How Do You Struggle Through Bipolar Depression?

By Elaina J. Martin • 1 min read

I received an email from a reader in South Africa, no less.

How do I deal with bipolar depression?

going back to bedI am not sure I am qualified to give a statement here as I don’t always succeed in beating the depression, but here are a few tips I’ve learned along this long, twisted way.

* Set small goals.
Whether it be to get up for a shower or just to brush your teeth. Make a goal – a healthy goal – and stick to it. There is something about the chemicals in the brain for a job well done that will reward you. Sometimes I can’t even manage a shower, too much work, but getting up and feeding the dogs is rewarding. There is the wagging of tails and jumps of joy that, yet again, I have risen.

* Allow yourself an extra ten minutes.
Even if this means you will be running behind, on those days when you simply cannot face the day give yourself the luxury of an extra ten minutes. It won’t cure cancer or stop world hunger, but it just might be enough to get you through the day.

*Reach out to those that love you.
Feeling lousy sucks. Point. Blank. But I guarantee you have people in your life that will make you feel anything but. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone or send an email or text. That is what love is all about, saving someone else. It can be as simple as, “I feel down today, got anything to lift me up?” And next there will be a joke or a happy memory or something to make you smile. Rely on your friends and loved ones, that is what they are there for.

* Depression is a liar – remember this. Depression will lie to you that death is better than life, that you will never be what you once were or what you once hoped to be. Tell Depression to kiss your ass. You are ALIVE and nothing can take that from you.

* And lastly, and most importantly, when depressed, remember that these feeling won’t last.
It may not be today or tomorrow or the day after that, but these feelings will subside and you will reacquaint yourself with joy and happiness once more. Keep your head up. Keep moving. Don’t hide in the bed covers, they are never quite right anyway.

 

Image courtesy of Feelart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 



“Bipolar” Down Days

By Elaina J. Martin • 2 min read

bipolar days crying eyesToday has been rough, like, really rough. No, there was nothing external that happened, it all came from within me. I had another one of those scary wake-ups in which I have no idea where I was. I have lived in this house for 4 years, yet still, when I woke and looked around I recognized nothing right away. That is scary as silly as it sounds. Confusion scares me.

Right off the bat I was anxious. I got up, took my morning meds – 2 anxiety meds and an antidepressant. Then I took care of the dogs. Well, I yelled at them for not sitting and waiting for me to pour out their food. This is always an indication of my mental state. I ADORE & LOVE my dogs, so for me to yell at them for something as silly as their energetic anticipation of a meal is out of character for me.

After we finished up all our doggy business, I headed back upstairs and scrunched down in my bed, hiding, really. I laid there for a while as anxiety gave way to depression. Then I decided I would go to Starbucks, get out of the house, maybe take the dogs through the drive-thru.

I got up and tried, after freshening up, to decide on what to wear. Let’s just say this ended with me yelling to Sammy, our Doberman mix, “This is just too hard!!!” at which point and I sat down at the end of the bed and cried.

Next scene: Me in the bathroom, outfit determined (an OLD tee-shirt and a nondescript hoodie). I put on the tee-shirt and proceed to cry until the collar of the shirt is stained with tears. At one point I looked up at myself in the mirror and said to myself, “Pull yourself together.” But here is the thing about mood disorders, you can’t just “pull yourself together” on command. You gotta feel your way through it, as awful as those feelings may be. So – I cried some more.

I didn’t feel safe at home. I needed babysitters. Back to the Starbucks plan. I painted on some makeup, including my brand new Urban Decay eye shadow I have coveted for years. Despite the name (mildew) it is a gorgeous green and brings out the green in my eyes. (Plus the green hid the red of my just-crying eyes).

So I went to Starbucks and ordered a whole milk grande latte. I put in my earbuds and listened to Ron Pope. I felt safe. And when my boyfriend text me that he was on his way home I picked up my mess and headed home too.

Here’s the thing, you do what you gotta do to be safe. I’m a cutter and the urge is alive and well today, but I have so many reasons not to act on those impulses, but being home alone with my depression wasn’t going to work. Was I happy at Starbucks? Hell, no. I was that sad drifter character in a movie. Being beautifully bipolar can be anything but, today is my example. But you, I, have to remember that tomorrow is a new day and just as I had no idea today would be so low, tomorrow could be higher. Hopefully not too high, but high enough that I feel safe.

 

Image courtesy of luigi diamanti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net



Staying Mentally Healthy While You Are Physically Sick

By Elaina J. Martin • 1 min read

girl with a coldBeing sick sucks. I know. I am holed up under a quilt my mom made me drinking orange juice and I feel like I could sleep for the rest of this winter and I look juuuuuuuust about as good as I feel. Yuck.

Getting physically sick when you live with a mental illness brings with it new challenges.

  • If you have anxiety disorder you may be less apt to seek medical attention, especially if you don’t have a primary physician you are familiar with. This could lead to you becoming more ill – think pneumonia, etc. If you can, have someone you trust go with you or help you make the appointment or give you a ride – whatever makes it easier for you to seek care.
  • When you are physically sick your body requires more rest because deep under the skin antibodies and white blood cells and things like that are doing what they do. This can wreak havoc on your sleep schedule. Sure, that 3 P.M. nap sounds good until you are wide awake at 2 A.M. and still have to be at work by 8:30. I know you need extra sleep, trust me (as I type bleary-eyed), but try your best not to knock off your regular schedule too much. For a lot of us with bipolar disorder lack of sleep is a cause of episodes.
  • Meds. This is two-fold. First of all, you need to make sure that over-the-counter cold and flu remedies don’t interfere with your psych meds. For example, as I’ve noticed by reading a lot of labels in the past, many over-the-counter meds are incompatible with MAOIs. If in doubt (or just to be safe), check with your pharmacist or ask your psych doc at your next visit if there is anything to watch out for.
  • Remember your support system, the same one that gets you through those dark nights? Well, my friend, these people are going to be the same ones who bring you Kleenex and chicken noodle soup. Be sure to thank them when you are feeling better and be there for them when they are sick.

Image courtesy of Jeroen van Oostrom at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 



Setbacks

By Elaina J. Martin • 1 min read

woman fallingWhen you have a mental illness, some days are better than others. When you are a living person, some days are better than others.

With bipolar disorder there are periods professionals refer to as “remission,” a time when you may be asymptomatic. You are neither depressed nor manic. You hum along at the right frequency. These are the good times, the good days. These are the days when you forget what it is like to live with bipolar disorder.

You may be aware that we have been trying for months now to get my anxiety under control. I am especially prone to social anxiety. I thought we’d finally figured it out – got the meds right. I hadn’t felt panicky in a couple of weeks, but then today I went out to lunch with my boyfriend and his 3 children and then off to Barnes & Noble. They are having a big CLEARANCE event right now, I guess that is why it was so crowded. There were boxes on the ground and carts in the aisle ways. And then for the first time, in what felt like (but really wasn’t) a long time, I started to have a panic attack. I kept putting my hands to my chest and then to my forehead, my physical symptoms of distress. I went to the bathroom and took my Klonopin. I tried to stay in the store but I couldn’t. I asked my boyfriend for the truck keys and went and practiced my deep breathing in the silence of the truck. I locked the doors, closed, my eyes, and breathed.

It helped but as the panic began to subside a feeling of shame replaced it. I thought I was “over it.” So naive, even after all these years. But I have to remember I am human and not only that, but I am a human with a brain condition. I can’t always control my mind. Sometimes it irrationally senses fear in large groups. I can’t help that. I can learn through therapy how to better deal with those types of situations, and have.

Know there will be setbacks. They come with the territory. This is an illness of extremes, for one must come another. So try and roll with the punches. So I nearly lost my shit at B&N. So what? Maybe next time I’ll be able to stay in there longer. Maybe next time I won’t feel anxious at all. Day by day, people, just keep taking it day by day.

 

Image courtesy of luigi diamanti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net



Oh, Therapy.

By Elaina J. Martin • 1 min read

therapistTherapy. My first meeting with a university counselor was back in 1999. I’ll do the math for you – 16 years ago. It didn’t last long, it didn’t “take.” I saw another university counselor the next year and was sent to the school’s psychiatrist and put on a regular dose of Zoloft…that, too, didn’t last long.

Here’s the thing about therapy: There is a stigma, as though something is wrong with you. “Why does she need to talk to a shrink?” You think you hear them whisper. “She must have major issues.” And you know what, so what if I do have major issues? I am addressing them in a healthy, head-on manner. This world would be a better place if more people had therapists.

I don’t lay on a couch, though now in the new office I sit on one. I don’t cry. In all these years I’ve only cried during therapy once. That is my badge of honor.

Therapy exhausts me. I love nothing more than a glass of wine, my two dogs, and the quiet of the house after my appointments. That doesn’t always happen, but that is ideal. Decompression. Collecting all the bits of myself I have shared and gluing them back in place.

Because therapy is about exposure and naked honesty and that shit is hard!

Not every session is ground-breaking – today we spoke of all the self-imposed pressure I am putting on myself to make my memoir a reality. We talked about my horrific thoughts and how to challenge them. We talked about Post-Its.

But I believe in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. It has helped me. I have grown so much because of it.

Not all therapists are created equal and it may take a few tries before you find one that clicks, but it is worth it. Creating that bond of trust where you can tell your secrets without being judged is an amazing thing.

 

Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net



The Dreaded Med Change

By Elaina J. Martin • 2 min read

depressed med change figureIf you have a mental illness and choose to use medication as one of your resources (which I enthusiastically endorse), you know about the dreaded med changes. They come with the territory really, because no two brains are alike and the chemicals in mine differ than the chemicals in yours so figuring out the best chemicals (meds) to introduce is simply a game of trial and error. Your psychiatrist takes his best educated guess.

If you follow this blog you know that I have been struggling for months with anxiety – more so than I usually do. Panic attacks, horrific thoughts, obsessive compulsion spikes – it hasn’t been fun.

I take Prozac for my anxiety and depression (in addition to other meds including mood stabilizers, which are very important for a bipolar patient to take when taking antidepressants). I also take Klonopin – a benzo, and I take Neurontin, both for anxiety. But all that wasn’t enough so we tried adding another antidepressant – Effexor XR. I had terrible side effects and the doc and I agreed to taper off of that after a two month trial.

What to do next? My psychiatrist decided to put me on Prestiq, another new antidepressant. We gave it a month but as I began to show signs of mania, we stopped that one too.

I think my psychiatrist has abandoned the idea of another antidepressant and I am glad because besides nasty side effects – they did nothing for me.

So where am I know? The anxiety was still there, doubling up on an antidepressant or not, so we decided to up the Klonopin and Neurontin. Something to know about me is that it is very hard to treat my brain. At one point I was labeled “treatment resistant.” I once had a psychiatrist tell me that if he put my meds in a 6’2″ man (I’m 5’3″), he’d be on the floor. I am now on the max does of Neurontin and a high dose of Klonopin.

Another recent change has been in the way I take my Saphris, an atypical anti-psychotic. For years I have taken both 10 mg tabs at night because they knock me out. But my psych doc told me that it is not as effective as spacing them out and that he really wanted me to try to do that. Oh my goodness. Mornings are awful. In the past couple of weeks I have learned to try to take the pill at around 6, when my boyfriend leaves for work, then go back to bed for a few hours. If I have plans anytime before noon, I take two the night before and avoid taking one in the morning as I would not trust myself to drive in my foggy state.

For months I have been in a constant flux of med changes, each new drug or dosage or time taken comes with its own side effects. But lately I am just pretty tired the first half of the day, which is a drag because that is when I am most creative. But with this fatigue comes a lifting of anxiety. I take my meds as scheduled and so far, so good. I’ve only been on this new regiment for less than two weeks, so time will tell how well it works.

I just want you to know that if you are struggling with a med change, I feel you. It’s rough. Hang in there and give the meds a chance to work, a bit for your body to adjust, and if after a month or two you are still experiencing major side effects it is time to talk to the doc. There are a lot of meds out there, I know, I’ve tried many of them. I’ve been at this over 6 years and still we need to make adjustments. It is the nature of treating mental illness.

 

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net



Showing My Scars

By Elaina J. Martin • 1 min read

girl reading bookDespite the negative comments that often appear here on my blog, I do get a lot of very personal and heartfelt emails from readers – so thank you for that. Often they thank me for sharing my story and giving them hope.

I try.

I am not sure if you knew this or not, but I wrote a memoir that will (hopefully) soon be self-published. I wasted a lot of time being told by agents that memoirs are hard to sell to publishers, especially when you aren’t famous. I’ve heard the psychology section is “saturated.” I’ve been turned down, rejected, quite a bit last year. But I am still standing.

I wanted to talk about being brave for a minute. Was it brave to write down my experience with mental illness? Yes, I guess so, but it was also necessary – for me to heal and for me to help others. Was it brave to participate in the theater production, “This is My Brave” and stand-up before hundreds of people and read from my memoir. Yeah. But yesterday I did something that felt very brave to me. I had my picture taken.

The concept for the cover of my book involves my hands. In the photograph you see me “Love” tattoo on my right wrist and a tangle of scars on my left. The thing is, I hate these scars created from years of cutting and suicidal thoughts. I hide them. This Christmas I received 5 large wide bracelets to cover my left wrist so I don’t have to worry about the cashier at the grocery store seeing it or the barista at Starbucks wondering what happened. I am embarrassed by my scars. I want to hide them.

To create a cover photo for my memoir where I “put it all out there” is beyond uncomfortable, it is brave. For me, it feels like being naked when my scars are exposed. So why do it? Because it is about authenticity. The book isn’t a glossed over version of my life, it gets raw. From the get-go, from the first thing you see – the cover, I want you to know I’ve struggled but that there is hope.

 

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net



5 New Year’s Resolutions for the Mentally Ill

By Elaina J. Martin • 2 min read

happy new year 2015This new year is another fresh start, just like this morning was and tomorrow will be. This time of year, at the beginning of the year, we think about what we want to do, perhaps differently, to be successful and happy. Here are 5 things every mentally ill person should aspire to do in 2015:

1. Take your meds 
I know, I know, you will be tempted to stop taking your meds for many reasons – side effects, forgetfulness, the fact that you feel better and, thus, MUST be better and don’t need those silly meds anymore. I urge you to stick to the regiment. Talk to your doc if it isn’t working. Be open to trying new meds. But don’t become your own psychiatrist and take a little more of this or a little less of that. It doesn’t work. Take you meds.

2. Be your own advocate
I hate to break it to you, but you are on your own when it comes to advocating for your own healthcare. If your therapist isn’t the right fit – find a new one. If you psychiatrist doesn’t look up from his prescription pad and TALK to you – find one who will. If your insurance is giving you the run-around, get on the horn, talk to a real person and sort things out. I have had to do all these things and more. There was no one else who could do them for me. I knew I was important and I deserved proper care. So do you.

3. Create a support system
I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for my support system. Point. Blank. They have saved me in the most literal sense of the word. Maybe you don’t have a mom like mine who is always there and on her toes to make sure I am doing well, but there are people out there who care about you. There are a multitude of online support groups and forums like the ones here on PsychCentral.com. There are NAMI meetings in your area where you can meet people like yourself and find friendship. Also DBSA has meeting all over the country as well as resources, much like NAMI. Your support system need not be big. Mine includes my parents, my boyfriend, my best friend, my cousin and my psych team. It is enough. Find yours.

4. Work on acceptance of your mental illness
Nothing has been more freeing for me than accepting my illness, knowing it is simply a part of me – not all of me. There is so much stigma (SO MUCH) surrounding mental illness that it is easy to feel ashamed and embarrassed because the wiring in your mind is different than the majority of people. That does not make you less than them, it makes you unique. There are over 5 million Americans with bipolar disorder. You are not alone.

5. Be brave
Last May I has the opportunity to be a part of the theater production, “This is My Brave.” More than a dozen of us – from high schoolers to middle-aged women – stood up and told our stories of mental illness. I was scared to death, but I did it because I knew it could help someone in the crowd. Don’t be afraid to share your story. Storytelling saves lives. Before I was diagnosed as bipolar 1, I didn’t know diddly about the illness. It took months of research and reading to understand it, to know what to expect. Your friends probably don’t understand what you go through. Don’t be afraid to tell them.

 

At the beginning of each year people vow to eat better and exercise more, to take care of their physical health. It is important. But so too is your mental health. Don’t push it to the side in hopes that your symptoms and episodes will go away on their own. Make it a priority to be mentally healthy. Happy New Year!

 

Image courtesy of luigi diamanti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net



Mini Manic Moments

By Elaina J. Martin • 2 min read

mini manic moments fairyFor the past month I have been on a new antidepressant called Prestiq to help with my anxiety. It seems to be a never-ending battle of keeping the fear at bay. Prestiq is in addition to the antidepressant, Prozac. The only real hard-to-handle side effect I experienced was sweating. Yes. It is winter. Yes. I want to dress appropriately. Yes, I have the air on in the car because I am sweating to death. It was like these crazy hot flashes. I was sporting a tank top in the house for half of December.

But all that is over. I am now cool as a cucumber.

I had the double whammy today – therapy and a psych doc visit. One after the other. Not one of my favorite days. I was talking to my therapist and told her I was having mini manic moments. Three or four times over the past month I have experiences signs of mania. I don’t just want to drive fast, I want to go 100 mph. On Saturday I craved a cigarette. I don’t smoke. Wanting to smoke is an early indicator of mania for me. (And no, I did not buy any cigarettes). I talk a mile-a-minute. I interrupt. I act like the conversation is mine and, quite frankly, there is no room for anyone else in it. I don’t mean to be rude or a chatterbox but there is this effervescence inside me that bubbles up and has to come out. I am happy, deliriously happy – which shouldn’t be a bad thing until it is. The energy is boundless, I hop around. My hands shake. And to be honest, if I didn’t know where all that loveliness got me, I would love mania or hypomania because it is delicious to be the center of the universe.

But I know where mania can take me and I rather not visit.

So, when I told my psychiatrist about my mini mania moments (which last a few hours at a time), he advised me to come off of the Prestiq. He said he has seen this before, mania brought on by this particular antidepressant. He doesn’t want me to have a full-blown manic episode and I wholeheartedly agree. So, no more Prestiq.

It is a strange life to question the moments you feel good, like, really good. Is it just the fact the sun is shining or is it mania coming out to play? I never know. Mania can quickly lead to psychosis for me and there is nothing fun about hallucinations.

I am not dogging Prestiq. Don’t get me wrong. I do believe it helped with my anxiety but the threat of a longer lasting manic episode just isn’t worth it for me.

As always, I urge you to talk to you therapist and psychiatrist about all your signs and symptoms. Six years into this, I know some of my signs. Six years ago, while driving from Oklahoma to a move to California, I didn’t know my sudden desire to buy a pack of American Spirit cigarettes was a sign. I do today.

 

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net



5 Tips to Survive the Holidays

By Elaina J. Martin • 2 min read

christmas decorations treeThe holidays are a stressful time for a lot of people. Those of us who experience social anxiety are bombarded with situations that toss us into a sea of people – parties, shopping for gifts, family get-togethers. Many people leave home to spend the holidays elsewhere and the simple fact of being out of their familiar environment can be stressful. Not all family members get along, so sometimes just sharing the same space with an estranged person can wreak havoc. So with all this stress, how can you survive the holidays? Here are some tips:

1. Remember that the only thing you can control is the way you react.
Maybe your cousin makes snide comments about your weight, maybe your grandma grills you about the fact that you aren’t married yet – remember that you are in control of your reaction. You cannot control their actions or words. Before you react, take a step back and think about what your own actions may do in the situation. If it’s not going to be a positive outcome, maybe rethink what you want to do or say.

2. Try to stick to a normal sleep schedule.
Nothing can affect my moods more than the amount of sleep I get. You may cross time zones, you may be staying with or have house guests who have different sleep patterns than you do. Remember that it is important to take care of yourself and excuse yourself to bed when you need to, or get up when you need to. If necessary explain to your company that it is important for you to get X amount of sleep. More than likely if you are spending the holidays with them, they will understand.

3. Get some air.
I like to take breaks from the commotion of the holidays. I step outside on the porch or go for a walk. Being outside is calming to me, but maybe that isn’t an option for you. When it isn’t, simply escape to a bathroom. No one will bother you there. Just take a few minutes to take some deep breaths before returning to the party.

4. Keep your expectations low.
I saw my psychiatrist last week and he told me that the problem for a lot of his patients is that they set their expectations for the holidays too high and then when they are not met the patient ends up in a bad psychological state. Remember that no family is perfect, no partner is perfect, children are not perfect. I can guarantee that not everything will go as you plan it so try to start out with lower expectations. Know going in to the situation that there will be bumps and mess-ups and then it won’t be as devastating when these things happen.

5. Try to enjoy yourself.
Focus on the positive. So your cousin is mean, maybe your nephew adores you. Focus on him. Maybe you can’t stand your family, but love the Christmas ham. Focus on the food. Maybe you don’t get the present you were hoping for, but gave your mother a card that made her tear up. Focus on that. It need not be a big thing that makes you happy, maybe it is just the music on the radio – but try to find the joy in the season because there is a lot to be thankful for. You are alive and here to enjoy another holiday. Make the best of it.

*This blog originally appeared here on “Being Beautifully Bipolar” on PsychCentral.com in 2013. 



 
 

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