Category Archives: Coping Skills

The Power of Community

Yesterday I posted about how I experience suicidal ideation. I have followers on WordPress, and the blog crossposts on Twitter and Facebook with followers in both places. On all three platforms I got responses concerned about my safety.

Thank you everyone!!

Even though I always have a plan, and the impulses, thoughts and feelings are usually present, yesterday I was not worried about my safety. But I did feel Very Alone. I know people who have suicidal thoughts every once and awhile, and I’ve met people who deal with chronic suicidal thoughts like I do. Heck, psychiatrists have told me about patients like me. But it’s so easy to feel alone when suicidal ideation takes over multiple times an hour!

But yesterday You, Dear Readers, helped me feel seen and heard and not alone. You contacted me, commented, reposted, gave contact info and made sure I had the suicide prevention lifeline number (800-273-TALK). You reminded me that others have this experience and make it to the other side.

I wear a ring that goes around my finger three times. I say it is my “power of community” ring because the three rings remind me of how powerful community has been for keeping me alive and safe. It’s so easy with suicidal ideation to feel lost and alone.

Now, if y’all could point me to people with chronic ideation, that would be great! No one has ideas about how to live with it.

The Value Independence

Happy Pi Day! (March 14, 3/14 for 3.14, the decimal approximation of the mathematical concept of pi)

OK, now that I’ve displayed my nerdiness for the day…

I’ve written before about how I have valued living independently very highly among my values. Learning to live with family has been hard, and deciding several times in the past year to continue to do so has been even harder. I’m still learning to live with family, especially sharing my schedule of outside activities. I want a sense of independence. And being able to follow my own whims and schedule is part of what I value about independence. How much independence do I have to give up by living with family?

I am reading a book about the needs and desires of people as they age, Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. At one point today I read these sentences about the two meanings of autonomy: “One [meaning] is autonomy as free action – living completely independently, free of coercion and limitation,” and “Whatever the limits and travails we face, we want to retain the autonomy – the freedom – to be the authors of our lives.”

I believe I have been thinking about living independently in the first sense of autonomy described in the book. I want to live alone, keeping my own household, because I believe that kind of independence shows that I am adult and have learned to live with my limitations. But, as many people have discovered as they age or as part of disability or even as part of enlightenment, we humans live dependently with one another, sometimes with personal and/or household needs taken up by others, sometimes with emotional cares shared with others, sometimes just sharing the rent with another person for financial needs to be met. Over this past year I have come to realize that I am a better human being? or my best self? when I am living with other people. I think I have always been that way, even though I consider myself an introvert who enjoys time in the company of others A Lot. During this year, I realized that I will never be able to live alone anymore, whether with family or with a housemate.

What does not living alone mean for my value “independence”? I still want to follow my own whims and schedules. I’m having a hard time sharing that info or part of myself with others. I still want autonomy, but perhaps I’m thinking about it now in the second sense above: I want to be the author of my life, even as household, financial and emotional needs are met to some degree by housemates. I’m having an epiphany, or becoming enlightened, about the dependent nature of my very human self, which includes living with bipolar and its needs. I no longer feel the need to live alone to show my adultness or ability to manage my limitations. But I do still feel the need to be the author of my life, to make decisions about how I spend my time to enrichen my life. That is what I value about independence.

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?

Suicidal Ideation

A clawing, gnawing at the inside of my breastbone. Tears behind my eyes, but not released. Anxiety creases in the forehead. A fluttering heartbeat to my left, blankness and emptiness of the soul to the right. I see how I will do it in my head, over and over and over.

I’m noticing everything in this moment. This is what I experience in my body Every.Bloody.Time I have suicidal ideation. Which is minimally every couple hours, and right now intensely every other minute. It interrupts reading, watching tv, even doing algebra this afternoon, and while in conversations.

I watched youtube videos of Steven Hays giving ted talks about psychological flexibility and putting the mental brakes on thoughts. He is one of the founders of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acceptance_and_commitment_therapy) which is the therapy that finally worked for me. I’ve been practicing it for years now. The reminders in the videos helped me a bit. Hours later I’m still using tips.

I tried something, and stopped because it hurt more than planned. I’m not going to do anything, yet I’m plagued by the sensations and thoughts I described. It’s miserable and horrible.

I don’t want to go to the hospital, nor do I think it would help. My mom, though not currently in a position to help, has hidden things I could use to hurt myself. This is as safe an environment as it could be, I guess.

I don’t think more ECT would help, though my mood feels like it dipped, and I find it easy to fall into old thought patterns besides the suicidal ideation. I had a long and emotional Friday and Saturday getting certified as a NAMI support group facilitator, something I’ve wanted to do for years! But it wore me out mentally and emotionally. Which could lead to a natural mood dip, which is why I think ECT would be overkill since the depression should lift after more rest (my hunch).

Several doctors and several therapists have come to independent ideas that I just have suicidal ideations as obsessive thoughts (OCD) and there isn’t anything that will stop them. If I didn’t have the anxiety of whether my life was threatened or the bodily sensations I described, it would be a little easier. How do I live with this terrible debate and these sensations with no way to rid myself of them, to fight them, to welcome or accept them?

A Month of Me

Who am I in this new mental state? I really don’t know! I had my last ECT a month ago, a Month Ago! My mood is stable; my thoughts about death and suicide are not. They continue to come and go, intense sometimes, fleeting at others. I deal with them with some ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy ) coping skills my therapist has me using. Sometimes those work to bring down my anxiety and miserableness. And sometimes not so much. He likes that I report back on how much skills work or not. I just want the thoughts to stop! But they don’t.

Along with a mood that is in the middle – neither depressed nor manic – I have energy to get out of bed in the morning, and energy for each day. I’ve even somehow managed to stop waiting for the other shoe to drop, that I’ll end up in a suicidal depression again and end up in the hospital. I have optimism and hope for the future and hope that I can accomplish a goal set in the future. In a week I’m doing a training to be a facilitator for NAMI Connection support groups. Starting next week I will be the short-term facilitator of a small group I’m in. In May I’m going to walk in the NAMIWalks 5K, which means training and fundraising for the next 3 months. AND I applied to the community college near me to take a bunch of science classes I never got to take during my college years. The first class starts in June, and there are several things to do before then.

Besides these plans I’ve made, I’m also currently on vacation in Chicago and its polar vortex, visiting friends and my old stomping grounds. My mood has remained calm despite a change in my return flight, cancelled plans and the weird memories. Yup, weird memories. I lost most of the geography of this area in the ECT, but it started coming back after seeing the routes I used to take. Places I used to go don’t have very many personal memories. And where I live now has very few personal memories as well. I’m almost only living in the moment, like a cat. (Yay! A cat!)

What have I discovered about myself in this month of… competency, flexibility, stability? First, I’m learning to trust myself to hold a steady mood, despite thoughts that scare and annoy and aggravate. Second, I now know that part of the reason I’m doing better is because I have housemates. I know I can’t live alone. Where I will live or move is up in the air, but many wise people have advised that I spend some time adjusting to this new phase before making big changes. Third, I’m recognizing the traits and values that make me, me. Compassion, justice, volunteerism, friendship, for a start.

I hope, hope, hope that I stay stable. I’m a little scared thoughts will take over. I want to take this time to get to know myself as a stable person – limits, weaknesses, strengths. I haven’t felt this good – ever! I’ve been in a mood state, untreated. Now? I have possibilities!

Sick, But Well

I am still steady, stable, in the middle with my mood! I have more energy. I wake up ready for the day. I have hope that I can do things in my life, not just have energy for them now, but also not be interrupted by a hospitalization. I haven’t felt this good perhaps ever!

But.

But I continually have breakthrough bipolar symptoms. I have obsessive suicidal thoughts and visions of me killing myself in one of several ways. (Sorry to be graphic.) I get anxious over little stuff. I get overwhelmed with too much stimuli, like too much driving or being in line at the pharmacy with lots of people around. I wake up too early sometimes and can’t get back to sleep.

The most distressing of the symptoms remains the intrusive, suicidal thoughts that are accompanied by such unhelpful thoughts as the world would be better without me, I don’t add much to anyone’s existence in any kind of unique way, and I would rather just check out and find eternal unconscious sleep. See? Unhelpful accompanying thoughts, besides visions of killing myself.

Then today I heard the Matchbox 20 song “Unwell” on the radio, and I’m again realizing that I am sick. I have bipolar (and other medical and mental illnesses), and it doesn’t go away. I’m always making allowances for how my brain works, whether fighting against how hard it is to concentrate or remember, or fighting against intrusive or obsessive or earworm thoughts. Bipolar runs my life.

But…my mood is stable now, for however long I get to have one. So, am I sick, or am I well? How is it that I have an even, good mood that lets me hope for a good future AND I have obsessive suicidal thoughts? AND near constant anxiety that breaks through regularly? And other symptoms? Am I sick, or am I well?