Quarantined With Bipolar Disorder

I have had a lot of other things that I wanted to write about, but I feel like it would be irresponsible of me to ignore the pandemic that is surrounding us.  This is something that we will remember forever, as I have never experienced anything like this in my lifetime.

But as I talk about Covid-19 and the subsequent self-quarantine/social distancing, I am going to come at it from a slightly different angle.  One from someone who lives daily with mental illness. The impact that bipolar disorder has on my life is significant at the best of times, but when five people are shut into a 1500 square foot house, it brings about new challenges.

I want to start by saying that I am on appropriate medication that helps significantly with getting through my day-to-day life.  If I weren’t medicated, I shudder to think what this would be like. I also still attend therapy, or I did as of last weekend. We may be moving over to phone therapy as this pandemic progresses.  All of this is to say that I’m working incredibly hard to combat the effects of this on my mental health.

However, there are many situational factors that can trigger either a depressive or manic episode.  And our current situation is a bit of a breeding ground for mental health struggles.

Between 2017 and 2018, I was faced with many extreme situational triggers that caused me quite a bit of distress.  My husband and I were struggling to maintain our marriage and I wasn’t on the most effective medication. So I was sucked into a rapid cycle of depression and mania.  It was one of the most difficult times of my life.

But this poses a whole new set of obstacles for me.

My kids are out of school until at least May 1st.  This means that not only are they here every moment of the day, but I am now responsible for helping to educate them.  Yes, this is ultimately my responsibility as a parent. But I am not a certified teacher. There’s a reason that teachers are capable of what they do.  Not only did they get an education in, well, education, but they possess a lot of traits that are helpful in the field. Patience, creativity… both of which are not my strong suit.  And on top of that, I’m a perfectionist. I have a hard time when my kids don’t “get” it. I have a hard time when they fight against our educational time. I want this to be a worthwhile and helpful experience for them and I mostly feel like I’m failing.

Not leaving the house is also taking a lot of getting used to.  I never realized how much I need an escape from my house until I couldn’t get one.  Before this, I really valued my time at home. I love relaxing with my Kindle, hanging out with my family, watching Netflix.  But I also crave social time. I crave fresh air. It’s been raining a lot in Indianapolis, so even a hike at the park isn’t happening right now.  I’m starting to understand how people go batshit in prison.

A side effect of not leaving the house is lethargy, which can lead to depression for me.  The will to get out of bed isn’t always there. The will to take a shower or change my clothes isn’t always there.  I feel that willpower slowly slipping away as the days pass. I know I’m not alone in this, as other people who battle depression are often triggered by similar circumstances.  Self care is often neglecting when you feel as if you have no purpose. Which is sort of where I’m at right now. If I don’t wash my hair or get out of my pajamas, who is going to see me aside from the other four people in my house?  And those people don’t really give a shit, as they don’t want to get out of their pajamas either.

Now onto the mania.  One of my triggers is a messy house.  Okay, maybe that’s a BIG trigger. I am still trying to keep up with actual housework, but the clutter that results when kids are home is hard to avoid.  Legos are all over the coffee table. Art supplies are on the kitchen table. I feel like there are always dishes in the sink. I can already sense my agitation building up.  This is what I have been “trained” to manage. Years of therapy are to thank for that. But while I have the tools, using them is still a lot of fucking work. Hard, exhausting work.  But I’m doing it. So my hope is that I will be able to steer clear of manic episodes throughout the duration of this mess.

And on top of bipolar disorder, I also suffer from anxiety.  Anxiety during a time of worldwide panic is a real treat. I feel like I have done a really good job of managing it, though.  I have been methodical in my grocery store purchases… buying what we will need for a reasonable amount of time, but not going full doomsday prepper.  I have been sharing real, factual information with my kids, hoping to educate them on the crisis that we’re in without scaring them. I have been detaching from social media when I feel like it’s all becoming too overwhelming.  Again, I am using the tools that I have been given by various therapists over the years.

It’s hard to stay optimistic during scary times like these, but I am trying.  I get to see my kids more, even though they drive me crazy. I get to see my husband have the opportunity to interact with them more.  I get to watch my community reach out to one another and offer help in the most selfless of ways. I get to slow down and catch up on some good reading and TV.  I get to spend time journaling and meditating (both of which I have yet to do during all of this, but I have goals, damn it). I get to snuggle my sweet puppy and cat.  I can’t complain about any of that.

One day, this will all be a distant memory.  And we will remember that we survived this. And how we survived this.  And that we took the necessary steps to ensure that our fellow neighbors survived this.  

We will all get through it.  One day at a time.

 

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Out With the Old, In With the New

I know that January 1st is really just another day and we don’t have to use it as an excuse to make changes in our lives. But I do feel like something shifts as one year ends and another begins. And even in some practical ways, that’s true. We switched to a different health insurance company this year and our deductible starts over. My kids get a fresh start at school, as it’s the beginning of a new quarter/semester. The girls’ schedules even changed, in some ways for the good and in others for the bad (gym class… ugh). New calendars begin. I started a new 2020 planner.

But beyond those things, something feels different. Like the weight of the previous year has been lifted and it’s time to slowly, gradually carry new weight. Have new experiences.

I am not one for making resolutions for the new year. I think that it sets people up for a lot of disappointment if they don’t accomplish the goals that they chose. Too many people start things and don’t finish them and honestly, I am kind of one of those people. I’m not afraid to admit that, which is why I know that resolutions don’t work well for me.

Instead, I set intentions. I choose a word or words for the year that I use as a mantra of sorts, that I will keep in the back of my mind as I make decisions throughout my life that year regarding how I want to grow. Because to me, that is what’s important… personal growth. And not just at the beginning of the new year, but every day. So for me, choosing a word is far more helpful for me to stay on track.

This year, I chose the words “purpose” and “prioritize”. As I reflected on 2019, I realized that I sort of felt like I was just floating in the ocean, bobbing along in whatever direction the current took me. Since I ended my time at my job outside of the home, I almost felt as if I were half-assing life. Deep down I know that I was accomplishing certain things that I had been incapable of before, particular from a mental health perspective, but it wasn’t anything truly meaningful to me.

Sure, I get out of bed every day (I even make it!), I maintain a clean house, I stay on top of laundry, I get my kids everywhere that they need to go in a timely manner, I’m organized and no longer overwhelmed. And yes, those things matter. Having my life in order in that way gave me the opportunity to dig a little deeper within my mind and soul, trying to figure out what I want out of these short years that I have on this earth.

So as 2019 ended and 2020 began, I decided that I was going to explore my purpose on this earth. What sorts of things am I called to do. What I want to learn. What I want to improve upon or practice in my every day life. What I want to bring to the world or to the lives of others.

Even though I pour my life into my family and focus on their needs, I am also selfish in some ways, particularly that I live within my own mind a good part of the time. I am not always engaged in what’s going on around me. I spend a lot of time contemplating things that I want to do with my life, but rarely act on them. Hello, Enneagram type 5! I research things to death and get in my own way.

So instead of striving for perfection, I simply want to try new things. Figure out what matters to me and what direction I am headed in the coming years. After all, my children won’t always be here with me, in my home, demanding my endless attention. I need a life outside of them and I want to find that.

When I went to therapy this weekend, for the first time of the new year, we talked about this at length. The consensus? That I need to make myself a priority. That this is literally the only way that I am going to do the things that I want to do. How I’m going to find my path.

I look at my calendar on my phone and my planner and very little of it involves me, aside from some necessary appointments. For the most part, it’s things that my kids are doing. Things that require early pickups from school or transportation or arranging rides for the other kids while I am somewhere with one of them. There is nothing there for me that is not absolutely imperative to my health.

But I’m shifting my way of thinking. These other things, things that I WANT to do, are imperative to my health, physically and mentally. So it’s time to prioritize those things. Put them on the calendar, even if that means that they happen to conflict with other things. I need to work it out. Hand off responsibility for the kids to someone else for a change, even people outside of my husband and my mom. Allow others to help when they offer.

Here are some things that I want to make a priority in my life:

Writing – I made some progress in 2019 by revisiting my blog and bringing it back to life. But I didn’t do nearly as many things with it as I wanted to do. I spent too much time cleaning and running kids around than on my laptop, brainstorming new ideas and following through with them. There’s a women’s writing group in Bloomington that I kept meaning to attend, but the scheduling never worked out. I put other responsibilities ahead of it, because I felt like it was something fun, but unnecessary. But I’m coming to realize that it is necessary to my writing process, which is something very important to me. So I’m going to do it. I’m going to find one and put it on the damn calendar and if something else pops up, someone else will have to take the reigns. Or I will simply bow out of that other “thing”, because it’s no more of an obligation than the writing workshop.

Hiking – Something else that I am not great at prioritizing is my physical health. I spent so much time in recent years focusing on my mental health that I simply didn’t have the spoons to be motivated to be physically active. I was tired. I gained some weight as a result of my medication. I was either not eating at all or eating things that weren’t giving me the energy that I needed. So I started hiking in the fall. But as the weather turned and it snowed, I decided I’d rather hunker down in my nice, warm house. Plus, I don’t own any hiking boots, anything truly waterproof with solid soles that can handle rougher terrain or the harsher elements. Again, with Christmas, hiking boots simply weren’t a priority. Good ones are pricey, after all. But I’ve decided that I’m going to budget for them. The kids don’t need to see a movie this month and we don’t need to eat out as much. Why those things, along with an excessive amount of Christmas presents, were more important than something that promotes health and safety for myself, I don’t know.

Cross Stitch – I splurged and bought myself a $20 cross stitch kit from Amazon after Christmas. I know, big spender. I enjoyed cross stitching a lot when I was a kid and it’s something that I already know the basics of. I can see myself being able to create more elaborate pieces and it would be nice to show my family that hey, Mom can be crafty sometimes. For those that don’t know, I am NOT a crafty person. But this is actually something that I could realistically do, maybe even do well.

Yoga – Traditional exercise and cardio is rough for me because I have pretty severe asthma and some back problems. I know that I have physical limits and I’m trying to respect them, while still trying to be active in some capacity. Yoga has always been really good for me, mentally and physically. It calms me, helps me focus, and usually makes my back feel really good. I stretch muscles in my body and in my brain that I had been neglecting. But yoga classes cost money, so were they really important, especially when I could do yoga at home? Yes, they are really important because they encourage me to actually DO IT. At home, I could make excuses as to why I didn’t have time or didn’t feel up to it. But if I schedule a class and pay for it ahead of time, I’m committed.

I don’t want these ideas to be confused as resolutions or even goals. They are things that I’ve explored in my mind that I think will give me a sense of purpose. To grow as a writer. To improve my physical and mental health. To give me an opportunity to put myself first once in a while. After all, I can’t pour from an empty cup, and mine is usually just running on drops. So that is what I want to focus on this year – finding my purpose on this earth and making myself a priority in my family. Because I can better serve my family if I take care of myself, too.

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Mental Illness Doesn’t Give a Shit

I’ve battled mental illness long enough to know that it really doesn’t give a shit. Who you are, how much money you have, how much you’re struggling. If it’s there, it’s there. And it sucks, particularly when you’re trying to be a functional human being or when you have people depending on you. You’re fighting against this invisible force just to get through the day. You’re hanging on by a thread of existence, but you’re struggling SO HARD to do so. Mental illness might look invisible to outsiders, but to those who are suffering, it works against you in a way that many visible illnesses do not. You feel like you should be able to do more. That maybe things aren’t as terrible as you think they are. That you’re delusional or a hypochondriac or that you’re slowly losing your mind. It plays tricks on you, much like a shadow in a dark room. It makes you believe something that isn’t true. It’s cruel and unapologetic, and there are many things that it simply doesn’t give a shit about.

Mental illness doesn’t give a shit how much money you have. When most healthy people think about mental illness, they envision poor people standing on street corners, holding signs begging for money. Or they might envision a low income veteran who is experiencing post traumatic stress after spending time deployed. They usually don’t think about an affluent Hollywood actor or the CEO of a major company. But mental illness isn’t exclusive to the poor. The poor are just the ones who don’t have the money to treat it. People from all walks of life are susceptible to these types of disorders, much like they are to cancer or diabetes. While there are specific traits that can make you more likely to develop a mental illness, such as genetics or childhood trauma, it can really happen to anyone. Robin Williams is a perfect example. He was a hilarious comedian who made others happy. He looked happy himself. And goodness knows he had enough money to feel financially secure and stable. But he had a mental illness that eventually drove him to suicide, and most people never had any idea. So the next time you think about mental illness, picture a wealthy, famous person. Think of a straight laced business owner or attorney. Because it’s not just poor people who are mentally ill. They’re just the ones who are more commonly left untreated.

Mental illness doesn’t give a shit what kind of work you do, or if you work at all. People who work 40+ hours a week and appear functional can develop a mental illness. People who don’t work at all can develop a mental illness. Mental illness doesn’t care what your daily schedule looks like or how many people you have depending on you to functionally do your job. Doctors, for example. People need medical care every day and they expect doctors to not only be physically present, but mentally present as well. Patients don’t care what sort of battles a doctor is going through… they need to be taken care of NOW and they need their doctor to be completely competent. It would be easy to say that doctors don’t suffer from mental illness due to their rigorous schedules or ridiculous amount of responsibility, but that is simply not the case. Mental illness doesn’t give a shit what sort of career you have or if you have one at all. It attacks you and then you’re forced to fight against it just to get through the bare minimum of responsibilities, let alone your job that expects so much out of you.

Mental illness doesn’t give a shit if you have kids. I can tell you firsthand that being a mother and battling mental illness is one of the most difficult things that I have ever experienced. The moment you have a baby, you want to create the most loving, nurturing, secure environment for them. You don’t ever picture being thrown into a manic rage while your child cries in the corner because Mommy is scaring them. You don’t ever picture having to leave your kids with your husband and other family members while you undergo inpatient treatment. This is not the life that anyone wants for their children. But sometimes it’s the life that they get, as hard as they try to fight against it. Guilt over what I’ve put my kids through and what they’ve witnessed will forever haunt me. Lots of hours of therapy are helping me work through it and teaching me how to explain all of this to my kids. I’m learning that kids are more resilient than we give them credit for, but that doesn’t take away the feeling that I have failed them. And mental illness doesn’t give a shit about that.

Mental illness doesn’t give a shit if you have a support system. I am incredibly lucky in that I have lots of friends and family and an amazing therapist who all try to catch me when I fall. They support me in this battle and I cannot adequately express my gratitude for that. But some people aren’t so lucky. Some people don’t have people around them to help. Some people are living with family or spouses who don’t “believe” in mental illness, so they don’t get the treatment that they need because they are ashamed. I believe that everyone with mental illness deserves at least one person in their lives who says “I see you. I may not be able to see what you’re going through, but I believe you and I know that it’s hard. I am here for you and I will help in any way that I can.” But we don’t magically get one of those people upon diagnosis.

Mental illness doesn’t give a shit how hard you try to manage it. Meds and therapy help, don’t get me wrong, but some days are just going to be worse than others. I am on a slew of medications for my disorder and I see my therapist every 1-2 weeks. That doesn’t mean that everything is sunshine and rainbows and that I don’t still experience some depression or mania. They’re just both usually dialed down significantly. But it can still be difficult to function sometimes. And other people can be doing everything that their doctor suggests and still suffer. It’s unfortunately just a part of living with mental illness.

I think most people know that life isn’t fair, but for someone with mental illness, they are reminded of this nearly every day. Much like someone who suffers from a chronic physical illness. It’s inconvenient and relentless and uncaring. So for those of you who are lucky enough not to live with mental illness, I suggest for you to reach out to your family and friends who do. Offer them assistance or even just an ear to listen or a shoulder to cry on. It will mean more to them than you realize. Because more often than not, it’s difficult for those with mental illness to verbalize exactly what they need. So even if they can’t tell you how you can help them, just be there. Be open minded and supportive and not condemning or judgmental. Just because mental illness doesn’t give a shit about them, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t.

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Cruelty Free On a Budget

I know I’ve been talking about a lot of heavy stuff lately, so I figured I would take a break from that and share something else that is pretty important to me. Buying and using cruelty free products. And no, this isn’t going to turn into a PETA style rant or an advertisement for veganism/vegetarianism. As far as I’m concerned, they are two very different topics. I am not a vegan or even a vegetarian, so I’m certainly far from being a hardcore animal activist. But if buying products that aren’t tested on animals makes even a little difference, I’m going to encourage it.

If you research what goes into testing products with animals, you will probably be appalled. As a former beagle owner, it bothered me even more because it is very common to test on beagles because they are relatively docile. Thinking about what they’re put through and how they’re then disposed of absolutely broke me. It disgusted me. And for what? Shampoo? Makeup? Cleaning supplies?

I started looking into cruelty free products about two years ago. Companies have come a long way over the years in using other methods to test their products, so more and more companies have been able to provide us with cruelty free products.

First of all, I want to explain what cruelty free means. In short, it means that the product is not tested on animals. This includes body care items, cosmetics, household products, etc. The best way to tell if a product is cruelty free is if it is Leaping Bunny certified, in which case it will have a small symbol on the label. PETA’s cruelty free bunny logo is also acceptable. There are also websites and apps that can help, allowing you to search by either the brand or the individual item.

Now I want to share with you some myths regarding cruelty free products.

1. Naturally made/derived products are cruelty free. While this is often true, it is not always the case. And vice versa, people assume that cruelty free products are natural. This is why it is ALWAYS important to look at the labels.

2. Cruelty free products are not made from any animal products. Again, while most vegan products are cruelty free, it doesn’t always work the other way around. Many cruelty free companies still make things using animal products. If the label doesn’t say 100% vegan, then it’s not. Even if it is otherwise cruelty free.

3. Products not tested on animals are not safe for humans to use. This is not true at all. Just because something hasn’t been tested on animals does not mean that it hasn’t been tested at all. There are just new methods that many people aren’t aware of. For example, some testing is done on tissue and cell cultures. Others are done using computer software. Some even conduct clinical trials on humans.

4. Expensive brands don’t test on animals. While there are a lot of high end companies that do not test on animals, there are still many that do. Those products might be high quality, but that doesn’t mean that they are ethically developed or tested. There are also many budget friendly or drugstore products that are cruelty free. If you do a little research, it might surprise you which companies test on animals and which do not.

Here is are some popular brands and companies that DO test on animals. This isn’t the full list, but these are some common products that people use.

– Maybelline – Revlon – Almay – Neutrogena – Clinique – Clorox – Unilever

– Proctor & Gamble – Johnson & Johnson – MAC Cosmetics – Clairol – Chapstick

Here are some popular brands that DO NOT test on animals. However, the companies are sometimes owned by a parent company that is not cruelty free. That’s when you need to decide what’s important to you… whether the products you use are tested on animals or whether the money you spend goes to a company that tests on animals. Others are cruelty free in the United States and other countries that don’t require animal testing, but if a product is sold in China, it has to be tested on animals. However, a lot of companies are moving away from testing the products themselves and allowing them to be domestically tested in China, outside of the company itself.

– Cover Girl – Not Your Mother’s – Wet n’ Wild  – Tarte – Urban Decay – Bare Minerals

– Too Faced – Redken – NYX – Burt’s Bees – Method – Mrs. Meyers

Now is my favorite part… sharing my favorite cruelty free products with you. This is not a sponsored post (I’m not there yet in my blogging career), so I get absolutely no kickback from these companies for promoting them. I’m just telling you about some products that I’ve tried and loved and think you will too.

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Makeup Revolution is my favorite “drugstore priced” dupe of more expensive brands of makeup. I buy mine from Ulta. Their Conceal and Define foundation and concealer are on par with Tarte’s Shape Tape (which most makeup gurus know if the holy grail of full coverage makeup). I should probably note that Tarte’s products are also cruelty free, but they’re also about four times the price. Makeup Revolution also has some seriously impressive eyeshadow/face palettes. My favorites? The Reloaded eyeshadow palette in Affection, the Rachel Leary Ultimate Goddess face and shadow palette, and the Soph x Revolution palette. All have a good variety of shades and great pigmentation.

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Mrs. Meyers is becoming well known for their cleaning products, for good reason. They’re naturally derived (though not 100% natural), cruelty free, and they don’t break the bank. I love many of their products, including their bath and body line, but their dish soap is where it’s at. So many great scents and it actually works to loosen food debris on dishes. But seriously, I use so much of their stuff that it’s unreal. And did I mention that it’s cheap? Because it is.

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Not Your Mother’s is a natural, cruelty free line of haircare products that I swear by. I won’t buy any dry shampoo but theirs (particularly the Plump for Joy volumizing variety) and they have this amazing 10-in-1 hair treatment called All Eyes on Me that I use every time I wash my hair. The Plump For Joy thickening hair lifter is also a must for someone like me whose hair likes to go flat.

Eco-Lips is my favorite brand of lip balm and I’ve converted lots of people. The sticks are large and they make your lips feel like butter. The peppermint is my favorite, but they have a lot of great flavors. They also have lip shimmers that my girls are begging me for.

Method cleaning supplies are another favorite in our house. They make a strong, effective, and refreshing line of bathroom cleaners that work like a charm, as well as a granite cleaner that I can’t live without. This brand used to be hard to find, pretty much strictly at Target, but it has since expanded to stores like Kroger, Wal-Mart, and Meijer.

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Thayers Witch Hazel Facial Mist has become a part of my daily routine. It’s refreshing, soothing, moisturizing, and smells divine. I tend to opt for lavender or cucumber, though, because the smell of rose gives me a headache. I know a lot of people who swear by the tried-and-true, old school rose water variety, though.

BH Cosmetics is probably my newest addiction. I think one of my girls initially introduced me to the brand and now I have a wish list a mile long. Their eyeshadow palettes are gorgeous and packed full of color. The Zodiac Love Signs palette is my current go-to and I know my 12 year old loves the Sylvia Gani palette. I have only ordered online, but they do have a small selection at Ulta. And their prices are perfect for someone on a budget who is wanting to expand their makeup collection.

So there you have it. It’s entirely possible for someone on a budget to supply their home with many cruelty free products. Of course it requires a little research, but honestly, we should be looking into all of the products that we buy anyway. We should know exactly what we’re using and what we’re spending our money on. Does this mean that you’ll never again buy a product that was tested on animals? Probably not. It can be difficult to avoid entirely. But buying cruelty free when you can is enough to make a difference. And it doesn’t have to break the bank.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Do you remember the essays we used to have to write in school, at the beginning of the year? Explaining what we did over our summer vacation? Well, this is how I spent my summer vacation in 2017. But it’s not what you’d expect and it’s certainly not as exciting as one would hope.

The word to describe that summer vacation was… pivotal. I changed a lot that summer and it was the part of the driving force behind what was to come.

After I was released from the hospital the day before Easter, I thought that would be the end of my nightmare. That I could put the events of that weekend behind me and move on, as if they never happened. Little did I know that not only was this not the end, but that I would never be able to truly put it all behind me. That it would live on forever as an integral piece of my story, as scary and shameful as it is.

I met with my psychiatrist maybe a week after this all took place. Obviously he had caught wind of what happened and needed to follow up with me. I thought that this might just involve a slight change to my medication, but that wasn’t the case. He said that I needed to begin a partial hospitalization program as soon as possible at one of the behavioral centers across town.

Part of me couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The other part of me couldn’t believe that I was naive enough to think that this would be the end of it. You don’t attempt suicide, ride in the back of a police car, and get hospitalized only for your doctor to drop it and move on. It was evident that I needed more help than my periodic visits with my therapist and psychiatrist could provide. I needed something more intensive. A program where I would spend my days and learn to live like a functional human being who doesn’t want to be dead.

I thought I had moved past those suicidal thoughts, the ones that got me in the situation to begin with. But then at the thought of reliving everything, they all came flooding back. I would rather die than address the level of pain that I had experienced, that I had forced my children to experience. It was over. I simply couldn’t go through it again, ruminating on the details of the worst night of my life.

And yet I would. While I was technically not being forced into the program involuntarily, I was sort of not being given a choice. So he made some phone calls and set up an intake evaluation for me.

This was the end of April. I was still working at the school, so I thought that I would be able to finish the year and begin the program after that. But that was not the case. The therapist who evaluated me determined that I needed to start the following week and that I would be there four days a week, all day, for the entirety of the summer (assuming the insurance company agreed). In case anyone isn’t aware, that is A LOT of therapy.

So I had to go back to work, only to let the principal and my team know that I was going to have to leave before the end of the year. Again, I felt like an inconvenience. A burden. And these are the sorts of thoughts that had gotten me in this mess in the first place. But for once, I was going to do my best to forget about everyone else and focus on getting myself the help that I obviously needed.

I drove across town and started the partial hospitalization program the following week. I was going to be there from 8:00 in the morning until 3:00 in the afternoon, four days a week. When I arrived, the therapist assigned to my case showed me around and got me acclimated. She gave me a folder full of information, including our schedule for the week. It was a lot to process, but I was ready to get going in hopes of beginning some sort of recovery. From what I battled every day. From the nightmare that I had experienced a month before.

My days involved classes on specific subjects. Co-dependency, communication skills, types of medications, grief, the science behind specific disorders, and the class that resonated with me the most… anger. I knew that anger was the emotion that I needed to learn to control. It stemmed from my mania, but that wasn’t a free pass to behave how my brain was telling me to. I had to rewire it… create new pathways to override what already existed. Does that sound like a difficult process? Because it is. You have no idea just how much work it is, how exhausting it is. But I was ready to put in the work. I needed to put in the work.

I also had two hours of group therapy every day. That might have been more challenging than anything else. Not only did I have to listen to the stories of others, I had to share my own. I had to allow myself to be vulnerable and reveal parts of me and my past that I would have preferred to keep hidden away. But again, this was all part of the process. And it showed me that I wasn’t alone in my struggles. Other people were battling bipolar disorder or other types of mental illness. Other people had attempted suicide. Other people had made rash decisions due to their ilnesses.

There were days when I came home feeling lighter, after unloading the weight of the pain I was carrying. But there were more days where I came home completely wrecked, after tapping into emotions and trauma that I had been suppressing. I still have therapy sessions like that now, so I try not to plan too much on Saturdays because I never know how I’m going to feel when I come home.

The day that I found out that I was officially completing the program and being discharged, I cried. I had bonded with the other patients and my therapists. I had learned to depend on my new support system and I wasn’t sure how I was going to get through my day to day responsibilities without it. I didn’t feel ready. But my therapists were confident that based on everything that I had learned and how I had progressed over the weeks, that I would be okay. I just had to find the confidence within myself to believe that, too.

I didn’t really get the sort of summer that I wanted. No vacations, very little sleeping in, not much family time, not many outings with friends. But I got the summer that I needed. It was heavy and hard and exhausting. But it was life changing. And even though things were still far from perfect (as evident by later events), I gained coping skills that I still use now. They help me live as close to what can be considered “normal” for someone who has bipolar disorder. And I will never be the same as I was before that summer.

I may not have been to a theme park that summer, but it was one hell of a rollercoaster ride.

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And Then the Bottom Dropped Out…

This post is a continuation of my previous post, where I give my account of my suicide attempt and when the police were called as a result.  This is what happened over the next 12 hours.

I don’t remember much about the drive, other than the fact that you feel every turn and every bump much more significantly when your hands are restrained behind your back. People tell you how uncomfortable handcuffs are and they’re not lying. But it’s one of those things that you never truly understand until you are forced to wear them.

I didn’t realize that in situations like this, they take you around to a back door near the psychiatric wing. They try to keep your visibility at a minimum, which I appreciated.

When I got inside, I had to sit on a chair by the nurse’s station and had to answer all of the basic questions, like my name and birthdate and if I had any allergies. For a moment, it felt like just any other visit to a doctor or hospital, despite the fact that it was so vastly different.

Once I was checked in, one of the officers removed the handcuffs and told me to take care of myself. The nurse took me to my room and laid out a gown. Instead of leaving the room while I undressed, she stayed. She had to inspect my body and put my clothes in a bag in the cabinet. I can’t remember if I was even allowed to keep my underwear on, but I know that my oh-so-important bra had to go. Too many ways that I could have injured myself with it. She asked if I wanted hospital socks, and if I promised not to try to strangle myself with them. I gave her a look that said “Are you fucking kidding me?” and she said “You’d be surprised. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” I guess I was naive in the suicide department. I said yes, I would like socks. I was cold, after all. I’m always cold.

The nurse took my vitals, and asked a bunch of other questions, like what medications I was currently taking. They made sure that they confirmed what I had swallowed and then proceeded to get me my other already prescribed medications. I guess it was obvious that I needed them. They also gave me something to relax. Again, so much of this was a blur, so I don’t know what exactly it was.

The room that I was in had a glass wall on the side where the nurse’s station was. There was an officer assigned to sit outside of my room, I’m assuming to make sure that I didn’t try to hurt myself or make a run for it. I didn’t intend to do either. I just wanted to lay in the bed and cry. I got my wish, at least for a while. The nurse checked on me periodically, but for the most part, I was left alone.

I tried to sleep a little, because it was past midnight at that point. I was emotionally exhausted, but sleep was still a struggle, even with the sedative that they gave me. I’d nod off for a few, only to wake up in confusion about where I was. I kept asking myself “How did this happen? What sort of person does this?” Until that night, this experience seemed so foreign. So far off from the plane of reality that I never imagined that it would happen to me. And yet it did. Apparently I was the sort of person that does something like this.

The only thought I remember fixating on was the fact that it was Friday night and Easter was on Sunday. I hadn’t done my shopping yet for the kids. Who was going to take care of Easter? Who was going to be the Easter Bunny? I know the kids had a fully capable father, but I was used to taking the lead with holidays and I was terrified that my kids would again pay the price for having a crazy mother.

The nurse wheeled in a large computer monitor on a cart and said that there was a psychiatrist who was going to video chat with me and ask me a bunch of questions. I don’t remember the specific questions aside from “Are you actively suicidal now? Are you making plans to kill yourself?” You would think that based on my current situation, I would be more suicidal than ever. You would be wrong. All I wanted at that point was to be back at home with my family. Snuggling in bed with my kids like this nightmare never happened. I told the psychiatrist no, that I was no longer actively suicidal and that I wasn’t making plans to kill myself.

I have never felt so alone in my life. I had no idea what my family knew about where I was and what was going on. I was also angry. With myself. With Daniel for calling the police and causing this whole ordeal. But then I remembered that it wasn’t him, but me who caused it.

Morning rolled around and the nurse told me that it was determined that I was no longer a danger to myself or anyone else, so I was being discharged. My head was spinning. How was I going to get home? Who should I call? But it was brought to my attention that somehow, Daniel had found out where I was and was asleep in the waiting room.

I was given my bag of clothes and shoes and was allowed to get dressed. I even got to put my bra back on.

I don’t remember if Daniel was allowed to come back to my room or if I met up with him in the lobby. I didn’t speak to him. I was angry, upset, and ashamed. I just wanted to go home.

On the way home, I brought up my Easter concerns. It was Saturday afternoon and Easter was the next morning. He told me that he would take care of it. He went overboard that year. Maybe just because he did the shopping or maybe because he wanted to distract the kids from the nightmare that we had put them through. Either way, the kids had a great Easter and didn’t mention the madness from Friday night.

My mom didn’t know what to say when I got home. She was in disbelief, I think. I gave her a bit of a rundown of what happened and we didn’t really talk much more about it. And we’ve hardly spoken about it since. I think we all just want to forget. Maybe they can, but I never will.

I wish I could say that this was the end of this particular chapter of my story, but I can’t. 2017 was undoubtedly one of the most difficult years of my life and this was just the beginning.

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Standing On the Edge of Madness

Suicide. The act of ending one’s life. It doesn’t matter who you are… someone who has lost someone to suicide, someone who has contemplated suicide, someone who has attempted suicide, or even just someone who is aware of it… people usually don’t want a talk about it.

I say “usually” because, well, I’m here to talk about it.

This isn’t to say that I particularly LIKE discussing suicide. The world would be a much better place if this wasn’t something that killed thousands upon thousands of people every year. But I’m no longer afraid of it. Afraid of the word. Afraid of saying it and starting a conversation about it.

I have actively attempted suicide twice. I have had suicidal thoughts and ideations, both active and passive, quite often over the course of my life. Primarily over the last five years, give or take. And I’m here to talk about my experiences.

In April of 2017, two days before Easter, I attempted suicide for the first time. I didn’t just think about it, I actually tried to kill myself. And before anyone says “But you have three kids and a husband and lots of family and friends who want you here,” I know that. Now. I didn’t know that then.

You see, bipolar disorder isn’t just a mental illness that affects the person suffering from it. It affects everyone around them. And what I have put my family and even my friends through over the years is something that I wish I could take away. Erase from existence.

But I can’t. I know that now and I knew that then. But back then, I saw the damage that I had done as a reason to no longer be alive. Not for myself. Not because of the guilt or the pain that I continued to experience every day. But for everyone else who had drawn the short straw and was being forced to suffer because of me. I wanted to end their suffering. And I thought that by ending my life, I’d be doing just that.

Looking at it from an outsider’s perspective, I understand how confusing and skewed these thoughts must seem. Killing myself would create a whole other type of suffering. One that is much more difficult to come back from than living with a mother/wife/daughter/friend who suffers from bipolar disorder. But was that my perspective when I was in the thick of a severe manic or depressive episode? No.

I just wanted to stop hurting people.

The kids and I were living with my mother at the time. Daniel and I were in the middle of our first separation, for reasons that I’m not going to get into right now. I was struggling. A lot. I was an expert at trying to put on a brave face. Wearing a mask that showed people that I was doing okay. But slowly, that mask started to peel off as my world crumbled.

I wasn’t quiet about my wish to end my life the night that I tried to do it. I honestly can’t tell you why I told Daniel that I was feeling this way. Maybe I was reaching out for help, even though I was adamant that I didn’t want to be talked out of it. Maybe I wanted to prepare him for what was about to happen. How his life was about to change. But these are all “maybes”. Because when people are suicidal, they are truly not thinking clearly, even though they have themselves convinced that they have reached a point of clarity that they have never experienced before.

The events of that night are still very, very foggy. I remember my mom and I having an argument. I still don’t remember what it was about. She and I haven’t really talked about that since. But I ran upstairs to my room and swallowed several of my mood stabilizers. Yes, I realize how ironic that is. And I texted Daniel about what I had done and why. My mom also called him. He called poison control (who determined that the dose that I took wasn’t lethal and I would be okay) and the police.

I was feeling fine. At least physically. And honestly, a wave of calm had taken over me at that point. I was no longer angry and screaming. I was laying on my bed, crying a little, but ever so quietly.

The police arrived. I was forced to come downstairs. They asked to see the conversation between Daniel and I on my phone. They said that I needed to be taken to the hospital. I didn’t want to go, but I wasn’t given a choice. What I WAS given a choice about was how I would be transported there. Neither option was a good one. They could either call an ambulance, which would have been more traumatic for everyone around me, or they could take me in the back of the police car, which would have been more traumatic to me. I chose the latter, because I had already scared my family enough.

I was wearing pajamas. No shoes. No bra. They told me to go get my shoes on, which were upstairs. I also snuck on a bra, because I wasn’t comfortable leaving the house without one. They would both be removed later, but I’ll get to that in my next post.

I came back downstairs and they took me out onto the front porch. One of the officers told my mom that she should close the front door so that the kids wouldn’t have to see what happened next. Aside from getting into the backseat of the car, I didn’t know exactly what was going to happen next. But now that I do, I’m glad that my mom closed the door.

The officers walked me down to the police car, sitting at the curb in front of my mom’s house. My concern at that time? What the neighbors would think. Not that my life as I knew it was about to change.

When we got to the car, one of the officers told me that it was protocol for me to be handcuffed if I was going to ride in the back of the car.

… what?

I never agreed to this part. Had I known, I’m still not sure that I would have chosen the ambulance, but I can’t really say. But it doesn’t matter, the decision had been made. And I stood there, with my hands behind my back, feeling the metal tighten around my wrists, feeling more ashamed than I ever had before.

The officer opened the door and helped me into the back of the car. He buckled me, leaving the door open while he talked to the other officer. I heard them radioing another officer, speaking in police jargon that I only vaguely understood. And then I specifically remember a conversation about police cars. The new Crown Vics versus the Dodge Chargers. The consensus was that the Crown Vics were nicer, which surprised me.

They closed the door and climbed in the front seats. They started fiddling with things on the dash and I still don’t know exactly what they were doing. They mentioned taking me to St. Francis hospital, probably because it was the closest. They asked me if that was okay. I was shocked that again, I was being given a choice. I said that I would prefer to go to Community South, because my therapist and psychiatric nurse practitioner were both through Community. And I just liked the care at that hospital better in general. They said that was fine. And then we were off.

There is more to this story, but it will continue in my next post.

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There Is No Expiration Date

A lot has happened in my life over the past two years.

Things I’m ashamed of.

Things I’m embracing.

Things that have traumatized me.

Things that have forever changed me.

I have been quiet for so long for a couple of reasons. First, because I wasn’t ready to put my experiences into words. It takes a long time to work through the shit I’ve been through and I was struggling to think about it, let alone write about it. Second, because I thought it might be too late. I thought that maybe my story would no longer be relevant to others, to my audience.

But then I realized something. There is no expiration date on my story. There is no expiration date on my trauma, my heartbreak, my healing. As much as I sometimes wish it would, it will never EVER go away. And even if it did, the person left behind isn’t the same one who existed before.

While each of these topics deserves and will get their own post (probably more), I am going to give you a brief rundown of what has been happening.

– Two suicide attempts

– Two subsequent hospitalizations

– One ride in the back of a police car, handcuffed

– Two marital separations

– One eating disorder

– Multiple incidents of self harm

– One completed partial hospitalization program

– One completed intensive outpatient program

– One new, additional diagnosis

– One house fire

– Four pets killed

– Hours and hours of personal therapy

– Hours and hours of marriage counseling

 

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A print of a piece of art so graciously gifted to me by a dear friend.  If anything describes me, it’s this.

 

Are you still with me? Are you bored and think that these things aren’t worth discussing? There are many more things that I could add to that list, but they are not my story alone and I’m not in a place where I am at liberty to discuss the details of them. At least not until other people are comfortable with sharing their stories, or are comfortable with me sharing my interpretation of their stories. And until those people actually write their stories in their own words, that’s all they will ever be… kept locked in a box of secrecy or be my personal interpretation of their experiences and how they impacted me.

Like I said, each of these events deserves its own post. And they will get just that. I will tell my story piece by piece, after lots of mental organization and probably lots more appointments with my therapist to discuss how best to address it all publicly.

Maybe it’s unfair of me to share these tiny pieces without giving you all any background or details. But it would also be unfair for me to try to sum up two years in one single blog post. So I won’t. I will give these experiences time to breathe before I release them into the world.

This blog may move in a different direction over the course of time… I can’t really be sure. I’m just going to go where my thoughts and words take me. But I hope you’ll join me on my journey.

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Some words to live by…

Authentic – My Word For 2018

Most years, right around New Year’s, I choose a word to live by for that next year. Wow, I said year a lot in that sentence. My apologies. Previous words have been helpful, but have never really punched me in the gut as much as my word for 2018.

You see, 2017 was a horrible year for me. I lost two of my aunts, my marriage struggled, and my mental health was crumbling and completely broke me. I am still working on that piece, by the way. The one that lets you in to that part of my life where I had to hide myself away. But in short, 2017 can go to hell. And I have never been more than ready to move on.

Authentic. That is my word for 2018. Because I am tired of running away from the truth. I am tired of turning a blind eye. I am ready to approach life with full authenticity, as scary and ugly as it might be sometimes. But amidst the scary is also the beautiful, and you can’t have one without the other. Some people have been living their truth for a long time like it’s no big deal. I envy them. Because this is going to be hard for me.

One thing that I have taken from 2017 is that it has forced me to come face to face with the ugly. Anyone who knows me knows that I am the queen of “I’m okay.” It’s my answer to everything. I wear one hell of a convincing mask. But in being authentic, I have to take it off. I have to accept my struggles, learn from them and work to solve them, but ask for help when I feel like I’m falling. Because the truth is, I’m not okay. Authenticity is about admitting that.

There are a lot of things in my life that are in limbo right now. I need to put on my big girl pants and make some difficult decisions. But in order to do that, I need to evaluate those situations as truthfully as possible. Not how I want to see them, not how I wish they will be in six months or a year. I need to look at them NOW. I can’t keep looking at things through rose colored glasses. I need clear and clean glasses with an accurate prescription. I may end up seeing things that are difficult to stomach. The kind of things that keep me awake at night. The ones that make me sob until my muscles hurt. But they’re there whether I choose to look at them or not. And either way, they have to be addressed. I am just choosing to do it the hard way, with authenticity. With painful truth.

You see, in a perfect world, we would all be living our lives authentically. We would all go to bed and think back on our day and it would be as if someone had taken a video of the day, not some warped version that we have created in our mind. Not the edited version, with parts that we have chosen to cut out. But the world isn’t perfect and neither are we. We look for the best in people, in situations, sometimes to the point of our own harm. But the best that we can do is to try. Try to live our truth and to see the truth in the world, whether we want to or not. And in that, we will be able to see more beauty, too. Because in shutting out the bad, we shut out some of the good.

So goodbye, 2017.  I am glad to see you go.  Welcome, 2018.  A better, happier, truer year.

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If this isn’t authentic, I don’t know what is.

Coming Out of the Woodwork

I know it’s been a long time, and that’s been somewhat unavoidable. But that’s a topic for a future post. I promise, it’s coming. The one that tells you about where I’ve been.

I have a lot of heavier, meatier things to bring here from my world, but with all of the difficult things that are going on in the rest of world right now, I wanted my first post back to be something light. Something happier that might make us all stop thinking for a brief moment about hurricanes and earthquakes and bombings and mass shootings and disgusting, sexist film directors.

I think we all need a little happy. At least I know I do. The things within my little bubble that I have to focus on in order to make it through another day.

So here is a list of some of the things that are making me happy right now.

Fall. Fall is the time of year that lifts my soul and makes me feel alive again, after spending months sweating to death and hiding from the sun so as to avoid melanoma. But it’s more than just the marking of the end of summer… so much more. It’s bonfires and beautiful colors and the crunching of leaves beneath my feet and that sweet, smoky smell in the air. It’s the cool evenings where I need a sweater. It’s the pumpkins and spooky decor leading up to my family’s favorite holiday of the year. It’s the warm soups and stews and chili on the stove and the hot apple cider in my cup. I love this season and I look forward to it during the other 75% of the year. I keep saying that need to live somewhere that at least gets fall weather year round and then I can trick myself into thinking that it’s actually fall all year. Maybe that would fix all of my problems.

My pets. We have several. Probably too many. Two dogs, four cats, and a big bunny. But I love them all. Almost all of them love to snuggle and they keep me from wanting to do anything productive. But they’re adorable and that should be a valid excuse.

Life Below Zero. The show on Discovery or Nat Geo or whatever channel it’s on (we watch it on Netflix and Hulu). Something you probably didn’t know about me is that I dream of being a survivalist. Living off the land in the middle of the nowhere, battling the harsh elements. Sounds like something I’d be great at, doesn’t it? (If you couldn’t tell that the last sentence was dripping with sarcasm, then you really don’t know me.) But in all seriousness, in another life, it’s something that I would love to do. The kind of life I would be proud to have. But for now, I’m content to live vicariously through the TV. And I’ll just go camping at state parks like the suburbanite that I am.

Kindergarten. For Calvin, that is. Holy Moses, has school been the best thing for my kid. All of the battles that I was fighting with him to try to get him to learn (and to love it, like his sisters) have magically disappeared. He’s writing his first AND last name! He’s writing lots of things! He wants me to read to him! He absolutely loves school and I love hearing about his day in that little, excited voice.

Salted Caramel Mochas. I know that fall is Pumpkin Spice Latte time for most people when they go to Starbucks, but for me, it’s Salted Caramel Mocha time. The two drinks come back together and I prefer my salty sweet concoction above all else.

My car. I got a new (to me) car back in March. A Chrysler Pacifica. Still the crossover version, not the new van form that was released this year. I don’t do brand new cars, ha ha. But I fucking love my car. It’s nice to be out of a minivan, even though I genuinely liked my van and we still have it (Daniel is driving it). I like that I still have room for the whole family but that I’m in something a little more luxurious than what I had, because my van had literally zero bells and whistles.

Target. Pretty self explanatory, but I don’t know a middle aged mother who doesn’t love Target. It’s the place that we can go and easily spend two hours just walking around and looking at all of the wonderful things. It’s also the place that we go into with the intention of spending $20 and come out spending $100. Oh, and bonus points if they have a Starbucks inside, which mine does. Target = happiness.

Boneless buffalo wings. You see, one of my medications has caused my appetite to diminish. Not that I’m complaining, since I could stand to lose more than a few pounds. I rarely eat lunch and even sometimes miss dinner. But what can get me out of my funk are boneless buffalo wings. And I can put those suckers AWAY. I mean demolish them. And I enjoy every delicious bite.

My job. Sure, I come home exhausted and sometimes every nerve in my body is completely frayed, but I really and truly love my job. Working in education and with children is not what I planned when I was in college, but it’s what fell into my lap after I had babies and now, I don’t think I would want to be doing anything else.

My therapist. Sometimes I think she’s the one who holds me together. Sure, my family does in their own way. But in the true capacity that only a mental health professional can, it’s my Jenny. And when I say her name, please imagine me saying it just like Forrest Gump. Because I love her that much and we go together like peas and carrots. She gets me. She gives me what I need, like my dealer in mental support. She is the therapist that dreams are made of. And I look forward to our weekly meetings like a child might look forward to a weekly trip to Toys ‘R Us. Except this actually happens.

State parks. My family is a big fan of our state parks. They’re beautiful and have a lot to offer all year long. Our favorite time? Fall, during the Halloween festivals. It’s also the perfect time to hike. But really, any time of year is a good time to visit the parks. Sometimes we camp, sometimes we just pop in for a visit, and most recently, we stayed in one of the park inns. Whether we’re hiking, enjoying the seasonal activities, going on cave tours, visiting the nature center and other attractions, or just exploring the grounds, we always have a great time.

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These two loved spending the weekend at Spring Mill State Park.  But do you notice that I’m missing a surly teenager?  She was too cool for this particular family trip.  Punk.