Happy Healthy Holidays

Photo by Oleg Zaicev on Pexels.com

Lots of wishes float around this time of year. Lists are jam packed with material goods, gadgets and toys people covet. Well wishes also abound as folks entreat each other to celebrate all of the holidays that fall in December. In that spirit, I want to wish all of us in this community a Healthy Holiday season.

Remembering Christmases when my children were younger brings up some painful memories. Mania gripped my mind years before (and after) I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The stress of trying to provide a happy holiday seemed to exacerbate my tendency to overspend. This left a mound of unwrapped (and mostly unnecessary) gifts at 2am on Christmas Eve more years than I care to count.

Another year, I stayed up late hand-stitching personalized Christmas stockings for my in-laws. The socks didn’t turn out great and my morning was marred by lack of sleep.

I understand firsthand the desire to buy your way into your loved one’s hearts. Especially this year, when things have been so dismal. For those of us who suffer from a lack of impulse control, I wish you restraint, moderation and creativity in meeting the needs of those around you. And your own.

The flipside of mania, depression, can also come to call around this time. Personally, the shortened days and lack of sunlight can have a real detrimental effect on my moods. Couple that with expectations of constant cheerfulness that are impossible to achieve and it’s not just Elvis having a Blue Christmas.

But the biggest obstacle to enjoying the holidays this year will be our unconventional celebration. Like a lot of families, we’ve made the decision not to gather in person. The consequences are too grave should the virus invade our group or be contracted by vulnerable family members back home. I haven’t been able to listen to “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” or Mariah Carey’s “Miss You Most”. I fear I’ll cry my eyes out and won’t be able to put them back in my head.

So instead, I’m going to be grateful. I believe it was Shawn Achor, the best-selling author of “The Happiness Advantage” and positive psychology expert, who offered a stunning antidote to depression. He said (paraphrasing), that you can’t be simultaneously grateful and depressed. I’ve found this to be true and extremely helpful in dealing with my depression.

I will try my best not to have a bipolar Christmas. I’m hoping thirty years of living with the diagnosis and achieving a certain level of insight will allow me a healthy holiday season. And that’s exactly what I’m wishing for you.

Be well,

Colleen

The Lure of Normal

 

I’ve been away as a contributor to this blog not because of illness, but due to the lack of it. As a survivor of Bipolar I, my moods run the gamut from depressed to supremely manic. Lately, however, I’ve found myself in the sweet spot a lot of people would call normal.

I’m watchful for changes to my affect because for years, the chilling temperatures of autumn signaled another mania was on the horizon. This year, I face the prospect of fall with confidence and resolve to remain stable.

Many of my kindred spirits have written of their experiences with the seductive aspects of mania. I no longer have such lust. My manic episodes have caused me humiliation, anguish and disruption in my life. I have little interest in chasing fantasies only to be left holding cold ashes once my dreams flame out. Trips to the hospital were the result of Icarus-like flights of fancy.

Today, the day after Labor Day, is an anniversary for me. It’s been five years since I walked out of a psychiatric ward, released after I received medical treatment for a manic episode. It wasn’t the first time.

I have worked very hard to regain my emotional sobriety. Due to the nature of mental illness, there are no guarantees that particular hospitalization will be my last, but I have put many barriers between me and unbridled delusional thinking. One of the most helpful is the lure of normal.

Sky high self-esteem, visions of grand schemes manifesting overnight and touching the third rail of connection with The Divine are some of the elements of mania that used to call my name. It seemed so real; I could imagine all of it happening. Now, my wish is more Pinocchioesque: I want to be a regular person.

With over thirty years of experience as a diagnosed bipolar survivor, “average” and “normal” were terms I knew little about. Today, they are my goals. I don’t want to miss any more of this precious life with a runaway mind separated from my family and friends. Getting adequate sleep, taking meds, checking in with my therapist and doctor and monitoring my moods are just a few of the remedies I’ve chosen to use against the beast of mania.

Currently, there is no cure for what I’ve got. I can only do my best with the tools I’ve got on hand. Striving for stability is one of the ways I keep the symptoms at bay. As we head back to work and school in the midst of the pandemic, let’s try our best to keep our mental health foremost on our priority list. Take care of yourself first. It’s not selfish, it’s imperative.

Colleen

News About This Week’s Zoom Call

Happy Friday!

My name is Colleen Burns Durda, @theoriginalcbd, and I’m a guest blogger on The Bipolar Writer’s collaborative mental health blog. For the past few weeks, James Edgar Skye, (aka The Bipolar Writer) has hosted a Zoom call to discuss various topics surrounding mental illness and emotional well-being. This week I’ll be guest hosting the call.

In an effort to delve more deeply into some of the topics associated with mental illness, James collaborated with @GroundsForClarity and expanded into a new forum. They co-moderate a server on Discord called Community Mental Health Discussions. It’s on the Discord Channel that we’ll post the link to join the Zoom call. The call will take place tomorrow on Saturday June 13th starting at 5pm CDT.

Here’s how to participate: Go to https://discord.com/ or download the Discord app. Set up an account and a username. Request to friend JamesEdgarSkye#4190 and navigate to Community Mental Health Discussions to find lots of topics that may interest you. I’ll post the Zoom link in the Announcements thread.

If this sounds like something you’d like to try, please do. Don’t let the technology intimidate you. If I figured it out, it can’t be too difficult. I’d love to see you on Saturday and discuss mental health. If you can’t join the call this week, check out Discord. I will be posting here, in this space, at a later date. You can also find me on my own blog http://ColleenBurnsDurda.com.

Have a fabulous weekend,

 

Colleen

The Sting of Stigma

(Trigger warning: This post contains terms mental health survivors may find offensive.)

 

When first confronted with the locked ward thirty years ago, you could say I resisted. I had an inkling something wasn’t quite right with me, but I most certainly had no interest in joining the ranks of the mentally ill. I knew almost nothing about manic depression, as bipolar affective disorder was referred to in those days, but I knew enough to realize even a whiff of that label would cause people to view me negatively.

I have tried over the years to enjoy Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” song. Espouse the driving beat and catchy tune, party and dance to The Purple One’s genius. But the words still sting. Once you’ve lived through losing your mind, celebrating going crazy becomes difficult.

I wince when I hear people speak casually about the loony bin, straight jackets or being taken away in a truck. I’ve experienced some of those things firsthand and they’re not funny. It’s a universal fear to lose touch with reality so people often say things like, “Working from home is going to drive me crazy.” Mental health issues in the time of COVID-19 are real and I take umbrage with the way the terms are thrown around.

Realistically, I’ll never stop these types of slights. They bug me but result in what I’ll call first level insults. It exemplifies a type of stigma that is so pervasive it may never change. I take a passive approach and just smile along when I hear all of the euphemisms people have for psychosis. A more egregious type of affront has been delivered by people who ask me about my mental health like it’s a joke.

In preparation for the release of my recently completed memoir, I’ve been opening up in stages. At first, I only discussed my bipolar diagnosis with family and close friends. As I opened the aperture on my real life to more people, I’ve experienced stigma with a ferocity that surprised me.

“Are you crazy now?” I was asked at a family reunion.

“Shouldn’t you leave that on a therapist’s couch? Why do we need to know?” That came from a friend who thought my disclosure was way too much for her taste. These types of statements speak volumes about the people asking the questions, rather than me. I still felt slapped.

But the third level of stigma, which is even more dangerous, is the discrimination or social shunning I’ve experienced. After almost three years of working for a business partnership, I decided to disclose my diagnosis. There has been much written about the perils of disclosing a mental health condition on the job. On one hand, if no one knows, supposedly they can’t hold it against you. On the other, if you disclose, you can get accommodations if you need them. I felt confident in my abilities and my work was exemplary. I wanted to have the freedom to be myself in the office. I told the people I worked for I had bipolar affective disorder. Six weeks later, I was walked to my car with a smattering of hastily assembled personal items in a box. They called it eliminating my position, but the timing was more than coincidental.

I’ve lost friendships over the years as well. Well meaning people say, “They weren’t real friends” yet I was crushed at the time. Some folks encouraged me to sue my employers, but I chose to take a different tack. I used the time to finish my book. I don’t regret my decision to be open about my mental health status, yet I know it comes with risk. It’s in being open and sharing our stories that we fight the stigma.

I’ve lived most of the past thirty years in abject terror of being found out I have a mental illness. I no longer have that fear. I’m also realistic enough to know disclosure closes some doors for me. Stigma is real and it hurts. I’m willing to work for the time we can stand on our own merits and mental illness will not have the added burdens of shame and stigma it does today.

Colleen

That Friend

Friendship doesn’t come naturally for me. Add a mental health diagnosis and it’s downright fraught. I tend to treat friend making like double Dutch jump rope. I watch some girls jump in, dance around and jump out. I watch for a really long time. Then I finally feel the beat, take the risk and make my move. I end up thwapped in the arm and the ropes are down around my ankles. It’s harder than it looks, apparently.

I’m the intense friend. I put a lot of effort into guessing how other people do it, this friendship thing. I crave connection and yet seem to thwart my objectives by over or under doing it. I’m enthusiastic and have a tendency to overshare. Or I anticipate rejection and clam up, revealing nothing. Where are the instructions for the middle ground?

During this pandemic, I’ve turned into the anxiety ridden friend. I recently finished my first book, a memoir. I had seven friends read it as beta readers. I’m having a hard time with feedback. It took a very long time to write the book and now that it’s complete, I could ask, “What did you think of X?” all day long. I feel pushy asking my pals for a dissertation on my work. I need their input to make final revisions and it has my laser focus right now.

I know what I should do: Relax. Easier said than done. I have bipolar affective disorder which comes with a side order of obsessive thinking. I think I’m having a revelation hangover. My truth is revealed in the book and I’ve heard both sides of feedback. You shared too much and you’re incredibly brave. I’ll have to be the final word on determining what I want to share.

Until then, I have to stop hitting “send” on emails and sitting there with a stopwatch waiting for the “Re:” response to come back. This stay at home time has allowed my clock watching to get seriously out of hand. I’m happy, okay ecstatic, the snow has finally melted where I live and May has arrived. I have to get out of my spot in front of my laptop and enjoy a nice walk in the woods. Thanks for being here, checking out my post and easing the angst of opening up, a little at a time. Maybe I’ll try jump roping again.

~CBD

 

New Kid on the Blog

Not long ago, I went looking for relevant content by like-minded writers. The Bipolar Writer appeared in most of my searches and I decided to follow his collaborative blog. He extended an invitation to join the team, I accepted, and would like to introduce myself.

I am a mental health survivor with a diagnosis of rapid cycling bipolar I. I raised four children to adulthood and have been married to the same supportive husband for almost forty years. Just stating those facts make me sound up and over the hill, yet I feel I’ve only recently begun my true calling.

Last summer was a milestone for me as I “celebrated” thirty years since my diagnosis. I don’t use the term lightly as the odyssey has been fraught with hospitalizations, medications, stigma, and trying desperately to fit into the unaffected part of society. I kept my illness hidden, or so I thought, from most people and I believe it had a detrimental effect on my emotional equilibrium. Keeping the secret was very difficult, especially when symptoms would arise.

Speaking openly about mental health in general is still in its infancy. In some ways, bipolar affective disorder has become the mental health maladie du jour. More people are aware there is such a thing as bipolar and candid conversation is necessary. I hope to bring my experience to this space, post about the topics that mean something to you, and provide the relevant content you’re seeking.

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you next time.

~CBD  (my initials)