Accomplishments When You Have Mental Illness

I went into major self pity mode last night; feeling like I haven’t accomplished anything worthwhile in the last decade, since it’s been close to that long since I worked outside the home due to my disabilities of mental illness and migraine.

Now I just found out I have stage 3 chronic renal disease. I thought being sick meant I haven’t contributed anything.

Then I realized I’ve done some pretty fantastic stuff in that time. I have half and more than half way raised two beautiful children. I am a good mom to them. I really am.

I am proud of the choices I have made in my life to be healthier and happier for me and for them, even though at the time they weren’t really choices, but rock bottoms with no way out but up.

I could choose on any day to go back to those destructive ways, but I don’t. That says something, but nothing that I could explain to say, an old highschool friend who I haven’t seen in ten years, who may ask me what I’ve been up to all this time. 

I couldn’t tell her about all that I’ve been through and accomplished in real life to stay sober or to stay alive; all the mood swings managed, the medication changes dealt with, the physical pain endured, the panic attacks suffered through, the doctors appointments attended, and the therapy sessions completed.

And then there is all the mental health articles and stories on mental illness I have penned under psuedonyms over the years; the hundreds of poems or the chapbooks I’ve authored, again under a psuedonym; the volunteer work I’ve done online to help those in need, hidden behind a screen name to protect my anonymity from prying eyes, and the people I have helped in real life whose anonymity I have to maintain because it is one of the main principles of the program.  No, I couldn’t tell her all of these things. 

I would have to respond with something like, “Oh, not much.  Just staying home with the kids,” which doesn’t sound like much, but it is. It is a lot…with so much more. 

Bipolar Mood Charting

A little over a month ago, my psychiatrist challenged me to closely monitor my negative self-talk because she suspected it was playing a role in my mood instability more so than the chemical imbalances in my brain at this point, which she feels is under control by medication.  I agreed to go along with her little experiment, and so far, there is some definite evidence that my mood changes are not idiopathic.  In other words, they don’t just happen for no reason.

I had a good few weeks of stability from mid to late September.  This was right after she told me to watch my thinking, so I was being very diligent with it.  The last part of September, I went into a hypomanic phase for a few days, and I link it to the stress and excitement of my daughter’s homecoming activities.

During homecoming weekend, I had a very difficult time due to some complex PTSD issues from my past that it brought to the surface.  I wrote about it some here.  I didn’t do well processing my feelings and had multiple migraines and GI issues.  A depressive state ensued.

I recovered from that after about a week.  Then I had a medication changed which I believe is now triggering another minor depressive phase.

I have outlined all of these ups and downs in the chart below.

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The medication change is causing me to get less sleep, therefore, I am experiencing an increase in irritability, lack of focus, poor concentration, poor memory, decreased motivation, and increased negative thinking, which is what my doctor really warned me about.  I have to fight the negative thinking with everything I’ve got because it will only perpetuate the depression.

When I made lunch the other day for friends and my recipes were less than excellent, I kept telling myself that it didn’t matter; that mediocre was acceptable; that they didn’t come for the food, but for the company, except I didn’t even give them that.  I spent too much time in the kitchen preparing the meal.  The next time I will store-buy items instead of making everything from scratch.

I am so tired of trying to be perfect even though at the time I truly think I am enjoying it.  Afterwards, however, upon further reflection, I think I am just avoiding the social interaction by being busy in the kitchen, and trying to impress them with my cooking.  Such an ego-filling goal.  No wonder it leaves me feeling empty and incomplete (and depressed.)

I went back to taking my higher dose of hydroxyzine last night, so hopefully I will not be as tired from here on out and the depression will lift.  Time will tell.  I will continue to track it.

It feels good to have a clear picture of my mood shifts of late and the possible reasons for them.  I feel less like a victim to them when I understand the possible causes for them.  Writing about my life as often as I do here is the only way I could have gleaned the information I did to put the two and two together, so I am grateful to my doctor for inspiring me to do so.

I think the mood chart will be a good tool to print out and take to my next doctor visit.  Since I see her every six weeks, it will be a good snapshot to show her how things have been going for me since our last visit.

 

Me, the Bee, and the Art of Compromise

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I called the migraine doctor this week and come to find out that the doubled dosage I am on is NOT supposed to be helping my migraines yet, because he is still slowly titrating me up to a therapeutic dose.  Wow, I totally missed that supposed part of the conversation we had during our visit back in August.  Glad I didn’t keep waiting to see if the dose I was on would start working like I was considering doing.

On the up side, I have much hope again that soon I will be migraine-free or at least be suffering significantly less.  I have to stay on this new dose for four weeks before I can go up to the minimum therapeutic dose, and then we can still bump it up from there if need be.

I’ve been having these migraines for almost six years now and they have really ingrained a lot of fear in my life.  I’m afraid to do too much because stress is the biggest trigger for them.  I am also afraid to do too much because that triggers my anxiety.  My anxiety and migraines feed off of one another and sometimes I feel like they are the wardens of a prison I am living in.

There is a commercial I have seen on T.V. a few times that talks about the people who “have things” and the people who “do things.”  They show those who have things in these extravagant homes lying around by the pool, but bored out of their minds.  Then they show the “doers” having all types of adventures like water skiing, hiking, dancing, zip lining, winning at the casino, and having the time of their lives.  The advertiser obviously assumes that everyone would rather be a “doer,” but not me.

Because of the fear my anxiety and migraines create, I would rather be in the group that has things.  I would rather being at home where it is safe and quiet and familiar.  However, I do think my life would be more fulfilling and satisfying if I got out a bit more and took a few chances.  So, this week I went to a park by myself to do some mindfulness meditation like I talked about in a recent post.

I couldn’t bring myself to get out of the safety of my car, but I was glad to be out of the house and doing something new and different for a change.  I kept the doors locked and the windows just cracked because I am paranoid about people assaulting me or opening the door and stealing my purse or something crazy like that even though I was in a very safe area next to a police station even!  However, it was a beautiful day out and I kept thinking about how nice it would be and how much more I would be able to enjoy the sounds if I would just roll my windows down.

So, I faced my fears and put them down, the whole way.  Not even one minute later a bee started hovering outside of the passenger side window.  I quickly roll them back up and started laughing out loud, I’m sure looking silly to anyone who might have seen me.

Thinking of taking chances and being adventurous, I tried talking myself into rolling the windows back down and taking my chances with the bee.  What is the worst thing that can happen, I thought.  I get stung?  So what?  Then the catastrophizing started: What if I’ve developed a bee allergy in my adulthood and I get stung and go into anaphylactic shock right here in my car and die alone in this park?

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That decided it.  The windows stayed up.  I finished my meditation, then the bee and I went our separate ways.

Anyone without a mental illness can see by reading this, the mental struggle someone with an anxiety disorder goes through just to do something as simple as go to the park.  I had to talk myself into going, but kept myself locked in the car.  I talked myself into rolling down the windows, but quickly rolled them back up.  Simple tasks are not so simple when you have mental illness.

Overall, I am glad I went.  Going, but not getting out of the car, was a good compromise for me.  I try to do that when I am having trouble doing something because of my mental illnesses – compromise.  It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.  Balance is success.

Me vs. Anxiety

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When I am in physical pain, my thoughts are jumbled, negative, and scattered.  As I reread my last post, I cringed a bit.  I am feeling better today.  The migraine is finally gone.  However, the fear of another one coming on is always there, hovering over me like a dark rain cloud ready to burst at any moment.  I have no control over it.

There are many things I have been told to do over the course of my mental illness that are supposed to control the severity of my symptoms.  I suppose they work, but only up to a certain point.  I take my medicines as prescribed, never missing a dose.  I see my doctor, never missing an appointment.  I’ve gone to counseling, I use DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) and CBT (cognitive behavior therapy) skills, pray, meditate, do yoga, exercise, eat healthy, rest, get plenty of sleep, and ask for help.

Still my moods cycle and I get six or seven migraines a month, and now, I am having stress-related lower GI issues several times a week.  I’m not quite sure what else to do about these physical ailments except to talk to my doctors about them; let them do their job and figure it out, because I have tried, and can’t come up with any solutions to make them go away.

I am grateful that I have doctors to see, insurance to pay for them, medicine that helps me, a supportive family, and financial stability.  In times like these when I get to feeling discouraged, I try to remember all of the things I have to be grateful for.  I have to or else I will fall into despair and that is a horrible place to be.

I just wish I could wave a magic wand over myself and eradicate the anxiety.  I try so hard to stay in the moment; to not think about the future, the negative ‘what ifs;’ to not worry about all of the things on my to do list; to not stress about the social engagements coming up or about having to leave the house for this and that.

I always think, “Ok, once I get this task done, I’ll feel better” or “Once that event is over and I am back home, I will be fine,” but I never am because there is always something else to do after that.  It is never-ending.  So is life.  Things are never done.  How do I deal with things to do and places to go that never end?

By writing this, I see how the anxiety is making it difficult for me to persevere.  It takes a lot of energy for me to go through daily activities; a lot more than a person without mental illness.  Does this mean I am doing more than I am capable of?  All of the time?

I hate the thought of this being true because it means I would have to cut out doing things with my children and I don’t think I could bring myself to sacrifice that, especially since I am not one hundred percent convinced it would relieve my physical symptoms.

I think most of the things I do give me anxiety, but I have really never asked myself why they give me anxiety.  A great counselor taught me there is a reason for each feeling we have.  Maybe if I understand where this anxiety is coming from, look for some patterns, I can get a better handle on it.

I realize that I am, once again, trying to control it, but I have to do something about it.  It is disrupting my health and my life, and I just refuse to sit by and do nothing.

 

Homecoming Triggers PTSD

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My daughter has her first “official” date this weekend as it is her high school homecoming.  I had a very stressful high school career due to growing up in an alcoholic family.  I was a extremely shy yet self-destructive teenager.  Those years looked fun on the outside, but on the inside it was the most painful experience ever.  Well, not ever, because I have experienced painful things that have equaled it since then.  I have experienced many painful situations and emotional states lasting for days, weeks and months on end.  My life in general is pain-filled; right now, physically as well.  My migraines are out of control, and the increase in medication this month I was hopeful would work is not.  I’ll have to call the doctor on Monday.  I am very depressed about the pain I have from the migraines.  It makes me think of killing myself to escape the pain.

Back to homecoming…my anxiety is through the roof because of it, but not because I am worried about her.  Well, I am worried about her, but the PTSD anxiety is there because the homecoming brings back so many horrible memories for me.  Years ago this happened when my kids went to a sports clinic put on by the high school when they were still in elementary school.  When I walked them into that gymnasium, I almost threw up from panic.  My therapist at the time said I just needed to acknowledge the feelings.  She said they will always somewhat be there.  The key was to integrate them.  I forget what she meant by that now.  Wish I could remember because it is obviously what I need to currently do.

I was up at 5am baking.  It is what I seem to do when I am stressed.  I am trying to stay in the moment and I am praying and doing my chores and taking care of my children.  I did my daughter’s pedicure, I’ll take her to get her hair done tomorrow and to the park for pictures with her friends and date.  I am functioning; going through the motions; not totally faking it, but not one hundred percent there either.  I am in pain, physically and anxiety wise, but I can still live.  It is not an either or proposition.  It never was, is, or will be.  My disease likes to tell me otherwise.  I have to be wary of that.  If you have mental illness, you might want to watch out for it, too.

Stress Triggers Hypomania

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Something is not right.  I am obsessively working on projects.  When I do that I am either becoming hypomanic or overly anxious.  I sort of think I am dealing with a bit of hypomania because I can’t seem to keep my mind still and I feel like my cells are vibrating on some sort of low-level frequency.  I’ve also been seeing the world in techno-color, and I mean full-on mega saturation and contrast, damn near HDR quality, which I’ve been blaming on too much photo editing time on the computer, but now I am thinking maybe not.  Maybe hypomania is to blame.  Weird because I have never experienced this visual symptom before.  It is really freaky – almost like hallucinating.

I don’t like hypomania.  It makes me feel edgy and uncomfortable, like having an itch that I can’t scratch.  I want to nap, but I can’t.  I want to relax my muscles, but I can’t.  I think I will try some stretches.  Maybe some meditation.  It will be difficult since the end result will not be something tangible, something I can see, hold, touch, observe, like my photos, this blog post, the cookies I baked the other day, the new hairstyle I did yesterday, the pedicure I gave myself over the weekend, etc. etc.  So project oriented…good ol’ hypomania.

Funny thing is that just the other day I was writing my last post worrying about becoming depressed because of my prolonged anxiety.  It just goes to show you how unpredictable bipolar disorder really is, and how hellish it can be to have it.

On the up side, I know from experience these moods don’t last very long for me because I am what they call a rapid cycler.  This hypomania may last a few days or a week or two at the most.  What comes afterwards is anyone’s guess.  I’m bummed about that.

I am tired but wired; being pulled in opposite directions; literally bipolar.  Those of you who have it, too, please know you are not alone.  I feel your pain.

 

Stress Triggers Depression

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For me extended periods of stress triggers depression.  I have some extra stress going on and it is, of course, causing me to fear the onset of a depressive episode.  Fear is such a nasty thing.  It is the insecurity of losing something we have or not getting something we don’t have.  In this case, I am afraid of losing my stable mood.  Sure I have anxiety, but my mood is stable.

The best way I know how to handle fear is to stay in the present moment; to not think about it; to think about, or more like observe, literally only what is in front of me.  The couch, the sky, the family, the food, the dog.  Observe, not judge.  Watch, not criticize.  Watch the thoughts and feelings go through me.  Don’t hold on to any of them.  Let them float by like clouds in the sky on a breezy day.  Accept, not fight.

Breathe, not die.