The seemingly endless panic attack

By Elaina J. Martin

panicLast week I had a rough day. I woke up in the king-sized bed I share with my boyfriend  and for the first few moments I had no idea where I was. This happens sometimes. Not frequently, but enough that I am going to bring it up to my doctors. Not knowing where you are is scary and, thus, began my seemingly endless panic attack.

I guess it was that initial sense of fear that thrust me into the mood of the day. I got up and took care of the dogs. When I popped out back to make sure the gate was shut I was afraid someone was going to shoot me. Totally irrational thought. I don’t live in the ghetto or even a dangerous area. I live in suburbia.

I took my anxiety meds and went back to bed. My bed is always my safe place. When I first moved in with my boyfriend over 3 years ago I had frequent panic attacks and I would rush off to hide in the bed covers.

I stayed in bed most of the day. Terrified. Sometimes heart pounding and breathing fast.

I couldn’t answer the phone when my best friend called because I couldn’t hold a conversation. There were only action verbs in my mind – RUN, HIDE, FLY.

Even though I was in bed, I wasn’t sleeping. I was too amped up for that nonsense. My mind just raced with horrific thoughts and fears.

At around 4:30 my boyfriend got home from work and finding me hiding beneath the sheet, he laid down with me. He did what he does best, he made me laugh. And the laughter shook loose the panic and after 15 minutes I could get up out of the bed and go downstairs and workout.

I never got comfortable that day. It felt like there was a beast inside me clawing me from the inside of my chest. I hate days like that, where I am debilitated by mental illness because sometimes they come out of nowhere. The day before was damn near perfect. The day after, I managed. But that day was a seemingly endless panic attack.

 

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net



Scars or tattoos?

By Elaina J. Martin

Today it seems like everyone has at least one tattoo. Over half my brother’s body is inked. My sister hides one on her rib cage. They can be anywhere, backs, calves, arms, bikini lines. No place is off limits.

cropped love tattooI have two tattoos. The first is the word “Love” on my right wrist. Perhaps this is the most important of the two. I got it for a couple reasons – to, as a Christian, signify that God means love, and maybe just as importantly, to remind myself to love myself. You see, sometimes that is hard. When I am depressed I abhor myself. And even when not depressed and my phone calls go unanswered or I get rejected from yet another literary agent, it is a reminder that I DO LOVE MYSELF, and always should.

foot tattooMy other (favorite) tattoo is on my right foot. It is a series of stars, the largest a maritime star, the upper most a yellow northern star. I designed it myself with a little help from my brother. To me it signifies that the answers lie above in the heavens. If I get lost all I need to do is look up.

But just as significant as tattoos are scars. They too tell a story or mean something. I have cut my wrists, both of them. There is a line that divides the “o” and the “v” in the “Love” tattoo. That was, no doubt, a dark night. My left wrist is a tangle of scars. Obsessive compulsive disorder is to blame. Unless you suffer from this ailment you have no idea how it feels to be all-consumed with a thought. I fight. And I fight. And after fighting some more I give in and I cut.

It has landed me in an Emergency Room and then on to a psych ward for a week. It has led to two incidents where I should have gotten stitches but didn’t seek treatment until it was too late for that and all that was left was to tape me flesh back together and wrap up my wrist. I’ve probably needed stitches more than that, but I shy away from doctors. Doctors mean lock-up, and I prefer my freedom.

But just as my tattoos signify something, so too do my scars. They mean that I am still here, that I have been to depths of hell that is obsessive compulsive disorder and lived to tell the tale.

Often I hide my scars. They aren’t pretty. People get concerned. But a lot of the time I don’t. I bear them as securely as I bear my tattoos. Because, after all, both define me. The pretty and the not-so-pretty. My ying and yang. My truth.



What if I had died when I tried to commit suicide?

By Elaina J. Martin

bridge beach
Image courtesy of 9comeback at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

My post is a little late this week because I wanted to write something for today – World Suicide Prevention Day.

You see I have made that choice – whether to continue living or to die. I have held my life in the palm of my hand in the form of many, many tiny pills. It is hard to explain because I don’t remember having a plan and, as far as I am concerned, I showed none of the signs – dwelling on death, giving away of my things, etc. I had been much more depressed in the past. For years I had struggled with depression before being diagnosed as beautifully bipolar. But that night, a week after starting my new job as a Style Editor, I decided to end my life. I swallowed all those tiny peach pills. I wrote a note and I lay down in my new bed, in my new apartment, and went to sleep for what I thought would be forever.

My new roommate found me passed out on the kitchen floor. An ambulance came for me and I ended up in Intensive Care. From there it was on to the psych ward for the first time.

When I was released I was so fragile, both physically and mentally. They had me on a mountain of meds and I had to be wheeled through the airport with my mother by my side as I headed back to Oklahoma from California to “rest and get well.”

It was a rough road to wellness, one I hope to never travel again. I lived on the love seat in my parents’ living room. Sometimes I made it to the bed in the guest room. Sometimes I didn’t. I saw both a therapist and psychiatrist weekly.

That year of my life fucking sucked.

That was nearly 6 years ago and here I sit typing. What if I had died when I tried to commit suicide? There would be broken hearts – my mom, dad, brother and sister. My grandma and my cousins. My uncles. My best friends who had watched me struggle and had tried to help.

I would have never gotten together with my boyfriend – someone who has made me happy for the last 5 years. I wouldn’t have “Hope,” my gorgeous beast of a dog that was named entirely for that reason. She came along when things were dark and hard and in her I saw a hope, a future.

I would have never written my memoir – a book that I hope will find its way into the hands of others trying to navigate this illness.

All the birthdays and holidays and learning to cook a killer lasagna and minutes in the sun and days at the beach and kisses and hugs – I would have missed them all.

I would have never known that I was beautifully bipolar, that there was a reason for all the madness.

There would be no words here to encourage you, dear reader, to live. Because I can tell you – living is better than dying and that voice in your head that tells you any differently is lying. I know what it sounds like. Seductive. Convincing. Like it knows what the hell it is talking about. I have been suicidal many times. I KNOW that voice. But that voice is an amalgamation of chemical deficits in your brain, a bit of bad wiring. You are not meant to kill yourself. You are meant to live.

If you or someone you knows is contemplating suicide or maybe just needs to talk, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

And as a final thought, here are the lyrics to Lady Antebellum’s song “One Day You Will,” appropriate on such a day as this.

“One Day You Will” by Lady Antebellum

You feel like you’re falling backwards
Like you’re slippin’ through the cracks
Like no one would even notice
If you left this town and never came back
You walk outside and all you see is rain
You look inside and all you feel is pain
And you can’t see it now[Chorus]
But down the road the sun is shining
In every cloud there’s a silver lining
Just keep holding on (just keep holding on)
And every heartache makes you stronger
But it won’t be much longer
You’ll find love, you’ll find peace
And the you you’re meant to be
I know right now that’s not the way you feel
But one day you willYou wake up every morning and ask yourself
What am I doing here anyway
With the weight of all those disappointments
Whispering in your ear
You’re just barely hanging by a thread
You wanna scream but you’re down to your last breath
And you don’t know it yet

[Repeat Chorus]

Find the strength to rise above
You will
Find just what you’re made of, you’re made of

[Repeat Chorus]

One day you will
Oh one day you will



“I wish I was stronger so that I had more to give.”

By Elaina J. Martin

Couple in loveEvery year, for our anniversary, I make my boyfriend a “mixed tape.” Each are filled with songs I think define us and our relationship. Over the past 5 years, the sentiments have changed as we’ve grown more comfortable with each other, from Coldplay’s “Fix You” on Mix 1 to Joy Williams “What Can I Do (But Love You) on Mix 6.

Last year I included Ron Pope’s “Perfect for Me.” One of the lines in the song really hit home. It goes – “I wish I was stronger so that I had more to give.”

Sometimes I feel weak, like I can’t be the girlfriend or the friend or the daughter or the sister I need to be because my mental illness makes me fragile. And I do wish I was stronger, braver, more “together.”

But this is me being beautifully bipolar and that has to be good enough. I can count on them to carry the heavy loads.

So I give all I’ve got. I love with passion – my boyfriend, my friends, my family. The kind of passion that I believe that those of us who are beautifully bipolar possess.

And remarkable – that is enough.

 

Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net



Out of the Darkness

By Elaina J. Martin

lighthouseLast year I attended the Out of the Darkness Walk here in Virginia. It was my first time to participate and I wrote about it last year in a post titled the same as this one, “Out of the Darkness.”  Take a look at it to read about my experience.

My great grandfather committed suicide. I never got to meet him. My cousin’s father committed suicide while he was still a boy. He grows up now without his father. I have attempted suicide.

Suicide has touched my life in more ways than one.

I think raising money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is so important and I want to ask you, dear reader, to step forward and donate to this cause.

I know money is tight, it is for me as well, but maybe you could skip that morning latte and donate a few bucks to my fundraising efforts. Please.

Here is the link to my donation page. Thank you in advance for any help you can offer.

 

Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 



Depression vs Feeling Sorry for Yourself

By Elaina J. Martin

shutterstock_127468844I got some comments regarding me last blog post, “Stop feeling sorry for yourself!” Some people found what I had to say offensive. I didn’t mean to offend though was not surprised by the reaction that came my way. I understand where you are coming from, but depression and feeling sorry for yourself are two different things.

Feeling sorry for yourself because you have bipolar disorder means you haven’t accepted it yet. You haven’t taken it in and said, “Yes, I have a mental illness but I will not let it define me.” Feeling sorry for yourself is marinating on the negative aspects of our illness – and yes, I am aware there are many.

Depression is another beast altogether. Depression isn’t feeling sorry for yourself, at least it has never been about that for me. I find the two distinctly different. Depression is a black abyss sucking you towards it, telling you lies. Depression is lethargy, a heaviness almost too much to hold, the steal-er of that spark in your soul that tells you to live.

So should you tell a depressed person to stop feeling sorry for herself? Maybe not.

But the truth is, if you do, she will just feel more misunderstood because her depression isn’t about pity, it’s about that black abyss. Depression isn’t feeling sorry for yourself. I am not telling anyone to “stop being depressed!” That is ridiculous, like telling a pianist he can’t have a piano. It does no good. The abyss is too black. The weight of life too heavy to listen to a blogger tell you to stop having a mental illness or episode. I would never say that.

So, dear reader, I am sorry if I offended you. Hopefully now you will know where I am coming from on this topic. Keep the comments coming.

Stretching image available from Shutterstock.



Stop feeling sorry for yourself!

By Elaina J. Martin

OK characterThis blog is going to make a lot of you mad, and that is okay. It must be said.

You need to stop feeling sorry for yourself.

I know, it is hard when you are diagnosed and you research and you read and you listen to your psychiatrist and you get on meds, to not feel sorry for yourself. I, too, felt sorry for myself in the beginning. How could this “terrible” thing happen to me? What did I do to deserve such a life sentence?

I read statistics on suicide rates of us beautifully bipolar beings. I felt doomed. I felt sorry for myself.

But where does feeling sorry for yourself get you? For me, it lands me smack dab into depression. And how is that helpful? I am not a statistic. I am Beautifully Bipolar.

Here’s the good news – we beautiful bipolar beings feel things with passion, a passion most “normal” people never will. Yes, the dark side is no picnic, but the positive side of things, well, it can feel amazing. We are creative. Check out Kay Redfield Jamison’s “Touched with Fire” for examples of the connection between bipolar disorder and artistic temperaments.

You are not a burden. You are not unlovable. You are not doomed. All of these things I believed of myself back in 2008 when I was diagnosed. Not today. Today I know I am a voice in mental health advocacy. I know that this blog can touch one person and make them feel a little bit better, to settle into their diagnosis, to know that it is not the end.

It is just a new beginning. Quit feeling sorry for yourself! It is an illness, not a death sentence. So get to living. You are amazing in so many ways.

Image courtesy of Master isolated images at FreeDigitalPhotos.net



Robin Williams lost the fight.

By Elaina J. Martin

robin williams
I’ve had some days now to digest the news of Robin Williams’s passing. It was very triggering for me, having attempted suicide before. Why does one man’s death, a man I never met, have such a profound effect on me? Because if this man, this celebrity who was witty and funny and loved by people all over the world, couldn’t find a reason to go on living, how can I? Will I too lose this battle eventually?

Fame,  family, fans – he had them all, but that didn’t stop him from taking his own life. What does it take to keep on living when all you want to do is die?

I’ve been there. I’ve been where he has been. Suicidal. It’s the blackest hole. It sucks all the air from your lungs. It lies to you. It sings to you a song that dying is better than living.

But it isn’t. Living is the good stuff.

Unfortunately, when I allow myself, I picture Robin as he was found after his death and it is horrible. Horrible. It makes me cry. No one should go out like that. No one.

And I find myself wondering what I could have said to him in that dark hour. I think it would be this:

“You are loved. God loves you and will take care of you. Better days are ahead, I promise. I know. I’ve been where you are and all the things that happened in the years since that night I nearly died prove that. I am not promising you sunshine and rainbows today or even tomorrow, but there will be many days in the sun. Pots of gold.  You have to be stronger than that voice in your head that tells you it is over. You have to be stronger than you have ever been. All you have to do is get through today. That’s all I ask. And I promise to ask you again tomorrow. And the day after that. One day at a time. That is all you have to do – take it one day at a time.”

 

* If you or someone you know is having a hard time or are considering suicide, call the LIFELINE at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

 

Photo Credit: Andrej Isakovic/AFP/Getty images



How Robin Williams is like Elaina J (trigger warning)

By Elaina J. Martin

suicide prevention lifelineI’ve had a rough time with the passing of Robin Williams. He is one of my comedic heroes – right up there with Steve Martin and Martin Short and Lucille Ball. Classically funny. Funny on camera in a series. Funny in an interview. Always funny.

I grew up with Robin Williams. His many movies. His out-of-this-world character. He was amazing.

He was…Still hard to swallow.

In my research of fellow Beautifully Bipolar beings, I found him. So far, they are saying he was suffering from depression – and well he may have been, but was it a symptom of bipolar disorder? I don’t know if it will be confirmed, but I believe this amazingly funny man lived for many years with bipolar disorder.

So how does that make him – a celebrity, and a little old blogger like me, – similar? Well, we like to laugh. We both attempted suicide.

The difference is he succeeded. Am I jealous? No. Not for one minute.

I can’t stop imagining his death. I know, morbid, but it happened. A man a year younger than my dad died – for reasons only he knows and that makes me sad. I cry as I write this. I wish he and I could have had a talk. Maybe something I could have said, from one suicidal person to another, could have helped, could have stopped this travesty.

But the difference between Robin Williams and Elaina J is that I lived. I lived to write this post, and many more before it and many more after. And it’s sad.

I hope this post makes you realize there is life after suicidal thoughts – attempts. There is so much more that life has to offer, I know. I found love and kindness and acceptance and a group full of people who are there for me – day or night.

If you are feeling hopeless, don’t give up. We lost a comedic hero but we don’t need to lose you. Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline if you need to. They are there just for you…and me.



Therapy and the Pdoc

By Elaina J. Martin

therapy and pdocToday was a hard day. I had therapy and an appointment with my psychiatrist, both in the same office suite. When I arrived the tiny waiting room was packed with little ones to quite big ones. I waited a step away from the guy in front of me at the receptionist’s window. Then I stepped up and paid my $80 copay. That’s right. 80 smackaroonies. After signing the receipt I stood with my back to the wall. There was only one seat left and I was not about to shove myself into it. Now, this is a very nerve wracking part of going to therapy and the pdoc for me. I can’t stand being closed in with a lot of people. I become very anxious. I remembered my iPod, my go-to for relaxation or at least distraction, but couldn’t find my earbuds in my mess of a purse so I impatiently waited a short time before my therapist came and saved me.

She took me back to her office and I melted into the upholstered armchair I always take, first grabbing a bottle of water. I told her about my recent couple anniversary – about the enjoyment and the disappointment. I talked. She listened. She talked. I listened. It’s good like that. I disappointed her, but was honest anyway. Listen to me, it is important to be honest as much as you may think your therapist won’t want to hear what you have to say. That is the only way that therapy can work. Honesty.

When we finished I headed out to the chairs lining the hall before my pdoc’s office. This is not the waiting room. It is a step closer to actually seeing the pdoc. The reason I was escorted to the chairs is because my appointment with the pdoc was set for the exact same time as my therapy appointment.

I still waited 45 minutes.

And the young woman next to me kept threatening that she was going to lose it if she had to wait much longer and the woman next to her was a diabetic who hadn’t had breakfast (it was now 1:15) and complained to the office manager about the wait and wasting her day. They were aggravated and it fed into my anxiety and fuck me if I didn’t have my music to calm me down!

Then, (FINALLY), it was my turn with my Dr. H. We discussed some med changes and a vitamin my physician recommended and then, after setting up an appointment with him for a month from now, I was out of there.

Outside that cramped waiting room I had to walk through, I ran my fingers through my newly shortened hair and took a few deep breaths. It’s not easy – therapy and meeting with your psychiatrist isn’t easy, at least not for me, even all these years later. But it is necessary and helpful, however exhausting.

 

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net



 
 

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