bipolar disorder

#WorldBipolarDay: I'm More Than a Diagnosis

I was diagnosed with "rapid cycling bipolar disorder type 2" in July 2011.

Since then I've tried combinations of 7 different medications at varying doses in an attempt to find a medication regimen that's effective. Under the guidance of an experienced OBGYN and a psychiatrist with a background in pharmacology, I took 2 out of 3 of medications during my last pregnancy and while breastfeeding. Lamictal has always been the stabilizer that works the best and is my favorite. It's the only medication that's given me minimal side effects. Last year I ditched Prozac for Lithium, and while I still cycle between episodes of depression and hypomania, adding Lithium has 1) made them milder than what I'm used to and 2) given me longer periods of stability between each one. 

I've had 2 therapists and 3 psychiatrists. I was hospitalized in October 2012 for suicidal ideations.  

My greatest fear is that despite treatment, this illness wil still find a way to take me from this life before I'm ready.

HOWEVER.

I'm an artist. 

A mother.  

A wife.  

A USAF Veteran.  

A survivor.  

An advocate.  

A devoted Prince fan.  

I may grapple with the symptoms and reality of this illness, but I'm not ashamed of it. It defines parts of me but not others. It is a part of who I am but I am not it. I'm more than this diagnosis, and day in, and day out, I make a conscious choice to fight for my life and my health every day. 

So here's to 5 years since I walked into the VA mental health clinic in Philly with my baby strapped to my chest, sweating and anxious, ready to end my life, but walked out with answers and a treatment plan instead. 

Here's to those of you doing what you can to stay healthy and present in your lives every day as you manage this beast of an illness. We can do this. I believe in us.

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*Last year I was privileged to share about my experiences living with bipolar disorder for a new website for patients and caregivers called  More Than My Diagnosis.  There you can find videos from actual people living with mental health conditions discussing topics such as self-care, treatment, managing day to day life + relationships + working, and what it's like to live with a chronic mental illness. It's an incredible resource-check it out and share it with someone you know who might benefit from it!* 

Always Gone Til November

I've been thinking a lot about the rhythms, patterns, and cycles that exist in my life lately, particularly those related to my mental health.  After years of living off and on with depression and anxiety, I was diagnosed with rapid cycling bipolar disorder type 2 in July 2011. Looking back 4 years later, the significance of the timing of such a critical diagnosis isn't lost on me. Since I was 19 years old, July has consistently been a month of conflict or strife either in my relationships with others or my relationship with myself. It is also THE month where definitive moments or events take place that transform my life on some level. 

Some examples include...

  • July 2002: I enlisted in the United States Air Force at age 19 while being estranged from my family. 
  • July 2006: Found out I'd be raising my first, Brennan, on my own without his father. 
  • July 2009: Conceived Alex, shortly after beginning to date my husband. 
  • July 2014: Read my piece "America's Not Here For Us" as a VOTY honoree at BlogHer 14
  • July 2015: Took part in my first art exhibit + Moved to California

I don't really know why Life decides to show up exactly in the middle of the year and begin rearranging everything I've spent the first half of the year building...or sometimes just getting through. I don't understand why it feels the need to test the bonds and boundaries of my relationships with others either. Seems like kind of an asshole thing to do in my opinion, growth and forward movement notwithstanding. What I do know is that once August arrives, I'm reeling from the impact, my mind and mood thrown off kilter. What adds to this particular rhythm of mayhem and fuckery is my annual onset of seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. I'm not really sure why my SAD symptoms get triggered as early as mid-August. I think some of if it is due to stress from whatever was kicked into motion in my life the month before, and I think it's just my body & brain chemistry's natural response to Fall's impending arrival. Whatever the case, it descends and stays, triggering the rapid cycling aspect of my illness until the end of October. I also notice a similar pattern with milder symptoms when Winter starts to near its end, and Spring begins to awaken. 

While medication has helped stem the frequency, some days the cycling between hypomania and depression still occurs hourly once Fall kicks into high gear. Others it's daily, but usually I just find myself in what they call a "mixed" state: hypomanic and depressed. Only my hypomania doesn't manifest as boundless stores of energy that send me skyrocketing through the stratosphere, and rarely does the depression have me sink so low into its gravity well that I become enveloped in a darkness I can't see my way out of. For me, a mixed state usually just results in my living in a daily state of agitation and unreconcilable tension. The weight of it rests in spread eagle fashion across my shoulders. The pressure causes migraines. Bearing it means I'm exhausted but sometimes unable to turn off my brain enough to sleep before midnight. Thoughts buzz incessantly and noisily around. My focus and concentration fragment into abstract bits and pieces, leaving me to sweat from anxiety while I stand in the bread aisle in the grocery store and try to remember why I'm there and who these kids are calling me "Mom". My productivity goes down, way down, throttling my creative practice and output. I become withdrawn, selectively social, unable to tolerate the noise of social media, and the desire to disappear from it rages strong. I want to accomplish all the things and then abandon them for someone else and some other life where I'm only responsible for myself. It's this constant see-saw action that I am the first to admit renders me a less than pleasant person to live with...but I fight to contain it. I spend so much of my time working to keep its grubby paws off my relationships with my husband and children, I have little energy to keep it from impacting the one I have with myself, and that's what always winds up suffering the most. 

Then as quickly as it shows up, it leaves, dissipating until the next shift in season, until the following July. Literally overnight. I awake on November 1st and feel the fog that was clouding my brain lifting. My body suddenly feels lighter. Simple bodily movements like lifting my arms, extending my legs, and turning my face toward the day are easy again. My mind is busy but calm, quiet but ALIVE with ideas, focus and concentration locked in on exactly how I should structure my day, my mothering, our living. My desire to create roars voraciously. Words return to dance impatiently upon the tip of my tongue waiting to be brought to life, and my eyes turn back to viewing my world through paint and color. I become introspective and hyper-focused on dreams and life goals, asking intuition to guide me on where to head next. I go back to being the more congealed, fuller and more embodied version of myself. The one I like and recognize when I look in the mirror. 

I went to bed Saturday night with a flailing, disjointed brain chemistry, and woke up on Sunday morning with it having fallen back in step with a much steadier rhythm, working more fluidly in conjunction with other components of my treatment plan. I woke up feeling alive and released from Fall's vice like grip. It hasn't been the worst Fall I've experienced, but it has still forced me to accept it's the one time of the year I'm the most vulnerable and susceptible to my illness, and that is why when I woke up on Sunday, I took full advantage. I threw myself into the tasks that in weeks prior triggered overwhelm: cleaning the house, meal planning, grocery shopping, cooking, yard work, preparing us for the week ahead, cleaning up my workspace in the garage. 

 It was a relief to feel the desire to thrive coursing through my veins, pumping in rhythm with the hope beating wildly in my heart again. Hello, November. I've missed you. 


Dancing in the Light During the Seasons When Darkness Abounds

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Confession: My greatest fear is that I will lose my life to suicide.

I don't say that to be melodramatic, I simply state it as a fact. As a person living with bipolar disorder, it is a fear that silently stalks me, always watching for a misstep to expose a weakness it can take advantage of, a crack it can slide itself into. Once inside it starts searching for the gaps serotonin has been unable to fill, settling into each one, and methodically goes to work on eroding my mind's defenses.

Sometimes the process is slow, my mental erosion, building up to a collapse. Others it is swift and jarring, flinging me from the light of life into a plunging darkness that swallows my soul instantly. And then there are times when it's an excavation of my insides, a scooping and hollowing out of my personhood designed to leave me as nothing more than an outward shell of a woman.

When I was 13, years of abuse at the hands of my father gave birth to a despair that swiftly engulfed me one Saturday afternoon while my belly was empty from hunger and my father was out on a golf outing. That time it was pills. It was an amateurish and desperate attempt at escaping the hell I lived in that lead me to a drugged sleep but not death.

At 20 it found me after a series of rapid changes over a short amount of time and the hormonal shift that comes with miscarriage. Becoming an airman, being stationed at my first base, the dissolving of a tech school relationship that had left me pregnant and then suddenly not, surrounded by people I did not know, working a job that wasn't what I had envisioned or hoped for when I swore an oath to protect and serve my country, being estranged from my family...it found me in my dorm room and I went to work at my next shift, telling my supervisor I couldn't arm up and that instead, I needed to be taken to the mental health clinic on base to be seen.

It started feverishly raking its claws on the walls of my mind daily just shy of Alex's first birthday. I was constantly triggered by anxiety and depression, guilt over not being the mother I thought my kids deserved, feelings of overwhelm when he would scream inconsolably, and my thoughts dancing with sudden desires to just leave and never come back. I started seeing a therapist who specialized in treated women with postpartum mood disorders like PPD and its grasp on my mind unclenched just enough for light to enter in again.

In July 2011 I woke up on a Monday, found it staring me steadfastly in the eyes and just knew: I wouldn't make it past the next two weeks alive if I didn't get help. Even with the help I had been getting, my symptoms had been getting worse. I was dancing with what I know now was hypomania and plummeting into gravity wells of depression hourly. It was constant and unrelenting, its devouring and feasting on my mind. It's appetite was insatiable and if I wasn't crying from the burn depression's cold grip had around my heart, I was screaming from the rage flashing through me...if I wasn't bounding off the Earth from the energy vibrating through my body and bursting out of my fingertips, I was pressing my sweating, anxious body into the coolness of my bathroom floor, praying each inhalation would quell the panic trying to claw it's way out of my skin. My mind was too loud, full of thoughts that spun and splintered into chaos at a pace that often left me nauseated. Two days later,  I found a sitter for Brennan, put myself on a bus with Alex wrapped to my chest in the Moby, and walked into the VA Behavioral Health Clinic in Philadelphia, with whispers of death roaring in my ears. The intake psych diagnosed me with rapid cycling bipolar disorder type 2 & OCD and put me on a mood stabilizer. Within a week it kicked in and I embarked on a new treatment journey for an illness that I could more accurately name.

Treatment has helped, and while other times it just shows up to flirt, every Fall has become hunting season. Suicide is the predator, my life and sanity the prey. No matter how well I've been taking care of myself and compliant in treatment, it hunts me down, licking its chops as it circles me, watching...waiting.

Two years ago I had to go inpatient to stay safe from its advances. I slowly paced the halls of the VA Mental Health psychiatric ward in Waco in my green, floppy, foam sock shoes desperately wanting to go home to my boys and my life but at the same time stay hidden, monitored by those who whose job it was to not let Death have me. "Do you really want to die?" the doctor had asked me. No. I didn't. I just wanted relief and couldn't find it in living with a mind designed to self-destruct...fray at the edges...unravel...erode...become my enemy.

It's found me again as I'm nearing one year postpartum. It's been a year that's come with it's difficulties as I've adjusted to mothering three while living with this illness, but joy has found me at various points throughout, grabbing my hand and saying, "dance with me, Addye. Be free."

This is the freest I've ever felt in my almost 32 years of living and yet here I am again staring at the whites of Suicide's eyes and searching desperately for a gun to shoot it with...

I want to keep dancing in the light.

But my marriage is barely breathing as my husband and I scour the landscape for a path that brings us back to each other. Each of my sons has An Issue that demands every ounce of my mental capacity daily that leaves me exhausted and specialized attention that is straining our finances. Writing here has brought some success this year, but exposure saw my inboxes become inundated with vitriol from those who'd rather the Other stay silent. I look at my baby as he screams and cries like babies do and brace myself against the panic that floods my system. Images I'd rather not see flash through my mind, unwarranted and unwanted. Overwhelm asks me repeatedly throughout the day if I'm done and my breath is labored when I whisper "No." Worry fills me. Depression courts me. Anxiety ravages my insides, ripping me open, exposing where my heart and resolve are weak.

I want to keep dancing in the light.

So I tighten my grip as my mind cycles from one extreme to the next. I expand my ribs out as far as my bones and skin will allow and I drink in the morning air as I take Alex to school. I concentrate on the laughs bubbling up and spilling out of my infant son and use it to anchor me to the present. I respond when Brennan asks me if I know that lions are the only big cats that live in packs, and beg him to tell me more so I can marvel at how much information his brain clamors to hold. I take their pictures on my phone and use them to dig in and root deeper when the darkness pulls at me. I paint my lips with my favorite shade of purple lipstick because it makes my heart beat a little faster and my hips sway with power and allure when I walk. I text my friends. I use the internet to distract. I read the words of others, press my hands in paint, go away for a weekend retreat to hold onto myself. I call my psychiatrist and resolve to hold on until December 9th when I can sit in her office and say "help me."

And I come here. Today. To find my way back after struggling to see Why My Words Matter in the hopes that it will help me remember why my life does.

For them.

For me.

I'm here to dance in the light even in the seasons when it can't be found.

Selah.

Moving Toward the Sun

I've been in a depressive episode for nearly 8 weeks. The decline has been gradual. There have been good days scattered throughout, but I've been edgy, tense, fatigued....my mind has been too loud some days, eerily silent during others. I've been crying off and on in my bathroom to hide my breaking from my kids...in my car as I drive from one errand to the next. I've had to shift to auto-pilot to just get through hard moments, root myself in detachment to keep from getting swallowed up by the stress. I've spent the last two weeks cycling rapidly between hypomania (marked mostly by agitation and a mind packed with too many thoughts), and a dragging depression that swallows me up and sends me into its belly for a few moments then spits me back out into the sun and air where I can breathe again. And then everything's still and quiet...I feel "normal" and then the cycle repeats itself hourly, daily, weekly....and so it's been for nearly 2 months now. Rinse. Settle. Repeat.

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I'm still in that critical postpartum window. I just weaned nearly a month ago. My body and hormones are in flux and adjusting as a result. I hate it.

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Stress is both motivating and crippling for me. I can handle 10 things going on all at once with ease. It's once the 11th shows up demanding my attention that my mind starts to split and scatter off into darker corners. I think about my life these days and chide myself with all kinds of "should" statements for feeling and being overwhelmed by all I manage on a day-to-day basis: baby is teething & raging,  middle child with special needs, oldest was just diagnosed with ADHD and his enthusiasm for school has waned significantly, trying to overhaul our home and parenting lifestyles to accommodate and support their needs (like increasing structure and making our home more sensory friendly), supporting my husband while he deals with stress at work. New therapy schedules, trips to the pediatrician, and comprehensive psychometric testing have dominated our lives over the past month. Up ahead there is more testing to be done, and meetings with the school district to discuss accommodations for Brennan and evaluations and placement for Alex who is gearing up for preK this fall...

It's not all stressful. I'm involved in birthing great projects. I'm taking my mom's advice on avoiding burnout by feeding my spirit so I don't fall prey to losing myself, you know? I've joined writing & art communities online,  I'm painting at 11pm, I've signed up for retreats and writing eCourses, done a couple of write-ins with groups, and I've done a juice cleanse to try to reset my body and mind. I'm re-reading Daring Greatly by Brene Brown as well as books on painting, sensory processing disorder, creativity, and feminism. I'm trying to find my way here still, in this space as far as my writing is concerned. I'm trying to learn how to embody all the parts of myself that have come alive over the past few years-artist, writer, advocate-in the midst of the daily demands on my person and time as a mother and wife. I'm trying to bloom where I'm planted. At 31, it's still a stumbling process though.

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I'm searching for my flow amidst the rhythms, rocking and swaying as the ebb and flow of my life's current carries me throughout my days. But the stress of everything gets triggering and I find myself cycling with the ebb and flow as a result sometimes. That's when my knees buckle and my head spins. My chest constricts and my brain starts to feel like it's suffocating. My grip gets weak. Fatigue sets in and my steps forward get heavy. Taking care of myself gets harder, and usually becomes the last checked off item on my must do list-if it's checked off at all. I end each day feeling as though I have no safe place to come up for air and just process my thoughts, fears, and anxiety...I end most days feeling unsettled and bottled up, stuffed to capacity and as I close my eyes to sleep I've found myself starting to pray like Jabez, asking God or whoever is listening for an increase in capacity...in ability...in might...

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My hair is pink again with some blue added for extra fun. My hair and color are always my first lines of defense against the disorder of my brain chemistry and mood.

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I visited my psychiatrist last week at the VA. This is another area that I can't seem to find solid footing. We've lived here for nearly two years and I'm on my 3rd psychiatrist. Obtaining talk therapy has been a fail. The appointment scheduling system here is confusing and useless to me because I have very little say in what days and times fit into my schedule that's already inundated with the kid's school and therapies. I've had to fight to get treated, and I'm constantly having to say "but if you read this and go here, research and experts agree that....". I feel lost in a system that I'm constantly told is for me to use and that I should trust. But the bureaucracy I face with nearly every interaction chips away at that trust. I have no confidence in my mental health care these days, in the professionals assigned to my care. And yet, at my appointment last week, I sat in front of her desk and allowed myself to become undone. Completely and unapologetically. I unloaded nearly 24 months of thoughts and stress right there in her office in 20 minutes while my smiling baby squirmed and cooed in my arms. She listened to every word. Asked some questions that dug a little deeper. Apologized for all the trouble with the system I've had and for not really hearing me 6 weeks ago when I told her my anxiety was becoming a problem. She admitted that lack of knowledge about medications while breastfeeding restricted her ability to really give me what I was needing. We decided now that I'm no longer pregnant and breastfeeding we could get more aggressive with my meds again-go back to finding a more therapeutic dose. So over the next two months I'll be doing that-going up on lamictal and prozac and trying out an additional med for anxiety. I started the increase yesterday. I'm hoping by the end of the week my brain and mood will start to grab ahold and adjust accordingly.

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I've struggled today to pick everything back up and keep walking. To push past and through. To square my shoulders and lift my chin. To turn a deaf ear to the tape playing in my head that has all kinds of lies and frenzied talk on a loop.

But I'm doing it-picking up and pushing. I'm moving forward. Slowly. The sun is shining outside despite the cold front that's moved through. I'm working my way out into the sun, breathing in deep as I go.

To Miriam...

Dear Miriam, My head and heart have been reeling since your death. Upon seeing your picture and hearing details emerge about your struggles mentally and hospitalization, I sat crumpled in my bathroom, sobbing for you, your daughter, and for myself. You see, I saw your face, your brown skin, and I saw a reflection of myself-a mother battling a mental illness. Having lived in the darkness of postpartum depression I know the hopelessness, fear, confusion, and pain that consumes you from the inside out. Although I've never experienced psychosis, I have and do experience the chaos, scattered and fragmented thoughts, paranoia, and such that comes at times with having bipolar disorder. I know that my having such a mood disorder puts me at a much more significant risk of psychosis postpartum, and that terrifies me.  Like you, I've been hospitalized, trapped in my own mind, wandering the halls and monotony of the psych ward, getting help, but also wanting OUT and have some sense of normalcy back...whatever's left of it in your life at least.

I know how triggering and taxing an unplanned pregnancy can be on your psyche, even when you've accepted and embraced the new life growing within you. I know the disconnect you can feel once you're holding that new life in your arms minutes after delivery and long after you've been sent home. I know how difficult those first few months can be, and even that first year. And I know what it's like to need help, be in treatment, but not have anyone you can really talk to about it, no one who "gets" the upheaval your mind and well-being is in. I know what it's like to have to live with mental illness for the rest of your life. I know what it's like to have to make a conscious choice to fight for your life daily, and being too tired to make that choice most days. I know the stigma that comes with being sick, and taking medications. I know side effects and having to rely on meds is exhausting and at times can chip away at your feelings of self-worth, and leave you doubting your capabilities to mother, to accomplish goals and dreams...to LIVE.

I know all of these things and that is why I sat in my bathroom crying for you...for me...for your daughter, and for my unborn son squirming in my belly.

After my tears came questions: were you getting help after your hospitalization? Were your boyfriend, mother, and sisters supportive? Did they encourage you to stick with treatment-were they themselves educated on your meds and illnesses? Did you have a therapist and adequate access to other mental health resources? Did you have anyone, ANYONE to talk to? Were you afraid to talk to anyone? Were you compliant in your treatment? Did you decide to stop treatment because you figured you could do it on your own, or were you pressured to by those around you? Did anyone tell you the dangers of quitting meds cold turkey or talk to you about weaning? Were you given speeches about bootstraps and soldiering on? Did your doctor think you were getting better and miss something? Were you even properly diagnosed and given the right kind of treatment? What led you to DC that day? WHAT HAPPENED?

I know that because you are no longer with us to tell your story, we won't ever really have the answers to these questions-we won't ever know the full truth. My heart aches with this knowledge. My heart breaks that the events that took place unfolded the way that they did and that your life was taken.

Since your death I've seen lots of discussion in the media about the state of your mental health, and lots of misinformation and a lack of distinction between postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis, which is what it appears to be that you might have suffered from, or possibly some other form of mental illness. I've seen anger and outrage over how the police responded to your actions, and calls for an investigation on their use of force policy. I've seen what happened to you become politicized and I've seen people make ugly, disgusting comments about you, a woman they've never met.

I've seen all of this and all I can think about is your precious daughter. When I do anger wells up in me and boils, but not for any of the reasons I see it embodying others. My anger is with our community, with our people. I'm angry that within the black community there is no focus placed on our mental well-being and on mental illness. We fight to quell violence and hardship in our communities but do little to nothing to fight for resources that can help us deal with the mental impact violence, abuse, and hardship has on us. We don't talk to our children about mental illness, other than to point to "Crazy Ray" who lives down the street and further cement stigma about mental illness in their minds. We are misinformed and uneducated. We are ignorant. We think therapy and medications are for whites only. We are held hostage by a code of silence that throughout our history has kept us safe and helped us survived but is now killing us. Our churches tell us to pray more, have more faith, live right, strive for prosperity...but say nothing about the mental illness that is often quietly sitting amongst us in our congregations.

We will fight for Trayvon and for our black boys. We will march against those who believe it's better to close our schools and build more prisons. We will rage at police brutality and systemic racism across the board. But when it comes to our mental health and the facts on mental illness, particularly for the WOMEN'S mental health, we are cold...silent...apathetic...hushed...disbelieving and ignorant of the science and biological roots of mental illness and how vital a role environmental factors play in the manifestation of illnesses like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.

Our national black leaders and organizations speak little on this issue and make no demands for change. I would go as far as to say it's not even on their radar or list of priorities. Narratives and dialogue on mental health in our communities is driven and dominated mostly by white advocates. Those of us who live with mental illness and choose to face the stigma within our community and society at large often aren't given the same platforms and amplification as white advocates. Our outrage and concern for other issues drown out suicide prevention and mental health awareness. Campaigns and efforts are not targeted at us, in OB offices we don't see our faces on pamphlets on PPD or other perinatal mood disorders, and our doctors rarely screen us effectively for it. Medicaid provisions often keep our single mothers from being able to get adequate treatment and access to resources on the mental health front. (I speak from experience)

All of this...has me angry. Has me raging on the inside, and pushes me to do more with the space I have here. As a woman and mother of color with bipolar disorder who has survived PPD,  I look at you, your daughter, and what happened, and the role mental illness might or might not have played in this, and I rage and I feel a responsibility. To your memory and most importantly to your daughter who witnessed such horrific violence that day, I feel an obligation to do more, say more, fight for better within our community. Others can rage and decry the actions of the police if that's what they feel is most important. Speaking from experience I can say that law enforcement officials are not adequately trained on how to respond to situations when a possibly mentally ill person is involved. But I will rage and decry the lack of education and honest dialogue about mental illness on a national level and within our own community. I will rage and push for you so that your daughter and other women of color get educated and aren't ashamed to get help. I will rage against the "strong black woman" archetype that keeps so many of us from acknowledging we need help and treatment on this front. I will speak up, I will fight, I will advocate for you so that your death will not have been in vain.

I will do this because I know, Miriam, what it's like to be touched by madness and struggle to survive in its death grip. I will do this because your story and your death have shown me that its past time we rise up, get real, and take responsibility for our mental health....and take action. I will step up Miriam. I will continue to speak in the vacuum until our stories and experiences with mental illness are heard and taken seriously instead of dismissed or trivialized.

I'm so sorry we lost you. I'm so sorry you lost yourself. I'm so sorry your daughter will no longer have you. I'm sorry we couldn't do better by you both. But know that now? We will.

I'm...Climbing...Out...

I am a Warrior Mom. I have sat in the darkness of postpartum depression and anxiety feeling hopeless and lost. I have felt them rip my identity as a mother and a woman apart, leaving me feeling like a shell of a person, empty.

I've hid in closets, and cried on my bathroom floor because being near my children felt impossible to handle.

 

I've endured thoughts so intrusive I still can't speak of them to anyone, let alone myself.

I lived with guilt over my inabilities to play, laugh, and hold my children-it feasted on my insides for months....and still comes back for more when I find myself on the low end of the bipolar mood spectrum.

I still live with shame over the rage that engulfed me for over a year, often over the trivialest things, in the most unexpected of moments. The screaming, the yelling...If there's one part of my experience I wish I could erase it would be that.

And yet, in spite of the darkness I lived in after Alex's birth, despite how sick I was, I survived. With support and treatment I overcame. I climbed out of that darkness. I became a Warrior Mom.

Tomorrow, I'm celebrating that accomplishment with over 100 other women across the United States and in 6 other countries.

My family and I will be heading to Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve here in Austin for a 2 mile trail hike. With each step I'm sure I'll be emotional as I look at my boys and my husband around me and reflect on my experience with PPD...and I'll again be overwhelmed with gratitude for Postpartum Progress and Katherine Stone.

If you've been a reader for any amount of time here, you know how much I credit Postpartum Progress and Katherine Stone with essentially saving my life and helping me come into my own as a mother. In January 2011, it was THE lifeline I needed that started to pull me out of the darkness of PPD & anxiety and eventually led to my diagnosis of bipolar disorder. You can read more about how Postpartum Progress helped me here and at the end of this post if you haven't already.

3 weeks ago I joined fellow survivors and even those still fighting PPD in a campaign to raise funds for two very specific projects Postpartum Progress is working on. In those 3 weeks, we've managed to raise over 36K, and basically create a movement to honor our experience and give hope to others still finding their way out of the darkness Postpartum Progress helped us come out of.

We are Warrior Moms. We are climbing out and pulling others up with us today, the longest day of the year, to stand tall in the light of hope. I'm honored and humbled to be a part of something so significant with the most amazing women I've met in my life.

Let's do this.

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To learn more about Climb Out of the Darkness, what the donations are funding, and to donate to our hike on Saturday click here

 

I'm Here...Just Consumed By Life

Sorry I haven't stopped by here since May 20th. Life's been pretty consuming as of late, and I'm not as good about writing my way through periods like this as I was a year ago. Things are busy busy busy and I'll be honest-sitting down to write has proved to be more difficult than I would like it to be. The words are there, waiting to be given life, the stories are stacked up on shelves in my brain, the desire is there, but it all just becomes a jumbled mess when I sit down to type or even write in my journal. Part of it is because my brain is so scattered, thanks to my disorder and my recent hypomanic episodes and cycling. Part of it is because I become to preoccupied by my compulsions to clean, organize, and rearrange everything in our apartment. Part of it is because I'm fatigued and the energy I do have is poured into being  pregnant, mama, wife, housekeeper, cook, errand runner...the desire to create or give anything back to myself lingers quietly in folds of my heart, but never finds its way to execution. My mind is scattered and my hands feel inadequate, empty, unable to form the words or images that are mixed in the chaos.

Part of it is because I've become completely immersed in a new parenting approach with Alex and in implementing new routines and techniques I hope make like easier for him...and for all of us, really. I'm seeing how different and significant some of his needs are and in a lot of ways re-learning this whole parenting thing. From how I discipline, to the words and tone I use when speaking to him, to even how much pressure I apply when I touch or hug him, my whole posture towards parenting and mothering him has changed. Most of my days are consumed with being engaged with him in ways I wasn't before. Learning about sensory processing disorder, autism, and what we're learning from his therapists since April has given me new ways to engage and interact with him  that are different from how I did before. It's been quite the learning curve-there's so much more to be aware of these days! I'm more watchful, taking note of the slightest change in attitude or behavior (positive or negative), more apprehensive and mindful about how changes in routine, however slight, will impact him from moment to moment. In some ways I feel like I'm on high alert from the time he wakes up until he finally falls asleep after I've put him back in his bed and given him a deep pressure squeeze for the fifth or sixth time. I've had to become much more patient, learning to move at his pace, and how to move him along faster in a way that he can understand when we're short on time. I've found that all of this has taken an energy that I, especially being pregnant, barely have the reserves for. The simplest things from washing his hands to getting dressed to helping desensitize his facial muscles before his speech therapy sessions is all a process; exhausting and consuming, but one I'm committed to helping all of us navigate and learn as best we can.

Part of it is because I'm committed to being well during this pregnancy and am forcing myself to focus on self-care. This becomes increasingly difficult when pregnancy is kicking my ass, particularly when migraines attack, and my blood pressure is low. The migraines have been pretty frequent this pregnancy; during a good week I only get one, during my worst I've had them for 4 days straight. Functioning when I'm a wreck physically feels impossible, but I somehow get through making sure the kids have what they need for the day and that's about it. Aside from eating and taking my medications, taking care of myself takes a backseat and I have to fight to make things like taking a shower, combing my hair, getting in any kind of exercise or leisure activity a priority. Overall I'm doing better on the self-care front than I have in the past, especially during my last pregnancy.

All of this focus on concentration on these other areas of my life leave little for my writing here and painting....advocating even. I had all of these plans for my creative pursuits this year but the mental and creative bandwidth I need to execute them isn't what I'd like it to be. For some reason I can't seem to find space for those two to fit in my life as of late and this does sadden me. Frustrates me. Leaves me to wonder how I'll fit them in when there are THREE children to give my time and attention to. I'm hoping I can find a way....I'm in awe of those who've found a way to balance and navigate it all.

At any rate, while I find it hard to write and paint these days, I have found it easy to keep up with vlogging-probably because I can just do it on my phone while I'm on the go and have a few minutes alone. So I think that's just what I'm going to have to do for now because it's the one thing that I can keep up with that fits in best with everything else. It's the one thing I feel I can keep up with right now on this front. I'm hoping to write here during the summer, but know that if you don't see me here, you'll be able to find me on my YouTube channel, addyeBeesWorld, where I'll mostly be sharing the nitty-gritty of navigating bipolar disorder while being a pregnant mama. Feel free to watch and subscribe-I've done videos for weeks 15, 16, and 17 so far (I tell you what we're having in my second video for week 16!) And of course, I'll always be on Twitter :) (@addyeB)

So that's where I've been, what I've been up to, what's going on. I'm still here...I'm just consumed is all.

Maybe I just need to Lean In...anyone have Sheryl Sandberg's number?

My Bipolar Life: My Pregnancy Video Diary Begins

I decided to take "My Bipolar Life" in a new direction and turn it into a video diary of sorts for this pregnancy. As with my other videos, this one goes against all vlogging rules-it's just me, talking, unscripted. I hope you don't mind the lack of editing, the "ums" and my losing my train of thought at times :)

My goal is to do at least one of these a week. There might be more-just depends on what's going on, if I have some thoughts I want to share, where I'm at mentally, etc. Hold me accountable?  Oh and subscribe? Thanks.

 

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My Hard Truth

Before I spill my guts here today I want to make sure you understand something from the very beginning: What I'm going to talk about speaks solely to MY experience as a mother who's lived with antenatal depression and PPD and who has a child with developmental delays and is on the autism spectrum. I can't speak for other women and their experience or how their illness-treated or untreated-may or may not have had an impact on their child's development. I'm choosing to share this because honestly? I'm having a hard time processing it on my own. I don't have a therapist to talk with about it right now, and keeping it all to myself is only allowing shame to breed ugly thoughts and emotions; thoughts and emotions I definitely don't need right now considering I have a family to take care of, am currently off of 2 of my meds until my 2nd trimester, and I have a new baby growing within me. This is how things have played out for us-I'm in no way claiming this is how it will play out for others.

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11 months ago, I wrote a post about Alex's 2yr well visit and how his pediatrician at the time had expressed his opinion that the developmental delays we were concerned about were linked (at least in part) to my untreated antenatal depression, PPD & anxiety. You can read it here; doing so will give you more context.

When I wrote that post I was hurt, wracked with guilt and defensive. I was confused-I didn't know what to make of what he had said and I honestly didn't want to believe it. I didn't want to believe it because I was afraid to. Allowing myself to acknowledge he may have been right would've just ripped the band aid off of the wound I had worked like hell in therapy to stop bleeding.

But like I mentioned in my post last year, I had read the studies, the articles, what the experts had to say about untreated depression in mothers and it's effects on their children. I had read the stats about low birth weight and premature labor and caught my breath every time, knowing how small he was, how I'd gone into labor 3 weeks early-but I secretly hoped he wouldn't "fit" the others about developmental struggles. (Again, links to some of those studies and articles are in the post linked above.) The knowledge pulled and gnawed at me every time I struggled to engage with Alex. The shifts in mood, the struggles to get him to do simple things like eat, wash his hands, or even just accept hugs and kisses from Bertski and I without withdrawing first. Every time I watched him shut down around people, or scream in terror when approached by children on the playground, my insides, my heart twisted. When he stopped eating nearly everything and would only touch hard, rough textured food....when we were told by early intervention he was delayed at least 25% in speech and possibly more in other developmental areas....as I watched his symptoms become more pronounced over the course of the past 11 months, my mama gut begged me to turn a deaf ear to fear and just face reality, listen to what it was trying to tell me. I wasn't going to be able to help Alex if I didn't. I wasn't going to be able to be the mother he needed me to be if I didn't.

So I did, and I started talking to Bertski about it a few months ago. He expressed that he had been watching Alex and having the same thoughts about his behavior and development and what had possibly caused him to develop the way he had. We agreed that in addition to my illness being untreated for so long possibly being a factor, the instability of our relationship during Alex's first two years was likely a factor as well. It was a tough set of conversations...thinking about them still makes me cringe. But I'm glad we had them because it enabled us to move forward in seeking help. We knew Alex needed more help than we could give him and WE as his parents needed help parenting him. His issues had started to become beyond us and the daily struggle of trying to navigate them was overwhelmingly frustrating and discouraging.

His 3 year visit was two weeks ago, with a new pediatrician here in Austin. We told her everything, with her interjecting a question or two every now and then. She listened attentively until we finished spilling our parental guts out to her. She was quiet for a few minutes and then started to give her thoughts: "It's obvious he's very smart-I can see that for myself in just the short time he's been in here. But from my brief observation and what you've told me I would go ahead and say he's definitely on the autism spectrum. My initial guess would be high functioning but he does have significant speech and socialization deficiencies. Further evaluations will give us more information. The good news is we're catching it now-early intervention is crucial. We'll get him into various therapies and by kindergarten I'm confident he'll fit in just fine with other kids in a regular classroom environment. He'll catch up, he'll excel. I'm sure even within just 6 months we'll see significant improvement."

We walked out of that appointment with an answer, with hope even, but also with some sadness. A heaviness rested on us for the remainder of the day. Even though we had been preparing ourselves to potentially hear such a diagnosis for Alex, the reality of it still hit us pretty hard. I can't speak for Bertski, but I know for me, the guilt was excruciating that day. I called and talked with the pediatrician about it some more, explaining my illness and how it impacted my ability to bond and interact with him during my pregnancy and his first year and a half. I expressed to her what my difficulties had been and she didn't shame me for them:

"Based off of the research, your history, and where he is developmentally, I'd say it is highly likely that there's an association. Being depressed and not having effective treatment can definitely have the kind of impact on a child's development and behavior like we're seeing in Alex. But you don't have to blame yourself for it. You're helping him now-he's older and you're recovered and managing your Bipolar as best you can-that's what's important. Yes, this happened, but it's ok, you're getting him help just like you sought help. It's not your fault, Mrs. Nieves."

No, being depressed during my pregnancy and struggling with PPD and anxiety the first 2 years of Alex's life wasn't my fault.

I would even go as far as to say that not being treated for so long wasn't my fault either-there was so much I just didn't know, and when I did express what I was enduring to those around me and my OB, I was told it was all "normal,"...given time, I'd be "fine."

You know, they say we can only do better when we know better. Given my circumstances, I know I did my best and when I couldn't, I fought to.

I don't think I failed Alex. I do think my illness failed both of us-it robbed us of having a strong start and that's what hurts me the most when I think about how it's impacted him.

But I'm learning now how to use the hurt to lay a new foundation for us to build upon. I'm learning how to advocate for him and learn all I can to help him like I've done with myself and my illness. Alex has started ABA therapy and is already showing progress. He has upcoming evaluations with speech therapist to work on improving his language and an occupational therapist to help with his autistic and sensory related struggles.

(sigh)

Accepting that there's possibly an association between my illness during pregnancy and Alex's development struggles is a hard truth to stare in the face y'all. I know it's not everyone's truth, but it's MY truth and I'm working hard once again to process it, heal from it, ditch the guilt over it, and move on now that I know where he's at. I'm not sharing this to say that what's true for me and Alex is true for all moms with untreated antenatal depression & PPD. It's not at all. But I am sharing it to say that you know those effects they talk about in those studies? I'm watching my son live with them. It DOES happen. It's in the minority, but it does happen-I wish it was talked about more-not to shame anyone, but to help women understand that they don't have to BE ashamed that this happens. Does that make sense? I hope it does.

I'm not here to scare anyone or have you think that you and your child are in the same boat as we are. Definitely not. But I am here to say that if you ARE in the same boat we are-It's ok. It's not your fault. Illness may have robbed you and your child of a strong start, but don't let guilt rob you of anything else. I know it hurts like hell, and you feel like you could've done more, but you did your best with what you had and don't let shame deceive you into thinking otherwise. You're still an amazing mama to your child. You're not a bad mother. Our children will be okay because they have us and they have others to help them get to where they need to be.

If your child is showing signs of delays-don't let shame keep you from getting help. Ask for evaluations and resources. Talk to their doctor and ask about Early Intervention. Be open. Be honest. Be their advocate just as you've been for yourself.

I hope this made sense. It's late and I've had a rather emotional day. Also? I could REALLY use a friend in this particular boat.

HEY YOU: Don't Drink the VOTY Kool-Aid

I gots some thangs to say.....forgive me if this just kinda tumbles out, I'm not in the mood to filter much today. Here we go: Yesterday I listened to a heart whisper and submitted two pieces for BlogHer's 2013 Voices of the Year, one visual, one written.

I submitted them because one of my words for this year is "pursue," and when it comes to my writing and art, my intention this year is to pursue opportunities for them to be showcased. Why? Why the hell not? I write and paint for myself first and foremost and will always do so even if I have zero readers and the world thinks my art is a travesty, BUT I'm also a storyteller who believes in the power of sharing your experiences with others. Writing and painting save me from the parts of myself that thanks to illness are hell-bent on destroying me-and so does sharing about my life through the written word and visual art. Sharing my stories here and through paint are my way of giving back-I hope that at some point, what I share and convey in what I create helps someone on some level, in some area of life be it motherhood, mental illness, abuse, or just life in general.

I also submitted because hey, who doesn't like to connect with others and be heard? And who says it's wrong to be proud of what you've created? What's wrong with just going for it, JUST BECAUSE you never know what will become of it? YOLO! Am I right?

I said all of that to say that I didn't submit my pieces because I think other people will find them moving and valuable, worthy of attention. I shared them because I FIND THEM VALUABLE, MOVING, AND WORTHY. Maybe if my piece on being bipolar and a mother is selected, maybe another mom who was just diagnosed will find it and find some comfort-or find a way to contact me so she can find someone to talk to or ask questions. Maybe if my piece is selected people will stop believing people with an illness like bipolar disorder are incapable of being quality parents and raising healthy kids. But if I had decided to NOT submit that piece, then the chances of that happening are significantly reduced considering how "small" I am in the blogosphere. So I saw an opportunity to be an advocate, be a storyteller, honor MYSELF for owning my story, and took advantage of it-Like Nike, I just did it. Insecure, vulnerable, and all, dammit I sat my ass down, read through my stuff and submitted.

Maybe for you, it's not about any of this. Maybe you just want your work to be heard, be seen, be validated, be recognized. Maybe you wrote some funny shit and you want others to recognize you're the next Richard Pryor or Sarah Silverman. That's OK. It really is. Go ahead-submit! Honor your work. Pat yourself on the back, man. Be proud.

For those of you who are discouraged by this whole VOTY thing, hear me: STOP WAITING FOR OTHERS TO VALIDATE YOU AND YOUR WORK AND VALIDATE YOURSELF. STOP DRINKING THE DAMN VOTY KOOL-AID. I'm watching so many of you flog yourselves and doubt your self-worth and value as a blogger, writer, and fucking human being because no one is nominating your work. I get why it's a downer, and trust me, I think the voting aspect of the process is asinine and I know that's what's discouraging so many of you from submitting. But I learned a couple of years ago that sometimes you can't wait for others to celebrate and honor you, you've got to do it yourself, fuck everyone else. THROW YOUR OWN DAMN PARTY. Stop waiting for an invite. NO ONE will take pride in you or what you're putting out there if you don't.

96 of the pieces that will be selected as VOTY will be selected by the committee-guess what? They are reading each and every piece submitted whether it has 500 votes or 0. So even if you're small potatoes like myself, your work will still be seen. Shouldn't that matter more than some damn votes? Even if your piece isn't selected, you never know who will become a fan of your work just because they were on the committee and read your piece. You don't know what kind of opportunities could come out of this. And even if nothing comes out of it, shit, pour a drink and cheer yourself for having the balls to do something so many people wouldn't.

I know when you're a small fry in the blog/writing arena it's easy to get intimidated and feel left out because those with bigger platforms are being nominated, called out, read, and recognized-and recognizing their own peers. But hear me: SMALL DOES NOT EQUAL INSIGNIFICANT  and is in no way an indication of the value and worth of your work and your story.

So STOP DRINKING THE VOTY KOOL-AID. Submit something if it's on your heart to do so. (Heart whispers are meant to be listened to-unless it's telling you to go kill someone. If that's the case, get a new fucking heart ASAP.) Go find a favorite piece from someone you read and submit it to honor them-if they're a fellow small fry, I can guarantee you it will make their day and probably encourage them to keep writing, sharing, owning their story.

So. What are you still doing here reading this? GO. Bye!

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.

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

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.