All posts by Scout

Challenging stereotypes of mental illnesses – when to let it slide

I am very open about the fact that I have bipolar disorder. I was sure that revealing this to most people would help them understand me and my situation better. Unfortunately, that is not always true. I am usually also the first one to make a noise if someone describes a mental illness incorrectly, uses stereotypes or make fun of mental illness. Turns out people also don’t really like to be corrected, or being told their joke is not funny at all but actually ableist. Most of the time I don’t really care if people get pissed with me; it is my duty to educate; but occasionally it can cause trouble for me. I’ve had to learn the hard way that like most things in life, there is a time and a place. And WORK is not the right place.

I have a client who’s husband is a psychiatrist. The other day we chatted about her life. her family, how her husband is always on call, and naturally about psychiatric patients. She tells me, “Yes, some people are really incredibly depressed they can’t do anything! But you know who’s the worse? The bipolar patients! They seem to be constantly changing their minds, calling for a doctor and then telling him not to come.” Or something like that. Honestly, I wasn’t really listening anymore, because my mind was racing back and forth, ‘do I tell her, don’t I tell her?’ You probably won’t understand what a victory it was for me to say nothing, but it was. ‘Oh really? How interesting!’ was basically my response, while thinking ‘I wish I could tell you the truth and see how you react.’ It just proves again how ridiculous it is when people say things like ‘You have depression?! But you look so happy!’ (I actually got that while IN A PSYCHIATRIC CLINIC) Like my diagnosis is stuck to my forehead. So I did not correct my client. She pays money for my services and so I kept my mouth shut, even though I was ready to give her a half hour lecture.

People are ignorant and often not interested to learn, but I guess before I was diagnosed I didn’t know much about mental illness either because it just wasn’t part of my life. Not everyone is trying to be an offensive idiot, and sometimes letting it slide, even if it is hard, is the right thing to do.

 

Dealing with loss AND bipolar disorder

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while now, but I didn’t really know how. I wanted to write something that would be relatable, but not just a story of what I’ve been going through. Something that makes to others and hopefully prepare them a little bit. I apologise if I didn’t achieve this, but I’m sure you’ll bear with me.

Today, four weeks ago, a very dear friend of mine passed away at the age of 32. She died from natural causes, but in unnatural circumstances. She still had all this potential to unleash on the world, and now she’s gone. We’d been friends since university days, but it was only really in the last 2 or 3 years, where both of us went through some very unpleasant life experiences that we grew really close. And when I say really close, I mean talk on the phone every 2 or 3 days for at least an hour, and sending texts almost every day in between. I still spoke to her on the Monday, and when I wanted to text her about something we had spoken about on the Thursday, I thought that I would wait until the evening before sending it because she had an important day at work. I didn’t know she was already dead.

Most of us know about the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I have lost loved ones before, I’ve been through them. But it being a person so young, with whom I shared so much with, somehow makes it very different. The good news, if there can be good news in a situation like this, is that I have not completely fallen apart. I’m devastated, I cry basically every night, reality hits me in the face over and over again when I don’t expect it. And yes, I was more or less unable to do anything productive for about five days, but somehow I’ve gone on with my life. At first it felt like a massive betrayal, moving on without her. But then the reality of ‘if I don’t work, I don’t get paid’ set in, and I had to get moving. I cycle between denial, anger and depression (I’ve never really understood the bargaining part), but I manage to come up for air every now and then. It’s true though, you don’t get over losing someone. You just learn how to live with it. I’m definitely not there yet, but I want to share what has helped me in the meantime.

Suffering from bipolar disorder, my first thought was that this was going to completely derail me and be a huge setback. I knew that I couldn’t deal with that too. I didn’t want to make this about me, and I think I managed to achieve this more or less:

  1. Be with people. I found this to be very important. Because I don’t live near the city, I couldn’t be with any of my friends who were also grieving, but I moved back to my home town exactly for a situation like this. I immediately packed my bags and went to stay with my parents until after the funeral. I didn’t necessarily interact with them, but it was good to have people around to distract me, to just check up on me and to make sure that I at least ate.
  2. Withstand the urge to numb the pain. Not surprisingly the first thing we want to do when we get sad news like this is reach for the bottle, or take a pill to numb the pain. I know from experience that drinking makes me more depressed, so when I did have a drink, it was just one glass. Another advantage of staying with my parents during that time; I didn’t exactly want to get completely trashed in front of them. I was also relieved that I didn’t have any benzos left, and felt to awkward to ask my new psych, so in the end I left it. It was a kind of bitter sweet, I almost didn’t make it through the memorial service, but I’m glad I didn’t numb myself. I also owed it to my friend to really feel my loss.
  3. Don’t go it alone. Whether it is making arrangements or going to the service or whatever you need to face, don’t go it alone. A friend of mine drove me to the memorial and back, handed me tissues, held my hand and just generally checked that I kept breathing. She knew the friend who passed from university also, but they weren’t really friends and she was much less emotional and more rational than I was at that point. There were so many old, familiar faces and so much emotion, it really helped to have my own little beacon who was there just for me.
  4. Share stories. The first week or so I was terrified that everything about our bond was going to fade away and that I would completely forget the small little things and moments that made her who she was. I post stories, memories and photos on social media. Whether it’s the ‘right’ way to do it or not, I don’t really know. But other people have commented that they appreciate it and that it keeps her memory alive. Some may feel and prefer to keep their grief private. In that case, write stuff down. I don’t think there really is a right or wrong way to do it. It just helps to keep the memories alive.
  5. Try sticking to your routine and med regime. This is a ‘basic bipolar rule’, but even more applicable when you are dealing with a loss. I forgot to fill prescriptions or just couldn’t bother getting myself to a pharmacy (not sticking to routine), so I missed more than one dose of more than one medication at different times, and it really isn’t ideal. It just causes side effects and more of an emotional roller coaster. I did take something to help me sleep (25mg Seroquel) for about 2 weeks which I don’t do anymore, but I check it with my doctor and realised I really needed it. My sleep was okay-ish after 2 weeks.
  6. Sleep as much as you need if you can. This isn’t exactly something ‘prescribed’ for bipolar, but necessary under the circumstances. Once the dust had settled, I realised that I was (am) extremely tired ALL the time. I’m busy with a big project so I can’t exactly afford to sleep a lot, but luckily I make my own hours. I basically work until I can’t anymore, power nap, rinse and repeat. I spoke to a few people who have also lost loved ones and they reassured me that it wasn’t my body giving in, but that grieving is hard work and so you have to rest as much as you can.

 

I’ve been feeling like I’ll never NOT be sad in my life ever again. At least the sadness has become a bit less intense, but I will always miss my friend terribly. So often I want to tell her something and can’t. I’ve become slightly obsessed with finding every photo, text, email, anything that we shared in the past 10 years. It is incredible and also ridiculous what reminds me of her. Silly things will spark a memory and have me in tears. But I am very grateful that I’ve somehow managed to focus on my loss without my bipolar interfering. I definitely wouldn’t have been able to deal with both.

 

If you have any advice, please share. I will take any help I can get!

Prescription medication vs herbal remedies

I’m almost a little scared to write about this, because it seems like these to very distinctive camps simply cannot agree. But in this post I don’t want to discuss which one is better than the other, or what I prefer. I just want to bring some facts to everyone’s attention, and hopefully give some insight. I’ll do my best to keep my personal opinion to myself.

Most people who prefer to uses herbal stuff are all-natural, free range, organic kind of people. The whole thing, as I understand it, is about not putting anything that the earth didn’t produce itself, into your body. I think. I respect that. The prescription drugs we take to keep our brains under control can have nasty side-effects and while they are good for your brain, they’re not always so good for your body. But is herbal remedies really that much better, just because it is only made from plants and things?

My major problem (and hopefully the last of my opinions) with herbal remedies is that it leaves waaaaay too much room to be swindled out of your money with nothing to show for it. A quick google search shows you that you can use anything from lavender to kava to a whole lot of unpronounceable herbs to ‘cure’ your depression. And these drugs are not tested by the FDA. Often, or dare I say most of the time, no studies were performed on these remedies, or the sample size was very tiny. So we can’t even know what the side-effects are most of the time, until we experience it. If you take a remedy with say hibiscus, your whole oral cavity can swell up and you wouldn’t have known that it would happen. At least when I took anti-convulsants, I knew of the possibility that a rash could develop.

The other major problem is that herbal remedies aren’t usually tested to find out how they interact with other herbal remedies, or western medicine. Maybe someone can help me with this one (honest question because I really don’t know): I’ve never used St. John’s Wart, mostly because the leaflets in my medicine boxes says it can cause a bad reaction. My question is if St. John’s Wart comes with the same warning label? How about its interaction with ibuprofen, paracetamol, codeine etc? Is it safe?

I understand why someone would want to use herbal remedies instead of medication for things like insomnia, anxiety, depression, energy etc. Heck, I used to use them for anxiety and insomnia. They aren’t addictive, for one. And maybe some of them actually work and are safer. I didn’t experience any side-effects from the ones I tried. But then again I didn’t experience any effects at all!

So here’s what I’m saying: Don’t dis western prescription medication. They have been tried and tested and refined. Sure, they can be bad for you, but there is at least some science behind them. You can talk to various specialists and while they won’t agree 100%, they will agree on the principles. And don’t start the ‘big pharma’ debate where I can hear you. If it wasn’t for medication I wouldn’t be typing here, I’d be dead by my own hand.

If you prefer herbal remedies, that is your prerogative, and if you have found something that has been proven safe AND effective, please let me know so I can check it out. But before you stick anything into your mouth, whether herbal or not, DO YOUR RESEARCH. And that’s not just checking the first site you can find on google. Find at least three corroborating  sources. TALK TO AN EXPERT, whether traditional alternative therapy practitioners, or western trained doctors, and make sure you find out about possible side-effects and interactions. MONITOR CHANGES TO YOUR BODY, just like you would with anything else you take. DON’T GRAB THE FIRST THING YOU SEE, because more expensive is not necessarily better. CHECK THAT THE MANUFACTURER IS CREDIBLE.

Don’t be a sheep and don’t be taken for a fool either. No matter what you choose to treat yourself with, be sure to check the facts and get your bang for your buck.

How mental illness is good for the environment

Let’s face it, in recent years, and maybe not so recent, us humans have been abusing and destroying our beautiful planet. My country is classified as a ‘developing’ one, and our government is incompetent at best. So when it comes to all things environmental, despite having brilliant scientists, I would say that we are generally a bit behind.

So when we had electricity shortages a few years ago, and then again a few years after that, no one was prepared. And when we went into a massive drought, where some areas have now been declared as disaster areas, no one was prepared. ‘Yeah, so what?’ I hear you thinking. ‘What has this got to do with bipolar or mental health?’

It’s simple. In trying to be more vigilant by finding ways I can save resources, I have found that due to my mental illness, I already do! Let’s look at saving water, for example: when I’m depressed I save loads of water from not showering or washing my hair. I’m not proud of this, but if you’ve been depressed you’d know that personal hygiene is really too much of an effort. I mostly just swap one pair of pajamas for another pair, so I very rarely have to do laundry. And even when I do, I just don’t. I certainly don’t touch the dishes (if I even eat), and my mushy brain completely forgets to water my few pot plants. The only water I really use, is for drinking, brushing my teeth (the one thing I always do) and flushing the toilet.

As for electricity, no need to turn the lights on when you’re sleeping most of the time. I don’t use much hot water, or big appliances. My food intake is normally restricted to pizza delivery, ramen noodles, bread and cheese or a meal replacement shake. And lots of chocolate. So no using stoves and ovens here!

And my carbon footprint? Well as we know many people with mental illness are unemployed or work from home. I now fall in the second category, which means I might leave the house once a day to buy groceries or see family (I would love to add ‘and go to the gym’ but that’s not exactly happening right now, or when I’m depressed).

So there you go. If your depression, anxiety, medication side-effects or whatever your brain problem is makes you behave in a similar way that I do, always remind yourself that even though you feel like trash, you are helping mother earth to survive. Who knows, maybe that is our collective goal as the mentally ill. When the planet is in trouble, we get sick so lighten its burden and help it get better, if that makes sense. That’s what I’m going to tell myself the next time I’m horribly depressed, anyway: The planet needs me!

 

*This post is meant to be a bit tongue in the cheek-ish, so if you are an environmentalist reading here, please don’t be mean and bury me under links to piles of scientific research. I might have a panic attack and slip into a deep depression. Or get mad and go into bipolar rage, and you really wouldn’t want that.*

Am I being bipolar, ‘normal’ or just lazy?

From the forums, other blogs and articles I read, I think many a bipolar diagnosed person asks themselves this question. I certainly do, every bloody day. Since all the major changes in my life happened, it’s like I can’t quite seem to pull myself together.

The first month or so after my move it didn’t really matter, because I was okay financially, and I was happy to take the time I needed to recuperate, sort out my living arrangements and set up my business. My deadline was 2 May, because we had a lot of public and school holidays here in April. Until then I wouldn’t really care sleeping until noon (or past it) and just doing a little bit of work every day. And now, after the deadline came and went?

I gave up my 50mg Seroquel for sleep a few weeks ago and while sleeping was obviously hard in the beginning, now I don’t struggle so much and I can actually wake up at 8:00 or so. The problem is, I don’t WANT to. It’s way past noon on a Thursday and I am actually embarrassed to admit that I am still in my pyjamas. I have to start actively promoting my business which means handing out flyers and phoning people, but I just can’t do it. I am completely overwhelmed by the idea of interacting with strangers. Yet, on the other hand I am freaking out because I kind of need to start making money soon.

I’m pretty sure that the ‘oh crap what if this fails and I lose everything?’ part is ‘normal’. I’m sure that, for an introvert, anxiety about putting yourself out there and talking to strangers is ‘normal’ too. But what about the complete mental block? And feeling like I can’t breathe at the mere thought? What about the refusal each morning to wake up, shower and leave my house? Despite the fact that I (think) I WANT to work and stop feeling like I’m a lazy, unambitious, blob of a person doing nothing and going nowhere in life?

And the guilt, OH the guilt! I do nothing, yet I feeling incredibly guilty about it, so I totally beat myself up about being lazy, but it doesn’t make me get up and moving. So do I cut myself some slack and spend the day in bed without feeling guilty, or do I pick myself up by my bootstraps and just freakin get over it?

Am I being bipolar or lazy? That is forever the question.

Big wave, little wave

*trigger warning* This post contains mentions of suicide.

Greetings  blogosphere and interwebs in general. I’ve delayed writing a bit because you see, a lot can happen in a year. Also because bipolar folk are notoriously unreliable when we hit an episode. It’s really not our fault.

As for me, I won’t share all the details because it will be much too long and I don’t think it will necessarily be helpful to anyone. So just in short, in the past roughly 10 months, I did a stint in clinic because I was suicidal, then thought I was fine. Then, mostly unbeknown to myself, depression became a mixed episode and my life and my brain became all kinds of fucked-up (I will gladly share details if someone wants to PM me), then I did actually try to commit suicide, failed/was stopped, spent 5 days in ICU, went through the aftermath with the people in my life (this was by far worse than anything else). If you want to kill yourself you better make damn sure you die. That being said, now I’m kinda glad I didn’t. Most of the time.

Anyway, then my life fell apart. I had to take unpaid leave from work and left the city to stay with my parents in my home town and receive intense therapy. My doc also put me, and here is the important part of the post, Lithium. It took some time and a whole lot of blood tests to get the dose right, but it pulled me out of my very deep hole. I won’t lie, Lithium has its stigma for a reason and its side effects are horrendous. Apart from the common shakes and dry mouth, there is hair loss, stomach cramps, vertigo, unbearable thirst, acne, possibility of kidney and thyroid problems and probably some others. But how does it look on a practical level? It means if I don’t carry water with me all the time, I get incredibly agitated from thirst. I can’t apply eyeliner or do any detailed kind of work with my hands. My writing is even worse than it was. Some days my stomach cramps so much or I get such bad vertigo that I have to lie down. No matter what I do, my skin looks terrible. But to me the worse is probably the hair loss. I have thick and long hair and it’s EVERYWHERE. I shed worse than my cats and it frustrates me to no end. These side effects make me feel very sorry for myself.

So why take it if it’s so horrible? Because the 1 pro far outweighs the many cons: It keeps me from wanting to kill myself. It’s as simple as that, and the no. 1 reasons doctors prescribe Lithium despite its side effects. I’m still not on ‘normal’ between hypomanic and depressed, but I’ve only have little waves, not big waves. And this has been with a whole bunch of crap happening in between. I quit my job, left the city to move back home, had to find my own place, my father passed away and I’m starting my own business. It hasn’t always been easy, and there has been plenty of days spent in bed or in front of the TV, but I’m managing.

While most of this is largely thanks to Lithium, I am also on Wellbutrin, Venlor and a very small dose of Seroquel. I’ve also basically stopped drinking and have a good exercise routine. I’m not under big city stress (like traffic), and I am not in an extremely deadline driven industry. I try to at least do one big task/errand a day. All these things help too. I still need to get into a better routine and do something about my diet (currently I have only bread, cheese and a bunch of sauces in my fridge).

I curse the fact that I have to live with these side-effects every single day. I get very angry that people don’t see it and therefore don’t know what I’m going through. I feel embarrassed when someone sees my food fall off my fork because my tremour is so bad. But then I get over it and remember where I could have been. How I almost drowned in the storm of my own mind. And I ride my little waves, that no one even sees, like a pro.

 

*If you or someone you know need support, please call the suicide prevention hotline in your area immediately, or reach out to someone you trust. Threats of suicide should ALWAYS be take seriously.*

Update on mental health resources

I have finally taken the time to update the resource page. When it comes to researching my illness, I have become quite fanatic about gathering all the information I can get my hands on. I receive various newsletters from different sites weekly, google any questions I might have, and subscribe to online and print magazines. When it comes to bipolar specifically and mental health in general, I’ve become an expert with way more than a layman’s knowledge. I think that learning absolutely all you can about your illness is essential. Firstly, it will make you feel less isolated and alone. Secondly, it will make it easier for you to explain to the people in your life what you are going through, and you will know where to refer them when you can’t explain it yourself. It makes it so much easier to create awareness and being up to date with the latest research and medical advancements make for educated decisions and conversations when it comes to discussing medication and different forms of therapy.

Take some time to browse the resource section of this blog, and please leave resource that you’ve found helpful in the comments so that I can add them.

Picture the sun

After a year I think I am ready and in the mood (ha) this blog up again. Maybe for no other reason than that I need to. I need to write about my experiences and about what is going on in my head. I need to not care what people think when they read it, and focus on the good it can do myself and potentially other. An I miss writing, to be honest. Even if the only thing I’m writing about is myself and my mental illness.

But before I launch into what you’ve missed over the past year, here is the tattoo that I finally got that was originally inspired by when I started this this blog and chose it’s title. Isn’t it the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?!tattoo

Admitting when you need help

Earlier this week I went to see a new psychiatrist. Naturally I was sceptical but it didn’t take her long to win my trust. Her assessment of me was very thorough, she is open to new treatment options and seems to care (or at least pretends convincingly that she does). Her suggestion was that I go to a clinic to receive in-patient treatment while we adjust medication and to give me some space to just be without having to manage myself in the world, as this is more exhausting than most people would think. I agreed and will be going in next week.

Some people I have spoken to seem to confuse the reason I’m going, as I am not suicidally depressed or running around hypomanic off my rocker. They think I’m going in for a little rest, or a nice vacation funded by medical aid. While that is true, I will be doing a lot of resting and sleeping and switching off from society, that’s not the whole point. The reason I’m going is exactly because I am not suicidally depressed or hypomanic. Not yet, at least. Or rather, not at the moment. The reason I agreed to in-patient treatment is because I want to PREVENT things going too far.

For the first time since I was diagnose I’m actually pre-empting this thing. I can do that now, because I am more self-aware than I use to be. I can recognise a crisis creeping closer before it actually bitch slaps me through the face. I might be feeling fine right now. Right now going to a hospital and putting my life on hold feels like such a silly idea. I clearly don’t need it. But the reality is that I don’t know how I’m going to feel tomorrow. Or this evening for that matter. It’s become clear to me that I probably have some rapid cycling going on and that is part of what I want to figure out while I’m in the clinic. I can have my meds adjusted without having to worry about whether or not I’ll be able to make it through a day at work. I can talk to a psychologist every day if I want to. I can get focussed treatment and don’t have to drag it out for months.

It doesn’t mean that it’s not scary. And I think that’s what people who think I’m going on vacation don’t understand. There will be intense group therapy, one on one therapy, new drug regimes, routine, all in a foreign environment where I will likely be sharing a room with strangers who snore. But it’s not my first rodeo, so I know I’ll be fine.

I’ve taken the first steps; admitting I need help and accepting it. It can only get better from here.

Celebrating small victories in the midst of depression

When I’m depressed, I become obsessed about being depressed. So instead of actually doing my job, I spent the day on bipolar blogs and forums, finding comfort in shared pain.

I read a post somewhere (wish I could link to that blog, but I really can’t remember where I read it) about ‘how to get out of bed in the morning when you’re depressed’ and the person talked about a technique that I thought could be very useful: taking life one baby step at a time, while giving yourself the freedom to back out at any time. The person talked about how, when she woke up, she would convince herself that life is better once she’s had coffee, so she might as well get up and have coffee. Then she would tell herself that she doesn’t have to go to work, but that having a shower will make her feel refreshed. And then that she doesn’t have to go to work, but she likes to listen to music while she’s taking a drive. And so on until she would eventually get herself to work. The trick is to stay in motion. For someone going through paralysing depression, just getting to work is actually a huge accomplishment.

Today I was suppose to go to a Pilates class; one I know is pretty intense; but I felt so crap all day that I didn’t want to move, never mind do Pilates. I so badly wanted to be alone on my couch eating chocolate and staring at the ceiling. Under normal circumstances it takes a huge amount of effort to get myself to exercise. When I’m depressed it’s practically impossible. If I can’t get myself to go dance, I am certainly not able to get myself inside a gym. So I approached the situation with the same mindset. After work just get yourself to the gym. Just take your card and swipe your access card. Turn right around if you want to. So I did that. Once inside, I said to myself, just put on your gym clothes. You’ve got your bag here, just get dressed and leave. By the time I was dressed I thought, might as well spend 5mins on the bike (the only form of gym cardio I actually enjoy). Five minutes turned into 20 and I was actually disappointed that my time was up just as I was half way through my second game of solitaire (machines these days, incredible).

While lying in the fetus position bawling my eyes out not a few hours ago (what is it with the fetus position that it is so comforting?), feeling pain take over my whole body and soul, I reflected on this. Look, I barely broke a sweat. I wasn’t even out of breath. I didn’t make it to Pilates. But I was there. I showed up. I kept moving and for 20mins of my day, I actually felt a bit better. In my brain I know that it was actually a victory. In my brain I know that I should be proud of myself, because putting one foot in front of the other is an achievement when you’re depressed. I rewarded myself with that chocolate I was waiting for all day.

I still feel like shite. What it feels like when your emotional pain is so intense that you actually feel it in your whole body is something I can’t explain. I don’t know if the same technique is going to work to get myself to work tomorrow. Maybe I’ll be fine by tomorrow (I’m starting to suspect that I might be the rapid cycling kind). At least I know that today I did something. And that’s a small victory worth celebrating.