My Sojourn through Bipolar Illness – Family Then (part two)

As an additional exception to the “normal life” rule, my stepmother and my father died respectively in 1988 and 1989 of cancer.  I did not have the opportunity to work through the bipolar illness with them as their deaths were within a few years of my diagnosis.  I remember feeling secure in the fact that I was able to survive my father’s illness and death without a major hospitalization or illness breakthrough. 

On the other hand, my mother and step-dad were quite present in my life from 1985 forward.  Over the next 30 years until my stepfather’s death in the spring of 2013, I would continue to develop relationships with each of them as individuals and with both of them together as parents.  Granted, they did not always know what to do to help me through my bipolar episodes.  Quite frankly, no one did.  But they never stopped trying both as a couple and as individuals.  In any case, I always felt loved if not understood. 

My sister Jane in particular was a huge help during the early years of my illness and always provided an open door for me when I was ill.  This was when I was in my mini-break period from about 1988 to 1995 and stayed with her and her family for 3 to 7 days at a time about twice a year.  This time with care in a family environment gave me the confidence to begin to seize control of my illness outside of a hospital environment but still taking meds.  

Later throughout the difficulties of the postpartum period and forward, my Mom and Step-Dad played an integral role in supporting me through my illness.  After two years into my daughter’s birth, my parents moved back to Augusta to be present in her life.  Weekly dinners together helped form bonds that were stronger than the bipolar illness itself.  My relationship with my Mom grew and grew as she became more involved as a grandmother and I had the opportunity to witness the development of that relationship.  Since the death of my step-father seven years ago, we continue to get together with my Mom on a weekly basis, sometimes more often.  Covid-19 has changed this frequency some – so we talk by phone at least once a day.

My three most popular posts

My three most popular posts so far since March 2020 have less to do with mental health and mental health symptoms than they do with talking about the general well-being of, well, everybody. Folks have liked a list of suggested things to do on a rainy day. Folks have liked the observation that amidst all this staying at home, the air and water quality may ironically be getting better. This is a small silver lining to the tremendous pain and suffering of covid-19. Folks have liked the idea that those of us with clinical depression or clinical anxiety may be able to help those experiencing these same issues situationally specific to covid-19 by simply telling our stories.

So what are we saying in all this? Is there a pattern? Do we want our sympathy and our empathy to extend to all folks who struggle not just those folks who have clinical diagnoses? Do we want posts that take us away from our own mental health predicaments and lead us to think about the greater good? Do we want posts that encourage us to do things that make us and those around us feel good simultaneously?

To me, what all this is saying (in my opinion) is that as people with mental health challenges (and diagnoses) we want to reach out to others and to our better selves more than we want to isolate. And for many of us, including me, that is simply a big deal – a very big deal.

Do you have posts with a lot more traffic than others? Do you see any patterns in what people “like” or like to “view”?

This has come up today

This has come up today in reviewing and updating comments from an earlier post of mine. It has been suggested that people who are accustomed to mental health and behavioral health issues may be able to empathize not just sympathize with people who are experiencing depression and anxiety for the first time due to covid-19.

Therefore mental health “veterans” like us may be able to help others in some small way. I am very curious to hear what those of us who are familiar with depression or anxiety might say to those who are first encountering symptoms due to covid-19 – likely situational depression and anxiety and uncertainty. These folks may not have clinical depression or clinical anxiety but that does not diminish the impact of what they are experiencing.

What might that look like if we were to reach out to those who are not familiar with or are new to depression or anxiety or uncertainty of all kinds?

Hitting Rock Bottom in the Days of Covid-19

I believe in my personal journey through bipolar illness that I hit rock bottom about in 2008. This does not mean I have not had issues with my health during this time – to the contrary. But in large part I have been therapeutic on my meds during this time with adjustments here and there. I believe that mental illness recovery requires a hitting of rock bottom much as addictions do. I don’t know if others with mental illness agree with that premise. If you do, please keep reading.

While my regular mental health rock bottom may have been in 2008, during these days of covid-19 a new rock bottom may be needed for myself. I am not talking about those folks who have loved ones taken by this terrible disease. I cannot even begin to speak to that loss. The grieving of others hit hard so hard by this pandemic with deaths is not what I am getting at. What I am trying to express is that the every day person (not with loved ones lost) with every day concerns may need to hit a rock bottom with covid-19 before coming out of it less anxious, less isolated, less depressed, less alone.

What does that rock bottom look like for me? I am not completely sure. Much of it requires me to be honest how I am feeling from day to day. I have been feeling more depressed that usual and I am tying to be honest with myself about that. This honesty is slowly allowing me to come back on the other side of my depression to a more balanced position. I have not yet gotten a great schedule together to orient my days. This is under development but not 100% there. I am trying to reach out to my elderly Mom once a day to chat since social distancing keeps us apart. I am trying to be honest with my psyche doctor and my therapist where I am with my health. I have raised my meds by a slight degree in order to combat the depression. I am trying to have as much meaningful dialogue and contact with my daughter who is 16 and my husband. This includes watching our favorite TV show after dinner and maybe playing a board game. On the non-mental health side of things, I am keeping a temperature log for myself and my family every day and insisting everyone drink lots of water and get a little exercise.

Also, I am trying to be forgiving of myself if there are times that I just can’t get it together to get something done off my todo list. Or if I am a little late in getting something done. I try to count my accomplishments for the day (baby steps mostly) with forgiveness of self in mind.

I am not certain if I am about to hit rock bottom with covid-19 era depression and anxiety, but I believe I am close. Does any body else think rock bottom for mental illness/mental health is relevant in the time of covid-19? If so, how are you doing with that? Well I hope.

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?

Here’s Something to Consider

I was just wondering this morning what we all would have done if there had been no internet invented before the onset of covid-19. How would we keep up our blogging? How would we research best practices for covid-19 symptoms? How could we have virtual meetings with doctors? How could we keep up to date with loved ones, family and friends without facetime? How would the kids be doing their remote learning in grade schools, high schools and colleges? How would we keep up with workplace meetings on Zoom? Just imagine how much more isolated we would be feeling without any of these coping mechanisms. Perhaps we need a shout-out to the internet to give thanks for our ability to connect (however limited) to each other in these uncertain times.

I Am Grateful

This past week my doctor asked me to retake my monthly blood test because my white blood cell count was very low and I was immune system compromised. My doctor was saying we might need to change meds. This made me fearful on two counts. One, I was fearful about finding a new medication that would work for my bipolar disorder. I have been on this medication for 12 years and it has been largely therapeutic. Two, I was worried about a compromised immune system in this time of rapidly spreading illness. Lo and behold, I found out yesterday that my white blood cell count was on the rise! There is no need to change meds! though I do have to rest and mend myself from fatigue. Happily, I do not have covid-19 symptoms. I am truly grateful for this news. I cannot imagine trying out new medications in this environment of social distancing and the like. The goal now is to rest and get liquids and exercise in order to boost the immune system.

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?