houston’s craziest

This Houston Press article is making me angry. It describes a program in which severely mentally ill people who commit crimes repeatedly are assigned caseworkers to help them get back on their feet. Instead of putting mentally ill criminals in jail or the psych ward over and over again, they’re given some personal attention and aid that is tailored to their specific situation. It’s one of the best programs I’ve ever seen in terms of reducing crimes committed by the mentally ill–treat them like people with potentially-manageable diseases instead of just more bodies to incarcerate, and you’re well on your way to lowering your crime statistics while also not being an asshole.

BUT! Did you notice the title of the article? “Houston’s Craziest.” So much for treating these individuals like people! The Houston Press (in accordance with HPD, who released an actual list of 30 crazies to watch out for), in choosing that offensive, disrespectful, eyeball-grabbing title, has undermined the content of the article itself. In choosing that title, they’re letting their readers know that despite the existence of a well-run program to keep severely mentally ill people off the streets and out of jail, they should still be known as “Houston’s Craziest.” In publishing that list, the Houston Press and HPD are letting everyone know that, despite every living person’s desire for respect and dignity, it’s still okay to point and laugh at the exploits of “crazy people.”

And I know, they didn’t publish everyone’s names. And maybe some of the people on the list could in fact be described as crazy. But it doesn’t matter. The public existence of that list undermines the efforts so many people have taken to change the terrible stigma associated with all levels of mental illness.

I’ve been very fortunate when it comes to my depression, for the following reasons:

  1. It’s not terribly severe.
  2. I grew up the daughter of well-off, suburban, highly educated people. I had parents who knew when something was wrong, knew where to take me for treatment, could support me financially when I needed it, and were able to provide me with medical insurance until I was 25.
  3. Because of #2, my depression and anxiety were caught relatively early and have therefore almost never gone untreated.
  4. Because of #2, I’ve been able to get an education myself, acquire job skills and social skills, find employment and a place to live, and support myself financially.
  5. Because of #4, I’ve acquired a savings account, health insurance of my own, and a support network of local friends to help me when I need it.

As I said, I’ve been very fortunate. But take away one or two of those things (ESPECIALLY #s 2 and 3) and any of those people on the list of Houston’s Craziest could be me. Well, not the men, because depression doesn’t change your gender. Hey-ohh! But make no mistake: I’m here with my laptop on the patio of the apartment my boyfriend and I rent, with my nice shoes and my clean teeth and my belly all full, writing complete sentences on the website I pay to host, because of the way I was born.

This isn’t about fate, because I don’t believe in it, and I don’t think I’m special. What it’s about is the fact that the “crazy” guy on the street could have the same exact illness as the girl in the cubicle next to you; the only difference is that she’s had it better in life than him.  It’s important that we keep the guy on the street from committing crimes and harming others, of course, but it’s also important that once we’ve done that we treat him like a human being, and not like a person on a list of undesirables.

This ties in nicely with my thoughts on Dave Cullen’s Columbine, but the cold front’s about to come in, so I’m going to go inside, sit on the couch with my dog, and knit while watching an episode of “Firefly.” Later I’m going to take my meds and get in bed with a book. That sound you hear is me trying not to take it for granted.

football and loneliness

Brendan: “Hey, I want to watch the football game on Saturday.”

Me: “Far out. What time? We should try to get your Halloween costume stuff that day too.”

Brendan: “It starts at 11.”

Me: “Okay, maybe we can go to the Halloween store after it’s over.”

Brendan: “Sure.”

Me: “Who’s playing?”

Brendan: “Texas and Oklahoma.”

For those of you who don’t know, the UT vs. University of Oklahoma football game has been held every October since, I don’t know, the dawn of time or whatever. It’s a big fat deal in college sports: they hold it in Dallas (a neutral location!) and all the sports fans go for the weekend.

I’d completely forgotten about the game’s existence until Brendan mentioned it, but during the two years I spent at UT, the Texas-OU game weekend was my favorite weekend of the whole school year.  Not because of the game, which of course I never attended, but because the campus was nearly deserted from Friday afternoon to Sunday evening.

I didn’t do anything differently on those weekends, mind you. I read and wrote letters and listened to music in my dorm room, ate in the cafeteria, walked to the computer lab on campus and back. But almost nobody was there to see me do it! Phrasing it this way sounds weird, but it’s how I felt: I could be invisible without worrying that anyone was watching me be invisible.

See, I knew that in my section of the dorm I was already known for being the girl who didn’t go anywhere. People would knock on my door to borrow things or ask questions on a Friday night, knowing full well that I’d be in my room. It embarrassed me to be this person, since everyone else went out every chance they got.

That’s one of several noticeable differences between being a dorm shut-in during your undiagnosed depression and being an apartment shut-in during your unemployed year.  In your apartment you can eat and bathe without leaving, there aren’t classes to attend, and you have no roommate, so there’s nobody around to watch you be a shut-in.  Also your neighbors are not all kids just out of high school, so they don’t care what you do.

I’ve talked a lot about my need for alone time on this site before, so obviously I learned not to worry about what people thought of it. I’ve also acquired at least five wonderful and engrossing hobbies since then, so I don’t even have time to worry about it.

That said, it’s important to get a balance. I get really testy if I don’t get lots of alone time, but if I get too much things can start to get depressing.  I plan to spend this Texas-OU weekend alternately going out and working on projects at home.

a little history

While I’ve alluded to my depressive history on this site, I’ve never outlined it in specific detail.  I think this is partly because I’ve been maintaining this site since early 2000, and while August 2001 can now be considered part of such a history, it wasn’t history when I wrote about it then.

Duh, you say. Fair enough.

It’s also partly because I can’t outline it in detail without recalling certain painful time periods, painful occurrences, and painful people I’d rather not think about.  Additionally, said people probably don’t want to be mentioned on this site any more than I want to write about them, and I think everyone should get to choose how their own story is told.  So I’ll never mention them by name or include any identifying details.

And (with the exception of Effexor) I don’t like to talk about what medications I’ve taken. I’ve never wanted to have a comments discussion about which drugs worked for whom and when, and I’d hate for someone to take what works for me only to discover it doesn’t help them at all.  The way anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications work on different people is so very personal that a free-for-all discussion isn’t likely to be useful to anyone.

So those are the rules. I won’t talk specifics about the people in my life, and I won’t talk about what medications I’ve taken. Also I’m not your doctor or your lawyer or your psychic or your life coach or whatever.

Also, I hope you’ll forgive me for not plumbing the depths of my extensive archives to find old posts that correspond to these events. I don’t like doing that. If you’re so inclined, you’re welcome to find them yourself.

As best I can recall, I suffered from depression even as a child.  My parents sent me to therapy a few times in junior high, which is probably an indicator, but more than that I just plain felt sad all the time.  In junior high especially, I would pretend to be sick when I was too depressed to face going to school.  I remember thinking that my life couldn’t possibly turn out to be any good, because I wasn’t any good.

I didn’t do anything about it. I didn’t really know you could.  A close family member had been in a mental hospital for awhile, I knew, but that sort of thing was for adults, and my family member was much worse off than I was. Right? It was probably just teen angst. Right?

Things got a bit better in high school. I didn’t have the junior-high bullies to worry about, and I joined some groups (school ones and church ones) that sometimes made me feel like I might fit in.  I had several close friends.  My senior year, when I fell in with the theatre crowd, spent lots of time in jazz choir (yes, really), and had an after-school job as a grocery cashier was the best school year I’d ever had.  Except maybe for kindergarten, but that didn’t really count.

I was, however, woefully unprepared for college.  I arrived at the University of Texas as an undeclared liberal arts major and found that the school was intimidatingly large, I’d never learned how to study properly, I wasn’t too good at making friends, and my roommate didn’t speak any English.  She was nice enough, but we couldn’t communicate, and sitting in our room watching her watch her Spanish soap operas was lonely and boring.  I didn’t study much, either.  I wasn’t any good, so what was the point?  Outside of taking in the occasional class, I hardly ever left the dorm.

This is already a little hard to write about.

Long UT story short, by the end of my freshman year I’d been put on academic probation.  Over the summer my parents took me to a doctor.  She was this sort of cross between a psychiatrist and a career counselor and a person who diagnoses learning disabilities, whatever you call that.  She diagnosed me with depression, a mild learning disability, and gave me some ideas for solutions for both.

I started taking anti-depressants and going to therapy during my sophomore year of college.  Things began to get a tiny bit better, but my grades weren’t improving much, and I was losing a lot of weight. A series of mid-sized interpersonal setbacks (see what I did there?) later that school year led me to drag my sad ass back home to Houston.

After that I felt much better. I got a job waiting tables (which I loved) and took some classes at community college (which I liked for the most part).  I weaned myself off of the anti-depressants in late 1998. Then I got a job as a web designer and decided that since I was fine now, the bout of depression had been due to college, moving to Austin, or some combination of both.

But August 2001 brought with it job dissatisfaction and a particularly painful breakup, and the bottom fell out.  I went to the doctor, who diagnosed me with the same old depression and some new anxiety and prescribed me anti-depressants and sedatives.  She told me that with my two depressive episodes to date, it was likely I’d be on medication for the rest of my life.  I went to my parents’ house and didn’t leave their couch for three days.

When I sat up from the couch, I formulated a plan. I would quit my job and go back to college.  So I enrolled as an English major at the University of Houston, and to my surprise I loved it. One of my friends recommended a therapist I ended up liking quite a bit.  I switched medications once, and took a sedative here and there for bad anxiety attacks, but I was all right until after the summer of 2005, when I began my Unemployed Year.

I’m going to stop for now.  I can only write about this sort of thing for so long, you know.  Hopefully my future posts about depression will be all uplifting and shit!