My Sojourn through Bipolar Illness – Development of High Anxiety

In the years after I was first diagnosed with bipolar illness, I would have a break and go into the hospital about every six months.  Eventually with the right meds I got to the place where I would have mini-breaks every six months and stay with my sister Jane and her family rather than go into the hospital.  This was during the days of Mellaril, Ativan and Haldol.  I would leave my apartment and take the subway to my sister Jane’s house about 25 minutes away.  Oftentimes this ride was a huge challenge.  I would arrive at Jane’s house with an overnight bag and some meds and put my belongings in the basement where there was a guest room.  I would spend between three and seven nights at Jane’s house where she would help me with administering meds.  In those early days, the anxiety associated with waiting for the meds to kick-in was excruciating.  I often requested to hold Jane’s hand as we lay in the bed until the medication had had time to sink in and sedate me. 

At that time, the meds for bipolar illness were not very advanced.  Meds seemed at that time to treat the symptoms of the illness rather than seeking to manage the illness before the break-through of mini or grand episodes.  I am forever grateful to my sister for allowing me several years of staying with her and her family every six months or so and managing though those mini-episodes. When I was at her house and under the care of Mellaril, Ativan and Haldol, it would take about an hour for the impact of the meds to sink in.  During that hour of sheer hell I would sit and smoke cigarettes nonstop waiting for the meds to kick in.

Since those early days of a mini break every six months, I have been prone to high anxiety which is often at times consuming and sits sometimes in the background, as a nagging reminder that I continue to struggle with my moods every day.   Managing the anxiety associated with bipolar illness has developed into my greatest challenge besides the reversal of stigma.  Perhaps pairing the management of this anxiety with a willingness to explore potential abuse as a child will make an impact on this generalized anxiety – hopefully reducing it substantially. 

I also have more recently added an additional medication Trileptal to help with the anxiety and this appears to be making a difference for me.

As an aside based on commonplace discussions, I have been told that family intervention for people with behavioral health diagnoses is much more common in Europe than in the US.  Just like our propensity in the US is to care for the elderly in homes for the elderly, we tend in the US to care for people with psychiatric disorders in a hospital setting.  Personally, I feel that the more care that can be provided in the context of the family and the family home the better.

Once again, my illness has developed in phases.  Early in my diagnosis were “grand episodes” including hospitalizations.  These ”grand episodes” gradually gave way to more “mini episodes” managed in the home with a few exceptions. In my postpartum period, I was back to having “grand episodes” and being in the hospital again for those first three to four years. 

As I became more comfortable with managing my illness and being a Mom, I went back not to having “mini episodes” but to having a general level of anxiety to manage at all times.  Goals but not necessarily accomplishments include daily meditation, daily exercise goals including walking and yoga and a daily commitment toward transparency in my faith and my diagnosis.

My Sojourn through Bipolar Illness – the Genetics of Bipolar Disorder

The risk of having a child with or without bipolar illness was something I contemplated a great deal but did not necessarily pray about.  With my first fiancé I was bound to the idea of adoption – that a diagnosis of bipolar and a diagnosis of clinical depression were too much to hand down to the next generation.  My fiancé at the time did not agree with me and wanted to have a biological child(ren) rather than adopt. 

When I met my soon-to-be husband some seven years later, he also was adamant about having a biological child.  Instead of two clinical diagnoses of depression and/or mania, we each brought to the table a pre-existing condition; I brought the bipolar illness and he brought an alcohol dependency under remission at that time for about 15 years. Somehow in our first year together, my soon to be husband and I settled on the idea of a natural conception.  We were blessed with early success in pregnancy within a couple of months of trying which at 39 (when we conceived without any assistance) is somewhat of a miracle in itself.  My position at the time of carrying my child is that Nurture is a strong proponent in the Nature versus Nurture battle.  If we can avoid a divorce event or something similar such as the abuse I suffered at an early age, perhaps my daughter’s child within will be upright and healthy and right in her relationship with God.  Since my daughter’s birth, we have sought continually to provide for her spiritual development and her spiritual journey.

James and I are open with our daughter who is 16 about Dad’s alcoholism and about my bipolar illness.  We talk about responsible behavior for our family as avoiding alcohol and for engaging in and not avoiding emotionally challenging events.  We accept that to have a meltdown and cry is an important process for growing up and challenges Mom and Dad to listen.  We also talk about the importance of mood recovery.  Once we have cried and released the source of our anxiety or concern, we then try to move on and recover the mood and move onto the next event or challenge.

I am hoping to teach my daughter how to be more fluent in her emotions not just successful in her studies as I have been learning to be in the last several years.  She already is exhibiting signs of emotional maturity that I did not have at that age. She is not obsessed with being the top student in her class.  When she feels upset about something like a misunderstanding with a friend, she is largely able to talk about it and express her feelings.  When she is emotionally or physically tired and ready for bed, she says so.

I feel that with God’s blessing we will move through whatever illness may come our way – this including the current testing for breast cancer.  With God’s help we will manage through any abuse incidents that may have presented in my life so as to avoid the repetition in my daughter’s life as she continues to blossom and to bloom into a beautiful young woman.

When You Have Anxiety….

When you have anxiety I am wondering what time of day that usually occurs or if there is a time of day that is most difficult with your anxiety? For me the most common time to experience anxiety is when I first wake up in the morning. I am always anxious about something as I awake. More recently it has been about will I have cancer. I am going through a series of tests right now for breast cancer and wake up worried about it.

Do you have a specific time of day when anxiety is most difficult?

My Sojourn through Bipolar Illness – Finding an Illness Mature Mate

I found over the years when I was single that it was very difficult to find a boyfriend who was knowledgeable of bipolar illness or of mental illness in particular.  This changed when I met a man who struggled with clinical depression.  He “got it” while most other boyfriends did not.  We quickly got engaged but within a year’s time found that our illnesses tended to feed upon each other.  It was if we had allergic personalities — our arguments seemed to accentuate our diagnoses and behaviors accordingly.  We did not fight well, but always seemed to end up in the same argument time and time again.   We also did not have a faith in God that bound us. 

That engagement ended favorably with each of us expressing ourselves and our pain and our ability not to master our relationship’s ins and outs.  He initiated the relationship.  He initiated the end of the relationship.  He also wrote to me about 2 to 3 years later to see if I were interested in reconciliation.  At that time, I had moved on emotionally and was not interested.  It was not because I was involved with someone else. It was because I was entering a lengthy period of celibacy that lasted about 7 years. 

During this period of celibacy in my thirties, I began work on what would later become the basis for a big component of my Spiritual journey.  During this period of celibacy, I became interested in Medical Intuition or the use of Spiritual work to help guide illness diagnosis and illness recovery.  During this time, I challenged behaviors in myself such as alcohol use or going to bars as a means of meeting a mate.  Finally one day, my closest friend suggested that I go on-line. This was in the years before on-line dating was prevalent.

In any case, I worked with my friend on an online bio and had a first date with my soon-to-be fiancé at the Starbucks near a local state park.  I prior had resolved that if the coffee date went well, my date and I would go on a walk with my 100 pound black Labrador – half Newfoundland up a nearby mountain.  We met at the coffee shop and soon were walking up that mountain.

It took no brains to determine that I had been looking in all the wrong places for a husband.  In addition, as I got older there were fewer and fewer places to meet someone.  College was out.  Graduate school was out. 

When I met my future husband, there were four key ingredients.  He was aware of mental illness and bipolar in particular. We shared a faith journey in Christ and we fought well together.  Not that we did not have arguments.  It was just that we recovered from those arguments fairly quickly and with some degree of learning or emotional development.     We also shared a sense of humor and the ability to laugh at self and with others.

I am letting go….

I am letting go of any childhood abuse I sustained between six and ten years of age. I recently have had an abnormal mammogram, an abnormal ultrasound and a request for an MRI for both breasts.

I feel like I am being called to let go of the abuse I experienced as a young child so that I can continue to heal particularly with respect to any sort of breast abnormality or cancer I may currently have or any cancer that is soon to be discovered.

I won’t find out for at least two weeks if I have breast cancer. My MRI is on June 17th. Until then, I will be working on forgiving those who I believe participated in the sexual exploitation of me and my body and my mind when I was six, seven, eight, nine and ten.

I release any perpetrator and give the abuse over to God as to how to handle those individuals and how to judge those individuals. The judgment is not mine to make.

Again, I will also be working on forgiveness to those parties with the main desire to move forward in my life in a way that is free from anxiety and free from these deep pockets of pain. I feel that by letting go of this abuse, I may be more able to forgive and more able to have an illness-free life going forward.

Thanks in advance for any support you can muster for me as I release this abuse to God and to the void. I no longer want to possess this experience and the anxiety and depression that comes along with it.

My Sojourn through Bipolar Illness – Ego versus Spirit

My therapist tells me there are two ways of being – through the Ego or through Spirit or God.  The Ego is all about me and what I have accomplished with little glory to God.  The Spirit is all about what can I do to be useful with all the glory for accomplishments to God.  Like most people, I struggle with this dichotomy.  I would like to use that big Ivy League brain graduated magna cum laude for some great invention or some great medical break-through like the cure for HIV/AIDs or the cure for cancer.  At the same time I am increasingly aware that my Spirit self seeks to be in situations or in jobs where I can serve the Will of God no matter how great or how small the accomplishment.    It is my Spirit self who finds solace in cleaning up the kitchen after Wednesday Night Supper or feeding the homeless.  It is my Spirit self who finds comfort and a sense of self in providing a healthy meal to my family.  It is my Spirit self who can stop and acknowledge the efforts of my husband toward the goings and comings of our everyday household.  In short, my Spirit self is thankful and mindful of others including God.

 I am at a cross-roads right now in this journey to find God or Spirit as evident in my work life.  I have not found that place yet, what it looks like or what it will become.  I do know that I have an Ego that tends to get in the way much like that person who was arguing with Einstein in the dream I wrote about in the letter to David Bohm.  I also wonder out loud if writing about my illness might be the best way to serve others.  If I can share my experience of bipolar illness in a way that is helpful to others, maybe I am finding God in my work (or He is finding me).   

Since the time of writing that letter to David Bohm in or about 1995 or 1996 (see prior post), my Ego has gone through what I call a shredding machine.  I feel 150% less sure of myself in terms of the kinds of jobs I can hold and keep.  At the same time I feel that my Spiritual self is more and more in control as I seek God in daily or even mundane interactions.  The satisfaction I gain through clean-up activities at my Church on Wednesdays or after feeding the homeless is real.  Right now I am feeling my way through the process of having very little Ego to fall back on which means more “pressure” or maybe better stated more “room” for God to step in and be in control.  Perhaps this letting go for God is also responsible for my drafting this text and for deciding to share its contents with others struggling for stability. 

Just as an update, my church-related activities largely have been suspended due to covid-19 and due to a situation at my place of worship.  I continue to pray on a regular basis, but could definitely improve in the area of giving thanks to God.    

Stigma delay or not?

What strikes me as poignant is that the stigma/judgment/prejudice associated with mental illness is less visible or more delayed while the stigma/judgment/prejudice associated with darker skin seems more immediate.  To the average Joe, I look like a white housewife with no major troubles.  It is not until my mental health behavior gets in the way that someone might recognize me as having a behavioral health disorder and therefore might judge me as less than.  Behavioral health stigma is not generally associated with the way a person looks right off the bat unless that person shares that information upfront.  Whereas, with black and brown skinned people, it seems to me (from the outside looking in) there may be no such “delay” or “invisibility.” Someone with brown or black skin appears to be judged even before any behavioral questions good or bad emerge just because of how he or she looks on the spectrum of dark skin to light skin.

I hope I have not offended anyone of color with this comparison or that you think I think I can comprehend what it is like to be black or brown and to be judged by your appearance alone. 

I do not make the comparison to mental health above because I know how it feels to be judged by the color of my skin.  I don’t.  I have not experienced that.  But I would like someone of color to know that I do understand very well what it is like to be judged for something I was just born with. Perhaps I am not at liberty to make that comparison because I am not dark-skinned.  But I do think part of the solution in the Black Lives Matter movement is that we become unafraid to talk about our perceptions of race and racial stigma.

From here the conversation atrophies into the question: why make a comparison between skin color and a disability?  It is not a good comparison to make.  Yes, I agree a disability is not the same as skin color.  The whole “Black is Beautiful” movement underscores that. 

Then the conversation atrophies again, as a person with a disability, I am supposed to think of myself as a person WITH bipolar illness not that I AM bipolar.  I am not my illness.  I am supposed to not let that “label” define me.  Should we in turn say someone of African American heritage is a person with black skin rather that black?  Probably not.  For the behavioral health person, we typically don’t want labels to define us.  But for those with black and brown skin, the difference may be in embracing that difference and celebrating it along the lines of “Black (or Brown) is Beautiful” from the 1960s or 1970s.

Somewhere also in the midst of this conversation is the reality that up until the 1950s people with behavioral health problems were locked up in institutions largely for life.  Families sent them away to institutions where they were often forgotten and buried as a number in a mass cemetery for the mentally ill rather than by name.

So all in all, the parallel between having a disability and having darker skin has limits.  Perhaps this is just an ice breaker into a conversation of what can be and what we want to be different for those experiencing racial pain and stigma and those experiencing mental pain and stigma.