My Experience Only. YMMV.

Posts tagged ‘mental illness in the news’

Discrimination: Mental Illness and Disability

A while back I wrote a post called “Another Word for Stigma” (http://wp.me/p4e9Hv-oz), which was about the new-to-me term “sanism” and how it set up a dichotomy between the sane and the insane. While sanism may have been intended to reframe the discussion about mental health issues, I said, “We already know that stigma exists surrounding mental illness. We don’t really need the word ‘sanism’ to redefine it. Or to pit us against one another.”

When applied to mental illness, “ableism” is another word that subtly reinforces stigma. It implies that, unlike the neurotypical population, those of us with mental disorders are differently abled, mentally challenged, or – dare I say it – disabled.

Many of us – including me – have applied for disability and many – including me – have been turned down. Despite that, many of us live with varying levels of ability and disability, which are nearly impossible to see and therefore to prove.

When I applied for disability, I was in the depths of what would once have been called a nervous breakdown. I had mental deficits, emotional instability, trouble performing the skills of daily life, inability to hold a job – certainly at the level that I formerly had, or possibly not at all. My thoughts were disordered. My life was disordered. I got by only with the help of a caregiver – my husband. If that’s not at least partial disability, I don’t know what is.

By the time my claim was denied and my disability lawyer was prepping me for a hearing, however, I was, if not well, at least better. I had found part-time work that I could do at home, which provided as much income as disability would have. At his suggestion, I dropped my claim. Perhaps I shouldn’t have, because the lack of medical benefits has been a constant difficulty.

So, am I disabled? I would have to say, partly. I still cannot hold a full-time job – certainly not without accommodations – and my caregiver (still my husband) has to help me with many of the tasks of daily living.

The notion of requiring accommodations leads us to the subject of discrimination. Employers are required by federal law to provide “reasonable accommodations” to persons with disabilities, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), for conditions including “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities,” and also to “a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment. The ADA does not specifically name all of the impairments that are covered.”

“Reasonable accommodations” are not defined for mental disabilities, but examples of accommodations for other conditions include modifying work schedules, as well as leave flexibility and unpaid leave. But just try telling a prospective employer (as you are entitled to do) that you will need flexible hours to accommodate appointments, panic attacks, or other phenomena; or asking someone you work for to give you unpaid leave for a hospitalization. I think you know the result as well as I do.

One problem is that these forms of discrimination – which is what they are – are damnably hard to prove, as onerous and unlikely as being classified disabled in the first place. Yet the protections against these forms of discrimination are defined by law. But how many of us have the wherewithal to challenge them, prove our cases, and get by while waiting for the results of a lawsuit?

Even the act of asking for an accommodation opens us to yet another instance of stigma, and the outcome depends on the individual knowledge and understanding of an employer, when it should follow the law. We approach employers and prospective employers hat in hand, asking for – but not expecting – to get the treatment that is legally, rightfully ours.

In these days of rampant discrimination against people of any number of races, religions, national or ethnic origins, sexual orientations, and disabling conditions, our voices may not be the first to be heard. But we, the neurodivergent, the mentally ill, the emotionally disabled, the psychiatric patients, and our caregivers and loved ones deserve to be free from the effects of ableism, discrimination, and stigma.

Let’s speak up, keep educating about our issues, and support each other in banishing stigma, ending discrimination, and putting ableists on notice that we will not shut up until our rights are acknowledged.

 

But What Happens in January?

Health insurance is a hassle, especially when you’re talking about mental health. And it’s an even bigger hassle when the government gets involved. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does add a layer of complexity to the insurance process.

For quite a while I was uninsurable, or functionally so. My husband and I both had decent insurance when he worked for the county, but after he left that job, it was all downhill. We muddled through without coverage, paying for our meds out of pocket and avoiding the doctor’s office unless death seemed imminent or we had to have blood work. Mammograms, flu shots, and other preventive services fell by the wayside.

Then came the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. Our pre-existing conditions were no longer a factor. My mental health coverage was guaranteed without going through the county’s EAP plan (Employee Assistance Plan, a six-week, take-the-therapist-we-give-you, cure-’em-quick affair).

The only problem (well, the major problem) was that, even with the ACA subsidy, the insurance cost us $650 per month. And my doctor started prescribing Abilify (cost: $800 per month, and wouldn’t you know, it wasn’t on the insurance plan’s formulary of preferred drugs). Fortunately, the generic came out soon after. It still wasn’t cheap, but it was somewhat lower.

The next year we switched plans. Unfortunately, the new company, a co-op, went under and we were transferred to yet another plan. It was no better than the previous one. In many ways, it was worse.

Prescriptions, for example. After getting them filled at our pharmacy for a certain number of months, we were told that almost all our meds MUST be ordered for home delivery, or the insurance company would not pay for them.

Which would be fine, as they were maintenance drugs. Except that meant paying $1100 for three months of generic Abilify, in addition to the monthly premium for the insurance. I can’t scrape together a lump sum like that, so through GoodRx coupons (https://www.goodrx.com/?c=criteo_au&utm_campaign=activeuser) and the local Kroger, I managed to get my prescription for under $200 per month.

Then the real fun started. My husband’s meds and my non-psychotropics went through the mail-order system easily. The ones my psychiatrist prescribed, not so much.

I’ve just spent the time between November 19 and now trying desperately to get the mail-order place and my doctor’s office to talk to each other, fax each other, send smoke signals or carrier pigeons to each other, to get me my drugs. As I gradually ran out of meds, which I’ve written about before (http://wp.me/p4e9Hv-kO).

I finally got a little action when I went to my doctor’s office, camped out in the waiting room, talked to one mail-order person on the phone while the receptionist talked to another one on another phone, and the nurse worked the fax machine. Then I went home, called mail order again, jumped up and down, threatened to hold my breath until I turned blue, asked for the supervisor, talked to the actual pharmacist, and almost burst out sobbing. Yesterday I got my pills.

This time when I had to pick a new insurance plan or renew my old one, I found one that was almost exactly as crappy as our previous one, but at one-third the cost. And the company representative says that all generics can be bought, at either the pharmacy or via mail order, at the same low co-pay. Including generic Abilify.

We’ll see.

The next problem is, as I’m sure you’re all aware, the president-elect and Congress have sworn to repeal Obamacare as soon as they get into office, whether or not they have a plan to replace it.

What will happen then?

Will I be able to get affordable insurance?

Will I be able to get insurance at all? (Even crappy insurance is better than none.)

Will it cover mental health services? Outpatient? Inpatient? Both psychiatrists and psychotherapists?

Will it cover psychotropic drugs at the same rates as others? Or will the meds that really work for me not be in the formulary of preferred drugs?

And how long will it be before even the crappy, but lower-cost, insurance that begins on January 1st, disappears?

I’m guessing (hoping) that our insurance won’t vanish immediately, given the pace at which the government usually moves. But repealing Obamacare (though not replacing it) has been touted as one of the first things the new administration will do. And anxiety is one of my psychiatric problems. How long will I have to wait, unknowing, to learn what those answers will be?

Generally, I have anxiety when I don’t know what’s going to happen. I catastrophize, then feel at least a little better when the answer comes. (It’s usually not as bad as I had anticipated.)

But this time, when the answer comes, will it lessen or increase my anxiety?

And will I be able to afford the medicine that keeps my anxiety in check and the psychiatrist who prescribes it?

Bonus Post: Poor? Mentally Ill? Sorry, You’re on Your Own

This is a post I wrote for my Et Cetera, etc. blog (janetcobur.wordpress.com), but of course it’s relevant here as well.

__________________________________________

Poverty and mental illness have something in common.

There is a stigma attached to both.

Both are seen as moral failings. If only people tried harder, worked more, improved themselves, they could lift themselves out of poverty. Without relying on anyone else’s help, which would be shameful.

And if only people stopped being so negative, looked on the bright side, smiled more, thought more about others, their positive mental attitude would make all those shrinks and pills unnecessary. They wouldn’t be shooting people with assault rifles and sucking up tax dollars for disability payments, which is shameful.

Society can’t afford poverty and it can’t afford mental illness. Why should we make the effort when the poor and the mentally disturbed don’t?

Why should these two conditions both be associated with such stigma and for such similar reasons? It’s simple. People don’t want to think that poverty or mental illness could happen to them.

The truth, however, is that a vast number of Americans are living one paycheck or one illness away from poverty, and one in four or five Americans will face a mental or emotional disorder at some point in their lives. And they are afraid. So they tell themselves that the conditions only affect Other People. And those people must be stupid or lazy or unmotivated or something, or they wouldn’t be poor or mentally ill in the first place.

And that’s where stigma begins.

And what are the consequences of stigma?

Well, first of all, it means that no one wants to spend money alleviating either condition. If these Other People can’t pull themselves up by their bootstraps and improve, the thinking goes, why should we pay them not to? Job training programs, child care, higher minimum wage, insurance coverage, community mental health centers, treatment programs for addiction, need to be paid for some way, but not with our tax dollars, by God!

And it means we don’t want to look at the Other People for fear of seeing ourselves. Don’t put halfway houses, group homes, unemployment offices, treatment centers, psychiatric hospitals, and other reminders in our neighborhoods. Not In My Backyard!

It’s not just a failure of compassion, though it’s that too. It’s not just a failure of the social “safety net,” though it certainly is that as well. It’s also a failure of the imagination – what would it be like if poverty or mental illness should happen to me? The reality is too unpleasant to think about, so don’t.

And while we’re talking about unpleasant, let’s mention the place where poverty and mental illness intersect – homelessness. Don’t we assume that homeless people are both poor and mentally ill? As such, spending money on them is doubly wasted. Why bother? It’s not like it’s going to help. Poverty, homelessness, and mental illness are incurable, after all. (Unless a person can cure their problems without outside help, of course.)

So what’s my stake in all this? Am I a bleeding-heart liberal do-gooder who wants to cure society’s ills and make us all foot the bill for it?

Well, yeah.

But I’m also living month to month on my income. My husband makes only a bit over minimum wage. We have both, at one time or another during our lives, been on unemployment and/or food stamps. We have no nest egg or emergency fund. It wouldn’t take much in the way of reversals to wipe us out. Even at that, we’re relatively privileged.

And I have a mental illness – bipolar disorder 2. Without insurance, I could not afford to see a psychiatrist, or buy medication (one of mine costs $800 per month), or get inpatient treatment if I ever need it. Right now my condition is moderately well controlled, but if I should suffer a setback, I might not be able to work at all. And there we are, back at poverty.

These two unfortunate conditions – poverty and mental illness – affect me directly, so I can’t look away and say they only happen to Other People. I know that they affect others more severely than they do me, and I don’t know how those people make it through.

But I do know that stigma isn’t helping any of us.

The Scientific Tease

Fun doctor

I know the headlines and accompanying news stories are supposed to give us hope: New Treatments for Mentally Ill, Scientific Advances for PTSD Suffers, How Research Is Finding Causes – and Possible Cures – for Bipolar Disorder, Brain Science May Explain OCD.

But the reality is that those headlines are teasers. Once you read the story, you realize how little is new, how far from reality the science is, and how long it will be until the supposed cures make any difference.

I’ve written on the subject before (http://wp.me/p4e9Hv-7Z), and included a link to a short video that explains the scientific process, from original study up to the time when a new drug or treatment hits the market (http://www.vocativ.com/culture/junk-science/).

But drugs aren’t all the scientific world is offering for people with bipolar and other mental disorders. There are transcranial stimulators, magnets, fMRI, and other technologies that hold promise for at least understanding our illnesses and, in some cases, treating them. Studies of the human brain, DNA, epigenetics, neurotransmitters, precursor chemicals, and more are touted as ways to unravel the mysteries of why some people get mental illnesses and some don’t; why some medications work for some people and not for others; and how the medications that actually do work do what they do.

If you are buoyed by the hope these scientific articles and the advances they hold out, you may envision a world in which parents can tell when a baby is liable to depression and watch for early signs; a troubled teen can be diagnosed with bipolar 1, 2, or psychotic bipolar; which particular “cocktail” of drugs is the best fit for an individual; how a small machine can send signals to the brain that will ease the symptoms of, well, anything.

Unfortunately, that’s not true. Oh, there is scientific research going on – although there would be more if funding for mental health issues were taken more seriously. But not all that research will result in effective, practical treatments for mental illness – more closely targeted drugs, new understandings of various psychological models, new methods of diagnosis. A breakthrough, when it comes, may even be discovered as an unexpected side effect of something else entirely.

Besides, can you imagine these wonder drugs and diagnostic tools, and nanobot treatments (or whatever) making it to the vast majority of the mentally ill? Will psychologists be able to send clients to get an fMRI to pinpoint problems, and will the insurance pay for that? How would you convince a homeless schizophrenic to place his head in that clanking machine, hold still for half an hour, and answer question? How long will it take the FDA to study and approve a new drug, and will it cost $12,000 or more per year? And will insurance coverage even be available because it’s still considered “experimental”?

Frankly, I can’t see most of these heralded miracle treatments making their way down to the community mental health center level anytime soon, even once they’ve been developed, tested, proven, and put on the market. Like so much of medicine, I fear psychiatric advances will be available only to the rich or those with platinum-level insurance. And although one in four Americans will experience some form of mental illness in their lifetimes – and millions more friends, relatives, caregivers, and loved ones will be affected by it as well, psychiatric topics don’t draw government or university funding or charitable support the way other conditions like HIV, breast cancer, and heart disease do.

So forgive me if I see those uplifting headlines and think, “Pfft. More pie in the sky.” I do think progress is being made and will continue to be made, but I doubt whether it will be soon enough, or tested enough, or cheap enough, or available enough to benefit me. You younger folks, now – you may still reap the benefits of these remarkable advances. But in the meantime, while you’re waiting for that magic pill or Star Trek device, keep on taking the meds you’ve been prescribed, and talking to your psychotherapist, and building a support system, and taking care of yourself.

For now, let’s work with what we’ve got.

Is My Cat Bipolar?

It sure seems like it. She lies around all day, barely moving. Then at any given time she races through the house pursuing nothing at all. Afterward she lies back down, immobilized again. It looks an awful lot like rapid cycling.

I’m not going to get into the debate here of whether animals have emotions or humans are simply anthropomorphizing. Of course animals have emotions, and act on them. Our cat Maggie could snub you so you really knew you’d been snubbed. Another cat, Shaker, was mortally offended if you stuck a whisker on the top of her head and made “beep beep” noises. Our dog Bridget has deep anxiety around strangers, both human and canine. She has been known to wet herself, or my husband’s shoe. Polar bears can experience boredom. I have it on good authority that sheep can hold a grudge.

But can animals experience mental illness? Recently the BBC examined the question in an article by Shreya Dasgupta.(http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20150909-many-animals-can-become-mentally-ill)

The article is long and rather technical, citing genetic studies I’m not capable of summarizing and using words like “telomere.” But the Beeb’s resounding answer to the question is yes. Not only can animals feel emotion, they can suffer from mental disorders. The report says:

To our eyes, many animals seem to suffer from forms of mental illness. Whether they are pets, or animals kept in ill-managed zoos and circuses, they can become excessively sad, anxious, or even traumatised….There is growing evidence that many animals can suffer from mental health disorders similar to those seen in humans.

It was decades ago that I first heard about polar bears on Prozac, due to their pacing obsessively or swimming repetitively back and forth. (I did wonder how the vets calculated the dosage – by body weight or brain size.) Of course, rather than psychotropics, what the bears really needed was more appropriate-sized enclosures.

Stress and social deprivation seem to be two of the factors that can bring on mental illness – particularly depression or PTSD – in animals. Dogs that serve in combat zones have been known to have trouble adjusting to civilian life. And the death of an animal’s relative or beloved human companion has been anecdotally linked to profound grief and even death.

The BBC notes that all the evidence we have for animal mental illness comes from pets, captive animals, and research specimens:

That probably reflects our own preferences for certain animals. “It’s the animals that we find very charismatic, like elephants or chimpanzees, or animals that we share our homes with, like dogs,” that command our attention, says animal behaviour expert Marc Bekoff.

But do wild animals really suffer from mental disorders? It’s practically impossible to tell.

For one thing, wild animals cannot bare their souls to therapists. For many reclusive wild animals, we know so little of what is normal behavior that we would be hard pressed to identify abnormal responses to environmental stressors.

Still, the experts say, even invertebrates like octopi and honeybees seem to suffer from, if not what we would call mental illness, at least maladaptive reactions to trauma.

Severe psychiatric illnesses like schizophrenia seem to go with higher intelligence. (Octopi are actually quite smart.) But again, how can you tell whether a dolphin is hallucinating? It may be that animals with extreme mental illness are weeded out by evolution, as their erratic behavior may lead to early death and loss of the ability to pass on their genes.

Is this true for humans as well? Are mental illness and intelligence correlated? As yet, there is little consensus. Sometimes the debate boils down to chicken-and-egg levels. Do people with lower intelligence experience more depressed because they are unable to accomplish what they want to do? Or does depression make it more unlikely that they will accomplish what they wish for? (Most of the studies seem to relate to depression.)

As the BBC report says, “Mental disorders seem to be the price animals pay for their intelligence. The same genes that made us smart also predisposed us to madness. There’s nothing shameful in that.”

Except, of course, that in humans there is stigma. Cats, now – they can get away with acting as crazy as they want. We’ll just call it adorbz and post it on YouTube.

More “News” About Mental Health

Next in my ongoing series (see: https://bipolarjan.wordpress.com/2015/07/05/new-hope-for-mental-illness/) of posts about news stories that bear on mental health, and what they may or may not mean:

Depression Damages Parts of the Brain, Research Concludes, July 2, 2015, by Sasha Petrova (http://www.iflscience.com/health-and-medicine/depression-damages-parts-brain-research-concludes_

“Brain damage is caused by persistent depression rather than being a predisposing factor for it, researchers have finally concluded after decades of unconfirmed hypothesising,” the article begins.

“A study published in Molecular Psychiatry … has proved once and for all that recurrent depression shrinks the hippocampus – an area of the brain responsible for forming new memories – leading to a loss of emotional and behavioural function.”

The article also claims that “the effects of depression on the brain are reversible with the right treatment for the individual,” though what those treatments might be is not explained.

The take-away: Depression damages the brain, not the other way around. What this means for patients is not yet known.

Link Found Between Gut Bacteria and Depression, July 28, 2015, by Caroline Reid (http://www.iflscience.com/plants-and-animals/link-found-between-gut-bacteria-and-depression)

Well, if it’s not the hippocampus, it might be your guts. According to this article, “Scientists have shown for the first time that there is a way to model how the gut bacteria in a mouse can have an active role in causing anxiety and depressive-like behaviors….

“[T]he lead author of the study… concluded that stress shortly after birth in mice, alongside the microbiome associated with stress, can lead to depression later in life.”

The take-away: More help for depressed mice. As the study author says, “It would be interesting to see if this relationship also effects humans. ….We need to obtain some human data to be able to say with confidence that bacteria are really inducing anxiety or depression…. However, so far, the data is missing.” In other words, more theory, more mice, no help for patients.

Mad Cow Disease Protein May Play a Role in Depression, by Justine Alford

(http://www.iflscience.com/brain/mad-cow-disease-protein-may-play-role-depression)

“In all likelihood, there is no single cause, but one of the leading ideas is that it results from an imbalance of chemicals in the brain, namely the ‘happy’ hormone serotonin and the ‘pleasure’ hormone dopamine.” Hard to argue with that. But here’s the meat of the article: “[S]cientists may have just discovered another contributing factor – abnormal bundles of proteins called prions.” Prions are also the culprit in mad cow disease. After some theorizing and mouse research, “the researchers propose a possible mechanism for the involvement of prion proteins in depression.”

The take-away: Interesting to scientists, but no help yet for depression sufferers. Plus, the article is a bit too technical for the lay audience – and all theory, except perhaps for the mice.

Picky Eaters May Be More Likely to Develop Anxiety and Depression, by Hannah Keyser (http://mentalfloss.com/article/67034/picky-eaters-may-be-more-likely-develop-anxiety-and-depression)

This sums it up nicely: “The study... found that picky eaters are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, and ADHD in later years….While moderate cases were associated with symptoms of separation anxiety and ADHD, severe picky eaters were more likely to have an actual diagnosis of depression or social anxiety in later years. But the scientists stressed that this is a case of correlation, not causation.”
The take-away: So, no news here. Correlation does not equal causation means this may be a coincidence, or anxiety and depression may cause picky eating, or some other factor may cause them both. Note the “May Be” in the article title – it often signals a result of little or no value.

A Urine Test Could Distinguish Between Bipolar Disorder and Depression, August 8, 2015, by Stephen Luntz (http://www.iflscience.com/brain/urine-test-distinguish-forms-depression)

“An easy and reliable method of distinguishing bipolar disorder from major depressive disorder could save tens of thousands of lives, and transform millions more. Now researchers at Chongqing Medical University, China, claim to have found just that in a study based on biomarkers in urine.” According to the study, the presence of six metabolites in urine was 90 percent reliable in diagnosing the two conditions, which are notoriously difficult to tell apart. “Studies have found that as many as 39% of patients diagnosed with MDD have unrecognized bipolar.”

The take-away: More research needed, but this could be big. Pee on a stick and find out whether you’re bipolar, instead of relying on the DSM. (Full disclosure: I was diagnosed with major depression for decades before my bipolar 2 diagnosis.)

The Startup That Wants to Cure Social Anxiety, by Robinson Meyer (http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/05/the-startup-that-wants-to-end-social-anxiety/392900/?utm_campaignFacebook_lookalike2%25_8%2F3_Atlantic_desktop)

This is, if not new, at least a little different: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) delivered on the web. The article claims that “[R]esearch conducted over the past half-decade shows that CBT delivered via a website can be just as effective as CBT delivered through an in-person therapist.” The service, called “Joyable,” can be accessed for $99 per month or $239 for three months, which includes a coach. The company says that the online treatment “reduces the stigma around seeking out therapy.”

The take-away: Yeah. We’ll see. And lose the name “Joyable,” for heaven’s sake. (Full disclosure: I’ve never been a fan of CBT.)

An infographic with references and everything.
The take-away: The infographic talks about physical ailments, but many of us can testify that a purring cat on one’s lap, or even by one’s side, can calm the distressed mind as well. Completely scientific, if you count anecdotal evidence.
Cats and Mental Health, Mental Health Foundation

Seriously, though, survey says, “Half of those people [more than 600 individuals surveyed in 2011] described themselves as having a mental health problem. The results highlighted some of the benefits of feline ownership:

  • 87% of cat owners feel that the animals have a positive impact on their wellbeing
  • 76% find that coping with everyday life is easier thanks to the animals
  • Stroking a cat is a calming and helpful activity.”

The article also refutes the myth about “crazy cat ladies” and self-harm.

My take-away: Pet therapy is a recognized technique that provides benefits to shut-ins, geriatric and psychiatric patients, those with ADD and autism, and even prisoners. My four cats increase the effects of Zoloft, Ativan, Lamictal, and Abilify. Be sure to have your pet spayed or neutered.

 

 

A Tattoo Is for Life…

…this one, especially so.

As soon as I learned about the semicolon tattoo, I knew I had to get one – and not just because I’m a huge grammar nerd. Because I’m bipolar and want to spread the word about mental health issues.

In writing, the semicolon indicates a place where a writer could have finished a sentence, but instead chose to go on. This makes the semicolon an effective and beautiful symbol for suicide prevention efforts and those who struggle with mental disorders.

Every day we choose to get out of bed; choose to take our medications; choose to make and go to our therapist appointments; choose to live another day; and choose to go on with our story.

This is not something I invented. Here are the people behind it: http://www.projectsemicolon.com/. And here are some stories about the phenomenon that have been working their way through the media and around the internet.

http://www.upworthy.com/have-you-seen-anyone-with-a-semicolon-tattoo-heres-what-its-about?c=ufb1

http://www.upworthy.com/9-beautiful-semicolon-tattoos-our-readers-shared-to-destigmatize-mental-health-challenges?c=ufb1

Here is my story.

I am possibly the last person you would ever expect to get a tattoo. I am probably the last person I would ever expect to get a tattoo. I’m in my 50s, a former English teacher, married for over 30 years, fond of reading and word puzzles and cats.

Nevertheless, the professionals at Monkey Bones Tattoos in Beavercreek, OH, did not seem surprised when I showed up one day and presented my wrist.

The naked wrist.

The naked wrist.

When I explained what I wanted – to put down a deposit and book an appointment to get a semicolon tattoo – I learned that they had a cancellation and could ink me right away.

What the hell, I thought. Might as well. I had learned about the tattoos about a month before and had thought it over plenty. It was by no means a spur-of-the-moment (or drunken) impulse.

Mike Guidone showed me into his studio and explained the procedure.

The tattoo artists work station.

The tattoo artist’s work station.

He presented me with stencils of three different sizes of semicolons. I chose the in-between one. My wrist is fairly small, so the big one would have looked out of place, but the small one wasn’t noticeable enough. The idea is for people to see it and ask, so you can share the meaning and talk to them about mental health and combatting the stigma.

I sat in the dentist-type chair, listened to a brief explanation, got answers to some questions, and was ready to start.

In progress.

Did it hurt? Not particularly. It was a feeling between a scratch and a sting, and took only about ten minutes. Some aftercare instructions and I was done.

finished1

Success!

Then I paid ($80, the shop minimum), tipped Mike, and was on my way. Now I care for the tattoo while it heals, anointing it with unscented lotion several times a day, avoiding sunlight or soaking, and trying my very best not to scratch or pick at it.

The results.

The results.

Am I happy with it? You bet!

And, like I said, it’s for life! My story isn’t finished yet.

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