Thursday, November 26, 2009

What is manic exactly?'s been a crazy week, so I'm going to jump right back into this!
"Bipolar" is somewhat misleading. Most people think of two poles-depressed and happy-since happy is the opposite to depressed. However, mania is not happy; far from it. Other than medication questions, I probably get asked this question the most, "What does manic mean?" I'm going to do my best to explain it to you.

Most people know what depressed means-everyone has natural ups and downs, and everyone experiences deaths and breakups. But the devastation of chronic depression is awful. It is easy to see when someone is suffering from depression-loss of appetite, lack of motivation, loss of interest in activities that were once interesting or enjoyable, feelings of hopelessness, pessimism, guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness, social withdrawal, unusual restlessness or irritability and at the worst, suicide attempts. However, with mania, is it much more difficult to see it manifesting-often patients themselves don't realize the symptoms until they are well into the throws of it. A good definition of mania is:

“Mania-An abnormally elevated mood state characterized by such symptoms as inappropriate elation, increased irritability, severe insomnia, grandiose notions, increased speed and/or volume of speech, disconnected and racing thoughts, increased sexual desire, markedly increased energy and activity level, poor judgment, and inappropriate social behaviour.”

To the "outside world", mania often looks like happiness. Often a Bipolar patient coming out of a depressive state will go into a manic state, and simply think they are back to "normal". Or they will even realize that they are manic, but don't want to acknowledge it, because they feel something like happiness, after feeling sorrow for so long. And at first it does feel similar to happiness.

For the few weeks (sometimes months, depending on the patient), everything looks brighter. Things are finally going your way. Even that lady that at your work that used to scowl at you everyday smiles at you. You have increased sensations. Sex feels amazing-and you want it constantly. Food tastes so good; you can't believe you didn't want to eat it when you were depressed. You have so much energy! For the first time in.....who knows how are getting everything done! And more! You are able to multitask. Everyone comments on how happy you look; how you are glowing; you are so witty and have so much to say. Life seems perfect.

Then a month or so haven't slept in those few weeks. You are becoming constantly irritated and frustrated. Everything enrages you-the person that cut you off, the woman talking too loudly on her cell phone. All that energy is making you jittery and feeling like you are bouncing off the walls. You are making decisions that make sense to you but no one else. You are alienating yourself. No one is listening to your evermore fabulous and grandiose ideas. There are so many ideas and voices inside your head; you don't know where to start to make sense of them. What you thought was "multitasking" was really just doing many things at once, badly. People have stopped saying you look "glowing" and instead are telling you to rest and take a break. You are snapping at people constantly; always arguing.

And that's how it continues on....a constant war inside your head. Voices battling non-stop, with no break to sleep or rest. The voices tell you to cheat on your spouse, jump off a cliff, run down the street with naked. All judgment is impaired. After months of mania, patients often attempt suicide, lose jobs, break up families, enter a psychosis, or any number of horrible things. Mania is derived from the Greek word for madness; and manic patients are often treated as such. By the time they get to a hospital they are usually delirious and completely out of touch with reality. Unfortunately, learning when a manic phase is coming on is something that takes a lot of time, working with both yourself and the illness.

Although I have experienced suicidal lows, my illness tends to keep me "up" into the manic category. I have learned over the years what my "triggers" are, and what to watch out for when my moods start to shift (change in sleep patterns, change in eating habits, and sexual appetite. And then I get in to see my doctor immediately. While depression is unspeakably horrible, it only affects me, my hubby and my immediate family. Mania affects everyone I come into contact with. It can make me lose my job, lose my friends, and completely destroy my life. It has already caused me do things in my teens that were totally out of character, and I never want it to have that control over me again. My Mom has also experienced the difficulty of controlling mania-it takes over your entire life. So it's IMPERATIVE that patients learn their triggers and symptoms so that they are able to take control of their illness and learn how to stay healthy.

I hope that helped! :)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

I apologize....

Just a quick note before bed....I apologize for the lack of posts. I've spent the last two days in the hospital. The doctors still aren't sure what's wrong, they've found a lesion on my liver so I have to go in for more tests, plus they believe I had a burst ovarian cyst (oh the pain is unbelievable!). Anyways, I promise to update later today or Monday!

Thanks for all the support over the last couple days!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What IS Sanity?

I was thinking yesterday, what (or who) determines what is "sane" and what is "insane"? There are many definitions. Sanity is defined by many people in many different ways.

Sanity: Noun
1. the state of being sane; soundness of mind
2. soundness of judgement.

Insanity: Noun 
1. the condition of being insane; a derangement of the mind
2. Law.-such unsoundness of mind affects legal responsibilty or capacity
3. Physicatry-physocsis
4. extreme folly, seneslesness, fooldhardiness

Don't these sound rather subjective? I Googled "society determining sanity" to see what others were thinking and saying about the subject. I came across a Yahoo page ( discussing this exact topic. Jake had a very interesting post:

 "Sane and Insane are set by societal standards. A man walking down the street naked to wash his clothes in a river in Anytown, USA will likely get arrested. Yet a man who does this same actions in some parts of India is seen no more awkwardly than we might view the mailman doing his job (or something else mundane)."

 How true. Everyone has their own, personal, unique definition of sanity and insanity. When I go into the psychiatric ward I don't look at those patients as "insane". I look at them as unwell; people that need help, support and treatment. Yet many do not feel the same way, otherwise "crazy" wouldn't have become such an insult (similar to how "gay" is now used). Many people simply aren't exposed to unwell people-they think of One Flew over the Cuckoos’ Nest. Even a recent (within the last month or so) episode of the TV show House showed the main character of the show (known as House) in a psychiatric ward that was COMPLETELY unrealistic and not at all what a ward is like (in fact, a ward probably hasn’t been like that in at least fifty years!). But because these wards are SO often shrouded in mystery and SO often understood, the general public doesn't understand that the psychiatric ward is just another part of the hospital. It's (most of the time) a homey space, with doctors, nurses, beds, and all sorts of people-just like the rest of the hospital. The difference is that instead of having a physical illness, the patients in a psychiatric ward are mentally ill. Does that mean they should be locked up or stigmatized? But I'm getting off track (I plan to have a post just about hospitals to help everyone understand what REALLY goes on inside a psychiatric ward).

 In a perfect world, no one would judge any one, and labels wouldn't ever be used. But as we all know, we live in a far from perfect world. So as a mentally ill person do I embrace this "crazy" or "insane" label and give it my own spin? Make fun of it, make people realize how truly ridiculous it is? Or do I stand up to it-tell people that just because someone has a mental illness doesn't make them "crazy" or "insane"? Do I tell them that the world is full of "insanity" if that's how you choose to define it? The examples I would define as "insanity" (just from my own life and the people I know)-moving across the country for someone met on the internet; spitting out babies when having absolutely no money to care for them; staying in a relationship for years simply because of laziness; thinking that money will buy happiness; pushing away friends and family because of fears of being hurt-and that's just some of them. But, as you can see, these are just life experiences. The actions may look insane to others, but to them, it's just living. I bring you back to the example of the man walking down the street naked. "Crazy" and "Insane" in Canada......."Normal" and "Sane" India or Africa. Let's drop the labels and judgements. We will never, ever get respect as the mentally ill without taking control of all the misconceptions and labels that are thrown at us. Throughout the many, many years on this Earth people have fought against each other because they were "different"-black, white, gay, straight, Catholic, Buddhist.....the mentally ill is no different. We are not understood because we aren't fighting to be heard. Let's MAKE them listen.

I'd love to get some feedback and hear what you all think. How do YOU define insanity?

Thank You!!

Just wanted to send out a quick thank you! I've only had this blog up for a couple days, and I've had AMAZING response already. Family, friends, strangers-I've been getting all sorts of emails and Facebook messages supporting this blog.

So to all of you-THANK YOU! And please keep reading! :)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

My History, My Life

Before I start getting into my day-to-day experiences living with a mental illness, I wanted to go over my history, so that those who don't experience these illnesses personally can know exactly where I'm coming from. First of all, I will be concentrating mostly on Bipolar (formally known as Manic-Depressive) in my blog because it is the most serious of the disorders that I struggle with, and also the hardest to treat. The joy (sarcasm here folks) of being diagnosed with Bipolar is that other illnesses usually come with it in one big package (for me it was the ADHD, anxiety and social phobia). Although Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is not always associated with Bipolar, often the two go hand-in-hand.
I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder when I was 12 years old. It was one of the hardest times in my life. My father was diagnosed with OCD and treated with Paxil a few years before, so when I started showing symptoms my parents recognized it right away. The problem with OCD is it's not like a stomach ache. You can't just say "my tummy hurts" and go to the doctor. With OCD (in a child especially) you KNOW something is not right, yet you are so embarrassed and ashamed you will do absolutely ANYTHING to avoid talking about it. So while I was diagnosed with OCD at 12, I had been struggling for years. My obsessions were mostly clean-related: washing hands until they bled, having 6 showers a day, refusing to let people touch my hair, etc. I wasn't able to go to sleepovers because I was afraid of the "unknown" germs at my friends' houses. I avoided all pets because of pet hair (something I still struggle with now). It completely took over my life. And I was stubborn. I did EVERYTHING I could to avoid doing these compulsions. But I couldn't. When you are fighting with your own brain, how do you win? So my parents dragged my from child psychiatrist to child psychiatrist until finally, at aged 12, I found a doctor I was comfortable talking to. All the kids lovingly referred to him as "Santa Claus" because, well, that's exactly who he looked like. He was a fabulous psychiatrist-he never pushed; always listened. So I was put on Paxil (since it had worked so well for my Dad) and life changed (it seemed) overnight. Within a month, I was a completely different person. Now, don't get me wrong. OCD NEVER goes away. The "voices" are always there. But when OCD is under control, you are able to either ignore, or talk sense into the voices. I started to become more social, joined more sports and clubs, even my grades went up. It was if someone had taken a tonne of bricks off my small shoulders. My OCD was controlled throughout high school and (usually) up to this point. The only times when I have trouble are when I'm relapsing from Bipolar (which I'll get to in a minute) or under times of stress. I fight it every day, but I feel that most of the time, I win. And that works for me.
The Bipolar diagnosis didn't come until later. My Mom was diagnosed with Bipolar right around the time when I was diagnosed with OCD. She'd been manic for many years (definition of manic for those who don't know: “Mania-An abnormally elevated mood state characterized by such symptoms as inappropriate elation, increased irritability, severe insomnia, grandiose notions, increased speed and/or volume of speech, disconnected and racing thoughts, increased sexual desire, markedly increased energy and activity level, poor judgment, and inappropriate social behaviour.”, and had finally crashed. She had post-partum with both myself and my brother and was put on anti-depressants after both. The most common way of finding out about a Bipolar patient is by putting them on an anti-depressant-it throws them into the complete opposite state-mania. However, often is can take a long time for that mania to become bad enough for the person to seek help, or for them to crash. For my Mom it took many, many years.
I started to have symptoms around the age of 15 or so. I was what most adults would describe a "hellion." The teenager from hell. By 16, I was drinking, smoking, doing drugs (though thankfully never got into the "heavier" ones), having sex, and constantly disobeying every rule. I moved out of my house a few times into my boyfriends (at the time) house, until his Mom would tell me I had to go home. I have no idea how I managed to keep my jobs, but I always did, so I always had money to cause trouble. My parents knew something was up. This was not the typical teenager rebelling-I was causing harm to myself and to others. I was lashing out for no apparent reason. My parents tried for a long time to get me in to see a psychiatrist (Santa Claus was no longer in practice). By the time I'd just turned 17 I had to admit something was wrong. I couldn't control my emotions; I was everywhere at once. I was tired but exhilarated at the same time. It was so scary, none of it made sense to me. We were on the waiting list to see a psychiatrist when I had my crash. I was 17 and half. My boyfriend and I had just broken up. I felt like he couldn't handle my problems (which is probably true, at 17) but instead of working through them with me and supporting me, he just wanted to run. I was devastated. And then I had to go to school the next day and pretend everything was OK, even though we shared a locker and all of the same friends. I went home one night and had a huge fight with my Dad (I couldn't even tell you what it was about now) and couldn't take it anymore. I went to the medicine cabinet and took almost everything in there-painkillers, tums, stomach aids, and sleeping pills. You name it. And then I went back to my room and crawled into bed. But something was nagging at me, and I decided I was going to go downstairs and call my best friend at the time. She knew something was wrong right away, so I hung up and went back to bed. I found out later she'd called the house over and over again until someone picked up and told them that something was wrong. My parents called 911, and the police and ambulance showed up. I don't even remember them coming into my room. I was so drugged; I could hardly tell them my name. But I was so scared. And seeing my parents and brother standing with the police while I was loaded into the ambulance, I realized I didn't want to die. Not now, not anytime soon. I just needed help. I needed someone or something to give me hope again, a reason to live. I'll spare you all the details at the hospital, but it was ugly. I ended up staying for a month at the psychiatric ward there. I learned A LOT, not only about my illness but about life. I also got a new psychiatrist that I trusted and felt comfortable with. I was diagnosed with Bipolar I, plus rapid cycling (meaning I go from a depressed state to a manic state quickly, often within days or hours). I was put on a cocktail of medications. One of the hardest things to accept with these illnesses is having to take a lot medications for the rest of your life. No one wants to deal with a life-long illness. But c'est la vie. I decided to pick myself up, and get on with it. So I went to college, got married, and here I am now. I struggle daily with my symptoms-the symptoms of the illnesses that the medications can't help-and the side effects of the medications, which are often almost as horrible as the disorder itself. I get angry often that I have to deal with this disorder, while other people don't. But I'm realizing (and this is one of the reasons I've started this blog) is that I need to stop being angry. Anger gets you nowhere. I need to take that anger and channel it into passion-to make a difference in this world. I need to DO something with my life, I need to make all this suffering and pushing forward WORTH it.

So for those of you who have had experiences like mine (or friends or family members who had) let's stop being angry. The American statistic (couldn’t find the Canadian one) is that 1 in 4 Americans will be mentally ill at some point in their lifetime. Can you believe that? That is a higher number than cancer, AIDS, or anything else combined! Think of yourself. Now think of three other people. One of you is going to need help because of a mental illness. Shouldn’t we have the help and resources available? Let's use the good things in our illnesses-the creativeness, the determination, whatever it brings you-and bring it out into the world and get rid of this ugly mental illness stigma. Care to join me?

Ten Reasons Why I Hate A Bipolar Episode (something I came up with on a bad day)

Ten Reasons Why I Hate A Bi-Polar Episode (No Order)

1. I'm apparently not allowed to have any real range of emotion without Chris/my parents/my family jumping all over me. So if I am quiet, they think I'm depressed and if I’m happy or excited (because sometimes I am just very happy or excited), they ask me pointedly in “that way” whether I'm feeling manic or have more energy, etc. And it drives me crazy - literally. It makes me agitated and then I do think it makes my mood shift. Chances are, if I’m manic or depressed and they have noticed-I’ve ALREADY noticed way before they have!

***Note I love my family and I know they are trying to help, but sometimes it's just too much***

2. I have to tell people that I’m relapsing and deal with their response. For some of my friends, when they know, it's no big deal - I mean, they are concerned and they check in with me but they still treat me like I'm normal. For other friends, they look at me like I'm from another planet because they just don't have any frame of reference so they can say stupid things but they mean well. But painfully, for others, they sound like they are being supportive but then stop calling or having any contact and those are the ones that hurt the most. Some of my really close friends haven’t been in touch at all and I'm really feeling abandoned.

3. I hate that at this stage of things I'm aware enough to know when I'm indeed feeling manic (as opposed to being completely manic and not giving a shit or completely depressed and not caring about anything anyways) and to feel myself responding in a way that make things worse with Chris or is a bit inappropriate in a given situation but (and this is the part that I hate) I'm still fully conscious and I care about what I'm doing and the people that I'm doing it to. I can feel myself overreacting but don’t have the power to stop it. I hate that at this point I know and feel and have such a hard time controlling the little and big ways that the disease spills out and hurts me or the people that I love.

4. The impact on Chris. It's always there... behind every response or reaction, there is this underlying fear that Chris needs to take care of me and find ways to make it “OK”. And that means everything from physically being with me 24/7 because I’m on suicide watch to having to pick up an extra part-time job because we can’t afford for me to be off on disability (yet again) from work, or we can’t afford the new drug I’m prescribed that isn’t covered in our insurance. It’s so damn UNFAIR. It makes me feel awful as a person and as a wife to have to deal with how hard this is on him (and his family and even friends, since it completely ties him up). I feel like an equal partner when I'm well and I can work to put things in place to help but it makes things worse when I'm sick because it feeds into the shame and the guilt I already have and feeds the mania/depression that is swirling around me.

5. I hate waking up and knowing today is going to be worse than yesterday.

6. I’m a lot more private when I'm sick. I think it's because I have all these thoughts and feelings that don't feel all that presentable to the public and so I retreat into reading or posting on a Bipolar support group, etc. I think I often leave out those most important, like Chris and my family. But I HATE feeling like a burden, like my illness takes over everyone else’s life. It already takes over mine; it shouldn’t take over any one else’s. But then I retreat into myself, and then I feel abandoned because no one knows that I need them. It’s a vicious cycle that I’ve been trying to break.

7. I hate feeling afraid and full of anxiety and overwhelmed and on edge and resentful and pushed and prickly and tired and not tired and alive and dead - all at the same time.

8. I finally feel like I now have the support of a good physiatrist, but I feel like there is not much support in Burlington for me. I’ve already signed up for CMHA, but most of their group sessions are full by the time I get there to sign up, and they are all older people. I want to connect to people by own age, with my own problems. I really enjoy the Facebook groups, but it’s not the same as having the support of real-life people sitting in front of you. Even going into the hospital to have my weekly blood testing (which mentions which medications are being tested for on the form), I get side-way glances and whispers, like they are expecting me to start screaming like a crazy person. It’s hard enough to deal with this illness daily without dealing with the CONSTANT prejudice and wrong assumptions. And having no community support!

9. I hate that this disease is so intelligent and subversive. That it sneaks in and shifts the chemicals in my body and so I wake up one day and I have taken a different path then the day before. It changes my reality so that I feel like I'm in a parallel universe and that everyone else has it wrong (about me, at least) and I'm the only one that knows the truth. To some extent that's true - I am the only one that is inside my head but I can't take in anyone else's understanding of me as true and authentic. They say I'm a good person and worthy of love and I think I'm just fooling them and that they can't possibly know the real me – the real me that is damaged and wrong and bad.

10. I hate that I have to fight every day to stay “normal” when most people in the world just wake up in their bed and get on with their day. I hate that I can’t just get up and go to work and wait in traffic and go to grocery stores......things I can’t do most of the time. I just want to me a functioning member of society, and I feel like that option and chance has been completely stripped away from me. I want to live without worrying every day when the next relapse is going to happen; when it’s going to blindside

A list of famous Bipolar people

A list I compiled off the 'net (so keep that in mind) of people who are Bipolar or were suspected to be Bipolar. Interesting!

Actors & Actresses

Ned Beatty
Jeremy Brett
Jim Carrey
Lisa Nicole Carson
Rosemary Clooney
Eric Douglas
Robert Downey Jr.
Patty Duke
Carrie Fisher
Connie Francis
Shecky Greene
Linda Hamilton
Moss Hart
Mariette Hartley
Margot Kidder
Vivien Leigh
Kevin McDonald
Kristy McNichols
Burgess Meredith
Spike Milligan
Nicola Pagett
Ben Stiller
David Strickland
Lili Taylor
Tracy Ullman
Jean-Claude Van Damme
Robin Williams
Jonathon Winters, comedian

Ludwig Von Beethoven
Tim Burton
Francis Ford Coppola
George Fredrick Handel
Joshua Logan
Vincent Van Gogh
Gustav Mahier
Francesco Scavullo
Robert Schumann
Don Simpson
Norman Wexler

John Berryman
C.E. Chaffin
Hart Crane
Randall Jarrell
Jane Kenyon
Robert Lowell
Sylvia Plath
Robert Schumann
Delmore Schwartz

Bob Bullock
Winston Churchill
Theodore Roosevelt

Why I'm here......and why you need to join me!

Bipolar, OCD, ADHD, Anxiety, Social Phobia: All disorders that duel daily in my head. I've started this blog to inspire, to support, and to get talking about mental illnesses. We've been silent for far too long. The time has come for us to speak up-we want medical funding so we can find out WHY we have these disorders, and how to treat them. We want the opportunity to walk down the streets and claim "We have a mental illness and it's OK!". We want to be treated like everyone else in the hospital when we have to go into a psychiatric ward. We want the whispering and stares to stop if we accidentally drop the "M" bomb.

I haven't always felt like this. Until about a year ago, I hid my illnesses from almost everyone. Luckily, I have an extremely supportive family, hubby, and best friends who were able to take care of me during my (many) relapses. I hid it from everyone else. I made fun of the "crazies" like all my friends did. I joked about "killing myself" over something as stupid as wearing the wrong shoes....even though I did try and kill myself when I was seventeen, and came very, very close to succeeding. I hid it from every job, even though letting them know may have meant I would have been able to make special arrangements which would have perhaps kept me from relapsing so often. So what changed? I finally realized-this is not my fault. I felt embarrassed a few illnesses that had taken over my brain. The world wouldn't blame a person for a physical illness that was obvious to the eye.....why should I be blamed for something just because they couldn't see it? That's when I realized I was wasting so much energy on keeping my illness inside, and hiding myself, when I should have been focused on fighting all these stigmas we deal with daily. I should have been talking to people, educating them, helping them to understand that the mentally ill are no different than any other ill people-we need love, care, and support. So that is my goal through this blog. We need to work together. I promise you, this blog will be honest and truthful. I will have my good days, and most definitely, my bad. But I hope to encourage and inspire (and I hope you will do the same) and together we can make a difference.