Tag Archives: mental illness

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.*

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.*

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

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.

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.

 

Hell hath no fury like the enraged Bipolar

My life has been a bit chaotic the last couple of weeks. It’s not that I have experienced crazy amounts of stress and bad things that keep breaking me; it’s mostly been a break in routine. Things are back to normal again now and although it’s not very exciting, it’s comforting to be back in an environment that is predictable and mostly in my control. Then why oh why am I can I feel the raging monster bubbling just under the surface, threatening to break out. It makes very little sense to me that experiencing what feels to me like a delayed response. When I was changing medication, busy, sick, writing exams and travelling for work and doing work from home; the things outside my routine; I felt mostly fine (except for my first few days back on Seroquel). And speaking of Seroquel, I’m still working myself up gradually and am still on 25mg (but definitely increasing my dose tonight), shouldn’t I already be feeling LESS rage instead of more?

When I’m at home, watching TV and crocheting with a cat on my lap I feel like I can breathe, but in the office and out in the world I feel vicious and like I’m being smothered. I’m proofreading a psychiatry textbook and I don’t think it’s helping either. I’m currently on the chapter about bipolar disorder and even though it doesn’t contain any information that is new to me, it’s serving as a constant reminder. I read about hypomania and I get angry because I never feel inspired, goal driven, energetic and excited anymore. I find myself either in the realms of despair or fury.

I normally try to keep the tone of my blog posts upbeat and with a ‘can do’ attitude, and that’s probably why I haven’t written in a while. At the moment it all feels too hard. I’m exhausted from always trying to keep myself together and functioning. I’m tired of feeling angry at everyone and everything all the time.

How do you deal with your rage when you feel like ripping the world to shreds?

Accepting your Bipolar diagnosis. Again and again and again.

Initially my diagnosis didn’t come as much of a shock to me. It was more of a relief. I did show up at the emergency room in the middle of the night exclaiming “Something is wrong with me!” after all. I was just too happy to finally find out what that “something” was.

As I got better and changed back into something that resembled a “fully functioning” human being, there have been times that I wondered if I was really ill. It usually only takes about two weeks for my mood to shift, as if to say “Ha! And there you thought you were well and health. Mwhuhahaha!” So I haven’t wondered whether or not I was really Bipolar very often. But that doesn’t mean I like it one bit, or that I don’t become frustrated and even enraged by it.

As of today I am, very reluctantly, back on Seroquel (anti-psychotics), and I don’t like it one bit. I worked really hard to get off it a few months ago, and it feels like I’m taking a step back. Unfortunately it’s become very clear, even to me, that my emotional reactions are disproportionate to what triggers it. And sometimes life happens and you can’t have a meltdown and become suicidal every time something upsets you. Speaking of suicide, I said to my psychiatrist: “Surely every person thinks about how it would be to kill themselves at least once in their lives. In my mind it’s a normal thought.” He looked at my wide eyed: “You might be surprised, but it’s actually not. People don’t just think about killing themselves.” Being depressed for roughly two weeks every month is not working out so well and with a stressful time at work ahead Seroquel seemed to be the only answer. I am mad and it sucks and I am going to get fat again and only start functioning after 11 if I’m lucky. Even though I know that Seroquel basically saved my life, I stopped in the first place because it feels like I have to navigate my whole life around it.

To come back to accepting your diagnosis. Taking my pills have become a habit and mostly I try not to think about it. It’s only when it gets mixed up again and I have to remember what dose of what and break pills in half (I am the proud owner of a pill cutter…) etc that I really become conscious of it again, like today. Somehow it becomes more real again and I go back to being pissed off, frustrated and feeling rebellious about it. I go back to hating myself, my life, my illness, the world, everything. I become acutely aware of the fact that I will be struggling to manage this thing for the rest of my life. And then I get overwhelmed with feelings of guilt and self-loathing for acting like my life is so much worse than everyone else’s. Of course all these emotions make my condition even worse. I have to get use to the idea all over again. I have Bipolar Disorder. It is chronic. It will never go away. I will spend the rest of my life struggling with mental illness. I will get better but at some point it will get worse again. Life goes on. Until I finally, again, accept that this is my reality.

On that note, with the Seroquel kicking in and the letters starting to swim on my screen, I bid you good night.

Coming out of the Bipolar ‘closet’

I recently met someone. It is not serious at all yet and we are still very much getting to know each other, but for the first time in a long time I actually think that there is potential there. In the past couple of years I have had only messy non-relationship relationships and drunken flings. I’ve never been good at the dating game. Therefore I am naturally inclined to a sense of impending doom, but since I am in the best space I’ve been in since, well, ever, I am cautiously optimistic. But I really don’t want to skrew this up, especially before it’s even really begun.

Being the obsessive, anxious control-freak that I am, I am already worried about how, and at what point, I’m going to tell him that I have Bipolar Disorder. On our first date he mentioned something about a psychiatric hospital and I just laughed and said nothing, even though I felt ashamed at betraying myself. There are certain subjects I tip-toe around, and I constantly have to watch what I say and steer clear of certain topics. I am filled with anxiety about how he is going to react when he finds out. He is getting to know me at my best now, but what will happen when I inevitably hit rock bottom again? Will he even be willing to stick around until that happens?

I know my worries are very premature. Who knows if we’ll even get to a stage where it’s necessary to tell him about it. Still, it is a situation that all people with illness have to face at more than one point of their lives. I have been able to avoid this since I was diagnosed, only telling people who I know love me unconditionally and would not judge. It’s confusing and causes so much anxiety, thinking about how it will impact on the future, the possibility of rejection getting the timing wrong and losing someone you care about.

My plan is to just not think about it, take it one day at a time and deal with these situations as they arise, hoping that I will know when the right time is. I suppose I don’t want to be with someone who can’t accept me the way I am anyway.

When did you break the news about your illness to your partner and how did he/she react?

The benefits of support groups

Like most, I found being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder completely bewildering. On the one hand it was a relief to finally find out that my life was coming apart at the seams not because I was a weak person who couldn’t cope with everyday life, but because I had an illness that had become unmanageable. But even though I had the diagnoses, and read everything I could lay my hands on, I felt that there was a key piece of the puzzle missing that made it impossible for me to really understand how it all fitted together. At the time it felt like I had to somehow fit my ‘self’ into the illness, instead of the illness into my ‘self’. I tried to discuss it with my psychologist, but to me it didn’t feel like he thought that I really had Bipolar Disorder. I might have only imagined that, but regardless I couldn’t talk about it. I eventually stopped seeing him because I didn’t feel like we had anything left to discuss. I felt lost, alone and unable to communicate or figure out what it meant to have Bipolar Disorder.

I had heard about the support group in my area, but hadn’t had the courage to attend. I was anxious about going by myself, but had no one to go with me. My family lives very far away and at the time I didn’t have any other support, so I had to talk to someone. Walking into my first meeting was absolutely terrifying. I wasn’t at the point where I openly discussed my illness yet, and I felt embarrassed and way too vulnerable. I didn’t know what to expect and was sure that the people were going to judge me. Luckily I was wrong.

These days I actually look forward to going to group and even when I don’t really feel like it, I go anyway (that’s usually when you need it the most). I have met some amazing and inspirational people and have made great friends that I meet with outside the meetings. Being able to talk to people who can identify with what I go through, think the way I do and have experienced the same frustrations I have has really made life easier. Although I believe that Psychologists have their place, and I still see my Psychiatrist monthly, attending a support group has helped me a lot more than therapy (in terms of understanding and dealing with my illness). I know that I now have people I can call on who will understand and a place to go where I can share my load, get help and advice and even laugh at myself. I also find it very rewarding to be able to pass what I have learned on to others.

Research has proven over and over  again that support groups have many benefits for their participants, whether it is for mental health issues, weight loss, addiction, chronic illness etc. These groups don’t have to be led by professionals in psychology or psychiatry and are more often led by ‘regular’ people who share the condition and therefore know what other participants go through. I found this quotation that sums it up:

“Mutual support groups, involving little or no cost to participants, have a powerful effect on mental and physical health… The psychological and physical health importance of this diffuse community is striking. The self-help movement, both in face-to-face and virtual arenas, has tremendous therapeutic potential.” (from American Psychologist feature article “Who Talks?: The Social Psychology of Illness Support Groups” by K. P. Davison, J. W. Pennebaker, & S.S. Dickerson, (55) 2, pp. 205-217, 2000.)

According to the Mayo Clinic, support groups hold the following benefits for its members:

  • Feeling less lonely, isolated or judged
  • Gaining a sense of empowerment and control
  • Improving coping skills and sense of adjustment
  • Talking openly and honestly about your feelings
  • Reducing distress, depression or anxiety
  • Developing a clearer understanding of what to expect with your situation
  • Getting practical advice or information about treatment options
  • Comparing notes about resources, such as doctors and alternative options.

For more information read this article. It’s about stress management, but I think the principles are the same.

Thanks to the Internet we don’t have to only rely on face-to-face support groups. Some people don’t have groups in their areas, some prefer to stay anonymous and others would rather express themselves in writing or to strangers. You can even belong to a few different groups if you want. The point is that these days it is easier to find a support group or forum that will suit your particular needs.

I’m sure support groups don’t work for anyone and it might take a few tries before you find something that works for you, but I would definitely recommend that you give it a try.

I only have a few support groups listed under Useful Resources, but please share yours and I will add it to the list.