Holiday Times

I have never been a huge Christmas person.  Don’t get me wrong, I love shopping for people, I love seeing my family (and now my in-laws) and I love seeing my step-kids, two niece’s and nephew’s face when they open presents.  But I’ve never been one to like the music or that does a lot of decorating.  Halloween is where it is at for me.  I kind of missed out on Halloween this year, besides being able to go with my niece and get the cutest picture in the world.  I didn’t get to do our annual party at mom’s house with the tons of trick or treaters etc.  It is also my wedding anniversary, so that sweetens the deal for me even more.  I couldn’t fully enjoy it, as I was recently diagnosed with my bipolar and was not yet stable.  I was still really depressed and had a hard time even doing my decorations.  Normally they go up on September 1st, and I didn’t get them up until October.  Unheard of.  Anyway, I digress.

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I’ve not been as enthusiastic about Christmas during my adult life.  I gave it the ol’ college try when I got my step-kids, as I got to experience the joy through them when they were little and we drove through the park that has the light show.  I finally got to see how exciting it was to see their little faces light up when they got a really neat Santa gift.  I loved helping them make lists for Santa.  And this year, I had the MOST fun when I got to take my niece and nephew to go shopping for their parents and they saw Santa.  I love seeing my two nieces and nephew more than I can even explain.  Besides my love for my step-kids, I didn’t know you could love little people so much.  Oh look, I digress again.

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Christmas not being my favorite, I’ve tried really hard to be Christmas-y this year.  I did a bunch of Christmas crafts with my free time, spending time with Evaline doing them, which is the best anyway.  I got a lot of lights up this year outside, including the obnoxious blow up decorations (which I actually love in my yard).  I had fun going all out this year.  I planned for it last year by hitting up thrift shops and clearance sales and getting a Christmas village as well as the outdoor decorations.  I still didn’t have the energy to put all of my outdoor lights out, but I did a ton more than normal.  I made two wreaths for friends and did two separate Christmas trees.  One is my decorative tree, and the new one is what I call my “nostalgia” tree.

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Every year since 2010 my mother has gotten us an ornament with the date on it.  Then when I married Connor, my in-laws all exchange adorable ornaments in a family tradition that has a different meal at each progressive house in one day, starting with breakfast at my house.  We end with dessert at my sister-in-law’s.  We call it the roundie round and it’s very fun.  It’s one of my new favorite traditions; I love picking out the ornaments for everyone.  So, because I had gotten so many of these in the past few years, I needed a new tree for them all.

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I went all out this year (for me).  Connor loves Christmas and says every year that he feels like he misses the entire season, that it goes by so quickly and this is why I have tried so hard to be a Christmas person.  I still can’t do Christmas music except the 3 days before Christmas though.  I just can’t.

My point in all this, is even though I am a nervous wreck of anxiety with being around so many people all at once, I’m learning to enjoy the season.  I still am super anxious when I’m at either family’s house and there is a cacophony of sound and voices and people moving around and enjoying themselves.  I get so nervous that the presents I picked out won’t be appreciated, though I try really hard to be thoughtful for every gift.  I dread taking down and storing all of the decorations; that’s so much work.  And now that my step-kids are teens, they are just hard to shop for in general.  They want gift cards and money, and that’s just no fun to shop for.  It’s mentally exhausting to prepare for everything, making sure I have each present ready to go in the right box to the right house.  Making sure I get the kid’s mother a present too that is thoughtful.  My house being utterly spotless for the visiting families (my whole family came over to my house today, including my Grampa and I loved it so much even though I was an anxious ball of nerves).

I think a reason that I’m so happy to be full of Christmas this year is that I’m finally stable.  I don’t feel depression like I used to.  I’m not FULLY stable, I still get some mood swings unexpectedly, but compared to the rest of my adult life, I’m the picture of stability.  I’m grateful my wreck didn’t hurt anyone else and that I made it through the inpatient ward with my diagnosis.  I’m so lucky to have my group therapy and that my work let me off for so long so that I could heal.  I’ve never been one to feel very grateful, depression usually squashes that right out of you.  But this year, I truly feel so grateful for so many things, there are so many people who have so little.  Especially those who have mental illnesses like mine.  Many aren’t as lucky to have such an amazing two families that love me despite my illness and love me like they do.  My in-laws accepted my diagnosis and were just worried about me; they all reached out to me and told me to call them if I ever needed anything.  I was so floored and so touched.  I didn’t expect it.  My sisters just took it in stride and didn’t blink an eye.  They loved me as fiercely as ever.  I’ve even been able to get closer to my middle sister than in any of our adult life.  I love them all more than I can even explain.

Even Connor and I are better than we have been in years.  We play and tease and flirt.  All in all, I’ve enjoyed Christmas this year much more than I did Halloween.  Everything was too raw then.  Now it’s a Wonderful Life. 😊

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone.  Thank you for reading and sharing in my journey with me.

Group Therapy

When you think of a group therapy, you probably think of AA meetings that you see in television and movies, “Hi, my name is Frank and I’m an alcoholic.”  That sort of thing.  I’m not saying that’s not how AA meetings are; I have no idea.  I just know that my intensive group therapy I’ve been in since October is nothing like I imagined.  I had no clue just how they would work, how you’d learn or speak, how I would feel about all the people there, if anyone would have my same diagnosis, nothing.  I had no preconceptions other than AA meetings from various medias.  Now, after almost three months of going to group 9 hours a week, I wouldn’t change a thing.  I’ve learned and grown more in the last three months than I have my entire adult life.

Because I have my psych undergrad degree, I have a very small amount of knowledge of the principals of psychology and therapy.  I have a base understanding of how it works and what it does.  I know a lot of the biases and personality types and disorders.  I can tell you a lot of disorders and what their symptoms are.  Small things.  But enough to know I don’t know much.  The first day of my group, I got to see what everyone’s diagnosis was, in a shorthand version.  I felt like I was stepping into my abnormal psych class, because I’ve never met anyone that had a disorder like mine before.  I’d never known a person with schizoaffective disorder.  Someone with electric shock therapy (ECT) was something I’d only read about before.  There was someone with my same disorder as well (Bipolar 2).  Dissociative Identity Disorder (previously known as multiple personalities) and a lot of anxiety and depression.  I was thrilled.  I’d found my people.  People who would understand how it felt to be stuck in bed for days with no hope of moving.  People who couldn’t stand themselves, just like I felt.  Someone who was used to and practiced at managing bipolar and all that comes with it.  I knew I was safe.  I would be heard and not judged.  I would be accepted just how I was.

My first day, I was beyond terrified.  Not knowing what to expect, I showed up 30 minutes early and just sat in my car outside of the building, pumping myself up to go inside.  Once inside, I sat down on the only empty spot, and immediately one of the girls turned to me and introduced herself.  Allie was a spunky and kind woman who made everyone feel welcome and loved.  She always was happy and silly, and just brought such a fun vibe into our room.  Allie was bipolar as well, and had a planner where she journaled and kept her moods and mania symptoms written down to track.  I had no idea that was something to even do at that point.  I thought she was brilliant, and I tried to emulate her (I never remember to actually write, though I did for the first 2 weeks).  The next woman to speak was Annie.  Annie was one of the most beautiful women I’ve seen.  When I first met her, she was new in the program too, only having gone 2 more weeks than I.  She was suffering with intense anxiety and depression after having a few injuries where she couldn’t do her previous work.  She was always anxious and sad and worried that she always would be anxious.  She just graduated on Wednesday and is happy and healthy and not anxious at all.  She’s lively and silly and lights up the room when she walks in with her purse/pit.  I won’t go through any more people as it’s a confidential group, but those two are no longer in group, as they graduated, so I felt okay describing their personalities, if not their real names or distinct things about them.

Anyway, so I walk in and sit down and Allie chats me up.  She asks me about myself and where I’m from and tried to make me much more comfortable.  She explains the format and how everything is structured.  There is a form we fill out in the beginning of group that numbers our symptoms from 10 as the worst and 1 as the best.  Things like suicidality, anxiety, depression, drug/alcohol use, motivation, appetite, sleep, and more I can’t think of right now.  So I went through and filled it all out for that day.  I think I had mostly 10s except for drug/alcohol and delusions.  I can’t remember, though I am sure I still have that one in my giant Hogwarts binder (really, it’s a 3 ring binder with the Hogwarts’ seal on it).  I honestly don’t remember a single other thing of that group.  I know I didn’t speak, and I know I was shaking the entire time.  I was a ball of anxious nerves.

I was anxious for a good 2 weeks of group, then my therapist challenged me to start speaking up during group, for what good was it if I didn’t use it?  What’s the point of going?  So one day during check in, I spoke up.  I don’t know what I said or why or what was happening, but I opened my mouth.  I started talking and didn’t ever stop until this day.  I’m able to work through so much anxiety and depression through this group.  I know they’re there for me and genuinely care about my welfare.  They are great at giving advice and the therapists themselves are some of the best therapists I’ve seen (and I’ve seen and known quite a few).  We laugh and cry and laugh until we cry in there.

There are 3 hours in group and it’s separated into 3 distinct parts.  First hour is check in, where we fill out the form and talk about pretty much anything we want.  We can go over what’s on our sheet or we can talk about what has been going on.  Whatever floats our boat.  The second part is a learning section.  A lot of times it’s a worksheet for one therapist, or for the other, she’ll write the information on the board, just like a professor would.  I remember one class was about personality types.  Others have been about toxic people.  It varies wildly and will sometimes be something that we’ve requested to learn about.  The third group is usually something that is application based.  So there will be a worksheet or questionnaire that we put the principals we just learned into our own lives.  We’ll go around and answer the questions and the other members will challenge what we’ve answered (“don’t should yourself!).  The first and third groups are usually my favorites.  That’s where we often veer off topic and where I tend to learn more.  I’ve learned so much during those sections where we weren’t even trying to.

Well I’ve been blathering on for longer than usual at this point.  My basic thoughts are:  group therapy is amazing.  I’m going to move to NAMI groups, which is a free group in the area after I graduate from the intensive group.  I can’t imagine where I’d be right now without it.  I’m so grateful to every one of my group members (if you’re reading this, I adore you guys!).  I look forward to groups every day and am dreading not having it for the 9 hours a week.

 

Confrontation and Assertiveness

Assertiveness and standing up for myself is something I have been terrible at my entire life (that I remember anyway).  I hate, hate, hate conflict and panic whenever it’s around me.  I recently discovered that therapy is giving me the ability to show assertiveness, all be it in small things.  The other day, I had a perfect and small example of this happening to me.  Most will think this is the silliest example ever, and not a big deal at all.  But this is one of those situations I’d get stuck in and not be able to extricate myself from for a long time, no matter how uncomfortable I was.

There have been two little old ladies traveling around my neighborhood for the past week.  Now, I live deep in the woods in a community that does not want to be found, nor have anyone we don’t invite around.  I guess you could say we are in general, suspicious of outsiders.  Most of the neighbors have guns for protection (I’m going to say from lions, tigers and bears).  This is not the neighborhood to invite yourself into and go knocking door to door in.  We also have “no soliciting” signs at both entrances to the neighborhood, so these little old ladies should have known better.

They’ve been knocking door to door for the past two weeks or so, and in our HOA Facebook group, people have been making comments.  Their opening line is “have you ever lost anyone you’ve loved due to death?” because everyone has, of course.  This, understandably, causes a lot of turmoil for people who have recently lost someone.  It’s logically a good hook, but a cruel one to bring up the Jehovah’s Witness religion.  Just, not okay to do.  They also have left pamphlets all over, which is irritating in its own right.

Well, they finally made it to my house this week.  After having talked to neighbors about it, I had been biding my time until it was my turn.  I was cleaning the house and they came to my side door (nobody ever comes to that door, even though it’s the one we use) and looked through the window as I was washing dishes.  Creepy, strike one.  Then they knocked.  My dogs went insane, as they are supposed to do, strike two.  Once I got my girls put in their kennels (I admit I took much longer than needed to do this, hoping they’d leave), I went and opened the door.  Cue the ‘death’ line, strike three.

I lied and told them no, I’d never lost anyone, as I didn’t want to give them ground to bring up the rest of their rehearsed speech.  They kept pushing, asking about friends or grandparents.  I refused to let them “in,” both into my house or into their conversation.  When they paused, trying to think of what to say to someone who had no death in their life, I jumped in, “did you two ladies see in the front of the neighborhood, those no soliciting signs?  I know you’re doing what you see as your job, but we do not allow solicitors here.”  They said they’d noticed them and try and pay attention to them, where I interrupted again, “this is not the neighborhood to do this in.  We’ve been getting complaints; I’m the VP of the HOA and so I feel I have to warn you.  Please do not visit any more homes.  We, again, do not allow solicitation.  We don’t like visitors up here, and between armed families and dogs, it’s not a good idea.”  Or something to that effect.  They kept trying to bring up their religion, and I kept shutting them down.  I did mess up a bit and say that I didn’t need to find god, as Connor and I go to catholic church every Sunday.  I didn’t need a pamphlet and didn’t want one.  They started to say how it was nice to see such a young person going to church and I told them how my congregation has a lot of families my age with little children.  I would not let them have any space for conversation but was not mean at all.  I was actually quite nice (a lot nicer than some of my amazing neighbors would be; they’d be sarcastic and hilarious I think.  Maybe opening the door in a towel or something equally silly).  I thanked them for doing what they saw as their duty and warned them again.  I made sure to impress upon them that it’s not allowed at all.

During this very tiny confrontation, I had a thrill of adrenaline like I normally do during any kind of conflict, but I didn’t care this time.  It didn’t faze me.  I didn’t want these little old ladies to go to the wrong house, and I didn’t want them around anyway.  I saw it as my job as VP to do something about it, so I did.  I was so proud!  I know it’s such a small thing, and almost feel silly while looking back, but I don’t exaggerate when I say I’m absolutely the WORST when it comes to things like this.  I make Connor call companies to cancel.  I have never been able to just shut down or say no to things with strangers.  I don’t want to be mean.  I finally found a way to be assertive enough to shut something down, but still kind enough that I didn’t feel like a nasty person.  I still smile when I think of it.  It’s always the little wins that get me through this crazy new life I’m learning to lead.

Things, they are a changin’

Getting diagnosed with bipolar is an interesting thing.  On the one hand, it’s a disorder that has no cure and is going to be something I fight with to keep under control for the rest of my life.  I’ve always had it, I just didn’t know it.  So knowing now, I can actually track and keep better control of my life and moods.  But the weight of such a diagnosis is a terrifying thing to swallow.  It’s taken me a few months to fully accept and appreciate what it means for me.  It’s still a terrifying prospect having to make sure I have the right amount of sleep, as well as my other triggers, which I’m still trying to find out.  Getting my diagnosis has also caused a few other things that I was not expecting, and which I don’t believe have to do with my medication evening out my moods.  Though, having a calmed and evened out mood, without ennui, is an experience I didn’t think I would ever have.

This all being said, there are some changes that I have gone through since September 19th that I don’t believe have to do with medication.  Perhaps my intensive therapy, but not medication.  These are small things, but I’ve found that I like to focus on small wins a lot more than I used to.  I used to just focus on negative.  I finally got my head out of my ass a bit to see the forest for the trees.

  1. I’m much more able to be affectionate

I have never been one to hug people or show much affection.  I’ve always been uncomfortable showing love to those around me.  I didn’t hug those I cared about unless they initiated it.  Hell, I never hugged my daddy and told him how much I loved him.  Recently though, that’s gone out the window.  I will happily hug anyone and everyone.  I am so much more appreciative of those around me, I’m happy to show them how I feel, and don’t care if they don’t want it like I did before.  I’ve hugged Jack more in the past week than in the 10 plus years I know him.

  1. Kindness and understanding

I’ve never been one to be unkind to people, but I find myself being even more understanding of people and what they may be going through.  This one doesn’t have a great explanation.  A lot of my hypomania shows as irritability and annoyance.  I hide it from most people, but I’d have a constant stream of negative and just plain mean thoughts running through my head.  I’m not doing that now.  I don’t get annoyed by the small things anymore.  Even/especially with Connor.  I still get annoyed (who doesn’t when living with a man?) but it’s not a constant resentment and pissy mood anymore, which is such a huge relief to me, and likely him.

      3.  Impulsive Shopping

Okay, this one may be the medication, but it’s a side effect I’m grateful for, as well as my wallet.  Whenever I’m at the store, I’d pass something and say, “oh, I need that too!” and fill my cart.  Eventually, I’d end up with a full cart when I went in for milk and creamer.  It was a constant sore spot between Connor and I, but I felt helpless to stop it.  Usually it WAS something the house actually needed, but it was not what I came in for.  I’m still not great at this, but at least now I hesitate for a moment and think if I REALLY need to buy it now, or if it can wait.  I try and make a shopping list and stick to it.  I am still not great, but at least I can stick to a budget better.  If he gives me $300 for Christmas presents, I can spend $296.98.  I did that the other day and was so proud.  I used to split payment and charge my debit card for anything over the amount I was supposed to have spent, and the rest to our account.  I don’t do that now.

  1. Telling myself hurtful things

I am terrible at negative self-image and guilt.  I make everything my fault and feel terrible about everything that happens.  This is still a huge struggle for me.  However, I am being more kind and forgiving to myself.  Or trying to be anyway.  I have started to check myself when I say I “should” be or should have done something.  I know this is more to do with therapy than accidental, but it is at least something.  I’m able to sometimes step back and realize I’m being terrible to myself and stop it by changing subjects in my internal dialogue.  I’m trying to be as kind to myself as I am to others, though I’m not sure I can manage that.  I’m an angel to others (that was in sarcasm font).

  1. Who I am and what I want

This one is an ongoing thing, as I haven’t had a clue for most of my adult who I am and what I want.  I’ve learned a few core things about myself that I can hold onto as I go through episodes of despair; that I can cling to until I come out the other side.  I’m learning to say when I don’t want something and stick to it.  I’m finding out what I do love and what relaxes me and working to do that more.  I’ve got a LOT more work to do on this one, but the fact that it’s even an option now is a welcome relief.  I’m no longer subject to only depression where everything and everyone is just grey and holds no joy.

As the great Brandon Boyd of Incubus says, “It helps to know the difference between serenity and ennui.”  I finally have a little bit of serenity, and it is priceless.

 

Going Back to Work?

My car wreck, when I drove my car off the road and checked myself into the loony bin was all the way back in September 19th.  I’ve been off work since that time.  Thankfully I had disability insurance and FMLA.  However, my FMLA has now run out (I didn’t know you were limited on hours you can take!).  So now, my company has offered me a personal leave of 60 more days.  Though, with this generous gift of the 60 days, I would have to take a demotion.  I worked so hard for my promotion I got a year before my breakdown (4 years!) and so it’s heartbreaking for me.  I completely get the business need for it, having only one of my position puts so much stress on my companion and I’ve felt so guilty this entire time.  But going back down a rung to where I was before breaks my heart.  I liked that job too, but now that I moved up, I’m terrified I’ll be bored and slip into depression or just monotony.

I also am just utterly terrified to work again.  It’s been nice to be able to just be home, even though I’m never really home.  I’m always at group therapy or regular therapy or physical therapy or a doctor’s appointment.  I’m constantly moving.  I make sure to not isolate myself and make plans with family or a friend to keep my spirits up.  I know that when I Isolate too long, I get more depressed.  Though, the past few weeks I’ve felt I’ve over-done it and got too exhausted, so I took this week off from social engagements really.  I needed to recharge.  Now I just must do the housework that’s been severely suffering at home because of my jet-setting.  And I digress again.

I’m scared to go back to work because it’s been so long.  In my field, things change on a daily basis.  I’ve been out so long, who knows if anything is even remotely the same.  Also, since I’d be doing the specialist position, which I haven’t done in over a year, I’m not sure how to do that anymore.  It’s been so long.  I’m sure I’ll catch on again, but it’s terrifying.  I’m scared of jumping back into working 8.5 hours again, when I’ve had relative freedom for so long.  But, I need to go back.  I need to contribute to my family.  And, I need to work for my own sanity I think.  I like being home, but once my multiple therapies are done…what will I do with myself?  I can only clean so much, my back won’t let me do a lot.  And come on, what kind of life is cleaning daily, for someone who doesn’t care for it anyway?

The other option I was given, was to terminate my employment and go on long term disability with the long-term disability insurance provided through my company.  If I’m on LTD until March, they will apply and then appeal my case for me, so essentially, I’ll have to do nothing to apply, which is huge.  My sticking point is insurance.  I don’t know what happens with that.  I need insurance.  I have way too many doctor’s visits to not have it.  It’s not an option.  I have to work.  So, I guess I’ve made up my mind already.  Back to work it is.  Let’s see how this goes.  I am super excited to see everyone, I missed my work friends so much.  We were very close, and they’ve sent me cards and a book about a Lulu bulldog (I have a bulldog named Lulu!).  They are the sweetest, and after 4 years, it’s hard to not get attached to your team.  Alright work.  Here I come.  Time to talk to my boss and therapist and set a date I suppose!

Pain and Depression

Now that I’m no longer in crisis mode, I’m feeling slightly down and in a lot of pain.  That much stress and tension really gets my back to set on fire.  Every muscle is a giant knot that hurts so much.  It doesn’t help that I had another injection yesterday, and then physical therapy today.  Shortly after physical therapy, was group therapy.  So I’ve been sitting all damn day, which is a huge trigger for my pain.  Thankfully during physical therapy, we are mostly just doing muscle relaxation, which is just a really super amazingly wonderful massage with all my trigger points.  We’ve got to release my tension in order for the strengthening exercises to even work.  As it is now, they will be pointless to even try; they’ll just cause me more pain.  Anyway, I digress.  I wanted to talk today about how pain really makes living hard and how it exacerbates depression.

I don’t want to get too much into my issues, but I have severe back pain and have since I was 18.  I’ve been to 5 different physical therapists, countless MRIs/CTscans/X-rays etc.  I’ve had an ablation done (where they “burn” the nerve causing the pain to my toes) as well as receiving the injections in my neck currently and doing to physical therapy…again.  So, while I’m a lot better off than a lot of people, I live every single day in pain.  I have the hardest time gauging my pain when they ask me my level of pain.  “I dunno, I live every day at about a 5-6…my 9 or 10 is really high, my 15 is when I’m on the floor dying” kind of thing.  It’s hard to really explain that to doctors.  And then of course, it’s which PART of my back that hurts or is causing me the MOST pain at that time.  I have issues in all three “sections” of my back.  Sometimes all three hurt, sometimes only one.  So, with me constantly in pain, it has vastly hurt my depression.  I’ve often questioned “what’s the point anymore, I’ll never get better.  I can never carry a child.  Why even try yet another doctor, they’ll just give up too.  Nothing works, and I refuse narcotics.  I can’t be fixed,” is a constant commentary in my head.  It doesn’t stop.  I have no hope for pain relief anymore.  I can take the very edge off some of the pain with my Neurontin and making sure to avoid my triggers, but what kind of life is it where I can’t hold my nieces and nephew?  My biggest goal is to have a child, I don’t know if I’ll be even able to hold the baby to soothe it when/if I can even carry it to term.  That’s a HARD pill to swallow.  The older I get, the more hopeless I get.  Woops, I spent way more time than I planned on myself.  Oh, squirrel!

So, pain can create consequences in almost every part of one’s life.  Relationships, sleep, fatigue (not just being tired), hopelessness, anxiety, depression, guilt, mood, memory, concentration etc.  Pain is all encompassing and not something that is easily ignored or pushed aside, no matter what kind of pain you may be in.  It completely takes over your brain and you cannot focus on anything else for more than a few seconds without going back to noticing the pain.  It’s a constant nagging devil on your shoulder that is stabbing your head with his pitchfork.  It doesn’t stop.

It can cause issues in relationships because as you’re in pain, your mood suffers greatly.  It’s really hard to be happy when it’s all you can do to stand up.  You want help but can’t ask for it or you’ll feel guilty for asking for help.  You’re exhausted, can’t sleep, can barely move and of course have no libido.  It’s too exhausting to even think of sex.  It’s the last thing on your brain.  Then your spouse will feel rejected and it may cause a rift.

Sleep seems to me to be pretty obvious in how it is affected by pain.  If you hurt, you’ll toss and turn all night.  Which will not refresh you, and you’ll then be even more exhausted and fatigued.  Your body can’t replenish and so I will keep hurting more and more.  It’s a never-ending cycle.

The one that grasps me most is hopelessness.  I’ve been to doctors for 15 years for my back pain.  Back when I started, doctors would just throw opiates at me and I gobbled them down for the quick relief.  I didn’t care that that wasn’t something that would actually FIX what my issue was.  I don’t even remember if I got an MRI back then.  Probably not.  I then lost my insurance and had to suck it up for years.  I was a server and so constantly had to lift very heavy trays to tables.  I was super stubborn and didn’t want help, so I just did it myself.  That was brilliant of me.  Stupid 21 year old Kayleigh.  Then I finally got an office job and thought I was going to be all better, since I didn’t have to lift.  NOPE.  Just a different type of pain, that spread up my back instead of down.  Yay.  And it kept getting worse and worse until finally about 4 years ago I started the whole process of doctors again.  And this time, as the opiate epidemic has reached epic proportions, of course doctors are hesitant to prescribe anything.  I’m okay with this; I’m terrified of them at this point.  Addiction is the absolute last thing I need in my life now.  Doctors would just pass me to the next person, and the next and the next.  Nobody could help me.  They just shrugged their shoulders and referred me to the next.  I stopped trying again until I went into my spa week at the hospital.  I had been in a car wreck (slash me driving off the road) so my back was the worst it’s been in a long time.  I demanded MRIs and they finally found some things wrong they hadn’t seen before. Again, this began the process of another round of physical therapy and cortisone shots and then ablation.  Siiiighhhh.  How long until this doctor gives up?   Although this time I may be pushier, as I’m desperate to have a child.  I can’t have nor carry a child until I get my back in some kind of better shape to be able to hold a 10lb thing for more than 3 minutes without shooting pain.  I guess we’ll see, but I’m not holding my breath.

How has physical pain affected you?  Have you found any tips or tricks on ignoring it in order to be able to focus for more than 28 seconds at a time?  What relief have you found that works for pain?

Suicidal Intervention

I have had a rough couple of days.  For once, not because of my mood, but because of external factors that I can’t control that are hard to handle.  I’m actually quite impressed with how I’ve handled it, even though I could have done a lot better.  I’m proud for not going down into a depressive episode, but I may also still be in a type of shock.  Join me in an abridged version of what’s happened.  Names and some details are changed for privacy, in case you were curious.

Yesterday, I got a call at 8 am from Connor.  He had someone that really needed help.  I’ll call him Jack.  Jack was deeply upset and very depressed and had started to talk to Connor about it.  Connor knew because of his lack of empathy and understanding of what mental illness feels like, that he was not the person to talk him through this.  I have known Jack for about 10 years and care deeply for him.  I immediately got dressed, brushed my teeth and headed to talk to Jack.  I was with him and he was telling me his deepest and darkest secrets and depressive thoughts until 1:30 when I had to leave for group therapy.  He had a plan to commit suicide when he got home by going to Lowes and getting dryer pipes and threading them into his truck’s cab.  This understandably shook me to my core.  That’s how I know it’s not normal depression, it’s really serious.  Things change from ideation to a plan on how/what to do.  I tried to make him promise me that he wouldn’t do it, he couldn’t.  I tried to say I’d come stay with him all night, he told me no.  I said I’d take him to the inpatient ward, that was a no as well.  Finally, I got him to promise me he’d be safe while I went to group therapy and hugged him and left.  Connor was my first call when I got in the car.  I told him briefly what had happened and told him to go to Jack.  After about 2 hours in therapy, I get a message that we are going to take Jack out of town and to a hotel.  We’re going to a bar to watch the Seahawks game and get ice cream, as that’s what Jack wanted to do.  Once I got to Jack and found out what town to go to, I hurriedly booked a hotel and got us a bar that allowed us to smoke inside (both Connor and Jack smoke like chimneys, and I vape).  I had everything set up in minutes, so into the car we went.  Connor also called Jack’s other close friend, Kevin to go with us.  We spent the night at the bar having fried foods and a couple of drinks.  Jack was extremely quiet the entire time, but he did smile when his team won.  We all just talked and supported him and didn’t really bring up the pink elephant in the room.  We all knew who we were there for and just wanted him to enjoy himself for once and know we loved him.  I brought him one of my books, Depression and Anxiety, The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Workbook for Overcoming Depression and Anxiety, by Thomas Marra for him to work through as well as a couple of worksheets from group.  I made him promise me he’d try to go through them all and do the work, as it’s a workbook.

So, in the morning we got up bright and early at 7:30 and headed out.  I had another spinal injection in my neck, this time under sedation.  OH MY GOD IT’S SO MUCH BETTER THAT WAY.  I was able to handle it, I didn’t panic, it went more quickly, and I was okay.  I still HATED the tingles going down my arm when he put in the medicine, but whatever.  I got over it since I expected it this time and could anticipate the odd feeling.  I was in and out in an hour, which I did not expect.  I thought I’d be fully sedated (apparently if that happens you can become paralyzed!) and spend the entire day there.  Bonus, a short day at the hospital.

I get home and had planned to paint my stepdaughter’s room, but just couldn’t get the energy up, I’d had a rough couple of days.  So I laid down on my heating pad and waited.  I had a phone call meeting with my job at 3:30 PM.  I called in and got some news about disability that I’m not really understanding yet or processing.  (I still have a job mom and dad!).  I just don’t know what to think or do with disability, going back to work, when to go back etc.  I’m beyond terrified to go back, but I miss it so much.  So I’m stuck here.  I have to decide now too, instead of later.  Time for coping skills and discussing with Connor.

I’ve been in pain all day, had a hard day yesterday and still cooked dinner and took care of everyone.  I’ll still call that a win, even though I didn’t do my one extra productive thing today (that’s my expectation of myself).  Oh well.  Bigger things happened, and I’m okay with myself for not doing it, and have not that much guilt, even though it is there.  I can’t wait to sleep tonight.  I’m tired.

Fighting the Stigma

Because I have my undergrad degree in psychology, I’ve always pushed to end the stigma attached to having a mental disorder.  It’s something I will argue about with people with no hesitation.  The brain is an organ just like the kidneys, why can’t it get sick too?  Why do we look down on those that are depressed and tell them, “just get over it.  Why can’t you see the good in things?  Just be happy!” and things to that effect.  I logically understand that it is a holdover from previous decades and not understanding the human brain nor it’s disabilities.  But it can still be infuriating to someone who not only suffers from a mental disorder, but has an education in it as well (all be it a small one in the scheme of things).

Then I admitted myself to the psych ward.  I voluntarily checked myself into the loony bin, and not for an experiment like Nelly Bly did (check her out, her investigative journalism really shocked the world of mental health:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ten_Days_in_a_Mad-House).  I was diagnosed with bipolar II, not just a simple depression/anxiety thing which I believe is a lot easier for people to swallow, if still stigmatized.  Well shit, what now?  How do I go about living with this, in more than a logistics way?  Do I hide it?  Do I only tell certain people?  With my open views on mental health, do I shout it to the world?  What will the repercussions be to myself and those I love?  What about gun control and the conversations involving us “crazies” now?  How will that affect me?

For the first few weeks, I was extremely tight lipped about my diagnosis.  I didn’t tell anyone but my family and close friends.  I felt like a total hypocrite.  How can I say everyone ELSE needs to be open about their diagnosis, but not do that myself?  I had already begun working on my book about being in the hospital but planned on using a pen-name, so my family wouldn’t be harmed if I was ever able to publish.  The cognitive dissonance was astounding and hurt my head.  I couldn’t reconcile the two.  So, I decided that I was going to blog.  That way I could practice and hone my writing “skills” as well as be open about what was happening to me.  I’m so glad I did.  I am sure I will feel negative repercussions for this other than Connor questioning me about privacy the first day I posted and my dear friend G calling to warn me.

I truly hope that I can, in some small way, help end some of the stigma of bipolar.  I still catch myself when asked, hesitating to say what’s happening to me.  I will choke on the words but spit them out nonetheless.  I have got to.  I can’t lie to myself and others about something as simple as a chemical imbalance (they think, as far as I’ve seen, they don’t know precisely why it happens).  The brain and psychology are still a very young science.  When I do say that I have bipolar, I make sure to not specify bipolar II for a few reasons.  One is that most don’t KNOW that there are two distinct types of Bipolar.  Another reason is that it just doesn’t matter.  I have the disorder, I’m admitting it, it doesn’t matter which.  One more reason is that bipolar II, for those that know about it, is seen as the more “mild” form of bipolar, which isn’t true.  Yes, the mania is much more mild (called hypomania), but the depressive episodes are MUCH deeper than Bipolar I, which makes it just as intense, but in a different area.

Sometimes I will refer people to read my blog, which feels a lot like a shameless plug for views.  Even though I only get a very small amount of views, I do want more.  I want more people to see what it’s like to live through the disorder.  I want as many people who DON’T have bipolar to see that we are just the same as you, we just have to fight our brains every day.  That’s not scary to you.  We (for the most part) aren’t scary or dangerous, though there are some that are.  Not all mental health sufferers will be dangerous.  With millions of people diagnosed with some type of illness, it’s such a small percent of us that do become violent or dangerous to others in some way.  Mostly we are self-harming.  Mostly.

Shameless self-plug ahead.  If you’ve ever thought about sharing this blog, please do.  I want to help others in any way I can.  If that means putting my whole life out there, then so be it.  My existence doesn’t feel worth it if I don’t make some small impact, in some small way.  I think this is the way I was supposed to make my impact.  Let others know they are not alone.  They are seen.  So, share away!  It’s an easy link to remember, Enterbipolar.com.  Think of the Metallica song “enter sandman” except with bipolar.  That’s what I stole the name from (fun fact!), as well as from Hamilton the musical, “So there will be a revolution in this century, Enter me! He says in parenthesis.”  Hopefully that’ll help you remember as you’re living and encounter someone that may need any kind of help.  And of course, please reach out to me with questions if you have any!  I have an email address set up just for this site and you should be able to find it under the “contact me” page.  Or, if you know me personally, message/text me.  I’m terrible with phone calls, they make me anxious as all hell.

 

Ever Present Guilt

This month I’ve only posted twice.  I’ve been playing around for how often to post and when, to see what it does to views.  With every 4 days posting, NOBODY reads!  So, I’m going to try once again to post daily/every other day (sorry for those that will see constant reminders!).  When I inevitably wake up at 2AM every morning, I’ll go down and write instead of laying down and mindlessly looking at other people’s lives.  There is really no point.  My goal during all this intensity is to be productive.  Looking at other people’s happiness does absolutely nothing to my productivity, nor my own mental health.  I feel guilty for coming downstairs in the middle of the night to write as well.  Connor cannot sleep without me beside him and so me being gone will wake him up.  I feel guilty infecting another person with my inability to sleep for only 3-4 hours at a time.  So I give myself grief for coming down and spending the few hours alone in my solitary self-reflection.

Feeling guilty about writing at night is what brings me to what I want to talk about.  Guilt.  It is absolutely pervasive in my mind.  Guilt is a lot of why I feel so negatively towards myself and what I do.  I practice so much mental self-flagellation for about anything and everything I do.  I didn’t do the dishes soon enough?  *whip* Didn’t have a trauma growing up during a trauma class, but am still messed up?  *whip* Laundry piling up?  *whip* Said what I believe is an awkward thing to a friend?  *whip* Thinking about going on disability to fully heal both my back and my brain?  *whip* This type of thinking is absolutely no fun and is what I think may be my most destructive brain pattern.  Why do I feel guilty about feeling guilty right in this moment?

Guilt in very small doses can be a good thing (so I hear).  It causes you to be sure to do kind things for others, like remembering to send a present for a birthday or call your mother/friends/siblings etc. on special occasions.  This type of guilt can be NOT self-destructive.  It’s when you over use guilt that makes it so damaging.  I don’t know why the guilt dial can be turned to 11, but I wish I did.  I only realized that my guilt lever was fully on today when I was in therapy group.  We were talking about trauma and the physical responses with the nervous systems as well as symptoms of trauma that persist throughout life.  Because I HAVE no trauma that I know of, I felt guilty for even being in group.  Why do I deserve to have this amazing opportunity to be in this intensive outpatient therapy group, when I haven’t and don’t go through what the other wonderful people that are there do?  I don’t have childhood abuse; my family life was great growing up.  Why am I so depressed?  I am not abused now either.  I sat in group and practically disassociated and went somewhere else as an unintentional coping mechanism.  I couldn’t handle my guilt for lack of trauma.  How in the hell does THAT make any sense at all?  I feel guilty for NOT having a life destructing trauma?  What the hell?

I’ve heard that these types of self-flagellations are a phenomenon called the “Dobby effect” named after the house elf in one of my favorite book series ever written, Harry Potter.  Dobby will self-harm any time he goes against his owners or says something that is negative or forbidden about them, at least until he’s freed by Harry.  The Dobby Effect causes guilty feeling people to ward off the guilt by self-punishment.  I use this effect in spades.  I don’t know why, but I do.  It makes me avoid persons and situations in which I’ve felt guilty, as well as isolate myself, feel guilty about that and then over-work myself at the house which will cause a crash later.  I have recently crashed in the last two weeks or so, which I feel guilty about as well.  I was doing so well at being good and productive and positive about things.  I’m now back down in the depression pit, although not as deeply as I normally do (thanks bipolar meds!).

Because it’s what I do, I researched ways to work through guilt and found a good article on psychologytoday.com.  I love this website.  I do everything from research to finding a psychiatrist here.  I’ll link below for those curious.  I think I need to print out these suggestions on post-it’s and put them around my house for me to see, along with my “you are enough” magnet on my fridge.  The headers for each suggestion are as follows:

  1. Tell yourself that you have done the best you could
  2. Consider that at the time, you didn’t know what you do now.
  3. Remember that you’re not to blame for surviving a tragedy
  4. Think that to blame yourself for a mistake that was beyond your control may not characterize your behavior
  5. Tell yourself that you may have adopted too rigorous of standards for yourself (!)
  6. Acknowledge your right to protect your self-interests
  7. Recognize that you can stand up for yourself and your rights
  8. Remind yourself that there’s nothing wrong for pushing for your own goals
  9. Stop the inner dialogue that is negative

Admittedly, these are not exactly easy things to do, but at least it’s somewhere to go and something to reach for.  I’m going to work on putting these suggestions into my daily life, and practicing them.  Maybe this will help my flagellation problem.  Man, for such a negative word, I really like the word “flagellation.”  Oh look, squirrel!

 

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/evolution-the-self/201506/9-ways-talk-yourself-out-unnecessary-guilt