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 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. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Ten ways to parent when you're having a rough time

Parenting is hard work on the best of days. But when you add in something like depression, for some people it becomes nigh on unbearable. I'm not a doctor (nor do I play one on TV), but I do have bipolar disorder myself, and after having fought with the ups and downs of that for the last 10 years, I've put together my own little list of things that have helped me be the best parent possible when I've just want to crawl under a rock and hide instead of dealing with those darling monsters I helped create.

1. Take care of yourself! Being sleep deprived, not eating, forgetting to shower can and will make those long days with your kids even longer and put everyone on edge. Adults need at least 7-9 hours of sleep every night. If you don't eat, you will be grumpier and more prone to mood swings and bouts of irritability or crying spells. Showering every day will improve your mood and will give you one thing that you can check off your list of things you've accomplished that day.

2. Exercise as much as is feasible. This is a hard one for me. When I'm depressed, getting up and walking to the fridge is too much exercise. Rolling over on the couch is too much exercise. But research has proven that a little bit of movement, eve just a 15 minute walk can help lift the mood. Load your kids up in the stroller and take them to the park. It'll feel like an impossible task, but the benefits are worth it. You're creating memories with your kids, and helping your mood at the same time. Win-win, right?  If you've got a friend or family member who can help encourage you to go out, take their advice and walk with them. I promise you, it's worth it.

3. Stick to a simple routine, don't let chaos ensue. Even if you're depressed, or maybe especially if you're depressed, having a simple routine can help keep the overwhelming feelings of hopelessness and feelings of worthlessness at bay. It can be as simple as 'wake up, playtime, lunch time, quiet time, snack, playtime, dinner, movie time, bedtime'. Don't make things harder on yourself than they need to be.

4. Let your kids be as independent as age appropriate will allow. If they want to have PBJs 3 nights in a row, and can fix them themselves, have at it. Fish sticks in the microwave? It's AOK. A summer dress with snow boots? No problem. As long as your child is safe, and supervised to the level they need to be supervised at, it's okay that you're not being Suzy Homemaker with them right now.

5. Concentrate on the absolute 'have to's' not 'want to's'. You need to change the baby's diaper in the morning. You want to clean and organize her room some. That can wait until you've got more energy or have some help.

6. Ask for outside help! Let your support system take the kids to the park, or over to their house for a few hours while you get a break. Go get a break at the bookstore with a friend while the kids stay with another caregiver. It's important that you take care of you when you're feeling depleted.

7. Find a supportive person to lean on while you're struggling. It could be a trusted friend, a therapist, a family member, a clergyman, anyone who you feel safe talking to that can help keep you making it through each day. This support person can be the one that really helps encourage you to keep trying each day, even when things look super hard. A good support person will be an empathetic ear, is good at validating your emotions, and respects your privacy.

8. Think 'good enough' instead of 'never enough'. If you need to get paper plates and cups so you're doing less dishes, there's no shame in that. If you've ordered take out twice this week, so what? The kids have been fed. Don't let your perceptions of what others may think get you even more down. That's a negative spiral that doesn't help you at all.  Anything to simplify your life right now is a good idea. If you do laundry and the kids have clean clothes, who cares if they're folded or not? It okay to practice this idea of 'good enough'. We live in an age of 'never enough', where we are never a good enough mother, or we never spend enough time with our kids, or never volunteer enough at our kids' school. And it's not right. We are enough just as we are, right now.

9. Practice self-compassion for when you slip up and are hard on your kids. It's going to happen. You're going to yell at your kid. Or not feel like doing something they want to do. Or not put jammies on them and they sleep in the same clothes they wore the day before. And then wear those same clothes all day the next day. It's okay. You don't make a habit out of this. If you were feeling well, this would be a non-issue. If you had a friend who was going through a depression, what would you say to her right now? Would you judge and condemn her for losing her cool, or would you give her a hug and say, "Hey, we all have rough days. You'll get through this. I love you. I'm here for you."? Why can't you tell yourself that? Practice loving yourself.

10. Get regular physicals. If things continue to look bleak and dark, consider getting checked out by your doctor to make sure there's nothing more serious going on. Low vitamin D levels or thyroid issues can cause depression, and just the stress of having children can be hard on many women as well. As always, seek immediate treatment if you have thoughts of harming yourself or anyone else.

In conclusion, getting past a depressive episode is NOT easy! Especially when you've got little ones counting on you for their survival! I beg you to not run faster than you have strength. Things might seem bleak and discouraging now, but like Harvey Dent said in The Dark Knight 'The night is always darkest before the dawn. And I promise you, the dawn is coming.". I know that's probably the lamest thing ever, holding onto a promise from a fictional character, coming from an internet blogger, but that promise has gotten me through some of the darkest days of my life. So although your kids may drive you up a wall, and you may feel overwhelmed, or hopeless, or thoroughly discouraged that you're not living fully in the moment with your children, know that this feeling will pass, and joy and light will come again.


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Self compassion when you're a bipolar parent

I've made some pretty poor choices as a mom over the years. And because of this mom guilt thing that is so permeated in our culture, it's been damn hard to forgive myself and move past it. In fact, I can't say that I have moved past a lot of the mistakes I've made. Add in a mental illness like bipolar disorder to the mix, and you've got a perfect storm of shame and remorse waiting to drown you in it's waters.

Late last year, my husband and daughter went out to the movies so I could stay in and have a relaxing night to myself. Unbeknownst to my husband, I'd been struggling quite seriously with suicidal thoughts and while he and my oldest were out at the movies, I made the very poor choice to take a few bottles of pills and attempt to end my life. Fortunately I'd been talking with a friend that day who was able to realize that I was in a very dark spot and she sent the sheriff's department out to check on me. This led to my husband getting a phone call as he was leaving the movie from a deputy letting him know that I'd attempted suicide and was at the local ER. Like I said, I've done some terrible things since I became a mom.This was one of those terrible things.

Having a serious mental illness like bipolar disorder and trying to be a 'good' parent can often feel like an effort in futility. Why should I even try because I'll never be good enough. I'll never be as good as my coworker who manages to get to work on time every day, I'll never be as good as my neighbor who gets a cooked dinner put on the table every night for her family. I'll never be as good as the PTA president who volunteers every week at my kids' school. When am I going to wake up and see that my good enough is enough? That all these 'never enough's' is destroying my self esteem? I have a job, that is enough. I feed my family, that is enough. My kids are doing fine in school, that is enough. I can't look at everyone's strengths, and feel less than just because it's not one of mine. I mean, there's the saying, "Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid." That is so applicable here.

So where is the lighthouse in this storm of shame and remorse? I know for me, it's self-compassion. Treating myself kindly, and with respect, and with empathy when I mess up is the key to helping me get through a shameful moment of treating my children poorly. When you've practiced self compassion and have told yourself you're still okay no matter what, then you're making progress. Shame is when you are telling yourself 'I am bad." Guilt is when you're telling yourself 'I did a bad thing'. See the difference? Even though I missed the school play because I was in the hospital, or because they saw me laying on the couch for days on end because I was too depressed to take care of myself, or because they had to shoulder on too much responsibility around the house as children, I'm still not a bad person. 

Although I'm talking about self compassion here, shame thrives in secrecy, and can't abide being brought into the light of day. Once you've told yourself you're okay, if you can, find an empathetic person that you trust to be vulnerable with, and share with them how you're feeling. Share these experiences with them, with someone who will listen empathetically, someone who will hopefully simply say, 'me too'. This will help you overcome the shame you feel and make you realize you are okay and make you feel worthy of the love and belonging you deserve to have. 

Saturday, September 24, 2016

What does isolation look like with bipolar disorder?

Imagine a desert. A hot, empty desert. A hot, empty desert full of sand and mirages. Nothing else.

And you're there. Struggling to find the oasis. But there's all these mirages throwing you for a loop.

What do you do?

Do you curl up and assume all is lost, or do you press on, trusting one of those mirages will end up being the water you so desperately need?

This is my life with bipolar disorder. And those mirages are the voices in my head telling me I have no-one, and I shouldn't even try reaching out, because even if I did have someone, no-one cares anyway.

When I'm feeling alone and like I need to reach out for help, suddenly I'm thrown into the desert. And I can't find an oasis because I've curled up and assumed all is lost.

Fortunately, I'm not really alone. And people do care. A search party has been enlisted to find me in that desert, and the oasis I need is super close by. Even if I've laid down belly up, the people around me haven't.

Isolation in the real world, desert aside, doesn't look like it does in the movies. There's no freedom there, no moving image of me high in the mountains, all alone, breathing in that crisp mountain air, being rejuvenated. In all actuality, I'm trapped. Trapped in my head. With the negative thought distortions there to make sure I stay put.

And to stay trapped, my body cooperates with those evil thoughts telling me to not reach out. I become a recluse. I stay under the covers of my bed all day reading Orson Scott Card novels. I listen to Tori Amos. I don't hold my morning socials at my house. I stop doing the chores that need to be done to keep my house clean. All minor things in and of themselves, but when combined, it's a sure sign I'm isolating.

How can I stop this from spiraling from simple isolation to full blown depression?

For one, people notice when I start isolating. And they don't let me mull with my thoughts very long. My support team, the one consisting of my family and close friends, force me to go out and do things, even when I'd rather do anything else in the world than be with company.

And for another. I reach out in small ways. I don't lie when people ask me how I'm doing. I let them know that I'm struggling with the 'voices' in my head.

My one random thing I do, is when I start isolating and feeling like I don't matter, I read this list of wonderful things about me, that a friend and I compiled several months ago. It makes me smile every time I read it, and it reminds me that I do have worth, and don't deserve to be alone.

And lastly, I accept people's concern for me, and recognize that even if I don't want to do what everyone is inviting me to do, I know deep down I'll feel better for having gone out and done it. So I force myself to do hard things.

Letting people close to you know that when you start isolating it is a red flag for more a downward spiral, can help a lot. It's what I've done, and now my husband s very vigilant in helping keep me afloat, even when I want to submerge below the cool waters. I know for a fact that he's helped keep a minor hiccup from turning into a major episode.

So, when you find yourself in that desert, hold on fast to the knowledge that there is a search party that's been deployed. And you will be found. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Struggling with winter

When the seasons change, what do I do with as a person with bipolar?

Seasons changing is a dangerous thing when you live with a mood disorder.

When the weather gets colder, and it starts getting darker earlier, there is a good chance your mood is going to shift as well.

I know this because I live it every year. I don't struggle with Fall, or Spring, but I'll be damned if I don't get knocked down every Summer and Winter...especially Winter.

There's just something magical about the dark nights, the bitter cold, and the holidays arriving. Something magically dark and dangerous, much like the Nothing from the Neverending Story.

I do wonderfully up until Halloween, and then on November 1st, it's like a switch goes off in my brain that says 'Holy shit! You're doing awesome! Let's wreak some havoc!'. And then I spiral downward, in a rapid succession.

How can you prevent the most tragic of spirals during the winter months? I don't have all the answers, but I have discovered some techniques that have really helped me the last 3 years.

First of all, I discuss it beforehand with my therapist. We know what to watch for with me months in advance. I don't surprise her with my internal struggles once they're at a crisis level.

Second of all, I have a game plan that my entire support team is aware of, and on board with. My therapist knows what my psych is thinking, and my husband knows what everyone is thinking. And vice versa. There can't be deep dark secrets when it comes to staying safe during a potential time of difficulty.

Third of all, I make time to do things that I value, and decide (before the crisis hits) that I will do them no matter what obstacles I may throw up. For example, it's a very important tradition to me to take my kids to go see the lights at Temple Square in SLC each year. It's one that me and my kids both treasure. We make the journey no matter what. Since that is such an important tradition to me, I make the decision beforehand that no matter how I'm feeling, or how my husband is feeling, the kids and I will make it there.

Fourth, I extend myself some leniency from the hustle and bustle that can happen during the winter months. I know that I'll need to take it slower than the average person, and might have to risk offending someone by turning down an invitation. But that's okay. It's me practicing self care.

And fifth, I try to go with the flow. I can't control everything. And that's okay. I want to control everything, that's something I'm aware I struggle with, so I fight it. The kids don't want to go caroling around the neighborhood? I'll sit down with them and color some cute pages out of our coloring books instead. I can't fight my 4 year old into her adorable new Christmas jumper? I'll softly sigh, 'Let it go" to myself.

Although this won't work for everyone, following this suggestions kept me out of the hospital last year for the first time in 3 years. It was beautiful. I fully plan on doing this again this year. In fact, preparations for my sanity have been underway for the last month now.

Of course, if you find yourself in a crisis situation, don't bother with these suggestions, seek medical care immediately. There are people who care, and want to help. Seek them out.

I wish all who struggle with mood disorders the best of winter seasons. Let's all make this year the best one yet!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Thank you to the therapist who really saw ME.

I was recently hospitalized for suicidal ideation, for the fourth time in 2 years. I was really struggling with myself, with my identity, my values, my beliefs. I didn't like myself. I honestly thought the world would be better off without me, and especially that my family would be better of without me. I live with bipolar disorder type I, and I go through some extreme mood swings because of it.  I had also made the poor decision to quit my medications because I was so sick of the way I looked. I was doing phenomenally mood wise. but I hated the way I felt about myself physically.

I was rather bitter about this hospital stay because my individual counselor had sent the Sheriffs out to find me, (I sent her a suicide note by text), and she responded appropriately by doing a welfare check. I didn't want to be found though, I really wanted to be dead; at least I thought that was the case. So I spent my first couple days sulking about how miserably unfair my life was. The therapist in the hospital was amazingly kind those first few days. I thought he was great until we had a therapy session with my husband. That's when he seemed to turn on me and laid it all bare just what type of person I really was.

He told me in no uncertain terms that I had a problem with always having to be right, and that I was annoying, and he thought I'd be almost impossible to live with, and that he didn't know how my husband did it.

He also told me though, that I had something innately likeable about me, something that made all those other qualities seem to diminish, and make me a wonderful person. He also said that even with me being a incredibly difficult person, there was something that was just charming about me, that radiated from me, even when I annoyed the hell out of people.

Of course, all I heard from that in those first few days was that I'm a terrible person who doesn't deserve to have anything good happen to her, but eventually it dawned on me that he had basically seen my soul, laid it bare, put words to it, and still found me a good person. And that changed my life.

Once I got through the processing of the hurtful things he said, I realized that he had said some wonderful things about me as well. And that was incredibly freeing.

The shocking thing about all of this is that I believed him. I honestly believed what he had told me because he was one of the most genuine people I'd ever met. I knew he wouldn't say something if he didn't think it to be the truth. And because of that, it sank in.

I changed because of that comment he made to me in our therapy session that day. I began to believe that I have value, that I have worth, and that I'm a good person. I know deep inside that although I can be an incredibly difficult person to handle at times, I'm still innately likeable. And that's enough for me. It doesn't matter if everyone doesn't like me, I still believe and hold onto the thought that I'm charming. Of all things, charming! I'm someone that deserves to be treated well and treated with respect because I am worthy of those things.

I don't know if this therapist will ever know how much of a profound effect he had on me, and how much he's changed my life, but I want to thank him. I want to thank him from the bottom of my heart for seeing ME, the real me, the me hiding behind my layers of sarcasm and mean words.He had the audacity to tell me straight like it really is, and I admire that kind of bravery. He has given me the backbone to be myself, in all things, at all times, and in all places. I don't have to people please anymore. I know that I'm enough, just as I am. And his words helped make that a reality for me. And I am so grateful. So grateful. Thank you dear therapist, for giving me the courage to be authentic myself.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Hi again!

I don't think I'm ever going to be a completely regular writer. It's nigh on impossible to keep my blog updated, work on my book, and write articles for The Mighty. Not to mention cleaning my house, taking care of my kids, and taking care of me.

That's right! I've finally started on my book, for reals. I've got the whole first paragraph written out. I've also written my autobiography, which is the template for my book. I need 50,000 more words for my book, and I really feel I can do it!

Life is going. I went back into treatment in May, and quit my job too. It was a painful decision, deciding to quit my job, but I had to focus on me, and I couldn't do treatment and work anymore. It was too much.

Summer was great. We went to Disneyland, taking the kids for their first time ever. That was quite the experience. I really struggled with being there. I finally broke down after that trip, and recognized that my anxiety was bad enough that I really needed meds for it. My psych out me on Neurontin for it, and honestly, it changed my life. I'm so grateful.

I'm working on going to Haiti to serve orphans there that need our help. If anyone is interested, my daughter and I have a gofundme for this project. Here is the link if anyone is interested in helping us achieve our goal.

The kids started school, and this is the first year all four of the kids are in school. It's been so nice to have a few hours to myself everyday, except I've barely had anytime to myself really. It feels like every day something comes up to keep me from getting what I want done.

Josh and I are doing fantastically. In fact,we're doing so well we're no longer in marriage counseling. It's a Saturnalia miracle.

Mostly thought, and the most important thing, is that I'm doing well. I write about living with bipolar disorder, and right at this very moment, I have my bipolar doesn't have me,

Life has it's struggles, for sure, but I'm content. 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

I'm doing it!

Hi everyone! I know, I'm a total slacker when it comes to my blog...but it's for good reason! I've been super busy writing my autobiography, doing IOP, and...getting articles published on news sites! It's hard for me to blog when I wonder every time if what I'm writing could be an article instead.

But anywho, IOP. It ends tomorrow, and I'm super nervous about it. I've spent the last 8 weeks working my ass off in intensive outpatient therapy, and I'm really scared that the progress I've made in there is going to fade once I leave. It's been an  incredible experience. I first started out nervous as hell because I was surrounded by recovering drug addicts, and I felt completely out of my element. But I stuck it out, and I'm so glad I did. Many of these people were awesome human beings that I just had to get to know to help me overcome my bias towards addicts. I've learned so much about myself, and feel really good about the path I'm taking in life.

And my articles! So, Josh signed me up for an online course taught by Brene Brown, and I reluctantly started it. It's all about daring greatly, and stepping into the arena and being seen. I've worked so hard on me, and learning about me, and dealing with my inner shit that I've stuffed down for years and years, that I finally felt like I was in a good enough place to start writing again, And it's been amazing! I've written 4 articles since I discovered Daring Greatly, three of which I've done in the last 2 months. If you're interested in reading them, they are here, here, here, and here. I've also written another article and submitted it to the Huffington Post for consideration. I've got my fingers crossed that they respond favorably.

Speaking of daring greatly, and stepping into new arenas...I applied to be a speaker at the TEDx conference here in SLC. I'll know something by the end of April. I really hope I at least make it through round two of evaluations.

So good things are happening, even though I don't post blogs as much as I used to. I'll try and post at least once a week from here on out, just to give updates. We'll see who's reading, eh?