Friday, December 26, 2008

just need to get this out of my system

I have very little patience for my mother now, as if living away from her has just heightened my sensitivity or decreased my tolerance or something.

She keeps trying to make me into something I am not. Telling me that she bought some peach colored fabric to make me a dress because she hates seeing me in dark clothes all the time. (When's the last time I have ever worn anything that could be described as peach colored?) Or telling me it's important that I cook good food for my boyfriend. (I'm sure my cooking is the least of the things that would scare him away at this point.) And let's not even get started on how she's already planning for her future grandson. (Future father of my children: we're having girls. Or a girl. But XX chromosomes for sure.)


Honestly, I do not care whether my future kids are boys or girls. I would like to be able to cook better. However, I have no desire to wear anything peach colored. Or hot pink. I don't want my mother to run my life. But at the same time I don't want to not do things just because she told me I ought to. As spiteful as I can be. Because that's pretty much the same thing as her running my life, just in reverse.

How do you talk to someone who refuses to listen? How do you reason with someone when all they see and hear is what they want to see and hear and all that they want is whatever they want? Yes, I know, we are all like that sometimes. But she's like this ALL THE TIME.

And I'm still angry. I'm angry at her for not listening and for not being considerate of anybody else. I'm angry at myself for not being a bigger person and not having figured out a way to deal with this by now. I don't know how my dad does it. I know he gets mad, too, but if I were the only one living with her, I think my blood pressure would constantly be about 150/120 and I would just be red in the face all the time. And I am generally a fairly calm person. Just not around my mother.

I'm tried of being angry. But I don't really know what else to do other than just not live with her. I don't know how to do anything else but escape.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Equal but Different?

I am glad that both houses of Congress approved a bill ensuring parity in coverage of mental and physical illnesses. But I wonder (and sincerely hope) the bill will live up to its hype.

Here's the article in the Times:
Published: September 24, 2008
Congress moved close to approving a bill that would require health insurance plans to provide treatment of mental illnesses comparable to what they already provide for physical illnesses.

Friday, July 4, 2008

wishin' and hopin': mothers and grandchildren

My mom has been egging on about grandkids (more specifically, grandsons) for awhile. And about marriage too, but I think she's given up on my boyfriend and I getting married anytime soon, and now she's all about how I need to have kids when I'm young. I'm 22! Biological what? Anyhow, so she periodically e-mails me and writes letters with "tips" and "advice" and I think this would probably be hysterical if she were someone else's mother and my friend was telling me this story. Okay, so my boyfriend gets a kick out of it once he gets over the whole being perturbed part. So here goes...

My lovely darling mother tells me that I need to take fish oil supplements to get my omega-3s or whatever, that eating meat is good for men, and that men are "more potent" in the morning. She also keeps telling me that I need to avoid lifting heavy objects, not drink alcohol, and make sure to get lots of bedrest. With my legs raised. Complete with stick figure illustration. Also advised was not to "part" immediately after sex and to keep my legs raised. Presumably so the sperm won't just drain out of me and possible grandsons go to waste. Fortunately there were not any illustrations for that little tip.

Oddly enough, what gets me is not her constant egging on about conceiving or giving me advice as if I were already pregnant (not planning on that anytime soon), but that it's always about me giving her grandsons. Nothing against boys but goddammit, if I believed in prayer I would pray for all girls.

It seems like in the past few years, she's become increasingly more traditional. (Granted, I don't think she ever entirely got over the fact that I wasn't a boy...) When I was younger, she was all about me doing well in school and being the best in...everything. She didn't think I should not do things or not learn how to do certain things just because I was a girl. But ever since I moved in with my boyfriend, it seems like she's always asking about what I'm making him for dinner. Now I'm not opposed to making dinner or any of that, but I resent that she asks me like it's my duty because I'm the woman. This is the same woman who told my dad he had to cook on Father's Day because it was the weekend, which is generally his turn to cook.

And then all this grandson business, oi vey. I remember asking her once, "What's wrong with having girls, huh?" and her response was, "Well, you can have a girl, too, if you want." I've never been super-feminist or rah-rah-girl-power, but I won't stand for being told that boys are worth more than girls. Especially not from someone who wouldn't stand hearing it from her own father. When my mom was young, my grandfather told her that girls don't need to go to high school (in Hong Kong in those days, there weren't free public secondary schools). My grandmother intervened on her behalf, saying, if she earns a scholarship, let her go. And so she did. High school, college.

My boyfriend points out that my mother is delusional, wanting me to give her grandchildren so badly that she already believes I am pregnant. But it still frustrates me to no end.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Schizophrenia: Disease or a Collection of Symptoms?

An article in The New York Times online discusses new research that supports the theory that schizophrenia is not a disease in the way previously thought, in that it does not seem to result from a specific combination of specific genetic mutations (among other things). It seems that many people who have schizophrenia have combinations of different genetic mutations, which seems to explain the wide range in symptoms. And why medication is so hit or miss.

(My mother is currently taking Zyprexa, but she took a few others beforehand, and for the most part they did not seem to really treat anything so much as just sedate her. She is currently taking a very low dose, but she still takes it before she goes to bed on the days she takes it, zonks out, and is still really groggy most of the next day.)

I wonder how this will influence research/theories about other types of mental illness. Depression is a bit more straightforward (or so it seems) with the seratonin, but what about bipolar disorder or personality disorders? It just hit me that I don't really know too much about mental illnesses other than schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. More reason to learn more...

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

out of office for my personal life?

I know I just started but man, am I getting slammed at work. The resources post probably won't come until, oh, probably July.

Until then, if you are the random and unlikely visitor, please feel free to leave comments on anything you'd like to know or would like me to touch upon, post here, etc.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

second post that should've been my first post: or why this blog

My boyfriend repeatedly demonstrates how awful I am at remembering to introduce people, mostly because whenever we're in a situation where I should be introducing him, he ends up doing it himself.

And I realized the other night that I didn't really introduce this blog, just started off in media res (or whatever the correct term would be since it wasn't really mid-action so much as mid-years-of-thought-stew).

Why did I start this blog?

Growing up, I knew my mother was different from my friends' moms, from the neighbors, from the other adults I knew. I didn't know why or what it was called; it just was. Whenever I tried to explain it to my friends, it just never seemed to work. My friends made fun of me, and I never seemed able to convey the true extent and seriousness of the situation. I thought it was a word thing, that I lacked the language for it. But later I realized that it is because these are the things we never talk about, because we are ashamed of them. This is why my mother never received treatment until I was in high school, despite having shown symptoms before I was born. This is why, although it is estimated that about 20% of the U.S. adult population is struggling with a mental illness, most of us are hard-pressed to name more than one or two people we know with a mental illness. Growing up as an only child, I didn't know anyone who had a parent like mine. I knew of abusive parents, drunkard parents, and parents who couldn't care less. But I didn't know anyone who had a parent who thought the FBI was listening to our conversations.

After my mother was hospitalized for the first time, I started doing some research. In the current literary trend of memoirs and creative nonfiction, there have been increasing numbers of people writing about mental illness and especially what it means to live mental illness. As the person with the mental illness. Not to say that there are not books out there written by relatives, but there are significantly fewer (or so it seems, this is based on my browsing of libraries and, not a scientific study by any means). There are more and more resources aimed at helping families deal with a family member's mental illness--but very few are for children. Doing searches for resources along the lines of "children of parents with mental illness" usually just turn up resources for parents who have children with a mental illness instead. That's great for them, but kind of the opposite of what I was trying to find.

And blogs. I have not done a whole lot of searching as to blogs on this topic, but thus far my searches have turned up lots of blogs on living with mental illness but not much of anything on living with someone who has a mental illness or what it means to be a relative. (One exception of which I know: Heather and Jon Armstrong are a husband and wife who are both bloggers and have both written about her depression and the impact this has had on their relationship, family, etc. Okay, well Jon has written one post about it that I know of, but Heather has written about mental illness in her case and generally multiple times. These blogs, dooce and blurbomat respectively, generally cover other topics, but enjoyable nonetheless. I actually find dooce really entertaining most of the time. She cracks me up...but this is completely off-topic.)

Again, all of this is good. I am glad that more and more people are being open about their struggles with mental illness and what it means. I am glad that more people are talking about it. But in all this hoopla, the children of mentally ill parents are not forgotten so much as it seems that people don't realize we exist because we are overshadowed. And so many of us aren't open about our experiences for multiple reasons: we are ashamed, we don't know how to, our parents are not open about having a mental illness, no one has ever asked, and so on.

I used to think I was completely alone, and now I realize I am not. Through this blog, I hope that I can help others share experiences, feel less alone, and connect with resources. I did find some resources and do have some books to recommend, but as I just realized that it is 12:27 and I have to get up at 6:30 for work tomorrow, this will come later. In the meantime...

Any books, websites, or other resources you have found helpful?

Monday, May 26, 2008

more than the sum of our parts

It's almost halfway between Mother's Day and Father's Day, and instead of reflecting on lives lost to war today (although Andy Rooney did an exceptional Memorial Day commentary on 60 Minutes last night, saying what too few are willing to say on days like today), I am thinking about parents and how they shape us.

To lay all of who we are on our parents (or whoever raised us) is too much, too easy, too simple. But there's no denying that I am who I am today because of my parents. I am who I am today because I have a mother with schizoaffective disorder (bipolar in her case), and because my father does not. I am who I am because they are who they are. And there is all this politics of saying that someone has a mental illness rather than that they are mentally ill. It is just a part of who they are, not all of it, stress advocacy groups.

Yes and no.

My mother was not diagnosed until I was 14. I'd always known there was something not right with her, and I always thought that once I knew what that something was, all my questions would be answered, somebody could fix it, and then I would get to have my real mom.

But my "real" mom is no more real or unreal than the "real world" postcollege. Socrates' postulation that "the more you know, the more there is to know" seems to be a recurring theme in my life. Sure, having a name (a label, a category) for some of her behavior was helpful. But for all the advances science and medicine have made, how little we know about the mind. Names and labels make things easier to talk about; they give you a handle, but the pot's still empty.

For all the categories, symptoms, and theories that I've learned about since my mother's diagnosis, all that I've really learned is that you cannot separate a mental illness from who someone is. Sure, the delusions and paranoia are symptoms. But what about my mother's propensity to talk anyone and everyone's ear off? Her messiness? The way she exaggerates everything? When is it a symptom and when is it just the way someone is? I don't remember where I read this, but somewhere I was reminded that mental health is a spectrum, not a definitive state such as being pregnant or having the chicken pox.

What about other lifelong or seriously life-threatening illnesses? Don't those affect people in similar ways? One of my college friends had cancer when she was in junior high. Fortunately, the cancer is no longer in her body, and she lives her life like any other 20-something-year-old, but I don't think being a cancer survivor will ever not be a part of who she is. And it's hard not to want to separate when it's a mental illness. I wanted so much to believe that my mother said mean things to me because she was ill, not because she was mean or hated or me or truly regretted having me. If my mother didn't have whatever this was, she would be constant, loving, stable. I truly believed medicine could flip the switch.

So maybe this is why I have trouble seeing anything as black and white. All my life, everything has been a gray area, everything has been a spectrum, everything is shaded with meaning I can't begin to understand. I love words and writing, but I am constantly frustrated by all of its limitations. I love to analyze, but if all the analysis in the world can't answer our questions, what good is it? What good is any of it?

One of my favorite quotations comes from Nancy Andreasen, who has studied the brain and mental illnesses for years. In one of her books, Brave New Brain: Conquering Mental Illness in the Era of the Genome, she wrote:

"The more we analyze, the more we feel we understand. The more we analyze, the more we feel we can control. We forget that megabytes and millimeters and millennia have no intrinsic meaning and are merely human inventions. By trying too hard to understand everything, we may understand nothing. We analyze so much and so well that we may also destroy the vital essence and meaning of things by breaking them into pieces."

Reading that, I realized that I had been going everything wrong. While I understand trying to destigmatize mental illness by saying that it is a disease that someone has, just like cancer or diabetes. It's not that that isn't true. Yet to simplify it in that matter fails to do justice to any true attempts to understand it. My mother's mental illness is no less a part of her (and no less a part of me) than an arm, a lung, a vertebra. The only real way to destigmatize mental illness is by talking about it, by being open. It is not by sugarcoating it, by using terms and labels and breaking it down. It requires being honest, being human, and realizing that we are all more than just the sum of our parts.

I make no claims to having achieved such grand enlightenment, but I am trying.