Being Gentle with Myself

In this post I’m not going to get into any depth of what’s going on in America. This is how the events of this past week have effected my mental health. Please don’t leave any hateful comments. Keep this space safe and beautiful!

These past few days have been weighing very heavy on my heart. I was already feeling depressed but now it’s been a lot more difficult to handle.

I normally cook almost every day of the week even if it’s something frozen. I eat take out probably once a week; this past week I’ve eaten out 4 times. The energy it takes to make even the simplest of meals feels too daunting. My dishes are piled high, my dryer is full of clean towels and my dishwasher is full of clean dishes I haven’t put away in days.

And let me tell you, my wallet is hurting from all that take out!

I sometimes let messiness take over but usually I am able to sort it out rather quickly. This time not so much. Depression has taken ahold of me and plopped me down on my couch. There’s little I want to do besides lay around.

During work on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday I got very little done. I considered calling off but there were things I needed to get done. It took me all day to do them because I had no inspiration. The wheels of my mind were occupied by things greater than my work.

On weekends I like to split my time between rest and chores. I want to clean my house, I truly do, but I can’t find the energy.

I’m trying to be gentle with myself. I’m trying to take one hour at a time and not yell at myself for being lazy. That during these difficult days, it’s ok to not be productive. I’m trying to tell myself that and actually believe it.

What have I been doing to cope? Ordering take out, listening to Tomorrow x Together and playing Animal Crossing. I’m considering cracking open my Harry Potter books too. They’ve always been a comforting place for me.

How are you coping? Are you struggling more with your mental health than before? If so, what positive coping mechanisms are you using?

Please everybody be safe out there.

Photo by Marco Bianchetti on Unsplash

Happy Healthy Holidays

Photo by Oleg Zaicev on Pexels.com

Lots of wishes float around this time of year. Lists are jam packed with material goods, gadgets and toys people covet. Well wishes also abound as folks entreat each other to celebrate all of the holidays that fall in December. In that spirit, I want to wish all of us in this community a Healthy Holiday season.

Remembering Christmases when my children were younger brings up some painful memories. Mania gripped my mind years before (and after) I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The stress of trying to provide a happy holiday seemed to exacerbate my tendency to overspend. This left a mound of unwrapped (and mostly unnecessary) gifts at 2am on Christmas Eve more years than I care to count.

Another year, I stayed up late hand-stitching personalized Christmas stockings for my in-laws. The socks didn’t turn out great and my morning was marred by lack of sleep.

I understand firsthand the desire to buy your way into your loved one’s hearts. Especially this year, when things have been so dismal. For those of us who suffer from a lack of impulse control, I wish you restraint, moderation and creativity in meeting the needs of those around you. And your own.

The flipside of mania, depression, can also come to call around this time. Personally, the shortened days and lack of sunlight can have a real detrimental effect on my moods. Couple that with expectations of constant cheerfulness that are impossible to achieve and it’s not just Elvis having a Blue Christmas.

But the biggest obstacle to enjoying the holidays this year will be our unconventional celebration. Like a lot of families, we’ve made the decision not to gather in person. The consequences are too grave should the virus invade our group or be contracted by vulnerable family members back home. I haven’t been able to listen to “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” or Mariah Carey’s “Miss You Most”. I fear I’ll cry my eyes out and won’t be able to put them back in my head.

So instead, I’m going to be grateful. I believe it was Shawn Achor, the best-selling author of “The Happiness Advantage” and positive psychology expert, who offered a stunning antidote to depression. He said (paraphrasing), that you can’t be simultaneously grateful and depressed. I’ve found this to be true and extremely helpful in dealing with my depression.

I will try my best not to have a bipolar Christmas. I’m hoping thirty years of living with the diagnosis and achieving a certain level of insight will allow me a healthy holiday season. And that’s exactly what I’m wishing for you.

Be well,

Colleen

Pot.

**This post discusses the use of marijuana. Please do not read if you are triggered by discussions about drug use. I am not a medical professional and the below information should not replace treatment by a licensed health care provider. I also live in a state (Arizona) that has legalized medicinal marijuana. I am a rule follower by nature**

 

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I have been wanting to discuss marijuana and its uses in mental health. Personally, I use it pretty consistently. I do not drive, work, or care for anybody under the influence. Again, big proponent of rules over here. I believe in bodily autonomy and I don’t get to decide if you want to be around someone under the influence. I would never attempt to convince you of my beliefs as I respect everyone’s opinions.

I primarily use this for stress and anxiety symptoms, although it is officially prescribed to me for PTSD. I feel like my mind is in so many places at once sometimes. I imagine that it has the same effects on me that ADHD medication has on those with ADHD. It calms me, I can concentrate better, and my tension is no longer affecting me physically. I can’t convey in words how much better I feel. I sleep better with it as well. I have never let it interfere with my professional life. In no way do I feel like drugs are the answer to problems. If anything, I avoid smoking or alcohol when I am depressed or manic. As strong as the desire to numb the feelings is, I don’t feel that is healthy. I don’t want to associate bad times with great enjoyable substances. I don’t go out for a drink on a bad day. I wouldn’t smoke either. I will smoke when I feel anxious, but not when I am manic. when I am stressed, but not when I am making major decisions. I guess it kinda sounds silly that someone would follow so many rules that they set for themselves over something so trivial. I sincerely believe that there is a such thing as too much of a good thing.

So, yeah. I smoke pot. I feel more productive and relaxed just enough into easing myself back to the outgoing person I was. I have to let my guard down and try to regain the self confidence I once had. Anyway, I am rambling.

Let me know what you think?

-B

p.s. Full disclosure, this post was originally posted on my personal blog here.

Clarity.

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.

(continued in next post)

The Not-So-Great Advice a Child Therapist Gave Me

I got my first counselor when I was six. She was an anger management counselor. I had a temper at a young age. Results from my home life. I saw anger and violence at an early age. I mimicked that behavior with my peers. The class was cleaning up the room before recess or lunch or something. I was putting a puzzle away. Another kid tried to help. I told him I got it. He helped anyway. I got angry and hit him with a chair. He was trying to be helpful and kind. I don’t even remember his name.

This incident prompted my parents and the school to get me into counseling. I don’t remember anything we spoke about. She gave me a calendar and told me to put a sticker on each day I didn’t get angry. If I went a whole month without anger, she would give me a present. I remember the excitement and anticipation. When the month finished, she gave me a pencil sharpener. It was a dome shape and looked like half a baseball. I remember thinking that present did not live up to my expectations. Regardless, I had that pencil sharpener for several years after.

When I was eight, my whole family went to counseling. My parents met with a couple’s counselor. My two older sisters went to group counseling. They may have had private counselors, but I don’t remember. I had my own counselor. I remember playing games and drawing pictures. We had many conversations, but I have no memories of these. I recall our on our last session she gave me a small ceramic elephant that wore pants and a button up shirt. I liked it and held onto it for several years along with the baseball pencil sharpener.

This counselor also helped me create something I could use when my parents were arguing. Many people refer to this as a survival kit. I don’t remember the name she used. I found an old Maxwell House coffee can. When they were still made of tin or aluminum. During one of my sessions, we used construction paper to cover the can and I decorated it. I don’t remember the instructions she gave me for the can. I put all sorts of things in it including my little elephant. The baseball pencil sharpener could have been in there at one time or another.

I opened this can and played with my toys every time my parents argued. Sometimes I played with those toys even if my parents didn’t argue. It was my escape from school and from home. I realized recently that I’ve spent most of my life trying to escape. I have nightmares once every two weeks. Sometimes every week. I’m always running from some unknown thing. Or I’m chased by a creature of some kind. Always trying to escape something. I had the epiphany that every time I have a new idea for a business or job, I’m only trying to escape my current situation.

I’ve stopped living with roommates because they made me feel trapped. I couldn’t afford to live on my own, but I still left. I’ve held several jobs over the last ten years. A couple I remained at for many years. But I couldn’t move up any higher. I felt trapped at those jobs, so I left. Most people don’t realize that running from something is not the same as escaping. I’ve been running my entire adult life trying to escape. I’ve only succeeded in getting trapped somewhere else. I haven’t faced my real issues. I’m not sure I know what they all are.

I don’t blame the counselor for helping me escape my childhood trauma. At the time, it was the best solution to an inescapable problem. But this solution doesn’t work for adults. Children don’t always have the ability to face a problem or get out of a situation. Adults do. I’ve been overcoming many issues and I’m trying to deal with problems I didn’t know I had. The only way to escape these issues is to face them and heal. I first have to learn the difference between escaping the problem and overcoming it.

What To Do?

It’s been a while since I’ve last written on the BPW blog…at least it feels like it’s been a while. Memory is still pretty bad, but cognative function is slowly returning. I’m not excited that it’s returning, because not only did I get used to having no memory, it was actually comforting to have forgotten all the bad without trying. Lately, I feel like I’ve been in a slump. I’ve got a full time job now, so I’m back to work. It isn’t rewarding, but it’s a paycheck, which I desperately needed. I know that “normal” life is a lot of feeling whatever, then short bursts of happiness or sadness. It’s just weird for me, because I felt like I was at the top of the world during my treatment, or rather when the depression finally lifted. Now though, I’m getting used to the feeling of “normal” which isn’t a good or a bad, it’s just kinda blasé. It feels eerily familiar to the numbness of depression, but fundamentally different. It is a little worrisome, obviously, as I never want to go back to being depressed.

The question now is what the hell do I do with my life? I mean, I work 40 hours a week, like almost everyone else in America. But like, my hobbies have suspiciously vanished, my friends are, well, there, but living their own lives too. And I don’t want to cut in on that. I don’t want them to feel like I’m forcing them to make time for me. Y’know? I guess it’s just a part of getting older…people focus more on their careers and romantic relationships, and friendships kinda just sink to the wayside. I know it sounds like my friends are terrible friends, or maybe that I’m a terrible friend, but two of my dear friends, we have an understanding. We can not see eachother for months, then pick it right back up when we do see eachother, like there was no time in between. It’s actually a great style of relationship to me, because it’s very low maintenance, but offers all the benefits of a close friendship. Back to the point, I just don’t know what to do with my life now that I’m not depressed. I mean I can clean, and do chores and such, but my physical pain (slipped disk in my back) still limits me severely. I also want to do something I enjoy, y’know, something that brings me joy. It’s funny, because I’ve never thought of things like that before. Everything I did during my depression, was simply to get my mind away from the suicidal thoughts. Now that I actually want to live life, and bring myself joy and fulfillment, I’m at a loss. I enjoy writing, as you can probably imagine, but I can’t just lay in bed and write my time away. Writing is therapeutic for me, but also can be a source of stress, so it’s a fine balancing act. So I don’t really know what to do? I mean, I want to date again, but my social anxiety is still out of control, especially in romantic situations. I’m on many, if not all, the dating apps, but I don’t really just fire off messages, because not only could that be annoying to the girl, but the effort I put in to messages, and then to receive no response is saddening to say the least. So I don’t really spend too much time on dating apps, plus I may be old fashioned, but I like to meet people in person, develop a platonic relationship, before moving on to romance. So, what do I do with my free time? I am actually looking for answers, so if you have recommendations, let me know. Also, is this sort of weird middle area of emotions just life? Or what? I don’t know…maybe I’m just over analyzing. Let me know, please?

The Reality of Having Depression and Anxiety

This post is going to be a little hard to write because I really struggle with putting my mental illnesses into words; so bare with me.

The best way I can explain depression is numbing. You can’t feel anything at all, and anxiety is when you feel everything too much. I cannot tell you how hard it is to have both because they are constantly at war with each other and my head and sometimes I feel crazy.  Sometimes, I want to talk about my mental illness with my friends or family, but since they don’t have depression or anxiety, it is really hard for them to relate and it scares me that they will think I’m losing my mind!

I’ve lived with depression for about 6-7 years. I noticed my senior year of high school that I was having symptoms like sleeping all the time, but I just thought it was normal teenage stuff. When my parents told me they were getting a divorce I told them that I wanted to see a therapist. The therapist diagnosed me with depression and ever since then, I’ve had it. A lot of people think depression is just sadness… but it’s so much more. There are days where I don’t want to get out of bed, days I’m too tired to do any cleaning around the house, days where I don’t want to talk to anyone, and I have had days where I literally wanted to die. I don’t have most of these days very often anymore because I am on medication, but they are there. I do still sleep constantly. Even if I try not to. It’s really hard to have school. work, and successful relationships when you don’t want to do anything or talk to anyone.

I’ve had anxiety for about 5-6 years. I developed anxiety in my past relationship. Without having to tell that whole story again, I will just say being in an abusive relationship is like constantly walking on eggshells. You are worried about what you say, what you do, everything. When my anxiety came out, I would get physically sick. I remember one night, we were having an argument and I was on my hands and knees in his back yard throwing up and sobbing. This would happen every time we got in a fight. The panic attacks were the worst.  I would lock myself in the bathroom and sit on the floor crying and hyperventilating. My heart would feel like it was beating out of my chest and I would feel dizzy. I thought I was going to die. Nothing could call me down until someone sat with me and held my face and had me breathe with them. Thankfully, I can usually calm myself down enough if I’m having a minor panic attack, but the major ones, it’s still hard.

Having these mental illnesses can make me really angry sometimes. Growing up is hard enough; I didn’t want to add this to my list of things to cope with throughout my life. I’m going to have the illnesses for the rest of my life. That is hard for me to accept.

Sometimes, I still wish I would wake up and I would be fine. But that isn’t and won’t ever be the case. While that is the case, I have to remember that having this is making me stronger. Now that I’m on medication, I feel a lot better! I’m more motivated, happier, more energetic, and determined. It has been great, and a lot of those in my life have noticed a change. This year has been dedicated to making myself better and I am finally seeing results. I want everyone to know, that you can do this. You can get through it!

 

Love,

Zoe

I’m Better Than This.

I took a step forward today. I applied about a year ago to become a speaker for the Rape Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) speaker’s bureau. I suffer from PTSD and it has taken me the past ten years to cope with that, although I am unsure if you can ever fully cope with a trauma such as sexual abuse. I received an email inviting me to their speaker’s bureau summit! Once you attend the summit, you are then asked to speak at engagements hosted at high schools and the like. I found that writing about the things that I have experienced throughout my trauma and rollercoaster of a ride with bipolar have really helped me cope. I have shared my experience with friends over the years to coax them out of making some of the mistakes I did that left me vulnerable. Now, I hope to share this with others in an effort to do the same.

Much like The Bipolar Writer, RAINN is a safe space for sexual abuse survivors and without either I am not sure what I would do. I attend a group sponsored by RAINN, and The Bipolar Writer has been my sort of mental health group. Having moved so far from my main support system this really has been my life line. The past 9 months have been full of depressive spirals. Between not having access to competent mental health care to just not having someone to recognize the signs of me falling into a manic-depressive episode it has been the hardest time of my life.

When I got that email, I felt a burst of hope and something to look forward to. It was then that I realized that I have to do something that I felt so much shame for considering, I have to move back home. I love Texas. I love the trees and being away from the hustle and bustle of the city. I love how people here are seemingly much more kind. I love the pressures lifted off my shoulders because I am too far away from those close to me to worry about any conflict.

I have developed a lot of new bad habits in this move. I have almost completely isolated myself. Some of it intentional and some from having a lack of social life in a new place with no familiar places. I only really leave my house to go to work where I rarely interact with coworkers because if I am being honest, I am scared. The health care field is over saturated with potential workers here and due to that the pay is significantly less than it was at home. I am broke. I can’t afford the gas to drive an hour to my mental health doc, let alone the cost of the visit because I don’t have health insurance. So I have been off my medication and I really am not the nicest without it.

I stopped writing. I have a lot to say, but the motivation isn’t there. The motivation has been lost on a lot of things. I stopped keeping in touch with most of my friends back home and I dropped out of school. I am only five classes away from finishing my Master’s degree and I just couldn’t do it….or I wouldn’t. That isn’t me. I came to Texas to figure out what I wanted, who I am without the routine I was used to. I figured it out.

I am a social butterfly who loves nothing more than to hear every thought that her friends have because I genuinely love and care about them. I ENJOY seeing my mom multiple times a week and grabbing dinner with my sister on a Tuesday night because I know she is broke but loves take out. I like being at home and cooking (even though I am bad at it) for people. I often have so much to write about that I have word documents saved on my laptop because I can’t go posting it all at once. I have an intense passion for health care and have always strived to give the care that we all deserve, and lately I can barely make myself go to work, let alone give 110%.

I am going home. I have two interviews coming up and am starting to look at apartments for when I get there. I have boxes in my car so that I can start packing. I reenrolled in school and am ready to start writing again. I called my doctor back home so that I can get back on my medicine. I need to take care of myself.

This post is scatter brained and that really isn’t me. I think it is important that we strive to continue to share even when it isn’t pretty and polished. It is important for others to see what the truth it, it is important to bring awareness. Most importantly, it is important for me. I need to be honest with others because it helps me to be honest with myself. I am not okay. I have to stop telling myself that. I can’t carry on in this new normal because frankly it is getting out of hand.

The List.

 

I once read that a good strategy in dealing with bipolar is to recognize what is an episode and what is just a run of the mill bad day. When I find myself feeling “moody” I make a list of things that are pissing me off. I look over it and try to determine if the things triggering my anger are truly things that I should be upset about or if I am overreacting. Whether or not it is an episode, it is a way to hold myself accountable.

 

I thought I would give you a glimpse into my list from this week. It truly is….something. If anything, it is hilariously ridiculous.

 

  1. I walked into the copy room to use the copy machine and there was a coworker in there organizing the incoming faxes. I just started the job so I asked her if I needed to dial nine to fax, to which she responded no. As I start typing in the number in she turns to me and says, “you have to wait until I am done with the fax machine”.
  2. People answering a question with any information outside of the answer to the question I asked.
  3. I work with a woman named Carrie. That is how she spells her name. She is from New York. She corrects anyone who says her name without the New York accent.
  4. Someone held the door for me and then proceeded to their car. When I went to back out (after taking time to plug my phone in and respond to a text) they were backing out behind me and I had to wait.

 

This list is small. This is because I am saving you from the 13 other ridiculously unimportant things that pissed me off. As you can see, I blew things out of proportion.

 

My whole life, my grandmother has hated when someone does not clear the microwave after using it. Lets say that you put food in to heat up for one minute and took the food out after 45 seconds. You better not leave that fifteen seconds on the microwave. My thoughts on this have always been if I see it as being easy enough for her to just not say anything and clear the microwave, then it is just as easy for me to do the same.

 

These things that happened did not hurt me or alter my life in anyway. It is far easier for me to make myself aware of this than it is to explain to someone that I have a mental illness full of mixed episodes and mood swings where I blow up over the preferred pronunciation of YOUR name.

 

I am a huge proponent of people learning about mental illness, ending stigma, and coexisting with those that have them. I am not a proponent for expecting everyone around me to deal with the fallout of my bad days.

Idle Hands, Busy Work and Fighting Off Depression

As a writer, the most important thing I can do every day is, well, write. After all, they say a writer is someone who wrote today, and by that measure I’m more of an ass-sitter than a writer.

Most days.

It isn’t to say I don’t write; even if it takes months – or in the case of 22 Scars, years – I will eventually get things out. But on a day-to-day basis, I more often sleep and procrastinate. I’ll often lie in bed, daydreaming about where I want my writing to go, or thinking of what to write for the evening’s blog, but in the end nothing gets done.

Depression’s a bitch.

The thing is, the less I do, the more I feel depressed, and the more I feel depressed, the less I do. It’s a cycle I’m sure many of you are familiar with. And that cycle, for me, breaks when my bipolar upswing takes effect, and I write feverishly for perhaps a week or two, before sliding back into a period of low mood that might last for another four months.

I wrote 22 Scars – as in, time spent daily writing words for the story – in about two months. Yet I spent the previous twelve years pretending I was going to write it. A bit of planning here, half a chapter there … but nothing ever really happened.

And herein lies the biggest problem. If I aim to use writing as a method of working through depression – after all, the whole point of 22 Scars was to be an ode to my teenage despair – then I need to actually write, because otherwise I know I’ll just fall into despair.

It takes a great deal of personal and emotional effort to make yourself do anything – never mind something creative, like writing – when you don’t feel like doing anything at all. When you hate yourself, and hate your work, and want to just lie in bed all day. I love sleep, because it’s an escape from the drear of the everyday.

And most days, the energy to break through that wall just isn’t there. I just can’t see past the dark veil that clouds my mind, my judgement, and my desires.

Around this time every year I make plans and commitments to better myself, to keep writing more and more frequently, and to actually make something of myself. And in around a month or so, I’ll give up on those plans, because fuck that shit.

But I can’t say it’s all for nought; two years ago I decided I would finally sit down and make my young adult novel come to life, and lo and behold – I did it. It took a few months of very, very hard work – during which time I nearly imploded with the weight of the depression that the story brought out of me – but I made it happen. I published it in late 2017.

Last year, I made the same commitment for my fantasy work, and got my third novel out there a few months ago.

So what does 2019 hold?

I have plans for a new novel, one that takes on mental illness again, but in a slightly different tone. It focuses on several characters, and their journey through a life of music, misery and angst. I really, really want to make it happen this year – as in, write it in the early months, publish it in the later months.

But it’ll take more than just a commitment to writing the novel. If I want to keep myself well, if I want to vainly prevent the dark slide into the abyss, I’ll need to write here, too.

Because writing, ultimately, is about communicating. And whilst writing a novel is one way of doing so, it’s a lonely, solitary process. And if I can reach out to a community of people who believe in and support what I do on a regular basis, it might just provide me with the motivation I would otherwise be missing.

So here’s to 2019, and here’s to all of you – because without you, I would be nothing.