A Decade Mental Health Reflection

10 years is a really freaking long time. Looking back I think this may have been the most transformative decade of my life because so many monumental things happened.

I graduated from high school and college. I got my first part time job at Wendy’s (a fast food restaurant in America) and first full time job (that I reluctantly quit). I fell in love twice, lost my virginity, had my heart broken many times and bought a house with my boyfriend of nearly 3 years.

**I’m going to be writing about self harm and suicide. If this may be triggering for you, I suggest waiting for my next post. Talking about self harm is triggering for me still but I want to talk about it openly and honestly.**

Self-Harm

During this decade I learned about depression and anxiety, finally labeling how I had felt for most of my life. I cut myself for the first time in 2011 in my college dorm room because I felt an overwhelming sense of depression and loneliness. This action impacted my life quite a lot. I used it to cope with my mental illness when I was at my lowest points for many years.

You can still see some of those early scars on my arms in the right light. I usually notice them in the summer when the sun shines the brightest. It takes me back to all of the pain I felt in those moments, when I thought this was the only way I could survive each day.

Therapy

Back in 2014 I was in my last year of university, I had returned to the main campus after spending a year in a big city and abroad in England. I struggled so much to readjust to life on campus but I couldn’t. I couldn’t focus, I had no energy and no drive to attend classes or do my assignments.

This brought me to seeing my first therapist, Jennifer. She was the total opposite of me personality wise, she was straight-laced, practical and put together while I walked into her office a total wreck. She was a counselor at my university that I saw every other week. She helped me take those first steps to sorting through my mental illness which lead me to the therapist I have been seeing since September 2016.

I love my current therapist. She has been with me through my very darkest times struggling with intense suicidal thoughts and daily self harm. I saw her twice a week for months until I got a grip on myself. Once I finally made it to once a week I was so proud of myself. I now see her more or less on an as needed basis which I never thought would be possible.

Suicide

After a bad breakup from my first love, my life was in shambles. Before this I had occasionally had suicidal thoughts but they were not even close to the level of intensity these were. “Kill yourself” was on repeat in my mind constantly. I couldn’t have a moment of silence without hearing that phrase.

I never attempted suicide, I think because I had such a strong team of professionals supporting me. My therapist, doctor and psychiatrist were helping me, I didn’t want to let them down by dying. And we were all working to find a medicine that would help me.

Since being on medicine I haven’t had intense suicidal thoughts. I have them occasionally  if I’m at a low point but other than that I am ok.

I’m sorry this post is so long but I wanted to write up a brief bit of my mental health journey from this past decade. In 2010 I wouldn’t have expected for all of this to happen. Life surprises us, it surprises me on a regular basis.

I wish you all a Happy New Year!

A Decade That Changed Everything Part One

This will end up a series that I will write in December 2019, as the decade comes to a close. I hope to share some wisdom now that my memoir The Bipolar Writer: A Memoir is published and out in the world. Each will have some theme that I think is relevant to the idea of the last ten years. I imagine walking side by side that person I was at the start of the decade, he was a different James than the one now. He now has so much to share.

A Few Things I’ve Learned

Image by Harut Movsisyan from Pixabay

A decade is a long time, and so many things can change in this life. It matters not if the change is good or bad, because change means that something is happening, and you can decide to take it or leave it. You can make the decision to change because its time, or you can get lost in what the change means.

Take me. In the first decade of the new millennium, I was younger than I was now, just a teen trying to find his place. While I was active for the start of it, there was a lingering feeling that something was wrong. I was suicidal at times, and in 2007 I tried to take my life. I spent the next two years denying that there was something wrong with me, that I was not Bipolar, and that my life was worthless. I barely lived, and then on that fateful day I tried to last take my life in 2010, in the middle of the first year of the new decade, I had a choice. Continue down this path, or finally face the truth–there was something wrong with me.

In the hospital, first for the suicide and then for the seizures I had after, it allowed me to think about this mental illness life and finally decide to start the healing process.

It was never easy, and it did not happen overnight. It actually took an additional three years before my life started on this path that I am now: author, graduate student, freelance writer extraordinaire, and mental health advocate. Having the same therapist for the last five years really helped, and the revolving door of psychiatrists made things hard at times. I lost my grandfather, whom I was close to cancer, and there were so many varying depression cycles in length and intensity over the past ten years. But I am still here and fighting.

I founded this blog in 2017, and I can say with certainty that we, the collaborative writers and mental health bloggers that call this place home, have made an impact. I started with an idea, and it became a blog and then a memoir. I have written this year a 213,000-word fantasy fiction novel, one novel in a series of six, I am currently editing this piece. I have written poetry and short novella this year, and things are always looking up.

Image by Jim Semonik from Pixabay

Hope. That is what I am always saying in these blog posts. I was ready to die in 2010, and yet I was one of the lucky ones.

If you’re suicidal or close to that darkness, please know that it is not forever. Suicide is never the answer because we will always leave behind someone that will have to live with that decision. If I learned anything this decade, that is it, that it may feel right at this moment, but there are always consequences to our actions. So live because there is always hope. Learn from my mistakes, and if you need to, please reach out. I am always there for my people in the mental illness community.

Lastly, if you want to know more about my experiences, please take a moment to read my book, The Bipolar Writer: A Memoir. In it, I share some of the things that have helped me over the years. I want this book to help others like me in this life, especially those at the beginning of this journey. I also want to help those at any stage of this mental illness life because I lived it, and I have so much to share. You can find my book on Amazon by looking up James Edgar Skye. I will link it below, as well. Yes, I am plugging my book, but I truly believe in the power of shared experience.

https://www.amazon.com/author/jamesedgarskye

Always Keep Fighting

James

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A Birthday Reflection

Yesterday I turned 26 years old. I had an absolutely wonderful day spent with my family and my boyfriend. There was nothing lavish or anything but it was time well spent and I felt appreciated by everyone.

One of my love languages is quality time so getting to spend time with the people I’m closest with was awesome.

It is amazing how a few years can change your perspective about life.

I remember when I turned 24 I reflected upon how I was celebrating my birthday while I struggled each day to live. This happened towards the end of my 7-month severe depressive episode, I had no idea that my suicidal thoughts were going to soon be quiet.

I thought to myself, “This is so odd. How can I celebrate my life when all I want to do is die?”

Soon after April 13, 2017, I found the right antidepressants and was finally able to attend therapy only once a week instead of twice. I got a new job plus a side gig that cut my stress level by over half.

I fell in love when I thought I never would again.

Later that year I got to see the most beautiful sunset ever in Las Vegas and go to the desert in California (two places I had never been before).

Right now my mental health is doing pretty well so in this reflection, I am glad that I didn’t kill myself. I’m glad that there was a light at the end of a very long, dark tunnel.

If you’re struggling with suicidal thoughts, I hope that this post gives you perspective. In the moment you think that life will never get better. But it does.

A Suicide Prevention Month Guest Blog Post

I have one last guest post in honor of Suicide Prevention Month from writer and blogger Kira, you can find her blog at https://jackofwriting.wordpress.com/

My Brother Lost His Fight, But I Will Win the War

One day, I woke up, and my entire life changed.
My mom had tried to reach me while I was sleeping in, on a Wednesday. I had no class, no work, nowhere to be.

Ignorance is bliss.

I called back. The short version is: she was far away, had received an email at 3:00AM from my brother. He was saying sorry for committing suicide and explaining why. He was bored.

I only read the contents of the email later. So, I thought there was still a chance he hadn’t gone through.

It was 9:00AM. I lived 20 minutes away from him. I ran there, called his cell, it was off. I arrived in 10 minutes. The police were already there. I really wanted it to be for something else. I didn’t see the corpse, but I might as well have: I knew my dead brother was in this bag.

I’ve read that the worst for the police isn’t handling the corpse: it’s telling the family.
They had to tell me they had been called because a corpse had been found: a student had thrown himself off the window of his room.

Then, they proceeded to ask me tons of questions. They tried to be nice but prevented me from calling my mom, who was going crazy on the other side of the country, desperately trying to reach my dad – and me.

They were very insistent on the fact that I shouldn’t be the one telling her. I agreed. Yet, after a few hours of this, I had to step up and insist: it was either them or me, but my mom had to know.

That’s when they butchered it. They called my mom, with MY phone, barely started the job, and asked me to “be strong.”

I did. I ended up being the one telling my parents that their son had jumped from the 11th floor of a student accommodation building.

Everything felt rushed after that. We organized a funeral, and I was the only one who could handle any sort of public speaking, so I managed it.

They say pain runs in the family until someone is ready to feel it. My brother wasn’t ready, so his pain exploded in our faces.

We all went back to work, after a while. I struggled. Being a teacher requires a lot of mental resources, especially when you handle teenagers going through the mad ride puberty is. And mine was close to 0.

Still, I did my job. And I did it well. My lessons were great, students loved me, I became even more empathetic than I already was, and detected (and helped) my fair share of students going through trauma, self-harming, bullying, suicidal thoughts. They all came at me as if I was a magnet. Maybe they sensed my pain, but I’ll never know.

I was in my own cycle of pain, and even though I was able to help them, I sacrificed my own resources, was regularly drained, until I came to a breaking point.

One day came when I finally accepted that I was not able to manage everything going on, on top of, well, myself.

I was still able to engage and inspire students.
I was still able to be “a teacher out of this world” (their words), but it became much harder to manage violence, drug issues, disruptions, violent or alcoholic parents, bullying, suicidal kids.
I wasn’t able to be sent on 2 or 3 schools per week (thank the French system, you can have tenure but still be a sub they can send anywhere).

I wasn’t able to do all this because my body had screamed at me for a year and a half that I should take better care of myself. I constantly got ill.

My body was right: I didn’t eat well. I didn’t work out. Most hobbies were off the table, I didn’t have time, I had to prepare lessons and deal with school-related issues. I didn’t listen to music. I didn’t sing anymore. I didn’t write or create content other than lesson related stuff. I saw my friends, and my long-distance boyfriend though. It’s the only thing I didn’t let depression take away from me. Relationships. They’re what save me in the end.

And that’s why one day, my body shut down. I had the worst panic attack and couldn’t move. I was used to them, fainting had never scared me that much, but this one made me realize that I had to break the wheel because I started to think suicide was a viable option. I was destroying myself, out of loyalty and guilt.

Picture1.png
So, I finally asked for serious help.

Again, everything was quick after that. My friends and parents answered the call. I was put on sick leave, in order to give myself a chance to take care of myself. Do things that I love. Sleep. Eat. Write. See friends. Get married. Get my license.

Live for, and with, myself. I got worse, I felt the pain. I’m getting better, and I’ll carry it with me for a while.
I’ll win the war, but I don’t have to do it alone. To all the ones who have lost sight of the beauty this world can offer: keep fighting. We’ll

win the war.

Remi had lost sight of this.
Bye, little one.

Kira, Jack of Writing Trades

www.jackofwriting.wordpress.com

A Chapter from “The Bipolar Writer” Memoir

Today I decided to share one of the (completed but never complete) chapters of my memoir. I was asked several times over the past few weeks to discuss my thoughts on suicide. In my life I have tried unsuccessfully three times, that does not count the countless times I thought about it. This is an unusually long chapter so I would recommend only reading it when you have time.

 J.E.’s Thoughts on Suicide

Suicide. I have my own personal thoughts on this subject. This is just a part of what I will talk about on the subject of suicide.

In the darkest places of my mind, I still remember how it felt when suicide was consuming my every thought. I must go to that place again, but this time it’s only to understand and give you an idea of how suicidal thoughts was my life for the first three years of my diagnosis.

Many of us are put on this earth to help others deal with the same problems. I like to think this is one of those times and I am that person. I want to share my thoughts on suicide from my experience. You may not like every word that I say here in this chapter. Writing about suicide is never easy, and any writer who has experienced suicidal thoughts knows that once you are past suicide, it not fun to discuss. There is always a chance at relapsing back into suicidal thoughts, so I write this in hopes that I continue to know that suicide is not the answer.

I have so much to say about suicide. I have had the unfortunate pleasure of going down the road to suicide three times in my life, and surandy-jacob-358648-unsplash.jpgrvive. That doesn’t count the suicidal thoughts that have waged war in my head for so many years. I am one of the lucky ones in a way because I survived. There are so many of my fellow mental illness sufferers that have taken their life. I wear for them because I wish I could save every person that is suicidal. I had to get to a good place first, but I hope if you are reading this you understand the necessity of such a chapter.

I am afraid and excited at the same time to write suicide. I haven’t explored my thoughts about suicide other than expressing that I am against it to anyone that would listen since I started to figure out myself in this mental illness life. I have tried three unsuccessful times to take my life. It feels so strange to say I have survived, but it’s true.

The topic of suicide rarely comes up in my real life, and never in this way. That comes from in part because of the stigma and from people not wanting to talk about suicide. It took one person asking to write my thoughts about suicide that gave me the strength to write about this subject. So here I go.

It has taken me many years to be in the right place with my diagnosis so that talking about suicide is something that I can do. It’s been a over seven years since my last suicide attempt. Since that time I always advocate against suicide.

To be in a place where suicide is the only option isn’t as fresh in my mind, but it is the worst feeling I have ever felt in my life. I remember it well. You never forget the depths of the darkness that is suicidal thoughts. The places that my mind went to when my depression was at its darkest was hell, and it felt like there was no escape. I wanted to be anywhere but in my own body.

I thought it best to talk about my own experiences with suicide first. It speaks to why I tell people there is always a better alternative than to give into suicide.

My experiences with suicide attempts were the result of weeks of very little sleep. The constant racing of my thoughts would consume my every second. I spent so many minutes convincing myself that I was not good enough to live in the same world as everyone else. I went inward into myself disappearing from the real world. My appetite would disappear, and speaking words would escape me. I spent hours on end and days in bed lost in endless darkness. It was consuming to a point where I needed to escape this life.

Nothing was real to me the weeks leading up to my first suicide attempt. My girlfriend at the time always had to worry about my mental health. Weeks before, I had said goodbye to the world on social media. My family found me before I could take it to the level of suicide. The darkness was still there in my mind. I found myself convincing everyone in kasper-rasmussen-656992-unsplash.jpgmy family that things in my life were okay. I said, “I am fine” too much that I almost believed it to be true. I told everyone I was on the mend. It was a lie.

I don’t know why I wanted to convince the people that loved me that I was okay. It may have been a selfish need to make myself feel better about what I was planning, and yes it was very selfish. I failed to think or care about anyone but myself. It took three suicides for me to come to grip with reality. My suicide attempts hurt the people that loved me; it shows how selfish I was being.

Being who I am, I did research on suicide methods. I saw the real stats on suicides, and I didn’t care if I became another statistic on a website. The tools were there to let someone know that I was suicidal. Calling the suicide helpline should have been the first thing I did, but I didn’t want help. I wanted not to exist. I found the only means to take my life that was accessible to me, an overdose. It wasn’t a great solution, but at the time it felt right, even if it felt wrong after.

Over the weekend and the days leading up to my first suicide attempt, I didn’t sleep. I was fighting a war inside my head, and the battles were endless. I always remember my first suicide because the event happened during Thanksgiving week. I remember feeling angry that the doctors wouldn’t release me after I told them I was no longer suicidal. Looking back it was another lie, and it makes me sad that this was the first time in my life I would miss Thanksgiving.

My first suicide attempt failed because wanting not to be a part of this world was my cry for help. That is why I decided to tell the world that I planned to end my life, again (I had talked about suicide only a few weeks earlier on social media.) Deep down I wanted my family to stop me, which is what happened. The people that love me found me in time. It took me years to come to this conclusion. At the time, I was so mad at the world for surviving that all I could see was my will not to live.

It’s a weird feeling when you finally take that leap to commit suicide (for lack of a better word). At that moment the world became surreal for me. Everything in my mind became clear, and I felt for the first time that I was at peace. It wasn’t real peace of course, and it was only a temporary feeling. One that ended when I thought my life did.

I remember some of what happened next. Being rushed to the hospital. The doctors and nurses were forcing a black charcoal substance down the throat. The faint conversations about me trying committing suicide. The doctors and nurses knew something wrong with what I did, even if I didn’t believe it. Then, many hours later, a nurse and a security guard pushing me down a long hallway to the psych ward.

That was the first time that I was so deep into depression that I turned to suicide. Within a month, I tried again with the same result, a stint in the psych ward. I chose to write about the first and second suicide attempts together for two reasons. The first deep-down I didn’t want to die in those first two hasan-almasi-657415-unsplash.jpgsuicides. I can say that with confidence. The second suicide attempt was a month between my first suicide attempt so meshes in mind. I don’t remember much from the time in between and why I tried to kill myself so quickly after the first time. I mention this because it is different than the last time I committed suicide. It would be about two and a half years before I would be so deep into depression that suicide became my only solution.

In 2010, I again wanted to end my life, and the need to not be a part of this world was consuming. It had been two and a half years since my last attempt, and my life had only gotten worse. I was amid the most extended depression cycle of my life that spanned from 2006. I could not find my place in the world. I barely existed as is leaving my house only a handful of times in those first three years.

It was rare for me to leave my house during this time. When I was alone, my thoughts were dark. I imagined walking out of my house and down the street to walk into traffic on the highway. These thoughts were occurring almost daily as I continued my struggle with depression. I thought about hanging myself from the huge oak tree next to my house. I thought about slicing my wrists and bleeding out on my bed which was the couch in my parents living room. I thought about the many ways I could remove myself from existence, and it became an obsession for a month. I was on edge all the time just waiting for the time where it became too much and the only way to finally find peace was to jump.

Outside my immediate family, most of the people in my life gave up on me by 2010. If I am honest, only my mother still had faith in me at that time. Most of my family came to realize that if I wanted to commit suicide, there was not much anyone could do to stop me. I don’t blame them for giving up or for feeling helpless. I was the worst version of myself during these years.

I remember one day I was especially suicidal and some of my family came to visit my parents. I was alone in the dark with my thoughts when my aunt came into my room to check on me. My aunt is the sweetest lady in the world, but I was in a dangerous place in my mind. I picked a verbal fight with her. I resented when she called the cops after I told her if she didn’t leave me alone I would kill my myself. Suicide became this horrible weapon that I could wield against people who only wanted to help me. My aunt forgave me for it, but I often remember this and feel sorry for the altercation.

It was much of the same behaviors as the last time I tried to commit suicide, but it was also different. The most glaring difference was that for the first time in my life, I wanted to die. There was no doubt in my mind that I wanted it to happen and that it would happen. Since the day of my diagnosis with Bipolar One, I didn’t believe that I would make it out of my twenties. There was something wrong with me. At that moment in 2010, it was becoming clear that my life was going to end.mitchell-hollander-282004-unsplash.jpg

I planned everything this time. For weeks, I hoarded my Seroquel so that I could take such an intense amount that it would kill me. At this point in my life, I was no longer in charge of holding onto my medicine only to take it. I found ways to pretend to take my medication. I told no one of my plans. I stopped all my online activity. I disconnected from life. It was lucky that my friend couldn’t get ahold me and had my parents checked in on me. It saved my life.

I don’t remember anything after taking my medication that night. Years later my mom told me it was the scariest suicide attempt that she had to live through. It was with reluctance that she explained what happened. I was in a coma for three days (which I remember waking from and thinking what the hell, why is there a catheter in me?.) The doctors had no idea if I would live or die, but one thing they were sure of, that my family got to me with little time to spare.

I spend a week in the hospital after I came out of the coma, and I my doctors released me into the care of my parents. About two days after my release I collapsed on the dining room table and had a seizure. It was in taken in an ambulance that brought me to the hospital where I had three more seizures over the next twenty-four hours. It was the scariest thing in the world that I have ever lived through in this life.

It is hard to believe I survived it all. My doctors thought it was a late reaction to the overdose but they were never actually sure, and never gave me a definite answer to my I had seizures. I was on anti-seizure medication for two years, and luckily I have never had another seizure. It was these two hospitalizations that changed my life and finally made me open to fix my problems.

Why tell this story? For one, a request came through that I share my thoughts about suicide on my blog. It was a great idea. I thought after writing that blog post that the subject deserved a chapter in my memoir. But how could I tell someone reading this that suicide is not the answer if I don’t share my own experience? So, I decided that I would share my story and then my thoughts. Here are my thoughts.volkan-olmez-523-unsplash.jpg

Suicide is dark, and it feels endless. If you decide to go down that route, there is a good chance that you won’t live past that decision. I am lucky in some ways because I am here, but it’s sad that I let myself get to that point. My story should be a cautionary tale. If you survive suicide, you must live with it, and it is better never to feel that way at all. No matter how my life has changed for the better, my family will always be wondering if they could have stopped me.

Even though over seven years have passed, it will always be in the back of my family’s minds that it could happen again. That I could go down the road of suicide if things get that bad again in my life. My family will always be looking at me and wondering when is the next time I will try to take my life. I deserve it, but it is a feeling that I wish would go away.

If you feel like there is nothing left to live for, I will tell you there is— your family, friends, and because it will not always be bad. Life. It is worth living. Things are bad now, sure. But even when life is at the absolute worst, it will get better. Yes, something very wrong is happening in your life. If you feel suicidal at this moment, that’s okay, but you can survive this darkness.

Suicide is never the answer. There are people in this world that are living with diseases that could take their life at any moment. They have no control, but you do. You can control your situation no matter what suicide tells you. Trust me when I say the voice that tells you suicide is okay is dead wrong.

I tell anyone who feels this way to seek help. Call the suicide hotline. Call a friend. Find a way to fight. I have my writing, reading, and music. I watch sports, and when I am down, I binge watch Netflix of shows that make me happy. Please learn from my experiences. Believe me when I say if I could go back, I would choose to get help instead of suicide.

If you know someone who is talking about suicide, please remember this important fact, 8 out of 10 people give signs their intentions on of suicide. Listen to the people around you especially those you love. If someone is joking about suicide or threatens to commit suicide takes the words at face value. I have joked about suicide before, but deep down I wanted someone to stop me. Just to know I exist. Call the authorities. It is better to be safe than to lose some to suicide. The person you love will forgive you, and if they don’t, it is still the right thing to do because saving their life is what need to start the healing process.

The greatest advice I can give those who are suffering from depression is this. If depression is leading you to suicidal thoughts, the first step is to understand something wrong in your life.

Its okay to admit this to yourself and to the people around you. The second part might be trickier so only when you are ready. On this path to recovery and understanding of my diagnosis, it took me a long time to understand. The first time that I was finally saying “I am Bipolar, it is a part of me, but it doesn’t define me,” was the first time believing that I could fight this disease.

Considering that in my life I have a mental illness, and that’s okay. There is nothing wrong with having a mental illness. After that, it became clear that suicide is never the answer. Depression was and always will be a dangerous thing in my life. My life changed, and my outlook became better when I decided suicide is not the answer. I started to fight, and it became the difference. I am able to write about suicide and share my experiences.

My life will always have elements of chaos. Every day I deal with depression and anxiety at some level, and often it hits the extreme levels of being Bipolar. I still fight every day. I am lucky enough to wake up each day alive. It gives me solace. I want to be active because death is never your friend. You never know when it will be your last day so make sure you make the decision to live.

Live as much as you can even if your depressed. I take days off too because sometimes you need a mental health day. Never give into suicide and the dark thoughts that occupancy it. The darkness will be there sometimes, but it will not last forever. I once thought I could never live outside my depression, and yet I am living proof that you can.sydney-rae-408416-unsplash.jpg

My highest aspiration in life is to teach people about suicide. The pain that suicide brings to your life and those around you is not worth it. My experiences are a part of me, and wouldn’t wish them on anyone. I can’t stress the importance of getting help so that I will repeat it. If you feel suicidal get help, it not worth it to give up hope.

Together we can prevent suicide. I want to end the stigma that comes along with this part of mental illness. I want people to learn from my mistakes. I know it’s idealistic to think this way. I’d rather believe this is possible than to see any more of my people die because of suicide.

James

Always Keep Fighting (AKF)

Photo Credit:

Masaaki Komori

Kasper Rasmussen

Hasan Almasi

Mitchell Hollander

Hailey Kean

Volkan Olmez

sydney Rae

Voice for the Voices

I have an older brother who is just under a year older than me.  My mother always reassuringly tells me how she felt suicidal when she found out she was pregnant with me when he was that little.  That never mattered to him or I.  He used to come and lay down underneath my cot, tap for my bottle, take a sip, and pass it back.  When we got a little older, “we” levelled up, and he would go and exchange the milk for guava juice.  When we went to pre-school, he boisterously protected me on the playground, sealed my juice bottle after lunch, and dutifully sat me down in my row when the bell had gone.  But that was a very long time ago.

Since then, we’ve both been diagnosed, and tried to live with our mental illness, as best we could.  Sometimes it wasn’t best.  But I think what’s common is that we both didn’t know how.  No-one in my opinion has written a definitive guide on how to deal with scary hallucinations, voices, moods, anxiety, and all that other glorious stuff the mental illness Pandora’s Box throws your way.  Oh yes, and then there’s that practical thing of needing to eat chocolate, cigarettes and food (in that order) which you have to pay for, with a job, with mental illness.  And neither him nor I are able to do that at the moment for very, very different reasons.

He is currently in prison for a crime, well, he so painfully regrets that he cannot sleep, eat or be himself anymore.  I walked into the prison waiting room, and saw him there, saw my little brother with the badly knitted cable jersey my Mom had made, ready to close my juice bottle – and he shouldn’t be in prison.  Not him, not anyone with mental illness.  I asked him a little about the conditions and his eyes glazed over slightly.  What he did tell me was a refined version.  Was a version that I could not stomach, but that he had watered down for me.  I think tried to water down for him.

He has access to a psychiatrist once every three months, a psychologist once a month, and a social worker who monitors his progress (but with a view to discussing whether he is eligible or not for parole).  He has access to medication sometimes.  And that medication makes him sleepy which means that he cannot protect himself at night.  So they take turns to keep watch in the cell and hopefully so thwart some of the impending violence that looms every minute, of every hour, of every day in prison.  They are allowed access to sunshine once a week if at all, and even then it’s for a few hours.  Exercise is walking around the cells for a while, and even then you have to be on alert.   Supper is six slices of dry bread, and if you can get money from outside, you can buy meat (from the Government supply) and hopefully go to the tuckshop.  It’s not guarenteed though that you will actually eventually consume what you buy.

And all this screamed to me that it was not about rehabilitating him,  It was not about promoting his mental health and goodness knows the human rights of any and everyone in that prison.  If people really understood mental illness – I can almost naseously laugh – they would know that we need no other bars, no other punishments, no other deprivations.  In closing, I saw an awesome picture.  It said: “You don’t have to be a voice for the voiceless.  You just have to pass the Mic”.  And I thought Yeah!!  After having seen my brother, understand what he and others go through I’ve changed my mind though.  I’ve got news for you.  Where they are – where I am – where people with mental illness are who are discriminated against and hurt – there is no voice, and there is no mic, there aren’t enough eyes, ears, and hearts that are dedicated to stopping what is happening.  Please help me change that.  Be part of those who support us as opposed to those who don’t.  I am 4 M’s Bipolar Mom.

How Having Bipolar Disorder is Like Running a Marathon

I wrote this about a year and a half ago. I hope it helps you better understand what it’s like to live with bipolar 1 disorder with ultradian rapid cycling and mixed episodes.

When a runner runs a 100-yard dash, they sprint as fast they can to the end of their race, hoping to break through the red tape at the finish line, signaling to themselves and everyone else that they were the fastest and won the race. After the sprinters cross the finish line, many collapse to the ground in a heap from the thrill of victory, exhaustion, or both.

The runners run at their fastest and top speed for 30 seconds or more until the depletion stores in their muscles, bodies and mind are gone. They have nothing left. They crash for a period and need to rest until their bodies can be restored to the natural state they were at before their race.

The Boston Marathon is a 26.2 mile endurance test. Most bodies are not accustomed to running for over two hours in a race like that. A marathon usually puts your body through the wringer, draining your body of almost everything — it can even compromise your immune system. During the race, sometimes things can cause a runner to have psychological symptoms like confusion or disorientation. After the race, the runners may experience muscle soreness for over a week. A marathon affects your body and your mind. The runners need to recover and repair with proper nutrition and lots of rest and sleep.

This is what can happen inside and within the body of a person who struggles with bipolar disorder when the brain is cycling between the two extreme mood poles of mania and depression. My bipolar cycles from hypomania to depression, with varying degrees and durations of both. Sometimes my hypomanic episodes will last a long time, and my brain and mood continue to fly and soar higher and faster until I crash into a severe depression.

When I am hypomanic, my brain moves very quickly, sprinting from one thought, idea or activity to the next. I require less sleep, and sometimes I can’t sleep at all. My happiness increases, sometimes reaching euphoria. My creativity increases and I excel and accomplish many things beyond what an “average” person can do. I seem to achieve everything at my ultimate ability level, being the best me I can be. My creative juices flow beyond most. I am the most likable me, and I feel like I am a good person during a hypomanic episode.

During my hypomania, life isn’t different, but my brain is. Everything is better and brighter and more beautiful and easier. Life, everyone and everything in life, me included, are exquisitely and fabulously beautiful. But then the sprint and marathon race inside my brain finishes. My brain becomes completely exhausted — depleted of everything it had.

My brain was on fire. It did too much. It sprinted and moved too fast for too long until it used up all the reserves and had nothing left. It exceeded its limits and what it should and could do. My brain needed to rest, so it stopped working. My brain stopped. It quit functioning at a normal capacity, causing me to feel like I have died — unable to function and perform my life.

While my brain is resting from my hypomanic sprint and marathon, the rest of me feels dead. Like the sprinter and marathon runner, my brain needs to rest. It stops as if it is taking a nap.

I must listen to my brain because I can’t do anything else. My brain causes my mind and body to stop, unable to function any longer. I must recover from my hypomanic race, so I crash and collapse at the finish line of my race — and depression sets in.

Depression is like a rest after the race, except it doesn’t feel like a nice, relaxing, peaceful rest. When my brain crashes, the severe depression hits with a knockout force. My brain stops working, causing my mind and body to feel sick and void of life. I feel like I have died and sometimes I have suicidal thoughts.

The visceral pain of despair, emptiness, inner death of nothingness, void of feelings, darkness and emptiness from depression has set in. I have nothing left. I may have won the hypomanic race/marathon, but now I need to rest my brain and body and recover. The race is over and I am done. I have collapsed at the finish line of my life.

I am finally recovering from the severe depression I have been in after my high-flying hypomanic mood crashed. Now that I feel a bit better, it seems to make more sense to me. My brain crashed after the race. My brain collapsed at the finish line. I broke through the red tape at the finish line of my hypomanic race.

I must do all I can to survive the feeling of my brains collapse from exhaustion caused by sprinting too fast and too long. I need to rest and take better care of myself. Actually, making sure I take care of myself and getting enough rest and sleep is sometimes the best medicine for me. Last night, after difficulties sleeping, I finally slept. I even took a nice nap today. I believe being able to finally sleep and rest has helped me feel better after my hypomanic sprint-like marathon.

~Written by Susan Walz

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