mental health

Hospitalization #2

I don’t typically find it difficult to write, but over the past week I’ve struggled and struggled with how to write this post.  I try to be pretty open about my experiences with bipolar disorder in the hopes that it will help someone else with a mental illness to feel like it’s okay to talk about it or reach out for help.  For a refresher on Bipolar Disorder, please click here.

Days since last hospitalization: 6.

You may or may not know that I very recently spent quite a bit of time in the hospital.  11 days to be precise.  The time leading up to my hospitalization is a bit of a blur.  I’m not sure if I have things in the right order or not, but I’ll do my best.

I was depressed from October to the end of May.  My doctor and I were considering doing ECT, or electroconvulsive therapy (Shock Treatments) as we had tried most available medications and they didn’t seem to be helping.  In the end of May or beginning of June, the doctor put me on a medication called Vraylar that’s supposed to be particularly good for mixed episodes, which I have sometimes (Those are where you experience the symptoms of depression and mania at the same time and are considered the most dangerous time for people who have them because you may have suicidal thoughts AND the energy to carry out any plan you create).  He thought it may help with the depression and it did.  However, my spending started increasing and I mentioned to my doctor that I thought I was becoming manic.  I also expressed to him that I felt like the number of medications I was on was too much, particularly since they didn’t seem to be working.  He continued to add medications.  He said he didn’t want to start removing medications while I was manic.

I ended up in the ER on Monday, August 31st because I was rapid cycling between depression and mania and wasn’t sleeping well.  Really, some nights/days I was sleeping too well and some nights I was sleeping barely if at all.  I slept for most of three and a half days then was awake for 36 hours then slept for something like 16 or 18 hours then only slept for 2 hours the next few nights then sometimes wasn’t able to sleep at all then slept all night and all day again.  While I was awake I was talking to some of my friends a lot more and a lot more intensely than usual.  My spending was getting out of control.  Sometimes when I wasn’t able to sleep I would just lie awake in bed thinking about what a failure I felt like I was.  I was rapid cycling between depression and mania.

I had tried calling my doctor’s office for 45 minutes that Monday and no one answered.  I have given up on leaving messages there because they never return them.  I called my therapist and she suggested that I drive over to the psychiatrist’s office, explain to the receptionist what was happening, and ask to be seen.    The receptionist offered me an appointment on Wednesday when the doctor had a cancellation.  48 hours later was the earliest I could be seen.

At the ER, they asked me if I wanted to be admitted to the behavioral health unit.  I declined as I was still hoping things could be managed at home and since I wasn’t having any thoughts about hurting myself or anyone else.  They gave me a prescription for Lunesta and sent me home.  That first night, I took the Lunesta and fell right to sleep.  The second night, I took the Lunesta and still only slept for about two hours.  I think it was that day that I started packing for an inpatient stay.  I hallucinated on a couple of occasions, thinking that my Mom had called my name when she hadn’t and feeling like there were bugs crawling all over me.

On Friday, August 4, I ended up in the ER again.  This time, I was all packed and ready to be admitted.  I thankfully never ended up having thoughts of harming myself or anyone else, but all of the other symptoms had become too much to manage on my own.  I spent 11 days in the hospital trying to regulate my mood and my sleep.  While my mood is much more stable, I am a little on the depressed side now.  I also only got one good night of sleep the entire time I was in the hospital.  Since I’ve been home, I’ve gotten a few nights of good sleep but it’s still pretty hit or miss even with the new sleeping medications I am taking.  I just got out this past Monday.  The doctors took me off of about half of my psychiatric drugs, which I’m very very pleased about.  One of the medications I’m taking to help me sleep could potentially help with the depression but it may take a few weeks to work.  I feel clearer, more grounded, and generally better.  I will start an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) next Tuesday.  An IOP is where you go to group counseling three days a week for three hours or so.  I will probably do that for about six weeks.

I have to say, I’m really really grateful to Park Ridge Women’s Hope Unit and the amazing nurses and doctors there.  I don’t know where I would be without them.  This is twice they have helped me in times of desperate need and they are definitely my first choice of hospital to go to.  It’s an all women unit that only has eleven single rooms, the food is good, and the groups they have are meaningful and helpful.

Mom and Dad took excellent care of River for me while I was gone and she even got to come to the hospital and visit me with them every chance they got since she is a fully trained service dog.  It was tremendously tremendously helpful to see the three of them so often and to know that they were all taking good care of each other.  I cannot express the gratitude I feel for my parents for always loving me, supporting me, and helping me.  I have no idea what I would do if they weren’t kind enough to let me live with them.

Thank you so much to all of you for reading this and for your support.  I appreciate it more than you could possibly know.  ❤

 

 

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of self-harm or harming someone else, please call 911, go to the nearest Emergency Room, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

 

mental health

@JaredPadalecki is a Grade A Jerk. (And here’s why @DanSpilo sucks, too) #SPN #Supernatrual #JaredPadalecki #DanSpilo

This blog post is not going to make me popular with the Supernatural Family/ Supernatural Fans, but it is honest and it is true and that is ultimately what matters to me.  I used to be one of you, but I just can’t be anymore after the way I’ve been treated.  Please try to understand that before blasting me with hatred.

You may recall the below post, all the way from back in August of 2016.  That’s right, almost a whole year ago.  In it, I detail the long process by which I find out that I’ve won a contest and I’m supposed to receive a phone call from Jared Padalecki (of Supernatural and Gilmore Girls fame) and then am slowly and repeatedly let down by him, the Represent team, and his team who clearly don’t care about his public image or how he hurts his fans.  I’d like to note that I was alternatively very manic and very depressed (but mostly very depressed) for the time all this was happening and that my mental health was far from good, to the extent that ECT (electro-convulsive-therapy/ shock treatments) were something my doctor and I were considering.  As someone who claims to be a mental health advocate, you would think Jared would want to take care of his fans and keep his promises to them, but you would be wrong.

In addition to everything you see below, there were several texts from Jared’s manager, Dan Spilo, claiming that Jared had forgotten the phone call or describing various reasons why it must be postponed including everything from “I just texted him and he said “OMG no I didn’t I’ll do it this week, what did she say?” to “a family member is sick.”  The last text I received from him said “He is out of country but I’ll remind him in the new year” and was received on Tuesday, December 20th, 2016.  A text from me in February, April, May, and June all received no response from Dan Spilo, despite him assuring me multiple times that the phone call would in fact take place.

For someone who claims to understand and care about mental illness, it is blatantly obvious that Jared doesn’t care about MY mental illness.  He seems to give little to no thought to how his actions could affect someone else with a serious mental condition.  As much as he has an understanding of depression and anxiety, he very clearly lacks the empathy required to comprehend what it may be like to have Bipolar Disorder and have your hopes and dreams dashed because a celebrity you greatly admire can’t find five minutes out of his busy schedule in a whole year to make a phone call he promised to make.

In addition to the texts back and forth between me and Dan, I even sent the open letter I wrote to him and to Jared’s publicist as an actual paper letter.  I never even heard back from the publicist.  This just shows me that both Dan and the publicist lack any type of care for what Jared’s public image is, which is a shame because before all of this happened, I sort of worshipped the ground the guy walked on.  Now, I’ve completely boycotted this entire season of Supernatural and all things related to it because I’m so pissed off at the way I have been treated.

So here’s perhaps the final update: I’m now positive the phone call won’t happen even though I was promised over and over again that it would.  Dan won’t return my text messages and Jared hasn’t found the time to call in almost a year, which leads me to feel like both of them are behaving like assholes.  I’m so very disappointed in both of them and in the way that they chose to treat this devoted fan.  Jared has forever lost a fan who greatly loved, respected, and admired him.

An Open Letter to Jared Padalecki’s Manager and Publicist

UPDATE 4/10/2017: Dan Spilo still not returning texts, still no phone call.

UPDATE 3/8/2017:  I still have not received a phone call and Dan Spilo has stopped returning my texts.

UPDATE 12/31/2016: I received a t-shirt, hat, sweatshirt, and buttons from the “Family Always Has Your Back” campaign.  When I talked to Dan, he said that Jared was out of the country and he would remind him about the phone call in the new year.

UPDATE 12/20/2016: No change since the last update. Last communication from Dan was in November.

UPDATE 12/6/16: The phone call hasn’t taken place, the shirt Dan Spilo (Jared’s agent) promised me hasn’t arrived, and Dan has stopped returning communication.  This whole business is really shady and upsetting.  Nothing should have been promised if nothing was going to happen.

UPDATE 10/21/16: The phone call still hasn’t taken place and I haven’t heard from Jared’s manager in a month.

UPDATE 9/22/16: The phone call still hasn’t taken place and has been postponed.

UPDATE 8/26/16: The phone call still has not taken place, but Jared’s manager seems like he is on top of it. I am hopeful that it will take place this week or next. I know Jared is very busy with work.

UPDATE 8/15/16: I heard from Jared’s manager and the phone call slipped through the cracks.  It WILL still be happening! Represent doesn’t speak for Jared or his team. I’m so relieved that they didn’t know what had happened. They do t shirts well but not so much customer service.

To Whom It May Concern:
My name is Catherine Cottam and I received an e-mail from Jennifer with Represent.Com on June 27, 2016 letting me know that I was one of three lucky customers to receive a call from Jared Padalecki as a thank you for supporting the “I Am Enough” campaign. She said “the call will take place sometime this week.” I e-mailed her back the next day as soon as I saw the e-mail with my phone number and some additional information.

I contacted her again on July 7th as the week had come and gone but I had not received a phone call. She let me know on July 8th that Jared had gotten super busy with work and that the Represent team had just sent him a text to remind him to give me a call. For the following three weeks, I didn’t go anywhere without my phone being right by my side. I emailed Jennifer several times with no response before getting an e-mail that bounced back saying her e-mail account had been suspended.

At this point, I was starting to think the phone call might never take place. I attempted to contact Jared and Represent on Twitter. I tweeted that I had won a phone call but had yet to receive it and the people at Represent said the phone call was being rescheduled and that they would e-mail me with more information. That was on July 26th. When I still hadn’t heard anything on August 3rd, I attempted to e-mail orders@represent.com and support@represent.com.

On August 8th, I attempted to contact them via Twitter and Facebook private messages. In addition to refusing to respond to any of my e-mails about the phone call, part of my order had been delayed and, at the time, I thought they had only sent me one shirt of the three I had ordered. I opened a case with the Better Business Bureau to see if I could get the rest of my order, get refunded for the previous order I had cancelled, and get them to respond to me to let me know what was going on with the phone call situation.

Today, I received an e-mail from Filip from Represent.com letting me know that Jared got really busy and the phone call will not be taking place at all, in spite of their earlier e-mail and Jared himself posting about it on Facebook. He informed me that his colleagues have tried to arrange the call “with Jared’s team” but he hopes I “understand that people as busy as Jared are very difficult to get hold of.” I told him that I do understand that, but that a phone call shouldn’t have been promised if it is never going to be made. This is bad business and is bad branding for Jared. I feel frustrated that I have just now been informed that the phone call will not take place. Jared said he would call someone who purchased a shirt. Represent and Jared both said one of those people would be me. I have bipolar disorder and generalized anxiety disorder and Jared has been such a role model to me with how open he is about his struggle with mental illness, but I am so so very disappointed in him and in Represent.com now.

I have purchased several shirts from Represent.com in the past and have six of Jared’s campaign shirts, but I’m afraid I can’t in good conscience support Jared’s campaigns if he isn’t going to keep his promises. I had to be hospitalized for mania at the end of May and I took one Always Keep Fighting shirt and two Love Yourself First shirts with me. The nurses on the psychiatric unit loved them as they, like me, are huge Supernatural fans.

Please let Jared know that his campaigns meant a lot to me and that I’m sorry I can no longer contribute to them. I just thought you should know that all of this happened and that it was handled terribly by the folks over at Represent.com. At this point, I don’t expect a phone call, but I would appreciate a real explanation from someone about why I was lied to.

Sincerely,

Catherine Cottam

Cdcottam1@gmail.com

Edit: To be clear, the goal here is to make Jared’s management team aware of what was said in their name by represent and to hopefully receive some type of explanation about it.

 

 

mental health

The Intervention Letter Part 2

Lately, I’ve been feeling like a failure.  Like someone who is unsuccessful and doesn’t give back to the community.  Like someone who will never be a productive member of society.  Like my life is worthless.  Like I was a fraud for going to a Returned Peace Corps Volunteers event because I only completed 5 months of service.  I’ve felt hopeless, helpless, lonely, and ashamed.  You guys seemed to really like my last Intervention Letter, so I’ve decided to write another one for how I’m currently feeling.

The Intervention Letter
The quote on the right says, “We have done the impossible and that makes us mighty.”
-Captain Malcolm Reynolds

The Intervention Letter (Assignment from Park Ridge IOP)

“The script each person reads during a family intervention is called the intervention letter.  We are going to be writing an intervention letter to ourselves regarding our negative core beliefs.

Ideally, you want your letter to:

  1. Communicate genuine love and compassion for yourself, and to convey that you only want to see yourself get better
  2. Help yourself realize the severity of the impact of the core belief on daily life
  3. Help yourself to understand that your belief and its daily self-talk manifestations and behavioral impact cause hurt and pain
  4. Clearly express commitment to accept change through challenging negative core beliefs and living as if you believed new balanced beliefs about yourself/others/world
  5. Clearly express the consequences of not adjusting beliefs and living with old patterns of negative thinking”

 

Dear Catherine,
Look at you, out in the world doing things even though you’re depressed and all you want to do is stay in bed and watch Netflix all day every day!  You took two memoir writing classes, you’re taking a sewing class, you’ve gone bowling and out for tea and to numerous movies, even some where you had to sit by people you didn’t know.  You’ve somewhat kept up with your blog, you’re doing a podcast and blog with Joanne about mental health that is helping who knows how many people, and you try your very hardest to be there for your friends when they need you.  You submitted an essay you wrote to eleven different publications.  Even though you haven’t gotten published yet, you will one day.  You are courageous, strong, intelligent, and giving.  You write well and you take good care of River.  Even the vet said you’re a good dog mom.  You make a conscious choice every day to do Opposite Action- getting out of bed and going and doing things even though you want to hide away from the world and everyone in it.

Your core belief that you are a failure is affecting everything in your life.  It changes the way you view yourself, others, and the world around you.  You are constantly comparing yourself to other people’s success even though their definitions of success may be very different from what your definition of success needs to be right now because of your illness.  You are depressed.  You have been depressed for seven months.  You need to cut yourself some slack.  It is not feasible or realistic right now to expect yourself to have a job or own a home or buy a new car.  It is not fair to you to judge yourself based on where the lives of people you love are or are going.  You have different needs from them right now.

Your job is to keep getting out of the bed, day after day, until one day it doesn’t feel so monumental.  Your job is to try to keep showering as often as possible.  Your job is to take your medications as prescribed.  Your job is to go to therapy for your appointments.  Your job is to have active conversations with your psychiatrist about what the next step is.  Your job may or may not include ECT in the coming months, which I know is very scary for you.  Your job is to keep yourself alive.  1 in 3 people with Bipolar Disorder attempt suicide and 1 in 5 successfully complete suicide.  Your job is to not become one of those statistics.  In those respects, you are very much not a failure.  When you change your definition of success, which won’t happen overnight, you’ll see that you are accomplishing great things for where you are in your life and in light of the fact that you have Bipolar Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Panic Attacks.  You are alive after suffering from Bipolar Disorder for 3.5 years.  That in itself is a feat you should be proud of.

Your self-talk about you being a failure and your life being worthless has a horrible effect on your mood.  I know that it’s hard to change your self-talk, especially when you are depressed and feel like everything is horrible and going horribly wrong, but try to use your Thought Diary Worksheets to help you come up with better and healthier ways of thinking about yourself.  Telling yourself “I am worthless”, “I don’t deserve to go to RPCV functions”, “I’ll never amount to anything”, “I am not a productive citizen”, “I am incapable of helping others”, and all of the other self-talk you have been using lately is unhealthy.  It is demeaning and untrue.  It’s time to print out those worksheets and keep them with you in your purse.  It’s time to keep copies beside your bed.  It’s time to really use them because you know how well they can work to change negative thinking patterns.  It’s time to commit to different ways of thinking.  You must at least try, even if you don’t believe the “balanced thoughts” section at the end of the worksheet at first.  You must keep trying and trying until you start to belief in your worth as a person again.

If you keep going down this road, you will just become more and more depressed.  If you keep letting these thoughts control you, you could have to be hospitalized again.  If you don’t start trying for change, you’ll never know how much better you could feel.  I know it’s hard when depression has you in it’s grips.  I know it feels like this will never end and you will always feel this way, but you’ve come out of this before and you will come out of it again, even if it means increasing your medication by a bunch or doing Electro Convulsive Therapy.  You are so loved by so many people and you owe it to yourself and to them to do your best to get better.  So please, try the worksheets to help you overcome some of your “Stinkin’ Thinkin’.”

Love Always,
Catherine

 

 

Thought Diary 3- Resource for Negative Thinking

 

mental health

Posters and Masks

Someone recently said that someone else thought of me as the golden child or poster child for Bipolar Disorder.  While that is very touching and flattering, it isn’t really accurate because even with everything I do, I’m still not doing well.  I’ve been various levels of depressed since October, which was when I had my last real suicidal thoughts.  It wasn’t so much that I wanted to die as it was I wanted to not be living this life and experiencing this pain anymore.  I just wanted to go to sleep for a really really long time and wake up when the episode was over.  I just didn’t care about anything.  I was so apathetic.

I fight SO HARD every day to be okay, and most days I’m still not okay, not really.  I’ve just had fifteen years of practice of putting on my “okay” mask since I started struggling with depression and anxiety when I was 13.  It’s just been within the past year that I’ve started really feeling comfortable taking off that mask- at very specific times- when I’m behind a computer screen and typing for this blog or for www.illuminatedbyu.com or typing up journal entries.  If I was doing well or okay, my doctor and I wouldn’t still be talking about ECT (Electro Convulsive Therapy- shock therapy) and exhausting all other possible options first.  I wouldn’t have just taken a genetic test to try to see what meds might finally help me because nothing works for my depression (or works for long anyway).  (As a side note, since I’m struggling more with the depression side of things now, I really wish my doctor would take me off of some of the mania meds, I take a LOT of pills each day)

I do work my butt off.  I take my meds.  I go to therapy once a week and the psychiatrist about once a month.  I’ve done two different Intensive Outpatient Programs.  Sometimes I go to a support group.  I have an amazing support system.  My parents are a treasure to me and help me more than they could ever possibly know.  I have an immaculate Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP).  I have a living will and the forms for my parents to have Health Care Power of Attorney.  Basically, I’m prepared for my mental health to go even further downhill, but none of those things can stop that from actually happening.  In fact, I had most of this stuff in place before I had to be hospitalized last May for mania.  I’ve updated my WRAP and Health Care POA since then, but I was attending therapy and psychiatrist visits and taking my meds as prescribed then, too.

I am absolutely not in remission.  I use a scale where 0 is suicidally depressed and I need to go to the hospital and 10 is stable and happy.  Over the past month, there have been some days where I have been as high as a 7.  A 7 may be better than a 2 or 3, but it still isn’t stable and happy and whatever “normal” is.  Over the past week, there have been days when I have been as low as a 4.  There is a little bit of rhyme and reason to it as I do know what some of my larger triggers are, but overall, Bipolar Disorder is like a bulldozer that flattens out your life and leaves you standing there staring at the rubble wondering how to rebuild.

So please, don’t assume that I’m okay because I “don’t look sick” or because I’m laughing or smiling.  I can be depressed and still laugh and smile.  I am so exhausted and so sad and so over it, but I will keep fighting and I will keep telling you about it because helping to end the stigma is so SO important to me.  You know someone who has Bipolar Disorder and sometimes – often, lately – that person is just not okay.  I need help and I’m doing everything I know how to do to get it.  If you feel moved to do something, you can be a good listener or offer to sit with me or do an activity together you know I’ll enjoy.  We could have hot tea or a meal together or go for a walk or a hike or just sit on the back porch talking.  Text me and ask how I’m doing.  I may not respond right away, but it will mean a lot to know that someone cares enough to ask.  Offer hugs.  Invite me to things even if you think I’ll say no because I’ve said no 50 other times because I haven’t been feeling well.  Even if I say no a 51st time, I’ll appreciate the invitation.  Please don’t be offended if I’m being awful at keeping in touch.  I feel like a burden to everyone right now.

I’m struggling and things are hard right now, but I haven’t given up on me, so please don’t you give up on me either.

mental health

Vulnerability and Courage

There are apparently a few things that need to be said before I get started.
1. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone who reads my blog and is supportive of it.  Numbers 2-4 do not apply to you.
2. Blog posts are not me “going on and on and on on Facebook.”  A blog post is not the same thing as a Facebook post.  You have to go out of your way to click a link to get to the full content of the blog post.
3. No one is holding your face to the screen and forcing you to read my blog posts, so please, if you don’t want to read them, the simplest solution is to just not read them.
4. Please don’t complain to my grandmother about my blog posts.  See numbers 2 and 3.  When you complain to her, that results in me getting lectured about posts I have written that I know help people because people have reached out and said so.  It’s very frustrating to have someone invalidate one of the few things in my life that makes me feel like I have purpose.  Please don’t enable that.

Now on to what I really want to talk about today.

“Vulnerability is the courage to show up and be seen when you have zero control of the outcome.”  -Brené Brown

People often tell me how courageous and brave I am for the amount of vulnerability I show in writing about my mental illness, and I don’t quite know what to make of that or what to say to them aside from “thank you.”  At first, I felt very courageous for writing about my struggles.  When I wrote Coming Clean, I was terrified.  I had no idea that so many people would react with so much poise, grace, support, and love.  I was scared that people would be angry with me for lying about my diagnosis and that people would be uncomfortable with the amount that I shared, particularly when they learned that I had been hospitalized for mania, but you were all loving and supportive and absolutely brilliant and amazing.  You showed me that I had the strength to show up and keep showing up and share my story with the people who make their way to this blog, people I interact with online, people I meet in real life, and even the news, http://www.themighty.com (who I have submitted two stories to), and a man from webmd.com who is considering doing a video series on Bipolar Disorder and interviewed me on the phone for about an hour last week.

I can’t tell you how many people I’ve made connections with in real life because of my willingness to explain why I have a psychiatric service dog.  One time I was at a movie MeetUp and the movie was over and I was standing outside talking to one of the other girls from my group about our chemical imbalance issues and the fact that I am taking a memoir writing class and want to write a book about having Bipolar Disorder.  An employee of the place we were at happened to be sitting nearby and she turned around and said something to the effect of, “I’m sorry, I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop, but I just wanted to thank you for writing about that.  I have Bipolar II and it’s so important for people to share their stories and I think you’re really brave.  Thank you.”  Now every time she is working we greet each other by name and share a smile.  This is all possible because of all of you and your support and because I feel as though it’s my duty to help other people.

I don’t feel courageous, but I do feel a willingness to be vulnerable.  I earned my B.S. in Psychology and my M.A.Ed. in School Counseling, volunteered at an orphanage in Kenya, and joined the Peace Corps.  Those aren’t things you do unless helping people is important to you.  There are limited ways that I can help people now.  On days like today when all I want to do is stay in my room on my bed and hide from the world, the only way I can help others is by reaching out through my keyboard.  My vulnerability is one of the very few things I have to offer to the world when I’m not doing well, which has been the case off and on for the past 6.5 months now.  So I do what I can.  I’m as honest as I feel comfortable being, which is pretty damn honest.  I tell you when I’m having a bad day.  I tell you when I’m having a good day.  I try to explain what it’s like in my head in hopes that other people with my illnesses will feel a little less alone and others without my illnesses will feel a little more educated and empathetic.

The past couple of days have been rough.  I messed up my medication on Saturday by taking my evening meds in the morning.  Then I had to take a two hour nap (that felt like it only lasted a few seconds), then took my stimulant late, then couldn’t re-take my antipsychotic at night, then couldn’t fall asleep so I had to take extra Ambien.  The result of all of this is that yesterday (and perhaps still today because I think it takes a couple of days to get back into your system properly), I haven’t had the correct dosage of antipsychotic in my system.  I have felt low.  I’m unsure if that’s all because of the medication or if it’s also because my family recently received some disheartening and very sad news about a family member’s battle with cancer.  I’m going to go see her next weekend, but that also means that I will see a family member who is not always the most kind to me (or to other specific family members, for that matter).  In the words of Anne Lamott, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”  But in the words of Glennon Doyle Melton, “Write from scars, not open wounds,” so I’ll say nothing more on the matter at this time.

All of this is to say, I don’t feel particularly well and I want to be really open and honest about that.  I’ve been at about a 6 or a 7 on my new scale, but yesterday I was probably at about a 4 and was really spacey all day and today I may be at around a 5.  That, of course, is the scale where 0 is suicidally depressed and I need to go to the hospital and 10 is happy and stable.  There will be a different scale for mania, but I haven’t experienced it in a while so I haven’t made that scale up yet.  I feel sure I will feel better in a few days, or at the very least a few days after I get back home from being out of town.

To everyone who calls me courageous and brave for sharing my stories, thank you, but it is you who I should be thanking.  You inspire me every day to keep going by encouraging me and letting me know that I’m really helping to make a difference.

mental health

WLOS Interview

I’m pretty open about my struggles with mental illness, which is why when Kim King from WLOS asked if she could interview me about having Bipolar Disorder if she silhouetted my face, I said no.  I told her that I would be happy to do the interview, but that I didn’t want my face darkened out.  You see, that would imply that there’s something shameful about or wrong with having Bipolar Disorder, a medical condition I have that approximately 5 million other Americans suffer from, too.  There’s enough stigma surrounding mental illness, so when she asked “so you want to be an advocate?” her question was met with a resounding, “yes!”  She and a videographer came to my house a few weeks ago and were here for almost two hours, but only a few sound clips from what my mother and I said were included.  I’ve included the link to the story down below, but first there are some things that were left out that I feel strongly about, so I want to make sure they are heard by at least a few people.

One of the biggest struggles for me has been finding a psychiatrist that was both accepting new patients and truly listens to what I have to say.  My first post-Peace Corps, post IOP psychiatrist tried to insist that I had ADHD when I was really just suffering manic and mixed symptoms.  I wrote that provider a letter about how I didn’t feel heard by them and read it aloud during a session.  They said I wrote it because I was angry and in denial about my ADHD.  They also defensively insisted I was, in fact, being heard, which wasn’t all that great of a way to reassure me.  My second psychiatric provider ignored me when I told them I was becoming manic.  Despite symptoms that were clearly related to mania (feeling like there were bugs crawling all over my skin, hearing voices, out of control spending, etc), they insisted that I was just experiencing anxiety.  In fact, I recently obtained my medical records from that provider and the records still don’t indicate any mania, even though I had to be hospitalized for a week for – you guessed it- mania after that provider continually ignored the symptoms I was reporting.  The doctor I have now is wonderful.  He listens to me and offers me real solutions for problems I’m experiencing.  He’s open to trying pretty much anything to get me well and he repeatedly acknowledges that I work very hard at my wellness and that it must be frustrating to do everything I’m supposed to do and still be quite sick.  I’m not sure if he is accepting new patients, but his name is L. Ralph Jones and he is at Carolina Partners in Mental Health.  It took me over three years to find a provider that I trust who really listens to what I have to say.

My other truly monumental struggle has been finding the right medications.  In the three years and four months since my diagnosis, I have tried most of the medications that are available for Bipolar Disorder, with few offering me much relief or offering relief for very long.  My options running short, I’m trying a last ditch medication before the doctor and I have decided ECT may be the answer.  I did recently learn about a genetic test that can be done to determine which medications may be the most helpful and I do plan on trying that test before resorting to ECT, which has severe memory side effects.

I want people with Bipolar Disorder to know that there is hope for them and that they just have to keep advocating for themselves with their doctors to try new medications and treatments that may help them.  I was inspired to go public with my story to friends and family members on Facebook after watching Carrie Fisher’s HBO special Wishful Drinking.  The response to my blog post Coming Clean was overwhelmingly positive and supportive.  The more of us who speak out about this illness and mental illness in general, the more normalizing it will be for others who have it.  If I can help a single person feel less alone, I feel like I have made the world a little less dark and a little less scary.

For more information on Bipolar Disorder, visit http://www.illuminatedbyu.com in the month of March.  We will have podcast episodes and blogs dedicated to the illness for the whole month.  Thank you for reading and I hope you have a great day!

WLOS Story

mental health

4/10

You last got an ode to Catherine.  This, by comparison, is going to sound like a total Whine Fest.  It’s also going to be very honest, which some people like but others don’t, so proceed accordingly.

I’m not doing well.  I’m not doing well and I’ve been trying to hide it for months, which has resulted in me just being plain old exhausted.  I’ve been varying levels of depressed since October.  Nothing specific happened then, that’s just when this part of the cycle started.  This long, seemingly endless, helpless part of the cycle.  On a scale of 0 to 10 where 0 is suicidally depressed and I need to be in the hospital and 10 is I’m doing great, I’m at about a 4.  A 4 is not that terrible though because yesterday I was at a 3.  Someone recently told me that using a scale helps other people understand how I’m really doing, since “not well” two days in a row could mean the same as yesterday or better than yesterday but still bad or much worse than yesterday.  I’m doing everything “they” tell you to try to feel better.  In my Intensive Outpatient Program (where I did group therapy 3 days a week for 3 hours a day) we talked about acting opposite to how you’re feeling and I’ve definitely been doing that.  I feel like sleeping all the time and never getting out of my bed or showering, but instead I’ve been making plans and doing things.  I feel like wallowing in self-pity, but instead I’m trying to be optimistic and plan things for the future.

In my IOP, we talked about negative self-talk and interrupting negative thinking patterns and I’ve been doing my best to do that.  I’m not hungry like I usually am, but that could be the Vyvanse, a medication I started because I either have Binge Eating Disorder or the side effects of the medication have caused me to gain 60 pounds.  I personally think it’s probably a combination of the two.  At any rate, I’m now unwilling to try any new medications that have the side effect of weight gain.  At least the Vyvanse, as a stimulant, gives me some energy.  I think it’s the only reason I’m able to get out of bed at all.  Everything seems like it takes a great deal of effort, even things that used to be easy to me like writing or reading.  I have four partially finished books that I am sort of reading right now.  I keep starting them and at first I can read them and like them, but even though I don’t lose interest exactly, I put them down and can’t seem to pick them back up.  All of them are good and deserve to be finished, but I just can’t read for long enough to finish a book, which is extra bad because reading is one of my very favorite activities.

I joined a Meetup group for Movie Geeks in their 20s and 30s, which is mostly great and the people are super nice, but sometimes I think that no one there likes me and that the group would be better off if I wasn’t there to annoy everyone.  I realize that it’s unlikely that “nobody likes me, everybody hates me, I’m so annoying,”  but that’s what my self-talk is often when I’m around other people.  Maybe that’s just social anxiety, but I think it’s depression, too.  I keep thinking about death, also.  Every time I leave the house or my parents leave the house, I become sort of obsessed with “I love you” being the last thing we say to each other because I’m terrified that something will happen to either them or to me and our last words to each other will have been something stupid.  I keep worrying about something happening to River and I keep getting upset thinking about her death even though it is likely 10-11 years away.  I feel guilty for not playing with her enough or taking her on walks, even though my back then my ankle have sort of prohibited that for a while, which is out of my control.  Also, when I try to play with her in the back yard, she just wants to play keep away, and I can’t really keep up with my air splint on my ankle.

I feel helpless because I know I’m running out of options for treating my illness.  I’ve tried most of the medications available and, as previously stated, I’m not willing to try any new ones that could cause more weight gain, which is most of the medications that I haven’t tried yet.  I don’t feel hopeless yet, which is the good news.  This is primarily because I know there are still options.  One I have been considering recently is ECT.  I haven’t yet talked with my doctor about this, but I talked with my therapist about it yesterday and she thought it was worth talking with my doctor about when I see him next week.  I had blood work done last week to check my Depakote levels and I’m hoping that those are merely off and my dosage can be adjusted, but if not, ECT isn’t “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” scary anymore.

They give you a muscle relaxant, put you under general anesthesia,  place two electrodes either on the right side of your head or on either side of your head, put you on oxygen, then induce a seizure for about one minute.  At first they do this three times a week, then treatments become more spaced out until eventually you just have maintenance treatments.  If you had asked me when I was first diagnosed if I would ever consider ECT, the answer would have been an emphatic “hell no!”  It even used to be in my Wellness Recovery Action Plan under “List the treatments you want to avoid:”  but I have been worn down and trampled on by this illness.

The only break I’ve had from symptoms since September of 2013 was September 2015-March 2016 when I was dealing with a large blood clot and a small pulmonary embolism.  And even then I was free from mood symptoms but not from crippling anxiety.  I’m grateful for those 7 months because I don’t know what I would have done if I was trying to grapple with my mood and the blood clot at the same time, but it just feels so unfair that the only break I’ve had was when I couldn’t even fully enjoy it.  Plus, the entire time I kept having chest pains and thinking I was having another pulmonary embolism even though it was just anxiety and panic attacks.

While I was in the hospital and since I’ve gotten out, I’ve kept a journal, thinking that I could turn it and some of my blog posts into a memoir.  I think now that I may have to change the format and possibly write it as a novel instead for legal purposes, but my point is actually that the last time that I wrote was February 6th and the last time before that was January 26th and the last time before that was January 20th.  I can’t write every day anymore, no matter how badly I want to.  It’s like the words just won’t come.  It’s a small miracle that I’ve been able to semi-coherently draft this post.

Check on your friends that have mental health stuff.  Just because they seem okay doesn’t mean they are actually okay.  Let them know it’s okay for them to be honest with you and that they have a safe place to talk.  Often, we feel like we have to hide how we are doing to protect the people we love from their worry about us.  Someone recently told me, “no one asked you to protect them” and that is so important.  It’s one of the reasons I’m sharing my feelings with you now.  One of the most important things I have been told recently was “Your truth is a gift that I treasure.”  You have no idea how much those words may mean to someone.  Be kind.  Love each other.  That’s all for today.