Mad Hatter Lives

Living, Loving, Lasting

Archive for the tag “mental illness”

Viewing Christmas Through Grief

Every Christmas part of my viewing list is the movie, “Meet Me In St. Louis.” I love the music and imagery presented of a family united in their living, even when they don’t agree. I am inspired every time I watch this movie, along with many others on my Christmas viewing list, to gather my family to me and hold them close. This Christmas season, however, is one of the most difficult I can remember in my 46 years on this earth, and gathering my family to me will not happen this year. I feel I am caught in the bonds of remembrance, whose embrace is bittersweet, and my heart hurts with the reckoning of the way things are in relation to what I would like them to be.

This year we lost my 19 year old niece to suicide, and the impact of it will ripple through our familial structure forever; the devastation firmly seated with my sister and her family. There are no words; just no words to define what has happened here. I can’t even explain what this has done to our outside structure. If there were narrow roads of communication between us due to the erosion of time and life choices, the destruction wrought by this act has obliterated many of those narrow roadways between all of us, and all that remains are cavernous holes.

You see, when a tragedy happens, there is either enough integrity in the structure that it endures, or it simply blows apart, because there was not enough steel there to hold it together. Pardon my mixing of imagery, but this seems to need multiple visual constructs. For some of our structure there simply was not enough steel to hold things together. Love remains. We love one another, but love is not always enough contrary to pop culture.

I cannot speak for the other members of my family. I have an idea of where they are in the process, but when you have a family of introverts, with only a couple of extroverts seaming everything together, it is difficult to get everyone communicating, and introverts rather often feel misunderstood, because we tend to withhold who we are and tend not to express what really, deeply moves us.

So, for me, I find this Christmas season to be somewhat in opposition with the sorrow and hurt in my heart for my sister and her family, for my parents who lost a grandchild, and the rest of my siblings and me who lost someone we cared about and who feel impotent in the aftermath. I want to celebrate and wrap up in the ribbons of joy produced only during this magnificent season, but they are singed by the fires of grief that threaten to burn down every beautiful moment possible. And even though I need desperately to experience some beauty, it seems fitting and right somehow that more is lost in the blaze than the broken hearts that struggle through it.

I find myself at sixes and sevens as I pursue Christmas traditions. I see the family on the movie I referenced above, celebrating, and I want to make cookies and pies with my siblings like we used to; chatting animatedly and laughing together. But then I am pierced as I think of my little sister struggling to move through every day and find the meaning therein, most significantly through this Christmas season. I am held hostage as the two vibrant heart moments collide, and I just want to go back to bed.

My people tend to turn into themselves the more deeply we feel. I confess to be one of the worst offenders in this category, but I am trying to communicate with my husband and share with him the mixed up menagerie of exhaustive and conflicting emotions and thoughts impacting me during this season.

I have little rhyme or reason for expressing my own grief. I can say that I grieve more for my sister than for my niece, whom I believe is in heaven no longer suffering. It is possible to experience loss so deeply for someone else that you cannot function well through it. It is possible to hurt so bad for them that you are wounded from that alone. I had no idea.

But, I am learning. I am understanding that even now there are so many more ways the heart can be rendered incompetent in daily functioning. It is part of living. Having a heartbeat means it can be wounded, and that it can heal. That is the thing to look at.

So as I sit staring at my beautiful Christmas tree, I am reminded that the beautiful in my life does not come from the trappings that make it glow. What makes my life beautiful is what I experience and the fact that I am able to care enough to be grieved; the fact that even though we can’t go back to those carefree times of laughing through the messes made in the kitchen, we can endure and love another through the messes of life. Even if we don’t understand one another. Even if we can’t find the light in the dark. If love is there, “hope remains while the company is true” (Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings).

God does not give up on his children. He does not do bad things to us. Stuff happens. I do not pretend to have the answers to the difficult questions. I quit asking a long time ago. What I know is that he has come through for me more times that I have suffered. I call him Yeshua (the Rescuer), because even though he has not removed mental illness from my life; even though I struggle every day, not with the normal issues in life, thought they press in, I have to grapple with finding reasons every day not to end my life. So, I know the price of suffering. I know who my people are, and regardless of what I do not understand, of what I have lost, of what my precious sister has lost, I know what I have gained and who rescues me every day.

So, this Christmas, as I straddle the fire flow burning a black chasm through my memories and traditions of Christmas, I am reminded of what remains through it all: Faith, Hope, and Love.

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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.

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.

Resilient Hope

We have been trying for some time to kill the weeds in our driveway.  Man, are they ever resilient!  They can grow with no water and very rocky soil.  They seem to fight through whatever would kill most other vegetation, and even when we think we have killed them, they come back.  They never seem to die all the way down to the root.

Hope is a weed.

No matter what happens on the surface, it is very nearly impossible to kill it all the way down to the root.  It springs back with the merest of opportunities.

Thank God

I have had many experiences with hope- what I termed as the loss of hope.  I didn’t actually lose it.  It’s not like I misplaced it.  It just seemed to wilt and die.

So many times.

Life with mental illness is like riding a roller coaster where the lights have been turned out.  Living things do not grow and thrive in the dark, and neither does hope.

And yet…it does not die.

Along with illness comes the losses that are part of being alive, and losing people you love along the way can cause the loss of hope.  The pain is so intense it makes you believe nothing will ever get better.  This will always be the way of things, and hope seems, once again, to die.

But hope endures!

I don’t know how, but hope endures.

I have never seen a yard or driveway that did not have at least one weed.  I have never seen a life where there was not at least one possible glimmer of hope.  Just as we are guaranteed there will be days in which we stagger under the weight of our losses; the toll paid for drawing breath, loving, and simply being involved in life, we are guaranteed the possibility of hope.  It is one of those great mysteries of life.  It cannot be killed down to the root.

If you are one who has lost all hope, I can tell you I have been where you are, and just as I have the guarantee of being mentally ill every morning when I awake, I have the guarantee that hope endures.

Hope has become, for me, a lamp sitting on the edge of my darkness, and sometimes I sit in the dark minus the energy to reach over and pull the cord to engage it.

There are days, months, where I operate in the dark, riding the roller coaster with only shadows, a shell of my person, wishing someone would stop the ride.  There are so many moments, much like this morning, when the overwhelming sense of all that is wrong in the world washes over me and I am immediately in despair screaming internally, in the dark, asking when all the sadness and awfulness will end.

But I have learned that hope is a weed that never dies, and hope is a lamp that sits near me no matter where I am.  I must reach over and pull the cord.  Sometimes that is the only thing I manage in the course of my day, but pulling that cord is the beginning of a new view and of healing.

My blog image shows a child in a tunnel with a balloon and a butterfly standing on the word HOPE with the shadow of “There Is.”  This is the icon of my life.  Once upon a time I used an image of a ship in a storm about to go over the edge of a vast waterfall.  The thing is, my ship never went over the edge.  Even if I had ended my life at some point, my ship would still not have gone over because I was held by Yeshua (My Rescuer).

One day I realized that I have hope. I live in a dark tunnel every day that is my mind, and no one, not even my precious husband can get into my tunnel. But  I realized I have the choice to stand there with the light of hope or in the dark, and some days I do sit in the dark, but I KNOW hope is right there for me to turn on.  So my image has changed on my blogs, because my understanding of my life has changed.  Hope has a role to play, and I whether I water it or turn it on determines how much light I have for living, for it is always there– resilient hope.

 

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.

Worth Living

I could write a blog about the things mental illness does in my life that makes it difficult to or not worth living, but what a drag, right?  There is more to life than mental illness, and though it is the lens through which I view all things in life, it is NOT life.

I have worked with so many people, encountered so many people over the years, who are completely unwilling to own what they are and what they have as a human being.  It is unfortunate, as owning everything is what ultimately gives us victory.  I have never encountered someone who has been mentally ill for a long time and says, “I ignored my illness, never was accountable for anything my instability caused or did, and it was absolutely the right thing to do.  It made all the difference in my ability to be healthy.”

I have observed in my own life and the life of others that hope and fulfillment come from fearfully stepping into ownership, and I do not count self-medicating as a means of healthy treatment.  It just can’t sustain stability, as the means are often unhealthy in themselves.  That is not so say that there are not varying ways in which to address mental illness, but self-medication will show results quickly, and most often those results leave the person in a much more compromised state rather than one of power.

One of the things I am most proud of in life, is the relationships I have.  It is very difficult for people with mental illness to sustain healthy relationships.  It is just so very difficult to live with mental illness, maintain stability, AND have someone close to you.  I have been so fortunate to have healthy whole people actually want to be a part of my life, and I truly believe just one healthy relationship makes all the difference in the journey.  When you can’t find hope, they can remind you it still exists.

The thing about mental illness is that it is like another skin.  I see people continually trying to shed it like it’s a coat, and they end up frustrated and much worse off by investing energy in something that cannot be changed. I still, after 25 years, struggle with the desire to somehow get away from it.  That is natural.  It is unnatural to have mental illness.  But when that is the way life rolls out, you must, at some point, if you want to have any quality of life, move on from that mind set.

So every day I face a new set of challenges just within my own mind, before I ever step foot out the door.  I am not a person who enjoys being around other people a lot.  They drain me, so I must pace myself.  It’s not generally something others do that makes me shy away.  I get overwhelmed by the constant stimulation that occurs when engaging in social settings.  I fake being outgoing and engaging for a while, but the cost is high, and I can only affect it for a while before I need to withdraw and regroup.

I used to feel guilty that I wasn’t very social, like I was a bad person because I didn’t want to run all the time.  But the truth is, I like being at home.  I like solitude.  I like my husband, I would rather engage with him than run out to a social setting with people I don’t know well.  There is nothing wrong with going out to engage with others socially; not at all, but I simply don’t need it.  I do not feel I am missing out on something or that I am lonely.  I have a circle of people in my life, and as far as I am concerned, they are cream of the crop.  Why would I need to go further, when I can be with them?

My husband, parents, and siblings just happen to be my closest friends.  It’s nice when the people you are related to are also your most intimate friends.  I also have friends I am not related to.  Not tons, as I don’t need tons.  I have a few I spend time with occasionally, but my love for them is deep, and I know they love me.  I feel honored to have friends like I do.  I don’t deserve them, and I will always be there for them. It’s important to understand what true friendship is.  A lot of times, I think mental illness robs us of our “healthy things” equilibrium, and we end up adding people into our lives as friends when they really only want to sabotage us. We must learn the difference.

Some of the friends I have, I have had for 15 years and more.  They have grown with me, experienced loss with me, prayed for me and I for them.  Some friends are newer in my life, but they overwhelm me with their kindness and grace to me.  When I first started my new business, my friends came to me as clients and would tip me more than the cost of the service!  It’s not about the money.  It was their way of showing they believe in me, that they have my back, and they want something better for me.  I have friends who have come to me for services whom I know can’t afford to, and I that humbles me.  I reciprocate as I can, am compelled to do so, and am just so stinkin’ blessed to be able to try to give to them in a way that shows how much I love them.

My husband.  I can’t even start with him, as he is a shield in my life, and the ballast in my continual wave-tossed ship, and there are not enough descriptive words in the world to describe what he is in my life and my heart. My family, well, there is none like them.  We have traversed this thing for so long, they keep it real for me and let me know when I need to check myself.

These are what healthy relationships look like, and I can’t take credit.  God blessed me with wise and caring people who were willing to hang in when others bailed.  I cannot express how much better the journey is with a select few than alone.  So if you are thinking you don’t want to put in the work to find stability and balance in your life, consider the reward of healthy relationships that is waiting for you.  This is one of the biggest rewards that make life with mental illness worth living.

Creative Surges

I have been having a creative surge, and it is nice.  I don’t tend to write unless I am compelled, and generally I’m compelled from an uncomfortable place within me.  It’s a strange sort of electric sadness that propels me onward in my writing.  It has been dormant for some time, and it is difficult for people to follow your blogs when you are sporadic in your writing!

This morning I woke up knowing I was not in the sad place.  I am in a place of intense frustration, which generally renders me problematic to those around me and much less able to focus on expanded creative thought processes.  I am attempting to persevere, though, because I sense some valuable information may be forthcoming at some point for someone who is looking, and I don’t want to miss the opportunity to help, if even just a little bit.

While I certainly do not have all the answers to life or even life with mental illness, I can say with certainty, I have beaten most of the odds when it comes to quality of life and longevity with mental illness.  I am staring 46 in the face, and I do believe I have learned a couple of take-aways from this life I have been living.

  1.  I am never gonna arrive.  I am never going to look at my life and say, “Finally, it is just the way I always wanted it!”  Not going to happen.  I am too much of a perfectionist and the winds of change blow too freely through my lifescape to allow me any sort of arrival I am content to stay with.
  2. I am never going to land.  I have a desire for a life that has meaning; significant meaning.  I have warred with this against the desire to have a little cottage with a true English garden where few know me and I can just live my days in peace and quiet.  The problem is that I have never been able to marry the two concepts together, and it is the warring between them that keeps me from being able to land in one place, not to mention a husband who would never stand for the quiet subdued life.

I confess, my desires pull me asunder.  I am continually trying to fulfill one or the other and generally failing all around.  Should I write?  Should I make money?  Why can’t I do both?  Why can’t one perpetuate the other?  Now THERE’S a novel thought!  Sometimes in the midst of the turmoil I make decisions that I think will aide in direction, only to find they contribute to the unrest and indecision already affecting my abilities to access creative processes.

I have had heard that I “must really decide what I most want to do and then go after it.”  That is just unrealistic as a blanket statement, because the truth is that sometimes you just can’t have or do what you most desire.  Sometimes you have to work a job that is not even close to what you want to do the majority of the time just so you can have a few hours every day or week to DO that thing you most desire.  That is often the reality of life, and no matter how much you want the thing your heart desires, this is life, and we are often more caught in the throes of it than rowing steadily along on top of it.

I once read that if you are in a place of confusion DO NOT blindly wander about like a person caught in a blizzard.  You never know what you will run into whilst you are blindly staggering about.  Stand still.  Wait.  Ahhhhhhhhhh!  The big W.  I just hate that word, but sometimes, most times, it does not “take two to make a thing go right.”  It takes waiting to make a thing go right, and I have found, though it’s generally in retrospect, that waiting makes the difference in how messy things get.

So, say it with me, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time,” and it is taking time to swallow where the waiting occurs. Ah Ha!  Food for thought!!  So you take small bites of your elephant, and I will do the same with mine.  In the process, I’m hopeful there will be more creative surges and fewer periods of waiting, though it is only a fleeting hope.

 

 

The Monster in the Guest House

Over the years I have attempted to describe my special brand of mental illness with vivid imagery like, the monster in the guest house, so as to lend someone who has never experienced mental illness a way to identify if even just a little with what goes on in the life of a person with major mental illness.  I’ve no idea how successfully I have managed to do that.  I know that when I do speaking engagements I often get feedback from those kind enough to listen to me in regards to the vivid imagery I use, suggesting that they have in some way been able to relate.  That positive reinforcement compels me to look further for ways to help bridge the gap to understanding, because stigma exists out of fear of the unknown, and the best way to ameliorate fear is to educate.

The icon I have used that I feel best defines the existence of bipolar disorder in my life has been the monster in the guest house.  I have written this out before, but I have had so many different venues for my writing that I am unable to find my original writing, and there is the fact that I was also writing a dissertation whilst writing blogs, and some things disappeared in the process and my wearing out laptops and not getting everything saved beforehand.

So, without further ado…

My life with bipolar is like having a monster show up on the doorstep of my house, insisting that it is going to move in.  That is what happened at 22 years old.  Now, I wrestled and fought this monster, but I was poorly armed, so while it rampaged in my house, tearing everything apart, I began to search for reinforcements.

There really were no human beings able to help me. They had never seen such a monster, and their response was that I simply control it or pretend it was not there.  But the monster could not be controlled, and I could not pretend it was not there.  It not only tore up my house, but it was a shape shifter and would alter its appearance to look like me, then run out of my house and do things others could see.  They would think it was ME doing those things.

I found a doctor who gave me some magic pills and told me that he could not see the inside of my house or the monster, but the more I explained to him what my house looked like, what the monster was doing, and how I was feeling, he could better help me.  I was relieved to have someone in my life willing to help and who seemed to be able to plot a course for killing the monster.

What I came to realize was that the monster was so attached to me and to my house, that if I killed him, I would also die.  Many times I very nearly killed the monster.  Many times I nearly succeeded.

I decided that I would not be a victim.  I would be a warrior.  I armed myself with as much information as possible, and though the magic pills did not work, I continued to search for ones that would.  I became strong in my knowledge, and authority on the monster.  I became powerful in my abilities to trick the monster, and finally after 10 years, I found a magic pill that helped.

I was able to take the magic pill and close places in my house in a way that rendered the monster limited in its ability to access them.  The magic pill was not a cure, but it was a powerful weapon in limiting the monster, and eventually it only had access to a couple of rooms in my house.

One day I met a brain wizard. He was a doctor of cognitive behavioral practices, and he taught me how to take a thought and remake it into a better functioning thought.  This was valuable, because the biggest power the monster had was to take thoughts that roamed freely in my house and turn them into twisted ugly things that didn’t come close to their original structure.  They would turn on me and attack like little rabid dogs. The brain wizard helped me grab hold of those twisted thoughts and remake them.

I realized I could act on the monster’s weakened state, so I kicked it out the door of my house and locked it in the guest house.  I told it I may never be able to kick it off my property but I was not going to allow it to destroy my house any longer.  I locked it up, and with the magic pills and the skills taught by the brain wizard, I have managed to keep it there…

For the most part.

After so many years of battling the monster, my house is not the same.  There are scars, gouges, from where it sliced through walls.  I have rebuilt the furniture many times, and the appliances work, though not as well as they used to. It is not a pretty house any more.  Things are tidy, but often the walls shake with the monster’s rage and attempts to break out of the guest house, and things fall and break. There are fewer rooms to secure these days.  The last time the monster broke out of the guest house, he broke down more walls, so the house is pretty open.  And though the memory room still stands, there is no longer a door.  That is the room that the monster likes to wreck, and it is the room it takes me the longest to restore.  In fact there have just been too many things that have gone missing from that room.

I feel that for the most part I have been fortunate in my dealings with the monster.  I have had people move in around me who are good neighbors, people who help me watch the guest house and alert me when things are looking unsettled.  Mainly, though I have a Being in my life that is unafraid of any monsters life can produce.  I was angry at the Being for a long time.  I thought he had put the monster on my property, but I have come to realize he has orchestrated all the weapons I have obtained, and the beautiful neighbors who help me are there by his design.

Here’s the ironic part.  The Being has helped me realize my life has more meaning because of what lives on my property. I am a more dimensional, humble, and empathetic person because the Being didn’t kill the monster but helped me submit the monster.  Some days I stand guard very well.  Other days I struggle to make it to my post from the sheer magnitude of stress caused by having such a creature on my property, but I continue in my precarious existence, and I attempt life with grace bestowed on my by the Being and those beautiful neighbors.  I find I have a light of hope walking back and forth between my house and where the monster is housed that reassures me that there is more good for me than bad.  I find I can employ  gratefulness and identify with others, and I believe I am able to do those things largely because of the presence of the monster in the guest house.

Madeleine L’Engle, Icons and Idols, and Carrier Fisher

I am a big fan of Madeleine L’Engle.  I prefer her nonfiction to her fiction and have read her books over and over in past years.  Currently, I am rereading “Penguins and Golden Calves.”  This is one of my favs of hers, because it addresses the differences between icons and idols.

An icon is something that is a reminder of something else.  It is like a bookmark in a book on a certain section you do not want to forget.  When you look at an icon you can be transported back to a place in time.  An icon can be a reminder of something else that you hold dear.  My wedding band is an icon for me, for when I look at it, I am reminded of a moment when my husband proposed to me, but it is also a reminder to me of the love we share and the promise I made to him to always consider him when making decisions.  This is a difficult thing for me, as I was single for many years before I met him, so the symbol is important to me.

An idol is something altogether different.  An idol often starts out as an icon, but then obsession takes hold, and suddenly that which was a reminder of something we valued becomes more important than that what it was put in place to help us remember.  An idol is dangerous because we can waste time and energy on something that takes us so far away from the reality of our own lives and who we are that we become lost in, not living, but in existing for the thing we are idolizing.  Sometimes it is a person.  Sometimes it is money.  But more often it is less obvious and, as such, more dangerous.

I find it fortuitous, my reading Madeleine’s book at this time.

If you have been involved in my writing or have been on my Live Mental page, you will know I am a fan of Carrie Fisher.  She has been an icon for me about having longevity with major mental illness.  She constantly reinvented herself and her life over the years, and she was always very candid about her battle with mental illness and, by extension, drug addiction.

When she passed away, I was quite sad.  I felt like I had a kindred spirit in her; someone who has traversed this dangerous road of mental illness ahead of me.  She was inspiration for me to keep going at times when I have felt I was all alone in the dark of this living black night, and suddenly, she was gone.

When Carrie died, I confess I was relieved her death was a result of something normal, a heart attack.  When I say normal I am quantifying with natural causes vs. suicide or drug overdose.  I could rest in the fact that she ran her race, and though it was still early days, she had had a very full and vibrant life, conquering her demons as they came.

You most likely know that the toxicology report came back to reveal drugs in Carrie’s system, and not the kind you use to legally and effectively control bipolar disorder.  I was really heartbroken.  I was a little surprised at the impact the new information had on me.  I felt betrayed.  How could she do such a thing!  She had been clean for so long, as far as anyone knew, and now the focus will shift from her valiant experience with mental illness where her heart just finally gave out, to her death potentially being impacted by drugs in her system.

It seemed sordid to me, and I just really wanted my icon to have died from natural causes.  I realized this morning, as I was reading Madeleine, Carrie Fisher had been an icon for me, representing the hope that it is possible to live a long life with bipolar disorder and die of causes not related to the illness.  Nothing wrong with that, but what I realized was that I made her a bit of an idol in my life.  An idol can garner worship.  That is where obsession factors in, and when I become consumed with the grief of a person’s passing, whom I never knew, and angry with her because of her choices before her death, I have crossed a line from reminder into something unhealthy.

Carrie Fisher started out as an icon of hope for me and ended up an idol I was holding responsible for letting me down.  Not good.  But seeing it is all it takes for me to reconcile the difference.  I can be sad that she, in fact, struggled with drug addiction all the way up until her death.  She did not conquer it.  But she was human, and there are many things we do not ever manage to conquer in this life.

Life is about finding balance and knowing what it feels like so that when we do go to one extreme or another for a time, we can recognize it, make an adjustment, and get back to balance, because it is a familiar place to us.  Icons help with that transition.  For me, they remind me of what is valuable.  I have many physical icons in my world.  I have a rock my friend, Lynn, gave me during a time where I was under so much stress I was collapsing both physically and mentally.  It is a symbol of the tangible being, because it is so solid, and it is an icon of a person’s ability to care about another person enough to give as a means of alleviating pain.  I have many icons that are reminders of people who are no longer with me, and I have icons that remind me of things I have achieved so that when I am doubting myself, I can look at them and remember I have made accomplishments.

I cannot recall ever intentionally embracing and idol in my life.  I have not found any healthy reason to do so, but that does not mean I have not idolized.  I know that slowly, subtly, some things have become idols in my life.  But my test is always, “If I were asked to, could I, would I give this up?”  If my answer is, “No!” I have a problem.  It is rare I have struggled violently to give up something I have made an idol, but it has happened.

Do you have icons or idols in your life?  Next time you find yourself overreacting to something ask yourself, “Is this an icon, or is this and idol?”  Icons promote health.  Idols promote decay, and I’m grateful to have both Madeleine L’Engle and Carrie Fisher as icons, contributing to MY health.

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