30 Day Mental Illness Awareness Challenge – In One Post

I’m inspired by http://zedmondson.wordpress.com/ in particular to do this challenge. I have no patience to do this in parts, and am having trouble sleeping, not out of the ordinary for anyone suffering from mental illness. Enjoy.

Day 1: What is/are your mental illness(es)? Explain it a little.

Bipolar Disorder Type I and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I chose links I felt would describe the disorders pretty well, because it would take up a lot of space to explain it all, and I’d probably forget a few things anyway. You live with it, it just becomes of your life, and you don’t really think about the textbook basics anymore when they’re worming through your body.

Day 2: How do you feel about your diagnosis?

I was relieved, among a few other mixed feelings several years ago when I was diagnosed. I wasn’t just an emotional freak anymore, there was some grounds to it all. Over the years I’ve spit on the diagnosis and other times hugged the community for dear life in need of support. Overall, diagnosis means a basis for treatment, and though I dislike popping pills as much as the next person, I’m grateful for some relief because of them.

Day 3: What treatment or coping skills are most effective for you?

Distraction. The best thing for if you know you won’t be getting any sleep in a manic state, or just have a chunk of free time to dwell on your anxieties and depression to read. When I’m in the car, the best way to keep my mind from spinning is listening to music, particularly a playlist I’ve created depending on the severity of my depression and trying to avoid songs or playlists that’ll set off spiked feelings. Writing is also a large part of finding comfort in those rough patches. I exercise six days a week but don’t feel the high you’re supposed to feel nor do I feel better about anything I’m miserable about, but try it for yourself, it’s SUPPOSED to help.

Day 4: What are the pros and cons of having a mental illness(es) or your specific illness(es)?

Pros? When I had horrible agoraphobia in conjunction with my OCD and BP I was able to take administrative withdrawals in college, which changed what would be F’s to W’s. It’s not something to brag about, but it did help a lot to be ill on paper. Cons? It’s all consuming no matter how much medicine you’re on or how much therapy you’re getting. Like having arthritis it’s there to remind you it’s there even when you haven’t moved around for a while and might seem to forget it.

Day 5: Do you believe nature (biology/physiology), nurture(environment), a mix, or something else has an impact on mental health?

Both definitely. The environments we are raised in play a big part of things, as well as the pressures on each individual that come to play over the course of a lifetime. Also, we’re not having to run for our lives from tigers and wild dogs anymore, so that anxiety response for a lot of us is overwhelming in situations that may not actually be so life and death.

Day 6: Do you have a family history of mental illness or mental health issues?

It’s possible. OCD in my maternal grandmother, possibly BP in my paternal grandfather, but neither were diagnosed. We’re going based off of a symptom guide and mindfulness of their behaviors. As a psych major I’m extra versed in symptoms of different illnesses, but I’m surely not qualified to diagnose willy-nilly.

Day 7: Do you think there are any triggers or patterns to how your illness(es) effects you?

Triggers galore for my BP. Anything a little too emotional or that rubs me the wrong way can send a spike through me. The neurons are just jonesin’ to fire off those signals. As for the OCD, the big one is stress, also over the years I’ve had some really dominant obsessive thoughts that were all-consuming, and when something in a minor way worries me about something related, the thoughts come back in full force for a period of time regardless of medication, though I’m much better at coping with them than I used to be.

Day 8:  What age you were diagnosed at?  At what age do you think your symptoms began? (You can make a timeline)

I was diagnosed at 20. I think my symptoms for BP began at 13. I did some majorly manic things in those early teen years and felt some low months as well. It’s actually kind of comforting to know what stemmed my behavior when I got older, but it took a while to re-look at those memories and put them in place. My OCD behaviors and thought patterns started a lot younger, can’t can an age for you, but it drove my parents crazy.

Day 9: What are some of the important events in your life, that may have effected your mental illness(es) for the worse or better? (You can make a timeline)

I was diagnosed with Lyme Disease at 16. It was a rough battle I never fully went into remission from. Also, living with my Asperger’s sister whose only grown more frustrating over the years has taken a toll. I’ve also done a grade-A job at screwing up some of my closest relationships, and never being able to forgive myself for them. They’re stand out marks on the timeline.

Day 10: What is the best thing in regards to your mental illness(es)?

A ‘Divergent’ mind if you want to throw some pop culture into the mix.

Day 11: What is the worst thing in regard to your mental illness(es)?

Regret over how far behind in life I feel like I am because of it all, and regret from some of the decisions I’ve made, things I’ve said, or money I’ve spent in an altered state.

Day 12: What do you think about your diagnosis in general?  (Some ideas are: stereotypes, commonalities, misdiagnosis, over diagnosis)

Stigma is a bitch. I feel like my family has the closest idea to what my reality must be like, among other peers with the disorder, many of which I’m grateful to have met on WordPress. Aside from that even the closest of friends can’t REALLY wrap their minds around it, and maybe that’s just something I’ve been telling myself for years on end. That’s for sure why I’m constantly apologizing over periods of isolation.

Day 13: If you know the criteria of your illness(es) which ones do you think you meet? Or what are your most common symptoms?

Obsessive thinking rules over the ritualistic behavior for my OCD, but it’s there no doubt. As for the bipolar, I’m a textbook case and a rapid cycler at that.

Day 14: Have you ever experienced stigma?

Not exactly, our society I feel at least in the midwest…at least in IL…at least in Chicagoland, is trying to be more open-minded to these things. But I still think that homosexuality is less stigmatized in the US than mental illness is.

Day 15: How has your life been effected by your illness(es)? (Some ideas are: relationships, career, school)

My isolating behavior has caused stress in friendship style relationships as well as with extended family members. Overly emotional outbursts and obsessing over things that may or may not be entirely made up in my head until I’m ready to burst are problems in romantic relationships. School has taken me 6 years longer than it should have in order to graduate, and I’m still waiting to take that last class I need. And careers? Stress is overwhelming a lot of times on the job, but it’s usually in a situation in which I wasn’t properly trained, or trained long enough, as well as poor treatment by the management of whatever company. In a healthy work environment I do pretty well for myself, but it’s been a while since I’ve experienced that.

Day 16: How many people are you “out” to with your mental illness(es)? Why?

I met a couple of people in school during my psychology studies who have Bipolar Disorder. I’ve met the rest of the folk online through platforms like WordPress and DailyStrength.org (which by the way is totally broken these days, I used to be a huge fan). Of course, there are always the people who YOU come out with who dare to say, “I think we’re ALL a little OCD.” Who deserve a good slapping.

Day 17: If you could get rid of your mental illness(es) would you?  Why or why not?

Sure, why the hell not? Unfortunately, I’d probably be really disoriented and not know who the hell I was anymore.

Day 18:  What do you wish people would understand in regards to mental illness and/or mental health?

It’s like having emotional Cancer. People “get” Cancer. They don’t “get” mental illness as easy.

Day 19: Have you ever read a self-help book or a book related to psychology?  What is your opinion on them?  If you have read them do you have a favorite?

I have. “When Panic Attacks” was pretty helpful. Sean Covey also writes pretty inspiring books. If a book has a ‘workbook’ either integrated or attached, I say go with that one. Hands on is more helpful than just a butterfly trying to tell you how to zen out, which is how most Co-dependance books that I’ve read are written.

Day 20: Where do you get your support?

My immediate family has grown to be my most supportive outlet.

Day 21: Many people say stress triggers symptoms, do you agree or disagree?

Umm, duh it does. (Very strongly opinionated in agreement)

Day 22: What is your opinion on medication used to treat mental illness(es)?

Everybody’s body chemistry is different, and it changes over time. It’s a tricky thing to get right and usually it requires a “cocktail” of drugs. Trial and error a lot of times, I’m for western medicine in treatment of mental illness, but I think you need a sharp doctor whose willing to work with you at every turn.

Day 23: What is your opinion on therapy? (It can be any type, some examples are: group therapy, talk therapy, social skills training, exposure therapy, ERP,DBT, CBT, ACT,  marital counseling, and many more)

Group therapy was heaven for me the two times I was a part of it, about four months total. Talk therapy is alright, but the closer I’ve ever gotten to a therapist, the more guilty I’ve seemed to feel at spewing the same things I’m stuck on week after week. Social skills training is a definite yes for people with Asperger’s and other developmental disabilities. My sister skirts around getting it, but she sure as hell needs it, and it would benefit her. CBT is the best of the three letter therapies when it comes to re-shaping your brain, but without constant practice it’s not of any use.

Day 24: What is your opinion on alternative treatments or treatments that aren’t commonly used? (Some examples are: EMDR, hypnotherapy, herbal or vitamin supplements, acupuncture, massage therapy, art, music, or recreational therapy, ECT, VNS, TMS, DBS)

I have to laugh at the massage therapy one. I get so uptight thinking about when the massage is going to be over and I won’t have enjoyed it for long enough that I don’t end up enjoying the damn thing at all because I’m too stressed out about it being over too soon…Art, music, recreational therapy are great. I suggest flax and omega 3’s for the extra support alongside your traditional medicine as well as milk thistle to help your liver be healthy since it’s being doused with foreign chemicals.

Day 25: What is your opinion on forced/coercion in mental health treatment? Can be legal (law enforcement or psychiatric holds) or a “helping” friend/family member.

When my dad pointed out that I needed more help than I thought I did I was at first furious, but after having received help, I was grateful. It’s not the same story for everyone. If you’re going to end up hurting yourself I feel that being forced into a helpful environment is okay, but I do think that such helpful environment should be monitored by your doctor, or A doctor who is sharp, and wants to see you get better.

Day 26: How is your day-to-day life effected by your mental illness(es)?

Everything is exhausting. I feel like I shouldn’t have to struggle through every day of my life. I’d enjoy a day off here and there at the very least.

Day 27: Explain a “good” day.

You don’t struggle too much, you’re productive, you laugh and can have a genuine conversation with people.

Day 28: Explain a “bad” day.

You struggle a lot. It’s the opposite, plus you’re stuck in a black goo of bad thoughts.

Day 29: What are a few of your goals regarding your mental health.

I want to live a long life with as many good days as possible.

Day 30: What does recovery mean to you?

Saved the hardest question for last did we? Recovery is like laughter I suppose. It’ll be sobering up from an hour of crying, or going to the grocery store the day after sleeping 18 hours. It’s something to be proud of, and something to strive for in the long run if by a lucky chance you can really ditch the nature and upgrade the nurture.

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Twists and Turns of 27

And anxiety ensued, as it was likely to:

I turned 27 this past Sunday, and my dad got me a membership to the YMCA. Mostly because my doctor said swimming would be good for me. The first thing that entered my mind after five minutes in the warm pool was that for as much cardio and strength training I’ve been doing six days a week for a month now, swimming still kicked my ass. I know how to do it, but I need major stamina (gotta level up for points, right?). So I spent my half hour exercise kicking my legs as long as I could over and over again while hanging on to the side of the pool. It wasn’t very busy at all. Just camp kids coming in halfway through my time there, and still I had about half the pool to myself. That took the edge off when I figured the lifeguards would be keeping their eyes on the little ones and ignoring the 20 something re-learning how to swim properly.

The eyes on me inside of the pool area were beating on me like those red laser pointers at the end of those big guns…but the real anxiety was in the locker room. For starters, I was so in my head trying to get ready, not forget the locker key, and overanalyzing my surroundings that I forgot to bring a towel out with me to the pool. DUMB! I had to positively talk to myself when I got out of the pool and say, “Well I’m sure this isn’t the first time this has happened to anyone, and it’s just a small little mistake anyway, I can’t look THAT stupid. Plus…most of the attention is on the kids and lap swimmers right? I can get away with this…”

Secondly, oh my god I’m not used to ladies stripping down no F’s given in front of me. When I snuck in the locker room to take a shower I chose one of the two stalls that had a curtain. Showering felt great…but afterwards I had no idea where to dry myself, and when I WAS dry I had to sneak into the corner of the locker room to dress myself. There was one lady who was in the locker room not suited up for swimming yet, so I wasn’t bombarded the way I was when I first got there. THANK GOD! I think the worst part was that I wanted to make sure my butt and lady area were completely dry before I put my underwear on, so here I am silently thinking, “Oh god oh god do it fast and hope no one comes in here…” The sheer horror thinking that if people were in the locker room they would have seen my lady area is terrifying. The thing about it is there’s nowhere that’s dry enough to keep your gym bag or clean clothes other than the main area, and that’s swimming (har har) with ladies, the ones closest to my age being the most anxiety provoking.

I made it though! Hopefully tomorrow I’ll handle the anxiety as well, and maybe even remember my towel.

Extremes:

My mom said I was as excited as a two-year old while I was opening my birthday gifts. My dad said, “she IS a two-year old over this shit!” And it’s true, I have a lust for finding excuses to be spirited like a little kid. I love Christmas morning and our family traditions, I love going on family vacations, I love playing with the kids I nanny for. I was going through my new journal I got for my birthday and making “to-do” lists of family vacation ideas which included Disney World and our itineraries for such trips. My family has been promising we’d all go when we were able to go financially again, especially since we haven’t been on a family vacation in a few years now, which was at first hard on morale, because like clockwork every summer we went on some vacation even if it was just overnight at the WI state fair. Guess who was young at heart there too? YOU GUESSED IT! Me. Bipolar Barbie-Q. I get emotional over this crap too. It all makes sense NOW, but years and years before the diagnosis it was outrageous how depressed I’d get over the last day(s) of our vacations, crying and being a mope. I still get the same way without much of the crying and less of the depression thanks to Mr. Mood Stabilizer and his friend drugs. Still, the other side of things now that we’re all older is the list of questions to obsess over that ring around the rosy in my mind. “Is this going to be our last time going to Disney?” “Are my parents going to want to go on any of the thrill rides with me?” “Will dad hurt his back if he goes on one with me so I don’t go alone and hurt his back and ruin the whole vacation?” “Will my sister and her mysterious bowel problem ruin the whole trip?” As much as the “Let’s make a list of what to do on vacation!” is fun, it’s also frustrating if I dote too much on the variables of at-home living problems.

Following in little kid fashion I swam today, I read an entire book, and I made my lists. I sat there in bed with my covers balled up feeling bored. It was smirking at that silly feeling that sparked this post.

Lastly:

Someone very special to me is a complete dick. It’s like he lives to bring me down, and I know some of it is that he’s miserable about his life so he takes it out on me sometimes, he’s admitted it. But we had a little falling out about it last night, and I haven’t heard from him since. I love the guy, so of course I’m affected by it. He’s not 100% dick…but he’s on a roll these past couple months, and if it weren’t for Mr. Mood Stabilizer and his friend drugs (they’re a very popular lot in this post, you think?) I’d be sleeping all day and crying when I was awake. Of course I feel like it’s all my fault, and I should apologize, but…there’s a certain line that I don’t think should logically be crossed over my guilt. How much of it is rational?

Ahh what a life. When I get to a proper computer with a mouse that doesn’t have this pesky finger pad ‘mouse’ that spazzes every other time I touch it I’d be so happy to flutter around WordPress with interactive love. Hopefully tomorrow I’ll get a chance. My favorite WordPressers need to know I’m still rooting for them! The guilt knowing I’m slacking is unforgiving. #FirstWorldProblems

Milking the Mind

My daily thoughts and grievances have been thrown into the minds bottomless junk drawer the past few weeks. Items big enough to ruin my day and feed my depression but not clunky enough to blog or talk about. Depression stunts your social skills. All of my unpasteurized thoughts are both rich and creamy, but unannounced to the rest of the world, tainted with the sort of bacteria that sometimes festers in unpasteurized milk. The kind of bacteria that one may be a carrier of, and may pass on to their newborn who, without medical attention, can’t survive. I don’t want to be a bother with my thoughts, and let their bacteria-esque essence damage my words or actions, which leaves me silent, no birthed words for days at a time, followed by a lot of pent-up guilt.

If I can’t bring myself to communicate online or on the phone, I find myself writing in my journal, but not necessarily about the events of my day.

When I was a kid, one way my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder manifested itself was into hordes of information about celebrities (Robin Williams being one- RIP) into a teeny little binder with lined paper and japanese characters. As I got older the lists grew into cataloging every spell cast in the Harry Potter series and what they did. Some years I re-create the same ol’ lists with a few new items tucked in. Artists I’ve listened to (regardless of my liking for them), 13 years of songs I’ve enjoyed written in a by-year fashion, what I’d like to do on family vacations (to the WI Dells and Walt Disney World in particular) as well as what the budget would be for those trips.

It’s calming to write and re-write said lists in every new journal. I’ve even gotten better in the past few years at finishing an entire journal, rather than leaving the last quarter or half blank for no good reason other than the gross need to start all over again in a new one.

Sometimes I cheat. I’ll leave a few pages at the end blank or write REALLY BIG to fill a page. I’ve fallen under the, “write until your hand hurts and then keep going keeping your handwriting and spacing uniform and appealing” spell more times than I can count. Even while journaling, if I need to cross something out it must be neat, and more than once a page for balance or it leaves me unsettled.

Unsettled, yes. I feel unsettled with the world around me. May my lists be long and my tongue un-stick itself so I can go back to showing support to the people who I know care enough to want to support me. Fellow bloggers included.