A Favorite Poem, and Today’s Thoughts

Today, I’d like to share a favorite poem that I heard many years ago when I was in the struggle of figuring out and accepting my diagnosis.  It resonated with something deep within me and gave me courage and hope to keep working to overcome my challenges.  I hope it gives you a boost as well.  This is one of those great sources of hope I talk about in a previous post, that can help us when we are struggling with despair, and can give us courage to keep going.

Good Timber

By Douglas Malloch

The tree that never had to fight
For sun and sky and air and light,
But stood out in the open plain
And always got its share of rain,
Never became a forest king
But lived and died a scrubby thing.

The man who never had to toil
To gain and farm his patch of soil,
Who never had to win his share
Of sun and sky and light and air,
Never became a manly man
But lived and died as he began.

Good timber does not grow with ease,
The stronger wind, the stronger trees,
The further sky, the greater length,
The more the storm, the more the strength.
By sun and cold, by rain and snow,
In trees and men good timbers grow.

Where thickest lies the forest growth
We find the patriarchs of both.
And they hold counsel with the stars
Whose broken branches show the scars
Of many winds and much of strife.
This is the common law of life.

I have definitely had many moments of being “done”–done with my negative thoughts that I couldn’t seem to control, done with constant emotional pain, and done with having to carry the heavy weight of depression.  I’ve been “done” with not being able to sleep at night, done with not being able to do things that I used to love, because they now cause me too much pain.  The list goes on and on.  Like many of you, I have been sick and tired of having to live with bipolar depression day after day after day.  I am grateful, that I had reminders, like this poem to teach me what I already know, but can forget: Everybody has hard things and many–very many, have overcome and emerged stronger and better than they were when they started.

It’s so hard to see this when you are right in the middle of the proverbial biting winds and beating hail, or when relentless heat beats mercilessly, constantly upon you.  Those are the moments, I found, that I really needed to hear that there was a purpose to all the pain.  This poem is one of those reminders.

I can already look back to 17 years or so ago, when I started having symptoms of depression and see how much I have grown since then.  It makes me realize how much having mental illness has taught me.  I know I would not be who I am today without having lived through it.

Those are just my thoughts today.

What are you thinking about today?  How do you find courage and hope to keep going when things are hard?

Source: https://www.familyfriendpoems.com/poem/good-timber-by-douglas-malloch

Depression Survival Tools and Tricks, Part II

I am glad to share with you today, 5 more helps for enduring severe depression.  These are things I learned during my deepest and darkest depression–the hardest thing I’ve had to endure so far in my life.

I have learned that small changes, practiced consistently can reap large dividends.  This has been my experience.  Though simple, I hope you will find these helpful.

Have a routine.  My mind felt so mixed up when I was in the worst of my depression.  Extreme emotional pain, and darkness made it difficult for me to function, but I had children to care for and somehow I also had to make sure that I cared for myself.

I soon learned that having a routine for my daily activities had a calming effect on me.  Prior to learning this, I felt almost constantly frantic on top of the depression, because I felt like I had so much to do and I couldn’t make heads or tails of it all.  So I did, roughly, the same sequence of events each day.  I would try to focus only on what I was doing, to prevent my thoughts from going wild, and me getting overwhelmed with all of my daily tasks. A key part of this routine was time spent doing activities that calmed my mind.  This is an essential component.  I encourage you to try it.  I still find calmness in keeping a daily routine.

Know your needs.  Having severe depression forced me to get to know myself in a way I never had before.  I quickly learned what activities and circumstances increased my pain and what alleviated it.  I had to really be sensitive to my own thoughts and feelings in order to learn this.  This was a challenge at first but I can say now that it is one of my greatest strengths.

In the beginning, I realized that I had a bad habit of ignoring my own thoughts and feelings as they pertained to my needs.  If I was tired, I would keep going.  If I didn’t like a situation, I would forget my feelings, if it meant it would make someone else more comfortable.  But this kind of self-neglect is not consistent with the kind of self-care and love needed to heal through depression.  So I learned to really listen to my own inner voice and act on what I felt.

Here’s what I learned, as I got to know my self and my needs:  I am an introvert.  I need a lot of quiet time to unwind.  I love to read.  I need time to reflect and ponder on ideas I’m learning about.  I get tired out by social situations and need to recharge afterward by being alone.  I need a more open schedule, with lots of down time to stay well.  These are all things I had no clue about, until I had to live through this period of severe depression.

So, take time to get to know you.  Listen to your inner voice and act on it.  Although I am still working on this, I have come a long way and it was been a key force in helping me get through my depression.  Give yourself what you need.

Be open about your struggle.  I acknowledge that it is usually a process of time before one feels like they can get to this point of sharing.  It took me years before I openly began to talk about this with others, but I can’t say enough how much this has helped me.

If you consider how many thousands of people suffer with mental illness in the world, it is very likely that there are those in your acquaintance who are intimately familiar with the struggle.  When I began to share, I learned how many of my friends had suffered at one time or another with mental illness.  I learned that I was not alone.

I have been so grateful to have friends approach me to talk about their struggles because they knew I was safe to talk to.  They knew that I had struggled and would understand.  This has meant the world to me.

Now I am openly sharing the darkest and scariest moments of my history for all the world to see and even posted it on facebook for all to read.  I’d be lying if I said this doesn’t scare me, because it does.  But I want to be a voice of hope and an active part in ending the stigma associated with mental illness, so I push past my fear and let the chips fall where they may.

You may not be here, yet.  And that is ok.  But maybe consider sharing with a trusted friend what you are going through.  Sharing can help us and others realize that we are not alone.

Find happiness and joy in moments.  I naively used to think that I should feel happy and ready to take on the world all the time.  This is a false idea.  Life is only complete with ups and downs–you can’t have one without the other.  I learned a better way to approach life when I was wading through deep depression and that is this: Happiness and joy are found in moments.  To me this means that I can stop expecting to feel good all the time and I can stop trying to make that happen.

Instead, I can create and enjoy moments that make me happy.  For me, this is time with my children–where we are talking or reading a book or enjoying a family event.  This is also moments I have alone, or time in the beauties of nature.  This is time with my husband when we don’t have to stress about anything.  When my depression was really bad, this took a lot of effort and focus.  I had to really try and relax and find a moment that I could enjoy.  It wasn’t even really that enjoyable at the time.  However, it helped me to recognize my need to find those moments and enjoy them.  I need to create these moments in my life.  I need to actively do this, because otherwise life starts to get really mundane and dull and this can swiftly start things spiraling back down into depression.

So, instead of wishing for the end of depression and return of happiness, find or create a moment that will help you feel that.  Make it a habit of your life to do this and you will start to find greater happiness in life.

Accept the present reality.  This is a hard one.  We all want to get better!  I remember wanting this so badly!  No one wants to live with mental illness.  It is not a desirable situation.  I really was hoping for a quick fix, or even a quicker fix would have been nice.  But that was not to be for me.  What happened was a very long, desperate struggle.

On top of my depression symptoms I was discouraged, I was struggling with feeling hopeless.  I was unhappy about my situation and feeling sorry for myself.  I couldn’t control my depression, but I could certainly control feeling sorry for myself and how I was wishing my circumstances away.  I finally got to a point where I started to ask myself, “What if I feel this way for the rest of my life?”  I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life making myself miserable on top of being depressed.  So I made a decision that I was going to try my best to be happy, in spite of the hand that I had been dealt.

I didn’t feel happy in the traditional sense, but I had peace.  I accepted that this is where I was and maybe where I would be for a really long time.  I had to make the best of it.  Depression was still intense and still very difficult, but I had peace.  I found joy in moments and little by little things got better.

What about you? What have you learned from having mental illness?  What advice would you give to someone else who is struggling?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Courage, (Insert your name here)

When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I was 23 years old.  That was 12 years ago.  Although it was an intense situation and I had a lot of fear, it was my first time facing an episode like this.  My main struggle was just figuring out what it was and getting the appropriate treatment.  I was young and optimistic and ready to figure things out.

I eventually did get things figured out and, with the help of good doctors and a wonderful support system, I got through it.  It took about 2 years to get to a place where I felt like me again, but what is two years to an optimistic person in the prime of her life?  It was a steady improvement that led me to a good place emotionally.  In fact, for the first time of my adult life, I truly felt good.  I didn’t experience any depression during this time, and because of my medications, I was able to stay feeling well for many years.  I still did struggle with anxiety and stress a lot, because I had not learned the value of taking care of myself, but overall, I would say this was a really great period of time for me emotionally.

This lasted for about 4 years, during which time we had another baby, a girl.  She was born in 2009.  I continued with my medication during this pregnancy and postpartum, was carefully monitored throughout and all was well.

But I was foolish.  I was itching to get off of my medications entirely.  I only took a small dose of one medication daily at this point for maintenance purposes.  I was doing well.  I didn’t like the idea of chemicals influencing my brain.  Did I really need this medication anymore?  I tried to cold turkey myself off several times (which was extremely foolish–don’t every do that!!)  I never could get off of it without symptoms returning.

Finally, however, in 2013 my husband and I were ready to have another baby, which would be our last.  With the help and support of my psychiatrist, we weaned me off the last of my medication so that I could be medication free for the pregnancy.  This was also extremely foolish!  The process was rough, but I was determined.  I finally got completely off of my medication.  I ended up experiencing depression immediately, but didn’t recognize it for what it was.  I ended up at my PCP office several times complaining of extreme fatigue and weakness thinking there was a physical problem.  They investigated and found nothing.  I know now, looking back, that it was my depression.

Then, I got pregnant as planned and everything went haywire emotionally.  I was a mess.  Huge emotions took over my life.  I did all the self care and lifestyle changes I could think of but nothing helped.

To shorten the story, I had complications in my pregnancy that caused me to have to be on bed rest.  I remained in my recliner, on bed rest for around 9 weeks.  Although I had amazing support to help our family at this time–this was the hardest thing I had to live through up to this point.  My emotional state was constantly on the verge of breakdown, on top of the depression and emotional upheaval.  By the time I got off of bedrest and before I had my little guy via emergency C-section, I could feel that I was having some significant depression symptoms.  I knew things had gone from bad to worse.

The hormonal shift after my son was born was the hardest I remember, out of all of my children.  Even after returning home, I was a mess, constantly.  I was having difficulty because of the circumstances of my emergency C-Section that affected my physical health.  I also had extreme fatigue and weakness that hit so hard and suddenly, that I thought I might be dying.  I had lab work done and all kinds of things checked but everything came up normal.

I remember the moment, after my son was born, that I finally realized what was happening to me.  I was out for a short walk, with my son in the stroller, enjoying a beautiful day.  I could, emotionally, feel something that felt horribly familiar–I was starting to have mood swings again.  I pushed the stroller home in a state of horror and fear and shock.  How could this be happening again??  After so many years of being well, I didn’t really believe that my bipolar diagnosis was correct.  In fact, I had multiple doctors tell me just that.  Yet, here I was, going down this same road again.  I had been headed down this road ever since I got off of my medication, but I had been in denial.

I knew what would happen if I didn’t get into a doctor and get some meds right away–I would be back in an inpatient facility.  I called several psychiatrists and got an appointment to the one who could see me the soonest.

This episode was a lot harder for me to face.  I wasn’t young and fresh and optimistic anymore.  I had gotten a little older, and I was no longer young and naive about my circumstances.  I had been here before and I had a good idea of what was coming.  I was scared for just that reason.

And I didn’t feel like I could face it.  I felt I didn’t have it in me.   Already in a state of depression and emotional illness to significant degree–I could not face things getting worse than they currently were, nor could I face going on in my current state.

I had two friends stop my to visit me and my new baby, as I was just figuring all of this out.  They were from church and offered to say a prayer with me.  My friend prayed that I would have the courage to face this trial.  In that moment, I knew that was what I needed: courage.

Courage!  I did need it.  That day and everyday, because this was the deepest and darkest depression I have ever experienced and it has been the most difficult to come out of.  I needed to muster courage when I felt drowned in hopelessness.  I needed courage to get back on medications.  (This seems silly to me now, but at the time, my mind was so mixed up I wasn’t sure what to do).  I needed courage to live each day when I felt like I was stuck in a dark nightmare, or some kind of living hell.  I needed courage to keep trying, as I came out of the deepest black and into an endless state of gray–with life stretching on before me– constant depression as my companion and no end in sight.

Eventually, incrementally, I started to come out of it, a tiny bit week by week.

I’ve never done anything so difficult as live through this last episode of depression.  But live through it, I did.

In fact, I am at the tail end of year 4 and just finally feeling like me again.

Have you seen the movie, Willow?  It’s a cult classic from 1988.  There is a scene near the end where Willow (played by Warwick Davis) is making his final stand against the evil Queen Bavmorda’s army.  He is very small in stature and standing with only one companion, out in the open, waiting for this evil army on horseback to come and attack.  If you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about.  Willow says to himself in that moment, as the horsemen approach his position, “Courage, Willow.”I thought of this as I got ready to write this post.

I know it is excruciatingly hard, but in those moments where you feel ready to give up, or feel like you can’t do it alone– Find your courage.  And don’t try to do it alone.  Get help now.  Call a friend, tell them what you are feeling, now.  If you don’t have a friend, and you are considering ending your life, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255, now.  Get help from a medical professional, a counsellor, anyone, now.

Life is hell now, but it won’t always be that way.  Find hope, like I talk about in this post.

I am living proof that things get better.

Courage, (insert your name here).

Journey to a Diagnosis, Part II

Today, I continue the story I began in Part I.

My husband and I drove to the inpatient facility, arriving in about 30 minutes.  I remember being so afraid.  I was afraid of what I was experiencing mentally and frightened of going to this inpatient facility.  I didn’t know what to expect.  I was also sad about leaving my children.  My youngest, only 5 months old, was still breastfeeding.  I had a friend who donated some milk for her to consume in my absence, for which I was grateful.  I had no idea if I would be able to continue nursing after they gave me medications.  There were so many uncertainties that night, but overshadowing all of these emotions was my determination to get help.  There was going to be no turning back.   I was determined to get better–for me and my family.

When we entered the lobby, I remember the lights being dimmed because it was the middle of the night.  Whatever was illuminating the room cast an orange glow over everything.  There was another person in the waiting room, but he appeared to be asleep.  After completing the intake paperwork, we were called back to a small office to meet with a kind man who asked me about my symptoms.  I told him everything that had been happening, no matter how inconsequential it seemed.  He then led my husband and I downstairs where I would be sleeping.  My husband carried my bag down for me and then we hugged and kissed goodbye.  He had to leave to go home at this point.

I can remember how scared I was!  I would be sharing a room with a person I had never met in my life who was there for a similar reason that I was.  I went into the darkened bedroom, quickly changed into my pajamas and lay down on the mattress, but I was too anxious to sleep.  I got up and asked the night nurse for something to help me relax and sleep, but whatever she gave me hardly put a dent in my anxiety.  Eventually, mercifully, I finally slept.

When I awoke in the morning, I realized that my fears were unfounded.  My roommate was an elderly woman named Barbara, and she was kind.   Everyone I met there shared a story similar to mine.  We were all trying to get help.

That first morning I remember getting a doctor’s examination and blood-work.  It didn’t take long for them to get the results back and I was asked by the doctor if I had ever been on thyroid medication.  I had to admit that I had unwisely gone off of it cold turkey.  I was promptly put back on it.  I also met with the psychiatrist who would be supervising my care.  He was also kind.  He is well renowned where I live and I feel grateful to have been in his care.  His name was Doctor Holland.  We chatted briefly and I explained, again, everything that I had been experiencing.  He asked me if anything like this had every happened before.  It hadn’t.

I soon learned that we were kept busy throughout the day with classes and group activities.  These included learning about self care, learning relaxation techniques, doing crafts or exercising.  The first group class I went to, the teacher was leading a discussion about what we enjoyed doing.  Favorite movies were brought up and I shared two of my favorites and then burst into tears with my head down on the table.  The enormity of what I was experiencing was so overwhelming.  The teacher kindly asked if this was my first time with this type of experience and I tearfully shared that it was.  I didn’t understand what was happening to me.

After a short stay in the basement, I was then moved to a room upstairs.  I’m not sure exactly why this happened.  My roommate there was a young girl, about my age.  She was also nice.  It turned out that being in the inpatient facility was not as scary as I imagined it to be.  I was grateful to be there.

Doctor Holland initially diagnosed me as having major depressive disorder.  I was started on anti-depressants and was rapidly titrated up to a therapeutic dose.

It’s been so long ago now that a lot of the details have faded from memory but I do remember that the first antidepressant they tried me on caused my tongue to move involuntarily and made my eyes dart around. My husband came to visit me as often as possible and he came one evening when I was dealing with these side effects. He says he remembers seeing me acting so strangely that on the drive home he was overcome with tears of sadness and helplessness. He was afraid he had lost the Chelsea he loved.

I was switched to a different anti-depressant but it wasn’t long after that that we realized the anti depressants were causing me to go manic. At one point, I felt on the verge of losing touch with reality. I alerted the nurses and apparently this means I was on the verge of psychosis. They were quick in treating the problem. I was given a shot of antipsychotic in my buttocks. Not the best and funnest thing I’ve had to live through. I felt so helpless. I wondered again and again what was going on and how I would get better.

Doctor Holland stopped the antidepressant and started me on mood stabilizers. I was told, at this point, that I would have to stop breastfeeding. I had been pumping at the hospital and sending it home when possible but I stopped doing it. This was heartbreaking to me.

Doctor Holland left to go on vacation. I was put under the care of a different doctor. My symptoms were not improving so another mood stabilizer was added: lithium. This made a total of 3 medications that I was on. High doses of each.

Finally after a few days on lithium, my symptoms stopped. I remember how deeply grateful I was to have calm in my mind!  No more chaos–I can’t even begin to describe how good that felt.  My doctor diagnosed me with bipolar disorder. I was so thankful to know what it was, and even happier that they had figured out how to stop the awful roller coaster.  Finally, after 2 weeks in the inpatient facility, I felt well enough to return to my family at home.

I was released just before Halloween, 2006.

There’s more to this story.  Watch for part III coming soon.

Finding Hope, Sharing Hope

With my most recent medication adjustment, and focus on self care, I find myself feeling better and better each day.  I am so grateful that things were easily remedied this time.  I know, from experience, that things can be much worse.

This causes me to reflect back on where I’ve been and see how far I have come.  In doing so, I am overwhelmed with gratitude.  Where once, not too many years ago,  I was encompassed by darkness and despair, I feel now the light of hope, happiness and optimism.  I plan to enjoy this as much as possible.  But, as I think back to that time of darkness, I can still remember the agonizing pain, and the overwhelming hopelessness.  I can recall how afraid I was of what was happening and how heavy the burden felt.  I remember wondering day after day if I would ever really get better–if I would ever really be me again.  I felt so removed from the me I knew and understood that it felt as if my brain was hijacked or taken over by something else.  It was akin to a novice fisherman, accustomed to being in calm waters, suddenly transported into a great storm in the middle of the ocean–without bearings and with no proper equipment to survive.  I truly cannot believe how far I have come, since then.  I learned to navigate that storm.  And eventually, the waters calmed and I could see the light coming over the horizon again.  I know storms will come and go–I can be sure of that.  But for now, I am doing ok.

I can remember being in the midst of all of this, and being crushed time and time again by waves of hopelessness.  I searched, I prayed; I tried the best I could to get through minute by minute.  My only comfort and hope, in these dark times, came from God.  He was with me and helped me through every step. I know, that it is because of Him, that I have come this far.

I learned through this process that hope is the antidote to despair. So I did everything I could to strengthen my hope.  First and foremost, because Jesus Christ is the source of all hope, I did everything in my power to move closer to Him.  I studied His words, I prayed and I tried to keep Him in my thoughts.  As I did so, I was strengthened in my hope and was eventually able to overcome my despair.

I know that this idea does not appeal to everyone and so I also include some other strategies for growing the hope within.

As I tried to move through this pain, I also clung to stories of hope–accounts of people overcoming great hardships.  These I soaked up like water into parched, desert ground.  I clung to the hope that I could overcome as they had.  It didn’t really matter what the hardship in the story was–be it overcoming cancer, learning to live with a physical disability, enduring chronic pain or the loss of a loved one–I felt if they could overcome, then somehow, I could too.  I felt (and still do) that these great storms come to each of us in different ways, but come they do.  I feel this is something we all have in common: suffering and hardship, and the sometimes desperate hope that we will be able to overcome.

So, because I have felt of agony and despair, like many of you–I feel a desire to help others.  My utmost hope is that I can support, even in some small way, another person trying to get through life’s storms–whatever those may be.  I’m still in the boat and the storms still come.  I am no expert fisherman, but I am a fisherman who wants to help others in rough seas.  To those in the midst of deep depression, despair, bipolar disorder or whatever it may be, hang on to hope.  There are so many who have been where you are and have pulled through to brighter times.

So, find hope.  Find it anywhere you can.  See it in the stories of how others have overcome.  See it in the stubborn flower that thrives in cracked concrete.  Find it in the source of all hope: Jesus Christ, Himself.  As you find it, cling to it.  Make growing your hope the quest of each day.  And as you begin to overcome, minute by minute, day by day, share that hope with others.

Journey to a Diagnosis, Part I

“What’s wrong with me?” I often thought years ago, as I was beginning my journey with mental illness.  Only, I didn’t know I was on a journey and I didn’t know I had mental illness.  I just knew I didn’t feel like me, and I thought it was my own fault somehow.  I was only about 19 years old at the time, and just recently married.

My husband and I were both going to school full time and working.  Things were very busy, and stressful.  I was gone for most of the daytime at school and work, but home in the evenings.  My husband also had a full load of school but worked nights–cleaning, emptying the trash and pressuring washing at our city bus stops.  It seemed we had little spare time, which meant that there wasn’t much time to recoup and de-stress.  But I didn’t know anything about doing that at the time.  I always watched my mom go go go and thought that being busy was just how adult life is.

The emotional pain seemed to come on gradually, and then became a constant in my life.  There was a long period of time that I remember “faking it”–to everyone.  I plastered on a fake smile and did my best to feel like I normally would but it never worked.  My poor husband, just as new to this as I was, did his best to help me feel better, but we didn’t know what we were dealing with and so nothing really could change.

The main symptoms of this time were the emotional pain, feeling “off,” downward spirals occurring daily (especially at night), and major paranoia.  I was so clueless at the time–understandably.  I knew absolutely nothing about mental illness.  I just kept thinking that there was something wrong with me.  I kept thinking, If I just pray more or study my scriptures more, try harder, or do something differently that I would be able to feel better.  But no matter what I did, nothing improved.  I would take my scriptures to the university library and study them at lunch–praying that I would feel better.  But nothing changed.  At night, when my husband was gone working and I was home alone, I was consumed with fear that I would be killed while he was gone.  I prayed and sang hymns and did what I could to try and change how I felt, but nothing I did had any effect on what I was feeling.  I remember being afraid to take out the trash in broad daylight, because there might be a killer hiding there, waiting to kill me.  During these times, I would fall asleep in a state of fear every night.  I would be lying in my bed, running different scenarios in my head over and over, of how a killer might enter my room and then I’d plan out how I could possibly get away.  It was absolutely awful.

In my husband’s family, there is a person who has suffered from depression for many years.  I finally remember thinking, that maybe I should ask her what depression felt like, because maybe that is what I was dealing with.  I don’t really remember the conversation but I remember that I still didn’t know what I was dealing with afterward.  So I just kept going on as I was before.

Things changed a little when I became pregnant with my first child.  Postpartum, I found out I had hypothyroidism–severely so.  I thought to myself, “Finally!  Finally, I know what is wrong with me!”  I got on the appropriate medications for this condition and felt improvements, but my mental state didn’t change.  As I worked through the process of getting on the right dose for my thyroid, I was constantly calling my doctor in a state of anxiety that we needed to change the dose because I still didn’t feel right.  After a while of this occurring, my doctor called me in and told me that she thought I had depression and anxiety and gave me some samples of medication to start taking.  Having been raised with the idea that people who have depression or mental issues were “weak” or “crazy”, the whole idea of being thrown in with “that lot” made me freak out.  I remember telling the doctor, that I was stronger than this and that I would beat it.  I was very adamant.  However, I took the samples just in case.

I took the samples for a short while, but felt little difference, and ended up stopping them all together when I found out I was pregnant with my second child.  The pregnancy went well and I felt good, for the most part, until after my daughter was born.  Almost immediately afterward, I started having some very troubling and scary symptoms.  I felt “wrong.”  I can’t describe it but what I felt was so scary and so unlike me that I knew something needed to happen.  Still stuck on the role that my thyroid was playing in my mental health, I went off of my thyroid medication cold turkey.  For some reason that did help for a couple months, but then the worst began.

I began having severe mood swings.  One minute I would feel ok, then the next I would feel on top of the world and would think everything was funny and I was awesome.  I would also struggle through intense waves of anxiety. The scariest part of all was the depression.  It seemed to wipe a dark stain across my mind.  Thoughts and feelings of wanting to do myself harm overcame me.  If I looked in the mirror while depressed, my mind would see, in my reflection, an evil version of myself that wanted to hurt me.  I suppose that is a hallucination of sorts.  I also had these overpowering feelings that there were demons around me, that I couldn’t see, that wanted to do me harm.  It was frightening to put it mildly.

Thankfully, I had a friend who had just gone inpatient for postpartum depression.  She counseled me to go in and get evaluated.  I did.  They told me I was too high functioning for the intensity of their inpatient program and that I would probably be ok going to a doctor.  (I was very good at acting “natural”).  Late that same night, as thoughts of suicide started entering my head again, I knew I needed to go in and get help.  I was afraid that I might get to the point where I couldn’t choose not to act on it.  I was afraid of harming myself or my children.

And so, around midnight, I tearfully kissed my sleeping, 5 month old daughter goodbye and my 2 year old son, packed a bag for myself and headed out for the inpatient facility with my husband, while my wonderful mother in law cared for my children in my absence.

This is the beginning of my journey to a diagnosis.  Look for more in part II, coming soon.

Shhh… That is Stigma

With all the illnesses in the world to pick from I had to get mental illness. I had to get the only kind of illness that condemns you and destroys you for having it. If mental illness does not kill you on its own the stigma related to its name will eventually destroy you.

I am hurt and deeply saddened today for many reasons but one of them is because my own mother has been slowly killing me for twenty-five years because of stigma. My entire life my mother only loved me if I was good and perfect. There was no unconditional love and if she had it she did not know how to show it.

When I was diagnosed with mental illness twenty five years ago that was the day my mother’s daughter died. I was dead in her eyes. She never saw me the same again. I saw that look of disgust and pity in here eyes each time she looked at me. I felt the pain I caused her every time I spoke to her. She could never hide it and I could not forget it even though I tried desperately to. I always tried to make my mom happy and love me. Everyone wants their own mother to love them but mine did not have it in her to even try anymore.

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Her views of mental illness have always been archaic. She was old school. Mental illness was something to laugh at and be ashamed of and fear. This is what her oldest daughter had become.

My mother’s way of dealing with my mental illness was to not deal with it at all. Maybe if she pretended like it was not real and I was not real, we would both go away. Just don’t think about it and it will all go away.

The problem with that was that I was very real and I did not go away and neither did my mental illness. While she was pretending my mental illness was not real my mental illness became more severe and real nearly killing me many times. My mother continued to stay away and pretend. It hurt her too much. My mental illness hurt me too much too, but I could not leave the “too much” as I was the “too much.”

My mother is a very smart woman, but she chose not to educate herself about my bipolar disorder . Don’t talk about it. She said things like, “Nobody talk about Suzie’s mental illness. Shhhh… Don’t say anything. Don’t bring it up. Shhh…”

Let me tell you what shhhhh… does.

Shhh… belittles.

Shhhh…. shames.

Shhh… humiliates.

Shhh… detroys.

Shhh… makes you feel like you don’t matter.

Shhh… makes you feel like NO ON CARES.

Shhh… makes you feel like you aren’t worthy of anyone’s words, care or concern.

Shhhh… slowly kills.

The other day my mother complained to me about how awful it was that none of her children came to her Ovarian cancer meetings. I visited my mother in the hospital many times and sent her beautiful flowers and many cards. I painfully reminded her that for 25 years she never once came to my mental illness family meetings. She never once visited me in the hospital even when I was near death. She never once bought me flowers. I am her daughter but she couldn’t find it in her heart to care enough to even visit me in the hospital. She barely acknowledged the illness that is and has been killing me for years.

I thought after 25 years she was better, but I was recently reminded how I was sadly mistaken. Yesterday over the telephone my mother was making fun of my “crazy” (great) Aunt Lilly. Great Aunt Lilly was never spoken about and my mother only told me about her five years ago. That was how shaming it was to have an Aunt Lilly in our family. She was the relative you held your index finger up to the center of your lips and said shhhh… That was how Aunt Lilly was referred to. Her family, my family, put her in a psychiatric hospital (Insane Asylum) and threw away the key. My poor beautiful Aunt Lilly never got back out. She never got to go home and died in the Insane Asylum.

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I am the “crazy” Aunt Lilly in our family today. They didn’t lock me up in the Psychiatric Hospital, but maybe only because they couldn’t today. Mental illness stigma has decreased and treatment of people with mental illness is better—at least that much better.

My family still calls my beautiful Aunt Lilly “crazy” Aunt Lilly and laugh about it. It breaks my heart. Don’t they understand? Don’t they care?

Why can”t my mother and the rest of my family understand that when they laugh about “crazy” Aunt Lilly they are laughing at me?

Why don’t people understand that when they make fun of people with mental illness they are making fun every person with mental illness?

Will I be known as “crazy” Aunt Sue? In my family, I think so. I am trying to help them understand and I keep trying, but my family has a very hard surface to break.

Will stigma only end after the older generation dies. Maybe.

I believe the younger generation will be much better about treating people with mental illness wisely and compassionately. We need to end mental illness stigma now, so we do not have to wait another generation for it to improve.

We need to end mental illness stigma now, so we do not have anymore “crazy” Aunt Lilly conversations in this lifetime.

Start normalizing the dialogues about mental illness.

Let mental illness become part of a “normal” every day conversation. Mental illness is  much more “normal” than you realize.

~written by Susan Walz


Copyright © 2018 Susan Walz | myloudbipolarwhispers.com | All Rights Reserved

Contributor Writer’s for The Bipolar Writer Blog

I have been genuinely overwhelmed by the mental health community this month in the right way. The outpour of people willing to share a piece of their own writing that talks about mental illness on their own blog is one thing, but to allow someone like me into their lives and share pieces of their wisdom is another thing.

Mental Health Awareness month is about raising awareness about mental illness and what it means to live this life. It is never easy to share our mental health experiences. It took a lot to get to the point where I could share my most inner thoughts about my illness.

That takes me to contributor writers. It is not the first time I have offered this for The Bipolar Writer blog. So far, the people that have been a part of my blog beyond being guest writers have been a fantastic experience. What is a contributor writer? This is how it is described on WordPress.

Contributor – has no publishing or uploading capability, but can write and edit their own posts until they are published.

What this means is I add you as a blogger that has limited access to my blog. You write the posts, and you choose pictures from the library connected to my blog. I publish the pieces. As long as you keep the blog posts about mental illness topics, it is a natural process. The blog posts are your own connection to your blog. The comments go to you, not to me.

If you want to be a part of my blog, please email me at jamesedgarskye22@gmail.com

Space is limited as I only take on a certain amount of contributor writers. A moved out some contributors that no longer contribute which has made more room.

James

P.S. If you can please contribute to blog. All earned money goes to publishing my memoir. I will update the latest on my memoir later this week.

Photo Credit:unsplash-logorawpixel

Guest Posts on The Bipolar Writer Blog

Guest Blog Posts for Mental Health Awareness Month

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I know its the 11th of March and I should have done this sooner, but I wanted to open up some guest spots on my blog for the rest of the month. What does it mean to guest blog on The Bipolar Writer blog? Well, it’s simple, and here are the required things that I want from my guest bloggers.

  • Original content on any topic of mental health, mental illness, or mental health awareness.
    • You can talk about the stigma of mental illness.
    • Anything related to mental illness will be accepted. It can be a poem, a short story, or simply an article about an mental health topic.
  • Edited and proofread content
  • A link to your blog
  • At least a featured image for the post (but the more pictures you chose makes for a more exciting blog post.
  • (Optional) Name connected to post

It is that simple. I want to stress the importance of proofreading the piece that you submit. I will at times proofread an article given to me as a guest blog, but I am often busy.

If you would like to guest blog merely send all the required information above to my email address @ jamesedgarskye22@gmail.com

I look forward to seeing what my fellow bloggers offer regarding exciting pieces for mental health awareness month.

Let’s fight the stigma surrounding mental illness together!

James Edgar Skye

Photo Credit: https://www.pituitaryworldnews.org/may-is-mental-health-awareness-month/

Giving Birth Was Supposed to be the Happiest Moment of My Life

After giving birth to my first child 25 years ago, I was diagnosed with postpartum depression and was treated with antidepressants until my OB doctor realized he could not help me. He referred me to a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with bipolar 1 disorder, as my primary mental illness.

When I was first diagnosed initially with postpartum depression and soon after with bipolar disorder 25 years ago, postpartum bipolar was never heard of or discussed at the time. Back then postpartum bipolar was not diagnosed much or at all that I am aware of.

Even today, postpartum bipolar is often mistaken for postpartum depression. The severe low mood pole of bipolar is not recognized as bipolar, but is misdiagnosed as postpartum depression instead. Confusing bipolar disorder with postpartum depression can result in devastating consequences. The wrong medications can cause a new mother’s symptoms to worsen, and in some cases require hospitalization. The frequency of misdiagnosis has led a few health professionals to suggest that all pregnant women be checked for bipolar disorder during their first trimester. This will allow physicians to have a baseline in which mood swings after pregnancy can be measured.

Postpartum bipolar is more common than people realize. Each year 15% of all postpartum women in the US, which is approximately 950,000 women, suffer with postpartum mood disorders. Postpartum mood disorders include postpartum depression (PPD), postpartum anxiety/OCD, postpartum bipolar and postpartum psychosis. These illnesses get much less funding and attention than so many of the other prevalent illnesses that strike Americans.

In fact, more mothers will suffer from postpartum depression and related illnesses this year than the combined number of new cases for both sexes of tuberculosis, leukemia, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and epilepsy. I am not in any way minimizing these other terrible diseases, of course. I simply want to illustrate how prevalent postpartum mood & anxiety disorders are.

According to Dr. Ruta Nonacs of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, “Postpartum depression is far more common than gestational diabetes. All women receiving prenatal care are screened for diabetes, but how many pregnant and postpartum women are screened for depression? PPD is also more common than preterm labor, low birth weight, pre-eclampsia and high blood pressure; in other words, PPD is the most common complication associated with pregnancy and childbirth.”

Again, each year 15% of all postpartum women in the US, which is approximately 950,000 women, suffer with postpartum mood disorders. Compared to the much lower incidences of:

  • Approximately 800,000 women will get diabetes according to the Nat’l Diabetes Information Clearinghouse
  • Each year about 300,000 women suffer a stroke. (Centers for Disease Control)
  • Each year approximately 230,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer. (National Cancer Institute)

Additionally, approximately 9% of women experience postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following childbirth. Most often, this illness is caused by a real or perceived trauma during delivery or postpartum. These traumas could include:

  • Prolapsed cord
  • Unplanned C-section (which I had)
  • Use of vacuum extractor or forceps to deliver the baby
  • Baby going to NICU
  • Feelings of powerlessness, poor communication and/or lack of support and reassurance during the delivery (I had this throughout my 3 weeks of bedrest and pre-labor and labor)
  • Women who have experienced a previous trauma, such as rape or sexual abuse, are also at a higher risk for experiencing postpartum PTSD. (I had this)
  • Women who have experienced a severe physical complication or injury related to pregnancy or childbirth, such as severe postpartum hemorrhage, unexpected hysterectomy, severe preeclampsia/eclampsia (I had that), perineal trauma (3rd or 4th degree tear), or cardiac disease.

During my first pregnancy, I had pre-eclampsia and was put on strict bedrest of laying on my left side, for over three weeks. Strict bedrest is not the best medicine for a pregnant mother and can cause adverse reactions, such as depression. I began becoming depressed, while I was on bedrest.

When my headaches became too severe, I was hospitalized and was given three days of prostaglandin, a hormonal gel, used to ripen the cervix and make it favorable for delivery. This gel caused mild contractions for three days straight. I was given eight doses of prostaglandin gel, which I was told by my OB doctors was a record and they thought it was quite amusing. My body and my mind did not.

After three days of gel, I was given three days of Pitocin until finally after three more days of continuous contractions, my water broke. After three weeks of bedrest, 3 days of being given 8 doses of prostaglandin gel causing contractions, 3 more days of Pitocin and harder contractions and over two hours of pushing, I had an emergency c-section to finally deliver my beautiful baby.

At the exact second the doctor pulled my beautiful new baby out of my uterus, he also removed me, my identity, my reality, all my emotions and seemingly my brain from myself.  I was expelled in the afterbirth of my delivery and was never the same again. At the time of my delivery, I felt a severe sense of detachment and unreality, which is called depersonalization.

Depersonalization disorder is sometimes described as feeling like you are observing yourself from outside your body or like being in a dream. I felt like I was not there and as if I had died inside. These are some symptoms and signs of postpartum PTSD and the beginning signs of my peripartum onset, postpartum bipolar, as well.

Symptoms of postpartum PTSD:

  • Intrusive re-experiencing of a past traumatic event (which in this case may have been the childbirth itself)
  • Flashbacks or nightmares
  • Avoidance of stimuli associated with the event, including thoughts, feelings, people, places and details of the event
  • Persistent increased arousal (irritability, difficulty sleeping, hypervigilance, exaggerated startle response)
  • Anxiety (I had severe anxiety) and panic attacks
  • Feeling a sense of unreality and detachment (symptoms I had, plus more)

I had severe feelings of numbness, unreality and detachment from myself and my surroundings. These feelings lasted beyond my hospital stay. I had PTSD prior to my childbirth due to childhood abuse. Having PTSD prior to childbirth also left me more vulnerable to getting postpartum PTSD, besides my traumatic birth experience.

Risk Factors for bipolar disorder are family or personal history of bipolar disorder. I have a large family tree full of mental illness, and have mental illness on both sides of my family. My aunt has bipolar disorder with psychotic features, great Aunt Lilly was put in a Psychiatric Hospital for her entire life and I had two relatives that have died by suicide and there are more people in my family with mental illness, too many to list.

Bipolar 1 Disorder Symptoms

I bolded all the symptoms I had after giving birth. I never had these symptoms prior to giving birth.

  • Periods of severely depressed mood and irritability
  • Mood much better than normal
  • Rapid speech (I have always spoke a lot and fast, but not that fast)
  • Little need for sleep
  • Racing thoughts, trouble concentrating
  • Continuous high energy
  • Overconfidence
  • Delusions (often grandiose, but including paranoid – I didn’t have paranoia)
  • Impulsiveness, poor judgment, distractability
  • Grandiose thoughts, inflated sense of self-importance
  • In the most severe cases, delusions and hallucinations

After returning home from the hospital, my symptoms became mixed where I felt depressed and manic at the same time. I had racing thoughts, severe anxiety, excess energy, agitation, rapid speech, flight of many different and grandiose ideas, but felt I was worthless, sad and lost at the same time. My mind was fighting with itself. I had all this excess energy inside, but my mind was sad at the same time, causing me to become frozen at times.

I knew something was very wrong with me, but I didn’t know what and I was afraid to tell anyone. I was supposed to be the best mom in the world and I felt like I was failing. Each second was difficult for me to function. Each minute was a battle to exist. I needed help and I needed it quickly.  I was quickly becoming undone.

Twenty-five years ago, during my pregnancy and after my delivery, no one ever asked me about my mental health, not one time. I never had a baby before. I knew nothing about how I was supposed to feel. I knew I was not feeling well or normal, but I couldn’t tell anyone. I was too embarrassed. I was supposed to be strong and I was going to be the best mom in the world. I couldn’t tell anyone my true feelings,  my secret, the secret that I felt beyond sad and felt like I had died inside.

I had (and still have) mixed episodes and ultradian rapid cycling which makes my form of bipolar much harder to treat. I was hospitalized too many times to count, put in halfway houses, was homeless for three months and had over one hundred ECTs to treat my bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses. ECTs were the only treatment that was effective for me. My many ECT treatments were over a period of many years. I still have memory loss due to my ECT treatments, but the memory loss and ECT treatments were worth it. ECTs saved my life.

Childbirth has an important influence on the onset and course of bipolar disorder, other mood disorders, depression, anxiety and PTSD. Pregnant women with a history of mood disorders, PTSD and any mental illness should be monitored closely throughout pregnancy and especially in the postpartum period.

It is time we start increasing awareness, educating and spreading the word about postpartum bipolar, postpartum PTSD and other postpartum illnesses.

It is imperative that all women are screened properly and treated compassionately and soundly before, during and after pregnancy and childbirth.

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Copyright © 2018 by Susan Walz | myloudbipolarwhispers.com | All Rights Reserved.