paper flower

How Making Paper Flowers Changed My Experience in the Mental Hospital

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I find nature to be so incredibly beautiful and I believe flowers are the most awe-inspiring of nature’s jewelry. Ironically enough, I can’t seem to keep a real plant alive for more than a season, but I’m still trying. Thank goodness for paper flowers. I remember discovering them at a small fair when I was a very little girl. The fair was filled with games made by the parents, like bobbing for apples, donuts hanging from a string, “win a goldfish” and most importantly, the paper flower field. The first time I saw the field, my jaw dropped. It was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen. The ladies told me I could walk through the field of glorious paper flowers and pick one out to take home. I remember how happy I was, twirling and dancing through what seemed to be an enormous field of vibrant paper flowers. It was gut wrenching trying to decide which one gave me the most joy.

I was hooked from that day forward. My mother and I went home and quickly figured out how to make them ourselves, which was much more rewarding, as I could choose the colors. Since that wonderful day, I have been making paper flowers. I’ve been making them for over 45 years, now. I just love that you can purchase a pack of colorful tissue paper along with some pipe cleaners and make a huge beautiful bouquet. I’ve since made them for all sorts of occasions and for the people I love. I’ve made gift toppers, decorations for birthday parties, bachelorette parties, baby showers and of course, to decorate my campsite at music festivals. They may seem childish to some of you, but you have no idea how much they helped me as well as many others when I was first hospitalized for my mental illness. I did not know then, but I soon learned paper flowers have magical powers. They do.

Upon first waking up in the hospital, I didn’t know where I was, what happened or why I was there. I was completely confused, scared and feeling very nauseous, and extremely out of it. It was the weekend, which meant the doctors weren’t there and I couldn’t get any answers. The nurses and staff simply told me to take the medicine and try and relax and get some more sleep. How could I sleep, though? There were men and women on my floor who were all very sick, both mentally and physically. There were people with various types of mental illnesses, as well as people struggling with addiction, going through detox. It was all very scary to me. This of course, put my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) into overdrive.

Needless to say, I’ve never been more frightened in my life. A very sick man whose room was next to mine, continued to just walk into my room and yell at me for all hours of the night. Each time, I was rattled to my core. I was in survival mode. The only objective, for the near future, was to stay safe somehow. The staff had to do room checks every 15 minutes to make sure no one was trying to die by suicide. What I really needed was some serious sleep to recover. I felt unable to sleep, though. My hospital stay was horrible, that is, until I finally discovered the art therapy room.

As soon as I was well enough, the staff walked me into the art room, knowing from what my family said that I was an artist. I was finally able to breathe. The therapist was a very kind woman, who encouraged me to walk around and decide what I might want to do. I knew I wasn’t really able to draw or paint, as my hands were shaking too much from the fear and medication. I was pretty frustrated until I opened one drawer to discover it was filled with colorful tissue paper. The sun came out for a brief moment, and I smiled. I knew what I wanted to do. Make a paper flower. I sat with my head down and made what was to be the first of hundreds of paper flowers during my hospital stay. It was the prettiest paper flower I had ever made, at least in my mind. And I smiled. Some of the patients smiled and the therapist smiled, too. That’s the magic. I began to feel a bit better. It was the first time that the staff, doctors and patients began to get a glimpse of who I really was. Before, I was only this frightened “crazy” lady who didn’t communicate, other than in confusion, anger and fear. The art therapist suggested I pre-make a bunch of them to keep myself busy, as I wasn’t going to be allowed to use the scissors outside of the art room. That is exactly what I did.

Making paper flowers gave me something to do, and kept my hands busy. Working on the flowers also distracted me from what was going on around me and from being so afraid. Every day I would work in the art room to make flowers to get me through yet another day.

As I’m sure you have surmised, the paper flowers started to pile up in my room and on my walls. I have always felt the need to make my surroundings beautiful, and this was a tough task given how sterile my surroundings were in the hospital. As the paper flowers began to overtake my room, I was feeling a bit better. Because of this, I began to join the group sessions and listen to the other patients and therapists. I wasn’t necessarily talking, but I was listening. I was finally able to focus enough on what others were saying. I wasn’t the only one who was devastated, confused and angry – It seemed like we all were. I started to feel an overwhelming sense of compassion and empathy towards the other patients, and even some of the staff. So, I started to give people paper flowers. 

When I knew someone was having an extraordinarily bad day, I would try and give them one of my flowers. Each person accepted them differently and some didn’t want them at all, which was fine. The people who accepted them would admire the flower and I would see a glimmer — if ever so small — of hope in their eyes. Some would give me a smile and say “thank you,” and sometimes they would tell me I turned their day around. The patients proudly displayed them in their rooms or gave them to other patients or family members who visited. I also gave flowers to doctors and staff who were kind to me. These silly little flowers were working for me and I was feeling better and better.

As I was making these flowers and handing them out, I was also making friends. Even the man who kept barging into my room, stopped doing so after getting a flower. My friends started to ask me to teach them how to make them. I agreed and started teaching people one at a time, and in return, I asked them to give the first flower to someone else before making one for themselves. So, that’s when the flowers went “viral.” I had a huge number of patients making flowers with me all the time. As the days passed, the art therapist even asked me to teach the class on how to make them.

Picture the nurse’s desk, the therapist and doctors’ offices — the hallways and rooms that were first hard, cold and blank — covered in beautiful paper flowers. They were everywhere, and I was receiving them by the dozens.

As I was getting better — and as my friends were getting better — some of my paper flower protégés were sent to the first floor where they would soon be sent home. I missed them and vice versa. So, I devised a delivery service where the art therapist and some of the staff would deliver the flowers back and forth from the third floor to the first floor. They knew how valuable these flowers had become to our recoveries. In addition, these friends were continuing to make the flowers on the first floor and beginning to cover that floor with flowers, which I was unaware of at the time. When it was time for me to move to the first floor, the walls, offices and rooms were covered with flowers to welcome me. My friends were gone, but the flowers were there. People I didn’t know were making them. They knew me by reputation only, but I immediately had new friends. Paper flowers do have magical powers, yes they do.

I have since been hospitalized two additional times, and each time, I have done the same thing: Fill the ugly world with paper flowers.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Photos via contributor.

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What It Feels Like to Experience Hypomania

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Note: In spite of the second person, this is not everyone’s experience with hypomania.

Hypomania is, by definition, mania lite. It’s mania, toned down. As the fifth edition of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual says, it doesn’t cause a significant decrease in functioning. Actually, hypomania kind of makes you function better. An increase in goal-directed behavior, an increase in productivity. It can be pretty obvious, especially once it comes after depression.

You feel like you can do things again, even though when your mind is racing so much, it’s just one thing after the other and you get bored after five minutes.

And you get loud and laugh a lot and it sounds unhinged when you do, your high-pitched braying punctuating the words and sentences and monologues that keep spilling out of your mouth because you can’t shut up — the words in your mouth are all trying to push themselves out and holding them in is almost physically painful and why not talk? You have so much to say.

Suddenly you’re the most amazing person in the world. You’re so smart, you’re so talented, you can do anything, but —

At the same time, you always know that’s a lie. Your happiness isn’t happiness. It’s plastic at the edges, fundamentally fake at its worst.

It’s happiness that’s desperate and sharp enough to cut. It’s losing control while feeling like you have so much control of everything that you can do whatever you want. You don’t care about much, you throw caution to the wind, and it’s not like the heavy, bored not-caring of depression — it’s this not-caring where you don’t have to care because everything’s going to come together even though your anxiety says no.

Even though the other parts of your brain, all of them — the broken parts and the steady ones — are screaming at you, telling you that you’re acting very strange, begging you to understand you’re acting very strange. That it’s not going to end well.

You ignore them, of course you do, and the world zigzags and tilts and goes up and down like you’re a little kid on a swing, going higher and higher until you’ve gained too much momentum to stop, the only option is to jump even though now you’re scared, and your face is windburned and your eyes are watering and you are out of breath and now you have found yourself in a mixed state, depressed but with your thoughts racing and twisting into things you’re not sure if you’re actually thinking, because you feel so outside of yourself.

You are a character in a book. There is an author controlling you.

The author has absolute power. You are not the author.

So one moment you’re on top of the world and the next you’re panicking in the bathroom and then you’re leaving class (which you don’t understand anyway, maybe college isn’t for you, maybe you should become a paramedic, but the bitter truth is your hands shake too much) and then you’re considering suicide and then — never mind!

Your mind has moved on to something else. Your mind is always moving on to something else.

You’re laughing and half an hour ago you were panicking, and when you look back on it, it’s frightening and wrong, even when you rewind to the better moments of pure (false) joy it is frightening and wrong, even at the moment it is frightening and wrong, but you just got out of a depressive episode so you feel like you’ll take whatever kind of happiness you can get, because there’s nothing wrong with happiness.

There’s nothing wrong with this.

You’re perfect.

You’re so perfect that you can do everything you want even though you feel like the machinery in your brain is grinding so fast it’s sparking and screeching, even though your life is no longer linear, even though your consciousness is rolling away like marbles, even though your world is mixed metaphors.

Your mind moves on to something else.

And something else.

And something else.

But everything good or bad ends and so it grinds to a halt again and you’re depressed (again, always again, that’s been part of your life for a long time, at least, you’ve been clinically sad since 14) and you realize the hypomania was sick and scary, but never mind, you want it back. You’d give anything to not have to feel this way anymore. You’d give anything to have that flying feeling again.

And then you think, “But it would be so much better if my emotions could stay in check. If I could be ‘sane.’ If I could be sure of what is real and what is an episode.”

There’s that moment when you wonder if you’ve ever felt happiness at all because you’re always cycling through these episodes and the worst part is now you know. Now you are aware. A diagnosis comforts you — it tells you there’s an explanation for this thing that’s been part of you for such a long time. But it also makes hindsight become everything because you look back and you see. You see things weren’t right, and you wish you could’ve done something earlier because this is so, so out of control.

Reality and unreality blur. Past and present turn into a sucking black hole. The expansive universe becomes distorted under the magnifying glass of your brain. You’re real and then you’re not, and you miss being real. Even when you’re so supposedly happy you could die and you wouldn’t even mind, you miss it. Being stable. Being a person who is OK.

And then sometimes you are OK, you’re happy or content and it’s soft and well-lit and true, and honestly? There are moments that feels like the worst part. Because it ends. And when it does, you feel cheated.

Except the truth is that every once in a while, you don’t. Because you’re swinging on a pendulum and it’s making you so sick you’ve forgotten you’re sick.

And if you remember, you don’t even care.

Why would you when you’re so fucking happy?

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via ClaudioVentrella

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Why My Laundry Is a Perfect Metaphor for My Bipolar II Disorder

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My diagnosis of bipolar II disorder is fairly new, though I am not surprised. I’ve always had weeks of super productivity and extroversion followed by a depressive and down mood. Until now, I didn’t know exactly how to explain hypomania to people because it can come off as being well-adjusted and on top of responsibilities. But today I realized my laundry was the perfect metaphor for my bipolar II disorder.

A couple weeks ago, I started doing laundry. I separated by an assortment of categories. Old clothes. New clothes. Bottoms. Tops. Delicates. Towels. Whites. Colors. Dark colors. The piles of clothes became so detailed I had surrendered my floor to 12 small heaps of clothing.

I was going to wash every single piece of clothing I had neglected for two months during my depression because I was better. I was going to clean my room. Vacuum the floor. Dust. Wipe the surfaces. Clean my bedding. I was going to redecorate and organize all of my belongings. Color-coordinate my books. Donate and sell old clothing. Water my plants and repot my aloe.

Then I was going to spend the rest of the day and possibly the night catching up on school work I hadn’t touched since the beginning of the semester. I was going to apply for jobs. Write a portion of a memoir. Read about how to become a better writer.

I had decided all of this before 8 a.m. And I got through about half of the piles of clothing before I hit a wall and crashed. My motivation, productivity and mood had been up for about two weeks. I thought I was completely better and told everyone so. But I started to feel that familiar heaviness in my chest that I can only compare to the weight of grief, and there was a heaviness in my eyes to match. I typically can’t tell the exact moment I start to feel down again. But this time, it punched me in the stomach.

I abandoned my laundry mission and left the remaining heaps to remind me of the productivity I no longer had. I left wet clothes in the washer and crawled into bed. Today, two weeks later, I finally moved those clothes out. They were mildewy and stunk up the whole bathroom. Chances of saving some of my favorite pieces of clothing were abysmal.

I did not leave the heaps of clothing on my floor or ruin a load of laundry because I was too lazy to finish a task I had started. I wanted more than anything to finish what I had set out to accomplish that day. I wanted to stay up. Depression can hit at any moment, and I can only hope my changed diagnosis from depression to bipolar II disorder can help me figure out how to be more successful down the road.

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Thinkstock photo via Jupiterimages

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When Mental Illness Makes You Spend the Day on Autopilot

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I vaguely hear a commercial on the television. Ay son is playing in his room, where I hear the occasional roar of a pretend dinosaur, and there is a quiet jingle of a collar as my dogs run around.

Inside my mind, there is a constant stream of disconcerting thoughts I have no control over. I feel gut-wrenching guilt, bottomless hopelessness and an abyss of emotions I have no actual words for.

It is like I am underwater; my senses are dulled and I am not entirely sure how it is 8 p.m. when it was only 3:30 p.m. a few minutes ago. Didn’t I just pick my son up? No, I made him dinner. Did he have a vegetable? Yes, I cut carrots. I need to put him in pajamas. He’s already in pajamas. The day has whizzed by and I realize I am on autopilot, again.

Deep within the confines of our illnesses, we can occasionally feel like we are imprisoned in our own mind. Despite the chaotic storm inside ourselves, the world continues to rotate and life goes on. My bipolar disorder and anxiety carry me adrift and I feel lost. However, there is an anchor in the back of myself. It is the part that grounds me in reality and allows me to carry on throughout my day because my life must, indeed, go on.

Sometimes, my days are blurry and vague. The sunshine seems a little harsh. That’s OK. Eventually, I come back to myself and I am in charge again.

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Unsplash image via Jamie Street

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Why Living With Bipolar Disorder Is Exhausting

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Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

Bipolar disorder is exhausting. Asking for help is worse. I hear a little voice in the back of my head as I tell a loved one I don’t feel well: “Here we go again…”

I don’t even know what type of help I’m asking for. Fortunately and unfortunately, my sense of humor typically gets in the way, laughter prevails and I move on with a false sense of self, leaving my own emotional wake on those I love.

Right now, noises are louder, smells are stronger, lights are brighter. Everything is an irritant.

I’m looking through my list of family and friends who I can reach out to, who won’t be tired of hearing from me. I feel as though everyone is tired of my shit. I start thinking about my kids and I can’t control my tears.

I begin to withdraw from my support system for fear of their rejection of me. I don’t know how serious my thoughts are. I don’t want them to worry about me and I want them to reassure me everything is going to be all right. I always receive such amazing feedback and it makes me feel weak that I have to fish for compliments. Why am I so insecure right now?

It is day four of this feeling.  I am sitting at my usual breakfast spot, staring out the window, waiting for inspiration.

Depression can feel emasculating when you are going through the experience. It doesn’t feel like being humble. It feels like total collapse and an inability to handle the basics of life.  I am feeling ungrateful for my life and everything I have accomplished. I am taking for granted everything I have as if everyone has it and I’m really nothing special. I am constantly choking back tears that begin welling up in my chest before they make it to the surface.

As I look around at the world, I feel as though I wouldn’t be missed. I feel as though I am bringing greater harm to my loved ones by dragging out my illness and the constant pain I am putting them through by not being able to fully participate in life.

I am trying to negotiate with myself that what I am experiencing is only thoughts and emotions which aren’t me. The internal fight going on between my emotional and intellectual halves of my brain is epic.

Depressive episodes are comparable to the world swallowing you whole and closing your ability to see around you. It’s as if my support system is growing smaller — the people who care about me and love me are growing smaller and I’m just sitting here alone, trying to figure out when this mood is going to pass.

It’s really hard to explain but it’s as if nothing matters.

This is the closest I have felt for wanting to get on an off-ramp and see what happens. My kids, my wife and my family are saving me right now.

I don’t know how to ask for help or even what kind of help I would be asking for. Do I really want people to just come over and sit in a room with me and stare at me? And then I would feel like a fraud, making people laugh and telling stories and jokes.

When am I going to laugh again? When is everything going to be OK? When will this desire to die go away? When will I see my future the way everyone else does?

I find myself falling into fake conversations and my humor begins to take over the much-needed care my soul needs. It blankets me and tries to protect me from the “insanity” of my thoughts.

Intellectually I know this will pass. Emotionally I don’t.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Unsplash photo via Jim Jackson

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What I Will Tell My Future Children If They Inherit My Mental Illness

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I do not have children, and I am not pregnant. My husband and I are not planning on having kids in the immediate future. And yet from time to time, my mind wanders towards the tiny humans we will bring into this world and how my mental illness may very well get passed on to them.

I struggle with bipolar II and anxiety — two illnesses that stand a chance of being passed on along with the rest of my genetics. It’s not a 100 percent certainty — I know this — and it will happen no matter how much or how little I worry. I know that too. So all I can do is prepare for the eventual possibility our child may be like his mother in a way no parent would choose.

On the bright side, I’ll be able to guide them a little. While no two cases are the same, I have a blueprint, however messy, I can pass on to them. I will do everything in my power to smooth the path. And if that is a path we must go down, here is what I will tell my child:

1. There is nothing wrong with you. This is an illness. This is not you.

2. You will get through this. It won’t always be easy. You will have good days and bad days, but your father and I will be there through both.

3. You will watch me have bad days. Don’t be afraid. Just because we have the same illness does not mean we will experience the same way. Please don’t think that you will have to fight every battle that I do.

4. Self-care isn’t selfish. Learn what puts you at ease. Think about what makes the stress and the sadness and the uncontrollable energy go away. Those are the things we will make a point to do, and if you need to stay home a day, say so.

5. There’s nothing wrong with taking medication. Don’t get me wrong, we will do everything to make sure you are on the right medication. But lots of people take medication for lots of things. This is just yours.

6. You are strong. You are a gladiator. I know you won’t feel like it some days, but you are.

7. It’s not as rare as you think. When I finally started telling people about my bipolar disorder, people opened up to me about the bipolar people in their lives and their own struggles.  I also found out how many people struggle with anxiety, so when I got my diagnosis I didn’t feel quite so alone.

8. Not everyone will get it. Give them credit for trying. Just because they don’t understand doesn’t mean they don’t care about you.

9. Celebrate the little victories. You’d be amazed how quickly they add up.

10. I will always love you — good days, bad days, difficult days and celebratory ones. Your father and I love you.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Unsplash photo via John Flobrant

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