Tag Archives: family

And an Epiphany in a Tree

I can say with some certainty that November and December have become my least favorite times of the year. For a long time I thought the stagnant months of February and March were worse (as they hold the record for the majority of my psychiatric hospitalizations) but it seems that every big blow-out started with a seed of intense stress in November and December.

Last week was really rough. Our dog Luna has been having seizures that our local vet has been having a hard time getting under control, and combined with the stresses and pressures of the holidays I started to crack very quickly. It started with really intense insomnia, and waking up psychotic around 4 or 5 am each morning for three days in a row. By the third day I had put on boots and a coat and walked to the grocery store outside in the dark in an attempt to outrun the vibrating energy in my body as I was filled with unprompted rage, and then the walk back tipped the scales in the other direction. Uncontrollable crying.

The swings were intense, on the brink of hospitalization-worthy. After having the ten-minutes-of-rage, ten-minutes-of-despair, ten-minutes of clarity, (wash, rinse, repeat) for a couple hours Corey and I decided it would be best to start the day with my emergency antipsychotic (Risperidone). 15 hours of sleep later I was a little more evened out, but it was a very serious sign to relax and take things more slowly. The last thing I wanted was to spend the holidays (and the new Star Wars premier) in the hospital.

One of the biggest difficulties I have at this time of year is that all of the progress my various family members have made regarding understanding my illness seems to evaporate (I am chalking it up to holiday stress, I don’t think they mean to do it) and things seem to reset to a time where I had little to no control over what I was doing or where I was spending my time.

It is often very hard for me to communicate my needs when it comes to managing bipolar disorder, but the problem always seems to grow exponentially around the holidays. It can feel really frustrating (to say the least) when my actions attempting to keep myself safe and sane start being ignored or demeaned when my needs start being categorized as selfish wants or irrelevant to the success of a holiday gathering.

I come from a long line of people who are much more quick to accommodate others than accommodate ourselves, and I think my Grandma said it best to me when she told me recently, “I always put my family’s needs before my own.” While this is something I have admired about us (lending itself to being giving and compassionate) one of the most difficult aspects of my life up to this point has been watching the people I love not taking care of themselves and feeling helpless to do anything about it.

At times it seems like my desire to take better care of myself is seen as an insult to my family when it has nothing to do with any of them. That is why I have had a whole series of Christmases where I made plans, and then always disrupted them at the last minute to do whatever whichever family member wants. These are people that really matter to me, and the shame and guilt I end of up feeling about not letting them control me is usually enough for me to give in. I don’t want to disappoint them, and I find myself traveling back to being a teenager or a kid who would rather just forgo helping myself and hide that I ever needed anything at all to keep from feeling vulnerable and like a disappointment.

Obviously that is a big part of what got me into this mess in the first place. Not taking care of myself when I really needed it has made my bipolar symptoms much bigger and stronger over time, and now that I am finally at that point where I am (making a good attempt at) managing my symptoms with a lot of help from my friends, things seem to be improving -albeit slowly.

Yesterday after a significant struggle through some knee deep inner turmoil I had a lightbulb go off. After the episode of this last week and all of the family conversations I had it was clear that taking care of myself has finally outweighed pleasing my family.

Like I said, I love them and I want them to be happy, but this doesn’t have to do with me being selfish, or my own happiness, or trying to punish them for not accommodating me, or just not wanting to be around them. This is about my health. My sanity.  My brain is a pretty integral part of my daily living, so it’d be better if I gave it a hand here, you know?

Putting my family first doesn’t keep me from having bipolar episodes. It doesn’t help me cope with stress. It doesn’t let me live the life that I want to live because I am not living through them, I am living through me. It took me many years to learn that I could not take care of them when they were failing to take care of themselves, but taking care of me is the one thing I can do.

My needs are important and they can’t be ignored any longer. I am thirty years old now, and it is crystal clear that nobody is going to take care of me but me. That means I need to step up and do it all the way, not just a little bit here and there.

This doesn’t mean I am becoming a hermit, it simply means that what I want is going to have to agree with what is appropriate for my health before I do it, and the execution will involve a firm “no” (gasp!!) from time to time.

I’ve spent ten years trying to execute this plan and failed every time before now, but I am finally able to see that the old way… well it isn’t working. While I recognize that this is always easier said than done I can feel that guilt and shame window closing. I am tired of being ruled by my emotions, because emotions can be manipulated. I want my life to be about the things that are important to me, and while my family is important I am finally recognizing just how important my health is to me too.

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Cosmic Weight

My anxiety has been through the roof the last few days, to the point where it feels like giant fingers are wrapped around me in a constant, slow squeeze. I keep breathing in as deeply as I can to fight the feeling of constriction, but I am left still, minutes later, out of breath.

Last week there was a death in my family. Not a fun prospect, considering my family is quite small to begin with. The shock I felt was compounded by the fact that my grandpa was someone who I remember always smiling and laughing, always a welcome sight in a rather emotionally tumultuous family.

I can’t help but wonder if the last two days of depression and intense anxiety I’ve had are a slow response to losing someone. Sometimes it can be so hard to tell what feelings go with what situation (or if they are correlated with any at all) but it seems to be pretty common for me to have delayed reactions, emotionally.

All I know is that the realm of bad news has been pretty intense for me this year and (as I stated the last two months) really cosmos, you can stop any time now.

At any rate, I am hoping spending some time outside in the sunshine today will help lift the spirits a bit and will give me a little relief from otherwise crushing anxiety!

Not An Island

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about why I lived silently with bipolar disorder for as long as I did.

There was, of course, the terror that people would reject me…

Or that, even worse, they would want to bar me from doing the things that I loved.

As much as that fear was an integral part of my silence, there was something else that I think played a larger role.

I didn’t think bipolar disorder, or the inner workings of my brain anyway, was affecting my life in any significant way. Especially when I was in more stable periods.

I thought of myself as an island, and the only parts that would be effected would be the ones that knew about this hidden illness.

Of course, I was one hundred percent wrong. My mood swings were affecting everyone around me, and were effecting my own life in a very significant way.

I’ve been attending a peer recovery class the last few weeks and early on we made a list of the ways mental illness affects our lives.

It can affect

  • our relationships (with friends, family, co-workers, etc)
  • our ability to work (for better (hypomania) or worse)
  • our ability to complete schooling (at practically any level)
  • our housing situation
  • our financial situation (both via working and due to medical costs)
  • our physical health (depending on how well we can take care of ourselves)
  • our ability to take care of others (children, pets, etc)
  • our spiritual lives

And I’m sure there are more that I’m forgetting! Looking at this list really made me aware of how many aspects of my life are affected by bipolar disorder, not just work and relationships. I know that I’ve experienced every single one of the things on this list, and not in a minute way.

I think that only after being open and honest about what I experience could I get the help that I needed in all of these aspects of life. The result? Though these areas are all affected, I am able to lead a more stable life.

The Bipolar Dog Comment

Earlier this week at the dog park, one of my neighbors made a comment I thought was quite curious.

A Rowdy Luna

Luna, our Boston Terrier, is a couple of months away from being three. You wouldn’t know it if you met her though, she often bounces back and forth between the energetic fervor of puppyhood (running in circles, humping and head-butting other dogs, etc) and a petrified docile state where she flops down, belly up, if anyone even looks at her.

The suggestion, then, was that her behavior is:

a little bipolar.

At first I wasn’t sure if this was an insult or a compliment (as someone who lives with bipolar disorder personally) so I chuckled and shut my mouth to consider the implications of this statement.

A Meek Luna

I’m not saying I believe my dog has bipolar disorder, but it is often true that people’s dogs take on personality traits of their owners. Luna hasn’t had any angry outbursts, or mentioned any hallucinations, or gone on any manic spending sprees, but it is obvious, even to those that don’t know her, that she fluctuates between two very different extremes when we’re out on our walks. Rowdy and raucous one moment, meek and submissive the next.

Really, there are any number of things that could be causing this behavior in her, (and it isn’t uncommon for people to project their own feelings onto their animals) but what was beginning to bother me was the thought that maybe this was because of me

I mean, I don’t have kids, and I don’t plan to. Luna is the closest to having a child I ever expect to get. I’m sure it sounds far fetched, but could I possibly have taught her to be this way? I mean, I’m constantly bouncing between being a completely docile, whimpering, couch potato and getting up to play with her when my own bursts of energy come along. Surely she doesn’t have the emotional responses of a person with bipolar disorder, but her bizarre energy fluctuations do mimic my own (because that is how I interact with her and take care of her).

The one little piece of heartbreak in this is knowing that she has, in one form or another, adapted to the way I live. I am around her all the time, and she usually only plays or asks for something when she knows she is most likely to get what she wants. But has adaptation to the way I function (or don’t function, sometimes) made her unable to adapt to the way other dogs play at the park?

I’m not really that worried. She’s a dog, she’s very adaptive, she’ll figure it out. I was just boggled by the notion I had passed this behavior on to her, and I was concerned, if even for just a moment, that she’d somehow caught bipolar disorder from me.

Luna is an excellent dog, and she has adapted to my needs very well. She can still be a little pushy (but then again, she does need to go outside sometimes -and so do I) but after this comment at the dog park I can’t help but feel an enormous amount of appreciation around how well she has adapted to how I live.

Sorry if I’ve inadvertantly made you a little weird, little dog, but everyone loves you anyway!

Choosing Hurdles

I was over at My Year To Thrive yesterdaya blog written by despitemyself with some pretty rockin’ insights. It seems we have something of a similar background and it really caught my attention that she mentioned always wanting to have joined track in high school to run (specifically) the hurdles. 

Now, I was in track in middle and high school, and my event of choice? Hurdles.  

It struck me a little bit that the most obvious symbolism for living with hurdles in life would probably be (yep) hurdles. I mean, if you think about it… I could have any choice of events to run in a track meet, and I chose the one with the most physical barriers between myself and the finish line.

As someone who has lived with the waxing and waning of OCD traits over a number of years I am someone who feels inclined to do things a certain way. By that, I really just mean my way. And it should come as no surprise that my way probably has more hurdles than any other way.

Why?

despitemyself suggested this action is due to being raised in chaos. My therapist has told me something similar, that people who were raised around a lot of drama often create more for themselves constantly because that is what they’re used to.

And I have, to be completely honest, had moments of boredom (for lack of a better word) where there should have been contentment in my life. For a while I surrounded myself with the most intense people I could find -because there was never a dull moment, and I felt at home there.

Recently someone said, “I think she just likes it that way,” in regard to myself making everything into a problem that needs to be solved. A solved problem presents closure, it presents a challenge to stimulate the brain. I do need both closure and challenges, and to some degree I see that as a positive. I am stronger for it, I think, to have run the gauntlet over and over again and survived.

It is only now, as I look at the price of stress directly in the face that I am able to cut out as much drama as possible. Stress from drama has caused me to have innumerable meltdowns, and I’ve suddenly found myself fleeing from it rather than embracing it.

As someone who needs a problem to solve, can I get it out of my system in other ways? By doing puzzles? By building a bridge out of match sticks? By running a stretch of track littered with hurdles? Can I channel this need for drama into something harmless, or will that defeat the purpose?

Luna’s Story

Luna, a few weeks old

As you may know by now, my boyfriend’s line of work means frequent trips away (at least, frequent during specific parts of the year). To kick the relationship off right, within the first month or so of becoming a couple (at long last!) he left for 6 weeks to go shoot a film.

Six weeks. Yeah, you think I’m hysterical now? Delirium has a way of taking over in these sorts of situations, and we both decided something would have to change.

He suggested we get a puppy, and there was a short, albeit bizarre few days where things were turned on their head. I began acting slightly like a man whose girlfriend had just brought up marriage for the first time -I was completely spooked by the idea, despite being so gung-ho about the prospect of this relationship for more than a year.

A somewhat elderly Rosie, Otis, & Violet

On top of that, I grew up with dogs. Sometimes, lots of them. I was in 4-H with them and did junior showmanship periodically at AKC dog shows. In the middle of a rural bit of island on 5 wooded acres, these dogs were my best friends.

When I went off to college, I missed the heck out of those dogs and it was practically all I could do to keep from running around yelling, “I want a puppy! I want a puppy!” in an attempt to fill the void.

Thankfully, having been so involved with dog shows and training dogs, I knew what kind of attention and involvement having a dog really takes -especially a puppy. If I got a dog, I would be getting a dog for life. Not something I could dump off in an animal shelter if things didn’t work out.

So I waited. And, we waited a while, and I let the periods of Corey’s absence begin to stack up. Maybe being alone alone during these periods was more than I needed, and I wanted to be sure that Corey was fully aware that we would be caring for any dog/puppy we acquired, period.

The idea waned, and waxed. It would fade away, then return with a vengeance. I began looking into rescue groups, but they wouldn’t let us adopt because we lived in an apartment complex and not a house. The animal shelters in the area only seemed to house big dogs, and we needed a small one for the apartment. And, I admit, I have some rather firm ideas about the sorts of breeds I like, and the sorts that would be good for us and our living conditions.

I almost gave up until I found a picture of Luna.

A feisty pup!

Boston Terrier puppy, the last one in the litter. She was the smallest (the runt) but also the smartest and the breeder’s favorite. When I read that she was feisty, I knew she was the one.

When I called, she just happened to live in the same town Corey grew up in on the other side of the state. Upon further probing, I found out she works with his mother at the hospital! Small world, right? It was meant to be.

Having a puppy can be completely maddening. And expensive. And did I mention maddening? I lost my favorite hat in our battles, and a lot of my dignity in the portions where I was shoveling the shin-deep garbage she had strewn all through the kitchen when she was mad.

She just turned 2, and thank goodness she’s finally past that phase. We’ve cultivated a roommate, one capable of taking care of me now when Corey’s gone.

Sister Luna, boxing nun

There is a balance. Having her around is much more work than not, and when I am stressed and alone I still have to take her outside, feed her, and play, even when I don’t feel like it. To be sure, that does make depression and irritability that much more difficult.

But, in exchange I have someone to focus on, someone to help me get out of my head. She doesn’t speak english, but she does talk with body language and little squeaks and gurgles. If someone comes to the door and knocks (even the UPS man) she growls and barks on my lap, terrified but always willing to protect me.

So even if she has woken me up at 6 am each day this week, she provides loads of entertainment and forces me to leave the apartment to walk her at least twice each day.

What I find really bizarre is that we are very much alike. She clearly gets anxiety if either of us are away for too long, and she can easily get depressed when Corey goes away. Luna is by far the most emotional dog I’ve ever known, and I can’t help but wonder if she would have turned out that way regardless, or if she picked it up from me.

I did it!

Dogs are great. They’re the least judgmental friends you’ll ever have.

100th Post; A Blog Origin Story

Before I started this blog I knew I wanted to write, but I didn’t know what to write about. In the past I’ve written about fashion, textile design, and costuming, I’ve written about celiac’s disease, and recipes I’ve tried, and I’ve written the usual free-form creative stuff, but I couldn’t find a topic that could hold my attention for very long.

That’s sort of the story with everything in my life though, my interest in things really waxes and wanes and it is hard for me to focus, both on just a single thing at a time and in general.

Someone I went to high school with has been writing a blog for a while now about her pregnancy, she has often linked it to her facebook account, inviting anyone to read it. The entries are cute and sometimes whimsical, she has a very rustic, yet feminine sense of style that I’ve always admired.

When I first thought about writing about bipolar disorder, there seemed to be an obvious rift between her blog and my (still imaginary) blog. After all, it wouldn’t be appropriate to post mine of facebook, right? Baby clothes are a socially acceptable topic of everyday conversation, but mental health is not.

But why the hell not?

This pregnancy will last nine months of her life. I will live with bipolar disorder for my entire life, so shouldn’t I get to talk about it? Just because people don’t understand it, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t, right?

So with a little manic fervor and some balls, the decision had been made. I would write a blog about something that is permanent in my life instead of something I could lose interest in, what seemed like a good solution to my problem with keeping focus. Not only that, I would make it readily available to people who actually know me, even the ones who didn’t know I have bipolar disorder.

When I was younger one of my biggest frustrations was that people didn’t seem to understand me. Hell, didn’t even understand me! The problem wasn’t that they were rejecting the information I gave them, just that I didn’t give them the chance to understand. For years I expected people to read my mind or just know how I felt, though some magical, mystical power, but I never just told anyone.

Now that I am being open about having bipolar disorder and what that means to me, the change has been life-altering. That isn’t even an exaggeration, I’m getting all teary-eyed just writing this!

People who I’d grow apart from have told me they feel closer to me than ever. Some of my friends with bipolar disorder and the community here in Seattle has been nothing but supportive and encouraging of what I’ve had to say. I’ve even had “normal” folks tell me that they could relate to some of the things I’ve written about, which they didn’t expect to happen! On top of the support from friends and bipolar peers, I’ve also discovered the support of the blogging community which has been really reassuring.

The apex so far for me was a couple weeks ago, literally every person I had made plans with over the course of the week made a comment to me about this blog. I got phone calls and emails about it. And, to top the cake, my dad called me to have an in-depth conversation about bipolar disorder with me for the first time ever.

It isn’t that my dad has ever ignored me or the issues I’ve been dealing with, I just never really told him what was going on. I was, admittedly, totally scared, because for the longest time I didn’t know how to talk about it. I’m still working on the talking out loud portion, but I’m extremely grateful to have this platform to express much of what I have to say.

If you don’t tell people who you are, they can’t reject you. But, they also can’t fully embrace you either. I expected some resistance, some level of rejection by putting myself out there, but instead I’ve found myself embraced by so many more people than I ever expected. Trust me, your support has not gone unappreciated!

I know it can be terrifying to be open about having bipolar disorder (trust me, I was physically ill for an entire week after writing my first post and linking it to facebook), but for me it has been far more rewarding than I ever could have expected.

Thanks folks, you all totally rock!

I also want to make a brief shout-out to a couple of the bloggers and websites that have acknowledged what I’ve been doing.

Thanks to Disorderly Chickadee, who tagged me with the Liebster Blog Award. She’s got a rockin’ blog herself, full of intellectual and insightful information. Check it out!

Thanks to Lulu at As the Pendulum Swings and Kevin at Voices of Glass for both tagging me with the Versatile Blogger Award. Lulu’s presence here in the online blogosphere is a marked one and she is both insightful and amazingly supportive. Kevin’s blog continues to push the envelope for me a little bit, challenging me to think about and consider things I haven’t considered before.

Lulu at As the Pendulum Swings started a project for 2012 called, “Blog for Mental Health 2012” which I am lucky to take part in, involving taking a pledge and committing to blogging for mental health, showing pride, dedication, and acceptance to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma. Props!

I also want to give a quick thanks to Bring Change 2 Mind for being an exceptional non-prophet dedicated to helping eradicate stigma, but also for publishing a brief short story about my own mental health experiences on their website. Thank you!

Finally, I just want to say, thank you for giving me hope. I imagine a future where people don’t have to live in fear of others finding out about their diagnoses and don’t feel like they have to hide parts of themselves from the rest of the world out of fear of discrimination and harassment. I know it is unrealistic to expect everyone on earth to be as accepting as the people around me have been for the last few months, but the truth of the matter is that I am witnessing something. I am living something I didn’t think would be possible for a long time.

It is possible to live openly with mental illness. 

And if that doesn’t give me hope, nothing will.