Catch each other when we fall

What didn’t happen in Bethany Yeiser’s case

This is one of my favorite videos on YouTube. It is Bethany Yeiser telling her story of being a straight-A college student, to being lost and homeless and schizophrenic, to stumbling onto medical care, getting treatment for her schizophrenia, finally finishing her degree, and then writing a book about her experiences.

This did not earn its place as one of my favorite videos on YouTube because I like the story. I like that it’s a success story in that it has a happy ending. But while this may be a story of success for Miss Yeiser, it is also a story of the failure of our culture to help one of our members sooner and better than we did.

Please watch the video and then hear my brief reactions.

Compliments

  • First, Miss Yeiser: Bravo to you for not giving up. Also, you’re well spoken and engaging and subtly funny which is part of what, to me, gives this presentation its humanity.

Complaints

  • Where is her academic advisor? When a straight-A student fails all her classes fall semester of her senior year, where is the person whose job it is to be aware of that and get in touch with the student and figure out what the fuck is going on? Bethany didn’t fail—she was in the grips of schizophrenia! But the school did fail. They missed a major and obvious indicator that something was going wrong for this student. That intervention, support, and help were not made at the point that a straight-A student failed all her classes is a major failure on the part of the school. This whole story could have gone a different way right here.
  • Her becoming homeless in the first place. Of course this should never happen to anyone, but it’s so accepted in our society that I’m not even going to rail against it here.
  • The police. What the fuck. She was homeless for four years. She hung out around the university. The same police had to see her over and over for those four years. The police should be getting to know everyone in their area, learning about them, befriending them, have training in recognizing mental illness, and part of their role here should have been recognizing that they had a mentally ill homeless person on their beat and getting her some help! They arrested a woman twice who was talking to herself and took her to jail. It does seem likely that the second arrest was done as a favor to her to put her in a place with food on Thanksgiving, but they should have known years sooner that this woman wandering around the university was suffering mental illness and gotten her to a hospital!
  • All of this is not just for Miss Yeiser’s benefit. Yes, we owe it to her as a member of our society to help her when she’s in trouble, and we’d owe that to her if she was a straight-F student. But this is an example where you have a highly intelligent person capable of contributing to society way more than the average person who was incapacitated from making those contributions for four years because we as a society let her wander around sleeping in bathrooms instead of studying molecular biology, playing the violin, writing books, giving inspiring speeches, and who knows what else she can do. We missed out! WHAT KIND OF A SOCIETY LETS ANY OF THEIR CITIZENS—BUT ESPECIALLY THEIR SUPER-SMART ONES—SLEEP IN UNIVERSITY BATHROOMS AND SUFFER FROM TREATABLE MENTAL ILLNESSES WHEN THEY COULD BE BENEFITING US ALL WITH THEIR BRILLIANCE???!!! (And by the way, science has overwhelmingly found that high intelligence is correlated to mental illness. And a huge portion of the homeless are mentally ill.) We need to start seeing this world as a we thing, not a me thing. Untreated, mentally ill, homeless people are not an acceptable loss—in some cases, they’re the cream of the crop of our society, and if you help them a tiny bit, they may be able to help you heaps more. Not having a job or money at the moment does not mean you are a useless person!

Conclusions

I guess that’s it. It’s an issue close to my heart because I’m mentally ill and I’ve been homeless—and when I was it was because I chose not to do immoral things for a sociopathic boss. “Mentally healthy” people don’t make that choice—they look out for #1—they don’t let themselves become homeless (and that often involves cutting moral corners at work). Some of us crazy homeless people get there because we have a higher moral standard than the average employee. So..having a job is not always something you should be congratulating yourself on.

There was a time in my youth when I helped program Anthem’s health care systems. Then there was a later time, diagnosed with bipolar disorder, when I couldn’t get health insurance from the same company I helped build. Think of the irony there. We use people when they can help us, but we don’t help them when they need help..the very people who constructed our ability to help people in the first place. That’s insane.

We are one. As in: we are one organism. If you don’t see that, then that is a point of maturity you lack, but every mouth is connected to every hand and every hand is connected to every mouth. There’s no such thing as some of us winning and some of us losing—there is such thing as all of us winning and there is such thing as all of us losing. Bethany Yeiser, you, me, President Obama, Putin, Hitler, the bird in the tree, bigfoot, Mickey Mouse, some distant nebula..we’re all part of the same organism. When that police officer wants to take his wife to the orchestra for a date, he can’t. They don’t have a violin player. She’s hallucinating in a university bathroom, forgotten by us all.

Wild and complex and evil and glorious

And one small fact could kill you

Photo made by me in the parking lot of the apartments where I live

The imagination is a big sky. My imagination has been taken off the rails. I am pondering the unknown in ways that scare me. I can’t sleep. I dream of what I think about in the daytime, and it presents itself to me in symbols that stick with me long into the waking hours. I’ve had to cut off certain avenues of research because the possibilities they suggest in my crazy brain are so scary they make normal life impossible. What they call paranoia has reached ((sky highs)) in me, if you’ll allow the pun. I’ve tricked myself out with my own mind and am using an antidote of Indigo Girls and Hallmark Movies, safe videos I’ve watched before, safe texts, safe people on Twitter.

If you really think about it, there are ropes which loop back to make circles of logic—and those are ok. But there are ropes in this world—frayed strings—which do not loop back to form a circle, and when one encounters facts that shape themselves in these senseless loop-less forms, if you have the kind of big sky imagination that can fill in the gaps with handfuls of theories, then reduce the theories to those more and more likely, this world stops being a place that makes sense in the way that most people think.

People’s sense of what’s well is even informed by their sense of what’s crazy. But what’s crazy has been engineered to give us our sense of safety, and if you widen the net of your research and narrow, with a smart mind, your theories that explain the unclosed loops, this world stops being safe at all and there’s almost no place to rest, psychologically. Occam’s razor is wrong. The world is wild and complex and evil and glorious such that one small fact about it could kill you.

This is me on medication, uninterrupted, for years.

I don’t think I even know anyone I can talk to about what’s in my mind anymore.

Psychotic today

But I know it

Photo by NaustvikPhotography.com via Foter.com under CC BY-NC-SA

5:03am. Email to my mom (one of a handful), after waking at 2:45 and doing my writing:

I woke this morning very early and rested, slept in darkness with no sound. I think the way I misinterpreted the internet connection data indicates some psychosis. I don’t think we need to worry about this alone, but I want to acknowledge to you that I’m a little overexcitable, and I’m going to do an especially relaxed day today to hopefully counteract it..like some time spent sitting up in bed reading an old-style (paperback) book. Things are a little off, but I don’t think we need to overreact (speaking to myself), I just want to be observant and share my observations with you.

Matthew

When I woke, I brushed my teeth, then went to the computer to write. I noticed the internet was down. I assumed this was because I was doing a huge (233 GB) upload to one of my cloud drives and I had used up all our bandwidth doing this, and from this the 12th of the month on out we were going to be without internet and my mom was going to be royally pissed at me and I also figured (since I stream all my music from the net) that I wouldn’t have writing music or email and I wouldn’t be able to make remote backups of the novella I’m working on, etc.

Then I realized we’ve got internet coming out our ears. I set up two WiFi hotspots from two separate devices I have with cellular internet, sent login info for one of them to my mom in email, hoped this would get us through.

And I totally believed the story I made up in my mind: that a huge bad computer thing had happened and it was my fault. Later in the morning I was going to call the internet provider and pay for the overages and beg them to turn our network back on.

The story I was telling myself was I fucked up. I’m a fuck up. This is unforgivable.

But guess what happened? Later on, the internet came back on without me doing anything. Then, throughout the morning, our networks were intermittent. They were probably just doing work in the middle of the night and throughout the morning and that’s why the network was down. It had nothing to do with my 233 GB upload. It had nothing to do with me at all. I was making up stories in my head and, without much evidence, believing them.

End result: internet came back on by magic. I paid the phone bill this month to cover the overage charges that my upload will incur.

Further result: when the sun came up, I could see that the walls were crawling with my texture hallucination as bad as it’s ever been. I’m psychotic, today, outside of a mood episode, which is why they call my illness schizoaffective..I’m displaying schizophrenic signs today without being manic or depressed.

So I checked with my mom. I let her know what was going on: my unrealistic, unnecessary middle-of-the-night scrambling to re-connect the house using my portable devices when, really, I had no idea why the internet was down. She said that from her point of view she sees no reason for alarm, because I was listening to and seeking outside help..and that, unlike in some previous situations, I have enough awareness today to know that I am psychotic. Some part of me knows that the rest of me isn’t making sense. Partly this is because I have a document that lists the symptoms of my illness, and about once a day I re-evaluate where I think I am on the sickness—wellness spectrum, so I’ve been training my brain to recognize these signs as well as I can. You know what’s funny? Yesterday, before I went to bed, I changed the mark beside “psychosis” from the symbol meaning none to the symbol meaning some. So you see, even from yesterday, I knew this was coming.

Mania, my old friend

Or: mixed episode, my other old friend

Mania, that makes me act in ways that others find unreasonable. Mania, that makes me act in ways that others find crazy. Mania, that I cannot control, that is like possession, like someone else has taken over my speech and my mind and my body and makes me irate to the point that I tremble, right down to my lower lip, wobbling involuntarily because I am so angry.

It came again yesterday. I did all the right things. I charted my moods (and 12 other metrics) daily, I painstakingly tailored my sleeping pattern, took all the medicine my doctors prescribed, took supplements, went to therapy.

It could be because my doctors lowered my dose of antipsychotic (to try to offset a major possible side effect). I wish we had never touched the medicine, because mania’s back again.

Yesterday, at noon, after an unusually productive and happy morning, I had my first interaction with my mom. The whole day was downhill from there.

By downhill, I mean I had thoughts my mom wanted to kill me—not just that she wanted me to move out of our apartment because she can no longer stand the responsibility of living with me, but that she wanted to kill me.

I asked her to decapitate me. She said she was worried to see such suicidal behavior. I corrected her that this wasn’t suicidal behavior—I cannot decapitate myself, I argued thinly, so wishing for her to decapitate me was 1/10 of the way away from suicidal.

After a certain point, I have always wanted my parents to kill me. I have told them this. I’m sure they find it disturbing. To me, it is just an appropriate thing we could do together that would physically embody the emotional relationship that has been in place since childhood.

It is 1:17am. I am reviewing some of the texts I sent my mom a few hours ago.

I’m a foul, detestable person

I feel I should be removed from the Earth.

It’s everyone for themself. Like [my sister] says: we’re no family, but a collection of individuals.

I, myself, am perfectly fine. I’m worried this’ll be construed as some sort of episode. Please don’t apply some inappropriate lens just because it’s convenient, ok? I’m calm, I’m relaxed, I’m listening to music, I’m fine.

Just because I have a distasteful opinion doesn’t mean I’m sick.

If I was you, I would want to get rid of me too. Why don’t you just drop me at a hospital tonight and be done with it.

I’m sorry for being so negative the second half of the day. I am truly sorry. I deserve the lowest of the low. You deserve the best of the best.

You don’t understand. Be well advised of that. You have no idea what is inside my mind. No idea. Never have. Don’t expect you to.

I’m gonna keep my door closed and cease chat. I hate myself for being like this while I’m interacting with you. I’m sorry.

Yeah, I’m sorry for being a constantly exploding multi-grenade that could start up at any minute, for any reason, for no reason.

The thing that started me up yesterday, after I had successfully done my taxes (the first time I’ve had enough income to do taxes in five years), after I had successfully gone through my growing pile of unopened mail and responded to and filed or scanned everything appropriately, was my mom’s instantly following reminder that I’m supposed to be finding a group home (or an assisted living facility) for me to live in..and that little reminder, my friends, sent me from 100% cool to 100% hot.

I don’t want to move to a group home, but my mom has decided (as one of my sisters did before her) that I’m too much responsibility to have on her back. It’s not that they have to do much to help me live my daily life, it’s just the weight I put on them that if something more goes wrong with me, that they actually will be overloaded with care requirements for me. And according to my mom, she wants me to have a more “permanent” living situation in case something happens to her. She says this so often it makes me question whether she is planning on something happening to her, and that is not something I like to think about.

I live in Nashville with my mom. She has a temporary job. So if I move into a group home in Nashville, in the next two years Mom will very likely move to Portland to be with all the rest of my communicating family (excluding my dad, who just doesn’t participate in the family to a significant degree anymore). Then I will be in Nashville, with none of my family here, living in a group home due to tardive dyskinesia (a motion disorder with Parkinson’s-like symptoms), bipolar-type schizoaffective disorder, and OCD.

I am afraid. That’s part of why I freaked out yesterday. But my manner of mood change and the change in my communication style, I know is not normal. That is bipolar-type schizoaffective speaking and acting and dominating, for a moment, my brain. In periods like that I want to protect others from myself. Because I cannot stop. I cannot not text. I cannot not speak. I just want, as I suggested to my mom earlier, to shut the door and stop communicating until it passes.

Ordinarily I’m a pleasant, optimistic, resilient, adaptable, helpful, loving person. But when schizoaffective strikes, I am no longer me. Sometimes I can see it happening, sometimes I can’t. Either way, I have no way to stop it.

For weeks I’ve been on a normal sleep pattern, recovered from the almost total lack of sleep from a long mania preceding. Last night, tonight, I’ve had less and less sleep. My focus is incredible, my mood oscillating, I am impatient and irritable. I take offense at my mother saying she understands. Really? You understand this? You understand what is going on in this crazy, brilliant brain? I don’t think so. I really do not think so.

So my ability to relate is shot.

My reasonableness is shot.

My objectivity is shot.

I’m trying to write another book, for which I need months or years following a regular schedule, not interrupted by unnecessary emotional fights, or senseless news, or being asked, as I feel I am, to tie my own noose by picking the group home I’ll be moving to.

I’m scared that my motion disorder will mean that I am stuck in whatever home I choose for the rest of my life. Yes, I would rather drive the process than have my mother drive it, because that increases the chances I’ll end up someplace I can tolerate, or even like. But it is a very difficult thing to be asked to do—to pick a house full of strangers in a town I never really wanted to come to, when the most likely scenario is that within a couple of years my mother will move to Portland and she and my sisters and my nephews will be close to each other while I am stuck in Nashville, Tennessee, with a debilitating motion disorder, unable to drive, hardly able to carry a bag.

I feel abandoned by my family. We are, as one of my sisters says, not a family at all, but a collection of individuals. At this point I wish I had the guts to stop speaking to all of them and somehow power my own life for a while. It’s tough, though, when every position but lying down means constant pain and uncontrollable movements, and simple actions like washing my hands or pouring a glass of water are epic journeys for me.