Tag Archives: mental health

Subcontracting responsibilities to survive your bipolar

If you’re bipolar, you know the story when it comes to being semi-catatonically depressed. I’m talking about those days/weeks/months where you feel like you are actually fusing with your bed. Dishes pile up. laundry piles up, the sandbox doesn’t get cleaned. In fact, nothing gets cleaned. Not the floors and not the coffee table and not your bedroom. You spend everyday barely moving through dirt and chaos, wearing the same pants you’ve worn for the last three days. If you have to go to work you get yourself to look semi-presentable, but if anyone scratched even a millimetre below the surface, they’d see how you’re coming undone.

The thing with a situation like this is, the deeper you go, the deeper it gets, the deeper you go. It become an uncontrollable cycle of despair. The more dishes, the more useless and helpless you feel, the more dishes you use, until there are organisms growing on things and you actually just want to throw all your belongings on the sidewalk. By now, you probably also feel like a completely lazy waste of oxygen.

It was on one such occasion that I finally realised things could not go on like that. I needed help and I needed it fast. The first thing I bought the second I saved enough money, was a washing machine. Here in my country, it doesn’t come standard with apartments. So finally my days of slogging to the laundromat, rinsing underwear in sink and wearing my jeans until they fell off, were over. In my country it’s also not frowned upon to have a cleaner at least once a day. It’s something that alleviates poverty somewhat, and creates jobs. I ended up paying my cleaning lady, a wonderful, sweet woman, about triple the minimum wage, because to me she wasn’t just cleaning, she was helping me to keep my sanity.

I recently didn’t have a cleaning lady for over a month. Even though I tried my best to keep my place clean and tidy, it felt like my life was getting completely out of hand. I just don’t have the capacity to work, have a hobby, attempt a social life, sleep enough, walk my dog AND scrub my bloody toilets. I just can’t do it. Not even to mention the dishes. So I finally got a lovely lady to clean for me and it’s going well. I’m actually using my study for the first time since I moved in. What also really changed my life was getting a dishwasher. Yes, I am only one person. I don’t care. Washing pots and pans with pieces of food and soggy mince freaks me the fck out. Seriously. I don’t have OCD, but it still causes too much anxiety that I just don’t need.

So I unashamedly used other people and appliances to literally do my dirty work. Sometimes it gets expensive and I have to cut on other things. I would rather not eat (and I already quit smoking) than not pay my cleaning lady.

When I can’t pay for help, like eg when I’m moving (again) in two months’ time, I have learned to lean on my family. My mother is a master packer, my new brother-in-law has a trailer, my stepdad can round up a bunch of workers and my sister can pretend she’s got way more important things to do (may she never read this). When my washing machine was broken, I took my clothes to my mom’s and did it there. I’m still borrowing her vacuum cleaner once a week.

The point is that, even when we don’t have extra money for extra help, we all have people around us that care about us, even if it doesn’t feel that way. If you have kids, make them help out with chores. My biggest challenge has been making my loved ones understand why I need help, and a dishwasher. Just having my environment feel clean and organised helps my brain to feel a little more clean and organised, and it’s a great feeling. Ask for help, or don’t be ashamed to pay for help if you can if it helps make you feel a bit better, it’s worth it 100%.

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When isolating myself is for your own good

Whether you read a list on the internet, in a book, receive the lecture from you doctor, one of the first things they will tell you is that when you feel depressed, don’t isolate. They make it sound so easy, like just inviting someone over for a cup of coffee is not a big deal. Hello? Do you not know that depression usually goes along with crippling anxiety?

I’ve decided to make this work for me. I started singing in an ensemble at the beginning of the year. I like choir singing and it’s great to get my voice ‘back in shape’ to hit those high notes. But it’s in the evenings and often inconvenient. Since we’ll be taking part in a pretty big competition, we are also practising the same pieces over and over and over with a metronome at a very slow pace.

The last two weeks I haven’t been doing so well, including driving my car into a pole this week. I have stress about money and moving, I’m not sleeping without something pharmaceutical. Generally, things are not going as they should and I can feel the person sitting on my chest getting fatter and fatter.

So I’ve been thinking of a thousand excuses not to go to choir practise tonight. I feel kind of bad because I had to miss a couple due to physical illness. But the thought of going to a house with 30 people, where I only really know two, repeating those songs, and worse of all that bloody metronome that feel like it’s knocking against my skull, just wouldn’t have worked. And then you have to be all chirpy and keep the sarcasm in check, which becomes a problem with irritability. I just couldn’t do it.

The idea of having to just talk to people along with my social anxiety just made it impossible for me. So I let the conductor know that I have some chronic health issues that are flaring up and so I can’t be there. And actually saying made me feel so liberated. I wouldn’t have gone two days before I broke my arm or something, so why go when depression is starting to rear its ugly head. No one has to know what is wrong with me, that is my business, but just because I don’t look sick from the outside doesn’t mean I’m not sick

When your so good at hiding your bipolar symptoms, you even hide them from yourself

I was diagnosed in my mid-20s. I’ve at least grown considerably since then. One thing I’ve grown in but have not yet mastered, is self-awareness. Probably every therapist I’ve been to, and I’ve been to many, have told me that I am not self-aware.

I’ve never been a devil-may-care kind of person. I worked incredibly hard to get into university, at university (I played hard too), and during my time climbing the corporate ladder. I’ve been described by various people throughout my life with the following terms: perfectionist, hard working, smart, diligent, trustworthy, friendly, respectful etc. Ie, not someone who says skrewit and does something irresponsible because they want to. I had to be all these things. I had to work my ass off, because I know I had no safety net. I knew I’d have to pave my on way. And I did, at the cost of my own sanity.

Because while I was all of these things, I had a dark side too. Everyone has a dark side, but when you have bipolar disorder it’s even darker. I smoked and started drinking at 15. I think I wrote my first poem about death at 14, because that was the first time I wanted to kill myself. Everywhere I turned I tried to talk to grown-ups about what I was feeling, but I couldn’t, I didn’t know how. No one saw the signs. No one was LISTENING. No one saw me crying myself to sleep every night. Because I learned to put on that smile. I wasn’t even pretending that everything was okay, it WAS okay.

Fast forward to adulthood, diagnoses, and my teenage years finally making sense. I’ve been in psychiatric clinics three times. Twice I did the whole 3 week full programme. Different clinics, different doctors. And here’s the crux:

  • Week 1: Hang around kind of disinterested, attend groups, make intellectual arguments, not sure why I’m even there, tell the doc I’m wasting everyone’s time. Another patient even looked at me and said perplexed “Why are you here, you look so HAPPY?” My answer? A smile.
  • Week 2: Cry. Whether it is at a group session, dining room, with a doctor or getting my meds, I cry. I can’t stop. I cry in the shower and I cry myself to sleep. Whether or not you give me drugs, I cry and I can’t stop crying. I don’t want to see anyone I know either. I don’t want to see anyone, actually. I write letters to my inner child. I feel like I’m physically dying from the pain I feel on the inside.
  • Week 3: The crying lessens and stops. I feel like a load has been lifted. My meds start working. I start sitting outside and talking shit with the smokers. I laugh with everyone about my crying marathon.

And this has twice been my unplanned process. Why? Because I am not self-aware. I do not see my signs, or I think that it’s not THAT bad. I put on my smile and I suppress everything that I know my world can’t handle. Everything I CAN’T feel, because my little card house will then fall apart, again. So I get smashed, self-harm, listen to music I know is actually triggering, and try to drink and cut out my anger. Because I don’t know how to exernalise it.

Here is the point of this whole thing: Why do we internalise, and why do we put on our happy masks every day so that it becomes so natural we can’t take it off? For the ones we love. Because we know they want to understand but they can’t. And they want to be supportive but even those who understand the full impact, don’t really. In my case, when I get criticised like again today I want to yell: “It’s because I’m BIPOLAR, asshole! And you know that.” But I just smile, make a little joke, and walk away.

When you want to self-harm but you can’t

First, if there is anyone who follows this blog, I don’t have the parasite that makes you sleep like my mom thought. So maybe I’m just still tired because 2017 was a pretty fucked up year and I didn’t get much holiday.

Trigger warning obviously – see heading

Here’s the problem it is 23:30 and I am enraged. Seriously explosively ‘like urbanol does anything’ enraged. A few rage-worthy things happened today, but it really ended with a boy. Doesn’t it always? First time in like 2 years I put myself out there, btw, and though he seemed interested for weeks now suddenly he doesn’t and is moving 3 hours away to a shitty remote place anyway.

So I’m raging. And when I rage I cut, because I don’t yell or punch or give another bitch a piece of my mind. No. I take it out on myself. Now the funny part is that I have absolutely NOTHING to cut myself with. No a single blade or proper kitchen knife, not a decent razor or sharp scissors. Fucking NOTHING. Shows you how long ago I raged. At one stage there was this debate by my healthcare professionals about whether I have borderline personality disorder or not. One psychiatrist and one psychologist said I did, one of each said I didn’t. Maybe I do if have the capacity to feel the way I do. I’m also crying because I would tell my very good friend S all of this and she’d listen and not judge, but oh wait, shes’s dead, so can’t do that.

Less than a week ago my psych told me that I’m absolutely glowing. I keep feeling like something is wrong just under the surface. My mother needs to be convinced that I have a physical illness. I want to cut myself for the first time in MONTHS, but can’t. I should take some seroquel but I am working hard from tomorrow, I can’t afford that fuzzy brain. Oh and I am dizzy ALL THE TIME, Venlor or Wellbutrin side-effect?

I found myself beating my chest earlier with a fist. It didn’t hurt but it was a feeling of trying to resuscitate myself. Only we can’t do that, can we?

Flipping the Bipolar switch

I don’t normally post two days in a row, but I wanted to have a little rant on Facebook and realised it would be so pointless because no one would get the intensity of what I’ve been going through today. And how quickly the switch can be flipped from a ‘slightly depressed’ to ‘crazed rage’. Okay, I didn’t quite reach crazed rage; or I did, but it was not uncontrollable, so it didn’t seem that way.

I am busy with these ridiculous little projects as I think I mentioned, where my deadlines are insane and the pay is crap. I think the employer person hasn’t been able to get anyone else desperate enough to help her, so she hounds me at all hours of the day and night. Last night at about 20:00 she begged me to do a quick thing before 5am the next morning. So, working better at night anyway, I finished around 2am and was laying awake until about 3. Needless to say I snoozed my alarm until about 11, 12, and then had to fly up to start with the other project I have due in about 36 hours. And from the moment I opened my eyes everything just went wrong.

I have 0 cash, but I have money in a Paypal account. However, my country in general and it’s banks are SHIT, and turns out connecting my credit card to Paypal is theoretically easy, if my bank stopped telling me I was entering the wrong card number. Which it’s NOT. So because of this I am trying to feed my cats cheaper food and they are refusing to eat. I’m adding tuna to entice them and now my room, that has no ventilation, smells like fish, which I HATE.  I know this sounds minor, but when you don’t have time or money or energy, it starts grating. Then I realised that my dog’s whole food bowel, as well as the cat bowels, were FULL of ants. And as I look around, I realise that they are EVERYWHERE! And because of the animals I can’t use poison. So I’m drowning ants and fishing soggy pet food covered in ants out of the drain and I am so grossed out I feel like, I don’t know, my hands are going to fall off or something and I don’t know how to get rid of them and I feel like my head is going to explode and I’m going to throw something against the wall and burst into tears and slip into a puddle and cry while stomping on ants and screaming while washing my hands 10 times.

And I think this is kind of the part people don’t understand. Yes, there were a couple of things leading up to it, and someone else might also get mad and drown the ants or whatever. But when I say it feels like my head is going to explode, I literally mean it. The combination or rage and frustration and anxiety and feeling out of control is so intense and overwhelming, that it literally feels like I will spontaneously combust. It’s like my brain is swelling and my whole head is getting bigger and I’m waiting for it to pop open and for brains to splash all over the walls. I was freaking the fuck out, to be honest. I won’t just diagnose myself with a co-morbid something and maybe it’s also a bipolar thing, but I can’t stand my hands and feet getting dirty. So fishing soggy pellets covered in ants out of the sink really almost pushed me too far. As in I felt like fainting too far.

I packed my things and my dog, left everything just the way it was, and went to work at my mom’s house (who’s on vacation). My sister lives there too and she still wanted to give excuses for why I couldn’t come work there, but I had already positioned myself in the spare room. Finally I could focus and get stuff done. I only got back a little while ago and emptied a bottle of baby powder where I suspect the nests are, because apparently that works. I’m feeling calmer now. I still have so much work to do, but I think it’s shower and sleep for me. Nothing that can’t wait until tomorrow. I think this whole thing also taught me the lesson (again) about sticking to my sleep schedule. I think I still got enough hours, but it wasn’t exactly uninterrupted.

It is so difficult to describe to other people what I felt like on the inside today. Had I lost control I might have pulled my hair out or something. And this was AFTER I took Urbanol. It also shows that we don’t necessarily have those textbook episodes of 4 days hypomania/mania, months of depression, or whatever. I’ve had a psychiatrist tell me that rapid cycling isn’t real, but I think I disagree, if one just compares today with yesterday. And of course there were triggers, my switch wasn’t just flipped. I think the big difference comes in that if a non-bipolar person went through the exact same day as I did, they probably wouldn’t have felt like they were losing their minds. Or, maybe just a little bit and not the literal ‘my head is going to explode’ thing.

*Especially if you’re bipolar (but even if you’re not) I’d like to know if/how you agree or disagree with me. And if you’ve gone through these same weird combustion feelings, let me know. Would be great to know that I’m not the only one.*

What is Bipolar Disorder? – The dark side of hypomania updated

Okay this is not really an update, more like a repost with a foreword. I’ve been going through my blog and according to WordPress stats, this is quite a popular post. I wrote it roughly four years ago; a year after I was diagnosed. This month marks 5 years of ‘being’ bipolar, so you can’t help but look back and think. Especially after the spectacularly difficult year 2017 that I’ve somehow managed to survive. Everything I wrote in this post still holds true: people still don’t understand dysphoric hypomania, which is actually very common and the episode I talk about here, was still the worse in my life. I am a lot smarter and wiser than I was 5 years ago, so feel free to ask questions. The post follows below, but if for some reason you want to look at the original, you can find it here. Enjoy!

 

In my previous post I explored what it feels like to have depression. As we know, that is only one side of Bipolar Disorder. What makes this illness different from ‘regular’ unipolar depression is that you have the lows and the highs.

As with my previous post, I am not going to list the typical symptoms of hypomania and mania; you can find more information about that here. A note on the two though: Mania and hypomania are not the same thing. Even with all the reading that I’ve done, I sill haven’t found a proper comparison between the two. It is generally said that hypomania is a less severe form of mania. Mania is usually experienced as an episode that lasts for a few days or weeks. As far as I know it does not last as long as a hypomanic episode. Hallucinations, delusions, psychosis and severe paranoia  are experienced during manic episodes. This is not the case with hypomania, although I know from personal experience that paranoia and delusional thinking should not be excluded when talking about hypomania (or I might just be more manic than I realise…). Mania greatly impairs the sufferer’s functioning up to a point where hospitalisation is usually necessary. People who experience mania are classified as Bipolar I, whereas people who experience hypomania are classified as Bipolar II. Suffering from Bipolar I is probably much worse than Bipolar II, but don’t think that if you ‘only’ have bipolar II, it is not serious.

My diagnosis is Bipolar II, which is why will only share my experiences of hypomania and not go into further detail about mania. Various levels of manic states are, in my opinion, largely misunderstood and the part of the illness that intrigue people and lead to their misconceptions. When someone joking refers to themselves as Bipolar because they experience a couple of mood swings, or feel really happy, I have to work very hard to keep myself from flying into a state of extreme rage. That is when I have to remind myself that people are just uninformed and ignorant, and that my talking about it is part of the solution. As the title says, this post describes the dark side of hypomania. Most people think that hypomania is flying on a cloud of endless euphoric energy and creativity. A fun feeling. Even though that is often the shape that hypomania takes (and I’ll cover that in my next post), there is a dark side to hypomania that in my opinion does not get nearly enough exposure.

Dysphoric hypomania (mixed state)

My process of being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder started 15 months ago. I had been on antidepressants for about a year before that. I wasn’t depressed anymore, but I was something that wasn’t normal. Turns out being only on antidepressants is very dangerous if you have Bipolar Disorder. I didn’t realise it at the time, since I couldn’t recognise my thoughts and behaviour as faulty. When I look back now I don’t know how I didn’t realise earlier that something was very wrong. I had been going through a very stressful time for about a year, and I thought that what was going on with me was severe anxiety. I didn’t feel the happy, ecstatic states mostly described as hypomania. Not then. What I did feel was a sense of being stuck inside myself. It felt like I had ants crawling under my skin and that I had to keep moving. I was usually tapping my foot or standing up when everyone was sitting down. At home I put my headphones in and I would dance non-stop for hours, giving myself over to the music completely. Colours looked brighter, sounds were louder. I couldn’t sleep#. I only ate because I had to (even though I love food) and most of the time I would just feel nauseous when I ate anyway. It felt like the world was closing in on me.  I needed to get out, but  there was nothing physical to get out of. I still had a painful feeling on my chest, like when I was depressed, but I was pumped up. Frantic. My thoughts were obsessive. I obsessed over people. I drove people away. I was completely irrational and often delusional in my thinking. It felt like everyone was against me, even the people in my life who love me the most. The intensity of my emotions were almost unbearable, and I didn’t understand how people can experience something with me and not have the same reaction. I was unreasonable. I was aggressive and frustrated all the time. I had fantasies about bashing annoying people’s heads against walls. I was angry about everything all the time.

I think that my behaviour resulting from all this was a kind of attempt to get away from myself. Describing my feelings are not embarrassing to me. I felt things that I had no control over. My behaviour because of these feelings I do still feel very embarrassed about. I have to share some of the things I did to let this information make sense, but I do want to say that I deeply regret most of it. I spent much more money that I had and made debt that I am still struggling to pay off. I almost bought a flat! It was only thanks to a small admin error that the deal thankfully didn’t go through. It would have completely bankrupted me. I got traffic fines in the double digits. I drove drunk, late at night and to secluded places. When I wasn’t home, I was drinking. I took whatever pills I could find, just to try to shut down my head. I would go jogging in the icy pouring rain (and I don’t jog!). I sent out messages and emails and didn’t think about the consequences. There were things that I said and did that I had no control over. The obsessions and compulsions took over my mind. Once I established a routine or pattern, I couldn’t break it. Eg, if I got into a habit of texting one person every day and I realised that, I couldn’t break the habit, I just couldn’t. Even if I had nothing to say. Come to think of it, it might actually be what real OCD feels like (not the kind where people think you have to arrange your books alphabetically or clean a lot, the actual misunderstood disease). Even though I’m not promiscuous and not one to kiss and tell, my sex drive definitely went haywire. Theoretically it’s a small miracle that I didn’t sleep around and contract a disease or something. All of these crazy thoughts, feelings and behaviour eventually led to very bad physical and emotional self-harm.

This was an awful time in my life. I now know that it wasn’t my first hypomanic episode, but it was certainly my worse so far and landed me in the hospital. I really is only by the grace of God that I survived it. Personally I’m not sure how I didn’t commit suicide. This state of mind went on for months. I was completely lost in it. I look back with such relief and gratitude. Now that I look back, I know that I was severely ill and that has made it easier for me. I don’t blame it all on myself anymore.

Learn more about dysphoria/mixed states.

Can you better explain the difference between mania and hypomania? Have you or anyone you know experienced dysphoric hypomania? How has it affected you as a sufferer or a supporter?

Combating the side-effects of bipolar medication that affects your appearance

This post turned out to be a bit longer than I planned, so if you just want the advice, scroll down and read the italic bits. If you want to understand better, can relate or generally enjoy my self-deprecating humour, please continue. 

It seems that the side-effects of psychiatric medication is something that isn’t discussed enough by medical professionals. In my younger, more naive years I thought that if the doctor didn’t say anything about side-effects, it meant that there weren’t any. Until weird things started happening to my body and I eventually had to take to Google. What you learn very quickly is that everyone experiences side-effects differently, and something that I can’t possibly imagine is true, happens to you.

There are a few side-effects that are relatively common across most psychiatric meds: weight gain, serious fatigue, skin conditions, nausea, gastrointestinal issues to name a few. For some people, most if not all of these symptoms disappear after a while, but weight gain and fatigue usually lasts (especially with anti-psychotics). When I started Lithium almost exactly a year ago, my family couldn’t understand why my doctor hadn’t put me on it a long time ago. Neither could I really, until my doctor warned me about possible kidney failure, thyroid disease, blood tests, dehydration, balancing my salt intake and possible Lithium toxicity. She left out the ‘smaller, less important’ side-effects that I first thought was in my head until it became completely abnormal: hair loss and acne. Along with weight gain, these are the side-effects I want to talk about.

I guess that doctors don’t consider discussing the side-effects that affect your physical appearance as important since they don’t happen to everyone, and aren’t life threatening, but they definitely have a big impact on your already fragile and depressed self-confidence.

1. Weight gain

Of the three, this side-effect is the most common, and caused by most anti-psychotics (except Geodon), some anti-depressants, and most mood stabilisers (like Lithium) except for Lamotrigine. For more info about specific meds and weight gain, go check out Mayo clinic.

Get support

I can only tell you what worked and didn’t work for me. When I was first put on Seroquel (anti-psychotic), I picked up 8kg in a very short time. I didn’t even realise how much I’d picked up before it was too late. I tried going off Seroquel but I could feel myself slipping badly. Later I tried switching to Geodon, but it was extremely expensive and my dose was probably not high enough, so I had the most wonderful hypomanic episode followed by and epic crash that landed me in the hospital again with a new psychiatrist. I had to accept that Seroquel was here to stay. I joined a weigh-loss programme that conveniently had a branch at my offices. It took me a YEAR of mostly being hangry and wanting to cry when I walked past chocolates, but I lost 10kg. I did cheat over weekends, otherwise I would have died. So I was finally on my goal weight; not skinny, but not overweight. I should have continued with the programme but didn’t, and so picked up 5kg again. It was okay though, I had learned a lot and could monitor my eating better.

So my advice is, join some sort of weight support group where someone can help you plan meals, where people keep each other accountable, where you are forced to weigh yourself once a week, and where people keep each other motivated. You don’t have to tell your bipolar story to everyone, but at least tell the person leading the group what medication you are on and how it causes (in my case) sugar and carb cravings and makes you feel like you are ALWAYS hungry. And STICK with it once you’ve reached your goal weight to stay there. 

Consider a possible medical intervention

And NO, I am not talking about diet pills. That shit is bad for you. I am talking about the anti-depressant Wellbutrin. Wellbutrin is also sold as Zyban and helps people to quit smoking. It is also known for making people lose weight. Lithium causes weight gain too, but I started Wellbutrin at the same time and since then I have lost, and kept off, about 6kg in a relatively short time without consciously trying. It is only now that I have lost the weight and am back on my goal weight, that I am making an effort to keep it off. I’ve experienced it as pretty miraculous. Word of warning though, Wellburin doesn’t work for everyone. It either works or it doesn’t. It is also known to bring on (hypo)mania, which is why I am currently only on 150mg and not 300mg. It is also pretty expensive and not all health insurances cover it. Unfortunately there also isn’t a generic at the moment. So seriously discuss it with your doctor first, especially if your are taking a combination of other stuff. To me and others I know it’s been well worth it.

Exercise

I put it here because I feel I have to, not because I practise what I preach. Personally I am not a fan and apart from occasionally walking my dog a block or 2, I haven’t exercised in months. BUT it does help with weigh-loss and general health etc. There is loads of info out there if this is your thing. Just remember weight-loss is more diet than exercise and just because you exercise doesn’t mean you can eat what you want if you want to lose weight.

2. Acne 

I had problems with my skin all through my younger years, so I was pretty happy to grow up and have that stop, mostly. And then it just flared up like crazy! Especially along my jaw line where I never use to get spots before. I couldn’t understand it. I’d been on birth control to help me with moods and hormones for many years, but even on that my skin looked like crap. So I changed brands, and changed again. It was only after a few months that I looked at Lithium side-effects again, and there it was. Acne.

I didn’t want to go on antibiotics unnecessarily and there was NO WAY I was going on Accutane. Not that I can now that I have a mental illness diagnosis anyway, but that shit is BAD. Thinking about it, no medication side-effects has ever been as bad as that. So anyway, no matter how desperate you are, don’t use Accutane.

Once I moved back to my sleepy town, my mom suggested that I go for a chemical peel. She did it when she was in her 30s and swears that’s why she looks younger than all her friends who are younger than her, and it is much cheaper here than in the city. Problem was I really hate facials. The minute they put a warm cloth or steam machine over your face I  feel like I’m drowning. I was also scared that it was going to look like someone threw acid in my face. But desperate times… I wasn’t going out because even thick make-up couldn’t cover up how hideous I looked. Something had to be done.

Luckily the girl that now does my chemical peels is really sweet and professional and the whole process is not at all what I expected. They start you off with a very light peel and increase the intensity as your face gets more use to it. She also told me to switch to dermatologically recommended wash and cream with no perfumes or funny things as my skin is crazy dry. And it’s working! I’ve gone for 3 peals every 4 weeks and I look like myself again! I’ve always been vigilant about my skin routine, but now I’m SUPER vigilant and will continue to go for the treatments as long as I can afford it. The place I go to uses Placecol products, but I’m sure there are other good products out there too.

My doctor also lowered my Lithium dose a bit because my blood levels were too high, and that probably helped too.

3. Hair loss

I’m sure you could gather that the acne situation was really bad. And it was horrible. But the hair loss! Nothing could have prepared me for that.

I’ve had a beautiful, glossy, wavy mane of hair for the largest part of my life. I love my hair. It has been every colour and style under the sun (except blue and pink), but now that I qualify as an adult, I’ve kept it pretty long. I don’t have to style or use product or even blow dry my hair, and I barely comb or was it. I LOVE my hair.

Obviously long hair falls out a lot, so I’m use to that, but then I started noticing that the hairballs from my brush and the shower were getting larger and larger. I thought it was all in my head at first (no pun intended), but it got worse and worse. Making a ponytail I could actually feel a marked difference. It made no sense, this sudden hair loss problem. And then I went back to the Lithium booklet. It was the only thing that made sense and it pissed me off severely. The worse part is, there isn’t really anything you can do about it, except lower you Lithium dose and cross your fingers that it stops.

And luckily it did. Surprisingly, it also started growing back! The only stupid thing now is that I have these little Alfalfa hairs sticking up all over my head, and what my hairdresser recently referred to as ‘bum fluff’ (ridiculous little corkscrew curls) that are frizzing on either side of my forehead.

I haven’t been to hairdresser in almost a year, because I didn’t want to explain why it looks like a child got to my hair with a razor, but then I made friends with a friend of my brother’s who I didn’t mind telling the bipolar Lithium hair loss story to. Once you’ve gotten your hair to grow back, there isn’t much you can do about it, but she basically recommends:

  • Don’t touch your hair at all, because the baby hair is fine and by trying to get it flat or uncurled you just pull the hair out again.
  • After you’ve blow dried your hair, you can set it with cold air (didn’t last long for me).
  • Don’t straighten the baby hair (in my case my bum fluff) because the flat iron will also damage it and pull it out.

Someone also recommended that I use horse shampoo, but I haven’t found any yet, and I have also started using folic acid but not long enough to know if it makes any difference.

 

I hope that there is someone somewhere who has looked long and hard for some answers on how to just look like yourself again and who will find them here. If you have any other tips on psych med weight, acne and hair loss PLEASE share. The struggle is real people and I don’t want to have to choose between looking good and feeling good, because that’s just not fair!

*Please discuss any and all medication adjustments with your doctor. Don’t be stupid and make things worse for yourself. NEVER just stop your meds cold turkey on your own. You think taking meds have bad side-effects? You don’t want to go through withdrawal!

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.

 

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.*