Mad Hatter Lives

Living, Loving, Lasting

Archive for the tag “mental health”

Point of Intolerance About the Black Stage

I’ve reached a point of intolerance with skirting issues that pertain to mental health, my black stage. I suspect this is due in large part to my own parachute into the dark depths that is eminent for this time of year in my journey. But the vehemence of my frustration is due in large part to society’s inability to take responsibility for its role in perpetuating mental illness, as well as it’s lack of effective treatment for those actively searching for ways to cope. I’m done excusing anyone and everyone on the topic of mental illness and the ignorance that has somehow become the antithesis for pro activity and efficacious propositions. I must say, above all, if you will not reckon with the mental illness in your life you have no chance of surviving it. No chance. I’m sorry. There it is. I am a 30 year survivor of mental illness. I am an authority on bipolar disorder both personally and professionally, and I’m telling any and all with this illness…there is no way to have any quality of life unless you reckon with the fact that you have it.

Man, we don’t need one more event, one more celebrity, one more death to bring attention to something of which we are all aware. We need honest dialogue. We need to step out of fear and into the reality that life is messy and wildly beautiful, but for some of us, there is literally a struggle every day to find a reason to keep living it. Prevention of suicide starts with honesty and dialogue, and it’s often beyond the family. It takes ownership and the reinforcement that life matters! All the stats and 5k walks in the world will never come close to the impact of honest confession and dialogue.

I know, because this is my life. I live a kind of half life, teetering between hope of life abundant and absolute need to no longer experience the pain involved with drawing breath. Real enough for ya? This is the life of mental illness. Welcome to those just joining the battle, but for those of us who have been a lifetime of trying to fight a monster with sharpened toothpicks…

You are late, and did you bring any weapons to the battle?

Because the truth is, I struggle constantly. I am on a tight rope balancing every single thing in my life on top of my head as I attempt to navigate a life that once was a nice wide road but has been relegated to a thin wire I must traverse. My immediate experience is a slippery slide where I am groping, grasping for something to hang on to that will retard my descent. It is as though my footing gave way while I was sleeping, and I have only just now awakened to find myself in full movement. I am scrambling madly to gain anything that will help me recall myself back to center; back to balance.

Everywhere I look I see dusk settling, and I can find very little about myself or my life that seems worth hanging on for. I have been experiencing this place I am currently in for nearly 30 years now, and yet every season it is as if I am going over the edge for the first time. All stop gaps are…well…stopped.

I mentioned in a previous blog that I have lost heart, and so I am at a loss. I find I cannot care enough about things to expend the energy to make them so; to fix or eliminate. I am scrambling desperately for meaning so that it will kick start the desire to desire again.

The danger with this place is that there is an extensive need to fill the void with something, anything. I find myself struggling to erase or, at best, scratch out my ongoing irascibility. It is as though everything, every origin of feeling and thought has become a tangled mass, and I can never seem to find the ends to begin untangling.

As such, though I have been working to keep up healthy habits, I am now majorly struggling with unhealthy ones I have conquered before of have managed to at least keep on a leash in the back yard. Now, however, it’s a full on assault, and really all I want to do is to eat.

There. I said it. I just want to eat, because it’s legal. Because I get a small chemical adjustment with sugar that helps assuage all the symptoms that accompany the mixed state that is so very problematic . When the healthy fails, I will reach for relief in that which is not so healthy.

So there is more added to the initial struggle. I find there is a mountain of dysfunction added to the the mountain I’m already carrying across that wire. THIS is life with mental illness. THIS is what it is like to live with suicidal ideation as a person with mental illness.

At present I’m on my knees; on my face, really, before God. There is nothing man has that will help me through the living nightmare that I never get away from. I pray for relief always. Sometimes I pray for death. Sometimes I pray for life. Sometimes I pray for peace. Sometimes it’s beauty, because everything is ugly to me. Sometimes it’s understanding. Mostly though I pray for comfort.

I’m so alone. This is the loneliest place on earth, living with mental illness, and I confess my anger at those who enter onto the scene so late due to a personal brush with it and now, suddenly, they are experts; know everything. The arrogance! There are no answers here. There is survival and a small flower of hope.

That is what I always leave with after my time on my face before Yeshua (My Rescuer). I always leave with hope. I know that being alone on the black stage of my life with only a spotlight is the best place for me, because He is the spotlight. If I have to live like this, I’m going to live it with him. If not with him…

I’m just on a black stage.

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The Lost Heart

It’s been a while since I have been able to write, and even now as I am typing these words, I’m still uncertain whether I will be able to continue, because somehow, somewhere, I have lost heart. I have been unable to express anything. Expression comes from the heart, and there is only an empty place where hearts tend to live; a vacant sign in the window with a stack of unopened mail outside the door.

I have lost heart before; more than once. I know that there must be a planned rescue, and in that process, expression must exist no matter how stilted and fragmented the outcome.

Because I am not a novice, I know what I must do, but I confess I am struggling to function, to care about all the things and people that matter and make my world go round. It is really a perfect storm of events that has included upheaval in every area of life, culminating with the loss of a loved one. The storm in my life has been so very comprehensive that it has made the bipolar I deal with every day seem superfluous in its wake.

Still, I am not able to experience life through any other lens than that of bipolar, and in amidst of all the trauma, loss, and now ubiquitous grief, there are the mood transitions that occur without fail; spring into fall; fall into winter.

I have been telling myself for weeks that I must get something down, but I’m not very good at writing when I feel blocked emotionally. But the thing about finding heart again is that you must walk out the process of having one before you can regain it.

I am not intentionally cryptic here. It’s just that in order to come back to the internal fragile self that houses all the inspiration, expression of beauty, and creativity, one must first journey ahead as though already in possession of these things. Again, I know this, which is why I have been reticent in beginning. I have been very indulgent of my lack of heart, and that indulgence has begun to impact all areas of my life.

When one loses heart there can be many reasons. It can happen in a day or over months or even years. Once the process is begun there may be a rending if it happens quickly, but rather often it is torn away in pieces, and one does not realize.

The loss of heart occurs with lack of time for self and connection to that inner part that sets us uniquely apart from others. Loss of heart occurs with abuse from those we love. It can occur from disappointment in life and the feeling of being trapped in something we never wanted to begin with. Loss of heart can also occur with death of a loved one, of a relationship, of a dream, or extensive illness. Often, though, it is a combination of these things that truly rends the heart, and because we are so busy trying to survive the lives we find ourselves living, we don’t even know it is gone.

Signs of loss of heart are a lack of drive, the need to escape, unwillingness to commit to anything, despair, disillusionment, the inability to feel anything; anger and frustration with the things we must do on a daily basis; lack of stamina and the discovery that nothing seems to matter to us. There is also a fragility that comes with loss of heart where we feel paper thin and we find ourselves experiencing profound sadness at times when we should be joyful, and we don’t understand why.

Loss of heart is something that happens more often than one might think. It is part of being a warrior in a world that would twist beauty and authenticity into a brand for product or sell us an emotion as and ideal. If you love, you will likely lose heart in the fray of walking that love out. It is just part of the mess of living.

But what is truly sad is not realizing that one has lost heart. People go decades without realizing this, and their decisions are made without their hearts truly engaged. So, if you feel this condition may be what you are experiencing, I invite you to go with me into this journey I am on to find my heart, and along the way, we will find yours as well.

Trees and Grief

The leaves on the trees outside my window are beginning to turn. It is early yet; only August. Yet it is as if a memo was sent out with the news that the carefree days of summer are at an abrupt end. The foliage is fighting to remain green for the time and space allotted, but it is losing. Every day I see the results of changing temperatures on the landscape. It seems to have decided that the summer has been a tragedy, and there is simply no point in continuing. So it has terminated the summer, and we are in a quick rotation to fall and then winter.

This year I am on a quick track as well, my transition into the long dark night of depression coming early and hurtling me rather quickly into the hole from which I crawled just a few short months ago. I am not easing my way. Someone has suddenly shut off the lights and I am groping around for the familiar in a darkness that is fluid with grief and a sadness so profound I find it difficult to breath.

I should not be surprised. My family recently lost a beloved member, and we are still reeling from the impact. I am not closest to the core of the trauma. I am one rung removed, but I have lost someone I loved, nonetheless, and that alone is exceedingly impactful.

August is also the month my best friend from high school passed away. It has been a few years since she left this life, but I find I am always in a bit of a struggle to stay aloft when the anniversary of her passing goes by.

I can only speak for myself. I know others who suffer even more than I do in the wake of the tragedy that has touched so many of us. I, however, can only speak to my own experience, though I have not because I felt that in doing so, I was somehow taking away from grief greater than mind.

But I am a writer. This is what I do, as much for me as for others. This is how I make sense of the tremendous mountain of living I do internally that I struggle to share with anyone in the external, and so I must write this out, however awkward it may be due to disjointedness that comes as a result of shock and loss.

The grief that hangs about like a London fog, threatens to permeate everything and leave those in it unable to move or see anything. It is a gray nothingness that causes immediate surrender under its weight. But there is a way through it, and I am groping for it, hoping for it, even as I accept that its presence has thrown me into the depressive phase of my illness early, and I am now committed to it through conscription.

The path, many of us know. It is the 5 stages of grief, and I’m going to provide them here, as I need a reminder as much as anyone.

  1. Denial and Isolation- So often we cannot accept what has happened, and because the world continues to move around us at the same speed it always has, we need to stop and isolate just to try to wrap our head around what has happened. There is nothing wrong with isolation, but staying there is a really bad idea, and an indulgence a person who intends on living in the world at some point cannot afford for very long.
  2. Anger– This is the next stage and one that is also absolutely normal. There seems an unending supply of anger once a person allows it loose. There is anger for the diseased, for the fact that life has had the gall to continue, and so many other things and people. But be sure to look at anger and make aim it where it belongs. Do not tear apart your support system with anger that should be directed elsewhere.
  3. Bargaining– So this is a tough one. Bargaining is that thing where you start looking for some control of the situation; like you need to understand what happened, and you start trying to find areas that should have been better or have been done better. The “if/then” statements. My personal belief with this step is that it does not leave you with control, but it rather often leads you to guilt which keeps you from moving through the grief process.
  4. Depression– This is where the profound sadness takes over; a lack of wanting to continue on, the inability to cope with anything, and the absolute pain that fills the place where a person has been cut from our lives. There can also be the absence of any feeling at all; a plateau of gray. Depression can last for months or years, but to stay in this phase for a prolonged period of time is akin to being trapped in a swamp, slowly pulling you under. Seek help, whether medication, therapy, or a combination of both.
  5. Acceptance– I believe that this stage can come to anyone seeking it through the haze of loss, but it does not look the same for everyone. As such, I will not be so callous as to define it. If you reach acceptance, you will recognize it as a place where you can live with what has occurred. For some, there is new life in place of what has burned. For others it is an ability to survive in a barren place. But acceptance can only be recognized and defined on an individual basis.

We do not necessarily go through the stages in order. We may repeat stages, but it is not a good idea to skip any of the stages. This is not about the heart, though it is certainly involved. You cannot put a constriction on the heart. It heals in its own time, but you can get the mind set up to support the heart as it struggles to continue to beat.

Loss is linear. What I mean by that is that you cannot compare one person’s loss to another’s simply because no two people are alike. It is a negative investment of time and energy to look at the person next to you and say, “I hurt more than you,” or “My loss is greater.” This is a linear position with a vertical journey; meaning we start out in the same place, at loss. Our journey, whether we choose to stay right where we are and wither away, or we determine to move through it, becomes a vertical one that is between only us and what or who we believe in.

What do you believe in? Who do you believe in? For me, it is Yeshua, who rescues me even as I am screaming out my descent. For me, the dark fog of loss can only open up into a 60 foot drop to the floor of massive dark depression where I will remain until spring renewal pulls me up into mania.  I will either have sorrow still in tow or not. I experience bipolar depression every year, but I must confess that just as the trees are being forced from their green stage and into the colors of fall, grief has me changing early from relative normalcy, I am simply not ready for the fall.

What It “Looks” Like

I have tried, over the years, to use my writing as a means to tangibly define and describe what it “looks” like to have major mental illness.  I am told that I am sometimes adept at doing that, but rather more often, I fear, I fall short.  Sill here I sit, yet again, virtual pen in hand, making another attempt.

I have recently come back to asking myself why I write.  It is a committed task, and it causes me to have to expose parts of my inner world I would normally not share.  In fact, I would venture to posit that I tend to share more in my writing with those I have never encountered than I usually do with the most intimate relationships in my life.  It is just the way my personality type works.  I make myself accountable to my writing, which ensures I am most authentically myself when writing.

That does not mean I am inauthentic with those in my life; it’s just that we are working on the business of living, and there is not often time for the deep introspection that produces what I write.  So, today when I write about yet another component of my illness and how it manifests in my life, it will be as new to those I encounter on a very intimate level every day as it is to those I have never met.

This morning has been rough.  I have no current reason to be so very sad.  My being is bruised, and though my life has had some very devastating recent losses, this morning seems an odd occasion to be so very broken.

The bipolar mind is unique in that it tends to not have so many rooms to it.  Walls that exist to allow control and compartmentalization of meaning that is applied to what the senses encounter get demolished with the first psychotic break.  What that means for those who endure with the illness is when something happens, it is ushered into the mind and there it sits in that open chamber, reverberating and expanding.

A single emotion for a person who is not bipolar, say sadness procured while watching a death occur in a movie, will not necessarily dissipate for the bipolar mind as it most likely will for a person not so afflicted.  So, when I watch Guardians of the Galaxy 2, and Yondu dies, I cry.  Then I go to bed and I wake in the morning with Yondu still dying and Quill suffering.  Then, I read in my morning reading, of an individual losing his pet, and I am undone; hysterical.

Never mind that I have so many great things going in my life.  Never mind that I  am loved, that MY pets are whole.  Never mind that this is a serious over exaggeration!  I am simply unable to step away from the sadness, and that is why I must be very careful what I am allowing into my mind.

It’s not that things are bad; it’s that they are not necessarily good for me at certain times.  I am vulnerable already from other sad things, but I am also vulnerable because I had a beautiful time with a friend at lunch yesterday, someone whom I love dearly and rarely see.  I am vulnerable because I have family here to visit and I’m overwhelmed with the pleasure of seeing them.  I am overwhelmed because I have a husband who is kind and good to me when I am neither.

These are all good things, right?  So what is my problem?

Well, my brain does not always recognized things as good or bad in terms of impact.  Things get ushered into the main theater of my mind, and it does not matter whether they are positive or negative.  What matters is that they have a tremendous emotional impact, and once introduced, they reverberate continually, filling up my mental space until I’m completely overwhelmed.

I have a little dog named Dexter.  People in my life make fun of me because I baby him, and I treat him like a child, but I have reasons.  Dexter knows my emotional status before I do.  He is every bit as vital to my ability to function on a daily basis as is the lithium I take every day.  I do not know how I survive the very devastating sadness visited on my life regularly, especially when I begin the descent out of mania into depression, without him.

Dexter comes to me, climbs up in my lap, and he comforts me.  He doesn’t care if I’m neurotic.  He doesn’t care that I’m nasty and prickly.  He is not concerned about conversations and actions I should have done differently with people.  He could care less whether I’m completely in control or under-performing.  He only cares that I’m upset.  He loves me with his entire little being.  He has the ability to recognize when I’m about to go down and will attempt to comfort me even before I malfunction.

So, if I am too protective of that little dog; if I tend be a bit paranoid with him and how he is treated, it’s because I am fully aware how many times he has pulled me away from that chaos in the open room of my mind; back to a little corner where he just comforts me by sitting in my lap, resting his head on my chest as he looks into my eyes.

I know how much he needs me, and in past years, he has been my reason for not following through on an action that would have been a permanent fix for a temporary state of mind.  Sounds silly, but it is what it is.  I do not try to apply rationale to mental illness.  I just take what I can get to work, and I’m thankful for it; just a it more of what it “looks” like.

 

Complimented

When was the last time someone complimented you? Today? Yesterday? A week ago? A month? Can you remember when?

When was the last time you complemented someone else?

I believe it is John C. Maxwell who tells the story of his father who made it a point to compliment every person he talked to within the first 30 seconds of contact. That story impacted me greatly.

Being in the field of psychology has introduced and then reinforced the power of positive reinforcement above negative and punishment. But it was hearing that story that really hit home to me how valuable it is to speak into the lives of others. I have not become so adept as to manage it with every individual I encounter within the first 30 seconds of contact, but I am more aware of the concept now.

My mentor in college through my undergrad and graduate studies practiced positive psychology in most everything he did. I admired him because he was able to see the positive in every situation. That does not mean he didn’t see the negative. But isn’t it easy to see what isn’t working?

It seems to require a concentrated effort to procure the positive in what is otherwise termed a sinking ship process. My mentor taught me so much about choosing to work on what works in a situation. In our field we called it a cognitive reframe. In my human existence I call it…difficult.

My work is often with individuals in crisis of one form or another, generally dealing with mental health issues, but not always. I am good at what I do, because I see patterns in behavior. I am able to sort through the drama and find a source, but what I have missed in the past is the cognitive reframe. So, a few years back I began to work with the concept of helping individuals understand that no matter what they face in crisis, they can find something positive to move them forward.

That is how you find hope in the darkest of pits. You look for the light. On a spiritual level, I know that Yeshua is the light, but on a mental level, I am able to offer light to others sometimes by simply telling them they are fine just as they are, that the moment will pass eventually, that they are not alone, that they don’t have to have answers, and for those living on the outer edges of mental society…they are normal for where they are and what they are dealing with.

I hope that as time goes on I will be able to easily offer positive feedback to others. I don’t want to miss that individual who hasn’t had anything nice said to him/her for a long time, and my word could be the ending of that dry spell.

I know how refreshed my soul is when someone takes the time to speak affirmation into my life.  Do not you feel uplifted when someone says, “You have a beautiful smile,” or, “You are so smart!” Isn’t it nice to hear someone tell you matter? I know I do.  I guess it’s not just about being complimented and more about speaking life into another person.

Cleaning and Sorting

I have been doing some cleaning and sorting.  Every so often I get this sense of being buried alive in all the crap we accumulate, and I have to get a shovel and go through and throw stuff away.  When I reach the point I have been at of late, it’s no longer sorting and figuring out what goes to trash and what goes to the second hand store.  Nope. Everything goes in the garbage.

I like the idea of living minimally.  My husband and I live in a relatively small home, and we do so because we are trying to focus more on what we need rather than what we want, and having to keep our material goods within the confines of a small space is a good way to learn to clean and sort to fit.

I was sitting in the morning light with my cuppa Jo thinking that this cleaning and sorting  thing is a great analogy for healthy emotional psychological living.

Sometimes we get so bogged down with paraphernalia we are carrying from the past that it prevents us from making a leap onto the back of something great that will take us into an exciting phase in our lives.  I have said for many years that nostalgia is very dangerous, and there is nothing productive or forward functioning about it IF you spend a lot of time accessing it.

Notice how you hear a song or smell something and it transports you back in time to a place in your past?  Very strong isn’t it?  This is the only place nostalgia is truly healthy, because it naturally occurs in life.  We cannot help when that happens and we find ourselves standing, in a very real way, in a moment that occurred decades ago.  I had this happen the other day when we had a rain storm and the sound along with the smell was so strong in my senses that I found myself at 19 standing in the doorway of a hotel room where I used to work (as a housekeeper, let me be clear :)), watching a Montana rainstorm power its way through the afternoon.

It was like I was there, so strong was the sensory experience.

But I wasn’t, and the thing to remember with nostalgic moments is that they are only moments, and it is best not to spend a lot of time engaging them.  Now, that nostalgic moment had no significance on its own; no underlying meaning. However, there was a sense of longing, a sense of loss tied to it that I can only associate with the fact that I was young in that memory.  I had my whole life ahead of me, and time was on my side.

I am over halfway through my 40’s.  It is debatable as to how much time is on my side these days, and if I had spent time on that memory and how it made me feel, I could have gone down a rabbit hole that would have left me feeling old and discontent with my life.

Memories are not bad.  They are the recordings of our past, and we need them to sometimes remind us of where we come from, what we have done, and why we have ended up where we are.  But the problem with engaging in memories with the transport of nostalgia is the danger of choosing to live in the past rather than the present because we are distanced enough from the past to sort of “remake” it into what we want or what it should have been.  Notice how the further out you get the more the past has a golden glow to it?  We can’t do that with the present.  It’s at large in the realm of reality.

The danger with accumulating has to do with the reasons we accumulate.  If I am just lazy and don’t throw things away, that is easy to remedy.  A few hours on a weekend, and I’m golden.  The danger is when we accumulate to help us remember; to take us back to a time when things were “better”.  Keeping things because they take us back to a time so that we can live in the past, produces discontent with current life, grief over what has been lost between past and present, and often leads to serious depression.  Ask yourself when you experience nostalgia, how often do you come out of it feeling uplifted and ready to face the future?

I was reminded this weekend, as I sorted through items I have kept because they remind me of someone, I am not obligated to hang on to things to remember people or times.  Many of those people are still in my life.  Because I have such a terrible memory of the past due to my illness wiping the slate every time I have a crash, I tend to hang on to certain things, as they trigger or reinforce the memories I have managed to hang on to.  Some of those items I am keeping, but some of them I determined I simply did not need in my physical space or in my mental space.

If you are a person who hangs on to things but you feel you are becoming buried in reminders of the past, maybe don’t tell yourself you are going to get rid of everything.  Maybe start out small.  Get rid of a couple of things.  Give yourself time to see how that sits with you.  Then go back and eliminate a couple more things.

I have discovered that cleaning and sorting often not only clears my living space but my head space as well, and I find I feel a bit freer and a bit more the captain of my ship.

 

Falling From Grace

I was sitting in the morning sun sipping my cuppa Joe when a phrase popped into my head, “…falling from grace.”  It’s kind of a catch phrase.  I have no idea why it gained clarity in the minutia of morning thoughts my brain likes to supply after a night of quiet, but I decided to take a look at it.  This is the summation of my contemplation.

Falling from grace is often associated with religion.  I’m not a fan of religion in association with my faith, because they simply do not sinc.  I do not consider religion to be in any way correlative to the walk I am on with my Yeshua (The Rescuer).  I do, however, do things religiously.  I brush my teeth religiously, take my medication religiously, kiss my husband religiously (cuz that’s just fun!).

So when I think of falling from grace I ask, “Can I fall from the grace of my Maker?”  Based on my journey with my faith for nearly 40 years, I would say that I cannot fall from the grace of Yeshua.  It has been available and all encompassing in the midst of my deepest transgressions. It is a waterfall waiting to cover me with refreshing renewal as often as I need it.

So

I am looking at falling from grace in the context of my relationships with others.  Can I fall from the grace of people?  Yes.  Can they fall from my grace?  Yes.  I have seen both.

What happens when a person falls from the grace of another person?  It has been my experience that when a person falls from grace there is no forgiveness.  We use the term grudge, in combo with how we handle people we have cast out of our lives, like it’s okay to do because we have a well-used term to define our active anger.

When we hold a grudge we haven’t really ended the relationship, have we?  We are simply holding on in anger, hoping we are punishing that person and that they will somehow grovel their way towards our mercy in hopes that maybe they can do something that will gain entrance back into our lives.

Many people feel that when a person falls from grace in their lives, they never entertain the concept of receiving them back with forgiveness.  I pity the person unwilling to forgive, I and hope they never encounter someone who views relationships in the same way they do, or at least they never become overly committed to someone just like them.

Grudges and unforgiveness are partners in crime and have no place in a healthy mind and spirit, for they twist and corrupt, leaving cynicism, bitterness, and discontent in their wake.  The impact on the person actively holding a grudge is far more destructive than on the person being held in unforgiveness.  The person who has fallen from grace can only fall so far away from the relationship and no further, but the person holding a grudge will be slowly eaten up by the upkeep and the side effects.

Grace is something we are able to extend to others when they offend us.  I know that I could walk around offended on a regular basis if I chose not to exercise grace.  It’s not that I’m so perfect and those in my life so imperfect.  In fact, I would say I am the one who needs grace more from those in my life than I need to give them.  We are human.  We are fallible.  We screw up.  We need to be able to extend grace to others in order to help them be okay with correcting their mistakes.  We need grace extended to us so that we learn from our mistakes.

As long as we are imperfect, we will need to have grace extended to us, and we will need to extend grace to others.  It does not mean we embrace them back into our lives in the capacity they once were.  Sometimes there is just no going back, but forgiveness does not require restoration of position.  Sometimes we just need to forgive someone to free ourselves, and we can allow that grace is what we implement in order to walk that process out.  I have to tell you, I have had to call on grace in the face of action, because I tend to be a very black and white person, and I have come to realize that life operates in the gray.

Does that mean I compromise my beliefs?  No.  I do not compromise what I believe to be right or wrong by extending someone grace.  Grace is the bridge between what I believe and the person needing it that allows me to love, and love is what allows forgiveness.  There are people I have forgiven who will never have access to my personal life again, but they no longer operate outside of the grace I have to offer others.  I have extended it so that I CAN forgive them, and in doing so I have been freed from anger and all those symptoms that are a part of long term resentment.

I am no expert in this area, but I hope to be before my journey in this life is over, and I hope to always be aware of the grace extended me when I do something that causes offense and hurt in others.  If you have someone who is falling from the grace you have to give others, call them back into it, and set both of you free.

Take Life or Retain It

Recent events have pushed me back to a subject I’m really tired of addressing in my journey:  The ability to take life or retain it.  I phrase it that way on purpose.  We can encapsulate a person’s ability to end life as suicide, but as per usual, we human beings feel the need to assign titles and then stereotype based on a narrow definition.  We see it in the news, life ending, on a scale larger than life.

We see it in our personal lives when those near to us make choices that change the direction of the journey for everyone involved.  It’s bigger than one word, folks, and the decision to retain life is as significant as is the choice to take it.  But we don’t focus on, “What ain’t broke,” right?  Well for those faced with the choice as though standing on a narrow ledge with a canyon on either side, one choice is every bit as valuable as the other.

Because of my journey with mental illness, the option to end my life has been a daily decision.  Every day I wake up thinking, “Is this the day I won’t find a reason to keep fighting?  It is a dialogue that is as familiar to me as that to brush my teeth, feed the dog, and do my list of chores for the day.  I have been addressing that commentary for over 30 years.   That is not necessarily the case of someone who does not battle mental illness. You can be taken to the ends of endurance for many reasons that do not include mental illness.

My personal belief is that desperation, disillusionment, and despair occur in the absence of hope, and many of us have lost hope in the midst of endless struggle where we simply knew we were incapable of going on, and an option to jump ship seemed not only the only option but completely rational in the face of ongoing battle and the complete depletion of our reserves.

I do not believe ending life is categorically defined as mental illness.  If so, in order to logically balance that statement, my NOT ending my life makes me NOT mentally ill, which would be lovely, but I have a bottle of lithium, anxiety meds, and a lack of mental control that would present as witnesses to the contrary.

My point in writing this is that we cannot look at the tail end of the life-ending process and attempt to address it there.  We must look at how it unfolds in life, and even then, the ability to determine to continue to live or to end life is the fundamental right of the person making the decision.  I am not advocating ending personal life.  If that were the case, I would have ended mine a long time ago.  I am saying we need to look at what we can do regardless of outcome.

We are such a reactive culture.  We bond together in aftermath.  Watch the patterns in our society, and you can’t miss it.  Our medical practices, our mental health practices, our reasons for changing our life practices are largely seated in reacting to something after it happens.  We lose weight after our health fails.  We address medical issues after the body fails.  We address mental health after we have lost it, and our systems for treatment perpetuate that.

So what is the answer?  I believe that we are always faced with choice.  We cannot change another person’s choices the majority of the time, but we can choose to love greatly, to invest mightily, and live the lives we have been given for as long as we have them.

I have been a public speaker for 25 years.  I have spoken to law enforcement, church organizations, and academic settings about my experience with bipolar disorder and what it has done to my life.  I have addressed suicide so authentically that it makes people very uncomfortable.  I have taught classes on addressing suicidal ideation in self, because it is arrogance to assume you can address this issue in someone else  unless they want to address it.  I adamantly profess self assessment and accountability when it comes to suicide, because it’s as much my responsibility to prevent my death every day as it is to do anything else I have committed to.

I believe with all my professional and personal experience that we need to look at suicide in a different way, because what we are doing is not working.  I am not sure a person who has made a decision to end life can be dissuaded.  It is either something done in overwhelming despair in the moment or planned out based on very thought out reasons and process.  Neither is really a scenario set up for talking through it.

People who reach out for help can be helped, but we need to come up with better ways to help, because what we are doing is not working.  We have to be willing to talk about suicide, what it is, what it does, and the fact that it is permanent.  The young do not necessarily understand this.  Duh.  Right?  Nope.  The brain is missing major logic connections, and there is often an inability to understand that there is no coming back from completed life termination.

We have to be willing to talk about the ending of life when we talk about living it, because it has become an acceptable solution in our current society.  Sometimes having notoriety in death is worth not being here for, just to know at SOME point people knew you were here and that you suffered.

There is a double-edged sword present in talking about suicide.  It can backfire with more suicides because people are often pushed to suicide because they feel alone and misunderstood.  The more we publicize those who have ended their lives, the more it speaks to the person who is so desperately needing to be seen.  But not talking about it causes stigma.  As I said, a double-edged sword.

We must get with people who have survived suicide attempts or ongoing suicidal ideation and learn from them; find out how they have managed living with such a permanent inclination.  We MUST redefine how we address the option to end life.  We are not getting anywhere.

I am going to sound as though I am talking through both sides of my face.  I believe in the right to decide for self.  But I also believe we must educate and open up what life ending does to the person and especially to the people that person loves.  The aftermath of death for any reason devastates those who love that person.  When an individual takes their own life, there is a feeling of betrayal and abandonment that accompanies many who are left behind that does not generally accompany other reasons for tragedy. We have to be ready for that, and when they reach out, we need to be willing to talk about it without condemnation.  It is never our place to judge, unless we have reached perfection ourselves.

The bigger issue is the lack of available treatment for those trying to get away from having to constantly make the decision whether or not to live.  I confess, I have no answers here.  I have largely steered clear of what is available in the professional sector for treatment for my illness.  I am medicated, but I am an authority on my illness.  I believe knowledge is power, and I am armed to the hilt.  I do not view the medical community as knowing any more than I do.  They are my employees, and I hire them to provide what I need.

I pray and ask my Creator to show me how my body functions.  I do not believe he made me with mental illness, but he has allowed it in my life for reasons I do not fully understand, and he has given me means to handle it that are not in the current treatment regime for such illnesses.  I have navigated outside the current system and the damage it does to people, but I have also used it to receive what I need to sustain my life.  I modify, modify, modify.  I surrendered a “normal” life long ago, and now I function at a daily deficit.

But I Function

This is an ongoing problem.  We cannot put a period on the end of this one.  We must start with those in our lives and begin to change how we look at this, one person at a time, and we must remember that as long as there is the option to live, there will be the option to die; the ability to take life or to retain it.

 

A Pain

I know that what I deal with is a pain for those in my personal life.  I mean, between the panic attacks and the inability to adapt quickly to new environments, and the instability triggered by it all, it just gets to them.  I would love to make things easier, and I try, but there is only so much I can do.  Because the bottom line is…

I am not normal.  I will never be normal.  I will always struggle with things that people take for granted as just part of living life.  I will never easily adapt to new things and environments.

We had a vacation.  It was filled with lovely things.  I would have loved to have enjoyed all of it, but I’m not equipped to “enjoy” such events.  I look longingly at events and adventures my friends and family have, and I wish I could go and do and come away thrilled with the experience, but the truth is, I come away with much less than I had going in.

It’s not about what I want.  I rarely get what I want, because my brain does not work like it should.  I am now trying to scramble to re-adapt to my home environment so that I don’t miss a step, whilst being at a deficit from maneuvering through everything we did when we were on vacation.

People wonder why those of us with major mental illness become suicidal.  Well, let me just clue in those who don’t deal with this stuff.  Exhaustion and the inability to keep up with the demands of others wears us to the point of thread bare.  And it never stops!  We are continually expected to function like everyone else all day long, every day.  I can say with confidence here that I am going to fail every time under those expectations.

It must be difficult for people to have someone like me in their lives, trying to accommodate to make things better, never knowing which way to jump to make it easier, better.  I struggle as well, only I never get to push back from the table and say, “I have had enough; I don’t want to play any more.”  I don’t get that option.  It’s live and in color 24/7…living mental.

Me going to a social function in a strange place with thousands of people and having an expectation that I should enjoy it, is like me going to a baseball field, stacking all the plates, the pitcher’s mound, all the equipment in my arms and then telling me to “play ball”.  I’m already overloaded, so me joining in the game and swinging for the fence is just not going to happen.  I try.  I give it what I have to give, but I am not graceful about it.

And so those in my life are faced with a few options, give up doing anything social in order to stay in the environments where I optimally perform, have me come with them where they face having me drag down their fun as I struggle to cope in the environment, or go by themselves to such occasions.  It’s a difficult decision for them.  My immediate family does pretty well, but then they are all introverted so they need very little interaction in big social settings.  My husband, however, is extroverted, so it is difficult for him to get the interaction he needs and still have me with him.  I also have many friends who are very active and always doing fun things, and I just can’t do it all.

The first severe panic I had was in Kansas City at an amusement park.  There were thousands of people there. It was very hot, and I found myself in a sea of people being jostled about like flotsam on the waves.  The entire world became blurry and started to spin.  I felt I was being upended, and the closeness of the heat and bodies contributed, making me black out for a moment.  I don’t remember how I made it out of the crowd, but I ended up in a little atrium area, sitting on a bench.  A friend found me and gave me a paper bag, telling me to breath in an out of it.

That was the official entry of social phobia which quickly let to agoraphobia.  I never feel safe in public.  Even if, mentally, I’m solid on the environment, my fight or flight response will kick in and leave me in a primal state. I tend to feel guilty when I can’t be what the people in my life need me to be, but that is just hubris on my part.  It is unrealistic for anyone to expect they can be all things for all those in their lives at all times.

I’m angry because I came away from this experience feeling defeated, when in fact, it was a huge win.  I managed to survive three days with constant interactions with people in large environments  that were extremely over stimulating.  I had two issues where I had panic attacks but they were minimal in comparison to the debilitating panic attacks that wreck me for hours.

In reflecting on the experience last night I decided I was going to take this as a win for me, personally.  I would never have attempted such an endeavor in years past.  I won’t claim there weren’t difficulties, and going to the large event, much like the amusement park that kicked everything off over a decade ago, was probably not a good idea on my part.  Still, I made it through about an hour of swimming through a sea of hot sweaty people whilst being hot and sweaty as well.

The real struggle is trying to find balance with a spouse who is very extroverted.  I don’t have many options for compromise.  I can either go and fall apart at some point, be scared from the beginning that I will fall apart at some point, or stay away from such situations and let him go and enjoy himself.

I will go and attempt such places and have always done so just to stretch myself a bit.  I mentioned in a previous blog that agoraphobia is a hole that continually tries to close over me, so I am always trying to keep it open so I can crawl out.  Such events stretch that hole a bit further, even if for just a short time, so I need to continue to attempt to take such risks.

However, I need to do so without the pressure of letting someone I love down and creating disappointment for them.  I don’t want to do that, and I don’t want the stress of ruining a potentially great experience for someone else because I can’t control my body.  I may have to go with someone who is not so interested in being at the event and who will be okay with leaving, even if it’s 15 minutes into the adventure.

I could dwell on the fact that I am no longer a person who gets enjoyment out big group events base on the simple fact that my body cannot handle it, but I don’t think that is healthy. The reality is that it is what it is, and I am done trying to accommodate everyone else by performing at a level that exceeds my range of actually capability.  It’s generally me placing those expectations, though there is frustration produced by others when I am unable to perform as everyone else, so I know there is a level of expectation, albeit subconscious.  The price is too high and is generally underappreciated by those I’m trying not to inconvenience.  If you want me along, I’m a special needs case, and there will be adaptive measurements in place for me to go along.

I have a friend in a wheel chair.  It would be stupid for her to attempt to get her chair in through an area it won’t fit just because all the people in her life can walk it with ease. There has to be room made for her to get through, or she can’t go.  It is no different for me, and I’m done trying to be something I’m not.  I’m sorry this is such a pain for the people in my life, truly, but this is what I have to work with, I can’t modify any more than I have, and I must learn to accept that if I want to live a longer life.

The Constant Companion

We are going on vacation, and the preparation process for me is a bit different than from my friends who do not have mental illness as a constant companion.  Chris and I have had few opportunities for vacations in the years we have been married, so we are very excited to be able to take some time and just go play.

For me, the preparation for such an event starts a couple of weeks before we actually go.  Even if I only had me to take care of, it would be that way, but since I also have to make arrangements for the dog and the cat, there is more responsibility and more stress involved.  Doesn’t seem like a big deal, does it?  Maybe not, but it’s not the bipolar that is the issue in these situations.  Not at this point.  It’s the agoraphobia, and if it is not contained, it will trigger instability with the bipolar component, and then EVERYTHING will become a big deal.

So about two weeks before the designated date, I start formulating a plan for execution in my head.  I think of everything that needs to be done and how I will implement each task.  The goal is to have very little to do right before time to leave. It’s really all about eliminating as much stress as possible.

I begin taking anti anxiety medication at that time.  I know that no matter how much I plan, I will still be escalated when it is time to change environments, but the medication will help keep the lid on the disorder.  I am also planning even further ahead with the meds, as I know I will be entering unknown environments our whole vacation, and each change will trigger the agoraphobia.  I want to enjoy my time, but I especially want my husband and sister, whom we will be meeting up with, to enjoy their time as well.  That will not happen if I’m having continual panic attacks, which will trigger the BP and cause mood instability.

As they say, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” or agoraphobia in m case.

For those of you trying to figure out why a fear of spiders is classified as an anxiety disorder (though that isn’t a far stretch by my way of thinking either), agoraphobia is a fear of spaces.  It can be small spaces, like claustrophobia or large open spaces like standing in the middle of a room.  It is often accompanied by, initiated by, or results in social phobias.  Agoraphobia designates spaces as unsafe where the person feels trapped, at which point the fight or flight instinct kicks and manifests all kinds of fun physical features that accompany panic attacks.

Agoraphobia is very rare. Only about 1% of those with anxiety issues have agoraphobia.  I was officially diagnosed with agoraphobia about 15 years ago, but I had been dealing with it much earlier.  I was a shut in in my home for about a year, and I fight every day to keep it under control.  It’s like trying to crawl out of a hole that is continually trying to close.  I have to push and fight my way out of it every day. All day.

The medication helps, but I don’t take it all the time, as I don’t want to build up immunity, and if I have to deal with this for a lifetime, this medication I know to be safe and nonaddictive.   I don’t want “wear” it out too soon in the game.  So I take it when I know I’m going to be dealing with a lot of new environments, and I start taking it far enough ahead to make sure I have efficacy.  The rest of the time I use cognitive reframing as a means of keeping it under control.

I mentioned in another recent blog that bipolar is an unwanted guest I have locked in a guest house.  Agoraphobia is the annoying dog, that if not constantly monitored, will rile up the monster and actually slip the lock for the BP to get out.  I can’t have that, so I am diligent, often giving the agoraphobia more attention than might actually be necessary, but it’s the only way to be sure I have it under control

I do a lot of training with my agoraphobia “dog”.  I do a lot of behavioral modification.  I make it attend and bend to behaviors I deem appropriate, and I watch my thought life to the point of obsession.  If I don’t, if I allow myself to watch things that negatively impact, I begin to escalate and that little dog starts acting up.  It’s the same with people who constantly perpetuate drama and would suck me in to what they are creating.  I cannot allow that, as the price for me is catastrophic.  The irrational fear of spaces and feeling trapped every time I want to step out of my home becomes nearly unmanageable.

So in preparing for a vacation, I know that the little dog is going to try to act up.  I’m watching my sleep.  I’m eliminating any stress I can control, and I’m being organized in the process.  It helps me to know that I will be with my husband, who is big and tough, and not only protective but gracious as well.  I will also be with my sister who has been involved with my illnesses since before I was stabilized, and she knows how things work…and don’t work.

I find that the longer I live with these illnesses, the more I am able to roll with what they do to me.  Nothing diminishes.  In fact I would say both have gotten, maybe not worse, but certainly more concentrated over the years.  The biggest thing to remember when dealing with what other people deem “normal living functions,” such as going on vacations, is that mental illness is an added challenge. The more condemnation I heap upon myself about the fact that I can’t function as others do, or that I take a lot of work to get me to a place where I can participate, I am sabotaging my progress.

I think that is the take away here.  Do not come down on yourself because you take more maintenance.  The fact that you even attempt to go outside your comfort zone, is huge, and even if others condemn you for being different or higher maintenance to function, don’t ever do that to yourself.  Pat yourself on the back for every step you take in a different direction.

Life is still what we make it, even if it looks different through the lens of mental illness.  I fight for the things in my life I feel I should be able to access just because I’m living and breathing, and much like a theater production, there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes that no one knows about to make something happen for a short period of time.  I have arrived at a place where I understand that now, and I just do the best I can.  If I can’t “do,” then I apologize and try to just “be”.  Be gracious to yourself, even if others are not.  Those who do not have mental illness as a constant companion cannot begin to understand what it takes to build a moment, but what is most important is that YOU do.

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