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Tuesday, May 18, 2021

What it’s like to live with the demons of mental illness

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“Everybody’s gone a little nuts,” one survivor, Mercedes Cope, tells The New York Times Magazine of three years after Brain Fog. She’s referring to an episode, which occurred in 1975, in which she came to believe there had been some sort of brain infestation. She says that over the years she has been shat on, kicked in the teeth, hit on the head. She is also hearing voices — voice from downstairs, someone talking in her ear. In November of 2017, she suffered a seizure so dramatic that she wept for an hour straight. “Then I called 911.” She has also had periods when all her pupils are dilated, and then days when they are not. Each of her five sons witnessed at least one episode; some even said they heard her whispering. “Some days I’d come home from work and the house was a mess. One day my three sons would come down and tell me there was someone dead under the couch.”

That particular trip to the emergency room only confirmed that “something’s up,” Cope says. Days later she went to the psychiatrist’s office, and that’s when the medication kicked in. It took weeks for Cope to feel fully normal again. “That’s when I realized why I was hallucinating,” she said. “It’s basically the reason I have been off work. I can’t control that.”

Cope and Latch, a time-release anti-psychotic medication, became her first responders. It has come with some side effects, she says, including, at its highest dose, hyperactive saliva and hot flashes. She has taken only a few days a month since returning home from a New Jersey halfway house in late 2017.

At 65, she has been married 23 years and has three grown children and 11 grandchildren. She is now the registrar for her husband’s business. “I’m a homebody,” she said. “I love being home.”

Another brain-melt survivor, Liza Ryner, says she is so profoundly affected by her ordeal that she has cut back on socializing, even at a 60th birthday party. “My emotions are so complicated,” she said. “I feel all kinds of things, all kinds of sadness, anger, depression.” She said she was so lonely, she was contemplating suicide. “I didn’t know I had a bucket list,” she said. “Just add trauma to my bucket list.”

Ryner is 61 and divorced. She worked as a teacher’s aide and taught psychology. “I always felt good about myself,” she said. She has three grown children.

So, what can one do? The way to understand what some Brain Makers experience is to keep in mind that cognitive depression can take many forms and that the condition can also cause problems in interpersonal relations, physical illnesses, mood and so on.

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