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 disorder...it doesn't have me,

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