I am doing something unorthodox today here on The Bipolar Writer. I hope that I have created a place where my fellow mental health sufferers can have a “safe place” to discuss their own issues. I often get emails from many who are seeking help or guidance or just want to talk about things. I want everyone who comes to this blog to know that if you are suicidal there is always someone here, I am always here to talk.
The unorthodox part is that today I am going to give my number to my followers if you are suicidal and you don’t want to reach out to help-lines (I have learned recently that they are not always great.) So, if you need to chat you can text me anytime. I will get back to you as soon as humanly possible. As a mental health advocate and someone who has been through the worst parts of mental illness alone, I want you to know I am a lifeline.
You are not alone. Suicide is not the answer. Again, I am always here to talk anytime.
I have a fairly normal outlook on the world: -someone’s late coming home …so he must be dead or kidnapped. -that person didn’t smile at me …she hates me. -the warning light came on in the car …it will blow up before the next stoplight. -I feel somewhat sick …yes, Google, it must be cancer.
What? That’s normal, right?
This way of thinking has hounded me for most of my life. Not until it exhibited as severe depression from how other people treated me did I know …these thoughts may not be that normal. I also didn’t realize my worries had a name: anxiety. That realization didn’t come to me overnight. It didn’t come from a counselor, although uncovering and treating it did come because of counseling sessions. My learning about anxiety –my anxiety- came after talking with a neighbor.
“I felt like I should save up money for a trip,” I told the neighbor, back in June, “But then it got cancelled because of Coronavirus. So… I guess this means I’m going to get sick and will be hospitalized.” *Sigh*
Without skipping a beat, she responded, “No, that’s called anxiety.”
Initially, I felt shocked and surprised. I then felt denial, since anxiety was not a condition I’d ever considered. Anxiety was for other relatives of mine who had experienced panic attacks or hadn’t been able to sleep with the lights off. Anxiety couldn’t affect me…
Then, the puzzle pieces fit together -answers to my racing and irrational thoughts. I brought these concerns to my video counseling session; my counselor was not as surprised as I had been. I’m just glad she’s as smart and observant as she is.
With her help, I learned that many of my panicky thinking is anxiety. I started making a list whenever I worried about a situation. I shared the list with my more-rational husband or a good friend. I learned which voice spoke: me or anxiety. Over time, I could see the differences.
After that, I learned to answer the worries: -someone’s late coming home …so I’m anxious. -that person didn’t smile at me …she’s having a bad day. -the warning light came on in the car …and that light could be anything from needing an oil change to needing more coolant. -I feel somewhat sick …it’s probably a cold.
Once I could recognize anxieties and stop the rising panic, I was able to formulate solutions. At the very least, I got better at delaying irrational actions and stress. Which, of course, does not mean the anxiety evaporated.
Sometimes, at times of high stress, my tips and tricks do not work. In times like that, I contact my counselor. Sometimes, she suggests anti-anxiety medications. Why? Because anxiety is like other mental illnesses in that I can’t always fight it on my own.
Armed with tricks, encouragement, professional advice, and help when I need it, I’ve found anxiety to be less formidable than before. I’ve found a freedom I didn’t know before. And it’s wonderful.
I have never been hospitalized before. I think that I am pretty good at hiding things, but I couldn’t hide this from myself. I knew there was something wrong. I wasn’t sleeping more than a couple hours, I was becoming emotionally abusive, and I was falling back into overspending. Mania. This isn’t the first time I have been manic this year, but I hope it is the last. I moved into a new apartment earlier this week and I already can’t make rent. I am exhausting. I am tired from being me.
I took myself down to the hospital which I think we can agree is a feat on its own. Not having insurance was both a blessing a curse. The plus side is that I could choose whatever hospital I wanted and the downside is that I am uninsured. I can’t help but laugh that this insanely expensive vacation I just took and I didn’t even get to go to the pool. I am constantly, actively working to better myself. I take my medication, go to all my doctors appointments, religiously see my therapist, use the breathing exercises. I am not immune to it. It wasn’t at all what I had expected. Clean, hospital like in some ways, slightly degrading, and cold. BUT I am blessed to have gone to a place that provided me a private room and bathroom. Granted, everything was bolted to the floor and the bathroom had no door. Overall it was a really nice place filled with people actively trying to get better.
I was sad and anxious that I was taking all these days unpaid, but I had to. I had to go and get help. It was an out of body experience watching me set fire to all the relationships that took years to rebuild. One conversation has sent it all tumbling down. Here I am, trying to intervene and slow the damage. I was discharged yesterday afternoon and it seems that my grandparents are going to be the hardest to recover. I suppose it is divine timing because we just moved away after living next door to them. I am fortunate to still have my mom in my corner because it would be hell living together for the next year if I am going to be the source of her pain and anger.
I am doing better today. Better than yesterday, better than a week ago. I just have to keep pushing forward. My anxiety is manageable right now and I hope that it stays that way. I hope that this made inpatient stays a little less scary for those who haven’t experienced it.
This is a two part post: The next part is scheduled to be posted tomorrow.
I want to start off by saying that I voluntarily see my psych doc weekly because I need a lot of accountability regarding my medication. It is a personal choice and in no way does it reflect my dedication to my mental health. I also have a therapist that I see biweekly. I am in no way manic and this is not a manic episode and it is not religious mania. I have been on a spiritual exploration for a few years now.
I always said that I was an atheist, and then I realized what an atheist is and I am not that. Then I said I was agnostic. I told people that I am too selfish to sit and learn about a particular faith to claim one. People really respected that and I meant it, but I wasn’t agnostic. I believed in a God, I just didn’t know which one. I prayed to a God. My God. It didn’t matter. I knew that I had no true control in my life. I wasn’t an accident. The world is bigger than me.
Then I started finding myself longing to be like a lot of people who emulate Jesus. I wanted something to be passionate about and to continue learning about. I wanted a higher power that I could name and a way to get to know Him. I turned to the Bible. Turns out it is literally thousands of pages. Where would I start? Would I understand it? Will it capture my attention or overwhelm me and I quit?
I tried a few bible studies and I completed maybe 3 of them. I tried and quit several. I really wanted a starting point, a place to get a foundation for the rest of my learning. I joined a small group so I could dive into the Bible and its meaning with an intimate group. It was amazing, and then I felt called out about being the only single person in the room. I didn’t go back. Then I started googling “what the Bible had to say about….” and reading from there.
I was having a really tough time with my sister. We were going back and forth about everything it seemed. Who is cleaning more, who is chipping in more, you name it. It was causing a huge rift. we smoothed it over but I still feel this tension in the air. Like she is waiting for the shoe to drop. It is familiar because that is how I felt when I had to move back in with them. It is strange to be on the other side and needing to forgive. This is the first time it occurred to me to turn to the Bible first. So I googled, “the Bible and forgiveness” and “biblical stories about forgiveness”. It returned wonderful scripture. I then wrote some of it down. Once I reviewed what I had found, I picked out some of my favorites. I noticed a lot of them were from the book of Matthew. I found myself emerged in this story that finally told me the ins and outs of how Jesus came to be. It has all kinda tumbled from there. I think I pick up my bible at least every other day now. I still am not completely independent. I still reach for the internet for a starting point, but I still read from there. I just feel better. I feel like I am in love with learning and also seeking comfort and guidance. It really calms me. I started to wonder if maybe that calm can be obtained through meditation and manifestation. I believe in manifestation. Maybe it is the positivity that it exudes or the feeling of influence it provides. Either way it feels like I accomplished something.
So I started looking into meditation and homeopathic ways of treatments or guidance.
My therapist says that I am responsible. She says that I am kinda, She says that I am a good person. She says that I handle my stress with grace. She tells me that I am doing a good job. She applauds the boundaries I am drawing. She agrees that I need to create more.
My therapist empowers me. She inspires me to make better choices. She reassures me that I am on the right path. She provides me with the tools I need to continue to grow and ensure it is in the right direction.
I think I was feeling especially inspired today when I told my grandmother to stop being so hateful towards my mother. I think I drew a very blatant boundary. The kind of boundary that says I have chosen my side. The kind that makes me her new enemy instead of her confidant. I just want to be her granddaughter. I don’t want to be her financial partner in crime and I don’t want to be the one in the ivory tower while she shits on all the peasants. I don’t want to think of it as her and me against the world. I don’t want to have to choose to be on her side vs my mom and sister’s. I want her to love us all the same. I want her to treat everyone like she does me.
I wish I didn’t feel so empowered today. Therapy normally feels like I took the world off my shoulders and rested for an hour. I feel like I added three bricks today. It was the first appointment that I didn’t end up in tears and yet here I am bawling.
I have been helping my family out financially for years. I don’t mind, but sometimes I do it at my own expense. I put off my needs or wants to satisfy someone else’s. It is something (THE thing) I am working on with my therapist. She has me writing down 3-5 things everyday that bring me joy. Says that it is proven that within three weeks, your brain will rewire itself. I guess this helps with my anxiety which is a big reason why I continue to say yes to everyone…I just want to help and take away the chance for anyone to say that I don’t do enough. Well, it is day 5 and I am running out of things to write down lol. How sad is that? She said they can be as small as you liking your eye color. I don’t want to lie and just make stuff up. So I started finding more things I enjoy.
I bought Felipe.
Felipe is a fiddle fig. I have a black thumb. I have never kept a plant alive in my life, and if anything, I have ushered in their early demise. These plants are notoriously dramatic and hate change. They are the complete opposite of me. I enjoy it in every way possible. Felipe hates being moved, likes the west window one day and wants the South facing window the next. He throws a tantrum if he isn’t watered but then spits his leaves at me if he gets too much. I basically bought the hardest plant.
And then I bought four more plants. They give me JOY! I like watching them change. I have had Felipe for a week and he has two new leaves. I feel proud of him…and me. because he is alive. I kept him alive.
What has Bugged me Since November, Losing my Therpaist
There has been something bugging me, and it came to the forefront of my mind today. I felt the need to get it off my chest, and writing is therapeutic for me. I want to begin with some history.
For those who might be new to my blog, I, James, have been in the adult system of care in the state of California and the county Monterey. Behavioral Health, as it is called, has been my home for everything mental health related . To meeting with psychiatrists (the many over the years) for medication refills and changes, the idea of group therapy which I never could do, and one therapist since 2007. I talk extensively about my experience with the adult system of care in my memoir. I was twenty-two at the start of this jouney, and fresh off my first stint in the psychiatric ward.
It was not until 2015 that I actually got insurance, thanks to Obamacare, and I was finally eligible for therapy. I met my therapist in the summer of 2015. Until November of last year, she was the one advocate in my life that cared about my daily struggles with Bipolar disorder, social anxiety, panic disorder, and insomnia. This blog, my memoir, and becoming The Bipolar Writer only became possible when I opened up in therapy. Before, I was not very good at expressing the mental illness side.
I can’t fault my therapist for moving from long hours for probably not the most exceptional pay for a better job. She was terrific, and she helped me through so much. I got to this point because of my mom, therapy, and undergraduate/graduate school. My therapist was also my case worker and tbat is important. Only one other person in the system, my psychiatrist from 2007-2012, actually cared.
It has been five months. I keep getting the run around in December, January, and February of this year. They are working on getting me a new caseworker and therapist. They wanted me in group therapy through it would not start until February. I was just working on getting ready for these types of situations, and so I declined group therapy. I have trouble with being around people in person. Which is ironic because I connect with people all the time here on my blog. I was hopeful that eventually, they would hire someone new, and things would get back to normal. Then COVID-19 happened to the world, with it was the changing of everything.
Now, as with everything else in my life when it comes to my mental health, I am in a holding pattern. The county is freezing hiring a new caseworker and therapist, and so I have no therapy for going on five months. Its the longest since I first came to therapy. There is always a silver lining when I write these posts. I am better equipped to deal than at any time in my life. Yes, its been hard since I began sheltering in place and social distancing when it comes to anxiety, but I am slowly adjusting.
It is looking like we are going to be this way in California for a while. I will deal with it the best way I know how, writing, some meditation, and perhaps adding some new things to my routine. When this is all over, maybe I will once again be in therapy. God knows that I will need it. Stay strong in the fight.
I am a do-it-yourselfer. If you’ve by any chance read my blog post, My No-Medication Journey to Emotional Health and Well-Being, you are aware that this doing-it-myself thing extends to all things, even things as crucial as my entire existence. Maybe it’s good, maybe it’s not. I’ve certainly been scolded for being too self-sufficient but that statement always struck me with confusion. Why wouldn’t I want to be self-sufficient? On the other hand, I guess I do get it: I don’t give other people a chance to help me, help can be good, we all need support, and so on. Hey, I’ve gotten help plenty of times. I mean PLENTY of times. Some of it was good, some of it was not so good. Regardless, I still developed this intense desire to figure it out by myself, whatever “it” is.
I’m also a researcher. I mean a personal researcher, not a professional one. I research EVERYTHING that crosses my mind (and yes, my mind is full and often tired but I can’t help it). I spend a lot of my life learning. I dare say I learn new things EVERY day. This, I have to admit, is something that I like about myself. Perhaps it started early in life. My mother told me many times, “Read well. No one is going to tell you your rights.” So, from a very small child, I have been reading, avidly. At times this has meant books. Sometimes it means news articles. Sometimes it means the small print on the back of a package of some product or other. Over time I adopted the (probably rather snooty) attitude that I once read on a poster: “Those who won’t read have no advantage over those who can’t.”
So what is the connection? It’s simple, really: if I spend so much time learning about something, why would I then turn to someone else to do it for me or to tell me all about what I’ve already researched for myself? This isn’t to suggest there is nothing to learn from others; to believe that would be just ignorance. I learned to READ from someone else, right? But for me, I take at least 90% responsibility for every, single aspect of how my life goes. The other 10% is reserved for those things I absolutely cannot accomplish by myself. There have been plenty of times when my mental health has fallen within that 10%. But, at this point in my life, that isn’t my issue. (Plumbing and electricity and washing my own car, on the other hand …)
As a person who has dealt with anxiety and depression since at least the age of 9, a great deal of my every day/every year life has been about finding ways to cope and feel better. I think it’s safe to say I’ve tried all the things (see the article referenced above). Here I am, half a century later, and I feel good, I feel healthy, I feel happy and successful (according to my definitions of those intangibles). But, as you all know, I will ALWAYS have to deal with managing my anxiety and depression. It’s part of the fiber of my being. Therefore, when I come across something that has a good chance of helping me to continue my lifelong emotional and mental management program, I’m inclined to give it a chance.
Because I’ve always been a bit of a maker (all sorts of things; I can’t specify), I’m always coming across articles and ideas about art. Recently, I came across some articles about art therapy journals. I was very quickly intrigued by the idea: daily journaling using any sort of media to express my thoughts, emotions, ideas. What intrigues me is that the process, by definition, is very hands-on, much more so than just writing on a page. In just a few days, I’ve found myself taking pictures with more thoughtfulness and then printing them out with the idea of perhaps turning them into something greater or at least different; using my fabric scraps to make pages; cutting out meaningful words and phrases from screenshots or off packages; painting with those tiny little containers I got who-knows-when ago from Walmart; using paste with reckless abandon; and returning to my once-abandoned study of art fundamentals (I’m still a beginner).
To say this is therapeutic would be an understatement. A more accurate word would be “meditative.” I wish I could really explain it in a way that would make everyone understand but I think it might just be too personal. Oddly, while I’m busy figuring things out, making decisions and bringing something into being from nothing, my mind is never actually BUSY. On the contrary, my mind goes quiet. I hear the wind chimes tinkling outside. I feel the house creak. I’m aware that my heartbeat has slowed. It’s as though all this work is going on in the foreground but I, myself, am lounging with my feet up in the background. It’s weird, to be honest; weird and restful and soothing and satisfying.
Right now, in the midst of this pandemic, having no idea when it will end, I’m free to throw myself into this and I’m doing so with the express purpose of making it a daily ritual. Even if I only get to do 5 minutes, I will do it. It’s like the cup(s) of tea I have everyday; I wouldn’t be the same without it.
Another aspect of art journaling that instantly appealed to me, as I noted when I saw images of other people’s journals, is there are literally hundreds of ways to approach creating one. As you can see in the photo, I chose to go super-simple and use a binder notebook. I didn’t see any images of anyone else doing that, something so super-simple, but I already had ideas about what I wanted to start putting in it so I decorated this binder and got started on my initial contents. But if you search for images of art journals on Google, you will be amazed at the things people have come up with. (People are so creative!) The main point is that an art journal is intensely personal and will, by extension, be unique to you and your aesthetic, both on the inside and the outside. If you search YouTube, you will find lots and lots of videos on methods, ideas, and materials. Here are the results of a Google search for “how to create an art journal.”
If you have been craving something to do during this time of quarantine, if you have been looking for a way to reinvent yourself, if you have been struggling with emotions or problems you just can’t work through, if you have been simply seeking to add to your current skills and/or hobbies, if you need calming from all the anxiety of these days, if you’re looking for ways to use up some of the stuff you have lying around (pictures, cards, fabric scraps, jewelry findings), if you want to make a statement, then I urge you to give art journaling a try. You make your own rules; in other words, you cannot fail. You don’t have to be an artist!
Find a place to work that will give you a bit of solitude (even if it’s in the bathroom). My plan today is to get outside on the porch and enjoy the sun while I create. Most of us have been given the gift of at least a little more time. Try your hand and your heart at making an art therapy journal. You might be stunned at what you find in there even as you build it.
I can’t even remember when the last time I wrote here as a collaborator.
Since my last time on here, many, many things happened. I graduated from college, started graduate school and now started my internship as a social worker.
I always imagined how it would be like to be on the other side of the couch, being a provider, not the recipient.
I thought there is a magic curtain that therapists had, and they had a magic journal they kept their notes in.
But the truth is – there is none. As a provider (an intern provider to be specific), I still have my stressors, I still have my anxiety, and I still need help, just like my clients.
There is no magic curtain, and there is no magical way to take notes after each session nor remembering everything my clients share with me. It all comes with training and engaging with each client and their story.
The truth is, my life stressors will not go away, and I will not be able to “therapize” myself.
Being on the other side of the couch does not give me more power, but it rather gives me more compassion for these individuals. Compassion for their strength to keep living their lives, compassion for fighting for what is good for them.
I had a hard time wrapping my head around by the disappointment I faced in the latter half of 2019 as I started in August 2019. By realizing there is no magical healing wand that clinicians have, I felt lost.
Nevertheless, reading the posts by my fellow bloggers that are continuing their journey, encouraged me to get back up and keep fighting for the cause that brought me here. To advocate for equal mental health care for all and adequate resources for all the ones in need.
Until that day comes,
That’s the summation of my thoughts, usually after a depressive spiral. It’s what I think when a good friend loses a job because of a schizophrenic episode. It’s my answer when another friend hits the low part of his bipolar cycle. It’s the phrase I mutter in response to people’s suicidal thoughts, lack of desire to do anything, or expressions of overall sadness.
Not only do we all experience the side effects of our mental issues, we also get no support whatsoever from our own minds. When enveloped in the venom of negative thoughts that mental illness supplies, we hear things like:
You’re a terrible person …with specific reasons.
No one likes you …complete with names.
Whatever you try fails …including examples.
No one can help you. No one wants to help you.
All of these Wormtongue-spoken messages are not true. In fact, the last one is the most not-true. There are plenty of people who can help. Heck; there are strange people who voluntarily went toschool and paid a lot of money in order to listen to others’ mental health problems all day.
I speak of counselors or therapists. I speak of psychologists. To some extent, I speak of psychiatrists as well. They have all chosen a career, voluntarily, to listen to crazy people like you and me.
Uh-oh: negative-thought brain is talking again:
They don’t really want to help you. They’re just doing it for their job …with examples of friends or relatives who’ve complained about a bad experience.
It’s impossible to find one who’ll be good …with reasons why your issues are a special case.
You can’t afford a counselor …with a list of your expenses.
Guess what, brain! They really do want to help you. Granted, there must be therapists who are terrible. There must be some who are in it for the money. If you ask around and/or read online reviews, however, you’re likely to weed out the bad ones. After all, these weirdos did choose their job. In my experience, they did so because they wanted to help people.
Plus, the costs might be manageable. Depending on where you live, some of those strange people who can and want to help are cheap or free. Some are covered by job insurance plans, others by government programs, and still others by ecclesiastical assistance.
Don’t be afraid to ask around, get a good listening ear, and get going on your life!