Living With Metal Illness: It's Not All It's Cracked Up To Be
By Donna K. Lay, MS, LPC, CCMHC

Chapter Two: Classifying Behavior: This Is What It Is, and This Is What It Means

My oldest daughter often seems to live in a world of her own creation. In this world, bugs and snakes make noise just to "bother her" and "bad men" peer into her bedroom window at night. Bits of paper have to be collected and endlessly rearranged into different piles and containers. Any money she sees is hers to gather and it must be hidden. All full containers must be emptied. On the other hand, any empty container must be filled. Shiny objects must be collected and added to her secret hoard. Animals, bugs, and toys are alive and able to carry on conversations with her. Angels, both good and bad, are her daily companions. She only has to eat what she wants and when she feels like it. Because she created this world, her own rules are the only ones she has to obey.

Her psychiatric history is a complicated one. I will try to break it down into its various diagnoses and symptoms as given to me by her psychiatrist. Please keep in mind that many of her symptoms and behaviors are influenced by several of her other psychiatric diagnoses. These categories are Psychosis, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, trauma resulting from past abuse, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD), Oppositional-Defiant Disorder, and uncontrollable rages caused by organic brain damage.

The first category concerns her Psychosis. My definition of Psychosis is "hearing, seeing, and/or seeing things that no one else can." My oldest daughter has exhibited all of the characteristics I just described at one time or another. I first began to notice her "odd" behaviors when she was about 4. My oldest daughter seemed to be showing all the signs of becoming a "multiple-personality." Her different "personalities" included a 3-year old little girl named Heather, a robot, an angry, out-of-control child, and my daughter.

When my daughter was "Heather" she walked and talked like a three year old little girl. She cried a lot and spoke in "baby-talk" using a voice that was distinctly different from her own. While eating, she would hold her fork or spoon in her fist instead of with her fingers. In addition, she would only answer to the name of "Heather."

While my daughter was the "robot" she walked with a stiff-legged gait, holding her arms stiffly at her sides. Her voice became an emotionless monotone and she answered in short, incomplete sentences. Any activity she was involved in was incorporated into this strange persona.

The angry, out-of-control child usually surfaced when her immediate environment changed in some way. An example would be if her teacher was not in the classroom for several consecutive days because of illness. If it happened at school, it resulted in my being called to come to her school to calm her down. Unfortunately, the office staff at her school soon grew accustomed to seeing me there. They would also comment "The girl that came into the office wasn't your daughter at first, she was someone else." All I could do was agree with what they said and smile a weak, sad smile. After all, I had seen my daughter exhibit the same strange behavior at home.

Ironically, I was counseling emotionally disturbed adults who had been abused as children. Their symptoms mirrored those I saw and lived with when I went home to my family every day. On the bright side, I soon gained the reputation of successfully helping my adult clients deal with their past horrors. I felt good about the praise I was receiving for my counseling skills. However, the reality of living with mental illness at home and at work began to take its toll on me physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I began experiencing sharp pains, first in my right wrist and hand, then later in both arms. As the pain grew worse, my hands began to shake noticeably. My Doctors were unable to explain my worsening condition or relieve the constant pain.

I became unable to do my job and took a month of sick leave. Pain relievers made me sleepy but did not relieve the pain. I could not perform the most basic tasks, such as brushing my teeth or feeding myself without experiencing excruciating pain. I underwent numerous medical tests. According to the test results, nothing was wrong with me. In the meantime, the pain and hand shakes, or tremors, worsened. I was told to see a psychologist. Maybe it was "all in my head." The psychologist ruled that out too. "At least I wasn't crazy! Now if I could just get some relief from the pain!" My Doctor finally prescribed Tegretol, which sometimes relieved pain in others. The effects were almost immediate! The pain was almost completely gone. My hands still shook but at least I could use them without grimacing. My handwriting and signature had never been a picture of neatness. Now, it became illegible at times. My life was already changing.

When my daughter reached first grade, our school district created a new classroom just for emotionally disturbed children. This class included the services of a Child Psychiatrist who made weekly visits to the classroom to monitor the student's progress, or lack of it. Once again, God provided a resource for us. My daughter was placed in this class and brought progress reports about her behavior home every day. It soon became obvious to the staff that my daughter was hearing voices and seeing things no one else could see. She often complained that her sister was talking to her although my younger daughter was nowhere around.


Copyright by Donna K Lay
Library of Congress: TXu 934-671