I can’t say that this is a singular event, but that it is happening.
In my life, mental illness is a huge thematic component of my life. My grandmother, when she gave birth to my mother, began to experience schizophrenia. It got worse with more children and age. This was before the time drugs were properly developed for this disorder.
My mom grew up looking for a gleam in her mother’s eye. Is she mom today, is there a sparkle, is she there, or will she shoot me.
My mother had a really tortured childhood. She was forced at five to choose between parents, to decide who was safer. My grandma once loaded my mom up in her car and drove away as my grandfather chased after the truck, yelling for her to get out.
That shaped my mom’s childhood.
In a different part of Nevada, my father was born normal. Arrogant, aggressive, a dick. He was exceptional at sports, outdoorsy, and a rambunctious kid.
At eighteen-years-old, he got into a car wreck. It would have been a cool experience if it wasn’t for the alcohol involved. They were admiring a Ferrari when the owner comes walking out and says, “I’ll give you a ride if you show me where the racetrack is.”
But the owner was drunk. They went racing through Virginia City and flew off a cliff. Killed the driver and put my dad in a two-month coma. When he woke up he learned to walk and talk all over again. He rehabilitated and made a living for himself.
My mom moved to Reno and got a job. One day she went up to Virginia City to catch some drinks and met my dad at a bar. They got together, took care of each other, and promptly had my brother and I.
We had a modest life in south Reno. That part, my entry into the story, seems almost easy compared to their previous lives. Everything they went through shaped how I grew up.
My mom was taught how to deal with people who had severe mental issues. For my dad, even though at the time he was kind of aware of his surroundings, he still had aggression and had a hard time reconciling reality with his memories. It was hard.
As a kid I was born with a perfectly normal brain. I remember talking with my dad, learning from him that he wasn’t normal. It was hard for me, in some cases, to be smarter than him.
I remember sitting at the kitchen table with him a long time ago, going over flash cards, and I said the most hurtful thing during this argument about the cards. He thought he was right, I thought I was right and I said, “Gosh, that car accident must have really messed you up.”
It was years before I realized how much that could have meant to him.
When talking about my trauma, I must mention I am also able to cause trauma. We all are.
Going into my teens, I became more ornery. I butted heads with my dad a lot.
I got through high school up to tenth grade before moving to TMCC High School to get an associate degree and high school diploma. I was exposed to many other things, such as early medicine classes and adequate human anatomy classes.
I took a class on the psychology of aging. Even though at the time my dad was in his late forties, he was suffering from a lot of things I didn’t know to look for. He was losing his memory, hand-eye coordination, logical thinking, etc. Through those classes, I was starting to realize what my dad was going through.
Every class I took I would realize how much time I had wasted fighting with him because there are things he just can’t control. There’s no excuses, I know the power of his brain. This man was knocked out for two months and rebuilt his life from scratch. There is exceptional power in him to overcome things.
But there are limitations to what his brain can do versus mine. I had to learn where he stood on things so I could stop fighting with him and provide for him what he needs.
College was hard. You’re poor, you’re stressed, and I was personally relying on my family to come to bat for me. And in return, I’m now trying to do the same for them, to take care of my dad.
It came to a point where I had to convince my mom that it won’t get better for him, he will lose his job, lose more of his memory, and eventually he did those things.
I had to talk with her about getting him on disability. She would defend him, saying he is strong and that he wouldn’t want to be stuck to a paycheck, but I saw that if he didn’t get help he wouldn’t be around long.
I went to his doctor appointments, got his health looked at. I would fight with the professionals and expected them to go further because of what I knew with my background in neuroscience. I didn’t want them to treat him as a guinea pig with medicine I knew didn’t work.
I wanted them to work with his behaviors because his brain will continue to degenerate.
We need to teach him to be happy instead of stressing out when he can’t do something, teach him to cope because then maybe he would be happier.
If there’s anything I can provide for him in his last couple decades, it is comfort.
In some ways, his mental illness is solving itself because his brain is degenerating uniformly. He is losing memories, but losing his aggression as well. He will say shit he doesn’t realize is hurtful, but that’s expected.
Even though this component of our lives has gotten easier, it still has left its mark.
My mom stayed at a job for ten years as a nurse despite the fact that she was overworked, underpaid, and miserable, all to support my college classes and our family. She worked her ass off. She would come home and fall asleep, no energy for life.
When I was able to support myself, I helped my parents relax. My mom got a new job and took a paycut, but is enjoying life. My parents walk together, go out, and I find so much joy seeing them take care of themselves.
So even though the rate of decline, the rate of loss of quality of life may have slowed currently, they still lost a lot for a significant time. New challenges will come up, but at the very least, they have stability.
It’s a weird turn in my life that I should be born into a family so haunted by mental illness while I am going to school to study neuroscience.
About 2-3 months before I graduated, I started feeling lethargic, tired, and unhappy with everything. I know it sounds like depression, but I was experiencing things that weren’t typical as well. I began hearing and seeing things that don’t exist, I would remember conversations that didn’t happen.
I just thought I needed more sleep. I made excuses for my exhaustion.
After graduation I thought I would be happy and needed to be more in-tune with reality.
I went to Vermont and learned Chinese. I couldn’t afford to beforehand, but I got a scholarship and went as a treat for my graduation.
A distinct moment in Vermont occurred when I was out for a run and started following fireflies and hearing my boyfriend singing, so I followed him and the fireflies into the forest. A few hours passed before I realized how unreal it all was, so I went to my dorm and stayed there for the last few weeks.
When I got home, I started grad school and these events would happen periodically where I would experience something that wasn’t real.
I talked to a doctor because I was scared. I didn’t understand what was going on. It felt weird. Here I am having studied these things my whole life. It’s just stupid that it would happen to me.
After several months of speaking with my psychiatrist and other doctors, he came to the decision that I was having a hallucinatory mental illness. Now this brings to mind schizophrenia and even though the vast majority of mental illnesses have no pedigree history, he was convinced that these things may be a component in my life and that even though I may not be experiencing the worst part of the spectrum, it is significantly hindering my progress because I continued to struggle to get things done.
The hallucinations and illogical thinking that suggested I was a part of something larger continued, so we decided to try medications. I tried a drug that would alleviate the depressive symptoms as there is little treatment for the negative symptoms of schizophrenia.
While the drugs helped with the positive symptoms, it was hard to find any way to be happy again.
Positive means that a person with schizophrenia is experiencing something that a neurotypical person doesn’t and negative means the person with schizophrenia is not experiencing something a neurotypical person does. A positive would be like a hallucination, a negative is anhedonia, both which I have.
If you look at it, it means I can’t enjoy things. It’s pretty typical in people with schizophrenia, this manic depression/bipolar.
The hallucinations are things that I can, with coping mechanisms, acknowledge and logic my way through them. But the anhedonia is a constant, slow under-riding theft in my life. Things I used to bust out and enjoy about life are more chores now. I find myself asking questions like why am I doing this and what’s the point.
Twenty-two was about the right age, maybe a little late, for men to develop schizophrenia. The older you are, the better the prognosis will be. Young children have the worst time with the disease. But these aren’t hard and fast rules.
I relate to The Outsider about Charles Lachenmeyer. I had no idea my life would overlap with this man. I had stood in the square and looked at his apartment when I visited Burlington, Vermont before I even read the book about him.
This was haunting, to read about someone who had such a similar past that ended in such a horrible way.
When I came out to my mother as gay it was no big deal, casual, but telling her that I was on medication for a disease that killed her mother was so difficult.
Nontheless, she did the same thing that she always does. She took care of me. She checks-in every once and a while. Between her and my psychiatrist they think I will be alright. It’s nice to have people who have seen this a lot to believe that I will be prosperous and work through things.
My doctor calls it the Neural Reserve or Cognitive Reserve hypothesis. The more brain circuits and the more you know before going into a neuro trauma/mental illness, the more successful outcome you will have. By this time I had two bachelor degrees, knew several languages, was actively learning another, and was going working on my PhD in Pharmacology.
It took me a long time to be okay with this. It’s not a death sentence. It’s not physical, like a cancer. But in other ways, like the book I read, you could be a pillar of society, a privileged scholar, but if you show signs of mental illness the world will cast you out. That was what scared me, that no matter how good you are, mental illness could still take you down because someone doesn’t want you.
It’s stigma and suddenly I was on the other end of it. Previously I felt it because of my dad, which was embarrassing, but now it’s me. Now I have to muster this love for myself.
I wouldn’t say that I’ve learned to find that love yet because I’ve always struggled with body image issues. A lot of that, as a teenager, could be a dormant component of the schizophrenia, but I don’t know.
These medications have robbed me of my metabolism. Within two months of starting the medication that actually made a difference, I gained forty pounds. To most people, you couldn’t see the difference, but for those who see my clothes off, it was obvious. I worked so hard to have a beautiful body and it was mine before these diseases and treatment took away my happiness of exercising.
I’ve had to struggle more and more with my body image. I fought with my psychiatrist and insurance company about taking a medicine that treated my symptoms and reduced or negated weight gain. He was never able to get me the better prescription and the insurance companies wanted me to take a really harmful drug before they would pay for this better one. I did all the things necessary to fulfill their requirements for the better medication regimen, except that. I wasn’t going to take a poison that is even more associated to the negative side effects of the drug I was on, just so they would give me a drug I deserved.
That is a problem in mental illness. Not every drug works for every person. Sometimes it’s a combination, sometimes it’s the fourth or fifth drug that helps. If I were to pay for the better drug out of pocket, it would have been $1,000 a month.
In some way I think about mental illness as one of those circumstances that accentuates every single flaw. Health care, being social, personal life. It’s a magnifying glass that points out all the flaws in you and society.
Here I am studying excitability – tissues firing electricity – and pharmaceuticals, and here I am a consumer of the insurance empire. Why am I doing all these things? It makes me wonder if in the future I will be able to make an impact. Not just making a better drug without side effects, but by going into policy making. There is no reason our health care has to be so built for corruption. Especially with the amount of money and privilege that the U.S. has. We could do a lot of things for a lot of people if we reallocated our resources appropriately.
I will continue working in the sciences for some time, even if it’s challenging to just wake up in the morning and enjoy my day. I would be silly if I didn’t continue on this path and finish my PhD and find a good position where I can insert myself into the propagation of new science and medicine. I am a solid resource to do that. Later in my life, after whatever I’ve done has come about, I can then put this wisdom into laws. I will help people on a broader scale.
I’m figuring out my path and the best way I can help. It’s been hard, along with all the other things in life. Lovely relationships that were rather challenging in their own ways, then now I have this curve-ball of a normal person with mental illness after living in a family with it, and now I have to visit body demons. There is racism and body shaming in the gay community, and I feel terrible that they are so subjugated to each other. It’s juxtapositional, a group of subjugated people subjugating people within. Even within this community, people ignore aspects of each other. We are transphobic and still misogynistic. It’s a toxic culture, not as accepting as you would hope in this small town.
“You can put a dick in a cowboy’s mouth, but you can’t take the dick out of the cowboy.”
I’m sure there may be more enlightened individuals in larger cities, but we are starved for that intellectual activity here.
In parallel with all these things, it’s all adding up. I do look to my friends for support and have intellectual stimulation.
I just started dating a boy a few weeks ago. The relationship wonderful and strong. Some people you meet you’re just attracted to. He’s very different than me, but he is very affectionate.
Nothing of this happens in a vacuum. You can have a mental illness and still be affected by what every grad student has. We are all affected by politics and what else is happening in the world.
We need to come together for one another. Fight for each other’s rights.
My grandma said be positive and get over it, but I’ve seen enough people be murdered, enough stories of people who are murdered because of their race or beliefs, and I’ve seen enough of this crap. I’m not going to be happy about it. No one should get away with it.
If I went to college and didn’t educate others, what’s the point. Not everyone has the same rights and privileges. What a wasted learning opportunity to not stand up for others.
Everything is interrelated. I want to help people through scalpel, pencil, or just talking, and that’s how it’s going to be.
I’m still learning. I still have to put myself together. In some ways I would definitely call it traumatic, but just like my dad and my mom, I’ve got to keep going.
What you are taught influences what you protect and love.
I love stars, that gold was made in a supernova, flying over Lake Tahoe, drinking sangria at a beach in Sitges, dogs, foodies, that at least five different baristas in Reno know my drink, crushes, Will & Grace returning to TV, for Tracy Chapman, the diversity of languages, and sex.
“In the end, we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand and we will understand only what we are taught,” – Baba Dioum.