Guest Blogger Devon Sleeth

I am happy to share with you a guest post written by Devon Sleeth.  She is sharing her journey in how she copes with anxiety and offers inspiration for those who are struggling.  Her writing style is really special.

Just Keep Swimming

There are days where I can’t wait to live in a tiny apartment in the middle of a huge city with a busy music related job that I can get to by walking or riding available public transit…But there are also days where I want to drop out of college, move to the beach, and own a tiny flower shop that I get to by riding my bike for five minutes on a sandy road. I’m sure that everyone has felt this way at some point in his or her life, but for me, that is right now. During my senior year of high school I was challenged with a question that is very hard to answer at the age of 18. What major do you want to study in college? At that time, the only thing that really stood out to me was music, as it still does today. I knew that music was a passion of mine and I wanted to make a career out of it, but I wasn’t sure where in the music field I wanted to be. So, I researched online and came up with Music Production. I applied for the program through Ohio University, and with hard work, I finally declared my major at the beginning of my sophomore year of college. After the first semester, I did not enjoy my classes at all. So naturally, fear and anxiousness set in. I began the search for a new field of study. My mind raced with questions like; “What do I want?” “What does God want?” “Will this set me back a couple years?” “Should I suck it up and continue?” Needless to say, I was struggling with the choice. After talking with my Mom, my Dad, my Step-Dad, my Advisor, and God, I finally decided to combine two of the things that I really like. I decided to study Music Journalism. I felt good with the decision, but I was still very anxious because I didn’t know if it was the right choice. This was something that caused me anxiety many times. Eventually, I had to tell myself that worrying about my choices would not change the outcome. What is supposed to happen will happen whether I want it to or not.

Here it is, almost one year later, and I am back in the same boat. Except this time, the boat (AKA my brain) is filled with insomnia, lack of motivation, anxiety, self-doubt, anxiety, headaches, confusion, anxiety, stress, and lots of questions. I have been fighting myself about where I am supposed to be and what I am supposed to be doing. The truth is, I am currently not happy with the situation that I am in. All of this is making it so much harder to get out of bed and go to class, because I am questioning whether these classes even mean anything to me. The battle is endless in my brain. While all of this is piling on my shoulders, there is one thing that keeps me a float. God has a plan for me. While I don’t have a clue what it is at the moment, it is there. So I tell myself, in the midst of this struggle, I need to trust that there is a place for me in this world and that I should never stop trying to find it.

“When life gets you down you know what you gotta do? Just keep swimming.” Take life day by day and eventually everything will make sense. So when you are thinking about dropping everything and moving to a place where there are no research papers due, no needy bosses, no 4 AM alarm clocks, or no group projects (if this magical place even exists), tell yourself to stop, breathe, and just keep trying even when nothing makes any sense.

By Devon Sleeth

 

How does Orange is the New Black handle Mental Illness

If you are a Netflix viewer you may have recently watched Season 4 of Orange is the New Black and could not have missed the storylines with mental illness.  It was not a subtle portrayal.  Mental illness was everywhere.

The character who saves another inmates life was hearing voices and experiencing delusions.  They gave us the back story and she was a person with mental illness who lost her job as a journalist when her mental illness started to get worse.  Loly ends up homeless and eventually arrested for disorderly conduct.  She gets slammed on the ground by two police officers who come upon her because people in an upscale neighborhood were complaining about her being there.  The police throw her on the ground and handcuff her while calling in to dispatch how she may be “drunk” or “psychotic.”  This is how she ends up in prison.  The police officers obviously don’t have crisis intervention training nor mental heath first aid.

By the end of season four Loly gets locked up in the forensic psych unit for allegedly murdering someone.  She starts to scream and cry while the audience is shown someone in the background who is yelling and is restrained forcefully.  Everyone in the prison knows you don’t want to get sent to the “psych unit.”  It does foster a bit of the stereotypical way we view inpatient psychiatric care, then again it is a prison so the psych unit might be portrayed appropriately.

The one thing that bothered me about this scenario was the fact that she had to have a mental illness and be accused of murder.  Everything else was really handled so well.  It is likely that a consequence of untreated severe mental illness can be joblessness and homelessness.  It happens more frequently than we like to believe.  But the murder part I could do without (spoiler alert:  she actually didn’t do it but thinks she did).

Then there was the character Mr. Heely.  He is the inmate counselor who walks into a lake with the intention of taking his own life.  In just the right time he gets a phone call from work and realized Loly’s delusions about saying their was a dead man buried in the garden were actually true.  By the end of the show he is voluntarily admitting himself to inpatient psychiatric care that is actually scripted quite well.  The last season shows him sitting on his bed knitting – minus the knitting needles which they don’t have in a psych unit because people may use those to hurt themselves – the gist is right on the money.

The courage of him taking himself to the psych unit is amazing.  One of the few men on the show and he admits himself for psychiatric care…wow!  This is a little more hard to believe because it is very difficult for males to admit they have a problem let alone seek treatment.  But good for the show creators to lead us in the proper direction of how it should be done.

One of the main characters is called “Crazy Eyes.”  She actually had been doing quite well with her mental health until the last few episodes.  But as the name implies she does have a tendency to get a little “crazy.”  She gets violent after being provoked and beats someone up.  She goes into a “zombie” like trance and then has a horrible accident.  The way the character has been developed you know she is a short fuse away from having some type of tragic accident.  But she is also vulnerable and that point is made very well.

Overall, I would have to give the creators of “Orange is the New Black” an A- in trying to tackle mental illness.  They obviously put a great deal of thought into how to delicately dramatize a person’s fragile mental state.  A significant amount of time was spent teaching us about hallucinations and delusions through a character’s suffering.  I like how they did not shy away from any of it.

I can see how all of it might just be very close to reality.

 

 

 

Rebuilding a Bipolar Life

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Rebuilding a life is not easy. I am not the first person to venture out and attempt it and I surely won’t be the last. But when it is “you” it sure seems like an uphill battle. When I started this journey I said to myself, “What the heck is the first step I am going to take? Where do I start?” The answer came back in various forms but eventually it led me to write a plan. Not like some extensive business plan, but something where I could look at my life split up into categories.

It’s not the least controversial but I started a thoughtful process of thinking about my “spiritual self.”  Bottom-line is I figured out that I was/am mad at “God.”  Even though I will be the first to tell you that I prayed daily when I was on the verge of suicidal depression. Without my faith I don’t know if I could have made it.

But then as time passed I began to ask why God would ever allow bipolar disorder to destroy my life? Some people have suggested that you need someone to blame for the bad stuff that happened so it is very natural to blame God. They say he can take whatever you need to dish out—so blame away. But the problem with it is it does not provide a sense of relief or a salve for the wounds. It’s just a place to put anger.

My spiritual side also includes my “heart’s passions” too. I don’t know about you but when I am depressed I have very little passion for anything.  My spiritual self just seems dead, like I am a “numb” shell of myself walking around without any feeling, except sadness. Since I have spent so much of my time in the past six years in and out of depressive episodes, my zest for life went on strike.

I discovered breathing life back into my spiritual self was/is crucial for rebuilding my life. How can I have the strength and courage to push forward in other areas of my life without having a solid foundation of spiritual strength to draw from?

The first step in changing anything is recognizing you need to change it. I began asking myself a series of questions. What do I do about my anger with God? Do I see a traditional pastor and have him pray with me? Do I seek out a new church and sing along with religious songs? Do I take a walk in the park and curse God? How do I resolve these spiritual wounds?

As with the other areas of my life I am rebuilding, it all starts with one small step at a time. I may have a vision in the future where I am really in touch with my spiritual self and all of my anger issues with God have been resolved. I am working in that direction, but I am not quite there yet. I have learned this journey is a very long one and as I work to breath life into my existence I can work on all areas of my life at one time. I seriously doubt I am the first person to ever blame God for this nasty mental illness.

My spiritual being is very important to me and perhaps just knowing I have the passion and desire to make these necessary changes are proof that my spirit is very much alive and well. I am less angry with God now that I have really learned to accept “what is.” I may not like what has happened to me because of bipolar disorder, but I do need to accept it.  Spiritually, I can feel myself living once again.

 

 

Bipolar Disorder Destroys Life and Then What?

Bipolar disorder not only disrupted my life it destroyed it. Every area of my life that I call my Pie of Life was affected: spiritual, financial, relationships/friendships, work, physical health and mental health. It took me a very long time to identify and process how each of these areas have been mutilated by an uncontrolled illness. But after recognizing the destruction I had to literally go back and start to pick up the pieces.

After I got my symptoms under control, I started to tell myself things like, “you deserve a life again.” But having a life meant facing the fall-out of all the things I no longer had and that was a terribly painful process. What also made it worse is that I had no “battle buddy” to walk the journey with me. I had a few family members but none who I really talked too about what I was going through on a daily basis. I might mention my struggles every now and then, but I never hashed it out.

I did utilize the services of a therapist and she was very supportive as I went through the “damage control” process. I found her most helpful as a support person for dealing with my last episode that resulted in a hospitalization. She helped me recover from the trauma inpatient care can sometimes inflict. As a matter of fact, I recently read someone’s blog where she was talking about how her therapist suggested she might have developed PTSD from a recent hospitalization. I have also been diagnosed with PTSD from things that happened during my episodes and then my subsequent hospitalizations. Trauma is trauma. Sometimes it does not necessarily matter, as much how we get to that point for the end result is similar.

Picking up the pieces of a shattered life is not a lot of fun. It is difficult to identify where you are going to start, let alone find the confidence to take one baby step forward and try. I found returning to my Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance group very helpful. Even though I have to admit I was skeptical that I would find as much support as I did. I simply did not know where to turn as I started piecing my life back together again, like a complex jigsaw puzzle with a million little pieces.

I actually sat down and made a plan. Even though I had an idea of what I wanted I knew if I could see it written down it may make even a bigger impact on me. So, I took each category of my Pie of Life and wrote it down and gave it a preliminary evaluation. I decided I would share with you my journey as I tediously rebuild my life.

I can tell you that in the area of relationships/friendships I have found great camaraderie in the blogging world. The active followers, viewers and readers have really made a difference in inspiring me to continue to write. It has also given me a connection to many individuals who understand the journey is not for the faint of heart. You have to dig down deep to want to attempt to rebuild your life. I have to give a big “thank you” to those who have encouraged me. I bet you didn’t know you had the power to influence a life when you wrote those comments or clicked on “like.” Little things make big differences!

I hope you will join me as I share the steps I am taking to build my life all over again. This is one way I know I will beat bipolar disorder.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Mental Illness and Surviving the Memory Tides

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I think it’s fair to say those of us with mental illness “suffer.” We often experience pain and loss that is incredibly intense and cannot be put into enough words to describe how it actually feels. The cruel thing is we not only suffer with an illness we also suffer when we move along the process in recovery. Additionally, we are usually expected to suffer in silence because no one else can see our illness in x-rays or test results. They just don’t understand what they cannot see.

It has taken me a long time to understand the trials and tribulations of my own struggles with bipolar disorder. Sometimes I feel like I have been sitting in the middle of the ocean and for some reason I survived the “memory tides.” The memory tides hit you with high tides and you nearly drown in snapshots of your mental health journey. Then, for some unknown reason low tide hits and you get bits and pieces of the past without getting knocked over.

There have been times in my own healing process where I have literally gone back to bed because I have been knocked over by such intense memories it wore me out. I would just lie there in bed and let my mind take me wherever it needed to go. In the moment, I recognized I was processing the past and for some reason it was a necessary evil that I had to experience.

I have read that hospitalizations can be traumatizing. Depending on what happened in my hospital stay I would have to agree with that, even though I believe if you need hospitalization it is a safe place to go. But I can say that in my memory tides I have viewed my hospital stays in photographic frames. Play by play I see the faces of the doctors and nurses who cared for me.

Sometimes the memories are so intense I can recall the not so nice things and good things a healthcare provider may have said to me.   But worse than what people said is what they did when I was experiencing a psychotic episode. I have seen the paint peeled walls of seclusion rooms and felt the tight leather restraints around my wrist and ankles. I have had to learn how to cope with the pain of those memories as well.

More than 15 years ago, I was in a small community hospital and  was left in restraints for 16 hours. I was asleep almost the entire time, only waking up to realize I was tied to a bed. They finally let me up when I needed to use the restroom. I felt mistreated in that situation and it took me a long time to heal from it.

So when people say the word “suffer” to me I really get what that means. These experiences drive me to advocate for mental illness, because I don’t want other people to suffer as much or more than I did. In the meantime when the memory tides come I just sit back and brace myself for what I am about to see. Everyday gets better and one day I hope to replace those pictures with something much more pleasant.