Bipolar Disorder 2

It's Okay

It's okay to have a mental illness... ...to need medication, even more than one, to manage it.

....to see a therapist for it.

.....to feel weak for having such shitty brain chemistry.

....to hate it for the impact it has on you, your relationships, your quality of life, your self-esteem, your perception of yourself and your worth.

....to be grateful for it for what it has taught you about yourself, your limits, your capabilities, your strengths...and for how it's changed you.

.....to be scared because you have it, and to worry about everything that comes with it from the stigma it carries to the side effects of the medications you take.

....to be a parent with one. To want to have children, and have one, or many, despite living with one.

.....to take the safest medications possible for it during pregnancy and breastfeeding if that's a choice you and your psychiatrist make.

....to be jealous of those who don't have one, of their "normal" states.

.....to be resentful of your spouse because they don't understand what it's like for you to live with it daily.

.....to hurt for your spouse or loved one because you know what it's like to live with it daily and you wish you could shield them from that part of you, spare them from seeing how deep your darkness can go or how high your brain can fly, and spare them the hurt the difficulty and weight of how heavy and distressing it can be to witness.

.....to love your spouse or loved one for standing by you as you manage the ups and downs, the nuances, the cracks and crevices of it.

....to be honest with your kids about it.

....to be yourself, to live your life fully, to create the life you want to live despite having it.

......to not let it define you.

......to embrace the parts of it that can help you grow, and learn, and empathize.

.......to feel strong because of it.

......to love yourself in spite of it.

It's okay to have a mental illness. Don't let anyone shame you for it. Don't let stigma keep you silent and held hostage by it. It's okay. As hard as it is, as dark as it can get, it doesn't diminish who you are or what you're capable of. It's okay. It's not your fault. Ever.

So take a deep, full breath, and say it out loud: "It's okay."

 

I Actually Wrote This with a Pen...In a Journal.

This year I said I would get back to journaling, art journaling like I used to when I was 19...20...21...22...before I became a terrified single mom whose only existence revolved around one word: SURVIVE. So....I signed up for Chookooloonks "create.2013" e-course and have been doing the prompts delivered to my inbox every morning, in addition to writing two pages of whatever's sitting around in my brain. This is what I wrote last night after word vomiting my mania on Twitter. 

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Moving...everything is hurried, frenzied, congested like commuters getting off the subway train in a rush to make it to some meeting at some corporate job they hate feeling so restricted in. By everything I mean my thoughts, my words, emotions in conflict with each other; they slam into one another pressing themselves against the walls of my mind and against my tongue. The pressure that comes with attempting restraint always proves to be a force I can't reckon with, and they come spilling out, tumbling over each other and onto the people I interact with daily:

My fiance

My friends

My Twitter feed

I would say the "friends" on Facebook too, but I officially broke it off with my dealer Zuckerberg a few weeks ago in attempt to kick my 4 1/2 year habit; a habit that went from being a job requirement to becoming my sounding board and my lifeline. It became the what I barely had in my "real" life-support, understanding, acceptance, help, community. But after 4 years and it's no longer a lifeline and I need to extricate myself from it. Social media addiction is a real disease...or at least that's what WebMd told me. It also told me this zit on my face is really a rare disease not even that House guy on TV has heard of and I'm going to die within a week. Thank God it's not a real doctor...

The only people who aren't affected are my kids. Sometimes they see Mommie less patient with a sharper tongue and a low tolerance, but what parent doesn't have these moments, right? When it comes to restraining the symptoms of my illness I do my best to stuff them WAY. DOWN. into the deeper parts of me and quickly sit on top of them as you would a trunk or luggage case overpacked and bulging against its zippers. I try to take the less destructive parts of it and use them to my-our-advantage. I allow it to explode just enough so it amplifies the best parts of me that enable me to love and nurture my boys to my fullest capacity, doing things that my very BOY boys like to do:

Yell...

Run around the house giggling and laughing until I'm begging air to please come back into my lungs...

Jump on the couch...

Watch cartoons....

Eat peanut butter and jelly and PopTarts and have breakfast for dinner...

Trains....

Lego Star Wars and Kung Fu Panda on Xbox....

Shooting my imaginary hot pink laser gun at the red berries on the trees we pass by every day on our walk back from school...

Singing and dancing on the sidewalk caring less about the cars driving past us and more about taking the time to create a memory I hope they hold on to when life doesn't treat them so nice and they need to be reminded that they are loved beyond measure and matter to someone....to ME.

Was that a run on sentence? Not sure because grammar rules go out the window when your thoughts spill out of you faster than you can type, leaving you with no choice but to chase after them....panting....yelling "WAIT-slow down, you're going too fast, I can't maintain this speed."

Do they listen? No....never. Not in this state. Even if I manage to keep it together on the outside so no one can see the chaos dancing gleefully behind my eyes, my thoughts always find a way to betray me and find their voice in the words I speak....

I don't know what the point of all this is, my writing it down. What I do know is that it's jumbled and erratic, nonsensical even. Hello, welcome to a mind hijacked by mania. I guess I should be technical and say "hypomania" but if you ask me, mania is mania and when you're experiencing it, you don't feel a textbook distinction. You feel your grasp on your mind and energy weakening and your willpower caving to mania's seductive allure. You can't see that it's deceiving. You don't realize it distorts your vision and perception of yourself and the world around you. It's "fun" I guess at first, but always leads to agitation, uneasiness, restlessness, and paranoia eventually...at least for me. In the midst of its chaos I can always hear a small part of me whispering "this is temporary-it will end, so prepare yourself." It does, it does indeed end, but not until you've (I've?) lost control of your (my?) mind and it's racing at a dangerous speed the human brain isn't designed to handle and it sends you (me, definitely)flying off a cliff.....soaring...then free falling to the ground below, a ground that is unforgiving and jars you (again, ME) back to reality. It's painful really, like smacking your (my) face into asphalt.

Ok, maybe that was a dramatic description but I don't find it to be an exaggeration....

Do any of the metaphors I used in an attempt to paint a picture of my manic thoughts make sense? I'm guessing not...I'm not as good at describing and tying thoughts together in a cohesive way like I used to be....you know when I prided myself on proper grammar and "technical" writing. But this isn't a research paper I'm turning in for a grade, so it doesn't really matter does it? So go f---yourself grammar police. Go nitpick someone else's sentence structure.

I can't sleep. I need to, but of course my inability to control my compulsions during these episodes has me checking Twitter on my phone every 45 seconds and letting my crazy come out in 140 character sprints. I always regret this later, feeling ashamed of letting people see this side of me. I've tried staying away, but you know, OCD goes hand in hand with my mania and I suck at saying no. At restraint. Obviously. I try to use Twitter as a means to distract me from what I'm experiencing...but I always end of being swept away in the excitement and euphoria, especially when something great happens (like getting my engagement ring and wedding band! Yep, that happened tonight. The sales lady cried when he put it on my finger. So did we in the van later on the way home.), and I let them speak for me. Then I come down from the high just enough to realize I was Socialite Sally-you know the person at the party who's had too much to drink and can't shut up?-and I feel foolish for making an ass out of myself.  When I go back to college I'm going to ditch social work and just major in being bipolar and minor in embarrassment.

Do I have anything else to say? My hand hurts. I should really scrawl my words more on paper than across a computer screen. I've missed this, the feel of paper, the smell of ink as it emanates from its tip, forever encapsulating my words on the page in front of me. I guess posting my words digitally is permanent too, but it doesn't feel the same, it's not as....personal? Is that the word? Not sure, but  that's as close as I'm going to get at this point.

My heart feels like it's about to burst. This clonazepam hasn't kicked in yet. It usually does. Maybe I'm building a tolerance to it. Which sucks because that means eventually, maybe next week, maybe 10 years from now I'll have to be on a bigger dose and it'll stop working.

I should post this, even though I said I'm going to take a break from the blog. I still intend to....I just keep finding things I want to share. I have to force myself to wait and just write them down elsewhere because I do indeed need a break to focus on other things....like actually writing on paper.

I'm going to post this...because I feel obligated to, that whole transparency thing. People should know this is what it's like, at least what it's like for me, being bipolar, being manic. More importantly if I share it there then maybe someone who needs to remember that they aren't alone will come across it, find themselves in my words, and be able to feel less hopeless...because they aren't alone...

So that's it then. That's all I've got. 5 pages of erratic nonsense.

I'll take it...it's my life after all.

My Initial Response to The NRA's "Database for the Mentally Ill" Request

"How many more copycats are waiting in the wings for their moment of fame from a national media machine that rewards them with wall-to-wall attention and a sense of identity that they crave, while provoking others to try to make their mark," LaPierre said. "A dozen more killers, a hundred more? How can we possibly even guess how many, given our nation's refusal to create an active national database of the mentally ill?"-Wayne LaPierre, NRA lobbyist

The NRA sickens me. Truly. They just gave a completely tone-deaf and disrespectful response to what occurred a week ago today. They believe arming school officials and having armed guards at school will prevent such tragedies. I don't agree with this perspective at all for varying reasons, but I know there are those of you who do. I don't want to debate that with you today. I simply want to address the question asked at the end of the above statement.

I'm a mother of two boys.

I'm a USAF disabled veteran and former police officer.

I've survived Postpartum Depression and Anxiety.

I currently live with mental illnesses called rapid cycling Bipolar Disorder type II and OCD.

 I take medication for these illness. 4 of them. Every day. Every.Single.Day.

I go to therapy. I see a psychiatrist.

There are days I struggle to keep it all together and not let the fact that I have some chemical imbalances stop me from living life.

There are days when I want to give up.

I have been hospitalized-not because I was a threat to those around me but because I was a threat to myself.

I am not a violent person, although I have been traumatized by and have experienced violence first hand.

I am not a threat to society.

I have no desire to own a weapon, and never have despite my knowledge of how to use, clean, and take them apart, and being properly trained and qualified on several of them-ranging from the M9 pistol I carried on my hip every shift to the M203 grenade launchers, M249's, and M4's I was trained to use in combat during deployments.

I do not belong in a database because I have a mental illness.

My mental illness does not mean I am a violent person.

I am a compliant, law-abiding citizen who still manages to function just like everyone else despite the effects my illness has on me.

My friends who also have mental illnesses? They don't belong in a database either.

They are just like me: men and women, mothers and fathers living with a painful "invisible" illness but still living their lives, working, raising their children, loving, helping others, and being productive members of society.

If our mental health records should be put into a database, then every person who applies for a weapons permit or who purchases a weapon, should submit to a comprehensive mental health evaluation, comprehensive background check similar to what's required to obtain a security clearance, and a weapons safety course. You can't say I should be registered in a mental illness database but not even mention that a more rigorous and comprehensive screening of those applying for weapons permits and buying guns is needs to be monitored as well.

It shouldn't take less than 20 minutes to walk in to WalMart and walk out with a gun, I don't care what you're using it for.

Also? No one should be allowed to own or put together an assault rifle or semiautomatic weapon. I don't understand why such a deadly weapon should be in the hands of the man who lives next door to me.

Yes, you have the right to bear arms, but maybe the kind of arms you're entitled to bear should be re-evaluated. Yes, you have the right to protect yourself in case of a threat or danger...but we all saw how that played out with the Trayvon Martin incident, didn't we? Maybe we start redefining what a threat is and what self-defense actually looks like. Maybe we start asking ourselves some hard questions and making some compromises. Not saying I'm right. Not saying the solutions or answers to this are simple. Just thinking out loud here.

You have the right to bear arms, but guess what? I have rights too. I have the right to have access to mental health services and resources that aren't underfunded and understaffed; services and resources that have qualified professionals working for them who treat us with the respect and dignity we deserve just as much as "normal" people.

You have your rights. What about mine? And the other 1 in 5 people who live with some form of mental illness in this country? You have a right to arm yourself...we have our rights to privacy...and to the same life you do.

Those who live with mental illness are not all dangerous. We don't all need to be tagged and stored in some database. If you REALLY think we do, then I say you should be too. Because while you may not have a mental illness you could be just as capable of violence. ANYONE with access to a gun can quickly and easily become a criminal-yes, even "responsible good guy gun owners."

I am mentally ill. I am not violent. I don't belong in your database. Stop stigmatizing me and those just like me. Stop using us to redirect criticism and calls to action by saying we are the problem. We are not your scapegoat.

I guess the old cliché is true: "you can't teach an old dog new tricks." No you can't. Not when their greed disguised as advocating for"rights" is stronger than their desire to admit they could stand to learn a few things.

Go fuck yourself, NRA and hold another press conference when you have something more substantial to say.

Mixed

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"I could be daydreaming but for a moment And somehow they're creeping back in I could be sleeping awakened the torrent Somehow I get caught in their grips again

And here I am in my shame spiral I'm sucked in to it again And I reach out for your benevolent opinion You bring the light back in

Don't leave me here with all these critical voices Cause they do their best to bring me down When I'm alone with all these negative voices I will need your help to turn them down..." Spiral/Havoc and Bright Lights/Alanis Morrisette

no one loves you. you're so weak. first name incapable, last name burden-that's you.

the Voice. it mercilessly plays it's record of shame endlessly on my inner loudspeaker, stirring up my irrational insecurities into a paranoid frenzy.

no one loves you. you're so weak. first name incapable, last name burden, that's you.

tiny arms reach up & around my neck, pulling me in close as if to say "You're mine, I won't let It take you."

boyish grins light up their faces as giggles escape from their little bodies as if to say "you make us so happy."

little legs struggle to climb into my lap, seeking solace & comfort as if to say "I need you...we're safe here, together."

his voice travels confidently through the phone, reminding me once again that I haven't been abandoned to wander Illness' deadly streets on my own. "you're not alone, you have me, I'm here, I came back, I'm not going anywhere. I love you, we'll get through this together," he says.

I am loved, they love me. I'm strongest when I'm weak because I don't give up. first name Addy, last name capable, that's me.

I am loved. I am needed. I am strong. I am capable....no matter how mixed & chaotic this illness makes me.

*I've been in a hypomanic/mixed mood since we left. It's been hard, but thanks to my meds & my family I've been managing ok....until this past week. I've upped my meds again & am trying to wait patiently for the Austin VA to place me in their system and assign me a psychiatrist....I was told today it's going to take 3-4 weeks. I'll be fighting like hell to keep the heaviness & chaos from weighing me down...and praying my mind doesn't get any worse. In my next post I swear I'll finally tell you about the awesomeness that has become our lives in Austin...and those fears I mentioned last post-have to share those too. In the meantime, enjoy your Labor Day weekend lovelies.*

Then & Now

Over the weekend I started my new dose of Lamictal...another 50mgs to try and put the brakes on my latest (and longest) high. Last week I was reeling from it...dizzy from the frenzy.

This week I feel my mind turning around & going in the opposite direction...everything is slowing down.

My thoughts are still all over the place, but instead of shouting & screaming to be heard they mumble as they mill about...whispering their requests & anxieties from dark, shadowy corners they've been banished to.

Somewhere between the ups & downs of this disorder, there lies a middle ground called stability...a place where medication keeps everything from getting out of control. A place where the highs don't send me skyrocketing into the stratosphere and the lows don't entrench & isolate me in the darkness of depression.

I know recovery ( i.e. stability) is not a myth, some city of gold that's only been talked about but never actually seen or experienced. It's real. I've talked to people who live there, who have managed to build a healthy & stable life within the valleys of mental illness.

I hope I'm closer to residing there than I was a year ago. Last July I walked into the VA hospital crying and begging the social worker & intake psych to help me as Alex slept in my arms. Last July I wanted to die and knew I would if I didn't get help that day. I was willing to take anything, do anything, just to make the chaos stop for 10 seconds. That's all I wanted. A 10 second reprieve from a mind that was too scary and confusing. I just wanted to be able to breathe without feeling like I was suffocating. This July I no longer want to die and I can breathe at least 10 seconds longer, taking in bigger gulps of air & of life in the process. A year later I still have highs and lows but they cycle at a much slower pace than they used to. I no longer wonder how I'm going to feel from hour to hour. My focus is now on managing how I feel from day to day.

I know I still have a ways to go before I get there, to stability. But where I had no hope of it a year ago, I feel it now. I know it now. I can see it on the horizon, off in the distance, welcoming me like an old friend...waiting for me to come and make myself at home.

There are upcoming changes & transitions I'm worried about that may threaten my progress...and lots of good, exciting new things I'm looking forward to....so that's why I'm more concerned about this impending low than I'd like to admit. I hate putting pressure on myself but I can't help but feel as though everything over the next 4 weeks depends on how well I ride out this about face in mood.

I'm not really sure of where this post is going, and I feel like I've spewed enough disjointed thoughts so I'll end it here with this:

I painted today....something I wasn't doing a year ago. Crazy how much you change in a year, eh?

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Falling Off The Edge of My Sanity

"You're going to die." Hands began to close around my neck.

My heart was racing.

Panic welled up at the back of my throat, my breaths coming faster and shorter as fear consumed me.

I could feel them. On my neck. The hands. Closing off my air supply.

"You're going to die."

Black. Everything was black.

Just as I opened my mouth to scream, I heard his voice next to me.

"So you want me to heat this up in the pot, here on the stove?"

I stared at him, my panic subsiding as I realized where I was.

"Um, well I burned some of the rice yesterday, so some of it is stuck to the bottom. You might just want to scoop some out-"

"And nuke it? Ok."

I quickly turned my back to him hoping he wouldn't be able to see the terror in my eyes.

There were no hands choking me. I was standing at the stove sautéing a pan of penne pasta, vegetables & sausage.

I was in my house. With my kids. With Bertski. Safe. The evening sun eased its way through the kitchen windows, reassuring me that nightfall was still a few hours away. It was light where I was...not dark.

As I gripped the countertop my mind swirled with too many thoughts and questions about what had just happened.

Did I black out? Was I hallucinating? Delusional? Am I insane?

I turned off the stove, mumbled something about needing to sit down and sank into the sofa, my face buried hands as tears stung my eyes and flowed down my cheeks.

"I'm not going to die," I heard a tiny thought whisper.

Instead of hands closing themselves around my neck, I felt arms, strong and comforting pull me in close as he sat next to me, holding me, rubbing my back slowly.

No words. Just silence punctuated by stifled sobs.

I've been hypomanic for 8 days. It's the longest episode of mania I've ever experienced. I usually cycle through it pretty quickly with it only lasting 2-3 days tops.

The first two days are full of euphoria, restless energy, impulsive compulsions, and racing thoughts. The third day tends to be where the racing thoughts become frantic, and I'm on edge; agitated and irritable. I lack patience and the slightest thing can send my anxiety through the roof.

But this time, it's lasted longer. I've been turned all the way up and moving faster than normal the past 7 days. Searching for a place to live and preparing to move cross country has had my mind and body on fast forward, propelling me each day toward the edge. I've had fun. I've enjoyed my family. Was spoiled rotten for our anniversary and I soaked up every drop of love being poured over me.

But today. Today it was too much. Too fast. Too loud. I was on sensory overload. I couldn't keep up. My mind moved at such a dizzying pace concentration and focus were foreign to me...so much so that trying to focus on things like changing diapers and being peppered with questions about the Bubble Guppies overwhelmed me.

My thoughts were erratic. Chaotic. Running together, and bleeding into one another. All over the place.

I felt like I was spinning. Out of control. Twinges of panic gripped me all day and I felt nauseated.

I reached out for support. I text Bertski. Called my psych. Took my meds. Got the boys down for a nap.

I even painted.

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But it wasn't enough. By the time he got home, I could feel fear grabbing ahold of me but I had no idea why. There was nothing to be afraid of. I was safe. In my house. With my kids.

But as I stood at the stove finishing dinner, my mind slipped off the edge, time stopped, and I felt the flames of madness hot on my face.

On the outside I appeared to be functioning normally but on the inside I was being deconstructed, my mind completely unhinged for a few brief terrifying seconds.

I'm so glad his voice, his touch, his strength, his presence brought me back before I fell too deep.

He took care of the boys and dinner while I laid on the couch, crying and desperately trying to grasp reality, trying to comprehend what had just taken place.

"I just want to be better," I told him.

"You're getting there baby. You've been doing really well the past month. It's okay. I think the move triggered you. It's okay. You have support. We're right here."

I'm safe. In my house. With my kids. With my future husband and best friend.

It was just a moment of madness. Terrifyingly real and something I hope to never experience ever again.

But I'm scared it will. What if it does? What will happen to me?

No Shame Day: My Thoughts on Stigma, My Story

When I jumped on the Twitter this morning, I saw a tweet with a link to a blog  on Huffington Post titled, "No Shame Day: Working to Eradicate Mental Illness Stigma in the Black Community." After reading it, I clicked on the #NoShame hashtag and saw tweet after tweet from African-Americans detailing their struggles with mental illness and sharing how the stigma within the Black community regarding mental illness has had an impact on them.

I went to The Siwe Project website and cried reading story after story of other Black men & women who have had to suffer in silence because of how crippling and degrading the stigma is. Suffering from and living with a mental illness is difficult enough-having to battle and fight against stigma in addition to it makes it excruciating. It chokes out hope, leaving a person feeling alone, isolated, and unable to use their voice to advocate for themselves or their mental & emotional well-being.

I cried. A lot. I'm still crying as I type this. I wish I could put into words how encouraging and empowering it is to see other minorities living with depression, anxiety, and Bipolar Disorder. Seeing a photo of an African-American woman in a t-shirt that says "Bipolar II" makes me cry with relief because I recognize that I'm not a freak. I'm not weird. I don't have a "that's for white people" disease.

I've mentioned it before and I'll say it again:

Black People Don't Talk About Their Mental Health

 We don't believe in the science that says our minds are malfunctioning due to imbalances in brain chemistry. We don't believe in the science that shows that stress, trauma and other environmental factors can alter a person's brain chemistry and thus lay the foundation for a mental illness or mood disorder to build itself upon.

We don't believe in anxiety because the Black Church tells us that we are "too blessed to be stressed."

We don't believe in depression because really, we survived slavery, what in the world could we have to be depressed about? If our ancestors could survive oppression and if our grandparents could endure the cruelties of racism and Jim Crow, then we can get through anything. Without complaining about it.

To be diagnosed with something other than a physical illness just means that you have "issues" , and are "crazy." And if you are "crazy" you and your family don't talk about it. You don't get help for it. You are shamed into silence, an embarrassment to your family.

That's why seeing photos and reading tweets & stories of others boldly declaring their diagnosis' has me in tears. I'm both humbled and emboldened by their courage to speak out loud because I know how difficult it is culturally for them to do so.

Finally. Black people are finally starting to talk about their mental health. Their struggles, their diagnosis', the treatment they are getting.

Finally. I'm meeting other African-Americans who are "like" me. I'm not alone.

So I'm writing this post today to lend my voice to the movement that is saying enough is enough, let's silence the voice of stigma by raising our own.

Many of you already know my story because you've been reading it here, for the past year and a half. But for those who don't here it is:

My name is A'Driane. I have been struggling with mental illness since I was 16. In my early 20's I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety (GAD) & Depression. After the birth of my second son I suffered from GAD and Postpartum Depression. Although I was in treatment for both, my shifts in mood and symptoms became much worse.

I was diagnosed a year ago this month (OMG it's been a year already?!) with rapid cycling Bipolar Disorder II in addition to my GAD. I take 3 medications daily to manage my symptoms and have an excellent psychiatrist. Being in treatment for the past year and becoming educated on what Bipolar Disorder is has helped me recognize that I first started having manic and depressive episodes in my early 20's.

My psychiatrist believes that there are several things that have contributed my developing this illness. Family history (my grandfather is schizophrenic), environment & trauma (I was abused in my childhood & teen years) and the changes in hormones after the birth of my children all created what she calls my "bipolar biology."

My treatment plan involves medication, therapy, yoga, dancing, writing, and painting. I've also found a few fantastic online support groups on Facebook, and read books, blog posts, and articles to help me understand everything I can about my disorder.

Compliance and the road to stability has not been easy and there are days when the weight of it all overwhelms me and I want to give up. There are days when no matter what I do, my illness still gets the better of me and I want to give in and give up hope.

But I don't because I want to make it. I want to live. For myself, for my boys, and so others can know that it's possible to live a healthy life.

My hope is that days like today, and having a month like July deemed, "National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month", will help de-stigmatize mental illness in our community and culture.

African-Americans don't seek treatment for mental illness because they don't understand what it is and what it is not, so I'm hoping No Shame Day and increased awareness educates our community and encourages those who are suffering to seek treatment.

We CAN eradicate stigma in our various communities, regardless of race. But it's going to take more open dialogue, more people choosing to own & tell their stories, and most importantly, being educated.

Dedicating days to doing all of these things are crucial to helping change the conversation around mental illness. I'm proud to be doing my part.

For more No Shame Day stories, you can click here, and you can also read a piece from Ebony Magazine by writer Mychal Denzel Smith here

Dear Insomnia, I Hate You.

Dear Insomnia, This is the 5th (6th?) night in a row we've hung out.

You dropped by completely unannounced expecting me to party these nights away with you...

Maybe you were really looking for Snooki and got lost on a detour that ended at my crib, I don't know.

What I do know is that I like to swathe myself in my cozy comforter, a cumulus nimbus cloud of pillows and snore my way through dreams that star Will Ferrel and the cast of The Big Bang Theory.

And be jarred awake as my cheek starts to swim in the cold drool that's formed the Great Lakes on my pillow.

I like to sleep. Soundly. Undisturbed.

In fact the only people allowed to disturb my slumber are my children...and that's only because well...they're my children. Someone has to feed them and change pee soaked diapers at o dark thirty in the morning...if I'm not awake to do that, they might wind up eating bath salts and start eating people while they throw feces all over my walls. We just cant have that.

I need to sleep so I can have energy when they come barreling full force into my room, so full of combustible energy they're practically nuclear.

That's why I need my sleep, Insomnia. Because I have nuclear missiles to raise. You can't do that ish half-asleep-someone could get an eye poked out or start Armageddon....

And while I love Jesus, I gotta be honest and say I'm not ready to meet Him yet, not at 29. 79? Maybe. 109? Definitely.

But I digress....

Sleep. I need it because without it, I go skyrocketing off to another galaxy...one full of euphoric gas, rainbows, talking unicorns, million dollar gift cards to Target, and other glorious things one feels as they begin to tango with hypomania.

Without sleep, this over wired brain begins to short circuit....synapses, axons, dendrites, and other things I should've paid more attention to when my processor lectured on them in my Human Development class start to....misfire...yea I think that's the term she used.

Anyway the point is without sleep my brain's homeostasis is thrown outta wack and my bipolar comes out to play. Which is what you wanted in the first place and absolutely love because you two like to party together. Problem is after a few days of getting high, the twins Anxiety and Agitation show up to crash the party, bringing Depression and her dark, brooding thoughts with her.

As fun as the initial moments of hypomania are, I really prefer to be on the level side of things, so I'd really like you to leave. You're dangerous...like playing with firecrackers dangerous, and I'd like to keep my body parts intact and spare my family a spin on the bipolar merry go round.

I'm sorry but staring off into the darkness while everyone else is knee deep in REM cycles isn't my idea of fun. And again, neither is the crash that comes after the high.

You're just too much of a trigger. I can't have you around. You've gotta go.

So please free the Sandman from wherever you're holding him hostage and hit the road. Bother someone who can actually make you work for them and not against 'em.

Consider this a warning. If you fail to heed this warning, expect Ambien & Trazadone to pay you a visit. They're like the Chuck Norris' of sleep meds.

I'm not afraid to use them.

Signed,

Me

I Couldn't Write But Was Feeling Restless So Instead I Painted

My laptop crapped out on me today. I was planning on spending 45-50 minutes journaling and writing some posts, but when the screen on my craptop went black for the fifth time, I gave up on that idea and wondered what to do with all the restless creative energy I was feeling. The last couple of days I've been feeling restless, wanting to get lost in being creative. Colors are dancing before my eyes-I envision their placement on giant stretches of canvas when I sleep at night. My mind is busy writing my life experiences into chapters for my memoir (more on that later), and it seems even the simple and smallest details of my daily life are the perfect fodder for blog posts. ( Don't worry, I'll spare you from having to read 95% of them. That's what the draft folder is for.) When I hear music, my body wants to get lost in movement, and my desire to take a dance class reminds me to put it on the "Things I must do once we're settled in Austin," list. (Again-more on this later)

Paint. Write. Dance. I'm craving creativity & expression in these areas. While I'm putting concentrating on dance until after we move, I plan on directing my creative energy into writing and painting this summer.... I want to spend at least 30-60 minutes a day exercising my creative muscle....I'm intrigued and excited to see what I come up with, especially as I continue to explore the world of paint, which is a new one for me. (And yet again, more on this later. I owe you at least 3 posts-remind me)

That's why when my laptop gave up, I figured the next best thing to do was grab a piece of canvas, my brushes & paints, settle into a corner of the living room and just...paint. I did this last night as well.

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The pieces I did last night and this afternoon kind of caught me off guard. I did some experimenting with thinning out my buttery acrylics with water, and here's what emerged...

This one describes how my thoughts and thought processes are when I'm hypomanic. Everything is colorful, vibrant, I feel alive, full of energy...some of it is anxious, agitated, restless energy, some of it is productive and punctuated with lots of laughter & creative projects that range from painting to cooking. Things are fantastical, special...My thoughts run & bleed into each other blending reality with the fantasies my mind conjures up. This of course makes my concentration and focus blurry at times. I haven't settled on a name for this one yet, but it will probably be "Manic Thoughts" or something along those lines.

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This one is called "Distortion" or "A Distorted Perception of Self," I haven't decided yet which sounds better. It started off colorful and very bold, but halfway through turned into a mishmash of colors than blended together to create a muted look in terms of color. I spent about 10 minutes just throwing water at it, watching the paint leave trails on the canvas. It's ugly, it's messy, distorted, and a little chaotic...but to me, it's how I see myself sometimes through the dirty lens of mental illness.

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So, I didn't get to write today like I wanted but I guess it's just as well. I did something I enjoyed, and that has me feeling pretty grounded....even though hypomania is trying to lift my feet off the ground. I'm trying to stay level. We'll see how it goes.

Have My Struggles with Mental Illness Caused Developmental Delays in My Son?

We took Alex to the pediatrician today for his 2 year checkup. Alex has always been on the small side when it comes to his weight,(even though he weighed 6lbs 7oz at birth) so I was expecting a conversation about how much he's gained, what we can do to help him gain more if needed, where he's at on the growth curve, etc.  I was expecting to talk about he's gone from eating nearly everything as an infant to close to nothing as a toddler and has redefined the term "picky eater." I was expecting to talk about his Early Intervention evaluation and the 25% language delay he has. I was hoping to talk about constructive and healthy ways to handle his tantrums when he doesn't get his way and his moodiness.

What I wasn't expecting was a conversation about how my mental health was to blame for a decline in his growth back when he was 9 months old....back when I was battling PPD & severe anxiety.

I was not expecting to be told that my mental health has been having a negative impact on my son's development.

There I was, sitting in the pediatrician's office, stammering and trying to defend myself.

"I was on medication...I...there were days I was sad, but...I did my best to make sure all of his basic needs were met...I mean, yes I did struggle with bonding with him, but...I...I tried to push through it...I did my best."

There I was, sitting in the pediatrician's office, having my worst fears confirmed and exposed.

Despite everything I've done to prevent it, I've damaged my child.

Of course he's moody and temperamental.

Of course his language is delayed.

Of course he's not doing as well as he should.

Of course he was a fussy baby.

I was depressed during my pregnancy.

I was depressed and anxious for the first year and a half of his life.

PPD & anxiety dominated me.

I didn't bond with him the way his dad did.

Out of the two of us, I was the parent who was unhealthy.

It's my fault.

I tried to get help. At my 6week checkup I told my OB how I was feeling. He sent me to my primary care doctor who said I was just a tired new mother of two kids. She said she doubted I'd feel the way I did for very long and said she thought I was fine. But I pushed anyway and she reluctantly wrote me script for a low dose of Zoloft. I took it for a year. I sought counseling. The first two therapists I talked to told me what I was experiencing was normal because I was a single mother. "Nothing is wrong with you, who wouldn't be stressed?' I kept hearing. I kept getting worse. When Alex was 10 months old I found Postpartum Progress and started getting treatment at the Postpartum Stress Center.  I found the #PPDChat Army and started talking to other sufferers & survivors. Getting help enabled me to start emerging from PPD's grip, but my anxiety and mood swings became more drastic. I read a blog post about something called Bipolar Disorder 2 and cried because I knew that I was having the same symptoms. Two weeks later I was diagnosed and started seeking treatment.

Since then I have been doing everything I can to get better and get healthy. I have fought my way out of the darkest corners of my mind and done my best to still provide a healthy environment for my sons in spite of my struggles with motherhood and illness.

But even though I know all of this, I can't help but think that Alex's pediatrician is right. I can't help but read the research on various websites like womenshealth.gov that says

Researchers believe postpartum depression in a mother can affect her baby. It can cause the baby to have:

  • Delays in language development
  • Problems with mother-child bonding
  • Behavior problems
  • Increased crying

Or this post from Postpartum Progress back in 2008 that says a study finds antenatal depression can contribute to developmental delays. Or this one from 2011 that discusses the risks of not being treated for depression, anxiety, or another mood disorder.

I've read post after post about the impact my mental illness during pregnancy and postpartum could have on Alex as he develops and have hoped and prayed he'd still be healthy.

Back in December I had spent a 2 therapy sessions letting go of the guilt over not being treated for my depression during pregnancy, and forgiving myself. When I was pregnant with Alex, I had never heard of antenatal depression, and my OB never mentioned it. Whenever I talked about my mood swings and sadness, he said it was normal and just because of changes in my hormones-"don't worry too much about it," he said. "Once you have the baby, you'll feel better-this is just a  physically challenging pregnancy and it's stressing you out. Try to take it easy," he had reassured me. It took me until this past December to forgive myself for it.

And then there I was, sitting in the pediatrician's office today, listening to him,  feeling all the shame, pain, fear, guilt, and negative emotions of the past 2 years wash over me.

I've spent the afternoon and this evening being angry and ashamed of myself for just taking everyone's word for it. For being sick in the first place. For going untreated. I feel like I should have done more, even though I know in my heart of heart's I did all I could.

Maybe the pediatrician was just voicing his concern and opinion. Maybe he's right. Maybe my mental health during the first two years of life is to blame for the delays in development and his mood swings. Maybe it's not to blame and Alex would've been like this if I had been happy and healthy. Maybe Alex will grow out of this and be just fine.

I don't know what to make of this, really. I'm trying to process it all and not let what happened today settle in and take root, making me question my self-worth and value as a mother. I'm doing my best to keep in mind that I'm doing everything I can now and getting him the help he needs to keep thriving. I'm trying not to blame myself.

But it's so damn hard y'all.

The guilt is suffocating.

On Getting Mental Health Treatment at the VA & Your Psych Saying "It's Time to Kick Your Bipolar in the Ass"

I really can't complain about my psychiatrist. She's really soft spoken but understanding, accommodating, knows her stuff, is thorough, listens to my sometimes disjointed explanations of my symptoms (this is where my mood chart helps, BIG TIME), and lets me barrage her with whatever questions pop up. In fact, if I were to have any complaint at all, it wouldn't really be with her. It would be with the VA hospital. I'm grateful that the Dept of Veteran Affairs has a major hospital in Philly I can go to for treatment. I just hate that it has the all too familiar "hurry up and wait" operational model like the military. It's the epitome of bureaucracy. Their mental health clinic is fairly decent, but because they are understaffed (like much of the VA as a whole), each psych's patient load is pretty heavy and they are always double booked. If you call and leave a message, it usually takes 2-4 days for your psych to get back to you, and their voicemails are always full.

When you come in for an appointment, the wait time can be torture, sometimes taking 2-3 hours. You arrive for your appointment, sit in the lobby with Vets from Vietnam to Iraq, listen to them argue and swap war & treatment stories, and strain your neck to see if your psych is the one walking through the double doors. Fatigued and bored, you practically leap to your feet when your name is called...if it's your psych, you practically skip off to their office. If it's the receptionist handing you the sheet that lists all your meds, you flop back down on your seat in disappointment. Lots of sighs and complaints punctuate the atmosphere.

While you're waiting for your psych to come rescue you from the chaos of the waiting room, two things ALWAYS happen.

  • A fight breaks out...usually between two Vets in their 70's. I've even seen two Vets in wheelchairs go at it. That one was both sad and hilarious to watch
  • A Vet with severe war trauma sits in a corner of the waiting room, quietly mumbling to himself...which doesn't seem out of the ordinary at all until he starts hallucinating. Suddenly he's carried off by memories of combat and everyone in the waiting room is either a comrade or an enemy. This usually throws the everyone in the waiting room into a frenzy of confusion, unease, and fear. Sometimes other Vets are triggered and this adds to the erupting chaos. "Code Red, Level 3 on Floor 7" blares over the loud speaker, security shows up, and doctors come rushing out from behind the double doors to help calm the melee.
I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm either in the hallway or the bathroom hiding when either of those two things happen, keeping an eye out for my psych.

When she does finally come to get me, escaping to her office is a welcome reprieve. She usually only gets to see me for 10-15 minutes because she has so many appointments to keep, but she does her best to take her time with me, asking about the kids, how I'm doing in school, how I'm dealing with things. Sometimes this pushes our time together to 30 minutes instead of 10, but she always reassures me it's ok-she'd rather take the time to make sure I have everything I need than rush me out.

That is why, like I said, I can't really complain about her. She rocks. She treats me like a person and not an object or a file number. I can tell she really cares about my well being and wants to see me get better. This is what keeps me from complaining about her taking 2-4 days to call me back when I'm struggling.

That's why when I called and left a message on her voicemail yesterday and she called me back 10 minutes later, I was in shock.

"Hi, A'Driane. I just got your message and wanted to take some time to call you back before I see my next patient. I've been wondering how you've been doing since we talked on Friday. How are you feeling?"

As I started blurting out the answer, telling her that I've gone from just being depressed to being both hypomanic and depressed, having ruminating, racing thoughts, and have seen my OCD symptoms starting to dominate my behavior, she listened quietly. When I was done, she was silent for about a minute before she spoke.

"You know, A'Driane, while I think the Lamictal has been helping you some,  I don't think it's enough anymore. After we spoke on Friday, I took a good look at your chart and my notes...and...I think it's time we get more aggressive in your treatment. The rapid cycling you've been experiencing is more difficult to treat, more complicated than I anticipated. I...I have to admit I'm going to need some help developing a more aggressive approach. We just got a team of manic depressive specialists on staff, and I think it would be a good idea to go ahead and set you up with a consult to see them. I'm also thinking some CBT will help you develop some better coping strategies, so I'm going to have you set up with one of our therapists, okay? I know it takes alot for you to get here, and you have the boys, but I think if you can get to these appointments they can help us start to really get this under control for you. I guess what I'm trying to say is that it's time to kick your Bipolar in the ass. Let's throw everything we can at this. I want to get you healthy. What do you think?"

Well first of all I'm shocked you just said "ass". Kinda awesome. Sounds good to me. I'm feeling pretty desperate so I'm game for anything at this point. I just want need relief. BAD.

"And that's what I'm going to try to get for you. So I'll set these consults up for you, and in the meantime, let's double your Lamictal dose now, and go up another 50mg in about 2 weeks. I'm also going to prescribe you an anti psychotic to help with the OCD and the thoughts you're having. Let's also try taking some Xanax to help calm you down until we get these meds to you. I'm ordering them now, you should have them before the week is out. Do you have enough to last you until then?"

Yes.

"Good. One more thing-promise me you'll go to the ER if suicidal thoughts kick in-promise?"

Promise.

"Ok. How did the end of the semester go? How are the boys?"

And that, people is why I love her.

So...I guess it's time to start fighting harder and kick some ass.

I'm ready.

Vlog: My Bipolar Life 1-3

"My recovery from manic depression has been an evolution, not a sudden miracle."

-Patty Duke

My psychiatrist has been telling me since I was diagnosed last July that  for me, a person with Bipolar Disorder, recovery means stability, having less episodes, and being in control of my illness. She says while there was no cure for this illness,  it's possible to find stability and live a healthy life...it's just going to take some hard work and patience on my part.

I believed her back then and I still want to believe her now. One of the hardest parts of this journey has been trying to find the right cocktail of medicines. I thought  once I found that in March things would get easier. I think that's why I've been so disappointed lately-my latest round of medication has helped significantly...but I'm still struggling and recognizing new symptoms that I need to learn how to manage.  The setbacks have been hard to live with...there are days I'm overwhelmed and just want to give up.

I thought instead of writing about some of the things I've been struggling with lately, I'd talk about them in a video. It was WAY harder than I thought, and pretty emotional-totally wasn't expecting that.

So forgive the tears...I apologize up front if my thoughts seem disjointed. My mind has been a wreck lately, all over the place. I talk about this in the video as well as my struggle to connect with others, and some fears I have.

I had to break it up into three parts...forgive the poor editing. (I recorded it on my phone)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dq-tFJZPiTo]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8QH9ip5R9TA]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h-xL8wtv5_8]

It's Too Loud In Here

My thoughts are loud this morning. Too noisy. Too active. Too frantic. Too chaotic.

Completely unharnessed,they bounce around my mind like hundreds of tiny balls in a pinball machine.

Up & down they are propelled & pushed this way & that, knocking into & bouncing off of each other. I feel like I'm in an overcrowded room, but it's just me.

Raucous...I've got a rather noisy raucous going on inside my head.

It's confusing...disorienting. Everything is moving too fast...one thought just blends seamlessly into the next.

It's like getting caught on a merry go round that's spinning out of control...you can't jump off so you just hold on and pray the ride is over soon.

Fleeting...my thoughts don't stay in one place long enough for any kind of processing to occur.

But yet here I am...watching Super Why & Avengers with the boys. Eating breakfast, changing diapers, doing laundry, eagerly anticipating my psych's voice on the other end of the line telling me what the next course of action is...trying to be an active participant in our lives. Being a mother while needing mothering myself.

My only prayer during episodes like this is that my boys suffer no damage. I do my best to keep it all contained so it doesn't spill out and ravage them the way it does me.

So I function with my dysfunction instead of trying to beat it.

I try and lose myself in each squeal and every laugh that fills the house in the hopes they will drown out the noise in my head fighting to be heard.

It's days like this I could use a mute button.

Manic Monday: From Diagnosis to Acceptance

Today I'm honored and excited to have my friend Kimberly from All Work & No Play here on 'Confessions! Raw, authentic, honest, sweet, and full of saucy humor, she easily became one of my favorite people when we "met" nearly a year ago.  Reading about her diagnosis and experience with bipolar disorder led me to seek more aggressive treatment which eventually led to my own diagnosis of BP.  Please give her a warm welcome as you read her beautiful words, y'all.

**************************************************

The nurse directed me back to a small room in the ER where Dr. B, my psychiatrist, was waiting.

I flashed a nervous smile, pulled my sleeves over the self-inflicted cuts on my arm and said, “I’m not doing good.”

He motioned to the chair and I sat.

“I think we need to change our plans Kim. I’m going to put you on a mood stabilizer and an anti-psychotic, ones that we use to treat people with bipolar disorder.”

“What?”

“Kim, you are bipolar.”

The magnitude of the diagnosis forcefully shook the smooth path of life that I was desperately trying to get back on.

I watched as it bent and curved and crumbled.

It grew hills and jagged mountains.

The path, once full of promise, now looked vapid; felt hauntingly uninviting.

It was too loud and too quiet.

It was too bright and too dark.

It felt too euphoric and too depressed and too angry.

It was too peaceful and too whimsical.

All at the same time.

And that light I’d been trying to reach for with all of my being, the end of my battle against postpartum depression and anxiety, was thrown so far at the end of the confusion.

I let my hope drop over the ledge of the path.

*******

Bipolar 2 disorder was devastating diagnosis and at times, I refused to believe it.

I remember walking into Dr. B’s office numerous times and asking him if I was still bipolar.

Each time he nodded his head yes.

Each time I said “damn” under my breath.

For days and weeks I kept the diagnosis a secret.

I felt very ashamed of it. So much so that I dissociated myself from the people I needed most at the time.

Even my friends from a postpartum depression support group.

I felt that I just didn’t belong there.

I felt like a freak.

Through Dr. B, I’ve learned, and now believe, that there is nothing wrong about being bipolar.

There is nothing to be ashamed of.

You have cancer.

You have diabetes.

I have bipolar 2 disorder.

So what?

I’m not my illness.

My illness isn’t me.

My name is Kimberly.

I am somebody’s sister, aunt, daughter, and granddaughter.

I am a friend.

I am a Mother.

I am a wife.

I am a nurse.

I am creative.

I am sassy.

I am ridiculously funny.

I am smart.

I am compassionate.

I am in love with Chuck Norris.

I am me.

And that is beautiful.

Just like anyone with any type of medical condition, I still struggle with my illness.  I have bumps and bruises and scars from navigating this bipolar road to prove it.

But it gets better.

And I have hopes that I can live a normal life just like the rest of ‘em.

I know I can.

I just have to keep fighting every day to get there.

And I will.

Manic Monday: Updates and My New Love

WHEW! It's Monday! I can't believe it, seriously. It's MONDAY, people. I have so much going on it feels like it's the middle of a grueling week, and it's only Monday. So much to tell you where do I start? Hmmmm.....

My head is spinning. I can't tell if it's from everything that's going on or from the medium iced coffee I now regret ingesting. Note to self, no more caffeine. If any of you fine readers have alternative solutions for trying to stay awake amidst medicinal side effects such as fatigue, please let a sufferer know....

Ok. So what is going on? SCHOOL. COLLEGE. MIDTERMS. Seriously, this semester took a sharp turn into WTFville very quickly and I've had more than I think a human can handle due daily for the past week and a half or so. Seriously, I know my profs are Christians, but between you and me I think they're smoking something because who assigns this much work? Clearly my profs do. It hasn't been fun, to say the least.....

But fun IS on the horizon because SPRING BREAK IS NEXT WEEK! I know understand why students go to Mexico and lose all inhibition and get wasted for 5 days in the middle of March. You've gotta release the pressure and tension somehow, right?

How am I going to release the pressure and tension during spring mini vacay? First I'm going to have a margarita. Or ten. On the rocks, none of that fru fru frozen nonsense. Next I'm going to board a plane and head to my dream city: Austin, a city I hope to one day live in, even if it's just for a year or two. Yep that's right, Brennan and I are heading cross country to the Lonestar State. It will be my first vacation, my first real break in over TEN (count em, TEN!) years. I think its long overdue don't you think?

I'm very excited because I will be away from the East Coast and seeing some family I haven't seen in years, so I'm sure it's going to be a swell trip. And I'm only kidding about the ten margaritas, I'm on meds, so I will of course be responsible and only allow myself one, two maximum.

Speaking of meds, guess what? I've jumped out of the dating game and into what I'm hoping is a long term relationship with Lamictal. Y'all I've been on it for a solid month and that's how I feel: solid. Still hypo manic, still a little (tiny) bit depressed here and there but it's finally manageable. I feel like my mind and emotions are in a checks and balances system that works. I don't want to jinx myself but I really do think that between Lamictal, Abilify, and my anti anxiety meds I've found the right cocktail. So I think I've found "the one," and I'm so in love, I can't believe it ;)

Speaking of my illness, I was asked by my professor to speak to her abnormal psych class about living with PPD and BP. I did and even though I cried, it went very well. It felt good to be able to be open and transparent with others, especially Christians, and I'm do glad I did it. I hope I eliminated some shame and stigma by speaking out....

And speaking of shame, there will be no shame in my game when it comes to Dance Party Fridays, people, because I've kicked it up a notch. I ordered some dancing scarves...

20120305-155937.jpg And ribbons....

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And can't WAIT to use them in a video! They came in the mail today and made. my. Monday. So pumped, I think my first song with them will be some Florence and the Machine...what do you think?

So in a nutshell that's my life at the moment. On this Monday.

How was your Monday? Any Spring Break plans with your kids or vacations lined up in the future? Feel free to dish in the comments ;)

(is it Friday yet?!)