Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Bipolar disorder isn't real and other fairy tales

There's been a lot of awareness about bipolar disorder these last few days, what with Carrie Fisher's passing and all. With all that awareness there's been a slew of misinformation as well. Seeing as I am a fan of correct information being spread around, I'd like to dispel a few myths that are floating around at the moment.

Bipolar disorder isn't real.

I've seen it said that bipolar isn't a real disorder, instead, it's just a conglomeration of symptoms that cause a person distress. Now, last I checked, a conglomeration of symptoms that caused a person distress was usually considered a disease/disorder/condition. I understand the thought process here, that all bipolar disorder entails is some ups, downs, and mood changes, so why call those things bipolar disorder? I think it's useful to b able to categorize symptoms, and to have a name for what's going on. I know a lot of people don't like labels when it comes to mental illness, but personally, I prefer them. I'd much rather be able to tell a person a short blurb about my diagnosis versus an essay long version of describing words.

Bipolar disorder isn't caused by chemical imbalances

According to the Mayo Clinic "An imbalance in naturally occurring brain chemicals called neurotransmitters seems to play a significant role in bipolar disorder and other mood disorders." Yes, stressors, and ACE (adverse childhood events) can help trigger an episode in some people, but neurotransmitters have a critical role to play as well.

Bipolar disorder doesn't kill people

This argument is supposed off the thought 'bipolar disorder isn't real'. If it's not real, it can't kill someone. I saw an example that compared a headache to causation of head pain instead of the manifestation of head pain, and stated that bipolar disorder is no more the cause of a person's death than a headache is the cause of head pain. I disagree with this entirely. According to various studies, people with bipolar disorder are 15% more likely than the general population to kill themselves. To me, this says that bipolar disorder does, in fact, kill people. This isn't including the studies that have linked cardiovascular problems to patients with bipolar disorder as well. 

These are just a few of the myths that are floating around the word 'bipolar disorder'. What this shows me is that more education is needed of the general public, and possibly even people within the mental health field as well. It shows that we can't grow lax in our mission to fight stigma, and fight misinformation. I know this is an uphill battle, but I believe if we all stay committed to promoting only evidence backed science, we can help fight and win this battle. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Why I can't just 'get over' my mania

Doesn't having an elated mood, possibly for weeks at a time, sound wonderful? It certainly doesn't sound like anything you need to see your doctor over, right? What about having a sense of confidence in yourself? That you are born to succeed, and can't fail. That sounds like it'd be a great trait for an entrepreneur to have. But what about impulsivity? Or racing thoughts? These sound less fun, don't they? How about engaging in risky behaviors, such as having unprotected sex, gambling, or going on huge shopping sprees? That doesn't sound fun at all, does it?

Out of any of these, which do you think I can control? Which do you think I can just 'get over'?

Moving past a manic episode is almost a Herculean task. You do stupid, shameful things while in a state of mania. It's easy to hold a grudge towards your manic self because of all the suffering it brings on.

And why should I have to 'get over' it? Being bipolar is who I am. Yes, I want to control my mania, just as I want to control the depression, but do I really need to 'get over' it? That's  like telling me to 'get over' my arm, or my left pinky toe.

I understand that people want me to get better, but I'm not going to get over bipolar disorder as easily as one gets over the cold.

It's impossible to 'get over' some of these things. Maintain and control yes, but eliminate completely? Not likely.

Mania has such little good to it, yet many people with bipolar disorder are addicted to that sliver of goodness. The rush you feel, the on top of the world high, those are difficult feelings to voluntarily banish. The colors you see, the creativity you have, why would anyone get rid of these things? Because there's more to mania than just that high. And I can't get over it without help.

I can't regulate my sleep cycle, eat this diet, and take those herbs to feel at optimal levels. It just doesn't work that way.
It also doesn't work by using sheer willpower to control the symptoms. If it did, everyone would be doing it, and bipolar disorder wouldn't be considered a serious mental illness.

For me, staying sane includes therapy and meds. It includes getting enough sleep, and eating regular meals. It includes having a support system to rely on. I have to know my triggers, and learn to cope with my stressors.

There's no 'getting over' mania, but there is 'living with' mania. And thriving. 

Thursday, January 5, 2017

What not to say to a bipolar person

I've had some incredibly touching experiences in the midst of my struggles with bipolar disorder. Unfortunately, it's also par for the course that I've had some really shitty ones too. Over the last decade, I've heard so many things, like 'There's nothing really wrong with you, you're just an attention whore" or 'It's all in your head", and to that I cheerily reply, "Of course it is happening inside my head, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” I feel like Dumbledore would be proud.

I've come up with a list of phrases I've heard over the last 20 yeas or so that you should never say to someone with bipolar disorder, and why it shouldn't be said.

"Snap out of it."

I really hate this expression because it insinuates I'm choosing to act this way, whatever way that might be. That I have a switch I can flip to go back to 'normal'. Fighting the struggles of bipolar disorder is an all encompassing job, and to imply that I'm not doing all I can to feel better is insulting. Sometimes all I can do is make it from my bed to my couch, which is the equivalent of a hike up Mount Everest when I'm depressed. When walking 20 feet is too much to handle, 'snapping out of it', is an even more impossible task. 

"Why are you doing this to me?"

Talk about a guilt trip from hell. I really despise this because the person is making you feel even worse about something you can't control, by implying that yo're doing this on purpose, to be vindictive, or for any other reason. They're trying to make you own their emotions, and give you weight to carry that you don't need to carry. 

"Happiness is a choice."

Oh. Ohhhhh, This one really gets to me. Yes, there are choices you can make to lead to happiness, but there is more to it than that. There are other people that can affect your path to happiness. There's neurotransmitters that affect your happiness. There are situational factors that affect it as well. I'm a fan of Viktor Frankl, who was able to find happiness in the most extreme of circumstances, the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. He even created a school of thought from what he learned there, called logotherapy. He knew that you couldn't just choose happiness, you had to work for it. Albus Dumbledore once said, "Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light." I love this quote because it reminds me that what I focus on is what I see best. If I'm dwelling in the dark, I'm not going to find happiness. 

"Have you thought of trying <insert random herb here>?" or "You should get off all those pills."

I know this one is well meaning, and usually brought up in a loving manner, but to me, it's still patronizing AF. It hurts because I have a doctor, and 99% of the people in my life know I have a doctor, and we work quite well as a team to keep me stable. I'm not going to risk my stability on an herb that could have grave consequences should I try it. And quitting my meds? I've burned so many bridges that the people suggesting me didn't know me when I was off all those pills. They wouldn't want to see that, ever. I know I don't.

"You've got it so good, why are you depressed?"

This one hurts, probably the most to me right now. I am fully aware of how incredible my life is, how blessed I am, and everything I have to be grateful for. I still cry big tears of sadness, and feel like I don't deserve any of it. It's possible to have a great life and still be depressed when you're bipolar. Pointing out everything great doesn't make the depression go away, it just makes me hate myself more for being an ungrateful brat. 

So, what CAN you say to someone with bipolar disorder? You can say, "I see you've been struggling lately, what can I help with?". You can say, "I see you, and am here with you.". You can even just be silent, and sit, and give your presence as a show of solidarity with the person struggling. You can just listen, instead of talking. You can offer a hug. I know for me, I had one experience in the psych ward where I was just devastated, and the tears wouldn't stop coming, and the nurse on duty just came and sat with me. And listened. And just her presence was enough to calm me down. She then gave me a hug and gave me an encouraging platitude, and it was enough. I've never forgotten that, even though I'm sure she doesn't remember this at all by now. Never underestimate the power of silence. 

We just want to be accepted as we are, warts and all. Treat us as you would want to be treated. And remember this above all; in a world where you can be anything, be kind. 

Friday, December 16, 2016

A Stranger’s Act of Kindness Towards Me and My Bipolar That Surprised Me

I hit rock bottom in life a little over 10 years ago. I lost everything that was important to me, from my child, to my car, to my house...to my dignity.

This is when I was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and ended up spending 6 weeks in a short term psych ward. The average stay there was 5-7 days, I blew that average right out of the water.

I made a lot of poor choices before that hospital stay, which ultimately cost me custody of my child, and for a time it lost me my family and friends.

When I was staying at this hospital, I had no friends or family to come visit me, everyone had written me off. I had no one to call during open phone time. I had no one to bring me money to get a soda, or something besides the semi-edible hospital food.

That kind of isolation will wear on a person, until they begin to truly believe that they are nothing more than a mouth breather taking up space. This being a very difficult point in my life, I actually contemplated ways to end my life while in the hospital. I hated myself, and felt like no one should waste their time on me.

And since I had that attitude, several of the nurses and techs treated me as such. There was one who didn't though. He treated me as if I were a person. As if I mattered. He was always subtle in his approach to letting me know I had value, but it was always there. It was the little things like getting me a soda every week or so, or buying me french fries from the cafe downstairs because he knew I wasn't getting that stuff any other way. He would let me choose the radio station and encourage me to rock out.

These don't sound like huge things, but they were life altering for me. I was able to slowly come back from the brink of the dark abyss because of his actions. I started writing while in the hospital, to get the words that were poisoning my soul out. I started trying to live again, even though every day was like having a glass shard in my heart.

I learned a valuable lesson from this man's treatment of me. I learned that you never know how much of a difference you can make in a person's life by being kind, so be kind, always. He'll never know that he helped save my life, just by treating me as a person. Now I try to pay that forward whenever I can. Random acts of kindness are my favorite things to do. If you're ever in a position to either be kind, or say something hurtful, always try and choose the higher road. You never know when you'll be saving a person's life by doing so. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Three Resolutions of a Person With Bipolar Disorder

It's the end of the year, and what does that mean? It means it's time to start thinking of New Year's resolutions.

My resolutions tend to stay the same every year, none of that 'I want to lose 30 pounds by bikini season' crap, or 'I'm going to run a full marathon by the end of winter' phooey. Good on everyone else who makes those promises to themselves, but it's not my scene. Though, it could be because I don't run - unless a zombie is chasing me.

No, my resolutions are a little more serious, and have far more lasting consequences if I don't see them through. You see, I have bipolar disorder, and I have to think carefully on my resolutions each year.

Take my first resolution for example, it is to stay medication compliant all the times. This is way harder than you'd think. I'm on 10 different medications; two of them cause weight gain, and with one of them I have to go in and get my blood checked frequently. I get so sick of taking 5 pills in the morning, and 5 at night, plus 15 more over the course of the day. When you have a hard time swallowing pills, 25 of them gets to be a bit much. And this is every day. I don't get weekends off, or holidays, or sick days. But I do it. I've had so many epic fails when I've decreased dosages without my doctor's knowledge, or just straight up quit meds without my provider's blessing. I've learned the hard way, again, and again, and again, about messing with my meds without my doctor knowing about. So, medication compliance, that's resolution number one.

Resolution number two is to put myself first, always. Many people think self care is selfish, but it's the most important thing you can do to help keep yourself stable. I have to take time every single day to make sure my needs are being met. I love to color, or crochet, or be able to take a long enough shower to have time to shave my legs. (With 4 kids, this is harder than you'd think.) Self care also includes reaching out to friends or family if you need to talk. There's an age old analogy that I share, about airplanes - if the oxygen masks come down, who's do you put on first? Yours or your child's? You put on yours first of course! Because if you pass out, you're of no use whatsoever to that child. This is an excellent analogy to life, you can't properly care for others if you don't care for yourself first.

Resolution number three. I have to be resolute in my decision to see my doctors and therapists regularly. I hate seeing my doctor every month, he's out-of-network, and it's pricey to see him every month, but we've tried pushing my visits out to every 2 months, and I decompensate every time. So, I go see him. I also have to stay regular with my individual therapist because I start to go downhill when I begin skipping appointments with her too. And then there's marriage counseling; we see him PRN, but I have to be honest with my husband about how I'm doing. So if my individual counseling isn't being effective on its own, my husband and I can go in as a team to our counselor and get extra coping skills from him.

I have to say, keeping these resolutions is not as easy as you'd think. There are months that I don't want to pick my meds up from the pharmacy because of how much they cost, which would put me out of compliance with them., Putting myself first isn't always easy, I have a history of low self esteem, and learning to care for me has been a challenge. And honestly, I get sick of all the doctor and therapy visits I have each month; I get tired of going in and seeing them so frequently. I feel like they're probably sick of seeing me so much or something.

But I keep those promises because I have to. My good health is one of the most precious things I have, and stability is worth the price of feeling like I inconvenience people. (I also recognize that this is probably a negative thought distortion, and I probably don't really burden people.)So if you live with bipolar disorder, and you haven't figured out what resolutions you want to make for 2017, maybe my list will be a springboard for you to jump off of and find some ideas that fit your situation too!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

What You Can’t See About Living With Bipolar Disorder

There are so many things that people don't see about living with bipolar disorder.

No-one sees the anguish of knowing you're cycling, and feeling helpless to stop it. No-one sees the crushing weight of the depression. No-one sees the drug-like euphoria of mania.

People don't see you curled up in a ball on the edge of your bed as you hold your pill bottle in your hand, trying to convince yourself not to take them because you just can't take life anymore.

People don't see the shame spiral you fall into when you wake up from the mania haze and see the path of destruction you've left behind.

People don't see how deeply sorry you are, and how you'd give anything to not be like this.

No-one sees the difficulty of having to explain that you really are sick, even though you look totally healthy. Or the shame that can come along with looking totally fine, yet being broken into a million little pieces on the inside.

People don't see the internal struggle, the often daily internal struggle of living with this. Sometimes it feels like things will never be right; when you're feeling great, you have to worry if it's mania, or if it's not mania, you're worried about how long it'll last. Then when you're depressed, you have to try and hold on to the hope that there will be brighter days ahead, even though your head is messing with you and screaming that there will never be a light at the end of this tunnel.

No-one sees the tears, because you get tired of sharing them. No-one sees the haunting sadness, because you don't want to scare people away.

People see the beautiful smile, and hear the, 'I'm fine.', and leave it at that.

On the other hand, people don't see the compassion, the sheer empathy, and the love that people with bipolar disorder have for humanity.

We suffer, so we are more in tune with others' suffering, and want to alleviate it.

People don't see the absolute genius that is in our brains, usually because we're too disorganized to bring it to fruition, or too scared of failure, or for any other number of reasons.

People don't see enough stories of hope in bipolar disorder. They hear the horror stories, the untreated souls who are suffering, and think that's all that's there.

There is hope. Medications aren't fun, but they bring you peace and relief from the dark roller coaster ride. Therapy helps you understand yourself better, and gives you practical skills to use when you're struggling. Maybe what people need to see, how hard people with mental illness work to improve themselves.

It's a long uphill battle sometimes, but it's certainly not a death sentence - unless you make it one. And people can't see that without help.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Why I appreciate people like Carrie Fisher being open about MI.

I relate a lot to Carrie Fisher.

She's funny, poignant, sweet, and charitable. I'd like to think I have some of those same qualities.

I once had the opportunity to meet her, and got to tell her how much I appreciated the work she does to bring light to bipolar disorder. I'll never forget the hug she gave me, and how she seemed to genuinely care how I was doing at that exact moment.

I love hearing her talk about the struggles she has with bipolar disorder. I'm really a nobody with bipolar disorder, who writes articles that get a few views here and there. But Carrie Fisher, and Demi Moore, and others, they speak, and they command attention.

I appreciate the work she does because she gives me hope. She inspires me to keep writing, and to keep sharing my story. The fact that she is so raw and honest encourages me to do the same. I think she does the same for others who are struggling with mental illness as well.

There's a quote, 'with great power comes great responsibility', and I feel that celebrities who struggle with mental illness and come out about it, have a responsibility to be real. Don't sugarcoat it. Help people see that we're human, We have fallibilities, yet we have redeeming qualities as well. Fight the stigma.

I can't do that as a relatively anonymous writer, but my heroes, like Carrie Fisher, can.

I love that she fights the stigma, and does it in spades.

I'm grateful for people like her, who have the courage to show the dark side of mental illness, as well as the light side. That there is hope of recovery, and even though the possibility of relapse is always there, it can be overcome. A 'normal' life of purpose and happiness is possible, even with serious mental illness.

That's what I love about Carrie Fisher. She shows that there is hope of a meaningful life, no matter how the odds are stacked. I'll keep trying, I'll keep fighting the good fight because I've got a role model to help keep me on point.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Remembering the importance of stability even when it's boring

It's hard being well. It's hard to continue to take the same meds; day in, and day out.It's hard to 'keep your nose clean', and stay out of trouble. It gets boring.

Living with bipolar disorder is much like walking a tight rope. Too much 'fun' and I'm manic; too much 'down in the doldrums', and I'm depressed. God forbid I have an emotion that is human because it will be analyzed to pieces by myself, my husband, my doctor.

And staying out of trouble gets hard to do when you're bipolar. Many people, myself included, get an adrenaline rush like no other from the heights of mania. Giving that up for stability sometimes looks like a poor choice. You can feel as if you've lost your creativity, your 'spark', your muchness, to quote the Mad Hatter.

So what's a person to do when boredom strikes, and it starts looking like a good idea to 'poke the bear', as some would say?

The biggest thing I do, is talk to someone. That's the number one most important thing you can do when you start thinking stirring up some trouble would be swell. Talk to a trusted family member, or your therapist, or your psych, or even a member of the clergy, if you're so inclined.

Use your emergency contingency plan. I've had to make one every time I've been discharged from a psych ward, and they all look similar. It details what behaviors I exhibit when I'm starting to relapse, who to contact first, and things I can do to prevent things from deteriorating further.

The next thing you should do is actually use those coping skills that are talked about so frequently. For example, I color, I find something to clean, I pull out my Cricut and create something new. I write. I do something, anything, to keep my hands and mind busy.

I certainly don't ruminate. Those voices in my head love trouble, they thrive on it. If I listen to them, I'm headed for disaster.

I suppose the most important thing of all that I do, is not quit my medications at this time. If you're doing well, but you're bored with being well, quitting your meds is one of the worst things you can do for your continuing recovery.

Boredom is okay. In today's world we're taught that boredom is the worst possible punishment you can give a person, and that we must be entertained at all times, but it's not true. Sit with the boredom for a little while. This is super DBT-ish, but let the boredom flow through you like a wave. Acknowledge it is there, and then let it pass on by. Don't hold on to it, but don't push it away either. Soon the bored feeling will pass, and you'll be eternally grateful you stayed true to the course of recovery.

If none of this works, you may well be struggling and need a med adjustment, or a new approach in therapy. But you'll be ahead of the curve by being able to recognize a trigger for you.

I'm not going to lie, allowing myself to be bored sucks. I hate it. I don't like feeling like I need to stir up problems for entertainment. I know myself though, and knowing is half the battle, right? It's hard to admit when you're struggling, at least, it is for me. Don't be like me, who has too much pride to ask for help sometimes. Be yourself, a person who has learned from my mistakes. 

Friday, October 28, 2016

Have we gone too far worrying about stigma?

When is fun crossing the line into offensive?

Do Halloween haunted house names really matter?

Are we even focusing on the right thing when we light our torches and grab our pitchforks and march on the company who had the audacity to create an attraction poking fun at mental illness?

Has political correctness gone too far?

The Knotts Scary Farm debate forced them to back down and change the name of their attraction, from FearVR: 5150 to just FearVR.

Should they have had to do this?

As a person who lives every day with a mental illness, I say no. I'm bipolar and I still haven't lost the ability to laugh at myself, or the ludicrousness that is bipolar disorder.

I've been blueslipped before, which is another term for a 5150.

And I'm not roiling with indignation that this happened.

Personally, I feel we've lost our eye on the prize, which is real policies and changes that will help those living with mental illnesses. I feel like more people are shouting the mantra of "No more stigma! No more stigma!" than are fighting the good fight with their congressmen and local politicians.

Why is this important? Because if we get so consumed in 'fighting stigma' and don't stay passionate about effecting real changes, those real changes won't be made.

I know a lot of the arguments towards this have revolved around 'people learning misconceptions from things that portray the mentally ill as dangerous', but I feel like we could do more of a service by flooding the media with examples of people who have mental illness and are succeeding.

I feel like we've spent entirely too much time whining 'Oh, don't pick on me!, and not enough time showing just how strong we are, even with a disease or disability that makes us work harder.

I know we also claim that there is no other disease that gets poked fun at, but I know for a fact that gluten intolerance has been made the butt of several jokes over the past few years. There are multiple YouTube episodes poking fun at it, and I've laughed at those too. If something is well done, and isn't meant to cause harm, why is it so rage inducing?

So what is to be done? I think for one, we've got to stop throwing hissy fits at companies when they do something we don't like. Save our energy for the bigger battles, when an atrocity really is happening, know what I mean?

For two, we've got to recognize when something is in good fun, and when something truly is in poor taste.

And for 3, learn to laugh, for heaven's sake. Laughter truly is the best medicine sometimes.

I think if we could learn to do these three things, we'd been less exhausted from having to stay indignant all the time, and more able to see when something really needs to be fought for, and then have the energy to do that.

Stigma is real, but I think we've got to learn to recognize when someone if truly stigmatizing against a cause, and when they're just poking fun.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

What I worry about most with SMI and our next president

I'm worried.

I'm very worried.

I'm so worried it makes me sick to my stomach sometime.

Why, you ask?

Because serious mental illness is not a joke, but looking at the presidential candidates from the two major parties, they seem to think it is.

What is serious mental illness, if not a joke? It's bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder. Diseases that significantly impact a person's quality of life. They're not words that you toss around so nonchalantly as if they have no real long lasting consequences.

I'm afraid because we've made some progress in the areas of SMI, like with allocating funds for the treatment of it, and helping move persons with SMI out of the jails and into hospitals, but I fear for the backsliding of all this good if we elect in a person who doesn't have the slightest bit of appreciation for what mental is, and is not.

Mental illness has a long history of being taboo, and a death sentence, politically speaking, for any politician. This seems to have led to some kind of cognitive dissonance to the subject. Politicians regularly have smear campaigns against their rivals, calling them 'nuts,', 'crazy', 'deranged'. And then this thinking seems to lend its way into the way they vote as well. Many politicians are confused, and know very little about just how devastating mental illness is, especially without safeguards in place to protect some of our most vulnerable members of society.

How does this language help us have an honest talk about mental illness in general, and SMI specifically? I feel it doesn't.

I happened to google the words 'Donald Trump and mental illness policies', and there was very little on the subject to be found, but there was plenty of wild speculations of his own mental health there. I then googled 'Hillary Clinton and mental health policies', and there was a bit more of meat to her mental health policies, but still a good amount of articles trying to discredit her because of speculations on her mental health.

I feel that people with these ideals are not likely to understand the complex issues that surround SMI, and therefore will not appreciate the power they yield to help or harm the mental illness community by signing off on bills that will undoubtedly come before them over the next 4 years.

Until we have a president who appreciates the severity and nuances of SMI, we will not have the voice we need to be heard, the voice that affects real change. And by watching the candidates we have now, I feel this is not the our time to have that drastic change we so desperately need.