Blogs I Love

How Self-Love Can Help You Succeed.

(From Catherine: This is a great post on learning to love yourself, something I have definitely been working on lately.  It’s a journey and not something that can just happen overnight.  Be kind to yourselves. #BloggingBoost #BloggingBoosters)

#apostwithnoimages

#theonlythingyouneedtoseeisYOU

Last week, I spoke about finding your purpose. I feel it’s important to be driven by something (your purpose) that is meant to magnify not only the happiness in your life but also in the lives of those you encounter.

You see, when you feel good about yourself you are in a better position to influence the direction your life goes and encourage and uplift others along the way. For that reason, I am ranking self-love one notch higher on the priority front over finding your purpose.

I have paid tribute to, in various degrees, self-love in a few of my posts. If you missed any of them, click here for the one about happiness, or here for my thoughts on committment. Maybe positivity is what you’re lacking. This is just for you.

The way in which you identify with yourself has strong direct and indirect influence…

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Adventure

The Intervention Letter

Tonight, I’ve been looking through my journal and blog entries that I’ve put together for my memoir and I came across this assignment that we did while I was in the Park Ridge Intensive Outpatient Program.  I had forgotten all about it, which is a shame because the whole point of it was to change my daily thinking.  I’m feeling a little nervous and raw about sharing it, but I feel like it’s important and I know I’m not the only person who feels this way, so to anyone else who feels this way, I just want to say- you are not alone.

June 21, 2016

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,

I want you to know that I really love and care about you.  You are a kind, compassionate, loving, and giving person.  I admire your bravery.  For example, you’ve traveled the world and you chose to join the Peace Corps.  I admire how much you care about other people, as evidenced by your volunteer trip to the orphanage in Kenya, you joining the Peace Corps, you getting your M.A.Ed. in School Counseling, and the empathy you show by hurting and loving so deeply when others are hurt.  I admire the strength it took to admit that you need help and to check yourself into the hospital.  I admire your conviction and the commitment you’ve made to wellness in spite of your bipolar disorder.  I want nothing more than to see you live a full, normal, and successful life.  I know you have what it takes to do that and have the power within yourself.

Catherine, I can see that your negative core belief that you are “not enough” has negatively impacted your life.  You have avoided taking risks romantically and, over the past three years, you have spent most of your free time in your room on your bed alone except for the company of River.  You have avoided spending time with friends because of your “not enough” core belief and it has had a negative effect on your wellness in terms of the progression of your recovery with bipolar disorder.  You have, throughout your life, made incredibly questionable choices about the men you have dated because you didn’t think you deserved any better due to your belief of not being skinny, pretty, funny, smart, successful, and competent enough.  You have dated men who disrespected you, cheated on you, or were even emotionally abusive to you and who didn’t respect what you wanted and didn’t respect your body.  All this was because of your core belief that you are “not enough.”

Your belief that you are “not enough” affects your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in ways that are hurtful and painful.  Your daily self-talk of “I’m not pretty enough.  I’m not skinny enough.  I’m not smart enough.  I’m not successful enough.  I’m not independent enough.  I’m not ___________ enough.  I’m not enough.” is emotional abuse.  When you think something enough times, you start to believe it.  It also affects your behaviors, some of which I already wrote about.  You would never speak to someone else you care about in this way and you shouldn’t ever let someone you care about speak to you in this way either, not even yourself.  This obsessive and ruminating self-talk is harmful and abusive and it’s hard to understand why you would allow it to continue.  Since it has caused you to stay in your room so much, your negative core belief has affected your friendships.  Your friends are patient and understanding, but they aren’t saints and it was unfair for you to expect them to wait this long to hang out with you regularly again.

Catherine, I’m asking you to accept change.  Every time you think your core belief, I’m asking that you change it to I am enough.  I ask that you remind yourself that you are enough each and every day.  I challenge you to live as though you believe you are enough, even if you don’t always feel that way.  This may look like being more confident when stable or depressed and it may look like imposing the 24-hour rule on things that are big choices when you are manic, because you are so much better than some of the impulsive choices you have made.

One major consequence of not adjusting your core belief and of living with old patterns of negative thinking is that if your thought pattern remains the same, your feelings and behaviors are unlikely to change.  You will continue to put yourself down and may make more decisions based on the false idea that you are not good enough and therefore do not deserve any better.  It is imperative that you start making changes in the way you think and replace “I’m not enough” with “I am enough” in your thinking.

Love Always,

Catherine

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.

Adventure

Love Warrior Giveaway by Illuminated By U!

Since we have reached 200 followers on Instagram, we thought it might be time for a giveaway! Love Warrior will be our book of the month later this year and it’s an amazing read. I couldn’t put it down and read it all in one day. It’s by Glennon Doyle Melton, whose blog you can […]

via Love Warrior Giveaway! By Catherine Cottam #ibugiveaway #compassionorbust — RAISING MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS AND REDUCING STIGMA

 

visit Illuminated By U’s Instagram to enter!

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.