The “Old Lady” Signature

By Elaina J. Martin

signatureI have taken a lot of psychiatric meds over the years and I will be the first one in line to tout their benefits. For me, they work. Not always at first. Sometimes not at all. Sometimes they just need some adjusting. But they keep me sane and functioning and for that I am thankful.

I recently started taking a higher dose of Effexor XR. This is to both help my depression and, more importantly, help with my anxiety. I already take Prozac, but we decided to add this a while ago to see if it helped.

Honestly, I don’t know if it has helped. I still have terrible situational anxiety at times – driving, crowds, small spaces with too many people, loud noises, etc.

But what I have had the pleasure of noticing (sarcasm), is the severe trembling of my hands.

I’ve dealt with this before with other psychiatric meds. You start them and you shake and you quake and you get over it.

I have yet to get over it.

Today I went to CVS to fill a prescription and was asked to sign the automated tablet with my name. I swear to you that “E” had four lines just on the top of it! My mom and I joked that maybe they would think I was an old lady. Joking, but sad.

As I clutched the steering wheel to the pharmacy I noticed the shaking in my hands. Sure, I had had some coffee, but it would take a “normal” person thermos upon thermos to acquire my shakes, not a large Dunkin’ Donuts coffee with cream. They start somewhere around the elbow and radiate outwards.

They make me feel un-sturdy. They make me feel weak. They make me feel unreliable.

A couple of weeks ago my boyfriend fixed our kitchen sink. He asked me to push down on the top part of the faucet as he unscrewed it beneath. My hands and muscles trembled something fiercely and I hoped that underneath the sink he couldn’t see it, couldn’t feel it. ‘Cause it isn’t normal the amount of quakes and shakes in my hands. It is a result of medication. Too much? Adjusting? I don’t know.

I do know this isn’t working. I am not old yet. I need not shake like an 85-year-old woman. I am 33. I have tons of time to get there. So, if this shaking hasn’t stopped by the time I see my psychiatrist on the 3rd, I will ask him for alternative options, because this shaking is for the birds.

And with this sentiment I urge you to be honest with your doctor. If something isn’t working you have to speak up. YOU are your own ADVOCATE. If you don’t speak up, who will?


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Coping Skills for Anxiety

By Elaina J. Martin

do not disturb snailI had a rough week with little time to myself so, first of all, forgive me for the lag in blogging, but it couldn’t be helped. If you read my last blog you know that I drove to my parents’ house in North Carolina to celebrate my grandmother’s 80th birthday and to spend time with my family. Sounds good in theory.

I live a quiet life. Usually you can find me at home with my two big, black dogs and maybe my boyfriend (if he is home from work). Every other weekend his kids come to stay with us and those weekends are a little louder. But for the most part it is me and my dogs and my boyfriend and my music and my writing. I still hang out with friends and still talk on the phone, but as I mentioned – it is a quiet life.

So when I went to my parents’ and was inundated with a loud grandmother who never stops talking, three additional small dogs, my parents and, when we celebrated her birthday with presents and cupcakes, my brother and sister-in-law, a loud television and no room of my own – HELLO, ANXIETY.

It was important for me to take my meds as many of them are prescribed with the specific purpose of quelling my anxiety. I hate to tell you, but they weren’t enough. I am sure they must have helped, but not enough. I am trying to get in to see my psychiatrist before December 3rd (my next appt with him) to do some med changes.

I wanted to give you some examples of things I tried and did to get me through the times I was really amped up.

Scene 1: I am sitting on the couch with my grandma, the television is on, my mom and dad are in the living room with us and one of my grandma’s dogs is playing with my mom’s Yorkie in between us on the couch. Every once in a while the Yorkie throws herself in my face to kiss me. I sit here for a while until suddenly I stand up and announce, “That’s it. I need a break.” Now, remember the guest room is being occupied by my grandma and I am sleeping on the couch, the same couch I just got up from. I went to the unheated laundry room with my phone, sat down on the cold tile, pulled the pocket door closed and took some deep breaths. I am all for deep breathing. Nothing helps me more. I perused Facebook and tried to busy my mind away from the feeling of anxiety. After about 20 minutes my Dad came to check on me and told me I could go in my parents’ bedroom instead of sitting on the floor. I took him up on his offer. I tried calling my best friend and my sister – again, with hopes of distraction but no answer. Soon my mom came in and asked if I was mad at them and I explained that I was simply overwhelmed. This whole “break” was probably no more than 45 minutes but it was what I needed. After it, I was able to rejoin my family for dinner without wanting to crawl out of my skin.

Scene 2: My mom belongs to a quilting guild (she is quite a talented quilter, by the way) with my sister-in-law, and my grandma and I went along to the meeting with them. Usually the monthly meetings are held in a church fellowship hall but due to certain circumstances this particular meeting was held at a room in a library which was too small for the large number of attendees – some people had to stand for the meeting because there weren’t enough chairs. I KNEW this was going to be a hard one for me. So many people. So little space. When it was time for a break in the meeting, I went outside the library doors and stood in the cold and just breathed. I closed my eyes and practiced a little visualization – imagining my favorite coffee shop on the lake in Austin. I didn’t care if anyone saw me. It was what I needed to do. It was survival.

Scene 3: Same living room scene but this time I went out on the back porch and called my boyfriend. Just the sound of his voice relaxes me. We talked for a while and I was away from all the noise and it helped.

I don’t have the cure for anxiety. I wish I did. But I have tools that I can use when I am in a situation when I am overwhelmed. You do too. Don’t be afraid to “take a break.” Remember to breathe. Roll your shoulders. Take a walk. Go outside. Call a friend. Listen to your favorite music. Do what you need to do to stop anxiety from resulting in a panic attack. ‘Cause those are no fun at all.

I love my mom and dad, but my grandma is a bit much sometimes. I am glad to be home, sitting here in the quiet typing this as Sammy, a Doberman mix, sleeps behind me.


Image courtesy of Boaz Yiftach at

Driving Me Mad

By Elaina J. Martin

blue carIf you follow this blog you may be aware of the fact that I have OCD issues revolving around driving. Well, today I took a 4 and a half hour trip with just my dog in the backseat. It is the first time in a few months that I have made the voyage to my parents place in the country of North Carolina.

I’d like to tell you it was easy. I’d like to tell you I just sang along with my iPod and everything was just dandy.

But I can’t say that.

It was, at one point, quite horrible. You see I am deathly afraid of running someone over, and there was not one, but two separate men on the highway. Not in cars. Not even on motorcycles. Just out on the highway. Not to mention the cars that had broken down and had people outside of the vehicles on the shoulder of the road.

And then I couldn’t see the road lines very well. In certain areas they were in desperate need of some repainting. It was super sunny and the lines were faint and there were people on the side of the road and it was all too much.

I freaked out. I tried not to. I just wanted to GET HERE, for the drive to be over. But when I saw a rest area I stopped and called my mom. I did some deep breathing. I calmed down. 15 minutes later, I was back on the road.

I’m not sure what I am going to do about this fear of driving. It could become incapacitating. I NEED to be able to drive – to get places, to get to appointments, to meet up with friends, to drive 4 and a half hours to my parents.

I am not looking forward to the drive home. I wish someone was here to drive me back.

It is just getting worse.


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So Many Pills

By Elaina J. Martin

pill bottleI was doing some much needed clean-up today and found my stash of empty pill bottles.

3 shopping bags full.

Now each of these bottles once contained 30, 60, or 180 pills. Try wrapping your head around that. These shopping bags do not include the boxes that my Saphris come in, those get thrown away. So, if you’d like, add those pills in too. 60 a month.

Every day I take 13 psychiatric pills. Some are two of the same thing and some are simply a repeat later in the day. But, my goodness, that is a lot of drugs! Plus I take 2 other non-psychiatric meds and a vitamin.

I worry, I do – about what all these chemicals are doing to my body, what will be the result in years to come. I have regular blood tests checking my liver and blood sugar and other things I don’t understand. And yes, so far there have been some problems.

But I choose to take psychiatric medications. I choose them because I know what life was like before I did and I don’t want to be that Elaina J again. It scares me – what the future holds – but without these meds there may not be a future. It is a double-edged sword.

Why am I saving all these pill bottles in the first place? Because I want to make a pill bottle chandelier. (Not a completely original idea, I saw an light art piece made of bottles which inspired me). I want to make something beautiful or ironic or whatever out of these things that dictate my life.


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Medication Changes for Bipolar Disorder

By Elaina J. Martin

med changesI am happy to report that I am back in the land of the living. After a bad month, I feel on the mend. I sat today outside in the sun with my iced coffee and felt much lighter than I did a couple of weeks ago. That is how rapid-cycling bipolar disorder is – it comes, then it goes. It is just so hard to remember when it comes that it will go.

For the past month I’ve been going through some psychological med changes. We doubled this and added that and it is all a lot for my little brain to handle. I think that is what led to the depressive episode. It even says it on the medicine jar – watch for mood changes.

I saw my therapist two weeks ago and talked to her about everything. I still felt safe, just a little wobbly. It’s amazing how your mind can go to such terrifying places when you are clinically depressed.

Today we decided to double the new antidepressant so we will see where this lands me. Hopefully less OCD symptoms and hopefully less “atypical depression,” (when you sleep a lot. Apparently in “normal” depression you sleep less).

I just want to say that being beautifully bipolar is hard. Very. Very. Hard. It’s always a little of this, a little more of that, take that away, watch and wait.

I’ve noticed since this new addition of antidepressant I have the shakes back. I’ve had them before on other medications. My hands tremble. They tremble now above the keys. My pdoc says this should go away in time and I hope so. It isn’t something I can’t live with, but I don’t want to have to.

So what has this personal saga have to do with you? I just wanted to remind you that you aren’t the only one out there dealing with med changes. I wanted to tell you I UNDERSTAND. I wanted to remind you to hang in there, that sometimes it gets worse before it gets better. But try. You have to try.


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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.


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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.


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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

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.


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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.


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Recent Comments
  • Cynthia: Hi Elaina – I can totally relate to your blog about side effects and shaking. I have been on Abilify...
  • Shay: I’m 33 as well and also suffer from medicine tremors. I’m a bartender so I’m really...
  • Carolyn: Reading this post made me sad and brought me back to a time in my life where my life was quiet and small. I...
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