Archive | September 2013

My Recovery Begins!

I am so excited to share this post with all of you! I finally get to begin telling the part of my story that explains how I went from having a mental illness and being trapped in an abusive environment to pursuing my dream as a full-time student at a reputable university.

After my discharge from my final hospital stay, I returned home, where I muddled through the next three or four months. I was not quite as dysfunctional as I had been before my hospital stay, but I was still very sick. The best thing about those months was that my parents finally allowed me to stay on a mostly regular regimen of medication. I attribute what followed to that fact.

In early January, things began to change. One night, I had a long talk with my younger sister. The fact that I talked with her for a while was a sign of improvement in itself, since I often became incapable of responding verbally when I was most ill. With hindsight, I can see that I must have been improving at some unexpressed level of my mind and brain during the months between my hospital stay and this conversation, but that night marked my first obvious, dramatic step towards recovery.

That night was the first time in years that I was able to acknowledge that I actually was a Christian. As I described in earlier posts, I was tormented for years with the thought that I was not saved, despite the fact that I had accepted the Christian faith as a child. When I talked with my sister that night, my brain evidenced its months-long healing by allowing me to at last acknowledge the beliefs I had held for so long.

My mind and brain continued to show marked improvement during the following year. After finding the psychological relief of resolving the question of my salvation, I began to act much more healthily. Although still tormented with irrational thoughts and patterns of thinking, I began to pursue the life I’d lost for so long with a vengeance. I began building friendships, socializing, reaching out of the prison I had known for years. I talked and moved and exercised. Every motion, every morning that I could get up and shower and get dressed was a small miracle to me. I was regaining existence itself.

I remember the nightmare-like quality of the years before. My mind is just now looking more honestly at some of the tortures of my internal state during all those years of mental illness. I cannot describe to you the horror of what I experienced or the desperation of the feeling of being trapped in such an experience, unable to break free, unable to get out. Now, I found that I was free, somehow, and I marveled at and relished every moment of this life restored.

Over the course of the next year, I healed. I found that I had several friends, and I began to grow more established in my social circles. I started to help with educating my younger siblings. I engaged in communal events and activities. I got my first cellphone in years.

The recovery did not stop with this period of natural healing. I still felt very trapped in obsession, and, in the January following that first, significant conversation, I began counseling with my current psychologist. That counseling has changed my life in the most real, fundamental sense possible.

I will share more about the wonderful recovery which I am still experiencing today in my next post. Until then, please feel free to share your thoughts on this post. I’d be especially interested to hear about any experiences you may have had with mental illness and recovery in your life or others’. I know that question is really personal, so please only share if you feel comfortable and safe doing so. Join in the conversation.

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Social Labeling: Casual Disparagement of Intellectual Disabilities

What does one do when one’s professor labels a particular group of people as either “retarded” or “evil”? I am facing that situation right now, and these are my meditations on the subject.

I found my professor’s comment offensive on two counts. Personally, I happen to be associated with the group he labeled. But I also found it highly offensive that he used the term “retarded” to describe a group of people he despised.

I cannot claim originality in the thoughts I am about to offer. Many of them I have gradually gathered from various sources over the years, but, specifically, my sister put these ideas into words this summer far more eloquently than I ever will. With her permission, I will borrow from her for this post.

I have a close friend who has Down syndrome. This individual has an “intellectual disability.” (I believe this is a recommended term to describe the kinds of mental challenges which those with Down syndrome and other similar conditions face ***{see the note at the end of this post}).

“Retarded” is not just a medical term anymore. It has become a derogatory term used to compare people who do not truly have an intellectual disability to those who do. Thus, it degrades those who have an intellectual disability, and uses a group of real, marginalized people to insult others. If you have an intellectual disability or an edducational delay, you can be labeled as “retarded.” *** (see the note at the end of the post)

Apart from the general offensiveness of being labeled, this practice is extremely offensive to those who have an intellectual disability. Why should this particular group of individuals be the standard for an offensive label? Why should they be inherently insulted in someone’s effort to disparage a different individual or group who do not actually fit the medical description of having an intellectual disability?***(see note at end of post)

My sister expressed these ideas beautifully this summer, sharing her pain at seeing a young woman who has a true intellectual disability label herself as “stupid.” What have we done? As a society, we have taken intellectual ability and made it a standard for pride or shame. Those who find themselves with an IQ of a certain level also find themselves in a place of extraordinary privilege. Those who do not find themselves marginalized and despised, fit only to be used as an offensive label by the upper class of intellectuals. Worse yet, these marginalized individuals are taught to despise themselves and their own mental capacities.

I am not advocating that we should despise those who have more intellectual or educational abilities. I am, however, saying there is no individual who should not have the right to hold their head up and be able to embrace themselves and their own intellect and education. We should accord the same basic human regard and dignity to all individuals, regardless of the state of their intellect.

I often find myself failing miserably in this respect. When describing my friend with Down syndrome, I often hasten to assure my listener that this individual is very “smart,” listing all the reasons why I should be able to make this statement. I don’t think these statements are inaccurate or wrong in the sense that they do describe this individual without error, but I should not have to defend my friend’s intellect in order to affirm my friend’s worth as a person in someone else’s eyes.

The fact of the matter is, people who have an intellectual disability are fully human, just as those who do not have an intellectual disability are fully human. Both groups deserve our highest care and deserve to have their worth affirmed in our words and actions.

As to what I should do in the case of my professor, I am still considering. I find it easy to share my thoughts in the public arena, but, when I am face to face with the man who holds my grades in his hands, I find my courage greatly diminished. I do not feel that this is a case that necessarily requires either action or silence, so I will have to make my choice with proper care and thought.

For now, I am challenging myself to consider more carefully the labels I use to describe myself, my actions, those around me, and their actions. Am I using terms that insult individuals from one of the many marginalized groups in our society? Do I accept and affirm all individuals regardless of their mental capacities, societal status, etc.?

I hope each of you will consider the subject and contribute your own thoughts and experiences. Join in the conversation.

***”While it is still clinically acceptable to say ‘mental retardation,’ you should use the more socially acceptable ‘intellectual disability’ or ‘cognitive disability.’ NDSS strongly condemns the use of the word ‘retarded’ in any derogatory context. Using this word is hurtful and suggests that people with disabilities are not competent.”

You can find this quote on the National Down Syndrome Society page, “Preferred Language Guide – National Down Syndrome Society” at http://www.ndss.org/Down-Syndrome/Preferred-Language-Guide/.***

Personal Update

Hello all I’m very sorry I’ve been gone so long. I did not fully anticipate the stress I would undergo in transitioning to my university.

I am going to postpone my regular blog posts for one to two weeks in order to ease the remainder of that transition. In the meantime, I will be releasing personal updates to inform you about how I’m adjusting.

First, I have to say that I love my university! I am relishing every moment of academic and campus life. I love the constant interaction with new concepts, new environments, and new people. I am very happy.

I began classes last week, and I am genuinely interested in each of them. I am taking introductory courses in psychology and neuroscience, a basic statistics course, and a music appreciation course. I am really excited to have the majority of my coursework this semester in my major (three out of those four will be useful to me in my career). I also take a personal interest in the music appreciation course, since I love music and the professor is an excellent teacher.

I am starting, slowly but surely, to make a few connections with classmates and some of the individuals in my apartment complex. I have found that most of the people here are extremely caring and helpful, (or at the very least, reasonably polite). I frequently stop and ask total strangers for directions and find myself a couple of minutes later being walked across campus by a new-found acquaintance.

The faculty at the school are also exceptional. The students are frequently urged to take advantage of the faculty’s office hours to get help with classes, etc. I have already met one-on-one with two members of the faculty, for varying reasons, and they have been extraordinarily helpful.

I am continuing to explore volunteer and research opportunities in my field of interest (advocacy for those with mental illness and/or disabilities). While I am not certain what experience I will end up obtaining, I am already exploring a couple of possible options for both present and future experience.

Keep me in your thoughts, or, if you are so inclined, your prayers. I am still adjusting to this experience and am dealing with some stressful circumstances which I cannot discuss publicly, for other people’s confidentiality’s sake.

If you wish to contribute to my September funding, please visit my Donate page above or continue to check my Amazon wish list for updated practical needs. Thank you to each of you who are supporting my education and future.

Please feel free to comment with any questions or well-wishes you may have for me. I will answer as openly as possible, without compromising my safety or that of those connected to me.