“Are you a psychopath or a sociopath?” ~Title of recent Michael Savage podcast’s interview with neuroscientist Dr. James Fallon
When I heard Michael Savage (longtime radio personality who has multiple degrees and a doctorate in epidemiology – fascinating man) announce the title for a recent podcast I felt a bit like Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” when asked if she was a good witch or a bad witch. “I’m not a “path” at all.” Well, at least not in the classical definition of both personality disorders but the podcast was of keen interest to me as a retired mental health professional and one who has lived with mental illness for the last 45 years. At least that is the point it was diagnosed.
In my OD entries of many years ago I spent a good amount of time journaling the life, my life, of one who lives with mental illness. My reasons were two-fold: (1) to have a record of my struggles which has indeed proved very valuable recently and (2) to bring more awareness to this insidious illness that is often misunderstood at best and mocked at worst. My intention in earning a Masters degree in Mental Health Counseling in my 40’s was to somehow be another voice to help “destigmatize” issues surrounding mental illness.
For my continuation of OD I opted to focus on my passion of pursuing a more minimalist lifestyle which I will continue but, during the time from my previous entry until this one, I realized that mental illness is part of my life’s tapestry the threads of which I don’t like and the colors discordant with the whole but there nonetheless. For those new to my diary a brief overview:
- Mental illness has generationally run rampant on my biological father’s side of the family
- Two great-uncles committed suicide; a great-aunt spent the majority of her life in a state mental hospital (I HIGHLY recommend the 1948 film, “The Snake Pit” starring Olivia deHavilland for those with any interest on this topic. One of the themes is introducing “talk therapy” at a time when the treatment for mental illness was somewhat barbaric. I’ve wondered what my great-aunt endured.)
- My paternal grandmother (sister of my great-aunt) had a “break-down” when my father was young and could not perform household duties, thus a relative or neighbor stepped in. I was not made aware of this until after my grandmother died. She was a very stoic person with a somewhat intimidating demeanor, thus I was quite surprised that she, too, had at least one severe depressive episode. This means that my genetic predisposition to this illness is from both branches of my father’s family.
- The illness primarily manifested in the males of my father’s generation; his cousins. If mentioned at all, mental illness was only spoken of behind closed doors. I doubt if my father and perhaps his cousins even realized the connection between severe alcoholism (my father) and illegal drug addiction (cousins). In retrospect they were self-medicating
- My depressive episodes began in my early 20’s and, at first, were of short duration; I chalked them up to being in a “bad mood.” Over time the duration of depression lengthened as the time between episodes shortened until the illness was almost my “norm.” I didn’t know what was happening to me and it wasn’t until ten years later that the counselor I was seeing for divorce issues noticed my mood cycles and recommended a psychiatrist that he knew and trusted.
- On July 29, 1992 I was diagnosed with Major Depression Recurrent/Rapid Cycling. Ten years later major anxiety was added. With proper medication I lived a “normal” active life: jobs, social activities with friends/other couples; very active in my church, completed grad. school, etc. I continued with this psychiatrist until last year and had regular appointments to tweak, add, subtract medications until I reached the “medication management” phase – only having four appointments/year for refills and any changes necessary.
- Shortly after I was diagnosed I attended my paternal grandmother’s funeral in Ohio. It was the first time I’d been with relatives on this side of the family for many years. I hadn’t told anyone except my mother and husband about my recent diagnosis. I approached a second cousin who is my age and with whom I played as a child. I recall being tentative, almost nervous, when I asked if we could speak privately. *Cue dramatic music* After I got as far as “I’ve been diagnosed with depression…” my cousin declared, “Of COURSE you have! You’re a <last name of our family>, proceeding to tell me that not only she but her teenage daughter lived with depression. I think she may have mentioned other members of our family but I was both stunned and relieved that my cousin hadn’t slowly backed away but when I opened up to her; instead, openly discussed our illness as any other life issue.
- Ten years ago I experienced a nightmarish mental health crisis triggered by three different situations that collided simultaneously. I began missing more days of work than I was present and went on short-term disability leave provided by my employer. After the six months I was allotted I returned to work for half a day with doctor’s orders of “light duty.” After about a month my Dr. said it was time to apply for Social Security disability which I obtained, thus beginning a new chapter in my life journey
The last major depressive/anxiety episode I had was four years ago. Once again situational issues triggered the crash and burn. During this time I discovered black mold on the walls of my apartment when the wallpaper began peeling which necessitated I vacate the apartment for a month. At the beginning of that month my step-father became severely ill due to his gallbladder becoming gangrened and was told he was fortunate to have survived. Unbeknownst to me, I also had a very sick gallbladder that caused mysterious physical symptoms. It was removed a year later but the physical illness combined with the other issues likely contributed to that episode. Due to my life being topsy-turvey at the time, I cancelled my med management appointment. A back-story is involved with that but the end result was being without medication for about 2-3 months. The abrupt stop of taking my anti-anxiety meds, which are extremely addictive, caused me to feel like I was in hell when the withdrawal symptoms hit. Finally my mother made an emergency call to my psychiatrist’s office and made an appointment for me. I was assigned to one of his P.A.’s as his practice had greatly expanded over the years and the psych was lessening his personal patient load. Within two days of the anti-anxiety meds getting back into my system the black, oppressive veil lifted and…ahhhhhhh. How do you spell R-E-L-I-E-F?
Since that time I have lived in “my” normal. Until last Fall……. (To be continued)
During the last few months something that kept me semi-sane was watching Queen/Freddie Mercury videos that had bloomed on YouTube due to the release of the movie, “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Although I was in my early 20’s when the song of the same name was released and with which I was familiar, I had not seen any of their record albums, thus had no idea who comprised the group “Queen;” no idea what they looked like. I’m now somewhat of an expert! (Side note to anyone who saw the movie, “Bohemian Rhapsody” without, like me, knowing much about the group: the events portrayed are factual but the timeline changed, most prominently with Freddie Mercury being diagnosed with Aids and divulging this to the other three band members just prior to their performance at Live Aid – considered one of the best rock concert performances ever. That made a good story line and definitely tugs at one’s heartstrings during the final Live Aid scene amazingly recreated by the talented actors. However, the reality is Freddie was not diagnosed until 1987; the Live Aid concert was 1985.
A song that has become one of my Queen favorites is “Under Pressure.” It was created when David Bowie was visited Queen’s recording studio when he was in the area. While they were jamming the bass guitarist, John Deacon, came up with a guitar “riff.” For fun, Bowie and Mercury went into separate sound booths and each created music and lyrics to go with that opening. The song on the album includes Bowie but, for some reason, he requested his name not be on the album. Freddie is a bit vague during interviews when this issue comes up. Freddie died in late 1991 and in 1992 the remaining three band members plus a star-studded ensemble of rock stars, actors, etc. held a tribute concert. David Bowie sang “Under Pressure,” but the performance, in my opinion, was blunted by his partner in the song, Annie Lennox of “Sweet dreams are made of these…who am I to disagree…” Not only does she not have the voice to pull off the song, she’s a bit…odd…and the two opted for a theatrical version with David Bowie being the healthy Freddie Mercury and Annie being the illness taking over. Just…weird. Fortunately, someone put together an amazing video blending the 1986 Wembley Stadium performance by Queen with the tribute footage that focused only on Bowie. It’s one of my favorite renditions. In addition to the title, a couple of lines resonate with me: “It’s the terror of knowing what this world is about, Watching some good friends scream, LET ME OUT” and “Insanity laughs, under pressure we’re breaking.”