“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

 

 

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“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” – How Bipolar type II has affected my life, by Jenna White.

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“My personal story with mental illness begins when I was 13 years old. I began to feel different than the rest of my peers and I showed signs of both depression and mania. I was put on mood stabilizers, anti-depressants and sleeping pills to quell the mood shifts. I began to self-mutilate, choke myself with scarfs and pop different pills in the medicine cabinet. Neither my Mom or Dad understood mental illness and chastised me endlessly with a hint of concern.

I began high school and in grade 10, and found the worst boyfriend I ever had. He was mentally, emotionally, sexually and physically abusive to me for a year and a half. I had grown up with abuse so I knew this was over the top but I knew how to handle it…or so I thought. I began to snort hard drugs like cocaine and speed. The boyfriend, Kyle, didn’t want me taking my medication because he didn’t believe in it. I was being broken spiritually and not getting proper help for my mental state.

At 15 I attempted suicide for the first time. I had “tried” before by popping handfuls of random medication from the cabinet but it wasn’t a serious gesture. This time I was in the bath, note written, a full bottle of Tylenol in my stomach and I was on my way. But suddenly I changed my mind and threw the bottle at my mom, evidently she made me throw up and we never spoke of it again.

Fast forward to when I am 19. My mental state was so terrible I was having black outs with a different personality. I had been a drug addict for 4 years at that point and it was all getting to be too much. I quit drugs and moved to Toronto Ontario with a boyfriend and his kid. In Toronto I was admitted to a hospital ward for 2 weeks for a final diagnosis: Bipolar II.

From then I’ve been admitted 3 more times in two different cities. I constantly struggle with medications and dosages which cause me to go into manic and depressive states. My family, social and professional life suffers from my disorder.”

-By Jenna White.

Jenna writes about the personal struggles with having a Bipolar type II diagnosis on her blog, Brandnewbipolar.

 

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

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“Sharing Stories” – Living in Fear, by Marco.

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“I never quite appreciated anxiety when I was younger. I always figured it was just a feeling of nervousness associated with something, like an interview or a presentation. It’s only now that I realise how serious a mental issue anxiety is.

My name is Marco and I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression some 9 months ago now. I have since dealt with my depression, however my anxiety still lingers. It affects pretty much everything I do, from work to social situations to family life.

Since my diagnosis, I have been through a low intensity CBT course to try and help me out (I didn’t want any kind of medication) and have now moved onto high intensity CBT. Not only has CBT helped me recognise my thought processes that contribute towards my anxiety but it’s also made me realise that anxiety has always been present in my life. I can now look back at my childhood memories through to present day (I’m now 27) and recognise the same anxiety-influenced thought processes and behaviours. The amount of times I avoided certain situations because of fear is… well I don’t think I can put a number to it to be honest.

And that’s what anxiety is like for me. It’s like living in a constant state of fear. Fear that something will go wrong. Fear that I’ll make a fool out of myself somehow and be ridiculed. Fear that, no matter what I do, I will never be able to break out of this anxiety cycle.

Unfortunately, I think a lot of people don’t realise just how much of an effect anxiety has on everyday life – an opinion I’ve more than likely formed based on my own complete ignorance to the issue in the past. For me, it affects my work, not only because I find it incredibly difficult to focus on what I’m doing, but also because I find it incredibly difficult to form relationships with those I work with. It affects my social life in that I find it almost impossible to truly be myself in social situations unless the people around me belong to my absolute closest of friends. It affects my ability to relax because I constantly feel like I’m running out of time and that, if I don’t do something with my time, everyone I love is drifting away from me. It affects my health because it’s both mentally and physically exhausting – most of the time stopping me from sleeping properly. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Nowadays I write for my blog called Never Mind the Cancer where I talk about my life with anxiety, depression and cancer, which I had almost 5 years ago now (something I think also contributed towards my mental health issues). I write not only to help myself, but also to help those with any of those conditions realise that they’re not alone and to give them something to relate to.

I also write because I want to change the way we think about these conditions. If we talk about them, our understanding will grow and our fear and the stigma surrounding them will slowly diminish.”

-By Marco.

 

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

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“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

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The Manic Years “Sharing Stories” feature now has it’s own facebook page!

Please like, share and support the feature if you can to raise awareness; The Manic Years – Sharing Stories of Menatl HealthThe Manic Years – Sharing Stories of Mental Health

So far, the stories have inspired people, reached out to many and succeeded on expressing a multitude of turmoil that is so hard to put in to words for sufferers who experiences mental health difficulties.

It is so valuable to others who are lost that those who have experienced mental disorders speak out about our feelings and our realities. Sharing not only makes it okay, makes people feel like they aren’t alone, but it also gives people something to relate to. It is the key to understanding when we are suffering. Speaking up, and speaking louder can save lives.

The ‘Sharing Stories’ feature will continue to do that, and I have many hopes that each and every one of your experiences will connect to someone, somewhere in the world and give them not just the knowledge they need for understanding what they are going through, but also the comfort they need to carry on and the confidence to speak out themselves.

Please drop me an email on themanicyears@gmail.com if you want to take part and be featured on the blog, if you have a story to tell or you just want to share your thoughts about your experiences. They matter, so much. 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.

“Sharing Stories” – Battling Depression; the aftermath of Bullying, by Samantha Walkden.

sharing stories, the manic years

“My name is Sam. I’m 23. And I suffer with depression. I was diagnosed in 2011, at the age of 19, although I have recovered and relapsed a few times since then. To be honest people had been raising concerns about my mental health since I was about 16, but society has some pre-conceived notion that “children and young people can’t be depressed because they don’t have anything to be depressed about” and because of that I believed that I couldn’t be, that I wasn’t old enough to be depressed. There is still very much a stigma surrounding mental illness – particularly that of young people – which means that many people are not diagnosed early enough, and go on struggling far longer than they should. I am going to share two very different experiences with depression in the hope that others can find courage, strength, or even comfort from the knowledge that they aren’t alone in their suffering, that someone else understands.

 

Episode 1

My first major depressive episode started just before the end of my first year at university. My flatmates (and friends) had started going out without me and then making excuses when I asked them about it. With only a few weeks to go before the end of the year this wouldn’t have been a problem had I not signed on to live with them the following year. I went to university 200 miles from home, and Adam (my boyfriend) was studying in Brighton, so this left me feeling very isolated and alone.

I had hoped that getting away for the summer would sort things out but none of them talked to me much over that summer. I was busy seeing friends and family and I just assumed that they were too. The start of the new year rolled around and we all moved into the house. We all (bar one) went on a big night out to celebrate being back, and I was really glad to be invited. I thought this surely showed that I was right. But then as the night progressed I found myself being left on my own a lot. The guys I was with just kept disappearing and not telling me where they were going. I was a young girl, in a nightclub, and they just kept leaving me on my own. Annoyed and a bit upset I just left. Walked home alone, and went to bed. I had expected texts and missed calls when I got up, asking me where I’d disappeared to. There were none. It was like they hadn’t even noticed I was gone.

I don’t really remember when things got so bad for me. I don’t remember what actually led to me getting so depressed I had to see a doctor. I remember that night out, and then the night that everything went horribly wrong – but I was already on my tablets by then. What happened in between is a mystery.

The decision to see the doctor was not an easy one. I had been denying that I even needed to for months. I hadn’t spoken to my dad in weeks because I was avoiding having to admit to him just how down I had become. Adam and I were fighting all the time – mainly because he wanted to go out with his friends, and I wanted him to stay in and talk to me. It was after one of these arguments that I realised I needed help. My depression was ripping my relationships apart, and I knew that I couldn’t let that happen, so the next morning I called my doctors. The university doctors had a ‘call in at about 8:30am and get an appointment the same day’ policy so I was seen that afternoon. The doctor was really helpful, he went through my symptoms and the mood questionnaire that they have to do to gauge how serious the depression is – I scored 19 out of 27, which I was told is moderate to severe depression. I was prescribed fluoxetine, referred to the university counselling service and told to come back in 4-6 weeks. My dosage would eventually be increased, and then my medication was changed, and dosage increased again before it actually began to help me, but it was a start.

As I said, the next thing I remember is when everything in my house really deteriorated. We had an electricity meter, and it had run out of credit. We would all soon be disappearing for Christmas so I just thought “I’ll stick a load on there and it should last until we get back in January”. We had a facebook page with all 6 of us in it so that we could get in touch with everyone in the house regardless of where they were. I worked out what they all owed me and just stuck a post in there asking for it back ASAP. The response was “You need to work that out between 5. Sarah doesn’t pay bills.” I was really confused. “What do you mean she doesn’t pay bills?” They had all had a house meeting, which they were adamant I was at, where Sarah had raised issue with the fact that she had one of the smaller rooms in the house but was paying the same rent and bills as the rest of us. “But Joe has a room the same size as hers?” I argued back. Apparently, he had agreed to this because he had a job. It was ridiculous. For about 3 months I had been paying 1/5th of the bills rather than the 1/6th I believed I was paying, and I wasn’t happy about it. I was angry because they hadn’t included me in this decision, and because it wasn’t fair anyway. The next thing I knew I was receiving texts from “friends” who lived in another house. I had about ten people all hurling abuse at me. I stopped answering my phone. I removed myself from the facebook page. Once they realised that I was ignoring them they came hammering on my door, shouting at me as I buried my face in my pillow and sobbed. And just like that, all the work I had put into getting better unravelled at my feet.

I cried for hours. I had a complete breakdown. And at some point I realised I needed to speak to my dad. He answered the phone and was greeted with myself sobbing so hysterically he couldn’t even understand what I was saying. I told him everything and we talked till about 4am. Just knowing that he knew made me feel better about the situation.

 

Later that same week Adam received messages from some of them.

 

“What the f*** is wrong with your girlfriend?”

 

“I don’t know what you mean.”

 

“You know exactly what I mean. She’s a complete f***ing nutter. You deserve a medal for putting up with that psycho.”

 

My dad always refers to them as bullies but these guys didn’t really terrorise me. There is one instance where they really crossed a line. I had been out for a friend’s birthday, drank way too much, passed out and had to be carried home. My friend, knowing the situation I was in at home, locked my door after she had gotten me into bed, but had to leave the keys outside my room. So my housemates decided that it would be really funny to trash my room. They threw toilet paper, and cotton buds, and teabags all over the room. They took my tampons out of the wrappers and threw them everywhere. They ripped open teabags and emptied the leaves in my bed, and all over the floor. They put the microwave in there, and one of their bikes. I woke up and my room was a bombsite. They saw it as a joke. I didn’t. I ended up living there until the end of the year (because I couldn’t afford to get out of the contract) and they never went out of their way to make my life miserable. I did a good enough job of that myself and seeing them made me feel worse so I just avoided them, isolating myself even further. A couple of them did try to speak to me a few times but I just wasn’t interested.

The following months were the lowest of my life. I went to hardly any lectures, didn’t do any of my assignments and skipped my exams. Eventually I failed the year. Being in the house made things worse, and I tried to be there as little as possible, resulting in my being at work a lot. And on days when I couldn’t even get out of bed to go to work I would ring in sick. I rang in sick a lot. I would lie in bed with TV shows like Supernatural or Criminal Minds on my laptop, but I wasn’t really watching them. Even now Adam will say “but you must remember that happening back in season 4” and I just don’t. I was getting through 11 or 12 episodes a day, just staring blankly at the screen. And this was a good day. I would leave my room to wash my clothes and go to work. I was eating at work, and if I wasn’t working then I was living on the stash of crisps and things I kept in my room. I’d ended up with the en suite so using the bathroom wasn’t an issue either.

When things were a little worse I’d leave my bed to use the bathroom, and that’s it. I once just lay there for 4 or 5 days. I didn’t eat, didn’t shower – I literally just lay in bed in front of my laptop, and when I went to sleep I’d just put it on the floor next to my bed, ready for the following morning.

But when things were bad, they were really bad. I would scream into my pillow, and I would cry for hours. I would rake my nails down my face, or my arms, and pull handfuls of my hair, trying to pull it out. I once sat and scratched into my stomach with a sewing needle, it went a bit like a chicken scratch, rather than bleeding like I’d expected. I would throw things. I once threw my phone at the wall during an argument with Adam. On my worst days I felt worthless. I felt like I’d failed everyone, convinced that everyone was disappointed in me because of how badly I’d messed my life up. I genuinely believed that my depression was my fault. I convinced myself that everyone – Adam, my parents, my siblings, my friends – would be better off, and happier without me there to “ruin everything”. I can remember texting Adam one of these times. I told him that I felt like I had nothing left to live for, that I was a massive failure, that I’d let everyone down and was just ruining their lives with my depression. I told him that I wanted to die. His response actually jarred some sense into me. He called me, in tears, and asked how I could say that. How could I even think of doing that to him, and to my family and friends? He told me that this would be what ruined their lives, not my depression. He told me that nobody was disappointed in me because the depression wasn’t my fault, they were just worried about me. I hated hearing him cry. And I hated myself for making him cry. But what he said really did help me in the long run.

 

I don’t remember any long drawn out recovery process here. I did do a really stupid thing, and just stopped taking my meds after my mum had made a comment about how I needed to “grow a backbone, come off my meds and learn to deal with it.” I think my hope had been that I would come crashing back down and that would prove to her that I needed the meds to keep me afloat. But that didn’t happen. I was just better.

 

Episode 2

In the September of 2012 I moved into a new house, with new housemates. And the eventual relapse into depression that happened this time was basically a mirror image of the first. With 3 distinct differences. Firstly, the girls I lived with, who contributed massively to my depression, knew everything I’d been through the previous year. Secondly, they did go out of their way to make things difficult for me. Thirdly, and most importantly, I did not let depression grind me down the way it had before.

 

I thought that my depression had coincided with the deterioration of my relationship with the girls, but writing this actually reminded me that I had already begun. In March 2013 my Grandad died, after a very short battle with lung cancer. Throughout these same months, the mum of one of my housemates was also battling cancer in her uterus. At no point would any of them talk to me about my Grandad, ask me how he was doing, or how we were holding up. They felt that it was unfair to discuss my Grandad with me because thinking about cancer upset one of the girls too much. And although I didn’t want to be cold or heartless about it, my Grandad was dying, her mum (we knew by this point) was going to be fine. When he died not one of them offered an “I’m sorry” or even an ounce of sympathy, because the other girl’s mum was still having her chemo.

The downward spiral started with them leaving me out a lot, like before. They would make a big deal about getting me come and join them, only to get up and disappear, leaving me sat on my own, a short while later. When I asked them about it after this happening a few days in a row they got very defensive, and specifically mentioned things I hadn’t actually said. Then they got really nasty. A few weeks after that we were supposed to be renewing the contract to stay in the house the following year, and that they made no secret of the fact that they didn’t want to live with me anymore. I remember going to the estate agents and paying my renewal fee and signing on for the following year before they could; mainly because I was going to Brighton to stay with Adam for the summer and didn’t have time to find anywhere else to live, but also just to spite them. They didn’t really speak to me after that.

In the September, we all returned to the house. One of the girls wouldn’t stay there any more, as she said she couldn’t live in the same house as me, especially after the way I’d treated her when her mum was sick. Two of them really went to town trying to break me. I had a job requiring me to be up at 5:30am, and they knew this. It wasn’t long before the doors were slamming, and they were shouting on the landing, or playing loud music at silly o’clock, just because they knew I was getting up early. They would talk about me really loudly as if I wasn’t there, but they knew that I was. They would take my laundry out of the airing cupboard and just leave it on the floor outside my room. me because thinking about cancer upset one of the girls too much. They bought a unit for the bathroom that only had three shelves. They spent a year of their lives making it completely transparent to me that I wasn’t wanted in that house. They went out of their way to make things really horrible for me. And it worked.

As before, I went into isolation mode. I was eating out a lot. If I wasn’t at work or at uni then I was hiding in my room. I worked really hard with all my uni stuff that year, and I don’t really remember much of it. It became an ongoing cycle of getting up, going to work, going to uni/the library/the archives and then just going home and going to bed.

But that year I also had a lot to get out of bed for. My job was in a school, so I found that really fulfilling, and couldn’t really ring in sick. It was also my final year and I knew that I needed to work really hard to get the degree I’d spent 4 years working towards. But most importantly I was determined to not let myself get into the state I had been previously. I didn’t go back onto medication, although I considered it a few times. Despite the fact that I was actually being treated worse, I handled my second depression a lot better. My previous experience had provided me with the strength and resilience I needed to fight it again. When I’d been off my medication for a year I got a tattoo as a reminder that I did beat it once, and that I can beat it again. I’d been the lowest of the low and I knew that I never wanted to go back there so I fought against it, where before I had given in to it. And honestly, that really does make a difference.

 

****

 

In closing I just have a few pieces of advice for anyone out there who is struggling with depression.

 

Firstly, believe in yourself. I cannot stress enough how important this is. I know how hard it can be sometimes, but you are stronger than you think. I’ve been the lowest a person really can be, and I’m still here. I know that it might feel like the weight of your depression is crushing the life out of you, but you can fight it. You can beat it. You just need to believe that you can.

Secondly, don’t burn bridges because people “won’t understand.” Yes, it is true that unless you’ve been depressed yourself you can’t understand what it’s like, meaning that there is every chance that your boyfriend, or your mum, or your best friend can’t know exactly how you feel. But people can understand a lot more than we sometimes give them credit for and anyone who truly wants to be in your life, and anyone who is worth your time and effort, will try to understand what you’re going through. They’ll be as empathetic and as supportive as they can be, and you can’t ask any more than that. The support of Adam, and my friends and family was crucial to my recovery every single time I relapsed. So pick up your phone, go on facebook, send an email or a tweet – whatever you choose – but give that person you’ve been avoiding because “they won’t understand” a chance. They might surprise you. And if you really can’t bring yourself to do that, then please just reach out to someone.

Thirdly, do something with your day. Again, I know how difficult this can be sometimes, and I have definitely been guilty of lying around in bed and wallowing in self-pity, and you know what, that’s okay. But if you’re anything like me you might also find that this can also make you feel worse. I used to berate myself all the time for wasting the day and being unproductive, for not eating or changing my clothes. It was like I was fighting a losing battle. One minute my mind is telling me that I can’t get out of bed, that I don’t have the energy to get up and eat; and then the next it’s telling me that I’ve wasted a whole day, and that I’ll never amount to anything just lying in my bed. It’s a vicious circle I think we’ve all found ourselves in. So do something with your day. Get out of bed. Get out of those stinky horrible PJs you’ve been laying around in. Have a shower. Put on nice clean PJs and get back in bed. If that is literally all you can do in a day, do it! You’ll feel loads better just knowing that you have been productive, and I always find showers leave me feeling quite refreshed anyway. It helps. I promise.

And finally, don’t be ashamed of your depression. I’m not. It’s part of who I am, and it’s made me the person I am today. Any person who makes jokes, or treats you differently, or belittles any of the causes and reasons for your depression is not worth your time. Cut them out of your life, because you don’t need that. You didn’t choose to be depressed. You (probably) don’t enjoy being depressed. But that doesn’t change the fact that it there. Learn to live with it. Learn the signs that you’re getting low, and the best ways to deal with that. Own it. Don’t let it own you, and never ever be ashamed of who you are.”

-By Samantha Walkden.

Samantha writes about her personal encouters with depression on her blog Me, Myself and my Depression.

 

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

Speak. Louder.

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Recently, The Manic Years has had many of you emailing in your first hand experiences of what it is like to live with difficulties from a variety of backgrounds reguarding mental health. So far, the stories in the feature has inspired people, reached out to many and succeeded on expressing a multitude of inner turmoil that is so often hard to explain for some.

It is clear that attitudes towards mental health is changing, thanks to all the hard work of so many people have advocated for mental health, and the rights of those who struggle. Admitting you have a problem, and even asking for help is getting easier for some as having depression – and many more illnesses – is becoming more normalised.

However, we are still lacking in how information about mental health disorders is delivered, and many thousands, millions out there are still struggling to recognise what exactly they are suffering with;

“I can’t be Bipolar, because I am not happy, right?”

“I feel numb all the time, but it’s obviously not depression. Depression means you are sad, this must be something else.”

“I cut last night. I can’t explain why. I will just hide it and pretend like it didn’t happen.”

This is something I have come across (and even felt myself) over the years. People are being misinformed. People are not educted enough.

It is so important that we take a stand and speak out about our experiences. Go on to one of the most popular health websites, where it explains symptoms of anxiety and you get the standard list of symptoms; Heart racing, sweating, shortness of breath. Worry….

Can you relate this to your anxiety? Or is it so much more than that?

It seems that facts and figures aren’t enough, what does this information spread to our ‘non-sufferers’ out there? The people who have never experienced depression/anxiety and the rest as such?

CLASSIC SYMPTOMS; “Heart racing, sweating, shortness of breath…Worry.”

THEIR REPLY; “Just take some water. Sit down. Stop over thinking things! Problem solved.

Do you see the issue here?

Sometimes there is no logic behind mental health. There is no one solution. It is so much more. Anxiety is so much more than worry. Depression is so much more than feeling sad. Bipolar is so much more than a sad/happy state. Self-injury is so much more than an act of agression towards one’s self. If people who have never really fully experienced the wrath of psychological problems, then why should we expect people to recognise what is happening to them when they do get ill?

It is so valuable to others who are lost that those who have experienced mental disorders speak out about our feelings and our realities. Sharing not only makes it okay, makes people feel like they aren’t alone, but it also gives people something to relate to. It is the key to understanding when we are suffering. Speaking up, and speaking louder can save lives.

The ‘Sharing Stories’ feature will continue to do that, and I have many hopes that each and every one of your experiences will connect to someone, somewhere in the world and give them not just the knowledge they need for understanding what they are going through, but also the comfort they need to carry on and the confidence to speak out themselves.

Please drop me an email on themanicyears@gmail.com if you want to take part and be featured on the blog, if you have a story to tell or you just want to share your thoughts about your experiences. They matter, so much. 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 x

“Sharing Stories” – Life after Death, by Sommer Phlipot.

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“There is a song by The Lumineers. It’s called Deadsea. There is a verse that really spoke to me at a time where I was at a significant crossroads;

 

“Yes, there are times we live for somebody else Your father died and you decided to live It for yourself you felt, you just felt it was time And I’m glad, cause you with cats, that’s just not right.”

 

My Father died and I had decided to live my life for myself. That’s exactly what I did. And boy did that open the mother of all cans of worms. I had sloppy execution and made some decent mistakes. But in the end it worked out for the better. I found my true self. I found happiness.

Up until then I had lived a life of people pleasing. I feared upsetting people through my words or actions so I carefully walked the line. I settled and accepted less of myself for the sake of others. I sacrificed my mental health out of fear of being judged as weak and incapable. I feared acknowledging my demons for they may consume me. Lead me into a room of darkness. Never to return. Loosing everything. More than once I was willing to trade my life for peace.

I bottled everything up. Placed the jars neatly on a shelf. Bottle after bottle. Jar after jar. Each labeled with some personal cryptic Dewey Decimal system. All organized and precariously stacked. I had done this since I was an elementary aged child. Once in a while a jar would slip off. Shattering into a million pieces. I’d be distraught in my attempt to hurriedly sweep it under the preverbal rug. Shards rising from the fibers.

I was almost 30 when my Father died. After he left, the entire storage system fell apart. The jars started falling off the shelf in rapid fire pace. I kept trying to catch them. It was so overwhelming. I slowly began to implode. I couldn’t keep the sadness hidden. I couldn’t ‘people please’ anymore. I was cloaked in apathy and I didn’t care what a single person thought of me. Not one.

I cried. I let it out. And, to my disappointment, it fell onto blank stares. No support. Nothing. So I gave up. I lost all inhibition. I continued not to care. I lost a dramatic amount of weight which was again met with blank stares. So I started over. I decided to live my life for myself. And I did. I walked away.

Three years after my Dad died I asked for help. For myself. It was the scariest moment of my life. I had never felt so vulnerable and empowered. I showed up at the hospital and they gave me a counselor. She put me in a 12 week DBT program then she and I began to meet weekly. I cried a lot. Accepted that medication would complement my treatment plan. I met with additional psychologist who diagnosed me with depression, anxiety and PTSD. Hearing the diagnosis was difficult. I felt labeled and damaged. But I continued with my weekly sessions. They transitioned to bi-weekly and then monthly over time. At some point my counselor referred me to an induvial who specialized in anxiety. He sealed the deal. I met with him weekly, then bi-weekly, monthly then bi-monthly. I felt brave. I felt in control of what can’t be controlled. I had controlled the power to accept it. I accepted my ever present anxiety, learned to harness it at times and let it run its course during other times. I’ve accepted that I’m susceptible to depression. And that allowing the depressed moods to run their course is much healthier than fighting it, pushing it away, placing it in a jar.

It’s such a sad and heavy burden to feel alone while surrounded by people. It’s still here at times. It can be overwhelming. The difference is I’m not adding to the damage that’s been done. I’m able to cope with most curveballs thrown my way. Some take longer to catch than others. I’m able to talk about it. Own it. But the old wounds are there. They seep sadness into my days. I’ve learned that I just have to allow it and then mindfully redirect my thoughts back to the present. Because the present is where life is lived.”

-By Sommer Phlipot.

You can follow Sommer’s personal journey with mental health and self-improvement on her blog here at The Green Glasses.

 

Themanicyears is still looking for people to share their stories! If you have an experience with Mental Health you would like to share on here, please do not hesitate to drop me an email on themanicyears@gmail.com, and get your story published on our “Sharing Stories” feature. – M.