The Interval – a glimmer of stability in a mad, mad world.

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Life is stable.

 

As stable as it could possibly be in my situation anyway. I’m back on my old medication; a very low dose of Quetiapine, mixed in with an anti-depressant for the fun of it, and things have settled pretty well.

I have been discharged from the care of my Psychiatrist and back to my GP. I have been taking my medication as early as possible, to induce the right 8 hours a night’s sleep in me, swapped partying for meditation and writing, and I have been plodding along with life just fine.

I have been through the up’s and downs and the in’s and out’s of Bipolar for quite some years now, and I am learning to appreciate the times when I do find myself drifting on calm waters; because I have spent 95% of my life fighting the struggle for it.

The peace has given me a lot of time to reflect, and concentrate on other things – looking after my daughter – rather than trying to look after myself – building strength in my relationships, and thinking about the next steps I can take to prepare myself for a career leap. It’s been enjoyable, this quiet interval in my life, and one that I know would be wasteful of me if I wasn’t to use this time to focus on bettering myself and my surrounding environment. To an outsider, it doesn’t seem like such a praise to make, to just get on with my days.

But for people like us, it a destination we have taken a long, long road to get to.

It’s a hell of a journey when only a few months ago you found yourself forcing yourself out of bed in the morning, braving work un-showered and barefaced, with barely your hair touched with a brush. When you found yourself locked in the toilets on your lunch break with your tear-stained jumper over your face, suffocating the sobs that burst out of your chest after one of your hourly panic attacks. When you found yourself in that unbearable training session, stuttering at the most simplest conversations between you and the colleague sitting next door, because your mind has been taken over by the incomprehensible fear that is named these days as ‘social anxiety.’ When you found yourself questioning why and what stripped you of your confidence and started gnawing away at your former self – leaving nothing but shattered pieces of You that can’t seem to be put back together again.

But today, I am whole. I am me, and I am going to use myself for all my glorious ways, my kind smiles, my laughs, my childish dances in the moonlight. I am going to make the best of all those whom I love around me, pray for them and sing along with them and make those memories I can store away for one of those inevitable rainy days.

Because they will come, the rainy days. They will knock the wind out of my lungs and have me down on my knees begging for release from this life.

 

But today, I am whole.

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The Power of Hypnosis – and how it plays a huge part in my recovery.

 

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I remember the first time one of my therapists in my early days of my recovery, gave me a disk to use for my homework to tide me over until we were to meet again during the following weeks appointment. The disk contained a series of hypnosis tracks, which were bestowed on me to encourage this phenomenon they called ‘mindfulness’.

My first thought?

What a load of bullshit.

There I was truly believing this guy was trying to pawn me off with some notion that deep breathing exercises can promote spiritual awareness and other flibbergabber, and in all it’s mighty enforce it’s healing powers, click it’s fairy dust fingers and fix me on the spot.

There was no quick fix for me, I was fully aware of this, which probably lead to me dismissing the hypnotherapy and meditation so instantaneously. I was too far-past-fucked-up for any alternate therapies to turn me in to the normal human being I was striving to be. But desperate as I was, I half heartedly gave it a go.

The first time I tried and tested this unusual exercise, I found myself laid on my bed, earphones in and compact disk whizzing away in my walkman, chuckling away at the guy on the tape’s creepy ass voice which was no relaxing than a failed attempt to be seductively chatted up by some drunken Smooth-Steve in a jazz bar.

 

‘Now close your eyes, and take a deeeeeepppp breattthhhhh in….’

 

How on earth was I supposed to relax when I had the feeling that someone was going to jump out at me and startle me in my trance? There was something so unnatural about lying there with my eyes closed without the intention of taking a nap, and even more uncomfortable with my earphones blocking the sound and therefore my awareness of my actual surroundings.

Despite my ignorance, I kept at it, and with a bit of practice managed to see past the giggle fits and the nonsensical nature of it. By habit, it became a valued piece of my nightly routine, and one that I comforted for when the day had ended.

A few years ago, I had long gotten over the CD and it was a forgotten practice, along with my CBT training and group therapy. At this point in my life, I had just been struck down with my Bipolar diagnosis alongside a very difficult split with my Daughter’s Father. I had lost my home and my sanity along with it, and I felt like my life had struck head first in to a brick wall; an obstacle I could not forsee any possibility of getting over. In a desperate attempt to grasp on to something to steady myself in that crazy time, I turned again to hypnosis. I found a hypnotist and life coach – Joseph Clough – downloaded his podcasts and away I tried to plod on with my days. I listened day and night, his voice was the only soothing sound which cradled my mind to sleep in the evenings, and the voice that pulled me out of my bed when the sun and my responsibilities rose up to start the day the next morning.

It was a difficult time, one that is hard to remember even a couple of years down the line, but those podcasts saved me. They were the motivator that adjusted my mind to start thinking anew – eventually leading to all the possibilities which were open to me – the opportunities I decided to take which lead to this point in my life today.

Joseph Clough’s work was to become friend to me for the next couple of months, as I carried on with his words of wisdom whilst pulling myself upright and slowly stitching my life back together.

As people with Bipolar disorder and other mental health issues probably know, insomnia can be an issue that marks a huge impact on our lives. Whilst the newly prescribed Quetiapine; the antipsychotic that was knocking me out cold when I first began to take it; was enough to settle me in to slumber in the evenings, the effect eventually wore off. I found myself tossing and turning a frustrated insomniac, relentlessly fighting for at least an hour or two before I was to face the day that was approaching. I turned again to hypnosis.

This time, I found an app of sleep hypnosis tracks by Darren Marks, and found my usual busy chatty mind drifting away to the sound of his powerful words in no time. Sleep that was once a battle, was now something that came automatically to me, and my listenings of sleep hypnosis tracks has chisled it’s permanent mark in to my nightly routine.

I have practiced the art of hypnosis every single evening for almost three years now, and it has never failed me. Whether it presents it’s purpose to reset my system after a long hard day, or to take a few quiet moments with the Headspace app in the middle of my lunch break at work  – it is one of the little luxuries I am sure to indulge in without fail; and thus, has aided a great deal towards my long term recovery.

You can find some of my top hypnosis artists and tracks in the links below.

 

Darren Marks: http://www.learnoutloud.com/Results/Author/Darren-Marks/19978

Joseph Clough: http://podbay.fm/show/369607516

Headspace: https://www.headspace.com

‘Sharing Stories’ – A life with Depression, By Andrew.

“My name is Andrew. I’m 44, married with two lovely kids. I have suffered with depression since my early teens. This is my journey.

The depression came about because of an accident, not to me but to my Father. We jokingly say that he fell off the back off a lorry; actually he was leaning against a support on the back of a wagon when it collapsed, he and a fellow worker fell, and my Dad was left with a fractured skull and an altered personality and has never worked again. I can’t remember exactly how I was told, I think it was by my friend’s Mother and I vaguely remember having to stay with them for a few days.

I do remember walking into the living room when my Dad got out of hospital; I was warned to be gentle as he was quite fragile. He had two black eyes and looked very frail. At the age I was at the time your Dad is Superman! He wasn’t supposed to be like this! I seem to remember vowing that I would have to be the man of the house. I say dad never worked again, he did work for a little while because he had another accident at work when he cut his head open!

As I said, I believed I needed to be the man of the house, a role I was not ready for, although no one else had any expectations of me. There is something else that prayed on my mind at this time. When my Dad was 16 his father died, I was paranoid that history was going to repeat itself especially how ill he was. I remember being very relieved when I turned 17, we had cheated history.

When I left school I went to Art College to do my Btec in fashion. I had been ‘well built’ for most of senior school, I decided I was fat so pretty much stopped eating. I’m not going to say I have anorexia but it was pretty close. I went from a 38” waist to about a 24” at my worst, I collapsed in a bathroom in Paris on a college trip, and I wasn’t well. It got to the point where it hurt more to eat that it did to not eat. I have a picture of me during that time, wearing a baggy jumper to hide my body; I look like I could snap if I bent over.

After college I started working in the fashion industry, probably one of the most stressful environments to work in. I lasted about 15 years with various episodes of the dog but I still didn’t know what it was, I had talked about suicide with my then girlfriend (now wife) but I thought that was normal! Eventually the first glimpse into what was actually happening to me came about. We were told the company I was working for wanted us all to move to Leicester as that was closer to head office, this was never an option for me as my wife worked here and we had just had a baby and moved to a new house we loved. Of course the alternative was redundancy. I became ill, I would sleep up to 22 hours a day, I became dehydrated as I couldn’t stay awake long enough to drink. I kept going back to the doctors who kept sending me for tests, diabetes, thyroid, all sorts. I asked if it could be stress related. He then asked if I was stressed. I explained that I was being made redundant; we had just had a baby and moved into a house that was about twice the mortgage of our previous home (in our previous house we had been broken into 4 times over 2 years including twice in one week). After three months on the sick the doctor decided I was ill because I was overweight!

After I left the fashion industry I started a business making clothes and soft furnishings, my wife went back to work full time. I also started a part time degree in textiles, this had become a pattern for me; taking too much on so I would fail, this would then prove to me how useless I felt; how much of a failure I was and why I was not worth knowing or loving.

Eventually of course it all came to a head.

My wife had to go to Austria with work and it would be over a weekend, it would have been almost impossible for her to come home so her company paid for me to meet her in Saltsburg. We had a long chat as things had not been great between us for a while, we decided I needed to go and see a different doctor and tell him what was going on. I flew back home and my wife went back to work. I didn’t eat while Nicola was away, I was punishing myself; food felt like the one thing I had control over. I sat one night, kids in bed and took every pill I could find and quite a lot of whiskey, and sat back, feeling calm for the first time in years. This was it, my time to clock out.

Of course it suddenly struck me that it would be my kids that would find me, I was a horrible person but I couldn’t do that to them! I took myself to the toilet and made myself throw up until I had nothing left then stayed up all night in case I fell asleep and didn’t wake up. It’s funny but shortly after this we had a party for my daughter’s birthday and lots of people commented on how well I looked! I had shaved my head as my hair was falling out; I had a hunted look in my eyes.

We went to the doctors and told him how I felt; he asked Nicola if I ever hit her or the kids. I was horrified at the time but I can see he was asking all the right questions. My life was in freefall and I had absolutely no control. I was prescribed anti-depressants and sent home and told to wait for the crisis team. They arrived at our house not long after us, two ladies, one went and spoke to Nicola and the other sat and let me talk. They visited a couple of times until I was relatively stable. I’m not sure if it was a complete nervous breakdown but it’s as close as I ever want to be!

The doctor recommended MIND to me, they were great and dug into what was causing the depression as well as giving me coping strategies. The first time I went there I felt like the world was in colour and not the black and white I had seen it for years. I went on to see MIND several times after that as the depression would find its way back.

I finally felt strong enough to ask the doctor if I could have some counselling which he arranged. I remember sitting in the waiting room with Nicola; everyone had various nervous twitches, no one would give eye contact; and when you caught a glimpse of their eyes it was terrifying, I wondered what they saw when they looked at me for sure I had the same.

I felt terrible about the amount of medication I was on, largest dosage of anti-depressants plus another type to help me sleep – all of this just to help me feel ‘normal. I had told my Therapist that this felt like the last chance for me as I couldn’t go on feeling the way I was, I realise how melodramatic that was now but I meant it at the time. I think I realised that this might work and I was ready for it too when the therapist asked what I wanted, previously when asked I would say that I just wanted to be like everyone else, this time I said I just wanted to be comfortable being me! I can see now what a huge shift that statement was.

I had a full course of CBT which I feel gave me the tools finally to get to grips with my issues.

I’d like to say that that is the end of my journey, I had hit rock bottom and over the course of about 7 years I had crawled my way out of it, from near death and self harm to loving life. Growing up I could never see myself growing old, I was sure I would be dead by 37! I started to become ill again a few years ago and after a lot of tests I was told I had Ankylosing Spondalitis (a form of arthritis that affects any joints) but the medication was often worse than the illness. Earlier this year my diagnosis was changed to Fibromyalgia which can apparently be brought on by depression. I have been unable to work since my latest flare up in January, at the time of writing this it’s the end of July.

For people who don’t know what Fibromyalgia is, it’s basically constant pain, all over. I can’t walk far; I have no upper body strength any more, can’t lift, can’t even put my arms above my head without pain. So of course the depression is back. I’m waiting to be referred for more counselling as I type but I at least know what is happening this time so I feel better placed to cope.”

-By Andrew.

 

 

Stories are still needed!

Do you have a mental health/recovery story of your own that you’d like to reach out and share to others? Whether it be overcoming depression to addiction to eating disorders… no matter what your area, there will be a chance that your experience will touch someone elses life.

Send your story with your name to themanicyears@gmail.com and i’d be happy to publish on the Blog.

Sharing saves lives –

M x

“Sharing Stories” – When you feel wrong, write – By Charlotte.

 

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“The first time I knew for definite that something had gone wrong in my brain was in the middle of a GCSE exam.

“You’re going crazy,” a random thought popped into my head. “You’re about to have a breakdown.” Now up until this point I’d been answering questions about photosynthesis, happy as Larry. But this thought just wouldn’t shut up. “You’re losing it,” the thought said. “You’re about to go completely batshit crazy.”

“Eh?” I tried to think back. “What are you going on about?”

Long story short, I ended up having my first colossal panic attack – or a whatinthenameofarsingarseholeishappeningohmygodimdyingoratleasthavingaheartattackwhatthefuckpleasesparemebabyJesus– in front of everyone and after that I had to sit every single exam for the rest of my education in my own little room like Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs.

There had of course been signs leading up to this. My mum had recently been diagnosed with cancer and I’d managed to convince myself that if I got A*s in everything then she wouldn’t die (side note: God let me off with 6A*, 2A, 2B, the absolute babe). I’d started writing endless lists which I’d rip to shreds if the colours didn’t match; organising my DVDs into genre, age certificate and alphabetical order; brushing my teeth six times per day; and genuinely believing that if the green man on the traffic light flashed quickly after I’d pressed the button, it meant I was going to have a good day. LOL.

I’d also completely stopped talking. To the point where I could quite easily go a day without saying a word. To the point where I haunted the school corridors like a silent, creepy ghoul. I just couldn’t talk about how I was feeling or what was going on at home so I shut down and ultimately focused my efforts on being an anxious, obsessive little weirdo.

I was eventually referred to a child counsellor, who confirmed I was depressed and prescribed me medication – which my parents decided I was too young for. The ‘talking about my feelings’ thing wasn’t really for me, so I pretended I’d gotten better and spent the next six years swinging between feeling fine and feeling distinctly not fine, occasionally dabbling in anti-anxiety medication and half-arsed counselling appointments.

During this time, I started writing seriously. I’d always written stories, and it became the one thing that made me feel good about myself. I knew I had a knack for it, and seeing something through to completion – even if it was a weird-ass story about a tomato plant – gave me both a distraction and a sense of purpose.

Somehow I managed to turn this into a career and I now work as a professional writer. And for me, this has been the best therapy. There are lots of things I am horrendous at – small talk, parking and being on time for stuff to name a few – but I am a good writer, and being able to write every day is essential to me feeling okay about myself.

Don’t get me wrong, writing isn’t a magical elixir for anxiety. There are times when I feel absolutely shit and I’d rather throw my laptop out of a window than write another word. There are times when I stress-buy £30 worth of chocolate and crisps from Morrison’s and then have to gradually smuggle them into work as office treats so I don’t put on five stone. There are times when I lie in bed and sob and sob and then idly think ‘Hey, I’m actually pretty amazing at crying, maybe I have the potential to be an Oscar-winning actress’ and then get a grip and wash the snot off my face.

Mental health doesn’t have a beginning or an end. At the moment, I am fine. And I have been fine for a long time. Tomorrow I might not be fine. But I don’t wallow in what might be. I know I can write my own future.”

– By Charlotte, Birmingham.

 

Charlotte’s work and publications can be found at https://charlottebrazier.com/.

 

 

 – Do you have a mental health/recovery story of your own that you’d like to reach out and share to others? Whether it be overcoming depression to addiction to eating disorders… no matter what your area, there will be a chance that your experience will touch someone elses life.

Send your story with your name and location to themanicyears@gmail.com and i’d be happy to publish on The Manic Years.

Sharing saves lives – M.

The appointment – The switch in psychiatric medication

If anything summed up the dark side of the standard of mental health care in my current cummunity it would have been this appointment.

Psychiatric appointments, with a consultant Psych, are like liquid gold these days. So imagine the shock I got when the postman dropped off a letter with an actual date that she was available to hear what I had to say. And to strip this down of all it’s glory; I didn’t even ask to see her in the first place.

 

9 months prior.

After meeitng my eccentric new Quack at my local healthcare centre, and sneakily flipping through my medical notes and snapping pictures of the annotations on my iphone when she’d left the room, I had failed my case against coming off the Zombie med. For those who have read my journey, I had been on Quetiapine by that point for the past year and a half, and unfortunately gained 3 and a half stone – I was protesting that now I had crossed over the unhealthy line on the BMI chart and that for that sake (as well as not being able to drive/look after my daughter/not go a day without taking a nap/function altogether etc) – and she managed to try to convince me that because my mood was controlled  I was not causing any trouble; she had me walking away with a prescription of the extended release version of the same devil drug.

Then the biggest mistake she made was that she would promise to see me in 4-6 weeks time, and that I would easily be able to get hold of her receptionist if something went wrong.

That apointment never happened, until I unexpectedly ended up sitting in that chair in her office two weeks ago, whilst she insisted in calling me by the wrong name. (In case you were wondering, she had decided to label me as Bruce. It is not even a complete anagram of my surname).

 

1 month prior.

As it turns out, the appointment they had randomly allocatede me to, I couldn’t make it. I had just started a new job and didn’t want to be taking time off so soon. So i tried to get hold of her receptionsist. This is how that wen’t down.

Friday – Tried to ring the local trust from the generic number they gave me. Went round in circles for half an hour as the automated system didn’t have an option for psychiatric appointments.

Monday – Finally got through to a human being. Went round in circles for half an hour as human being didn’t have an option for psychiatric appointments.

Tuesday – Two days before appointment. Got through to Psych’s receptionist. She was very pleasant.

“So can you tell me why you can’t make this appointment, Miss Bruce?”

“It’s B****. I am unavailable and I’m going to have to reschedule.”

“Well you are going to have to give me a good enough reason for not wanting to turn up to the appointment you made…”

“I’m sorry, but this was an unexpected appointment. And I am unavailable at the time of the appointment.”

Silence.

“Can you tell me why you can’t wake this appointment?”

“I have just started a new job you see, and I do not want to be taking any leave this early in to me starting. Especially two days before.”

“Well you should have rang up sooner Miss Bruce.”

“It’s B****.”

*Considers explaining how easy it was to get hold of her, but i’d blatantly had enough of trying to get this appointment I didn’t make*

“Look can I please just reschedu-

NO, no, no, no, no – I will tell you when you can reshedule for.”

*!!!!!!!!

“Okay……”

“It’s going to have to be June i’m afraid…”

“Perfect, I’ll have it for then.”

“But if work is the issue here, then you are going to have the same problem when it comes to this next appointment…”

I was done by this point. But, gritting my teeth, I proceeded to politely explain in hope she did not think I was a dumbass who couldn’t grasp the concept of what she was saying to me.

 

“Okay, have a great day Miss Bruce, thank you so much for calling…”

 

Condescending B***h.

 

The Event itself.

The ‘assessment’ went quick itself. Can I call it an assessment? Not only did the psychiatrist not review my notes (she admitted this when I walked in to the room), but she hardly gave me the opportunity to tell her what had been going on in my life since I last saw her. There is a huge issue here, as she couldn’t even recall when the last time she saw me actually was. I told her, again, that a major part of the medication was the worrying amount of weight that has made itself a comfortable lodger on my physique, and how difficult it was for me to try to evict. I am not the slim size 8 anymore that I was after having my first child. I was now a size 14.

She proceeded to tell me that yes, with Quetiapine, you usually have problems with your appetite.

Don’t get me wrong, I may have had some serious sugar cravings. But that was not the issue here. My whole metabolism has grinded to a halt. System down.

We reviewed medication, again, then after going through every option apart form the one we discussed, I politely reminded her about the Abilify that we had discussed.

“Great idea!”

No SHIT.

She was happy then. No more questions asked, and I walked away with a prescription of Abilify, A few mil’s of Quetiapine to wean off and help me sleep for the next week and some Diazepam.

Diazepam. That’s right. She had let a drug addict walk away with a prescription of Valium, all because she couldn’t be bothered to read her notes properly.

I took it of course. My GP, who on the contrary knows me very well, won’t even prescribe that to me.

And so, after some messing about to get a ten minute appointment, I am now off the Zombie drug.

I am free (for now!)

 

*Hypomanic post to follow.

 

“Sharing Stories” – Bipolar; The rollercoaster I didn’t pay to get on, By Allison Padgett

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“You’re crazy! You’re a bitch! You’re a mess! I wish you’d just get your shit together! Why can’t you be normal? Just get out of bed! It’s like you’re two different people! It’s all in your head! You’re just lazy! Good for nothing! Worthless! Pathetic!

These are just a few of the things I’ve heard over the years in my struggle with my mental health. Some of these things have been said by friends. Some of these things have been said by loved ones. And some of these things I’ve said to myself.

Have you ever had a bad day? I mean, a really bad day. You wake up late. Forget the most important thing that you needed for work at home, but you’re already late, so you have to make up and excuse not only about your lateness, but about your not bringing that important thing. Your boss calls you in the office to “discuss” your performance or lack there of. You then begin to cry, but it’s only eleven AM, so you have to keep working and act like someone didn’t just make you feel like an idiot, when you know you’re not. Then, you start doubting yourself and start believing what was said. Next, no one asks you to join them for lunch because you look like you’re having one of your “days”. You try to work, but the thoughts play in your head like a CD stuck on repeat. You accomplish nothing, but more failure and your closest coworker gets mad at you for not holding up your end of the bargain. You try to tell them that you’re sorry. You try to tell them that you’ll do better, but they don’t believe you and you start not to believe yourself either. Finally, you go home only to think more about being worthless and wishing you could just die. You think that you’re probably just a burden on everyone and should just quit. Quit your job and life, itself. You’re hungry. No, you’re not hungry enough to fix anything, so you sit in silence and try to go to sleep early. Ha! The Sandman laughs in your face. Sleep doesn’t come because you continue to listen to that CD. Over and over. You believe it. You know you’re just a pathetic human being. Then you finally fall asleep miraculously, only to be awoken by a nightmare that you’re being thrown in a dumpster filled with other people “just like you”. Then, much to your dismay, your alarm goes off and it’s time to start the struggle of life for one more day.

Sounds like hell, doesn’t it? It sounds unreal.

It was a day in my life. On my “down” days, I felt like this. Sometimes even worse. So your worst day, is a day in the life of someone with bipolar disorder when they cycle down. Oh sure, I cycle up, too. Here’s what that feels like…

You are woken up by your alarm and today, you don’t feel like throwing it across the room. Could it be? You’re not sure yet. You get ready for work and today you feel like listening to the radio. What? You get to work and say hello to everyone you see. Good Morning, everybody!! You start your workday and do your work without interruptions of doubt. All of the sudden, while chatting with your favorite coworker you both realize that it’s almost time to go home. Already? Awesome! You drive home, windows down, singing your favorite song and thinking that sunlight is pretty great. When you get home, you cook your favorite meal and enjoy it in front of the TV, watching your favorite rerun of Friends. (The Prom Video, obviously) Then you take a nice warm bath, look in the mirror one last time and smile. Today was your day! Today was an amazing day! You pick up that novel you’ve been meaning to read and then fall asleep easily, without the constant feeling of worthlessness.

Sounds like a pretty good day, right? Sounds like what most people would call a normal day. For me, these days are precious. They are coveted. I yearn for these days. I beg for these days and when they come they’re gone too soon.

I haven’t always been bipolar. I’ve been to so many doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists. I’ve been told I’m depressed. I have anxiety disorder. I’m just hormonal. I need to exercise more. I should just eat better. I have toxic people in my life and if I rid myself of them, then I’ll be fine. Fine, they said. But, fine never came. Fine felt a million miles away.

So, I started doing research. I listened to some of those closest to me. One ex said I acted like two different people. He named them “Allison and Callison”. It took 10 years before I knew what that meant. I’m not two different people, but my brain just might be. So, I called an emergency mental health hotline. No, I wasn’t having a true mental health emergency, but I needed someone to listen to this epiphany. I needed someone to listen. I needed some one to listen to ME. Not judge me. Not try to over analyze me. And not throw the latest pill at me and tell me it’s been a miracle for other patients. So, he listened while I explained what I knew in my heart was finally right. I think I’m bipolar, I said. I had actually said it. Bipolar.

The next step was making an appointment with yet another psychologist. But this time was different. I had an idea of what to say. I’d never been completely open with any provider before, but this time I was. I explained my lifelong battle with my brain. And she listened. She gave me a test. It wasn’t long. I had to answer about twenty questions. I answered all, but a select few, with a resounding YES. I didn’t know what the test was for, but I knew whatever it was, it understood me. The results? Bipolar Type 2, with hypo-mania. YES!! I knew it. But, wait. What the hell do I do now? Another pill? No. That’s not why I came. Pills don’t work for me. I should know. I’d been on every single one. But, she was adamant that this pill was for bipolar disorder. This pill was “right” for me. I gave in. I went to the pharmacy and filled it.

Then, I waited. They always say to wait two to three weeks before you give up.

I waited three days. Yes, three days. On day four I woke up different. Good different. Something felt good. Not high, good. But, I just felt good. What? No self loathing this morning? No hatred of all things morning? Ok. That’s great. Now, I’ll need to go on and get up. I have things to do. I got up. I showered and dressed and then I had an errand to run. I hopped in my car and immediately turned on the radio. I rolled the windows down and began driving. About three miles down the road I came to a stoplight. One of those looong stoplights that if you don’t hit at just the right time, you’ll sit forever. So, I sat. I looked around at all of the other people in their cars. Some just sitting. Some on the phone. And some smiling at me. Why were they smiling, I thought. Oh, shit! I’m smiling, too. Then, it hit me! I’m happy. And I began to cry. I cried because I was happy. I cried because I felt what most people call normal. And right there at that stoplight, I knew my struggle had just gotten a little easier. So, I cried some more. I cried for the years I’d missed not feeling this way. Then, I stopped crying. I stopped because I wanted too. I stopped because I could.

So, what now? I had a diagnosis and a medication that managed it. I felt like someone or something had given me back my life. No, wait. I felt like someone or something had finally given me life.

And, so goes the beginning of my life with bipolar disorder. Is it always as easy as it was that fourth day? No. Is it ever as bad as my worst day? No. I still cycle up and down. Just not as frequently and not as high or as low. I’ve had to add some medications and I’ve taken a few away, but right now I’m managed. I still deal with the stigma. How many times have I heard someone laugh at someone else’s expense and joke that they must be bipolar? A lot. I just kind of look down and smile to myself. They don’t know what they’re saying. They don’t know what it’s like. They don’t know that every single day is a battle. But, they also don’t know that I’m finally winning.”

– By Allison Padgett

Thank you to Allison for submitting her story. To read more of Allison’s journey upon Bipolar, homeschooling and living with her Husband’s Brain tumour diagnosis, please support her blog at https://immamabutimstillme.wordpress.com

 

WE NEED YOUR STORIES….

– Please drop me an email on themanicyears@gmail.com if you want to take part and be featured in “Sharing Stories”, if you have a story to tell or you just want to share your thoughts about your experiences with mental health. I am so proud of everyone who has contributed and who has joined me in this journey so far, and I do hope our army gets stronger. A bigger voice. A fight to speak louder. – M

 

 

“Sharing Stories” – The Beginning, by Hazel Hillboro.

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“I don’t really believe in mental illness,” I said.  This is always a great way to start off a conversation with psychiatrists.  You can almost see the smoke come off of their pencils as they try to write fast enough about how crazy you are.  I wasn’t joking, though.  I was on psychiatrist #4, and I still didn’t believe in mental illness.

I perched on the edge of my comfy blue chair and eyed the kleenex box next to me.  I wondered if psychiatrists get immune to people crying sort of like kindergarten teachers do.  Kids cry all the time, so I’ll secretly think things such as, “I’m sorry Timmy took your cookies, but actually I don’t care.  Stop crying.”  I wondered if psychiatrists have also become jaded and learned not to care.  I made a mental note not to cry, just in case.  I looked around at the “calming” decorations: beach scenes in frames and a random fake plant in the corner.  A plethora of degrees on the wall behind the psychiatrist’s desk were hung proudly to make me think she knows what she’s talking about.

“It’s like this,” I continued. “I see people all the time posting on facebook and twitter and such, ‘love me because I have an anxiety disorder,’ or ‘how to love a person with depression,’ or ‘my depression is really bad today, so everyone be nice.’  I mean, it seems like they wear their ‘illness’ as a badge of honor, a way to get attention.  It’s an excuse to be an asshole without having to apologize.  That’s dumb.  I’m a teacher, and the teachers at my school offer around xanax like tic tacs.  I realize we have a stressful job, but come on.  We’re not all mentally ill.  People just need to learn how to deal with their lives better.  People who broadcast their ‘mental illnesses’ drive me nuts.”

My psychiatrist stopped writing to look me straight in the eye.  “There may be people like that in the world, and they may be annoying, but I would rather work with someone like that than someone like you, because you just tried to kill yourself and still refuse to believe you have a problem.”

Oooooh snap.  Shut down by my shrink.

I mumbled something along the lines of “good point” and sank back into the chair.  I wasn’t going to get out of this one easily.  My vision blurred, and I grabbed a kleenex.  Stupid psychiatrists and their stupid kleenexes.

“What kind of meds have you been on?” she asked.

“All of them,” I answered.  “I don’t remember them all.  Name one.  I’ve probably been on it.”

I’d been diagnosed with depression and anxiety multiple times over the years, I’d taken medications with varying degrees of little to no success, and I’d given up on ever getting better.  I’d just tried to kill myself the day before, and I’d been dragged to this psychiatrist pretty much against my will.  I mean, not literally kicking or screaming or anything, but when one doesn’t have any will to live, it’s basically like, “Fine.  Another doctor? I don’t want to go, but I also don’t actually care.”

She ran down a standard list of medications.  Prozac?  Yep.  Zoloft?  Uh huh.  Klonopin?  Of course.  Xanax?  Got a collection.  You get the idea.  So many pills, so little time in a one hour appointment.

Finally she asked if I’d been on oxcarbazepine.  Umm…no?  Is that even English?  Did she just make that one up as a trick to say if I’d say yes to everything, even random made-up words?  The answer, however, was no.  I had not been on that drug.

She asked if I’d be willing to try it.  That’s like when the teacher asks you, “Would you like to give the answer to #5?”  You can’t very well just say, “No.”  I said fine, that I would take it.  I can’t say I had a lot of hope that it would be any different (my resume of drugs taken was impressively long with very little results, as you may recall).  I took the prescription, got the pills, and immediately googled two things:

  1. Can I overdose on this drug?  (No)
  2. What is the success rate for this drug? (Pretty good…for bipolar disorder)

Bipolar disorder?  What?  I obviously didn’t have bipolar disorder.

(If you haven’t already figured this out, I was also a pretentious idiot)

If I had anything (which I didn’t believe), then it was depression, not bipolar disorder.  I was incredibly uninformed about this disease.  I thought it just meant that people got really moody – happy one minute and furious the next.  Basically PMS on steroids.  I had no idea that bipolar people could sometimes go days without sleeping for no apparent reason (which I had absolutely done) and be super productive.  I didn’t know that it made them act completely out of character for themselves sometimes for weeks on end, and that they could then crash into a horrible depression.  I didn’t know that bipolar disorder can go undiagnosed for an average of ten years before stumbling on a correct diagnosis.  No one goes to a doctor to say, “My life feels absolutely perfect and I just solved a bunch of problems by staying up for a week straight.”  They go to a doctor when they feel depressed, hence the misdiagnosis.

My psychiatrist is very smart.  I think she knew that if she told me I had bipolar disorder, I wouldn’t have believed her.  I would have refused to take the drugs and decided she was the crazy one, not me.  Only a few days after I started taking them, though, I felt like I woke up from a years long coma.  For the first time in a very, very long time, I could think clearly.  I could be rational.  It was strange.

Isn’t that sad?

I started blogging as a way of reaching out to two groups of people.  The first is to people who have a mental illness or love someone who does.  I am just starting down this road, and it’s scary as hell.  I hate knowing that my brain can’t function properly without drugs.  I hate thinking that I will probably have to deal with this for the rest of my life.  I guess, selfishly, I’m looking for anyone out there who can give me a “me too” or a “been there” or a “you can do this.”

I’m also writing this for people who are like I was only a few months ago. I fully subscribed to the “ignore mental illness and it will go away” philosophy, and I am now a true convert who knows firsthand how damaging that view can be. I almost lost my life over it. I would like to help other people know that mental illness is serious, it should be taken seriously, and they should stop shaming those of us who have to struggle silently.”

-by Hazel Hillboro.

 

You can follow Hazel’s experiences on living with a Bipolar life here at Behind these Hazel eyes.

 

– Please drop me an email on themanicyears@gmail.com if you want to take part and be featured in “Sharing Stories”, if you have a story to tell or you just want to share your thoughts about your experiences with mental health. I am so proud of everyone who has contributed and who has joined me in this journey so far, and I do hope our army gets stronger. A bigger voice. A fight to speak louder. – M

“Sharing Stories” -Let me tell you my name; I have a mental illness: I will not be ashamed, By Amanda Rogers.

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“The Mood Disorders Clinic where I have an appointment is nearly impossible to find. It is housed in one of a series of dilapidated buildings that look every one of their 135-plus years. They are currently being renovated, which means that the hospital, originally accessible only by a dirt road, is pretty well only accessible that way again. This narrow road (a stand-in while the real entrance is being rebuilt) winds through creepy old buildings, abandoned but for construction workers, overgrown with ivy and peppered with signs proclaiming dire warnings of danger due to overhead wires, but lacking a solid plan about how best to deal with that.

It is virtually impossible to figure out where to park. There are little parking lots here and there but nothing to indicate what services they are adjacent to. I finally pull into what I believe to be the staff lot. Getting out of my car I meet a nicely suited man getting out of his, and I ask him where patients are supposed to park. He scratches his head looks around, and admits that he really doesn’t know. “I only work here,” he offers with self-depreciating good humour. I return an affable smile, but inside I’m frosty. I didn’t ride in on a camel, after all. I can’t be the only crazy person ever to arrive by car. I want to ask where the Mood Disorders Clinic is but I have lost confidence in this gentleman so I move on.

A briskly walking woman with a lanyard around her neck looks like a plausible guide. She stops at once and gives me clear directions to my destination. “Who are you meeting with?” she asks me, squinting in the bright May sunshine. “I have an appointment,” I reply. “I’m a patient.” I should sing it out: I’ve been waiting more than six months for this appointment, but I mutter it breathlessly. Her face changes subtly. Her eyes linger on the lanyard of keys around my own neck — I forgot to take them off when I left work. Sheepishly, I slide them off and stuff them into my pocket. I am not one of us. I am one of them.

The Mood Disorders Clinic is up a flight of stairs and is strangely empty. A nurse in a small kiosk takes my OHIP card and tells me where I can get coffee. It sounds like a complicated journey and I decline. I sit down but I am too nervous to read. After 15 minutes the nurse directs me to another corridor to meet with a psychiatric nurse.

This nurse isn’t quite ready for me so she invites me to sit down in the corridor in a low vinyl chair which is belching out stuffing through a couple of rips. The hallway is strangely narrow and painted a colour so vile that it is difficult to imagine that was not the intent. A sign on the wall reminds me that violence is not acceptable.

My ex-husband is a surgeon. His waiting room, as I recall, is bright, clean and nicely furnished, featuring an aquarium I once maintained and several rather valuable prints I once took for framing. His patients are beneficiaries of the same OHIP that has paid my way here, but they are clearly a classier variety of patient than I am.

Soon the psychiatric nurse invites me in. She greets me pleasantly, takes a brief history and then we launch into the interminable questionnaire-type interview that is going to reveal the state of my mental health. The questions, by necessity, are very personal and we pretend that she does not hate asking them and that I do not hate answering them. On a couple of occasions her face betrays her boredom with this process. I know she has probably done it a billion times but I still fear that I am a boring psychiatric patient. She cocks an eyebrow judgmentally at one point, something which I counted on being verboten here. I hastily rein my account of myself. Boring and nasty would be too much.

An hour later she takes me to see my new psychiatrist, who turns out not to have arrived yet. He is probably off doing something terribly important, but I am peeved just the same. His secretary speaks only to my nurse. I smile at her and she looks at me, but her neutral expression never wavers. I work in a busy, friendly place: I am used to having my smile returned. Now it sticks onto my face like jam left over from breakfast.

While we wait, my nurse encourages me to join a CBT group. “What’s that?” I ask.

“Cognitive behavioural therapy. They meet from two to four on Tuesdays”.

“I work Monday to Fridays from eight-thirty until five,” I tell her. She frowns slightly, and tells me that many people find the group very helpful. She gives me a small card about it. I look like the sort of person who lies about their work hours.

I stuff the card in on top of my keys. A week later and two weeks after that I receive phone calls reminding me about the CBT group. I finally ask the woman on the telephone why they don’t hold groups in the evening as well as the day. I can’t be the only person who has both a mood disorder and a day job. She has no answer for me.

Finally the psychiatrist arrives and, after he meets with my nurse privately, we all sit down in his office. He is on one side of a vast uncluttered desk and I am on the other. He looks over my interview and asks a few questions. At one point he asks me about my brother who committed suicide a few years ago. Out in the real world I have learned that reference to a sibling’s suicide has a similar social impact to letting out a loud fart in a crowded elevator. People don’t mean to judge but they are, by and large, frankly horrified and they don’t know what to say.

Here in my psychiatrist’s office, however, we all deal with the excruciating intimacy of our subject matter by remaining so studiedly impassive that we might as well be exchanging recipes for pasta salad. I am a little tempted to profess an interest in cannibalism or a desire to smoke firecrackers, just to stir things up.

He seems like a nice man and he is doing his job and trying to help me, but he has a brand new diagnosis for me and it’s taken me 15 years to get used to the last one I was given. He recommends a medication I have never heard of, which I will, in time, start taking and which has improved my life significantly. He warns me that the medication can have side effects and that he will be monitoring me closely, and he gives me a requisition for a blood test. I have not yet got around to having that blood test and, despite two calls to the Mood Disorders Clinic, he has not yet got around to monitoring me closely, but I’m sure we will work that out in time.

There appears to be no counselling attached to this service. There is, of course, the CBT group, which I cannot attend, and private counselling in the community, which I cannot really afford. There are books in Chapters on CBT and how to use it, but I suspect that in counselling, as in many things, doing it alone is no substitute for the real thing.

I wend my way out of the mental health hospital and back to work. I have not been the easiest patient, but it has not been the easiest experience.

One in five Canadians has, or will have at some point, a mental illness. It is the mammoth in the room. On bus shelters I see posters of dedicated professionals and loving parents, all of whom apparently have mental illnesses and all of whom have overcome them with an obnoxious degree of success. Magazine articles declare that this or that celebrity has a mood disorder and, with the help of millions of dollars, is dealing with it in an inspirational way. Between the articles are advertisements for psychotropic medication. Depression seems always to be characterized by a pretty woman with a pinched expression and a cloud over her head, who becomes a joyful nurturing mother to her children with the aid of this or that antidepressant. Schizophrenics always seem to appear as men in these ads and are turning pots on a wheel or painting great pictures with expressions of concentrated fulfilment.

Once in a while a friend or acquaintance will mention, sotto voce, that they have been treated for a mental illness, usually depression, and, like an immigrant from the same disgraced motherland, I will whisper that I have, too.

“I’m going to write an article about it,” I tell a friend. She frowns skeptically. I am always going to write an article about something.

“Go for it,” she says. “Just don’t use your real name.” The irony of this washes over us both, but she is adamant.

“You know I don’t judge you,” she says, “but the world is the world. Some people will.”

Some people will. And I would like to use an alias — perhaps some elegant literary name. Lots of literary people seem to have had mental illnesses. Signing my name to this article will feel like signing off on my car loan — irrevocable, scary and a little exhilarating.

Having a mood disorder is something that is true about me. It is also true of me that I lose my keys and glasses almost every day, that I will forget your face in five minutes but I will never forget something important that you tell me, that I am woefully untidy and that I like to pile my bills in a secret stash behind the clock on my mantelpiece. It is also true of me that I am fiercely loyal, that I love and respect animals, that I am profoundly dedicated to the well-being of children, and that I always champion the underdog because I know what it feels like to be one.

I have a mental illness called Bipolar Disorder Type II. Sadly, this is the only thing I have in common with Catherine Zeta-Jones. I am better off than many if not most of my fellow mental patients. My illness is treatable and I have resources at my disposal. I have never been among those who cannot hide this truth about themselves.

My name is Amanda Rogers and I am one of four and a half million Canadians who have a mental illness. I stand shoulder to shoulder with them all, and, with your help, we will not be ashamed.”

-By Amanda Rogers.

 

Please drop me an email on themanicyears@gmail.com if you want to take part and be featured in “Sharing Stories”, if you have a story to tell or you just want to share your thoughts about your experiences with mental health. I am so proud of everyone who has contributed and who has joined me in this journey so far, and I do hope our army gets stronger. A bigger voice. A fight to speak louder. – M

Follow the Sharing Stories facebook page! – The Manic Years – Sharing Stories of Mental Health

“Sharing Stories” – So it Begins and will Begin Again (and Again and Again and Again), by Jennifer.

Why do they put leather couches in Shrink offices? Leather isn’t comfortable. It’s stiff, squeaky; no give in the cushion. My legs both jiggle up and down and the couch squeaks like a rat trapped by a big, fat cat.

The big, fat cat is sitting at her desk, her smartphone is in one hand, her laptop open on the desk in front of her, and her glasses have slid down her nose. How many quacks does she see a day? How do I rank on her list of nutsos? I pick at my cuticles for a few moments, then proceed to bite my red, calloused knuckle. I often alternate between these two nervous habits, along with the leg shaking. I must look insane. Well, that’s why I’m here, anyways.

“So how has the anxiety been lately?” The big, fat cat asks; her words make me jump and shrink back into the stiff leather. I pick my cuticles again; my legs shake quicker. I’m always shocked to hear someone speak of my weaknesses so frankly, like she’s asking how the weather is outside or something. It’s only a dark demon that’s gnawed at my insides for as long as I can remember.

“Um, okay…I haven’t had any panic attacks in a month…there was some stress at work, and I think I handled it okay. I’m still…picking…excessively.” My face flushes at such an obvious fact, as the big, fat cat has been looking down her nose at me this whole time and could clearly hear the couch squeaking with my fear. She just nods her head.

“That’s partly from your OCD. But your Panic Disorder seems to be doing much better. Now if we can just help you with your General Anxiety Disorder. And have you been dealing with much Depression lately?”

“Mmm,” I respond, trying to gather the thoughts that swirl through my head like a flushing toilet. “My depression…comes and goes…I’ll be happy, I’ll be calm, then it hits me…random.”

“Are you sure it’s random? Can you think of some times when it’s happened?”

“Mmm…driving in the car…watching tv…laying in bed…umm…I guess when I have nothing else to do but think.” She smiles like I reached some great conclusion and I want to bite her nose, bite her nose off and watch those glasses fall down onto her desk in a clatter of plastic and blood and cartilage.

“Are you still doing your relaxation techniques?” She asks. She’s tapping the keys of her laptop now; my cuticle has started to bleed. I let a frustrated sigh escape from my mouth.

“Meditation every night before bed…progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, deep breathing, mindfulness…yoga twice a week… half hour of cardio the rest of the days…I drink my tea when I feel like I need to relax, or take a hot bath, or watch one of my musicals, or read a book. I’m the most diligent relaxer who can’t relax….” My voice shakes the more I speak, and I’m fighting back tears.

Professional athletes work on their sport every day religiously, and are supported by a sponsor. My professional sport is trying to relax, and my sponsor is my big, fat cat shrink. She pays me in pills. We’ve decided to up my Klonopin to 3 times a day and increase my Cymbalta by 10mg. She pays me well — the lousier you are at this sport, the better you’re paid.

The appointment lasted 15 minutes and with my insurance costs me a $70 copay. I make another appointment for four weeks later and drive home. I feel defeated and the depression starts to set in. I pop in my relaxation music CD that you’re not supposed to listen to while driving because some people are stupid and fall asleep. I can’t sleep unless I’m in my own bed and have taken my meds. I start to take shaky breaths, as slow as I could, remembering to pause at the bottom of each breath because there have been times where I’ve hyperventilated and had to pull over to the side of the road.

My dark demon gnaws and gnaws at my stomach as I try to focus on the road and my breath.

 

***

 

For the first 20 years of my life, I was simply labeled a “worrywart,” and “sensitive.” I was considered “normal.” And I really believed I was normal. I mean, I had friends, boyfriends, went out and had fun with them, got great grades. There were times I really was happy. But that nagging, unexplained fear was always in the back of my head. But after a lifetime of feeling that way, and finding no relief in sharing my feelings with others, I simply learned to hide the worry, which turned out to be pretty easy.

Most of the time I had no reason for my worries. I felt like I was about to go up on stage before a large crowd, but I’d be sitting on the couch watching television. Other times I had a laundry list of problems with teachers, friends, family…things that most people would simply be stressed about became a life and death conflict to me, and I’d constantly obsess over them.

Before, when I was worried or nervous, my Ma’d do everything in her power to reassure me. Mostly she relied on childish whimsy and magic to try and comfort me. I had “magic” everything that my mother swore would make me feel better. Magic stones, little magic chicks and doggies, magic leaves, and other little trinkets…she’d teach me magical sayings I was supposed to repeat over and over to protect myself from harm: “I’m surrounded by the White Light. Nothing can harm me physically, mentally, or spiritually.” She had other sayings she’d repeat over and over for comfort, like, “it’s always darkest before dawn,” or, “good things come to those who wait.” I took the darkest before dawn thing literally, since I was usually already awake worrying by then. I’d sit in the dark and wait to see how dark it’d get before dawn, and I was kinda confused that it never seemed to get that dark.

 

Nothing ever helped though.

 

She tried to get me to believe in the magic of religion, but even as small as I was then I never really bought into it. Ma always told me to pray — that God would fulfill my wishes and make me feel better. But the worry never went away. God apparently never listened to me.

I feared death since an early age; my grandmother became very sick with kidney disease when I was 5. She was dead by the time I turned 7. It was the first time I’d seen my mother cry. She was never the same after that. After grandma died I heard a lot of, “pray to grandma, say ‘grandma help me.’ She’ll help you.” But Grandma never seemed to listen to me, either.

When I was 12 I started getting piercing headaches, and a combination of Motrin and Sudafed seemed to be the only cure. Ma would say I’d wait too long to take the meds and that’s why my headaches would become so debilitating. So the moment I felt the symptoms begin – a tightness in my shoulders and temples – I’d pop the pills. I didn’t realize until years later that these were tension headaches from my constant stress. Before I knew it, I was self-medicating my anxiety with Motrin and Sudafed, taking the maximum daily dose most days. I don’t think Ma really noticed. After my grandmother’s death, it was as if her perfect, shiny veneer that I’d gaze into for solace had cracked, and through the years the crack spread more and more. She was able to help me less and less, because by then she could barely help herself.

During high school, I began skipping meals because my nerves always made me feel nauseous, and began to work out for hours every day to try and distract myself from the worry. Even when I dropped 35 pounds the summer I turned 14 and was skin and bones, nobody seemed to notice my downward spiral. I was still “normal.” Even when I would sit in the kitchen at 3AM staring at a bottle of Motrin, thinking what would happen if I would just swallow the whole bottle. I’ve always feared death. I could never have the guts to kill myself. But I’d feel so overwhelmed that I’d wish for it.

By college I had my first stomach ulcer. I went away to college and found myself feeling more alone than ever. I had run away from my hometown, thinking that if I left then my problems would stay behind. I learned quickly that you can’t run away from your problems. My stomach ulcer made it even harder for me to eat. It seemed the demon had finally gnawed through my stomach lining, and I noticed It began to move throughout my body.

The panic attacks began around this time. The nerves would simply grow and grow to the point where I began to tremble, and the gnawing demon began to eat at my heart; I felt like I was having a heart attack. My heart was pounding in a desperate attempt to fight off this demon, and my panic grew by leaps and bounds. Each breath came faster and faster, like feet trying to run away as fast as they could from this demon inside me. The demon would move up to my brain, with the debilitating headaches leaving me paralyzed in my bed.

It got to the point where I laid in bed day and night. I would call into work and skip classes. My friends began to notice the change in me. When I visited my parents, I’m pretty sure they decided to ignore the change.

More and more family members, and even some childhood friends, began to die; more and more my Ma assured me at night over the phone that if I prayed to them then they’d help me. To Ma, there was this army of the dead just biding their time until they could be of service to any of us. By this time I was an Atheist and only humored her.

I was starting to notice that she was using on herself the same old reassurances that she used on me. I noticed she started to get more headaches, to withdraw more into herself, eat less, exercise more. It was like looking into a mirror. I couldn’t remember when she’d started to act this way or think this way. I couldn’t figure out if she had been copying my actions, or vice versa. She also started to seem to resent me. She looked to me for the same consolations she used to give me, and I found it impossible to help her in the way that she wanted me to.

One day while we were driving back to my college after a home visit my whole body went numb. My vision was blurry. I could feel the demon start to gnaw at me. The air in the car was stifling. I felt like throwing up, and could tell I would start to hyperventilate soon.

“Ma, dad, I have something to tell you.” My voice was barely above a whisper as I picked and picked at my cuticles. My shaking legs were uncontrollable at this point. “I think there’s something seriously wrong with me.” I wasn’t prepared for Ma’s reaction.

 

“I’ll say there’s something wrong with you! Are you on drugs!? Or are you pregnant!?

 

I couldn’t even register the bitter words she had hurled at me so cruelly. I was at the apex of my disease, standing at the precipice of a cliff, fighting so hard with myself not to fall off, and here it seemed my mom was trying to push me straight into the valley of jagged rocks below.

 

“No! No! There’s something wrong with…my body…I’m always…feeling worried…I’ve been having…these feelings…my body…is acting…weird…I can’t think…I can’t think straight…I can’t eat…sleep…there’s something…something wrong.”

 

Then my dad, who had been virtually silent on this matter my entire life, saved me:

 

“We’ll make an appointment with the doctor as soon as possible,” he said. “We’ll get you help.”

 

At that point my tears were uninhibited and my body began to tingle with sensation for the first time in forever. Was this the feeling of relief?

The doctor diagnosed me immediately. I was flabberghasted that my lifelong ailment was so simply decided. I was referred to a counselor and a psychiatrist and then began the long, long years of behavioral therapy, and the terror that is the trial and error of different kinds of meds.

Everyone’s body is different and reacts to medications different. The “wrong” med can make you feel the following: suicidal, extreme versions of your original symptoms, unbearable pain all over your body, fatigue so extreme you can barely move, unabated energy where you spend your nights cleaning your entire house twice over until dawn, etc., etc. As I switched from med to med, I cycled through all these issues to the point where I began to wonder if it was even worth it.

However, when I finally found the right combo of meds, it was like putting on prescription glasses for the first time. The whole world becomes sharp and clear, and you’re shocked to realize that you’d been living in a blur this whole time.

My counselor taught me all of my “coping” mechanisms, the relaxation techniques that I’d have to use daily, sometimes several times a day, sometimes all throughout the day, in order to survive my life. She was the one who told me for the first time that the way I’d felt my entire life was never normal. I was shocked. Apparently, since I’d always felt that way, it was impossible to realize it wasn’t normal.

After 3 years of counseling, it was decided I had learned all I could from her. I cried on my last day. “I feel like I’ll be fighting this all my life, no matter what I do,” I lamented, and she leaned over and rested a cool hand on my forearm.

“I hate to admit it, but you may be right. Sometimes things balance themselves out eventually and you don’t have to stay on the meds, but sometimes you have to struggle your whole life.”

I stared down at my jiggling thighs and bit at my knuckle.

“Deep breaths,” my counselor quietly commanded, and I started yet another mini-battle with my breath. My whole life would be a war full of both mini-battles such as simply controlling my breath, and large battles such as the mental health crisis I suffered in college.

For many years, I went on and off the meds. I’d start to feel better, think to myself, “I’m cured!”, get off the meds, and feel ok for maybe 6 months, a year…then it’d happen again. The demon would return and start to gnaw deep inside me again. I would always feign ignorance until I got into crisis mode, where I knew I had no choice but to get back on the meds. Once none of my relaxation techniques worked, but actually made me feel worse, that’s when I knew I was in trouble and would book an appointment with the doctor.

I’ve been seeing the big, fat cat psychiatrist for about a year now. Yet another crisis last year, after about a year off my meds, made me finally come to terms with the fact that this would probably be a life-time struggle. We found to my dismay that the previous meds I was on were no longer effective. I hadn’t expected that. My magical pills wouldn’t work? I had to suffer through the trial and error again? Fear wracked my body.

However, the big, fat cat was good at her job, and we found a pretty good combination fairly fast. We have to adjust the dosages a lot, and I still may have to end up switching meds eventually, but I’m at least out of my crisis mode.

 

***

 

I park my car outside my house and slowly haul myself out, my work bag dragging behind me. “Another day I escaped death,” I sarcastically sigh to myself. There’s a bridge on my way home from work and I struggle every day not to drive off of it. I once heard an old man say that phrase once — “Another day I escaped death” — and I thought it befitting to my own situation, so I say it now every day when I make it home from work. I trudge up the stairs, my dog prancing with happiness behind me until I feed him dinner and he takes his typical after-dinner nap. My husband works evenings; I’ll be alone again tonight.

I flop onto the couch and kick off my heels. I try to focus on the feelings resounding through my body — my feet feeling freed from the confines of the heels, the feel of the soft microfiber cushions of the couch supporting my body. I scan each of limbs, my neck, my torso, my hips, my face, focusing on which part of me is tense, and working hard to relax each section of me. It’s like turning a hard, plastic doll into a soft, stuffed one.

By the time I feel loose enough and my breath is under control I shimmy out of my work clothes and change into my workout clothes to get in my 30 minutes on the elliptical while I watch TV. I run the bathtub with my aromatherapy bath soap and slip into the tub, a towel cushioning the back of my neck, and turn on my tablet to read the news.

Another day I didn’t give in. Another day I didn’t die. Tomorrow a new day, and a new battle, will begin.

So it begins, and will begin again (and again and again and again).

-By Jennifer.

 

Jennifer suffers with Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder and OCD, and is married to a partner who has Bipolar Disorder. Her own personal journey can be found here, on her blog Vicious Butterflies.

 

 

Please drop me an email on themanicyears@gmail.com if you want to take part and be featured in “Sharing Stories”, if you have a story to tell or you just want to share your thoughts about your experiences with mental health. I am so proud of everyone who has contributed and who has joined me in this journey so far, and I do hope our army gets stronger. A bigger voice. A fight to speak louder. – M