Giving a Voice to the Silence offers positive angles to the issue that faces those with mental illness. Living with Schizo-Affective Disorder 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.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Facing Grief Mania and Depression

Grief, we’ve all experienced it on some level in our lives. Whether it is the loss of a parent, spouse, child, friend or a pet, we’ve been there.  Professionals will tell you there are five stages of grief that you will go through, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance and that they play out differently for everyone.  While this is all well known, what many of us with mental illness, like Bipolar Disorder, do not realize, is that grief can trigger a depressive/manic episode.  (It is important to mention that these episodes can occur in those who do not have a mental illness as well, so it is important for everyone t o know what to look for and get help.)

I had never heard of “grief mania”, then again, I have lived day to day with this illness for the last 21 years and am now (as I head into my 50s) realizing that maybe I should be taking this illness more seriously.  I found out about this trigger the hard way, a 5 month major manic episode that landed me in the hospital with suicidal ideations.

Back track five months prior when  I received an early morning phone call that my cousin Scott, had passed away the night before,  he had committed suicide.  We were as close as two people could be and his death devastated me.   What hit me the hardest was depression, I went through a couple weeks of thinking that maybe he had the right idea, maybe it was the way to make it all stop and go away and I wondered if I should join him and finally put my own demons to rest.  I obviously didn’t follow through with my thoughts; instead I got a tattoo in his memory.   On my chest, over my heart, is the word “FREE” with a dove.  To me it said it all, he was finally free.  The thing is, I wasn’t and was about to head down a very dark path. 

The mania started out innocently enough, then again it always does,  I met up with a good friend I hadn’t seen in awhile.  We always had trouble finding time we were both available, but suddenly it wasn’t a problem there seemed to be all the time in the world for lunch, movies, concerts and late night talks.  I would spend time with some friends once a week to crochet; I was enjoying going out again.  I was taking my medications and seeing my psychologist, all seemed fine.  My first clue should have been when almost three months after Scott’s death I decided I no longer needed therapy, I was finally enjoying life and had no need for a psychologist. 

Everything had seemed perfect, until it stopped and when it did there was nowhere to go.  I made an appointment to see my psychiatrist and an hour later I was on the psych ward.  That is when I found out about grief mania, the death of someone so close to me had triggered a major manic episode.  It would take nearly 2 months in the hospital before I felt like myself again.  Once I was back home,  I would visit the cemetery often to sit and talk, I was still battling my demons and I knew he was the only one who truly understood.

As life was settling into a “normal” routine, I was once again thrown a curve ball.  My step-dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer and placed in hospice.  My mom, feeling she would not be to make the decisions gave me power of attorney and put his life in my hands.  As the dutiful daughter I did as I was told, but in my heart I wanted nothing to do with it or him for how he had treated me when I was younger.   The week before Christmas 2015 he passed away and I once again fell into the spiral.  His death brought back memories I didn’t want and I hated the fact that I had had to manage his needs in his final days.   My psychiatrist knew I was struggling and kept a very close eye on me.  I begged him a couple times to admit me, I was starting to realize something was wrong, but he wouldn’t.  I was going to face it this time, not hide behind the walls of the psych ward. 

As I pondered all that had occurred in the past 18 months, I found myself wondering what life was about and if maybe I needed to find my own place in this world, something I never had.  So, to everyone’s surprise I made the huge step of moving half way around the world.  I was still a bit manic at the time, but I was taking a stand for myself, as selfish as it sounds.   The move did not set well with my daughters and in my heart  I had lost three children, so as the wave of mania was dissipating, I went into a serious depression and mixed episode, many times wondering if life was worth all the trouble.  (A year later only two of them still talk to me)

As I was beginning to finally settle into a new life I was hit with yet another blow.  While planning a trip back to the US last month, I had hoped to see my daughters, but in the end saw only one.  I was heartbroken and cried all the way to the airport; I had lost my children again.  Then received the news a dear friend had passed away, I was starting to feel like heartbreak was all I would ever know. 

 So here  I am grieving yet again, acceptance isn’t coming as easy this time and my depression and mania are as strong as ever, but I know I need to face them – but truth be told – I’m scared.   Each day is a new battle, I have to tell myself I am strong enough and in the end things will be OK.  Most days I do alright, but it is in the middle of the night, when I can’t sleep that the sadness, anxiety and demons return to challenge me and I have to fight with all I have not to give into them. 

Reading how loss and grief can affect those of us with mental illness I know that I am not alone.  I have also realized that when it comes to mental illness you have to keep talking and learning, because you never know what may trigger the next episode.  It is a journey that cannot be walked alone, I tried to convince myself I didn’t need help, I could face the grief and sadness on my own, I was wrong.   Help is there, use it. 

Thank you for reading this post, while a bit long I think it shows the path life can take and how it knocks us down and what we need to do to fight out way back. 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Don't let Mental Illness leave you grounded

Recently we took a trip back to the United States from Australia.  For those who have never done that sort of flight let’s just say it’s not for the faint of heart.  A rough total of 23 hours in the air and another 10+ hours in layovers take a lot out of you, not only physically but for those who live with mental illness, mentally as well. 

Preparation is the key to it all, making sure medications are packed and are taken as close to normal time as possible.  That is probably the easiest part, the rest can leave you feeling off, confused, tired, depressed, and manic and in some cases psychotic.  I know it does not seem like it’s worth it, but travelling is a chance to see the world and the sacrifices that are made are worth it if taken care of in the right way.  We were not made to stay in one place, there is so much to explore and experience that our mental health should not keep us from that.  However, having these illnesses can add an element of difficulty, especially when they involve long flights and most importantly a lack of preparation.

Sadly I fell into the latter category; I was ill prepared for the trip, mentally.  I had lists for what needed to be packed, papers printed for hotels, car rental, site seeing, flights and visas.  I had an itinerary planned and ready to go and waited impatiently for the day to come.  We even arrived at the airport 90 minutes before it opened.  

What I didn’t plan for, however, was my mental health. I knew in the back of my mind that it could become an issue, lack of sleep and a disruption of a regular routine has been known to cause me problems in the past.  I told myself that was in the past, I was smarter now and could handle this without a problem.  I knew jet lag would be an issue, but with a little sleep and some down time there would be no problems, turns out that I was only half right. 

Flying to U.S. was OK, jet lag was minimal – though I was tired – I felt good and we had a fantastic time visiting New York City.  I had never been to Central Park or Time Square so I felt like a little kid exploring for the first time.   We visited with friends, toured the battlefields of Gettysburg and did a little shopping.    All this made the fact that I was tired seem irrelevant, there was so much to see and do I was on top of the world.

When the time came to return back Australia, I hoped it be just as easy.  I would love to be able to say it happened that way, but after four days of being back home, I have not slept for more than 5 or 6 hours a night, I’m irritable, moody, depressed, hypo-manic and fear psychosis isn’t far behind.   The emotions of visiting my home left me with feelings of nostalgia and the emotions of coming to terms with who I am now.  I looked forward to returning to work when we returned, but since we live in a resort town winter is very slow and it is possible I will be out of work for the next 3 months.  Put all these things together and I am struggling to find my footing once again.  All the progress I made over the last year seems to have dissipated over the Pacific Ocean.  I am struggling to focus and return to a schedule and routine that I am familiar with and helps me be the person I want to be, the writer, photographer and person who loves life and battles the demons with strength and determination. 

I do not say these things to deter anyone from travelling, it is actually the opposite.  I want people to know that, yes travel can be a challenge if not handled correctly.  There is planning that needs to be done not only with what you will pack and things you will do, but also how you will handle jet lag or a disruption in your daily routine.  These two topics alone should be at the top of the list when preparing for a trip.  It is very easy for a slight relapse to make a huge difference not only in your holiday, but in the return home as well. 

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.