Monthly Archives: November 2011

Social Security Insecurity

I’ve been getting a little bit of… forceful encouragement from a couple of my family members to apply for Social Security Disability Income, or SSDI as it is more commonly referred to.

This has been a pretty tough year, and the six-ish months I spent on state disability was a real eye opener.

Nobody wants to be on disability (though there are the apparent small number of folks who take advantage of the system so that they don’t have to work), and there is a terrifying question out there for people who are faced with this possibility:

what am I going to do with my time?

When I had a full time job it felt like I worked far more than I did anything else. I had no time to do anything I wanted to do. I was consistently overwhelmed and had frequent meltdowns. This spring I was faced with the opposite problem, and even severely depressed I found myself concerned that I had too much time on my hands.

I was really hoping that when the depression abated I would feel well enough to be able to work, if not full time then at least a few days a week. Right now I am feeling better than I have in the last calendar year (if not longer) and working two days a week is all I can seem to muster.

Applying for SSDI is serious business, and it can take years for it to be awarded to you because of the nature of the application process. Success stories I’ve heard usually involve lawyers, a very serious suicide attempt, or both.

The push I’m getting from my family is because the system is retroactive, meaning if I apply now and get denied, sometime down the road if I am approved I will be awarded benefits from the date that I originally applied.

I understand the concept, but the burden of taking on this process (and what it ultimately means, that I am 26 years old and cannot work full time -which I admit is true, but has been difficult to cope with) and having the elements of my various disorders scrutinized only to receive my initial rejection and knowing full well that I will have to keep applying, well frankly it is considerably unappealing.

I spoke with a professional that helps out cases like mine out of charity, she basically laughed at me (because of my age) and then wouldn’t return my phone calls.

The whole situation is a little disheartening, but at this juncture I can’t exactly expect miracles to happen. Science has no cure for bipolar disorder, and the months of intensive prayer by various congregations on my behalf have been just as effective. Which means not at all. If I’m lacking in miracles on either end of the spectrum, I guess I’d better just buckle down and start working on a realistic future for myself.

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A Past Catalyst

The last 24 hours or so I’ve felt some ripples, bouncing between irritability, minor hopelessness, and back again. I woke up with that hum of energy that hold secrets, the primary secret being whispers of hypomania.

As much as I could do without it, it couldn’t have come at a better time. I have a painting I need to finish asap, as well as a woven piece I’m working on… so I can’t complain about a sudden surge of creative energy.

The internet and I became acquainted when I was fairly young so I’ve waded through the chunky sea of information and seen the inhabited parts grow for the entirety of my adult life, as well as through most of my adolescent past.

I really have a love/hate relationship with the ease of connectivity, as I love finding out what people from my past are up to but every so often someone pops up who I’ve spent plenty of time working on forgetting.

I’ve recently had one of those moments, and though I’ve decided any real interaction would be asking for trouble, I can’t help but consider that without this individual I might’ve gone for several more years undiagnosed.

I have always considered the part of my life with my first hospitalization to be an extremely negative experience, one where I stood on the brink of disaster and then got pushed right off the ledge. Even though I know he didn’t cause these feelings in me, he didn’t give me bipolar disorder, I’ve felt resentment toward him the last ten years because for a long time it felt that way.

Yesterday I turned that thought on its head a little bit, because there was a moment where I felt appreciative. Would I be doing as well as I am currently if the issue of my mental health wasn’t brought to my attention early on? I’ve had years now to create a foundation for myself, methods for self preservation, and though I don’t feel any closer to having the answer I do feel like I can do what it takes to survive.

I feel like I hear half-jokes all the time where people say, “well I wouldn’t have known I was gay if I hadn’t dated you!”

My revelation yesterday?

Well I wouldn’t have known I was bipolar if I hadn’t dated you!

PTSD Coach

My bipolar symptoms have been in remission the last couple weeks which I have been very thankful for, but it allows my focus to shift to the anxiety and PTSD I’ve been dealing with on top of that.

Last month I saw a segment on the news about PTSD Coach, an application (app) for smart phones and other devices intended to help with the education and self-management of symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.

PTSD Coach was created by VA’s National Center for PTSD and DoD’s National Center for Telehealth & Technology specifically for veterans and other military service members, however most of the tools the app provides are not directed specifically at combat related PTSD.

My therapist and I have been working on tools for managing my PTSD symptoms, so I thought I would check PTSD Coach out.

The home page has four menus to select from, Learn, Self Assessment, Manage Symptoms, and Find Support.

After exploring the Self Assessment portion I was not surprised to be informed that based on my responses, it appears I have severe PTSD and I should seek medical treatment beyond this app if I have not already (yes PTSD coach, I have done so, but thank you). This portion of the app keeps a record of where your self assessment lands, so that over time (the app suggests taking the assessment once a month) one will hopefully begin to see some progress in the management of PTSD symptoms.

The Learn portion contains a series of questions, like a “frequently asked questions” section for PTSD, including:

  • Who develops PTSD?
  • How long does PTSD last?
  • Do I have PTSD?
  • What problems are associated with PTSD?
  • Do I need professional help?
  • What if I am embarrassed about seeking help?
  • What does a psychologist do?
  • What does a psychiatrist do?

and so on. I found this chapter helpful up until it begins suggesting contacting my local Veteran’s Affairs office for support (unfortunately that is where the “geared toward veterans” portion begins).

For me the real gem lies within the Manage Symptoms piece. This button leads to another menu asking what the problem is, giving 8 options to allow the user to identify which PTSD symptom is currently causing the problem. The choices are reminded of trauma, avoiding triggers, disconnected from people, disconnected from reality, sad/hopeless, worried/anxious, angry, and unable to sleep.

From there the user is directed to the distress meter, where one rates the amount of current distress on a scale from 1-10.

Next, the app makes suggestions on how to help yourself manage your symptoms. Upon downloading you are asked to add soothing or funny pictures, music, or phone numbers of people you can contact for support. PTSD Coach draws on these, as well as guided meditation exercises, breathing techniques, and ideas for harmless distractions.

You can skip a suggestion if you find it isn’t helpful (which I tend to do a lot, many of the suggestions I’ve already tried by the time I decide to use this app) and you can give any suggestion a thumbs up or down (so it will be suggested more or less frequently).

At the end of the exercise you are asked again to rate your level of distress, and more often than not I find myself rating my distress lower the second time around.

The last button on the home page is Find Support. This one allows you to seek immediate support (either by calling a person in your support network, a crisis line, or 911) or seek professional care. Again, the professional care portion is geared toward Veterans so some of the suggestions may not apply if you are not a military service member.

Honestly, I wish this app was a little more well rounded (with less focus on Veterans), but I can totally understand why this was created specifically with them in mind. Regardless, PTSD Coach has some great tools and it is something I can rely on when I am in situations where I begin to panic or get frustrated.

Overall, if you are looking for a new way to help manage your PTSD symptoms, I would suggest checking PTSD Coach out!

Standard Birthday Reflection

Birthdays are notorious for instigating self-reflection, and here on my 26th anniversary of birth the conclusion that I’ve come to is that people see me very differently than I see myself.

This revelation started last week when a friend of mine described some of my actions (and the resulting reactions) at work a few years ago.

It was in that particular moment that a schism began to form in my mind. I remembered the situation and my reaction to it, and I remembered why my reaction was what it was. To me it wasn’t anything outside of the realm of calm, collected, and assertive. Particularly I remember being baffled that everyone around me was getting so upset at my reaction because to me, the reaction I made was almost nothing.

The story I was told by my friend was much different. The woman on the other end of it (me) was creating a huge scene and unnerving everyone around her. The conversations the managers had was almost in the realm of fear.

The point of the story was that my friend suggested that everyone wait 30 minutes or an hour and then try talking to me over again. Her hunch was that I had bipolar disorder and, like someone close to her, after 30 minutes my mood would be completely different from the initial confrontation.

As you can imagine, this story unnerved me a little. I know I was having trouble with manic symptoms around that time, but I had convinced myself that I had everything under control and nobody would notice. The reality I faced when I heard that story last week is that people definitely noticed.

With this story very fresh in mind I made a comment to another friend two days ago (a little jokingly) that the upper classmen from high school probably don’t remember me because I didn’t do anything too crazy until junior or senior year.

The response? Incredulousness.

I’ve definitely begun to surmise that my perception of my actions is extremely far removed from the perceptions of others.

Honestly, in the later part of high school I decided I wasn’t going to care anymore what everyone thought of me, so ever since I haven’t given it much thought (with the exception of my minuscule dating record).

You think I’m crazy? So what? It’s true.

And to me “crazy” has no reflection on mental illness, simply a statement of wildness, boldness, or colorfulness. I guess this is more in the realm of what I see.

If you were to say, though, that “crazy” is reflecting unusual, immediate, and sometimes irrational behavior -then yes, I am probably that brand of crazy too. And apparently this is what most others see.

After these two situations I had my first day of the new job. After talking with my boss about my experiences with architecture school, in fashion design, costuming, interior design, and more she told me that I’ve done an incredible amount of things for being only 26.

This response was as foreign to me as hearing that people were terrified of me.

I don’t expect people to consider me to be a remarkable person, but I guess some do. In the same vein, I don’t expect people to consider me irrational, but I guess some do.

So I throw my hands in the air and I can fully admit that I have no idea how others will perceive me in any given situation. I’m somewhere beyond the teenage notion of not caring what people think, but only to the point where I don’t want people to be living in fear or me for any reason.

It is true that I might be friendly one minute and incredibly cold the next, but that is just the nature of the hand I’ve been dealt. When it happens I would say that 90% of the time it’s a total fluke and hasn’t been caused by the person on the receiving end.

The same phenomenon usually happens minutes after an argument, only my mood tends to lift to a place where I forget tension even occurred.

If I am bossy it is because I have anxiety, and the words flying out of my mouth are only trying to alleviate it.

I realize that I am not a very consistent friend, but the rapidity in the change of my emotions only encourages forgiveness and loyalty from my end in my relationships.

It means a lot to me to have a group of friends who are so stellar at putting up with my particular brand of crazy, thanks folks!

A Quick Note

The last three days have been miraculously good, considering the ridiculousness of the last couple weeks. I honestly can’t remember the last time I felt this way, happy on my own terms (without the influence of hypomania or medicines).

Knowing that my feelings are usually temporary makes me appreciate feeling good that much more. I don’t feel like it is pessimistic to say that things will change, that’s simply the nature of life, but this may be the first time I’ve ever truly embraced that as a fact instead of living in terror of it.

The Language of Mental Illness

Can you remember the first conversation you had with another person with a similar diagnosis after being diagnosed with some form of mental illness?

I’ve been thinking all day about the language of mental illness.

 

Imagine you are 16 years old and have just been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Perhaps your parents try to talk to you about it, but for whatever reason (beyond sheer embarrassment and the fact that you’re 16) you’re trapped in, “you have no idea how I feel” land and the conversations go nowhere.

Then, someone comes to you who can actively engage in conversation about bipolar disorder. It could be a friend, a family member, or a stranger, but chances are that this person has experienced something inside the realm of “mental illness” themselves.

The point of this first conversation might be valid. If the person conversing doesn’t have a reference to how mental illness feels, how can they actively communicate about it?

Is the language of mental illness something inherent for those of us with mental illness, or is the language absorbed in some way? Or could be that there are elements of both?

 

Early on in my diagnosis, and my early therapy and support group years I recall attempting conversations with a lot of people that didn’t speak the language. The conversations I was having with people felt strained, hesitant, questioning, and I knew that something about me must be different because people weren’t understanding the concepts I was talking about. Honestly, I can’t imagine what a life lived without any major bouts of depression would be like, so I suppose that is where my own boundaries of language and experience are limited.

When people who have never experienced depression ask what it is like, the resulting response is like trying to describe how huge the universe is. I can relate the size of an apple to a softball, but I can’t relate the size of the universe to anything because there isn’t anything familiar the same size to relate it to. In the same way, how do I relate depression to someone who has nothing to compare it to?

I suppose that suggests the mental illness language is derivative of our own knowledge of self.

Someone (who is not bipolar) told me that she was trying desperately to speak to her friend who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She said it wasn’t until she began to relate her own experience with an anxiety disorder that her friend began to take the conversation seriously.

I’ve found similar instances in my own experience that show the mental illness language doesn’t have to be limited within a single specific diagnosis. The first support group I ever attended was in a very small town where I grew up, at the time I was the only person in my age range at that facility who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Even though the young woman sitting to my right had an eating disorder (so one might think I wouldn’t have gotten much out of it), she could speak the language. At 17 it didn’t matter to me what her diagnosis was, just knowing that there was someone who could speak the same language as me within a 5 mile radius was comforting.

There are so many symptoms that overlap for different diagnoses that one who knows the language can almost always find a way to relate to conversation. And with such a high potential for comorbid diagnoses, the palette of symptoms only widens for the individual.

Anyone who has felt depression, anxiety, paranoia, uncontrollable urges, obsessive behavior, panic, suicidal, detached, or unable to focus, (not to mention a plethora of other things), well I’m betting you speak this language.

You may not even know it yet.

November Remix

After a literal week of attempting to contact my HR representative (with no answer to my 7+ calls) I am happy to say I have been offered (and accepted) a job elsewhere.

I am extremely lucky it happened so fast, especially since I was chosen from around 400 applicants. Sometimes life amazes me, particularly since I was told they were looking for someone young and vibrant and many times I forget that I fit that bill.

So I am looking forward to my first day on Saturday as a showroom assistant for luxury condo sales downtown. Of course, I’m also having a birthday party for myself Saturday night (so I had anticipated not working that day) but I am so grateful at this point to have a new job that I will make it work.

I’ve been having a bit of trouble with my resignation letter, and though a friend of mine told me to just call the store and quit I told her that I would rather have the chance to articulate what happened (even if only one or two people get to see it). I suppose it doesn’t matter if the letter is too harsh (which I feel it is at this stage in the writing process), in my book they are the one that burned this bridge, and discrimination should be called out when it is happening, right?