The Glass Room: Where the Secret Side of Mental Illness Lives

According to Hollywood, mental illness may involve temper tantrums and crime fighting. This is what it looks like for me.

Dr. Katz is the smartest person I’ve ever met.

I hate him.

He’s purposely using words I don’t understand. A test. He’s trying to see how smart I am, how much I already know about myself. I definitely know I don’t want to be here. I know I’m hungry. And I think my parking meter’s getting ready to expire. How’s that for self-awareness?

Diplomat in Psychiatry. Award for Adolescent Psychiatry & Pediatric Psychiatry – Board Certified. Magna Cum Laude: Northwestern University. Healthgrades Honor Roll. 

Dr. Katz is a Healthgrades Recognized Doctor. In his office are countless books on mental illness, functions of the brain. A fancy computer, expensive furniture, high-tech water cooler and Nespresso. One of those annoying Asian things with the sand and a rake. There’s an exquisite orchid on his desk. I’ve never seen one like it. It kind of looks like a vagina. I wonder if he picked it out himself. What kind of doctor puts a vagina orchid on his desk? Am I not supposed to notice?

health grades mental illiness

“The infralimbic subregion of the medial prefrontal cortex is necessary for the inhibition of conditioned fear following extinction. Brief microstimulation of IL paired with conditioned tones, designed to mimic neuronal tone responses, reduces the expression of conditioned fear to the tone,” he says to me.

I stare blankly at him.

“Your prelimbic cortex — it acts as a filter that separates the part of your brain that processes emotion from the part that processes logic. Yours is basically….nonexistent. You experience everything at once. This is very typical in cases of bipolar disorder.” He sounds like a newscaster. Just reporting the daily weather.

“Anything else?” I flippantly snap back.

“I believe this to be the reason you behave in such an erratic and volatile manner.”

“I don’t think of myself as volatile. Erratic, maybe.”

“How old are you?”

“Twenty-nine.”

“Would you say that you’re promiscuous?”

“Define promiscuous,” I say, staring at his vagina flower.

“By definition, it means to have more than five sexual partners in one’s lifetime.”

I laugh so hard I choke on my own spit.

He stares at me.

“Do you enjoy rough sex? You know, being tied up, having your hair pulled…things like that?”

My cheeks feel on fire. I take a sip of my water.

“I mean…I don’t hate it.”

“You mentioned that once in the past, you were in an abusive relationship.”

“Yeah…”

“Did you engage in rough sex?”

“When?”

“When you were with the man you abused.”

“What would it mean if I said yes?”

“Have you ever been molested?” Ignoring my last question.

“Uhhh…I don’t know?”

“You don’t?” He glances at his watch. “Unfortunately we’ve run out of time, so we can get into that one on our next visit. But I want you to be thinking about it.”

“Yeah. Will do, Doc.”

God, I hate therapy.

He scribbles in his journal, most likely noting my general disdain. Surely this must a symptom of my mania… Ha.

He continues to write as I sit there in silence. This part never bothers me. People obsess over it, though — the secrets a therapist will share with their diary. I’ve been in therapy since I was seven. I know what he’s writing…

This part never bothers me. People obsess over it, though — the secrets a therapist will share with their diary.

[Textbook Bipolar I: Patient displays moderate to severe symptoms of mania. Pervasive  moods. Episodes ranging from high energy, elevated moods, to depression. Easily irritated. Racing thoughts. Easily distracted. High levels of anxiety. Such symptoms manifest themselves in the form of nail biting, rapid blinking, fear of death, and an inability to sit still. Frequently engages in high-risk sexual behavior. Slight sense of grandiosity. False sense of one’s own’s abilities. Narcissism? TBD (this diagnosis will require further cognitive therapy). Symptoms of insomnia. Blood panel indicative of substance abuse. The presence of substances includes alcohol, amphetamines, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, cannabinoids, cocaine, opiates. Depression phase includes symptoms of anxiety, low self-esteem, fatigue, feelings of hopelessness, violence, isolation from friends and activities that were once enjoyed. Be aware of signs of suicidal ideation or self-inflicted injury. Patient is introspective. Consider Borderline Personality as an alternate diagnosis.]

He hands me six different prescriptions. I don’t know what they’re for. I don’t care.

As I move to stand, I realize how hot the couch is. I wore a thong with my dress and now my bare ass is stuck to the leather. I squirm my way off the damn thing and thank him for his time… Ugh. That flower.

So what is it like to be bipolar?

According to Hollywood it involves lots of temper tantrums on the floor, indulgent shopping sprees, stints in mental institutions, a dangerous sex life and a basic inability to function in society. Oh, and you also might be good at crime fighting.

According to Dr. Katz, it means I’m a sex fiend with anger management issues who doesn’t understand my feelings.

I can’t speak for everyone, but that’s definitely not what it’s like for me. I’ll admit. I’ve had my moments. But for the most part, it’s a lot of inner monologues in my mind where I tell myself I’m really awkward and weird and very misunderstood. It’s this feeling, when your mood shifts for no apparent reason and you can’t figure out why you went from happily G-chatting with your girlfriends at work to crying in the bathroom because the mouth breather in the cube next to you — who sounds exactly like Brainy from Hey Arnold! — has suddenly made life and your mundane job seem all-at-once unbearable.

It’s a lot of inner monologues in my mind where I tell myself I’m really awkward and weird and very misunderstood.

I was recently a bridesmaid in a black-tie wedding. I was sitting at the reception gleefully chatting with friends I hadn’t seen in ages, when instantly, this grey curtain fell over my eyes. And this darkness descended around me. I couldn’t laugh, couldn’t fake a smile. I couldn’t speak. It felt like I was sitting in a glass room by myself. I could hear everyone around me talking, but they felt very far away. They couldn’t hear me.

mental illiness

I knew I needed to snap out of this. I felt pressured to do so quickly because people had noticed the shift in my mood and were starting to give me that oh-so-familiar look of concern and sympathy. I thought a trip to the bathroom to stare at my face for five or 10 minutes might help. I’m dramatic in that regard. So I attempted to quickly, and discreetly, make my way through the ballroom. A little too quickly, I guess. I tripped and stubbed my toe, which resulted in me violently ripping a toenail off in one fell swoop. The pain was blinding.

In the bathroom, now gushing blood all over the ornate oriental rugs at a prestigious Palm Beach Country Club, I nearly lost it. Panicked by the sight of all the blood, a woman in bathroom began frantically running around throwing paper towels in my direction and spritzing the air (nowhere near my foot) with the hydrogen peroxide she found underneath the sink. As if this was somehow helping the situation. She looked like a pixie whirling around with her long wavy hair and blue free-flowing dress. Things felt like they were happening in slow motion. And I was watching from above.

Things felt like they were happening in slow motion. And I was watching from above.

Back to reality — I was hemorrhaging. Blood was everywhere. And true to my dramatic nature, I started to worry that I might faint. I do that sometimes. To add insult, quite literally, to injury, this woman — not a day over 20, I might add — was the current girlfriend of a man I was once involved with. Unbeknownst to her, of course. In spite of the pain, I took a minute to appreciate the humor in this.

Then suddenly a staff member dressed in a formal maid outfit rushed to my side, handed me a rolled-up cloth napkin and told me to bite down.

“What are you getting ready to do? Will it hurt?”

“Yes.”

“Here — squeeze my hand!” screamed New Girlfriend.

I grabbed her hand, bit down as hard as I could on the cloth, and slammed my eyes closed. The Maid then poured what felt like gunpowder on my toe, and in an instant the bleeding had stopped.

In that very moment, I realized the grey curtain had lifted. I’m not sure how it happened, but I knew it was gone.

So…in my bloody bridesmaid dress, I hobbled back out onto the dance floor with New Girlfriend and continued with my evening as if nothing had happened.

mental illiness

For me, that’s what it’s like — a lot of really bizarre moments inside my mind that no one knows about. It’s grey until it’s not. For no reason at all. It happens slowly, then all at once. It’s a lot of uncomfortable conversations with doctors and friends. A lot of second-guessing whether or not what you feel is real or if it’s chemical. A lot of moments where you feel suspended in time, thinking about a gross flower, or wondering how to escape a glass room. It’s a lot of I-don’t-know-what. I guess I’m still trying to figure it all out.

Meanwhile I’m here and I’m dealing with the BS, but it’s OK. I’m OK. And maybe the distance between our two worlds isn’t as great as you think. end

 

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  • cathy beck

    love anything this new writer offers. What brave insight and courage to be vulnerable. I will continue to follow!