mental health caregivers podcast

I’m with Crazy: A Love Story (Ep2) Christmas and Crazy

My direct connection with paranoid schizophrenia is no longer. My mother died a decade ago and my little sister died just a few years ago. Every Christmas, however, I can’t help but think of the irony. After all, both schizophrenia and the holidays involve retreat into a world of bizarre delusions. Santa Claus, flying reindeer, little elves, a Virgin birth, angelic voices, Christmas miracles, peace on earth, Goodwill to men, and so on. During this time of year, millions of people suspend logic and, in part, believe in the unbelievable. It’s all acceptable, even laughable, as long as the sum of the parts keeps you in societies scope of the norm, far enough away from clinical insanity. But then, as those of us, the millions of us who have or continue to have to deal with loved ones who have a mental illness know, reality comes back in full force, smacking us square in the eyes with the latest episode of crazy.

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Transcript:

Paolina Milana:
Hi, and welcome to Madness To Magic, and my podcast, I’m with Crazy: A Love Story. I’m your host, Paolina Milana, author of “The S Word”.

Paolina Milana:
This show is for those of us who find ourselves surrounded by madness and wanting to find the magic within. We’re going to come together here as caregivers to those who have been diagnosed with a mental illness. Maybe it’s someone in the family we’ve been born into. Maybe it’s someone we love. Maybe it’s someone we work with. Maybe, even, it’s ourselves. Whether we’ve been thrust into this caregiver role or taken it on by choice, this podcast is where we’re going to share our stories and learn to realize the magic in all the madness we may have been experiencing. I promise you, it can be done. So let’s get to it.

Paolina Milana:
Hi there and welcome back to Madness To Magic, and my podcast, I’m with Crazy: A Love Story. Here we are again together. This is episode two and it just so happens to be Christmas 2018. So let me first wish a Merry Christmas to you and yours. As I like to say, I hope old ho ho is good to you.

Paolina Milana:
Now, in my first podcast, I told you a little bit about me and why I’m doing what I’m doing here. I also promised to tell you a story in today’s podcast that’s related to Christmas and crazy. Here it is. Let me know if you can relate?

Paolina Milana:
As I already shared, my mom was a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic. In the late 70’s no one knew or thought much about mental illness, other than to be afraid of it, to punish it, or to pretend it didn’t exist. God forbid if you had it or if you associated with anyone who did.

Paolina Milana:
I was 11 years old when the TV movie Sybil aired. Sally Field played Sybil, a young woman who had developed multiple personalities and whose terrifying story unfolded as she received treatment from a very caring psychiatrist played by Joanne Woodward. I loved that character. Dr. Wilbur was her name. Little did I realize back then that I would be blessed with my own version of a Dr. Wilbur who would end up saving my own life.

Paolina Milana:
When I saw the movie Sybil, and then bought and read the book, a part of me nodded, almost instinctively understanding too well that kind of madness. Still. I stayed silent about what was going on in our own home. A little more than a decade later, 1988, I was 23 years old when I stood frozen, watching real life unfold on our TV. A 30 year old woman named Laurie Dan had walked into a second grade classroom in a Chicago suburb called Winnetka. It was about five or six miles from where we lived at the time. She opened fire on the children. She killed one and injured five more. According to the media reports, this tragic event was just a slice of harm she inflicted or intended to inflict on others. Poison, arson, and more, was found, and several people, other people, were wounded. Laurie Dan ended up killing herself in the end. And for a long time afterward I’d listen to stories of this woman’s bizarre and violent behavior, all stemming from her having a mental illness.

Paolina Milana:
The media interviewed neighbors and friends who said that she had exhibited erratic and destructive behavior for years during her “descent into an undiagnosed madness.” Fingers started to point. Someone needed to be blamed. Answers were wanted. Someone had to be held accountable. Where were Laurie Dan’s parents? Where were her caregivers, her teachers, doctors, friends? What mistakes were made? What behavior patterns or symptoms were missed? How could we have allowed such evil to walk among us?

Paolina Milana:
I listened. I watched. I nodded. All the while understanding far too well exactly how, because I was in similar shoes, and our family stayed silent due to the shame and stigma. Also, due to the lack of resources in anything even remotely resembling real help. All of this was the madness and I didn’t call it evil. For me, it was my normal.

Paolina Milana:
My mother’s schizophrenia burned inside her and she raged against us. Few, if any, outside our immediate family knew. Few were able to help us, despite hospital stays and massive amounts of antipsychotic medications. All of this was my life, and it was still a couple of years away from when my little sister would explode with her own first psychotic episode. But all of this, it’s all backstory, or actually I should more correctly say part of the story that was already published in my first book, “The S Word”. This is not the Christmas and Crazy tale I wanted to share with you during this podcast. No, this story about Christmas and past ghosts takes place when I was well into my 30’s.

Paolina Milana:
You know, I actually celebrated turning 30. I know most people see that particular birthday as the death of their youthful 20’s, but for me it was my liberation. My 20’s were anything but carefree. Rather, they were filled with a fear that somewhere, in some part of me, there lurked the voices, the hallucinations, the paranoia, the schizophrenia that had taken root in my family tree. I couldn’t wait to turn 30, believing that exiting the second decade of my life and entering into the third would magically make mental illness pass me by. Part of me knows it did, that I actually succeeded in keeping me crazy free. But as I rejoiced in having escaped insanity, another part of me knew I never would.

Paolina Milana:
Those of you out there listening who find yourself surrounded by your own brand of crazy, I know you’re nodding because you know exactly what I mean. Mental illness isn’t like having a broken bone. You can’t go to the hospital, get it set back in place, wear a cast for a while and be good as new or even better. Crazy keeps coming. Even those who comply with their meds will need their levels constantly checked for when those very same meds no longer do the trick. Being diagnosed with a mental illness is a lifelong sentence without a cure or an end.

Paolina Milana:
One particular Christmas I went to visit my little sister who had been committed to a psychiatric facility. It had become my family’s tradition, Christmas and Crazy. Because, without fail, and for reasons I have never really understood, my little sister seemed to go off her meds and off the rails just in time for the holidays. On this visit home, I remember driving to the outskirts of town, to where my little sister was on lockdown. I parked in the visitor’s lot, flashed my ID, signed in, and waited for clearance to be admitted.

Paolina Milana:
Once allowed in, I hung out in the lobby. The nurses at the front desk hold no memory with me. In my lifetime, with so many doctors and nurses that entered into and exited out of my life, they all have become a white blur. A familiar laughter pierced the hum of the fluorescent lights. My little sister gleefully bounded down the hall toward me. In her hands she eagerly held out a thick leather bound book, and when she reached me she handed it to me, whispering, “I wrote this.” I looked down at the books cover and the words, Holy Bible, glistened in gold. I wanted to laugh. Instead I said, “Catchy title.” My sense of humor though was lost on my sister. “I also just donated $2 million to the Vatican,” she continued. I remember responding with something like, “I didn’t know they were hurting financially.” Now being more sarcastic than funny. She soldiered on, “Well, with my three companies, More Jeans, Cheaper by the Dozen, and 12 Days of Christmas, it was nothing.”

Paolina Milana:
My generous sibling, now in her 30’s, made a request. “Hey, by the way, next time you come visit, would you bring me a $10,000 certified check? Just take it out of one of my accounts.” I felt a deep pang in my heart. I wished I could. “Hey, come here Polly.” The name my little sister Vinny called me. She motioned for me to draw closer to a painting. It was a Monet style landscape that hung on the hall wall. “Watch this,” she said, as she waved her hands from left to right over the painting. “See that, I changed its colors.” She turned to flash me a self satisfied smile. “Now watch again.” She twirled back and waved her hands over the painting, this time from right to left. “I just changed it back. Isn’t that incredible?” “It certainly was.”

Paolina Milana:
Spoiler alert. In case any of you are wondering, my sister didn’t write the Holy Bible, and the Vatican really didn’t need a loan from her, nor did her fingertips double as some magical paintbrush. No. Vinny was just off her meds and in the hospital, again, just in time for the holidays.

Paolina Milana:
Unlike my mother’s mental illness that manifested itself in more scary ways, my little sister’s brand of crazy was much more benevolent, and at times even comical. This had become my normal. And sometimes I wasn’t quite sure which one of us was sane and which one crazy. Sometimes it just seemed easier to join in. It did me no good to do battle or to try and fix what I couldn’t, even though I did. I did do my best to find the silver linings and to pretend to the outsiders that all was well. Nothing to see here. Just a little madness. Move on. Go about your business. Have a nice day. No one would understand, not unless you were walking in similar shoes. And no one cared to even try, so why bother explaining?

Paolina Milana:
On another Christmas, as I approached the checkout lane at the grocery store, I remember one out of breath 20 something. This guy dressed in his Sunday best. He raced ahead of me to be first in line. He shrugged apologetically, waving two cartons of eggnog over his head. “My family drives me crazy,” he said to me over his shoulder. I smiled. What I’m sure he didn’t notice was a very tired looking one. “I know what you mean,” I replied. Knowing full well he hadn’t a clue what crazy, as a holiday get together or as a lifetime for an individual, really meant.

Paolina Milana:
I remember part of me envying him, while another part of me wished I belonged to his or any other faux crazy family. And yet another part of me was ashamed. Those of us familiar with madness are also very well acquainted with shame, aren’t we? Today I still feel that shame. Sometimes. Even though the logical part of me knows I did my best in every situation. I’m not saying it was the best, but it’s all I could muster up with what I had and where I was.

Paolina Milana:
My direct connection with paranoid schizophrenia is no longer. My mother died a decade ago and my little sister died just a few years ago. Every Christmas, however, I can’t help but think of the irony. After all, both schizophrenia and the holidays involve retreat into a world of bizarre delusions. Santa Claus, flying reindeer, little elves, a Virgin birth, angelic voices, Christmas miracles, peace on earth, Goodwill to men, and so on. During this time of year, millions of people suspend logic and, in part, believe in the unbelievable. It’s all acceptable, even laughable, as long as the sum of the parts keeps you in societies scope of the norm, far enough away from clinical insanity. But then, as those of us, the millions of us who have or continue to have to deal with loved ones who have a mental illness know, reality comes back in full force, smacking us square in the eyes with the latest episode of crazy.

Paolina Milana:
For me, earlier this December, I again stood mesmerized, my eyes glued to the videos surfacing on social media of a teacher in a California public charter school cutting a student’s hair while dramatically singing the National Anthem. This time the media used the words deranged to describe the Vasalia Prep High School science teacher. 52 year old Margaret Geisinger, I think that’s how you pronounce her name. She now faces criminal charges and could serve up to three and a half years in prison if convicted.

Paolina Milana:
The school and the parents are lawyering up, and again, the questions are being asked. Who should have known what and when? How could we have allowed this danger to walk among us? Lock her up. The woman’s husband was asked to comment, and the best he could do was to say that this was completely out of character for his wife. He had no idea what was going on with her.

Paolina Milana:
Once again I nodded, and those of us who have walked in similar shoes, we know, we understand, as much as we don’t. Unfortunately, we’ve been scared into silence. Is it any wonder that this kind of thing happens and keeps happening when it’s shoved into the shadows. And if it does come into the light, it’s sensationalized and laughed off, or prosecuted to the fullest without any real solutions or help provided. Is there even an intelligent conversation about it? No.

Paolina Milana:
My family, maybe your family, will never be a Norman Rockwell portrait depicting an American day in the life, but we ought to be. Every one of the two million plus people with schizophrenia may have a mother, a father, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, spouses, significant others, children, friends. Social commentary should include a snapshot of the millions of homes wherein madness resides along with a mainstream normalcy. After all, part of us, all of us, is crazy. And as I said before, it’s all acceptable, even laughable, as long as the sum of the parts keeps you in societies scope of the norm, far enough away from clinical insanity, and as long as nobody gets hurt. But people are getting hurt. A lot of people. And there’s got to be a better way. I believe we’ll find it if we’re open to sharing, shining a light on it, and solving it together.

Paolina Milana:
I hope you, as caregiver to someone with a mental illness, will join me. Let me know your thoughts about this podcast or about anything you’ve heard recently or in the past, maybe even in the future. And if you have a story to share or some insight or have questions, please do give a shout, I’m here.

Paolina Milana:
Thanks so much for listening to Madness To Magic, and my podcast, I’m with Crazy: A Love Story. I believe we’re all here for a purpose and I know that this is part of mine. Please share this with anyone you think might benefit or might even have a story of their own to share. You also can visit me at madnesstomagic.com, or check out more of my stories, including info on my book, “The S Word”, at PaolinaMilanawrites.com.

Paolina Milana:
I hope to hear from you and to join forces with what I consider a unique caregiver tribe, as we all learn to embrace all of ourselves, to have compassion for others, and to come into our full power by the grace that is both madness and magic.

Paolina Milana:
Until we meet again, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite mantras.

Paolina Milana:
Be bold and mighty forces shall come to your aid. Thank you.

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