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Childhood mental illness

PostPosted: Tue Aug 18, 2009 11:33 am
by LastGypsies
(Though I've posted in this forum before, this is my first attempt to start a thread, so forgive me if it isn't a very good one).

Last week I saw a documentary on HBO called Boy Interrupted, about a child who is diagnosed with a mental illness and who eventually commits suicide. On the IMDB boards there are all kinds of idiots claiming they know all about suicide or mental illness or how the parents made mistakes, but I can tell that a lot of them have no idea whatsoever of what they are talking about. The reason I'm bringing up this topic here is because I've been reading these boards for some time now, and I find the discussions that go on here to be quite interesting, so I was wondering what the people in this group might have to say about this.

My background causes this subject to be more than a casual interest for me. I became suicidal for the first time when I was seven years old, and it was a very scary and disturbing time for me. This is why when I hear people say that children don't understand death enough or haven't lived enough or whatever to become suicidal, I wish I could make them see the world as I is one of the few beliefs I have that I absolutely am totally convinced of, because I have been there, and there was nothing in my environment that "got me interested" in suicide (as is usually the argument I hear from people), it came completely from within. In fact, I think I was suicidal before I ever understood that it was something that others had also endured. And whatever people may think about psychiatry, this is something that I only wish I could lie about.

Has anyone else ever had experiences like mine? Maybe not as young or as severe or whatever, but did anyone have to see a psychiatrist in childhood? Even if not, I'm curious as to what the intelligent, interesting people I've seen here might know or have to say about this topic, as I've learned that hearing and comparing others' experiences about this can lead to some...unique...conversations.

Re: Childhood mental illness

PostPosted: Tue Aug 18, 2009 1:02 pm
by Jennifer Diane Reitz
One of my spouses, Eldenath, suffers from a fairly severe mental illness. She feels arbitrarily depressed commonly, and feeling suicidal is something she manages almost daily sometimes (her illness fluxes, sometimes even seems to have seasons, like the weather - certain times of the year are worse, not just obvious holidays, some weeks or months are worse, and some better) and she has basically developed means inside herself -and outside herself- to manage her self-destructive feelings and impulses.

She would be excellent to talk to about this; I will see if I can get her to make an appearance again on these forums. I have learned that talking about these things is useful to everyone involved.

As for myself, I have had bouts of suicidal thought; almost always associated with feeling doomed or trapped. Before my transition, I was commonly suicidal; sometimes it is amazing to me that I survived that period at all. The suicidal impulses derived from feeling hopeless about my gender plight, and resolved themselves after my transition.

But a second batch of suicidal / self destructive impulse occurred just prior to my primary panic attack in 1989 or thereabouts (I've forgotten the year my big attack happened). For a week or two before the big event, I started having the strangest and most bizarre, ever strengthening impulses to harm myself, including to commit suicide. The oddest of these destructive thoughts, and the most dominant, was a fairly frightening, bizarre impulse to blind myself by ripping out my own eyeballs. It was just insane. I could not explain this weird drive, which I held at bay only through forceful reason at one point. Then, suddenly, one day I had the most terrible and life-changing panic attack, and after an ambulance trip to the hospital, and access to anti-panic medication, I began a struggle to regain my life and my freedom which goes on to this day.

I always wonder if that weird 'rip your eyes out and/or suicide' self destructive impulse was directly related to whatever caused the panic attack, and subsequent disorder, that permanently changed my life. Was it some kind of migraine-like 'aura' preceding the start of my panic disorder? Two weeks of dire thoughts and impulses as pre-panic disorder symptoms?

Those weeks of dark impulses haunt me to this day, like an echo.

Another time I become suicidal is when I am faced with the cruelty of reality; that the only two options within life are suicide or the slow degeneration and constant loss of those we love that occurs in aging. The reality of perpetual loss is not something I cope with well, and there is too great an argument, sometimes, that just getting it over with has merit over an inevitable, horrible decline matched by constant loss of those I love. I suppose you could call this a kind of suicidal existential despair - whatever it is named, I definitely have it. Sometimes it can get fairly robust.

What stays my hand is primarily greed; as the replicant character Roy Batty in my favorite movie 'Blade Runner' eloquently puts it "I want more LIFE.... fucker!", and that ultimately is both the solution, and the cause for my suicidal thinking. The wish to have more of my family, more of the things I love (when I am not too depressed to enjoy them, of course), more of the experience of myself. In a way I feel like I am playing chicken with life; it will eventually crash and disable me, take from me everything including myself, but as long as I hold the wheel carefully, and not accelerate too fast, maybe there will still be many more days of still being functional, mobile, and un-alone left I can squeeze out of the situation. My fear is being so disabled by the degeneration and insults of age as to no longer possess the actual ability to cack myself if faced with something truly horrible - total, terminal state with paralysis and months or years to go before death. Terrifying - that would be a 'I want out' scenario.

I sometimes have fleeting suicidal thoughts when I get very depressed, but I have come to recognize that as being merely an additional symptom of whatever causes my occasional arbitrary depressions. I have had such depressions my whole life; I have simply come to accept them as an unwelcome partner that barges in now and again. I can rationally see the arbitrary nature of them, how they are not associated with anything other than themselves, how they exist for their own sake, and this helps me in managing such incidents. I have made a kind of uncomfortable peace with the fact that sometimes I just get terribly depressed, where nothing seems fun or interesting anymore, for no reason I can fathom, and that's just how it is. I try to take the attitude that one would have with something like a bruise or a cut or a pimple; a 'crap, oh well' kind of attitude. Some people just have this happen, it will pass. Brain weather.

Against that attitude, any vague suicidal thoughts that may crop up seem all the more ignorable, and that is useful.

Re: Childhood mental illness

PostPosted: Tue Aug 18, 2009 1:14 pm
by Eldenath de Vilya
Dear Gypsy,

The earliest I can think of actually being suicidal was much later for me, around 14 or so (according to my poetry). I was always "too sensitive" as a child, and still am. My depression can get very deep and dark, and while active suicidal thoughts happen, I even have another variation on them, where I simply wish to be able to curl up and cease to be,
without having to damage myself physically.

While my mother seemed to know and acknowledge (and even told me) that there was "something wrong with me", even at a very young age, it wasn't an acceptable thing to her to even consider psychiatric help. I remember trying to talk to school counselors, teachers, principles, neighbors.......but I didn't even know how to convey my problems in a way that made coherent sense - or make the plea for help and rescue comprehensible.

In my late teens I finally started seeking actual counseling help (17), and did a lot of work on myself from that time on. At age 29 or 30 I finally took my first medication for depression, Zoloft. I had been resistant to trying drugs until desperation set in. I'd been afraid of substance addiction, which runs in my family. I was lucky, the first medication
is rarely the right one, for me it was. I've since tried other medications, and found that so far Zoloft is the only thing that seems to work at all for me. It doesn't take my depression away, it doesn't cure me. It does make it manageable, cope-able, and helps me function more effectively. Paired with counseling, it can prove even more effective.

Knowing I wasn't the only one who had this sort of problem helped me, too. If I can be of any assistance at all, please feel free to contact me.

Re: Childhood mental illness

PostPosted: Tue Aug 18, 2009 1:33 pm
by Monocheres
I can't speak about suicide or suicidal thinking, because that's outside my experience. But I can corroborate one aspect of your account: Seven years old seems to be a time when a child's mind achieves a certain level of development in which rather deep existential thoughts are possible, and it seems to be innate.

I distinctly recall being seven years old when I first had The Thought (as I call it). Every now and then The Thought comes back to haunt me. It's not always possible to truly comprehend the yawning vastness of The Thought, but occasionally my mind does manage, for a moment, to reach a level of frightening clarity where it can grasp it once again. I shudder momentarily with ultimate cold, staring at a precipice unlike any other, before it slips away from me again.

The Thought goes something like this:

The Thought wrote:What if there had never been ... anything?

It's not just, what if I'd never been born, or what will happen after I die, or what if there had never been people, or what if there had never been life on this planet, or what if the Earth or the Sun or the Milky Way had never existed, or even what if this Universe and its physical laws had never existed. Its even bigger than what if time and space never existed, what if even mathematics didn't exist. What if "what if" never existed? What if "never existed" never existed? Anything you can imagine or can't imagine ... what if it never was?

The Thought wrote:What if there had never been ... anything?

All that, all of a sudden, as if out of nowhere, at seven years old.

Re: Childhood mental illness

PostPosted: Tue Aug 18, 2009 2:20 pm
by LastGypsies
I cannot tell you how much I appreciate the lengthy replies you guys have made! Thank you, truly. Too many great quotes for me to quote throughout this message, so I'll just write my reply as if you know which part I'm referring to.

There was a time when I was much the same way in terms of having to manage it almost daily-several years, in fact. I understand it's not uncommon for it to have "seasoms", too, as you said. Unfortunately, it can take a long time to find a way to manage it within yourself-lots of trial and error (for me it was that way, at least). "Brain weather" is a great term-EXACTLY how I felt it. Some combination of medication and mental exercises helped me regain some sanity, and once I did I felt that I, for once, could control the brain weather. Before that I was almost totally at its mercy.

14 is a more common age that such thoughts begin, from my understanding. It's weird, I had a severe suicidal period from ages 7 to 9, and then they disappeared for a while thanks to the medication they put me on, but then they came back at ages 15 to 20 or so, as if my brain had gotten used to the meds and started acting up again. But it could also be that children experience depression differently than adults, and I guess it is possible that I had childhood depression, then years later the adult version came up (and then I began having psychotic episodes, too, but that's another story). I also know what you mean about sometimes being suicidal actively and sometimes being more passive, like you just want to disappear.

Not long after I turned seven, we moved cross-country for the first time in my memory, and I think it was the change in surroundings that upset me at first. It's been said that while such events don't cause depression, they can trigger it-as if the suicidal thoughts were just waiting in the wings. I became very paranoid and didn't trust anyone, my parents, my doctors, teachers, peers, anyone. Then one day I threw a chair at my teacher and threatened suicide. My psychiatrist wouldn't prescribe anti-depressants and wanted to hospitalize me, but my parents refused and switched to a different psychiatrist who did prescribe anti-depressants, which made me very, very disturbed for a long time...this led him to suspect that I had Bipolar disorder, and put me on Lithium, which finally calmed me down and wiped out the suicidal thoughts.

You're very lucky that the first drug you tried worked for you-they must've put me on every anti-depressant (and ADHD med, for that matter) in the book, and each one just seemed to make me worse. Unfortunately, this trial-and-error process is often how psychiatry works, especially with children.

As to the age of seven or so being a change in level of development, I must say I agree. Perhaps it is just because my seventh year was so messed up, but I felt like I definitely felt and understood things differently from that age on, for better or for worse. That was always my suspicion, anyway.

Once again, thank you guys so much for your replies! I'll try not to be afraid of posting from here on out!

Re: Childhood mental illness

PostPosted: Tue Aug 18, 2009 6:26 pm
by Coda
I'm attention deficit -- a real case, not one of those overprescribed stories where the kid really just needs a good slap upside the head -- so while I haven't experienced childhood depression I'm well familiar with growing up with "different" mental processes. The depression didn't come until I was around 20, and it's well within my capacity to handle without medication. The actual ADHD, on the other hand... I'm unmedicated now, but from time to time it still flares up and I'm basically unable to focus on anything.

Re: Childhood mental illness

PostPosted: Wed Aug 19, 2009 1:00 am
by Jennifer Diane Reitz
Wow, Gypsy, you were right - this subject definitely did bring up interesting statements. Welcome again!