Live for today

By Elaina J. Martin

This blog post is inspired by a recent comment I received. The question was posed – how do we continue to keep on going when we know that inevitably we will fall victim to our episodes?

sunriseI have rapid cycling bipolar disorder, my episodes of mania, depression, or mixed states can last hours, days, weeks, months. I never know how long my old friend Depression is going to hang around. I never know how high my mania will take me, what danger it will tempt me into. I can’t know. That’s the nature of the beast.

So how do I stay beautifully bipolar?

I take it a day at a time. No, I wasn’t clever enough to come up with this simple solution on my own, my therapist taught it to me. All I have to worry about is today. What can I control today? What can I avoid? What can I do?

The future is too complicated. Yes, there will be episodes and symptoms. I have absolutely no doubt about that, but I am not prepared to live my life waiting for the next shoe to drop.  I’ve done that. It does no good.  It ruins today.

I know bipolar disorder is overwhelming. I know it can be all consuming. But I promise you it is easier if you take it a day at a time. Forget about tomorrow. Forget about how you will feel next week or next month or in five years. Live for today. Do the best you can do today, even if all that means is managing a shower and a bowl of cereal. Maybe it means applying of the job of your dreams. Whatever the case – today. That’s it. That is all you have to get through.


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Talk to the Doc

By Elaina J. Martin

doctorThe relationship between you and your psychiatrist is a very special one. He wields the power of medications that very well may help you. It is important to find a psychiatrist you click with. I say this from experience, having had both good and bad ones. Now, you will most likely never be as close to them as you are your therapist (unless he or she is also your therapist), but you should feel comfortable when you see them during the inevitably brief visits.

Because a psychiatrist is in charge of your medication management there will be a lot to discuss – the pros and cons of certain medications, how the meds are affecting you, any side effects, etc.

I’ve talked about the myriad side effects I’ve dealt with in the past and for each of them, I had to talk to my psychiatrist. It is okay to feel uncomfortable to bring up certain side effects like constipation or a challenged sex drive. These aren’t things you normally talk to about with a man you see once a month for 15 minutes. But he (or she) isn’t just a man, he is your doctor. He won’t know if things aren’t going smoothly unless you tell him. Those are your 15 minutes, use them!

There are a lot of medications out there and newer ones are popping up all the time. For me, a nasty side effect went away just by switching antidepressants. Don’t feel like you should suffer any more than you have to. Finding the rights meds is tricky, but you will never find something that truly works for you if you don’t talk to your doc.


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Better things

By Elaina J. Martin

sunflowersI wrote another blog post yesterday afternoon to post today but it suddenly feels too naked. So, instead, I will write something new.

I am not happy today. This day is not unlike any other. I got up. I took care of the dogs. I got ready. But today I went to therapy and, try as I might, therapy is never fun. We didn’t delve into anything “deep” or upsetting necessarily. We just talked and I drank the water she offered.

I’ve realized that over the years my world has shrunken – shrunken considerably. I used to have tons of friends and always something to do. Now, not so much. It hasn’t helped that I have moved 4 times in the past 5 years from state to state.

I just get so anxious about meeting new people. I get stomach aches. I have panic attacks.

Anxiety is a bitch and I hate her.

It is alright to have days like today. It is alright to throw a pity party for yourself every now and again, after all, if not you – then who? We just can’t get stuck here. We must move forward. Put Anxiety in her place. Believe that better things are just around the corner, because they are.

They are.


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Take a nap. Life will be here when you wake up.

By Elaina J. Martin

elephantI was sick again today with the stomach troubles that new medicine has been causing. I found myself lying on the couch and it reminded me of days gone by. When I was very sick – mentally, very sick – I needed rest. It is hard to describe the exhaustion that depression brings. I’ve likened it before to an elephant sitting on my chest. How strong must I be to keep standing up with an elephant on my chest? It’s too hard to endure. One needs a break.

When I was first diagnosed as beautifully bipolar I was given a lot of meds – anti-psychotics, anti-depressants, sedatives, anti-convulsants – you name it, I was on it.  Your mind can only handle so much. Your body can only handle so much. So everyday, between 1 and 3, I would nap. I would fall immediately into sleep and wake up feeling like the elephant had moved his right leg to the floor. A little reprieve.

Today I am more well. I don’t need daily naps, well, unless depression comes a knockin’. But I want to put this out there: It is okay to need rest. It is okay if you need to take an hour or two out of your day to nap. Nobody’s judging you (and if they are they aren’t worth your energy to begin with).

Being a mental health warrior is hard work. I know. But you can do it, and if you need to take that elephant off for a few – it’s all good.


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By Elaina J. Martin

panic button manI am feeling very anxious.

It was hard to stop washing my hands after one go ’round. It felt so good I wanted to do it again and again and again. I can wash my hands 30 times in a row. But with each turn, my anxiety heightens because I can’t stop. It is no longer a decision. It is a compulsion.

It’s the same with counting and with cutting.

There is a tightness in my chest. Fidgeting hands. Wiggling of my leg. But what’s a girl to do? I’ve reached out to my support system and what are they supposed to do anyway?

I just have to remember that this feeling – this horrible dread – will go as sure as it came. I must try to distract myself from all the compulsions I feel the need to act out. I need to remember to breathe.

Emotional “buckets”

By Elaina J. Martin

bucketThere are a couple of lines in the television show, “The United States of Tara,” (which I highly advise watching on Netflix) which came to mind when I sat down to write this post.

Marshall says, “I’m sorry, but I think my bucket is full,” in the midst of a family crisis.
His dad, Max, says, “That’s alright, son. I’ll hold your bucket for you if you can’t.”

I’m not as capable as I once was. I used to be able to juggle a million things and events and deadlines and relationships. I used to be Superwoman’s BFF. I didn’t just think I could conquer the world, I knew I could. Maybe some of that was mania, or maybe it was just life before I was sick, either way, today is different.

We all have an emotional “bucket” like Marshall’s and Max’s and there is only so much room inside of it. When I became beautifully bipolar, my bucket shrank. I can’t hold all that I once could. I try but am so easily overwhelmed. The memory of my old life and its chaos is enough to make me want to take a nap.

That’s not to say I don’t wish I was the way I was before. But things are different now. I accept that. I do what I can. That has to be enough.

Not everyone’s bucket is the same size. I have a friend with the bucket the size of an Olympic swimming pool whereas mine is about the size of a toddler’s beach pail.

It’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to need help with your bucket. There are people out there who are willing to hold it for you ’til you gain your strength back.


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“Let’s up your Prozac.”

By Elaina J. Martin

bbq pillsI went to see my therapist and psychiatrist today (two separate people in one office suite). I talked with my therapist about the results of my liver tests and ultrasound and she was proud of the steps I am taking in order to be physically healthy as well as mentally well.

I was kind of dreading seeing my psychiatrist because I worried that with my current liver condition we would have to change my meds – the meds that have kept me from a full blown-she-needs-to-be-hospitalized-manic-episode for a couple of years now. Please don’t take that to mean that I am cured and that everything is butterflies and ice cream cones. I still deal with a lot of my symptoms, but these meds have kept me out of the hospital, and for that I am grateful.

He told me that unfortunately all my meds go through my liver. No way around that one. He bent over several books, rubbing his forehead, reading aloud to me, that there was no need to change my current dosages based on my liver numbers. So, for now, the meds stay the same, well, except for one small change.

“I’m having these obsessive thoughts about running people over,” I said. This is a newer OCD manifestation, one that didn’t even exist the last time I saw him 2 months ago.
“It’s like, if there is a motorcyclist or someone walking on the sidewalk next to the street or someone riding their bike, I KNOW I am going to run them over.”

“Do you wanna up your Prozac?” he asked.

“I dunno. What do you think?”

“Well, I think it will help with the obtrusive thoughts in addition to what you are working on with your therapist.”

“Yeah. She has me talking to myself. It goes like this – ‘You are not going to run over that man. You have never run over anyone. You will never run over anyone. Now you are passing him. He’s still safe. Now he is behind you and you can’t run over him.’”

“That’s good, self-talk is good.”

“Let’s up your Prozac and see if that helps.”

So, ladies and gents, up the Prozac goes, which I always am leery to do because antidepressants in bipolar patients can bring on mania. But, I am on a couple mood stabilizers and my doctor thinks I will be fine – and if not he works 6 days a week and is just a phone call away.


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Sleep & the Bipolar Mind

By Elaina J. Martin

alarm clockSleep is so important to the bipolar mind. I expect that quite a few of you will post comments telling me that you relate. There is some strange connection between getting the right amount of sleep and mania, or even just plain moodiness, for me. Maybe my body feels that lack of sleep is the same as stress, after all, isn’t it putting stress on me physically and mentally?

I thought of this as today’s topic because last night, because of the before mentioned chronic stomach aches, I was up from 4-8ish A.M. And I am trying not to be crabby, really I am not, but I feel charged for aggravation today. On the way to brunch I chalked my swinging mood (one minute I am making up songs about my shoes, the next I was giving my boyfriend the death stare from the passenger seat) to the fact that I was hungry. I am well-known for my pissy moods when I am hungry. After I had eaten brunch, I was still vacillating from humor to “I’m gonna kill you.” Now that it is late afternoon, I am realizing that it is this hiccup in my sleep pattern that has my moods all jacked up.

Sleep is paramount to my mental stability. It is often a lack of sleep that brings on mania for me. (Don’t worry, I am not turning manic today). In fact, when I am in a manic phase I will sleep on average 2 hours a night and not feel tired. I don’t need the sleep. Mania’s got all the energy I need.

At every psychiatry appointment my psychiatrist asks me how I am sleeping and for how many hours. He wants to make sure that I am getting enough sleep. He wants to check and see if my sleep pattern indicates an upcoming mood disturbance. He also wants to be sure I am not sleeping too much – a signal of depression in my case.

So be mindful of your sleep. Don’t push yourself so hard that you don’t get adequate number of hours of sleep per night. Take naps if you need and can. Try to stick to a schedule that works for you.

As for me, I think I will hit the hay a little bit early for a Saturday night and hopefully tomorrow I will feel a little more stable.


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Nasty Side Effects

By Elaina J. Martin

blue pillsFor the past month I have been on a new medication to treat my newly found hypothyroidism. Not a big deal. Take a tiny pill on an empty stomach first thing in the morning with plenty of water. That’s all fine and good and my thyroid is probably doing a better job at whatever it is thyroids do, but for the better part of the last month I have had a stomach ache. So today, as I sit here sipping ginger ale, I am reminded of all the nasty side effects I have endured in the name of my psychiatric medications.

My friend just started a new medication for her anxiety and she told me it made her feel dizzy at first. I knew exactly what she was talking about. It’s that effervescent feeling in your head. When I started Klonopin last year I couldn’t drive for a few days as I adjusted to the sedative. It was a little like being drunk – only sober. You really need to consider your ability to operate heavy machinery (just as if intoxicated) when you are on psychotropic drugs.

When I first started on this bipolar journey I was a hard case. Nothing worked. My psychiatrist at the time tried so many drugs in so many combinations. I really have no idea all the medications I have tried. I really wish I would have created a list (maybe this is something you want to think about doing as you move through this illness). But some I remember quite well. Like Zyprexa, the little pill that caused me to night eat. I would wake up in the middle of the night and eat a bowl of cereal or snack cakes, never quite remembering but seeing the evidence in the morning. That med made me SO HUNGRY. ALL THE TIME. I gained 20 lbs in about 6 weeks. Impressive, right?

Like I said, for the first year – year and a half, I was on a ton of meds. I remember one morning taking a shower and the weight of my arms felt so immense that I had a hard time washing my hair. I wanted to cry when I got out of the shower and then had to dry my hair. I just felt so weak. As the day progressed the feeling would lessen, but I always needed an afternoon nap. I could not stay awake. I hear people complain about feeling like a zombie because of mind meds, I never quite felt like a zombie but I definitely felt deflated and tired, like I could never really get going, well, unless I was manic, but that is a whole other topic.

I’ve had hand tremors, nausea, headaches, double vision, constipation, low sex-drive, fatigue. Sigh. I know, I know, it doesn’t sound like a whole hell of a lot of fun, does it? But with time a lot of the side effects would go away after an adjustment period. When they didn’t, we would make some med changes. It’s hard to be patient and take your meds and see what happens, but there really is no other way. There is no magic formula for treating bipolar disorder.

But don’t get discouraged! Hang in there! You will find something that makes your life a little easier. (Notice I did not say “cure” you. There is no “cure”). It took me a year and a half and multiple psychiatrists, many, many med changes, until I stumbled onto a drug called Saphris. It changed everything.

Today I take Saphris in combination with three other medications to try and balance my mind and moods. That is 12 pills a day. It’s still not perfect. I still sometimes stumble into depression. Anxiety is still a bitch. But I am better today than I was at the beginning of this journey.


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Stress and Bipolar Disorder

By Elaina J. Martin

rabbitStress and bipolar disorder are a marriage of misery.

My first psychotic break – the suicide attempt in California – was brought on by stress. I was in a new state halfway across the country from where I had been living for years. I was in a new job. I had a new roommate and new flat. Stress is not always bad, sometimes it is the good kind, like finally getting the job you always wanted as a Style Editor for a salary that nearly doubled what you had been making.

But it is stress, nonetheless, and I can’t handle stress.

Stress always seems to proceed episodes of mania and, sometimes, of depression for me. I get overwhelmed. I inevitably catastrophize (which means to follow a train of thought until which a catastrophe happens). For example, I am dealing with liver numbers that are out of whack and to me (thanks to WebMD), I will need a liver transplant. Don’t fret. I won’t. But my mind goes to the worst possible outcome and it camps out there and everything in my life gets jumbled up and forgotten about.

I’ve had more panic attacks in the past two weeks than I have had in the last six months. Stress = No bueno. So, my apologizes, dear reader, for being more erratic with my posts lately. I am in strange, stress land trying not to go down the rabbit hole. But I will be BEAUTIFULLY bipolar again soon. ;)


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