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Sat Jan 5, 2013, 10:41 PM

I spent three weeks in a psychiatric treatment program, does that diminish me as a human being? [View all]

Our society tends to be less than kind to people viewed as "other" - we need only look to some of the sentiments which have been expressed over the years of our country's history about various groups, Native Americans and African Americans, members of the GLBT community, Hispanics, immigrants, Asian Americans, Arab Americans. By and large, these old attitudes, fortunately, have been abandoned to the dustheap of history where they belong.

However, there seems to be a great deal of misinformation about, and mistrust of, fellow citizens with mental health issues. The fact that a very small handful of disturbed individuals have committed tragic and sensational crimes has been used as an excuse to attempt to scapegoat people with mental health diagnoses on the part of some groups, infamously of late Wayne LaPierre's recent public display post-Newtown. Ironic, his public performance, demeanor, and affect left the good Mr. LaPierre looking very much like the "mentally disturbed" he was attempting to throw under the bus in order to justify his organization's hard line stance against any rational gun control policy.

But I didn't post this to discuss guns or massacres or the NRA. I would like to address the misperception that a mental illness diagnosis somehow means that a " normal" life worth living is beyond the realm of possibility for those afflicted.

I came into this situation, unexpectedly, at age 47. I have never been diagnosed with any type of mental illness before this, in fact, during a "family crisis" about 20 years ago, I actually went by choice for a one-hour evaluation with a psychiatrist, who found me to be quite "mentally fit", especially in light of my personal history. I came from a very dysfunctional and abusive home, and, as the only boy, I was the particular target of my abusive father's wrath. At a young age, I was exposed to and observed some significantly sexually deviant behavior by my father, later he became very abusive and violent towards me, in particular, as a teenager he would pin me down in the site if a loaded gun and berate and terrorize me. He was also extremely abusive to my mother, and I assumed the role of defender and protector to the bet of my ability, often intentionally antagonizing him so that he would turn his anger on me and away from her. And, I also suffered greatly from the lack of a worthwhile male role model, so I was doubly betrayed by someone who should have protected and nurtured me.

Despite this, I would like to think I turned out to be a "respectable member of society". I graduated at the top of my high school class. I have two bachelors degrees, one with a 4.0 gpa. I have held a full-time job of one form or other continuously since two days after I graduated from college the first time around in 1987. I have never used alcohol, tobacco, or illegal drugs, nor have I ever abused prescription drugs. My only two real addictive behaviors have been a major Coke problem -the kind that comes in a bottle from Atlanta, along with it's cohorts Pepsi and Mt. Dew, and my propensity to overspend on "luxuries" to the detriment of my long-term retirement savings, but even that has never been a dire situation, no bankruptcy, a great credit rating, just a lot of fun, but unnecessary, "stuff" - I guess rampant consumer consumption isn't the worst vice in the world, most of us fall for it at some point. I pay my bills, pay my taxes, cut the grass and shovel the snow, vote, go to the grocery store and catch up on laundry on weekends, pretty much do everything anyone else in this society does. A few years ago, when the economic crisis hit Michigan hard and first, I realized my career at that time was very vulnerable, so I went back to the local university and completed a paralegal program. I have been employed as a paralegal in the areas of probate, estate, and tax law going in the better part of five years now. I am the primary caregiver to my mother, who is 87 with congestive heart failure and on oxygen, which is stressful in and of itself.

So, yes, I was the last person, frankly, who I thought would have a mental health crisis that would lead me to treatment in a psychiatric program. But events did spiral out of my control this past summer, and that is what happened. I became very depressed over life situations, began having anxiety and panic attacks, vivid recollections of past painful events from my childhood, out of character behavior in the form of road rage, all of which lead me to conclude I needed some kind of professional assistance in dealing with all of this. And, suddenly, events turned on a dime one day in August. I was threatened by the boyfriend of one of my law firm's clients, a man who made a series of calls to me to tell me that he was going to "come down there and blow your fucking head off". That was exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time, when I was already worn down, and I "lost it" and dissolved into a mass of raw nerves, tears, panic, sleeplessness, and terror.

So, I made an appointment with a psychiatrist. And, I really didn't like what I was told, which was that I had bipolar II syndrome, and that my state if mind merited something more intensive than exclusively outpatient treatment.

So, in September, I attended three weeks, 14 days total, of a partial hospital program, aka "day hospital" m-f 9 to 3:30 with an hour off for lunch. It consisted of group therapy, education about various mental health issues, individual counseling, recreational therapy. There were roughly 10 to 12 patients at any one time, people rotated in and out.

I went into it terrified that it would be some version of "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest", that I would be drugged up, sat in a chair in the corner so " out of it" I barely knew my name and drooled on myself all day. The reality was far different. Staff was kind, compassionate, caring, and helped a lot. Some days were emotional and challenging, others rather soothing and calm on my frayed nerves. All of it was worthwhile. I didn't want to be there going into it, and in the end fought my insurance company to be authorized to extend from 10 to 14 days so I could feel some closure to the experience.

My life since then has changed dramatically for the better in many ways, and not at all in others. I still go to work, do the housework (well, if I'm not playing on DU all day, lol), walk the dog, the "regular" stuff, everything everyone else in middle class suburban America does.

But, I came away with a vastly different attitude. I have learned that I need to take care of myself, to allow myself to make mistakes without beating myself up about them, to not have to feel that every day is a race and every routine event a test of my worth. I learned a lot in the hospital program about coping with life in a healthy manner, and am applying it, quite well actually.

I have met some brave, amazing people who are, like me, living with and dealing with mental,health issues. Even at the hospital program, there was a big cross section if society in the patient pool - an ordained minister studying for his doctorate of divinity, an elementary school teacher, a bank loan officer trainer, a cop, an Army major who retired and became an executive in automotive supply, a young IT exec for GM, several college students, an elderly housewife, an exercise kinesiologist, and yours truly, a slightly battle-fatigued probate and tax paralegal. And, none if us is the next Charles Manson or Jared Loughner, just ordinary people who had hit a rough patch for various reasons and who needed a little outside support to get over the hump and get back to their ordinary lives.

I become very offended by people who lump everyone with any kind of mental health issue together with the handful of spree killers. There seems to be a perception that people with many mental health diagnoses are "violent and dangerous", which is patently untrue. Like the vast majority of others dealing with mental illness, I never had the remotest desire to hurt anyone else, not even my abusive father. Yes, I did "do something" about him in my 20's, but I did it the "right way" through legal channels with the help of an attorney who dealt with mental health and domestic violence issues. At my worst, yes, I admit, I could have killed myself, but I was only reacting to the situation in a short-term manner. The long-range view is much more positive. I take the mood stabilizer lamictal daily, which along with weekly therapy has helped a lot. My diagnosis is now in flux, I may have been initially misdiagnosed and may actually have PTSD instead of bipolar, I will find out more about that next week.

And frankly, if you met me on the street, or at work, or socially, you would NEVER know any of this unless I chose to tell you. I don't "act odd", I don't look "scruffy" or "dirty" considering I take at least two showers a day, wear suit and tie to work, have my hair cut regular at a salon, and am kind of particular about my appearance and can take 10 minutes just to pick out the "right" tie to go with that day's shirt. I'm the guy who always holds the door for others, who remembered to get gift cards for the janitorial staff, the mailman, the UPS guy, and the building maintenance and security guys at Christmas. I am living with my mental health issues just as if I were living with diabetes, or cancer, or multiple sclerosis. I could be you, or you could be me. First and foremost, that is why I and millions of others who have mental health issues deserve you compassion, support, and understanding, rather than fear, disgust, stigmatization. The "Golden Rule" doesn't come with a disclaimer that says "this rule doesn't apply to those with mental illness."

So, I ask one thing - think twice before making some derogatory comment or insensitive remark about those with mental illness. Because frankly, we deserve better, and we are you, part of society, and you could easily, through one of a thousand avenues, find yourself here where I am.

My name is Dennis, I live in Bloomfield, Michigan, and that is my story. To answer my own question posed in the headline to this OP, no, it doesn't diminish me or my worth in any way. It just proves that I am human and imperfect, just like everyone else who has ever lived.

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Reply I spent three weeks in a psychiatric treatment program, does that diminish me as a human being? [View all]
Denninmi Jan 2013 OP
hobbit709 Jan 2013 #1
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arthritisR_US Jan 2013 #16
John.Mekki Jan 2013 #47
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denny1952 Jan 2013 #11
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arthritisR_US Jan 2013 #14
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truth2power Jan 2013 #19
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Michigan Alum Jan 2013 #116
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Denninmi Jan 2013 #92
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Michigan Alum Jan 2013 #117