Behind the mask…


So this is me on a normal day hiding out in a normal world. Strip me down and I am nothing more than a freaked out ball of anxiety and fear and anger stumbling through the world just making it from day to day. And honestly, I have figured out how to do it most of the time. I’m pretty damn good at it at this point in my life really. It pisses me off when people think they have figured me out. Well, wait… here’s the thing. It pisses me off when people think they have figured out mental health. And thus… figured ME out because of it.

I have been wanting to write about my struggles with the stigmas of mental health and how angry it makes me for a long time. But, I don’t usually do it. I don’t feel like I can get my thoughts wrapped around it well enough to do it. Or, my ideas disappear half through a post… Or, it just doesn’t work. So, I don’t. I’ve read through the Official Blog for Mental Health site many times and wish I could be a part of it because it’s such a great site (AWESOME logos!). But my ADD kicks in and I get so frustrated. I also don’t think I’m necessarily qualified to write for such a great site. But, those are insecurity issues I struggle with. Which, probably in and of itself make me qualified. One day I will be able to sit still long enough to get through it all and maybe contribute. 🙂

To my point… I’m not sure how much back story is necessary so I will do my best. I am 48 years old. I have known that I have been mentally ill since I was 22. Been treated with meds since then. It started with depression and back then (the late 80’s) the meds were some seriously messed up stuff comparatively speaking. I wasn’t excited about it. And, for all practical purposes was a zombie most of the time. But, I took them. I took them because no one else in my family had and look how fucked up they had become. Mother wasn’t going to let that happen this time! And, I was scared shitless of becoming like everyone else. Seemed pretty logical anyway. Sick – take medicine? Finally. Mother was paying attention.

Fast forward… several diagnoses later… depression, depression w/ psychosis, maybe schizo-effective disorder, bipolar (no real mania – whaatt?), Aha! Bipolar II. Maybe if I stick around long enough we can come up with something new! This whole time I was going to college and marrying lost puppies on the side the road. Living in group homes and visiting psych hospitals and teaching school. All masquerading around as a pretty normal looking person. It was very frustrating.

People talk a lot about hiding behind a mask. I was – still am – stuck behind this mask of a very normal looking person who felt/feels very abnormal. I can’t SIT. I can’t THINK. I can’t SEE what others around me see. I lose time. I lose thoughts in mid sentence… ideas. Now, I have learned to compensate – adjust. But, back then it was just hard ALL OF THE TIME and people thought I was normal. I was scared to tell them otherwise. So, I did everything and anything I could to make them think I was ok. It was exhausting. So many hospital stays just for exhaustion.

When I would go into outpatient programs the patients thought I was staff. They hated me. The paranoid ones HATTEEDDD me. They were sure I was “undercover”. It sucked. Unless, I was really sick and couldn’t “pull off normal”. Long hospital stays were different of course… but it would take a few days to really get them to trust me… Then they all thought I was a liar when I’d tell them I was a teacher… so I just never talk anymore.

I think I’m diverging.

So Friday I had to go to the ER because I had terrible pain – kidney stones will apparently do that to you. I’d never had them. I walked into the ER dressed from school – see pic (now you see my point). I looked sorta “normal”. I hate, hate, hate that word. I was in a lot of pain. There were several people in the waiting room, but they allowed me in before a few of them. Oh, how nice of them. They took my information. I’ve been to the ER before – many times actually. I’m a bit of a wimp actually. I hate it though because I tend to have panic attacks and God forbid the doctors listen to a mental patient when they are having a panic attack!

And here’s my main point! Are ya still with me?

At our ER we have to change into very fashionable hospital gowns when we get into the rooms. So, pretty much, we are all on an even playing field when the nurses and docs see us. Which means they get to look at us and evaluate us without our work clothes or non-work clothes. Professional/non-professional attire. They ask us if we have any medical problems??? I’m always asking myself if I should tell them that I’m bipolar, but I suppose the fact that I have to give them the list of medications I’m on pretty much does that for me. The nurses usually figure out something when they have to put in an IV and see scars are my arm. They don’t exactly look like they are from an accident of some kind. If they get it in the “good” arm golden. Not so lucky this time…

So nurse comes in and asks for symptoms. I give them to her. Obviously I’m in pain. Asks for short history. I give her medical history including bipolar… Doc comes in later. Give him the same. He asks about allergies. I explain I can’t do most pain meds and he says what about morphine? Yes, I can do that. He leaves. Hook her up with some morphine.

Nurse comes back in. She says…

Interesting that he allowed you to have morphine.


Well, with your problem?

My problem? 

Well. We don’t usually give pain meds to people like you?

(In my mind… bitch, what are you talkin about <— borderline babe talkin) Like me?

Mentally ill patients. Unless we know their full history.

My psychiatrist is affiliated with this hospital. And I’m not sure you understand my problem? 

Well, you are bipolar, right? And, take medication?

(In my mind… did you get your degree mail order or what?) Yeah, I’m bipolar not an addict. Did I say I was an addict? Do you have the correct room? What you giving me exactly?

Calm down Miss no need to get agitated you are going to be ok. We are giving you morphine for your pain. Do you know where you are? 

What? Why wouldn’t I know where I am? Do you think you could find the doctor for me?  

No. No. We are going to give you this medication and you are going to feel better. It is going to be ok. I promise. 

I am ok Now!. Just get the doctor for me. 

There is no need for the doctor. This medicine is going to make you feel much better. It will calm your nerves also. I don’t want you to be agitated. I know it is hard for you with your problem, but you have to calm down.  

I am fine. I’m not anxious at all. I don’t understand why you are talking to me like this? I’m serious. Get the doctor please. 

So this ignorance goes on for what feels like EVER! Finally I just reached over and grabbed the nurse call button and hit it. I figured a nurse would come. Nope. She shut it off and told me to relax. So I hit it again. I explained to her that I would get up and walk out into the hall if I had to, but I would find someone to talk to me with respect if she did not get someone herself. All in that voice that we find… that quietly controlled voice that we find… when we are about to lose our mind over complete mental health ignorance? That and the fear we will be put in restraints…. Do you know the one?

Fortunately a person walked in to draw blood for labs and she realized that if she didn’t get a doctor something terrible was about to happen so.. she got the doctor. We had a chat. I’m not certain if the doctor knows someone close to him with a mental illness or if he’s studied it. But, he made his point very clear that not all mental patients are dual diagnosesed and basically that was enough for me (and my happily morphined brain) at the time. And, honestly, could have been the drugs, but I think he planned to follow up with her at a latter time. He didn’t seem to be a happy man when he left the room. When he returned to release me he apologized for the way she had acted in a very dry, doctor-ly manner and off we both went.

Sometimes I don’t know if I have the fight in me to deal with people like that. This was a nurse for God’s sake. But, hell, I have dealt with it with my own psychiatrist. I don’t work with that person any longer. It just amazes me. I want to get out there and beat the pavement. I just don’t know if I’m smart enough and strong enough to do any good. And, I’m not sure I can control “borderline bitch”. 🙂

9 thoughts on “Behind the mask…

  1. deepbluesandseafoamgreens

    Oh these masks :/
    I read through this post a few times.
    I can completely and utterly relate. It’s amazing how “normal” we can look but we’re totally torn up on the inside. Wishing you well.

  2. Wow! Jamie you are amazing. The fact that you can even articulate all of this blows me away. Not because of bipolar-ity (is that even a word lol?) but because of how deeply personal it is and how vulnerable you must feel whenever you write your truth. I applaud and respect you so much for doing so! You’re also an amazing story teller and SHOULD contribute to the Official Blog for Mental Health! You’re a brilliant, articulate (yes articulate!) and intelligent woman who’s voice is strong and clear. You can represent so many who have no voice or your ability to express! It’s a BLOG not rocket science lol and YOU my friend are more then qualified! Think about it. Then write on a “good” day with Betty holding you’re hand 😉 I love your voice and while you suffer from an often confused and misunderstood disease, you, as you have said, have mastered (for the most part) the art of faking it. But truth is, faking it or not, you are an inspirational woman and should reach out in any way you feel able. Someone will always needs to hear what you say! Don’t ever doubt that. Cyberhugz woman. You ROCK! And trust me. I’m not making light of your reality. I can’t even imagine. But I love your fighting spirit. It’s beautiful!

    1. Thank you! Wow… thank you. It’s been a long time since I’ve been here… very nice words…. wow. I have been on the run from things lately. I need to probably get back here and write more. I just don’t know what to write. Posts like this are necessary and they are what I want to be about. But… they scare the hell out of me at the same time…. idk! Thank you again! 🙂

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