Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

Identity Post Number 1,233,459

Tales-of-mere-Existence-Who-the-Hell-Am-I-by-Levni-Yilmaz

I’ve addressed this issue many times on this blog.  I honestly thought that once I figured it all out, I would know who I am and that would be that.  Searching over.  Questions no more.  But if I have learned one thing in my journey it’s that the self is not this static thing we label one day and just stick in our pockets to keep.  The self, I believe, is constantly changing.  Evolving.  (I have no research or scientific wisdom to support this statement.  Although, now I do feel like a little research . . .)

But as I was walking over the weekend, I was thinking about who I am.  I realized I didn’t have an answer.  I know who I used to be, and I know who I wanted to be. 

I was a successful doctoral candidate who taught part-time at a local community college. I was working on my writing and was successful in seeing a couple essays published.  I knew what I wanted to accomplish as far as a book was concerned.  I considered myself kick ass strong for recovering from anorexia and for not letting the news about my cardiac state completely bowl me over.  I was a Christian who was learning about Buddhist principles and practices and was starting my own meditation practice.  I loved to read, write, knit, paint, and play the piano.  I loved coffee shops, both with friends and by myself.  I had goals I wanted to achieve and plans on how to get there.  I thought I would be a successful writer, a tenured professor, and active in my community.

I did not expect to be 37 and living with my parents and not working at all. Forget the tenure track positions.  I’m not a successful writer.  And I’m too anxious to be active in my community right now.  I still read.  I can’t remember the last time I used my creative energy for something beyond Facebook and my journal. 

Who the hell am I?  I’m someone who would easily be able to sleep all day.  I’m someone who doesn’t feel like doing most anything.  I am reliant on other people for all my needs.  I am “a contributing member of society.”  I sit down to write and nothing is there.  I feel like the people who could help me with this are all back in MO and I’m not able to contact them, and I’m not settled enough in NY to have built up a reliable treatment team that I fully trust.  (I mean, I haven’t even been here three months, and trust isn’t exactly something I just pluck off of a tree.)

And I guess I wish I had the answer.  The solution.  I am using Rick Warren’s What on Earth Am I Here For? as a devotional.  My meditation practice is starting to find a place in my daily life again.  And I’m doing everything I know how to do to “get better.”  It would just be a whole lot easier if I could do that today. 

But I guess I am in a period of change and evolution and growth.  And while it is not comfortable, it is necessary.  What I need to do is remember to keep breathing and remember to keep myself open to the world around me.  And remember to not try to force the direction I am going or how I am going to get there.

 

*****I would also like to encourage questions, or ideas for future entries.  Leave them in a comment or message me.*****

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August 28, 2014 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, faith, feelings, heart, identity, mindfulness, progress, recovery, therapy | 1 Comment

pituitary, prolactin, procedures, and . . . possibility?

Early this morning I had my first CT scan with iodine contrast.  I don’t like the iodine bit, but lying motionless for several minutes with noises around my head–I’ve got that one down.  Three or four weeks after I moved back home, I started experiencing a cluster of symptoms that I have always associated with iron deficient anemia–and I’ve always been really good at knowing when I’ve been anemic.  Well, Doctor #1 told me that all the symptoms were from depression.  Doctor #2 believed me when I said this was different from depression.  Psychiatrist Doctor agreed with me.  So they took several vials of blood, and anything pointing to anemia was good. 

My prolactin level was off, however.  By itself, not really that big a deal.  Elevated prolactin levels could be caused by two of my medications.  But my psychiatrist is doubtful since I’ve been on those medications at those doses for a rather significant amount of time and all my levels have been fine in the past.  So we went ahead with further testing.  The CT scan was looking for a pituitary adenoma, which would explain every symptom I’ve been complaining about.  Almost all adenomas are benign and can be treated with medications. 

I’m not worried about having an adenoma.  I’m worried about not having one. 

During the CT scan, I kept repeating, “Please find something please find something please find something.”  I’ll be relieved if the scan comes back positive.  I want something to be wrong with me.  Something I can point to on a picture and say, “Right there.  That is what’s causing everything.  And this is how we’re going to fix it.”  Sometimes I am so tired of having Bipolar Disorder.  I want something concrete to point to and blame for all the ups and downs.  I want to be able to say, with some assurance, that this is what we’re doing to treat it–and it’s working. 

I know that mental illnesses are “real” and that they are just as “physical” as my heart disease.  I advocate for mental health parity and try to encourage individuals to seek treatment and be open about their struggles.  But sometimes to not have to explain everything, to say “I’m Bipolar” and have the other person nod in understanding would be nice.  It would be nice to have everyone believe me when I say that I can’t just will myself out of it, that I can’t just smile and pretend everything’s fine, that some medications work and some medications don’t and it depends on the particular doses and the combination and they can just stop working at anytime. 

Sometimes this whole journey is so exhausting and my motivation starts leaking out of me.  Maybe some day, they’ll be able to diagnose and cure Bipolar Disorder with a CT scan and a given medication that has proven reliable and effective.  And maybe someday insurance companies will agree that mental illnesses are actual illnesses and will agree to cover them equally. 

Until then, I’ll probably just keep hoping for positive tests results.

August 22, 2014 Posted by | bipolar disorder, Communication, coping, depression, faith, health, heart, identity, Mental Health Parity, progress, recovery, responses | Leave a comment

suicide

This post is partly stole from Facebook.  These are two of my comments in reply to a friend’s discussion about suicide:

 

 What do we say when people die of cancer? “At least he’s not in pain anymore.” That doesn’t mean we condone cancer. Depression, like X has said, is an illness. A physical illness caused by chemicals that can be genetic. And yes, because depression originates in the brain, being severely depressed affects the brain. This is why “children at risk” are often failing in school–not because they’re dumb or stupid or lazy, but because the signs of childhood and adolescent depression are different and people are ignoring the problem, and then the student can’t focus in class, or doesn’t have the motivation to read “Great Expectations.” And depression is known to affect memory, so tell a student with depression to memorize Spanish conjugations and see how effective that is. And yes, severe depression–in all ages–affects the ability to reason and think through situations. And I’ve been there multiple times, where suicide seems like THE LOGICAL choice, and the only reason I’m here is because my treatment team stepped in and took me to the hospital, and as the depression was treated, I began to think “THAT was a logical option?” I like to explain it to people this way: 99% of my brain absolutely knows for sure that I never want to commit suicide. But severe depression sneaks in and convinces that other 1% that it’s the best option. So now I’m not only fighting depression, but I’m fighting suicidal thoughts as well. And as time goes on, I get more and more tired, more and more confused, and less and less attached to reality–and I do mean that literally. I CANNOT process what is real and what is not. I cannot understand the ramifications of suicide at that point; all I know is that I am in such intense pain that I crave release and freedom. No, I don’t endorse suicide. But like, X, I empathize with the sufferers. And I don’t judge them. I judge the society that thinks depression can just be controlled by the mind. I judge the society that makes finding treatment so difficult. I judge the society who calls suicide selfish–which only makes the people suffering from mental illness feel shame and guilt and results in them keeping their shame secret until they can’t hold onto it anymore. We NEED to talk about this. We NEED to listen to what the victims are telling us. We NEED to find a way to be courageous enough to step up and help them.

  (In response to a comment that implied I had called someone judgmental.) I didn’t mean to imply that you in particular were judging people. But I do know that society as a whole judges people with mental illness, especially those who commit suicide. I’m not advocating for suicide; I’m advocating for reliable, adequate, and available treatment for those with a mental illness so that they stand a chance of fighting hell. Because I do think that suicide is unavoidable for some, because they do not receive support, care, treatment, or other options. But telling people suicide is selfish or implying that people who attempt suicide are weak hurts the general population because it only incites the current stigma attached with mental health. perhaps if Mental Health Parity actually existed, we wouldn’t be having these discussions. But until Parity is an actuality, we need to discuss this in an open manner.

(now non-facebook rambling)

When I say that “I do think that suicide is unavoidable for some” I am not encouraging suicide.  But imagine being diagnoses with rare genetic heart disease (oh.  wait.  that’s right–I have been diagnosed with just that very thing) and then being told, “I’m sorry, there’s nothing we can do to help you, either in this very moment or in the future.  Please figure this out on your own.”  I have had friends with heart disease that could not be treated and death was just a matter of time.  But doctors jumped in anyway and monitored progress, trying to make life as pain-free as possible, trying to give the patient as much life as possible. 

But here’s the scary thing:  I have walked out of a doctor’s office after telling him I was thinking of suicide, listening to his words over and over: “It can’t be that bad.”  Nothing to help me deal with the immediate stress.  Nothing to help treat the underlying problem that could possibly prevent future moments of such stress. 

This happens more than one would think. My immediate thought was: what can I do to show the doctor I mean it?  How could I prove that it really was “that bad.”  My thoughts generally ran along these lines:  I could cut myself and then go to the ER for stitches.  I could take some extra meds that will make me sleepy but not kill me but go to the ER and say I overdosed.  I could lose more weight.  If I do kill myself, at least he’ll believe me.

Judgment and stigma do exist.  (I have been told many times that it doesn’t exist, I’m just over-sensitive.)  Here are comments I’ve had thrown at me:

  • Can’t you just smile for awhile?
  • Is it really all that bad?
  • You’ve got to choose happiness over sadness.
  • You’re doing this for attention.
  • You know you’re going to hell for attempting suicide.  (said by a nurse on the night of my suicide attempt as I was throwing up charcoal.)
  • Well, I don’t know what to tell you.  Seems like an easy decision to me.
  • Buck up!

There are more.  And I’m sure others have heard similar comments, either by the general public or from professionals. 

Someone should not have to prove he’s in pain.  And yet the majority of society expects just that. 

I read one article that said we should glorify Robin Williams’ life and not discuss his suicide on social media in case it encourages copy-cat suicides.  I agree.  We need to glorify Robin Williams’ life.  But I do not agree that we should be silent about the suicide.  We need to be careful about how it is presented, but if we don’t talk about it at all, we don’t start talking about solutions.  And shove mental illness into the dark, bringing up shame in those suffering from it. 

Suicide needs to be discussed.  Not by judging or shaming those who have attempted or committed suicide.  Suicide needs to be discussed because people need to be aware that our schools–K through 12–are filled with students who have already considered suicide as an option, but don’t dare talk about their pain. 

It is not going to go away if we sit here in silence.  No one will get better.  No lives will be saved. 

 

August 13, 2014 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Communication, coping, death, depression, Eating Disorders, guilt, heart, identity, Mental Health Parity, progress, recovery, responses, Robin Williams, self harm, shame, suicide, therapy | 1 Comment

grief and . . . anger

Warning: another controversial post ahead!

Robin Williams has always been one of my favorite actors, and his comedic roles always manage to make me laugh, something that recently only The Big Bang Theory has been able to do.  It saddens me that he had to endure such pain on a daily basis and fight so many demons.  I feel sorry that he had reached a point where the demons won and he no longer saw a strong enough reason to continue fighting that pain.  I do not judge him, for I have been there.  I wish no one ever has to experience such pain.

 

But I am also feeling angry right now.  Not towards him.  But towards the media.  Robin Williams will be The Thing on news channels and talk shows for a bit.  A psychologist will say how someone in his position was still vulnerable to depression and addiction and they will praise Williams for openly speaking about these things. 

But what about all the “normal” non-famous people who experience this same pain and fight these same demons on a daily basis?  What about the individuals who fight so long that they cannot endure anymore and commit suicide?  Why is there no media attention there?  Why doesn’t a talk show bring a psychologist on to discuss how depression affects children, teenagers, adults, and geriatric patients in all walks of life and in all careers?  Why does no one talk about how sad it is that someone feels that suicide is the only option every single day? 

Maybe I’m being too harsh, given as how it is just “the next day.”  But I’ve watched a lot of news channels and read the newspapers.  No one is mentioning that this is a world wide epidemic that is killing people every day.  No one is discussing how extremely difficult it is for us non-famous, non-rich people to find treatment.  Mental Health Parity hasn’t been discussed.  Neither has the fact that some of these deaths could be prevented if the individual had appropriate treatment?  (I realize there is no 100% cure rate for mental illnesses.)  When I moved to New York, it took over six weeks to find a therapist who was taking new patients and was willing to deal with my insurance.  And these six weeks in New York had followed two months in Missouri of searching online and getting referrals and making phonecalls and not ending up with a single lead.  I’d find therapists who would treat me if I paid $180 dollars per session, but that is just not an options for me.  “Funny”–I get a bad sore throat and I go to the doctor and my insurance covers most of the bill and most of the necessary prescriptions.  But when I start feeling suicidal, if I don’t already have a team in place, I can either go to the ER and be admitted for the mandatory 72 hour observation period or I can stay in bed and cry.  I can’t just “go to a doctor” unless I have around 300 dollars for a psychiatric consultation, and it’s rather iffy if my insurance will cover the psychiatric medication I’m prescribed. 

I hope that after this initial period of grief, someone is going to stand up and say, “Hey we can treat these illnesses and we can prevent suicide . . . but we need money to do so.”  I hope someone calls their congressional representative and pushes for Mental Health Parity.  I hope someone organizes a walk (there’s a heart walk every weekend) to raise awareness and raise money.  I hope that something good can come of this tragedy.  But I’m not all that hopeful, because we’ve all read about the stars going to rehab and needing to take psychiatric medication–and while it’s news for a week, nothing happens.  Nothing changes. 

Yes, his death was a tragedy, but now we need to talk about all the other people who are also in that same position and don’t have access to care. 

August 12, 2014 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Communication, death, depression, feelings, health, Mental Health Parity, progress, recovery, relationships, Robin Williams, self harm, suicide, therapy | 1 Comment

some regrets . . . and success

“How many times have I, in my moments of brokenness, looked at my life and seen diminished worth and value?”  I just read this quote on a To Write Love on Her Arms post.  And it was a good day to read it, for this is something I have been struggling with as of late. 

I’m 37-years-old, unemployed, living with my parents, and broke.  I am 100% completely dependent on my family right now.  This was not where I wanted to be when I turned 37.  I had imagined so much more for myself.  And I can’t help but look back on my past and say, “If I had only done X differently.”  Regrets.  I have them.

  • Regarding the anorexia, I wish I had listened to everyone and actually accepted treatment that first time in the hospital.  Or the second.  Or the third. 
  • I wish I hadn’t had to take time of off school.  At every single freaking school I went to:  my first bachelor’s (I year), my second bachelor’s (only three weeks), my master’s (one semester), and my PhD (one semester, then I went back to school, and then I left for good, no PhD in hand).
  • I wish I hadn’t attempted suicide in 1997.  I realize how much pain I caused my family and friends.
  • I wish I had been a better friend, that I had been able to exist beyond my illness.
  • I wish I had gotten better sooner.  As in “the very beginning” sooner.
  • I wish I had a PhD, and a dissertation (that’s not only in my head), and something on the market. 
  • I wish I were on the market.  The job market, that is.  Actually, I wish I was in that tenure-track position I was supposed to be in by now.

 

There are more.  All along the lines of “If you hadn’t screwed up, you’d be where you were supposed to be right now.  You’d have been successful.”

I cannot help but compare myself to friends I met along my educational path.  I cannot help but compare myself to people I admired and who I wanted to be like.  I cannot help but compare myself to my brother, a successful eye doctor.  And I feel like success is just something I’m not meant to have.

People have been reminding me of a few things:

  • I have the rest of my life ahead of me.  To do lots of things.  To reach my dreams.  I have no idea what tomorrow will bring.  And, regarding my faith, maybe this is part of the plan, and maybe this  will help me become the person I’m supposed to be.
  • As for accepting help with the eating disorder.  Maybe I could have done it differently.  But I was still just a child, and I had no idea what was ahead of me, and I had little support in key places. And I did fight enough to stay alive.  And I did eventually recover. 
  • Since recovery, I have advocated for other people, I have lobbied for mental health parity, I have written articles for some journals and newspapers regarding eating disorders. 
  • As for the ‘getting better sooner’ wish.  I did cooperate with my doctors regarding the Bipolar disorder.  I took my meds, I went in the hospital when I was told to, and I talked to my treatment team.  We all tried.  But we have found out I have a particularly difficult form of Treatment Resistant Bipolar Disorder.  We could not have sped up the progress and eventually, I ended up here, getting treatment that is effective for me.
  • As for the education:  I had to take time off of school, true.  But I do have two Bachelor’s degrees and my Master’s in Fine Arts.  And I got into the PhD program of my choice, and I learned a great deal during the time I was there.  Both personally and regarding my writing.  And I got to learn Latin. 
  • Regarding the job:  nope.  I’m not teaching right now, as I had wanted.  But I have taught successfully at two colleges, and I have read my student evaluations and my peer reviews, and I am happy with my performance.
  • I do not have a dissertation all typed up to present to a committee.  But I do know what I wanted to write, and there is no reason why I can’t write–and publish–that material now.
  • Yes, I could have been a better friend, as evidenced by the number of people who just couldn’t take any more from me and left.  But I was young.  And I made mistakes.  But I’d like to think I have since learned from those mistakes and become a better friend in the process.
  • I really wish I could erase the suicide attempt.  Just erase it completely.  And honestly, I fear this will always be a regret that haunts me.  But I did learn from that event.  I learned that I did not want to commit suicide.  So when the depression took over and the suicidal thoughts got to the point where I was scheduling my plan out in my calendar, I asked for help. 

 

Part of this is a feel-good entry for myself.  Part of it is to let people know that we all have regrets, and mental illnesses are well known for taking away confidence and self-esteem and self-worth.  I think we all need to make these lists.  Struggling for recovery can make one feel weak, but acknowledging what you have accomplished and what you may still accomplish can help in those dark moments. 

And even after recovery, there is often the regret that it took so long to recover.  To that, I ask you this:  Are you alive now?  I certainly hope so considering you’re reading this on the computer, and I’m pretty sure my posts haven’t reached the afterlife yet.  You’re alive.  And that is the greatest success of all.

 

 

August 9, 2014 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, coping, death, depression, Eating Disorders, faith, family, feelings, guilt, identity, progress, recovery, shame, suicide | 1 Comment

Yes, I will dare to address it: spirituality

Warning:  This may be one unorganized entry!  I have always had difficulty putting words to faith and spirituality without falling back on doctrinal phrases nicely printed up for me in hymnals.  But in the past six days, I have had five different people ask me about my spirituality, including whether or not it has been important to recovery.  Since I do consider spirituality to be a significant part of my life, then it has certainly impacted my recovery.

 

I kind of wish I could fall back on some pre-written doctrinal phrase and let that be it.  There was a time, when that was enough.  And part of me wants to go back to my 20-year-old self when my faith was easily defined by what I heard in chapel and the songs we sung in fellowship.  I took in what others ‘gave’ me, and that was belief. 

But I did not stay 20-years-old.  Maybe then, just accepting was all I needed.  But as I grew, and as my experiences widened, and as I met more people, I had more questions.  And “just believing” wasn’t fulfilling me anymore. 

I think what had happened was that I became disillusioned with religion.  One set of beliefs, based on ancient texts and stories, that were “good” while other texts and stories were “bad.”  I remember when my sister-in-law’s father died.  They are from Iran and are Muslim.  I remember thinking at the funeral, “What makes my prayers to God “better” than their prayers?”  And the idea that Bahman would go to hell simply because he hadn’t used the “right” words was repugnant. 

I tried to forget about it, put it on the back burner so to say.  But the question of right versus wrong had gotten hold of me, and as I have stated before, I tend to obsess just a bit, although it sounds better when I say I “critically approach” an issue. 

By the time I was 30, I had met so many different kinds of people.  People with different faiths and different ways of expressing their faith.  I lived in Washington, D.C. and was amazed at the differences in people.  I began asking, “What is it about my faith that makes me special?”  And the answer was, “nothing at all.”

I think that it is good that as children, we learn from parents and teachers about faith in uncomplicated language that is easily taken in as true.  But as we grow up and mature, we have different questions and different needs.  What I believe has helped me, encouraged me, and been a significant part of my recovery.  However, someone who was raised in a Jewish community will have a different set of needs.  Not because they are Jewish, but because they are human.  I have different spiritual needs than some of my friends, than some of my readers, than my own family.  And I do not feel that one way of expressing one’s faith is any better than any other way.  We’re addressing that same “something”–be it God or Allah or the Divine–in ways that help us grow to be the individuals we are. 

Someone asked me the other day about my childhood and my faith.  “How could you believe in a God that allowed a four-year-old to be abused and raped?”  And I will admit, there was a time when I began discussing my childhood in therapy that I asked myself that very question, coming up with no positive answers.  I realized that life itself is more complex that “believe in this and life will be all roses for you.”  That would be nice, but it just doesn’t happen that way.  I don’t know why that happened to me when I was a child.  I don’t know why I inherited the family curse of Bipolar Disorder and a genetic heart disease and my brother inherited neither. 

I don’t have those answers, but I have a choice in my response.  I could stay bitter and get angry at my brother and lay blame at God’s feet and just be pissed off for the rest of my life.  But I don’t really like the sound of that.  I have a tattoo that reads, in Latin, “Let me always live with an open heart.”  I got it after my heart surgery, as a reminder not to remain bitter and closed off.  I have chosen an open life, and while I may not be happy about certain aspects of life, I can’t change them, but I can take what I can from the situation to help my own spiritual growth. 

And by “open” I mean that my faith has grown and expanded tremendously.  I use a devotional, but it’s one that asks me questions about how to apply the day’s verses and discussion to my personal life to help me grow and become stronger.  It doesn’t just tell me what to take in in an indiscriminate fashion.  I do not believe in The Word of God being the one and only way to do things.  Archaeologists have unearthed too many versions of the Bible and there are contradictions within versions–and then there are all the other sacred texts out there, some of which predate the Bible.  I have a difficult time taking each word literally because of these contradictions and use sacred texts more as a metaphor.  “What can I learn from this particular story?” is the question I now ask.  How do I apply these words to life in a way that makes me a better person and, hopefully, allows me to make the world around me a better place. 

My study  of meditation got a weak start, since I was told by several people that I should do this, and I was resistant at first because of my faith.  However, my meditation practice has only helped that faith grow.  I have been struggling recently to return to my meditation practice–using the excuses of “new place,” “transitioning,” “exhaustion” and more.  The truth, I think, lies more in the simple fact that I am afraid.  Of what I’ll find and learn about myself. 

I have said that recovery is scary as hell and that it is the hardest thing you’ll have to go through, but I do think we have choices about how we approach recovery and the tools we use along the way.  And it is a choice you can make:  do you want to remain bitter and closed off spiritually, or do you want to grow and change and explore yourself and the world around you.

August 7, 2014 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Communication, coping, death, depression, Eating Disorders, faith, health, heart, mindfulness, recovery, therapy | 2 Comments

the pleasures of shame and guilt

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A–Let’s see if I remembered how to insert a picture into a post correctly!

B–Now that I am blogging again, I have like a zillion and one topics in my head to write about.  So please accept my need for a creative outlet.

Shame and guilt.  Let me tell you about my heart.  First, let me address a private message I received regarding the last post that told me I should not make fun of people with heart problems because their heart may actually be dying.  So for those who have just started reading this blog–my heart actually is dying.  Or, to be specific, the right ventricle is dying.  The rest of the heart works pretty well.  It’s a genetic form of progressive degeneration, AKA Arrhythmic Right Ventricular Dysplasia (ARVD), which means that the muscle cells of my right ventricle are slowly dying and are being replaced by fat cells, thus enlarging that portion of the heart and affecting the electrical functioning, causing dangerous arrhythmias such as Ventricular Fibrillation (VFib), or the always fun Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA), which I have experienced.  And honestly, it wasn’t all that fun.

BUT.  In the process of seeing doctor after doctor and getting test after test done and finally being diagnosed with the actual illness (it’s really kind of rare and not the first illness people look for, especially since it’s particularly difficult to see) I was never once asked any of the following questions:  “Why is it happening?”  “What did you do?”  “How could you have prevented it?” and further along:  “Why aren’t you better yet?” “Are you working yet?”  “Why aren’t you at least volunteering?”  What I did hear was, “OMG, I am so sorry!”  “Is there anything they can do?”  “is there anything you need?”  “Is there anything I can do to help?”  and further along the road: “How are you feeling?” “Are you getting rest?”  and “Will your brother be okay?”  (he was tested and he does not have the gene)

People were supportive and as understanding as they could be and dropped off meals for me to eat and took me places when I couldn’t drive due to my arm being in a sling after the surgery.  The cause of the distress wasn’t wonderful, but my friends and family were.

Change the scenario just a bit and tell people you have Bipolar II, and while the doctors feel that it can be managed, they have realized that–in my case–there is a high chance for relapse and that our job is to catch those relapses sooner than before and treat them effectively sooner than before.

Questions I was asked:  “What did you do?”  “But you were fine last year.”  “Aren’t you taking your medication?”  “Why is it taking so long to get better?”  “What haven’t you done to help yourself?”

In other words:  This is obviously your fault and why aren’t you choosing to get better?

I realized while journaling the other day some things about my therapist in MO.  A) I made a shit ton of progress with him, more so than with any other therapist.  B) I thought he was the best therapist I had ever worked with and was sorry to have to terminate with him.  C) There were times I would walk out of his office and start crying because I was so ashamed and guilty, and also pissed off at him for bringing up these feelings.

One of my problems/addictions since I was in junior high has been self-harm.  I “discovered” DBT therapy in 1999 and it helped a great deal.  My therapist in MO used DBT therapy with me while I was in MO.  Part of doing DBT requires doing a Chain Analysis if you do engage in self-harm.  Basically, you write down every single little thing you did leading up to the event and then go back and write down what you could have done differently.  This can be helpful.  It can also make someone feel like, “Holy shit.  Why didn’t I do that?  What is wrong with me?  When am I ever going to get this right?  Why didn’t I think of that?”  Going through a chain analysis typically made me feel worse and worse as the session went on because I really did know the skills I should have used but didn’t.  And near the end of my time working with him, it made me feel even worse.  Once, I went eight months in between instances of self-harm, and his first question was, “Why didn’t you _______?”  He did not say, at any point, “Wow.  Eight months is a long time for you.  Good job for making it that far.  How can we do that again?”

Then I was hospitalized in May of this year.  Again.  And I was there for a full month.  I was ashamed to walk back on the unit because the staff all knew me, and what would they think of me being back yet again?  My favorite nurse saw me, said, “Hi stranger! It’s been an awful long time since I’ve seen you here!”  And then she gave me my night meds and said we’d talk in the morning.  She said she was proud of me for seeking help, and that she had seen an amazing amount of progress since the first time she met me nearly six years ago.  I was ashamed because I was even there at all.  She said it showed progress because I didn’t go jump off the bridge and realized I needed help and asked for it.  I would come to her on the unit and say, “I feel like cutting.”  And she’d say, “I’m glad you came to talk to me.  What can I do to help?”  There were no recriminations, or questions of why.  Just an acknowledgement of the fact that I asked for help before things got to the point of restraints and IMs, thus avoiding those situations entirely.  When I told my psychiatrist I had cut, I was scared about the lecture I was sure to get.  Instead, he said, “Huh.  Well, you haven’t done that in a long time.  How is this current medication regimen helping or not helping?”

What I learned is that it is much more helpful to hear someone tell me I’ve made progress than to hear someone ask me what the hell happened.  I don’t mean to say I want all that fake bubbly-all-positive-self-esteem bullshit, because at some point I do have to talk about what happened and all that.  But hearing someone say they’re proud of me?  That does a whole lot to push away the shame and guilt that come with many mental illnesses and addictions, and makes it much easier to discuss things openly.

People did not choose their illness or addiction, but recovery is, to some extent a choice.  one hell of a terrifying, difficult choice.  And there will be set backs.  We know when we take a step backwards.  We’re not stupid.  What we need to hear, without judgment, is encouragement to get back up again.  And along the way, we need to hear that we’re doing the right thing by taking our medications, going to the doctor, avoiding bars or anywhere that triggers an addiction.  Saying, “Thanks for taking your meds lately.  I really hope they’re helping” is actually a nice, comforting thing to hear, and a reminder that someone’s got our back.

 

update:  thank you to all my friends and family who have been supportive and encouraging and have stood by me through all of this without making me feel any guilt or shame.  Because of all of you, I wear short sleeves in public (and a bikini when I go swimming!) and am learning not to be ashamed just because I have Bipolar II.  Thank you to anyone who has helped me see that mental illness is a physical illness and needs to be addressed and talked about.

 

August 1, 2014 Posted by | addictions, bipolar disorder, Communication, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, family, feelings, guilt, heart, progress, recovery, relationships, responses, self harm, shame, suicide, therapy | Leave a comment