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Posts Tagged ‘mental illness’

Today is very special. It’s our anniversary. My husband and I have been married for 44 years. He stuck by my side through the best and worst of times. He’s a gem.

During the worst of times, when my bipolar was out of control, I didn’t feel I deserved him. I felt I was ruining his life. I wished I could die so he’d be rid of me and wouldn’t have to put up with my roller coaster moods anymore. During the worst depressions I would often think of ending my life. I figured that he would hurt for a while but then he’d realize that he was free from living through my hell with me. I tried to shield him from my moods but he could read me.

There were four occasions where I actually planned how to commit suicide and was ready to go through with it. I had promised my husband, that should that day come, I would tell him. I kept my word on each occurrence and he took me to the hospital for help. The last time was the charm—the doctor in that hospital put me on a combination of meds that nearly eliminated the cycling moods. The hypomanias have been eliminated completely. The depressions are now very few and shallow. They are pretty easy to control and keep from escalating. It’s been two years now and I’m still doing very well.

My husband fought this battle right beside me. He never gave up even when I wanted to. Communication was the key in our getting through it. He kept me talking and sharing what I was feeling and going through even when I didn’t want to but wanted to shut down. Those talks gave me the strength to dig deeper for tools to overcome and push through.

I know there are a lot of people out there with bipolar who feel alone, unlovable and that you will never know what it feels like to be well again. That is the greatest lie this disorder can tell us. It is the depression talking. It’s also the frustration talking. If you have a family member or close friend who you can talk to, share what you experience with him or her but initially do it when you are in a semi-controlled state if you can. You’ll be less emotional and make more sense. Our loved ones can’t help us if they don’t understand. The only way they can get a sense of what bipolar or depression is like is if we share and give them the information so they can learn. Direct them to websites that educate about bipolar. Let him or her come to an appointment with your psychiatrist for therapist so s/he can ask questions and learn. We need all the help we can get otherwise it’s a long and lonely journey.

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I’m different than I was 8 years ago. I had a sharp mind and a physically strong body. I moved around with great balance and my mind was creative, sharp as a tack. I felt things intensely, love, joy, pain and I laughed more. I found humor in life more. A couple of years of severe stress changed me. It triggered a severe depression and then bipolar swings. The hypomania presented as irritability at that time.

I miss the old me before the bipolar kicked in so strong. I don’t feel things the way I used to. My emotions are blunted and my mind isn’t nearly as creative and sharp as it was. I have memory problems.  I have to write everything down.  I know the bipolar is responsible for some of the changes as well as the medication I must take to help me remain in the state of wellness I’ve finally achieved. I know this but it is another thing to fully embrace it. It is hard for me to accept that I am less than I was, that I cannot do or feel as much as I did 8 years ago. My balance is a bit off physically.   I remember the old me and how capable I was. Now, multitasking is quite an undertaking. I no longer do it well.

I miss the old me. I am finding it hard to accept my new limitations. I know that the limitations are better than the alternative if I was unmedicated.  It’s just that I used to be able to work circles around people. I could achieve anything I put my mind to mentally and physically. I miss that freedom, the ability to create. I want it back.

I know someone is probably thinking, “Well change your meds.” I’ve tried everything out there and nothing worked until this combination I’m taking now. It’s a matter of acceptance and I have a hard time doing less than I used to be capable of. It makes me feel that I am less than the person I used to be. It’s something I struggle with when I think about it. I know I’m not less of a human being. I know I should feel good about having gone through the fires of bipolar and overcoming even if it is with the help of meds. I do feel some satisfaction in that. It’s changed me.   I guess if I lost my hearing or lost a leg it would change me too. My life would be changed and limited by what I could no longer do without helps like sign language and a prosthetic leg. I would still be able to do things but not in the exact same way. But life goes on. I guess what I am rebelling against is the loss of mental acuity.   Our minds are who we are. I know we are always changing physically as we age. I can accept that. But to lose mental acuity, cognitive abilities, for those to diminish is like losing a part of myself.

Please forgive my rant. I’m tired and sick with a respiratory infection today so I’m more vulnerable to succumbing to being a little irrational. I know I must accept myself the way I am and make the best of it. I know I have a lot to be thankful for and truly I am grateful. Things cannot go back the way they were—I must keep moving forward and try to do everything to the best of my ability the way I am now.   If I don’t work my brain and body, they will just get stale, inflexible. So I will just keep plugging along and be the best me I can be.

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There are so many things I’d prefer not do. Yet when someone asks me to help at a function or do something that seems “the right thing to do” I fall head first into that pool of discomfort.

I can hear many people saying, “Yes, that’s me. She’s got me pegged.”

Why do we do this to ourselves?

I’m not pointing fingers, I suffer from this and I know others that ride in this boat with me.  We are people pleasers. We have learned since childhood that if we do the right thing we will be liked or rewarded, etc.

We are afraid to say no. We have learned from experience or since childhood that a negative response brings negative repercussions. They may be verbal, physical, a withholding of career related rewards, etc.  By not saying no, we sell ourselves out. We paste a target on our backs for the next scenario. We feel a mess, we’ve created a mess and we want out.

What are the consequences of NOT saying no?

Overcommitment, frazzled nerves, less personal time, less time for loved ones and strained relationships will all take their toll on us.

As a result, we end up becoming pressure cookers, very unhappy and discontent. It’s quite possible that our health could be negatively affected.   Putting myself through this could possibly trigger a mood cycle – most likely depression.  Every time we say yes and accept another task, we are cutting into the overall time we have to fulfill all of our responsibilities.   Doing something well usually requires our full attention. When we are strapped for time, it is easy to lose focus and we can miss the small details. The quality of our work and our relationships usually suffer and our goal to impress in some way backfires.

How do we stop?           

The only way to stop the constant cycle of being overwhelmed it to take a self-assessment and determine who and what we value most in life. Once we have determined that, we can measure everything we are asked to do against that backdrop.

For me, before I can commit to anything outside of my normal routine, I ask the following questions and perhaps they can act as a guideline for you: How much time will it take away from my family or loved ones and how will that impact the quality of our relationships. Will it impact the time I spend in doing my regular job and will the quality of my work suffer as a result? Will I be stressing over the deadline, the volume of work, the people I must deal with or any other issue relating to this task? If so, is it worth the possible impact on my health and my good nature? And, most important of all, is it in line with my beliefs, which for me is the Bible and for you may be something different? If I must answer negatively to any one of them then I already know how to answer whoever is requesting that I take on a task: “No.

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When I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder, my psychiatrist and my husband were the only people that knew. And only my psychiatrist and I knew what meds I was on and why. My family physician didn’t know and I didn’t have a therapist yet.

 I read an article about the importance of sharing information between doctors so that they and I would be my healthcare team. A loved one (my husband) would also take part and be prepared to act as an advocate in case I can’t speak for myself. This really made me think hard.

Why is it so important? Most of us don’t have doctors who talk to each other. My family physician knows my diagnosis so she can be aware of improvements or declines in my condition. She also checks my thyroid and cholesterol levels along with a few other tests to know whether or not my medications are impacting my health. They have in a couple of areas so I was able to report back to my psychiatrist exactly what my physician found. We were then able to discuss whether or not I needed an adjustment or change in my meds

 I eventually did find a therapist and kept him informed of all that was going on medically. He could often tell if there were changes for better or worse and suggest what I might want to discuss with my doctors. He also helped me deal with my early frustrations with just having bipolar and my fears about what the meds might do and were doing to my body. (I just started seeing a new therapist and like her so far.)

I keep my husband informed of all that is discussed with all of these doctors and the therapist. Often, he goes with me to the psychiatrist so he can ask questions because he wants to be a strong support for me..

I am the one at the core of this team, keeping each of them informed of what is happening with the others. And I work hard at leading a healthy and active life. I’ve learned numerous coping skills to help me live a productive and normal life as best as is possible.   And the coping skills that I use are discussed with everyone on my team. I have been reminded by one or the other of them a couple of times to remember to use music or some other method that slipped my mind

My husband, my psychiatrist, my physician, my therapist and I make a good team and I can say I’m quite healthy because of it.

Have you put together a team or plan and has it worked well for you?

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Two weeks ago, after spending 5 days following my psychiatrist’s directions to do absolutely nothing but relax, sleep and rest, my depression continued to rage and grow worse.  It’s never been that deep, dark and severely painful for so long.   It was now becoming dangerous.  I was exhausted and my coping skills were breaking down.  I wanted life to end and started noting what we had in the house to do so.  That’s when I knew I had to do something fast.  Something my husband and I had learned two years ago during a depression nearly as bad.

 The Benefits of a Safety Plan and a Pact

After the experience in 2012, my husband and I knew that, because of my being bipolar, a depression of this magnitude could happen again.  We remembered the anxiety he felt when he had to leave the house and I was alone. I remembered the fear of losing control as well as the fear of being hospitalized.  We had been exhausted and afraid because we didn’t have anything to guide us along.

 We put together a plan, a safety net:

  1. I chose a hospital that has a satellite recovery center (treats psychiatric disorders as well as alcoholics and addicts).      I checked it out on the Internet and printed out the web page with their address and phone number.  I also made a second choice and printed it out just in case the first one is full.
  2. I made a pact with my husband and psychiatrist that I would inform my husband when suicidal thoughts start becoming intense and could become impulses.
  3. I made list of phone numbers that my husband would have to call (my psychiatrist’s office, my supervisor where I volunteer).
  4. I tacked my little packet to my bulletin board so it could be easily found.

 Time to Go

Two and a half weeks ago, I kept my promise and told my husband that my skills were disintegrating and the suicidal thoughts were becoming dangerously close to impulses.  I didn’t want to go to the recovery center, but I knew we needed the assurance that I’d be safe.  My husband can’t, and shouldn’t have to, stand guard over me every minute of the day.  When would he sleep?   All it would take is one weak moment in that horrible suicidal depression to do irreversible damage.

I packed a couple of sets of clothes and we headed off to the hospital without anxiety.  We had all the information we needed at our fingertips to get to our destination.  My husband had the phone numbers he needed when he got back home.

Since it was necessary for me to go, I made up my mind that I was going to learn as much as I could for however long I had to stay instead of lamenting over the situation.  I would treat it as an education about bipolar disorder and myself.  Everyone experiences it differently.  This was an opportunity to pick the doctors’ brains.  Luckily, I had 2 psychiatrists who loved to educate patients who asked questions and wanted to learn.  And since I was learning from the doctors, I now have more information to empower me to ride the waves of bipolar.

Just Another Coping Skill – the last resort

I discovered that my Safety Plan was a coping skill of last resort, but a coping skill nonetheless.  It guided us through the emotional confusion when choices for my safety had to be made.  I was in a safe place of my choice with professionals who truly cared.  I received the treatment I needed to help relieve the depression.  My husband’s mind was put at ease.  The Safety Plan worked beautifully.  

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Well, here we are, fairly settled into our home.  Much of the painting and decorating is done and it finally feels like it is truly ours.  There’s a peace here now, finally.

A few weeks after we arrived here, there was little peace.  Then, on March 2oth, I had an appointment with a new psychiatrist (Pdoc).  I gave him all my records from my Pdoc in NY.  He reviewed them, interviewed me and told me flat out that I don’t have cyclothymia or major depression.  I have Bipolar Disorder coupled with anxiety.   I was blown away but everything he said made sense.  To prove it to me, he had me keep a chart of my daily mood swings following the directions on the chart’s scale.  What a revelation!   I didn’t realize how unstable my moods were.  My poor husband is a saint for loving me this way.

Until now, I have been very embarrassed about this whole Bipolar diagnosis.  It’s a mental illness.  Moods can swing from very high (manic) where one’s judgement can be impaired, all the way down to extremely deep depression where one may become a danger to him/herself.  I’ve been on both sides of the normal line, but the side I’ve experienced the most is the downside.  The worst was the deep depression.  Thank God it’s only been a few times.

I was angry about the diagnosis because I had always been more than capable and fiercely independent.  I could run rings around coworkers in every job I had.  This is not lofty Bipolar thinking on my part–I have job evaluations to prove it.   But about a year before our move, something started happening that was sapping my strength, my memory, and my ability to work at the intensity and pace that I was accustomed to.

This demon finally had a name and is incurable and I was mad as h***!  The Pdoc did say we would work together to get it under control–that was hopeful.  The downside was that it has gone untreated in me for about 40 yrs and had just recently gone totally out of control–multiple full cycles in 1 day.  Because of how intense my cycles were, he said there is a good chance we may never get it under full control but he and I would work as a team to do the best we could.  At least he was honest.  He has kept his promise and we’re making progress–SLOW, but it’s progress.

My mood crashed on Oct. 1 this year.  I mean bottomed out so that I didn’t want to stick around anymore.  Hubby & I knew I needed help badly.  Pdoc told him to take me to the hospital.

It was the strangest experience I ever had.  I always had visions that a psych hospital was a scary place and full of weird, strange people, thanks to old TV movies and even some not so old movies.  The folks there were, for the most part, caring.  They made sure no one was cold & got you a cotton blanket if you were.  One poor fellow would start to nod out over his dinner plate.  Any one of us would catch him and wake him up before he drowned in his soup or potatoes.  Yes, all of them had mental issues, most less severe so you’d never know if you worked with them.

So what’s the point of this.  I spent 1 week with  these folks and I have to say it is the best thing that ever happened to me.  I am one of them and we are just like anyone else, just people looking to get our medical issues under control so we can go on with our daily lives.  One of us could be your neighbor and you would never know it.

I discovered that I’m still a whole person, I just have a condition called Bipolar Disorder.  I’m not ashamed of it anymore.  I  can talk about it now.  I am healing, slowly, but it’s happening.  Now I want to get on and serve others.

Did I mention NAMI?  It’s the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.  They have chapters all over the country.  My chapter has support meetings for people with mental illness as well as support meetings for family members.  What a blessing this NAMI group has been for me and also my hubby.  We’ve learned a lot there.  I’m hoping that perhaps I’d be allowed to serve there.

Time will tell where God will put me.

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