Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Is there such a thing as a functioning addict?

My husband has been having a hard time sleeping the last month, and in desperation he went to the doctor for some help. He came home with a few different things over the course of the month to try and help; not all of them did I approve of.

You see, I'm a recovering addict, and there are certain substances that I do not want in my house, for the safety of my sobriety. I'm now 19 months sober, and I want to see that number continue growing.

So, although my husband absolutely needed these medications, we absolutely needed a game plan on how to keep me safe.

We chatted about it back and forth for a couple of hours, and besides the game plan to keeping me safe, one of the things that came up was that I had been a functioning addict when I used. Functioning. Should there even be a label, 'functioning' addict?

What does one look like? How are they different than typical addicts? How do they act? What challenges do they face in regards to addiction? Are those challenges different than from someone 'non-functioning'?

How would one define functioning addict?

A functioning addict is a person who's drug or alcohol use hasn't caught up to them yet. It's a person who is able to hide the severity of their addiction to the people close to them, often at tragic cost.

Functioning addicts are able to perform their tasks on a daily manner, but there will be tell-tale signs. Some of these signs include making excuses for their behaviors, they may try and justify their drug use.Who they hang out with says a lot as well. If all their friends are using drugs or alcohol, or they don't want to attend events unless drugs or alcohol will be there, that's also a sign of a bigger issue. And if they suddenly lose interest in their hobbies, this means the addiction could be starting to take over their life.

Functioning addicts do tend to present much differently than someone who is not functioning. Some distinguishing characteristics of a functioning addict include: a high level of education, a stable job, supportive family, is commonly middle-aged, family history of addiction (about 30% of addicts), and history of major depression (about 20% of addicts).

The most challenging issue that faces functioning addicts and their loved ones comes from the fact that it's incredibly difficult to convince them that they're actually addicts. They'll often point  out that nothing bad has ever happened from their use, or that they're able to keep a job and provide for themselves and addicts can't do that. This is actually quite sad because their use will catch up to them, and often in tragic ways.

I know for a fact this is the case. I denied that I had a problem with my medications for years. I hid it as best I could, and justified it, and explained away crazy symptoms until my face was blue. Years before I was even close to admitting I was an addict, my religious leader suggested I look into rehab, and I was shocked and offended because, 'I wasn't an addict'. He obviously knew something that I was still too blind to see. And yes, blind, because I honestly didn't think I had a problem. I didn't doctor shop, I didn't try to get more meds than I was prescribed, I didn't lie about my pain or anxiety to get higher dosages. I didn't buy pills off the internet, or from dealers off the street. I thought I was doing quite well, in fact. My kids were generally well taken care, I worked and went to school. I participated in extracuriculars. Yet I was still an addict. I discovered it's possible to be an addict and not do any of those negative things, which was an incredibly painful, humbling time in my life.

So the answer is yes, it is possible to be a functioning addict, but from my experience, it's not worth it. You go just that much longer before getting treatment, you have just that much further to rock bottom, and you have just that much more to lose.

I hope sharing my story shows just how easy it is become addicted, and how much possibility there is after recovery, once you've admitted you need help. There's no shame in being an addict, it is a brain disease, not a character flaw.

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!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

10 Ways I Manage to Keep Going With Bipolar Disorder

Living with bipolar disorder isn't easy. I have ten rules that I have to keep me going when I'm struggling with bipolar depression, but there are times when those ten rules are not enough to keep you afloat.

I recently discovered that, since I had an epic relapse and had a rather serious near miss with a suicide attempt, and scared the numerous people who care so much about me. I realized that my original ten rules are great, but they are truly lacking when I start to go downhill and find myself in a crisis situation. So I have discovered that I have a new set of rules for crisis management, and I think they are also great for preventing crises as well.

1. Don't stop taking your meds! I think this could be my only rule and the end of this article, honestly, because if I hadn't quit my meds, the rest of these rules probably wouldn't be necessary. This is a common problem for many people with bipolar disorder usually because of side effects, or because people feel better and think they don't need the medication anymore. This was my first mistake. I stopped taking my best line of defense because I was feeling insecure about my weight, even though I was doing phenomenally mood-wise. I know not to quit my meds usually, but I was just so tired of feeling hopeless about my size. This leads me to rule number two.

2. If you are going to quit your meds, at least do it with the doctor's blessing. I saw my doctor and talked to him a couple weeks before my attempt, and he understood my frustration with my medication side effects, and was supportive of me doing a trial run of being off my meds as long as I had a game plan in place if I became unstable. The problem was, I'd been off my meds for several weeks before I got my doctor's blessing, and was already spiraling downhill, only I didn't see the signs in myself. I couldn't be honest with my doctor because I wasn't seeing the signs in myself.

3. Utilize your support system! I did not utilize my support system at all correctly during the last 6 weeks leading up to my attempt. I talked to my therapist about quitting my meds, so she knew, but my husband didn't know I'd quit them until the week I started to really go downhill. I think if he'd known earlier, he could have pointed out the warning signs of my instability to me sooner, and I probably would have never pushed my doctor so hard to stay off my meds even longer. My husband is the one who encouraged me to go back on them ASAP, thankfully, but by then it was just too late for much to be done. I didn't call my doctor when I started spiraling downhill to see what he could suggest as emergency options. I didn't reach out to my friends for support, I just isolated myself more and more and got worse and worse.

4. Don't shut your therapist out. I shut down and stopped working with my therapist for a couple weeks before my attempt. I knew something was getting to me, and I was feeling more and more down, but I couldn't express what it was exactly, and instead of telling her that, I just put on a show and pretended everything was fine. Part of my biggest problem the last couple of weeks beforehand was that we were going to start a new therapy approach that I was absolutely terrified of doing, and I didn't voice just how scared of it I was, and it was stressing me right out. That, mixed with work stresses, and home life, really got me down. I did try reaching out a couple of times in the days leading up to my attempt, but I denied feeling suicidal right up until I sent her my final text saying goodbye. Not such a smart idea.

5.  Accept that if you send goodbye texts to people, you're probably going to be admitted to a psych ward, and embrace it for what it is; an opportunity to get help. There's no shame in getting treatment. Repeat that mantra over and over to yourself, especially if you're having a hard time coming to terms with possibly being 'labeled'. Labels aren't always a bad thing. I'm lots of labels. Mom, Wife. Teacher. Advocate. Writer. Storyteller. Bipolar. Unfortunately, I didn't use my first three days there to my advantage, I was too angry at the world, and too despondent about my life to really appreciate the therapy groups available to me. It took a lot of patience on the nurses' and therapists' part for me to come out of that bitter shell and start working on me to get myself in a good place and feeling better.

6. Recognize that treatment doesn't end after the crisis has passed and you're relatively stable again. You're going to need aftercare. A good doctor and a therapist is going to be crucial to keeping you stable. You might even need more than just a good therapist and doctor (preferably a psychiatrist if you've got a serious mental illness, in my humble opinion). Using me as an example, this has been my fourth hospital stay in the last 2 years. I've made lots of progress, but I've finally realized that I'm not progressing enough with what I'm doing when I get out of the hospital.  I've decided to do IOP, which is intensive outpatient treatment, meaning I'll be doing group therapy as well as a education group 3 times a week for 3 hours a day for 6 weeks, in addition to meeting with my individual counselor once a week.

7. Practice self compassion. This is so important. I made a lot of mistakes. I burned some bridges with this last crisis. Thankfully those bridges were built with something stronger than wood, and I was able to extinguish the fires rather quickly, but I hate letting people down. I broke a lot of my original rules for staying stable that could have probably kept me out of the hospital in the first place, like getting enough sleep, leaning on my support system, doing the have to's, not the want to's, among others. That all being said, I'm still trying really hard to tell myself that I'm good enough. Eleanor Roosevelt once said "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent", and that includes yourself. I'm not giving myself permission to beat myself up.

I wish I had a silver bullet for dealing with bipolar disorder. I wish I could say that doing all of this is cake, and since I could say ' Since I can do it, you can too'! No one in their right mind is going to say that to someone living with bipolar disorder though. It is truly hard on everyone involved. Everyone who cares about you doesn't want to see you suffering, they want to see you thriving. And if even one of these rules I have for myself can help just one person, then I'll have not suffered all this for naught, and I'll have considered my time spent learning these rules the hard way time well spent. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

What doctors fail to tell you about bipolar disorder

What does the DSM V say about bipolar disorder? 

It says many things, like you must have at least 3 behaviors from a list of symptoms in mania, lasting a week or longer. It says you must have 5 behaviors from a list of symptoms for depression lasting 2 weeks or longer. These behaviors include a markedly diminished  diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day with depression, and an inflated self-esteem or grandiosity (ranges from uncritical self-confidence to a delusional sense of expertise) for mania. 

So once you've displayed these behaviors, you're diagnosed and treated. The doctors tell you side effects of medications, and how often to take the meds, but they rarely explain what your diagnosis means, perhaps offering you a handout on bipolar disorder, or advising you to check a reputable website. 

That's all well and good, but they don't tell you what to really expect with your disorder. 

They rarely tell you that mania doesn't always look like a euphoric high, that it can look like your worst nightmare with major irritability and lashing out to loved ones, and you not knowing why. 

They don't tell you that you can have mixed episodes, which is a mixture of depression and mania. 

They don't tell you that the minimal effects like weight gain or drowsiness affect more people than usual, and are real and life altering. For example drowsiness is a side effect of Seroquel, and it doesn't just make me tired, it turns me into a non-functioning zombie for days at a time.

They don't tell you that there's no silver bullet when it comes to meds, that rarely what you try first will work. That you'll be paying medication roulette until you find the right combo. That's right combo, it's not often that you're only put on one medication to control your symptoms. 

Nowhere is it mentioned that you might miss your highs, and struggle to stay medication compliant because your creativity is gone and you hate it. 

This sounds gloomy af, I know, but there are benefits to being bipolar that they don't tell you. 

They don't tell you that you're joining the ranks of awesome people, like Carrie Fisher, Vincent Van Gogh, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Russell Brand, and Demi Lovato - oh, and myself. 

They don't tell you just how awesome it can be to finally have a name for what you're going through.

They don't tell you how wonderful a night of sleep can be once you're on the right dose of medications. 

They don't tell you how wonderful life can be once you're free of the demons in your head that are ruining your life. 

They don't tell you that being bipolar is not a death sentence, that you can live and thrive with it, no matter how you feel at the time of diagnosis. 

They don't tell you that there is hope of recovery, and remission of your symptoms. Well, maybe they do tell you that, but you might have missed it, reeling from everything else they told you. And, it never hurts to be reminded of that. 

So those are some things that your doctor might not mention. 

It never hurts to do your homework and research your diagnosis, because knowledge is power. The more informed you are as a patient, the best advocate you can be for yourself. And that's really the best thing a person with any illness can be. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Loving someone with bipolar disorder

How do you love with someone with bipolar disorder?

It's hard af.

I struggle to love me, and I have bipolar disorder.

I've got friends who love me though. I asked them what makes me so appealing, and they had some surprising answers,

One of my friends told me she loves me because I'm funny, I'm creative, and I'm kind. She loves me because I genuinely want to do good in the world.

My other friend had similar answers; I'm funny, honest, and compassionate.

I was once told that even though I'm a difficult person, there's still something innately likeable about me, and well, my friends' answers prove that's true.

My daughter loves me because she relates to the mood swings, and understands when I'm struggling.

My husband shows his love for me by being kind, compassionate, and understanding.

What does that compassion look like?

He knows I love Robert Downey, Jr, so when I'm in a funk, he'll turn on movies with him in it. I just recently watched Sherlock Holmes, and snuggling my husband and enjoying the movie really helped me know I'm loved.  He forces me to talk when I want nothing more than to clam up. He takes me out on dates when I want to curl up in bed and sulk, He surprises me with trips for just the two of us, to help me get out of my head, and to have something to look forward to.

So loving a person with bipolar disorder isn't easy. We're unpredictable, there's a chance we might hurt you when we're hurting too. I inadvertently hurt a good friend of mine with my last suicide attempt, and I'm having to suffer the consequences of that right now. But I'm still innately likeable. I'm still a good person, even though I do have mood swings, even though I have rages, even though I cry and sulk.

I also delight in making people happy, and serving others. And people see that about me.

I'm loved because I'm quirky.

So to love a person with bipolar disorder, you have to be willing to be hurt, you have to take a chance, You have to be prepared to roll with the punches (not literally, I hope). But there are so many good sides to loving a person with it. We're usually quite creative, and can help you get your house beautified, or help you with a DIY project you're stuck on, We can chatter your ear off for hours, and yet we can also turn around and listen when you need someone to lean on too.

Loving someone with bipolar disorder is chancy, and can be scary, but the person behind the disorder is usually worth the trouble. Like an ogre, (and an onion), there are layers to a person. And peeling back the layers and starting to love someone with bipolar disorder is a beautiful thing.

Like people say, if it's difficult, it's usually worth it. And a friendship with someone with mental illness can be difficult, but is so worth it. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

What is Mania Like?

I think many people relate to depression. Lots of people have been sad before. Many people have fallen into the dark pit of despair and managed to climb out of it. But I don't think people really have a grasp of what mania is like.

Mania is incredible. Mania is destructive. Mania is the highest high of your life, yet it's also a cliff and you just jumped off into the abyss.

People think mania is just happiness, giddiness, and euphoria. While those emotion can happen at the beginning, it doesn't stay that way.

Mania also includes psychosis, grandiosity, and delusions.

The less commonly noticed symptoms include less need for sleep, rapid speech, inflated self esteem, poor concentration, racing thoughts, risky behaviors, and excessive energy.

I've suffered from mania, and I've done incredible things while manic. I have created amazing things, yet while in the throes of mania, I've destroyed relationships.

You become another person while manic. You're high, you feel like you can control the world, you're going to accomplish great things. You become delusional, and can't see reason anymore.

You might feel like creating an online business and spend your life savings buying things for it. Or you might decide you need a brand new wardrobe for the new you. You might decide your partner isn't enough sexually, and go on the prowl for a new one. Or you might just become promiscuous when you're usually not.

The worst thing about mania, is the hypo-manic phase, when you truly are amazing. When you can still listen to reason, when you feel on top of the world, and you have ideas that are brilliant. This phase usually doesn't last long, and before you know it, you're into full blown mania.

And then there's the crash. It usually feels like you've literally hit a brick wall going 100 mph. You might wake up in the psych ward, you might wake up on the streets, you might not wake up at all. But it's there, and there's usually the deep depression that follows, where you're in a shame spiral because of all the incredible things you did while manic.

I remember the last manic episode I had, I was convinced I was going to start a jewelry making business, and sell my wares to my friends. I bought necklaces, and lockets, and trinkets with money I really didn't have. I was obsessed. I was crazed. I was fixated on this one thing. I felt amazing. I was in control. Until I wasn't. I couldn't tend my kids because I'd flown into psychosis, and wanted to kill myself because I wasn't a size 6 anymore. I was barely holding onto reality, and it was terrifying. I finally went to my doctor sobbing that I needed help, and I was admitted to the hospital.

I know a lot of my bipolar friends miss the mania, and struggle with medication compliance because of that. I miss the hypo-mania, but not enough to risk full blown mania. It's fun for awhile, but it becomes horrific very quickly.

Mania is an uncontrolled beast that resides inside every bipolar person (well, bipolar I person), and it is something that will never be tamed, at least, not without proper medication and therapy, IMHO.

So although there is some 'fun' included in mania, it's doesn't stay grins and giggles, which is an excellent reason to try and keep it tamed. Even when it's hard because you miss the euphoria, you have to remember that it's not just that, there's also usually a side of remorse and embarrassment included with it. 

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The is Hope After Addiction

I'm an addict. There. I said it. I'm saying it to the world. Not only am I an addict, but I have bipolar disorder as well.

Why am I telling you this?

I'm telling you this to give you hope. I was once a trainwreck. I hit rock bottom. I was homeless. I was selling myself on the street to get by. I had no real friends, no one to turn to for advice, comfort, support. All I had were my drugs.

Oh, I denied being an addict for a long time. I couldn't possible be one I rationalized. My meds were prescribed by a doctor. I didn't get them from a dealer off the streets. I got them from a pharmacy. Legally.

But the drugs were ruining my life. I managed to claw myself up from rock bottom, even with the drugs as my support. I went back to college, I got a job, I won back custody of my daughter. I got married. I had more kids. But I was only a shell of my former self.

I denied that there was a problem so well that I even believed it myself. I totally rationalized the needing of more meds than prescribed. I rationalized the burning desire for 8 PM to hit every night so I could take my Ambien. I rationalized everything away.

I explained away my odd behavior to everyone. The falling asleep at inappropriate times. The slurred speech. The glazed over eyes. It was all a side effect of perfectly legal substances. Legal substances that I was abusing.

I struggled. My bipolar disorder didn't help me at all to get over my addiction. In fact, the two disorders competed with each other for my attention. I was having an anxiety attack? Pop a few Xanax. My back was hurting? Pop a couple roxicodone.  I couldn't win for losing.

With each drug of choice, there was tipping point for me to quit it. My pain specialist prescribed me suboxone finally for my pain, and on the package it came in, it read 'to be taken for opioid addiction'. What the hell? How dare they accuse me of being an addict! Fuck them. I quit the suboxone and roxicodone there and there. I'd show them. I could manage just fine with Motrin from there on out. And I did. I've taken oxicodone a handful of times since then, and only for extreme situations (read: kidney stones).

But the addiction was still there, and I was still in denial over having it. So I continued to take the Xanax. I mean, it was prescribed, right? There was finally a day when I was super late to pick my son up from the bus stop, because I'd popped a few too many of them, that I realized things were out of hand. I still couldn't quit though. It took a hospital stay because of an overdose on them that I was finally able to stop them.

But the addiction was still there. And I still had my beloved Ambien. Oh Ambien, what a nightmare you are. I would have never quit the Ambien, until my husband left me over it. He had begged for years for me to quit taking it, but I couldn't. It wasn't until he finally left that I woke up from the foggy haze I'd been in to quit.

I quit that shit right then and there again, Cold turkey, never again. It took a few months for my husband and I to work through the varied issues at hand that we'd both contributed to the dysfunction in our marriage, but we did it.

I can now say that I've been clean from everything for 18 months. I don't even have a desire to take anything addictive. I refuse to have it in the house. I take naltrexone for my weight, but also for the added benefit that it is an opioid blocker, which discourages me from even trying to get meds I don't really need.

So what's happened in the last 18 months? I've gotten my life back. I'm in tune with what my children need. I'm able to enjoy my children more fully. We're close as a family unit. My husband and I are closer than ever. We've been married 8 years, and this past year has been our best year ever, even with the dysfunction we had to work through. I got into treatment for my bipolar disorder, and yes, the addiction as well. I thrived there. I graduated from it with a good handle on myself, and had everything in check.

Life is amazing now. I would have never realized just how wonderful life can be without struggling in the depths of hell beforehand. I just want people to know there is hope. You can rise above the addiction and be more than just an addict. You can be a writer. A mother. An aunt. An advocate. A person with worth and value. I know this is all true because that's me now. I'm all of those things and more.

I'm not saying it's easy. It's harder than hell to rise above the shame and guilt over being an addict. It took me a lot of intensive therapy and the support of a loving family to do it. And you'll need support. I definitely did. It takes a village to help an addict recover. But it can be done. I know this is true because I did it. And I know others can too.