mental health

Coming Clean

This is a post that has been brewing for over two years. If you know me in real life, you likely already know this; but, I lied to you, readers. Or at least, I didn’t tell the whole truth. I wasn’t sure how or when or how to know when it was the right time, but I think I’ve reached the point I was waiting for.

Over two years ago, I described to you how depressed I became while serving in the Peace Corps. I named it as the reason for my medical separation from PC (the reason they brought me home). While that was partially true, I left a lot – and perhaps the more important parts- out. I was embarrassed and ashamed and was stigmatizing my own very new and misunderstood illness.

While I did get very depressed while serving and PC did take me into Pretoria to get treatment and the psychiatrist I saw there did change my antidepressant, I left out what happened when he changed the antidepressant. I left out how I became irritable and irrationally angry. I left out how I would become furious when people invited me to do things because they were interrupting my reading. I left out how ungrateful I was to the few people who were reaching out to try to help me. Most of all, I left out the night I didn’t sleep, electing instead to stay up listening to music, singing along, and dancing in the room of my bed and breakfast, only stopping for an hour to nap before leaving for PC headquarters to tell the doctor what I knew by then to be true- I was manic, which means my diagnosis had changed from Major Depressive Disorder to Bipolar Disorder. The not sleeping was the biggest clue, but the dancing was a pretty big one as well because I don’t usually dance. My mind was racing a million miles an hour and I just couldn’t stay still, even after taking some anti anxiety medication to try to get myself to calm down. My appointment got moved to later in the day for some reason or another, so I spent the day in the company of a few other PCVs, hardly able to close my mouth for a second to let anyone else speak.

Things happened pretty quickly after I saw the PC Doctor. A team of people at PC headquarters in Washington D.C., the PC Doctor, and I made the decision that I would go home to stay with my parents and get treatment. I actually vaguely remember them speaking with my parents to make sure that was okay. The only other option I was given was to go to DC and be hospitalized at an inpatient psychiatric ward. Thanks to my M.A.Ed. in School Counseling, I knew that they couldn’t commit me without my consent because I wasn’t a danger to myself or anyone else. I elected to go home where my parents would become responsible for me. A PCMO (Peace Corps Medical Officer) from another country happened to be in South Africa, and it was decided that she would “accompany” (babysit) me all the way home until I was with my parents.  In hindsight, it was probably a good thing that I had her by my side.

I saw someone at my primary care physician’s office shortly after arriving home (maybe the next day?) and got into an intensive outpatient treatment program through our local hospital the next week. That consisted of three hours a day three days a week for three months of group therapy with an hour of individual therapy each week and an appointment with a psychiatrist each week. That was in the fall and winter of 2013-2014.

Though I have had short periods of stability since, my longest period of stability so far was for about eight months from September 5, 2015 to some time in April.  At that time, I started hallucinating the feeling that there were bugs crawling all over me and the sound that a man was repeatedly calling “no” to me from the yard as I was grilling my chicken.  Things progressed from there with me not sleeping, speaking too quickly and too much, and having racing thoughts and far too much energy, culminating in a week long stay at one of our local psychiatric wards thanks to my psychiatric nurse practitioner not taking me seriously when I called and said I was in crisis and refusing to return my phone calls and adjust my medications.  I haven’t said anything about it publicly yet because I just didn’t know how, but this seems as appropriate a format as any.

I am in the process of writing a book about my experiences starting all the way back when I was first diagnosed and going through the current Intensive Outpatient Program I am in in beyond.  I currently do group therapy three days a week for three hours a day, individual therapy for one hour a week, and see a psychiatrist every week.  When I become more well, I will no longer have to do the IOP and will just have therapy one day a week and see the psychiatrist once a month or less.  I can tell that the mania is finally waning but that means that I now feel apathetic and occasionally hopeless, which means the depression is probably about to rear its ugly head, at least for a while.

I’m sorry that I lied and I’m sorry that it took me so long to have the courage to be honest.  My current diagnoses are Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Bipolar Disorder I with mixed features and anxious distress.  If you’re reading this, you know someone with Bipolar Disorder.  Sometimes that person needs extra help, and that’s okay.  Bipolar Disorder results in a 9.2 year reduction in life expectancy and as many as one in five people with Bipolar Disorder complete suicide.  One in five.  That number is way too high and I’m convinced that part of the reason for it is the stigma associated with Bipolar Disorder and people not getting the help they need.  So here I am, trying to be vulnerable by having the courage to show up and be seen, as Brené Brown would say.

In other news, after my hospital stay I decided it would be really great if River could be trained as a psychiatric service animal, so we are currently working on training so that she can accompany me almost anywhere and perform certain tasks for me to help ground me when I’m manic or anxious and help provide a buffer between myself and strangers so that I don’t feel crowded and become panicky.  If you see her with me and she is wearing her vest, please completely ignore her.  We will be going out into public for the first time as a team on Wednesday.  Wish us luck!

River the Wonderdale

 

 

P.S. I am very open to talking about my illness.  If you have questions, feel free to ask me when you see me or shoot me a message on facebook or e-mail me at cdcottam1@gmail.com

 

I hope you are all doing well!

UPDATE: River had training today (Wednesday) and she totally rocked it! She didn’t steal a little kid’s waffle fry, she rode the escalator even though she hated it, and she held a stay command for the duration of a large snack. She also sat behind me to act as a buffer like she was supposed to, ignored another dog, and didn’t freak out when she heard construction or saw kids jumping on trampolines.  She is a natural and I can’t wait to see what working with her brings. Thank you so much to those who have donated at the link above the photo! It truly means the world to me and I am so appreciative of you investing in my quality of life!

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