Category Archives: depression

Rock Bottom

A happy photo for a not-so-happy post

Note:  The following is a raw, honest, mental-health related post.  I know some of you don’t like those.  I write this for three reasons:

  1.  It is crazy cathartic for me.
  2. It helps me feel less alone
  3. It helps others feel less alone.

If it’s not your sort of thing, no hurt feelings if you skip it.  Otherwise, grab a cuppa and read on:

_______________________________________________

One week ago on Tuesday, my therapist recommended I go to the hospital for stabilization.  I wasn’t allowed to leave the clinic until I saw a psychiatrist for a “risk assessment.”  I sat in the waiting room, terrified out of my mind, for 2.5 hours to wait to see her.  Sometime during this time period, he called my husband (something he’s only allowed to do if he feels I’m in imminent danger) to tell him how concerned he was.

And then the bottom dropped out of everything I’d been trying so hard to hold together.

I ended up declining the hospital – with the support of both the psychiatrist and the PA who’s my normal prescriber – but I (gladly) accepted a new medication for sleep, and I (gladly) accepted an increase/change in my regular day-to-day meds.  It was time, and I needed it, and I knew it.

The past week has been horrifying and messy and painful, but….

I’m glad it happened.

The entire situation, especially the call to my husband, rang a bell that couldn’t be un-rung.  I’ve known I’d been spiraling since the middle of June.  And I kept pushing, kept holding it together, kept pushing some more.  And I spiraled more and more and more until I said the things to my therapist (Tony.  His name is Tony) that made him concerned, that set off this whole chain reaction that just made everything …. stop.  It dropped me to my knees.  It forced me to admit that at the present time I AM NOT OKAY.  I am safe – it feels important to make that clear but I’m not okay. I’ve hit rock bottom.  The lowest rock bottom I’ve ever hit.

For the first few days after that appointment, the world came to a standstill.  I slept and I cried.  For about 5 days straight.  I cancelled a chat I was supposed to do; I cancelled all plans; I emailed my professor to ask for an extension (and she was wonderfully kind and gracious about it);   I had Mike run the kids to their activities;  I had Mike deal with all the conference stuff that came up; I had Mike deal with, well, basically everything.  And I just let myself be there, in that deep, dark, scary place.  Again, I was safe.  But I stopped trying to pretend that I had everything together.  I stopped trying to pretend that I was okay.  And I’m slowly, so very very slowly, starting to make motions to heal.  The overwhelmingly positive thing about hitting rock bottom is that there is nowhere to go but up.

As for today?  I’m still not okay.  I’m still not able to deal with most of life.  I’m not able to deal with people needing me (good God, all the emails!).  I’m not able to deal with questions. I’m not able to deal with extraneous noise.  I’m not able to deal with anyone or anything else but me.

That sounds selfish, I know.  But depression is selfish.  It is a selfish, selfish beast.  And I’ve decided that it’s selfish for a reason.  It’s selfish because when it gets to this point, you HAVE to be selfish.  You HAVE to be selfish in order to get well.

So in the interest of selfishness:  I’ve gotten dressed four days in a row (which sounds silly, but if you’ve ever been depressed, you know it’s a really big freaking deal).  I’m getting up.  I’m making myself do things around the house.  I’m writing this blog post!  The meds are starting to kick in, though at the moment they’re mostly making me drowsy and a little bit – or a lot – out of it.  I hope I’ve written in complete sentences.

I have a couple of friends I’ve been texting with, but if I may, a little bit of honesty:

I want to be left completely alone.
Except I don’t.
I want to hear reassuring words.
Except I don’t.
I want someone to remind me to put on pants and get myself some tea.
Except I don’t.

In short, I don’t know what I want.

The only thing I know for super sure that I want (and this is actually something I said to Tony the day this all went down) is for someone to SEE ME.  I have never felt more invisible in my entire life.  And I pick up my phone, and I scroll through my contacts, and my thumb just hovers.  This one is not very good at listening; this one would probably rather talk about herself; this one is very anti-psychiatry and psychotropic meds and there would be thinly veiled judgement; this one minimizes everything and would likely think I just need a good night’s sleep.  So I set down my phone, and I text no one.  And these are friends!  People I love!  It makes me feel terrible, and…. selfish.  But, well, see above.  I feel selfish, and alone, and just want someone to see me.

Yet at the same time, I’m pushing everyone away.

Depression is a terribly manipulating monster. But I’ve beat it before, and I’ll beat it again.  It’ll take time, and effort, and patience, and gentleness, and grace (so much freaking grace).  It’ll take faithfully taking my meds that I often hate myself for having to take.  It’ll take even more visits to Tony that I often hate myself for having to make.  It’ll take ACCEPTANCE, for who I am, and what I am, and where I’m at.  Even if no one else can see me, I can see me. Right here.  Right now.

And I’ll do it.

A quote I recently saw that resonated so deeply it hurt:  It helped me, so maybe it will help one of you.

We’re going to be okay.


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Filed under bipolar, depression, mental health

The Dark Cloud: A Day In The Life

It always sneaks up on me.  Always.

I’ll be doing fine – better than fine even – and then one day, I’m not.  And it’s not that it happens in one day, because it doesn’t.  It’s sneaky, and insidious, and oh so patient as it wraps its tentacles around me, little by little, day after day.  I don’t notice, until I do.

I wake up in tears, and suddenly realize I’ve been waking up in tears for the last 6 mornings in a row.  And wait, it’s been what, 3, 4 weeks since I’ve actually gotten a good night’s sleep, or any sleep at all?  And when was the last time I took a shower?  And why did I stop listening to music, one of my very favorite things?  Why did I stop doing all of my favorite things? And how long have I been messing with my diet… vacillating between eating everything I can get my hands on, or eating nothing at all?  When did my body start hurting again?  When did the bone-crushing exhaustion set in? When did it all – ALL of it: living, breathing, decision-making, interacting with people and places and noises, dear Lord the noises– get so, so difficult?  So difficult that the mere act of existing feels like it takes a Herculean effort?

The weight gets too heavy and the shackles too tight, and I see nothing but blackness. Deep, suffocating, oily blackness.  And finally I have to admit it, because it’s just too damn hard to deny anymore.

F*ck, I’m depressed again.

The world doesn’t stop for me either.  Doesn’t give a damn about me and my depression.  There’s still a whole house to take care of, and kids who need me, and a husband who tries really hard but doesn’t quite know what to do with me when I’m depressed. There are still errands to run, and plumbers to come, and appointments to keep.  There are still kids’ activities and places to be and people to see… and it hurts.  It physically hurts dragging around the cloud that threatens to drown me, threatens to swallow me whole.  I can’t see.  I can’t breathe. The breaths I dare inhale yield nothing but more blackness.  Blackness and desperation.  Fear and numbness, both existing at the same time.  Do people see it?  Do they know?  Part of me feels like they can’t miss it.  How can you miss a darkness this dark?   A weight this heavy?  But part of me knows they don’t see it at all, because they don’t see me.  I never feel as invisible as I feel when I’m depressed.  I’m wearing an invisibility cloak, completely encased in my own private hell.

I had to go to Walgreens today.  And when I say “had to” it was because my choice was either that or sit in on a drum lesson.  And drum lessons mean sounds.  And people talking, and jokes, and TOO MUCH WORK trying to act normal.

So I put on some clothes (with no makeup, and a messy bun in my hair… when was the last time I combed my hair?), drop off my kid, and go to Walgreens.  Walgreens carries Caramel M&Ms, my favorite, but they’re out.  And I stand there, in the candy aisle, trying to decide if I want to get another candy instead.  Some Milk Duds maybe, or Hershey Kisses, or a bag of miniatures.  But the CALORIES.  And do I want to gain weight or lose weight, because it’s always one or the other, and only one of them ever makes me feel better.  And I stand there and I stand there, and I agonize as if my life depends on this very decision.  It’s too hard.  Too much.  And then the tears are in my eyes before I can stop them.  Tears in the candy aisle.  But no one can see me beneath my cloak.

I slowly walk through the other aisles (sans candy), avoiding eye contact, looking but not seeing…. the makeup, the bandaids, the outdoor toys… until I get to the office supply aisle.  I pick up a new pen and a cute little leather-like journal, tiny enough to tuck in a purse.  I put them down.  I pick them up again. I don’t need a new journal or a new pen, and I know they won’t fix anything.  But they stand for … hope.  Hope for when I’ll enjoy them.  Hope for when I feel better.  I take them with me.

Before I leave, I decide to get a soda.  I’m not drinking coffee anymore, gave it up a week ago, and think a small jolt of caffeine will help somehow.  Some sort of elixir to my hurting soul.  I get a Diet Coke.  I haven’t drank Diet Coke in about 20 years.  The chemicals.  Today, I don’t care about chemicals.  Today I care about a memory of a different time, a time when Diet Coke was my drink, the thing that would get my newlywedded self through my late shifts at the mall.  I see they have a caffeine free Diet Coke, and I take that instead.  Maybe caffeine is a bad idea.  But I put it back.  And I take it again.  And then I put it back again.  And then I finally get the regular Diet Coke before I can repeat my candy aisle tears.  It says Stephanie on the bottle.

My total comes to $17 even, and on another day, in another time, in another place, I would have enjoyed that.  That almost never happens.  But today it’s just a number, taunting me on the little screen.  $17.00.  $17 isn’t enough to cure depression.  I pay the nice man at the register.  Might have even smiled.  Normal, normal.   See, I can do normal. 

“How we doing today?”  the friendly, if somewhat overly aggressive, voice greets me as I leave the store.  There’s a table, and some sort of donation jar, and flyers, and a multitude of other things I can’t deal with.

I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry.  But I don’t say it out loud.  I don’t look at her.  Can’t look at her.  Stare straight ahead through my tear-stained sunglasses.  I’m rude and I’m never rude.  But I can’t make myself do it.  Can’t make myself interact with another person.  I’m not invisible, and she sees me.  Sees me try to look at her and instantly turn away.  Sees me walk past her and walk to my car.  She says something to my back, but I can’t hear what it is.  Can’t hear it over the thumping of my own heart.

I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry.

I’m ready to fall apart, need to fall apart, but I’m not done yet.   I need to drop something off at UPS, and I need to get my kid at drum lessons.  The clock tells me that the rest of the lesson only takes a half an hour, but my head tells me it takes about five.  I sit in the little room, waiting, listening. I read a book, not seeing the words.  I look at my phone, scroll through Facebook, respond when spoken to.   I can do normal.

Home.  I just need to be home.  The thought beats a steady staccato in my frantic chest.  I can do this.  I just need to get home.

And then I’m home, as exhausted as if I’d just run a marathon.  Reality tells me I just dropped off a kid and ran a couple errands.  12 whole miles from home.

But I can’t breathe.

And everything hurts.

I know that alcohol will temporarily numb it (and seriously, WHAT THE HELL with all the Facebook memes that outright encourage moms to self-medicate with alcohol?), but I stopped drinking alcohol 13 months ago.

I know that Klonopin will temporarily numb it, and I have it – too much of it – in the cabinet with the rest of my meds.  But I don’t take that either.  Take it twice a day if needed, my prescriber tells me.  But if I take it more than every other day, I lose somehow.  Just like I lose if I buy the candy and the regular, non-diet Coke.  Today I choose to be a winner.  I choose to be a stubborn, miserable, winner, and I’m not sure I like what I’ve won.

I know that if I stopped to think about it, stopped to remember, that tools from my therapist would help too.  My therapist that I’ve seen for 13 whole months now – not that I’m counting – who’s simultaneously helped me and angered me more than anyone else in my whole life, ever.   I literally can’t even think about how much he’s helped me without tearing up.

But today, screw his tools.  Screw the sunshine and fresh air and exercise adages too.  Screw the “just think positively!” tripe.  Screw the “Have you tried this essential oil?” panaceas.

And you know what else?  Screw depression.

So I sit here, and I do the one thing, the only thing I can make myself do.  I write.  And I write and I write and I write until my heartbeat slows, and my breaths come more easily.

My soda is gone… I drank it too fast and it gave me a stomachache.  I find the stomachache oddly comforting.  It tells me I’m here.  Reminds me that I’m still alive.

My mind is fighting to answer the question of “why?”  Why depression after having done so well, for so long.  But I know the question is unhelpful and invalid. (That’s my therapist talking).

The “why” doesn’t matter.  It just …. It just IS.  And knowing that, truly accepting that, makes it just a tiny bit easier to carry.  It doesn’t make it better; doesn’t make it go away.  But it softens it, smooths out the edges, makes it more manageable to live with for one more day.  And that’s important, because tomorrow?  Tomorrow I’m going to get up – even if I’m crying while I do it – and I’m going to put one foot in front of the other, and I’m going to breathe in and out.  And as counter intuitive as it sounds, I’m going to try not to try so hard.  I mean yes, I’ll continue to try to get rest and exercise and all that good stuff.  And I’ll continue to do the personal work I need to do to get well.  And I’ll continue to take my meds.  And so help me, the next time I’m in a Walgreens I AM buying some candy.  But the mental gymnastics I do to try to figure it all out, the unrealistic pressure I put on myself to just hurry up and FIX IT ALREADY?

Never helped me.  Never will.

So instead I’ll focus on self care (That’s also my therapist.  Seriously, how my mind can simultaneously carry so much gratitude and so much annoyance at the same person at the same time is beyond me.)

I’ll trust that it won’t be forever.  I’ll trust that I’ll feel better.

I’ll trust that when I feel this bad again, I’ll find a way to stay home, and have the good sense to avoid drug stores completely.


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Filed under about me, anxiety, bipolar, depression, mental health

Why I’ll Always Be Grateful To Amy Bleuel

You may not know the name Amy Bleuel.

I didn’t either, until this week, although I was very well aware of her work.  Amy was the founder of Project Semicolon, a movement that provides hope for those who struggle with depression, suicide ideation or attempts, self-harm, and addiction.  Its symbol, which rapidly became a sign of hope and unity, is the semicolon …. a visual message that is at once simple and profound.  Your story isn’t over.

As the website explains:

“In literature, an author uses a semicolon to not end a sentence but to continue on. We see it as you are the author and your life is the sentence. You’re choosing to keep going.”

I first heard of Project Semicolon last year, when semicolons started popping up everywhere.  It’s hard to explain what it meant to me, this discovery at a time when I was at my lowest of lows, desperate for something – anything –  to make me feel less invisible;  to remind me that I wasn’t alone;  to remind me that yes, I really could put one foot in front of the other for just one more day.

I got my semicolon tattoo last August, three months after I’d begun treatment for bipolar.  Most people were getting them on their wrists at the time, but they were also showing up on ankles, and shoulders, and behind ears … incorporated into quotes and butterflies and sleeves … on feet and calves and backs…  Semicolons, semicolons everywhere.  People were outwardly identifying themselves to other mental health warriors, and the whole thing was beautiful and unifying and filled with hope.  I chose to put mine on that squishy part of the inner side of my wrist, the spot right at the base of where my thumb starts.  It was, and is, my most meaningful tattoo to date, and it is no exaggeration when I say that it reminds me daily (some days I need it more than others) to keep going.

And it all started with the vision of Amy Bleuel.

This past week, Amy died by suicide at the young age of 31, and even though I didn’t personally know her… even though I didn’t even know her name until it happened… the loss left me deeply and profoundly sad.

Her death hit the most tender spot of one of my biggest fears:  that no matter how strong, or how brave, or how involved in advocacy one may be… sometimes the illness just wins.  Sometimes people get tired, and can’t fight anymore.  I’m not going to lie:  That reality terrifies me.  It’s always there, in the back of my mind.  Sometimes it’s more buried than others, but it’s still present, just below the surface.  Amy Bleuel’s death reminded me of that fear in the most heartbreaking of ways.

It also scared me for what it could mean for those in the Project Semicolon community.  Those who’d looked up to Amy, and to her work, as a sign of encouragement and inspiration.

What I realized though was that her death that doesn’t in any way invalidate her message.  In fact, it makes her message even more important now than ever before.  It reminds us that life is precious, and at times so very tenuous.  We’re all human.  We’re all doing the best we can.  And just as Amy taught us: as long as we are here, our story isn’t over.  Even if we have to take it one day at a time, or sometimes, just one moment at a time…

We’re still here.

I’m still here.

You’re still here.

Our story isn’t over.

And though the illness took her physical body, Amy’s story isn’t over either.  She still lives on and gives hope through the tireless work that united us all.  She lives on in the countless semicolons that she inspired.  She lives on because she reminded us to fight.

Because of Amy Bleuel, because of her life and her death, I’ll now fight even harder.

So thank you, Amy… for the strength, for the inspiration, for the so very sorely needed message of hope.  May you find the peace that you weren’t able to find in the physical world, and rest knowing that the rest of us are carrying on … just as you would have wanted.

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Filed under depression, life

Real Ways To Help When Your Loved One Has Depression Or Anxiety – 46 People Weigh In

 

When I’m in the midst of a deep depression, or grappling with a bout of anxiety – both of which often come together – very few external things help me.  I never want someone to try to help me fix it (I have a therapist for that), and it’s extremely rare that I want to talk about it, if I even can talk about it (I have a therapist for that, too). More often than not, even the best of intentions and attempts to make me feel better only serve to make me feel worse.  I feel like it’s important to clarify that I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, and I don’t mean to lay blame.  I blame nothing other than ignorance, inexperience, and a stigma surrounding mental health that means it’s not talked about nearly as often, or as openly, as it should be.   How could anyone possibly know what to do – and what not to do – if no one’s ever told them?  The irony of course is that the times I need support the most are the times when I’m least able to articulate, or even identify for myself, what may or may not be helpful.  When I’m depressed, I’m not rational.  I’m never “with it.”  I’m not always nice.

Still, there *are* a few things that help, none more than simply being there.  Not trying to fix, not judging.  Just seeing me, and loving me, right where I’m at.  When I asked my readers to share their own experience on my Facebook page, the response was overwhelming in its solidarity.  People with depression and anxiety just want to know they are loved.  While that might look slightly different for everyone, the sentiment remains the same.  Far and away the most common response was some version of, “Just be there.  Just love me.”

A selection of those responses, plus several others, are what follow.  A few times the responses directly contradicted one another, which I loved (we’re humans, not robots).  I tried to group those together.    I added a bit of commentary a couple of times, but mostly let them stand on their own.

Listen – and really hear – what helps these brave individuals when they are struggling:

“Just listening and not trying to fix things.  I usually just need a sounding board, not answers.” ~ Kelsey S

Validation helps, not necessarily trying to find you a solution.” ~ Ladasha M

“When they reach out and just offer support or when they let me just “be” until I’m ready to talk.  It’s super helpful when they don’t try to “fix” things.  I think that helps me more than anything.  Just to know that they are there for me and don’t see me as broken and unuseful.”  ~ Laura L

“Letting me talk about it without offering an “answer.”” ~ Valerie S

“The most helpful thing is when a friend/loved one just sits next to me (literally or metaphorically) and says “I’m here”. No false promises that things will get better soon, no attempts to cheer me up, just sitting with me and letting me feel what I need to feel” ~ Chelsea S

“The most helpful for me is for my friends/family to just be there.” ~ Katie C

“”I’m here if you need me”. You have to truly mean it, because you might get a call in the middle of the night.”  ~ Alisha T

“Nothing they really say helps because when I am in deep, I can turn anything into a negative.  Just being there, never giving up on me, and loving me helps.” ~ Ashley A

“Just being listened to.  Having someone just witness my experience.  Believing my experience is real and not just “in my head.”  ~ Patty M

“”I’m here if you need to talk.”” ~ Jay T

“Giving me some space to just be with how I’m feeling, and letting me know they’re there when I’m ready to talk.”  ~ Jessica M

“Just simply saying they are here for me but also reminding me that I’m strong and brave.” ~ Kellie M

“Empathy:  ‘That sounds really hard.  Do you want to talk about it?'” ~  Catherine D

“It’s not anything said; it’s simply being near me. Even if the company is silent, having somebody sit with me and be willing to listen, watch a movie, or just exist for a moment makes me feel supported, more supported than any words.” ~ Reggie R

“I have anxiety and panic attacks so it’s very helpful if my family can remind me when I have a panic attack that I’m okay and that I only have to get through the next few minutes.  Asking why or what I’m upset about or trying to “fix” it does not help.  Also, being understanding when I need to leave the room to have a few minutes to breathe and let the anxiety wash over me.” ~ Ursula D

“Mostly just NOT saying, “What’s wrong?”  There doesn’t have to be anything wrong, and there usually isn’t.  Expecting me to be able to give some reason makes me feel guilty, like I have no business feeling awful when everything is going well in my life.” ~ Elizabeth S

“Being a compassionate, non-judgemental ear helps me a lot.  Being able to talk it out or cry it out works for me.”  ~ Michelle J

“Believing me.  No second guessing, no hedging.”  ~ Julia J

“The best thing ever was when I was having a bad day and I felt like I was causing so many problems for my husband. I was crying and promising him I would try harder to change. It was such a relief when he told me that I didn’t need to change, that I was fine just the way I was, and we just needed to find ways to cope. I had never felt so accepted and loved and it helped give me a solid base from which to blossom.” ~ Alicia R

A lot of people pointed to physical affection, along with physical presence:

“For me what is most helpful is when a friend is there for me letting me know they are there to listen.  When they make time to just come over and be present.  When they try to get me out of the house and out of my own head.  Another big one for me is a hug.  Hugs really help me.”  ~ Tamarah C

“Holding me tightly until the storm passes- that feeling of someone seeing you at your ugliest and not running away, not trying to make it better either.” ~ Crystal M

“It’s not so much what my loved ones say, it’s what they do (and don’t do). My partner gives me massages. He does my head, neck, back, shoulders, arms, and hands. Tension melts away. My family all knows the special treats I like, so they’ll bring me truffles or a bottle of sparkling cider or spicy hot V8 or chile rellenos from my favorite restaurant. Then they leave me alone. They don’t try to talk to me unless it’s essential. They know I’ll eventually be okay, and time alone to sleep or read or snuggle my cats helps immensely.” ~ Jenny R

“”Are you having a hard day?  Do you need a hug?””  ~ Naomi R

“Hugs. And not all hugs are created equal.   Also, encouraging me to take a break, because I get stuck in the “I need to finish this,” mindset and have trouble seeing the solution.”  ~ Rob T

“It depends on how close I am to the person.  With my house humans, I definitely like hugs, back rubs, and someone just sitting quietly with me.  Hugs from acquaintances… nope.  A sincere compliment from anyone goes a long way, though.”  ~ Joan C

For some of us, tangible, practical help with the necessities of life goes a long way:

“Cleaning or cooking. Taking over administrative household things would be a tremendous help.” ~ Renee M

“When someone notices I’m down or very anxious and instead of asking me what’s wrong they simply do something kind.  Another question to ask instead of “what’s wrong” is “What can I do for you?” Or “What do you need right now?”  I don’t really get asked these but wish I do more often as they are the most helpful words at the time.” ~ Rebecca B

“Taking something off my plate or doing something kind for me helps a lot.” ~ V Sue H

“What can I do to help out?  What can I take off your plate for you?  What would make you feel better that I could do for you.  Feeling overburdened (by my own rules and expectations, mostly) was a huge part of my depression and anxiety.” ~ Sue S

“When they ask me what they can do to help.  That’s the best help.  Instead of assuming what I need, it’s nice for them to ask.” ~ Stephanie J

“Dear Lord, not the open ended, “How can I help?”  That question is so overwhelming to me when I’m depressed.  “Can I do X for you?” is much more helpful.  Trust me, if an alternative is better, I’ll let you know.”  Mariellen M.  I could really relate to this, and it took me a long time to realize it.  I’d often just wonder what the heck is wrong with me.  (That’s something I wonder a lot, especially when I’m depressed.)  Here I have this well-meaning, loving friend who wants to help me, and the offer only makes me more frustrated.  It’s not because I don’t appreciate it, and it’s (usually) not that I don’t want help.  It’s that I DON’T KNOW what kind of help I need.  The question feels overwhelming and impossible to answer.  A specific offer would be much easier to respond to.  I still might decline it!, but it’s far more likely to help.

“I would say whatever they think would help me out, just do it.  When I’m overwhelmed by depression and anxiety, someone asking me a question is incredibly stressful.  But if they just go ahead and hug me, call me, clean something, etc, it’s definitely appreciated.” ~ Issa W

“Can I bring you a cup of soup or a Coke?  Or can I watch the kids for you for an hour or two?  Just these simple things remind me that I can get through the darkness and I am not alone.” ~ Jennifer E

“Would you like to have a cup of tea with me?”  It just helps to fill the empty hours more pleasantly.”  ~ Margaret B

“Basically treat me like I have stomach flu!  I’m sick at the moment, let me act like it, and treat me like it.  Tuck me in and bring me tea.  The show of understanding and love will give me the strength to rise up.” ~ Seana R

“Not trying to whisk me away to my bedroom for alone time, and then taking over all the household things with the family. That would be helpful. I like knowing I can be present and included even if I am depressed. I don’t need to be quarantined.”  ~ Shelly C

And sometimes, what we need is a little bit of gentle pressure from the right person:

“Want to take a walk?  No?  I’d like to take you for a walk.  I know it helps.”  ~ Heather Y

“”Have you taken a shower today?  Text me after you get out of the shower.”” ~ Roya D.  Self care, even something as seemingly simple as a shower, can be incredibly hard when you’re depressed.  Gentle encouragement from a trusted friend can go a long way.

“Make me food.  Offer to get me out of the house.  Gently ask if I’ve showered/eaten something/taken my medication/stepped outside.” ~ Idzie D

“My husband helps me by giving me alone time or encouraging me to go to yoga.  I often give up yoga when I’m overwhelmed, and it’s one of the things that helps me the most.  He also gently helps me get to bed, as sleep always helps.  He just kind of takes over and says, “Why don’t you get in bed and I”ll put the kids to bed.”  No judgement.” ~ Audrey B

One of the biggest reasons that I continue to write about this is that it has helped me SO MUCH to hear from others who get it.  Commiseration from someone who’s been there is a powerful thing, and I’m not alone in that belief:

“When I went through a four-year struggle with depression and anxiety, what helped me the most was 1) knowing other people had been there.  I loved it when people were willing to share their experiences. 2) Learning to seize the day.  That is, I had to learn to live life to the fullest.  I had to learn to do things I enjoy.” ~ Kandy C

“Personally, hearing someone say, “I’ve struggled with that too” has helped me the most. That hardly EVER comes from my spouse or family.  It has to come from someone outside my current situation like a close friend.”  ~ Mandi P

Depression is an incredibly isolating illness.  It’s about us, and no one else, so it’s important not to take it personally.  Here are just a couple of examples:

“Not take it personally and keep getting angry because I won’t say what exactly is wrong.  Most of the time I don’t even know what’s wrong, but everyone is so quick to think I’m upset with them” ~ Kelly J

“Don’t take it personally when I cancel plans to go out at the last minute”. ~ Jenica M

One of the things that helped me a lot when I first started talking about this was simple honesty.

“”I don’t even know what to say right now, I’m just glad you told me.”” ~ Jessika B

And finally, when all else fails, there is this:

“Saying that no matter what, you love me.” ~ Rebecca R

46 different people in different places, with different struggles, and different stories.  But one common plea that unites us all:

Just be there.

Hear us.

See us.

Love us.

xo

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10 Things I Wish People Knew About Bipolar

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It’s been nearly seven months since I first walked into the behavioral health clinic and basically said, “I need help.”  I wasn’t surprised to hear the words, bipolar disorder, that day (I knew.  You can read my story from the beginning here), but I was surprised by much of what followed.  Treatment has been both harder – so, so much harder – and more rewarding than I thought.  I’ve found unexpected encouragement from some people in my life, and unexpected absence from others.    I’ve found a lot of support and information… and even more misunderstanding and judgment.

Ever since that day, I’ve been devouring every related article, website, and social media account that I could get my hands on.  The relief of knowing that someone else gets it, and the feeling of validation and comfort that comes with, “Oh my gosh, this is describing ME!” is immeasurable.  At the same time, there is so much information out there, much of it repetitive and/or of dubious quality, that it’s hard to know where to begin if you’re a loved one wanting to understand.

Here then are ten of the top things I want people to know, and misconceptions I’d like to dispel.  It’s by no means an exhaustive list, but merely a place to start.

1. It doesn’t look the way it looks in the movies.

A quick Google search will yield you a nice little list of a handful of movies with characters with bipolar (or characters with unnamed mental health issues that present a lot like bipolar.)  I think I’ve watched them all.  And while some are of course better and more accurate than others, in general they’re full of stereotypes, and/or appear as if someone was just going down a checklist of symptoms, trying to hit them all.  Also, what movies tend to portray the most is unmanaged bipolar, not the day-in, day-out, un-sexy business of taking meds, going to therapy, and making a concerted effort to get enough sleep.  Movies are meant to entertain and shock and awe, so it only stands that they’re going to emphasize the wildest and the craziest extremes.  It’s important to remember though that the face of bipolar may also be the guy minding his own business next to you on the train.  Your doctor.  Your neighbor. Your mild-mannered mail man.   It won’t sell movie tickets, but it’s also me… cross-legged on my couch in my furry pajama pants, drinking tea, and watching the Cardinals lose (again.)

2. It is different for every person.

Like any illness, mental or otherwise, bipolar is not one-size-fits-all, and can manifest itself in many different ways.  Just because your brother is prone to violent and angry outbursts when manic, it doesn’t mean that that same symptom applies to every other person with bipolar.  Yes, there are common symptoms used for diagnosis (more on that in later points), but the intricacies and variations are infinite.  It is both unfair and inaccurate to presume to know exactly how bipolar presents for any one individual, unless you are intimately involved in the day-to-day life of said individual.  Even then, so much of bipolar is intrinsically wrapped up in a person’s inner psyche, and not something you can see anyway.  Don’t assume.

3. Depression doesn’t necessarily mean not leaving your bed all day.

Depression, the first half of a bipolar diagnosis, is often portrayed (again, think of the movies) as a person who is nearly catatonic.  Unable to leave bed, unable to eat, unable to really do anything but exist in a haze of sleep and crying jags.  And yes, absolutely, this version of depression is very real.  But equally concerning, and equally real, is something called “functional depression.”  I am intimately familiar with this form of depression, as it’s the type of depression in which I most often find myself.  With functional depression, the person is able to go through the motions, albeit in a fashion that is greatly hindered.   Depending on how brave of a face this person can muster, you may not even know anything is wrong.  People who are functionally depressed may still go to work, take their kids to dance class, and show up at church every Sunday.  Outwardly, they may be doing everything they need to do, while inwardly they are completely withdrawn, immobilized, disconnected, despondent.  They might have lost all pleasure, and all interest, in life.  Last spring, just before I’d bottomed out and finally decided to seek help, I was in the middle of taking my daughter to lengthy dress rehearsals several times a week for a theater production she was a part of.  I was contemplating suicide, and no one had any idea.  Even now, seven months later, seeing that sentence terrifies me.

4. Mania doesn’t necessarily mean wild flights of out-of-control fancy.

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There’s a scene in the movie Mr Jones where Richard Gere’s character dances on a 2×4 (sans harness), high above the ground, in the midst of an manic episode.  I think this is the sort of thing that people think of most often when they think of mania (the second major piece of a bipolar diagnosis):  extreme, dangerous, and devil-may care.  And it happens, to be sure.  People experience euphoria.  They may have hallucinations.  They may become sexually promiscuous.  They may engage in any number of risky behaviors.  A lot of times someone’s manic episode will be the thing that lands them in the ER for the first time, leading to a proper diagnosis.  But mania doesn’t always equal danger.  It doesn’t have to mean amazing and exciting.  It doesn’t have to mean wild and out of control.  For me (and for a lot of people) it’s somewhere in between all of the above.  It’s staying up all night to write, or create, or plan, because sleep suddenly isn’t really needed.  It’s feeling like you can be anything, or do anything, or experience anything.  It’s feeling that the world is at your fingertips.  It’s bursting with great ideas and big plans, and spending lots – and lots – of money to make them happen.  It’s talking too fast, because you’re just too excited, and your mouth won’t keep up.  It’s motivation; motivation to do more projects than most people do in a decade.  It’s a whirling and swirling and unending rush of adrenaline.  It’s crying every time you go for a walk because the trees and the sky and the cracks in the sidewalk are just so. damn. beautiful.  So is it a good feeling then, some might ask?  I’ll be honest:  it does sometimes feel like a positive in that it does bring euphoria.  It does bring such a rush of ideas.  It does bring so much creative energy.  The problem is that along with that creative energy comes restlessness, and racing thoughts, and a feeling of wanting to crawl out of your own skin.  And through it all, no matter how good it may feel in the moment, it’s all happening with the knowledge that the crash is coming.  Like a tidal wave it’s coming, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.

5. It’s not just about depression and mania.

Depression and mania of course get the most air time, but the symptoms don’t end there.  There are actually a lot of different symptoms, many often occurring at the same time.  There is something called a “mixed episode”, which as the name implies means that elation and depression are present at the same time.  There’s the propensity for addiction.  All or nothing thinking.  Irritability.  Impulsiveness.  Sleep disturbances. Memory issues. Racing thoughts.  Agitation.  Sexual symptoms.  Anxiety (this is currently the most debilitating piece for me, particularly in the “bridge” phase between depression and mania).  There is lack of – or too much – energy.  There’s fatigue, both mental and physical.  There’s physical pain.    Symptoms can last for weeks or months at a time, or they can be rapid cycling, meaning that you’re never quite sure what may be coming when.

6. It is more than just “ups and downs.”

“We all have ups and downs.  Why would you feel the need to label it as bipolar?”  Well first, I didn’t label it bipolar, medical professionals labeled it bipolar.  Second, yes, absolutely… we all have ups and downs.  When I’m doing really really well, I have ups and downs.  Bipolar is a very different thing than “ups and downs” though.  It is completely, 100% normal to have ups and downs.   It is NOT normal to have “downs” so low that you no longer see the point in living, and to have “ups” so high that you no longer feel the need to sleep, or to make prudent decisions.  When I first heard this comment, several months ago, I felt frustrated and insulted.  Today I recognize that it just comes from genuine ignorance, and I feel happy (really) for this woman who does not have to experience the actual and extreme “ups and downs” that bipolar brings.

7. In order to be managed, it first requires treatment.

Bipolar treatment may include any combination of:  medication, natural therapies, lifestyle changes, psychotherapy, etc.  I carry no shame in saying that my treatment currently includes medication (a cocktail of three different meds at the time of this writing), though many people certainly try to shame me.  Some comments are overt, and others are more subtle about it, but the judgment is still there.  I won’t defend or excuse my own choices, but I will simply say that for me, I have absolutely zero doubts about the path that I’m on.  I tried all the supplements, the herbs, the oils, changing my diet, getting enough exercise… and for me, it wasn’t enough.   Taking the right medications at the right time quite literally saved my life.  As did therapy – which I fought tooth and freaking nail at the beginning, but that ended up becoming one of the most important things I’ve ever done.  Without appropriate treatment – no matter what that treatment ends up looking like –  people tend to either self-medicate (with things like alcohol, drugs, compulsive behaviors) OR they continue to cycle through the elation and the depression, going through lengthy periods of dysfunction.  I have done both, and I recommend neither.  Bipolar doesn’t go away on its own.  It doesn’t go away by force of sheer will power.  It doesn’t go away by talking about it with a friend, no matter how understanding that friend might be.  One of the most insensitive things someone said to me in the early days of diagnosis came in response to my confiding in her that I’d had to admit to the psych doctor that I’d been suicidal.  “But didn’t the feeling go away once you said it out loud?”, she asked me.  It doesn’t really work like that.  Saying things out loud was what served as my impetus for getting help,  but it for sure didn’t help in and of itself.  Admitting you need help is hard.  Doing the actual work needed to help yourself is even harder.  If your friend/family member/loved one is seeking professional help, support them.  Support them like crazy.

8. Managing bipolar is a full-time job.

There’s no “cure” for bipolar.  It can be managed, but it doesn’t go away.  Dealing with bipolar is a lifelong, 24 hours-a-day job.   There are good days and bad days, good weeks and bad weeks.  At the time of this writing, I’ve been in a dip for the past couple of weeks, and am trying to give myself lots of gentleness and grace as I work my way through it.  Medication helps.  Therapy helps.  But they’re just the beginning.  The day-to-day management, the will-I or won’t-I make the commitment to stay as well as possible is all on me.  And it’s hard.  And it’s tiring.  And it would be SO EASY to let myself slide back into the safety of the darkness of depression, or into the numbness of a strong Captain and Coke (or five).  I know I can’t skimp on sleep.  I know I need to regularly take my meds and my supplements.  I know I can’t skip appointments. I know I need to keep up with exercise and eating right and doing all the effing hard inner work that I complain to my therapist about every week.  And sometimes  a lot of the time, it pisses me off that it’s all so much work right now, but I do it.  Because I owe it to my kids.  I owe it to my husband.  I owe it to MYSELF.

9. You don’t understand it… unless you do.

I think a lot of the time we so badly want to be supportive that we say things with the best of intentions that just aren’t truthful.  Or helpful.  Or kind.  At the top of this list is “I understand.”  Please, please don’t say this if you don’t in fact have personal experience.  Having a bad fight with your husband or going through a funk because you can’t lose those last 10 pounds sucks, and I’m really sorry you’re experiencing that.  Truly.  But it’s not the same thing as living with a mental illness.  It’s just not.  Like so many other things, you can’t understand it unless you live it.  I’m living it myself, and I’m still figuring it all out.  Being supportive doesn’t need to (and shouldn’t) include words like, “I know how you feel.”  To this day, the best thing anyone’s said to me about it all was this:  “That sounds really hard.  I’ll be thinking of you and sending you love while you work through this.”

10. It doesn’t define who a person is.

It always makes me cringe a little every time I hear the word bipolar used as a major descriptor.  Especially since it’s so often used in a negative way.  Ie:  “My bipolar brother just went to jail again.”  “My stepfather is such a jerk.  He’s bipolar.”  People with bipolar can go to jail, sure.  And yup, they can also be jerks.  But so can anyone else.  Having bipolar doesn’t need to be a negative, nor does it excuse negative behavior.  It is one piece of a very big, very complicated, very intricate whole.  I’m not a “bipolar person.”  I’m still ME.  I’m creative and dorky and love my pets more than I love most people.  I like coffee and movies and office supplies.  I love the smell of the desert when it rains, and laughing till I cry around the dinner table, and getting new tattoos.  I get excited when there’s a new episode of my favorite TV show.  I’m me.  I’m you.  I’m all of us.  A unique, imperfect, multi-faceted human.  Not a diagnosis.

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Bipolar (and mental illness in general) still very much comes with a stigma, largely due to misunderstanding and/or fear.  It’s why I continue to talk about it, and write about it, despite the people who tell me not to, or are uncomfortable with hearing about it.    I’m here to ask you to get comfortable with your discomfort.  It’s not just that I think it’s okay to talk about it… I think that we need to talk about it.  So many people are afraid to mention it, afraid to ask questions.  But I’ll tell you what: when I know that you know, and the topic is deliberately avoided?  It is so much more awkward than even the most awkward of questions.  It’s an illness, not an elephant.

I have learned so much in the past seven months.  So, so much.  Bipolar has forced me to learn, and to grow, and to do all those hard and adult things that productive people are supposed to do.  Calling it a blessing doesn’t seem quite right, but there is a greater good to be found, and I think that’s okay.

But some days?  Some days it just really, really sucks.  And I think that’s okay too.

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Broken: How Therapy’s Destroying Me

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I recently whined to a good friend about having to go to therapy.  It was the morning of my appointment, and I wanted – with every little fiber of my being – to stay home.  “I know it’s hard,” she said.  “But don’t you feel better afterwards?”

“No,”  I told her.  “Most of the time, I feel worse.”

Having no basis for comparison, I have no idea if it’s it normal or not, but I dread it.  I do.  I sort of leave one appointment, and immediately start stressing out about the following one.

And I mean, there are positives.  I like my therapist… he is warm and good at what he does.  There are those rare times I leave feeling good, having made some big breakthrough or something.   Sometimes I gain a deeper appreciation of the absurdity of it all.   Sometimes we laugh.  Sometimes I leave with a helpful new tool for dealing with worry or anxiety or any of the other perks that come with being me.  Sometimes I go home having learned something really huge about myself, or about life, or about how the mind works.

But… yeah, it’s still pretty much breaking me.  And even on the good days, it’s all just so MUCH.  So exhausting.  So emotionally and mentally draining.

The other day, I realized something (In the shower, because that’s where I do my best thinking.  I also tend to do a lot of thinking in my car, but there are so many things to distract me when I’m driving.  There’s not much to distract me in the shower, unless I’m running out of conditioner, and have to keep reminding myself for the rest of my shower – conditioner, conditioner, conditioner – so I won’t forget to write it on the shopping list when I get out.)  I realized that my brokenness, my feeling raw and ripped open and vulnerable, no matter how unpleasant it is, serves a real purpose.  It’s a precursor – a necessary precursor – to healing.  Sort of like how doctors sometimes have to re-break a bone in order to set it so that it can heal correctly.  I’m the broken bone.

And I hate it.  I hate everything about it.  I hate uncovering more broken bits that need attention.  I hate talking about myself.  I hate worrying that I’m being too ______  (fill in the blank).  Too annoying, too crazy, too whiny, too narcissistic.  I console myself with the fact that maybe to a therapist it’s like I was when I was teaching yoga.  All the new people worry that they’re not flexible enough, or that they’re doing the poses wrong, or that they’re being judged.  And I – and every other teacher I’ve ever known – think they’re rock stars just for showing up.  Every single one.  Every single time.  It would make me feel a lot better if I could think of myself as a rock star, just for showing up.

But I’m not a rock star.  I’m a human.  A human who’s working and fighting but raw and bruised and bloody from the battle.  A human who’s broken.  And sweet baby Jesus, I didn’t think I could get more broken than I was when I first walked into his office three months ago.  I was wrong.

It’s a weird thing, therapy.  Did you ever think about it?  It’s just an odd, odd thing.  Baring the most shameful, embarrassing, painful parts of your psyche to … a stranger?  And there’s a professional rapport there I guess, and a certain amount of trust, but … you know NOTHING about this person.  And for all the sharing you do, for all the emotional gut-wrenching stripping, you might as well be completely naked.  Now that I think about it, because I’ve really never looked at it in that way before, I’m pretty sure that I’d find being physically naked preferable.  I’m not even kidding.

So this is me, naked.  Barenaked (anyone remember that song by Jennifer Love Hewitt in the early 2000’s??).  I’ll be okay.  I will.  I WILL.  But right now, I’m not too okay.  I’m naked and afraid and vulnerable and would legitimately be contemplating drinking right now – at nine in the morning – if I hadn’t given up drinking, one of my favorite things, in my quest to face my issues and finally be well.

This is hard you guys.

A dear friend recently, and aptly, described it like this:

It’s like cleaning my damn house

Every time I think “surely I’m almost there”

Some new closet of junk appears

The closets are killing me.  So very many closets.

I know my online presence has been a little scarce lately, but I’m still here.  Still plugging.  Still learning.  Still broken. And naked and…. in a closet, apparently?  (Sorry, way too many metaphors for one blog post.)  But I’m here.  And after all the hard work and time and tears I’ve invested in myself over the last three months, I feel confident in saying that I’ve no plans to go anywhere.


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Bipolar Is A Football Game

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It’s been nearly three months since I began treatment for Bipolar Disorder.  Three months.  Which is …. a long time and also no time at all.  Most people, even those who were remarkably supportive in the beginning, have pretty much gone silent in my life by now.   And it’s not that I blame them.  I don’t.  I think that a general lack of understanding just makes them believe that I’d be “better” by now.  That I’d take a couple pills, go to a few therapy sessions, and voila.  All cured.  Or maybe it’s not that at all, and it’s the fact that life just goes on.  We’re all busy, we’re all involved in our own stuff.   We all have our own problems.  Truth be told, I think I’m a little jealous of those who’ve essentially stopped talking to me.  I wish that I could live in the oblivion, if even temporarily, of not having to think about it.  But I don’t get to take a break.  Bipolar is a cheap polyester Christmas sweater, permanently woven into every fiber of my being.

But I’m still here, still working this all out, still finding my way through a mysterious world that is revealing more and more to me as I go.

About a week ago, I started getting sick.  And then I got really sick… with something I’m pretty sure is the plague.  Or at the very least, dysentery.  So, so sick.  Sickness of any sort, of any duration, tends to throw me completely off my game.  My mind immediately bends toward what my therapist calls, “Catastrophic thinking.”  I’ll never feel well again.  I’ll never catch up on the housework.  I’ll never be able to do anything fun again.  I’ll lose all the momentum I’ve gained with exercise.

This time though, the thing that most plagued me was the fact that I missed a concert (and meet & greet) that I was, so, SO looking forward.  The concert was A Great Big World and Matt Nathanson, two of my absolute all time favorites, but the part that I was looking forward to the  most was meeting Chad and Ian from GBW, so that I could see them in person, and put a face with my “won’t stop running” story.  (If you’re wondering what the heck that means, skim this post) I was looking forward to it so, so much.  So much.  The day of the concert, I woke up nauseous and light-headed, as I had for the last week.  I prayed I’d rally though, and for a little while I did.  I took a shower, got dressed, put on some makeup, started doing my hair…. and just the act of being up and about made me feel sicker and sicker as I went.  In hindsight, I could have made it through the concert – probably – and just felt 0ff while I was there.  But in the end, I couldn’t in good conscience risk having to leave early and ruining it for Tegan, (who’s eight at the time of this writing, rivals me as their biggest fan, and was looking forward to it every bit as much as I was)  So I stayed home, sent her off on a Daddy/daughter date, and nursed both my sickness and my bitter disappointment, curled up in a ball on the couch.

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Do you see how freaking HAPPY she is?? I couldn’t forgive myself if I was the cause of her missing this. I’m so thrilled she got to meet them. And hearing her and Mike’s story of what they were like in person…. I just love them. I’ve never met them, but I love them.

The next day, Sunday, saw me sliding, or SLAMMING as the case may be, into a deep depression.  The combination of being sick for a week; the forced and abrupt halt of the momentum I’d gathered with exercise, sleeping right, and faithfully taking my supplements; the house arrest; me being me; and the final nail of missing the concert just smashed me right into a Very Bad Place.    I knew I was feeling better physically – not good by any stretch, but better – while mentally I was withering.  Seeing this, Mike (mostly gently) made me get up, get out and go to the store with him.  After that he (again, mostly gently) convinced me to go the arena football game with him and the kids.   He would tell me later that what he was seeing in me scared him, and he didn’t want me to be alone.  Which scared me too.   Ordinarily I love Rattlers games, and look forward to going every week…. but yesterday, I didn’t want to be there.  Didn’t want to be here.  Didn’t want to be anywhere.  But I made myself do it, and I put on my blinged-out Rattlers shirt and my Mardi Gras beads, took a bunch of ibuprofen for my headache, and steeled myself for the trip.

Now, a lot of people compare bipolar to a roller coaster.  And I mean, sure, it’s an apt enough (if grossly overused) description.  Ups, downs, twists, turns.  Blah, blah, blah, blah.

Last night I realized that what it really is is a football game, one that starts before you even get there.

We usually take the light rail when we’re going to any sort of sporting event downtown.  I hate the light rail.  It’s crowded, it smells funny, and it always makes me nauseous.  Which is apropos in its own right, but it’s not the way we traveled last night.  Last night we drove in and parked in the parking garage.

And that’s where I first realized it, the moment I stepped out of the car.

The parking garage is the depression.  It’s dark and spooky.  It’s the depths of hell, or at the very least, it’s Satan’s armpit.  It’s hot.  It’s steamy.  Like the light rail, it too smells funny.   But not ha-ha funny.  More like car exhaust and Mexican food farts and death.  It’s dirty, but not regular dirty.  There are stains on the floors (and the walls and in the corners and on all of civilization that managed to survive) that make you wonder if someone was recently murdered.  The stairwell seemingly takes you up and up and up, but its oppression is so heavy, so stifling, that it makes you doubt if you’re ever going to see the light of day again.

Then suddenly you’re out, and there’s the burst of sun, so strong it takes your eyes a minute to adjust. You’re in the real world.  Those are the days in between the mania and depression, the days when you get a feeling for what it must be like to be a “normal” person.  They’re not particularly exciting, but they’re not particularly depressing either.  You exist in a state of sort of homeostasis.  A state of just being for a few minutes.  It’s a nice place to visit, but it’s a very short walk to the stadium.  Those days of normal are short lived.  Soon you’re at your destination.

The stadium is the mania.  There is just So. Much. Going. On.  Your senses are all heightened, by sixty jillion percent.  There are the people, and the sounds, and the smells, and the relentlessly constantly whirling, swirling energy.  It’s exciting.  It’s exhilarating.  Unfortunately, what starts off as exciting and exhilarating eventually descends into overwhelming and scary.  You look for a corner to hide in, but no such corner exists.  The only option – if you can really call it that, since you have no other options – is to keep walking, right through the fray.

The food is the mania and the depression. Sometimes, those over priced, fast food, ball park chicken tenders are the most juicy, succulent morsels of food you could ever put in your mouth, better than any meal you’d choose to order at a 5 star restaurant.  Other times, those very same chicken tenders taste like fried moist cardboard, sit like a rock in your stomach, and make you spend the rest of the game praying you’re not going to suddenly and violently have to vomit and have diarrhea.

I never know which one I’m going to get.

Your family and friends sitting beside you, they’re (and I kind of hesitate to say this, because I feel like it minimizes the huge role they actually play), but they’re the mood stabilizers.  They’re the right diet.  They’re regular exercise.  They’re 8 hours of sleep.  In other words, they don’t cure you.  They don’t make the ups and downs go away.  But they soften them.  They make them less intense.  They smooth out the edges.  They remind you to breathe when you’re anxious.  They hold your hand when you’re scared.  They give you light on the journey, and they make you laugh along the way.  Your friends and your family are the safe spot in the middle of the chaos around you.

The game itself is the actual work of reaching, and maintaining, wellness.  It’s the therapy.  It’s the day-to-day changes you make to control your illness instead of letting it control you.  Of course you’re not actually watching the game… you’re playing, in every position.  Sometimes you’re the quarter back, calling the plays.  Sometimes you’re a receiver.  Sometimes you’re on defense.   And you’ve got a whole team of people ready to back you up.  There’s a defined set of plays, but you have to be able to read what’s going on, and adjust and tweak as you go.  You have to stay flexible, and think on your feet.  (And just as a football game often – usually, always – veers off from its best laid plans, so do medication, therapy, and all other aspects related to treatment.  You have to roll with it)  Sometimes the game is exciting.  It’s not just the touchdowns, but it’s the little moments – that are really big moments – along the way.  The thrill of an interception.  A sacked quarterback.  A recovered fumble.

Sometimes it’s frustrating.  The missed PAT.   The tackles and fumbles and penalties…  sometimes a lot of penalties.    Sometimes there are fist fights (although if you’ve got good, classy teammates, they gently pull you away from the fight, use their bodies to block you from the heat, and make sure everyone stays safe).  Sometimes there are injuries.   Sometimes you need to call a time out.   Sometimes the game makes you sublimely happy, but half the time it just pisses you right the heck off.   Sometimes you’re down by 4 touchdowns, and you’re really discouraged and demoralized.  You can hear the taunts from the crowd.

But wait.

Sometimes there are cheers from the crowd too.  Sometimes the stadium is just FILLED with cheers.  Sometimes there’s an opening, and you manage to perfectly execute a really long pass, resulting in an epically beautiful touchdown.  It’s those kind of plays that make the entire game worth it.

Win or lose, it is all So.  Much. Work.  At the end of the game you are spent, you are sweaty, and you are exhausted.  But no matter the final score, you learned something.  You gained something.  You got better, and stronger, and more experienced. You took another step toward the Arena Bowl.

As for me, personally?  I’m still in the first quarter.  I have a lot of work ahead of me.  I’m continually trying to find that balance of giving 100% without burning myself out before I even get to half-time.

And then, it’s over.  That brief visit to the land of normalcy, then you’re once again in the pits of hell.  AKA the parking garage.  AKA depression.

Lather.

Rinse.

Repeat.

On an endless loop, every day, forever.

And the thing is, just like me on Sunday night, you don’t necessarily choose to go the football game.  But since you have to be there, you learn not to just make the most of it, but to embrace it.   You learn to squeeze every bit of enjoyment out of every little moment that you can.  You learn to appreciate the color and the joy and beauty that exist both in the middle of the game, and in the stillness between the plays.

You learn to grab that football game by its balls (see what I did there?), you hold on for all you’re worth, and you tell your teammates, and you tell the crowd, and you tell the WORLD:

“My game.  My rules.  And dammit, I’m gonna play to win.”


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And Then My Husband Made a Joke – Part Six

bipolarJune 2, 2016

Yay, you made it to the end!  If you’re confused by that, and you’re coming here for the first time, you might want to go back to the beginning.

I started writing these last several posts for two reasons (and I realize that it would have made much more sense to mention this at the beginning of the story, instead of the end.  But I’m doing it at the end.  Let’s just make peace with it.)

I started writing them for two reasons:

To process.  This part was entirely selfish (a healthy kind of selfish, I believe).  I was dealing with a lot of new information, thoughts, and feelings, and once enough time had passed that those thoughts and feelings starting cohering themselves into words, I needed to start putting them down and getting them out of my head so I could move through them, and

To connect with others.  A lot of people don’t understand the need/desire to open up about stuff like this.   There’s a definite segment of society with an attitude of “We’ve all got issues, so what?  Doesn’t mean you need to blab about them all over the internet.”  Or “Why would you want to share something so private?”  Or “Why do you think anyone would care about your problems?” And this is why:  First, I think it’s important to stand up and say – again and again – that there is no shame in mental illness, and no shame in seeking help.  Second, no one wants to feel alone, especially when they are struggling.  When all of this peaked for me, it helped me in ways I can’t even express to see others telling their stories, being open with their struggles, and giving hope about recovery.  Hope!!  And so, whether this is shared with 10 people or 10,000, if ONE is helped in some way, if ONE feels a little less alone, if ONE finds a new sense of solidarity, if ONE feels a little more hope…. it’s worth the vulnerability it took to share it.

Having said all that, I have no intentions of turning this into a mental health blog (and the people cried, “Amen!”)  I don’t want to start writing about bipolar all the time, and I don’t think anyone wants to read that.  I know I’ll write about it from time to time as it’s part of my life, but …. I want to get back to talking about parenting, and unschooling, and the current mess state of American Christianity, and current events, and all the other things that tick people off on a daily basis.

This was just something I had to write about until I felt done.  And as of last night, for now, I feel done.

Because last night, my husband made a joke.  Aimed at me.  And bipolar.  I feel like I shouldn’t actually repeat the joke, out of respect for the people who are raw and sensitive (and/or who don’t use wildly inappropriate humor as a coping mechanism like we do in my family), but to set the scene:  we were all eating dinner, talking about what we perceived must be the pros and cons of long term RV travel as a family.  I said something about nobody wanting to be in that close proximity with me for too long because I’m crazy, he made his joke…. and there was Dead. Silence.

It was only a fraction of a second, but I felt it.  I felt the silence, I felt all four kids look at me, and I felt the unspoken question of, “Wait, is this okay to joke about???”

And then I laughed, because it was funny. And then the kids laughed.

And then we all breathed.

*UPDATE*

It’s now been two weeks since I wrote this last installment (and over 5 weeks since I started treatment), and I didn’t feel right posting it without giving one final little update on where I am today.  The problem is that I don’t really know how to explain where I am today.  I’m…. working on it.  I’m making strides.  I’m celebrating small victories.  I’m taking my medication faithfully, and building routines, and getting exercise and forcing myself to go to therapy even when I don’t feel like it.  

Therapy by the way, is very different than I thought it’d be.  I thought I’d hate it, and it turns out that I DO sort of hate it, just for different reasons than I anticipated.  I like my therapist.  He is kind and knowledgeable and really good at what he does.  But therapy is REALLY FREAKING HARD.  Facing your issues and figuring out your shit when you’ve had the lies of bipolar yelling in your ear for 20 years is excruciatingly painful (especially when you’ve taken looking for answers in the bottom of a bottle of Captain Morgan off the table).  Like, one of the most painful things I’ve ever done kind of painful.  I told my therapist last week that for every issue I’m learning to manage, I unveil another 50 issues that I’ve been avoiding.  A veritable Pandora’s Box of dysfunction.  But I’m doing it.  And I’m learning.  And I’m taking baby steps.  I have some tools now, rudimentary though they may be, and I’m adding to them every week. 

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I had a rough couple of days earlier this week, the worst I’ve had since I started treatment.  I panicked.  I braced myself for the downward slide.  And I did slide.  But I didn’t slide all the way.  Instead I stopped, and I looked around and I clawed my way back up.  Today is Friday, and today I’m smiling.  And I’ll tell you what.  Depression that lasts for three days is a hell of a long way from depression that lasts for six months.  I will take it.  I will celebrate the heck out of it.  I have no doubt that there’ll be more bad days, but I also have hope that I’ll be increasingly equipped to handle them when they come.  Good days are out there somewhere, too.  And they’re so, so close.

I’ll be okay.  We’ll be okay.

Thank you, for reading, and for being so awesome.

xo

 


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Kind Words That Really Helped – Part Five

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If you missed them:  Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four

June 1, 2016

In case anyone ever opens up to you about a mental illness (and please believe me when I say that it takes an ENORMOUS amount of trust in you to do so), here are some of the perfect, and encouraging, and loving responses that my friends gave me when I told them.  Some knew that I’d been struggling, and for others it was completely out of the blue.

“That sounds really, really hard.  Please let me know how I can best support you.”

“I am holding you in my heart.”

“I am happy you were able to get help.  Take it one day at a time.  I’m here if you ever need to talk.”

“I am so glad that you have something to work with.  Onward and upward toward sunshinier days.  This is the start of a brand new chapter for you.”

“Thank you for trusting me to tell me.”

“I’ll be thinking of you.  Please keep me posted.”

“I’m so sorry that you’ve been having such a hard time, and I’m really glad that you were able to seek out help.  I’m so proud of you for taking care of yourself.”

“Oh my goodness, that is a lot.  A blessing to know what you’re dealing with, and to be able to start treating it.  I’m here for you if you ever want to talk.”

“I love you.”

*I could add to this list greatly from all the kind and wonderful messages I’ve gotten since I published my first post about this, but I won’t.  These were the earliest ones, so I want them to stand.  The only thing I’ll add came from just one single person, and I thought it was the greatest thing ever.  She’d written me a very sweet message of encouragement, let me know she was thinking of me, and closed it with “No response needed.”  I responded anyway, but it was so appreciated, and was a very, very cool way to take the pressure off at a time when responding to emails, even kind and wonderful ones, took a lot.*

My personal favorite came from my 8 year old daughter (who is mature beyond her years, and has one of the biggest hearts of anyone I know)  Being the youngest, her level of understanding isn’t quite that of the boys, both because of her age, and because I’m of course a little more selective about what is shared in her presence.  But there’s only so much you can shield.  She walked in on me crying one day, and set about making me this:

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“Everything is going to be okay. Even if things don’t feel okay right now, I promise that everything is going to be okay.”

My heart.

———————————————————————————————————————

It’s tempting to close with a list of well-meaning things that absolutely did NOT help (that list is longer) but to just touch on the biggest and most frequent categories of offenders:  Please don’t try to diagnose, treat, or fix.  Don’t minimize what is a serious issue with things like, “Cheer up,” or “You just need a glass of wine, a long walk, a good cry.”  Etc.  And DO NOT say you understand if you haven’t been through it yourself.  If all else fails, trust that your friend is doing what he/she needs to get well  – whatever that path may be –  leave the questioning/counseling/advising/treating to their professionals, and just see them, hear them …. and be there.

(Continue to Part Six)

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Music As Therapy, And My New Friends Chad & Ian – Part Four

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(If you’re coming in late, you might want to read parts one, two, and three first.  Unless you like to start in the middle.  I won’t judge.)

May 31, 2016

Music has played an integral part of my life since I was a little girl.  Whether I was down, or up, or somewhere in between, music moved me.  It inspired me.  It encouraged me.  No matter what I felt, music was there to bring it to the next level.   It brought me joy when I was happy.  It gave me bravery when I was scared.  It comforted me when I was sad.

And if I didn’t want to be comforted, and instead just needed to wallow?  Music was good for that too.

And now, at 42, it still does all of the above.  Whenever I connect with a band or a song or an album I devour it … listening over and over and over until I’ve had my fill.  I crave music.  My soul needs music, the way a man in the desert needs water.  Music is like breathing.  It keeps me alive.  So it should come as no surprise that music has been hugely instrumental  (ha, see what I did there?) in seeing me through the last few difficult months.

I would hear a song that spoke to me, and it would become my anthem.

First, it was “Rise Up”, by Andra Day.

After that, and for the longest time, it was “Bird Set Free” by Sia (who, it should be noted, also has bipolar) The first time I actually heard it was when Dalton Rappattoni (who also has bipolar) sang it on American Idol, and the lyrics just took my breath away.  I listened to her version, and his, on repeat for weeks on end.

On a related note, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Dalton and Sia’s bravery in talking publicly about their disorders were more helpful and inspiring and important to me than I can even say.

Most recently, the band A Great Big World – Ian Axel and Chad King – released a new single called “Won’t Stop Running”.  As soon as I heard it, I knew that that was going to be my new song.

I have adored A Great Big World since they first came out with Say Something in 2013.  Their songs are beautiful and catchy – the kind that just reach deep down into your soul, their voices compliment each other perfectly, and they just seem like positive and lovely and genuine guys.  Their songs have been a part of my daily soundtrack for the past three years, and when I taught yoga, I included a GBW song on my playlist every time I could.  Getting to hear them live this year, at a tiny little venue downtown, was one of the highlights of what had been a pretty horrible year.  They are one of my all-time favorite bands, and their concert became one of my all-time favorite concerts.

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I’m a little bit sad that you can’t see Chad’s sparkly pants in any of these photos. They were fabulous.

The song, “Won’t Stop Running” was written about Chad’s journey with MS, but the theme of not giving up was one that is relatable to all of us… no matter what stories or struggles or obstacles we face.  When they realized the overwhelming response they were getting to the song, they started a #wontstoprunning campaign, and invited people to share their own stories on social media.  I was a little bit sad because I wanted to share my story…. but wasn’t sure I wanted to be “out” with it yet.  So I watched while others shared their stories, and Chad and Ian responded here and there, and there were beautiful words of support and encouragement.  I even briefly thought about starting an anonymous Instagram account, just so I could join in the collective group hug.  But then, a couple of days later, they announced that they’d opened an email just for people who wanted to share their stories with them anonymously, and that they’d pick a couple to share.

And so I did.

The next day, I received a lovely and short and sweet and encouraging reply from Chad and Ian (that just happened to come on a really bad day when it was so sorely needed) And then, scrolling through Facebook, I saw that they’d reposted my story.  They posted it on Facebook and Instagram both, where hundreds of people “liked”  it and offered encouragement and kind words and support.  MY STORY!

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I was in awe 1) that they did such an awesome campaign for their fans in the first place, 2) that they chose to share my story, and 3) that it felt SO, SO GOOD to be honest about it, even – or especially? – if it was to a bunch of strangers.  I received nothing but support, at a time when I was greatly struggling with the idea of telling even those closest to me, precisely because I didn’t know that I’d receive that same support.

It was huge for me, and it was healing, and it will forever earn Chad King and Ian Axel a special place in my heart.

If you’re struggling with something – anything – I’d definitely encourage you to find the song that speaks to you, too.  If you’re at a loss, feel free to borrow one of “mine” till you’ve found one of your own.  🙂

#wontstoprunning

xo

(Continue to Part Five)


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