NOTE TO START: this is a stream of consciousness post written AFTER taking PM meds mostly on the topic of my experiences with mania and supports in my life. Not a standard post at all but definitely straight from the heart. Due to the timing of the writing being after my nighttime meds, I may clean it up a bit tomorrow. Wanted to get you guys an update though.
Since my last post, my life has been all over the place. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the number one way to fight stigma is to share our stories and show that we all are indeed human, regardless of diagnosis (or diagnoses). I mentioned in my last post that I am finally employed again and, in that post, I was embracing quite the optimistic view of things. Now, I am still embracing optimism and looking to focus on the good, but a part of sharing stories is being transparent, and so this is my transparency post for the month, I suppose.
I am a firm believer that you can’t help other people with their mental health if you are neglecting your own.
Now, I don’t meant that you need to be completely healthy or recovered to do good, I’m talking more along the lines of that age old saying that if your own glass is empty, you can’t really fill the cup of someone else. Some have suggested that perhaps I jumped into this “blogging thing” too soon. The point of this statement is not lost on me. I started this blog less than a month out of the hospital while still engaging in intensive stabilization treatment. I can see how some would consider that my own recovery may not quite be far enough along to be jumping in to help others. But I disagree.
I disagree because I am not trying to write this blog from the perspective of someone who is “better” or is an expert. I am writing this blog to share my recovery process, in all its messy glory. The successes as well as the setbacks, the victories as well as the defeats. And, I hope, to share some things that have helped me which may help someone else as well.
That said, due to the fact that my recovery is still young and I am still learning to navigate this new life of mine, the “ideal” version of this blog – developing and realizing the vision I have for this blog – has been a pretty painfully slow process.
And I recognize that that can be frustrating to you, as a reader. I’m still in a rather persistent battle with the army of demons. Some days are better than others, some weeks are better than others, and some months are better than others. See, when I’m feeling pretty stable and good, I tend to get very “big picture” and excited about the things I want to accomplish in this space. And I remain excited about that vision on some level all the time, but if you’ve ever experienced depression or mania or PTSD symptoms on full blast, you know that these things can really get in the way of executing any excitement in a tangible way.
So, here’s the deal: I spent last night pacing my kitchen freaking out for about an hour before I finally reached out to a friend.
My thoughts were streaking through hyperspace and I couldn’t catch a single one of them. And I couldn’t sleep. And I wasn’t hungry. And I was irritable. And, worse of all, I was obsessing over the fact that I didn’t used to be like this. I never experienced manic symptoms this extreme until November, and back then, they didn’t have a name. And, in my little obnoxious, bipolar brain, I had myself pretty convinced that the fact that these symptoms only really picked up after I started the meds to treat the “lesser” bipolar symptoms (the severe depressive episodes and “milder” hypomanic episodes of Bipolar Type II) that maybe the meds were to blame and taking them would make it worse. Now, on one level, I knew that that was irrational – I knew that my brain is now accustomed to these meds and that even if there was some connection, I need to keep taking them until I talk to someone about getting off them. (Spoiler alert – I don’t really need to get off my meds. As sometimes happens with Bipolar that goes untreated for years, my symptoms worsened over time. The trigger of my husband leaving, which kicked my PTSD symptoms into full blast also kicked the Bipolar symptoms up a notch. Common triggers for mood episodes include stress, loss of a relationship, loss of a job, lack of sleep, and drinking or using drugs excessively. Between November and January literally ALL of these things were staples in my life, thus, Bipolar symptoms increased.)
Now, my manic symptoms tend to manifest as mixed. I am wired, but not “having the time of my life.” I live in full blown catastrophic and irrational thoughts. Here’s an accurate representation of my stream of thought last night before I called my friend. I’m going to become full blown manic. I’m not going to sleep for a week. I’m going to go back to the hospital. I’m going to lose my brand new job. I’m going to lose all the progress I’ve made over the past six months. I’m going to lose my friends because my “grace period” is completely worn out at this point. I mean, really, how many times can someone answer the phone and walk me through a freak out before they just don’t have it in them anymore. Before their own cup is empty and they have nothing left to give. Cause that shit happens, you know. And it’s not because they aren’t good friends, it’s because I’m a bad one and I just keep needing all the things and it’s been six freaking months so when is it exactly that I stop being “crazy” and start being “me” again? What the fuck do doctors know anyway? Maybe they did this to me with all this intensive treatment. Maybe I’m actually fine. Maybe I’m blowing this out of proportion. Maybe I’m minimizing. I don’t know. But I know a lot of shit and taking my meds might make this worse but not taking them might make them worse too. I’m completely fine. I’m going to be fine because I’m awesome. I can muscle through anything. I can’t actually do anything. What if I can never actually work a real job again? My god everyone must think I’m a complete nut job and I’m just embarrassing myself with being so open about it, no one actually sees me as “Sheila” anymore. But I’m doing amazing things by helping people. I’m rocking it. I just need to snap out of this because I know I can. I’ve white knuckled way worse. I should call someone. No, I can’t. If I call a crisis line they’re just going to show up and take my ass to a hospital because they all see me as insane anyway so why would they listen to me. Maybe I should call my friend. Its not that late in California. No. Text. I should text her. ETC.
These are the kinds of thoughts that spin – and spin and spin and spin some more. And I obsess. Now, I’m not proud of this by any means, but that little stream of consciousness was mostly uttered aloud, in my kitchen, to myself, as I paced. Because nothing says “I’m alright” like talking to yourself in a dark kitchen in the middle of the night right? Thankfully, I DID end up reaching out to that friend and the phone call resulted in me taking my regular meds as well as my PRN sleep pills I’m meant to take when manic stuff is popping up. That combination of medicine got me a grand total of 3 hours of sleep last night. Which is another red flag. And I’ve taken it this evening as well – about two and a half hours ago. Now, this stuff usually KNOCKS ME OUT. I mean, I take it and if I’m not in bed within thirty minutes someone is going to have to help me get there. This has not been the case this evening or last evening. I am decidedly in the hypomanic range at the moment, and I’m very convinced that the only reason I’m hypo- instead of hyper-manic is my meds. And I’m honestly even concerned about writing this, or, rather, about having some of you read this, because I’m annoying myself. And I apologize if I’m annoying you, too. The thing is, recovery isn’t linear and there’s no magic button.
I’m not trying to make this post all about me complaining about where I’m at or anything like that. I’m taking all appropriate steps to minimize the impact of this current situation.
Today was a fantastic day. Truly. A very god friend of mine became a citizen of the United States and I was honored to attend the ceremony. This friend is a former coworker of mine from the group home, and so I got to see a lot of my former coworkers and even my old bosses. I was so happy to see everyone, but my anxiety and that stupid voice in my head that like to replay every single screw up I’ve ever made was putting me on constant blast. My PRN sleep med has a half life of thirty hours and I have mood stabilizers and anxiety meds I take throughout the day. The combination of these things had me pretty mellow today, if a little overwhelmed. And I felt a deep sense of loss being around my coworkers and boss and realizing that I’m now on the “outside” of that equation. It’s a very strange position when you’ve essentially spent five years spending more time with those people at work than with your own family. I’m not sure how to explain it. I did not act on this urge, but there were more than a few times that I wanted nothing more than to profusely apologize to my former colleagues and supervisors. Apologize for not being able to handle this on my own. Apologize for needing help. Apologize for not being able to work with them anymore. Apologize for the abruptness of my departure. Apologize for all of it.
The vast majority of that is internal stigma and anxiety lies, but there is something to be said for changing roles and the difficulties that poses on one’s sense of self. I was someone who viewed my work as a core component of my identity. If you asked me to briefly describe myself before having to leave work, the two answers I would consider most important would be: mother and residential instructor in a group home for dual-diagnosed young men working toward independence. (ok, that’s a mouthful, maybe not “brief” in the strictest sense of the word, but that would be my answer.) Is it healthy to have so much of your sense of self tied to your job? Probably not. I admit that. But nevertheless, it was. And it is a real loss to not do that work anymore. And, believe it or not, when you work so closely with the same people in a sometimes high-stress environment, there is a lot of guilt for leaving – at least there was for me.
So, while seeing all of these people who I truly love, and bearing witness to my friend’s naturalization ceremony was an incredible experience I will never forget, the combination of all those unresolved feelings around leaving work for mental health reasons and the simple amount of people at the courthouse, in the elevator, and at the reception afterward was incredibly overwhelming. I took some extra PRN anxiety meds, caught a short nap on the ride home, but came home wired, irritated, and anxious. I’ve heard from more than one person that nightfall can increase mood symptoms, and that has certainly been the case with me. So, once I got my daughter to bed, I again felt incredibly irritable with those same racing thoughts and obsession over whether or not I was overreacting or underreacting, increased rate of speech, and a general “intensity” that only seems to come with mania. Despite this, I DID take my meds – both normal and PRN – and I did attempt to sleep (no luck so far) and I did both without needing to use my phone a friend life line (did I date myself there?)
I’ve just been thinking a lot about what a contrast I’m feeling now compared to my last post. I said I wanted other people to take the kid gloves off, but I literally spent two hours on the phone with my friend trying to get level headed enough to take my meds and try to rest. My head is so all over the place, I don’t know if I need complete isolation from everyone trying to help me or frequent phone call check ins and reminders. And regardless of what I think I “need” now, it honestly seems for fluctuate – sometimes day by day. So, I can see how overwhelming that is for others – it’s definitely overwhelming for me. And, as is the theme of my life since December, I again find myself needing the reminder not to make sweeping generalizations of myself being “better” or “worse”. It’s an ebb and flow. One of these day, that will actually click.
So, again, I don’t want to be an obnoxious human and bother anyone, but I really want to share this with you guys and also to give myself some space to reflect. Maybe I can even take this in and show it to my therapist to give her the true inside scoop.
NOTE: MANIA IS NOT FUNNY OR QUIRKY, IT IS A SERIOUS MEDICAL CONDITION WHICH REQUIRES TREATMENT BY A MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL. DO NOT STOP OR START MEDICATIONS WITHOUT SPEAKING TO A DOCTOR FIRST AND RECEIVING AN RX. In addition to medication and friend support, I have a phone call in to my psychiatrist and therapist’s office to see if there are more things I can do to help manage my symptoms at the moment. I am a member of a peer support group as well. I don’t want you thinking that I’m flying solo and barreling toward the deep end. I’m managing and it will get progressively better as long as I stick to my treatment plan.