There but for the grace of God

police line

This is the graphic they used in the media when describing my friend

In August 2011 a friend of mine shot and killed her abusive husband.  When she was arrested she was allowed a mental health evaluation only if her own private insurance would pay for it, even though she told them at the time of her arrest that she was mentally ill.

Last November, after a fifteen month wait, she was convicted of “voluntary manslaughter and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime.”  This was a deal – her original plea was “Guilty but Mentally Ill”.

My family and I have tried for a year and a half to contact her.  Almost everything we sent was returned, though the more expensive items like Christmas gifts simply vanished.  We have no evidence she ever received anything, and never heard a word from her.

Until now.  We’ve received a letter.

It’s nothing fancy.  Just a few lines to let us know she’s surviving.  She wants to tell us what happened, but all her mail is read before it’s sent.  All she could do it tell us that she’s alive, she loves us, and where she was – or at least where she was when the letter was written.

cat heavenIt was enough.  We’ve been in overdrive ever since.  All the letters sent to that address were returned – she was transferred.  Again.  A call to the prison she was sent to resulted in more red tape.  Transferred yet again.  But finally, this morning, I think I have her address.  I spoke to the sweetest lady who was so exasperated.  Not by us – apparently I’m not the first person who called!  But by the system that can’t even give a straight answer about the location of a prisoner.  I *think* I know where she is.

I’m sending her this picture.  She loves cats – she had about a dozen at the time of the shooting.  They’re all gone now, of course, along with everything else she ever knew.

Why did it come to this?  I keep thinking over and over that had things gone slightly different for me, it could be me in that cell, not her.  I’ve been on the wrong side of the locked door 5 times.  But I was always let out in the end.   I got the help I needed.  I was given the time and space to try to heal, without anyone threatening me.  I had a strong support network in my family, and those friends strong enough to remain in my life.

She had no one except a guy who beat her, and her cats.

If “there but for the grace of God” means anything to you, give your family a hug tonight, and an extra cuddle to your pet.  When one is mentally ill, so little stands between you and her fate.


The night of “The Voice” or Why I Don’t Trust Therapists Anymore

“Even in the wizarding world, hearing voices isn’t a good sign.”  Hermione Granger, speaking to Harry Potter.

HermioneI hear voices.  As in “I’m hearing the voices” type voices.  And no, I do not admit this very often.  Why?  Hermione said it beautifully.   Even people who know I’m mentally ill will give me “The Look” <tm> when I mention hearing voices.  You know, the nod, smile and don’t make any sudden movements look?  That look.

The specific psychiatric term for hearing voices is “auditory hallucinations”.  In other words, you register a physical sensation that isn’t actually there.  There’s two main types.  If you experience physiological hallucinations, sometimes called “sane” hallucinations, you may not suffer from any other mental health issues.  It’s thought that 1 in 25 will “hear voices” at some point in their life.

I suffer from experience pathological hallucinations.  In the past, conventional wisdom associated pathological hallucinations with a severe mental illness – usually schizophrenia.   With time the diagnosis has gradually extended to include such disorders as bipolar.

Auditory hallucinations usually mainfest in one of three ways.  The first is very dangerous.  Called a “command hallucination“, this is a very clear, distinct voice that offers a specific direction.  The command can be very simple, such as “stand up” or “sit down”.  However, they can also be threatening, such as “kill your boss” or “burn the house”.  Sometimes the threat becomes personal.  “Stab that guy, or I’ll stab you.”

Then there is “Exploding Head Syndrome“.  For example, I’ll hear a gunshot, or a rocket taking off, or sometimes impacting. It’s not distinct.  Let’s say there’s a tv on in the next room.  There’s a cartoon on and it features rockets and a gun.  That’s pretty much what it sounds like.  I can hear it, but it’s not alarming.

Generally, I hear crowd noise – the sound of a large crowd at a distance.  Imagine that you’re approaching a large room full of people, but you’re not quite there yet.  You’ll have a subconscious awareness of the sound of many voices, but none are distinct.

In addition to the “crowd noise” I can hear people speaking.  They don’t talk to me, or about me.  They’re just having a conversation, and none of them are in English.  There are two women who speak Japanese.  Maybe they’re out shopping.  I have no idea – I don’t speak Japanese.  I also hear two men talking.  These are older gentlemen, and they speak Russian.  My mental image is of two guys in a park playing chess, but again as I don’t speak Russian I couldn’t tell you what (if anything) they’re really saying.  They seem friendly, and they’ve been with me as long as I’ve been aware of “me”.

The study of voices has come a long way since I was diagnosed.  In 2001 there was only one reason to hear voices – severe mental illness.  A very dangerous kind.  But recently, the “Hearing Voices Movement” has taken off.  They reflect the new understanding of mental illness – while illness of this kind can be dangerous and harmful, there may also be aspects that are beneficial.

This is a very welcome trend!  No illness should be treated in absolute terms.  Here’s why.

It was a normal night, I was in bed, asleep.  Then, around 1 am or so, I was startled awake by a voice.  At first I thought someone had turned on the television, or the radio, or an alarm had gone off.  But then I heard it again.  This was the only time I ever heard a Command voice.  It was male, but strangely flat and devoid of emotion.  It said one single phrase.

“Children are a nuisance, and you should be rid of them.”

Um, what?

My therapist had just started a 24 hour “hotline”, which he encouraged his patients to use.  I talked it over with my current partner.  We reasoned that I might need to increase one of my medications, and I should ask sooner rather than later.  So I called.  We spoke for a while, then she asked me to call my current partner to the phone.  That was weird, but I handed it over.  They spoke for a time, then she frowned and covered the handset.  “Hey,” she whispered, “I think she called the police!”

I couldn’t believe it.  Not even 10 minutes later, two cops walked in.  They asked what was going on, and if any children were in the house.  I said no, there were no kids anywhere around us – the community was mostly of retirees.

“But you’re planning to get rid of them?” the cop insisted.  I had to admit, that was what the voice said, but I had no plans to act on it.   At all.  None.  No children lived with us.  None of my friends had kids.  None of my relatives had kids.  See?  NO kids.

handsAfter 45 minutes they explained that I needed to come with them to the hospital.  We’d sort it all out there.  Which was how, at 3 am, in front of a few curious neighbors, I was led out of my home in handcuffs and placed in the back of a police car.

They took me to the hospital ER.  They took my purse and my clothes.  It was around 4 when we arrived.  I didn’t see a doctor until 8am.  I was not given any food, I was only allowed to drink water in the presence of a guard.  I was not allowed to move even when I explained I had ruptured disks in my back and I needed to walk every so often.

When the staff psychologist arrived I told her what had happened, and I was sure that finally, with a qualified professional present, someone would see reason.  After I told her my story I waited for another 2 hours.  When she returned she informed me that I would be taken from the ER and transported to a secure facility.  I was being placed on a 72-hour involuntary hold.

I went ballistic.   I was so mad I’m pretty sure I was turning colors.  I demanded to see my own doctor, who was on staff at the hospital.  But he wasn’t scheduled to be there until the following day.  And that was that.

GROUP-THERAPY-SMALLAt the facility, in a group therapy sessions of 30 patients, the doctor asked me why I was there.  I told him “I don’t know”.  He looked at his clip board and said, in front of everyone, “It says here you attacked a child.”

From that point forward it didn’t matter what I said or did.  Every patient heard I had attacked a kid, and I was given a wide berth.  If I lost my temper again it would get even worse.  So I gritted my teeth and just stopped talking.   I stopped moving.  I sat still and waited.

My doctor arrived the next day, 36 hours after I heard The Voice.  I told him what had happened and demanded to be released or explain why not to a judge.  This is not something a patient on a 3 day hold can say.   I was released within 2 hours.

My bewildered parents came to pick me up.   I had no idea how to explain any of it.  I’m still at a loss.

The mentally ill are the most stigmatized members of our society.  Within this group, those who hear voices are even more isolated, as it’s one of the least understood symptoms.  But I’m pleased to discover that through the efforts of groups such as the Hearing Voices Movement, attitudes are slowly changing.

When will mental illness get the attention it deserves?

My father wrote this.  It was published by The Denver Post.  For those in doubt, yes, he’s talking about me.  He’s an amazing man.

Re: “Mental illness touches every American,” Dec. 24 guest commentary.

Dr. Marshall Thomas’ Christmas Eve commentary on the dismal state of mental illness treatment in the United States (and even worse in Colorado) was disheartening.

The awful truth is that mentally ill Coloradans are invisible. Where are the campaigns to help the mentally ill? What color is the little ribbon people wear to raise mental health awareness? When can I watch a huge holiday telethon to fund mental health research? When will our political leaders demand change?
Like most people, I’d never really thought about these questions until someone who suffers from mental illness asked me. She is a lady with very modest resources and her struggle to support herself while coping with her illness is heart-wrenching. Without visible symptoms or wounds, it is a never-ending challenge to get help. Her last emergency room visit began and ended with a suspicious “I’m not going to give you any drugs!” She doesn’t want drugs. She wants help.

Dr. Thomas noted that Colorado is last among all states in psychiatric bed capacity, 30th in mental health funding and, not surprisingly, has the eighth-highest suicide rate.

Surely the events in Aurora and Connecticut show how this problem affects all of us. Our governor has made a start by proposing additional funding, but much more needs to be done. Please help before another tragedy reminds us that our society has failed and continues to fail the mentally ill.

Ken HallLittleton

The mentally healthy psycho

I haven’t been following the Casey Anthony trial, if one can call it that. No justice will be found there, so I don’t give a damn. However, I did happen upon this quote:

“That’s what makes a good liar,” said Lori Butts, a forensic psychologist from Davie who also holds a law degree and does criminal-case consultations. Such traits are “what makes a psychopath.”

“They get themselves caught up in their lies,” Butts said. “She creates her own reality.”

She doubts Anthony, 25, is mentally ill, however, because she’s too lucid, precise and logical.”

So even though Casey Anthony is a textbook psychopath (and she is), this professional doubts she’s mentally ill because of her lucidity.

This is why I fucking HATE mental health “professionals”. Because unless you’ve been crazy, you’ll never understand crazy. If you’ve ever heard me give a speech, you’d swear I was the most sane, reliable person in the room. No, I’m a psychopath. It’s one of my 5 diagnosis. And for whatever reason, it’s given me an incredible gift of communication. I also have a through the roof IQ, and I’m going to bet little Casey up there does too. At least above average. There’s a working theory now (slowly gaining cred) that high IQ almost naturally equates barking mad.

But, because she done talked so good, Casey the psycho isn’t mentally ill. Jesus.