Thoughts From MY Cluttered Mind offers positive angles to the issue that faces those with mental illness. Living with Bipolar Disorder myself and being able to share my experiences with others, is the best way I know how to pay it forward. Life can be difficult, my goal is to bring a bit of hope to a place where many feel there is none.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

I am Mentally Ill and I am angry

In the last month I feel as if I have broken a full house of mirrors, this amount of bad luck could only come from an act like that, or a full moon.  It began with the realization that the puppy that was such a part of life for the last four months would need to be rehomed.  It broke my heart, but knew it was best for her and me.  I then received news my mom’s cancer was no longer in remission and had begun to spread throughout her body.   The next day I had a doctor appointment, leading to have 2 separate ultrasounds done on my abdomen and pelvis.  After that I received news my daughter would be going for surgery to have cysts removed from her ovaries.   Just as I was beginning to breathe and contemplate the logistics of a trip back to the US, two more bombs were dropped on me as I received news my grandmother had passed away and a dear friend was in the final stages of cancer and would be going to hospice.

I found myself going through the motions of the day, I was going to work but wasn't really there.  I was finally talked into taking a couple days off to relax and focus on what was happening at the moment, I was clearly overwhelmed.  

I went for a walk on my first day off, and though it was cloudy, windy and chilly I climbed up and sat on one of the highest rocks overlooking the water.  It was there everything in my mind came pouring out, I didn't realize I had so much pent up anger and confusion going on inside of me.  It's no wonder I was stress and depression had taken over.  

After reading over what I had written I decided to share my writings, to give an inside look of what my Schizophrenic  ravaged brain tells itself on a nearly daily basis and for others to know they are not alone, whether they live with this illness or love someone who does.

I am angry:

Ø  I am angry at myself for being sick, or more closely mad at my brain for not being right and causing so much pain and disruption in life.  I want nothing more to have a good day, no anxiety, no sadness (often for no reason), and happiness without worrying if it will turn to mania.  I want to see the world without shadows and the sounds of psychosis.

Ø  I am angry at myself for loving a puppy, yet relieved to see her re-homed so I can relax again.  I am angry for the guilt I feel, so all I can do is cry.

Ø  I am angry that I cry nearly every day, sometimes because I have to force myself to go to work, to struggle through another 3 or 4 hours.  Something others would never think twice about is a struggle for me.  After 5 days I feel like I’ve been through a war and I’m overwhelmed and just want to hide and recover from what I saw as major battle.  Yet, I do it and I feel guilty because there are people who would give anything to have a job.   I continue on and if I am honest with myself, it is destroying me slowly.  

Ø  I am angry because I hear the talk at work about the things my co-workers put on Facebook, but I have never been asked to “be friends.” Then I realized, if they did friend me then they would know who I am.  That is something I do not want them to know.

Ø  I am angry that I need to take my medication, and do it merely out of habit, often wondering if it works anymore.  I’ve been taking it for so long, I’m not sure if I would know the difference really.  Even though I take it, I still get severely depressed, manic, have psychosis – so why take the meds – they obviously aren’t working.  Or maybe they are and even though it’s not stopping the symptoms, it could be worse.   Can’t imagine it really, it’s already hell.

Ø  I am angry and hate that I can’t share what on my mind all the time, I fear it – merely speaking the words of it all.  There are days when I don’t want to be positive, I want to sit in a corner and cry until it passes.  I want tell all the bad things in my head – that are nowhere near positive and as negative as you can get sometimes.  But I don’t, I tell myself I can merely think different and it will go away. 

Ø  I am angry that I lose my way so easily and my dreams are slipping away.   I’ve always had the idea of what life would be, I would write, share with my talents with the world.  Promote mental health, write stories and books.  Take pictures and use them to share the beauty of nature.  I would travel and experience the world as it’s meant to be, open and free.  While these ideas are still part of my life, I find it hard to achieve them when much of my time is spent merely surviving.

Ø  I am angry that the world is going on around me and I’m not really part of it, I go through the motions of living – though I don’t realize it at the time.   I wonder how much I am losing.

Ø  I am angry because I look at the sea and sometimes see only water; there are days when even the beauty is lost to me.   People come here for the breath taking views and beaches, but I see it and walk away. 

Ø  But most of all,  I am proud of myself, in at least in this instance, I didn't hide my anger and fear.  I let it out so that maybe someone else will do the same.   It’s not an easy ride for any of us, but together and by sharing our stories we can make it through. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

Hiding mental illness behind the mask

At some point in everyone’s life, there is the dream of being an actor. We watch movies and picture ourselves starring alongside our favorite performers, walking the red carpet and receiving an award.  It’s a glamorous life, one envied by many.   I never thought that I would become an actress, but along with my diagnosis of mental illness came a new identity, a persona was created and the acting skills I didn’t know I had emerged in order to ward off any indications that something was the slightest bit off.

The charade goes like this.   You are invited to a party and have agreed to go.  The day of the event arrives and suddenly anxiety starts building, this alone will begin an internal breakdown of who you really are.  Dialogues begin of what people will say when they see you.  Will they remember the time you made a minor mistake at work three years ago?   As the scenarios begin to take form, self-esteem takes a hit as you look for something to wear , other than the “comfy clothes,” you wear at home.   By the time you get to the front door you have yourself convinced that everyone will know you are sick, they will judge you and see what a mental illness is really like.   And just like that, you smile in the mirror, as a small voice in your mind yells, “ACTION.”  It is time for your performance.

This can be a similar dialogue on any day; the problem is it occurs too often.  Over time it becomes normal and in the desire to hide the illness, we hide ourselves instead, often without realizing it.  The person we create becomes who we are and our true self becomes a person in the mirror that we never really see, because it is a reminder that we are not who we want to be.   So, in order to protect our already fragile minds, we go within, create a life we think is perfect and “press play.” 

I would give anything to be myself most days, but I am not sure I know how anymore; not completely anyway.   I long to be the person I was before I became “sick,” the athlete, the super-mom,  the friend everyone turned to.   Now, instead, there  is always that part of me that is on guard, afraid that if I reveal too much of who I am then my ‘secret’ will be out and that is the fear, the truth and what people will say.   So, the act continues, no awards are given, no speeches are made and there is no red carpet to walk down.   This is a private performance created in the mind amid the maze of medications, doctors, diagnosis, illness and stigma. 

Monday, April 3, 2017

Making the decision about psychiatric medications and treatments

There are times I wish there was one drug to work for everyone.  I went through years trying to find a combination that worked for me, to be stable (if that is possible), keep the psychosis and mania to a minimum and depression at bay.  Part of the issue I faced in the early years of my diagnosis was being in the military, I moved around a lot.  So, just when I found find a good doctor and felt comfortable with them, it would once again be time to move.  I got to the point where I didn't care much anymore, especially when it came to one of the last doctors I had.  He rarely listened to what I had to say, I was on two medications and I was having awful side effects, I begged him to change them.  He would sit behind his desk and fill out his insurance forms for the visit.  After a few visits and no help I did the only thing that sounded logical to me, I weaned myself off all medications.  I'd had enough.  

Fast forward to a year and I crashed, hard!  It was then I realized that I was not going to be able to do this alone, I had to be on medication in order at least keep some level to stability.  The journey would become harder than I thought, but after three psychiatrists and psychologists, I found not only a medical team I could trust, but also a medication combination that was helpful.  It was not an easy road however; it took several attempts to find out that my system rejected just about every new drug that had come on the market.  In addition, the Anti-Depressants I was taking were actually causing some of my mania.  With that off the list it came down to relying solely on mood-stabilizers, anti-psychotics and anxiety medication, but as we slowly ticked off the list of medications I could not take I became more discouraged.  The main hurdle we faced, in my eyes, was the extent of my diagnosis, Schizo-affective was simply the tip of the iceberg, it also included General Anxiety disorder, PTSD, and Dissociative Disorder.   Thankfully I had a doctor that would not give up.    

In the end we came up with a combination of Lamictal, Neurontin and Klonopin.  The first two keep me stable, for the most part (not drug is going to make this go away completely) and the later helps me not only sleep (my brain refuses to shut down, especially at night), but I can take it during the day if I am having an anxiety attack.  It is important to add that medication alone was not the answer, at least for me, and while we discussed medications he decided to approach the subject of ECT, (Electro-Convulsion therapy).  The idea more than scared me, but I was desperate and I trusted my doctor.  I checked into the hospital, was admitted to the psych ward and for the next 10 days had five treatments, and then I had three treatments as an outpatient.  The experience as not what I expected, my only side effect was bad dry mouth afterwards, and a headache.  

Now being the challenging patient that I am, and while the ECT worked to ease my depression, it brought on mania.  We didn't see it at first, it was subtle, but there was something going on.  12 months later I was back and had a second round after I hit bottom again after losing my cousin to suicide, his death destroyed me and sent me into a severe mixed episode.   Since the last sequence of treatments had help with the depression, this time my doctor knew we had to take a different approach.  It is most common to administer the treatment to one side of the brain; however, for me he decided he had to administer to both sides in order to balance out the depression and mania.  It was like my mind was fighting itself for control and he was making every effort to call a truce.  There was some success with the treatments and balance was restored, but there was a part of me that had hoped that it would make it all go away, I was growing more and more tired of it all. 

I began tracking my symptoms a few years ago; I watch how my mania, depression, anxiety, psychosis and sleep fluctuate from day to day. With the graph I can see what may have been going on that day to cause more a depressive state and what may have caused anxiety.  It’s not fool proof, but it can give a general overview of what may trigger some of the mood swings and then I can make any changes I may need to. 

In the end, yes the ECT did help and the medications continue to keep things in check - for the most part.  Over time I realized that we must live with these illnesses as they are, work with a good medical team, and have a strong support system.  Without all these pieces in place we run the risk of continuing to hide behind our mask and tell the world we are “OK,” when what we really need is help.