Your Mom – Weekly Therapy Takeaways No. 4

I didn’t really know how to title this post and I figured “your mom” jokes were still in from the 90’s, yeah? 

No? 

Oh, alright. 

This week’s therapy session inadvertently centered on my mom. She and I (her and I? I’m not sure) had a very strained relationship for a very long time – up until my early 20’s. In my freshman year of high school I attempted suicide and ended up in a psych facility because I had thoughts that I felt I couldn’t talk to anyone about, especially my mom. She’s always been a “suck it up, buttercup” parental figure and I resented that. 

Today during therapy I said something aloud that I’ve never really allowed myself to before. I know my mom means well and I believe that she believes she’s doing the best she can so I’ve never told this to any exes because I didn’t want them to judge my mom based on a history that’s nearly two decades old. But today I was talking to Ms. Therapist who will never meet my mom and is paid to listen to this kind of thing and help me work through it so out it came. 

When I attempted suicide at the age of 14 I felt that ceasing to exist was the only way to get the painful/confusing/sad thoughts I was having to stop. Looking back I realize that really, I wanted to do something that made my mom listen, that would hopefully make her realize I was in so much pain that she couldn’t ignore me. I ended up being Baker Acted (a mandatory 72 hour hold on someone who presents a threat to themselves or others in the state of Florida) and stayed in an adolescent psych facility. 

I don’t remember a lot about my time at that place – random snippets here and there but one thing that’s seared into my memory is a visit from my parents. My mom brought me a nice bath robe (they removed the belt) and some books to read which was a very nice gesture. But (there’s always a “but”!) on her way out she said something about how my stay there was “costing her a fortune”. Ya know, paying for my own health insurance now, I understand that sentiment but I will NEVER understand how those words came out of her mouth at me in that situation. I wanted to SCREAM at her at that moment. I wanted to rage at her with a rant about how I felt like nothing but a burden to her, how she probably wanted to have babies and NOT actual children who would grow up, how I was so hurt that she never cared about how my day was at the dinner table every night, how hard it was to be a teenager, and how much I just wanted a parent to TALK to, how much it was killing me inside to have to quiet my feelings because our family didn’t do emotions.  

As I got older I started forgetting a lot of the bad bits of my childhood. As I dated and made friends with people who had abusive or entirely absent parents I began to replace my resentment with gratitude for my emotionally stunted but overall supportive parents. Sure my mom didn’t dote on me but she didn’t beat me either. 

Saying that story aloud in therapy today felt freeing. Ms. Therapist helped me work through it a bit but mostly I explained that I’ve moved on and accepted my mom for who she is. I can’t change her; she’s in her 60’s and I’ve only got a handful of family left so it’s much easier to move on than dig up the past and try to explain something I don’t think she’ll ever fully understand. In her mind she did an excellent job because in comparison to how her parents raised her, I had a cakewalk. 

So there ya have it. The classic “mother issues” therapy session. No, I don’t blame all of my woes on my mom. I do believe my unease with letting people past my defenses can be traced back to how I was raised. I’m sure you can see how being the “baby” of the stoic family that doesn’t talk about emotions or ever cry could potentially cause one to shut people out. . . But I’m working on that! For reals.

Respond not React – Weekly Therapy Takeaways No. 01

Safe space honesty time. . . I’m a little defensive. Ok, super safe space real talk time. . . I’m super defensive. Like, all the time. I take things personally that have nothing to do with ME as a person. A recent example: I’m buying a house and it’s in a neighborhood that some people find uncomfortable – that’s a whole deal of its own – and I was explaining this to someone who was asking where I live. Rather than simply explaining where my house will be I started becoming defensive (this was via messenger) and my tone was combative as if where my house was WAS ME.

The person I was messaging didn’t respond for a bit and I had a chance to read back through what I had hastily written then wrote one more message: “not that I’m defensive or anything”

A lot of my recent efforts in my personal growth have been recognizing where I am being less than a stellar human being. My defensiveness is definitely off-putting which pushes people away and rightfully so. I believe it’s another one of my attempts at keeping myself behind a wall of self-preservation so that no one can hurt me. Not a good thing if I ever want to find my partner in crime.

I brought this up with Ms. Therapist yesterday and she had some wisdom to share that I’d like to pass on to you!

A few things. . .

 

Don’t Take it Personally

Seriously, if my group of friends decide to go to a restaurant other than the one I suggested, this has NOTHING TO DO WITH ME! That thought is paranoid and self-centered (my critique, not Ms. Therapist’s). If I’m talking to someone about my house, I am talking about my HOUSE and not me. These seem like super obvious statements but alas, not to my brain. I will be working on this. Within relationships I realize that I would take feedback from partners personally – when truly their feedback is on my BEHAVIOR and not on me. Really, that just feels like getting my head out my ass and being a grownup – which I believe I’ve been getting better at. (maybe?)

 

Respond NOT React

When I’m in a situation or a conversation that has the potential for me to take something personally I will try to respond to what comes up rather than react. A response is something that is thought out after a momentary pause. A reaction is an immediate kneejerk blurting out of whatever is coming out of my brain first. If I know that my brain is (for the time) wired to fire off a defensive reaction then I can put the effort in to retrain my brain to pause for a minute, ignore that defensive voice, and formulate an appropriate response.

 

Say what you mean, mean what you say, but don’t say it mean.

I’m pretty sure there are elementary school teachers with this saying on a motivational poster hanging up in their classroom somewhere. I can be REALLY mean. When I REACT (rather than responding) I can go low which is something I am not proud of and aim to improve in myself. In the heat of an argument (which is all reaction and seldom ever response) mean things are said that cannot be un-said. In the last long-term relationship I was in I did VERY well with biting my tongue during arguments because for once it was my partner who had the loudest issues and they were the one reacting so I had to be the one responding so that it didn’t turn into a shouting match. This sentence of sage advice is a skill for sure though – I know we’re taught the Golden Rule and all but I think a lot of kids forget that once they hit middle school and it’s “bully or be bullied” (I was the one being bullied).

 

So there you have it. This week’s takeaways from therapy. And look, it didn’t even cost you a copay!

good-luck

Cocktail Hour – Mental Health and Medications

Treating Neurodiversity

When your brain chemicals work differently than most peoples’ and it’s enough to become a hindrance to your life, you may choose to address the issue with medication.

Bipolar II was a diagnosis I received something like 11 years ago.  I didn’t take it seriously until something like 4 years ago.  I didn’t find the perfect “cocktail” of medications until a little over a year ago.  And now, I’ll be entering new territory all over again as I change my cocktail in an effort to make my body chemistry the least destructive to reproducing.

 

My Personal Current Bipolar Medication Cocktail

I’m currently on three medications in three varying doses taken in the AM and PM.  I have one of those weekly pill divider things that I have to be sure to remember any time I go somewhere overnight.  I have to “reload” the weekly divider/dispenser every Sunday because if I left it up to “in the moment Jessie” to remember opening each of the three bottles every morning and every evening to take them, the odds are very slim that there would be any regularity.  I’ve tried a lot of the medications out there, including Lithium, and this past year has been a wonderful reprieve from the daily uncertainty of how my neurodiversity would allow me to feel.

***It is INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT that anyone reading this realize that what works for one person (or even the majority of participants referenced in a study) may not work for you.  Your psychiatrist is your most knowledgeable ally.

Currently I’m prescribed the below medications:

Lamotrigine, 100mg, 1 in AM and 1 in PM (brand name Lamictal, anticonvulsant and mood stabilizer)

Bupropion HCL XL, 150mg, 3 in AM (brand name Wellbutrin, antidepressant and smoking cessation aid)

Trokendi XR, 100mg, 1 in PM (anticonvulsant, nerve pain medication (migraines), and a whole lot of things that haven’t been tested enough to prove (mood disorders, alcoholism, binge eating)

 

Excuse me, bartender

I had an appointment with my OBGYN last week and we talked about these medications and their effect on pregnancy.  I started out by saying “Ok, so I don’t actually have a partner right now and this is years out, but I want to ask now, what medications can I continue for my mental health that won’t harm a potential baby?  Is that weird?  Too soon?”  She responded with a no and thanked me because apparently most women that she sees on medications for mental health just kind of stop taking their meds when they find out they’re pregnant.  Sometimes it goes just fine, but sometimes it makes things way more difficult.  So ok, I didn’t feel like some super duper A-type personality planning my life out way before I needed to.  She looked at her super official database and explained that there are categories for drugs relating to safety during pregnancy now which you can learn about here, and check out this handy table below!

medcategories

She said that the lamotrigine was fine and could be continued.  She said that she’s actually prescribed the bupropion to pregnant women who smoke in order to help them quit while pregnant – neat bit of info!  But. . . the trokendi is a big fat D.   Back to the drawing boards we go!  I’ll be doing some research these next couple of weeks to see what potential meds might work for me in order to replace the trokendi (or change the dosage of my other two), then bring that to my psychiatrist and see what her suggestions are.  My last appointment with her I got what I consider to be the gold star of proving that you’re properly caring for your own mental health – she said she didn’t need to see me for SIX months!  Usually it’s every 3 months but I’ve been solid on the current cocktail so unless I had issues come up, she was fine seeing me in 6 months.  I actually felt a weird sense of pride.

 

What Might Work for You?

I won’t say that taking care of your mental health is easy.  Nothing is easy about this.  You have to be vigilant and do the hard work.  The thing is, YOU ARE WORTH EVERY BIT OF THAT HARD WORK.  Your stability, should you enjoy that kind of thing, is worth every annoying minute you spend on hold with the new receptionist at your psychiatrist’s office.  Your happiness is worth those $60 copays with your therapist (I’m fortunate enough to have health insurance, but I also know a lot of therapists who offer sliding scale rates for self-pay clients).  Your success in life is worth you taking your mental health just as seriously as you take your physical health.  Whatever is nagging at you, don’t let it build – something like a “mental” cavity which can be taken care of with a small fix like a filling, is way easier to work with than a rotted tooth that requires a root canal.

Aside from a psychiatrist or therapist, YOU can also be your most knowledgeable ally by keeping a short but sweet daily log of your happenings and feelings.  This simple practice has helped me immensely in figuring out triggers so that I can better avoid them.  Once you start trying new medications it’s also a huge help to go into your next psychiatrist’s appointment prepared to answer the questions of how the new med made you feel and when did it start making you feel that way.  I know I’m super forgetful with that stuff, then add on the fact that a few of the meds I’ve tried have “brain fog” as a side effect and you’re self-reporting from memory may just as well be told by your cat.  Even if you don’t go the route of seeing a professional for any mood disorder, keep this daily log/journal for your own personal emotional processing and potential pattern-finding.

Be kind to yourself.  I can write this post after several years of counseling and medication management under psychiatric supervision.  I promise you I was not, and am still not, the shining example of “Little Miss You Can Do It!” all the time.  Reality is a lot harder than words on a blog.  But try.  Just try.  Every day try to be kind to yourself and allow yourself the room to figure this all out.  If I can realize, at 32, that I might just want to have “the thing” I’ve been saying I don’t want aallllll along, then all is fair game in the name of personal growth.