mental illness

#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!* 

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.

Real Talk: I'm F---ing Sick of Suicide and Mental Illness Killing Our People

I just need to get this out because it's burning hot in my bones like fire, my soul wants to just scream and wail but it can't because doing so will terrify my children. I've been thinking all day about how we've lost another person, another woman of color to suicide and mental illness. The more I've thought about how we lost Karyn Washington to suicide, the angrier I get. I'm talking SEETHING. I'm talking a white-hot, blinding rage that just wants to go tearing through things as it travails in mourning. I'm talking a rage that causes my teeth to ache from a clenched jaw and gnashing.

I. am. ANGRY.

I. am. MOURNING.

 

I. am. HEARTBROKEN.

I didn't know her, but I didn't have to. She was my sister, a fellow woman of color, a writer, a voice, a human being dedicated to uplifting her people. And she is gone. Suicide came and took her from us and I'm here grieving like she was my own daughter gone from me.

I'm fed up with the stigma that permeates minority communities and takes the lives of our people-as if we already don't have enough fucking things that are killing and destroying us. I'm enraged at the lack of resources available to us. Our people are living and suffering from all types of 'hood trauma all across this country, and have been for decades, centuries, even and our mental health isn't taken seriously and addressed.

Our people are left for dead and to waste away in their minds.

Our churches-the cornerstones in our communities don't adequately address mental illness-we keep perpetuating this "I'm too blessed to be stressed" bootstrappin bullshit that's basically the equivalent to handing us a razor to slice our wrists open with.

Black men are conditioned to believe they have to be hard, and in reality, it's true-they MUST be and live hard because society views them as inhuman and unworthy of even being able to walk to the corner store or listen to music in their cars in peace.

Black women are conditioned to bear a resilient silence-our mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins, and grandmothers have to be so strong for everyone else without a not so much of an utterance as to how such a burden is eroding at our thought life and well-being.

I'm disgusted that the mental health advocate community has a major diversity problem. I'm tired of POC not being seen and heard on mental health platforms like our white counterparts. I'm tired of seeing awareness campaigns full of nothing but white faces, and quality treatment facilities and practices in the white neighborhoods, with even sliding scale fees only white people can afford.

I'm tired of hearing our people say that therapy and medication "are for white people." I'm tired of our mamas not knowing what perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are and how they can manifest over the first year of their baby's life-ON TOP of all the other shit they're dealing with that can contribute to depression, PTSD, and anxiety. I'm tired of our mamas not knowing the risk factors for developing such disorders during and following pregnancy-especially when previous trauma and violence are the top risk factors.

My heart bleeds for the Karyns. The Miriams. The Ebony Wilkersons. The Don Cornelius'. The Lee Thompson Youngs. My heart rages for them, and I wonder when their mental health will become a priority. When will the psychiatrist or licensed social worker graduating from school decide to go set up shop where our people live and listen to their stories. Educate us. Chip away at the stigma that has become a death sentence?

Who will help us? People of color, when will we speak up about our own struggles with mental illness and light the way for our own? Can it be today?

Please tell me we can start today. I can't bear the pain of losing any more of you to this selfish son of bitch.

If you are struggling today and having thoughts of suicide, please DO NOT hesitate to call your local suicide hotline immediately. Call 800-SUICIDE (800-784-2433) or 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) . 

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.*

And Then My Heart Exploded & All I Could Do was Cry

I want to say this in a way that's eloquent & inspirational. I want to use all the right words, and craft this into a beautiful piece of writing, that carries the weight of my thoughts & emotions, and helps you fully grasp how much this moment means to me....and even though they don't know it yet, to my boys. But I can't. Words are failing me. There are only tears....sobs, actually, as I lay here in the boy's empty room, eyes closed, heart bursting with gratitude...

...and love. For the first time in my 29 years of living I feel loved and whole instead of unworthy & broken. I feel peace where there used to be agony, and joy seeping through the cracks of my deepest sorrows.

12 months ago I was obsessed with death. I spent my waking moments torn between not wanting to leave my boys without their mother & wanting to rid them of the one who felt like she had failed them.

I'm glad to say, a year later, I'm not in that place, and I'm not looking to find relief in death. I've found it instead in 200mg of Lamictal, .25mg of Xanax, and 2mg of Pimozide, taken at 10am, every single day...and in a diagnosis that's forced me to make myself and my well being a priority-a first for me.

It's been a year full of growth & healing thanks to therapy.

If you would've told me last year I'd be right here, laying on the floor, free from nearly all the shit I've been carrying since childhood, I would've just smiled politely, said thanks, and walked away not believing a word of it.

But here I am. Loved and whole. Healed and stronger than before. Embracing life instead of plotting to escape it...focused on LIVING it instead of just existing & surviving it.

My boys have their mother, their parents back together, and they have each other...a far cry from what they had just a year ago.

So I'm just laying here, in my almost empty apartment, marveling at how far we've come...excited for the new beginning that lies ahead...Tears streaming down my face as I whisper "thank you" over & over again, my heart exploding in joy each time.

I've come full circle.

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?

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 Will Bloom Where I'm Planted

A couple of summers ago, Bertski & I took the boys to the Grounds for Sculpture garden up in Hamilton, New Jersey. It's an expansive garden full of lush vegetation, intriguing contemporary art, and some amazingly creative sculptures. Camera in hand, I was inspired to snap away while Bertski & Brennan ran around exploring and Alex slept in the stroller. I took close to a thousand pictures that day, so many different aspects of the garden captured my attention. My favorite part of the whole trip is evidenced by the large number of pictures I took of a pond in the corner of the garden....it was full of  some of the prettiest flowers I had ever seen, I couldn't take my eyes (or my camera) off of them. They were tall, with long, strong-looking and thick stems that seemed to push them straight up out of the water and above the surface...boldly standing out from the lily pads and thrushes that surrounded them. Their petals seemed to unfurl as they bent themselves back and curved their way up toward the sun, leaving their innermost part, their circular seed pods, exposed to the sun, wind, and eyes of the world around them.

I'm quite illiterate when it comes to plants & flowers, so I had no idea what they were until I did a google search later that night. I had no idea that what I learned about lotus flowers that night would wake me up two years later, shouting at me to pay attention to an important life lesson.

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You see lotus flowers are gorgeous. As they stretch themselves up and over the water, your eyes gaze upon the beauty and unique design of each one-whether they're in full blossom or just starting to open up. What you don't see, are the conditions they grow in. Lotus flowers are admired and loved because they can grow in the darkest and harshest of conditions and survive. Despite having to grow in a less than ideal environment, these flowers thrive and bloom where they are planted.

Bloom where you are planted....

I woke up with that thought and this information about lotus flowers shouting in my head this morning. As I laid there trying to understand why today of all days this was on my mind, it occurred to me that it's June 1st.

A new month. New season. 6 months until a new year arrives (can you believe it?! ) and 5 months until I turn the dreaded 30.

Or do I have to dread turning 30? Let's go over this again: new month, new season, half of the year left, and 5 months away from having lived 30 years on this Earth.

30 years. Of pain. Of abuse. Of brokenness. Of not knowing or understanding who I am, of living my life under the rule and control of others and their expectations, their standards. Of living my life based on the opinions of others, trying like hell to please them because I thought I needed their approval. Of having my life dictated by circumstance instead of choice.

30 years. Of heartache. Of shame. Of disappointment. Of misplaced guilt. Of misguided decisions. Of regret. Of loss. Of hating myself. Of wishing I could be like the women I secretly envy. Of compromise. Of insecurity. Of lacking confidence and believing the words of those who said I'd die or they'd kill me before I made it to becoming anything of worth and value. Of illness. Of excuses.

30 years. As I laid in my bed this morning I made a choice.

"I will not spend the next 30 years of my life like I have the first. I won't spend the next 5 months like I have. No I won't.

I've been through a lot of things in my first 29 years of living. I've had to see and endure things no one should, and yet I'm still here, I didn't have it as bad as others. People have looked at my history and expected me to be a drug addict, an alcoholic, or dead. My psychiatrist says the fact that I only have a mental illness as a result of my genetics and trauma is something to be grateful for....and as illogical as it sounds, she's right and I am. It's not ideal, and I don't like it, but in the grand scheme of things, I could be far worse off than I actually am and that's nothing but a testament to how graceful God truly is.

30 years. I can't change how the first 29 1/2 years of my life have gone. I can't do anything about the darkness I've had to live in, or change the fact that I have to live with a darkness from an illness that threatens my well being daily.

But I can make a choice to grow above and beyond the environment I was forced to grow in up until this point. I can choose to live above and beyond the dark, murky waters of the last 29 1/2 years. I can choose to let go and push past. I can decide to stand tall like a lotus flower and bloom for others to see. I can choose to use the environment I've grown in to reveal what lies within my innermost parts-a woman with an authentic, compassionate, and whole heart to connect with others who are hurting and struggling to make it out of their own dark waters.

Yes. I can choose to let it all go and break forth and embark upon the next 30 years with fresh determination to live my life and not just survive it.

Today I'm choosing to bloom right where I've been planted. My beauty may have been broken by what happened beneath the surface, but my hope is that it brings something out of me that encourages and inspires others to reach toward the sun, like I am.

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.

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]

Being Black with Postpartum Depression

Postpartum Progress has a new series! It's called "Warrior Moms of Color."

It was created by Katherine Stone to give women from various racial and ethnic backgrounds an opportunity to share their stories of living with and battling through perinatal mood disorders.

I was asked to be a guest contributor for this series and shared some of my experience there today. I'm grateful for the chance to do so, being as that Postpartum Progress was THE website that helped me find treatment and support for my PPD/PPA.

Please head on over and read what I had to say about my struggle with suffering with PPD as an African American woman, and as always feel free to share your thoughts and comments.....I'd love to hear your feedback on this one.

She Said It: Kathryn Greene McCreight on PPD, Bipolar Disorder & Faith

My friend Audrey lent me this book a couple of months ago and I'm just starting to read it this week. The second paragraph of the first chapter made me catch my breath as I read words that seemed to explain what parts of my experience with PPD was like.  As I continued to read the following paragraphs and discovered that the author is not just a mother, but a priest, and also bipolar, my eyes stung with heavy tears and I had to pause every now and then to process the emotions I was feeling.

When I was going through my experience with PPD I felt so alone, because it seemed no one around me had experienced it, or if they had, they didn't speak up about it. I felt confused and misunderstood, mostly because I couldn't even articulate what was going on with me, and when I tried, my words left the hearer with the impression that I either just needed to pray more, take more time, or "fix" my circumstances...as a Christian I was even told that I was experiencing the depression and turmoil because I had chosen to have a child out of wedlock...the hell and pain I was reeling from were just the byproducts of my "sin" and I needed to just endure it.

When I was diagnosed with rapid cycling bipolar disorder last July, I felt my faith shaken and my first question to God was, "Can I be a Christian and be bipolar?" How was I supposed to know what was real, how was I supposed to hold on to God in my lowest and darkest moments when all I wanted to do sometimes was just die? My next question was, "Are there other Christians who are bipolar? Where are they? Why don't they talk about their experiences?"

I've ranted on Facebook and Twitter about how there's a lack of open dialogue, awareness, education, and services in the Christian community for those living with severe or chronic mental illnesses. There are even far less in the African-American Christian community....I've yet to hear of mental illness addressed in a sermon or anyone in our culture openly discuss this subject.....

So when I started to read this book, the first few pages seemed to scream what my experience and thoughts motherhood and these illnesses have been like. Her words shook me, so much so that I had to put the book down a few times because my hands and arms couldn't stop shaking, my body trembling from the force of the tears and emotions welling up inside of me.

So for today's post, I thought I'd just share an excerpt, share the paragraphs I read yesterday that spoke so soundly to me and I found myself in. If you know of someone who is struggling with their mental illness, especially as a mother or even a Christian, please share this post with them as well. I hope it helps you and them the way it has already started to help me.

When I became a mother for the second time however, the hem of my mental health began to fray. Motherhood by nature challenges the mental, emotional, spiritual and physical endurance of any woman. It is a highly over-romanticized and underestimated pressure cooker, matched in potential not only for the creation of a new family but also for the destruction of both mother and child. Think-with horror-the Susan Smiths and Andrea Yateses of the world. ......of course not all postpartum suffers are this detached from reality.

.....Motherhood, I believe, was only the precipitant for an internal agony that I had been holding back for years. Maybe God had postponed my storm at sea until I could be buyoued by the hopefulness and joy that I derived from my children and husband.The experience as a whole and the experiences that constituted the eventual illness were at least bewildering and at most terrifying. The blue sky which normally fills my heart, stung my soul. Beautiful things like oriental rugs and good food like bean soup absolutely exhausted me. Noise was amplified in my ears, and I fled sound and conversation in search of silence. Small tasks became existential problems: how and why to fold the laundry, empty the diswasher, do grocery shopping. My memory failed me. I was unable to read or write (except for sermons, by the Holy Spirit's providence, I believe.) And it went downhill from there. A back and forth in and out of darkness lasted for years. ......

....I have a chronic disease, a brain disorder that used to be called manic depression and is now, less offensively, called bipolar disorder. However one tries to soften the blow of the diagnosis, the fact remains that bipolar disorder is a subset of the larger category unhappily called "major mental illness.' By the latter of my thirties, I had sought help from several psychiatrists, social workers, and mental health professionals, one a Christian, but mostly non-Christians. I had been in active therapy with a succession of therapists over several years and had been introduced to many psychiatric medications, most of which bought quite unpleasant side effects and only a few of which relieved my symptoms to some degree. Those medications that have in fact been helpful, I must say despite my own disinclination toward drugs, have been a strand in the cord that God has woven for me as the lifeline cast out in my free fall.  The medications have helped me rebuild some of "myself," so that I can continue to be the kind of mother, priest, and writer that I believe God wants me to be. "A threefold cord is not quickly broken" (Ecclesiastes 4:12) The three cords to my rope were the religious (worship and prayer), the psychological, (psychotherapy) and the medical (medication, ECT, and hospitalization).

Yet while therapists and counselors, psychiatrists and medications abound, I found no one to help me make sense of my pain with regard to my life before the triune God. I write this book, then by way of an offering, as what I wish someone had written to help me make sense of the pain and apparent incongruity of that agony with the Christian life. Those Christians who have not faced the ravages of mental illness should not be quick with advice to those who do suffer. "Pray harder," "Let Jesus in," even "Cast your anxiety on him, because he cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7), which of course are all valid pieces of advice in and of themselves, may only make the depressive person hurt more.

This is because depression is not just sadness or sorrow. Depression is not just negative thinking. Depression is not just being "down." It is being cast the very end of your tether and, quite frankly being dropped. Mania is more than speeding mentally, more than euphoria, more than creative genius at work. The sick individual cannot simply shrug it off or pull out of it. While God certainly can pick up the pieces and put them together in a new way, this can happen only if the depressed brain makes it through to see again life among the living.

This is an excerpt from "Darkness is My Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness," by Kathryn Greene-McCreight. You can read her brief bio on her church's website here

Manic Mondays: Mood Charting...There's an App for That

When I first started learning about rapid cycling BP, nearly everything I read mentioned mood charting as an effective tool to understand the fluctuations in your mood. Every article I read listed it as a way to help see any patterns in your mood cycling, frequency, and help in constructing a suitable treatment and management plan. Feeling desperate to try anything to help manage this dragon I was now living with, I was eager to give it a shot...but I wasn't so eager or disciplined to stop and journal every time I felt a shift in mood.

Lucky for me (and you!) I'm a techie by nature-gadgets and gizmos a plenty bring out the tech geek in me. (so do who's it and what's it galore-quick name that movie!) So imagine my delight when my fingers gracefully typed in "bipolar mood charting" in the iTunes App store search box and up popped a few apps.

Yep. APPS. For MOOD CHARTING. (just typing that got me excited)

I perused a few, reading reviews & ratings, looking at screenshots and reading descriptions...and then I settled on this one, which I've been using since November....

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Price? $3.99

You might wince at that and decide paper and pen are cheaper, but we're talking easy convenience here my mood shifting friends. Playing around on FB or Twitter and notice you're feeling edgy? Slide a few apps over, and quickly annotate it. Just got off the phone and had a conversation that triggered ya? Pull up your handy dandy app and make note of it!

It's easy to use, which is why I love it. When I notice I'm overly happy or talking as fast as a roadrunner I simply pull up this screen:

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Select how I'm feeling and if I need to leave a comment about it...

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BOOM.I can. And in less time than it takes me to bust out a status update or 140 characters. Easy peasy folks.The only complaint I have about the comment section is that sometimes it would erase my comment before I was finished writing it, and I'd have to start over. This might be a bug the developer can fix with an update or it might be my clumsy touchscreen strokes. Either way I emailed the company, so we'll see.

Other than that small hiccup I love using this thing because it really does help you see what your cycles look like over a period of time:

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The best part? YOU CAN EMAIL your chart to your therapist, psychiatrist, Facebook friend list, whoever, comments included:

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See? Isn't that awesome? When I saw my psych two weeks ago, I was able to just whip out my phone and show this to her...and it enabled both of us to see exactly how I've been. No need to fumble for words or memories-it was all there for her to see.

So. There you have it. Mood charting. There's an app for that. If you're not bipolar, maybe just dealing with depression or anxiety, check out this app

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And this one for anxiety...

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If you don't have an iPhone, iTouch, or another Apple device, definitely check the Android store or Blackberry's market to see what they have.

If you ARE an Apple product collector and could use an app like this, leave a comment. I'll select 2 people to gift this to and I'll even throw in a subscription to either bpMagazine (www.bphope.com)

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or Esperanza (Anxiety & Depression) Magazine (www.hopetocope.com)

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Why? Not because I was paid to review this app or sing these mags praises. They don't even know I'm doing this. I just believing in paying it forward. ;)

(If I were richer I'd offer to gift these to everyone, but until then, only 2 randomly selected commenters)

Love y'all.

Manic Monday: Zoom a Zoom Zoom...

Have you ever been to a NASCAR race or any kind of speedway? If you haven't, imagine a bunch of cars going at speeds only professionals can safely maneuver...imagine the sounds they generate as they whip around the track....

Loud... Roaring... Rumbling.... Constant... Far then near, near then far.... Obnoxious...

And every now and then, a driver miscalculates, something in the car's engine or gas tank misfires, and there's a crash...an explosion...

Now imagine all of that-the speedway, the cars going at top speed,the sounds, the vibrations, the crashes & explosions-imagine all of that compressed and confined into, oh let's say the Lincoln Tunnel (or any tunnel for that matter), and then imagine that tunnel with everything I just mentioned, compressed and confined in your own mind.

Congratulations you now have an inkling of what it's like to experience racing thoughts.

To even label the mental chaos that coincides with a hypomanic or manic episode as "racing" seems to be a gross understatement at times. Sometimes it's not too bad, focusing on one task, concentrating, and clarity of thought are capable...doable.

Others it's terrifying...the lack of control over their frantic pace unnerving...the incessant spinning and looping nauseating...

It's like being permanently stuck on the spin cycle-only instead of your clothes it's your mind and you have no idea when it will stop.

Do I hear voices? No. But that doesn't mean my thoughts aren't loud, rambunctious chatterboxes who fly from one idea to the next in the time it takes one to blink.

On the outside I look quite fine...quiet, demure, composed...smiling & laughing, even...

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But it's during these episodes when I feel the most unraveled, the most undone. Living life during these moments is hard only because it's hard to grasp a thought as it flies past...

But I do...because I know it's temporary. Feels like an eternity, but I know relief is on the way...

I just need my pills to get here.

Has anyone seen the mailman?