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

After the postpartum period began to become more under control, my relationship with my own mother blossomed.  She was able to step in and care for my daughter when I was overwhelmed by postpartum depression.  In addition to her developing as a grandmother to my child, I felt that she over the years began to learn to let go of feeling responsible for my illness or for controlling my illness and was more able to be just “a support.”  She became someone to talk with about feelings and issues when needed.  At other times she was a person to bring the family together in a weekly meal at her house.

I attribute NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) to a lot of my mother’s development and understanding of behavioral health issues.  NAMI programs helped her just to be there for me as a Mom and a friend.  NAMI taught my mother I believe the importance of just being there – not necessarily doing anything but just “being there.” Granted there were times in the past that I felt that she wanted to be intimately involved in my care and in my therapy in a way that I did not want.  When she gave up this control and decided to focus on being a support, our relationship blossomed as did the growing relationship between her and my daughter. 

Over the sixteen years of my daughter’s life, my mother has become a great presence in our family interactions.  We get together most times weekly or more than weekly for a meal or a soccer game or both. Today in covid-19 times that has migrated to a daily phone call and some outside social time with masks and social distancing. 

My relationship with my husband James has also matured as my health has progressed.  We continue to have our favorite arguments, but in general we are on the same page of putting our daughter first including school time, school work, hobbies like Cross Country, Track and Chorus and her spiritual development.

My husband has continued to be one of my most staunch supporters but not in a way that is easily described.  More than giving me a safe harbor in which to rest my myriad of thoughts and perceptions, he has challenged me to find my rock bottom and work my way out of it.   He is no way gets involved in my illness but rather gently or sometimes not so gently reminds me that my illness is mine to deal with.   This expectation that I will deal with my illness is both verbal and non-verbal.  In addition to working though my illness, my husband has largely been accepting of the fact that a high paying job is likely not going to be something that I can stick with and maintain.   It is with his support that I have been writing this text off and on for the last several years.

In addition to my Mom and my husband in recent years and my sister in years’ past, my in-laws have been extremely supportive of me and my efforts toward financial security.  From the beginning of my relationship with my husband, they have provided fiscal support that has allowed me to work from home on a variety of health and health measurement concepts. Through this work, I have traveled for presentations in Zurich, Switzerland as well as in Brighton, England.  Work also has been presented at CJR School of Public Health.  Without the fiscal support of my in-laws, none of this work would have been possible.  

My family support over the years has grown in parallel to the understanding of the illness among the public and among medical providers.  My family always has provided me support over the years even through some of the most heart-wrenching episodes of my life including fits of blaming them for my troubles. 

My Sojourn through Bipolar Illness – Rock Bottom

That said, it is not unusual for medications to become ineffective or non-therapeutic after a certain point in time.  It is also true that as a patient I have had to participate in the “laboratory rat syndrome” and try different medications by trial and error and see what works and what doesn’t.  This ‘laboratory rat syndrome” is described later in the text. 

But what is most important to convey about this time period in my life is that I made a conscious decision to be transparent to my health team including my doctor, my therapist and my family. 

It was at this time that I hit rock bottom.  As they say in many recovery programs, you don’t really ever reach sobriety or true healing until after you hit rock bottom.  This period of three to four years after my daughter’s birth is my rock bottom.  I tried several doctors.  I tried several therapists.  I tried several new types of meds.  But none of these worked. At the root of what was going on in hindsight is that I was not being honest or truthful to myself and my support team.  I would schedule doctors’ visits every three to four months as compared to once a month so as to “prove” to myself I was healthy and not in need of help.  There were times when I felt the drugs weren’t working and I stopped taking them. 

This period of sheer and utter chaos in my life finally came to a close when I decided to put my health first.  After the lengthy hospital stay, I stopped working altogether and began weekly sessions with my new therapist and monthly sessions with my new doctor.  I communicated openly to my husband James, my mother and sister Jane about my health and how I was doing.  I became transparent in my place of worship and informed my clergy of my condition.  Basically, I decided at this critical juncture in my life that I was not going to lie to myself or to any other person close to me about how I feel.  Further, I determined that I am not going to hide my condition from myself or from my support team. 

Slowly and very very slowly, after this lengthy hospitalization and move to Clozaril or Clozapine, I began to gain more stability.  This I believe is equally due to the meds, my work with my doctor, my work with my therapist and my dedication to illness transparency in my place of worship and in my family and extended family.  I do not believe the end of the rock bottom period would have occurred without any one of these four developments: meds, doctor, therapist and transparency. 

Further, the end of the rock bottom period did not occur suddenly.  There was no silver bullet toward health.  But rather, this time of reparation was marked by gradual developments in learning to express my fears for safety, learning to address these thoughts of safety before they developed into full-blown paranoia, learning how to be a mother to my child which was preceded by my developing ability to be a parent to myself.  This journey was to take not just weeks or months but years of work. 

Initially, my therapist and I met weekly to work through issues of abandonment and replacement child concerns.  But what was a complete turnaround for me was when I began to talk openly to my therapist about how I perceive the world. It was at this time that I started talking more openly about how I am drawn toward coincidences, patterns and pattern-recognition.  We talked about my fears for safety for my family, my nation and my world.   These fears continued to haunt me throughout the process of climbing out of the hole at rock bottom, but somehow just knowing that another person understood what it meant to see the world in terms of patterns was a huge relief and an even more huge release.

For the first time in my life (literally) there was a person who understood my train of thought.  I no longer felt that my thought processes were singular and inexplicable and inaccessible.  By somehow working with my therapist and my doctor on the intricacies of how my mind worked and how my feelings had been somewhat left behind in the process, the fear that had consumed me for the first three to four years of my daughter’s life was released.  Not cured however but released.

By talking about the patterns that I saw, I no longer felt isolated in my existence.   Without the isolation, the fears of safety seemed to become more and more manageable.  In those years that followed rock bottom, my therapist and I were working on releasing the fear that had been mounting for me as a person not just from the point of birth of my daughter but from a point all the way back to college days at Ivy College where I first discovered my chemical imbalance.  We talked a lot about Professor Flannigan but mostly we talked about how I was intellectually a star student but not so much in touch with my emotions.  Someone more centered in his or her emotions would have been able to tell Professor Flannigan to “go to hell.”  From here, we spent several years looking at my propensity to approach life from my head rather than from my heart.      

In addition to this work with my therapist, I developed a huge amount of trust and respect for my doctor.  We talked about the fact that for the four years’ preceding my work with him, I had not found any sort of solace in my meds.  This doctor seemed to understand that prescribing me an anti-depressant as doctors had been doing since my postpartum period was a huge problem and something to avoid.  This doctor realized that anti-depressants that had been prescribed had been catapulting me into mania off and on for four years prior. 

Perhaps in writing this book or blog, I am encountering a new aspect of the rock bottom experience.  Perhaps the chapter of my life that includes potential abuse as a six-year-old is now sitting on the desk awaiting work.  Working through these details surely will help enable my security and my feelings of security and well-being both for myself but also for my daughter and for my family in general.

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.