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  • Summer Meltdowns, Loss of Control and Missing the Hospital

    Today was one of those days. It’s been coming for a while. The type of day where I recognize my mental health is in a precarious state due to many circumstances I have zero control over and I’m all at once slowly and rapidly losing my shit to the point I miss the hospital. I want the hospital. I meet zero criteria for the hospital, but the hospital is controlled, with rhythms and routines and predictability. My life presently is not. My brain and my body are seeking it in any way possible.

    I’m not sure when I began to recognize the tides were turning. Was it when my two “best” friends turned on me inexplicably and iced me out without word? Perhaps. That wound is still bleeding from lack of understanding and closure. There are three sides to the truth. All I know is my truth is I was always kind, always there when asked, willing to lend a hand when needed, there for every child birthday party or major event invited. I am not perfect, so sometimes I was needy with my mental illness and needing someone to listen at perhaps inconvenient times. Or just needy. Maybe that’s what did it. I’ll never know. I do know that my children’s birthday party is not prioritized the way I would and one person was supposed to have a major role in the surprise twist to my children’s birthday party. But not anymore, I think they actually forgot.  BOTTOM LINE IS: take all that away, my heart hurts, I still lack closure and a major portion of my mental health support system is gone. Poof. Just like that.

    I did learn I had another support system around me, subtler, less in your face but equally precious. One that I’m grateful this ‘ice out” has given me the opportunity to grow and blossom, though not healing the wound any less. 

    Perhaps the tides were turning when we grew more and more suspicious with the behavior of one of our children. Despite extensive evaluations, our guts kept telling us it was something more than what every doctor had told us. We kept watching and tracking and adding up symptoms. No sleep. Limited food intake. Irritable aggression. Going on for over a week. My faulty genetics being passed down the line and parental guilt kicking in as I never wanted to pass this wretched disease onto one the boys. It has been and always will be my worst nightmare and my worst day as a mother: diagnosis day for my son. 

    I already feel a bit like a parental pariah with his other diagnoses, and now to add this to the pile. I can’t publicly advocate for him, loud and proud the way I do for myself. He has to understand his disorder first. Then, when he’s older, it will be his story to tell. In the meantime I need to figure out to fill up my fuel tanks for puberty for this will be a loathsome combination.

    Perhaps the tides began to turn when I did publicly advocate for my children. One in particular was subject to racial slurs two years in a row by classmates and as a family we took it public to bring about community awareness and change. Being a maven and fomenting change is exhausting and uncomfortable at times while being exhilarating at it’s best. I am confident not everyone is on board with my loud message of preaching diversity be it skin tone, mental health, or being neurotypical/atypical.

    Then we have my grade in my current class for my doctoral program. I am used to being a very high achiever. I graduated UVA with masters summa cum laude. To get punched around in a doctoral level class and be one point below a passing grade is humbling. It’s not reflective of the hours of work I put in each week and my capabilities as a student. It wears on my psyche week after week after week.

    I needed to ugly cry today. I needed to get it out. I needed to ask my husband to hospitalize me. I needed to hear from him that it wasn’t the right thing to do, that I have better choices (and days) ahead of me whether I have the ability to recognize it or not. Right now, I need stability, routine, calm, and peace. I need the chaos, lack of control, zero predictability and no sense of routine to stop. Most of all, I need to my support system is there when I need it.

  • Bipolar, Natural Disasters and Emotional Tsunamis

    Tuesday May 15th was just an ordinary day. Until it wasn’t. The kids went to school and then to the town Parks and Recreation program for after care. The husband and I went to our respective jobs. My husband’s work is outside and weather dependent, so he was watching for rain all day, planning to leave work about 30 minutes prior to the predicted heavy rains were to start. Me, I have standard hours, but on that particular Tuesday I do nursing home rounds and start at 7 am, so I tend to leave when the work is done, between 4 or 4:30 in the afternoon. I got home at 4:45 pm when my cell phone buzzed with an alert: TORNADO WARNING! TAKE SHELTER NOW! My mind filled with thoughts. 

    The kids weren’t here.

    How close was my husband.

    This isn’t tornado sky.  (If you lived through one, you know what I’m talking about).

    I want the kids.

    I called my husband. He was turning onto our road. We live approximately five minutes from the school. I told him about the warning and asked him to go get the kids, that they should be with us. He said okay. I went inside and watched the sky from the picture window in the kitchen. And watched. And watched. Then it shifted and I saw it. The sky turned this orange-blue-grey that’s indescribable. It was then that I knew, and with that the kitchen turned dark as night and I ran for the basement. The rains came with winds, tree branches and leaves smacking and beating every window as if asking to be let in themselves for shelter. Loud, fast and furious. I could hear and see trees falling in the backyard and hope nothing would hit the house. Alone, and by myself, I had a moment I thought “so this is how it ends.” My husband called to say he couldn’t make it to the school due to falling trees and was only as far as the house in front of us, taking shelter there, fearful to drive down our long driveway due to the amount of trees on our property.

    When the storm passed, my husband burst into the house to find me. I had just come upstair to assess what happened. Twigs and leaves were coating every window of the house, shining green. We went up to his car in our neighbor’s driveway together with one goal in mind: get the kids as soon as possible. Outside we quickly assessed damage, numerous downed trees, power lines ripped off our home, ripped off the utility pole halfway down our driveway; however still being in shock not really having a true idea of all the damage done. We got into the car and attempted to make our way to the town hall to pick up the kids. We were blocked at every possible route tried. Downed tree. Downed lines. Downed utility pole. Utility pole snapped in half, dangling. Downed trees being held up by the utility lines. After over two solid hours of this, bringing the time to about 7:45 pm, friends contacted us and had an extraction plan to get the kids. They could walk on a path from their property through several yards to the school and get the kids (School and town hall are side-by-side), walking them back to their home with a chance to eat and dry clothes if needed. We agreed. Better for them to be out of the aftercare program and with friends at that point since we had no idea how long we would be. [Side note: Our school principal and Park & Rec staff stayed that night until every single last child was picked up, which to my understanding, was well after 10 pm. I do not know the exact time, nor does it matter. What matters is the dedication they showed to our town’s children in a time of crisis.]

    We continued driving, continued being blocked at every possible option to get to our friend’s home. Stuck in traffic, trees, lines, downed poles. Miraculously this town of diverse opinions came together. People would get out of vehicles, assess the situation and decide how to best proceed. Text message each other what roads were blocked, what roads were passable, what roads had one lane open. We finally made it to our children after approximately 3.5 hours of driving. One of them simply hugged us and cried for a solid ten minutes. I cannot imagine how they must have felt in that storm despite being the the safest spot in the entire town. What good is that safe spot if your parents are not there to protect you?

    Once the kids were collected we had to get home. That meant walking back up the road we parked the car on, past giant trees to the car. We then had to navigate our way back home which took time, another 1.5 hours to figure out what routes would get us back to the house safely. When we reached home, we parked a quarter of the way down the driveway to stay away from the felled lines.Using iPhone flashlights, we navigated our way down the driveway and lawn to stay away from the lines. I stayed on the driveway, stepping over the lines, as I was in high heels with no toes and my husband and the kids were in the grass farther away. I could see the lines clearly and could easily avoid them. My husband is yelling to get on the grass, that I was going to get killed and not listening to me that I could easily see where I was stepping and in no danger. Was I stupid for wanting to stay dry for a moment? Was I stupid for wanting to salvage shoes? Was it my bipolar disorder telling me I could easily handle the risk? I have no idea. I’m still here to write this blog that much I know.

    We went inside, lit candles, and went to bed. My husband blew out all the candles once the kids and I were tucked in as to not risk falling asleep with them on. The kids were still stressed and refused to sleep in their rooms that night (and every night since without power), bunking with me. I spoke to my office manager, explaining my traumatized children, and the war zone of a town I was in and she graciously told me to not worry about the following day’s schedule and to take care of my family and home.

    The next morning we assessed our property, seeing lines ripped off the house, calling electricians and having the weatherhead reattached and getting on the list for EverSource (our local power company) to come reattach the lines to our home. Spend the day stacking and collecting downed branches and cutting wood until the rain began again making the task impossible. Breakfast was Starbucks, lunch was McDonald’s and dinner was Katz’s deli with friends in the same situation. In the rainy afternoon, we walked around the roads near our homes marveling at how destructive mother nature can be.

    Our front neighbors opened their home to us for showering as they have a generator, thus we’ve been able to stay hygienic. Texts have been pouring in from friends in neighboring towns offering their homes to us for whatever we need. This storm has shown us the best of people, not the worst.

    I have done well for the most part and tried to keep it all together. However I feel myself starting to crack. It’s day 3 (considering storm day as day 0) of no power. With all the line damage near my home I don’t know when it’s coming back. I know when EverSource says, but I know what my eyes tell me. There’s a major incongruency there. I need to replace the contents of my entire refrigerator. The thought of it is daunting and stressful and anxiety provoking. I haven’t been sleeping despite my medications. I’m losing compassion for others yet keeping my feelings to myself because I’m scared to verbalize them and make them real. I try to think this isn’t Texas or Puerto Rico or Katrina. However my brain isn’t allowing me to separate them. Is that my bipolar talking to me? I don’t know. I’m cracking and feeling unsafe and vulnerable. I KNOW that’s my bipolar talking. Because I handled Tuesday well and did what needed to be done. I need a shred of normalcy in my day, but my brain is not granting me it. It’s granting me ruminations and obsessions of what happened. It’s focusing on worst case scenarios, not actual case scenarios. That’s my bipolar talking too. I can recognize it.

    Today, I have to learn to make the healing the begin. As the town heals, I have to learn to heal my brain. The question is how. Introspection when one isn’t ready for it is hard, but like everything else I will get through it. If I have to crash through a tsunami of emotions to do it, so be it. Hope my team is ready.

     

  • Children, Resiliency and Mental Illness in the Family Unit

    I was away presenting at a nursing conference last week. I was discussing the provider as a patient in the context of both serious mental illness and the need to bring nursing practice back to the basics. If we, as providers, focused on the core of what we do as nurses, creating a consistent therapeutic milieu in interaction with both patients and colleagues alike, it will make it easier for colleagues to seek assistance when they need it. Essentially allowing the provider, the “hidden patient” if you will, to feel safe enough to be provider one day and patient the next. 

    I used my story as a case study named Carly interwoven throughout the presentation. At the conclusion we discussed her remission and I did choose to share that her story was actually that of my own. While I had hoped the question and answer session would be more of conversation regarding how we can focus on these “hidden patients”, I understand the audience seeking more history and questions regarding the case study presented. 

    The question I struggled with the most was how much support my kids had throughout the process and the impact my disorder had had on them. I answered truthfully in that they have received a tremendous amount of care and support from husband and were protected from my illness. I shared that they are incredibly resilient little guys. 

    The truth is there is a lot in what I also did not say. They are getting older. My husband and I won’t always be able to protect them. I live with so much guilt sometimes over having children to begin with. Which is ridiculous when you think about it, since my symptoms and diagnosis came following my final pregnancy. We were done having children at that point. No one had that kind of foresight and if they did, they failed to share it with us. I have guilt because of social media keyboard cowboys who from time to time have taken to telling me via this blog that people with bipolar disorder shouldn’t be parents. Fortunately they have not been as cruel to me as they have to other bloggers I know.  I have guilt because I am not always the type of mother I envisioned I would be when I first learned I would be having my oldest. I have guilt because I think I live in a perpetual state of role strain regarding the family unit. 

    My children will eventually start to ask questions about why I might be isolating. They might start to ask questions about why I am excessively irritable. They already fail to understand my noise sensitivity, which does affect them. Have you ever tried to explain to elementary school boys that they are too loud? Successfully getting them to lower volume is an Olympic feat.

    My oldest has already started to explore basic principles of neurobiology and mental illness to “better understand you, Mommy” as he puts it. He put together a PowerPoint presentation on this topic, presented to his second grade class in May 2016, which caught the attention of the International Bipolar Foundation. I didn’t discuss that in answering the question of the impact my disorder has had on the children. I didn’t discuss that because it makes me insanely proud and incredibly guilty all at the same time. It leaves one feeling conflicted. Is my child growing up too fast because of me?

    In the end, there is no right and there is no wrong. Parenting is a matter of feeling out what fits for each family whether mental illness is present or not. 

  • Is it me or Isn't it me?

    “It is you. Not everyone has your diagnosis.”

    We go back and forth in the mental health community about language all the time, how it can hurt, how labels matter (or don’t for some). One infallible truth however is that words do hurt and we can’t take them back. I did an exercise with my children on the day prior to school starting to demonstrate this very point, taking a tube of Aim toothpaste, squeezing the entire tube onto a plate. I asked the kids if they thought they could get the toothpaste back in the tube exactly as it been previously. They laughed and told me “no way!” We reviewed that once words are out there, you cannot put them and some people will never be the same. We took the time to talk about being kind, thoughtful citizens of the school community. I do not know three days into the school how long the toothpaste experiment will last, but we are working on it.

    “It is you. Not everyone has your diagnosis." 

    Not everyone has my diagnosis. It’s true. As of 2014, there are an estimated 5.3 million adults in the United States with bipolar disorder. This statistic does not differentiate between bipolar 1 and 2 disorder. (www.treatmentadvocacycenter.org/resources/briefing-papers-and-fact-sheets/159/463)

    I somehow do not believe words like this can be slung so carelessly at someone however in my situation. Those eight words leave someone, including me, with the impression that my disorder and my symptoms are my fault. I’m 41 years old. I know when I am being a jerk for the sake of being a jerk. I also know when I feel utterly helpless and cannot control my swirling tornado of emotion, thought and word due to a mood episode and resurgence of symptoms. Thus begging the question, is it really me?

    There is nothing I dislike more than my diagnosis and the impact it will wreak on my daily life from time to time. There is nothing worse than hearing your child ask you where Mommy went because “this isn’t my Mommy right now” when you are in a manic rage. It stops you in your tracks, kicks you in the stomach and renders one unable to breathe. It hurts because I didn’t ask for this. I did not ask to become ill. My children didn’t ask for an ill parent either. All of us (the kids and myself) asked for love and some understanding of our behaviors. The kids, because they are immature with developing brains and will do obnoxious things at times. Me, because I cannot achieve remission again without love, patience, time and a solid treatment team.

    “It is you. Not everyone has your diagnosis.”

    Not everyone has my diagnosis, and the things I CAN control are simple: putting down the phone and staying away from social media when it’s bothersome to me and liable to set me off. Sitting down every single night with the kids for dinner. Instituting family time every single night regardless of how tired I am. Bedtime snuggles and hugs. I can show my kids how much Mommy is always there, even when my brain is misbehaving, neurotransmitters have run amok and makes it physically impossible.

    I can’t put the toothpaste back in either. All I can do is work as hard as possible every day to make sure I never squeeze it out in the first place.