#WorldBipolarDay

In honor of World Bipolar Day, here is my “Ten Things Only people with Bipolar Disorder 2 Understand” from a few months ago. Bipolar I and Bipolar II are very different versions of the same disorder. Are you or someone you know bipolar? Share your stories in honor of World Bipolar Day.

  1. What people think: You have intense manic episodes where you spend lots (and lots) of money on random crap. What’s true: A manic episode means you might smile a few times and have energy to the dishes, take a shower, clean the house, run errands, make dinner, and participate in one of your hobbies. In other words, sometimes “mania” makes you normal and sometimes mania just makes you angry.
  2. You do not understand how people with Bipolar 1 can suffer from a sense of superiority. You go to sleep every day congratulating yourself on only being antisocial rather than a complete shithead.
  3. You never know if mania will make you happier or just give energy to your sadness, anger, fear, frustration with life. Sometimes, mania makes you a complete shithead.
  4. You have to explain your diagnosis to your current psychiatrist and you’ve been on more medications than he or she has heard of because it took forever for someone to finally settle on a diagnosis.
  5. You have medications for every part of your day: Put you to sleep, wake you up, give you energy, calm you down.
  6. Lithium does not help you.
  7. You blame all the problems in your life on your mental illness. If you weren’t bipolar, you’d actually do things. Right?
  8. After a while, you can see the bipolar depression coming. It’s like a whirling blackhole toilet of doom that slowly pulls you in until all you can see is shit.
  9. Antidepressants made you feel worse and mood stabilizers don’t make you feel any different, except for the side effects. The side effects suck.
  10. Bipolar 1 doesn’t sound so bad. At least you’d get to feel good more of the time.

To learn more about Bipolar 2 Disorder and mental health in general, visit the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.

If you think you might have Bipolar 2 Disorder, visit this site and bring the information to your psychiatrist.

This post originally appeared on January 11, 2015 under the heading “10 Things Only People with Bipolar II Understand”

We Are All Grieving Something

What do we associate with the word grief?

For a lot of people, death is the first thing that comes to mind. The loss of a loved one or beloved pet. But death is not the only cause of grief, and I would think, not even the most common.

The role of grief in our lives is so much larger than I think most of us realize. We experience grief for the death of a loved one, of course, but also for the loss of a loved one by other means – through divorce, geographic loss, distancing of a friendship. Any time we experience a sense of loss, grief can help us heal. The loss of a job, a hope, health, an opportunity, an expectation, missing a treasured event, etc. – all of these are losses that may need to be grieved.

Several years ago I was suddenly, unexpectedly, and indelicately removed from a position at a company that I absolutely adored. I was offered the chance to stay with the company in a different capacity, but without all the parts of my job that made me excited to go to work every day. I left the company shortly after.

I was devastated by this experience – the loss of this thing I loved to do, of daily purpose and meaning. I was terrified of going back to work and experienced severe anxiety, depression, and frequent bouts of agoraphobia for almost a year afterward. But even while I was experiencing all of that, I felt guilty and ashamed. I blamed myself for the loss of the job and for being unable to “pick myself up” and go back to work. It took me years to realize that I had never given myself permission to grieve, or even realized that what I needed to do was grieve.

The loss of that job completely changed the course of my life. I had worked at the company for only two years, but I had begun to see a path for growth and a future for myself there. I had begun to form an idea of what my life might look like. When I was fired, that future vanished in an instant along with any grasp I had on what my future might look like at all.

Five years later and I still have not gotten over the loss. This is the first time I’ve ever talked about it openly. Five years later, it is still a loss I am grieving, easier now than at the beginning, but as with all grief – a loss that may never completely go away.

I work from home now because of the wound inflicted by that loss. I have severe anxiety about getting attached to a job, about loving my work, about negotiating relationships with coworkers and bosses. The latter of which, in part, led to my dismissal.

I hope someday to find work that lights me up in the way that job did, that makes it possible for me to leap the hurdle of my anxiety and fear and have coworkers again. But this grief will take as long as it takes to heal. I can’t rush it no matter how much I might want to. And no one else can rush it either, no matter how much they might not understand it.

No matter what kind of loss you may be experiencing or have experienced, remember that in this way, all loss is the same. It requires time and room for grief before you will be able to successfully move on. And though the pain of the loss may ease, you may never completely get over it.

No one else can tell you how or how long to grieve, only your heart knows that. We are all grieving something. You are not alone. small-heart

Fighting Grief and Depression

One of the worst things about mental illness is that when things go wrong in your life – typical, regular, normal things – it’s difficult to figure out if you’re feeling shitty because of the thingor because of your mental illness.

Take my situation for example:

  1. I have been diagnosed with rapid cycling depressive bipolar disorder II. Translation: I’m depressed and angry and irritable, a lot.
  2. I also have varying degrees of generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and agoraphobia, depending on the day. Translation: Sometimes I can’t go outside, or do things for myself because I’m scared of invisible ninjas.
  3. I’m also married, have a job, extended family, in-laws, a pet, a house, bills, taxes, other health issues, etc. Translation: I’m a person.
  4. Specifically, I have a husband in the Air Force who moves us around a bit. In the last year I’ve moved away from all of my family and friends. In the last month, I had my gallbladder removed. My husband and I would like a family, but for right now can’t have it. And for the last three weeks, I’ve been experiencing increasing levels of unexplained pain on the left side of my abdomen, which has required one visit to the ER, a CT, x-rays, an ultrasound, two rounds of blood work, six different prescriptions, and a bajillion doctors. And still, no one knows what’s wrong with me. Translation: I’m a person with a number of issues.

I went to a new psychiatrist last week. (Because on top of all of the above issues, it turns out that Tucson has a serious lack of behavioral health care providers and it has taken me this long to find a psychiatrist.)

I was sitting there telling her about all of the issues I’ve been dealing with in the last year and in particular in the last month. She pointed out that I have been going through quite a lot at the moment. (Hello, Captain Obvious.) She pointed out that in all likelihood, my depression is more situational than biological. Or at the very least, the situational stress is making my biological stress much worse.

You know what sucks about that? If you have had this experience, then you know the answer.

Medications won’t fix it. I can take something to help me sleep. I can take something to calm my anxiety. But there is nothing I can take to lift the grief, sadness, and frustration of these normal, every day challenges with which life is presenting me. I just have to go through it, one day at a time.

Which really, isn’t all that different from living with mental illness.

5 Tips for Fighting Grief and Depression
  1. Give yourself a massive break. If it can’t be medicated, meditated, or exercised away, then you absolutely have to stay in bed, sit on the couch, cry, eat chocolate, watch TV, write about it, and read books until you start to feel the will to go outside again.
  2. Your pain, grief, frustration, sadness, and depression will eventually lift. You will not feel this way forever. If you need a daily reminder of that fact, write it on your bathroom mirror or the back of your hand, so you won’t forget.
  3. Talk to people who have been where you are, or at least, some version of it. If you’re experiencing infertility, don’t call up your friend who got pregnant while on birth control, twice. If you don’t know anyone who is going through what you’re going through, look online for chat rooms or support groups in your area. There are chat rooms and support groups for everything.
  4. Make a list of the things that you have enjoyed doing in the past and set a goal to try one of them as often as you can. Whether that’s once a day, once a week, or even once a month. You won’t know when you’re feeling better unless you try to do the things that you used to love doing.
  5. Give yourself a massive break. Yes, I said this one already, but it seriously bears repeating. I have been feeling guilty for my ongoing pain. It feels like one thing after another, and I know that my husband is feeling caretaker fatigue over the last month of ER visits, my hospital stay, doctor’s appointments, prescription pick ups, and coming home to a lump instead of a wife. But none of this is my fault and what you’re going through isn’t yours either. Let yourself off the hook.

The Desperation of Invisible Pain

Depression and unexplained pain have a lot in common.

You don’t know why you are experiencing either one. They both make you feel incredibly helpless, frustrated, and even out of control.

When you have depression, unexplained pain can make you feel like a crazy person. Sitting in the ER last week, I was sure the doctors and nurses were convinced I was seeking painkillers. Nevermind that I had pain meds at home that I chose not to take in order to go to the hospital. But of course they didn’t know that.

Even I’m starting to wonder if it’s all in my head. That antacids and stomach coating medications that are supposed to help me if it’s an ulcer aren’t helping. People keep asking me if it’s muscle pain or indigestion, but it’s not that kind of pain at all. My stomach feels sour all the time, but that’s probably because I’ve been eating so much bread and cereal. After eating a paleo diet for so long, my stomach isn’t used to that. Also, the antacids would fix that wouldn’t they?

Depression can make you desperate. It can make you wish you were dead, wish you had an obvious disease like a broken bone or the flu. It can make you want to hurt yourself. It can make you try to come up with all kinds of reasons and excuses for why you’re depressed.

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Turns out, unexplained pain can make you feel those things too. I have to keep reminding myself that I really am in pain. I pause throughout the day to see if not moving will make it go away. I focus on it, trying to will the pain away – if it’s all in my head, that should work. I find myself asking my husband if he believes me, reminding him that I really am in pain.

I feel guilty, like I’m doing it on purpose. I keep trying to make up for it by ignoring my pain and doing things I think will make other people happy. I ruined our trip to Albuquerque, so I planned a trip to Kartchner Caverns. It was a lot of fun, but too much for me. The caverns were hot and humid. There wasn’t too much walking, but I was exhausted afteward, nauseated, and dizzy.

I tried to go to a party this morning, but got so woozy I thought I was going to pass out. Erik had to turn around and bring me home.

I may not know what’s wrong with me, but something is definitely wrong. And once again, I find myself wishing I had a broken bone or the flu, because that at least would be fixable. And no one, including myself, would balme me for being in pain or less able to do things.

This is how I’ve felt my whole life about my mental health. I’ve learned to manage it, to live with it. Until and unless there is a test for an illness, people don’t believe it exists and don’t understand the pain and difficulty of dealing with it.

I don’t want there to be anything wrong with me, but I hope one of the tests finds something so that it can be fixed. I’ve had to learn to live with the fact that there is no cure for my mental illness. I’m not sure I can handle there being no cure for this physical pain.

Have you felt this way before? Because of physical or emotional pain? Share your story.

Other Illness When You Have Mental Illness

The universe must be trying to tell me something. It is almost literally beating me over the head to get me to pay attention, but I can’t figure out what exactly I’m supposed to be paying attention to.

Two weeks ago my computer cord suddenly stopped chargning my laptop and I didn’t figure it out until it died in the middle of a project for work. I ran out to Best Buy to buy a new one, came home and charged my computer right up. No problem.

Also two weeks ago Saturday, I started having pain on the left side of my abdomen that my surgeon assured me was unrelated to the gallbladder removal surgery. I had a blood test that indicated the possibility of pancreatitis, but after an ultrasound, that turned out not be the case. My doctor couldn’t give me any answers, and the pain was so bad I wasn’t sleeping. So yesterday afternoon I took myself to the emergency room, where, because of their policies, I sat in pain for four hours while they ran blood tests and did a CT. All the blood tests and my CT came back compoletely normal. When the doctor came to me and said, It’s good news because there’s nothing really bad wrong with you, I started sobbing.

There might be nothing “bad” wrong with me, but I’ve still been in pain for two weeks that’s been getting progressively worse.

When I picked up my laptop to write the first version of this blog post, before I had gone to the ER and gotten ultrasound results, my computer was dead again. This time, it just hadn’t been plugged in.

The charger I had bought at Best Buy was the interchangeable kind that can be used for multiple computers. It comes with a bunch of different adapters depending on the type of computer you have. The adapter for my laptop fit my computer perfectly, but was loose on the charger.

I reached for the cord, but it was wedged between the couch cushions. I pulled and it came free without the little adapter. I reached between the cushions and could feel the adapter. I almost had it when it suddenly plunked into a space in the couch. Turns out my couch, for some unknown and completely unexplainable reason, has a space that goes into the bowels of my couch. It doesn’t go through to the floor, it goes into a mother &%$#*@! black hole of my couch. The only way to get the adapter out is to cut open the fabric on the couch. That’s not happening.

This time I jumped onto amazon and had one overnighted. No computer for at least a day plus a few hours.

So in the course of the last month, my computer has died twice and my body had decided to work against me.

As for my body, I still have no idea what’s wrong with me. I have a prescription for antacids, painkillers, and something that’s supposed to coat my stomach and soothe it. The painkillers aren’t working and now it’s the weekend, so I have to wait until Monday to get anymore tests or possible answers.

The worst part? I feel like a crazy person. The tests are showing that nothing is wrong with me, but I am definitely in pain. And every time I talk to a new doctor and I have to tell them that I’m bipolar, I can just see the wheels turning in their heads. When I told my doctor today that I was having trouble sleeping because of the pain, she suggested sleep meds instead of painkillers. I wanted to scream. Being bipolar saved me from this particular injustice, it’s never a good idea for more than one doctor to prescribe medications that mess with mental health when you’re bipolar. Which is what I told the doctor and since I’m seeing a psychiatrist, she agreed. Thank goodness.

Not that the painkillers are helping. Well shit.

I have an appointment with a gastroenterologist on Monday.

So what is the universe trying to tell me? When things are going wrong over and over in your life, do you question your life choices? Do you wonder if the universe is trying to tell you something? If you do, what do you do to figure it out?

Because reallly, this is getting ridiculous.

Loneliness When Connections Are Everywhere

I am alone a lot. I work from home and E works long hours. He gets up between 5 and 6am every day and leaves for work before I’m even awake. He works long hours, made longer by other activities several days a week.

I have no friends of my own in Tucson (which is totally my own fault) and only see other people I know once or twice a week. Sometimes I go to the store just to be around other people.

I have a sweet and sometimes snuggly dog that I love very much, but she can’t talk to me. I talk to my family and friends on the phone regularly. But people on the phone are no substitute for a community of people right in front of me.

Anyone who has moved to a new place knows that making friends is hard on your best day. But having a mental illness can make it even harder to find a new community and new friends. Sometimes I hold my illness up as a shield, an excuse to keep from having to put myself out there and do something that makes me uncomfortable. And sometimes, my illness disallows me from making friends – my anxiety stops me, or my depression keeps me inside.

Those days, it is even more important for me to find other ways to connect with people. And so, I write this blog and I connect with people on Twitter.

My point is this, find a place, wherever it is, and make connections. You don’t have to make them in person. But you need connections to survive. Find a community – people who are interested in things that you are interested, whether it’s a hobby, a topic, or something else.

There are groups for everything on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and Instagram. And there are people all over the world who are looking to connect on these platforms as well. Social media has shrunk thw rold to your computer screen. Take advantage.

Bullet Journaling for your Mental Health

Have I mentioned my new obsession Bullet Journaling?

I have written in journals on and off since I was a very young child. In our recent move, my ver first diary surfaced with only twenty small pages filled out. Many of the journals I used in my teenage years are packed full of scrawling ands notes.

But in the past few years I’ve written in journals only very intermittently. Even as I have not journaled regularly, I have missed it.

So when my sister and then my mom both told me about bullet journaling inside of a week, I decided to look into it. They had started a pinterest board with ideas for their bullet journals. Once I read about them at bulletjournal.com, I pulled an unused journal off my shelf and jumped in with both feet.

Why Bullet Journaling is Good for your Mental Health

The idea behind the bullet journal is to keep all your notes, appointments, lists, and whatever else in one place. There’s an index at the front so you can easily find what you’ve put in your journal. Every time you put in something new, you log it in the index. You can log page by page or use categories to group entries together.

The central purpose of the bullet journal is the daily log and rapid logging. It employs key symbols to log your daily activites. Here’s what mine looks like:

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But for me, more important than helping me get organized, the Bullet Journal helps me stay focused and mindful. I can keep a long term list of things that need to get done on my future log, weekly log, or on some other master list page, and only put on my daily log the things that I think I can achieve that day. This helps keep me from getting overwhelmed, shutting down, and getting nothing done.

The other really helpful aspect of my BuJo has been the Gratitude page and the Goal Tracker. Here is what my goal tracker looks like:

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At the top of the layout I have the days of the month. This is my very first goal tracker and it included the last week of February, which is why it’s so squished. On the right hand side I have a list of the habits or goals I would like to do/achieve every day. My tracker includes: taking my medication every day, eating breakfast, lunch and dinner, spending time in the sun, playing with my dogs, going for walks, blogging, working on my book, gratitude, days gone without eating sugar, spending time with husband without screens, drinking enough water, calling or spending time with a friend, writing journal pages.

You’ll notice that I’ve been more successful with some of these than others (I’ve eaten sugar every day since I started this for example…). The idea is not to shame yourself for not succeeding, but to give yourself credit for when you do. For me, it has been motivating to look at this and see, ‘Wow, I haven’t spent any time outside in a week, that’s not good. Let’s go outside right now.’ or ‘Hey look, I’ve logged what I’m grateful for every day for the past week, I’m going to try to keep up that streak! How cool would it be if I logged gratitude for every day of the month?!’.

What If I Have No Goals and I Stay in Bed All Day

I may have been a little overly optimistic when I created my habit tracker. Lots of people only track a few things and there are a lot of different ways to do it. You can track anything, taking a shower, getting out of bed, days without smoking or doing some other harmful habit, exactly how much water you drink, days you managed to leave the house, etc. Wherever you are in your life right now, the habit tracker can help you achieve whatever goals you have.

And if you don’t have any goals at all? Well, then the habit tracker is even more important for you. If you can’t think of any goals you want to track for yourself, think about the goals that your counselor, friend, or family member has expressed for you. Write that down, and even if you only achieve it one day out of the month, you can look back at that and see that you did indeed accomplish something.

More About the BuJo

BohoBerry has been my favorite place for information and inspiration. She has some great ideas of her own and also does a great job of curating other people’s bujo ideas.

I started out be following the simple instructions at bulletjournal.com. After the first week, I started to see what worked for me and what didn’t. I kept looking for inspiration and changed up my monthly, weekly, and daily layouts to make them work for me.

My new favorite layout is the Calendex, developed by Eddy Hope. Heres what mine looks like:

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It’s my first attempt, so I’ve had some trial and error with doing it “correctly”. (You’ll note the rnadom line drawn through the bottom quarter of the Calendex. This has no meaning and was drawn by accident when I was creating this page while watching TV. A lesson in mindfulness…) I use the colored dots for things like Birthdays and Holidays that I have in one place at the beginning of my BuJo. And then I use colored boxes with page numbers for the events on my calendar. One other change I made is that when I have an event that lasts two or more days, I put it on the left side of the month so that I can make one long block, like this:

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The purple block in the second column denotes a three-day trip my hubby and I are taking. The Calendex acts as both my future log and my monthly log and my regular layouts are weekly and daily logs.

And this is my favorite weekly log, which is sort of an amalgam of a bunch of other weekly logs that I found on Pinterest:

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I found that I needed more space for Notes for the week and Next week then I did for the individual days, which is how I ended up with this.

Bullet Journaling is a great place to get a little daily creativity into my life and it also helps me be more mindful. I hope you will get inspired and join the BuJo community!