Friday, March 6, 2009

Still nuts...

(This is, in a way, a follow-up to the telephone post so I'll get right to the Thin Man.)

I mentioned before that just being around me is hell on my wife (though she never complains or begrudges me a moment of it). I think, in the context of mental illness, the greatest untold tragedy is the toll it takes on the family and, specifically, spouses. I've been trying to figure out a way to explain this that doesn't sound like the normal platitudes spewed by every doctor and councilor in the field because it's a more complicated and more subtly destructive dynamic than the "oh, form a support group and share your problems" kind of approach a lot of people give it. Let me speak of spouses specifically although I think most other family connections suffer a variant on the theme.

First off, we marry people who are like ourselves. Maybe not as completely nuts but people who understand—and this means that, most of the time, they're not that far from the edge of normal themselves. Add to that the fact that dealing with a mentally ill spouse (especially like in my case where I was diagnosed after we were married and I suffered a complete collapse) is enough to drive anyone into deep depression. The result is that, de facto, I broke my wife. Imagine two rods welded together supporting a terrible strain. Together, they can bear the load but, if one of them breaks, one of two things is going to happen. Either the weld (the marriage itself) gives way or the other rod bends or breaks itself (and sometimes both). That's the best way I can find to illustrate it. That's bad, but it gets worse.

Once the certifiable non-neurotypical is under treatment, medical disability, and all the other measures designed to help that person, the spouse is very, very reluctant (often refuses, flat out) to use those same facilities for themselves. They don't think that they deserve this same care (after all, they're nowhere near as sick as their spouse), they refuse assistance (since their spouse is already there and it just doesn't seem proper), and they draw in on themselves. At least the "officially sick" person has the freedom to be sick; the spouse typically tries to simply soldier on and hold things together. And, because the spouse has to be the strong and protective member of the partnership, they tend to be regarded and treated poorly by other family members who don't understand that maybe they're not up to coming to the stupid family dinner and playing nice-nice social games for hours about nothing when they really NEED a few hours alone. And they don't really have the patience (and definitely no sympathy) to listen to somebody stand around and whine about how they didn't get that raise at work when they're trying to figure out how to pay the next electric bill. Other people, even relatives, don't know the full picture (nor really should they) and human's tend to kill there wounded rather than take care of them. Suddenly, the spouse becomes an outcast from the very people who ought to be helping them the most. It's not about support groups and therapy; it's about realizing that the spouse of a non-neurotypical is under an incredible amount of permanent stress and looking outside your narrow, self-centered world and trying to help—without understanding.

So, what's my point? Simply this: If you know a mentally ill person who is managing to do a credible impression of functioning, then go say thank you to their family and, most especially, their spouse. They are much more important than all the doctors and medications in the world.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


A few people have noticed that the Thin Man avoids the telephone like the plague and even asks editors and publishers to email first and set up times when they're going to call. It seems a strange behavior so I thought I'd have him explain it and how it relates to his neurological state. (Okay, boss, you're on.)

It's kind of hard to explain, actually. I guess I should start at the beginning and take the long route like I usually do. This may be difficult for normal people to understand but, some days, it's all I can do to hold my head on with both hands and get through the day. People will ask, "What did you do today?" and my answer is, "Lived" and they think I'm joking but I'm not. There are triggers and medications and a host of contributing and mitigating factors but even so, half of my mood swings and problems are effectively random (indeed, my current theory is that the weather and barometric pressure specifically may play a very significant role). So, some mornings I get up and I'm overwhelmed just by the job of being alive and not hurting anyone, my head's stuffed with cotton and my thoughts move at the speed of molasses, and every nerve is a raw ending where the slightest sound is like fingernails on slate. Worse yet, I'm so strung out and tense when this happens that I'm an emotional sponge, soaking up the slightest tension or anxiety from anyone around me, so much so that I'll read things into other people's statements and body language that aren't there or that is a massive over-reaction. I know I'm that way and that's part of why I choose to live like a hermit in a tarpaper shack on the side of a mountain. (Let me assure you, it's hell on my wife too. Any good thing I ever did or wrote, you can blame on her because without her, I'd be locked up or dead by now. Tragically, she's had to give up a lot of her own life and dreams because of it.)

On a day like this, I've only got two options. I can try to write as best I can (which usually involved a lot of staring at blank pages and very little progress) or I can take the medication I'm supposed to when this happens (but if I do that, then I'm so groggy I have to go back to bed and sleep all day). Usually, I try to write. And that brings us to the telephone.

Even on a good day, I startle easy. Loud noises, surprises, interruption—all these things throw me for a complete tailspin, not just when they happen, but for about an hour after while I settle back down and try to get my concentration back. The telephone is a loud noise, a surprise, and an interruption (the use of a "deaf" phone eliminates the former but not the two latter problems). (To add insult to injury, I also have mild auditory hallucinations resulting from short, recurring noises. Which is to say that, once the telephone rings, I may continue to hear it ring faintly for an hour after. I have the same kind of problem with construction, traffic, etc.) In other words, one telephone call can really mess up the day.

The phone is never good news. People use the phone when there's a problem or an emergency. Good news comes by mail. Furthermore, the basic premise of the telephone is rude. The demanding bell screaming for attention is based on the assumption that I have nothing better to do than drop what I'm working on and race to attend to whatever random demand awaits on the other end of the line—an incredible level of hubris. With all of this in mind, I would hope you can understand why I don't like the phone and frequently have it unplugged when I work and why I ask people who need to call me to email first and schedule a time so that I can be prepared for their call. I honestly don't think that's too much to ask.

While I'm on the subject, let me answer another question/accusation. When the telephone is on, do I screen my calls? Heck yes, and why wouldn't I? Trust me, it's in your best interest if I do. Depending on what the call is, I can decide if I can handle the call plus, if you're calling to leave important information, I'd rather have it recorded so I can review it later and make sure I have all the important details. I know that in our brave new world of Blackteeth and Blueberries where everyone is wearing an earwig this makes me a bit of an oddball but, well, that's my call and, honestly, I think the entire world would be better off pulling out their ear-placebos and dealing with the real people around them. Ah, but I'm just a grumpy nutcase anyhow.