Life Sucks and Then You Die

life death.png

This is my new motto. A terrible way to live my life, I know. Sometimes, it’s the only thing that keeps me going though – knowing the futility of life. I believe in some kind of organizing force in the world. Sometimes I call it God, sometimes I call it the universe, sometimes I don’t call it anything. I guess I am more agnostic than anything else. I believe there is something, but I don’t know what it is.

Anyway, the point is, if I don’t have a clear idea of a higher power, then how am I supposed to believe there is a point to this life.

I believe in doing good in the world, in being a good person, in helping others. But for me, these things don’t always bring a sense of purpose or hope for the future. I am alive, I stay alive for my loved ones. Perhaps that is enough, to know that I have people who love me and to live for them. Perhaps it is enough to know that I am part of a greater community.

Is that enough for you? Do you remember that there are people who love you even at your darkest times? Make a promise to someone. Promise them that you will hang on even when you are at your darkest hour. This promise will help. If you don’t think you have anyone else, make the promise to me. I care about you.

I’ll keep writing. You keep reading. That will be our agreement.

Suicide Prevention: Get Educated

Recently, someone I love tried to commit suicide. Suddenly, I was reminded of both our connectedness and our profound separateness. Someone close to us called the act stupid and I had to dig deep to find the words, to explain that attempting suicide comes from a place of pain and desperation, not weakness and stupidity.

Yesterday, roughly 117 people committed suicide. For every person who completed suicide, approximately 25 people attempted. Approximately four of them were under the age of 20, thirty-seven were between the ages of 20 and 44, twenty-two between the ages of 45 and 64, and forty-two were over the age of 65. 14.7 percent were White, 10.9 percent were American Indian, and 6.3 percent were Hispanic, and 5.5 percent were Black.

There isn’t a demographic of society that isn’t vulnerable to suicide. Chances are someone you know has been touched by suicide or attempted suicide. There is value in being educated and informed about suicide. Are you prepared to handle this kind of crisis? Here are some tips on what to do if you are worried about a loved one:

  1. Show you care and are available to help.
    • Ask questions: How are you doing? Is anything bothering you?
    • Listen actively and empathically, express concern and caring.
  2. Ask specific questions about thoughts of suicide.
    • It can be difficult and awkward, but only one in five people seeks help for suicidal thoughts. If you don’t ask the question, you’ll never know the answer. Are you thinking about hurting yourself?
  3. Encourage them to seek mental health services. Tell them seeking help takes courage, but it will also help them feel better. Help them find a counselor and/or psychiatrist in their area. Low-cost options are available in most areas.

If you think a loved one is seriously considering suicide:

  1. Take the person and the risk seriously.
  2. Tell them to call or call for them the National Suicide Prevention Lifelife at 1-800-273-8255.
  3. Help them remove any means of suicide from their home (i.e. pills, weapons, etc.)
  4. Do not leave the person alone under any circumstances. Escort them to an ER, counseling service, or psychiatrist. Under immediate threat, do not hesitate to call 911.

Remember that caring for a person who is suicidal or who has attempted suicide takes a toll on you. Make sure you are paying attention to your own self-care throughout the process. Make an appointment with your own counselor, talk to friends and loved ones, and make time for yourself even as you help care for the person at risk.

All of the statistics and information for this blog post were taken from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website. Please visit the website for more information on suicide prevention, how to help a loved one, what to do if you are feeling suicidal, or if you have experienced a recent lost or attempted suicide of a loved one.

Please remember, you are not alone.

There’s Nothing “Hypo” About It

Four or five weeks ago a wave of hypomania hit me so abruptly I felt like I was suddenly caught in the midst of a hurricane. It was in fact the beginning of a mixed episode more intense than any I had ever experienced before. I had read and heard that bipolar disorder has a tendency to get worse with age, that for some people each episode implies that each concurrent episode may be more severe than the last. And so, I had experienced with bipolar depression, but never with the flip side.

I was feeling so angry, irritable, and upset. There were some situational things going on in my life that would explain being upset, but that couldn’t explain my desire to put my hand through the wall. After a few days of feeling progressively worse, I realized that it was more than situational. I was furious all the time and the only thing getting me through the day was a particular fantasy. When I started to feel my anger spiraling out of control to the point of feeling violent, I would imagine myself holding a sledgehammer, walking through various buildings, and breaking everything in site. It was a very therapeutic fantasy and it got me through the most difficult periods.

My nurse psychiatrist put me on trileptal at first, but that almost immediately may be significantly worse. Within twenty-four hours I felt maniacal and didn’t take more than two doses. During the several days without medication while I was struggling with this furious anger and maniacal energy, one day I got up, put on my sneakers and went for a run. If you know me, you know that this is completely out of character. I think the last time I was able to run more than ten feet was at the age of sixteen. So this in and of itself gives you some idea of what it’s been like. At the end of that first run, I finally felt normal again for the first time since the whole thing began. I’ve been running a few times a week since then. It’s the only thing that pretty reliably makes me feel normal.

The sledgehammer fantasy led to the idea to go the batting cages, which is something else that my husband and I have been doing about once a week since this whole thing started too. It’s been very therapeutic to just get all my energy and aggression out. It’s also been a way for my husband to help and support me through this process.

Incidentally, hypomania is an eminently misleading name for this phenomena. Mania is a much more fitting term, though I appreciate that there is a big difference between mania and hypomania. The prefix “hypo-” makes hypomania seem so much quieter, calmer, less disruptive than it is in reality. I wish there was a better name for it. I really like the descriptor maniacal, although that really makes me sound crazy, doesn’t it? I mean, it feels pretty crazy in the moment.

My nurse psychiatrist switched me to lithium now, which I’m not thrilled about. It makes me really tired and I think it turning the hypomania into depression, which I don’t think I prefer. Honestly, I’d rather not be on any medication and just run off the energy. But the reason I went on the medication in the first place was because of the violent anger, because of feeling like I wanted to put my hand through the wall all of the time. That was not a good feeling at all. So, it’s an evolving situation. I’ll let you know how it goes.

I hope you are well.

Just Breathe

Last week, I spent six days in Alamosa, CO at Adams State University. The week was first two intensives that I have to complete in order to graduate from the Counselor Education Program with my Master’s in Counseling. The week was called an “intensive” and with very good reason.

Our day started with breakfast at 7am and most days didn’t end until 6pm. I spent two and a half hours every morning in group therapy and three and a half hours every afternoon in class practicing counseling skills as both the counselor and the client. After this class I spent one to two hours in meetings with the faculty and staff going over other aspects of the program. Every day was exhausting. We spent a lot of time talking about self care, which was paramount during this week.

In addition to simply having quite a lot to do each day, we were all worried about being graded, judged, and accepted into the program, while trying to show up in authentic ways in the counseling environment. We were stressed and emotional on an almost constant basis.

At home I occasionally remember to focus on my breathing in order to manage stress and anxiety. But while in Alamosa, it became not just helpful, but necessary to remember to consciously breathe. Sitting in my therapy group trying to manage my tears as I tell a story, taking my turn as a counselor in practical class and getting triggered by my ‘clients’ story, trying to stay present and attentive during our after-class meetings.

I never would have made it calmly through the week if I hadn’t spent a significant portion of the week just breathing. This was great practice for every day life and had been incredibly helpful for reintegrating into my regular life. Every time I start to feel anxious or stressed, angry or frustrated, I’m remembering to go back to my breath.

Breathe in, Breathe out, Hold it. Breathe in, Breathe out, Hold it. The holding it is key, because it helps our body move from the fight or flight response (sympathetic nervous system) to the rest and digest response (parasympathetic nervous system).

Emotion isn’t just cognitive, it’s physical too. So remember to breathe. Just breathe!

Guest Post: Bipolar Transgender Life

Hey Everyone,
Below, you’ll find a fantastic post from my friend Danni. I invited him to write something for my blog because of his unique perspective as a transgender man who also struggles with Bipolar I. I hope you enjoy his post and that you have a fantastic week. Please show Danni some love!

My name is Danni, and I came out on Facebook as male on May 1 of 2014. I had told many friends and family in the months leading up to that, but it was an important step to announce it online. I have a lot of online contacts that I don’t see regularly and that might have missed it otherwise. I lost a few friends, but mostly ones that I didn’t realize were missing for months. It was empowering to change my pronouns and gender identity on Facebook.
I was diagnosed with Major Depression at 17, and then later it changed to Bipolar 1 when I was 19. When I started to come out as transgender, at 27, people doubted my sincerity because I was also struggling with my bipolar symptoms. It added to the struggle of people not taking me seriously. My updated diagnosis has become Bipolar expressive. It was a really hard time for me, and it took months before that got settled.
Being bipolar and transgender brings its own challenges. Last week, I wondered why I was getting more depressed. I had run out of lithium and missed three doses, so it could have been that. I recently switched from biweekly shots of Testosterone to weekly shots, hoping that would make my moods more stable and not on a two week long roller coaster ride. The depression was bad a day after the lithium had been reintroduced into my system, and also during the last day before my next Testosterone Shot. Sometimes there is no reason for my feelings, but other times it is worth examining what is going on with me chemically.
Sometimes things people say to me can set off my bipolar symptoms even though the reason they upset me is due to disrespecting my transgender status. When I get mis-gendered, it feels like someone is looking at me and not seeing me for who I am. When it happens on the phone at work, I just correct them and it doesn’t upset me very much, but when it happens in my personal life it is harder to deal with. I tend to be very open on Facebook about this, but at the same time I try not to call people out in that way, especially when I know they don’t mean to be malicious.
One of the things I do to manage my bipolar is to keep a mood chart, which can directly assist me in figuring out why my moods have changed.  Changes in medications are recorded, as well as other stimulants/depressants. I often see that if I have an alcoholic beverage, that I will be more depressed either that day or the next day. My mixed episodes tend to appear the same way… once I experience hypomania or mania, usually I will experience depression of the same extent within 48 hours. I have talked about this on Facebook, but it usually leads to people judging me for giving up instead of trying harder during the depression part. I talked to some in more detail about it, but it was clear they haven’t experienced mania and I let it go.
I have been at my current job for a year now, and most of that time I have been pretty stable. However, January and February were particularly hard, and I had a lot of mixed episodes during both months. I tried changing meds, which made my insomnia worse. I also got a nasty case of the flu in there, so I missed a lot of work during that time. My employer was upset at me, but I was not reprimanded officially. During that time, I might post about how I was having trouble with my mental illness, but other times I was too ashamed to say anything. A lot of coworkers are friends with me on Facebook, and I wanted them to know what was going on. However it also can lead to rumors and meanness because I choose to share personal details on Facebook.
For the last few months I’ve been depressed a lot. I miss the mania a little, because it makes me feel alive… afraid, but alive. The depression is numbing, and when it is so constant, it gets worse with time. Right now my coping mechanisms that I’ve been using haven’t been enough to really curb it. I woke up one day last week with soul-crushing sadness and I was too paralyzed with it to move for a while. I ended up coming to work more than an hour late. I have tried really hard to be better with my attendance, and aside from the panic attack that caused me to miss work a few weeks ago, I had been doing much better. Last night I was looking at my charts and noticing how the depression is less debilitating than the mixed episodes, as far as making it to work goes.
The internet has been very helpful in communicating how I’m doing, keeping track of how I’ve changed, and as a source of information. I have been able to direct friends and families to sources that can help them understand my dual diagnoses. I have support groups on Facebook where I can talk to about symptoms and experiences, and reading what others are going through helps me as well.
I recently learned about the spoons theory for those with invisible illnesses, (http://www.butyoudontlooksick.com/articles/written-by-christine/the-spoon-theory/) and it has given me a new way to view and communicate my limitations. I shared it and a lot of my friends thanked me for it. My journey as a bipolar trans man is enriched by my online interactions, and I am honored to be a guest blogger for my old friend, who I haven’t seen since we were in high school over a decade ago. We’re not alone in our struggles, even when it feels that way.

Finding Peace

How does one find peace?

Is it a matter of simplifying one’s life? Eliminating all avenues of fear or worry? Avoiding negative people and events? Can we find peace simply by meditating the negative away?

For the last couple of weeks, I have been experiencing anxiety at bedtime. I will lay down in bed and start intermittently and involuntarily shivering, like I’m cold. Sometimes, I am able to simply breathe through it and fall asleep. Sometimes my darling husband will wrap me up in his arms and that will soothe me enough to fall asleep.

Last night, I could not be soothed.

For the last two weeks, we have been battling an indoor mosquito problem. In general, I don’t like bugs, but I have a deep and utter loathing for mosquitoes. Ever since I was a child, I have been allergic to mosquito bites. I used to get these massive, baseball-sized red welts. Now I get much smaller welts, but they take much longer to heal than most people and I sometimes end up with these permanent lumps where I got bit. This is all by way of saying that an indoor mosquito infestation was a nightmare for me. And to make matters worse, it seemed to be concentrated in our bedroom.

So, for the last two weeks, we’ve been sleeping in our spare bedroom. Now, this spare bedroom is simple and functional. It has a queen size bed a night stand, a shelving unit and a closet. There is no other furniture, no clutter, and clean floors. This was the perfect remedy to my mosquito infested bedroom/bathroom. Nowhere for the little $%&*#@$ to hide.

While we were sleeping in the other room, we’ve been running the fans in the house non-stop (since mosquitoes have a hard time flying in moving air) and we poisoned our bedroom that first night in an attempt to kill as many of them as possible. These two methods appear to have been effective. It’s been about 48 hours since I last saw a mosquito in the house. (Hooray!)

So yesterday, we thought we’d try sleeping in our regular room again – our king size bed, our clothes, our master bathroom, etc. It’s our room. We’ve been sleeping in that room, in this house, for almost a year.

But the room is, shall we say, a disaster area. There are clothes all over the floor and not a single surface is clear. And while this bothered me before, last night it came to a fever pitch. I knew that we’d be moving back into our room soon, but I wasn’t exactly prepared for it to be last night. I had been thinking that I would clean up our room before we moved back in there. I thought I had more time.

But I wanted to accommodate my husband’s desire to get back into our regular bed. He has not been sleeping well in our temporary bedroom and misses the space and comfort of our master. Understandable.

Only one problem, I have become very attached to the simple, minimalist, and clean guest bedroom. So when we moved our stuff (phone chargers, pillows, books, bedtime paraphernalia) back into our master, I started to feel panicky. I couldn’t sleep with all of this crap everywhere. So, I started cleaning, organizing, putting away. But there was too much to do at 10 pm. I’d never get it all done. So I threw a fit, yelled at my husband, and refused to move back into our master. He could if he wanted, but I was sleeping in the guest room!!

Cut to laying in bed (in the guest room) with my patience-of-a-saint husband, and I’m shivering more than any other night. He wraps me up and promptly falls asleep (because my tantrum has made us go to bed much later than normal and he worked a twelve hour day) and I lay there shivering away. I finally fall asleep only to have two consecutive nightmares, the second of which I go back into every time I fall back to sleep. I wake up shivering, I fall back to sleep and get terrorized again.

Around 5am, I finally give up on sleep and decide to try to think happy, calming, peaceful thoughts. I try to meditate. I try to follow my breathing. I try to say affirmations to myself. But because I am so tired, I keep nodding off, which allows the anxiety to take over again.

I am trying to push away the fear. I am trying to ignore the anxiety. I am trying not to think about what it means that in both my nightmares I was being chased, caught, escaping, and being chased again. (In the second one, I was being chased by an evil Tom Cruise. What the %^&* is up with that!?)

So, around 6am I find myself wondering about peace. How do I find peace? Clearly, sleep is not an avenue to peace. At least not this night. Meditation, affirmations, avoidance doesn’t work. And then I was reminded of something my counselor said this week. “You’ve tried everything else. Maybe you need to embrace the fear.”

When she said it, it was in relationship to another issue entirely. I embraced that fear and almost immediately felt better. I’m not sure what this fear is; it feels scarier than the other fear; and I definitely don’t want to embrace it.

Which is probably why Tom Cruise is chasing me in my dreams, trying to steal my memories so he can make robot copies of me. (Was that a movie?)

So, here I am, trying to embrace my fear so I can find peace. Life is nowhere near perfect. I am terrified of failure, of not reaching my dreams. I am afraid of not being enough. I am terrified of not being in control and so I seek to control my surroundings (things and people). Today, I will embrace the unknown. I will set myself up for peace by creating a peaceful living space. I will love first, myself and my husband. I will fail, but I will do my best.

And hopefully, I will find peace.

 

The Stigma of Mental Illness isn’t Going Away

Why is the stigma of mental health so endemic? What makes otherwise intelligent, logical, non-biased people believe that mental illness completely defines a person?

Fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of personal safety, fear for the safety of our loved ones.

Recently, I’ve decided to go back to school. The first thing that happened is unexpected backlash from someone I least expected. This person expressed primary fear about my ability to handle a master’s program because of my mental health. This person enumerated all of the reasons why I should not go back to school because of my mental health. The danger to myself I could become.

My therapist suggested that I find out what kind of accommodations the school would be willing to make if my mental illness flares up. But doing that would require me to disclose my mental illness to the school. Talking to accessibility services would be confidential, but disclosing to the actual program could be detrimental to my success. It could end my new career before it begins. And this is how stigma is propagated. If I allow my fear to stop me from telling my academic adviser about my bipolar disorder, then I’m not doing everything I can to fight the stigma of mental illness. But I also risk being discriminated against.

This is how stigma maintains through fear. We have to fight the faer with facts and logic. We have to stand up to the fear and refuse to back down, refuse to give up.

dawn

Fight fear with strength and love. Be a light. And if you face discrimination, stand up for yourself and remember that your stand just might smooth the way for someone coming up behind you. You’re stand is doing the world a service.