Tuesday, March 28, 2017

What happens when you're no longer in recovery

I like to say I'm in recovery from my bipolar disorder. I'm stable, I have a job, I take care of my family, and I am able to function somewhat successfully in society.

I've probably been on this glorious plateau for about 2 years now.

What does recovery look like? It looks like you or me, to be honest. It looks like an average Joe going to work each day. It looks like your typical mum cooking dinner for her kids. It also looks like doctor visits every month and lots of pills. It looks like long hours on the couch with a therapist.

In the midst of this recovery, I've been a writer, and have blogged my journey to where I am now. However, I haven't always been honest in my writings, which is out of alignment with my core values. I believe in being authentic, and telling the real story, no matter how ugly I think it is.

I've been a mental health advocate for several years now, and I know people look up to me for how much I've overcome. And since I know this, sometimes it's been difficult to ask for help when I've started to decompensate. I don't want to look like a failure, or no longer seem like a role model.

When I've gone the solo route, and kept quiet about my internal struggles, shit got real, super fast. There have been times over the last 5 years when I've quit my meds cold turkey, and well, I'm sure you can guess what happened. I ended up in the hospital after a suicide attempt. There have been times when I've felt the darkness, which is similar to the Nothing (cultural reference), take over me and take away everything good I've ever known.

And the worst part about these struggles? I didn't share them. I kept quiet about them, like it was something to be ashamed of. I honestly felt like a failure because I had slid backwards. There's no logical reason for that, relapse is always a possibility with bipolar disorder.

I never shared my struggles while I was in the midst of them. I only would share once I'd recovered and was stable. I feel like this is a huge disservice to others.

I should've shared my struggles as they were happening. That is what an authentic person would do. People need to see the dips of mental illness just as much as they need to see the highs.

I feel I can give hope to others if I'm struggling myself, yet I continue to reach out and help others.

I'd like to make a pledge. A pledge to be more real in my writings, and more real of how I'm actually doing. It's not fair to the people who look up to me to only see the best I have to offer. They need to see that I'm human, with fallibility, and I can fall as well.

I think it's just as important for people to see me struggle because then they get to see me rise as I regain control of my internal demons, and take control once again.

Who will join me in pledging to be a more genuine person in regards to your mental illness. Who will be more candid about their struggles, and more open about their demons?

Now, I'm not recommending you blast your story all over the internet, (unless you want to of course), because you should only share your story with the people who've earned the right to hear it. What I'm saying is be more open with these people. Be more open in general.

You might be surprised at the connections you make with this new level of authenticity. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Questions you should ask before vacationing while depressed

When I'm depressed, I often dream of running away to an exotic place, in the hopes that it would help dissolve the hazy fog I find myself in.

Last November I found myself in the deepest, darkest of depressions. I actually attempted to take my life, which was ultimately not successful, in case you couldn't tell by me being the one writing this. And I couldn't shake the fog. It darkened everything I did. I had the chance to go to California and see Tony Robbins live, which is quite the experience I tell you what. Even with it being quite the experience, I still came home glum, depressed and blue.

So, I stayed this blue for another week and a half, until my husband took me to Disney World. Now, I love Disney. All things Disney. And I'd never been there before, even though I've visited Disneyland a few times. You'd think this was enough to kick that depression's ass, but no. I tried my hardest, my very hardest to enjoy the trip. And sometimes it worked. There were glimmers of my old self at times, but they didn't last.

Going on depression, even to those two amazing places, didn't pull me out. So once I got home, I thought of some questions to help me decide when going on a vacation while depressed would be right for me, just for future reference. I want to share them with you.

What does my treatment team think?

For me, I didn't make the decision to go lightly, I discussed it with my treatment team beforehand, and had they been absolutely opposed to me going, I would've missed my trips. So, I would recommend discussing a change of scenery with those who care about you before booking the next flight out. Making an informed, rather than rash, decision is almost always the best course of action.

Where is it I want to vacation to?

If you're normally a party girl, or thrill seeker guy, you might think New York City is the place to be. But if you're not that person while depressed, NYC could potentially make you feel worse, by reminding you at every corner that you don't feel well. Also, a high impact vacation is going to wear you out, and leave you drained, much more so than a nice relaxing vacay by the beach would.

I know this because I was fighting this depression with everything I had in me. I knew I was super fortunate to be in these awesome places, and that I shouldn't feel depressed, but no matter what I did, I couldn't stop it. In fact, I was beating myself up even more than if I'd been at home, because who gets depressed at Disney World?

Now, I didn't take a vacation to Jamaica, or Hawaii, or another relaxing sandy beach. I can't speak for what vacations to places like that would be like. I imagine that depression is depression is depression, as in, you'll be depressed no matter where you rest your head at night. I could be wrong though. Maybe it's worth going on that trip even if you're feeling blue.

What's the end game I'm trying accomplish by going on vacation?

Am I trying to 'snap out of it' by being somewhere new, or am I going simply because I think it'd be a nice change of scenery?

Your mindset as to why you're going matters. If you've got pie in the sky hopes of magically feeling better just because of where you are, you're absolutely just setting yourself up for disappointment.

Are the travel plans flexible, or stringent?

Do you have to go the week of the 3rd, or can you play around with the dates, just in case your depression is worst around then? Try not to pin yourself into a corner if possible.

I know for me, I'd have much rather preferred to change my dates because it wasn't a game-changer in my depression. I recognize that I had no control over the timing of my Tony Robbins trip, and had to go to that happy or sad, but I wish I could've waited on my DW trip. The colors would've been brighter, the experiences more memorable,  and I would've been better company all around.

What's going to be different once I get home?

Are you going right back to work full-time, or are you easing into it? Will you immediately be overwhelmed with household responsibilities. or can some of it take the back burner? What I'm saying here, is that if going on vacation is going to ultimately lead to more stress when you get back, it might not be the best time to go, especially if you're in the deep dark pit of despair like I was.

I don't know if these two vacations helped me stay stable or not, I was so depressed I wasn't looking forward to anything. Maybe if there's something you're really looking forward to, it would make a difference, but that wasn't the case for me. I appreciate the fact that I had a chance to put my coping skills into practice, and show that I could practice self care under challenging circumstances (such as being away from family and no one to hold me accountable). I didn't give into the depression, I still forced myself to get up and go each day, even when it felt overwhelmingly impossible. I don't know if I would have been able to keep fighting against it like that had I been home. So there is one positive, at least, lol.

All in all, vacationing while depressed is a very personal matter, and unique to each person. Traveling can be fun, but you always want to be in the best possible health to go!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Telling my story...

I feel like there has been a lot of attention lately on people with mental illness. There has especially been a focus on overcoming stigma in the world, to help people who are struggling, feel safe talking about it. We all know the statistics. We know that because of stigma, people are less likely to seek treatment, less likely to follow doctor's orders, and less likely to see a therapist. We know that there is no cure for most, if not all serious mental illness. And recovery can be so fleeting. We know that despite sensational media reports, the mentally ill are far more likely to be victims of crimes than perpetrators. These are sobering facts. Even with these sobering facts, I feel like there is still a disproportionate shortage of hope being spread about serious mental illness, and that's why I'm writing today.

I have a serious mental illness. I've lived with it for most of my life. I've been diagnosed with bipolar disorder type I. I go through extreme mood swings, varying from periods of mania, where I'm euphoric, and make really poor choices because I feel indestructible and on top of the world, to periods of severe depression, where I feel utterly worthless and like life is meaningless, and my family would be better off without me. I manage to stave the worst of these highs and lows off with medication management and therapy.

What do I know about hope and mental illness? I was once a trainwreck of a typical case. I was untreated, court committed, in and out of hospitals, and well on my way to being another statistic. I hit rock bottom in my life about 10 years ago, right when I was first diagnosed actually. It was about this time when I lost everything of value to me. I lost my car, I lost my apartment, I lost my job, my family shunned me, and I lost custody of the one thing that meant the most to me, my daughter. I literally lost my will to live at this point. I earned myself a 6 week stay at the local psych ward during this time, and I had a lot of time to reflect on just how much I'd ruined my life. I finally got out close to New Year's, and as that year drew to a close, I knew without a doubt that I was closing a chapter that had been the worst of my life, and I was never going to repeat it again.

I woke up to a new year, and I was a new woman. I was determined to get my life back together somehow. So I did. Very slowly. My family unwillingly had let me come home, and I had determined that the first thing I needed to do was find a job, so I immediately stated putting out applications. Once I got my job, I got a phone. Then, a car. I also made sure my daughter was back in my life too. After I got into the groove of working, I decided to go back to school. Now, I'm not saying this all happened smoothly, but it happened. I still continued to struggle with my bipolar episodes, but I had a lot of support from my friends and family to help me through them when they happened. I stayed mainly unmedicated during these couple of years, and it was tough, but I did it.

A few years after I had my epic breakdown, I met a really wonderful guy, who treated me amazingly, and we got married. He's been a great support to me as I've had my ups and downs with my bipolar disorder moments. We have 3 kids together, in addition to my oldest. I may have bipolar disorder, but I'm doing something right by these kids. I send my kids off to school every morning, and not one of them will leave until they get a hug and kiss, and my oldest won't go to bed without telling me I'm her favorite mommy.

Now here's the important part. I still struggle. I've been hospitalized more times than I care to admit. I'm not perfect. I still have moments where I don't know if carrying on is worth it. But I know I'm in a good place. I'm doing good things. I have a part time job that I've had for over a year. I work at a place where I actually feel like I make a difference. I write articles that I feel are helping people and have the potential to help a life. I'm constantly improving myself. I know myself, and I watch myself constantly for fluctuations in my mood, and am on top of seeing my doctor if I sense a disturbance in the force. I regularly see my therapist and am dealing with the issues that I need to overcome that have been holding me back all my life.

I may have bipolar disorder, but it doesn't have me. I'm not defined by it. I have value and I see that. I may need medications for the rest of my life, but that doesn't make me 'less than'. Considering the weight gain it causes, it actually makes me 'more than'. I jest, I jest. I like me. I've been told I'm an innately likeable person. Being bipolar doesn't take away from that. It doesn't take away the fact that I'm a very authentic and real person, or that I love serving others, or that I love writing and being creative.

There is hope after a mental illness diagnosis. I lost hope after I got my diagnosis, I think. I felt like I would just be a waste of space, and why try because I was just going to be a label that no one would ever see past. I'm happy to say that I have so much evidence to the contrary that people all around me see past that label, all the time. My boss sees past it. My coworkers see past it. My husband sees past it. My friends see past it. People who know me just see Tricia, not bipolar.  If you're struggling to find yourself in the midst of an mental illness identity crisis, I promise you, you're in there. There's nothing wrong with needing help from a support person to find yourself, or perhaps needing help from medication to find your best self. Just keep reaffirming to yourself who you are, and keep hanging on.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Is coming out about having bipolar disorder ever a good idea?

Is outing yourself as a person with mental illness ever a good idea? Is there ever a good time to admit you've got a mental disorder? And where? Should you do it in person? On facebook? In a blog?

I'm open about being bipolar everywhere. I may as well wear a scarlet 'B' for the world to see. The people in my real life know it, everyone on facebook is aware, I blog and write about it, using my own name even.

I've seen this question asked many different times over the years, and even though I chose to open up about it, I don't think there's a clear cut right or wrong answer.

I do have some guidelines that I've cobbled together that might help a person deciding whether or not to go public about their mental health. These are things I wish I'd known before I started blogging about bipolar disorder years ago.

Are you in a stable place of recovery?

I can not emphasize this enough, being manic or thoroughly depressed when you decide to go public will almost definitely be detrimental to your health. You will get stable and be mortified that you decided to share such a private part of your life with the world, especially when you weren't in the best state to do damage control on what people saw. I am eternally grateful that I was in a stable place when I first decided to start blogging about mental illness, but looking back, I cringe at just how not put together I really was. There were times I wish that I'd had a person veto my writing privileges because I'd decompensated. That being said, I am a big believer of the mantra 'time heals all wounds' because yes, I put some random, poorly put together stuff on my blog, but the world was rather forgiving of those errors.

Can you handle the trolls?

Going public, especially going public online, can open the door to all sorts of trolls, who want nothing more than to tear you down. Oh, they may think they're helping, by making you question your medication choices, or question your treatment plan, but all they're really doing is dragging you down to their level, where you'll (hopefully, in their eyes) be as miserable as they are.

Are you ready for the (possible) notoriety?

Going public on facebook can be a gamble. You don't know what the person that's reading your status really thinks of mental illness, or what their preconceived notions are, and you may receive backlash. You'll almost always definitely receive positive statements and love, but like I said earlier, there are trolls out there, and I'm sure you know some irl. If you don't receive anything uplifting, or fear you won't, then going public right now is definitely not the best thing for you. Personally, I'd recommend finding a new social circle if the one you have is full of people who tear you down, too.

Does your employer know you have a mental illness?

This is a big one. Most employers search your name periodically, and most new employers almost definitely do. Are you ready to have the risk of losing your job, or the possibility of being discriminated against when it comes to a new job due to stigma and fear? Now, I know this is a very valid concern, and one of the reasons to think about outing yourself very carefully. I've had several jobs since I started writing online, and have not yet once been discriminated for being bipolar. However, I've had several job interviews, and no job offers, and I will never know why I didn't get those jobs. My last job knew I was bipolar, and supported me fully. My current job doesn't know, but I've only been there a week, I'm sure it'll come up at some point.

Are you okay with your name forever being linked to your disorder?

If you google my name, my author page with The Mighty is the first thing you see. My blog is further down, but it's there too. It's blatantly obvious that I write about living with bipolar disorder. To be honest, there have been times when I've struggled with this degree of disclosure to the world. I've always overcome those feelings because deep down I believe in what I'm doing, and am 100% committed to fighting stigma no matter what. It's also been years since I've struggled with being out of the closet in regards to my mental health.

So where does this leave you? Ultimately, I think it's no one's business how open or not open you are about your illness, and you should never feel pressured into telling your story when you're not ready. I think you'll know when you're ready, too. I think if there's even an ounce of doubt, or a feeling of hesitancy, or a pinch of paranoia, then now isn't the time to come out. But, each person is different. Maybe you have these doubts and still want to open up, and figure you'll deal with the pieces where they fall. More power to you.

I know for me, coming out has helped on a therapeutic level, and being able to see my progress over the years has been astounding. I'm grateful I have this platform to speak on, but I recognize it's not for everyone. If you don't feel like you'll ever be ready to come out to people, that's okay too. Like I said earlier, it's no one's business but your own, and you're in control of how you share that info. I am sure that if you're on the fence with this decision, you and your treatment team can come up with a palatable answer. I just wanted to provide a little extra food for thought.

What other considerations did I miss? Why else should a person not open up, or why else should they? Is one avenue of sharing potentially better than the others? I'd love to hear your thoughts!