Finding Psychosis in Unlikely Places

Lately things have been up, up, up! A rather profound and relatively welcome change from my typical morose malaise dragging down even the most cheerful of moments. Things seemed to be going perfectly well when I hit a bit of a speed bump last week and started noticing my slightly-elevated hypomania (and general stability) being peppered with hysteria riddled buckshot.

Right now in the DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) group I am in we are learning about a skill called check the facts which involves taking time out to look at the big picture and discern if my reaction to events (or if my interpretation) might be colored by unwise reasoning (like jumping to conclusions).

I felt like I had a pretty good grasp on the skill and practiced it multiple times before that speed bump I was talking about last week. In these periods of agitation and intense depression-laced moments (lasting a couple hours at a time) I could no longer find “the facts”. It seemed like my ability to step back was totally negated, adding fear and panic to my already disoriented state.

I have always had a hard time identifying psychosis when it is happening, or at least identifying it before it has altered my psyche in a profound way. Typically the only way I have been able to pinpoint it in the past was after the fact, faced with a trail of breadcrumbs leading in several opposing directions at once.

Granted, I have experienced a few situations where the psychosis I was experiencing was something that seemed pretty easy to point out at the time. The overwhelming need I had to live with gypsies and time I thought I had become a werewolf are definitely two examples, but both occurred many years ago. Since then things have changed, and the psychosis I experience now is almost exclusively tied to fear, not euphoria or grandeur.

The fears are almost always something that could happen. Typically not things that are likely, but possible in the realm of actual life events. My boss trying to undermine me at work was a pretty infamous episode I had, but this time it was a little closer to home and my fear revolved around my boyfriend and an impending doom of our relationship.

In my mind, my boyfriend was trying to push me away to the point where I would become fed up with him and break up. Though this is not even remotely based in reality I was certain it was happening (but only for 1-2 hours 3-4 times a day) and I became terrified to speak to him. Unfortunately not speaking to him only fed into the awkward feeling I was having, making the whole thing seem more real.

For me, psychosis is typically like a real asshole lawyer. It builds a case based on tiny clues that are generally considered meaningless in our everyday lives, and when there are big pieces missing to corroborate the story, it makes them up. I’ll often find myself with memories of saying or hearing things that never actually happened, despite feeling very much like they have.

Trying to reason with someone who isn’t playing by the rules (psychosis) became relatively meaningless in my experience this last week. I felt overwhelmed by mass confusion because trying to check the facts led to so many contradictory facts that I didn’t know who or what to believe.

And that’s when my boyfriend found me.

I tried to explain why I was upset (without knowing at that point that I was even experiencing psychosis). It didn’t seem like him to be vindictive or evil, after all our relationship had always been like a slow, lazy river as opposed to the Niagara Falls of my last relationship. I blamed him for a long list of things that apparently never happened, and when trying to express my confusion I suddenly started laughing. Yep. That’s when I figured it out, the contradictory breadcrumbs were coming from many different directions and were made of several individually delicious but totally different and clashing baked goods.

[insert emergency antipsychotic here]

Things have been fine since, and while these sorts of episodes always lead me to feeling rather embarrassed and apologetic I was very lucky that I had some help in pinpointing this situation early. Being able to celebrate my birthday over the weekend without any added psychosis was huge.

Corey reminded me that this sort of thing tends to crop up for me when I am starting to get stressed. It was a good reminder to pay attention this holiday season and do my best to remain relaxed. I never want to come off as being a “Scrooge” but finding a way to celebrate the holidays without totally losing control of myself can be a big challenge. High-five to my man for being smart and compassionate!

On a final note, I am in the market for a new psychiatrist. This last one has made some comments that were more harmful than helpful, so this week I hope to switch to the next doctor on deck. Stay tuned!

Thirty More “One More”s

This week I am turning 30.

The last couple months have been an interesting ride, most of the people around me have been unsure of how to go about addressing this birthday (or not) since I tend to be swept up in an emotional cavalcade a lot of the time. Suggestions ranged from ((psst, don’t mention it!)) to let’s jump out of an airplane!!!

Finding myself in a position to try to discern how other people feel about me turning 30 (or how other people interpret my interpretation of turning 30) has been confusing, and initially didn’t leave a lot of room for my thoughts and feelings about the situation.

How do I feel about turning 30?

I think the general consensus is that most people have been concerned that turning 30 would plunge me into some kind of existential crisis (hello 25th birthday) where I would be confounded by the meaning of life, the universe, and everything and self-implode.

In actuality, once I had some time to be alone with the idea of turning 30 I would say my biggest emotional reaction has been one of relief.

I felt similarly when I turned 20. The mental breakdown I had in my late teens left me unsure about my ability to maneuver my way to my 20th birthday.

This time I have spent the last decade experiencing similar mental implosions multiplied by 200, 300, maybe even 400%. I don’t mean to be morbid, but there were honestly times I wouldn’t have bet my money on reaching 30. But…

Here I am! (Deal with it, sukas!)

I’ve heard many people say that their 20’s were the hardest decades of their lives, and that things became significantly more stable in their 30’s. Obviously there is no way to know what my future holds, but knowing that the life lessons I learned in my 20’s (how to live on the quarters people drop under vending machines, how to deal with a boss who is sexually harassing you, surviving the deaths of friends or family members, learning not to treat my doctors as gods, ending toxic friendships, etc.) are not things I will ever have to do again for the first time. So many difficult situations that I have learned how to cope with and come through the other side that it gives a person a sense of strength and comfort, knowing that if I could live through the things I lived through in my 20’s, I am significantly less inclined to be afraid of my 30’s.

Apart from relief, my other dominant feeling is a celebratory one. Every once in a while, I need to let myself eat that carrot that has been hanging on the string out in front of me prompting me to move forward, and this is one of those times.

A lot of my bipolar symptoms have left me in a position where it is very difficult to look forward, make goals, or plan for the future. Living in the moment and from one day to the next is one of the few things that helps give me relief, so despite reaching 27, 28, and 29, reaching 30 has been a bit of a shock really. Like 20, when it was a detached number on a page I can’t say I really expected to reach it.

At any rate, reaching 30 has felt a lot like reaching a new save point on a video game I’ve never played before. I find myself both delighted, relieved, and ultimately a little shocked (because who knew I had the skills to make it past that last scaly-faced fire-breathing boss?!?). Though I don’t know what comes next, it has been important for me to take a much needed moment to pat myself on the back because ultimately… I don’t do it as much as I should!

Catching Up; The SSDI Denial

At this point, more than one curious person has asked me about my attempt in applying for SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) and to be totally honest, it is something I have been trying to write about for a few months now.

I received my denial letter a couple months ago (I submit my application in December 2012) and after all the time that has passed I was overjoyed to receive this denial letter.

The reason I was overjoyed to be denied was because my path through the application process was neither easy or uplifting, to say the least!

My first hurdle was working with a team of lawyers who told me appear and act a certain way. They strongly suggested I give up this blog completely, which I was very uncomfortable with. On one hand, I wanted to win, but I truly believe (as do my family, friends, and doctors) that anyone who understands my symptoms and has seen me interact with others would not doubt my claim that I am unable to hold a full time job. It was important to me through this whole process to hold onto that and to be ok if things didn’t work out (because I had been honest the whole time), but it was very difficult to feel manipulation and pressure by my lawyers who were advising me to do things that would undermine many of the things that keep me afloat enough to survive (blogging, therapy, spending time with other people, etc).

The second hurdle was the judge I was assigned for my hearing back in February 2014. Apparently different judges who are making the decision regarding SSDI claims have different political affiliations, different beliefs about the way SSDI should be structured, and different viewpoints on the topic of mental illness (among other things). I was told my judge was the toughest in the county and to expect that I had a chance of about zero. While I expected that walking in, what I didn’t expect was the way the judge treated me in the hearing.

On one hand I could understand that it was the last hearing of the week on a Friday afternoon, and that maybe he’d had a bad cup of coffee earlier or was anxious to get home… but I was not prepared to be verbally abused in the courtroom. For the next couple months I became psychotic, trapped in my mind where this judge was constantly attacking me. I was so distraught that I consented to try Seroquel again.

The third hurdle was a full investigation of me, as prompted by the judge and federal government. The investigation happened when I was (naturally) experiencing a hypomanic period, seemingly corroborating the theory that the judge had that I was attempting to commit SSDI fraud. Detectives posed as Seattle Police officers to gain entry to my apartment where my fear of the SPD kept me from mentioning anything regarding my own mental health -again seemingly corroborating the theory that I was faking it.

When I received a copy of their report in the mail (along with notations of voice recordings, notes from being tailed for a week, and copies of blog entries I had made that were taken out of context) I began to nosedive into a second psychotic tailspin. The men who were agents for the government had spoken to my landlord, neighbors, even people in a weaving group I had no longer been part of for over a year -all about my mental health. The paranoia became overwhelming, and I could no longer feel comfortable in my apartment knowing that space had been violated… so we moved.

It might not seem like such a surprise now that I was hospitalized around Halloween last year. I could hardly even talk to my grandmother on the telephone for fear that they were listening to me, let alone send emails or write in this blog. My lawyers told me not to talk about it, so I relied heavily on Corey (my boyfriend), my therapist, and my psychiatrist. I provided my healthcare team with copies of the paperwork I had been sent about what happened and they were both horrified and flabbergasted, but ultimately they had proof that I was telling the truth and could corroborate that the situation had triggered the symptoms I was having.

The final hurdle was a second hearing, scheduled to address the findings of the undercover investigation against me. Initially the hearing was scheduled to take place the same week as my birthday in November 2014 but was cancelled by the judge and rescheduled for April 2015 (the same week as Corey & my anniversary… lame!).

For many months it had been clear I wasn’t going to win, I just wanted the inquiries and fear to end. Honestly I expected the judge to berate me further in the hearing, but to my astonishment he was much more polite (my lawyer said that was likely because of the documentation of his actions directly leading to my most recent hospitalization in my file). After the back and forth with my lawyer he simply looked at me and said my file was inconclusive because of how inconsistent everything was, from the notes from my healthcare team, to my work history, to the report from the detectives, etc.

This was the one small window I was waiting for. For the first time I was able to do what I do best; relate my symptoms and experience with someone else in a way they can understand. I told the judge that inconsistency is the very nature of my disability… that I can be simultaneously the best and worst employee you’ve ever had, and that it feels impossible to remain consistent when I might have strong feelings of joy one minute and intense feelings of despair or fear the next. Most of my employers have considered having an unreliable employee worse than a mediocre one, so that inconsistency has been a huge hurdle in trying to remain employed.

He looked admittedly thoughtful and said he would reconsider the evidence. This, if nothing else, helped me shake off the fear and paranoia that had accumulated the past couple years. It was the first opportunity I had to defend myself and my life and my reason for applying, and even if I was denied benefits at that point I was simply happy to be rid of the specter that had been haunting me.

Several months later I received my denial. I am happy because it means I am free. I am no longer worried that the government is watching me (though who knows), and though I might not be able to take care of myself financially, I do have, however briefly, (heh) my sanity.

Typically I pride myself on being open about my life and my emotions, and I genuinely went into this SSDI application situation with the intention of writing about it every step of the way. The whole experience was much different than I expected, despite knowing I would be at a disadvantage because of my age and my disability being a mental disability as opposed to a physical one.

While not having benefits means I am in a difficult spot financially, I have proven the last five years that there are many organizations willing to help support those with mental illness who do not make the applicants sing and dance, or trigger extreme worsening of their symptoms before they are willing to help. While the point of this post isn’t to shake my fist at the government or attempt to bring shame on those involved, I can’t help but question this system after I have experienced it firsthand.

Of course, this comes with my usual reminder that this was a situation that happened to me. While I have heard many accounts of people in my local support groups achieving SSDI benefits, I haven’t heard many stories like mine… and though I don’t know if they’re out there, I wouldn’t be surprised if people aren’t completely terrified to share them (I sure was!). This is not the inevitable end of every SSDI application, just one, and to me it seems like one worth pondering.

Ultimately, being under the scrutiny of the federal government was one of the least fun adventures I’ve ever had in my life…

I’ve never been so happy to be denied something before!

I do not intend to reapply any time in the immediate future because, well, I can’t without some kind of proof of my symptoms worsening, for one. Even if I could reapply immediately I don’t think I would, based on how emotionally and mentally overwhelming the whole experience was. I really need some room to breathe in the mental health department, and I have always had the outlook that I do much better when I am poor and slightly more content than when I opt to trade financial stability for increased emotional instability.

The last two years involved the longest periods of psychosis I have ever experienced, so thank you to my friends and family and anyone who was even the least bit supportive in that period (well, and ever). Sometimes it has felt easy for me to believe in the power of the judicial system and “justice” in America, but realistically it is the sense of community in the people that rally around me that have done the most to help keep me going.

So, no SSDI? Ok. I still consider myself to be one very lucky girl!

Word of the Week: Apathy

The word of the week is apathy!

Apathy – indifference, lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern

I’ve had a lot of names for apathy over the years (pointlessness, uncaring, disinterest, etc.) but this week apathy seemed like the perfect word to sink my teeth into.

For me, apathy has generally been a red flag for depression… but sometimes I have used the sort of “indifferent” element of my attitude to appear accommodating or like I am doing better (I’m totally casual guys!) than I actually am. On a positive note, apathy has also allowed me to move through an emotionally difficult situation with minor reaction (on my end) from time to time, which has felt like a relief every once in a while (since I am much more prone to over-thinking and over-feeling).

Though it can be helpful on occasion, apathy is much more likely to cause problems for me. My boyfriend doesn’t like when I don’t have an opinion on anything or when I don’t particularly feel like doing anything (neither do I for that matter). Most of my projects or activities fall to the wayside and I feel kind of stuck, like there is an invisible wall keeping me from wanting to proceed. When people ask me to pick between (A) or (B) I find myself waiting for any kind of emotion or indication of which one I want, which one is better… but it never comes.

When I am feeling a lot of apathy I have a hard time trusting my decisions because I lose most of the criteria I would normally use to make a decision. It becomes easy for me to eat a whole bag of candy, or drink a lot, or sleep all day because I don’t feel any potential consequence. I only feel… like I don’t care.

For now I will say that even though apathy lent itself to having pancakes for dinner this week, I’ll be happy when it moves on.





My Intro to DBT, Breaking the Bucking Bronco

For just about as long as I can remember, my emotions have been akin to a bucking bronco that I was plopped on top of at an early age.

For several years the best I could do was hold on, but in the last ten I have gotten to know the bronco a little bit. Every once in a while I can feed him an apple to win his favor, and I can do a better job of riding all of the ups and downs (instead of just holding on for dear life).

It always unnerved me when people would tell me to get the bronco under control, and that the task should be relatively simple. That I could harness it and use it to ride faster and further than other people. In response to most of those people I simply sat back and, though willing, rather spitefully responded by asking, “how? If you can tell me how, I can do it.”

That is when whatever adult/therapist/boss would get flustered and I would sigh unapologetically. I didn’t need someone to teach me how to ride a bucking bronco, I already knew how to do that. I needed someone to teach me to tame it enough that I could dismount and spend some time on solid ground.

Needless to say I was pretty pleasantly surprised when my first meeting with the DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) group at my local clinic (finally!) did just that. Within two hours there was discussion on how to change from a harmful emotion to a positive one, and all I could think was, where was this group ten years ago?!?

Frankly, I am really excited to have the opportunity to try strategies for managing my bipolar and anxiety symptoms as well as work on my abilities to communicate with others because those are the biggest barriers in my life. DBT might just be the horse whisperer I have been looking for… heck, it practically came with a saddle and a bit!

I am not expecting a miracle, but being desperate for ideas and answers for quite some time I am the sort of person who will not scrimp on doing legwork to get to where I am trying to go. Ultimately I think this group will help me do some great things, and I am excited to absorb as much information as I can to implement some much needed positive changes.

Comforting the Inner Critic

It was hard for me as a kid growing up to celebrate the successes in my life. There has always been a voice in my head telling me that I could have done things a little better. A little faster. A little smarter.

For whatever reason this was translated into a situation where people believed it was easy for me to achieve the things I did. People mused to me about how effortless my life must be, and that I shouldn’t bother celebrating getting straight A’s because there was no effort involved.

I didn’t tell anyone that the biggest drive in my life was fear. That voice in my head told me that if I didn’t succeed I would have no future. That I would die at any moment. That somebody close to me would get hurt. That really, I was just a failure anyway so I ought to just give up now.

In that sense, yes, it was easy to succeed. To succeed or believe that terrible things would befall you… succeeding seemed like the only option.

When I got older the voice took on a more intense role, and as my interest in school waned and was replaced with relationships the voice began to mimic all of my most awkward and heart breaking moments back to me. According to the voice, failure in a relationship meant failure at life, and I did all manner of things (and withstood all manner of things) to try to keep things together.

I tried many things to deal with these intrusive thoughts, first I tried to please them. For many years I did whatever I could to try to prove them wrong in a desperate effort to make them stop. They didn’t.

I tried to have a relationship where my intrusive thoughts became part of the dialogue. A third person in the relationship. My attempt to be open about the intense negativity and explain my odd behavior backfired and only upset my partner, ending things in an emotional explosion.

After that I tried to ignore the thoughts. I figured they must be bad after how my ex had responded and I didn’t want anything to do with them anymore. Unfortunately, it didn’t make them go away, and every subsequent “failure” or fear was repeated back to me on a loop. Something my emotional stability didn’t take too kindly to.

After 25 years of intrusive thoughts I became hostile toward them. I had a therapist who suggested contradicting these thoughts aloud to prove they had no basis in reality, but my thoughts were too cunning. When they wouldn’t stop or they would agitate me to the point of being unable to see reason I’d start arguing with them (not a pretty sight I’m afraid).

Much like the parrot (Marvin) my family had when I was growing up the noise from these intrusive thoughts in my head can be relentless. Also much like when I was dealing with a squawking Marvin it has not been uncommon for someone to walk into the room just as I am screaming, “shut up! Shut up! Shut up!”

(Although Marvin began telling random people to “shut up,” I am lucky that my intrusive thoughts have not caught on to mimicking these moments.)

Needless to say, both myself and everyone involved in my life were kind of in a tight spot. I didn’t know what to do, and constantly fighting these thoughts one at a time was both draining and time consuming.

When I brought this up to my therapist (a new one I guess, as this has clearly been an ongoing issue) she asked me to imagine I am both a child and my own mother, and to treat these intrusive thoughts the way I would treat myself as a child.

Frankly, after a few weeks I was still trying to wrap my head around what she said. A mother? A child? What does that have to do with anything? I don’t intend to have children so how do I know how a mother would act? I find children a little creepy (nothing personal) so we don’t have the best relationship. Moms either.

Should I make english muffin pizzas?

Ultimately the message I was failing to discern was that she wanted me to approach these feelings with more of a comforting and understanding point of view. Despite her terrible metaphor, I could imagine, perhaps, a puppy (way cuter and less jam-hands) as my intrusive thoughts.

Sometimes puppies bark or bite or simultaneously projectile vomit and poo on the floor (an imagine I will never be able to erase from my memory, thanks Luna) because they need attention and some nice belly scratches… maybe a bath after that poo thing too. Arguing with the puppy wont make it content, and neither will ignoring it.

I’ve taken this concept to heart, and even though this is definitely the biggest jerk of a puppy living in my brain, it is also just me hoping for reassurance, or comfort, or anything to help dispel that fear. And when I get reactive and angry sometimes I just need to say, “guess what? Your anger is totally justified right now! This is frustrating!” instead of using it to try and fight myself.

I’ve spent many years seeking justification or comfort or approval from other people, and there are genuinely some very difficult times I’ve experienced when I had reached out to every person I knew and been turned away. I find it a little amazing that I was capable of doing it myself this whole time, I just didn’t know how!

Obviously I am not cured. It is a work in progress, as always… and I can’t claim I haven’t told that puppy to shut up at least a few times in the time since then. I am simply doing the best I can trying to learn how to take care of myself and my life, and that (if nothing else) is comforting to me. As it turns out, I am in the market for more comfort, so whaddaya know?

John Oliver Responds to the Topic of Mental Health

If you haven’t seen it yet, why not start your week by checking out John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight responding to political candidates using the topic of mental health to divert attention from gun control questions?

You can check it out here or find it on youtube.

I always appreciate a logical explanation, especially one that uses actual facts from studies coupled with humor to help make a touchy topic approachable. It isn’t often I consider this to be a topic broached without making my head spin, so thanks John Oliver!