On Break from my Bipolar Self!

Well in case you haven’t noticed I have been away several days from the blogging world. I would like to say I was far off somewhere in the middle of an exotic island enjoying a fruit-filled cocktail, but that would be a fantasy.  No, I have just been enjoying the ups and downs of a bipolar life.

Even though I changed medication I still get those lingering mild depression symptoms and when that happens my concentration goes. Not to the point of being unable to carry on a conversation, but to the point where putting pen to paper is nearly impossible. Then, for whatever reason, the concentration cloud lifts and my head gets really clear. Alas, here I am.

I do romanticize about taking a break from my bipolar self. I think about how I will rebuild my life with cool people and we will laugh and talk and genuinely enjoy each other’s company. In that time there will be no discussion about which anti-psychotic has more weight gain and what one costs the most money. None of us would have to worry about whether we missed a dose of medication or added a pill we usually don’t take that knocked us out for a day (that’s me-I slept until 3pm). We could even grab a beer or glass of wine without feeling guilty.

Yes in my unbipolar world there would be no time to laugh at funny things therapists might say to you. Numbers would only be used for phone numbers and not for involuntary commitments (5150). There would be no pain and suffering to discuss because everyone would feel awesome. When we referred to a tool kit – meditation would not be something you would find in it. A tool kit would be about hammers and nails, not coping mechanisms for serious mental illnesses.

Finally, when I woke up every morning I could open my eyes and make believe I was going to feel great before my first cup of coffee. There would be no such thing as a medication hangover. I could ignore many of the bad memories that harbor in my mind because of my illness. It would never bother me again.

Well, it only takes a short time to realize there are a few things I would miss and that is the wonderful people I have met because I have bipolar disorder. And so what – we have different things in common than the average person, but we can find a lot of humor in living our lives with mental illness. They always say – laughter is the best medicine! Oh how I believe it is true!

Thanks for reading friends! And thanks for all your well wishes while I was away.

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Are You Shocked That I Got Shocked?

Fascinating perspective about ECT in the treatment of depression.

Birth of a New Brain

ImageI’m still shocked that I had the guts to request ECT, otherwise known as electroconvulsive therapy or electroshock.  (Yeah, I like the third term “electroshock” best…NOT!)  There was nothing other than pure desperation that drove me to do something so frightening.

It was January of 2009.  I had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder two years before, and I was teetering on the edge of sanity.  Then my father died.  If you read the previous post “Stigma – Part Two” you know that my relationship with my father was a close one, and I loved him unreservedly.  His health had been failing for several years before he passed away, but each time it seemed that he reached his end, he’d make a miraculous recovery.  No matter how many remarkable recoveries Dad made, I knew that it was inevitable that I would lose him forever.  I had been dreading his death every…

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Healing from Bipolar Disorder

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I have wrestled with this whole idea of healing from bipolar disorder. Since the illness never goes away, I have thought about how I know when I am actually well again. What constitutes feeling better? Are there markers out there or examples that show us what living well with bipolar disorder looks like?

For me the first thing I look at is whether or not my symptoms of depression are under control. Can I concentrate enough to read, get out of bed or eliminate any negative thoughts that linger on and on replaying with a skip like on a damaged music CD. I don’t know if I can sustain this period of normalcy I am experiencing but so far so good.

The medications I take really keep a damper on the “mania.” I also watch mania like a hawk. I know my illness well enough to know “mania” is not my friend. The biggest precursor to mania is lack of sleep, so I monitor how much sleep I get and I pay close attention to any semblance of racing thoughts that may enter my brain.

For the most part, I have spent most of my time getting very well acquainted with bipolar depression. I have read where most of the time people with bipolar have to deal with more symptoms of depression than any mania. And I have to say I am bothered when people romanticize the “mania.” We all know what goes up must come down and usually comes down with a crash.

I don’t know about you but I get so excited when I start to feel really good, not mania good, just “normal” good. I crawl out from my cave and start thinking about what I can accomplish. What do I want to do now that I am well again? I always find that when I start feeling better I start searching for opportunities to get busier. But I have this “little Amy” on my shoulder that monitors everything I do (it’s only an imaginary Amy not a delusion…:).

This is where I get stuck. In the back of my mind I have a fear that my wellness period will only last so long and I will be right back where I started with some episode of depression or even mania for that matter. I fear the relapse and I hate that I have so much fear about it. I wish I could think about possibilities without having the realism downer inhabit my thoughts.

So knowing I will never really completely heal from bipolar disorder I have to make another plan of action–one that can fulfill me today and give me hope for tomorrow. A plan that helps me live out my dreams but also takes into account the limitations I have to live with. It’s almost a double edge sword because I have always pushed myself to achieve more than I thought possible, and in that push I have been successful. But now I am nearly paralyzed by my fears of having symptoms break through again. The things that were my strengths have become another obstacle I have to overcome.

Healing from bipolar disorder is really in the eyes of the beholder. A doctor might consider staying out of the hospital as a huge success. I would agree with that, but then I say what is next?  And that is when I wonder just how far the healing can continue. Is it enough for me to be okay with being stable or do I need more to feel as if I have truly healed?  Will I ever be satisfied with the status quo?  These are the questions I ask myself and so far I don’t have the answers.

Are you addicted to Bipolar Disorder?

Recently I watched a video clip about ABC’s new show Black Box. If you haven’t seen Black Box it is about a neuroscientist who also lives with Bipolar Disorder. The strange thing to me is that they say she is “addicted to bipolar,” because she loves the manic highs. I don’t think I have ever heard it put that way before, but I suppose it is because I have a rather opposing viewpoint. (You can view the video here Black Box Video)

When I retrospectively look back at the times I have had manic episodes, I really don’t find a lot of positive aspects. During those episodes I have bought things I didn’t need, got involved with some people I would never let my dog talk too, almost lost my life, and really the list goes on and on. High intense manic episodes have made me want to adhere to a treatment regimen that works not seek out more mania.

I don’t dislike Black Box but I wonder what the basic viewer thinks about bipolar disorder as a result of watching it? To my knowledge the main character has yet to experience deep levels of depression—which we all know is where the disorder spends most of its’ time. We also know that in treating bipolar disorder it can take an average of 10 years before finding the right combination of medications. Not so simple as saying the character could have a wonderful, symptom free life if she only took her medication as prescribed.

If I have stopped taking my medication it is because of a few key reasons:

1) I didn’t think I had bipolar disorder—I was in denial

2) The side effects of the medications were so bad I couldn’t tolerate them

3) I started to relapse and didn’t recognize I was getting sick—so I stopped the meds

There has not been anytime in my history with this illness that I said, “I love the mania and I am addicted to it.” Most of the time I didn’t even know what the mania was let alone want more of it. It was more like living with something that was so natural to me. My normal was experiencing “highs” and “lows” and I thought everyone experienced the same kind of thing. I’ve never known what normal is because I’ve never had normal for an extended period of time.

Do I miss the mania now that I have a treatment regimen that works? If I miss anything it is the energy to do things, some of which is controlled by medication and some of it is a side effect from medication. What I miss more than mania is a life that was fuller before I got so sick with bipolar disorder that I could not function.

I know it’s hard to portray characters in the media with mental illness, but I wish they wouldn’t glamorize bipolar disorder. I wish they would take real live people and tell their stories. I doubt that many of us who have really suffered with this illness would say we are addicted to it.

Feeling “Less Than”

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There are days when I see myself as “less than.”  Less than what?  Less than the general population who gets up and goes to work everyday.  Less than the people I used to work with who have risen high on the Corporate America success ladder.  Less than even some people who have recovered from mental illness and seem to have left their struggles in the dust.

I feel less than fulfilled with my current life.  I make a point of spending my time writing everyday, which gives me tremendous value.  But my overall everyday life pales in comparison to my past life before I was really hit with bipolar depression.

So I ask myself the question, how can I exists without feeling “less than” as a human being? For starters, I am aiming to make my comparison a little fairer.  What do I mean by making it fairer?  Well, it’s not fair to compare a basket of eggs with a basket of oranges. After bipolar disorder took me down hard I had to recover from a series of major episodes.  The fact that I am capable of doing all that I currently do is a tremendous success.  But comparing my life now with the past and before bipolar disorder really wrecked havoc is simply not a fair comparison.

I am willing to bet I am not alone in feeling “less than.” I am sure there are other people out there who feel like they were so much better before a mental illness disrupted their life. I want to say to them, “you are not alone.” It does not make you feel better to know other people suffer the same plight, but it certainly puts things into perspective. It allows you to realize other people are carrying the same or similar torch.  Plowing away each day, trying not to get caught up in letting the “less than” feelings dominate.

Part of the problem with feeling “less than” nags at the self-esteem and tears down self-confidence. Many of these feelings are so “normal,” but somewhere along the way we forget to address them. We end up with an overflow of bad feelings about ourselves and we don’t know what to do about them.

I have truly found that if I hit the nail on the head with something I at least have a chance at knowing what to do with it.  So if I call out a day when I am really feeling “less than” I will acknowledge that feeling. I can then talk my way through the bad thoughts I may have about myself.  The more I realize the thoughts are very “normal” for some reason the more strength I gain.  Instead of going through my day feeling worse about myself, I can grab onto what I do well and build upon that instead.

I have always heard it is not a good idea to compare yourself to others, so why would I want to compare my life to someone else? Not a good idea. I have to keep reminding myself that I am not “less than” just “different.” And that “different” is simply okay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coping with Bipolar Disorder

Some days are easier than others and that goes for those of us who live with a mental illness and for people who do not. But I tend to laser focus on those days when I have a hard time getting out of bed. The first thing I think is, “The depression is back. Guess the medication isn’t working anymore.”

One bad day doesn’t warrant calling out all the stops and naming the next depressive episode, does it?  After feeling depressed for so long and finally getting a bit of relief it stands to reason that I would be just a little paranoid over the down days. I simply don’t want them to string together into bad weeks and bad months, where the good days come infrequently.

How hard is it to live when you are constantly monitoring your moods? I feel a little like I am in a scientific project. I have my medications in one drawer, my mood chart in another, and my books pretty much everywhere. I have become a bipolar disorder survivor fully equipped to do battle with this illness. Experimenting with what works and what does not.

Almost everyday I wake up in the morning, put on the coffee and sit for a moment enjoying the fact that I actually have clear thoughts. It seems such an easy thing to hope for when you can concentrate and string words together, but it is nothing that I take for granted. Because there are those days, like yesterday, when I could read a book but could not concentrate at all to write.

The bad days really bring me down. I turn into a “glass half empty” person, and I hate that when it happens. I like the part of me that believes in hope, inspiration, and dreams. I don’t care for the person inside of me that wants to say I’ll fail before I ever get started. I have begun to learn bad days are not the day I want to focus on creating dreams for myself.

I sit back, take a deep breath and wonder for a brief moment what it would be like to be “normal?” I can’t even imagine what my life would be like if I wasn’t struck with severe bipolar disorder. I don’t waste much time thinking about something that does not make me feel better. I would rather spend my time coping with what I know I have to deal with.  But I admit sometimes my coping is not always healthy and I indulge in unrealistic daydreams at times.

I just returned from the doctor’s office today and I’m happy to say the medication change is going well. At first I was really worried that I would have to deal with the “Zombie” effects as the dosage was increased. But fortunately it seems to be not as bad as some of the other drugs in the same category. I just keep hoping the anti-depressant effects will continue to work well.

After writing about my experience Lost in the Mountains with a Bipolar Episode, I had a bump in the road revisiting what had happened to me. I am grateful for all the kind comments and supportive feedback I have gotten. It’s always good to know someone out there can appreciate what you have been through.

I can also attest that I have been through some of the most difficult experiences caused by untreated bipolar disorder.  I’m a strong advocate for finding the proper medication regimen, without it I would not be writing these words.

 

 

 

 

 

I’m Mentally Ill But Don’t Pity Me

I see you there trying not to stare at me. When I glance at you your eyes quickly dart away. You pass me by and are afraid to say “hello,” out of fear as if what I have may be contagious. When you do make eye contact you search my eyes to see if I am “sane.” You are one of those people who have seen me in my worst moments.

Don’t pity me for life could be so much worse if I lived during the time when the mentally ill were institutionalized. I may have been placed in an ice bath or had a lobotomy. You may have left me restrained for days on end. I could have been deprived of my most basic human needs. In your effort to “treat” me I could have been sprayed with a hose.

You wonder why we fear the mental health system. You wonder why we mistrust and question everything they tell us is good for us. We are vulnerable because we need help, yet often don’t know where to turn.

Don’t pity me for life could be so much worse. We hear the stories about psychiatric institutions closing and we see the remnants of old historic asylums turning into haunted houses. Is there any wonder why? Human suffering cries out from the lonely graves of those who came before us and weathered the storm of archaic psychiatric practices.

Yes the mentally ill have been a persecuted group for hundreds of years. But things have gotten better—haven’t they?

Don’t pity me for life could be so much worse. It’s hard to look at me now that I am mentally ill. I’m not welcome in your group anymore. I don’t fit with your perfect lives for mine is rather messy. But with these words I write I have a voice, I have a chance to make a difference.

Don’t pity me for life could be so much worse. Yet you look at me with such disgust and use my illness to make jokes. I am a human being who happened to inherit a mental illness. Yet I refuse to sit quietly in my chair.

I want you to stand up for me and fight for better treatment. I want you to hold my hand and walk with me in my journey for a good life. I want you to understand my pain and suffering, but take note of me as a survivor. I am not a mere shadow from the past; I am not someone you can just push aside.

Don’t pity me for life could be so much worse. If you don’t do anything just say a little prayer. I am here to fight for a better tomorrow and I am not going away.

Don’t pity me because I believe life can be so much better.

 

Mental Illness Makes You Tough!

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Living with a severe mental illness is not for the faint of heart. You really have to be tough “minded” to handle the many trials and tribulations we face. Consider being able to successfully utilize your mind to climb the corporate ladder only to have that same mind fail you by losing touch with reality.

Imagine having your sister make her way through college and graduate with honors. Then a few years later imagine getting a call from a social worker, four hundred miles away, telling you your sister was placed in the psychiatric ward for evaluation. Forty plus hospitalizations later and an immeasurable amount of heart ache for everyone involved just can’t be described with words.

Imagine being a freshman in college and learning your mother had a manic episode rolled into psychosis and jumped from a 30-foot balcony in her confusion.   Imagine the pain, despair, and confusion those emotions can be when you are living through it.

Some people would say they just “can’t imagine.” Besides who would want to put themselves in your shoes with such human tragedy. These are the stories that never make it to the vernacular of the general population. They have no reason or purpose for hearing or listening to some of the challenges those of us touched by mental illness have had to deal with. I’ve only briefly scratched the surface of my own personal examples. Sometimes they are too painful for even me to recall.

But this brings me to my point, you have to be pretty darn tough to pick up the pieces and move on from life’s disruptions mental illness causes. If you suffer from a mental illness, often a chronic disorder, you will have to learn how to live with it your entire life.  If someone you love gets diagnosed, you will have to learn how best to support him or her.   And the bottom-line is you learn how important it is for life to go on because it does with or without your active participation.

When I reflect back upon my numerous lived experiences with mental illness I think about how I managed to emotionally cope and deal with these major issues often without the help or support of other people. I was expected to accept the situation, cope with it, put on a happy face and move on.

It reminds me of a time when I was working as a sales representative for a Fortune 500 company.  I had just received a call in the morning that my mother had been taken to the psychiatric hospital and admitted. I was still relatively young and deeply affected by her hospitalizations. As a matter of fact when I picked up my manager at the airport I was holding back the tears.

We drove a little while in silence, until she finally asked me what was wrong. I debated for a moment but then I told her what had happened to my mother. She looked at me and said, “Well I guess you’ll just have to focus extra hard on selling your products today.” It was like someone had taken a knife and stabbed me in the heart.

I guess all the years of living with mental illness have made me a stronger person. It has also exposed me to the ugliness of stigma. The very idea that people can be so cold and callous about brain disorders and all the situations we have to deal with.

But as I write these words I truly believe the next several years are going to whiled a wealth of information about serious mental illness. I think we will see attitudes begin to change and people will start getting a clue about what we have to deal with on a daily basis.

I hope some people will finally realize how tough you have to be to live with mental illness. I can’t wait for that day to come and I can’t guarantee I won’t tell people “I told you so.”

When the good day arrives!

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One of the things I learned in a recovery workshop is to create new dreams after having your life interrupted with a psychiatric illness. I created a dream to become a mental health advocate, but I soon learned that creating a dream is one thing and living it is another.

I think my impatience is a result of having too much time on my hands. Not all days but some days a few hours of free time can feel like sitting in the dentist chair having my teeth pulled. When I am feeling good and overall having a good day I feel like I can accomplish so much more.  But on those bad days, like yesterday, I have no desire to do anything.

I wish I had a crystal ball that could tell me when the good days would bless me with their presence. I could be so productive if I had something of value to do. But what kind of job out there rewards people for having outstanding days periodically? There are so few that I have found I need to get creative and figure out a way to utilize my time more wisely.

Yesterday I read an article about a research project that NAMI conducted. It said that people with mental illness had an 80% unemployment rate in the United States. From everything I have read it seems that most other countries fall about in the same statistical ratio. So what does this say about mental illness and employment? The article does not address those of us who may be underemployed, which is an entirely different issue too.

What are we supposed to do when we have those good days?  I guess reading and writing is one way to spend time in a valuable manner. I just have to keep from getting too frustrated with myself because I recognize having too much time on my hands is not the best thing for my mental health. I am a goal directed individual and the more goals I can have for myself the better I feel.

The problem comes when I start wishing there was an immediate “feel good” solution for me on those days when I am far more capable of doing complex tasks.  These are the times when I focus hard on positive self-talk. It’s really easy to go down the path of “let’s beat up Amy today,” even though I know it is not a healthy thing to do. I may say something like, “If I tried harder I could accomplish more.” “I need to be more organized with my time.” Then I get all excited about having a new plan of action and I wake up the next day and getting out of bed may be the best I can accomplish.

This up and down road makes it a harder to check off the “to-do” list. It also makes it more difficult to have consistent approaches to various goals ultimately making it harder to have achievements. Certainly it is not impossible, just more difficult.

If I had one wish I would hope for more resources to be placed in helping those of us living with a mental illness to have working projects where we could utilize our skill sets. Maybe a collaborative writing project where we contributed to a group writing project. I don’t know the answer. I just know I need something I can feel good about.

Bipolar Disorder Cheated Me!

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Do you ever feel like your mental illness cheated you out of something? There are some days when I open my eyes after a long night’s rest and I just lie there in bed. I start thinking about what my day holds for me. What do I have to accomplish? Do I work today or am I going to have to figure out how I can be productive for the day? At times I get frustrated with this merry go round. I am tempted to fall back into dreaming about the past where getting up in the morning guaranteed I was going to have a full plate of activities and things to do.

In my recovery journey I came to realize that having a sense of purpose was one of the most important parts of getting well and staying well. Of course it is not always easy to accomplish this goal, but when I do I feel so much better about myself.

Today is just not one of those days. Today I feel like I have been cheated. I feel short-changed in the game of life– all my past dreams and ambitions stolen away from me because I ended up with a rather severe case of bipolar disorder. This vicious illness robbed me of my life as I once knew it.

There I said it. I have made it clear that I loathe bipolar disorder. I am not one of those people who like the manic highs with endless creative energy. I hate everything about this disorder. Some would say because it is a part of me I must hate myself too. But I don’t really look at it like that. I look at it as an illness separate and apart from me. It may affect my moods, but it does not influence the positive aspects of myself anymore than I like being thought of as a negative person when I am depressed.

It’s an illness. A nasty mental illness. I don’t think people who have cancer love their disease, nor do they romanticize it. There is nothing positive about living with an illness whether it is mental or physical. It is exactly what it is—an illness.

I know some people will take issue with me and in attempt to make me feel better about having a mental illness they will point out all the famous people and celebrities who also have lived with bipolar disorder. This does not make me feel better. It only tells me that mental illness does not discriminate. It also tells me that people who have lived with or currently live with a mental illness have done some pretty extraordinary things. I am grateful for those stories. But it still doesn’t make me feel any better on a day-to-day basis of struggling with my own illness.

So on days like today, when I would rather have stayed in bed all day long, I consider it a success to have let my feet hit the floor. I hold on to the fact that I am in no way alone in the battle against a mental illness. And I know that I am not alone in having those days when I feel like I have been cheated.

I am not willing to pretend my journey with bipolar disorder has been or will ever be easy. Some days I win and some days the whole idea of having this illness gets the best of me.  When that happens I look for the small wins and hope for a better tomorrow.