Come Back


My name’s Chelsea and I’m writing to you from the safety of my computer. It’s not just safe for me, though. It’s safe for you, too.

And you over there in the closet with the phone: it’s also safe for you!

You may think you’re all alone. You probably tell yourself all sorts of negative, think-they’re-true statements about how no one cares. I know; I tell myself crap A LOT. But I got on here tonight to tell you one specific thing:

I care.

Tell that voice in your head to shut it, because YES I DO care about you. The only thing that Negative Nelly is accurate about is that I don’t really know you -but only in the sense that I have no idea what your blood type is, or any of your identifying information if I wanted to open a line of credit using your name.

I really don’t have to “know” you because we share a common, core attribute. It’s a doozy of a shared characteristic; like conjoined twins level of sharing. It’s this: you and I constantly fight our own minds.

We know The Beast.

If you were to come out of your dark corners, safe houses, and attempts to avoid eye contact; you know you’d notice it. When I venture out in public and succeed in speaking with another living human, I can see it. I know the feeling of darkness so well that I can recognize it within another.

Unfortunately, I can also see people’s aversions, their attempts to hide their souls like an indecent bather, and their refusal to connect. We’re not here to head off social anxiety just yet, though.

We’re here for YOU.

Please don’t withdraw. I want you back. I know, when you’re in the darkest corner of your mind, that you are avoiding any sort of stimuli. You tell yourself that the future is nothing but this depressive sameness FOREVER.

It’s. not. true.

Well, mating socks really is going to go on -THAT subject’s not helping, Brain. (I told you I have negative self-talk issues.)

Getting back to you: I fo’ reals know that life is not always crap. The trick is that you have to get out of the crap pile just a tad to make that a reality.

Wanna know how?

1. Come out and “talk” to some of us. I like to listen because I need people to listen to me, too. From the safety of our own devices, we can reciprocally connect and support one another.

2. Get to a counselor; a good one. If you can’t get up the nerve or funds to go, have a friend or family member take you. They’d love to help you; family and friends are weird like that.

3. Learn about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and DO IT. I’m still working on this one; you know, daily. This positive thought stuff really works, though.

4. Take medications if you need to. Also note that they are never meant to be used on their own. Every medical professional I’ve spoken with about this topic has told me that medicine must go hand-in-hand with therapy.

5. If steps 2-4 are not getting the best results in a few months, try a different counselor and follow the steps again.

At the very least, know that you’re not alone. You’ve got a whole, freaking army of people in the same boat. We’re not the best crew to man this thing, but we’re making the most of it.

Come with us; we could use a hand.


unsplash-logoKaylah Otto
unsplash-logoAnnie Spratt

The First and Last of the Dark Days

I learned from another blogger that May is Mental Health Awareness Month. I think many of us with mental health concerns find the stigma around it to be truly terrifying. It can push us inward and leave many of us feeling unwanted or hushed. Suffering in silence and alone is not healthy for anyone, including those around us. Today, I wanted to share with you a quick glimpse of my first darkest of days and my last. There have been many times in between, but consistently I pull myself through, and each time I do, the darkest days come less frequently, and are not as dark as the previous.

September 1996. The pressure to choose a major, before I returned for my third year of school, was being hammered upon me. The weight of this decision was unbearable. I saw many friends easily sticking with a major, planning out projects, collaborations, and internships. The feeling of not belonging created a snowball effect and caused me to fall into classic avoidance behavior.

On the first day I was late to class, probably not by accident. I can’t remember what class it was, but I do remember the feeling of standing outside the door, hearing the professor already speaking, that hallowed silence from the rest of the students, and I knew I couldn’t go inside. My first panic attack occurred outside of that room. I felt like a heavy blanket was thrown over me, I couldn’t breathe or concentrate. My legs felt weak, thoughts in my head were disjointed, and flight or fight kicked in. Flight won.

I dropped out of school that week. This was the beginning of the anxiety and panic attacks that I kept hidden from friends and family. I choose at that time to suffer in silence because I was confused, scared, and embarrassed. The darkest days turned into months and years, eventually it seemed I grew out of it, and was hopeful it was behind me for good. I think what occurred was I learned to avoid triggers and found confidence in areas I didn’t have before through life lessons and eventually returning to school.


May 2017. The last time I felt this way was after my third child was born. By now I had learned some coping methods and found professional help on and off, though the feeling of shame still prevented me from being open with loved ones. I had this beautiful healthy baby, and I’d done this two times before. This should be easy. So, why was it so hard? Lack of sleep, constant breast feeding, and lack of overall care for myself, all played into my downward spiral. I was becoming very short tempered with everyone around me, I insisted on keeping my house spotless, and controlling every detail of the family. I believe I was on the borderline of OCD, accompanied with postpartum anxiety.

One day my parents and my sisters were being indecisive about something, what it was I can’t recall. I screamed at one of my sisters over the phone, something I never do. My blood pressure must have been through the roof, something rose up inside of me and clicked, I have a problem! This is not normal. I need help.

Being that it had been 20 years since my first panic attack, anxiety was not new to me. I recognized that I needed help ASAP and if I didn’t get it all of those around me would be feeling the brunt of my actions. It wasn’t fair to them. I found a new therapist through postpartum online hotline, one within my insurance network. I did research online to my symptoms, read articles about diet and supplements that would be helpful; I researched other medications as well, continued with acupuncture, started to be more physically active. Most importantly, I caught myself when my temper was rising. I knew it was due to anxiety, just knowing this helped me curb it.

The first of the darkest days was the hardest for me, it was so new and confusing. Over the years I have learned to overcome so much. The journey is ongoing. Anxiety is a part of me, but I fight it. It doesn’t control me like it used to, and I will take that as a WIN.

My Friend is Depressed: What Do I Do?

C71713FA-E4C5-443C-A42B-8222CD325413I have suffered from depression on and off for much of my life.  Some episodes have been worse than others.  But with each one, in time they passed.  While I was in the midst of the depression, I thought that there was no end to the suffering.  I had to tell myself throughout every day that I would get through it and that I had to keep moving.  Some days this was successful, but other days I just didn’t leave my bed.  For me, it was not until the correct medication combination, kicked in and brought me relief.  I also participated in psychotherapy, but when depressed I either cried the whole session or was argumentative and beyond feisty with my therapist challenging nearly everything that she said.

Having said that, one would think I would know exactly what to say and do to help others who are suffering.  It would just make sense based on my experience, having been there, done that, have the t-shirt and the medical bracelet.  But, this is not the case.

I have a friend who has been suffering, and I missed it.  I am not sure how this happened, but it’s been going on for a while and just recently did I notice what was right before my eyes.  The change in personality, the quietness, the withdrawing.  How did I miss this?

And now I am sitting here, seeing a friend hurting, and realizing that I am not sure what to do.  How can I make it better?  How can I fix it?  What can I do to help their suffering?  What’s this girl to do?

I go back to my episodes and try to pinpoint what worked for me.  But when I really think about it, the only thing that worked for me was getting on the right medications and getting my hormones in balance post hysterectomy.  This is not the case for my friend.  And even if it were, that means that there is nothing that I can do.  I can’t assist with medication, and if there was a concern about hormones, that is out of my realm of control as well, hell I can’t even control my own hormones, let alone someone else’s.

I have checked in with this person.  Asking every day or every few days how things were going.  Asking what I can do to help if anything.  I have been listening and being patient.  And the hardest part is I am reminding myself that I can only control what is within my control.  I can not take this away from my friend.  If I could, I would in a heartbeat, just as I am sure my friends and family would have taken the depression I suffered from away from me had they had the opportunity.

During the month of May, there is special attention paid to Mental Illness.

I did some research and from several sources, pulled together a list of suggestions of what a friend can do when their friend or family member is depressed.  Below is the best, most complete list that I found:

  1. Educate Yourself About Depression and Other Mood Disorders
  2. Ask Questions and Dig for the Root Cause
  3. Help Them Identify and Cope with Sources of Stress
  4. Encourage Them to Seek Out a Support Group
  5. Remind Them That They’re Incredibly Strong
  6. Make Them Smile, Because Laughter Helps and Heals
  7. Let Them Know They Won’t Always Feel This Way
  8. If You Do Only One Thing, Let It Be Listening

Reference Articles:

Lost in the Forest of Mental Illness

I have never lived a life before. This is my first time living my life. I wasn’t sure how to do it. I did that best I could, but made many mistakes along the way.  I became very lost along my journey after my bipolar diagnosis. There were no manuals made specifically for me telling me how to find my way again. There were no maps. No one had the answers for me. No GPS to guide me. I was on my own.

Even though God was with me every step of my bipolar life journey, I didn’t realize it. I felt like I was traveling down many dark and lonely roads completely alone. I had to figure it all out on my own and made many wrong turns along the way.

Living my one and only life with bipolar, made it much more difficult to reach my destination. I had to take many detours and find a new method of travel. My journey took longer than it was supposed to, but eventually I would get there. Sometimes the solution was turning completely around and starting over.

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I used to say I lost twenty years of my life due to living with my severe symptoms of my bipolar one disorder. I finally realized that is very wrong. I lived those years. I survived those years. They taught me many valuable lessons in life and caused me to become stronger and wiser. I need to proudly remember each of those difficult years and moments as a triumph of resiliency and courage. I cannot discount years of my life.

The real destination in life is love and happiness. Love and happiness are what we are all searching for. I became lost in the forest of mental illness for many years of my life, because I didn’t know where I was going. Once I found out where I wanted to go, I found the best path to take and found my way out of the dark forest of mental illness.

I understand I may, or may not, have to find my way out of the dark forest of mental illness again. I can’t predict the future. None of us can. We cannot fear the future, but should embrace the endless possibilities of it. The beauty is knowing we can find our way out of any forest. Once we pass through the maze of trees, the sun will shine brighter than ever before.

I finally celebrate the realization that I would not throw the difficult years or moments of my life away. I can’t. They were all notable years that brought me to the destination I reached today. I am happy where I am right now. I can’t change the route I took to get here. I need to throw away the idea that it is negative to be lost. If I never became lost, I never would have found myself.

I would never have found myself, unless I found God first. My journey  brought me to God and God lead me through the dark tunnels of depression into the sunshine of life. God was and is enough.

~Written by Susan Walz 

“If I never became lost, I never would have found myself.” ~ Susan Walz

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“There comes a point where you no longer care if there’s a light at the end of the tunnel or not. You’re just sick of the tunnel.” ~Ranata Suzuki

I pray we all find our way out of the tunnels

and the dark forests of mental illness.

Much love and hugs, Sue

Copyright © 2018 by Susan Walz | | All Rights Reserved

My Longest Depression Cycle of 2018

Wow. How did I get here?

I haven’t written much lately on my blog. I have had little energy in April to focus on the things that I need to get done, and the rest of the stuff in my life like writing on my blog has gone by the wayside. I have been on my worst depression cycle of 2018, and it has shown the worst parts of me.

It’s the inevitable part of my diagnosis. Depression often comes and goes in my life. I have been lucky so far this year to have lived through a small amount of depression lasting only a couple of days. It has been different this time, I have been depressed for about two weeks now. This week has been the hardest, and it has honestly felt like walking through fire.

I could barely get out of bed this week, and on Monday and Tuesday, I didn’t leave my bed. I lost my appetite, and I felt my depression crushing me. I was lethargic, and writing was the last thing on my mind. Panic attacks seemed to take over my nights. I just laid in bed watching television. I knew it was coming, and that everything has its consequences.  I had just spent the last four months of none stop school work and working on my freelance projects.


I hardly had time to take breath before I was on to the next task. I felt like a drone and the only solace I found was writing in this blog. I decided that this would be the week. I needed rest and time. I needed to get my thoughts back in line. To figure out once again how to work alongside my social anxiety and depression.

This life, my mental illness life, is about making the right adjustments to get me through my current depression cycle. I have to keep figuring out what works and what doesn’t work. I have to realize that you can only stretch yourself so thin before you start to break. I broke this week, but it didn’t defeat me.

Where do I go from here?

I reset. I start to write blogs everyday. I focus on my mental health and get my life moving in the right direction. It has been a hard week, but I am still here. Still fighting for my recovery. I am always looking toward the future. Never let mental illness win.

Always keep fighting.



Photo Credit:

unsplash-logoBrunel Johnson

unsplash-logoBrianna Santellan

Which Vert are You?

I am sure you have been asked this question before. Are you an introvert or an extrovert?  I have recently pondered this question myself. For some people this is an easy question to answer, but for many, including myself, it is difficult.

To the outside world I may appear as an extrovert. I can be very friendly and can act social when I am out and about. Sometimes I talk a lot, as I have too much to say. I also love to speak publicly about topics I am passionate about, like mental illness, promoting good mental health and mental illness, ending mental illness stigma, suicide and suicide prevention.

Even though I can appear very social, friendly, likable and like an extrovert, people are not aware how I feel inside. I may be struggling inside, but can hide that part of myself to make others comfortable around me or because I need to share imperative information in a situation or at a speaking engagement.

Many times it is a daunting task to get out of my house and socialize, but once I am out I usually enjoy being around others and am usually good at it. This of course depends on the social setting, environment, people around me, my current mood pole and my intrinsic characteristics I am feeling and experiencing. Sometimes I am fully comfortable with my social settings and experiences and other times I am not. My extroversion varies.

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Many times I am an introvert. I love being alone and thrive in my inner world inside myself. One misconception is that people who are introverts are shy. This is not always the case. You can be an introvert and not be shy.

“The quieter you become, the more you can hear.” ~ Ram Dass

Introverts tend to feel drained after socializing and regain their energy by spending time alone. Sometimes I can be very social but it becomes exhausting. Maybe that is because I am more of an introvert than I am an extrovert most of the time, and leaning more strongly to being an introvert. I don’t lie in the middle of the spectrum but instead fluctuate between being an introvert and extrovert.  People that know me well would not define me as an introvert.

We should never force ourselves to be something or someone we are not. If an introvert tries to be an extrovert too often, it can cause them to burn out, crash and reach a deep dark depression and/or have anxiety. This has happened to me many times when I tried to be someone or something I was not.

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It’s important to find where you are in the introversion/extroversion scale. By increasing your awareness of your type, you can develop a better sense of your personality characteristics and focus on your strengths.

Sometimes I fall in the middle of the extrovert and introvert spectrum. I am an ambivert and it is comforting knowing where I lie in the personality types.

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The trick to being an ambivert is knowing when to force yourself to lean toward one side of the spectrum when it isn’t happening naturally. Ambiverts with low self-awareness  and low self-esteem struggle with this. I used to often and occasionally still do. Now that I am aware of this, I can work on not forcing myself when I am not there.

“Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.” –Bruce Lee

Adam Grant at Wharton found that two-thirds of people don’t strongly identify as introverts or extroverts. These people, which are the vast majority of us, are called ambiverts. Ambiverts have both introverted and extroverted tendencies. A balance of both would be considered an ambivert. The direction ambiverts lean toward varies greatly, depending on the situation.

Some introverts need their solitude as much as extroverts need their social interaction. As an ambivert, I need a little of both worlds. Recently I have been enjoying my solitude more than social interactions. Over the years, the severity of my bipolar symptoms caused me to isolate too much. Isolating has turned into a bad habit, but bad habits can be broken.

I understand it is imperative for me to socialize. I need to step out of my comfort zone, join some groups and find good people to be friends with. I may need to take baby steps in making this change as I am an ambivert, but that is okay. I just need to find a good balance with the introverted and extroverted parts of my personality.

First learn who you are. Then accept who are and embrace yourself lovingly. Love yourself. Learn to work with yourself versus fighting against yourself. Become the best version of yourself you can be.

Copyright © 2018 by Susan Walz | | All Righs Reserved.

Does Bipolar Disorder Run in Families?

I can trace Bipolar disorder in my family in at least three generations on my family tree. It’s interesting looking at my own tree, it feels like walking through a forest. Every tree is a little bit different, but they share parts of the same family. I have no idea if that made sense.  

I have and never will claim to be a professional in the realm of psychology and to treat mental illnesses on a professional level. My area of expertise comes in what I have experienced in my own life and what I have learned about myself over the years. So when I say, Bipolar disorder runs in my own family, at least one side of my family tree, I say this because it’s what I have come to realize over the years.

I want to start by talking about my biological father. I say “biological father” out of habit. He was never a real part of my life, and I was raised by my father (who is technically my stepfather.) The man who raised me might not be my father biologically, but he is the one person I have always called father (I honor this man by using his first name as the first name in my pen name, James Edgar Skye.) I note this because I don’t want confusion if the topic of my biological father comes up in later blog posts.

People always say that I look like my biological father and considering the resemblance it makes sense. What I know about my biological father is that he has had issues in his own life. I remember him mostly through the stories my mom told me, she married my biological father and loved him at one point, and stories about his own struggles with depression are similar to my own. Stories of being in the bathroom with a gun to his head wanting to end his life. The same issues that he dealt with in his life, and I would assume still does, mirror my own problems. We both at some point in our lives wanted to end it all.

It was only a few years after I started to get better where mom helped me make the parallel connections of my own struggles with that of my biological father. She would tell me stories of the time he locked himself in the bathroom with a gun to his head wanting to end his life. The same issues that he dealt with in his life, and I would assume still does, mirror my own problems. We both at some point in our lives wanted to end it all.

It goes deeper than that because unlike myself who has been treated for my issues over the years my father and other family members have not gotten help. My grandfather had issues with uncontrollable anger, and I can find parallels to when I turned to rage when I am in a manic episode. Hearing the stories about my father and my grandfather has helped me make connections to my own experiences and to my belief that Bipolar disorder is hereditary in my family.

I know it comes from one side of my family tree and not the other. I also have a select few of relatives from this family tree that have also sought treatment for the Bipolar disorder. It is a real issue that affects multiple people in my family, and it makes sense to believe that Bipolar One something that can follow similar patterns with a family tree.

I decided this would be a great subject to write about in blog post because it’s something that I often talk about with others I have met with a mental illness. Even the professionals, my psychiatrists, and my therapist have told me over the course my diagnosis this is possible. I think anyone with the disease Bipolar disorder should look at their own family tree, it might a great way to connect with other people you know within your family and better understand their own experiences.

On this subject, I know more about Bipolar disorder than other family connections to other mental illnesses. I am curious to see what people comment on this blog post.

I think the other side of it that no matter the reality that Bipolar disorder is something that can run in families is that, while we learn from the experiences of others, it is also true that our experience and expertise is in our own journey. It’s great to look at outside sources to better understand our journey because we can identify our own struggles in the struggles of others but never forget your own journey.

I have been reflecting so much over last few months on my own journey that a post like this makes sense to write about here where I am have been sharing my life. Knowing that Bipolar disorder might be something that can affect other people within my own blood makes me wary of the future. The big question becomes, could I pass this on to my own children?

It’s a scary thought and one that often comes to mind when I think about my future. If I found someone that I connected to at such a level that we would have children, I would always have this thought in mind. It haunts me because it is a scary thing passing what is wrong with me to another human being.

For so long I always figured having children is probably not in the cards for me, I still think this is true, but it comes from a specific place. It may be true that I could pass on the Bipolar trait so to speak, and that would be the safest path to follow not to procreate. These thoughts don’t pop up often since my diagnosis. It is why my relationships have never really lasted. I am terrified of the life I have lived and the possibility of passing on my history.

It’s funny though, the more open I have been over the last year, and especially the last few months I have seen what just opening up my again has brought me. Real connections. For so long I have been disconnected from the real world because it was easier to go into my introverted personality and hide there for the rest of my life. Writing about my journey has never been an easy task, and knowing that my life is more open will undoubtedly change my perspective on relationships in the future. But I can’t shake the real fear that someday I could pass being Bipolar to another.

I think change is good. Now that I have written about my own belief that Bipolar disorder is something that runs in my family I can have a better perspective on life.

J.E. Skye

Photo Credit: Matt Antonioli

Find Your Purpose

Everyone needs to feel valued and know they have a purpose in life. It is essential for recovery and living a life with mental illness to know you have a purpose. Having purpose is a balance between what you give to the world and what you take from the world.

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I believe helping others is the essential component of what makes me who I am. It completes me and makes me whole. Without it, I am lost.

Since this is such a key ingredient in the make-up of my well-being and who I am, I feel like it would apply to everyone, as well. I am not sure this is true because I do not live inside others. Helping others gives me a beautiful and strong purpose and brings me joy. Because this helps me, I want to share this with you so you too can experience this type of joy and satisfaction in life. My life has value when I know I can make a difference in the lives of others.

If you are not helping others, maybe it is the missing component in you life. If you are in the midst of a depression or struggling with other issues and illness, try volunteering or finding a little part-time job that gives you the opportunity to help others.

There is no greater joy than seeing the joy you give to someone else just from loving them and giving your time to them. It is the best thing we can do in this lifetime. We are doing what Jesus would do.

Helping others will give you a reason to wake up. A reason to get out of bed when you don’t want to or don’t feel like you can do it for yourself.  You know that someone else needs you. Helping others will give you a purpose. If you do not feel like you have a purpose or if you need a more rewarding purpose, start helping others in any capacity you can.

I guarantee you that if you want to feel valued, help someone who needs help and/or is less fortunate than you. Be that one person in someone’s life that makes their day and makes a difference in their lives. This can be as simple as a smile, sharing a compliment and making others feel good, special, valued and like they have a purpose. Become the reason others have a purpose in their lives. Enhance someone’s life in any way you can. When you enhance someone’s life, your life will improve, shine, glitter and sparkle exponentially.

When I used to teach special education and people asked me what I did for work,  most people said, “You must be a special person.” That always floored me because I never felt special and I honestly was not and am not special. I was just being me. I was behaving in the way God made me. I was doing what Jesus would do. I did what I did because it was me. I did what I had to do. I did what I needed to do for my own survival and satisfaction. I was doing what made me happy. That does not make me special. It makes me human and alive.

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I feel like I am selfish, because I get so much more in return than I ever give out. I help others because essentially they help me even more than I ever help them. My students gave me so much more back. I got paid to give love. Love is life. I went to work every day to give love and got paid for it.

When my bipolar symptoms became too severe, I lost a lot. Eventually I lost my teaching career. I could not teach special needs students anymore. A large part of who I was, was taken away from me. It was stolen. I was lost and came undone.

I have been on Social Security Disability for years. The best thing I ever did for my recovery and for myself was start working again. I have worked at many different part-time jobs off and on through the many years of my recovery. I have been trying to find the right fit for me.

I have worked as a childcare teacher, telemarketer, insurance clerk, clerk at a gas station (my favorite part was making pizzas), sales associate at Hobby Lobby and Michaels, YMCA childcare, Kohl’s as a jewelry associate and home health care. The greatest satisfaction I got was when I helped people.

I got a job at a bank recently, even though I was still quite sick from my withdrawals from Klonopin. I tried it, but it did not work out as I was too ill. I was still having visual impairments and felt like I was walking on legs made out of feathers. Even thinking about working there frightens me as it is not the type of work that gives me any satisfaction. It paid two times as much money as home health care, but I know doing work that is not satisfying for me, is counterproductive for my mental health and well-being. Home health care is what I need to do.

I am very happy to share that I am healthy enough to work again. I started working at a job I love on Friday. I am a home health care provider working 25 hours a week, as that is all SSDI will allow for income. Plus, to be honest those are probably plenty of hours for me to work so I can maintain my optimal mental health.

On Friday, I worked with a gentleman who is 95 years young and has Alzheimers. He is a joy and a blessing. I get to give him love and make the rest of his life as positive and enjoyable as possible. What a gift that is.

I am not saying that everyone needs to work at a job helping others because that would not make any sense. We need all kinds of people to do all kinds of different work. Everyone is made up differently for many reasons. It is what makes the world go round.

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We are all needed and valuable. There is not one job that is more important than another, except being a mother or father. Other than being a parent, there are no other workers or jobs that are more special than another.

I cannot work at retail or in a bank, for example. Actually, I can do it, but I do not like it. It is not for me. We need people that can do that kind of work and all different types of work. I think people who do those kind of jobs are very special people. If you can do anything other what I can do, I think you are very special. We are all special. We are all unique and made up differently for a reason.

Don’t forget all of us that write and are bloggers are helping each other. Maybe writing is the way you are helping others. That is why writing, especially in this blogging community, is incredibly therapeutic for many people. Writing has helped me greatly in many ways. It has, literally, recently saved my life.

Remember we all need to have a purpose. Having purpose is a balance between what you give to the world and what you take from the world. It is essential that you find your purpose. What is your purpose?

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If you have read this far and made it to the end of my many words, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You are simply amazing. You are fabulous beyond words and measure. Thank you.

May your cup of life overflow with blessings today and everyday.

Much love and hugs, Sue

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


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 | | All Rights Reserved.

Trauma Didn’t Cause This

For years I searched for a reason or cause for my anxiety. Some of us have these demons because of something traumatic that happened to us. This however, is not my story. I am not taking away from those that have this experience: we all have different journeys. Some of us are born with our brain firing off differently. For me, my little brain fires off in ways that produce an abundance of overthinking. Thoughts that are at times irrational and negative, killing my confidence and causing me to believe bad things happen because I deserve it. While my anxiety is not due to a singular traumatic event, but it can cause them. Raise your hand if you’ve had a panic attack in Old Navy, simply for being in a long line. Anyone else? No? Just me?

I ran into an old friend just a few days ago – someone I haven’t seen in well over a decade. I have always been drawn to this person because they were interesting, charismatic, and there was something else to them that I could never put a finger on. I think this person has always made me a little nervous, like they could see things I’m often successful in hiding from others. Maybe it’s because I also see it in them. This person said to me that our past is what creates us, our burdens today are because of traumas that happened to us when we were younger. I said that wasn’t always true; sometimes people are born this way. He disagreed, and politely told me that I had trauma in my life, I just don’t remember it.

I suppose I can’t argue about something I don’t remember, though I do have a pretty good memory, fortunately or unfortunately. I have also spent years trying to attach my anxiety to something that happened to me. I’ve tried to place the blame on something physical so I could see and touch it, to no avail.

While trauma is not the cause of my anxiety, it nevertheless has shaped me. At times it makes me stronger and wiser, then in other instances it cripples me. These crippling areas are a work in progress. However, as I dig deeper into my psyche I’m realizing that anxiety has always been there. It manifested its way inside of me differently throughout the years. During childhood I had difficulty making friends and excelling in school; as a teenager I thought others talked about me behind my back, and feared recognition; in college, panic attacks started along with the fear of being in closed rooms. In my twenties, being put on the spot, or having to take the lead would cause near hyperventilation; in my thirties I went through infertility, and it was one of the darkest periods in my life from which I am still recovering. It left me unable to trust my body or the medical profession. Finally, today I still struggle with social situations and being on my own in public indoor places.

See there? All of my life. Misery is a part of me, but I don’t know many that have not had something distressful happen to them. I have been hit by a car while on a bike, almost fell to my death in Alaska, been grabbed by men in clubs, been unable to get pregnant for many years, suffered miscarriages, buried friends and family I loved, dumped by someone I thought I loved, and I’ve wiggled my way out of an abusive relationship before it got ugly, just to name a few. I don’t think we fully recover from the physical or emotional effects of pain; we take a piece of it with us for the rest of our lives.

Trauma does shape me, yes: I cannot disagree. My anxiety causes my reactions to unpleasant situations to sometimes be illogical. But, it is not the root of my anxiety. Today I am learning to recognize triggers, reprocess them, and find healthier ways of coping. It’s working. I have had this with me my entire life, and I know I will always carry it, but it will not own me.