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. 

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