I've been talking in the past two posts about my greatest areas of struggle. In reading these posts over, I felt that I had not adequately considered and put into words my current areas of difficulty...so I want to readdress that topic here.
One of my "top five" has to be in the area of short term memory deficits. I had over 15 bilateral ECT (Electro-convulsive therapy: i.e.: "shock treatments") treatments a year ago and suffered a great deal of loss of cognitive ability especially in the area of recollection. I could not recall (and still do not recall the majority of) the past three or four years. I have put the pieces of much of it back together through asking questions and re-reading journals etc. but I still have regained very little of my memory in a first-hand sort of way. This was traumatic as I came to my hometown upon discharge, and had no recollection of it: its layout, what stores it had or where any of my friends lived. Of course looking at my wardrobe was like a major Christmas present because I did not recall my clothes...how exciting to get all those "new" clothes at once! But finding things in my house, or bluffing it when a friend came up to hug me...and I had no idea who they were, proved to be quite frustrating and also frightening. By now I have "re-learned" most of all of that, but still daily, am confronted by things that are confusing to me because of gaps in my memory.
Also, and this is perhaps the most frustrating; my short term memory has been damaged in its current usages also. If my husband explains something to me or asks me to do something, very very soon afterward, I will very often have no recollection of it. I can almost never recall the events or conversations of the day prior to the one I'm in. This leads to constant embarrassment and apologies. (You do NOT want to loan me anything unless you are willing to remind me of it daily until you get it back, because I will absolutely and repeatedly forget about it!) This has turned me into a sort of undependable person--which I HATE because I never was like that before. I have to keep notes in my appointment book of everything that I have promised people I'd do and write also everything that I've done in a day, but of course, I've lost my appointment books several times and had to get new ones and start over! I have to label everything in the house such as my jars of herbs and food that I have prepared and frozen, because by the next day, I will not know what they are.
I've read that deficits in the area of memory are common in people with my diagnosis...that the illness does actual damage and injury to the brain, but either I have early Altzheimers or else the ECT has done a lot of damage, because what has happened to me exceeds anything I've seen in other people. So, obviously, this is a constant struggle for me and has necesitated several lifestyle changes in order to compensate for this deficiency.
My biggest struggle in terms of symptomology of my illness is the constant battle with paranoid thinking and ideas that I get which are not true representations of the reality around me. My family will often say to me, as I make some remark or other, "Mom, that is really paranoid," and I am almost always glad or relieved when they tell me that, because usually I have no idea. Sometimes, I will get an idea and begin to be lost in the fear that it generates and I will have a suspician that maybe it is only my fear and paranoia that makes it seem like a realistic likelihood, but I am never sure and usually not good at reassuring myself that it is only paranoia. This is most often a disturbing difficulty that I face in public places such as in town or in a mall, especially when I am by myself. I can talk about this tendency calmly and analytically now, but it generates some really frightening circumstances and maybe some odd behavior (okay, definitely some odd behavior).
I cannot really do the experience of paranoia justice because I know that when it is voiced and "sane" people hear the ideas, they can sound really like foolish or ridiculous things about which to be concerned or worried. But to me, when the thoughts or suggestions present themselves to me--they are terrifying and seem completely plausible. The main action that they spawn is the desire to flee whatever danger I feel is pursuing me...and if I cannot flee (usually this is in a setting like the Quiet Room of a psych hospital where I feel trapped) then I will strike out motivated by my need (in my eyes) to protect myself. I am probably the last person in the world who would be likely to be violent or abusive, but in those situations, under the influence of paranoid thoughts and supporting hallucinations: I am and have been just that.
Fortunately, the daily paranoia that I live with now, is not severe enough to spawn that kind of behavior outside of decompensations when I am hospitalized. Now, the ideas are just potent enough to make me miserable and to make me quietly keep my fears to myself because I do not want to be laughed at for things that to me are really serious and really likely. I am getting better at learning what situations will most likely leave me vulnerable to such feelings and learning to avoid them or to protect myself from them. For example, when I am in a medical hospital for asthma or something else, I am constantly in fear of what nurses are saying about me at the nurses' station. Every laugh I hear is aimed at me; every glance in my direction is significant and I become convinced that they all dislike me intensely and would stop at nothing to get rid of me! I have learned to bring my mp3 player and earphones and to leave them on all the time while there, because this blocks from my hearing any fragments of conversation or of laughter, and that gives my imagination less food for thought!
I realize that I've kind of bared my soul in this post and I am not sure what people's reactions will be. I've already been told that I've been "painfully honest" "transparent" and "brutally honest" in these posts...and I'm not really sure that I should be that open. So if you look for this post tomorrow and it's no longer here, it's because I've reconsidered, or chickened out! But maybe this gave you some kind of understanding of what it is like to live with a mental illness...and maybe that understanding will give you greater empathy for a loved one who suffers with it. That is my prayer at any rate.