Living in a Shadow

A couple weeks ago my partner told me that she felt like she was living in my ex husbands shadow. We of course had a conversation about it at that time. I don’t really remember the full outcome. I’ve got a shit memory. But I do know that I even before she mentioned it I was trying to minimize things that might make her feel like that.

My therapist is not the greatest and he bugs the crap out of me when he interrupts me talking. He also says “I know you’ll go home and think about this.” A bunch. No. No I won’t think about it. I can barely remember what breakfast was.

That being said I still go. So when I went to therapy I mentioned what she said about living in my husband’s shadow. What he said stuck with me.

Almost all of us are living in someone’s shadow. Be it good or bad. The people who came before our current people influence our lives still.

People of our past may not fill us with sunshine and happy thoughts. But it’s not about what happened. It’s how we handle it now and how our current people handle it.

Sometimes a compromise is needed. “Please don’t do/say that. It causes flashbacks.” Other times it’s just a matter of letting it go completely. Knowing when to let go of the fight is something I’ve been learning to do. Somethings are worth fighting for or over. Others not so much.

All the arguing over living in someone’s shadow does is cause unneeded stress. So I don’t do it as much anymore. There are times when I feel like I am living in the shadow of my partner’s wife or ex girlfriends. Sure I’d like to say something because it bugs me. But I take a breath and I let it go.

We are always going to live in the shadows of people before us. In a relationship. At work. With our children. Anywhere really.

Then the people who come after us will live in our shadows. Because even though we live in someone’s shadow most of the time. We can still cast our own shadow. We can still stand out somewhere.

 

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When Mental Illness Can Be Difficult to Accept

It is difficult to accept when you first learn you have a mental illness. Sometimes it’s a shock when the doctor tells you, but you believe and trust the doctor and begin exploring options towards recovery. What if it’s not a doctor? What if your family is telling you to get help or telling you why certain behaviors make them think you have a mental illness? Will you accept it when your friends or family say you have a mental illness? I have seen some people reject the idea and run from it instead of considering getting a professional opinion.

I can understand why some people have this reaction. When I first looked into the symptoms of Complex PTSD, I was shocked to learn how much of what I thought was my personality derived from symptoms of this disorder. While I learned many of the things, I didn’t like about myself were symptoms, I also learned many of the behaviors and traits I identified with most were symptoms. This was a hard reality to accept. The inner image I had for myself was wrong and I felt lost. I didn’t know who I was anymore.

It took some time, but I eventually started to accept this new self-image. Certain things were reidentified in different ways, but I am still the person I have always been. This new information only made me understand myself more. I know myself better than I did. It takes time to get to know another person and this is true of knowing oneself. The hardest part is accepting and learning how to move forward. I’m still struggling with moving forward. Most of my life I didn’t have a support system. I have a small group of people now, but the path forward is still difficult.

Anyone who feels their family is attacking them with accusations of mental illness, my advice is to see a professional if for no other reason than to prove everyone wrong. Don’t argue. Offer to see a counselor and get an official diagnosis. Too many mental disorders have similar symptoms and behaviors and it can be hard to determine what is causing certain behaviors. Even from a psychiatric professional, the news is difficult to process and accept. Remember that, despite the stigma, mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of and does not make you less of a person. It is one more battle you weren’t expecting, but it can be won. Don’t give up.

Photo Credit: <unsplash-logoPriscilla Du Preez

Journey to a Diagnosis, Part III

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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