Get Your Tinfoil Hats Ready!

Something I haven’t really discussed in too much detail is the fact that I am a veteran’s daughter. My father fought in Vietnam in 1968 through 1969. 68 was a bad year, although honestly, they all were bad years. His generation of service was the generation of anti military protests, of being spit on and called baby killer. There were no emotional half time reunions with my grandparents and aunts. My family was just ecstatic he came home in one piece.

Dad didn’t have a plum assignment, he was drafted into the infantry not long after high school ended.He survived his tour and left. He did not want to be a career military man. He saw and did things that have caused him nightmares. He had PTSD before they had a name for it. You never approached him from behind without announcing who you were, something my mom learned shortly into their courtship. As the years went on, and he started our family with my mom, the mental anguish stopped, only to be replaced with physical ailments related to his service, specifically stemming from his exposure to Agent Orange. First it was eczema, then diabetes. The eczema morphed into psoriasis and his arthritis was re-classified as psoriatic arthritis. His ankle, injured when he stepped out of a Huey after it landed, is now misshapen by arthritis and gout. His back is 95% arthritic and riddled with bone spurs. Dad deals with it, as most men of his generation do, by just gutting it out and continuing on. But now things are different, and I am the reason why.

My father receives medical treatment through the VA. He was lucky enough to get in quickly, not being one of the thousands of people on wait lists. He was in for a check up related to his high blood pressure and diabetes management, and mentioned all of my ailments to his doctor. The doctor surprised him by saying they were hearing of more and more Vietnam veterans with children having similar problems. The doctor suggested I go in to talk to a claims representative, that I might be denied coverage at first, but that a new bill has been submitted that is due to change the coverage veterans’ children receive. When my dad advised me of this, I was skeptical (he has hearing issues in addition to all his other problems), then I started doing research as to health benefits for children of veterans exposed to Agent Orange.

Let me say first off, this research does not produce the most cheery and uplifting results. I learned that, even as sick as I am, I am well off. I can walk and care for myself, which is more than a large percentage can say. I also lived past 30 years of age, again, putting me ahead of many others. However, I found that migraines, reproductive issues, immune system disorders, emotional and mental development problems are found in higher percentages among children of Vietnam veterans than among other groups. I also learned that the federal government is doing next to nothing to help these children. If you think the horrible treatment Veterans get is frustrating, check into what their dependents get. (Interestingly, in doing this research, I also learned my ex-fiancee was exposed to chemicals during his deployment in Iraq, which ended a few months before he and I got together. I am praying he never experiences health problems as a result of his deployment)

My father just attributed his illnesses to getting older, to making poor diet choices, to family history, etc. Now we have learned that many of these things stem from his service and exposure to Agent Orange. He complains very little when you consider all he is going through, and all he went through. He’s always been a good father, provided for his family and didn’t run around on Mom, hit us or drink. Sometimes he doesn’t know what to say when it comes to my illnesses. He’s always prided himself on being able to fix things, be it the car, the house, the yard. He can’t fix what I am going through, and it bothers him to no end. I know he is hoping that the VA may be able to help me, that the same system that is so broken and backwards can help me heal and move forward.

Is it a stretch to say that all my health problems stem from my father’s exposure to Agent Orange? Maybe, but it’s not without merit. We learn more and more about the horrible chemicals every day. There’s a reason there are so many anti Monsanto groups, many headed by children of other Vietnam veterans exposed to their company’s evil product. It’s unknown at present just how many generations will be affected by Agent Orange exposure. This legacy is yet another reason I mourn the Vietnam Veterans, even the ones still alive. Such a thankless, unnecessary war (though all wars are) and they will be victims even after they pass away.

On a related note, please do not turn a blind eye to ways you can help veterans. There are many organizations across the country that help. I am embarrassed not just by the wait times for veterans to get help through the VA, but also by the huge number of homeless veterans. But the number that makes me cry is the number 22. That is how many veterans commit suicide per day. Mind you, this is just the number of reported suicides, the number may actually be higher. We need to change this. You don’t have to be pro-military or pro-war or even pro-Second Amendment, but maybe being a little more pro-human would help all of us.

Bullies Stink

Bullies never grow up. I mean, they get old and fat just like the rest of us, but they never mature emotionally. In my life, I’ve encountered a lot of bullies. I don’t know if it is because I am “different” or what, I just seem to be a target.

It started in elementary school, I had coke bottle glasses and acne and crooked teeth. Then as I got older, and grew up into a pretty good looking lady, I got crap from women who felt threatened by me. But I find the worst bullies are the ones I’ve worked with. I have a woman bullying me now at work, and I’m fed up with it. Fortunately, I have the foresight to be aware of my rights and protections as a disabled person. I also understand what it is to be professional and appropriate for the workplace. This woman is neither professional, appropriate or even civilized.

I’m talking petty, juvenile 6th grade crap. Saying she feels sick when she sees me, that I make her life a living hell. Constantly questioning why I have FMLA and what accommodations are being made for me under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Sending me threatening text messages and purposely neglecting to tell me information that pertains to me finishing my work.

I’ve gone to my supervisor about it, his supervisor and now human resources. I cannot even begin to tell you how frustrating this is. I’m about to get a nose bleed from taking the high road and not responding in kind to her idiocy. I’ve got a bad temper, so the fact that I haven’t flattened her with a right hook is nothing short of amazing. This stupidity is going on along with my financial issues, my health issues and in the middle of me trying to move.

Why is she mad at me? I really don’t know. I think it stems from jealousy. But I keep going, as she has underestimated me. I’ve survived much worse than this, and I will still be finding the positive things in every day as she sits in her misery.

Enlightenment

A quick post to just say how much yoga and meditation have helped my fibromyalgia. It’s good to be active again, even if it doesn’t have the same endorphin rush of running.
Also, I made a huge step forward in healing. While cleaning up papers, I found pictures of my ex and various cards he’d given me. I held them in my hands a long while, then threw them in the trash. The man I loved is gone, no use in holding on to reminders.

I feel lighter, hopeful. I can only pray this lasts.

Mental Health Awareness Month 2015: Stigma and Shaming

The last few weeks have been tumultuous. Between a semi-suicidal period, gearing up for my move and learning from my psychiatrist I actually have Bipolar I, not II as we had thought (more on that at another time) and starting a new med as a result, I’m exhausted.

But I won’t let my exhaustion keep me from writing this post, which has been swirling around for a while and I’m just now figuring out which words to use to express it.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar and major depressive disorder are, in fact, disabilities. This means that people who are mentally ill are protected under certain rights, both in the workplace and in “real life”. However, it doesn’t seem that that always happens. There is still so much stigma surrounding mental illness that it impairs a person’s ability to get treatment, acceptance, or both.

Case in point: as a society, we rally against those who bully kids with autism, transgender teens, down syndrome afflicted persons and blind and deaf persons. But if you have mental illness?…not so much. Sadly I do not see Facebook “lit up blue” for mental illness, as it was for autism. Should I choose to mock my ex fiancee’s girlfriend for the little bit of weight she has put on, I would be deemed a bully, anti-feminist. I would receive angry emails about “fat shaming”. Weight struggles are not a disability 85-90% of the time, whereas mental illness is 100% of the time. However, I have received mistreatment as a result of my bipolar disorder and major depression which are, in fact, disabilities that I was born with.

So, why are somethings taboo to mock, but not mental illness? The answer, of course, is stigma. There had long been an impression that people with mental illness choose to be sick. That with positive thinking and exercise we could “shake it off”. We have made so many discoveries regarding the actual organic nature of mental illnesses, but those old beliefs have not disappeared. I am aware that due to a chemical imbalance in my head, I have bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder. It’s kind of like having shade on one side of the street and sunshine on the other- it’s just not evenly distributed. But because of this, I am seen as dangerous, unpredictable, unreliable, unworthy of respect or trust, “crazy”. People shouldn’t let their kids near me, or let me drive or vote or reproduce.

I hope that one day we will see a world in which we respond as swiftly to the mistreatment of the mentally ill as we do to the mistreatment of other disabilities. I hope to one day be able to tell people of my illnesses without fear of losing a friendship, a job, a relationship. Some of the finest people that I have ever had the privilege to meet have been disabled- be it with MS, Down’s Syndrome, Schizophrenia or Bipolar Disorder. Each one of these people has had an impact on my life and challenged me to look at my own internalized stigma and prejudices. I’m not perfect, I still have stereotypes in my head that I work on, but I am opening my eyes to what it is like for other people, and I am open to continuing to learn and grow in that respect.

Finally, I want to thank my amazing,beautiful blogging community- both the mental illness and chronic illness writers I’ve gotten to “know”- BPNurse, Dyane Leshin-Harwood, Kat Galaxy, Kitt O’Malley, Jenn Marshall of Bipolarmomlife.com, YourBipolarGirl and so many others. Through your words, I have learned so much, both about you and your illnesses, your lives and the ways you cope and find joy in everyday things.

The Post My Ex-Fiancee’s Girlfriend Won’t Like

Years down the road, and I realize I still love him. I always will. When we were together, I said I’d die for him, this is still true.

I don’t know why, though. He lied, he disrespected me, he was carrying on 3 separate emotional affairs with various ex-girlfriends. I guess when you don’t value your own worth, you attract people who don’t value you, either. I think I am in love with the good memories: when we were together in school, when we traveled, when we had our most perfect, amazing first Christmas as a couple.

Yet I know, if for some bizarre reason came up that I had to give my life for him, for his happiness, I would sacrifice myself. Crazy? Yes. Noble? Debatable.

Should I move on and find happiness now? Absolutely. But I fear I will never feel love like that again. Life feels so empty these last several years and I realize it’s because he still has most of my heart. I don’t know how to get it back.

Big Changes Ahead

I’m downsizing in a lot of respects. Due to my financial problems, I’m moving. I’m sad about it, I love my condo but I just can’t afford it along with all my medical expenses. I’m moving into a house with 2 roommates whom I have known for years. I’ll miss my quiet neighborhood and my balcony, but I get space to myself and a full backyard to plant my veggies and flowers in.

I’ve begun the process of going through items, donating what I can and wondering just how I got so much stuff. It’s a weird relief though, to get rid of things I’m not using. A lot of the “stuff” traces back to my bipolar and my manic phases when I’d make all sorts of impulse purchases to get the instant gratification I loved. I’m also assessing which furniture items will be going to my new place, which I’m donating and which I’m giving to my sister for her house. It’s daunting and tiring, but it’s kept me from thinking negative thoughts.

As far as my health goes, I see a rheumatologist this week and I’m hopeful it will help. I’ve been much better about taking my medications as I am supposed to, thanks to an app on my phone and setting a reminder on my Fitbit. My sleep has been broken of late, but a lot of that has to do with the pain from my fibromyalgia. I haven’t been too depressed the last two weeks, just a slight sadness about having to move, but knowing it’s for the best usually helps shake that feeling off. Overall, I’m really proud of how I am handling this emotionally. I’ve been able to avoid getting overwhelmed and looking at this as a new start.

Readers: Is it hard for you to let go of things? Any big changes coming up in your life? Please share in the comments!

What Does Mental Illness Look Like?

I came out of the bipolar closet to a work friend today. I knew he would be supportive and non judgmental. But his response kind of irked me, which I know he did not intend. I told him I have bipolar and he said “Oh I wouldn’t have thought that at all”. While he meant nothing wrong with this response, it bugs me. I mean, is a mentally ill person supposed to look a certain way? Are they supposed to have a big neon sign floating above them screaming “BIPOLAR!!!”? Should I be crying more or getting in more arguments to fit a particular idea of mental illness? Should I be writing massive essays about government experiments and chemicals making us sick?

I know I’m probably just being overly sensitive but this is part of why I am careful of who I “come out” to. Stigma and incorrect perceptions of mental illness make me want to hide, to change who I am. Every day I fight to appear “normal” and “pleasant”. It’s exhausting. 1 in 4 Americans suffer from some form of mental illness, which means, undoubtedly, someone in your family or circle of friends is mentally ill.

It’s time to start changing our ideas of who is mentally ill, and just what that means. It’s time to end the stigma and allow people to live their lives as they are, rather than pretending to be something they are not.

OK, end rant.