When people can’t deal with your mental illness

By Elaina J. Martin • 1 min read

standing out from the crowdThere is this thing called “stigma” that gets thrown around a lot when talk of mental illness comes up. To me, what I mean when I refer to the stigma of mental illness is that someone thinks less of you because of your illness or judges you unfairly.

In your life, as you become more comfortable coming out of the bipolar closet or people happen to find out you are mentally ill, you will find people who will judge you harshly. I am sorry, but that is the truth. I know. I live it.

Before I attended graduate school I was assigned a mentor – someone in the MFA creative writing program already – to answer any questions I had and just help prepare me. One day, while instant messaging each other, I told her that I planned to do my thesis (a completed book) as a memoir on mental illness because I have bipolar disorder. The next line she wrote me was, “Hey, sorry gotta run to the grocery store. Bye.” She never mentored me again after that. That was my first very bitter taste of stigma.

There were other situations – after my suicide attempt (before the mentor reaction) my therapist dumped me and told me not to contact her, that she would be sending me something in writing. I understand that she felt like she couldn’t help me the way I needed to be helped at the time, but it stung nonetheless.

Some friends called less and less until they stopped calling at all.

But what I want to tell you is that this thing called “stigma” is a reflection of them, not you. You are amazing, just as you are. I feel that I am better off without the people that would judge me than I would be with them in my life. I am still Elaina J. I still laugh really loud. I am still empathetic. I am still a good friend/daughter/sister/girlfriend. I just happen to have bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

I don’t mean to make it sound easy when people can’t deal with your mental illness. It isn’t and it sucks. I’ve cried over it and you may too or you may get angry or you may get depressed, but it is good to feel something about being stigmatized because then is when you learn to be brave. You’ll learn, sometimes sooner than others, that you will be okay without the judgmental person in your life. And you will find new people – awesome people – who know about your mental illness and like/love you just the same. These are the people to hang onto; let the other ones go.

 

Image courtesy of jscreationzs at FreeDigitalPhotos.net



It’s okay to move back in with your parents.

By Elaina J. Martin • 1 min read

home sweet home keyIn the fall of 2008 I had, what you might consider, a nervous breakdown. I tried to kill myself – to end my life. After a few days in both the intensive care unit and the psych ward, I was released. But I had to leave my new job and new apartment and all that California could have been for me to move back home with my parents in Oklahoma, after basically living on my own for a decade.

I was 27.

I don’t know what I would have done if I didn’t have the parents that I do – parents that are supportive, loving, and nurturing. I am so lucky. They sorted through my medical bills, combining my money with theirs. Never telling me I owed them a cent. “We just want you to get better,” they told the girl who only wanted the pain of life to stop.

I lived with them for 2 years: An adult child. I moved out when I started graduate school and I was scared shitless. Could I survive on my own? Would I go crazy again? Could I handle the pressure?

I went home to my parents, an hour and a half’s drive from Wilmington, North Carolina, every weekend. I couldn’t stand being alone with just my gorgeous beast of a dog, Hope, to keep me company. I needed my mom’s cooking. I needed to watch a movie with my dad. I still needed support.

I didn’t stay in graduate school. I took a leave of absence which turned into a decision to not return. But I moved in with my boyfriend in Virginia. Someone else to love and care for me.

I just want you to know that it is NOT a sign of weakness to ask for help or to accept it. Living with my parents probably saved my life. I know it made it better. My mom drove me to all my appointments, buying me a coffee before the awkward therapy sessions. They suffered through all the med changes with me. They dealt with my moods. They are heroic.

Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t proud of the fact that I had to live with my parents at 27 and 28, but I am thankful for their love that wrapped itself around me like the handmade quilt my mom made me for college graduation.

So if you are in a bad place and you have a friend or a family member or a loved one who reaches out a hand – take it.

 

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 



Tired

By Elaina J. Martin • 1 min read

woman sleeping on booksFor every blessing in my bipolar journey, there seems to be a cost. My anxiety is pretty much under control lately. (Yay!) I take anxiety meds three times a day. I can function. I can drive my car. But I am tired most of the time.

I take an atypical antipsychotic called Saphris. It is my wonder drug. It was the first thing that really seemed to get my moods and symptoms under control. For years I took two 10mg tablets at bedtime. Recently, my psychiatrist has asked that I take one at night and one in the morning as that is the way it is prescribed to be taken. Easier said than done. Although not a sedative, it has sedating properties and makes me exhausted. So now I set an alarm for 6 or 7 in the morning (depending on how early I go to bed), wake up, put the tablet in my mouth to dissolve, and go back to sleep. I’ve learned I need about 4 hours to get over the fatigue. I’m not lazy. I am medicated.

I wish I didn’t need these meds. I wish I could just function like a “normal” person, but the fact is that I do need them and they are working and as long as they are working, I will continue to take them. I rather be cool, calm, and collected than anxious or manic any day so I deal with the fatigue.

*I know there are some of you out there that read this blog that do not believe in taking medication and I respect your decision. Please be respectful of mine. 

 

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 



Recreating Your Support System

By Elaina J. Martin • 1 min read

support systemsI have been mentally ill – maybe forever. As far back as junior high I can remember dark thoughts permeating the light ones. It is nothing to be ashamed of, it is chemical composition. As much as I don’t want these thoughts they are as much a part of me as my green/brown eyes and curly hair. They just ARE.

As I have mentioned before having a support system is paramount. You need people in your corner. You need your own cheerleaders because sometimes getting out of bed is an insurmountable feat. You need someone to vent to, someone to TRY to understand how it feels to be mentally ill. This life is hard as Hell.

Recently my best friend and I have passed emails back and forth about not being there, about trying to be there – about life. Jesus, life is hard.

All I know is that your support system is ever evolving. Add a new member from your support group. Drop that old high school friend who is always comparing your lives. Give. Take. It is an evolution.

I am not even trying to say I am dropping the “best friend.” I am simply saying that you have to be open to new supportive people in your world.

I have met a local lady who “gets it.” It is so nice to have coffee with someone who has been on the inside of a psych ward – it is like a secret handshake. I have even found a couple of online friends that I trust. I have never met them face to face, but I know they “get” me.

Search and reach out to people who understand you. They will help you. They will keep you safe.

 

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Impromptu Therapy Sessions

By Elaina J. Martin • 1 min read

call now noteI had a rough night. I got overwhelmed. I catastrophized – thinking what if this, then that and then that and then what will I do???!!! It is not a healthy way of thinking,but not uncommon for those of us with OCD.

So I did what I would tell you to do if you felt you were in any kind of crisis, I phoned my therapist this morning. Luckily she had an opening today at 3. I had an ophthalmologist appointment at 1:30 and hoped I could make it there in time. (Side note: No changes to my vision and no eye problems. We have a lot in my family. Good news and relief). I was late to therapy but she had told me there was a twenty minute window where she could still see me if late, I made it just under the wire.

The first thing I did upon arriving to her office was to take one of the water bottles she offers her clients and take my anxiety meds. It was that time of the day and I was definitely feeling anxious. Then we took a few big deep breaths together and then I began.

I don’t want to get into my personal shit here (ironic, I know), that is for me and my therapist, but it was the best decision I could have made to phone her and set up an appointment. I noticed a new look on her face today, like maybe she was thinking – “Finally! How she really feels!” I felt a little better afterward. More safe. Less alone with my emotions.

I know we can’t all have impromptu sessions with a therapist, shoot, this is the first time I’ve ever had a same day appointment! But we all have other outlets to vent to – friends, family, partners, or simply writing it out – putting on paper (or screen) all the things you are feeling. You need not make any decisions or have any big “talks.” “When you are strong enough,” she said to me.

This has all been a bit of a ramble, which is how my mind and soul feel today, all twisted around. But my point (!) was, when in crisis or emotional trouble, seek help the best way you can. Feel free to check out one of the many forums here on Psych Central, where you can be as anonymous as you wish and chat with like minded individuals. Or call a friend. Or buy a journal. Just get it out.

 

Image courtesy of marcolm at FreeDigitalPhotos.net



Who do you tell & when do you tell them?

By Elaina J. Martin • 2 min read

whispering figuresI had coffee today with a somewhat new friend and an older one. This new friend and I have met a handful of times since the summer. We are Facebook friends so she asked if I was writing a book and I told her I had completed it – a while ago actually, just searching for an agent or publisher now. I didn’t feel awkward talking about the fact that it is a memoir of my mental illness. I didn’t feel I needed to.

I believe I told her the day we met that I had bipolar disorder and that I blog for Psych Central. Maybe not, maybe I was more vague. But I am sure I at least told her I had a mental illness.

The “older” friend found out through a blog on my personal site, ElainaJ.com, when I “came out” as mentally ill. In the post I mentioned climbing trees in sequin dresses and rooftops at 2 in the morning. This friend, though new at the time, offered to climb up with me next time.

There is this horrible thing called “STIGMA” that exists. I’ve encountered it. It doesn’t feel good to know that someone thinks less of you because you have an illness of the mind. But please remember, 1 in 4 of us is mentally ill. Think of all the people you know, then do the math.

ADD, ADHD, PTSD, PPD, OCD, anxiety/panic disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and the many other illnesses of the mind are not to be ignored.

But who do you tell and when do you tell them of your illness?

I know you were hoping I had some magic answer – the number of dates or email exchanges. Sorry to disappoint you, but I don’t. BUT I can tell you what has worked for me.

Before I “came out” to the world, long before I blogged openly about my illnesses for Psych Central, I was afraid to let anyone besides my family and very close friends know that I was mentally ill. I was so afraid of what people would think of me, that they wouldn’t like me. When I started talking to my boyfriend I hinted about being sick – and he also knew I was 28 and living with my parents – but I never came out and said I was mentally ill for months. Finally, when I felt like I could trust him I whispered the words “bipolar disorder” into the phone late one night. You know what happened? He asked how he could help. (It’s things like that that have probably kept us together for over 5 & 1/2 years).

Writing my memoir also helped. When you are writing a book everyone asks the same question – “What is it about?” I started off by brushing that question away with, “Oh, it’s about mental illness.” Then at my best friend’s wedding reception people asked me that same question and because these people lived half a country away and I knew I would not be seeing them regularly, I peeled off the Band-aid. “I have bipolar disorder and OCD and anxiety disorder and it is about my life living with these illnesses.” And you know what happened? People were interested! They had questions. They knew people with one of my illnesses. They asked to let them know when the book came out. No, no one went running and screaming away. No one even excused themselves to the bathroom.

Today it is pretty easy to be open, after all I blog about this – my life – for you twice a week and publicize my posts on social media. If you Google me, you’ll find interviews and blog posts about my mental health.

So that is kind of the long answer. The short one? You tell whoever you want when you are ready. You may never tell some people. You may have to tell others. But it is your life and your mind and you are in control.

 

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net



You Are Still Lovable

By Elaina J. Martin • 1 min read

heartsWhen I was first diagnosed with bipolar 1, I took it pretty hard. My whole world had just been flipped upside down. A week prior I had been a Style Editor for a major website in California and then, there I was, sitting across from a psychiatrist with my mother at my side in Oklahoma being asked a bunch of questions that all boiled down to an accurate diagnosis – bipolar disorder.

I didn’t know much about the illness so, as I am apt to do, I researched. I read ferociously books on the subject. I joined a support group for people with bipolar disorder. I went to therapy.

I read a lot of bad things – like suicide rates and co-morbid conditions – things I had no idea I was at risk for.

And mostly I felt ashamed, as though my mental illness was my fault and I had to keep it a secret because who would ever love a sick girl?

When I was very sick, I was vulnerable and it was this vulnerability that allowed me to let people in.

What I’ve learned on my journey being beautifully bipolar is that I am still lovable. There have been people to love me through hospitalizations, bouts of depression, and flights of mania. You see, it is part of the package and it isn’t a part I need to be embarrassed about.

You are still lovable. Mental illness does not exclude you from love, just as a cancer patient isn’t excluded from love because he or she is sick. You have an illness of the mind and it isn’t your fault, and it isn’t a dirty secret. Be open to love – from friends, family, partners – because you deserve it.

 

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 



When It Is Just Hard

By Elaina J. Martin • 1 min read

woman in bathIf you read the last post, I hurt my leg and it is being slow to heal. The key is to stay off of it. The more I move it, the more it hurts.

I laid in bed until an un-Godly hour today. I took my meds at 6 am and again at 10. Fed, watered, and let the dogs out and back in again. Then I retired to the bed with the heating pad to soothe my aching leg. It felt good to drift in and out of consciousness, to know my two dogs were near, to know that despite the stormy weather outside – I was safe.

I had a hard time getting motivated. I didn’t eat until 2:30 pm. Tuna fish on toast and a quarter of an avocado. Strange, but needed.

I seriously debated whether or not I could go another day without a shower, just throw on a “Virginia is for Lovers” ball cap and a hoodie. But because I couldn’t decide what to do, I showered. I figured the rest would come to me…And it did. I styled my hair, put on a cute outfit, put on the diamond necklace I got from my boyfriend for my last birthday. I felt better, more alive.

I understand how hard it is sometimes just to commit to a shower. I know how it feels when all you want to do is lie in bed. But you have to try. Take the shower and go back to bed if you have to, but make an effort, as Herculean as it might seem.

No one said Being Beautifully Bipolar was easy.

 

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No One Knows It Hurts

By Elaina J. Martin • 1 min read

megaphoneI hurt my leg this week. Don’t ask how because I am not really sure. All I know is I slept on the couch and woke up in the morning with a sore neck and hurt leg – knee mostly. I think it has to do with getting out of the car at CVS the morning prior. Anyway, it hurts to walk on it and stairs are a bitch.

So what in the world does me hurting my leg and straining my neck have to do with mental illness? All are invisible. If it weren’t for the hitch in my giddy-up, you wouldn’t know anything was wrong. Say you saw me sitting reading, I’d appear just fine. Meanwhile, the ache from my knee has sent spasms out to the surrounding area and is shooting pain up to my thigh and down my calf to my ankle. But you wouldn’t know that, not unless I told you.

Mental illness is so silent it is scary. People hide behind false smiles and canceled plans and we are all led to believe that everybody’s all right. That girl with the voices in her head – you can’t hear them, but she can. That guy who had to wash his hands 35 times before leaving the house and then check the lock 10 times to be sure he locked it – you have no idea. We can only get help and help each other when we know something is wrong – like my leg or my sore neck or my OCD or my anxiety or my bipolar disorder.

Trust. It is all about trust. Not everyone needs to know about the voices in your head, for some this would be scary to hear. But professionals have heard it all before. They know how to handle mental illness. And don’t be scared of the label mentally ill! Most people I know are physically ill. Who am I kidding, I know quite a few of the mentally ill, and you know what? They are amazing! Don’t let a label – schizophrenia, borderline, bipolar, depressed, PPD, OCD, PTSD – make you afraid of speaking out and getting help.

No one knows it hurts if you don’t tell them. Speak up.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net



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

 



 
 

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