Month: May 2014

I am not. . .

I am not my mental illness.

Bipolar, you call me.  Psychotic.  Depressed.  Anxious.  Pulling whatever term you wish to inflict upon me from your reservoir of labels, derogatory and damaging, yet to you, ever so descriptive.  Unknowingly.  No, you cannot be blamed.  It is a practice woven into the very fabric of our society, injected into you at birth, cultivated like a seed sprouting into maturity, as the seconds, the minutes pass.  Minutes that cannot be rewound, rewritten.  Unlabeled.  I become words, concepts, my humanity and integrity hidden behind the composition, the unfriendly connection of letters to words.

I am not my mental illness.

Bipolar.  Psychotic.  Did you know I play the piano and cello?  And have done so for years?  Or that I listen to my favorite songs – on repeat – on my iPod all day, everyday, in attempts to calm an unquiet, storming mind?  Bipolar.  The DSM 5 categorizes this disorder as a biological brain disorder, a mood disorder, characterized by periods of mania and depression, or mixed states incorporating both simultaneously.  Oh, did I mention I enjoy to write poetry?  To take walks in the park, drink green tea and read Wally Lamb at a coffee shop?  Risky behavior.  Promiscuity, impulsive spending, drug and alcohol abuse.  I will take some soy milk in my chai tea latte.  Thanks a bunch.  And toss me a copy of the New Yorker.  Should not have to shell out too much for that.

I am not my mental illness.

Words are words.  Can you believe the power the joining of alphabetical characters can have?  The, exclaimers of joy and ecstasy, or the hurtful, detrimental, irreparable effects.  Asshole, bitch, fuck.  You name it.  Oh yes, you know those words and the power they hold.  So why do you reduce the essence of a person to a word when so much more exists?  I am bipolar.  But am I bipolar?  Or am I something more?  We are programmed to see the facade, not look beyond the thin, the thin and wispy silk enshrouding the person with whom you have exercised your labeling powers upon.  Must you know, I am not bipolar.  My mental illness does not define me.  Its malignant effects plague my mind and rip my soul, but it is not solely who I am.  No.  Resoundingly no.  I have bipolar.  I repeat, it is a condition I have, not a condition I am.  There.  You have it.  I am like the rest of you, existing in the same plane.  I dare you, continue to call and label those with mental illness by their illness, strength and resilience shall arise, enveloping all and rewriting the rules of communication.

I am not my mental illness.


© 2014 Alexandra Shall

Broken Lamps and Escorts

As you know from previous posts, I have struggled with mental illness most of my life.  I have had periods of ups and downs and in-betweens.  Since December 2012, struggles have greatly arisen, coming to head and persisting, and the last year and a half of my life has been quite a fight.  As I sit here tonight, I cannot help but recall “what started it all.”  My mind is ruminating and perseverating, and perhaps sharing the story will quiet my thoughts.

Finals had just ended.  A couple of days before I had knocked my ceramic lamp from the end table, shattering it, jagged pieces splayed everywhere across the wood floor.  I was tired, too tired to make any attempt to clean, and haphazardly brushed the pieces to the side.  Over the course of the term, I had been deteriorating – and quickly.  I was forced to leave my volunteer position at the campus Women’s Resource Center due to my declining state, and I barely completed my classes.  With the completion of finals I felt a sense of relief, but also a sense of trepidation.  School had given me purpose, something to consistently strive for and look forward to.  Finals had removed all of what had been keeping me going.  A night or two after I broke the ceramic lamp – which I never cleaned up – the jagged pieces began to look enticing.  I had cut before, but it had been over a year and a half since I had done so.  I made several shallow cuts on my leg and then the next one was deeper, into the fat.  I was shocked and panicked.  There was blood, and I grabbed the first item – a shirt – to staunch the flow.  I ran into the hallway of the dorm to find my neighbor, and of luck, she was there, just returning from walking her dog.  She calmed my hysterics, patched me up, and she and I and two other residents sat in the hall for over an hour chatting and conversing, which worked to calm my raging moods.

Bandaged up, I spent the next day or two going through the motions, but still deteriorating quickly.  About two nights later, I cracked.  It was late, and I went to my neighbor’s room and pled for help, for something to relieve the pain.  We decided to call the Campus Police and let them know we had a psychiatric crisis.  They were going to call an ambulance, but I adamantly insisted that I be driven in the police car to the hospital.  The idea of riding in an ambulance was quite terrifying at the moment.  They conceded and agreed to come to the dorm and get me.  I returned to my apartment to grab my belongings and began to check the level of water in my cat’s bowl, whether the burners were off on the stove, etc. until my neighbor gently ushered me out, interrupting my obsessive behavior.

The Campus Police arrived, wearing purple latex gloves.  At the time I could not comprehend why they would don gloves, but later thinking enlightened me that that they really had no idea what sort of situation they were stepping into.  They searched my bag and led me to the police car.  Once in the car came the questions . . . height, hair color, etc.  The other officer took a statement from my neighbor.  “Wanna talk about it?” the officer asked, and all I could do was shake my head no.

I was driven to the OHSU Emergency Department and walked in – no, was escorted in – by the two officers as the entire waiting room watched.  I cowered in humiliation.  Luckily I was taken back immediately.  I was searched for sharp items or other potentially harmful items and led to a room furnished with a mat on the floor, stuffed chairs, and complete with a camera.  My clothes and belongings were confiscated, and I donned paper scrubs.  I spent the first several hours crying uncontrollably and speaking intermittently with psychiatrists, pharmacy techs, and lab assistants.  Once the decision was made for admission to the psychiatric ward, I finally collapsed into sleep.  I was awoken early in the morning, only several hours after finally succumbing to sleep, to be informed I was being transferred to another psychiatric hospital in the area called Cedar Hills.  They wrapped me in a blanket, protecting me from the chilly December weather, and escorted me to a police-type car and drove me to the facility.  Upon arrival I immediately began intake, which involved – in all humility – stripping down to nothing more than my skin to check for and document marks and scars.  So began my journey, my revolving door, of the psych hospitalizations I have been experiencing for the past year and a half.

I earnestly wish I could say I have improved from this point, but four more hospitalizations and 38 ECTs contradict this notion.  I want so badly to get better – to be well – but the struggle is unrelenting.  I am continuing to fight; I am committed to fight, and I vow, with difficulty, to not give up.  There are bright days interspersed with the dark ones, and I pray for the arrival and multiplication of these days. I believe that sharing stories is important because not only is it cathartic and empowering, it raises awareness of mental illness and the experiences of those afflicted.  Stories should not be hidden and shrouded, shameful tales, but rather used as mechanisms of education.  If there is anything I can hope to do in my life, it is to share my story, educate others, and raise awareness.  Hiding mental illness hurts the sufferer, yes, but it also hurts society, as it loses a vital component that provides betterment and a strong bolster to the infrastructure of our social fabric.

Peanut Butter and Jelly

Hi readers, I want to shake things up a bit and post vignettes and random commentary from my life in addition to the style I have established over the last few months. It’s time to throw some different ingredients in the blender and bake another cake. Hopefully you may be appreciative. Thank you for your reads and your support thus far. Here goes.


Peanut Butter and Jelly

Peanut butter and jelly. On white bread. The quintessential sandwich of childhood, memories built around baked bread with bleached flour, ground-up peanuts seasoned to taste, and a pomade of preserved fruit. Simple, yet profound, in its existence, a component of childhood often overlooked in a cacophony of recollections of soccer games and ballet recitals. However it is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that forms one of my earliest memories of childhood – feelings of loneliness and despondency and the bonds of friendship.

I was about six years old, nearly seven, residing in a suburb of Los Angeles. Our family had just trekked across the United States in a blue minivan from the state of New Hampshire. I had two sisters in tow, both younger, one an infant and the other preschool age. I was beginning first grade. It was my first day of school, and my mother had dutifully packed my lunch. It was simple. I am not quite sure what exactly it was composed of, but I know of a certainty there was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on white bread.

When it came to lunch time, I made my way to the outdoor quad that served as what I like to call the lunch arena. The day was warm and sunny, as it commonly is in Southern California, and students of all grades flocked toward one another and formed their cliques and lunch buddy clubs. I took a seat on the concrete towards the side of the quad, not in the action, but not necessarily detached. I took out my peanut butter and jelly sandwich on white bread, and amidst the first few bites, I began to cry. Tears of loneliness, tears of despondency. I was alone. Devoid of any company, and it stung. One of the lunch aids came over, addressed the situation, and treated me in a brash manner. Had she never encountered a student, experiencing the fear and timidness associated with beginning life at a new school and being friendless in a big pond?

Apparently following lunch, word made its way to my teacher about the incident in the quad, and she took matters into her own hands. See, my elementary school had this program where students received lottery tickets for commendable work or behavior performed, and the more accumulated, the better the recognition and awards. My teacher stealthily manipulated this system to find a set of friends for me. She selected three of the young girls from the class and awarded them lottery tickets should they befriend me and show me the ropes, so to speak, of surviving and thriving at the elementary school. Our friendship spanned far past the first grade and into high school, where we parted ways, as many relationships have the potential to go.

Finding friends can be both the easiest and most difficult task in life, and also one of the most rewarding. Every time I spread some Jif Peanut Butter and Strawberry Smuckers Jam on wheat – not white – bread, I cannot help but recall how this very sandwich opened up a world of opportunities for me in a new school, a new town, and a new community where I could grow, develop, and thrive.

Hope in the Form of Light

The sun rises, in a foreboding nature, its early glancing rays the instillers of trepidation

Trepidation channeled in the quick exchanges, the goodbyes, the prayers

Offered quietly before waltzing with the asphalt in the bleak but simultaneously effulgent display

The car is hungry, growling for a morning meal

We stop at the pump, satiate its hunger and move on our way

My sister sips from a plastic bottle while I desperately attempt to dampen my dehydrated mouth

No food, no water. The river runs dry and fruitless

The sun continues to rise as I continue to plummet in anticipation

I arrive at the hospital, uncover myself from the comfort of my quilt

Grasp the stuffed dog I have named Puppy, who has accompanied me thirty-seven times

And I trudge my way through the sliding doors, check in with my ID and card

Proceed to the Surgical Prep Area

Puppy and I are soon whisked to the inner layer, the mysterious fortress where many enter and

Not all have the privilege to leave

Bay nineteen, oh my favorite number, I revel silently as I quickly don a hospital gown and paper booties

Feeling down, depressed, or hopeless – nearly every day

Having thoughts of hurting yourself or of suicide – nearly every day

So goes the depression screening

Pinch as a needle creeps into my vein, a flash of blood, success

Is my memory going? Well there is a determining exam

Today’s result? Negative, the woods are clear for now

Sticker time, EKG, EEG, so many machines, so many stickers

A burst of electricity passes through the conductor paste they have so carefully placed

On each side of my head

One, two, three seconds… Nearly a minute passes of hopeful seizing

Wondering if anything will ever work, if anything will ever bring peace.


This piece is in response to the WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge: Flash Fiction.  The challenge was to write a brief story – 300 words or less.  I chose to present mine in a semi-poetical nature.  Hopefully I was successful.