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.

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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.

Getting over it and back: The first (practical) signs of depression

Happy belated new year to the troopers actually still willing to read my sporadic ramblings.

For me it’s mostly been a good one. I’ve realised that blogging, for me, is like praying (which is wrong on so many levels); when life is good, there really isn’t much to say (except for the occasional ‘thank you’), but it’s when things start going pear shaped that we (I) feel the need to reach out, express what I’m feeling or not feeling, look for understanding and kindness and someone to say that it will all be okay.

The last two weeks of December I found myself in a remote location on holiday with no working electronics to speak of, and no electricity for the most part. This recharged me like I couldn’t have imagined. It really put life into perspective and brought about peace that I had not felt in a long time. But then we get back to reality and have to face the world and we fall back into old habits and hangups.

As I mentioned in my last post, my psychiatrist told me to just ‘get over’ this little, ‘mild’ bipolar problem of mine. So I decided, skrew you, I will do exactly that. Which also means that I won’t see you again and not that it really matters, but you will lose my money so HA. I did give it an actual try though. My meds were working in their higher doses and I felt fine. So I decided no psychiatrists, support groups, blogs, forums, no nothing. Just taking my pills morning and night without thinking about it. And it actually worked, sort of. I really wasn’t giving much thought to this little ‘like high blood pressure’ problem of mine. I would talk about it freely with those who asked, but in a detached manner, like it was just something part of my past.

So I was almost two months in with this and it worked pretty well. In the meantime I met a very nice man, who it then didn’t work out with (men hey…). But shame, it’s not his fault that I’m depressed now. Maybe just a little bit. But I think it started a week or so before we broke up. Today I was extremely irritated and even a bit bitchy. I had one of those days where you just want to lash out and scream. And while I was lying in the bath tonight, while I was actually suppose to be at a dance lesson, it hit me. I am depressed. Not suicidally depressed, but it’s definitely there lurking underneath the surface. And I realised it’s been 3 to 4 weeks. And I wasn’t surprised as it seems like my period of calm is two months. It never lasts longer than that. Being older and wiser and being better at recognising things for what they are, instead of thinking it’s all in my head, I can now see some of my early signs of depression, which I will gladly share with y’alls.

The conversations in my head sound roughly like this:

  • ‘I am so bored. My work is so totally unstimulating, I can do it in my sleep.’ Followed by job searches.
  • ‘Once <insert event here> is over, I’m going to start tapering off my meds. I don’t FEEL anything anymore’.
  • ‘I have become such a boring person. Where is my sense of humour?’ (misses hypomania)
  • ‘Why bother getting up early when no one even cares if I’m an hour late for work.’
  • ‘There is a fat man standing on my chest.’
  • ‘I know it’s not really true but today it feels like life isn’t worth living’.
  • ‘Chocolate! I need chocolate!’
  • ‘I’m so fat!’
  • ‘Fuck I hate pms! This is the worse in my entire life!’ Followed by the realisation that I will only be having pms in a week or two.
  • ‘Take me back to the clinic where I can sleep all day and people feed me.’ Followed by looking at the clinic’s website and reminiscing.

Other signs include:

  • Easily sleeping 12 hours, being awake for about 7, and then sleeping another 12.
  • Drinking to get drunk.
  • Throwing all my good quit smoking resolutions out the door.
  • Being permanently irritated with my colleagues (but in my defense, some of them are chronically annoying)
  • Spending most of my time either watching series or staring at the roof.
  • Feeling like I have achieved nothing in my life and that I will die alone.
  • Guiltily stuffing my face, in a way that feels like I’m punishing myself.
  • Not showering over weekends.
  • Having unreasonable fits of rage or feeling like a friend/family member is out to get me or hurting me on purpose.
  • Obsessively worrying about something or someone.
  • Being totally unreasonable in general.

You get all those websites that list a bunch of symptoms about sleep and appetite and not enjoying things, but what I have listed above is what it FEELS like. The practicalities of it.

Luckily I have caught myself before things got out of hand. As always when I go through some kind of mood episode, I’m almost crippled by the thought that it isn’t the first and it won’t be the last. And frustrated that the medication that worked so well a few weeks ago has seemingly stopped working. And of course the horror of imagining riding out a depressive episode.

But chin up! This is still quite manageable. I compiled a shortlist of psychiatrists to research and luckily there is a support group next week. I don’t feel it, because I feel nothing but dread and horror, but cognitively I know that I can be proud of myself for spotting the signs early.

Getting over my ‘mild bipolar’

After having my meds adjusted last week, I went to see the pdoc again today. Changing from Geodon to Seroquel was not so easy, despite the fact that the pdoc said there should be no problem. For two days I was shaky, dizzy, anxious, couldn’t work and could barely sit up straight. (As an aside, no matter who says what, cold turkey is never a good idea. Taper taper taper.) This little experience has taught me to always listen to my own body before listening to the voices around me. Also that Seroquel is the unfortunate answer to my little hypomanic problems.

So back to today, bawling my eyes out because I am just too tired to face another day and then being told by my pdoc that I really focus too much on this whole bipolar thing. Mine is only mild and more on the depressive side (like depression is not excruciating) and at least I don’t have bipolar 1. And he sees loads of fucked people (his words), and I am not one of them. I am actually doing well. Now I can’t really argue with that, because I am not locked up in a state mental health facility chained to a bed. So yes, life could be a lot worse. But does that make what I am experiencing here, now, any less real, or earth shattering for me? No. In my frame of reference, this might not be the worse it’s been, but it’s getting pretty close. I’m not necessarily as depressed (touch wood), but my little trip into hypomania was almost as bad as it was when I was first diagnosed. So for me I’m pretty close to rock bottom. A more self-aware semi-rock bottom, but still. And maybe my rock bottom might not be as low as someone else’s, but it’s still pretty shitty.

Look, the man makes valid points. I know he says it to me like it is and not what I want to hear. And I know I can be a bit neurotic. But on the one hand you have people telling you to be kind to yourself, love yourself, take it easy, and on the other hand you have people telling you to put on your big girl panties and get over it. Life is hard and it’s unfair. I think this is what makes the journey so lonely; you can’t really win either way. People will always give you contradictory messages. You can’t compare experiences. And in the end you go back to it just being you. Not sharing what’s going on in your head and heart. You are still isolated, because none of us can truly understand what another person is going through, whatever it is. So we’re all lonely little beings wondering this planet by ourselves. Life is all we have, says the doc. Nothing, and no one else, really. Thanks for the good cheer, doc. That’s exactly what a depressed person wants to hear.

Yes, I have a lot to be grateful for. But that’s the problem with depression, isn’t is? There are no feelings of joy. Cognitively, yes, I get it. A part of my brain tells me what these emotions should be. But on the inside? I don’t feel it with my soul. There I feel only apathy, with bouts of anger. Mostly, I’m just tired.

A history of the Madhouse documentary

I watched this BBC documentary today called A history of the Madhouse. Be warned that it is not for the sensitive viewer and if you don’t know much about the history of asylums and the treatments they performed, you might be quite shocked and horrified. I was, even with my limited knowledge. Dorms with 32 beds, every inch of the place locked up, padded sound proof cells, abuse by nurses, early forms of ECTs with no anesthesia, insulin treatment, lobotomies. The poor crazies (and actually not so crazies) at the time really got it in the 30s to 50s especially. Some went in for one week of observation and only left 5 years, 20, 30 years later. Locked up and isolated from the world. Most of these people weren’t even mentally ill, just unwanted or problematic. Patients were not seen as people but as research projects. Many died from lobotomies and insulin treatment that sent them into comas to ‘reset’ their brains. We look back on these treatments and regard them as barbaric. Others, like a more refined form of ECT and Lithium, are still used today. Some of us owe our lives to the poor people who were subjected to these atrocities year after year.

I think of the private clinic that I frequented and cannot even imagine how it must have been to be locked up in an asylum. Margaret Thatcher can be thanked for them finally being closed in Britain. Problem was, the community care everyone was raving about didn’t really work since most of these poor people didn’t have a vocation or basic life skills. Many of them ended up on the streets or at the Salvation Army, which I suppose is better than the streets at least. Thatcher’s plan was to destigmatise mental illness, to have society view it as illness rather than madness. How she must be turning in her grave to see that these prejudices still exist world wide.

The documentary made me wonder, will some of the treatments that we are subjected to today also be viewed as barbaric 50, 70 years from now? Will people be appalled about how we’ve been medicating our lives away just to function within society’s norms? Or will what is done now be considered as ground breaking, pathing the the way for more specific and sophisticated treatment? I know that some research is being done at the Mayo Clinic about isolating genes and then determining your exact bipolar type so that treatment can be tailored for you needs. But how long is this going to take? Another 50 years? We can only hope that it’s sooner, since those of us with mental health issues are not having such a bloody good time of it.

There is hope, I suppose, one never knows. In the meantime I am extremely grateful to the people who had to subjected to life threatening and debilitating treatment like lab rats, so that I can sleep a bit sounder, or function a bit better.

The bipolar roller coaster

A friend of mine who also suffers from bipolar disorder recently got an absolutely gorgeous tattoo of a roller coaster on her back (of which I am extremely jealous). (She also writes a blog definitely worth reading and much more eloquent and witty than my own) I just realised again today what an appropriate symbol of bipolar disorder a roller coaster is. Just three days ago, and for two or three weeks before that, I was in a completely state of self destruction and hysteria, mixed up with some calm for blissful half hours here and there. I honestly didn’t know how I was going to make it out the other side. The walls around me were not caving in, I was actually pushing them out, and I didn’t know how to stop myself.

What had brought me there? Switching anti-psychotics? Family drama? Recovering from my grandfather’s death? Work pressure? Romantic disappointment?  Probably all of the above to some degree. Especially since it all happened more or less at the same time. And today, not three days after a long series of gut wrenching mini-meltdowns, barely picking myself up each time, I seem to have turned a corner. I had a beautiful calm day, hanging out with friends, going to the beach with the dogs and having pizza and wine. I’m chilled. It was a good day. I didn’t even have to take an Alzam (for anxiety).

So what brought about this turning point in the epic roller coaster that is my bipolar life? The higher doses of Geodon (anti-psychotic) and Epitec (mood stabiliser) kicking in? The calming effect that the Alzams have had on me over the last few days? Getting a good 12 hours of chemically induced sleep last night? Reevaluating my life and realising things were getting out of hand? Having people pray for me? Trying to channel my energy constructively instead of destructively (I even wrote a song!)? Probably all of the above to some degree.

That’s what makes it so tough, isn’t it? Trying to isolate the variables is useless. There is no real knowing what causes what and what different things will trigger or what will bring you back from the edge. When I went off Seroquel and onto Geodon I was extremely hypomanic for about a week. I went away with friends and they kept saying that they’d never seen me that happy. It was true, I was having the weekend of my life. The weekend after that, I had a family weekend and stayed up until dawn two nights in a row. But what goes up most come down (except for Jesus, as my Sunday school teacher friend pointed out), or sideways, or upside down, or through a tunnel, or to some extreme state, if your roller coaster is a bipolar one.

I’ve always known that I just have to ride it out. It becomes the difference between yourself and suicide, the knowledge that it will pass eventually. What I’ve learned this time is that I CAN ride it out, with the right medication, rest, and support from people who understand and/or who care about me. People who just let me be a pretty fucked up version of myself without judging me. I don’t think it will ever be easy. It’s an illness after all, and a pretty terrible one, lets be real. It’s not suppose to be easy. But what I realise when I go through this ever so often is that I am stronger than I even know. I could probably rule a small country by myself. Be it by the grace of God or sheer willpower, I am a ninja, and every time I come back and kick life’s ass, I can confidently give it the finger and say ‘there, you lost again sucker!’ That doesn’t mean that it won’t take some time for me to nurse my wounds and recover emotionally from this ride to the depths of darkness and back. My soul, and my pride, is a bit bruised. After all, I hate roller coasters.

 

When a handful of pills a day doesn’t keep the bipolar at bay

This is a repost from almost ago. I haven’t been very bloggy this year. I got bored I think. Or lazy rather. I respost this because the more things change, the more they stay the same. I’m not experiencing anger right now, but excruciating emotional pain. And I feel so sad for myself that despite everything I am back here again, just like every year this time. Because bipolar cycles. That’s what it does. I feel like I’ll never win. And even though I have a wonderful support system, deep down I am truly alone (sorry friends reading here. You mean well and I love you for it. But it is true)

~~~

One of the many fun things about having bipolar disorder is that sometimes, no matter how diligently you take your meds, work out, eat healthy etc, you still go some shade of crazy. And I’ve had many things recently to go crazy about.

At the moment I’ve reached an anger. An anger about the fact that I take 10 prescription pills a day, which equates to 280 pills a month, spend loads of money to take the ones that don’t turn me into an overweight zombie, and am still cycling all over the place. I’ve reached a point where I wonder if it is even worth taking all these pills that make me dizzy and sleepy and mess with my digestive system and make my eyes go funny. There are those who say that if I wasn’t taking my meds, things would probably be much worse for me, and yes, that is most certainly a possibility, but there’s no way of knowing is there. I’m never stable for more than two months at a time anyway. The only reason I haven’t stopped taking my meds is because, if things go pear shaped, I have to start all over again, starting on low doses and working my way up and through side effects. I just can’t take it anymore.

I’m not suicidal, I’m not depressed, but worse than that I am in this hypomanic limbo where I am stable enough to somehow manage my daily life, but not stable enough to not fall apart every night when I get home from work. I feel a constant need to lash out. And no, kick boxing won’t do the trick. Exercising sometimes makes me worse, because I get more worked up from more adrenaline. I can’t listen to music either. I can’t focus enough to read and I certainly shouldn’t be drinking. I can’t live on Alzams because I’ll definitely get addicted. So far changing medication, again, seems to have little effect. Life keeps throwing shit at me, as life does with everyone. So what am I suppose to do? Bitch into cyberspace? Not many other options it seems.

I feel like the medication is messing with my reactions. I don’t even know how I would react off medication. Since I was diagnosed two years ago I haven’t gone off them. My whole life has become about getting the chemical cocktail in my head right. What kind of life is that? I want to be able to freak out and feel like everyone else. And even though I think all these things, deep down in my little heart I can hear myself, and everyone around me, preaching to me “it’s an illness, like diabetes”, “you can’t go without medication”, “things would be worse if you weren’t on medication”, “just ride it out”, “don’t lose perspective”, “things will look up again”, “stop focusing on the negative”, “don’t be such a martyr (that’s my own voice)”.

My response to all these little nuggets of wisdom?

Skrew it, thank you very much.

Trigger on trigger on trigger

Today I had the pleasant experience of being broken up with. The relationship was still fairly new, but I was very much smitten. My spirit feels crushed. Two weeks ago I cut my father out of my life,  and in August my grandfather,  who was my father in many ways, passed away. All of this during the peak season in my industry where my workload has doubled and while navigating med changes. Is it any wonder that I have become a bit unhinged?

Often I don’t know what triggers my mood changes, and often it can be the smallest things, like a friend making a bad joke.  Sometimes it is huge life events that just keep piling up. And what people don’t understand is that, when you have a mood disorder, your feelings are so much more intense than other people’s emotions. I was feeling very rattled and sad earlier,  bawling my eyes out, and now I feel ridiculously calm. I have recently upped my geodon and lamotragine. I don’t know if my responses are within the ‘normal’ range. What I do know is that my coping mechanisms are not very healthy, and I also don’t want to change them. Because I am a sucker for the punishment. Lashing out and becoming self destructive is actually enjoyable to me. What is up with that masochism?

At the moment I crave just existing.  I would go so far as to say that I wish I could just be hospitalised. But life can’t stop when you’re the only one taking care of yourself.  What I do know is that I am one of the strongest people I know, by the grace of God alone. I often wonder what the straw that finally breaks this camel’s back will be.

The main reason I haven’t completely self-destructed is because I wanted to make this new relationship work. Now that’s gone. I’m standing in the edge now. I am tired of balancing. There is nothing at the bottom to break my fall.