Category Archives: Celebration

A Resolution – Finally

I felt alone. It seemed everyone around me wanted me to continue with ECT. Yet it’s my decision. It’s my body. I live with the illness – and it’s consequences. I live with the treatments and the symptoms of anxiety they cause in me. Here is what I decided after several conversations with my therapist, my psychiatrist, the ECT team, and my mom. I even read medical journal articles.

I want my life back. I want the anxiety I’ve been living with to be back to reasonable levels that I know how to live with. My mood has been stable and my psychiatrist expects it to stay that way. I hope he is right! I’d like to learn how to live with a mood that experiences many emotions without dropping or accelerating into a mood state.

I decided NOT to do ECT anymore. I want to try medications again if my mood becomes depressed or manic again, or if I become suicidal. I have to get the port in my chest removed again since I no longer want to do ECT. (The port was used to access a vein so that nurses didn’t have to try multiple times per treatment to create an IV.) ECT has been helpful for getting my mood to baseline, and perhaps it would help in the future too. I’m just not sure, I don’t like the reaction I have to treatments (days of anxiety), and I’d rather work with pills. ECT had been a last resort when I started it last fall, and resumed it this spring and summer. I just don’t think it has to be my Go-To treatment method anymore.

I will be super vigilant about routine, schedule, taking meds, nutrition, exercise, coping skills, and sociability as I try to maintain a stable mood with these things that have Not proven to work before. But I will do what is personally in my power to care for my multiple mental illnesses. I will work with my psychiatrist for meds and therapist for coping and exploration as needed. I will reach out to others for support on a regular basis. So don’t be surprised if I contact YOU!

I’m taking my life back.

Living with Bipolar

“Bipolar is just one part of me.” “You are brave and courageous.” “You are feeling good! You can get to this place again.” These are the post-its I see several times a day as I take medication for many things, including bipolar disorder. I’ve been thinking for a few days what it means to live with bipolar disorder, and these three post-its are part of the deal of living with bipolar.

  1. I am many things – compassionate, smart, funny, passionate, nerdy – and bipolar. And though bipolar colors ALL of my existence, it is just one part of me. It is easy for me to say “I am bipolar” instead of the more socially acceptable “I have bipolar.” What my mood and thoughts are doing, and the routines I use to contain them, shapes my whole life. I cannot escape my bipolar brain. When I’m feeling well, like right now I can see how there are parts of me that would be there even if I didn’t have bipolar, like a snarky sense of humor or being passionate about social justice.
  2. I have to be persistent, routinized, and brave Every.Single.Day. Each day I wake up to thoughts that second-guess my mental well-being and my ability to even face a day without causing harm to myself. Courageously I choose to get up and start the routine that will get the day off to a better start. Courageously I take my meds, brush my teeth, drink my coffee and check my calendar. Eventually I can face the day, if it’s a good day. Some days I can only think of suicide and can only feel anxiety and fear. On those days I have still made the choice every minute to keep on living. “Nevertheless, she persisted,” applies not only to U.S. Senators who keep talking despite pressure to shut up and sit down, but also to my choosing life day after day, moment after fearful moment of thoughts of death that won’t stop. I am brave and courageous.
  3. I am living in a euthymic phase right now – a good, stable, middle point of my moods. And I can get there again if/when I become depressed or manic again. I need the reminder both that bipolar is cyclical and that I am in a good phase. It’s time to take a look around! Smell the flowers and trees and other pollens I am violently allergic to. Play with my cat. Sip coffee. Really discover what I am capable of when I am feeling well! It’s time to enjoy this time I have, and trust that it will come again.

What are some insights you have uncovered about living with bipolar, either from your own life, or from watching me live mine?

Grateful

The last couple days have been thankfully, gratefully, blessed with lower anxiety. So even though I still have suicidal thoughts, they don’t hook into the anxiety and become obsessive. They float in as any thought does, and they float out, blessedly. It’s such a huge relief!

I’ve been busy doing nothing, and exercising occasionally, and moving forward with relearning some college algebra that should help when I start taking those science classes in the fall. I’ve been trying to read, but maybe I need to give up on this book. It’s just not getting anywhere. Or I can’t focus for very long, which is a feature I run into regularly. Maybe I’ll try another book for a while.

My mood is a little low, but still in the balanced arena, I think. As happens when I’m depressed, I’m fatigued for hours after I wake up, despite jolts from coffee. And I cancelled on some times to get together with people, another sign of depression for me. I’m not convinced either way that I’m depressed or not depressed. Time will tell?

College – Reprised

I’ve had an exciting week becoming a college student again. Now, I already have a bachelor’s degree, 2 master’s degrees plus a diploma showing an academic concentration. So I really don’t need any more education, now do I? But I really want to do a Ph.D in sociology. Not sure of the specific topic yet, but I do know it will be sociology. Whether I teach or have a job, I want the degree for me. And it would be fun to be called Doctor!

I still have bipolar brain though: poor memory, concentration, focus and judgement. And this is even in my stable mood! It gets worse when I’m in a mood state. So I don’t even know if I can take a class, understand it, and incorporate the learning into a paper or test. I forget that I saw a movie a couple weeks after I see it, forget remembering Oscar movies I saw a year ago!

And reading! Reading is challenging. On the one hand, I’m reading more books: I surpassed my Goodreads app challenge of 30 books last year. But unless I scroll through the list of books, I can only remember one, maybe two, books. When I look at the list I can describe plots or main points of maybe only a third of the books. As I’m reading I often forget what previous chapters contained.

So, how am I supposed to do graduate school reading and writing??? Well, I start small. Let’s see if I can even take and pass a class, any class. I excitedly looked through the course catalog of the community college near me, noticing what piqued my interest. True to my nerd-ling beginnings, the lab sciences biology and chemistry (not physics, sorry Big Bang Theory enthusiasts) stood out. I had been a biochemistry major when I started my Bachelor’s degree 26-ish years ago. Another subject caught my manic attention and I abandoned my first love and changed my major. I did, however, promise myself I would go back and take those science classes later in life.

And here I am! I’m a college student again, taking those bio and chem classes I wanted to return to, just doing it one class at a time to be easy on my brain. I want to take so many science classes that I could earn an Associates of Science, if I take some additional General Education classes. The advisor I spoke to said it might be easier (i.e., not duplicate classes I already took even though they are 26+ years old) to earn an Associates of Arts even though I want to do lab sciences. But no decisions on that yet. I can decide later if I want to apply my classes to a degree. Like I need another one. 😄

Back to becoming a college student… This week I learned I was accepted to begin in the summer session, met with an academic advisor, registered for a class (no science classes were available, darnit, nor were any Gen Ed classes available in the classroom, only online), cleared my account in the business office, filled out the dreaded FAFSA, got my ID card, met with the Office of Disability Services, and finished getting school supplies and NCTC swag.

About that last meeting… The staff told me that for the mood disorder I am eligible for double the amount of time for tests, an alternative testing location (The Testing Center), help with taking notes, the use of a recording device in class, and a reserved spot wherever I need in the classroom. Those may all be helpful – especially since I’m probably not as good at taking notes anymore – but what I really might need is excused absences and late homework if my mood flips out again and I’m not functioning well anymore. Apparently my doctor or therapist would have to state that I will miss class or be late with homework, not just keep it as possible. So accommodations are possible. Just need the documentation.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to ask for accommodation. Would I end up being known among the faculty for my disability only, the bipolar and anxiety student, instead of the curious and dedicated student who returned to take science classes? Then I remembered you, my dear readers, and that I am open and vulnerable about my bipolar experiences on the internet, for heaven’s sake. Maybe I can be the bipolar and anxiety student who succeeded, or at least tried!

Post-It Note to Myself

You are feeling good! You can get to this place again!

So says the third post-it on my bathroom mirror. Both my psychiatrist and my therapist insisted I do something to remember this time. “Most people don’t remember their good times. They forget and think it has always been this bad.”

My first post-it says, “Bipolar is just one part of me.” I don’t believe that right now, but I used to believe it and maybe I will again. The second post-it says, “You are brave and courageous.” I believe that one finally, even after a couple friends have spent years telling me that. These post-its are signposts of health I want to follow. I added a third one only because it is so important.

I have changed so much in the last 10 months since my move to Texas. Healthier, mood stabilized (for now), happy, motivated, energized. I feel I have to put that caveat in there since, as my therapist said, moods change. I can be honest that I will fluctuate. And my psychiatrist expects narrower swings. So the future might be closer to a healthy person’s mood changes. I have to tell myself it might be possible to have a positive future.

My therapist reminded me that it’s not just the 23 ECT treatments that brought me here. I worked hard for this. I learned and practiced dozens of coping skills. I’ve been through dozens of medication changes. Each of my 40-something hospitalizations has led to increased health and stability. I have spent years in weekly therapy, and I have bared my soul to multiple psychiatrists. I cultivated caring and dedicated support systems. I could go on.

The two sentences on my post-it contain all I have written here. This blog post will be one I return to, I hope.

My Story – A Summary

Hi! I’m Deb, and I blog at http://SuddenlyBipolar.com

I am an ordained Presbyterian minister. I like to think of myself as a Mental Health Advocate as my current calling, since I can’t pastor a church anymore because of how my Bipolar Type 1 manifests. I also have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, which just exacerbates the Bipolar.

I’m a lover of movies, books, politics and sociology. I’d like to do a PhD in Sociology if my brain will let me. It’s hard to read, so we’ll see what’s in store for me in the next few years.

I recently moved back in with family to get extra support. Even with a strong support system, it wasn’t enough to keep me from being lonely where my thoughts and feelings would take over to make me suicidal and bouncing in and out of the hospital over 30 times in the last 7 years.

I was diagnosed in September 2010 after falling from a manic high (August being a common time for mania for me) into a suicidal depression, my first and definitely not my last. Among my therapist, psychiatrist and me, we figured out I had my first depressive episode at 13 when I had major back surgery for scoliosis. Manic delusions may have started as early as 9, however. I had hallucinations in 2 psychotic episodes my first year in college at age 17, a common time for bipolar to raise its ugly head.

I spent my young and middle adult years in primarily hypomania, some mania and fewer depressions. I had a vibrant spirituality that people thought was a gift, but was really mania. Oh, well.

As I said, I was diagnosed in 2010, a year into my first solo pastorate after years as an associate pastor or youth director. I loved and was good at my job. It’s been a huge loss and sore spot that I can’t pastor anymore. Over the next 7 years I had amazing care from my psychiatrists and therapists, and a strong support system. But I still bounced in and out of a psychiatric hospital over 30 times, for as few as 3 days, and as much as 2 months. I saw the darkest days, despite love and support. I’m still looking for the right medication cocktail after Years of trying. Every time I went into the hospital we tried something new or tweaked something. And my psychiatrist outside did too, though she was more conservative.

Finally, I spent 3 months at my family’s home relearning how to care for myself (cooking, cleaning, exercise) and getting concentrated support and love. Eventually, together, we concluded that I should move to Texas from Chicago-land to continue support, be around people, and at least temporarily live in community. I hope to live a mile away soon and still get the benefit of daily support but independent living again.

I’ve been with my family for two months now and we are slowly making our way into community. I don’t feel settled. I miss my old support system. I sobbed leaving my main psychiatrist. I’ve been in a day program and inpatient for a few days. But I’m looking forward now to beginning a new life with meaningful activities.

Early in my diagnosed life, I accepted the bipolar as something I would have to manage for the rest of my life. The bipolar and anxiety are just a part of me, though sometimes taking care of them seems to overwhelm me. I remind myself they are just a part of me. I have routines and schedules. I advocate for myself with providers, and I talk with my support system regularly, sometimes (ok, most of the time) daily. I use coping skills like Radical Acceptance, Mindfulness, Thought Defusion, and Committed Action toward My Values (from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy). I also use Dialectical Behavioral Therapy skills such as Mindfulness, Emotion Regulation, and Distress Tolerance. I also volunteer at various places, though it’s hard and I have a hard time holding even one for longer than a couple months. Maybe I haven’t found the right place for my passion yet.

I am open about my struggles and triumphs on social media. I educate about and offer resources on bipolar on social media (such as my page on Facebook, Suddenly Bipolar). Advocating for others seems as important as advocating for myself. My blog is one way I do that by sharing my thoughts, feelings and journey. People tell me that reading about these things is helpful, and I’m glad. But really it’s my journal. 🙂

I hope to meet you in the blogosphere or on Facebook or Twitter. Together we can end the stigma and support one another. Find your voice!

Cross posted on MyLoudBipolarWhispers.com as part of the “There’s Glory in Sharing Your Story” campaign.

NAMIwalks

I’m walking for the first time this year!

I’ll be walking for Stigma Busters in the NAMI Dallas walk.

Come support mental illness research, support and education! I am walking with Stigma Busters! The local chapter of NAMI in my new location. Donate as little as a $1 or much more! Every dollar helps!

My current goal is $150, and already have over $100!

Come see my fundraising page:

https://www.namiwalks.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.participant&participantID=152791