Reclaiming My Love For Literature

I am guessing that most of you might have realized that I have been absent for quite some time. Despite me being an advocate for mental health, I too suffer from mental health issues and the health issues hinder my day-to-day experiences. Though I understand that I was diagnosed with Bipolar Mood Disorder, it doesn’t define who I am and who I aspire to be.

It takes a lot more effort though to manage and deal with what is expected of us, from our jobs, schools, work and family life. It can be quite taxing especially when one is currently having an episode. When I had my fourth episode this year, I was hospitalized for quite a while, longer than I have ever been before. I had suicidal ideation and had no recollection of anything that I was doing.

I lost a sense of who I was because, at the time, I had not found the right cocktail of medications that worked for me. It was all trial and error and I was frustrated since nothing was working and that I took longer to recover from episodes.

I lost so much interest in things that I used to love doing. I stopped journaling, writing code, blogging and of course, began despising literature. Mind you, I’m not a literature student, I am a computer science and engineering student. This may sound extremely weird for most people because most people in Stem fields have little or no interest in literature. Believe me you, there are so many of us, in stem that appreciate language beyond research purposes but for the beauty that the art of language portrays.

Before and during my hospitalization I lost my ability to read and retain what I read. I was infuriated by this because literature was my canvas, my form of expression besides science. I was lost and felt hopeless. While I was in hospital my boyfriend brought me novels and non-fiction books. I struggled to read more than 10 pages a day, but as time went by I picked up speed and began reading and writing. Before I knew it, I finished a 150-page novel in two days within the second week of my hospital stay. I progressed and read more books which were a bit longer than the first. My love for literature and reading was reignited.

I found me again. It’s through the little things in life that we know our life purpose. It’s not about the money or the physical things that fulfill us but rather the tiny little basic needs that we require to live our lives. The ability to have the freedom to express what we want and the freedom to be authentically ourselves. As I mentioned, I found me again and I couldn’t be happier!

Thank you for being with me. Let us rebuild a healthy state of mind.

Angel love and rainbows.

Love, Francesca.

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.

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).

Sink or Swim – a Poem

Introduction to my poem…

I wrote the following poem a year ago after getting two severe physical syndromes that began my quest to eventually become medication free in a less than desirable manner. For those of you that have been following my blog you know my scary and dangerous  story.

Please read my two posts I wrote about a year ago that describe the two syndromes I got:

  1. My Bipolar Medication Nearly Killed Me Because I Didn’t Get My Sodium Levels Checked 

  2. Bipolar Medications Can Be Dangerous

They are valuable posts that give awareness to the possible dangers of psychotropic medications and the importance of getting your blood levels checked regularly which I didn’t do enough apparently.

After discontinuing my bipolar medication, Trileptal, the only medication I was still taking in my medication cocktail was Klonopin. I took only Klonopin last year and always tried to decrease it from 5 mg to less. I made it to 3 mg a day but could never got below that. Klonopin withdrawal symptoms were too severe and I had to take my Klonopin. The severe side effects mimicked severe anxiety, depression and continuous suicidal ideations. I never realized that for a year I had unknowingly put myself in a state of perpetual continuous Klonopin withdrawal. It was a very difficult year to put it mildly.

After my suicide attempt they stopped my Klonopin cold turkey and I was forced into a severe state of Klonopin withdrawal symptom with unbearable symptoms lasting over two months. I am still medication free and have little to no anxiety. I feel most of my obstacles I face today are caused from mental illness, but not from the direct symptoms of mental illness itself but the damage mental illness and stigma caused in my life for over twenty-five years. Some of the many casualties from the war of my mental illness were losing my career, home, marriage, money, friends, dignity and identity. I am still picking up the pieces and trying to live the best possible life I can live.

I am trying to make this time in my life the best time in my life.

This was a quick overview to explain the reason I wrote this poem and a little bit about how I am doing today.

Now for a lighter moment—my poem.

I hope you like it.

Much love and hugs, Sue 


Sink or Swim

My mind drifts,

floating,

fleeing,

flowing

aimlessly adrift.

Scattered thoughts

fill my mind,

swirling confusion,

questions flowing

freely inside of me.

What will I be?

What will become of me?

Who will I be

with a bipolar

medicine free brain

inside of me?

Bipolar medication

helps many,

but has always

been my enemy,

occasionally a frenemy.

For twenty years

and many tears

I tried my best

but failed the test.

I tried them all,

combos, big and small,

purple, pink, blue, green

and everything in between.

Far and wide

I took the ride

on the bipolar medicine

bicycle, tricycle, cycle

trial after trial

for a long while.

Medicine treatment was a fail.

Couldn’t keep up, swim or sail.

No more meds for me.

Recently became sick as I could be.

Sodium level dropped,

flopped and plopped,

meds stopped.

I became unsalty

and faulty,

untasty,

and wasty,

pasty

and pale.

Body became bloated

from water that floated

throughout my body and being.

I was not a pretty sight to be seen.

Water retained,

weight gained,

face and body puffy

softly full and fluffy.

Too many long years

without medical mirrors

caused me to become very ill

from taking my Trileptal pill.

There are no more bipolar meds

left for me

none for me.

That was the last one,

my last chance,

my last hurrah,

the last straw,

hurrah, hurrah.

But wait,

I hesitate.Try another,

and another.

We got many,

make you thirsty,

take another,

we got plenty,

make you fat,

we got a pill for that,

make you dizzy

your hair frizzy,

here try another,

we got more,

lose your hair,

more to spare.

Bipolar medicine didn’t work for me

too many side effects,

ill effects,

adverse reactions,

they just didn’t work for me,

couldn’t keep me afloat,

and I fell off the boat,

but I can swim,

here I go,

sink or swim,

I can swim.

~written by Susan Walz

My Loud B;polar Whispers

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