I Woke Up on Easter

I woke up on Easter yesterday feeling depressed. This is not unusual for a person with bipolar disorder but it is somewhat unusual for me – my go to emotion is anxiety that may be caused by simultaneous lows and highs. But this was all lows. What was bothering me was that me and my teenage daughter were planning to do a social distancing grocery drop at my 83 year old mother’s condo. She is a widow and lives alone. There has been a no visitor in and no person out mandate in place for several weeks. I know she has been feeling very isolated because of covid-19 (we talk on the phone twice a day) and has had very little actual face-to-face time. As a daughter I feel guilty about not having made social distance grocery drops on a weekly basis prior to this time but I have had low white blood cell counts because of the meds I take. So it has been important for me to shelter in place as much as possible with a compromised immune system. I don’t have any real message behind this post except to say I think it made my Mom’s day for us to visit and chat outside for a half hour at the social distancing space despite the fact that I had reservations/depressed feelings about going. I guess I pushed through the depression to the other side so to speak. But I still worry about things like her contracting the illness and not being able to be there for her. I feel like I need(ed) to put my immune system first but I also feel guilty for not doing more for my Mom.

Does anybody else have a story of how they have stayed connected with an elderly parent through all this? Or even before this all occurred?

I seem to be the queen of simultaneous feelings right now

As a person who has managed and struggled with bipolar disorder more than half my life, I find myself experiencing two different sets of emotions simultaneously these days. On the one hand, there is my old friend anxiety that I am having trouble keeping at bay. I talk myself out of anxiety each day by noting how few times something I worry about actually comes into being. So on the one hand, my symptoms of anxiety are heightened by the onset and prevalence of covid-19. On the other hand, I find that I feel somewhat obligated to let the general public know that anxiety is alright. It is a normal feeling to be experiencing as we go through this as a society. It also has a beginning and an end. I am not sure if it is my ego that wants to tell the general public that anxiety is OK or my sincere desire to let folks know who have never experienced anxiety that things will ultimately be OK. There will be an end to this madness at some point.

I would be curious if other people are experiencing simultaneously contradictory emotions?

Thought for the day – resilience

I do not know if this is the experience of other people with bipolar disorder or clinical depression or other behavioral health diagnoses including addiction, but when I am in the midst of a high or a low, it feels like that state will never end. The mania is all consuming. The depression seems never ending. Yet invariably the high or the low does dissipate. Perhaps this is because I have found medication that is useful or perhaps I or my therapist have talked myself out of anxiety about this or that potential event occurring. In the past when I have had a low or a high that was not receptive to medications, I have felt like that high or that low would last forever. The mania is all consuming so that I am unable to think of anything else. The depression feels like it will go on interminably. The only silver lining in these episodes is the idea that “this too shall pass.” Invariably after medication (including trial and error with multiple meds) and/or therapy do take hold, I can see clearly that the mania was temporary as was the depression. So is it possible that those of us who are first-hand familiar with anxiety and/or depression are perhaps more familiar with the anxiety that surrounds us today perhaps because of our own mental health conditions? Do we go through each day with the knowledge and perhaps the mantra that “this too shall pass?” Can we be a reminder to each other through our words and our actions that whatever negative thoughts or feelings we are having, in time things will be looking up or at least be more manageable? Can we be a reminder to those unfamiliar with anxiety or depression that again “this too will pass?” Can we through it all be the face of resilience?

My Sojourn through Bipolar Illness – Imprinting

What I took away from this first break experience during my Senior winter at Ivy College is that being mentally ill meant I was first a criminal and second a person. I know that first responders were doing their jobs to watch out for the safety of all those who were boarding the plane and/or in the airport. But that experience told me: “You are a criminal. You were trying to bomb the plane. You are guilty of anything and everything until proven innocent. You need to be handcuffed. You do not have the right to have fears much less to express them. You do not have the right to have perceptions that are not 100 percent clear. You are a danger to others around you and you need to be locked up.”

My first episode imprinted me for the rest of my life. For years, I would try to escape the label of criminal that had been imposed on me by circumstance and happenstance. But try as I might, I still felt like I was a criminal every time I had a subsequent break-through episode no matter how big or how small.

In hindsight, things could have unfolded quite differently. I could have reported to the school clinic that I was having anxiety about traveling to Chicago and had been having some trouble sleeping. I could have gone into the clinic for a routine evaluation and perhaps been put on lithium or some other drug for bipolar. But sadly, that is not the way my first episode and subsequent diagnosis of bipolar went. I remember to this day looking at those pictures on the wall in the police station and thinking they must be looking for me as “most wanted.” Being mentally ill simply meant I was a criminal.

I will talk later on about stigma and first responders — including the importance of training first responders how to recognize the signs if a person is a danger to him or herself or whether the person is also a danger to those around him or her. But that discussion about stigma and first responder training is for another day.

My Sojourn through Bipolar Illness – Fear of Flying

Note – several names and places have been changed throughout this text in order to keep my story somewhat private. Thanks for understanding that need. I hope you will tell me what most interests you from my story so I can focus on that moving forward.

Although I had had no prior fear of flying, my first episode of bipolar illness was in a tiny airport near my Ivy League college (hereafter known as Ivy College).  While I was waiting for the plane to get ready to taxi off the runway and take me to my first interview for a job after college in advertising, I was consumed by runaway thoughts.  My thoughts were anywhere but on my interview for an Account Executive position at Chicago Avenue Advertisers.  I had no specific directions for my fears but I took out some papers I was working on for my undergraduate thesis at Ivy College and was writing and writing furiously in and around the margins of the pages of the papers I previously had written.  The thoughts seemed to co-mingle with the characters in the fiction as well as characters or people I knew in real life.  The writing was fast and furious until I finally heard the flight that I was to take to Chicago on the puddle-jumper called.

For some reason I did not feel safe in myself enough to board the plane once the flight was called and I came to the conclusion that the plane was going to crash.  I did not communicate this fear with anyone.  Instead I determined that I did not want to get on a plane that was going to crash, so I got my suitcase together and asked the airplane attendant if I could check my bags on the plane but not board the plane myself.  For some unknown reason, the contents of my suitcase were of paramount importance.  I recall a navy suit that I had packed and feeling like that suit should reach a friend who I was going to see in Chicago.   The label on the suit became extremely important at the time – it was an Evan Picone double-breasted navy wool suit.  The airport personnel immediately got suspicious and asked me why I was putting my suitcase on the plan and asked me to move away from the plane with them.  When I refused, the safety patrol man exerted more force and tried to get me to go with him.  In my fears, I turned to run down the runway away from the scene of the fears and ran completely down the airport runway up into a stand of pines, one shoe flying off in the process and resting in the snowy runway.  I recall exactly what I was wearing – a plaid pleated wool skirt in muted tones, a long sleeve silk blouse and a double breasted woolen gray or taupe sweater.  I don’t recall a coat or over-coat.   The safety patrolmen at the airport followed me into the woods with snow all around and made a chair with their arms for me to sit on.  I was in some stage of delirium and thought they were providing me some sort of throne to safety. 

Instead the next thing I knew I was being handcuffed to the backseat of a patrol car with the patrol lights flashing blue and white and was being escorted to the police station down the road.  When I arrived at the police station I kept telling the police that I was a Senior and straight A student at Ivy College and they must have made some mistake.  On the walls there were pictures of wanted criminals – I kept trying to figure out what the pictures meant.  There were three pictures:  a young woman who I thought looked like Ayn Rand, a man with a long beard who looked in my state to be like a long-haired Jesus and one other picture of a youngish man whose face I cannot recall.  What I do recall is feeling like a criminal and being treated like a criminal until a kind policeman named Michael started to ask me questions.  Once I started to talk with Michael I began to calm down.

After what felt like days of swirling and runaway thoughts and a myriad of questions, the police finally called my family and called the school clinic and I was escorted there.  Soon after, several of my college roommates arrived to be with me while the admission process continued.  After talking briefly with the clinic staff, I was transferred to the local hospital’s Psychiatric Unit. 

Within the next few hours my parents arrived in town and tried to begin to make sense of what had happened.  I recall my parents visiting me in the hospital mostly my Dad whose anxiety I could sense was through the roof.  Within a couple of days, we made arrangements to go back home to Augusta, Georgia.  I unenrolled from classes and moved back home to live with my parents for the spring and summer of 1985.  No one was sure yet if this was a temporary reaction to stress as a Senior and as a Senior thesis writer or the beginning of a lifelong behavioral health diagnosis and challenge.

Managing the Stigma of Bipolar Illness

I am interested in writing about my experiences managing bipolar illness which was diagnosed in 1985 while a Senior at Ivy League College (name not listed). This is almost 35 years ago and also accounts for almost two thirds of my life. I believe that stigma is the primary issue I have had to deal with when managing through this bipolar illness. Similar stigma issues may exist for other mental illness diagnoses. For me the stigma has been at least 50% of the battle. If this story sounds like something you would be interested in hearing more about, please let me know. I am at the juncture now of trying to determine whether to share intimate details about my health and my life in order to get my story out there and to connect with others through story-telling who may share a bipolar diagnosis or know someone who does.