Hormones got me like…

a cure for what ails you, bipolar disorder, endometriosis, medication, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, Uncategorized

I had laparoscopic excision surgery earlier this month for endometriosis. It was loooong overdue and my surgeon was excellent, which means no more pain! Seriously, I haven’t had a single day without some form of pelvic pain or muscle tension in years, so this is incredible.

Anyway, he popped the hood and did a bunch of stuff. In addition to removing sheets of scar tissue that had formed after my last (unsuccessful) surgery seven years ago, he placed a Mirena IUD. I was always scared of having one placed because I’d heard it was so painful, but he assured me that he could do it while I was 100% out. And readers, I feel great and am so glad I did it!

I’d been on a pretty heavy dose of Megace for about a year and a half. Megace is a heavy hitter and is one of the strongest progesterone medications out there. It’s not really meant to be taken long-term, but the gynecologist who prescribed it back in the day didn’t tell me that. She also failed to mention that it wouldn’t actually treat my endometriosis–it just stopped my periods. I mean, that’s great and all, but I was under the illusion that I was actually treating it. Instead, I was just building up some heckin’ heavy uterine lining that my surgeon had to scrape out. Ew.

I stopped the Megace cold-turkey a few days before my surgery, with the blessing of my endocrinologist. (I have a lot of health stuff going on in addition to the bipolar disorder.) He ran a fasting cortisol panel to make sure the Megace wasn’t destroying my adrenal glands. Everything came back totally normal, so boom, no more Megace. And hello, Mirena!

But, as we all know, hormonal shifts can have huge implications for people with mood disorders. My bipolar disorder has been amazingly stable for years–you all may recall way back in the day when I was first diagnosed (2013!). I’d been on more or less the exact same doses of medication since then, with minor adjustments to my lithium and a change in the type of antidepressant (from SSRI to SNRI) when I first started taking meds. It’s pretty rare for a patient to not have adjustments within a five-year period, but I was one of the lucky ones.

I saw my psychiatrist yesterday and mentioned a few things I’ve noticed–tiny bits of hypomania peeking through and depression where it shouldn’t be. Fortunately, I’ve been very tuned-in to my body and my moods for years because I have to be in order to stay healthy and sane. Being in the mental health field has also helped, because I now have more precise language to describe what’s going on with my moods. My psychiatrist, who I initially had doubts about, has been pretty awesome the last few times and worked with me to determine what meds to adjust and how much. She seems to get that she has the medical knowledge and I have the experiential knowledge, so together, we’re a treatment powerhouse.

I’ve been sleeping a lot more than usual lately and my appetite has been really weird–up one day, then down for a couple days, and so on. I slept thirteen hours the other night and eleven-and-a-half last night. I would have slept later today, but the cats were staring at me when I woke up from my third alarm and I needed to get up and feed them. Groan.

Here are my current meds, for anyone who’s interested. Please bear in mind that these are my doses and that your needs may be different (either a little or a lot!). As always, work with your doctors and make sure everyone’s in the know, especially if you see a few different specialists regularly like I do. They’re part of your wellness team, so make sure they’re up to date!

I’ve dropped the 60mg of Megace and also my 5mcg of liothyronine (a T3 thyroid medication) so far this year! My current regimen sounds like a lot, but it’s actually the smallest amount of meds I’ve taken in years. Here we go!

  • 400mg lamotrigine/Lamictal
  • 88mcg levothyroxine (T4 thyroid medication)
  • 600mg lithium
  • 112.5mg venlafaxine/Effexor

And that’s it! No more birth control pills because Mirena’s got my back. Now that I’ve more or less adjusted (a few aches and pains similar to what I remember PMS being like) to it, I’m feeling pretty good. I still have some residual pelvic achiness from time to time, but my surgery was less than a month ago and things are still healing internally.

How are your meds going, readers? Or are some of you fighting the good fight without them? Summer can be rough for a lot of us mood-wise–hypomania and mania tend to spike, so we have to be extra vigilant. Let me know how you’re doing in the comments!

 

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Strange Flavors!

authoress in motion, bipolar disorder, dissociation, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder

Hey readers!

I have some exciting news to share with you guys today. On Sunday night, I had the opportunity to hang with the crew of Strange Flavors and tell a little bit of my story about what it’s like to live with depersonalization/derealization; we also talked a little bit about living with bipolar disorder.

This has actually been in the works for a few weeks. As some of you know, I took a ton of classes during intersession, which is basically a one-month set of classes going at breakneck speed. It was madness, but I knocked out nine credits in a month, so I consider it a victory overall.

One of the courses I needed to take for my program was career/life development (something, something…the actual course title was pretty long and I’ve forgotten the rest of it). During that week, I connected with the fabulous Neha, whose brother and a few friends run the Strange Flavors podcast. She approached me on the last day of class, said I seemed interesting (which I found ridiculously flattering), and told me to shoot her a text about possibly making an appearance.

So, fast forward to Sunday. I showed up to do the podcast and was immediately welcomed by Amber and Faras, two of the podcast wizards. They made me feel incredibly comfortable and welcomed, and it was an amazing experience! We sat for about an hour while we did the standard podcast-interview thing; I found their questions incredibly helpful, because my thought train tends to majorly derail when I actually talk about this stuff.

I brought my fella with me for moral support. (He was also curious about how a podcast is made, and we planned to hit up Alewife on the way home. Spoiler alert: They were closed. At 7:30 PM. On a Sunday. Boo!)

I’d never been on an actual podcast before. I’d done the Risk! live show in 2015 and have, of course, made some really crappy-quality videos for my Youtube channel, but this was a totally different animal. They also recorded video of the session, which made me freak out a little bit because I cannot stress enough how unphotogenic I am. However, I’m looking at in a positive light and am excited to see the video once they throw it up on their channel.

Here’s the podcast–have a listen and let me know what you think!

So what’s next? I have a new video a-comin’ that I’m planning to upload probably next week, and I’m thinking of submitting another pitch to Risk!. Gotta keep that hype train rollin’, right?

Anyway, check out the rest of the Strange Flavors podcasts–they’re funny and genuine and I think you’ll really like them.

Another spoiler: The big thing on Strange Flavors is that at the end of each episode, they ask their guest to say what flavor they’d be and why. I chose violet-flavored hard candy, but you’ll have to listen to the episode to find out my reasoning behind it. Ha!

Until next time, readers, stay safe and sane. I’ll catch you guys in the very near future.

A Wild Blogger Recognition Award Appears!

Authoress, bipolar disorder, endometriosis, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, stigma, three hopeful thoughts

Jeanette at My Life with PTSD & Bipolar: Mental Health Matters kindly nominated me for
Write a brief story about how your blog began. I’ve been running The Dissociated Press for five years now (holy cats, time flies!) and have been documenting my journey to mental health–or at least, relative stability and improved daily functioning. When I started this blog in 2013, my life was a total mess. I was in an unhappy marriage and missing a lot of work because I was freshly diagnosed with bipolar 1 and adjusting to my new medications. I ended up losing that job, which was a major low point.

There have been a lot of low points throughout my blog-writing history, but things have dramatically improved in the last couple of years. I escaped from that unhappy, unsupportive marriage, enrolled in graduate school for clinical mental health counseling at a great school, and got engaged to a lovely, wonderful man.

I still hit depressive episodes from time to time, but unlike my pre-medication, bad relationship days, I take comfort in the knowledge that my life is so much better than I ever could have imagined. I have a wonderfully supportive partner, and his family is incredibly encouraging of me sharing my journey. My classmates have expressed appreciation for my candor, and I’ve been able to help a lot of people through my disclosures.

Advice for new bloggers is something I haven’t really thought about, but my main piece of advice is to write for yourself first and foremost. TDP has evolved over time–at first, it was a place for me to get my thoughts and experiences out into the ether in hopes of finding others who were also struggling.

Also, I like to focus on and directly address my readers as a group in my posts and always try to end a post with a positive thought or insight. It prevents the blog from feeling dreary and helps promote the overall message: recovery is possible, and recovery never looks the same for everyone. Your journey matters. Your message matters. Your experiences matter.

As I’ve gotten healthier and stopped focusing so much on my illnesses (which are still a main focal point of the blog, albeit in a different way), I realized that my relatively small following was a great audience for information about the stigma surrounding mental illness.

I realized that everyone, but especially others living with my specific conditions (PTSD with depersonalization/derealization and rapid-cycling type 1 bipolar disorder) could benefit from learning about the latest news and treatment options. I’m building up quite the library of scholarly articles and studies, and if there’s enough interest, I plan to post a few quick-and-dirty rundowns of them.

Again, I can’t thank Jeanette for this nomination–it came out of nowhere and I feel very honored about the whole thing and appreciate being recognized for my work. Validation and recognition for what I’m doing always feels nice! Also, the badge image is really cute.

My Picks for Nomination:

The Global PTSD Survivor Blog

Bloomin’ Uterus (a blog about endometriosis, which I also have)

Ruth at PTSD – Accepting, Coping, Thriving

 

 

News Day Tuesday: BLOOM by Anna Schuleit

a cure for what ails you, bipolar disorder, major depression, memories, News Day Tuesday, ptsd, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, stigma, three hopeful thoughts

Hey readers! This week, we’re doing something a little different for News Day Tuesday.

I stumbled across Anna Schuleit’s beautiful BLOOM project from 2003 (yes, I know I’m super late to the party). Today, I want to celebrate that project.

In 2003, artist Anna Schuleit installed 28,000 (28,000! Yow!) potted flowers throughout the psychiatric ward of the Massachusetts Mental Health Center (MMHC).

Anna Schuleit’s installation project was created within the entire building of MMHC, on all floors, inviting former patients and employees, staff, students, and the general public, to re-visit the historic site once more before its closing. There was also a symposium at a nearby venue, and an open forum on the front steps of MMHC, during which the patients were invited to tell their stories. The events were dedicated to the memory of the thousands of patients of MMHC, and included as many of them as we were able to contact, as well as the doctors, nurses, support staff, researchers, students, and the general public. The project was a non-profit effort run entirely by volunteers and all of the events were free and open to all.

Source

As people living with mental illness, some of us with more than one, we know the therapeutic power of telling our stories, of having a voice when we’re so often voiceless. Mindy Schwartz Brown wrote some beautiful poetry about her experiences at MMHC, which you can read here. One poem in particular, “Asylum,” touched me deeply.

ASYLUM
(for Anna)

How did this edifice become “home” to its inhabitants-
the renowned multiply degreed,
the haplessly homeless dually diagnosed,
the walking wounded,
the worried well,
the happy go lucky who cleaned floors,
cooked lunches,
took blood pressures.

How could it contain all of the
the egos,
the disintegrated, the inflated,
occupying one space in parallel play?
MD, SPMI
Ph.D, BPD
MSW, DBT
Tell me in this soup, where does one find one’s ME?

DSM IV, Anybody going for V?
What’s the code for those who close hospitals
then open prisons for the sick?

We all feel so much better now,
knowing our brains are
faulty and we are not.
Structural errors ,
neurotransmittor deficits,
viral origins,
genomic misconfigurations.

So now can we all be friends?
Can we do lunch?
Just as we would with a diabetic?

October 3, 2003

Mindy Schwartz-Brown © 2003

The pain of not being recognized is one we know all too well. The lines “We all feel so much better now, / knowing our brains are / faulty and we are not” struck a chord with me that resonated all the way through my body and down into what some people call the soul.

We are the ones who are forgotten. We are the ones who are hiding in plain sight, not out of our own desire to be invisible, but of the desire of others to make us invisible. We make others uncomfortable, particularly when we don’t outwardly fit the mold of the “mentally ill person.” Whenever I reveal that I have bipolar I and CPTSD to someone, I am typical met with one of two reactions. The person either recoils–the discomfort in their eyes is stark and harrowing–or they tell me how “brave” I am.

I am not brave. I simply live. What choice do I have? I do not want to die, though there are plenty of people who view living with a mental illness as a fate worse than death–and I find that more disturbing than anything going on in my attic. There have been countless times when the hauntings have gotten so noisy that I feel as though my mind may literally split in two. Still, I live. Our lives have worth. We have worth.

I’d like to end by including a few photos of Schuleit’s installation. I spent a great deal of time yesterday perusing the photos and reflecting–not on my own experiences, as I have never been inpatient, but on what others’ experiences might have been like as they lived out their day-to-day at MMHC.

bloom-by-anna-schuleit-red-mums-640x920

bloom-by-anna-schuleit-white-tulips

bloom-by-anna-schuleit-blue-hallway

All images above copyright Anna Schuleit.

Tell me your stories, readers. It’s important.

News Day Tuesday: New treatment for PTSD?

a cure for what ails you, News Day Tuesday, personal experiences, ptsd, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, three hopeful thoughts

Good morning, readers!

This week, I rustled up an article about some exciting developments in PTSD research.

Basically, scientists are looking at glutamate (one type of those fun little things in your brain that sends signals) and how alterations in glutamate levels affect PTSD. What this means for us is that PTSD is now being studied on a molecular level, which means that new treatments could be on the horizon!

My PTSD is generally well-controlled, as far as “controlling” it goes. I’m still mad-jumpy and don’t have a good time in crowds (the dissociation spikes, and sounds that hit my left ear first seem to make it worse, though my previous psychiatrist had no idea why). I still feel depersonalized/derealized every single day, though the level of detachment varies widely. I haven’t been able to pinpoint exactly what it is that makes it better or worse, but admittedly, I’ve been super lazy about charting it.

However, I’m sleeping soundly for the first time I can remember. I think a lot of us can relate to the hypervigilance and, by extension, light sleeping. Loud noises still startle me awake and my fiance sometime scares the bejeezus out of me by touching me–gently–to wake me up. But! and this is good news–the sounds of the cats wheezing or vomiting or fighting don’t wake me in a panic. It’s more of a “God, this again?” reaction, which, while not fun, is better than waking up with a racing pulse and momentary confusion about where I am.

As far as journaling about symptoms goes, I’m still trying to figure out a system. How many times in a day should I note what’s going on upstairs? I don’t want to become obsessive about it, as I did with my mood journal when I was first beginning treatment for bipolar disorder. At the same time, I want to make sure I have an accurate log of my symptoms and the events that may have caused an increase/decrease in the weird floaty feelings of unreality.

That being said, it’s sometimes hard to notice the changes because they’re subtle. Because this has been chronic for six years now, it often takes an absolutely massive spike before I notice anything is off. On a related note, I often don’t notice the symptoms decreasing because hey, it’s my “normal” now.

Any ideas or tips, readers? Should I follow the standard day/time/preceding events/level (on a scale of 1-10) format I’ve used in the past for mood tracking? What system(s) do you use?

I look forward to hearing from you! I’ll see you next week and as always, stay safe and remember to say one nice thing to yourself every day. Today I have two: “My new DIY manicure is bangin'” and “I am surviving my fiance’s work trip with zero negative emotions!”

It’s important to focus on the positive, especially when our emotional weather is often stormy.

News Day Tuesday: BiAffect App Links Keystrokes with Bipolar Episodes

a cure for what ails you, bipolar disorder, News Day Tuesday, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, three hopeful thoughts

Greetings, readers!

It was a bit of a challenge to find an article for this week, but I finally stumbled upon something that could make a huge difference in how we track our moods. There’s a new app called BiAffect that uses your keystrokes, frequency of texting, and social media app patterns to track manic and depressive episodes.

To find out whether a user might be experiencing a manic or depressive episode, the app tracks typing speed, how hard keys are pressed and the frequency of the use of backspace and spellcheck.

chicagotribune.com

I know there are a lot of people who dislike the idea of being tracked in any sense, which is totally fine. However, I feel a bit more comfortable with it knowing that it comes directly from a research group. It’s only available for iPhone, which is kind of a bummer because I’m a die-hard Android user.

I wish something like this had been around in 2013, when I was deep in the throes of exhausting rapid-cycling episodes. I was newly diagnosed, but the challenge of finding the right combination and doses of medication, the loss of my job (probably due to my cycling), and the overall disintegration of my marriage had more or less temporarily erased any benefits or relief I found from my diagnosis.

One of my long-time friends mentioned that he noticed I was posting a lot more on Facebook when I was manic than when I was depressed. Like, a lot. Even now that I’m stable and successfully medicated, I still pay close attention to what and how often I post. When I’m more energetic and feel like interacting with others, I find myself wondering if it’s because I’m manic, hypomanic, or just…not depressed.

When you’re living with bipolar disorder, it’s a constant question of Column A, Column B, Column C, or a bit of each. You learn to analyze your moods and energy levels, and this tracking can quickly become obsessional.

I see this app as a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it would save those of us who pay attention to our moods a ton of work. On the other, those of us who are prone to preoccupation and overall obsessional thinking could end up checking in a lot more often than usual.

If BiAffect is released for Android, I’m for sure going to jump on it, at least for a trial run. It seems like it could be a useful tool for mental health care providers and patients alike–rather than having to drag in pages and pages of mood diaries, we could pop open an app and have the data right there at our fingertips (literally). And, at least in theory, it seems like any sort of self-report bias would be removed, or at least mitigated. I know I’ve been guilty of fibbing a bit in my mood diaries due to the shame that comes from realizing just how sick I am.

What do you think, readers? Would you give something like this a spin, or do you find it intrusive? Let me know! I’ll be keeping an eye on this one.

Until next time, stay safe and remember to be excellent to yourself.

News Day Tuesday: Sick Days

a cure for what ails you, major depression, News Day Tuesday, ptsd, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, stigma, three hopeful thoughts

Hey readers! I’ve gotten really bad about posting regularly and as we all know, structure is crucial when you’re living with a mental illness (particularly bipolar disorder). I made myself a super-nifty planner before I started school in January and am actually going to start using it to keep myself on track. What this means for you is that hopefully, I won’t disappear for weeks at a time!

Anyway, today’s article addresses the stigma against physicians taking sick days for mental health. While it focuses on doctors in Australia, the topic is extremely relevant to anyone who has ever taken or needed a “mental health” day. According to the article, doctors (unsurprisingly) feel uncomfortable taking sick days for self-care, even when they begin to feel burned out and can’t deliver their usual level of care to patients.

“I’m completely supportive, but I’ll admit I’ve never been brave enough to take a mental health day,” one doctor said, adding, “How can you dump your workload on a colleague who is going through much the same things as you are?”

– abc.net.au

I find this extremely relatable because I’ve always felt awkward calling into work or needing to leave early because my brain has decided that doing anything other than crying in bed is just not going to happen. It doesn’t happen often, but I’ve always felt the need to claim another reason–usually migraines, which I used to get several times a week–because we’re conditioned to believe that depression, anxiety, and other disorders of the mind are not a valid reason for absences. We’re taught to believe that we need to suck it up and get on with our lives, even if that means hiding in the bathroom to cry or have a panic attack.

Naturally, this poses a huge problem for anyone in the workforce, but it’s especially problematic for health care providers. It’s something I’ve often thought about as my clinical practicum draws closer. How can I best serve my clients if I’m experiencing the same symptoms as they are?

I also fear that even in a mental health facility, where one would expect supervisors to be a bit more sympathetic, I’ll come across as weak or unsuitable for the job because of what’s going on in my brain. There’s an indescribable level of self-loathing and shame that comes with mental illnesses, and I’m sure all of you can relate. It’s the feeling of being less-than, the feeling that you don’t deserve to have a job because some days, you just can’t handle the world. You begin to question everything about yourself–am I being weak or overly sensitive? Am I doing this whole “adult” thing wrong? The fear of losing your job is a constant presence, which only makes things worse.

So what can we do about it? Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer to that question. One would hope that with increased media exposure, employers will become more understanding, although every boss is different and there are zero guarantees.

When I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I loved my job. I was working as an editor at a translation company, but my symptoms were so severe that I actually had what I called my “Oh shit, I cried at work!” kit, which I kept in my desk so I could patch myself up after crying jags. Some of the items included eye makeup, because it’s embarrassing to have streaked makeup after crying (even though I became very good at crying without messing up my face). Although my employer was aware of my struggles, I still lost that job due to absences, which sent me into a horrific downward spiral that took over a year to break.

Since then, I’ve become quite anxious about divulging any information related to my mental health to anyone at any job…and that’s problematic by itself. Why should we feel ashamed of something that’s beyond our control? The answer lies in the stigma.

It’s going to be a long, uphill battle, though the fact that today’s article even exists gives me hope. Exposure and time are the only things that are going to remedy this issue. It’s an unhappy thought, but I sometimes find myself wondering if mental health issues will ever be considered as legitimate as something as simple as food poisoning when it comes to work absences.

I’d like to end on an up note with another quote from the article: “If we can’t help ourselves, how can we help others?”

Self-care is so important, readers. The Compassion Project offers a list of self-care activities that you can check out to build a plan for yourself. Here are some of my favorites.

  • Reading
  • Baking (I’m a huge stress baker, though I haven’t done it in a while)
  • Knitting or embroidery
  • Crafting
  • Cuddling with a pet
  • Going for a walk (which you can even do at work–take a five-minute break to stretch your legs)
  • Doing a crossword puzzle

What are some of your favorite self-care activities? Let me know–I’m always looking to add to my list!

As always, readers, stay safe and I’ll see you next week.

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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