100 Things

It has been some time since I have written.  With summer in full swing and my children all home for vacation, I found I was spending too much time writing and checking the blog and it was becoming a distraction from what is most important in my life: my family.  So I chose to take a break.  But, with everyone back in school, I am feeling the need to create and to express myself.  I am glad to be back.

I’ve written frequently about self love and wanting to improve in this area.  I have been grateful to make significant progress in this area over the past couple of months.  To share a brief update, I had some adjustments to my thyroid medication which significantly improved my depression.  This has helped me in many ways.  I no longer have a constant negative dialogue going in my mind.  I feel optimistic and generally better about life and myself.  I am so grateful for these improvements.

Some months ago, when I was really struggling with negative self talk, I stumbled on a podcast by Jody Moore, a life coach.  In this podcast, she challenges her listeners to make a list of 100 things to love about themselves.  Naturally, really wanting to improve in the area of self love, I tried the exercise for myself.

I got out my neglected journal and pen and wrote out numbers 1 through 100.  With great difficulty I began writing everything that I could think of that I loved about myself.  I mentioned my talents.  I mentioned character traits that I’m happy I have.  I listed things I do that make me and others happy.  I mentioned skills I’ve learned that bless my life and even mentioned physical traits that I’m happy about.  I think I repeated a few items accidentally, but I managed to get all the way to 77 things I love about myself.  I am going to complete the list today.

Why would this be helpful?  I’ve found that when my depression is present, everything externally and internally perceived is twisted in a negative light by my mind.  It makes feeling good about life and myself very difficult.  Taking time to write out the truth, rather than the skewed version of reality I am living in, helps me.  It helps me to challenge the negative dialogue and see what really is.

I am going to get a little cheesy here for a minute, so bear with me.  I know that I am unique and valuable and precious.  I know the same is true for each person that ever lived.  It can be very difficult, but when your mind is telling you the opposite, know that it is lies.  Combat these lies with the truth.

I challenge you  to discover the truth about yourself by taking time to write 100 things to love about you.  Remember, like I’ve said before, treat yourself like someone you love.  Look at yourself from the outside and see what makes you unique and valuable and precious.  It is there.

I hope you can discover it for yourself.  And when you do, I hope you feel a sense of gratitude that you are you.

Love, Chelsea

Journey to a Diagnosis — The Series

It’s hard to sum up about 17 years of ups and downs with mental illness in just a few posts, but that is what I have attempted to do in my “Journey to a Diagnosis” series.  This may just be the beginning.  However, it’s a good start and gives a general overview of  how I went from fear and confusion about what was happening to me, to understanding what mental illness is and the role it plays in my life.

I may add to this as time goes on, and if that’s the case, you will see more links added here.

Thank you for being a part of my journey.

Journey to a Diagnosis–The Series:

Journey to a Diagnosis, Part I

Journey to a Diagnosis, Part II

Journey to a Diagnosis, Part III

Constant Battles

When mental illness is present, there is constant conflict within.  Many of us share similar battles because we have a similar set of symptoms.  Some of us fight battles very unique to us and our circumstances.  Sometimes, a battle is present because of deep scars from our past.  Whatever the battle, it can be very difficult at times, and we can come away feeling defeated or discouraged.  This is something I know you each understand.

I have shared in past posts about my battle with loving myself.  It is an ongoing challenge that I am doing my best to overcome.  If I am being honest, a lot of the time, it simmers in the background while I deal with the business of caring for my children and home.  Then there are times when it comes to the forefront and I am reminded that I need to give this aspect of my life more deliberate attention.

This describes what happened to me this past weekend.  I pushed myself too hard a couple days in a row and ended up having some significant depression symptoms again.  I was forced to slow down and then to ask myself again, why do I keep doing this to myself?  The answer always comes back to the root problem, which is that I just don’t treat myself with love.  I don’t love myself at all.  In fact, I realized in while I was pondering this, that I despise myself.  I was saddened by the realization but knew it was true.  Every thought I have in relation to myself has been negative.  Every time I look in the mirror, I see my perceived flaws.  Any time I do anything  I am constantly giving myself a beat mental beat down.

I have talked this over with my husband a lot.

This weekend, he put things in a new light for me when he said kindly, “Will you please be nice to my wife?”

This question hit me right in the gut.  I could see my negative thought process from a new perspective–I could see it from the outside.  In this moment, I realized that my self-loathing was not only making me sad, but my husband as well.  He loves me and sees all of my good qualities. He wants me to be happy and he sees how I am keeping my own happiness out of reach by treating myself the way I do.  For some reason, hearing him ask me that question really helped me.

I also had the opportunity to open up to a close friend about my struggle with self love.  She is a great friend and made a really great suggestion.  She suggested trying positive self-affirmations daily to help me retrain my thoughts.  I loved this suggestion and gave it a try.  I spent some time looking at myself in the mirror and saying some affirmations.  I spent a good 5 minutes or so doing this.  At first I just felt silly.  I didn’t believe what I was saying.  But after a couple minutes of really trying to see myself as I see others, I had a little spark of hope.  I realized that this would be really helpful if I did it on a regular basis.  I know I have a lot of work and practice to do before I will really internalize and believe what I am telling myself, but it is a great start and it feels really good to be doing something to help win this battle.

One thing working against me, is my forgetfulness.  I did the affirmations the morning after she told me about them, but then forgot to do it the last couple days.  So, I am going to get a dry erase marker and write a reminder on my bathroom mirror.  No more excuses!  This is a serious conflict that needs some serious, diligent effort.

How about you?  What is one of your greatest battles?  What are you doing to get through it?

Have any of you had experience using positive affirmations?

As always, I love to hear from you.  Please comment below to share your experiences.

 

 

 

The Night Run

The Night Run

A short story based on actual events by Chelsea Walker

She sits down on the brown couch in the living room to tie her shoes and then she’ll be ready to go.

“Are you running, Mom?” Stella asks.

“Yep.”  Chelsea finishes her runner’s knot and stands to adjust the lighted vest she’s wearing tonight.  It is already dark out.  “Ryan, I’m ready to go!”

“Ok,” he replies emerging from the hallway with young August in his arms.  “Have fun.”  He kisses her and smiles his goodbye before turning back to the children.  “Chloe, get in the shower, please.”

Chelsea makes her way to the front door, taking a moment to look at her phone.  She starts her walk-to-run app and puts her headphones in.  “Begin with a 5 minute warm up walk.”  The woman’s voice instructs.

Chelsea opens the door and heads out into the cool air of this Arizona winter evening.  Taking a moment to enjoy the wide open space of the outdoors, she takes a cleansing breath.  It soon becomes a sigh of relief.  A few minutes alone.

She crosses the lawn and makes a left at the sidewalk, stopping briefly to start her music.  Heaven by One Republic begins.  She quickens her pace to a brisk walk and focuses on the sound in her headphones, reveling in this time to recharge.

Chelsea and Ryan and their 4 children live in the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona.  Right now it’s winter, the best time to be in this part of the world.  People from all over north America travel here to get away from the snow that’s prevalent further north.  It’s the ideal winter residence.  The summer’s are tough, but winter in Arizona is a paradise.

Chelsea walks the tree lined streets, cool air filling her lungs as her heart rate starts to accelerate just slightly.  She’s almost to the main road.  Heaven ends.  She’s feeling like something different would suit her mood tonight.

Feeling like Owl City, she starts Embers and starts jogging as the voice in her headphones says “Start running.”

She relishes in the feel of her feet pounding the pavement and her lungs breathing in and out.  It’s felt so good to be running again, just like she always used to.  She hopes this time she can stick to it.

It’s been a long couple years.  Debilitating depression made life a living nightmare for so long, but things have gotten better.  She notes with gratitude that this run is a symbol of how far she has come.  The lyrics to her soundtrack match her mood and thoughts.

There were days, when each hour, was a war I fought to survive

There were nights, full of nightmares and I dreaded closing my eyes

Tears fill her eyes as the lyrics bring the pain of those dark times back to the forefront of her mind.  Cool air rushes against her, a balm on her warming skin.  She remembers the constant pain and distress, the hopelessness…

There were skies that burst open with a downpour to drown me alive

But the world took a spark like a match in the dark and the fire brought me to life

So I’m fanning the flames to climb so high ’cause there’s no other way we can stay alive

Chelsea’s pain turns to a fierce determination.  She focuses on how much better things are now, even though they are still difficult.  But I’ve come this far.  I can keep going.  She increases her pace, causing her lungs and legs to burn.  She ignores the discomfort and pushes through.

And you’ll find, there’ll be mornings when the ashes and embers are cold

But you’ll fight with a passion and you’ll never stop cause you know

Yeah you know it gets better and your story is yet to be told

Every push, every shove, every war, every love

Yeah the coals are beginning to glow

The lyrics are just what she needs right now, to give her courage to go back home.  Home to a family she loves more than anything, but feels more than inadequate to care for most days.  Tears forms in her eyes once more, but she wills them away, and instead focuses on the passing palo verde trees and lantana shrubs that dot the edges of the sidewalk.

She turns down her music for a moment and offers a prayer in her mind.  She prays in gratitude for how far she has come.  She expresses thanks that she can run tonight and thanks for her family.  She tearfully pours out her heart, sharing with her Father in Heaven how difficult this is and how much she needs His help.  Closing her prayer, she feels a sense of calm and peace, knowing that she is not alone in this struggle.

Chelsea reaches the intersection and turns back around the way she came.  “Slow and down and walk,” come the instructions from her running app.  She gratefully slows her pace, breathing heavily.

25 minutes passes quickly, but it’s just the recharge she needed tonight.  When she hears the final voice command to cool down with a 5 minute walk, her heart and mood feel lighter.  She feels refreshed emotionally and ready return to the responsibilities at home.

As Chelsea approaches the house, she can see all the lights on and hear the sounds of children talking loudly.  Ryan is still getting them all to bed, she notes.  She almost loses her courage, as the weight of her responsibilities settles back onto her shoulders.

Taking a deep breath, and sending another prayer heavenward, she crosses the front lawn and takes the sidewalk up to the door.  She opens it and is greeted by the happy voices of her children.

“Mommy!”

Chelsea smiles and hugs them in return.

Owl city lyrics provided by Google.com
Songwriters: Adam R. Young / Nate Campany / Emily Meredith Wright
Embers lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

I need my Sleep

My husband and I enjoy old movies.  My favorite movies of all time are Casablanca and It’s a Wonderful Life.  In fact, we have a jumbo canvas print of an original movie poster from It’s a Wonderful Life hanging in our kitchen–it’s my husband’s favorite movie as well.  Over the past week or so, my husband and I have been watching snatches of a classic movie we hadn’t seen before, Citizen Kane.  Desperate to understand the meaning of Charles Foster Kane’s dying words, “rosebud,” we stayed up much later than usual to watch the conclusion of this film.

It was almost 11:30 when we turned off the blu-ray player and tv and started heading upstairs to bed.  I could feel right away that staying up so late had not been a wise choice, on my part.  I didn’t feel great emotionally.  I could feel some mental pain creeping in at that point.

I have learned, over the years, that no matter how good I feel during the day, sleep is not something I can compromise on.

Sleep disruptions, such as having trouble falling and staying asleep, were the hallmark of my child and teen years.  And even then, I can remember my mom remarking on my excessive “grumpiness” after a poor sleep.  In the home video made at my wedding reception, my mom and sister both made sure to record for all of my posterity (and my new husband, Ryan), that I should never be allowed to get tired or hungry, (or stressed) because each of these states would cause me to be “very grumpy.”  I was, of course, annoyed at this reference to my moodiness, but they were right.  This has been true for me throughout my entire life.

The effects of fatigue have been most pronounced when my thyroid was also out of wack.  I can remember after the birth of my first son, before I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, I was in a constant state of emotional distress from being so tired and never being able to recover.  I asked my mother in law at that time, with exasperated and exhausted tears, “Will I ever feel better?”  Some months later, after breaking down emotionally in the doctor’s office, a doctor finally thought to check my thyroid and after getting proper treatment, I was able to feel relief from the constant, plaguing fatigue.

Throughout my most recent episode of depression, falling asleep was extremely difficult due to the persistent, agonizing mental pain I was experiencing.  Thankfully, over time, things got better and now, as long as I get to bed at a decent hour, I can sleep without problem.

Last night, however, I pushed myself too hard.  When I lay down on my pillow to sleep, my mind was exploding with pain.  I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to remember how I had gotten through it before.  I attempted to relax and clear my mind, but it was to no avail.  I finally prayed for help, and before I knew it, I was waking in the morning.  I was tired from a late night but extremely grateful that I had fallen asleep so quickly.  It was a good reminder for me that I can’t be careless about my approach to getting enough sleep.

Submitting to the fact that I need my sleep, and not compromising in this area, is one thing I have had to come to terms with when managing the symptoms of my bipolar depression.

There are other things I have come to terms with, and I will cover these topics in future posts.  Because Bipolar Disorder is a chronic health condition, I have learned I have to make lifestyle choices that support me in feeling my best–just like any other chronic health problem.

What are your experiences with sleep and mental illness?  What struggles have you had?  How have you dealt with them?

As always, I love to hear from you!  Comment to share your experiences.

Becoming Whole

Full.  Completed.  Perfect.  Undivided.  Fulfilled.

What does whole mean to you?  To me?

For a long time, I didn’t know.  I just knew I felt incomplete, and broken.  Bipolar depression had shattered the me I knew and turned everything on it’s head.  But I knew it wasn’t just the illness making me feel incomplete.  I know this because even when I felt well for several years, I didn’t feel fulfilled really.  I was spending so much time chasing and doing, but little to no time getting to know myself and understanding what I need.

As I have tried to pull myself out of my latest episode of depression I have often told myself, “I need something for me and me alone.”  Caught up in a sea of everyone else’s needs I was feeling lost and empty.  I couldn’t get out of the lingering tide of depression that kept bringing me down.

I thought of several ideas of what I could do just for me.  Maybe I could get a job.  Working a couple nights a week might be just the thing to get me out of the house and into a world of my own.  That didn’t sit well with me, though.  I had a new baby to care for.  It wasn’t likely that I would really be able to leave on a regular basis in the evenings.  This is because I wanted time with my husband as well, and that is the only time he is home with us, due to his work schedule.

Maybe I could do a play with a local theater company.  I loved doing theater as a youth and young adult.  The idea of exploring that art again was very attractive to me.  I also desperately wanted to be creative again.  But this would not work as well, for the same reasons I couldn’t get a job.  There would be numerous evening rehearsals and I didn’t think I could even handle that big of a commitment at that time.  So that idea was also discarded.

Time went on.  I tried my best to find joy in making our house a home.  I do enjoy decorating and painting walls, and beautifying our environment.  I also have enjoyed reading.  I found little things to do each day that I could enjoy while still caring full time for my four children.  I also take time everyday to enjoy my children and the wonderful people they are becoming.  But as years went by I realized that this wasn’t enough for me.  I have spent years giving to others.  And while I love this aspect of my life, I knew that I needed something more–something that I could really throw myself into for my own fulfillment.

When my depression started to dip down again a few months ago, I knew I could not put my own needs off any longer.  I needed to find something I could do right away that would help to nourish me.  So I prayed for help and I started forming some plans.  I decided I might go back to school in the fall.  I considered moving toward becoming a professional counsellor.  I became excited about the prospect and realized how much I could bring to the table with a client, having experienced mental illness myself.  I decided it would be a good idea to make a list of everything that I had learned from having mental illness.  I did just that, and found that I had a lot of knowledge already that I could share.

So I started blogging.  Why wait to become a counsellor?  I could start sharing what I had learned, and my own experiences, with people right now–without going back to school.

It was a short month and half later that The Bipolar Writer liked one of my posts.  I was intrigued.  Who is The Bipolar Writer?  I got onto his website and was amazed.  This Bipolar Writer was doing was I was trying to do–help others with his experiences–and had quite a following.  I loved what I read here and the sense of community and understanding I felt here.  I wanted to be a part of it.

To my surprise and excitement, he posted that he was looking for contributor writers for his blog.  I emailed James immediately and told him I would love to be a part of what he is doing.  He graciously accepted my offer to write.

This is a nice story, but what does it have to do with becoming whole?  I have been fortunate to explore writing again–really explore it and get creative in ways that I haven’t since I was attending college as a young adult.  In doing so, I remembered how much I always loved writing in my youth.  It was something I could always get excited about and I was pretty good at it, at the time.

I am rediscovering a long dormant love and passion for writing!  This is what I have been needing.  Something I can get excited about and look forward to that is just for my own enjoyment.  It’s the missing piece that I didn’t know I needed all this time.

For the first time in many many years I am beginning to feel whole!  I am a becoming full, complete, undivided and fulfilled Chelsea.  I have started work on a novel and am working on developing my writing skills.  Having this outlet is making me a better mom and wife and a happier me.

So thank you.  Thank you for reading.  Thank you, James, for this opportunity.

In closing, I invite you to do some pondering.  Think about what you need, what you enjoy and how you can incorporate it into your life.  I hope in doing so you will find what you need to make you more whole.

As always, I’d love to hear from you.  Have you discovered your passion?  Do you have something in your life that brings your joy and fulfillment?  Comment to share.

Less is More

Something I have learned over the course of the last 17 years in struggling with mental illness, is the application of the principle in the title: “less is more.”  Learning how to do this was not easy for me, but it has helped me in so many ways.

The old me–the me of not that many years ago, lived with a different mantra: “If less is good, then more is better.”  I had this idea that the more elaborate and complex something was, the better it was.  Also, the more time and effort I spent on the something, the more value it had, and the more value I had.

Let me give you some examples.  When my older children were small, I would read to them often.  Reading to children is good right?  Well, I made it better.  I didn’t just read, I made it fun.  I did all the voices and sound effects.  And I didn’t just read a couple books, I would read a whole stack.  “Less is good, but more is better.”  I’m sure my kids really liked this, but I felt exhausted afterward.  Present day me knows that if something makes me exhausted, it’s probably a good idea to tone it down.  However, at the time, this was proof that I loved my children and wanted to do what was best for them.  I had done more than the bare minimum, therefore it was better.

Here’s another example.  When having family over for dessert, or planning a family get together for my son’s birthday, it was not enough to grab a cake mix and some ice cream and call it good.  That would never do.  This is my family, we’re talking about!  Only the best for them.  That means everything baked from scratch.  This meant hours in the kitchen, preparing not one, but multiple dessert items so that there would be options.  More is better, remember?  Exhausting work, but–had to be done!  The more I work, the more love goes into it–right?

Another example: I was asked to serve in a position at church that would involve me overseeing all of the children, including their Sunday and weekday classes and activities.  It was a big responsibility.  This was the perfect opportunity to really dig in and put everything I had into making this the best run children’s program ever!  Was it enough to do the bare minimum?  Are you kidding me?  Of course not.  These kids deserved better than that!  I went the extra mile in every way possible and ended up completely burnt out after serving just shy of 2 years in this position.

I could go on and on with examples because this was literally my guiding star.  If I didn’t almost kill myself to do every little thing in my life, then it wasn’t good enough.  Oh sure–it was good enough for everyone else.  But it was not good enough for me.  I could not accept it—I could not accept me, if I wasn’t going above and beyond.

Then, deep depression hit–you know the story.  After my youngest son was born everything came crashing down.  Not only could I no longer go the extra mile, I couldn’t really do much of anything.  And I can honestly say, especially when discussing this particular topic, that I am so glad depression slowed me down.  I was forced by my circumstances to do a complete reset on how I approached my life.  I got to start over.  I got to learn a new way of living that helps me be a much happier, much more balanced person.

How was it a reset, you ask?  I couldn’t function in life. I could barely get through from minute to minute.  I was doing the barest of bare minimum efforts required to keep myself and my family alive.  As I got feeling a little better over time, I had to be careful, when adding things to my life, that I didn’t overload myself.  So I rebuilt my efforts from the ground up.

Now, instead of going above and beyond, I ask myself, “What is sufficient?  What is the simplest way to do this?  How can I expend the least amount of energy and still get the job done right?”  This is a much more relaxing way to approach life.

I learned a lot through this process.  Among other things, I learned that I could read a couple of books to my children when I have time, and that would be good enough.  I figured out that I really dislike entertaining and so avoid doing this these days.  When birthdays roll around, I reach for the cake mix and ice cream.  And I figured out that when given a task or assignment, I don’t have to make it bigger than it is.  I can just do my best to do what needs to be done and that is enough.

I find it much easier to manage my bipolar symptoms with the philosophy “less is more.”  I now have minimal amounts of stress in my life.  Because I am not killing myself to get things done all the time and trying to “wow” everyone with how hard I am working, I have more down time.  This translates into living at a slower pace, which I find very beneficial for my overall health and happiness.

“Less is more” can be applied to so many areas in life.  I have also benefited from using this wisdom to guide me when making purchases, or decluttering.  “What is sufficient for my needs?”  is a great guiding question that is helpful in these circumstances.

How have you benefited from following the philosophy “less is more?”  Do you ever find yourself caught in the trap of thinking you have to go the extra mile all the time?

As always, I would love to hear your story.  Comment below to share your experience.

Reflections

Reflections

A short story based on true events, By Chelsea Walker

A wave of hot air washed over her as she left the air-conditioned grocery store.  She almost didn’t notice it.

Imagine that, she thought absently, I’m finally getting used to the heat. 

After living in the Arizona desert for almost 10 years, Sarah was finally able to make it through the summer without feeling like a melting crayon.  She turned her cart toward her section of the parking lot and lazily made her way over to her vehicle.  There was a light, hot breeze—just enough to shake the leaves on the trees that grew, evenly spaced throughout the asphalt lot.  The sky was a brilliant blue—not a cloud in sight.  A typical day summer day in the desert.  She sighed.

I can’t wait for monsoon season.

Rainy days were scarce here.  It was something she really missed about her childhood home in Canada—the cool rainy days, among other things.  But that was a long time ago and now little more than distant memories.  She slowed her pace as she approached her car, digging her hand into the pocket of her purse.

Where are my keys?

She dug through the jumbled mess of receipts, wrappers and hot wheels cars until her fingers made contact with cold metal.  Finding the fob, she unlocked her car and began loading her few small bags into the trunk.  The sand colored Toyota Camry was one of the best purchases she and her husband had made in their almost 6 years of marriage.  They had scrimped and saved long enough to buy it with cash.  It was the perfect size for their little family–just big enough to fit the two of them, their 2-year-old son, Anders, and now, their new baby, Cathrin.

“Oh shoot!” She exclaimed aloud.

I forgot to grab the milk. 

She groaned.  Hurrying, she gingerly shut the trunk and locked the car with her fob as she rushed back inside.  She practically ran back to the dairy cooler, grabbed a gallon of skim milk and made her way to the checkout, ending up in the same line as before.  “Forgot to grab this.”  She said, smiling at the clerk when she saw a questioning look in his eye.  “I thought you looked familiar,” he winked in response.  Jerry, an older gentleman, was typically here on Saturdays and always seemed to have a smile and a kind word for everyone.  Sarah tapped her foot as Jerry rang up her purchase.  She quickly paid with her card and rushed back out to the car.

I hope my frozen stuff is still cold. 

Sliding onto the front seat, she started the car, and blasted the air conditioning.   She waited a moment with the door still open to let the hotter air inside the car, out.  She looked at the temperature reading in the dash.   115 degrees Fahrenheit.  Plenty hot.  When she felt like the temperature in the car had gone down some, she closed the door and reached for her sunglasses.  They burned her fingers.  Sighing, she put the Camry in reverse and started for home.

Her little reprieve from the duties waiting for her at home was over.  There was always so much to do, and Sarah was determined to do it as perfectly as possible.  She tried to smile as she thought of the children, but as she turned the final corner to her townhouse complex, she could feel her stress level and anxiety rising.  It seemed to explode with intensity the closer she got.  Sarah did her best to push it down.  It was how she always dealt with it lately.  She decided a while ago that she could at least fake feeling normal by forcing the unpleasantness down and just pushing ahead.  She didn’t know what else to do.  It seemed to be more intense than ever these past several days.  The only time it let up, was when she was away from home.

Everything’s fine.  She told herself, as she parked and grabbed her grocery bags out of the trunk.

As she walked the up the short stretch of sidewalk leading to her front door, her mind went to her friend, Maren.  Maren had recently had a baby, as well and really struggled with postpartum anxiety.  She ended up admitting herself to an inpatient behavioral health facility to get treatment.  She had talked to Sarah about how much it helped her.  She suggested that Sarah check it out.  Sarah pushed the thought out of her mind.

Why would I do that?  I’m fine.  I’m just stressed, that’s all.

She took a deep breath and stopped outside the glass sliding door, that was the front doorway of their townhome.  Beige, tab top curtains covered the glass from the inside.  She thought back to when they had first moved here and how excited she had been.  She didn’t feel excited about much these days.  She mostly felt stressed out of her mind.

Taking another deep breath, she set her grocery bags down on the concrete and grabbed her key out of her purse.  As she stuck the key in the keyhole a sweet, little boy—her Anders—pulled the curtain aside and smiled up at her.  His brilliant blue eyes sparkled with excitement as he bobbed up and down with his hands clasped in front of him.  Sarah couldn’t help but smile now.  She loved this boy and his sister more than words could express.

That is why I keep going every day, she affirmed to herself.  For them.

She opened the sliding door and cheerfully greeted him as he hugged her legs.  “Hello, my sweetie!” Sarah crooned at him.  “I missed you so much!”  She tousled his blonde hair and laughed.

Scott, her husband, greeted her with a hug and kiss and grabbed the grocery bags from outside, shutting the door, while Sarah made her way over to the lavender bouncy seat.  She bent down and lovingly enclosed a sweet bundle in a pink onesie, into her arms as she stood.  “My sweet Cathrin,” she lovingly whispered, pressing her cheek to the young infant’s.  Sarah kissed the little rosebud lips, which were now opened in a big smile.  Sarah laughed at the slobbery kiss.  She returned the little Cathrin to her seat and made her way over to the kitchen.

In doing so, she surveyed the scene around her.  Giant cardboard building blocks and cars littered the stained carpet and laundry piles dominated one half of the couch.  She saw that Scott had made progress on the kitchen, which was mostly clean.

He must have worked on that while I was gone.

“Thank you,” Sarah said, as she made her way over to her better half.  They hugged again and as they broke apart, Scott saw the sadness in her eyes.  “What’s wrong?” he gently asked, concern in his gaze.  “I’m just not feeling great,” She said.  “I feel so stressed out all the time.”  Her unpleasant feelings which had been simmering in the background during the happy greetings had returned in full force.  “I’m sorry, Sar,” Scott said sadly—using her pet name.  “Is there anything I can do?  Would you like to go and take a nap for a bit?”

Sarah thought the idea over and decided it might be good to take a little break.  She nodded her agreement and made her way upstairs to their bedroom, tears starting to fall as she went.

Why is this happening to me?

***

Sarah stood at the kitchen sink, washing the last of the dinner dishes, while Scott got the kids into bed for the night.  She could hear them walking around upstairs.  It sounded like Scott was probably getting Anders out of the tub and into his little bedroom at the top of the stairs.

She thought back on the day as she scrubbed the casserole dish and stared absently out the window into their tiny backyard.  The dry weeds were almost thigh-high back there.

When the weather is cooler, we will have to take care of that.  One more thing to worry about.

Sarah was able to “rest” a little earlier that afternoon—if you could call it rest.  She had been laying down but was tense, stressed and anxious.  She was much too keyed up to sleep and so finally decided to get up and get some dinner ready.

“Do you want to watch a movie tonight, Sar?”  Scott had asked during dinner.  Sarah knew he was really trying to lift her spirits.  “Sure,” she agreed, though she knew it wouldn’t help anything.  Maybe it would distract her for a little while.

I suppose that can’t hurt.  She acknowledged to herself, as she absently finished the last of the dishes and drained the sink.

Sarah started feeling worse as the day had gone on.  She went from feeling overwhelming stress to feeling something she couldn’t even really describe to herself.  She just felt wrong.  As she dried her hands on the faded dish towel, she made her way up the wood stairs to use the bathroom.

As she walked, she took one last look at the mess downstairs.  It seemed to have gotten worse since earlier.  How that was possible, she wasn’t sure.

I’m exhausted.  I’ll do it tomorrow…

She entered the bathroom and flicked on the light in the tiny space, revealing light blue walls and a small white vanity, with a toilet and a tub.  It was the only bathroom in their little townhouse.  Not the best of arrangements but it worked alright for them.

I’m not feeling right.  She thought again.  What is happening to me?

She closed the bathroom door and turned, facing the mirror.  As she did so, she glimpsed her reflection and was startled by what she saw.  Instead of her kind, cheerful face, her reflection’s features were twisted with malice and hatred.  She saw her shoulder length brown hair and fair complexion.  There were her green eyes—It was her, but it was not her.  Her mouth seemed to curl with contempt or twist in a sneer.  Her dark eyebrows angled downward in a menacing frown and in her eyes was a look of pure evil.  It was a dark, caricature of herself and she knew it meant her harm—maybe even wanted to kill her.

This isn’t real.  This isn’t real!

Sarah covered her eyes in fright and became aware of a new sensation.  It was as though she could feel hundreds, maybe thousands of demons all around her, shouting at her in her mind.  She fumbled with the lock in the door handle, finally unlocking it, and ran into the bedroom.

“Scott!”  She shouted, sobbing freely.  “Scott, something happened!”

Scott, startled, looked up from the clothes he was folding on the bed, concern in his eyes.  “Sar–what’s going on?”  He crossed the room quickly and encircled her in a warm embrace.  She tearfully recounted the strange and frightening events in the bathroom.

“It’s going to be ok,” he said soothingly.  Looking up at him, she could see the worry in his eyes.

“I want to go get evaluated, at that facility–like Maren suggested.” Sarah conceded, relief flooding her at the thought.

Maybe someone there will know what’s going on… and how to make this all stop.

“Yeah?”  He asked.  “That’s probably a good idea.”  He paused.  “Are you going to be ok tonight?” He questioned, looking down at her.

“I think so,” she said cautiously, still visibly shaken.  “I just don’t think I can go back in there–at least not right now.”  She said, referring to the bathroom.  Fresh tears came as the unpleasant memory played over again in her head.  She tried desperately to focus on the reality around her and not the enormity of confusion and fear she felt.  She looked around the room willing her mind to think of anything else, but try as she might she could not shut out the memory and the alien way she felt inside.

“Why is this happening?” She finally asked him, through her tears, the helplessness evident in her voice.

“Do you want to say a prayer?” Scott gently asked.  Sarah nodded and the two knelt by the bedside, Scott humbly asking God to help Sarah feel better tonight so that she could sleep.  Peace washed over her.

Feeling comforted Sarah hugged Scott telling him thank you, for all he did for her.  “Of course,” he said simply.  “I love you.”

“I love you too, Scott.  I couldn’t get through this without you.  I’m sorry you have to deal with all this.”  She said.

“Sar–don’t worry about that.”  He said kindly. ” That’s why I’m here–to help you.”  He kissed her and went to get ready for bed.

As Scott went to brush his teeth, Sarah changed quickly into some pajamas and climbed into bed, pulling the covers up to her chin as she rolled to over her right side.  She closed her eyes, trying her best to maintain her calm and blessedly fell quickly asleep.

 

Journey to a Diagnosis, Part III

Today I will write the final chapter in my Journey to a Diagnosis series.  Find the rest of the story here and here.

When I got home from the inpatient facility my house was empty of children.  My mother in law ended up bringing the kids to her own house for the last half of my stay.  I was grateful to have a little time to adjust to being home before I was thrown back into normal life.  When they finally came home, I felt really out of my element.  The high doses of medication I was on left me feeling less than energetic and “off my game.”

We had some great friends who did some renovations in our townhouse while I was away.  They painted some walls and our kitchen cabinets.  They also bought us a new tv and gave us some really nice furniture.  It was such a lift and helped me feel like I was going home to a fresh start.  I will be forever grateful for their kindness to us during this difficult time.

As glad as I was to be home and to be free of mood swings, I soon became aware of new difficulties that arose due to the medications I was on.  I was taking high doses of Lithium, Tegratol and Geodon.  The side effects were terrible.  I was on so much medication that I felt and behaved like a zombie.  My movements were markedly slow, I had digestive issues, and I felt almost completely devoid of emotion of any kind.  My mom and my closest friend both told me later that they felt like I had lost all of my personality.  It was difficult to talk to me as I never had anything to say.  I would just sit off to the side, my mouth literally hanging open.  I was overly sedated and everyone could tell.

In addition to these unpleasant realities, I was even more sedated at night, which was when I took my medications.  I would fall almost instantly asleep.  My husband found it impossible to wake me.  He just had to wait until I awoke on my own.  This meant he had to wake with our baby at night and couldn’t leave for work or school in the morning until I woke up.  Thankfully, this all worked out alright.  Our baby mostly slept through the night and Ryan’s schedule allowed him to be around in the morning.

The hardest part of all of this for me, was processing the reality of what I had been through.  I had been inpatient for my mental health.  I had “lost my mind”–or so I told myself.  I was so afraid of having to face the people I knew.  What would they think?  Were they all talking about it?  I felt like I may as well have had a flashing neon sign on my forehead that said “crazy.”  I felt that if people knew what had happened that I would lose all credibility as a teacher and mentor at church.  I felt like others would judge me harshly.  I didn’t think they would understand at all.  I certainly didn’t feel like I could talk about it openly.

To make matters worse, I felt that I was being excluded from activities that other young moms in my church community were doing.  I was likely putting a negative spin on events.  It is hard to know at this point.  But, at the time, I felt really left out.  And I thought it was because of what I had been through.  I felt they thought it was easier not to deal with me and my strange issues.  Again–in hindsight, this probably isn’t true, but such were my feelings and perceptions at this time.  This made a hard situation more difficult.  If only I had someone to confide in, it may have helped me better understand what had happened.

I was, however, very thankful for the amazing outpatient care I received from Dr. Holland.  He was kind and compassionate.  When I told him of my side effects, he helped me switch from Lithium to Lamictal.  This was a very positive change.  He also switched me from Geodon to Abilify.  Lastly, he took me of off Tegratol, due to some negative changes in my labs.  All of this helped me improve immensely.  I still had excellent symptom management, but I felt more like myself.

Sadly, Dr. Holland decided to close his outpatient practice and go exclusively inpatient.  I had to switch doctors.  I ended up with another great doctor.  As I continued to improve, he began to wean me down off the higher doses I was on.  This helped me feel even more like myself.  But this doctor went inpatient as well, and so I had to switch again.  I ended up going through a few more doctors for similar reasons.

I started doing so well, that doctors began telling me that they thought my initial diagnosis of bipolar was incorrect.  I was overjoyed to hear this, of course.  I was weaned off all of my medications until I was only taking a tiny dose of Abilify.  I was able to stay here and be well for a period of years.

If you’ve been reading my posts, you know the rest.  I weaned off my Abilify, became pregnant with my last child and everything fell apart.  Postpartum, I finally found myself sitting across the desk from a new psychiatrist–the one who could fit me in the fastest, as she told me in no uncertain terms that I most certainly did have bipolar disorder.  She passed me the box of Kleenex as I started to sob.

Coming to terms with this reality was very difficult for me.  I wanted to talk my way out of it: “But what about last time?  I got all the way better!  This can’t be real.”  The longer my depression went on, the more accepting I became.  “This is real.”  I was finally able to tell myself and I could believe it– and feel peace about it.

Whenever I am tempted to think I am home free and everything is fine.  I think back on the last 17 years and I know that I am fooling myself.  It helps put things back into perspective and reminds me that I still need to take measures to protect my mental health.

I am deeply grateful every day that I can function in my life.  In my mind, It is nothing short of a miracle to go from where I was to where I am now–and to realize I have been through this twice!  Two trips through hell, and back.

I have a special place in my heart for people who suffer–with anything, really.  This is because I have felt suffering.  When I think of others enduring agony, I can empathize, because I have felt agony.  I especially feel for women–mothers, who struggle with mental illness, all while trying to raise their families and get through all that that entails, day after day after day.

I also acknowledge that because I have felt deep pain and suffering, my gratitude for the good times runs deeper than ever before and my joys are deeper as well.  I am grateful for all the good that can come out of suffering.

So, yes, I have bipolar disorder.  It is a part of my journey.  I have learned to affectionately call this condition my “tutor”–because it has been through my experiences with it that I have learned and grown so much.

Where are you in your journey with mental illness?  Are you just starting and trying to figure things out?  Are you in the hard times right now, trying to get through?  Or are you enjoying a period of rest and peace in your life?

Wherever you are, thank you for being a part of my journey.  I’d love to hear from you!  Share your experiences below.

Maybe I Shouldn’t Care so Much

I have been talking to my husband in recent days about the struggles I am still having with depression.  I confessed how I often feel bad that I haven’t done something “good enough,” or that I worry if I may have inadvertently made someone else uncomfortable by something I said or didn’t say.  I often worry if contributions I make are really valued by others.  I wonder if my efforts at church and in my family and even on the blog are really helping anyone.  I get down on myself far too often.  These is one of my biggest and most persistent negative thought patterns that I often have to work through.  It isn’t always easy to remember that I am enough–even though I know it is true.  It’s a battle I seem to have to fight almost every day.

Whenever I talk to my husband about this, he always half-jokingly says that I need to not care so much–I need to be heartless, like him.  This always makes me laugh because he is the furthest thing from heartless you can get.  However, I have watched a change in him in recent years.  He went from being more like me–always worried about not doing things just right and trying to accommodate everyone’s every need–to being his own advocate.  He speaks up for himself.  If he doesn’t want to do something, he says he doesn’t want to do it.  Instead of losing himself in a sea of worry about whether or not he’s meeting his own expectations and everyone else’s, he just does what he wants and does so confidently and without worry.  I love this and want so badly to emulate it, but I’m not sure how!  And– I guess I am afraid to.

I am afraid if I’m not focusing on doing everything just right, that I might make a big mistake.  I am afraid if I’m not focusing on how everything I do affects others, that I might hurt someone.  I suppose, overall, I m trying to prevent failure.  I don’t move with confidence through life.  I carry a heavy burden of self-doubt and self reproach.  And I’m tired of it.

Maybe I shouldn’t care so much.  Maybe I shouldn’t care at all.  If I really think about it, my dream would be to move through life the way I see best, without caring or worrying about failing–without caring about the expectations of others.  I need to be my own advocate, like my husband is for himself.

As I was typing this post up, this quote came into my mind:

 

“There is freedom waiting for you,
On the breezes of the sky,
And you ask “What if I fall?”
Oh but my darling,
What if you fly?”
― Erin Hanson

I desperately want to be a more confident and happy me.  I am tired of keeping myself down.  Maybe I need to stick this quote to my bathroom mirror, for starters.

As for my next step–I’ll keep you posted.  I need to tackle this one thing at a time.

Is there anyone else who has struggled with this?  I’d love to hear your thoughts and your story.