mental health

We’re All Mad Here Part 3/7

This is a seven part series. A new part will be released every Wednesday until all 7 are out.

Disclaimer: As some of you may know, I took a Memoir Writing class in 2017.  For that class, I wrote a lengthy (22 page) story about my first time going inpatient in a mental health facility back in May of 2015.  I utilized a “journal” or sorts that I kept while in the hospital. It was really just a yellow legal pad with notes scribbled all over it each day. I was hesitant to share it here because it’s very frank and may contain details of thoughts I had that some people may find disturbing, but I also feel it’s an important look at what being in a mixed episode can feel like.  In a mixed episode, you experience symptoms of both mania and depression.  So you may have a ton of energy and engage in risk taking behaviors but your self talk may be incredibly negative and scary.  At any rate, I’m now going to share that story with you weekly in several parts.  I’m not sure how many parts yet, but I don’t want to make each post so long that no one wants to read it.  Some parts of this story contain strong language not suitable for children.  I know some of the stuff I have written and write in this part are really off the wall and bizarre, but they are the honest thoughts that I had at the time.

We have a group today where we play drums, play twenty questions, then toss a ball back and forth to learn each other’s names.  It is your basic team building stuff, but it is pretty fun.  Shortly after, Mom and Dad come to visit, but the hour and a half they are here for flies by like a number of seconds.  They bring me a picture of River, my stuffed dog, coloring books, colored pencils, and markers.  I hug each of them for a long time before they leave.  They look weary but are trying to put on happy faces.

Samantha takes me and a few other girls outside for a walk before dinner.  The food here is actually really tasty.  I have grilled cheese and it has about three different kinds of cheese oozing out of it on delicious buttery bread.  I head back to my room after dinner and attempt to read Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, but my mind is all over the place and I can’t focus long enough to get through a simple paragraph.  Someone comes down the hall and wakes me up because I have a phone call and it is Tiffany! I could say “I have the best support system in the entire world!” a million times and it still wouldn’t be enough for me. Phone calls are limited to ten minutes to make sure that everyone gets enough time to use the phone so I go back to reading and dozing off. At 8pm it is finally time for snack, which is necessary since so many of us take antipsychotics that require at least 350 calories eaten recently for them to absorb properly. After snack, I am one of the first in line for meds, which I take and decide to go straight to bed.

When I find out that the movie for that night is going to be Pride and Prejudice- the Keira Knightley version, I decide to stay awake and try to watch all of it. I make it through all but the last fifteen minutes of it because at that point, it becomes very necessary for me to leave the room. One of the women on the ward, Dixie, is one of the most obnoxious people I have ever met in my life. She is constantly asking questions throughout the movie that either a) she would know the answer to if she had been paying attention to or b) no one else knows the answer to because we either haven’t seen the movie or don’t have it memorized line by line. When I get up to leave she asks me why I am leaving and I say I want to try to go to bed.

The next day I have a migraine and am excused from all of my activities.  Nurse Sarah brings me an ice pack for my head and folds my laundry for me.  Nurse Layla gives me 100mg of sumatriptan.  It’s not what I usually take for migraines and it’s not nearly as effective.  I go back to sleep for a long time, then emerge from my room for lunch, after which we watch part of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince until visitation, which made me very happy.  Dixie asks again why I didn’t stay for the whole movie last night.  She makes me feel very punchy, but I don’t act out on it, I just seethe on the inside and dislike her from as much of a distance as I can possibly be in a small locked hallway.  I said again that I was tired instead of yelling, “It’s none of your fucking business, bitch!” at her like I wanted to.  See, I can be skillful even while manic!  I really don’t like her.  I overheard the nurses saying she has a textbook case of Borderline Personality Disorder, which makes a lot of sense.  The symptoms include impulsive actions, unstable relationships, mood swings, etc.

Mom, Dad, Joanne, and Rylann all come to visit me.  Joanne and Rylann can only stay for a little bit but it was so amazing to see them for as long as Rylann could tolerate being there.  They have to leave a different way than they normally would have because we got a new patient who is “excitable.”  Mom and Dad stay the whole visitation time and are allowed to leave the regular way.  The time with them always seems to pass too quickly, but I’m so grateful to them that they are willing to come visit every time they are allowed to.  After visitation, I watch part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 before dinner, then more of it between dinner and snack. Two of the other ladies, Evelyn and Marie, were both really into watching it as well. After snack, I take meds then take a shower, then other people (DIXIE) have started Free Willy 2, so I can’t watch Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, which I have mentioned like a million times is coming on at 8:45pm and that I want to watch it. Instead, I call Sheridan and leave her a message then call and talk to Mom and Dad.

One of the girls here talks a lot about all of the time she spends in the spiritual realm and Dixie is convinced that her daughter has somehow illegally had her involuntarily committed. She thinks she is perfectly healthy but believes the doctor can hold her for 7-10 days. I’m 99% sure they can only hold you for 72 hours before committing you or not committing you for your own and others’ safety and then they can keep you here for as long as they deem medically necessary.   The result of my blood work was that my triglycerides are very high, but I don’t know what that means.

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mental health

We’re All Mad Here Part 2/7

This is a seven part series. A new part will be released every Wednesday until all 7 are out.

Disclaimer: As some of you may know, I took a Memoir Writing class in 2017.  For that class, I wrote a lengthy (22 page) story about my first time going inpatient in a mental health facility back in May of 2015.  I utilized a “journal” or sorts that I kept while in the hospital. It was really just a yellow legal pad with notes scribbled all over it each day. I was hesitant to share it here because it’s very frank and may contain details of thoughts I had that some people may find disturbing, but I also feel it’s an important look at what being in a mixed episode can feel like.  In a mixed episode, you experience symptoms of both mania and depression.  So you may have a ton of energy and engage in risk taking behaviors but your self talk may be incredibly negative and scary.  At any rate, I’m now going to share that story with you weekly in several parts.  I’m not sure how many parts yet, but I don’t want to make each post so long that no one wants to read it.  Some parts of this story contain strong language not suitable for children.  I know some of the stuff I have written and write in this part are really off the wall and bizarre, but they are the honest thoughts that I had at the time.

A few hours have passed since I arrived.  The nurses have taken my vitals and the nurse named Sarah went through my bag of belongings when I got here to make sure I wasn’t bringing any contraband in.  I was allowed to keep everything except for a few books.  “You can switch them out if you’re here long enough,” she said.  She also made a comment about how I may not want to wear some of the exercise shorts I brought because of how short they are and something about the chairs.  Frankly, it seemed a bit judgy to me, particularly since I’m in a women’s only unit.  No one here seems quite as bad off as I anticipated and the nurses are actually all very nice.  I know that I can’t do anything else I’d be ashamed of while I’m locked up in here.  I can’t spend any more money or flirt with any people I shouldn’t or drive too fast and it’s apparently Harry Potter weekend on Freeform, which is a channel we get in the TV room.  In here, I know the hallucinations are fake even more than I know they are out there.  I’m sitting here now, locked in a mental health ward with a bunch of other mentally unwell women, watching my very favorite movie series, with the knowledge that I am completely and totally unable to fuck up in any lasting way as long as I’m in here.  I’ve never felt so safe in my life.  This isn’t so bad.

Since it’s the weekend and a holiday, there’s less going on here than there normally would be.  Right now, it’s a whole lot of sitting around and waiting until I can go to sleep.  I wish I was allowed to put things up on the wall.  Maybe I am, but I’m afraid to ask.  One of my best friends, Joanne, made me a beautiful card.  It’s sitting on top of the desk in the corner of my room.  This place is weird, but it isn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. I guess I will find out on Tuesday what it’s really like on a normal day. I think it’s fucking stupid that they limit the number of books you can have in your room. I also wish River, my three-year-old Airedale Terrier, was allowed to come visit me.  I walked around a corner earlier and nearly ran into Samantha.  Samantha used to come into my first job at a local food place all the time and she is a therapist here. I have known her since I was 17 years old. It felt a little weird finding out she would be running groups I’m in, but it was also really nice to see a familiar face and I got used to the idea quickly.  I just had my first dosage of in-hospital medication- 20mg of Propranolol which is a blood pressure medication that is sometimes used for anxiety.  The nurses and I didn’t realize that it was for 5pm and it’s after 7 now. Now I’ll have to take my 9pm dosage a little late. I think I’ll probably be drugged out of my mind tomorrow after I see the doctor. They will probably get me out of here fairly quickly.

It’s almost midnight and I’m still scribbling on a notepad as fast as I can.  I wasn’t allowed to bring anything with a spiral or wire or string binding, so what I have is a yellow legal pad.  My thoughts are racing so quickly I can barely jot down what I mean before running along to the next thing.  I almost kind of feel like I don’t really need to be here, but I know that’s not the case because of the spending, hallucinations, racing thoughts, trouble sleeping, acting out of character, and questionable choices.  I hope I don’t have too much trouble sleeping tonight.  Especially since my window has no blinds or curtains and I apparently have to wake up at 6:15AM to set goals for the day or some shit.  My parents are coming to visit tomorrow and I can’t wait to hear how River is doing.

It’s after 1AM and I’m still scribbling on my notepad.  It’s taking a lot of effort for me to check my ego at the door here. I may think I’m a little better off than many of the other women here currently, but each and every one of us is spending time on a locked mental health ward in the hospital right now and we are doing so for valid reasons. I wonder how much time people here usually spend in their rooms and how much they usually spend in the little common TV room.   I can’t stop crying because I just wish River was here.  I miss her so much and it’s weird trying to fall asleep without her next to me.  I am exhausted from the events of the day and, having cried myself out, I finally fall asleep.

The next day is long but better than the one before it.  A nurse wakes me up shortly after 6AM to take my temperature and blood pressure, both of which are fine.  I’m not a morning person, which must be glaringly obvious, because she says, “I’m so sorry for waking you up.  You can go back to sleep for a little while.”  I decide to try that since it had taken me so long to fall asleep in the first place, but another nurse comes in to take my blood for some labs, then the doctor comes in a few minutes later.  He is tall, handsome, and has brown hair.  Thankfully, I am too groggy to flirt with him.  When I first got back to America from the Peace Corps and was doing an Intensive Outpatient Program, I said to the doctor there, “has anyone ever told you that you look like Ewan McGregor?  Because you definitely do.”  Inappropriate flirting is definitely a thing I do while in a manic or mixed episode.  It’s so embarassing.  The now doctor doubles the dosage of my antipsychotic and adds a powerful anti-anxiety medication in hopes that it will help me sleep at night and calm me down some during the day.   I sort of figured they would want me as drugged as possible to end the mania or at least slow it down.

mental health

World Mental Health Day 2017

In true Catherine fashion, this is possibly a bit too honest and probably uncomfortably personal for some people.

Yesterday, I sat in my OBGYN’s office and expressed that because of my Bipolar disorder and my clotting disorder, I probably don’t want to have biological children.   “More than two-thirds of people with bipolar disorder have at least one close relative with the illness or with unipolar major depression, indicating that the disease has a heritable component (National Institute of Mental Health).”  The clotting disorder, Factor V Leiden, is a genetic disorder, and would likely be passed down to any of my future potential offspring.  Though the clotting disorder is not a mental health disorder, it has direct effects on my mental health as it causes anxiety and panic attacks and even required the use of EMDR, a type of trauma therapy, as suggested by a therapist in my IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program) because of my “PTSD like symptoms” surrounding my Pulmonary Embolism.

My doctor agreed that the clotting disorder would make any future pregnancy incredibly high risk but told me that since she loves me so much, she wouldn’t mind too much if I passed on the bipolar disorder.  I smiled and said thank you (and I was honestly incredibly flattered that my doctor thinks so highly of me), but what I wanted to say and what I thought in my head was, “spoken like someone who doesn’t have Bipolar Disorder.”  I can’t know for sure that my doctor doesn’t have Bipolar Disorder or other mental health struggles of her own without asking her, which I’m not going to do because it isn’t any of my business, but as someone with Bipolar Disorder, I would never want to pass the illness on to an unsuspecting child.

“Bipolar Disorder affects approximately 5.7 million adult Americans, or about 2.6% of the U.S. population age 18 and older every year (National Institute of Mental Health).”  It, “results in 9.2 years reduction in expected life span, and as many as one in five patients with bipolar disorder completes suicide (National Institute of Mental Health).”  I wouldn’t wish it on an enemy, let alone an unsuspecting child.

Growing up, I always thought I would be a mother someday and there is the chance that I’ll eventually become someone’s step-mother or adoptive-mother, but I feel that it would be irresponsible, selfish, and somewhat cruel to insist on having my own children.  Population problems aside, how heartless would I have to be to knowingly put someone else through the hell that I have been through?  To subject them not only to a horribly debilitating mental illness that results in over 9 years reduced lifespan and possibly ends in suicide, but a genetic disease that can cause clots, Pulmonary Embolisms, Strokes, or even death.

The prospect of not having children of my own is a sad and difficult one, but it  seems like the right choice for me, given all of my health problems.  Today, on World Mental Health Day 2017, I urge you to think about the far reach mental illness has.  It not only affects how people function, but also important choices they must make about their lives and the lives of loved ones.  Mental illness is no joke and, honestly, I’m sick and tired of hearing it treated as one.  I’m tired of ableist language and of people referring to people or things as “crazy” when they really mean things like “unbelievable”, “surprising,” “angry”, “scary”, or “bad.”  I myself am guilty of using this type of language and am working on it, making an effort not to use it anymore.

If you think you or someone you know has Bipolar Disorder, I urge you to utilize the Mood Disorder Questionnaire and talk about it with your primary care physician or another health care professional.  You can find tests for Bipolar Disorder and other types of mental health disorders here.

If you are in crisis, please call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ .

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

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

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