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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News Day Tuesday: New drug for PTSD!

a cure for what ails you, medication, News Day Tuesday, ptsd, three hopeful thoughts

News on mental illness (aside from the usual stories about police brutality and the fact that mental illness physically alters your brain) has been somewhat scarce lately, readers. However, I did manage to scare up an article about a new drug for PTSD called TNX 102 SL, which is absorbed sublingually (under the tongue, like lorazepam and other anti-anxiety meds) and reportedly helps with some of the more disruptive symptoms of PTSD, like arousal/startle response, anxiety, and negative thoughts.

The drug is related to a muscle relaxant called Flexeril. I’ve heard of muscle relaxants being used to treat startle response in the past, but I’ve never tried anything of the sort before. I typically rely on lorazepam to control acute symptoms, like when I’m out in a crowded public space and begin to feel the good old irritability and hypersensitivity to sound kick in.

I’m pretty excited that new treatments are even being tested for PTSD, honestly. The startle response is definitely the worst symptom for me–any sudden noise, no matter how small, can provoke an ear-piercing shriek and a huge bump in my heart rate. And because I have chronic pelvic pain that’s partially caused by trigger points, the instinctive tensing makes the pain multiply, which makes me more miserable, and it becomes this whole endless cycle that’s really hard to break.

I’m also hopeful that some new treatments that help with sleep but don’t leave me a groggy mess the next day will pop up. I sleep very lightly now and have a hard time falling asleep. I usually use either lorazepam (if the insomnia’s not too bad, though I need at least two milligrams to get a good night’s rest) or quetiapine/Seroquel if I’m really sleep-deprived. However, even though those drugs work in the short-term, I end up sleeping way longer than intended and am basically a zombie the next day.

Readers, what do you think of this drug, given what limited information we have so far? Would you try it? What do you use to cope, either medically or psychologically?

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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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Manic Depression: A Brief Explanation

authoress in motion, explanations, major depression, medication, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, self-harm, stigma

I finally got around to editing the explanation video on bipolar disorder/manic depression (I prefer the latter term as I feel it’s more descriptive).

In the video, I talk about the different categories of bipolar disorder, what each phase (from depression to mania and mixed states) is and what it feels like, and tips for dealing with a mixed episode.

Transition.

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

At this point, I can’t say that I’m cured or that my bipolar is in remission, but something feels different. My mood swings aren’t as intense as they were before, and “Flat/numb” has replaced “Depressed” as my default mood state. I still can’t remember the last time I felt truly happy without also feeling some underlying negative emotion, but I actually feel hopeful.

My PTSD is still pretty bad. There’s some parking lot construction going on right outside our apartment, and when I had to walk past it yesterday to get home, I flinched, jumped about a foot, and had to clamp my hands down over my ears to get through the unrelenting roar of construction equipment. I felt embarrassed and remember thinking, “Normal people don’t act like this.” But I’m trying not to judge my reactions and emotions. My therapists over the years have all encouraged me to just experience them without having a knee-jerk response and assigning a morality to everything.

My derealization/depersonalization is present, as always, and I’ve been having unnerving spikes in severity that have unusual triggers…if I have my head turned or tilted a certain way and I say something/something is said to me, for example, the detached feeling increases tenfold and sticks around until I finally go to sleep. It seems to only happen in the late afternoon/early evening, but I’m still not sure what to make of it. But in spite of this, I feel like I’m finally starting to recover. I’ll deal with the emotional bit first; then, I’ll try to tackle my dissociation.

Medications: Lorazepam, 1 mg tablets*, 37.5 mg Effexor, 400 mg lamotrigine/Lamictal.

* I think it’s important to note that I can’t remember the last time I actually needed one of these.

A change in the weather

a cure for what ails you, major depression, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, suicidal ideation, three hopeful thoughts

I was out for a walk yesterday when it hit me: I haven’t felt actually depressed since Thursday. Occasionally anxious and agitated? Sure, but mostly in response to external stressors. I’m mostly flat/content, but have had a few moments of what I think is mild happiness. The climate in my head isn’t quite sunny and 75 yet, but it’s slowly improving.

The lamictal seems to be doing its job, but I’m still living in fear of the rash. Every time I feel itchy (which happens frequently, considering how much I’ve been outside lately and my allergies to tree pollen), I freak out and pop allergy pills and repeatedly ask D. to check and make sure I’m not getting blotchy. The actual rash doesn’t scare me—it’s the prospect of having the one thing that’s finally making me feel stable stripped away from me without warning.

Being outside, going for long walks around the pond (especially when D. works nights, when I get too anxious and lonely to sit in the apartment by myself) has been incredibly therapeutic. In Middleton, there are so many places to walk to, so many things to see. It’s not a large town, but it’s a step up from Cross Plains, which was tiny, and my hometown of Dubuque, which was not exactly what one might call “pedestrian-friendly.”

How do you all feel about being in nature? Does it help your mood to just get out, even if you’re alone?

Bipolar II, sans mania.

a cure for what ails you, major depression, medication, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, stigma

After two hours of evaluation with my new psychiatrist, I received a new and totally different diagnosis: Bipolar II with mixed episodes, no actual mania. It was something D. and I had suspected for a while and had discussed extensively, but hearing it came as a bit of a shock.

And then I felt relief. The reason I’ve been feeling so shitty for the last six years is because antidepressants can make the bipolar cycling worse (my doctor also suspects I’m rapid-cycling), not because I had treatment-resistant depression.

My mother is bipolar. My uncle, who committed suicide years ago, may have been bipolar. And my grandfather’s alcoholism (self-medicating) and fits of temper could have been attributed to the disorder as well, according to my psychiatrist. There is very much a genetic component to the disease.

The game plan is to keep the 150 mg of Effexor in place for now while I continue climbing the lamotrigine ladder to 200 mg. Then, we’ll reevaluate at the end of the month and see how things are going.

I received the news less than an hour ago and am still sort of in shock, so I’m having a really weird mixture of emotions right now. I’m not quite sure how to feel about all this, though I’m glad I’ll finally be able to receive proper treatment. And, as I’ve told myself dozens of times over the last hour, it’s not like I’m a different person because I suddenly have a different diagnosis. It’s just that everything makes more sense.

I guess this was nothing to be afraid of after all.

Lamictal.

medication, ptsd, stigma, three hopeful thoughts

Supposedly, this is the drug that is going to make everything okay.

I met with my psychiatrist yesterday and learned that while it’s usually used as an anti-seizure medication, it works very well for the depressive portion of bipolar disorder. She’s hopeful that this will stabilize my moods and make everything feel less dismal, though I have to build up to the maintenance dosage slower than other patients because it can cause a nasty rash (I had a terrible full-body rash as a reaction to amoxicillin when I was a child, so she wants to be extra-careful).

She warned me that there’s a chance it could trigger a manic episode if I do, in fact, have undiagnosed bipolar disorder. I’m young, and it could be lying dormant for now–she said it wouldn’t be at all unusual if I remained in a depressive state for decades before experiencing mania for the first time.

I feel that, as an advocate for mental illness who tries to do something to fight the stigma every single day, it’s not great for me to say this…but I am secretly afraid that I’m bipolar. My mother is bipolar and when I was young, “You’re just like your mother!” was thrown at me whenever I was being difficult or acting out.

I’ve been educating myself on the disease, though, mostly through memoirs written by women with bipolar mothers. I know that it’s just another chemical imbalance and that I have nothing to fear, but at the same time, it seems like the proverbial big black dog, looming just out of sight. And there is a tremendous stigma surrounding bipolar individuals, which is awful. I am taking comfort in the knowledge that if I do indeed have the illness, I can do a lot of good work to help fight that stigma, too.

But is it so wrong for me to be terrified of being “just like my mother”? It’s not just the possibility of being bipolar that scares me–I was conditioned to fear and avoid any behavior that was even remotely reminiscent of the woman, though now I’m beginning to “take it back” by trying to take the positive aspects of her personality into myself–her carefree, fun-loving nature that I remember so well from her “good” days.

My relationship with my mother is a complicated one, so I’ll refrain from discussing it further in this post; I feel it deserves at least one post of its own, if not a series.

Did anyone else grow up with a mentally ill parent? How has it affected you?