Explaining Bipolar Disorder in Two Easy Steps!

Were you recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder and you’re not sure how to explain it to your friends and family? Or maybe you’ve been managing your bipolar disorder successfully for some time now but you find you’ve got to tell your new romantic partner why you’re bringing a bag full o’ prescription bottles on your first mini vacay together. Whatever your super fun circumstance, you’ve found yourself inadvertently in a “mental illness closet” and you need to get out! Help!

Don’t worry, I’ve been there and done that. I’ve got your back though, because explaining your bipolar disorder can be easy peasy with these two simple steps!

(please tell me the sarcasm is reading and y’all don’t think I’m just being a complete ass hole. . .)

 

single

 

  1. Tell your friends to do their own damn research online! It’s called Google! Yes, there’s tons of misinformation out there, but you can nudge them in the right direction. I recently asked my boo to check out the following because I felt they most accurately described my particular experiences with bipolar.

    – A helpful gathering of responses from people with bipolar disorder trying their best to explain it on themighty.com
    – A similar list from buzzfeed.com, yeah yeah, I know, it’s buzzfeed – but it really is helpful!
    – And this one I used personally to explain to the boo my occasional tendency to latch onto an irrational thought and convince myself that it’s true (see: this post, side note – we’re still going good!)

  2. Have a sit down chat with your friends after they’ve done their internet digging so they can ask you any and all questions about your bipolar – like a real, live FAQ page. Because your bipolar disorder is not like mine, or anyone else’s,

 

Ok, ok, I’m sorry to have used a very click-baity title for this post. And I’m sorry if I sound a little bitter / sarcastic but “coming out of the mental health closet” and worrying about losing peoples’ respect has gotten OLD. Going into a depressive spell and not having friends understand why you JUST CAN’T (like literally just can’t, not even the joke “can’t even”, the real “I’m staring at my phone trying to text you back but my brain chemistry won’t let me do anything other than stare right now” kind of even) is getting old. Having to explain that you don’t want to smile (when you’re usually the one who’s smiling and excited) simply because you feel nothing – and then watching as the person who asked quickly regrets ever talking to you.

Truly though, bipolar disorder is a health condition – there shouldn’t be shame associated. Friends and families of those with mental health conditions should do what they can to educate themselves, take the burden off of us. Then come to us with questions, help us break down assumptions and stigmas together.

 

Oh and ya know, sorry about not writing in forever, I promise I’m getting my poop in a group! But hey, that’s why this blog is Jessiedoeslife and not Jessiemasteredlifeandhasherpoopinagroup100percent. You get the behind-the-scenes hot-messery that is me dealing with my bipolar disorder and trying to take on the world!

Cheers,
Jessie

 

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.

Mental Health and Uncertainty

Today is the Pride Parade in the city I’m moving to (the city I work in, across the bridge from the city I live in) and I’ve been all kinds of excited to go with my friends this year. 

I was supposed to close on a house I’m buying this upcoming Tuesday but for whatever reason the seller didn’t get a structural engineer out soon enough and now I’ve got to wait another month before the repairs can be done. Originally I was supposed to be closing on March 14th but that came and went because supposedly the first engineer he hired never gave him his report. 

Buying a house is stressful. Buying a house solo is even more stressful. Buying a house and relying on a bond program from the state when your current president is cutting assistance programs left and right and your seller is delaying the purchase is 10 times more stressful. Adding bipolar disorder to this mix is making it a fucking obstacle course like American Ninja Warrior or whatever that show is. My tiny apartment is full of half-packed boxes because I don’t even have a signed addendum from the seller saying he’s going to pay for the repairs yet (they’re up to 7K now just for the structural and we originally agreed to 5K total, he’s already spent about 3K) so why finish packing?

I’m in a weird state with my mental health. I’ve gone into protection mode, like a turtle withdrawing into my shell.  The uncertainty is not easy to handle. The thing with buying a house is that even if you get to the closing something can go wrong with your finances and as someone who has lived paycheck to paycheck up to this most recent job promotion 2 years ago that terrifies me. I’ve done the math and budget 20 times over and know the mortgage is manageable but all of this uncertainty in the closing has me questioning everything. 

I backed out of going to the Pride Parade today because I don’t think I can handle the crowd or put up a front that everything’s ok for an entire day. I’ve become a blob of negativity and I hate that. 

I just want to move into MY house and pay MY mortgage and have friends over to a place that I’ve made my own. 

I’m hopeful I’ll get a new contract on Monday so I can let my mortgage company know. 

I’m so incredibly grateful for a good therapist, psychiatrist, and my own commitment to my mental health because without those things I’d be more lost than just a mess. 

Until I’m in that house though, my social life may just have to suffer. 

 Someone to Listen – Weekly Therapy Takeaways No. 03

Who knew paying someone to listen to you for an hour every week could be so freeing??

I watch a lot of TED Talks and listen to a few podcasts so it was only natural that I find the TED Radio Hour podcast hosted by Guy Raz eventually. The episodes are about 45 minutes long and focus on a central theme then weave together interviews with several TED speakers on the topic and bits of their talks. Well this week I stumbled upon the “Act of Listening” episode – how fitting!

I can’t put in words how clarifying it feels to talk to a professional about my life – she can call me out on my BS, applaud me when I don’t give myself credit (or rather encourage me to see it for myself and give myself applause), and suggest actions or thought patterns I would never think of when I’m stuck in my own head. It’s like having a personal trainer – sure you can go to a gym and try to figure out the equipment for yourself, OR you could have someone who knows what they’re doing show you the ropes and cheer you on!

Goodbye Depression, Hello Productivity!

 

The bodyachieves

Goodbye, Depression!

Alas! It appears as though the clouds have parted by way of the damn seller of the house I’m buying finally getting his poop in a group and hiring another structural engineer! We had a closing date set for March 14th, with that looming I hadn’t heard from the seller about any of the repairs that needed to be done to the house and that pushed me into a depression. I can say that was the predominant cause of the depression now because once I was told the NEW closing date (the 28th, less than two weeks from now) and that he hired another engineer but all of the other repairs were good to go, the depression almost instantly left. Apparently buying a house that was built in 1925 is not as straight forward as buying a condo or a newer house – oh well, I will love that damn house for the REST OF MY YEARS!

Buying a house as a single female without a ton of money is incredibly stressful. Thank the sweet baby Moses that Florida still has a bond program that helps with down payments/ closing costs for first time home buyers (and that I’m acting before that ish gets taken away) because I wouldn’t be able to do this without that assistance. I’m tired of paying rent and moving EVERY SINGLE YEAR OF MY LIFE SINCE COLLEGE!!!

Hello, Productivity!

Now, on to fun things – PRODUCTIVITY! I’m still a little flustered so my action steps are only on paper for now and likely will be for a while until things get settled in my new digs but my ideas are flowing from my brain, through my fingertips and onto paper, into my Google Keep phone app, or written out old school pen and paper style in my Passion Planner!

I’m narrowing in on my passion. . . what I want to do with my life. It ain’t sitting in a cubicle, I can tell you that! I’m still not 100% sure what it is just yet but I think I might just want to be a life coach for creative entrepreneurs. I am REALLY good at encouraging other people to do things, especially creative things. I make worksheets, do mind maps, follow up with them, brainstorm, give feedback, and GENUINELY care about others’ goals. I may not have my poop in a group just yet but I am damn good at helping other people with herding their cats! Every ex partner from my adult dating life has had a creative interest – music, videos, writing – and for every single one of them I became this ultimate cheerleader – and not the usual “oh, they’re my partner so I support them” but a real deal “Ok, this is your goal, how can we do this together? How can I help you? How about this? Have you seen/heard/done/tried this? Want me to do/try/help/say/blah/whatever for you?” Creativity is MY JAM and helping others with their goals is also MY JAM and if you haven’t read about my entrepreneurial endeavors yet, do so here and here because then you’ll see that entrepreneurship is also MY JAM.

I am so pumped for the schemes I’ve got a’ cooking. It will take time, LOTS of dedication, persistence, focus, support, and remembering my goal on a daily basis (as in, not get distracted with the other pretty colors and random things I can tend to stray to chase).

 

Is there anything YOU’RE working on that you’re super pumped about? Or are you in the mental health roadblock that I had been facing for the past few weeks?

 

The mighty meh

the mighty

I truly am doing my best to keep my head above water and not to succumb to this depression. According to Ms. Therapist I’m doing well at it but to me it feels like I’m putting up with a “pile of shit”, to borrow from the creative genius of Drop Dead Fred.

 

Sure I’m going to work, seeing friends, doing laundry, did my taxes, painting, eating, breathing, talking to humans like a normal human, and I even went to the gym with a personal trainer. . . but it all feels like a stupid charade. I think it’s the distance that being medicated for the past few years has given me that’s allowing me to see just how ridiculous it is.

I talked to Ms. Therapist about this depression and although I know a portion of my current status is chemically caused, she pointed out that it’s also likely environmentally seeing as how there are a lot of things in the “pile of shit” category right now. I brought up how I usually fell into a depression then because it’s easier to process something when there’s a reason I would ASSIGN reasons to what was genuinely just a brain chemistry thing. Already in my week or so of depression I’ve gone through the handy list of: my job is unfulfilling, I’m single, my BFFs live far away, there are too many things to do, my dad’s death, the current political climate, my house that may never actually go through, being overweight with an eating disorder, the mortality of loved ones, and just a laundry list of reasons that combined – yes, do contribute.

In short, I’m tired emotionally and physically because of the mighty meh. I want it to be gone. I have living to do and happiness to feel. If it could just kindly show itself the door and get lost, that would be swell.

Even the Medicated Get Melancholy

I’ve started scheduling blog posts so there’s already one that I wrote a few days ago but scheduled to post for today published. 

However. . .

I am feeling frustratingly empty right now to the point of tears and I’m practicing opening up – so here’s me sharing. 

The blessing of being medicated is finally going through life with only small shifts in the currents of my moods rather than the turbulent tides I was used to a few years ago. You happily forget what it’s like to feel depression – to feel like you want nothing more than to exist as a blob wrapped in blankets doing nothing, saying nothing, and trying your hardest to think nothing. That’s what my depression looks like. 

Where did this come from? I’m taking my meds, going to therapy, painting, hanging out with friends sometimes (probably not as much as I could), avoiding negative news, and trying to appreciate the positives. So what gives? 

I feel like I’m never going to find love, I’m never going to figure out my full potential, I’m never going to fit in anywhere, I’m never going to manage my bad habits, I’m never going to lose the weight I want to and thus never look how I want to and thus never attract my partner in crime, I’m never going to want to leave this bed.

Seriously, where did this come from? I hate it. I also hate opening up and feeling vulnerable so all of those thoughts – while they’ve been active – have never been expressed before. 

Depression is so fucking tricky because it’s your brain lying to you and convincing you that who you think you are on the good days is the lie, rather than it being the lie itself. 

I hate this. I’m just going to go to sleep and hope I wake up feeling like myself again. I’ve got an exciting meeting tomorrow and if depressed Jessie is the one who wakes up it’s gonna be a tough day of maintaining the facade of being fine. 

I’m Seeing Someone. . . My Therapist

You guys! I’ve been going to weekly mental health counseling for the past 5 weeks and I have never felt better. I’ve also been avoiding the news and social media which helps a lot too.

I went to a therapist who my psychiatrist recommended and so far, we’ve been doing very well. She’s around my age, I think (I’m awful at guessing age), and she’s got Gumpy Cat chotchkies in her office which I consider to be a good sign. It’s like the modern version of the old school “Hang in there, baby!” kitten on a tree limb poster. These days nobody has the time or patience to sugarcoat things sometimes so it’s just a big fat NOPE. I like to think of it as a motivational NOPE though.

hang-in-there

So far Ms. Therapist has helped me calm down about the way that I’m usually torn and paralyzed by the amount of goals I have. I’ve realized that although I really do want to get my masters in psychology it isn’t going to help on my immediate goals and therefore it’s ok to put on the back burner and not feel guilty about “ignoring it”. I even created worksheets so that I can track the planning and success of individual goals! Have I filled them out yet? Noooo. . . But shh. . . that leads to my next therapy-driven revelation.

I am trying to stop saying “I should”. I know, it seems like a trivial little action to have an impact on my mental health but holy Hannah it has helped! Because I’m prone to juggling 5 goals at once I have usually been guilt-ridden at my lack of action toward all of them- even when making steps toward achieving one or two of them I would negative self-talk about how I SHOULD be doing a million other things. Even just now thinking about it I’m getting an anxious feeling. But now, I’m training myself to say “I will” which helps to relieve that self-imposed pressure. Like, I should be working on my She Should Run incubator material. But. . . and reference my point in the above paragraph. . . that is not my immediate goal and one day I WILL complete it. BAM! Such a tiny change creates such a grand shift in my emotional state.

I also went on a date last week (ok, I’m not entirely sure if it was like a double date or a chaperoned date or just hanging out with a someone and another couple – I have no idea – this is being single at 32 apparently) and that led my therapist and I into a discussion about relationships and where I’m at with what I want. It was nice to talk about that with someone other than a friend because of course my friends are going to say nice things, meanwhile my therapist asks probing questions to help me figure out what I’m looking for exactly.

She has also helped a TREMENDOUS amount in my house-buying adventures. And by adventures I mean like hiking a really difficult mountain with an overcast sky so that the view’s not even worth the struggle yet. I’m hoping that my struggle will pay off soon. . . March 14th to be exact but apparently this whole house buying game is unpredictable even when there are contracts involved. My therapist has helped put my stress in perspective and appreciate how much I’m doing/progressing. BOOM! Yeah, you’re right Ms. Therapist, I am doing a lot of big things and learning from them!!!

So there you have it, a brief synopsis of the first five sessions with my new therapist.

Hilarious moment from my first appointment – as I’m leaving our session she tells me to check out with the front desk and asks:

Ms. Therapist: You can schedule your next appointment with her. How often were you thinking of coming?
Me: I was thinking like every week.
Ms. Therapist: Yeah, I think that’s a good idea.

Hahahaha, yes yes, I am in need of weekly mental health tune-ups because ya know what? I’ve been neglecting myself for far too long and it’ll take some time to get my poop in a group (a friend of mine’s replacement for “get your shit straight” when she’s around her kids).

The Midwife of Mental Health

In a very surreal moment, the kind you only see in movies or on TV, I was sitting cross-legged on the floor of my across-the-alley neighbor’s apartment telling her boyfriend to shut his mouth as I tried to soothe her during a panic attack. I had just hung up her phone from calling her mom and realized I should probably call her best friend back, I had got off the phone with her just a few moments ago and left her likely quite confused.

I have not yet once talked to this neighbor in the last 9 months that I have lived in my apartment. I’ve said maybe 12 words to her boyfriend on two separate occasions – he smokes out on their stairwell so I see him in passing. I was leaving to meet up with a friend at a set time and as I was dragging my stuff out of my place I noticed that my neighbors were arguing – very loudly – I just figured it was the 20-30 something typical couple’s fight of whatever and yeah, yelling’s ok to some people. It didn’t seem to be abusive and I couldn’t make out anything. As I came back out for a second round of my stuff to take to my car it had escalated, I could tell she was sobbing and he was shouting orders about standing up and breathing. He stormed out and I heard him on his phone talking about how she was having a panic attack and he couldn’t handle it. Then she was screaming after him to help her – then she screamed “somebody help me!”

So. . . fuck. . . I gotta do something. The boyfriend was being a dick. I can understand both sides of it because I’ve been on both sides. I’ve had bipolar breakdowns and flipped my shit on a partner before – something which at the time I could not control and was an absolutely horrendous mess. I suppose as a test of if I had learned the lesson life was trying to teach me, I have had the same out-lash inflicted on me. I’ve also had a panic attack and witnessed others try to help me with logic then watched their frustration escalate as their logic or “solution suggesting” failed to improve my condition – which can sometimes even further escalate their reaction to anger.

I believe this boyfriend reverted to the “suggest solutions” then “use logic” and once those two things didn’t work and he didn’t understand why – he flipped and started yelling.

Let’s get something clear. You DO NOT YELL OR ESCALATE when someone is having a panic attack.

If you know someone who has a history of panic attacks, it would be very kind of you to ask them what works FOR THEM when they are having an attack. If they prefer to be left alone – then you leave them alone. If they say they prefer to be left alone when they’re not in a panicked state then once the attack hits and they decide they want you by their side – you go be by their side.

I’ve learned these things (through research and experience) and as a completely unrelated bystander I was much better suited to help.

I knocked on their door – kind of terrified actually – and the boyfriend automatically started talking about whatever whatever at me but I went straight over to her, she was slumped over on the floor, leaning against the couch. I shushed him as he kept trying to explain her panic attack – I DID NOT need him to mansplain HER panic attack – I also didn’t need to escalate or assume anything so I just shushed him and focused on her.

I don’t really do touchy-feely stuff unless I’m in a relationship with someone. Even my BFF gets hugs but like, not all the time. This poor girl though, I just instinctively started rubbing the back shoulder blade area and I might have called her sweetie? I never use names like that. She was hyperventilating and asking to call her mom – she was on the phone with her best friend but hung up. I called her best friend back and explained who I was, and decided to call her mom. I assured her best friend that I wasn’t leaving until her mom arrived. Meanwhile the boyfriend was still talking at us – I don’t know their situation and I’m sure he meant to be helpful but no! I did ask her if she wanted water and when she said yes he went and got her ice water, so that was very nice.

I called her mom and explained who I was (this was so incredibly surreal – “Hi, I’m Jessie, your daughter’s neighbor. She’s having a panic attack. Can you come over? She’s asking for you. How far away do you live? Ok, I’ll wait here with her until you get here.”

It took her mom about 15 minutes to get there. In that time I called my neighbor’s best friend back and told her what was happening, I met the neighbors’ cats and learned that they all (the neighbors and the girl’s best friend) think my cat is very pretty (I’m assuming they see her in the window all the time), the boyfriend is bipolar (it was his excuse for not handling the attack well, I said NOPE! I’m bipolar too and that’s no excuse not to put your own shit on hold to help your partner), and I was remarkably composed for such a weird situation.

When I was rubbing her back I was gently saying that panic attacks, and mental health, are not things we can control and are not our fault. I might have given the boyfriend the stink eye some. But he chimed in with his excuses for not handling it well and how he’s had a panic attack once but then he researched it so he would never have one again. I calmly explained that – there is no logic in a panic attack, you as the partner are there to support the person and get them through it. Talk about solutions for the NEXT TIME when this one has passed.

A very very sweet moment where I felt oddly, proudly helpful – I asked her if she had a blanket or a pillow or some stuffed animal that really comforted her that she’d like to have. She didn’t really respond but her boyfriend hopped to and asked if she wanted her squishy pillow to which she perked up and he quickly went to their bedroom and got it for her. He poofed it up and helped put it under her head. It felt like he was finally calming down, listening, and maybe picking up on how this whole deescalation thing works.

As I recounted this story to my mom I blurted out that I felt like a “mental health midwife” and that’s exactly what it was. I filled a temporary need, pulling resources together, sharing information that will hopefully stick, and then left when the real players came in to really do the healing work.

I have not yet been back to my apartment today. I’m hopeful that they won’t be embarrassed or weirded out or anything when we run into each other next. This morning was not the time to tell them that it’s my own personal mission to end the stigma of mental health, but I did try to make them feel like I was a judgement-free zone.

And there you have it. A very bizarre Saturday indeed.

 

w-w-w-j-e-s-s-i-e-d-o-e-s-l-i-f-e-c-o-m

Also, just now researching it I feel like “psych doula” should be a thing – so I totally just registered that as a web domain and shall determine the feasibility of inventing it. I imagine it may be much like a life coach. A supplement to legitimate LMHC or psychiatric counseling. #bam

My #SecretAnxiety – the Unmastered Frontier

I’m fairly open about my bipolar – the depression and hypo-mania, and I’m beginning to theorize that this level of comfort correlates to a level of mastery I believe I’ve gained over it in the past few years. I’m theorizing this because I’m experiencing something new and I find it embarrassing when I know I absolutely should not. 

I’ve recently been introduced to a whole new mental health issue that I have not yet experienced. I’m currently battling anxiety. Anxiety is a beast. It has been endlessly lashing out at me for the past few months, chasing me into corner after corner until I break. I meditate, I bike, I see my friends and have quality conversations with them, I try to think positively, I understand this is a physiological response and yet I can’t control it. And I know I shouldn’t expect myself to – but somehow I do. I manage my bipolar, why can’t I manage this anxiety? 

I feel ashamed. 

My anxiety comes out by way of compulsively and uncontrollably itchy skin on the upper outer part of my arms and the upper part of my legs. It’s usually triggered while getting ready for work and it’s gotten to the point that I’ve made myself bleed if I leave my legs uncovered, or give myself tiny bruises if I put on tights. I can’t not scratch. It’s the most driving itch I’ve ever felt in my life.

I sought the help of my psychiatrist because getting in as a new patient at a therapist is months out. I got anti-anxiety medication. I’m trying to control my thoughts better but it’s not easy. 

I feel embarrassed. 

I don’t want others to feel this way though. I know I’m not alone but it truly can feel so incredibly lonely when you go through things like this on your own. 

I suppose I’m writing to remind myself and others that it’s human to experience these trials. We’re not alone. We don’t have to be perfect. I don’t have to be perfect. I am not perfect. And it’s ok. 

It’s easier to pretend it’s ok sometimes.