Honouring Mental Illness

I was raped by three different people with schizophrenia. I have bipolar and am neurodivergant (a vague and overarching term for nuances I could work through to no end, but includes an executive functioning deficit which affects my ability to sort thoughts in my head and slower processing time for events). There’s two contrasting and problematic narratives I have seen around mental illness. One is the complete denial of issues and almost romanticization of the disease. This comes in the form of us wack-jobs as “gods teachers”, misunderstood brilliance, we’re gifted or indigo or telepathic evolution gone wrong. The other, more commonly challenged narrative is that we are out of control monsters, not to be trusted and probably need to be sedated and drugged for our whole lives. I lived in both these worlds. I tried it out, tasted the narrative, to see if it helped me. Now here I am, running from both. It was in romanticization of my own illness that I found myself denying the power of illness in others, therefore not seeing them for who they really are and trying pretend that the illness didn’t matter. I truly believed, that I, on my own, could love it better. And I failed, three times.
Did I really think I could do that? In part, I also just wanted to pretend that it was an inconsequential personality trait, schizophrenia, nbd, just like my bipolar, not a big deal. This was, in part, due to the way my own illness had been treated and my own need to deny it because otherwise, my autonomy was at stake. The only choices I had was submit to the treatment of the mental health care system or go it alone. The medications I was on compounded and a large majority of what I would consider the most severe parts of my issues only started after I was on medication in part due to the heckling of a past romantic partner that something was wrong with me (things, which at the time, presented as primarily an anxiety disorder). So months after my discharge for my episode I stopped going to the doctor, weaned myself off the stimulant medications I was on for ADHD (at the time, Vyvanse) first and then off the mood stabilizer (Epival) which *I thought* was altering my *vibrations* such that I was in near constant contact with the Astral Plane and I was getting real fricking tired of talking to my dead boyfriends ghost all the time.

When I was first hospitalized for my manic-psychotic episode, I was 12~ hours post rape. One of the odd dozen of the polysatured guys I had been dating had sex with me while I was floating in another reality, where I was Ada Lovelace, the walls were made of gears and I had the secrets of every woman ever written in blue squiggles all over my body. He knew I was unwell and later expressed regret, to which I said it was “ok”. And really, it was probably the least traumatizing of my assaults, though it most closely matched societies standards of what was an “acceptable” rape (penis in vagina, that is). However, even though it was *not that bad* I still needed to accept that for what it was, an act of sex which I was not capable of consenting to. In the time I spent away from the hospital on leave, I compiled all the messages he ever sent to me over facebook into a “book” (pink binder) which I titled “fuck the homeless” (because, he was homeless, and like I said before, I thought I could make these things better through love and sex). I broke up with him online (called off our engagement more specifically, as my manic dreams thought that we both existed in a realm of unreality and marriage would make us real, it was a terrible and crazy plan, because I was crazy) and included that in my “book”. I felt accomplished, like even though I was sick, I still made this book and I was very proud of it. Kept it as a cherished possession. It wasn’t until I was writing the first draft of my novel in progress that I related the rape scenes I was putting my characters through to that which happened to me (which again, I denied the power of).

So the storyline here so far is that multiple circumstances intersected that lead to my first and only full manic episode, I was sexually assaulted, later arrived at a friends house for a sexual encounter (whom recognized me as ill right away) and those friends DID THE RIGHT THING AND DIDN’T FUCK ME and instead took me to the hospital where I was eventually committed (and my situation mishandled in such a way that could’ve died, but we’ll get back to that in a future blog post), hospitalized for seven weeks, didn’t get better until I had a stable environment (I was at two different hospitals and the first experience was akin to a sleep deprived torture chamber where I was actively shamed for my hypersexualized speech <symptoms of a manic episode as well as sexual assault> with nurses whispering to my mother, that she didn’t know “what I’d done”) and complied a record of the relationship in which I was raped on my own time. Through the feedback of friends who are knowledgeable in the appropriate areas, I opted to ween myself off the medication which was making/keeping me sick (which is not the case for all people) as well as stop seeing the doctor who wanted to laugh at my “delusions” with me as if the who experience was some good joke. In all this, I was very alone, in the hospital no one talked to me long enough to understand what I was going through. I had access to psychiatry but no psychologist except in group therapy where everyone regurgitated their needs of drugs to control themselves. No no no no. Something happened to me, something I didn’t understand yet, I had no frame of reference for, not something that just needed to be drugged away. I ran my hands along poster boards looking for supports around sexuality and none existed. I was talking about sexuality because I needed to talk about sex, but I was afraid to.

So shortly after I weened myself off my medication months later it hit me, that something was going on with my sexuality and gender. My entire life before the psychosis had been incorporated messages around how to live and I came from a special bread of fundamentalist Christianity which had me ingrained with gendered and sexual expectations which did not serve me. I did not have spaces in which to explore the gender questions I had in real life, and so the people I found, trans and questioning, also with mental illness, where my safe spaces to ask these questions. I was desperate for space, and would take it even in the most toxic of circumstances. One situation I was invited by a woman to meet her partners for approval, where they wanted me to get stoned, because if I was drugged I couldn’t hide anything about myself. I was so incapacitated I could barely sit up, resting my head in my dates arms, and we went to her room and kissed and played and then she tied me up and asked me again and again if it was ok. But then, was I gagged? The memories aren’t clear. My body and my mind couldn’t connect, I was too inebriated to form thoughts, to find no, to know I could say no. She used a vibrator on me that caused my lower back to seize up so much that I could barely walk for a week (at which point, I crashed my car and the injury was compounded, negating any doctors ability to conclusively say what caused the injuries which have continued to plague me). I stumbled out of there in a haze and thought with those whole stream of emotions that it must be love (a pattern from a past relationship outside of this story). I showed up on a nearby friends door, a lover, who caught me as I fell to the ground crying unable to explain what happened or why I was in pain and he told me “I needed to slow down” with life, which was code for can’t handle it, clean yourself up. So I did, talked about what happened but as if I was consenting and capable of consent.

It was in the wave of this that I stopped doing monthly reports at my job, which I would lose some months later, and made the poorest decision of my life. This other person, who I had seen off and on from before my psychosis, back in the days when I was sexually unwell and overly expressive, where I said yes to situations more out of curiosity than desire, and despite discomfort and pain (because I was desperate for something, which I did not know yet), offered me sanctuary. I wanted a safe place and while we shared many fantasies, this person did not have the capacity to sort through what I wanted and what was ok and what was just words about thoughts and not things I wanted and did not seek clarification and started just doing things to me and caring less and less about my well-being. Some really messed up things happened here, which I could not sort into categories of ok or not, because it was some (but not all) things I said I wanted, but things I wanted with plans, and thought and care, not just things that happened with continuing and intensifying frequency, eventually leading to me chained up on a chair in a closet, unable to move without getting slapped (which meant ignoring my back injury, which this person knew about), and forced to tell a story (accessing the creative power which gave me strength and clarity in the past) and getting choked unconscious, I awoke with confusion. Rose into his arms for a hug. Sat on the couch and stared straight ahead for half an hour before I said “Thank You” because my mind was stuck and wanted none of the bad to be true and everything to be ok.

It took me a few months for me to find the strength to leave, to see a pattern of nothingness in our love and situations that did not make sense. My anger, pain and rage I felt towards this person had no context and it wasn’t until I had taken the first steps toward leaving, out to lunch with a friend that I realized I’d been raped. This person went so far as to confess via email, vaguely enough that police could discount it when coupled with a verbal denial. But we all knew what happened. The fear I have lived with since this is bigger than all the people involved, my body and my mind created monsters out of sick people who would likely never contact or attempt to hurt me again. Though the one partner has occasionally reached out, perhaps out of confusion not realizing that any contact with me is harmful.

But I realize, in all these situations, everyone involved was fundamentally unwell. All had illness that was in large, untreated or inappropriately so. We lacked the supports and capacity to know what was good or bad and I lacked the knowledge to recognize harm as it was happening to my body (a disconnection highly linked to disassociation and denial of self in regards to gender). These incidents weren’t random, but hurt inflicted by people who had systemically been failed. My lovers were a collection of homeless, schizophrenic, deeply co-dependent and isolated due to stigma, mentally ill people. Hurt was exchanged, or rather passed down, because often we don’t know what else to do with it. 2/3 of the people who assaulted me were also gender minorities, but that’s not because gender minorities are “Evil” – it’s because we’ve been failed. I too, am a “mentally ill” gender minority.

But my mental illness didn’t just happen, it was born out an incapacity to navigate the world with the framework of reality I was given which did not include me, a non-binary person as possible reality. I floated through situations based on a careful system of rules I had memorized and studied as how to be the thing I was supposed to be, a girl, which I was not. I wanted to hopeful, warm, a manic pixie dream, and manic I became, came out of. Their mental illnesses? I can’t say what those stories are, but I know that they’d all been hurt or failed in some way prior to hurting me, had nonexistent, inadequate or desperate housing situations (like the one I entered while seeking space to explore my gender), at least one was also a survivor of sexual assault. I know better situations for all these people would mean that the hurt passed onto me likely wouldn’t have happened, didn’t have to exist; the unnecessary suffering because supports are inadequate and the stigma is so great that people don’t even attempt to help or choose to actively isolate ill people. I was afraid of talking about this, that it might add to stigma and peoples fear, but none of this is random violence, it is all cyclical and preventable violence; things increased social support and understanding can unravel; make impossible the fear and desperation that forces us to enter unfavourable conditions where we can be exploited or abused in a multitude of ways.

We don’t cure the world with words and passive love, we do it with loving acts, which includes seeing people for what they are and honouring their struggles. However, a mental health care system which ultimately robs people of their humanity, autonomy and mistreats them is not one people will turn to for help, which is why we turned to each other instead, hoping to cure one another with love, something none of us had the capacity to give, because it was something we had never experienced or had as our whole selves.

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