Not In Kansas Anymore...

Click your heels, and see if home is where you hang your hat, or somewhere else inside yourself as this simple, postmodern girl takes on L.A.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

For a long, long, LOOOOOOONG time, I've been thinking about my life and how to make it work around this illness and still have something that was viable ( read: that I could support myself on) and meaningful ( read: that made me happy and felt fufilled). I've done really well on the psychosocial front, but on the work/financial front, I've really fallen down. I went to back to school after my first episode ( which, due to shitty doctors and bad information, lasted 4 long years, cost me a relationship, dignity, and friends). I did so because I thought to myself, "Well, Jessica, you're going to have to live with this, and you're going to have to figure out a way to make a living around it."

Granted, I indulged myself intellectually and creatively, because I was under the delusion that I should have maybe LIKED what I did for a living or at the end of my life looking back at experiences. Which isn't to say I didn't work my ass off; I did. I had two major internships while I was in school double majoring. I was checking out grad schools my junior year and trying to make connections out here in the LA art world ( at the time I was more focused on performance art versus straight acting; obviously, that changed). So I did, to some extent, have a grip on how I was going to get all of this to pay for itself and feed me, literally.

Then a lot of shit happened; I moved here and fell apart, completely cowed by the size and the coldness of the city. I had had this idea that I would get a silly part-time job to help with the bills while I went on auditions. (I wasn't even caring so much about whether or not I would LIKE it or if I would even enjoy it- I just needed to WORK. I'm not that stupid or spoiled, okay?) I didn't realize how difficult and complex that juggle would be, nor did I realize the conflict I would constantly be in with the Department of Social Services about their continued assistance.

Ah, and there we are with that topic again. See, I thought- um, somehow- that when I graduated, and moved, that I would get a job, and have insurance and FINALLY get off of the public assistance train. I had been on it for 10 years, and while 4 of them I was actually floridly ill and 4 of them I was in school ( they subsizdize school under the heading of "rehabilitation", which is a good facet of the programs), but I felt like I should be making my own way with things. You know, step up and do what I could on my own. Let me add that I was also under the impression that getting insurance wasn't going to be difficult-- the last time I had worked, my part-time job had offered insurance. Granted, that was in 1993, but surely I could do THIS, right?

You all know the answer to that question. And it has nothing to with ME or skill set or my drive or my attitude. It has to do with economics, and the fact that 50% of most Americans do not have adequate healthcare, and mental health care is a laughable oxymoron.

So, I stayed in the system, if for nothing else for the healthcare. I can't afford my medication: on its own, my antidepressant alone is $300+ for a month's supply. I can't afford to visit a psychiatrist: even my doctor, who is kind enough to see low-income patients, bills at $150 an hour. (And therapy isn't even paid for- I still pay for that out of pocket. I always have, always will, probably, because whats the point of talking about your problems when you can just take a pill, right? Uh, yeah. ). The fact that they were still sending me just enough money to cover my rent each month helped, too, I won't deny THAT. (My dad IS right on that point: when I was living in STL, the rent was lower so I could at least afford to pay for it and have some-- a meager some-- left over.). I tried to take on part-time jobs to pay for the rest of things, but I had to be careful: too much money would cut me off from my insurance. (And God Knows I have needed the insurance. I can't afford a hospitalization, either: the trip to the bin in 2004 was $800 a day and I was in there for a month. )

I didn't LIKE this, mind you. I want to point out that I've been ashamed of it for a long, long time. I don't usually tell people about it when I meet them or even when they ask how I'm affording things ( as other actors in LA do, since we're all struggling). It seems I have this unfair advantage over them, since I'm "lucky" enough to have an illness that qualifies me to suck off the government teat ( which is certainly what some people- I won't name names, but you KNOW who you are- have been so bitter and nasty to imply). But it's also a quandry that never fixes itself: if I don't have mental health care, you can kiss my ability to work goodbye, anyway. If I work too much, I will lose my insurance. And so on and so on untill I drop from running around in circles. UNLESS, of course, I can get that magical thing that every American wants: a JOB WITH BENEFITS ( including adequate mental health care coverage)!!

I know people who have them. I can't do what they do for a living though. I either don't have the training or the stamina. I'm not certified in a specialized field like character animation, or IT, nor am I good at working 9-5, 5 or 6 days a week. I'm not made that way, I've discovered. I have tried it, and by about Day 3, I'm so tired I can barely function. Which isnt to say I can't work 40 hours a week; I can. It just has to be in shifts that vary enough and have reasonable breaks in them so that my brain can get some rest and variety, which seem to be crucial to my metaphorical and actual sanity and health. ( Big Bookseller, had it paid a more of a living wage and had decent management, was actually pretty ideal for me. I know: I have customer service issues.) A job with variable or flex-time hours is not an unheard-of notion. They're just hard to find.

Which brings me to my point: when my father says I need to go out and find a good job, all of these thoughts that I've just transcribed flood my head. And I think two things: 1.) you asshole, it isn't 1967 anymore and 2.) what the FUCK am I going to do? Screw my dreams and everything else, even: I have gone over this in my head a million fucking times: okay, don't be an actor or an artist. Or think of another way to work that in, and just WORK. What can you do? What is viable? How can you make a living and support yourself? Should you go back to school? Should you pursue this avenue, that avenue, another avenue completely?

I've thought of it all, I think. Put it all in the pot to consider: my undeniable need for insurance and mental health care, my illness and the odd quirks it requires to remain functional and optimal in a job situation, my skill set, my education, my monthly bills, and last but not least, just a smidge of "is there something I could at least, you know, dig a little bit? Not love, but sort of be okay with?"

I'm left with very little. Or so it seems. I've discussed it, by the way, countless times, with therapists, doctors, job specialists. I've applied to grad school in programs I didn't even really like in attempt to become more viable, ( attempted to go untill aforementioned 2004 breakdown-- didn't have the stomach to go back ), called old contacts out to try and get advice on how my old internships might be better played for snagging at least an interview, revamped my resume, and recently, gave up.

Yes, I just kind of gave up. I realize, looking back, that after Paris, I came home and faced with the prospect of looking for ANY kind of work, I just sat down and did nothing. (I'm not saying that was right, I'm just saying that's what I did.). However faced with the issue again and certainly worse for wear in terms of my health than I was then, but actually TRYING to make an attempt to solve the problem anyway, I see that, still, I really, really REALLY don't know what the hell to do anymore.

Ironically, it seems that the best option for me, given where I am in this life, and what I have to contend with, is to be somehow, self-employed, since short of a miracle flex-time or shift-work job that pays decently and offers insurance, I'm kind of stuck. It would, in fact, be EASIER for me to be an actor or an artist ( in theory- I'm not delusional here. The pay sucks unless you're somehow successful). I could at least set my own schedule around my illness and episodes and rest when I needed to. I have the training, too! If it all weren't so laughably impossible, I might just cry.

I'm thinking about all this today when my mother calls to report that she and Dad are sending a check. Thank you. Oh, and by the way, when you're looking for a job, remember that your car is getting old, and you'll soon need a new one. Consider that expense, Jessica. I will, Mom. Right after I get done ripping my hair out. I'll think about that and then I'll remind myself that YOU have never had to support yourself in your fucking life, since YOU went from your parents' home to my Dad. And my Dad, despite whatever little part-time job you had, was the main breadwinner for 41 years, with a sweet military-industrial complex gig he got because everyone else was off at Vietnam and he was exempted ( long story). Thank you for the money, and I DO appreciate it; however, call me whatever you want to for not appreciating for the guilt, the subtle implication that I'm somehow a layabout failure, and the added pressure of reminding me just how poor I am, as if I didn't fucking know. I'll see you at Christmas.

And I'm thinking about all of this when I come upon this interview with one of my favorite authors, Marya Hornbacher. She's mostly a memoirist, and both of her memoirs have been about mental illness ( she recovered from anorexia/bulimia and is very seriously bipolar). More than that, though, while telling her stories, she always exhaustively researches both the history of and current thinking concerning those illnessses. She does it to both put herself in context in terms of her courses of action, recourses and to comment on the efficacy or fallacy present in any of it. Needless to say, her books are far from being whiny, self-indulgent soap-operas, and more of a slice of personal experience that is also greatly informative about the big picture ( which in my opinion, make for the best memoirs).
This is what she had to say about not only writing her book ( which is incidental to my point in posting it here) but the challenge of being a fully participating person in the world while living with the challenges of mental illness:


What’s hard, in the case of Madness , is that I, like most mentally ill people, am sharply aware of the stigma mental illness carries. I think people would like to believe that this stigma no longer exists—I have lots of friends on meds! I totally get it!—and in fact, a lot of people do get it, and have to a great extent gained enough personal experience, and enough information as the subjects get more coverage, that some people they have revised much of their emotional reactivity to the disorders. This is primarily true of people’s perceptions of depression; far less true of the perception of bipolar and the people who have it; and effectively not true of how people see and feel about people with schizophrenia at all. In a way, we have decided what is an acceptable mental illness and what is not. Those who depart too far from our agreed-upon and acceptable world are mocked—even if ever so pleasantly—and consistently discriminated in their ability to attain the rights and privileges that are afforded to the rest of the sensible sane. We still have the knee-jerk reactions of fear, discomfort, disgust, judgment, and hold some entirely inaccurate beliefs—the mentally ill are violent, this murderer “must have been very sick,” this person is lazy, this person is totally divorced from me and my world—and, most of all, a well-ingrained, if not always overt, belief that people with severe mental illness are hopeless, cannot be helped, are not functional, are the dregs of society, are not worth the money for research, and will not be contributing members of our economic and social world.

Because of these perceptions, the major mental illnesses get the leftovers of research money, creating a situation where the medication available for bipolar and schizophrenia is not nearly as effective as it needs to be, and the insurance people desperately need in order to get their meds is hard to get and keep. And this is a circular system: the vast majority of mentally ill people can, if treated, function at a good, and in some case exceptional, level. They are not hopeless. The belief that they are is a stigma that destroys the option of a livable life to millions of people who deserve it just like anyone else.

So am I a little bit freaky about sending out 300 pages detailing the my own stigmatized illness? Of course. But not enough to keep it to myself. It’s more important to me that I share what’s also real about living with mental illness every day: that it’s not a door slamming on a good life, shutting us away from the world. We are not wastes, jokes. We can find a satisfying, often beautiful life. We laugh, and work, and live like anyone else. We, and our families and friends, need to know that so we can have faith and hope. We, the people who help us, need to better see the possibility we hold, and help us reach it. We, the people who dole out the rights and research that will make it possible for us to live on equal footing with those who we see as sane, need to believe in us, invest in us the resources granted to other treatable illnesses, and grant us equal access to our basic rights. And we, the society in which we live, need the door to open so we can connect, and see that the world we all see is the same.


"They are not hopeless". I love that statement. I have never felt hopeless or useless; I have always thought that I am far more than this illness, even though I have to consider it daily. And I have had good things and given out good things, and I think, contributed to the world at large. I am valuable. I just need to know how to make my life work so I can sustain myself. I wish I knew how to do that, and that the nagging concerns/ guilt/ stupid comments from ignorant people/ feelings of helplessness about this issue would finally be stripped of any power. Is that so much to ask? Again, I believe it isn't. Which could be a mistake, I admit, but I'm holding on to whatever gleam of possibility I can get my hands on at this moment. May the Universe help me along with that. Amen and Blessed Be.