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.


Image courtesy of Keerati /

“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.


Image courtesy of holohololand /

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.


Image courtesy of Feelart /

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.


Image courtesy of ddpavumba /

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. ;)


Image courtesy of sattva /

Not Okay but Better

By Elaina J. Martin

woman in bedThis week has been pretty awful.

I spent most of my time in bed. I was emotionally exhausted. This was depression. My old friend had stopped by for a visit because I am worried about my physical health (which we are currently testing).

I did what I was supposed to do: I tried to get in to see my therapist, but she had no cancellations. She did, however, call me twice and check on how I was doing, offering suggestions and telling me to “hang in there.” I talked to my mom, or at least listened to her chat while yawning. I watched a movie with my boyfriend. I went out to eat. I forced myself to get out of the house even though all I really wanted was my bed. One day it was just to the drive thru and to return a DVD to Redbox – but it was out. It forced me to put on some jeans and a bra. Fuck makeup. Fuck my hair. At least I started the car.

Yesterday on Facebook I asked for prayers of health, strength and grace and the love that poured in was amazing. I feel better today – not Rockstar – but better. Maybe it is because the ultrasound I was so worked up about was yesterday. Maybe it was because I saw a friend yesterday. But more than likely, it has a lot to do with knowing that people out there care, and by meeting people through “This is My Brave”, I know that a lot of them “get it.”

I see my doctor two Thursday’s from now, but plan on calling her Tuesday to see if she has the results back from the radiologist. I just want to be okay. I want to stop worrying. And if I am not okay, I want to be able to fix what is broken.

Thank you, dear reader, for your support. It means the world to me.


Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /

Dark and sour

By Elaina J. Martin

gloomy phoneI laid in bed at noon and stared at my wrists – one a tangle of scars and one with the word “Love” on it. The word is supposed to remind me to love myself, especially on days like today.

Everything just seems sour and dark. My goals seem too far away – like the book will never be published, that the boyfriend will never propose, like I will never slim down these extravagant curves.

I’ve been having panic attacks again. Not good. Not good. Saturday at the grocery store, the same one I have been in a hundred times or more, I was gripped by a feeling of impending doom. I had to talk to myself in my car the whole way home. Yesterday I was alone watching a movie with nothing to set me off. I don’t want to go back to that life where I am afraid, where  I clutch my chest, where I take deep breaths to just walk to the back of the grocery store, a life in which I don’t want to leave the house. I’ve come so far. I don’t want to go back.

I am going out to dinner tonight with my boyfriend. It is “Boyfriend day,” the (58th) monthly anniversary of the day I first called him my boyfriend (it will be 5 years in August to save you time figuring out just how long that is). He will inevitably make me laugh and that is as far as my expectations are taking me today.

I guess, dear reader, I just wanted to let you know that it isn’t always beautiful, but that is okay. Tomorrow is a new day filled with promise.


Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

Items brought to visiting hours

By Elaina J. Martin

My mind is a bit scattered as I sit to write this – perhaps too many topics, perhaps a lack of, – but I know that by writing this, whatever this is, it may help you.

Do you know how good a Starbucks Frappuccino blended and topped with whipped cream in all its glory is when it is brought to you in a psych ward? They weren’t supposed to allow it. We weren’t allowed caffeine, but my cunning fox of a mom slipped it right under their radar. “Nope. It is decaf. Can she please have it?” Well, I’ll tell you. It tasted like little sips of heaven. The sugar! (also not allowed) The caffeine! (not allowed) Oh, how I relished that drink. Starbucks will always hold a place in my hospitalized-heart.

Do you know how sweet it is for your sister’s best friend to bake you brownies because you nearly offed yourself? I’ve heard it said that bipolar disorder is not a “casserole” illness – no one brings you supper because you’re sick (I think I should credit that line of thought to Andy Behrman of Electroboy). But maybe it is a brownie business. Maybe no one was going to make me or my family a lasagna when I was released from the psych ward, but by God, I had brownies “on the inside,” which I shared with my favorite sad-crazy-friend.

pink rose petalsDo you know how beautiful flowers are inside a psych ward, even if you have to place them in a plastic cup because you can’t be trusted with glass? I do. They are magnificent. The perfect shade of pale pink roses. I may never see any as perfect.

Do you know how a heart feels when you see the hoodie your boyfriend promised to buy you if you ever went into treatment again? It is the only piece of clothing he has ever bought me in the years we have been together. It hangs now in my closest in all its defiant pink glory.

Do you know how much hope a few photographs your sister brings will give you? Familiar faces. Smiling faces. Reminding me that this was just a bump, a glitch in my road. I’ll never know or remember where she got these photos but these are the ones that, to this day, nearly 6 years later, I have atop my desk.

It is the little things and the mundane – a pair of sweatpants, clean underwear so you aren’t the “crazy” girl running around in a hospital gown. (Though I have been her and may well one day be again). It’s the sandwich brought during visiting hours because the menu was not vegetarian-friendly. It’s the phone calls – never with the right words, but words brought to your ears nonetheless. Phone calls that are never long enough, that are perfect because the phone rang for YOU.

I have never appreciated the small things in life – like a long hot shower or coffee with cream or my dog’s enthusiasm at the mere sight of me – as much as I do because I have been in a psych ward. (Before I get the disgruntled comments – No, you don’t have to be in a psych ward to enjoy these things, but spend a few days in there and you will understand my sentiment).

So know that visiting hours are opportunities, if for nothing else than for the afflicted to see a familiar face. That face reminds us that there is more to life than the sterile walls in which we may live from time to time, that we are cared for, that we are loved.


Taking Care of Myself

By Elaina J. Martin

It’s easy for people to understand the flu. You get a fever, chills, headache, maybe some nausea. You ache. You feel like “death warmed over,” as an old boyfriend used to say. Concessions are made – “She can’t make it,” “She isn’t feeling up to it,” “She’s sick.”

But why are we not as accommodating when the cause of illness is mental?

Corporate Photography, Political Photography, PR PhotographyTwo weeks ago was a perfect storm for me. First I had “This is My Brave,” an amazing opportunity to speak my truth – but that meant getting up and talking about the day I tried to kill myself to an audience of nearly 400 strangers. For someone who deals with not only bipolar disorder but also OCD and, in this case, especially anxiety, it was hard.

A couple days after my return home from D.C. was “Pukefest 2014.” It started with Sammy, my boyfriend’s dog, puking all over the house. Then my dog, Hope, puking after drinking the leftover milk from my Lucky Charms. Then me puking up the Lucky Charms because of cleaning up her puke. Obviously, not a great day in the Martin-Boyfriend household.

Next up was a doctor visit in which I was given some new diagnoses. Some labs ordered. An ultrasound scheduled. Not good. None of it good.

Finally – it was kiddo weekend. The every other weekend when my boyfriend’s children come to stay with us. Plus the additional two neighbor kids. Not to sound old-fashioned, but I was at my wit’s end.

So I packed up my bag and my car and my dog and headed to North Carolina – a four hour drive from where I live – to be with my parents.

I am lucky. I am at liberty to take mental vacations where I distract myself by moving couches from one house to another (my parents are in the process of moving). I can fall asleep to the hum of the window air conditioner. I can pretend everything is going to be okay.

I don’t “do” stress. I can’t. I get depressed like I was two Fridays ago or I do manic, which I thankfully haven’t done in years. God gave me many talents but none of them are being able to handle a stressful situation.

My physical health is at the forefront of my mind and I promise to keep you posted, but I just wanted to say that it is okay to be mentally not okay. It is okay to take a day – or a week – to regroup. Distract or focus. Whatever feels right to you.

Thank you for giving me a week to regroup. I’m back now and I can’t wait to hear from you.


Elaina J


Photo credit: Julie Fischer McCarter of Shoot Photo Inc.


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