News Day Tuesday: Bipolar Awareness Day!

a cure for what ails you, explanations, major depression, medication, mood diary, News Day Tuesday, ptsd, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, stigma, therapy

Happy Tuesday, readers! Today (October 4th) is Bipolar Awareness Day, so I wanted to share an article with you that outlines the basic symptoms (for the uninitiated, as I know there are some new readers here) as well as what’s on the horizon in terms of treatment.

First of all, let’s hear about what bipolar disorder actually is. I’m referencing bt.com for the purposes of this tidbit, as the article I found gives a really great Reader’s Digest condensed version of the illness.

National charity Bipolar UK characterise the condition as “a severe mental health illness characterised by significant mood swings, including manic highs and depressive lows”, and note that, “the majority of individuals with bipolar experience alternating episodes of mania and depression”.

According to this article, it takes 10.5 years on average (in the UK) for people with bipolar disorder to be properly diagnosed. The National Depressive and Manic Depressive Association (NDMD) paints a similarly grim picture: it can take ten years or more for a diagnosis to be reached, and 69% of cases are misdiagnosed.

What are the symptoms?

There are two sides to bipolar: mania and depression.

During a bout of depression, it is possible to feel: grumpy, without hope, guilty, self-doubting, suicidal, pessimistic, worthless, lacking curiosity and concentration.

And with mania: elation, full of energy, ideas and plans, easily distracted, feeling invincible, risky behaviour including spending huge amounts of money.

Both can feature: lack of appetite, insomnia and delusions.

-bt.com

My experience began very early. I remember fits of agitation and depression as early as eight years old, which at the time was chalked up to the incredibly rough hand I was dealt–a broken home, a mother who struggled with bipolar disorder herself as well as alcoholism, extreme bullying, and persistent nightmares (which were later diagnosed as a feature of PTSD). NAMI states that rapid-cycling bipolar disorder, the most severe form of the illness, seems to be more common in individuals who begin exhibiting symptoms early in life.

From NAMI.org:

Early Warning Signs of Bipolar Disorder In Children and Teens

Children may experience severe temper tantrums when told “no.” Tantrums can last for hours while the child continues to become more violent. They may also show odd displays of happy or silly moods and behaviors. A new diagnosis, Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD), was added to the DSM-5 in 2014.

– See more at: http://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Bipolar-Disorder/Overview#sthash.l0XKtkSy.dpuf

When I was eighteen, I decided to see a therapist and psychiatrist for the intense mood swings that had plagued me for most of my life. I was initially told that my deep depressions were the result of PTSD. I was prescribed fluoxetine (brand name Prozac), which only made the agitation worse. And I was still depressed.

At 22, I relocated to Wisconsin and began the search for something, anything, that would finally help me feel “normal.” The misdiagnoses continued: major depressive disorder, for which I was prescribed Abilify and trazodone. I felt amazing on Abilify for about two weeks, and then I crashed. Trazodone made me a zombie. (Note: It is not atypical for antipsychotics to be prescribed to treat both MDD and bipolar disorder.)

Bipolar disorder is most often misdiagnosed in its early stages, which is frequently during the teenage years. When it is diagnosed as something else, symptoms of bipolar disorder can get worse. This usually occurs because the wrong treatment is provided. Other factors of a misdiagnosis are inconsistency in the timeline of episodes and behavior.

-healthline.com

When I was 24 and in my first “adult job” with health insurance, I found a wonderful psychiatrist who, over the course of several sessions, examined my family history and asked very specific questions to find the root of my illness. At first, I didn’t even think to mention my “up” periods, because even with the agitation and sleeplessness, I actually felt good–and no one goes to the doctor when they’re feeling well. But upon deeper probing, he came to a conclusion: first bipolar II, then, after further investigation and a few weeks of mood tracking in a journal, rapid-cycling bipolar I.

That first year was rough. I cycled so frequently that the days were exhausting. One day, I bounced between depression and mixed episodes several times in a single 24-hour period. Slowly but surely, the medications my doctor had prescribed (venlafaxine/Effexor, lamotrigine, and lithium) began to take effect. I began to stabilize. There were no more florid creative periods, but I was also able to sleep for more than an hour a night for the first time in weeks. My misery began to ebb, and though it didn’t disappear completely (a dysfunctional marriage contributed, among other things), I began to feel like a person again instead of a defective thing that needed to be turned off and fixed.

Aside from pharmaceuticals, NAMI’s website mentions cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychotherapy that focuses on self-care and stress management, and, in rare cases, electro-convulsive therapy (ECT). Learning to recognize the triggers for each type of episode is key; one suggestion offered by the numerous therapists I’ve seen over the years is mood tracking/journaling.

However, I had to stop at one point because, in the heyday of my illness, I began to obsess over the cycles, sometimes tracking up to ten or eleven times a day. Instead of the journaling soothing my mind, I began to worry that I was untreatable. I found my mood journal during a recent move and it was difficult reading, to say the least. But it was also a reminder of how far I’ve come and how much my quality of life has improved since receiving a proper diagnosis.

These days, I’m doing much better. My medications have been adjusted slightly to accommodate the deep depressive episodes I’m prone to during the fall and winter months, but I am proud of myself for being able to recognize that the winter storm was a-comin’. Three years ago, I would not have been able to see the symptoms for what they are: a warning sign and a signal that I need to not only keep up with my medications, but to practice good self-care. In the past, I saw fall and winter as something awful that I had to endure. Now, I realize that I can still enjoy life even when the days begin to get longer and darker. The seasons are no longer a metaphor for the overall “climate” in my head.

How long did it take for you to receive a proper diagnosis, readers? Are you taking care of yourselves as winter approaches? I hope you’re all doing well and staying healthy and safe. And spread the word–this illness is massively misunderstood, even by mental health professionals, so it’s our job to reach out and counter-strike against the misinformation and discrimination.


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News Day Tuesday: Childhood Mental Illness

News Day Tuesday, ptsd, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, relationships, stigma

Good afternoon, readers! This week, I’m featuring an article from NPR related to the early detection of mental illness in children. Child psychologist Rahil Briggs states that half of all children show signs of mental illness before age 14.

On a personal note, I began experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder around age seven or eight. My mother had gone to prison when I was six years old, and I went twice a month to visit her at the correctional facility that was several hours from my home. By this point, nightmares were a common occurrence–I’d had them regularly since age five–so my guardian and other relatives didn’t think much of it when the frequency increased slightly after these visits began. There was some talk of finding a therapist for me, but the idea was abandoned.

One of the earliest memories I have of PTSD-related symptoms was one night when I was attempting to play chess with my aunt in the basement of my grandmother’s home, where I lived for the majority of my childhood and adolescence. I began to feel odd, detached from my own body and my surroundings. I remember saying to my aunt, “Do you ever feel like you’re in a dream?” because that was the only way I could describe it at the time.

She had no idea what I was talking about and gave me a strange look, a reaction for which I can’t exactly blame her–if I weren’t “in the know” about the symptoms of PTSD, I would have found such a statement very strange.

As a child, I was generally calm and reserved, but I did occasionally “act out.” I would get panicky and anxious, a tiny ball of pent-up energy and what I can only describe as rage at nothing in particular. That energy had nowhere to go, so it was directed inward, causing lasting damage before finally exploding outward. I would storm around the house in a dark mood, only to erupt moments later in a fit of crying so intense I felt like I couldn’t breathe.

My family was helpless to help me because they didn’t understand–or perhaps didn’t want to accept–the reality of what was happening to me. Bipolar disorder, which has spread throughout the family tree like Spanish moss, was beginning to wreak havoc on my still-developing brain.

Childhood mental illness is a tricky subject. It’s hard to recognize, and it’s terrifying, both for the sufferer and the child’s loved ones. It can strike anyone at any time, regardless of socioeconomic class or education level or how strong the family’s ties are. Therefore, it’s especially important for parents to remember and impress upon their children that it is an illness like any other and is not a moral or character judgment. It is not evidence of parental failings or proof that the child has not been loved enough. It simply is, and the earlier it is detected, the earlier treatment and healing can begin.

Did you start showing signs of mental illness in childhood, readers? How did your family/caregivers react?


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Recovery is a verb: It’s what you do!

a cure for what ails you, anxiety, call for submissions, medication, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, relationships, three hopeful thoughts, Uncategorized

I’m not going to lie–moving to Baltimore has been a bit of an adjustment for me. The whole new city, new places, new people thing doesn’t faze me, partly because I’m here with someone I love and care for deeply and can lean on, and partly because I was so desperate to get away from the Midwest, to start fresh and re-invent myself again.

The part that’s scary is not having much of a support system yet. I’ll admit it; I’m frightened because right now I don’t know many people and the ones I’ve met (and like immensely!) are my fella’s classmates. I’m in that awkward transitional phase where an introvert suddenly has to start over and find friends in the area to hang out with, and as someone who’s generally a homebody, it’s tough. It’s especially hard right now because I’m taking a gap semester to adjust, work on the blog and CTL, and find a grad school down here to continue my work toward a Master’s in Counseling Psychology. What that translates into is a lot of long days where I have to figure out what to do with myself.

I’ve had a rough few days. It always seems to hit around this time of year–I love autumn and it’s always been my favorite season, but as someone with relatively severe bipolar disorder, my brain chemistry doesn’t like the changing of the seasons so much. I’m hopeful that this year it won’t be so bad, as I’ve heard the seasons are a lot milder here in the Southeast. Still, I came to the realization last night that I need to change my meds a little bit, which is nothing unusual for me. (I have some beef with the texture of my uncoated lamotrigine tabs, which makes snapping them in half to add a half-dose for nighttime a little unpleasant texturally-speaking, but that seems pretty minor in the grand scheme of things.)

Important side note and disclaimer: I don’t recommend anyone tweaking their meds without the express permission and guidance of a psychiatrist–luckily, mine helped me develop a seasons guide to use in situations like this, where I’m unable to get in to see a doctor to make adjustments. I’m still within the prescribed dose range and am only doing this to get myself through until I’m able to start seeing a psychiatrist down here.

The other night, I finally opened up. My last relationship–a five-year marriage–was somewhat disastrous and left a ton of emotional damage. As some of you may remember, I was out of work for thirteen months because I was simply too ill to hold down a job with regular hours, and staying inside most of the time with little to do means I got a lot worse before I started getting better. I don’t want to become a dependent. I don’t want to be needy. I want to be a partner, a strong woman who is capable of supporting herself and living her own life and not feeling sad and lonely and, perhaps worst of all, soul-crushingly bored when I’m alone during the day.

To counter this, I’ve been making myself a little “schedule” for each day, just little things I can do to keep myself busy so that at the end of the day, I feel like I’ve accomplished something. It helps a little; I don’t feel as melancholy and like I wasted the day. But it’s still very much a process. Recovery is not something you either have or you don’t. It’s not like you either are or aren’t “recovered.”

Each of us has natural ups and downs in life, regardless of how well-medicated we are. We can take our pills every day and go to therapy and exercise and be social and do everything right, and we will still have low periods. It’s the nature of the illness. It doesn’t mean that we’ve failed on any level or that, as I believed for years, that we’re unsuitable partners, sons, daughters, friends. It just means that we have an illness and we’re doing everything we can to fight it. Despite our best intentions, it is always going to be there, and I’ve found that accepting that fact has it a lot easier to live with.

I’m trying to make friends with my brain again. I’m trying to make friends with the ugly voice in the back of my mind that tells me I’m not enough. It’s the same one that brings up such tiny, insignificant things from decades ago and nags me about how these events, most of which I had little control over, make me bad or less-than in some way. I talk to the negative thoughts. I tell them to shut up if I’m feeling peevish or overwhelmed, but I also try to be sympathetic. I try to rationalize with the parts of me that are still trying to drag me down.

I still externalize what I’m feeling and pretend I’m a therapist and my client is me-but-not-me, a person who has the exact same concerns and emotions and neuroses that I do. If I separate myself from the negative feelings and thoughts, it’s easier to cope. I feel a sense of power over the thoughts. I counter them with the A-B-C-D-E method of learned optimism, which, thankfully, is effective more often than not.

And most of all, I am still working hard to be kind to myself every day. When I’m feeling bad, I try to remind myself of everything I’ve accomplished so far in spite of these huge obstacles and the weight I’m still carrying around.

On a happier note, I found out that Johns Hopkins offers free counseling to students as well as family members and significant others, so I’ve put in an appointment request for short-term counseling to get me through until my Medicaid (ugh) paperwork is finished and I can find a long-term therapist and psychiatrist again.

In the meantime, I’m trying to practice good self-care and take pride and enjoyment in the little things in life, whether it’s nailing a tough piano piece or simply tidying up the apartment. I don’t want to go back to my life being all about pain. I want to keep moving forward, to keep doing more. I have huge goals for myself in life, and I refuse to let this illness keep me from accomplishing them. My stubbornness has kept me alive for 27 years, and I need to harness that and use it as a recovery tool.

Where are you in your recovery, readers? Do you have any helpful tips to share?

As always, stay safe and lovely and well. I’ll see you all again next Tuesday for another exciting News Day! And keep those submissions coming–I want as many unique voices and stories on the blog as possible!

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This week has an been a wild ride!

a cure for what ails you, medication, ptsd, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, three hopeful thoughts

This story actually starts at the beginning of July, about a week after we moved to Baltimore. I applied for Medicaid through the healthcare marketplace, as did my fella. Since we listed each other on our applications (not knowing any better) and he filed after me, his app bumped mine out. I was never informed (oops), so I sat around for over a month wondering why I couldn’t get coverage and going through the frustration of weekly phone calls to check on my application, to no avail.

So that brings us to this week, when I finally ran out of my carefully-rationed venlafaxine. I’m supposed to take 75 mg a day, and had been taking 32.5 every other day to make sure I could stretch it because I had no other options. I took my last dose on Monday, and it took about a day and a half for the symptoms to start up. And man, did they come back with a vengeance.

I had two nearly-sleepless nights because of the brain zaps and headaches. My application had been received, Medicaid promised on Tuesday, but I had to give them more time to get me an ID number. Meanwhile, the depressive symptoms, combined with the stress of the whole unfortunate situation, snowballed into something truly awful.

The little sleep I did get this week was plagued by night terrors, involuntary twitching, and (so I’ve been told) a lot of whimpering in my sleep, some of which woke me up. I finally got my scripts filled today, after a bit of a fight regarding the dates on the prescriptions, then came home and promptly collapsed after taking one of my newly-procured venlafaxine.

Moral of the story: Withdrawal is exhausting. It’s hard on the patient, and it’s hard on the patient’s loved ones. Fortunately, my brain immediately grabbed that medication and held onto it ferociously, and I woke up feeling much better (perhaps because I slept like the dead for two hours).

This week was a test of my will to fight and my mindfulness skills. I didn’t cope as well as I had hoped–little things sent me into tears, and I was generally irritable the entire time. I didn’t like being around myself. I was plagued by guilt. I felt, for the first time in years, trapped in my body and helpless to fight my invisible tormentor–the bipolar disorder that had, once again, taken hold despite my best efforts to fix the situation.

The good news is that I’m on the mend. I now have insurance, so I can start shopping for a good psychiatrist/therapist/every other kind of doctor I have to see because my body’s kind of a wreck and I have a bunch of chronic illnesses that tend to require a lot of maintenance.

Have any of you had to detox against your will? I hope not, but from what I’ve been reading, it’s frighteningly common. Stay safe, readers. Hang in there–it’s finally the weekend, and I hope all have a lovely one. 🙂

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Anxiety blues.

a cure for what ails you, anxiety, medication, ptsd, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, relationships

The last few days, I feel like I’ve fallen down a sort of anxiety-hole, and it’s really bugging me.

Yesterday was wonderful–we went to Canton and had delicious pie with a friend of Paul’s from college and her lovely fiancee, then took a walk in a nearby park. There was a hiccup where he snuck up on me and startled me a bit, which in addition to a ton of people being around (it was, after all, a beautiful day) kind of made my PTSD-radar go “ping!” I think that’s what set it off.

When we got home, I had a minor annoyance/setback when I learned that my venlafaxine, which I’m almost out of, was ready–but my new insurance, for some reason, was still pending and the Rx was pretty far out of my price range. After waiting in a crowded pharmacy for close to an hour, my brain didn’t take the news particularly well and my anxiety went up a few more notches.

I had taken a couple of lorazepam throughout the day, which I normally don’t have to do, and while I was nice and chilled out by that evening, I woke up this afternoon (after fourteen hours of sleep, which is highly unusual these days) feeling groggy and depressed.

Days like these, I feel the old blues and hopelessness creeping back in. I am in a gorgeous city and a new apartment with someone I love, yet I still get sad and anxious. I’ve come to realize that it’s part of the illnesses and that these things will be with me for the rest of my life. I suppose I’ve taken the good days for granted, so this one blindsided me a little.

I took another nap, woke up, finished my Theories paper, and am feeling quite a bit better. Still, it’s something I’m going to mention to my new psychiatrist (once I find one in the area, haha). The lorazepam does wonders for me in terms of calming my anxiety and the irritability that comes with it, but I often feel a little down the day after taking it and I’m wondering if there are other things I could try.

Needless to say, I also have to find a therapist to help me with quite a few things–after all, I just went through a huge move and am dealing with all sorts of new feelings and worries about being so far from home for the first time in my life.

What helps you unwind, readers? How do you shake off the blues?

New Risk! Story!

Authoress, call for submissions, news and goings-on, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, three hopeful thoughts

Happy Caturday, readers!

Just wanted to post a quick update to let you know that I’m still here and that I finally got it together enough to whip up a demo for the lovely Kevin Allison of the Risk! podcast. I performed in the Live from Milwaukee show in November and he approached me shortly before Christmas to see if I wanted to do another story on growing up/living with bipolar disorder, which I instantly agreed to–unfortunately, life kept getting in the way and I kept procrastinating. Fortunately, the demo is complete and I’m just waiting on my potato-quality internet to send it off. 🙂

On a more personal note, I’m relocating with Paul to the Baltimore-ish area in about a month and a half and am really looking forward to scoping out the advocacy and storytelling scenes down there. Also, I really want to branch out and start interviewing/gathering stories from other people living with mental illness, so if anyone’s interested in participating, definitely reach out.

Big things ahead, readers! This girl is hungry.

Fabulous Las Vegas.

major depression, medication, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, stigma

Paul took me to Las Vegas for our anniversary this weekend, which I loved! What I didn’t love, however, was the continued downward slide of my emotions into a Deep Depression.

Let me explain.

On Thursday night, when we landed and walked the Strip a bit, I said to him, “I feel like it would be impossible to be depressed in this town.” (Ha!)

I felt okay on Friday. Then Saturday happened, though it might be more accurate to say that nothing happened at all–externally, at least. I woke up early on Saturday (thanks, jet lag and associated temporal shenanigans!) and felt a little off but was fairly certain I could shake it off. It was a beautiful, sunny day, which ironically has always been the toughest kind of day for me. Sometimes, I feel as though I’m genetically hardwired to hate sunny days, because they tend to make my moods worse. (More on that in another post.)

I took a bath in the fantastic tub in our suite at the Cosmopolitan, all the while ruminating on how the world was just going on around us. We spent lots of time talking and cuddling. I went back to sleep around 10 AM until almost 1 in the afternoon and didn’t feel any better.

We went out and explored a little, which distracted me enough to lift my spirits a little. Then we went back to the room for a few hours to rest up before going to Zombie Burlesque–which, by the way, was fantastic!

My fella napped peacefully for about an hour and a half. I, meanwhile, was miserable. I cried for a while, then went out on the balcony to smoke, then cried out on the balcony, then cried when he was in the shower, then tried not to cry while we were out and ran into a snafu with the tickets.

The show was wonderful and made me feel better because it was a very welcome distraction. The rest of the night was wonderful and I thought to myself, “Maybe I’m getting better. Maybe it was one of my weird one-offs.”

We woke early on Sunday morning to catch our flight and I felt strange and out-of-sorts in a way that I knew was a warning but stubbornly ignored. I cried on the first plane. I cried on the second plane. I cried in the car on the way home. I cried when we got home. I cried in the tub that night. I cried before bed. And this morning, I really cried.

I found out that not only was my psychiatrist unwilling to refill my meds, it was that, despite reassurances two weeks ago that it would be taken care of, my chart had been closed due to my inability to pay because, hey, divorce and unemployment and not being able to pay for insurance on your own can really mess things up.

I managed to fork over the almost $400 required to even find out if my doctor had a same-day available–thankfully, he did–which means my Chapter 7 filing is now even further away. My little nest-egg of over $1,000, which I had so carefully saved up and budgeted for, will be completely gone after rent this month. I will be back to where I was a year ago.

I took an Ativan and another bubble bath, Paul and one of the cats at my side to make sure I was okay, and am now calm enough to blog about this. I plan on doing some research this week on how temporal changes and jet lag can mess with bipolar symptoms, but now all I’m doing is biding my time until 6:00 when I can finally get in to see my psychiatrist and get my medications refilled.

I’m left with an overwhelming dread, however, and a fundamental disappointment in how the healthcare system is run. I’m not sure how it’s even legal to deny someone access to what is, quite frankly, life-saving medication on the basis that they are unable to pay due to a whole bunch of awful circumstances that are completely beyond their control. Even if it is, it’s definitely not ethical.

But it appears that, for now, it’s just one of those things. Wisconsin, where I currently live (but hopefully not for long–my fella is applying to grad schools around the country and I plan to follow) is definitely not a progressive state when it comes to mental healthcare. It’s like the entire government is violently allergic to even the idea of reform. And unfortunately, it looks like I, and many others like me, are going to be stuck in this (leaky, shoddily built) boat until it finally sinks. I’m just hoping I can jump ship and move away before it gets really bad.

Roar, roar, the thunder and the roar.

a cure for what ails you, Authoress, explanations, major depression, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, stigma, three hopeful thoughts

I am in the throes of my first major depressive episode in over six months. I know exactly what caused it—money problems, worrying about my grandma (who is now 91, essentially nonverbal, and raised me on her own, which basically makes her my mom), frustration over the slow divorce process, trying to figure out what’s going on with my headaches—but remained wilfully ignorant of the warning signs because I hoped it would pass.

I finally accepted/realized what was happening in my brain last night. I’ve been really horrible to myself lately in terms of inappropriate guilt and self-loathing. I’ve been blaming myself for a lot of things, most of which are completely out of my control. Once again, it’s not that I’m unaware of these problems. It’s that I have no idea what to do with the insights.

But I’m trying to stay positive because I know this will pass. My depressive episodes tend not to last very long—usually a month or two, and I’m about a week and a half into the really bad phase of this one. The final divorce hearing is on November 5th. Last night, my ex and I had an appointment at Green Path to figure out the debt situation, which is bad but not as bad as it could be. My fella’s coming back from his latest business trip tomorrow night. I’m one step away from completing my graduate school application; all I have left is the personal interview.

And I’m reminding myself of my plans for the future, too. Once I have my license, I plan to work as a counselor for a while, then go on to pursue a Psy.D and possibly a degree in Criminology as well, just for kicks. It’s looking more and more likely, given the progression of my various illnesses, that I won’t be able to have kids by the time I’m ready—and even if I’m able to retain some shreds of fertility, it’s probably not a good idea because I have so many health problems that are heritable. In other words, I have no reason not to go ridiculously hard at the school/career thing.

Once I’ve attained a certain level of credibility, I want to combine my love of/talent for writing with my passion for psychology (and, of course, fighting the stigma) and gain access to a psychiatric hospital with the goal of eventually writing a book about the hospital, perhaps some of the staff, and most importantly, the patients.

I want to tell their stories. I want to show people that we’re really not that scary. Even when our brains are doing some freaky and perplexing things, we still have hopes and dreams and fears and all the other little things that make neurotypical people “tick.”

I want to paint a picture of the hospital to prove that Hollywood has it wrong—I had the opportunity to tour the state hospital in Independence, Iowa as a senior in high school and found the facility stunningly different from what we’re fed through popular media. I’m tired of cringeing every time I hear the words “multiple personality disorder” on TV or see a straitjacket Halloween costume. I’m tired of being “The Other,” and I suspect most of you are, too. I’m tired of being seen as exotic and dangerous and unpredictable and sort of otherworldly just because my brain tends to misfire sometimes. I’m tired of having my struggles used for shock value. I’m tired of seeing symbols of our oppression used as fashion statements by the oblivious.

I want to fix that obliviousness or die trying. This is the one topic that has gotten me consistently fired up, regardless of my mental state. Even when I’m so far down that I can barely get out of bed, I can still muster up enough passion to call out the horrifying things I see, to correct the misinformation, to have a meaningful dialogue where I and the other person walk away feeling as though we’ve learned something.

As a nihilist, I reject the concept that anything has any inherent meaning; therefore, I don’t believe in the idea that anyone has a “calling.” That being said, I find this to be a very hopeful philosophy because it means each of us can choose our path in life. I believe that the things I’ve been through, the abuse and my brain chemistry and the various horrors I’ve seen, were formative in such a way that I feel compelled to devote my life to psychology. I guess this is how theists feel when they decide to become members of the clergy.

At the very least, I have to believe that my suffering (though I hate using that word because it feels incredibly maudlin and self-absorbed) has meant something. I have to believe that it’s redemptive and that it’s not too late for me, that my life has meaning. I constantly look for motivators, little signs that I’m meant to be here and that my existence has a purpose. I think that when a person is pushed to their absolute limit, they either try to find a reason to stay alive or they completely give up on life. I’m not ready to give up.

I am tougher than Chinese algebra and I am going to be okay.

Mental Illness in Entertainment: Six Feet Under

a cure for what ails you, memories, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, relationships, self-harm, stigma, suicidal ideation, three hopeful thoughts

I recently binge-watched “Six Feet Under” for the first time (Michael C. Hall and Frances Conroy being the main draw, though my backup plan for life since I was 15 has been mortuary school) and was overall impressed with the show’s treatment of Billy, who has severe bipolar disorder with psychosis. However, though Jeremy Sisto’s* performance was excellent, I had a hard time fully enjoying it because of the painful memories it dredged up—not because of his behavior, but because of other characters’ reactions to it.

As I’ve mentioned several times on this blog, I wasn’t properly diagnosed until I was 24 years old, a full sixteen years after the initial onset of my symptoms. (The disorder is notoriously difficult to diagnose in children and teens because teens are stereotypically “moody” and, in my case, mixed episodes in children can look a lot like run-of-the-mill temper tantrums.)

The result is that in both of my long-term relationships, I’ve been accused of being manipulative and even emotionally abusive simply for expressing my needs. Most of you can probably relate to how difficult it is to reach out for help when you’re struggling, and I’m not sure how telling a loved one that I was worried about hurting myself and didn’t trust myself to be alone counts as either. Each time, I felt guilty beyond belief for making the person in question cancel plans to sit at home with me when I couldn’t stop crying and generally was not much fun to be around. But at the same time, I doubt many people would begrudge, say, a cancer patient for needing company on a bad day.

It’s true that at times, my behavior was what most people would refer to as “a little off,” and I am horrendously embarrassed by it. I try not to look back at the things I said and did back then because I know that my illness was the culprit and that I was not at all myself.

I take comfort in knowing that I’m stable now and haven’t had a major episode in over a year. I am in a relationship again, and though it’s in the fledgling stages, it’s actually functional and healthy and I can handle prolonged absences (my fella travels for work quite a bit) without panicking and worrying and feeling intolerably lonely. For the first time in my life, I’m experiencing true emotional independence. I’m able to take care of my own needs and create my own happiness. For the first time in my life, I am not hinging my happiness and emotional well-being on a man. I actually have object permanence and can trust that he’s going to return and not suddenly decide he no longer cares about me. I have accepted that if that ever does happen, it’s not my fault. And while I appreciate his presence and that he augments my life and has affected it in a very positive way, he is not my entire world.

This is a huge step. I’m pretty much the last person I ever expected to see in a healthy relationship, but amazingly, I’m managing to pull it off. The entire experience thus far has been incredibly healing, and with each good experience, each good day, I am learning to forgive myself for the past.

Since it's official now, here's a super-cute picture of us. :3

Since it’s official now, here’s a super-cute picture of us. :3

* On a lighter note, does anyone else think he totally looks like Kevin Rowland? (Check out the video for “Come On Eileen” by Dexy’s Midnight Runners, then tell me I’m wrong.)

Some thoughts.

abuse, ptsd, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, suicidal ideation, therapy

It is physically painful for me when people thank me for writing, or helping them, or tell me I’m brave or a role model. I’m not a role model. I wake up most days hoping to die. I don’t know how or why I’m still alive. D.’s theory is “sheer dumb luck,” and I think he’s right.

I am a junkie. I cold-turkeyed it over a year ago, but not for noble reasons. I stopped because it was no longer taking away the physical and emotional pain in one fell swoop. It simply stopped working, so I quit. That’s all. I still think about it every day and I think I always will. This is one thing I’m proud of, however—that I was able to stop and stay clean despite all the awful things that have happened in the last year.

My therapist told me last night that I’m the toughest woman she’s ever met. She’s in her 60s, so I’m guessing she’s met quite a few people. I’m not tough because I want to be or try to be. I’m tough because of my animalistic survival instinct–in other words, I’m tough because I’ve had to be, not because I want to be.

I vacillate between strong feelings of self-loathing and guilt and equally strong moments of self-esteem where I actually feel good. But those feelings are always tempered by the fear that my meds have stopped working, that I am manic again, that I am going to ruin things and use people up like I have countless times in the past.

Right now, my pride is wounded and I feel terribly alone. I know I have good people in my life who care about me, but none of them can relate to being raped innumerable times and having people blame you for it because you were too afraid to actually say “no,” to trusting someone completely for the first time in your life and having it unravel all at once, to visiting your mother in prison as a child.

On top of it, I’ve been having horrible nightmares again and the partial memory that strongly suggests I was molested by one of my mother’s boyfriends when I was five is beginning to come into focus at a time in my life when rehashing sexual abuse is the last thing I need.

My therapist referred me to a clinic that specializes in sexual abuse and PTSD. I didn’t take it personally—as an aspiring counselor myself, I understood where she was coming from when she said that she didn’t want to risk making things worse because she doesn’t have much experience in sexual abuse or trauma. I’ve been through enough therapists to know that I wasn’t being “fired” as a patient. Therapists, it seems, are the easiest group of people for me to trust. Their motives always seem to be pure, and the confidentiality helps, I think.

I’m thankful for all the support I’ve been getting, both for the blog and in my personal life. Words cannot express how much I appreciate each message and each person who reaches out, whether it’s to reassure me or tell me how I’ve helped them. That’s what keeps me going—fighting the good fight. I want to feel strong. I want to beat this thing. I want to help people. If I can make things even a little lbetter for everyone living with a mental, I’ve accomplished more than I could have ever hoped for or imagined. If you’d told me what I’d be doing now when I was a motherless, lonely child being bullied and dealing with the prodromal phase of bipolar, I wouldn’t have believed you for a second.

My family, for all their dysfunctions and refusal to discuss the dark side (the way bipolar disorder has spread like wildfire down through the generations), has been immensely supportive. While there was a rough period when I first started my column in my hometown’s newspaper at age 19, they quickly warmed to it and realized that I was doing something most nineteen-year-olds wouldn’t be capable of and that I was taking all the pain and trying to turn it into something positive.

Some of my earliest memories are of my grandmother and beloved great-aunt and other aunts telling me that I was talented, that I had something special that I needed to hold onto. It’s difficult to believe some days—as we all know, knowing something and believing it to be true are two entirely different things.

But I’m trying. I do what I need to do in order to get through the day. Some days are easier than others. Some feel impossible. I’m a big believer in the “fake it ’til you make it” mindset; while it doesn’t work for everyone, it’s served me well over the years. At the very least, it allows me to save face and present as “normal,” even if I’m completely falling apart on the inside.

It’s another bad weather day in my head, which I guess is my reason for writing this. I also wanted to reach out to all of you and say that I’m here for you, too. I’ll always listen if you need to talk—all you need to do is reach out and I’ll be there. It’s the least I can do.