Category Archives: Support System

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.

No ECT!!!

I showed up for my scheduled ECT this morning. And in the pre-screen I talked about how well I’m doing, back to baseline on everything. Somehow the conversation twisted and the PA asked if I even wanted a treatment today. Um, NO!

I waited an agonizing 5+ minutes while she talked with the treating psychiatrist. They agreed I was doing well enough not to have a treatment! I’m to call in a week for a phone screen to see if I’m still doing well or if I need a treatment. If I’m doing fine, they will discharge me and I can get the port out of my chest (used to access a vein easily since IV’s are hard to get on me).

Hooray! I celebrated my unexpected free day and good prognosis with a ginormous mocha from the coffee shop in the hospital lobby.

I also saw my regular psychiatrist today to ask about the fine tremors I have developed in my hands. But, I got to gloat about how well I was feeling. And I was shocked to be doing so well that he wanted to see me next In Three Months(!).

Even as I’m feeling well, and stable, and Good, I’m worried about the bottom falling out and plunging into suicidal depression for the millionth time. My doctor encouraged me not to worry about what might happen, and even to make a video or add to my mirror post-its that Yes, I was doing well. Something to help remember if (when?) things get bad, that I had been healthy and it would happen again.

Why do I expect suicidal depression to come again? Just because it has been a companion I could count on? And I got as good as one could get at dealing with it healthily?

How about I have no freaking clue how to be in a good space? I’m worried that the increased energy I feel is mania, and that the only way I have to express how good I’m feeling is to talk too much or to spend money. Both of those are things I do when I’m manic, yet I’m not manic.

I just don’t know how to be healthy! What are behaviors You have when You are healthy?

See! You Have a Purpose

So I was talking to my therapist, as one does, and we were exploring what to do with the ever-present suicidal thoughts. He had tried getting me to welcome them as just part of the landscape of my mind, something I’m pretty good at doing already. Most of the time I Accept that they are there, and recognize that they are just thoughts. At various and sundry times, intent to follow through on the thoughts accompanies the thoughts, adding fear and a third dimension to what had just been landscape. Then suicidal suggestions become action instigators, and I worry, fret, ruminate and finally find someone to talk to about the thoughts until they become landscape once again.

Even as mere landscape, suicidal thoughts are not at all pleasant. Just live-through-able. I don’t want them. Now, at least. Sometimes I want them and I want to act on them. But 97% of the time, I want them gone.

So I accept their presence, in good ACT fashion (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy). The next step, says Wise Therapist, is teaching them some boundaries. In a kind but firm way, order them away. As a small child I was often sent to my room to play, when the parents needed a break. So too, I must send the suicidal thoughts to their room when I need a break. Give myself some breathing room.

Now, we uncovered today that the undercurrent of the suicidal thoughts is the thought that I don’t have a purpose or goals. I have that thought a lot on its own, and it shows up again, subtly, with the suicidal thoughts. I hadn’t noticed it there before! I think if I send the thoughts to their room, then I need other thoughts to think about: my purpose in life and small and large goals. But I don’t have those, I protest!

And I change the subject, to my brother’s very recent colon cancer diagnosis and upcoming surgery (read more here: http://gofundme.com/markfightscoloncancer). Wise Therapist puts together that the same week I struggle with my Christmas Delusion and then persistent and pervasive suicidal thoughts, I manage not to go to pieces over my brother’s diagnosis and am the only family member to keep it together.

See! You do have a purpose! exclaims Wise Therapist. You didn’t set yourself and emotional needs aside, nor did the family situation exacerbate your symptoms so that you freaked out.

I think being steady through a volatile time for my family was the purpose he was getting at. I’m not sure I agree, but it did seem I was holding it together for people. I still don’t have goals or a larger purpose – in my mind – save for doing something interesting every day and surviving, or persisting as my bumper sticker says.

Is that all I need right now? Can I persist with no goals, no hopes, no plans. No real purpose, even for my upcoming trip to Chicago. Is persisting enough?

ECT Update

I have now had 8 ECT treatments. My short-term memory is just starting to be affected, but with prompts I can remember things ok. My mood is slowly getting better, though. I’m not thinking about suicide and I don’t seem to be wallowing in depression. But I’m not enjoying activities yet. So I’ll continue with ECT three times a week for at least another week or two before we taper the treatments down to once a week or so.

I wake up at 5:15am on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for ECT and get a ride with my brother to the hospital which is in downtown Dallas near his workplace. My mom goes with me as you need to be released into an adult’s care after ECT. We wait in the hospital’s lobby for a couple hours before ECT and then an hour or so afterwards too until my brother comes to pick us up. Then I relax for the rest of the day to let my body come down from the seizure. I’m grateful my family is supporting me through this treatment and I don’t have to go through this alone.

Today I was stuck 4 times to get an I.V. started. It’s the first time it took more than one stick. Ouch!! The only other problem I’m having with ECT is lightheadedness upon standing. Could be the ECT or the anesthesia. It started after the 4th ECT and isn’t getting better.

 

Time to Move?

I’m struggling against my current living conditions. I’m living with family, supposedly to get more support for my mental illnesses. Instead, my cat is constantly yelled at for something natural to him or locked in a room of his own. I’m living on someone else’s schedule of rising, meals, housework, shopping, medical appointments. My family has a very different worldview, even to not watching the news and having the privilege of staying ignorant of the world. And it is impossible to live with a passive-aggressive parent who was emotionally abusive when I was growing up and now still is, though I ignore it.

I want to move away, possibly back to Chicago where I have a strong support system. Possibly I could move somewhere nearby. Possibly I could take this opportunity to move back to California where my soul abides. And I could see the ocean and forests regularly, something that feeds me.

I’m upset, and so I texted my therapist who told me to breathe, to remember my values, to make a list of pros and cons, and to blog. Thus, I am blogging my values and pros and cons. It helps me to write everything out, in case you couldn’t figure that out from the fact that I have a blog – about myself.

Values: Health, Expressing my compassion, Spirituality of some sort, Purposeful/Meaningful living, Active involvement in world working for justice and peace. I have a hard time coming up with them without the value cards in front of me, but you can really only focus on a few at a time. So having just a few is ok.

Pros of moving: Own space and schedule, Live out my values in my daily life, Take care of my cat in way he needs to be, Use and display my own things and not have them be in storage, Sense of independence (if not obvious from other pros), Can have visitors over and have space to do that

Pros of staying with family: Dinners cooked for me (I do cleaning), Some cleaning done for me, Some support for mental health, Less money every month

Cons of moving: Living solitarily and extra stress on mental health from that, Extra expense right now and every month, Stress of moving on mental health, Extra support needed from non-existent friends or not-local friends

Cons of staying with family: Not my schedule, Living with passive-aggressiveness, No appropriate space for guests, Mean to my cat, Suppressing natural living according to values, All the things important to me in storage

There might be more pros and cons. It’s a hard decision. My heart is pounding. It seems my mental health would be stressed initially, but would ultimately improve with independence? Staying with family is repressing myself but with some support. I don’t know which value is the one to follow. I can’t follow my gut instinct, partially cuz it’s to flee and partially because I can’t trust my brain or gut as discussed in the post “Bipolar Me.” https://suddenlybipolar.com/2018/08/08/bipolar-me

One parent wants to have a Big Family Discussion, with Compromise. Right. Some people are going to get everything they want. As usual. It might be better to move.

A Hopeful Few Days

Well, I’m still depressed. But the anxiety has a reason! I saw a new psychiatrist last night. His theory is that I get more anxious when my mood changes. And since I’ve had so many mood changes over the last many years, that would produce more anxiety. And the times that I went in to the hospital with anxiety that led to suicidal ideation, I was having mood changes. So, besides social anxiety over the past several days, I am in a mood change. Which I thought. I didn’t start feeling depressed until I had been anxious for a couple days. Then there was some suicidal thinking, but nothing to worry about. Just thoughts.

He also increased my antipsychotic, is thinking of increasing one of my anti-convulsants, and stopped my anti-depressant which will just add to my anxiety he said. I agree, but it seemed to be the drug that worked to make me stable the last month. He said it may have brought me out of a depression, but ultimately won’t work to keep me out of one. Since it costs so much any way, I’ll go with him. He also wants me to consider an injection of an antipsychotic that lasts a month at a time. It’s a drug I’ve been on before with disastrous weight gain and very little if any effect on my mood. But the injection is very different he said. The research I did seemed like it would still cause weight gain. Having just passed the 30 lbs lost mark, I don’t really want to make it Harder to lose weight! But I’ll think about it.

I left thinking there were treatment options and that he had my best self in mind. I can like and trust him with my mental health.

Today I saw a new spiritual director. I haven’t seen anyone formally in close to 10 years I think. A pastor acted as one informally but more as a spiritual friend, which technically is what a spiritual director is… I shared with her the torn identity I have between my ordination history and nurture, and the new place I am, which is not feeding me as well as I hoped. I talked. She listened. She heard that I very much wanted to act on the great compassion I felt for the world. She heard that I was searching for who I am. These are things that I have discussed with my therapist ad nauseaum, but not in those exact words. It’s great when the two people you share your innermost life with are on the same page!

I’ve lost a sense of my contemplative side and of who I am and want to be in the world. I’m running in different directions trying to find places to volunteer only to have doors and windows slammed in my face, all saying not now. I guess it’s time to figure out who I am. I’ve made drastic choices to get help by moving here. By not having to think about some aspects of living because I don’t live alone, I have the opportunity to figure out who I am, even if I’m not stable. And I’m not. I’m depressed again. At least I know the feeling. I can summon some energy to act human.

Of Semicolons and Hotlines

In the wake of celebrity suicides, people on social media show sorrow, shock and often outrage. Almost always there is a tagline at the end of articles shared and comments made. That tagline is that if you are in need of help or thinking about suicide, please call this national hotline.

800-243-TALK is the national suicide prevention hotline for anyone who is contemplating suicide – or for those who know someone who is contemplating suicide. You are immediately connected to a person who will provide counseling and local mental health resources.

I have called the hotline before. It was helpful for me to talk with someone – anyone – who would understand and help me sort out options.

I have called a local hotline that ended with the police showing up at my home for a wellness check. They wouldn’t leave until family showed up to take me to my hospital of choice rather than take the ambulance to the nearest hospital. The person on the other side of the line said I should be ashamed of threatening suicide because of the pain it caused my family. I have never threatened suicide that didn’t seem imminent based on the pain I’m in.

That local hotline was not a helpful call, and that shame has never left me, even though their statement was patently false. I am ashamed that I couldn’t reach out to family and instead called both hotlines. In both cases I had expressed to family that I was depressed. But I couldn’t tell them I was suicidal. Being suicidal felt shameful and I was already in emotional anguish.

That is why giving me a hotline to call at the end of your post about someone’s suicide is Not Helpful. I am already lost in pain. I already feel ashamed of the way I’m feeling. I already find it difficult to talk to close friends or family who, according to you, cares about me very much. What makes you think I can reach out to a stranger?

What I need is someone to reach into my life, through the pain, and sit with me. Physically or virtually. A hotline can’t reach into my life. It can ask me the same questions you should ask: are you thinking about dying? Do you have a plan? Tell me what you’re thinking about. But a hotline can’t sit with me and be a person I know who says I am not alone.

Being depressed is enough of a sign to ask someone these questions – and to reach in and be present in their lives. Know the behaviors of depression and of mania, and telltale talk that shows someone is depressed or manic. Both mind states and mood states can lead to suicidal thinking and actions, though depression is more common. Some signs of these moods and thinking are indicated in the link above “Ways You Can Help Me.”

The same reasons hold for why I dislike intensely the semicolon as a symbol used in mental health circles. Originally the semicolon indicated that a person had stopped self-injuring and decided that there was life before while hurting themselves and life after they stopped. There was a semicolon put after the first part instead of a period.

The semicolon was then co-opted to indicate putting a semicolon instead of a period after a suicide attempt. A decision to keep living despite the pain.

Then the semicolon was co-opted to mean putting a semicolon instead of a period for any suicidal thinking, for depression in general, and finally for any mental health issues.

It has lost its original significance.

And for someone who lives with chronic suicidal thoughts – and there are Many of us – there is no semicolon. The thoughts come around constantly for me, and serious contemplations are always just around the corner.

If I feel as though I can actually reach out to you virtually or in person, please don’t semicolon me. It belittles the seriousness of my thoughts. And it misuses the original intent of the semicolon as a symbol for the end of self-injury or after a suicide attempt. I need you to reach into my life and sit with me. Ask me the questions. Remind me that I am not alone because you are with me.

And while I am criticizing symbols and gestures, watch how you spread news of deaths by suicide. Just hearing about other deaths by suicide makes my own plans more plausible. There is such a thing as suicide contagion. Deaths by suicide rise after a celebrity dies that way. And never ever tell how another person killed themselves. There is such a thing as copycat deaths.

I would suggest expressing your sorrow about someone’s death, and leave out entirely how the person died. The news does enough of a job saying it was a death by suicide. And then check in on your friends who struggle with suicidal thoughts or with depression or mania. They need you in your lives, not hotlines and symbols.