mental health

We’re All Mad Here Part 4/7

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.

Today is the third day and it’s one of the hardest.  I think I may be worse off than when I got here. Thoughts are racing and not altogether logical. Yesterday, Evelyn was talking about how she can’t color anymore and this morning, I was coloring. Now I’m worried that I accidentally stole her ability to color, but I know that doesn’t make any sense. One of the most frustrating things about being mentally ill is having these off the wall thoughts and knowing logically that they don’t make any sense but not being able to make my brain and heart connect and both realize it. I didn’t sleep through the night. I woke up a few times then woke up for the day around 5:30AM. I’m also very hungry but there is over an hour until breakfast.

I’ve now had breakfast and meds- Propranolol, Gabapentin, Ativan, and a multi-vitamin. My thoughts are slowing down and I think I may even be able to read. One of the nurses suggested I nap. Oh how I wish I could nap. I’ll see the Physician’s Assistant today. I’m definitely not ready to go home yet, as much as I miss River and want to be able to go to Destin on Saturday. I’m hopeful I’ll be out in time for that though. I’m paranoid that no one likes me and I’m annoying everyone. I hate asking the staff questions because I know how busy they are, but at least I’m not Dixie. She interrupts every conversation and makes it about herself. Turning into one specific extended family member used to be my worst nightmare. Now, it’s turning into Dixie.

I was sort of afraid of the new lady yesterday, but Monica is actually very nice and cool. She has her Master’s in Child and Adolescent Psychology. I found out that Lily has Bipolar Disorder and Schizo-Affective Disorder and has been in and out of inpatient treatment for almost a decade. It’s been very normalizing to talk symptoms with these ladies. I’m not alone and many of my symptoms are very normal for people who have mental illnesses.  Mom and Dad are coming to visit today! We get special visitation today because of Memorial Day. It sounds like Lily is crying…I want to go check on her. Against my expectations, I’m finding that I care about most of these ladies.

Lily does not want a hug and I still do not know what made her upset. The medicines are clearly helping in some capacity because I am much calmer after taking them and my brain makes more sense. Maybe they will just let me keep taking the benzodiazepines until I’m no longer manic. I actually have like 4 bottles of 1mg Ativan at home, so I can keep taking it even if the new doctor doesn’t prescribe it.  Lunch is grilled cheese and it is delicious. Every time I order it, I receive something new and different. Before lunch, we did turtle themed arts and crafts with Nurse Isabelle and talked about the importance of turtling or sort of retreating back into ourselves in situations that aren’t good for our mental health.  It was fun. I also colored this morning and I’ve read some. Mom and Dad will be here at 2pm to see me. It is still before 1pm, I think. One of the really interesting things about being here is that we aren’t allowed to wear watches or to have clocks in our room, so if we want to know what time it is we have to walk down the hall to the nurses’ station. I would like to nap but maybe I’ll just read since I don’t believe I could actually sleep right now.

I still haven’t seen the P.A. yet today and I want to talk to her about sleeping since I haven’t slept through the night since I got here and I was wide awake this morning after not sleeping well and waking up multiple times. I’ll be kind of annoyed if I get pulled out of visitation to talk to the P.A. when my parents only get to see me for 2 hours and she literally has 22 other hours in the day where she could see me.  The P.A. tries to pull me out of visitation but I say no and she agrees that we can meet later.   Visitation is good! Mom and Dad get to stay for 2 hours but it feels like only 30 minutes. After they leave, I see the P.A.  She was going to increase my PRN (as needed) meds for tonight in hopes that I could sleep. Dixie is being a raging bitch tonight at dinner. She is pissed because no one came to tell her it was dinner time, even though dinner is at the exact same time today that it’s been every day and even though it’s her own responsibility to come out in the hall and check the clock like the other ten of us do when we need to be somewhere at a certain time.

One of my favorite patients in here was just having a very loud and angry conversation with an invisible person in her room. I think she may have paranoid schizophrenia but bipolar disorder and a few others are possible too. She talks a lot about all of the time she has spent in the spiritual realm and the missions God has sent her on and how badly she wants to get to Heaven quickly. There are noises coming from her room now and I kind of want to check on her but I’m kind of afraid to. She just came in here and she seems a little better now. I, of course, had to hide this notepad. Things could have gotten awkward otherwise. That was an exaggeration. I really just flipped this page over so that all she could see was a blank sheet. I exaggerate a lot and sometimes flat out lie and those aren’t things I particularly like about myself. They typically happen when I’m manic. I’m glad I’ll only have to be in here for another week, but I feel really sure I’ll end up back in inpatient again.

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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.

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

When Anxiety Makes You Plan Your Own Funeral

I know that title probably made you go “wait, what?”, but hang with me for a minute.  People sometimes say they can’t tell that I’m mentally ill from talking to me.  While I get that, it’s not as though I usually go around discussing delusions, hallucinations, causes of anxiety, or other symptoms with people I’m not particularly close to.  While I thankfully haven’t experienced any delusions or hallucinations lately, my anxiety has been increasingly bad since before Christmas in spite of being almost nonexistent for several months prior to that.

I recently went to a funeral where a lot of preaching and not much actual talking about the person who passed away happened and left thinking “hmm, I don’t want that when I die.”  I also had a general sense of impending doom even before our carbon monoxide detectors went off a few times this week.  (The heater is getting fixed as I type this, so don’t worry- I won’t actually die from carbon monoxide poisoning, but that wasn’t very comforting in the middle of the night two nights in a row when the alarm went off).  The sense of impending doom is honestly just part of suffering from anxiety.  It isn’t that out of the ordinary for me.

So last week and this week (or a few weeks ago by the time I publish this and you read it), I spent time painstakingly planning the details of my funeral service, selecting readings from some of my favorite books, writing my own obituary, making my own funeral programs (complete with book recommendations on the back), and making a slideshow of photos and videos from throughout my life.  In the past, I have seen how difficult it is for close family to do all of these things following a death and I don’t want the people I love to have to worry about those details when I am gone.  Hopefully that’s a really long time from now and I get to add tons of photos and videos to the slideshow and change the age on the obituary by many many years, but either way it is done now and on a flashdrive where we keep our important documents.

I know this may seem kind of morbid, so I want to assure you that I did talk with my therapist about it and she seemed to think it was a fairly reasonable response to my anxiety.  It’s something productive I could use my anxiety for instead of stressing and losing sleep and obsessing about what my funeral would be like.  When I die (again hopefully a long time from now), I want my funeral to be a celebration of my life and the ones and activities I loved.  Planning it myself was a small way to hopefully ensure that will happen.  Obviously, once I’m gone I’ll have no control over what anyone actually does, but my wishes are very clearly spelled out in black and white and most of the work is already done.

Anxiety is a tricky thing because it can keep you up all night and there often is little you can do to make it go away.  Coming up with creative solutions to lessen my anxiety is something I hope to do more of in the future.  Would you ever consider planning your own funeral?  Let me know in the comments!

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

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.