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.

 

Social Anxiety and Wins

Social anxiety really blows.  This past weekend, I had a full calendar of social engagements and things to do around people that always make me nervous.  I was able to not just survive around the fringes, but had fun the entire weekend, although I’m socially exhausted today (well, if you count 3AM as today still).

On Friday, my in-laws, Connor and I went to a large casino and dinner for fun.  I ended up having a great time, but it definitely took a lot of my coping skills and a lot of holding Connor’s hand to be calm enough to enjoy myself.  There were a ton of people all over the place and I get really nervous around that many people.  I’m afraid they’ll take my purse, I’ll get separated, I’ll get lost, someone will talk to me, people are all staring at me and judging me, on and on and on.  It’s very difficult for me to be in THAT huge of a place.  Hell, even a bar isn’t something I can handle anymore.  At restaurants, I’m more comfortable in the back corner rather than a table in the center, and I never cared until about five years ago.  It sucks.

Today, I knew I could do it.  I was scared but knew I could get through being around my in-laws (whom I love but I’m still always nervous around) and not making a fool of myself and being around about a billion people.  I had Connor with me.  He’d protect me.  He’d let me hold on to him.  I had to do a lot of deep breathing though.  I had to ignore 99% of what was going on around me as I held his hand.  I kept him right next to me the whole time.  I had a couple drinks to loosen me up, can’t lie about that.  Not enough to really FEEL anything, just relax.  The one time I was away from Connor, I went to the bathroom while he wandered around a specific area and looked for “his” good machine (he’s so dang lucky at slots).  After my ablutions, I went back to where I left him, and he was gone.  Immediate panic.  I walked around the slots looking for him while my heart raced.  I started to panic and get terrified.  Then I went back to where I left him again and looked on the other side of the row.  He was right there.  He stayed exactly where I left him, just on the other side.  Phew.  Minor panic attack averted.  I did then guzzle the rest of my decaf crème brȗlèe coffee though as a calming mechanism.

I have a worry stone (actually a few of them) that I carry around.  One is in my car since that’s where I panic the most, one is beside my bed for something to do with my hands if I can’t focus on coloring, reading, or crocheting.  The other is in my purse.  Of course, I put one in my coat, but I checked my coat at the coat check, so I didn’t have it with me.  I had nothing to grab and hold on to so that I could calm down around the multitude of crowds, so I just grabbed Connor’s fingers whenever I could.  At least I had something.  With my coping skills I’ve recently learned, I was able to calm down enough to thoroughly enjoy myself and actually be able to relax around my family and billions (okay, maybe an exaggeration) of people.  It was great fun in the end and I finished the evening very glad that we’d gone.

On Saturday was a wedding of a very close neighbor of mine.  I knew that I would not know anyone there, and that is enough to make me panic.  I was so excited when I got to see another neighbor I know and adore, as well as meet one more.  Since I live in the woods with nobody having less than 5 acres around them, it’s not exactly easy to meet neighbors.  I am so lucky that every single one (excepting one) have been the most amazing people.  I digress.  I didn’t have a “win” at this event other than being able to do some small talk with the new neighbor (before I had too much wine).  I hate small talk and I’m very terrible at it.  I’m uncomfortable, I’m awkward, I don’t know what to say or how to get the topic onto them sometimes; it’s the worst.  This is why I hate networking.  Even if I didn’t have much a social anxiety “win” I did have fun and it was a beautiful wedding.  I completely cried at the vows and of course Connor had to tease me.  I’ve not been able to cry throughout his time knowing me, so now that I can recently cry, he loves to tease me.

Sunday was my most impressive win.  I’m a vice president for the board of directors for an organization.  I’m also an extraordinarily passive person who has almost no assertiveness (which I’m working hard on).  I was able to speak up during my “section” of the meeting and ask a request of the board, because one of the members did something that I was not okay with.  I spoke my piece, didn’t look at her or say her name, but made it clear what I was talking about.  She tried to interrupt me and I was able to calmly look at her (in front of people!!) and say “’Can I finish speaking please?” and finish what I was trying to say.  We went back and forth for another hour or so (okay, maybe a minute really) and I didn’t back down.  I didn’t cave.  I didn’t submit and get quiet.  I was able to hold my ground calmly and assertively.  I was so proud!  Even Connor and Miranda noticed and said how impressed they were.  Group therapy 9 hours a week for the win!

There are ways to get around being terribly anxious around people.  I will never be the room enchanter that walks in and the whole place gets excited for great conversation.  I’m okay with that, though I’m sure it would help to be able to do that.  I’m still learning ways to cope with the terror, and I know I’ll learn more and be better able to do them as I practice using the skills.  Maybe one day I will be that charming person, who knows?

You Are Enough

Today was a hard day for me.  For absolutely no reason.  I woke up as is now typical at 2AM, went back to sleep at 4AM, woke up at 7 and decided I needed more sleep.  I forced myself to sleep and didn’t wake up until 11AM.  I felt like the worst person ever.  For some reason, I’ve always slept really well during the day when I’m not supposed to, and when I’m depressed, I sleep for 18 hours a day sometimes.  I guess when I didn’t wake up at an acceptable time, I slid back into the fear and loathing that I feel when I sleep too much when depressed.

When I did get up, I immediately decided that I was the worst person in the world and not worthy of love.  I was telling myself that I was a lazy piece of crap and a terrible wife and stepmother.  I love my husband and step-kids and hate when I feel that I’m not good enough for them.  Thankfully I didn’t get any suicidal thoughts, because then I’d check myself back into the hospital or have to call my psychiatrist(s).  Now, knowing that I feel worse about myself when I’m not productive, I decided I had to get up and moving and do something.   I decided to go to the hardware store to get paint, as my stepdaughter wants to redecorate her room into something more teenager-like rather than the pre-teen she has now.  I think it’s a great idea and we have come up with a really cute design.  Now I just have to do it.   I went to go pick out paint and such and ended up spending a lot more than I thought I would on supplies.  I didn’t even get anything I didn’t need, which is what I usually do when shopping. “Oh!  That’s fun, I need that too” is something that happens all too often.  I’m a much too impulsive shopper and it’s caused a lot of issues.

So, still miserable in my head and fighting negative looping thoughts, I got home and put up some more Christmas decorations outside.  I put some solar lights in Berkley’s garden (where I buried his things and planted a tree since I didn’t have him to bury) and lined my walkway with little solar light bulbs from the dollar store.  Then I went inside and finally finished another painting project I’ve wanted to do forever.  The walls on my stairwell are/were all scuffed up from moving things up and down the stairs and it drives me nuts.  So I got my little paintbrush and fixed it all.  I actually got to put away the paint that I’ve had out since I fixed my bathroom paint weeks ago.  I’m glad that’s done.  But I couldn’t get started on my stepdaughter’s room.  It felt overwhelming to pull everything down from her walls and push it all in the center of the room.  Taping and prepping was just too much for me today.  I knew I couldn’t do it.  I wanted to also finally put up my Christmas tree, but I knew that would be too much too.  I did get it assembled and fluffed but I couldn’t get myself to put up any ornaments.  Baby steps I guess.

I am learning to reach out to Connor and tell him when I’m feeling down or upset about things, as it’s something I have hidden from him for years.  I started randomly crying for no reason really.  I hate crying.  I have no idea why, but I feel weak and don’t want to succumb to emotions like that.  I told him how I felt, and he did what he knew how to do.  He sent me a video that was talking about how you are worthy of love and that “you are enough.”  I cried when I watched that too, as I was asking him if I’m still a good person with dust and dirt in my house.  If I’m still worth loving even though I struggle with being productive and getting things done.  The video was his way of responding to my asking for help, as he doesn’t usually know what to say in these situations.  He’s trying so hard to understand and work with me on my illness and he was very thoughtful in sending me that video.  I’ll see if I can link to it at the end of the blog for those who need to know they are enough as well.

Finally, in the evening after forcing myself to do as much as I could, even though I felt extremely down and overwhelmed, I decided to cook dinner.  I HATE cooking so much, but I’ve been trying to learn to at least tolerate it.  I’m just not great at it.  I got a free week of Hello Fresh, so decided I was going to do one all on my own (Connor had to help me on the last one).  I did it and it actually worked.  Of course, I was not hungry at this point, being upset all day.  All I ate yesterday was some cheeze-its and a bowl of cereal at 3AM.  This medicine makes me not hungry (YAY!  Maybe I can lose the weight I gained back in my hypomanic state!).  But, when Connor came home, he sat down at the table with me as I was coloring (he suggested I do that when I complained to him as well, as he knows it calms me down).  He was going to come downstairs and do the tree with me too, but I could see how much pain he was in so told him to go lay down.  I finally felt okay.  Not good.  Not happy or good about myself.  But okay.  The hamster wheel of negative thoughts was finally slowing down.

When I feel that way, it makes me panic that I am going to go down into a depressive episode again.  Depression for me is the absolute worst.  Hypomania sucks and is very destructive, but the depression ruins my relationships and costs me so much.  So, when I have a bad day like today, my anxiety goes into overdrive and doesn’t help the depression.  It’s a vicious cycle and one I’m terrified of.  But, I made it through today.  I did it.  I didn’t lapse into deep depression and lay in bed all day.  I was productive and got things done.  And that helps.  Even though it was hard, and I had to focus on one thing at a time, I did it.  And you can too when you’re struggling.  Just do the next right thing that you can handle.  Even if it’s just showering and getting up.  It’s something.

Here is the video Connor sent me in case anyone is interested.  I want to keep it for myself when I struggle again.  https://youtu.be/bUMFZM5WBrI

Self-Esteem, or the lack of it

Self esteem.  This is something I’m sure BILLIONS of people struggle with.  I know it is one of the worst things about me.  It’s really hard to be positive about your life and confident enough to be assertive.  Protecting yourself is next to impossible when you think you’re not worth protecting.  Standing up for yourself against those who would tear you down is futile.  You don’t feel worth anything.  You’re not good enough for anything.  You don’t deserve good things.  It’s a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad feeling (I loved that book growing up).

Because of this complete lack of self esteem and self worth, I have the most impossible time with any and all conflict.  I don’t know if that’s just me or part of the lack of worth in my head.  I panic and clam up.  With a husband that thrives on conflict sometimes, it has made for some really rough years.  Thankfully though, with this group therapy as well as one on one therapy (and I guarantee my medicine), I’m finally starting to feel like it’s okay to speak my mind.  I still don’t want to hurt people’s feelings, and that’s where the calm assertiveness comes into play that I’m learning.  I’m lucky to have my sister who I feel is good at this (well, she does more of a sarcastic comment but she’s the sweetest and cutest, so it’s hard to get mad at anything she ever says) as well as my work wife who emulates this perfectly.  I think the more I get used to standing up for myself, the better I’ll get at appreciating who I am and having self-worth.

In group, we often deal with self-esteem and so I have quite a bit of worksheets I’ve done on it.  Some of my favorites I will post here.

Daily affirmations I have seen work wonders on people, though I haven’t had a lot of practice using them and having them help me.  I need to write them on sticky notes or post this page all over my house.  Practice makes perfect.  This bill of rights is also wonderful and makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside, if you aren’t arguing with it inside your head like I do.  Hopefully I’ll continue to improve.

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Now this final thing is one I REALLY struggled with during group.  We were to put down 5 things we appreciate about our life, and then 5 things we appreciate about ourselves.  I’ve been trying for months to find a few core things about myself that are from ME only, not influenced by anyone else, that I am proud of and can hold onto.   Who I am.  What I am proud of.  I can find three.  Those three are better than the nothing I had before, but it’s still miniscule to what I should have.  I’m not going to lie, it’s REALLY hard to post this with my answers on it. If I’m going to be open and honest, I have to be open and honest.  You may be able to tell that I struggled with the last few answers.  I’m thankful for Halloween, yes.  It’s my most favorite.  But come on, I could have pushed to find something else.  And thankful for my beautiful shoes?  ABSOLUTELIY.  I love shoes.  But…I could have searched deeper to find something inside of me that I liked.  Alas, this is what bad self-esteem looks like.

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The strangest thing is that I thrive and love finding good in others and that’s something I’m proud of. I believe everyone has good in them and things that are worthy of being loved, no matter who or what they are. I just have a hard time applying that same philosophy to myself.