Mental illness is a REAL illness


This is not a political post; I am all too aware that the Affordable Care Act was anything but. Unless something miraculous changes in the Senate, mental illness will no longer be included in the new health plan. So…not only do I have a variety of pre-existing conditions but the one that makes me most ill (and yet is least expensive) will not be covered. For some reason, addiction and mental illness has been put in one category. From my work and personal experience, mentally ill people often self-medicate but they are not the same. I have a clearly inherited condition, much like heart disease, and there was no element of choice. I am not criticizing anyone who has an addiction – there is enough blame to go around.

Let’s take this past week. It started on a high with Teddy’s birthday and then rapidly went downhill. Why? Even I want to slap myself because it was no good reason at all. Our roof has been leaking and the contractor took three days to repair the ceiling, leaving me trapped in the master bedroom which has a large bathroom and closet. Toffee (my elderly cat) and I had to go there so that she wouldn’t escape or get in their way. I had great plans; I would write blogs and binge watch girly TV shoes. Mentally I was paralyzed. Thoughts started spinning in my head about how fat and useless I am. I am neither of those things. I couldn’t watch anything other than old Bones episodes because I couldn’t concentrate. Then the physical pain started to set in. When you sit in an anxious state, you start getting cold and stiff – it was almost 90 degrees outside but the air-con was on for the contractor.

I was determined to do better the next day but the anxiety was rising. My thoughts were, “what do I really need to prioritize in my life?” My ridiculous conclusion was that I would be really happy if I got back to 1** lbs. (about 6 lbs. less than I am now). I joined a free weight loss internet club which told me I was already within my BMI range and that I would have to eat 700 calories a day to lose 2 lbs. a week. This is a glimpse into a world of disordered thinking, especially with eating. Then the sciatica kicked in. I was fully aware that I could have sat in the yard, watered the garden or tidied my filing system but again – paralysis.

By the third day, I had drunk a small glass of vodka with anti-anxiety medication because the paint didn’t match (our ceiling has not been painted in 13 years). I spoke to poor, long suffering Teddy who could hear a panic attack coming on and he agreed that we would ask them to leave. Teddy would finish the painting after our roofs have been replaced in the next few months. As soon as the contractor left, I sprang into action, steam cleaning tiles, polishing our leather suite and assembling everything back in the room. My sciatica really hurt after all that but endorphins got me through. All throughout the 3 days and nights, I had horrifying nightmares that meant that I was really sleep deprived despite being in bed most of the time. My eating deteriorated to almost nothing except snacks and vodka. Perhaps I should revise my thinking about putting mental illness and addiction together?

Now it is all over and I am on the way to feeling better. I ate properly, stopped drinking vodka and went walking to help with the sciatica and general good health. Then, I lost my sunglasses. It felt like the end of the world – I searched the house and garage. It culminated in texting my husband in California to see if he had seen them. Finally, good sense prevailed and I ordered another pair from Amazon at $7 – less than two lattes. I am still hugely annoyed at myself for this whole week. Why couldn’t I just deal with it? This is the true cost of mental illness, a life mostly wasted because of tortured thoughts. Mine are benign, as are the majority of people with mental illness. There is real physical pain, too. The only time I felt happy with an illness was when I was in a full leg cast for almost a year. For once people could ask me what was wrong and not be embarrassed about the answer. Sometimes you need sympathy for an invisible illness.

If the act passes without amendment, mentally ill people will end up in and out of psychiatric hospitals or often prisons because they haven’t been able to access regular help at their psychiatrists, psychologists or doctors. In the end that costs more than a quick visit to the shrink.

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Random moments of happiness

mountain-laurel

Mountain Laurel

I am struggling to write and read just now. Many apologies to all my wonderful followers and those I follow for being absent. I have talked about my chronic anxiety and depression many times so no need for any further explanation. Between sad bouts, I experience moments of great happiness, for which I am thankful or life would not be worth living. These are some of my recent moments.

Mountain Laurel

Close up of mountain laurel blossom

Close up of mountain laurel blossom

My lovely neighbor with green fingers gifted me this tree a couple of years ago because it wouldn’t thrive in her garden. I was very anxious because my fingers are not green (blackish) and then this year we had flood, excessive heat and finally a terrible cold snap. Some of my tropical plants died but the lovely Laurel has new growth and exquisite lavender flowers. They have an intense fragrance which my neighbor could smell as she approached my house. I now just buy plants and ask my gardener to place them in the right spot – it is working, so far…

The Dead Grasshopper

dead-grasshopper
This poor little green person probably did not survive the hard frost and fell out of our house planks. He was perfectly preserved and so green. Normally these noisy critters frighten me because of how they jump but I do like their songs. It was fun to really examine his little body and hold it. There truly is beauty in death. After I took his photograph, I left it on the rock. When I went outside later, some lucky bird had eaten a freeze dried snack. I wonder if she thought, “they are usually juicier than that?”

The Tulle Filled Nest

Romantic front door

Romantic front door

This is a photograph of my front door decorated for Valentine’s Day. My Mountain Laurel neighbor loves to decorate her presents with ribbons and tulle – almost too nice to open. I keep them to use myself and had created a bow with pink and white tulle sitting atop the beads. We had a windy day and suddenly the bow was gone. A squirrel or bird probably has a pink tulle lined crib and I just smile at the thought. Maybe they also had the freeze dried snack…

The Syrian limo driver

During my recent contract work, I was paired with a Syrian-American limo driver. He was courteous, respectful, articulate and charming. You probably expect me to say something about executive orders and how nice Middle Eastern people are but the truth is he was Cougar Eye Candy. I am purring softly as I write this. He was tall, slim and handsome with dark hair, white skin and the most exquisite grey/green/blue eyes with long black eyelashes. I flirted outrageously in Arabic and English, wondering what I would have done with him were I 30 years younger…

The Spanish Translation

In a previous post, I talked about the coffee barista from Jerusalem who is Muslim. He works at my local Argentinean/Venezuelan Café. Those two sentences somehow encapsulate the interesting diversity of Houston. This week I went in for my usual cappuccino and he was serving on his own. The lady in front of me could only speak Spanish and although coffee guy looks Hispanic, he can’t speak it. I offered to translate and I think I got three beef empanadas correct. The lady looked Latino/Indio and was utterly confused by the blonde Texan lady translating to the ‘Spanish’ guy. It’s a wonderful world.

More happy moments to come…

My first book! – Free on KindleUnlimited right now

kindle image

This is a reblog of the post about my book. For a limited time, it will be free to KindleUnlimited readers if you would like to download it. It is short and an easy read.

I finally did it and my first book, Letters from Cairo by Kerry Duncan is now available as an EBook from Kindle/Amazon from both the UK and US sites as well as other European countries. For a brief moment it was the best selling guide to Cairo when it had only sold 10 copies – I guess no-one wants to go to Cairo… It is a short book and the title says it all, ‘This is a memoir not a travelogue’. There is another book with the same title but it is much more expensive than mine and I bet it’s not as funny! The current price is $4.49 – about the price of a Venti Latte. It is published on Kindle Select so they may reduce the price at times to market the book. It is available on a variety of Amazon sites including Amazon UK.If you don’t have a Kindle you can download it to your PC or other small device with this app – https://www.amazon.com/gp/digital/fiona/kcp-landing-page?ie=UTF8&ref_=kcp_pc_mkt_lnd

It is a poignant, hilarious and revelatory memoir about our expatriate posting to Cairo during the second Gulf War between 2002 and 2004. Some of you may empathize if you have been to third world destinations but the essence is about my battle to deal with illness in a foreign country during a very stressful time. The book is short, despite 10 years of writing, editing and agonizing about writing a memoir. Although I had worked as a research writer in the old country this time gave me an opportunity to hone my writing skills for pleasure. Writing this blog has opened my eyes to the joy of sharing with other writers and photographers. Thank you, all my followers, for giving me the confidence to finally publish. A very special thank you to Ed Mooney, my very first follower, who encouraged me and taught me WordPress etiquette.

This is the link to the book on Amazon US – http://www.amazon.com/Letters-Cairo-This-memoir-travelogue-ebook/dp/B015JFY1F0
If you read it (some may be able to borrow it) please give me a review.

Conifer and blossoms, Salt Lake City

Fuzzy!

Fuzzy!

Doesn’t this gorgeous blue conifer look furry and wintery? Blue conifers do not seem to grow in the swampy south and I just love seeing them in the northern climes. It was really very hot, mid 90s, and yet the conifer was in full bloom. This post is really just a collection of photographs but the last few weeks have made me wonder why Salt Lake City didn’t flick my switch. Every destination is a prospective new home in my head so I am picky about the pluses and minuses.

Green Hydrangea

Green Hydrangea

I mentioned in previous posts about Salt Lake City that I was concerned about the number of homeless people, many of whom were mentally ill. I could see that there were two issues; Mormons are very generous to those in need and life, perhaps, must be extra difficult if you are mentally ill or alcoholic in a strictly religious environment. When I spoke to people about the problem, they said that many of them were incomers and I quite believe that. It is a safe city so those most vulnerable may feel safer and there is a homeless shelter. There were signs all over the center saying, “Don’t give the homeless money, you know where it goes” or words to that effect. I usually concur with that but on two occasions people asked me to pay for a meal for them.

sunflower-seeds

Finally, I decided to do something about one young man who really concerned me. I had noticed him at 8 am on the main drag, muttering to his self and likely hearing voices. The whole day was roasting hot and I saw him again at 5 pm in the same place. He seemed agitated and I thought my accent (and general eccentricity) might frighten him. I assumed that the locals were generous with cold drinks and food but he was so ill, he should have been in a hospital. When I got back to my hotel there was a police cruiser with a perfectly blond, clean cut young officer in it. I motioned to him to lower the window and immediately his face looked concerned.

white-on-blue-hydrangea

In short, I told him the whole saga; he listened carefully and told me that there was a homeless shelter quite close. I explained that community mental health had been my field of work and that this young man was really ill. To his credit and my relief, he said he would go and check on him. I know he thought I was a crazy lady but maybe I opened his eyes to a problem that goes beyond people who live on the open road.

Blossoms at the Temple Complex

Blossoms at the Temple Complex

There is really no criticism of the people of Utah – they are generous and friendly (if a bit odd) but if I lived there I would spend all my time helping waifs and strays. We have so many people in Houston in the same position and they usually beg under bridges. I try to keep some gift cards for fast food places – although they are not always received with gratitude! One lady was about to argue that she would prefer money until she saw my face…

Multi-colored blossoms in park

Multi-colored blossoms in park

Good news, at last.

Teddy and Bunny Old Tampa Bay

Teddy and Bunny
Old Tampa Bay

This is Teddy and I celebrating his new job which he started this week. It has been a long six months, with illness, bereavement and stress. Thank you to all my followers for your support, especially during some dark days. As many of you know, Teddy set up Gattageo LLC during his unemployment whilst applying for endless jobs. I always knew that he would have to look for a staff job, for health care amongst other reasons but supported him as much as I was able. In the end, it was a former employer, who knew Teddy’s worth, who approached him to join a small geological consultancy as a senior sedimentologist. There is a conflict of interest with Gattageo LLC so it has been temporarily put aside but none of the work will be wasted as he will use it in his new role or in the future.

When we received the contract, I immediately booked a little trip to Tampa in the few days he had left before starting (more of that later). It was a lovely feeling to both escape the biblically wet weather in Houston and just breathe a sigh of relief. The night before he started his new job, I laid out his outfit and he packed his pencils. He was anxious but excited and I felt like a mom whose child was starting kindergarten! We are onto day 3 and so far, so good. He is straight into work and loving that. My meet and greet job is on a hiatus during the hot summer, although I was head-hunted by a cruise line. I think I just need some time to heal and relax.

The first day on my own was delicious but strange. I slept until noon and then returned some shoes. I went crazy and spent that $20 on two tops in Old Navy (modeling blog later). The house is already cleaner that it has been in months and our water bill will increase again… I am still in thrift mode, however, and I doubt it will ever go especially as we are approaching retirement. It has been excellent practice for the strangeness of retirement when you are both stuck together in the house. Now we know that Teddy needs to volunteer or work part-time and Bunny needs the house to herself for days at a time.

I have learned that my chronic mental illness has the capacity to get dramatically worse in times of stress and I need to seek help ASAP (which I did). The medications are already reduced and I feel as normal as I ever do – i.e. a permanent state of slight anxiety with low levels of depression. This is well managed with sleep, medication and plenty of time alone. It struck me that although everyone assumes I am a social butterfly, I really spend two thirds of my time alone or sleeping. If I have a busy day volunteering (4 hours), I might have to go to bed the following day to unwind.

We learned a lot about our marriage and love. The hard work of 34 years of marriage was not wasted. We tried so hard to boost each other up and say we loved each other. It taught us some new skills that we will need for the future. I thought we were already frugal but we could be self-indulgent at times, especially with meals out and luxury items. It is so important to have access to health-care and we did but it was very expensive. If you don’t have good health then life has little pleasure. We will continue to be kind to people on the way up as we have truly appreciated the support that we have received, from strangers to good friends and neighbors. Thank you!

Naked lady on top of big rig

naked lady on big rig1

Courtesy of chron.com

We went to our lawyer downtown to change our wills on Monday. The lawyer’s assistant asked us if we had heard about the naked lady dancing on top of a big rig on the 290 highway. We burst out laughing and said, “What next?” Houston’s freeways are notorious for odd things happening. Accidents happen every day, not always fatal, and weird things fall off trucks all the time. I don’t know how many times I have had to veer to avoid a sofa or a ladder. As Texans we are also kinda nosy and rubber necking at accidents sites is a real problem. You will be in a one hour delay with nose to tail traffic and then you discover that the accident was on the OTHER SIDE OF THE FREEWAY! It is a very hard-working city with tired, underpaid, under-qualified drivers from all over the world. When I greet tourists, I ask them if they have ever driven in Mexico City or Egypt – just to forewarn them.

As I started to think about this naked lady incident, I thought she must have just flipped. Briefly, she had been involved in a pile-up then took off all her clothes and clambered on top of the big rig that had been involved in the accident. She danced and twerked according to reports and this a link to a thoughtfully written article by our local paper The Houston Chronicle Naked Lady story

After my last post, it made me so sad that yet again this whole debacle was caused by a psychiatric problem and thank goodness the first responders were empathic to her issue. Can you imagine if she had thrown herself off the truck or ran into 5 lanes of traffic? Life is so frenetic here that she may not have realized that her mental health was breaking – who knows but at least she is in a hospital now. On a funnier note – can you imagine what the truck driver was thinking as a naked lady clambered on top of his rig?

I mentioned to our lawyer that I had a bad car accident a few years back when I was rear-ended by a truck carrying a heavy load. She asked why I didn’t approach her and now I wish I had. As someone with a mental illness, I was entirely traumatized by the incident, the ambulance, the predatory surgeon, the endless bills and bureaucracy. I did approach one reputable lawyer who was very keen to take on my case, particularly because both my physical health (spine) and mental health were impacted. Finally, I realized that I would only recover mentally if I moved on and settled for a paltry sum that didn’t even cover medical costs. I also didn’t want to ruin the life of the contractor who accidentally ran into me.

I have had more accidents since – it is such a common occurrence here. Often I wonder why there aren’t more fatal accidents? On one occasion a Latin American man stopped to give me his card as a witness and I now will always do that if it is safe for me to stop. Pay it forward.

Community Mental Health

risperidone prescription
My previous field of work was community mental health care and when we were downtown I spotted this prescription sticker stuck onto a bench in the park near the ‘before I die’ chalkboard. I instantly recognized the drug which is an anti-psychotic medication commonly used to treat illnesses like schizophrenia. When I was working it was a new wonder drug and very expensive. I expect it is generic now but still a useful medication.

Then I noticed the David’s surname which was Spanish and that the prescription was printed in Spanish. Mental illness affects people irrespective of income, ethnicity and circumstances but I suspect from his mother’s address they were first or second generation immigrants on a low wage. The script was issued from a hospital near the downtown area so it suggested that perhaps they could only afford to go to ER or it was an emergency situation.

David is not even 20 and my experience tells me that it is more likely the onset of schizophrenia rather than bipolar. It commonly presents in young men between the ages of 17 and 25. It can be sooner or later and slightly different for women. So why did he put the sticker on the bench? In retrospect I should have ripped it off because all his personal details were on it and made him a potential victim.

Was it a cry for help or a passive aggressive statement? More importantly, did he take the drugs? I wondered if his mother was sobbing, wondering what happened to her beautiful son and what to do next. The homeless people in Houston are often mentally ill and many self medicate with alcohol and drugs. I get angry and frustrated that there is so little community mental health care for parents or their adult children. When I volunteered at a local psychiatric hospital I was shocked by how many patients were brought in by policemen, sometimes at gunpoint. There has to be a middle ground.

Osyth commented in my last post that she was touched by the comment, ‘be happy’ (on the before I die chalkboard). Maybe David wrote that, in the hope that his illness would stabilize and he would be happy. I hope that he was still able to stay in his family home and not have to sleep in the parks, no matter how pretty they are.
art sculpture