Wednesday, August 26, 2015

My Mental Health Condition Will Never Be Trendy

Heads up: Rant warning! But an important one. 

I have recently seen several articles/blogs/etc that discussed whether or not mental health disorders, and particularly Bipolar Disorder, are becoming trendy. Now, let me clarify. My rant is not against the authors. They were tackling the subject just as I am here, and every one that I've read thus far completely disagreed with the "trendy" hypothesis. But, the fact that the possibility even requires myth busting, to me, is absolutely absurd.

As someone who's had a mood cycling condition since birth, let me share some insight. When I was as young as two years old, I used to have "episodes", which I now understand were hypomania, and beg my parents "make it stop, make it stop", unable to express more than that - because I was TWO. And on the off chance that you've never, ever met a two year old, I assure you, they're completely unaware of whether or not they're hip.

It took me 28 years to be diagnosed, including numerous therapists - and therapist bills - broken relationships and friendships, a divorce, and a brief hospitalization thanks to the sneaky staff at the ER who made me sign forms during a manic episode, whose implications they never explained to me (i.e. I was committing myself "voluntarily", which is a pretty impressive feat when you're not told what the forms actually mean and are too sick to read the 10 pages worth of them). The hospital doctors insisted on misdiagnosing me and giving me the wrong meds which only made me sicker.

When I came out of the hospital after much convincing of the staff,  I was finally diagnosed correctly by my therapist. I was put on the correct medication and for weeks was sicker than sick, not able to leave the couch because of constant vertigo and nausea which I now know as side effects of my meds. I have to take these meds three times a day, quite possibly for the rest of my life. I have to have blood tests every six weeks to make sure I'm not poisoning myself by way of medication that's supposed to help and to make sure I'm not at risk of having seizures from the drop in sodium that they cause.

Every single day, I wake up not knowing if I'll be hypomanic, painfully depressed and hopeless, or "normal" for lack of a better (and less hated) word. I have developed social anxiety because of my condition. It has at times made me so withdrawn that I don't want to leave my house, for fear of an episode hitting suddenly. I have trouble planning weekly activities because I don't know if I'm going to be too agitated in hypomania, or too depressed, to follow through with them on any given day.

And finally, the stigma. If I had a nickel for every time I heard someone referred to as crazy or mental or delusional or "like they're bipolar", I'd be rich.  I have to weigh every single person who comes into my life to determine if, when, and how I should tell them about my condition.  I go through so many days feeling isolated and alone because I don't understand others and they don't understand me. I have to deal with the media circus and the ignorant people who think we should all be locked up with the key thrown away. And now, now I have to deal with people saying that we want to have mental illness? Are you f*&$ing kidding me? Who would put themselves through this, all day, every day for the rest of their lives?  And what, possibly, could be "cool" about this? Because they think those of us with mental health conditions are artsy and creative? Well, maybe some of us have that. But maybe it's also an outlet we've developed - a way we can get out our emotion and feelings and frustration and hurt so we don't turn it on ourselves. It's not cool. It's life-saving.

I used to think that the worst thing that someone could say about my condition is that it was crazy. But I have been proven wrong, in fact. The worst thing someone could say about my condition is that it's trendy. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Sadness Vs. Depression

One week ago today, as my readers undoubtedly know, I lost my dog of 10.5 years, my best friend, my Cinn. I have been incredibly sad, as is to be expected. I miss her almost more than I can put into words. I miss her nosing through the back door when I get home from work. I miss hearing her nails on the steps coming upstairs, cheering her on, because stairs had become a challenge for her. I miss her staring longingly at the treat drawer. I miss her falling asleep in my room. I miss mom-dog cuddle time. I get sad just writing this.  But this morning, I noticed I also was slipping into depression. Today, I am sad and depressed. The "and" is the key there. If you haven't experienced depression, you may think of it as a prolonged sadness. If you have, you understand that it is not. And it got me thinking that perhaps, a post on the difference between the two was warranted.

Granted, depression involves sadness, at least to describe it generally. I certainly feel what others would call sadness when I'm in a depressive cycle. But to those who have experienced it, it's very distinctly "depressed", as opposed to "sad." A lot of the "symptoms" are the same. With both sadness and depression, I am bound to break into crying bouts randomly. I feel "down", for lack of a more descriptive word. The air feels thicker. And certainly, I'm lacking energy in both states. However, depression manifests itself in ways sadness does not.

When you're strictly sad, there's a reason. My dog passed away and I'm sad. I miss someone, I'm sad. And maybe I mope, or cry.  The sadness is in the forefront of my brain.  With depression, I feel an overwhelming weight pulling me downward. I cry. Often uncontrollably, out of nowhere. I feel a loss of hope. And sometimes, of worth. It effects me physically. Exhaustion takes over. My body hurts. My stomach feels nervous and sometimes painful. And the worst part of it is, I can't discover the reason. Or rather, the reason is simply depression, looming over me, all around me, instead of right in the center of my thoughts. Depression is an emersion.

When I'm depressed, people will ask me what's wrong (if I'm lucky). My answer is: I'm depressed. They'll ask why I'm crying. My answer:  I'm depressed. They'll ask what I could do to make it better. My answer: Not be depressed.  When I'm sad, the comfort of others often helps. When I'm depressed, I want the world to vanish until I cycle back around. I have an overwhelming need to be alone, while still wanting others to care enough not to give up on me.

Of course, you can be depressed and sad at the same time, and sadness, especially after a difficult life event, can spiral into depression. The two are not mutually exclusive, nor one in the same. The biggest difference is simply this: sadness is a natural part of being human. Depression is a diagnosed medial condition. Virtually everyone experiences sadness throughout their lives. They do not all experience depression.  For which I'm glad. I wouldn't wish depression on my worst enemy.

So please, if you know someone with depression, take care when telling them you understand because you were "depressed" when xyz. While there can technically be episodes of depression after a traumatic experience, most likely if it was an acute feeling that went away and didn't come back, it was sadness. And this is not to take away from sadness - it's a terrible feeling. But it isn't depression. And this misconception that it is tends to lead to so many infuriating suggestions such as: you need to just snap out of it, or maybe if you smiled more it'd help, or just look on the bright side.  Trust me, if we could, we would. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Today, I Lost My Best Friend

Today, I lost my best friend. Somewhere in the early hours of the morning, before the sun came up, my sweet pup, my baby girl, passed away. Somehow it was both sudden and not. She was sick, and yet recovering, or so I thought. And yet I also know it was time. It must have been. She had been fighting so hard, and could not any more.

I thought I'd have a premonition, know the last night when I hugged her goodnight or took her on her last walk. I thought I'd wake up with a sense of dread and foreboding. I did not. I took her half way on her last walk, until my dad and she started walking down the part of the sidewalk where the grass gets dicey (i.e. there are some stickers) and I realized I had no shoes on. I waited for her to come back and into my room before I went to bed. I said goodnight to her.  I don't remember how involved that goodnight was. Is that awful? Was I taking her living for granted when she was sick? I don't remember if I hugged her, but I know I patted her and said good night. She was laying between my bed and the radiator, her head tucked under the bed. Something she used to do all the time but hadn't in a while. Perhaps that should have been a sign. I know I didn't do one last mom-dog cuddle time with her. I wish I had. But I know she felt loved anyway.

Somewhere, in the middle of the night, she wandered into my dad's room. Leave it to Cinn to ensure that I wasn't the one to find her. She knew that my dad should be the one to tell me. And so, after just getting into the shower at about 5:40 AM, I heard a pounding on the bathroom door. You would think, then, that I'd know. Me with foresight and premonition dreams and bad feelings when something's about to go wrong. But instead, I thought someone needed to urgently use the bathroom and yelled, "I'm in the shower!"  And then I heard the reply, "Cinn's not breathing." And then I jumped out of the shower, and grabbed the closest towel I could find - a towel which my parents have probably had since I was in middle school, and may also be seeing its last days. And I flung open the bathroom door, towel around me, and my mom rushed in and hugged me and I cried that I wanted to see her. And so there I half-sat half laid on the floor, at 5:45 in the morning, in a fraying towel, hugging my sweet baby girl, who I had known with one look at her was gone. She didn't look like she'd struggled, or was in pain, in her last moments, for which I am eternally grateful, but she was clearly gone.

My sweet baby girl, in your passing, you went as you did in life: quietly, without fanfare, and thinking of me more than yourself. You knew to walk into my dad's room so I would not be the one to find you. Yet you knew to let me fall asleep with you by my side, one last time, curled by the bed. You didn't want me to have the pain of making a difficult decision about your life, and so you did it yourself.

My Cinn, you were my rock, my best friend, love of my life, my soul mate.  You were there for me and loved me and supported me in a way nobody else could. I could tell you all of my troubles, no matter how difficult or deep or dark, without worrying that I'd upset you, or worry you, or burden you with them all. And when I was happy, you knew, and you shared in that joy and energy. You knew my feelings and emotions intuitively. There to offer a hug when I was sad, even when I tried not to convey it. You never once let me down. Not once. And when I look back on our lives together, there is only happiness. There is not one negative thought or memory to taint that. I'm not sure I could, or will every be able to, say that about any other living being.  You may think I rescued ten and a half years ago, but in truth, you rescued me, not just then, but every single day that we had together.

And so, as you crossed that rainbow bridge, I hope that you met up with the friends and cousins who were already there waiting for you.  I hope that there where you are on the other side, there are never any thunderstorms or loud noises, or pink vespas, or plastic bags blowing, to frighten or alarm you. I hope that you get to sit and bask in the sun and take as many walks and car rides with the windows down, as you desire. I hope your meals are filled with treats and chicken and cheese and celery, which no other dog likes and you will get all to yourself. I hope that you still will remember every day, forever,  how much I have, and always will love you. And I hope you wait there patiently, but not sadly, until the day that we meet again, at least in body, for I know you are still here with me in soul. Goodbye, until then, my beautiful baby girl.  Mama loves you more than words can ever express. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

How To Keep Happiness Going When You Know You're Going to Cycle

Happy Monday! My Friday post was a little... um... brutally honest and, while cathartic for me, and perhaps you, if you tried a similar exercise, wasn't the happiest for readers in general. So today, I figured I'd try to be a little more optimistic to start out the week.

Happiness for those with mood cycling is, as I've written before, short-lived at best and elusive at worst. (Hypo)mania doesn't always equal happiness, not by a long shot, and he down cycle obviously never does.  Furthermore, happiness can actually feel uncomfortable for us at times because, in a way, it feels false. We're always wondering when the other shoe is going to drop, or when it's going to slide from genuine happiness into shaky, jittery, anxious, obnoxious (to others) hypomania.

Because of this, I've worked hard on trying to discover ways to ground myself in my happy moments, to value them instead of being afraid or leery of them, and to prolong them as much as I possibly can until genetics takes over and I no longer have a choice. And this is what I've discovered.
  • Surround yourself with amazing people who want you to be happy just as you are. People who truly value you in every mood stage, who don't want to change you or fix you. They know that being your true, authentic self is what will make you happiest, and they support that. 
  • Value YOURSELF exactly as you are, and give yourself some slack. Even on your happiest days, you may have difficult moments. It doesn't mean you're not "doing happiness right". It means you're human, and virtually nobody is completely happy, without one moment of sadness or hurt or frustration or even anger, 24/7. 
  • Choose enjoyable activities that have positive associations. You may love doing a certain activity, but if it makes you think of the ex who just broke your heart or the good friend that just stopped speaking to you, perhaps shy away from it for the moment. You'll be able to do it someday, but today might not be the day. 
  • Bring out your inner child. You know why children are so happy? Yes, they don't have jobs and bills and mortgages. But they also don't have judgement - from themselves or others. They don't care if they're a bad dancer or artist or they're clothes are mis-matched or they're going to get filthy from playing outside or splashing in puddles. They do it because it's fun. Period. Without inhibition or reservations. Sometimes, you just need to let go, goof around, be silly, laugh out loud, and stop caring if everyone is pointing at you (assuming that person doesn't include your boss or law enforcement). You don't have to live your entire life this way. Just a moment here or there. And remember, there are no rules - your fun doesn't have to be anyone else's, as long as it makes you feel good. 
  • Get your sleep, eat healthy, exercise, don't overwork yourself just because you may have the energy to do so, keep your day to day life as balanced as possible, have fun but don't go wild (read: alcohol over-indulgence and all-nighters will increase the chance of cycling downward sooner). 
  • Make note of the little moments that make you smile or giggle or warm your heart. You can do this in a notebook or an art journal or with photos or on a Pinterest board if you feel the urge to share.  Just do it in a way that you can look back on it when you're needing a little extra nudge of happiness.
  • Do something nice for someone else as long as it's not at the expense of yourself. Try it in simple ways: compliment someone, especially if they seem like they could use it; help someone who's lost and looking for directions; hold open the door for someone who has their hands full, even if you're not going into the same building; pay for the toll or the coffee for the stranger behind you just for the sake of adding some niceness to their day. See what happens.  
  • Understand that when you cycle downward, it is not your fault. If you have done everything you know to keep as healthy as possible, you've tried as hard as you can. It's called a cycling disorder for a reason. Beating yourself up over the fact that you're going into a depressive cycle, which genetics makes inevitable, will only make you feel worse. And remember, just as you couldn't prevent your (hypo)manic cycle from spinning downward, your depressive cycle can't last forever either, no matter how much it seems that it may. 
Do you have some go-to tips for helping to keep happiness going as long as possible? As always, I'd love to hear them! 

Friday, August 14, 2015

Dear Depression: You're An A**hole

I'm a writer. When I need to get out an emotion - happy, sad, up, down, confused, curious, whatever it may be - I write. And a couple of nights, as I was sitting there silently cursing my depression, an idea occurred to me. Perhaps, I can't ever fully describe my depression. I can't tell others exactly how it makes me feel. I have trouble expressing the all-encompassing effect of this condition. And despite how much more easily I'm able to describe things in writing, sometimes even writing about it doesn't do it justice.  But, just because I wasn't going to write about depression, didn't mean I couldn't write to it.

Now before you go thinking: wow, she really is "crazy" (ugh that WORD!), let me explain. Sometimes, the person that we need to convince most is ourselves. We tend to judge ourselves more harshly than others. We'll cut others slack in the same places we berate ourselves. Often, the things we say internally, or to our reflection, or even sub-consciously internalize without realizing it, would get us walloped in the nose, or at best unfriended, if we constantly said these things to others. So when I say "write to depression", what I mean is, write to that part of me that believes depression, that allows the emotion I feel in those moments when it's doing its worst to carry over to the rest of my life, to affect my self-esteem, my confidence, my relationships. Because quite honestly, sometimes we need to give ourselves a good, honest, talking to. So I wrote that letter in my daily writing notebook. And it helped, as giving others a long-overdue and well-deserved piece of your mind often does. And in case my sharing it might help others, here it is, in all its glory.

Dear Depression, 
First off, I think I have every right to say all that I'm about to. I've known you since birth. You've followed me around, the proverbial black dog, for nearly thirty six years. And guess what: you're an asshole. You're a goddamn liar. You tell me I'm no good, worthless. You magnify my faults and push away any inkling of my strengths. You tell me that the one instance that nobody is around to make plans means that I have no friends, that nobody wants to spend time with me. One mistake, even a tiny one, and you convince me I'm a failure. A broken relationship and I'll be alone forever. I'm hopeless. Because it's my fault. I am a mess. I'm the f*ck-up. I am the one to blame. 

You believe every negative word that anyone's ever said about me, even when I try to stand up for myself. You repeat it over and over again until I believe it, or at least accept it. Until my true view of myself becomes impossible to decipher, hidden by all of the falsities you've spewed at me. And then, when I'm feeling down about it, you say to me, "see, this is why nobody wants to be around you, you're a downer, you're no fun, you are so negative. Nobody wants that. This is why you'll always be alone. You'll never be happy." And even though I know, when you don't have control - in those precious moments, days, week - that you are a liar and a phony, you eventually regain your power and I forget all of the truth I knew. Or almost forget. I know you're an asshole, but you're also part of me. You'll tag along dutifully for the rest of my life. So sometimes we merge and it's hard to know what to believe at all. 

I'll give you one thing, you keep me humble. I could certainly never be called arrogant, with you, my ever-present shadow lurking out the corner to jump out at me just when everything seems to be going well. And you do help me reflect and write and create. In those moments, you throw me a bone.  Because of you, I'm more sympathetic, empathetic, loving, understanding, especially of others with mental health conditions, chronic and invisible illness.  And with you by my side, I've shared and met others who fight a similar battle. For that, I'm lucky. They're some of the most amazing people I know.  I've somehow managed to turn some of your negative influence into a positive. Silver lining right? Too bad you hate those and try to fight back. 

But depression, you S.O.B., there's one more battle you've not won. That battle where you whisper in my ear that life is not worth living, that there is no hope. Those moments in which you try the ultimate sabotage. But I fight you tooth and nail. I have screamed at you, and railed at you. And I have quietly outwitted you. Every one of those times. And when you try to convince me that eventually you'll win, I muster the strength to stay in that fight, to give it all I have, for five more minutes. And then five more, and five more after that. Until you finally know that I have beaten you, at least this time. I know you'll be back. So do you. But the relief and the strength and the pride, and the courage, that comes with having taken you on when you were most determined to defeat me helps me to come back around and continue to live, to grow, and to improve myself and my life. And so depression, you may be one hell of a determined a**hole. But I'm a 5'0, 110 pound Sicilian woman. Nobody messes with me and wins. 

Friday, August 7, 2015

Ten Positive Things People Do That Make My Bad Mental Health Days Better

I write a lot about things people do and say that anger, hurt, or frustrate those of us with mental health conditions. And that's pretty easy to write about because it happens on at least a daily basis. But there are also many positive things that people do and say that can have an equally strong impact, if not on the stigma of mental health and how society views us as a whole, at least on our day to day lives as individuals.

Since I like to end the (work/blogging) week on a positive note, I thought I'd share some of these thoughts. As always, these are my personal feelings, and I'm sure others could have their own thoughts on this, which of course, I'd love to hear.

1. When you ask "how are you?" and really want to know how I am. Which means that if I say anything from "eh" to "*$&#*#$&#$* what a shitty-ass week!", you'll follow it up with a statement or question that reflects my previous answer and possibly a (genuine) offer to help/support.

2.  When I'm excited/hypomanic about something and blabbing on like I do, you listen attentively and interact in the conversation because even if you'e not quite as verbose or excitable a person, you're genuinely glad to see me happy.

2a. When I'm anxious and also doing the above, you let me talk it through without trying to interject with logical, point by point solutions because you understand that 9.5/10 times I don't really need a solution (I'll figure that out when I calm down), I just need an ear, and to get it all out of my system. Thanks for letting me do that.

3. You share with me also. Not like you share on Facebook (looking at you, 1000-pictures-of-your-lunch-ers), but how you're actually doing too. This helps me to feel that there's a deeper than surface connection. As I've said (quoted) before, "I must be a mermaid, for I have no fear of depths and a great fear of shallow living." (~Anais Nin)

4. You initiate conversations. I often worry that my over-sharing, loud voice, and rapid/frequent talking is too much for people. When you initiate, I breathe a sigh of relief and remind myself that the part of my brain that doubts myself so often is generally full of shit.

5. You initiate plans. This is similar to number 4. Not only do I have anxiety about my condition at times, but I also am an introvert with some social anxiety. I'm good at planning, but I greatly appreciate when you also initiate.  It reminds me that you do really want to spend time with me.

5a. You initiate/agree to/enjoy plans that involve things that don't leave me sitting in the corner hoping the walls don't cave in, cause me to lose precious sleep, or require/are highly centered around alcohol.  This tells me you're thinking of me and my health, and that spending time with me is more important than the actual activity.

6. You read my blog/articles. I think this is self-explanatory.

7. You try to genuinely learn about my condition and aren't afraid to bring it up ask questions. Seriously, this makes me want to hug you.

8.  You get just as angry as I do when you hear someone say "OMG so and so just flipped. It's like s/he's bipolar or something."

9. You participate in/support mental health causes and those organizations/events I'm involved in.

10. You care about me and support me just as much in my worst times as you do in my best.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Reunited And It Feels So Good!

Guess who came home from the hospital yesterday? My Cinn! Let me backtrack, as I may not have shared this latest Cinn saga development. Saturday night around 10:30 PM I had to bring her to the ER. She wasn't eating, and she needs to take meds twice a day for her platelet issues - meds that doctors have said she can't skip, or it could become life threatening. So needless to say the fact that she wouldn't ingest anything was concerning. Plus, Cinn's pretty much of a moose. She's been so hungry on these meds that she's been trying to eat inanimate objects, like her food mat. The fact that she literally left food in the bowl at dinner was a red flag to something more serious.

Cinn on a "walk" during a hospital visit.

Turns out, my poor girl has pancreatitis. Luckily (for us at least), this is not nearly as dangerous in dogs as it is in humans.  Still, it needs to be carefully treated, and the vet therefore admitted her to the hospital Saturday night, where she's been until yesterday at noonish when my dad picked her up. While it's FANTASTIC to have her with me, she's by no means in the clear. She has seven oral medications and a butt cream. We actually had to make an excel spreadsheet with med and times to make sure they're all accounted for at the proper hour and with the proper instructions. One of the medications has specific bolded instructions that you must wear gloves when giving it to her - oddly, it's NOT the butt cream, though perhaps that was just kind of assumed. One medication can't be given within an hour of any other medication, which is problematic when there are seven other medications spread throughout the day and night. One has to be put into a syringe with water and made into a "slurry", which we then inject into her... mouth. Haha almost had you, that one's also not the butt cream, thank god.

In additional to single-handedly supporting a pharmacy, she also has major trouble with her back legs. They constantly give out on her, so she can't go up stairs without help, if at all, and she can't even stand for too long of a time. Oddly, walking seems to be better than standing, so at least she's mobile. She doesn't seem particularly hungry, but then again if I was on scientifically created food I might not be either. The one good thing that has come out of this ordeal is that the vet decided to lower her predinose dose and supplement it with another immunosuppressant that doesn't have quite the difficult side effects, so that eventually she can be off the steroids all together.

Cinn sleepy, but back with us.

The past week has bee rough. For her, for me, for everyone. When I went on Monday to visit her, it was very disheartening. She barely wanted to move and seemed almost non-responsive. In fact, I even questioned if she recognized me, until I tried to leave and she tried to come with me. I wondered if she'd just given up fighting. But she rallied a bit Tuesday when my dad and I went back, seeming perkier and wanting to be outside, even pulling towards the cars in the parking lot, wanting to leave. They told me she'd tried to paw her way out of her crate and had ripped out her IV tubes which, while not good treatment wise, told em she still has fight left in her.

She's very lethargic at home, but she's eating a bit, drinking water, and still moving around enough to try to be near us when she can. I'm hoping that being with loved ones will help her continue to recover, and that as some of the meds doses start to wind down over the next week, she gains more strength and energy.

She's no spring chicken, I realize. And I need to make sure I'm keeping her best interests in mind. But I will fight for her as long as she has even an ounce of fight left for herself. She has always been there for me when I needed it most; she has been my constant and my rock, and I will be there for her, whatever the cost (literally and figuratively).  We will fight through it together, as we always have. Get well my Cinny, my strong, sweet baby girl. I love you!