Passing the Cemetery

By Elaina J. Martin

dandelionsNot too far from my house is a cemetery, less than a mile. I don’t normally see it, trees block it from the main road, but when I come home the “back way,” I pass it. I look out my driver’s side window at all the colorful flowers. Sometimes there will be an awning up because that particular day is a day for a burial.

When I pass this cemetery, or any, I am overcome with emotion. First – sadness. Sadness that every colorful flower I can see from the road is the symbol of a life lost. Then guilt, because I almost was a colorful flower placed there by someone who loved me. And finally, thanks – I am thankful for all that has come after my suicide attempt.

When you try and take your own life and you survive, there is this gnawing guilt because in the aftermath you see what you would have done to your family and friends. You would have broken them. Hell, you broke them in your attempt. But as you healed, so, too, did they. If you had left this world no one would have been able to glue their pieces back together. Don’t you see? You are the glue.

Today I came the “back way” home after therapy and I passed the cemetery with flowers decorating the dormant grass on this sunny December day. I was flooded with the emotion of thankfulness. I was on my HOME, where I live with my BOYFRIEND and TWO DOGS. If I had died in October of 2008, there would have never been this place I call home or a boyfriend who loves me as fiercely as I love him and I wouldn’t be here for the two dogs that depend on me for their care. If I had died I would never have  written a memoir or become a mental health advocate. I would never have seen my best friends have babies. I would have missed SO much.

Surviving my suicide attempt is the one failure I value the most. That’s right. At the end of the day, I failed. Perfectionists don’t like to fail.

I’d like to tell you that is the only time my life was in danger, but bipolar disorder isn’t always beautiful. Some days are just worse than others. It is an illness where the chemicals in your brain cause you to feel things so deeply that sometimes death seems like a good alternative to this hard-to-handle life you were given.

But the truth is you have to stick around. I’m not giving you the choice to check out. What keeps me going is knowing that tomorrow can always be better – than today, than yesterday, than last year. There is no telling what is around the corner, just waiting for you to show up.

So when I pass a cemetery, I say a little prayer of thanks that God gave me a “do-over.” I’m not ready to be a colorful flower atop a slab of stone. I want to remain a wild dandelion.

 

Image courtesy of criminalatt at FreeDigitalPhotos.net



My Second Hospitalization in a Psych Ward

By Elaina J. Martin

hospitalIt was nearly 5 years ago that I slit my wrist with a kitchen knife upstairs in my dad’s home office. I honestly don’t know what I was thinking as this is one of those times when my bipolar brain took over. I don’t remember making a plan. I don’t remember getting said knife. I remember the aftermath. It was like opening my eyes to find a bloody wrist.

My parents came home from the store and I called out to them and they rushed up the stairs.

“What have you done?” they asked when they saw me and the blood and the knife.

You know, you don’t have to wait for a bed in the ER when you slit your wrist?

You also aren’t allowed to go back home.

My mom waited next to the hospital bed as they stitched the tender skin back together again. Then a hospital psychologist came and evaluated me. Then I was locked away in the psych ward. For a week.

It isn’t a time I’d like to relive. There wasn’t really much in the way of therapy – just meds, television, and baskets of crayons.

The best bit, always the best bit, is visiting hours. Luckily, I was living with my parents 5 minutes from the hospital so they came every day. I think it was 6-7 P.M. One day, my brother came with my mother. He had never been to a psych ward and I am sure he prefers to never visit one again.

I can make no promises.

And I guess the thing is – I am the same, but I am different. It is still possible for me to slice open my wrist, and it’s possible I wouldn’t know why. But today, these 5 years later, I am more stable than I was at 28, much more so. I guess I have a little bit more trust in myself – that I will take care of myself, that I can. I have come a long way since that second hospitalization and though the road is still bumpy, I am stronger.

 

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net



When Anxiety Gets the Best of You

By Elaina J. Martin

I had plans today, plans to meet a friend for coffee, plans to leave this house.

biting lipsI didn’t make it.

I had nightmares this morning – weird shit that makes no sense when you try to crack it open in the light of day, but is enough to startle you awake in the dark to a pounding heart. It was with this sense of dread that I started my day.

By the time I made it downstairs to feed the dogs, it was panic attack level. I had to call my mom and disrupt her breakfast with my dad. My stomach hurt, I felt like I might be sick, my chest hurt. I was shaking.

And as much as I wanted to go to the coffee shop for a gabfest and some lunch and something to drink, I knew I couldn’t make it. I couldn’t drive. (DRIVE?! Are you kidding me?!) I couldn’t leave the house. I was that anxious.

So, I text my friend and, embarrassingly, explained. When she got back to me, she told me it was fine and to feel better.

That’s what happened today. That is why I am here at home writing this. But what I really want to talk about is how it made me feel.

It made me feel like a loser. It made me feel like I was out of control, that this mental illness called anxiety disorder was in charge. I felt trapped. I felt scared. I felt embarrassed. I felt sick to my stomach. And, I’ll admit it – I lost it for a minute and broke down and cried because this is my life, a life where some days that bitch, Anxiety, calls the shots.

I talked to my mom for over 2 hours today. She heard a lot of deep breaths coming from my end of the line because it wasn’t just a panic attack, it was hours of being on edge. Trying to sip peach tea to calm myself down while my mom did her best to entertain me and get my mind off my impending doom.

I didn’t leave the house today and it wasn’t because I didn’t have anything planned, or because I didn’t want to, it was simply because I couldn’t. So, know that this shit happens, but try not to cry when Anxiety wins. Maybe you’ll win the next go ’round. It’s an illness, not a choice.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net



On having mentally ill friends…

By Elaina J. Martin

latteI am lucky. A few weeks ago someone stumbled across this blog via a local Meetup group profile. She thought it was weird to contact me, but felt we had a lot in common so did anyway. After much back and forth through email and one failed attempt at meeting, we met yesterday at a coffee shop in our favorite area. Think a mismatch of chairs, window seats, man playing the mandolin, treats made by the owner’s wife, and the kind of lattes that have decorative foam. Yeah. A treasure.

I was early, she was excusably late. I felt like I was on a first date – you know, online dating sites with their pictures and back and forth messaging. I wondered whether my harassing ex-boyfriend had set all this up or if I was being catfished (especially as I waited alone). But then she showed up and she was all she had said she was.

We talked diagnoses. We talked hospital visits. We talked side effects. We talked about ourselves and, for the first time in a long time, I didn’t feel so “different.” I wasn’t the “crazy” friend. I wasn’t the friend with “problems” or “issues.” I was the same. I was an equal. And you know what? It was really, really nice.

This is why I encourage you to attend support groups. There is something peaceful about meeting people who share your illness. They GET IT! They understand the mood swings, the depression, the mania, the trouble you can get yourself into because of the bad wiring in your brain. You can compare prescriptions – what works, what doesn’t and why. There are also a plethora of online chat communities and Facebook pages, but I urge you to steer clear of the ones where people are always in crisis or negative. Nobody needs that pressure. Your health is of the utmost importance.

So, today I am thankful for a potentially new friend who understands the plight of the mentally ill. Search for one of your own, even if it is a virtual friend (of which I also have and treasure). There is something nice about sharing a coffee and a similar history that makes you feel good. Promise.

 

Image courtesy of nuchylee at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 



When Other People Don’t GET Your Illness

By Elaina J. Martin

lady drI had a doctor’s appointment today. This doctor treats my body, she isn’t one of those that trips around my beautifully bipolar mind trying to figure out what the hell is going on and how the hell to fix it.

She brought up my medications, asking if there were any changes, and I told her that my Effexor XR dosage had been increased. I told her that I planned on talking to my psychiatrist (the guy who does trip around my beautifully bipolar mind) on Wednesday about switching to something else. All I am experiencing is side effects with no real help for my anxiety. I talked to her about the anxiety-ridden situations I had encountered since last month when I saw her. She listened and, much like my therapist, applauded me for the way I handled them. She told me that even people without anxiety disorder would have experienced stress in those situations.

She told me it was a “good thing to feel,” and while I understand her sentiment (I don’t want to be a walking zombie either), I’m not quite sure she gets it.

Panic attacks for me are stretched out minutes in which I am sure something terrible is about to happen, where time has no end. It isn’t always that I will die. Sometimes it is that I will run someone over. Sometimes it is that I will suffocate. Sometimes it is that I will be squished to death. I experience symptoms many people who have panic attacks experience – shaking, sweating, upset stomach, trouble speaking, labored breathing, etc, etc.

And while I want to feel, perhaps I don’t want to feel as deeply as I do, but I think I can stand up here on my little soapbox and speak for many of us who live with bipolar disorder and say that we sometimes live life in the extremes. Sometimes it isn’t just a bad day, but the worst day ever and we literally want to die. And some days aren’t just good, we are fireworks in the sky. What I am trying to say is that I do feel. I feel a lot.

And sometimes I wish I didn’t.

I know there is no magic pill. There is no potion or wishes on shooting stars to make my mind “right,” but there has to be something out there that makes this life a little bit easier, because it shouldn’t have to be this hard.

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net



The Things I Am Most Thankful for in My Bipolar World

By Elaina J. Martin

ThanksgivingToday, here in the U.S., it is Thanksgiving and, like many Americans, I take time to reflect on what I am thankful for so here’s my list.

1. I am thankful that I didn’t die when I nearly did. Or that the cuts were never too deep. That those suicidal ideas were, for the most part, not nearly as strong as my will to live.

2. I am thankful for the medication that keeps me well. As much as I hate to “need” it, I am glad to have it as an aid in my stabilization.

3. I am thankful that I can be an inspiration to some of you out there. My life’s not perfect and I am okay with that. I just try. Fiercely.

4. I am thankful for the brave friends I have met along my mentally ill path – from the hospitals to support groups to online community members. They inspire ME!

5. I am thankful for my family and friends who never gave up on me, even when I was difficult and ugly and tiresome. Thank you.

6. I am thankful for my mom who is ALWAYS there, no matter what, to listen and console me.

7. I am thankful for my boyfriend who lives with me (he LIVES with me)! He has started me in many directions and stopped me from following many others. With him, I am safe.

8. I am thankful for my dogs who count on me to keep my shit together and take care of them. They don’t ask for much – to be fed, to be let out and back in again, a little lovin’ time. Their needs are simple and honest and get me out of bed.

I am a very thankful person, my nightly prayers are long, but this is a short list of my “bipolar disorder” thankfulness list.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Image courtesy of debspoons at FreeDigitalPhotos.net



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?

 

Image courtesy of cuteimage at FreeDigitalPhotos.net



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 FreeDigitalPhotos.net



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.

 

Image courtesy of smarnad at FreeDigitalPhotos.net



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.

 

Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography at FreeDigitalPhotos.net



 
 

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