Thursday, March 27, 2014

My mental health and my religion

I've been doing a lot of thinking - mostly trying to figure out how I would honestly answer the question "how are you?"

It's a question that's surprisingly difficult for me to answer.  I'm currently lying alone in bed in the dark (my lovely wife, Camille, is in Las Vegas for work.  i just got a text from her - "this isn't a buffet, it's a personal challenge." so, you know, there's that).

I don't really feel lonely - I rarely feel lonely.  I guess I've just been thinking about my own life and how much it's changed in the last 2 or 3 months and what that means for my future.

I guess I should explain more so that I can include you in the thought process:

For the people who stay current on my life, whether that be through seeing each other in real life or through Facebook, you know that I'm in chiropractic school.  It's like med school, but with Easy Mode turned on.  Chiropractors are called doctors because several years ago, there were various chiropractic schools throughout the land and they wanted their students to receive a doctorate degree.  So they looked around and realized that no one taught enough credit hours for it to be a doctorate, so they just stole some classes from the medical program and called it good.  I won't ever use most of what I'm learning.

Anyway, I made it through one quarter and started my second quarter where I ran into a bit of a problem...

Again, if you've kept up with my life to any real degree, then you probably know that I have a history of mental health problems

but you're so Normal!! 


When I was 20, I started having seizures for no explainable reason.  The neurologist pretty much accused me of lying about not doing drugs and that was pretty much the end of that.  The seizures stopped after a year or so.

When I was 23 as a missionary in the Dominican Republic for the Mormon church, I pretty much went crazy (or so I thought at the time - now it's like looking at a toddler riding a tricycle compared to the Harley Davidson I deal with now).  I came home early from my mission after the threat of me running away became pretty real.  Nothing sounded better than just walking out the door at night and disappearing into the crowds of people, never to be heard from again.

Damn, that still sounds nice...

I came back home and met with various (unhelpful) Mormon-church-employed "doctors".  Through all the problems I've had with mental health and all that, there are only a handful of times I've ever felt looked down on by someone (almost everyone is extremely supportive).  Those doctors definitely made me feel like there was something wrong with me because there was something wrong with me (and not that I just lost the genetic lottery or whatever explanation doctors are supposed to give).  They made it sound as if I had done something bad and this was my punishment.  Their questions for me weren't so much focused on what made me feel better or worse.  They were focused on finding out if I had sins that I didn't confess before leaving on a mission, or maybe I did something while on my mission that would explain me developing these problems?  Without directly saying it, they pretty much said I probably did something bad and God was punishing me.

After multiple meetings of them trying to pry some kind of confession from me, I was told I had a "mood disorder of some kind", given some drugs, and pushed out the door.  Later, I would see another doctor who would report the Mormon-church-employed "doctors" for malpractice (apparently giving a patient 2 years worth of drugs and never seeing them again is bad).

When I was 25, I was diagnosed with Bipolar II disorder.  Everyone pretty much knows what bipolar disorder is (experiencing uncontrollable extremes in mood - usually depression and mania), but few people know the distinction between bipolar I and bipolar II.  Bipolar I, in my opinion, sounds much worse than Bipolar II.  Bipolar I is where you get really insane levels of mania and do stupid things like stand in front of an airplane as it tries to take off (I had a friend try that once).  The "mood peaks" of bipolar I (both mania and depression) are much more severe.  Bipolar II is more like sadness, but sometimes you're not sad, you're actually quite charming and sociable and awesome.  The danger with bipolar II is that you don't really know that you've had a manic episode until it's over and you realize you have tons of new friends, hobbies, STDs,  no money, no job, no school, and an eviction notice.  Then you get super depressed, think about times when you were happy, worry that people think you're a loser, and contemplate suicide.  Bipolar II also comes with insomnia, which is why I had trouble sleeping a few years ago.  So it's that shit, but over and over with very little you can do about it on your own.

People who haven't experienced it (such as my wife or my mother) don't really understand why you can't just will yourself out of it.  If the problem is that you're sad, then think happy thoughts!  If it were that easy, it wouldn't be a problem people have.  When I'm in the throes of mental illness, I have as much control over my brain as my wife has over my brain.  A normal person commands their brain/body to do something and it does it.  For someone with bipolar disorder or depression or something like that, instead of making a command, it's more like making a request (self, please get up and shower?).  And those requests are often ignored.  You can't will yourself out of it because you aren't the one in control.

Then one day, it all went away.  All my problems just went *poof*, and then they were gone.  No need for medication to help me sleep.  No need to lock myself in my bedroom for days at a time because real life was more than I could handle.  No problems with hanging onto money.  All my problems just sort of... faded away.  And life was perfect!

I mean, sure, I had a rough day here and there; everybody does.  But there was a distinct lack of "I can't control this" going on, and it was really nice.  In that time, I had a good-enough job managing a gas station, I dated a lot, I got married, I graduated from college, I got into grad school.  It was the most productive year of my life!  Life is surprisingly easy when your own mind is working with you instead of against you.

And then it all came back, but way way worse than before.

I started hearing voices.  At first they were pretty primitive - not so much voices in a speaking sense as much as just sort of jumbled background noise.  When they did speak coherently enough to understand, they would try to convince me that my wife was fat.  Then after a few weeks, they went away again and I was fine.  I read that people often temporarily hear voices and stuff when they make a big life change, and I figured me getting married was that change, so I continued on like it never happened.

Then they came back with the figurative power of the Spartan army, and I wasn't prepared for that.  Voices, paranoia, random spiritual experiences, being in a constant dreamlike state - it was like I was watching a movie of my own life with someone else making my decisions for me (and there were other people in the theater shouting at the screen).  I don't know if I can accurately express in words how terrifying it is when you can't tell the difference between reality and fiction.

I have a memory of me stabbing my wife and watching her die... did I actually stab my wife??, or was that memory somehow inserted into my mind?  OH NO!! OH NOOO!!! PLEASE NO!!  Oh, she's fine.  False memory.

I have a memory of my wife leaving me!  How could she do that to me??  WHY???

I have a memory of me having sex with this random person in one of my classes.  Did I actually do that?

I have no memory of how I got here.  How did I get here?

Where's my son?  Do I have a son?  I think I remember having a son.

There are two voices - Sandra and Tom.  They aren't voices of anyone that I recognize in my own life (that's always the first question people ask me - "IS IT ME??").  Sandra and Tom are both pretty neutral-sounding voices.  Sandra talks much more frequently than Tom, and she is a total bitch.  Tom is better, but also kind of a bitch.

Their main goal is to convince me that my wife is cheating on me.  They come up with various narratives of what she did during the day while "at work" and make fun of me for not being able to see the evidence.  I'll admit, there came a point where I believed them, and that was also point where I realized that I couldn't fix this problem myself and started reaching out for help.

I dropped out of school for the quarter and shut down for a while.  I'm pretty sure Camille fantasized of a life where her husband isn't a total psycho, but I guess we each have our lot in life.

I even spent a night in a mental hospital after shouting at the voices while in the shower and scaring my wife (who then begged for me to check myself in).  Then after that, I found a doctor and got some medication that has helped tremendously.

So that pretty much brings us to now.  I start school again on Monday, and I have a completely different view on life.  I've realized how easy it is to believe something that isn't real.  Everything I think I know has to be relearned again to make sure it's actual knowledge and not just something I made up.  That's a HUGE task!  Reviewing every single fact I think I know?  I can't trust any non-confirmed knowledge or memory ever again!

In the Mormon church, it's common to tell people to listen for a "still, small voice" and that's supposed to be the Holy Ghost guiding you.  Now imagine you hear voices that you want to disappear forever and imagine how receptive you are to the advice to listen for a voice that tells you what to do.  Imagine you have random spiritual experiences in the weirdest locations (such as taking a massive dump in the bathroom) and imagine someone telling you that when you feel that feeling, that's the Spirit of God conveying truth to you.

How do I approach religion now that I have these problems?  That's a question that I'm actually asking you, the reader.  I need advice on this topic.

Do I just abandon it?  I feel like if God exists and he plans on having some kind of judgment day, he'd be pretty forgiving of someone with my problems.

I can't just jump in 100%, I need to take it slow and question everything, but that behavior is frowned upon in Christian religions.  And even then, how can I know if something is spiritually true when feeling that spiritual feeling is a symptom of my mental illness?