May 30, 2016
Here’s the positive thing about hitting rock bottom: You’ve got nowhere to go but up. That thought actually comforted me a lot in the beginning. I can get better now! It’ll get easier and easier! And it’s a nice sentiment for sure, and in some ways it is of course true. But….. it doesn’t really work like that, despite the people who upon hearing that I had bipolar responded with a chipper – and what felt at the time incredibly dismissive and condescending – “Oh, that can be treated.” (I realize intellectually that they intended neither of those things.)
And yes it can be treated – although I think “managed” is a better word – but it’s not exactly what you’d call straight-forward.
If you have a minor medical illness, say strep throat, you have a fairly predictable course of symptoms, followed by a fairly predictable recovery. Barring any complications or special circumstances, you start taking an antibiotic. Two days later you’ve started to feel quite a bit better. By five days, you feel almost like your normal self. By eight days you feel so much better that you start to forget you were even sick, and you have to keep reminding yourself to finish out your course of antibiotics. At day 10, you’ve finished your medication, you feel fine, and your strep throat is a thing of the past.
Mental illness is more complicated than that.
The main medication I’m on will be slowly titrated up to a maintenance dose over the course of about 6 weeks (assuming it’s the right one for me. So much is trial and error). What I’m on now in comparison is barely above a placebo. Other medications may need to be added or substituted or removed as we go. And what I’m currently learning from my therapist are strategies. Things that I have no doubt are going to help me in the long run, but that are things that I need to practice. Routines I need to build. Habits I need to form. Tools I need to use. There is much I need to learn, and many things I need to understand. There is work – continual, ongoing work – that I’ll need to do if I want to be well. This is a chronic illness that can’t be cured. Learning to manage it is a process, and progress won’t always be linear. It will zig-zag, and it will spiral.
I won’t get better overnight. One recent article I read said that it took the author a solid four years until he felt that he was really stable…. the thought of which is… daunting. But even if it doesn’t take four years, it will take time. Patience is going to be my friend, and I have to learn not to freak out when I have a bad day. I have to learn to focus on the big picture.
It’s sort of like the worried parents of a selective-eating toddler. You never want to judge the situation on what they did/did not eat at one meal, because you’ll get a much clearer picture of what’s going on if you look at what they ate during a whole week. In one meal, there might be five noodles. Over the course of the week though, you can see, “Hey, he ate an apple! And an entire yogurt! And some broccoli dipped in ranch!”
I cannot – cannot – compare myself to where I was yesterday, because it’s only a lesson in frustration. But I can compare myself to a month ago. I can compare myself to the broken girl who was gutturally sobbing all over the place, begging for…. something, anything, that would take the pain away.
There will be good days and bad days, and that needs to be okay. I have to say it again:
There will be good days and bad days, and that’s okay!
I had two pretty lousy days this week, mood-wise, that stood out more than the others.
The first was because I was just really pissed off about how hard it all felt. I don’t want to go to bed at the same time every night. I don’t want to exercise. I don’t want to meditate. I don’t want to chart my feelings. I don’t want to take any pills. I don’t want to go outside if I don’t feel like it. I don’t want to take another supplement. It shouldn’t be so hard. It’s just not fair that it’s so hard. I want to live like a normal person and not have to think about any of those things if I don’t want to. I want to stay up till 11:00 and drink a glass or three of wine. I want to spend my Tuesday afternoons curled up with a good book, not in a therapist’s office, 30 minutes from home, talking about my feelings.
In short, I needed a day to feel sorry for myself.
The second one was set off because frankly, I did something really stupid. There’s a meme that’s been going around Facebook. It’s a comparison of two photos. The top photo is a serene, forest scene with the caption, “This is an antidepressant”, and the bottom photo is a Prozac pill, with the caption, “This is shit.” Now what I’m personally taking is not even an antidepressant – it’s not appropriate for my specific situation – but damn if it didn’t piss me off to see anyone else getting shamed for whatever it is they need to take. I shared the photo on my blog’s Facebook page, NOT for the photo itself, but for a really lovely commentary refuting it…. from a woman who believes in both nature AND pharmaceuticals when necessary. (I will share it down below, because I really do love what she had to say) Anyway, I shared this post and in the course of conversation I used the word, “disgusting.” I said that I thought it was disgusting to call something “shit” that could (and has!) literally played a life-saving role in someone’s recovery. I concede that it could have been a poor word choice. A woman commented who’d had a very bad experience with psychotropic drugs – and absolutely, those experiences are out there. I’m not refuting this. And there are risks. And there are unethical doctors. And there are things to consider. And my heart goes out to anyone who has had such a bad experience … whether it’s with drugs, alternative treatments, or something else altogether. She was really offended/hurt/ticked off by my words and told me so. Not wanting to make things worse, I very, very carefully chose my next words and told her simply that I was glad that she ultimately found what she needed to do to get well. But that pissed her off even more, because she’d wanted a different response. She bit back harder, wanting to hurt me (OR, feeling hurt herself, just used me as a convenient outlet in the right place at the right time). It worked. I bawled. And a couple of hours later I pulled down both my Facebook page and my blog itself. I realized that while I had actually started to enjoy interacting with friends on Facebook again, I was not yet ready for the masses. My blog/its Facebook page were not going to currently play a part in my getting well.
Fact: Posting controversial things about mental health treatment when you’re TEN DAYS into your own mental health treatment (and, obviously, still raw and fragile) is not a good idea.
Really though, that woman did me a favor. The more distractions I could shed to focus on what I really needed to focus on, the better. One step forward at a time.
Here’s the meme:
And here is Jenny Chiu’s beautiful commentary:
I’m Jenni Chiu and this image pisses me off.
May is Mental health Awareness month and I can’t think of a worse way to raise awareness than with this irresponsible image (recently posted by the page Earth. We are one.)
I find the top part of this image to be absolutely true. Meditating outside, breathing fresh air, taking a break from the blue light of my electronics – that all helps my brain and body tremendously.
I find the bottom part of this image to be stigmatizing, and extremely harmful to those who struggle with mental illness. It is irresponsible and IT IS FALSE.
Disclosure: I’m a damn tree hugger. I’ve hugged the hell out of trees. I’ve felt their energy. I’ve sat beneath a redwood and exhaled up into it’s branches, asking it to lift some of the weight off my shoulders. I believe that our modern lifestyles have disconnected some of us from Mother Earth and that by spending time outdoors we are reminded of the balance between us and nature.
Disclosure: There were several years of my life where I was on a cocktail of meds (prozac was one of them) and they literally kept. me. alive.
Depression and anxiety are mental ILLNESSES. Not all illness can be cured with fresh air and sunshine. Sometimes chemical imbalances in the brain need to be supplemented. It may not be the answer for everybody, but it is definitely a life saver for some.
Are meds overprescribed? Possibly.
Can simple lifestyle changes improve our mental and physical health? Certainly.
Should a drug that could keep someone from wanting to die be described as “shit”? Never.
If you manage your mental illness by taking medication, I AM PROUD OF YOU. If you are considering talking to your doctor about medication, I AM PROUD OF YOU.
If you are able to manage a mood disorder naturally, I AM PROUD OF YOU. If you are considering talking to your doctor about weaning off of or changing medications, I AM PROUD OF YOU.
If you have an entire arsenal of mental health tools that include a combination of prescriptions, meditation, art therapy, exercise, sunshine, multiple yoga poses, and several flavors of gelato, I AM PROUD OF YOU.
If you wake up to live another day… If you open your eyes and face those same demons that left you so exhausted the day before… If you continue to grace us all with your existence, I AM PROUD OF YOU…
and I thank you.
When you are drowning and someone throws you a life preserver, you take it. Pay no mind to the people off to the side judging and telling you it’s not the right size or color… or that it couldn’t possibly work. You take it. You grab it and hold on like nobody’s business.
When you get to shore and dry off… then you can take a breath and figure out a plan. Change things up if you need to. Ask for help if you need to…
Anyone telling you not to grab that life preserver is a dick…
and if you accidentally kick them in the face while you’re paddling your way out of the stormy waters, no big deal…
Tell them to go stop the bleeding with the warm breeze outside.
I love you.
Do whatever you need to stay with us.
(Continue to Part Four)