet to play with the other kids outside, but I'd also had a really big loss of confidence that she says I never fully regained. I doubt it was really that simple, in the end; I think I would always have been somewhat socially inept as I grew up and kids got a little more judgmental of other kids outside the norm, which I'm sure I always would have been. But I do know it didn't help. I remember sitting at the window and crying as I watched the other kids playing. And I remember getting up, and trying to walk across the room, and stumbling and wavering and having to sit down.
Later that same year I went to kindergarten, a year early. They took me off the phenobarbital eventually and put me on Tegretol, which was much better, and it was agreed that I was just too damn bored sitting at home. The problem with my going to kindergarten was that while I was really far ahead of the other kids in a number of respects - I was the only kid in my class who went into kindergarten reading, and, in fact, when the teacher wanted a break she'd have me read picture books to the class - and way behind in others. While I'd learned to talk, read, etc. at an early age, I was always behind other kids in motor skills, and fine motor skills seemed to be beyond me. My teacher had little patience with me, stating that a kid who could teach herself to read could certainly teach herself to button her shirt, tie her shoes, and zipper her jacket. She blamed both me and my mother for the fact that I couldn't do these things, but I really couldn't. I also couldn't tell time on an analog clock, and no matter how many times and ways people tried to teach me, I did not learn until eighth or ninth grade. A lot of my teachers assumed I was lazy and/or stubborn. I assumed it too, after awhile.
The next year I went to first grade and that was worse, in so many ways. I had ADD, which would not be diagnosed until sixth grade; sitting in class and trying to pay attention was terribly difficult for me. My only destressing mechanism was to read, so I tended to slip a book under the desk when I felt that I could not handle the school setting one second longer. This got me in trouble a fair amount. I also got teased a lot - I don't remember when it started, but it was early on - because there was just something different about me, and everyone could see what it was except for me. I had one close friend in first grade, but it became clear by second grade that she couldn't be friends with me and be friends with the popular crowd as well, so she picked the popular crowd and I was history, more or less.
School stress grew over the years, and I don't really have words to adequately describe it. People are probably thinking "dude, you had ADD. Lots of kids have ADD. Whatever," but it was just bad. I always felt like there was something wrong with me, that I was stupid and stubborn, that I should be able to do the things I couldn't do. I'm sure I was depressed as well. By third grade, it had gotten bad enough that I tried to jump out my second-floor bedroom window onto the cement below. I didn't have a lock to my door, so my father was able to catch me and pull me out, but it was too close a call for them. My parents nailed my bedroom window shut after that. I suffered through the next five summers in stifling heat.
All these years I'd been going to a variety of doctors. None of them made any sense. One of them said that I was a kid of average intelligence who was under tremendous stress because her parents were pushing her too hard to succeed; another said that I was brilliant and my parents weren't pushing me hard enough. They went on and on, an unremarkable stream of them, reduced to first names in my memory: Richard, Tony, Judy, Martha. Each of their diagnoses made my parents shake their heads and look for someone else.
In sixth grade I was officially diagnosed with ADD. They put me on Ritalin. That helped. A *lot*. Suddenly the world made sense; things started to cohere and look the way I imagined they did to other people. I'm painting it as a more drastic change than it seemed at the time, but in retrospect, it's as though a fog lifted. I went from being an A, B, and C student to being an all-A student who had the highest grades in her class. This was also the year that I transferred to Boston Latin School, the big exam public school in Boston.
The Ritalin wasn't without a price, though. It suppressed my appetite almost entirely - I was hardly eating anything in those years, especially in high school. At BLS, I worked hard because I didn't know what else to do. I know I was quite depressed, but it was the sort of depression where I just sort of slogged my way through an endless series of gray days because there wasn't anything else to do. I had a lot of anxiety issues in high school, but no one noticed much because I had so few friends. In seventh grade I fell into a clique, who basically accepted me because I rode the same bus they did. After awhile they decided they didn't like me anymore and started slinging their bags onto the seats around them when they saw me get on the bus, so I couldn't sit anywhere near them. It doesn't take too many experiences like that to convince you it's simpler not to bother with friends. I had books. Books were plenty.
Eleventh grade was when it really started to get funky. Up to now, none of this sounds like anything particularly noteworthy, and it's probably not. In eleventh grade, though, new stuff started coming up. I started being accosted by waves of self-loathing so intense and acute that I'd wander around muttering aloud, "shut up shut up shut up shut up shut up," because my brain was telling me such horrible things about myself and I just wanted it to stop. Then, near the end of eleventh grade, I had a bunch of finals and papers lined up, and my life went to hell. I had what I can only describe as a week-long panic attack. For a solid week I cried and hyperventilated and paced around the house endlessly, full of so much self-hatred I literally could not think straight. I'd look at a textbook and go completely hysterical all over again. Couldn't sleep, couldn't eat - I lost seven pounds in a week, which put me under 100 pounds at that point. My mom took me to a psychiatrist, who put me on Zoloft but not, amazingly, Valium or anything of the sort. She did give me a sleeping pill, but it was Klonopin, which takes two hours to work and leaves you (well, me) sluggish and stupid for twenty-four. Looking back on it, I absolutely cannot fathom why she didn't give me Valium, or Ativan, or something. That was probably the worst week I've ever had.
But eventually it passed; I took some finals in the middle of the panic attack (I call it one because it really did not relent for a solid week), a few of them came later, and then there were AP exams, but those were actually easier than the finals and papers I had for school. I kept on taking the Zoloft. It helped, too. Senior year of high school was a really, really good year.
I went to Harvard because I didn't want to go to any college - I wanted to stay in high school - and since I didn't want to go to college I didn't care where I went, and since everyone else cared like hell and was desperate for me to go to Harvard, well, there you go. The first year I remember as being completely otherworldly. I holed up in my room with my computer and only came out when I had to turn in papers or go to class. Blah blah blah, there's more to that story but I won't tell it in this context. Basically, what happened: near the end of the year I had what I termed a "religious epiphany". I don't remember what kicked it off, or if anything did. I just remember that suddenly the entire universe made sense. I knew there was a God and I knew that he loved me and I knew that he was speaking to me in every single detail of my life. There was... oh, God, I could tell you everything I thought at that point and it wouldn't matter because it would make no sense. Certain things stand out. I went to a writing class, not having slept in three days, and babbled on at such length about the way that Jane Austen's work "spirals around itself" (I couldn't tell you what that meant at this point, which is probably because it didn't mean anything) that the teacher took me aside after class and tried to see if I was on drugs. She then called my RA, who took me aside and blinked when I explained about the religious epiphany. I remember belting out Republica's "Ready To Go" at the top of my lungs in my dorm basement at three in the morning... again, don't ask. I went to a formal dance with a guy who had had a huge crush on me and danced like such a lunatic that he became terrified of me and never talked to me again. This was okay by me, as it opened the way for me to wander over to a cute guy in my English class (I wasn't out at this point) and ask him if his roommate was his gay lover. To ask the roommate, actually, whom I'd never met before. I... aargh.
Aaanyway. The crazy went on, and eventually it stopped, and after it stopped I barely got out of bed for a week. Which was not good, as that was the week before finals. I did manage, by what heroic efforts I cannot possibly convey, to write one paper. It sucked, but it was six pages and she had asked for six pages. This was the professor who had taken me aside after class when I'd started going on about Jane Austen spiraling. I think she cut me some slack.
That whole summer I tried to convince myself I was not manic-depressive. Whatever else I was, I was not manic-depressive. I kept repeating it over and over. It was a religious epiphany. It was, really. A religious epiphany. I wasn't crazy, dammit.
I was supposed to be working from home that summer, writing Spark Notes on children's literature. I did two Spark Notes - Bridge to Terabithia and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe - and then became obsessed with the television show Frasier and stopped doing anything else. Literally. Fandom obsession, since then, has always been what I turn to when things get rough; I'll always be a fangirl, but it takes over my life when I'm running from something. The Frasier addiction interfered with my life as much as any mental illness ever has. I spent all my time writing huge long angsty fanfics (Frasier angstfics are a sight to behold); I wrote a 300-page epic in three weeks and stopped doing anything else. I had dozens and dozens of tapes, all labeled by episode with timestamps and markers for relevant scenes. And through it all, I was notcrazynotcrazynotbipolarnotcrazynotcra
The following fall I went crazy again. This time, I knew what it was, there was no way around it, and that posed a new problem, because I had decided that knowing what it was, I had to control it. I couldn't sleep, so I made myself lie down and I made myself close my eyes and I put on a blindfold and tried every home insomnia remedy known to mankind. Still didn't sleep, of course. This time around I was rapid-cycling between the euphoria of mania and the anxiety of the fact that I couldn't control it. Eventually my parents brought me to the emergency room. They left me in a bare room alone for 45 minutes, by the end of which time I was climbing the walls - you do not do that to a manic patient. Then they asked a few cursory questions and sent me off to a locked ward. The ward was horribly understaffed and catered primarily to the old and senile. They took away all my possessions and never had the time to go through them for sharps and give them back to me, so I had nothing to do. I couldn't even try to sleep because they shone lights in my eyes every half hour, doing checks. They gave me no medication. The guy next door had to have his diaper changed every six hours or so, and hee was terrified; he screamed like that guy in Gone with the Wind having his leg amputated in the Atlanta hospital. My roommate was an old woman who talked to herself senselessly all night and hacked up green phlegm constantly. I was terrified and terrified and terrified and oh so alone. It was really, really bad.
The next day my parents got me out of there, thank God. I hadn't made a suicide attempt, so there was no mandatory three-day stay. They found me a doctor, whom I believe in retrospect to be incompetent, but he knew enough to put me on meds. Specifically, he took me off the Zoloft, which can cause mania, and put me on lithium and Zyprexa. The lithium controlled my moods and made me cold. The Zyprexa made me fat and turned me into a total zombie. For the next six months I had no facial expressions, I am told. I don't even remember much from that time. I just... existed, a shell of a person. I cried all the time, and I do mean all the time. I thought about suicide constantly. And yet the doctors wouldn't change my meds, because I wasn't manic. That was what they cared about, that I wasn't manic.
So I just went on like that, suicidal, eating and eating and eating because I was always hungry and because at least food was *something*. There was a taste to food. Sometimes that seemed like the only one of my senses that worked. Eventually, I stopped going to classes entirely. I was falling deeper and deeper into fandom, so my days basically went like this: I would sleep all day, and then get up when all my classes were safely over and tell myself I was going to start doing some of the work I needed to do to catch up. Instead, I would write fanfic and chat with the friends I had met through the Frasier fandom online. Since they were in differing time zones, I could chat and write until 6 am, when the last of them went to bed. I would go to bed then too, and sleep through the day. Then I'd get up at 8 pm and do it all over again.
Eventually it all came crashing down, and I realized that I was either going to have to drop out of school or... So I sat at my desk for about a half an hour staring at my hand, clutching as many pills as I could hold. I started to bring them to my mouth, and then I started sobbing uncontrollably and ran to the bathroom and flushed them down the toilet. Then I called a suicide hotline. And then I dropped out of school.
I tried going back home, but I was too depressed to do anything. My parents arranged for me to go into an outpatient therapy program at the hospital. It was helpful. The program was competently run, and it gave structure to my days. But it made me think about things I didn't want to think about, and without the anesthetic of constant sleep and fandom obsession the mania started to rise up again, even though I was still on the lithium. By then I knew the deal well enough to know what was happening, and I blurted it all out to one of the therapists, crying. She was very calm, and told me it would be okay, and started working on the paperwork to have me admitted as an inpatient, which happened a few hours later. When I got to my room on the inpatient ward, there were a few things waiting on my bed: a Scrabble set and a copy of Bird By Bird, Anne Lamott's memoir about writing. She knew I liked Scrabble and that I was a writer, and she wanted me to feel more at home. I've never forgotten that.
The difference between this ward and the previous one was night and day. I was the youngest of the patients, but they weren't all elderly and senile. They had therapy groups that ran all day long, which they encouraged you to attend unless you felt it would overwhelm you. I met some amazing people there, people I'd like to update about another time, really. It's kind of incredible and almost humbling to see human beings stripped to raw essentials that way - it's like the patina of "good social behavior" had been stripped away, and these people may have been crazy but they were real. So real. You get very close to people very fast in a psych ward. And once I was out of the outside world, in a safe place, I didn't feel the same pressure I had felt before to control it. I was manic, and everyone there knew I was manic, and it was okay. We'd have group therapy where we'd read poetry and I'd give huge long interpretations and everyone said they were really insightful and that I should be a professor. (I think they probably were kind of insightful, just long-winded... I was in better shape than I had been the week that Jane Austen was spiraling.) I played a lot of Scrabble with one of the nurses. She was a fairly competitive player and assumed she'd beat me easily. After the first game she didn't assume that again. I spent hours and hours at the arts and crafts table and made endless little wooden jewelry boxes. I mixed the paint shades for everyone else on the ward - the paint shades they gave us were horrid, maroon and turquoise and lime green and the like. I mixed pretty colors, which everyone used, and everyone complimented me, and I was really happy. Uh, yeah, I was manic. But it was okay, there.
They discharged me when I was just getting over the mania, which meant I had to contend with the depressive swing at home, but that was all they could do - insurance doesn't pay for long stays. This, though, was when I caught my second big break in as many weeks - I found a really good therapist. A really good therapist. I'm sure y'all have noted how often I invoke Marcia on this journal; she's great. Smart and witty and down-to-earth and blunt as hell. We click really well, and it sounds cliche to say I don't know where I'd be without her, but, seriously, she was the help I needed when I needed it. She's also a nurse practitioner, which means she can both do talk therapy and prescribe medication. I went through I don't know how many medications in the course of several years - upwards of twenty different meds, I would estimate, and up to five at one time - but we found what worked for me, in the end. And I started to get better.
Of course the next few years were rough. I had to go back to school, and I was terrified to; for awhile I was back in the place where I'd throw up if I looked at a textbook, but, you know what, eventually I had to throw up and then go back to the computer and cry and type and cry and throw up and cry and type. It got easier over time. Marcia could step in with meds when needed, too. School was really pretty damn rough for me, especially since I was in a difficult relationship for my last year at school and that made it harder to concentrate on schoolwork. But I graduated eventually. And now I'm here.
One thing I didn't write about in here is my diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome. This is part conscious decision and part me being sick of writing about this stuff. Basically, I have a "non-verbal learning disability" that explains why I couldn't do many of the things I couldn't do when I was younger, and that affects my social interactions, and that makes me bad at math but good at English. It's a long story, and frankly, I'm not sure it fits under the umbrella of "mental illness" anyway.
But those are the basics. I was crazy. Now I'm... well, I'm still manic-depressive. If I went off my meds I'd still be all kinds of fucked up. The Asperger's is never going to go away, and I'm always going to be just a little bit weird, a little bit offbeat. And I still have enormous difficulty figuring what direction my life is going in, should go in, whatever.
But it's mostly in the past. And a lot of y'all didn't even know about this. So I must be doing something right. I guess.