close up of a psychologist taking notes during a therapy session with a patient

The Fear and Uncertainty of a New Mental Health Diagnosis

Yesterday, I woke up just like any other day. I made my coffee, took my medications and went on a walk with my dog. Nothing out of the ordinary.

I spent an hour outside drinking my coffee and smoking my cigarettes, because the night before I had gotten maybe two hours of sleep. My insomnia has been bad lately.

I wanted to put on a full face of makeup, but I ended up procrastinating and only putting on a minimal amount. I looked like I had done nothing. I didn’t even spend time picking out an outfit; I just grabbed something warm and black that would go well with my leather jacket.

I had an appointment with my psychiatrist at 10:20. I got there at 10 a.m. and sat in my car to finish my coffee and smoke one last cigarette. I was nervous. I was going to ask her for help getting my medical card. I knew this was going to be an important appointment. There was so much that needed fixing.

However, I didn’t know just how important and life-changing this appointment would be. I somehow got the courage to ask her, “Am I bipolar?” The answer was shocking.

“I’m giving you the diagnosis of bipolar II disorder.”

At first, I felt relief. My dad and my best friend had accused me of overthinking, creating something that was not there. I was happy to know this wasn’t all just made up fiction in my mind. But then, the fear set in. I’m bipolar.

Logically, I know nothing has changed. But at the same time, I feel as though my whole life has been turned upside-down. My psychiatrist knew for at least a month, and she didn’t tell me. She also didn’t give me much information other than it starts with depression and progresses. She raised the dosage of my new antipsychotic and sent me on my way.

I was in a fog leaving the appointment. I had to run errands, and even then I felt detached from the world. I felt as though I had just been diagnosed with a lifelong illness. Oh wait, I had been. When I got home, I began searching online for what this meant. Is this going to be like the movies? Am I going to get even more paranoid? What’s going to happen to me?

I didn’t have time to do too much reading as my friend had come over to hang out with me. He has the same issues as I do. He was actually able to help me realize that I do, in fact, have hypomanic episodes. He helped me realize this is something I’ve dealt with for a while.

Now, this morning, I sit here wondering. It’s heavy on my mind. I know I have an anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, ADD and PTSD. Now, I’m wondering if maybe I’d been misdiagnosed. What does all of this mean now that I’m bipolar?

I was beginning to think that maybe, just maybe, my depression and anxiety weren’t from a chemical imbalance. They were results of the trauma I had experienced. But now I no longer believe this is the case.

I feel lost; I don’t know where to begin. It all makes so much sense now, but at the same time, it’s all new. It’s scary and unfamiliar territory I’ve entered into. I feel alone. I feel like I now understand why I’ve been mistreated and misunderstood. It’s even given me an excuse to accept all the abuse I’ve been through.

While I learn how to accept this, I will also learn how to fight it. I want to have a job again. I want to be stable again. I’m determined to get back to that point. I hope there is still hope for me.

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drugs spilling out onto table from tipped over orange pill bottle

Making Peace With the Side Effects of My Bipolar Disorder Medications

I sometimes try to pretend I am still thin when I look in the mirror. But who am I kidding? I weigh more now than I ever thought would be acceptable to my athletic self. But the kicker is, the only part of me that is unhealthy is my brain, and my body pays the price to keep my mind working correctly.

I’ve complained and cried and clenched my fists in frustration as I try to combat the weight gain, the fatigue and the endless sleeping. Those are my three biggest quarrels. Aside from that, there are headaches and dry mouth — and I mean ridiculously dry; I wake up in the morning with my tongue essentially adhered to the roof of my parched mouth. There’s also the shaking hands, the sensitive digestive system and oily skin. I could keep going and pick out more little things that could be attributed to my psychiatric medications — and most fairly accurately. Over the years, I’ve begun to resent my medications and their side effects.

Psychiatric medications suck.

The side effects suck.

There is no way around that.

However, as I’ve given more thought to the struggles that can come along with bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses, I’ve come to appreciate one particularly important fact about my health and my medications…

At least something works.

I’ve seen others struggle with the torments of bipolar disorder — in my psychologist’s office, in my psychiatrist’s waiting room, on the streets of Seattle, in stories on The Mighty — desperately trying to find a remedy for the pain they’re in. And I remember my own struggle. I remember clinging to life by my bloody fingertips. I remember screaming into the darkness, begging for it to somehow end. I remember the raging manic highs and the desperation of the depressive void. I remember wanting to stop existing so many godforsaken times. I remember tasting hell, and then I am humbled.

I’m not where I was before my first bipolar episode. My brain isn’t quite as sharp, my body is definitely not as fit, and I have to drink lots more water (which isn’t a bad thing). I sleep for literally half the day and stay on a rigid schedule to make sure my sleeping, eating and exercise are perfectly monitored. I can’t stay up late, work out for hours, or handwrite without making some scribbles.

But you know what?

At least something works for me.

I know with mental illness such as bipolar disorder your mental state can change so much you can sometimes forget where you are and what you have. I know it can get frustrating gaining weight to stay stable, losing some cognitive function, and anything else you personally experience in order to have the healthiest mind possible. I know it can be so hard to see anything positive in the struggle. The glass often seems to be cracked when you are learning to cope with mental illness. It is hard taking medications. The side effects are hard. It seems like just one more thing that is hard to live with having a mental illness. And I know it is hard to preach the “be thankful” card when one is struggling to find the balance with medications. But, if you can, try.

I can’t speak for you or your struggles with medication. I can only speak for myself. But even in the midst of my own medications’ side effects storm, I am thankful.

I’m thankful I’ve found something that works for me. And I hope you will, too.

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Caught Up in a Manic Moment

I felt my smile today. My cheeks widened. My eyes sparkled. A confident giggle just emerged. A sarcastic, witty statement fell off my tongue. My body was loose. I chose “provocative” clothing for the evening. A skip in my step turned into a slight twist and sashay of hips. I wanted attention. Craved it.

My previous slow wonderment was a blistering set of somewhat inappropriate questions. Firing off without my recollection. At first they were at home, a big enough space to house them all. But when we moved to the car, my husband felt like he was under attack. He gave me that look… care, concern and annoyance all rolled into one. With a loud sigh he said the three words that signal something might be awry: are you OK? The underlying tone of urgency. Of, why now. Of, now I have to stay alert, floated in one ear and out the other.

I fired inquiries as to why he was ruining my vibe. It’s a good day. Nope, it’s an awesome day. Here I am, finally, completely available to you and you can’t handle it? It’s my gift to you. In return I receive an urgent follow up set of words: are you moving fast? Fast! Schmast! My energy is fluid. Pulsing through my mind, body and spirit. I tilt my head and become a little flirty. Suggest if he is a good boy he just might get an out of this world invitation to bliss. These are not my words. But they are delivered in such a way all questions ceased. Like a dripping candle, I was sizzling his skin with my heat.

I strutted around in my cowboy boots and overly tight shirt. Certain every man in the restaurant, and later the bar, took notice. I sipped on water as if it was the finest vodka made in all of the land. I was careful to touch my husband’s face, long hair and hands. But only for a moment. A tease. I don’t remember feeling my body until he caressed me. I think I was floating above. Alternating between sensual presence and depersonalization. An awkward shift was taking place.

I motioned him to the dance floor. Stomping my boots to feel the ground was just what I needed. He draped his arms across my shoulders and was pressing into me from behind. Once again I could feel him. Our juices flowing. Our need for each other growing. A sharp, and I mean sharp, laser pierced my mind. A lightning bolt of desire infiltrated me. But, not just for my husband. My eyes darted around the room looking for another man.

Wait a minute.

Please stop this madness. This is most certainly not me, not my line of thinking. I break free and dance with wild abandon. Maybe if another comes to me it’s not the same thing. No initiation on my part. Trouble is, we were watching a solo acoustic singer songwriter. My husbands hands held me still. Perhaps reminding me wrong place, wrong time. I couldn’t stop moving. He hugged me and asked if I needed some air. I needed to be set free! This fierce drive was nothing I’ve ever felt before. I was alive. Awake. Fuck wonderment. This was decadent curiosity. This was out of bounds and enticing. Modest caution out the window.

My wise husband misses no signs. This was not his self-effacing red haired freckled faced shy wife standing next to him. He held me close, but didn’t smother me. At first I resisted. He whispered he loved me over and over. We made our way back to the car unscathed. My body electric. The moon and the stars, warm dog days of summer nights ignited my insides. Typically my particular cocktail of meds ushers me to bed around 9:30. I was up well past 2 a.m. Brilliance encapsulating me. The race of ideas with no context or goal ricocheted around the room. They skidded along my blank page but left only an indiscernible mess. I reached into the cavernous black hole of my medication shelf and pulled out the bottle “for emergencies.” It wasn’t critical mass, but maybe on the cusp. This newfound me felt risky. Exhilarating. But still risky. I washed them down with some shame, guilt and unsung empowerment. It’s for the best I told myself.

Late morning here I sit. Trying to piece it all together. I missed the signs. I just thought, for the first time in a long time, I was out in the world. Being seen. Being heard. In my body. And I was, for all the wrong reasons. It wasn’t me embracing myself. I was succumbing, unknowingly, to symptoms. I think there might be a difference.

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close up of sheet music

When Music Is Medicine for My Mind

Since the onset of bipolar disorder, I have used music as a form of auditory medicine for my mind. A healthy, yet powerful way to self-medicate.

These self-inflicted sounds are friends that sometimes validate my mind-state. The visuals’ pace elevates with overlapping imagery, one annihilating the next. Music matches my mood, aggressive and full of rage. Nobody relates, but the melodic mash of moans and guttural tones finds a way to validate my thought-scape. I am at ease.

Other days I fear my mood will leap off a cliff, pushed by a song or a riff. I turn my back on the sounds that once soothed due to fear of an afflictive fall.

Tears then weigh my face. This time to a nostalgic place. With stained skin I listen again. The colorful sounds lift me to a higher state. A smile forms, my frown is gone. If but for a moment I am calm. 

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 Image via Thinkstock.

Tired exhausted businessman

The Dichotomy of My Anxiety and Paranoia

Anxiety and paranoia have troubled me for as long as I can remember. This fuels feelings of inadequacy and little, if any, confidence. With my recent bipolar disorder diagnosis I have, fortunately, come to terms with it. However, having my first full time job in two years provides a strange dichotomy. The dichotomy lies in relief of employment after two years of almost none, to now anxious about where this will lead me and what the future holds.

A major characteristic of my anxiety stems from my prior days as a professional musician. I was constantly put on display and instilled with always having to push myself. Ironically this drive to push myself happened to be fear-based. I’m always striving to do better but am always looking over my shoulder terrified of what others think. On top of the constant worry about how I performed I felt like my parents were living vicariously through me. This way of living and being perceived accounted for much anxiety and paranoia. Essentially the anxiety makes me feel empty and without purpose, to compound the fact that always looking over my shoulder “proves” I’m being judged and not good enough.

Friends and family find this hard to understand. It’s a vicious cycle of explaining myself but feeling worried about what they think of me. I still get the perception that I’m on display.

Pendulum swings are a major description of how my anxiety/paranoia manifests itself. Basically the pendulum swing is analogous to second-guessing myself. I strive to be something but am afraid of failure because I already feel I’m on my second strike in terms of career endeavors. I don’t want to strikeout, I don’t want to reinforce my own inadequacies, so I ponder, which furthers the anxiety. It gets to the point on occasion where all I do is work and sleep. I don’t think about aspirations and perceptions. I honestly cannot express feelings of anxiety/paranoia because being labeled as a morose and fearful purpose will only perpetuate the above feelings.

Sarcasm, wit, humor and coming up with jokes are what I put out there for people to see of me. I strive in being an enigma to others, hiding my feelings about them and more importantly myself. But you see the vicious cycle? The pendulum swings? I worry people can see through all of this thus figuring me out.

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Thinkstock image by stevanovicigor

mother holding her child tightly to her chest against black background

What No One Told Me About Being a Mom and a Psychiatric Patient

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in high school. I was 17 years old. I had already been diagnosed with anxiety and depression about six years prior to this newest diagnosis. All I was thinking about was the medication and the therapy and blood work. It never occurred to me that in less than five years, I was going to have a positive pregnancy test and have a baby.

In 2008, my son (I’ll refer to him by his nickname, Monkey) was born. I had a normal pregnancy and birth. Monkey had some gastric issues. That resulted in him being put on hypoallergenic formula. He also had a severe adverse reaction to vaccines, which at 7 months old led to him spending five days in the PICU (pediatric intensive care unit). I kept telling myself the mood swings were just from the stress of my child having to face medical challenges.

At about a year old, my ex-husband and I noticed Monkey didn’t like noise. He didn’t like disruption in his schedule. He didn’t like crowds and needed to be swaddled at over a year old. We got him evaluated, and he was diagnosed with sensory processing disorder. I thought it was my fault. I blamed myself day in and day out, and this worsened my psychiatric struggles.

In 2011, my daughter was born (we can call her Buggy). At 2 months old, she was admitted to the hospital overnight to be evaluated for surgery for pyloric stenosis. Luckily, it wasn’t needed, but I was then diagnosed with severe postpartum depression. It kept getting worse, and after my daughter’s first birthday, I was court-ordered into a psychiatric facility. I was put on medications because I was manic and my anxiety was so severe that my life was on a downward spiral.

That following school year, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) was called on me because the school claimed I sent Monkey to school in pajamas. It was an outfit he had worn a dozen times with no incident — an outfit he actually picked out that day. They came to the house I was living in with my kids and demanded I take every single medicine I was prescribed — despite the fact that they made me lethargic and my med management doctors were not listening to my concerns. After a while, they saw my meds were making me lethargic and said because I was “choosing” to take those meds, Monkey and Buggy had to go live with their dad.

In the paperwork from the DCF, they cited their reasoning for the custody transfer as my “severe and extensive psychiatric history.” No one told me if the DCF felt like it, they could use my psychiatric history against me. Or that while my meds might help me function, they could (simultaneously) hinder my ability to parent effectively if the doctors are constantly playing with what medications I take and their dosage.

My kids getting taken from my custody tore me apart. I felt like my world was caving in around me. As of right now, the current custody situation works for our family. My ex-husband and I get along pretty well, and we are able to do what we feel is best for Monkey and Buggy. In the future, however, I may petition for primary custody back. But until then, my ex-husband, my current husband and I all work together so we are all involved in every aspect of the kids’ lives.

It can be genuinely tough being a mommy and a psych patient. But I wouldn’t change it for the world. My kids know acceptance. My kids know compassion. My son, at 8 years old, knows how to handle someone having a panic attack. They are more empathetic than many adults I know. While it sucks not having my babies full time, I know they truly treasure what time I do spend with them. They soak up the cuddling and watching ASL videos and swimming with me.

Image via Thinkstock.

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