How do you get over the feeling of shame?

By Elaina J. Martin

shameI had the opportunity to talk with a great friend who also deals with mental illness yesterday. I am the veteran. She’s the newbie.

I told her about my new obsession with locked doors and my subsequent compulsion to lock and unlock and then lock them again three times in a row. I told her I know it is stupid and it is frustrating and it is time wasting and it is worry wasting.

But I can’t help it. I have OCD.

She asked me how I get over feeling bad about my compulsions or the things I do when I am depressed or manic. The answer was simple enough – I accept that I am sick. I know that there will be bad days and when they come I roll with the punches. I know when I am manic I will do things I regret, but I forgive myself. I know that there are tiny – and big – compulsions I act out to alleviate my anxiety, and I know it isn’t my fault.

You see, I accept that I am mentally ill. Not a proud title, but a label for me for the world, nonetheless. My mind doesn’t work “normally,” whatever that means. I consider it a bit of bad wiring. Too many chemicals in my brain. Not enough. I don’t know. I just know that sometimes I do things that make no sense. Why cut my wrist? As humans we are built to self-preserve. Fight or flight is our foundation. So why would I think about guns and knives and pills as a way out of this life?

Because I am sick.

Don’t get me wrong, as I told her, “I am no saint.” I still stew over decisions I’ve made or the way I’ve acted, but what is perhaps different between she and I is that I have the ability to let it go. Maybe it is because of the magical sentence said by one of my favorite psychiatrists, “Elaina, you don’t have to apologize for being sick.”

What a burden lifted so I will say it to you – you don’t have to apologize for being sick. Yes, apologize for mistakes. Yes, apologize when you hurt someone. But don’t apologize for being you, for being a sick version of you. There is no shame in that.

 

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net



When Depression Strikes

By Elaina J. Martin

lightning and shipAs per my last post, I dealt with some major depression this week. I probably slept more than I was awake. It was rough, to say the least. I appreciate each and every comment that was posted but wanted to address a few for all readers now.

I have what is defined as “rapid-cycling” (or even “ultra-rapid-cycling”) bipolar disorder. What this means is that I have at least four (HA!) episodes of mania or depression in a year. I laugh because my moods are much more subjective than four times a year. My moods can change drastically in a short amount of time. I can be having a fine afternoon, like I did Sunday, then become increasingly irritable (the start of this depressive episode) by the evening. Then wake up to find that scum-bag Depression waiting for me.

The same things goes for mania – though usually there is a trigger, a stressor. I can be totally “normal” in the morning and by the afternoon be literally jumping up and down with energy and ideas and amazing-ness!

I’ve actually written a post, “When Depression Feels like the Flu.” And yes, it can come on just as quickly. I know this isn’t true for all those of us with bipolar disorder or even depression, but it is true for me.

To address the comment that I should be grateful for what I have and that I have no reason to be depressed. It doesn’t work like that. It is a mental illness which means that the mind is sick and in being so, all my blessings aren’t enough to keep my brain from telling me life is hopeless. I understand where you are coming from and for some people depression is situational, but in this case it wasn’t. I wasn’t merely sad or feeling sorry for myself.

I was depressed.

I am feeling a bit better, thank you for all your concern. I saw my therapist on Wednesday and admitted my dark thoughts and tried to express how I had been feeling for the past few days. She reminded me that, just like every other time, this dark time would pass. I just had to stay safe and let myself be supported by my family, boyfriend, and friends. So, that is what I am doing.

Sleeping, talking, and forcing myself to leave the house from time to time. It will get better. It always does.

 

Image courtesy of winnond at FreeDigitalPhotos.net



This Is What Depression Feels Like

By Elaina J. Martin

depressed girlToday I am depressed. It started yesterday – the fatigue, the extreme irritability. I just thought I was crabby, but then I woke up this morning and my old friend, Depression, was lying in bed next to me. I got up and took care of the dogs (as I always do despite my many moods). Then I went back to bed. I woke up around 2. Got out of bed at 3 so I could eat some chicken soup and take one of my antidepressants. Then I went back to bed after sending my boyfriend a text message that I was depressed today and that I felt like a total loser. I like to prepare him for what he is coming home to.

So what is this depression I speak of? It is not sadness. It is hopelessness. Everything becomes hopeless – relationships, cleaning the house, my book ever being published. And it is this enormous weight. It took me an hour from the time I woke up to trudge downstairs to make soup because I needed that much time to muster the strength to move.

There is this elephant sitting on my chest trying to squish me into not breathing.

I’m so tired. Exhausted. Weary.

I don’t want to talk because I am uninterested and also because it’s too hard to move my mouth to speak. My tongue is an anvil.

And I am not cute. No, sir. I look like I’ve come down with the flu. Dark circles under my tired eyes. Blemishes out in all their glory. You can imagine what short curly hair looks like after a night and day tossing around in bed.

In this moment, I don’t want to be me. I don’t want to be beautifully bipolar. I don’t want to feel like gravity has a special effect on me causing movement to feel like running through molasses.

I can imagine nothing that will lift this weight but time. Perhaps tomorrow I will wake up beautiful again.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net



Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Coupled with Bipolar Disorder

By Elaina J. Martin

ocd manChecking the locks.

That is the new thing. Lock the door. Walk away. Walk back. Wiggle the handle. Move on.

Not only am I beautifully bipolar, but I live with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) as well. I can’t describe to you how good it feels to wash my hands. Sometimes I start and I just can’t stop. It feels so good. It makes the anxiety go away. But then I can’t stop and my anxiety builds back up.

An endless cycle.

I have this thing about multiples of five. I cannot get out of bed unless the number on my cell phone reflects a multiple of five – like 8:35 or 10:30.

I curl my eyelashes for exactly 12 seconds each eye. I don’t know why 12 became the magic number, but shit gets real if I vary.

The items in the medicine cabinet and shower must be arranged just so.

I must put my right sock on first, then the left. Then the left shoe, followed by the right.

I must only put my earrings in left, then right.

So what? You’re thinking. What happens if she does it a different way? Well, if I do it the “wrong” way, something terrible will happen to me or a loved one. I know this as surely as I know night will come after day.

OCD is an anxiety disorder. The more anxious I feel, the more likely I am to act out compulsions. I used to have this thing with counting. 1 -2 -3 -4 -5 -6 -7 -8 -9 -10. Over and over and over again until my anxiety lessened. I do it rarely today. Meds help. Therapy helps. Coping skills help.

My other more recent obsession is that I will run someone over in my car. Motorcycles scare me. People walking on the side of the highway scare me. Kids riding their bikes on the sidewalk scare me. It is illogical because I have never run anyone over, nor have I come close, nor have I been in any kind of incident such as that. But I believe it. With every part of my being I know I will kill someone.

So what do I do? I talk to myself. When I see a woman on the side of the road I say out loud, “You are not going to hit her. You have never hit anyone. See, you are passing her now and everything is okay. There, look, she is in the rear view mirror. It would be impossible to hit her now.” It sounds silly and maybe “crazy,” but my therapist has me do it and it helps.

OCD is so much more than being a neat freak or an alphabetizer of your library or eating dinner at 6 every night. It is overwhelming. I am thankful that for the most part I can keep my shit together, thanks to large doses of anxiety and antidepressant meds.

I know how dirty menus are. I can count the germs on a door handle. Please, please don’t ask me to shake your hand.

So, please be kind, like all those Facebook posts say, “You have no idea what someone else is dealing with.” We just try to appear “normal” and fit in. Not too many stares. Not too many cares.

 

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net



Should you trust someone with bipolar disorder?

By Elaina J. Martin

trust a bipolarIt’s not easy being beautifully bipolar. People do judge you, as much as you hope they don’t. Every emotion is questioned – “Elaina sure is happy today, I wonder if she is becoming manic?” “Elaina’s under a lot of stress. Is this going to lead to an episode?” For a “normal” person, if you’re happy you are having a good day. If you are crying, you are simply sad.

Sometimes I feel like my personality and moods are held under a microscope. Carefully examined. I feel like people don’t trust me. They don’t think I am strong enough to weather this world we live in.

Every time my mother has to tell me something especially stressful, like when my dad tore open his hand with an electric saw, she asks me where my boyfriend is or when he will be home. She doesn’t want me to be alone with the stress. And I understand, I do. Every psychotic break, manic episode, mixed episode – they’ve all been brought on by big stressors.

So what I get from people are the highlights. They don’t want to worry me with their problems or the world’s problems. They want me to continue to hum along stable at the same frequency.

Bipolar disorder is somewhat unpredictable. I can honestly say that I do not know who I will wake up to be every morning. Will I be perfectly-stable-Elaina or so-depressed-I-cannot-move-Elaina or I-have-the-energy-of-a-thousand-Red Bulls-manic-Elaina or anxiety-has-taken-over-my-mind-and-body-Elaina?

Sometimes my brain does funny things. It works differently than a “normal” brain. Sometimes it sees things that aren’t really there. There are large memory gaps. I get confused.

So. Should you trust someone with bipolar disorder? I think it depends on what you are trusting them with. Sure, a secret is safe. You can count on me to be a good friend. I’ll try not to burn dinner. You needn’t question my love. But should you trust me to drive when I am manic? No. Should there be a gun in the house when I am depressed? No. Because when I am in an episode, I can’t trust myself. Why should you?

I want to be clear. People with bipolar disorder are just as trustworthy as “normal” people, BUT, when our mind plays its tricks and we experience symptoms of our illness, that must be noted. During those times we aren’t thinking clearly (or most likely acting like ourselves). Maybe we will need a little help, a watchful eye, a caring heart.

 

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net



National Bipolar Awareness Day – 5 things you should be aware of

By Elaina J. Martin

brain gearsNational Bipolar Awareness Day here in the U.S. has made me think about the word “awareness” and what that means. Here’s a few things you should be aware of in regards to bipolar disorder:

1. Acceptance is the key. My therapist says she has clients who come in and wank about their bipolar disorder and refuse to take their medication. I’m different. Don’t get me wrong. I have plenty of problems and bad days and debilitating days, but I have accepted this life sentence of being beautifully bipolar. I take my meds. I go to therapy. I see a psychiatrist. I am my own advocate. I know there will be ups and downs. I know I will probably be hospitalized again. I complain to my therapist, but I’ve accepted bipolar disorder as just another part of me – like my curly hair or brown and green eyes.

2. There will be good days and there will be bad days. There will be good weeks and there will be bad weeks. There will be good months and there will be bad months. This illness is tricky, you never know what to expect or when so take advantage of the good days, weeks, and months. You’ll need to remember them during those dark days, weeks, and months.

3. Having a support system makes life a hell of a lot easier. Not too long ago my support system temporarily shrank. That was hard. I need to know I have people I can call when I am in a crisis. Your support system can be anyone – an actual support group (GREAT IDEA), family, friends, partners. These people will learn to know your tells – when you are getting a little bit manic, when you are headed for depression – often before you do. Allow yourself to be vulnerable.

4. Statistics suck. Ignore them. They are out there – the number of those of us touched by this illness, the suicide rate, the co-morbid disorders. It is really depressing. Don’t focus on the suicide rate, focus on your coffee date with a good friend. Don’t worry about your odds of developing a substance abuse problem, go buy a new dress. Don’t dwell on the stats. They are just numbers.

5. If you have bipolar disorder, it is not your fault. I once had a psychiatrist tell me, “Elaina, you don’t have to apologize for being sick.” Do you know how much that simple sentence meant to me. There I was, feeling sorry for myself and everyone who had to “deal” with me when I didn’t have to. No one willingly says, “Hey, I think I’ll be bipolar. That sounds fun.” It just happens to some of us.

I think National Bipolar Awareness Day is important. I wish I had known a little bit about the illness before I was diagnosed. Maybe together we can share our stories so others will understand us a little bit better.

 

Image courtesy of Nutdanai Apikhomboonwaroot at FreeDigitalPhotos.net



Another med change

By Elaina J. Martin

roller coaster

Being beautifully bipolar comes with its ups and downs. Many people equate living with bipolar disorder to being on a roller coaster – up and down, up and down. Medication changes come with the ride.

Today I walked into my psychiatrist’s office and told him we needed to make some med changes. Yeah, this is me being in charge of my mental health. If I don’t speak up, who will? As you may have picked up on in previous posts my Anxiety is being a bitch. It is not stealing moments, but days of my life – days where I can’t leave the safety of my bed, days where I have to cancel plans. Anxiety has become the boss.

So my psychiatrist and I talked about options – “Do you wanna go off Prozac?” “Have you tried Cymbalta?” “Okay, Zoloft is out.”

It is frustrating because I don’t know what will work, what will alleviate this fear that wells up in my chest sometimes. It often comes out of nowhere and is simply there with my waking. I have to trust the doc, that he knows the medications, that he knows me.

Antidepressants treat anxiety too, I’m not sure if you know that, especially in people with obsessive compulsive disorder (Me, over here in the fuchsia top. They help me!).

So I have a new regimen to follow – a little less of this, a little more of that, and let’s add this to the mix. Yet another drug.

I hate med changes – the way they make my head feel, the way they treat my body, and who the hell knows what my mood will be like?!

So just know that I get it, that it is a necessary evil in the quest for stability. You have to hang in there long enough to see if it takes, if it works. And if it doesn’t – speak up! You are your own advocate.

 

Image courtesy of foto76 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net



“Getting away” is good for your mental health

By Elaina J. Martin

smoky mtsAs per my last post, I recently took a trip to the Smoky Mountains. It was much needed.

Last week I was supposed to go to the mall with a friend – find a gift for my boyfriend’s birthday, eat those delicious mall pretzel bites, but I woke up that day to such anxiety I was in bed most of the day. I had to cancel on my friend which made me feel terrible. The thought of a closed in mall with many people was just something I couldn’t handle.

Once again, Anxiety is a bitch.

I planned this trip to the mountains with my boyfriend with the idea of “getting away.” No one to bother us. No where to be. No cell service. Spotty (at best) internet access. It was just us and the cabin and the woods and the hot tub and it was magical.

Sometimes you need to unplug. Step away from Facebook and Twitter. Let the emails pile up. Let your voice mail get crowded. Just be.

I am not rich. I live below the poverty level in America, but I saved. Every month I squirreled away $50 or $100. Then my boyfriend and I split the cost of the cabin for two nights. Just save a little every month or every paycheck and I promise it will add up to an amount to do something – to “get away.”

Mentally, I feel so much better. I feel lighter. I feel freer,

I can picture the mountains. I can picture my boyfriend in the firelight. I can feel the bubbles of the hot tub jets. I can taste the dinner I took my boyfriend out to on his birthday. Those are memories stored and the next time I feel that bitch of Anxiety coming along I can remember any one of those things and take a deep breath and make it through.

You don’t have to run away to the mountains to “get away.” You can go to the park or the lake or the river. Take a walk. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Nature restores you. Unplugging eases you. Shutting out the demands of the world will relax you and stabilize your mental state.

“Get away.” I dare you.

 

Image courtesy of digidreamgrafix at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 



5 things I’ve learned since trying to commit suicide

By Elaina J. Martin

shutterstock_131239784Today is my anniversary. You see, 6 years ago to the night, I tried to take my own life. In a way, today kind of feels like my 6th birthday. I decided to do something extra special this year to celebrate my “birthday”  (and my boyfriend’s actual birthday tomorrow on the 3rd) by renting a cabin in the mountains. Complete with a hot tub on the enclosed porch overlooking the wooded mountains. Because life should be celebrated! Celebrated!

6 years is a long time and yet the blink of an eye. I remembered today as we drove here that 6 years ago today I was heading into work during my first week on the job as a Style Editor. I had no idea what was in store for me that particular night, even if it had been a thought in the wings for a decade.

But I don’t want to talk about the details of that night. I want to talk about what I’ve learned in the 6 years I continued to live.

1. My mother is my number one fan and best friend.
My sister’s been there, my cousin’s been there, my best friend’s been there, my boyfriend’s been there, but my mom has been there through it all with me. Save all but one hospitalization, she was there every day for visiting hours, usually bearing gifts – cookies, a Frappuccino she managed to sneak past the staff with her good intentions, new sweatpants. My mom and I had our ups and downs growing up, as most kids do, but as an adult she has always been there for me – for the good and the very, very bad.

2. Some things can’t be undone.
I cannot undo putting my sister through what I did when I tried to take my life. She carried the burden. Alone. For hours before she rang my parents in the morning with the news that I had tried to kill myself and that I was in Intensive Care, she sat alone. October 3rd was her 24th birthday. I live with that guilt and it is a guilt that has not lessened in time.

3. Love is unexpected.
9 months after my stay in a psych ward I said “I love you” to a man. He said it back. We’ve been together for over 5 years now. He’s seen the crazy. (Boy, has he seen the crazy). And yet, he loves every bit of me, even the crazy bits and the sad bits and the manic bits.

4. Nature will restore you.
Sometimes I go for walks around a local lake, just me and my iPod. The sun filters through the leaves and “Lucky” by Kat Edmonson will come on and I will smile and I will giggle to myself about how lucky I am that I made it through that terrible ordeal – and the ones that followed. There is something about the smell of leaves and the feel of dirt that transforms you. (Hence my mountain top getaway).

5. It’s never too late.
I have learned that it is never to late to change – to be the daughter or the sister or the granddaughter or the girlfriend or the cousin or the person you were meant to be. I am far from perfect. Far. But I am proud of the person I am today. I give and get respect. I love and am loved.

I shouldn’t have died October 2nd or 3rd of 2008. I know this. I know this because I am here to type this for you, dear reader. I hope in it you find some hope and I ask that tonight in your prayers or meditations or positive hippie vibes you thank your Higher Power for my life because I almost wasn’t here.

Mountain lake image available from Shutterstock.



Quit making jokes about mental illness!

By Elaina J. Martin

bipolar jab

It is shit like this that aggravates me.

This was posted on Facebook by “Support Bipolar Awareness!” So far it has been liked 86 times and shared 40.

You see, I am not a joke. I am not some party-time-personality-changing-trick. I have a mood disorder so, thus, yes, you could say I am moody by definition. But I am not some game where you roll the dice and see what mood you get.

The world “bipolar” is used too flippantly.  “This weather is so bipolar” – (one of my favorites). “She got mad at me for no reason, she is so bipolar.” “My mom is totally bipolar.”

Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder characterized by extreme highs – mania – and extreme lows – depression. It isn’t some vacillating temperament that by waiting mere minutes will be absolved.

I hate when “bipolar” becomes an adjective instead of an illness.

You see, these days, for the most part, my moods are pretty reliable. Stress can send me into a tailspin, but ordinarily I function just as you do. If you don’t like me now, you probably won’t like me in 5 minutes because you are gonna find the same chick standing here with her hands on her hips.

Jokes lessen things, they cheapen things, they take something serious and make it amusing for the masses. Bipolar disorder is not amusing – ask my family, ask my friends, ask my boyfriend.

Imagine for a second this snide remark was made about someone with cancer. Would you laugh? Then why is mental illness so funny?

 



 
 

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