Reflections on 2015

As I sit back and reflect on my goals and planned projects for 2016, I can’t help but to think about all that I lived through in 2015 and how that has shaped this year’s prospective.

This will be a quick read, I promise.

I learned more about myself in this past year than I believe I have learned in all of my life. I learned that I am more resilient and stronger than I imagined. I learned that psychiatrists and psychologists, though I may hate them sometimes, know more than I do because of their experience. Therefore, listen to them and learn to curb your ego.

I also learned to stop thinking I know better than anyone about my mental health because although sometimes it may be hard to hear, I need to listen to what others around me have to say about my mood and behavior.

And finally, I learned to take my medication each and every day. I have learned over and over again that I truly do need my meds in order to prevent a manic episode. Yet, I continue to get off them because I know better, right? Wrong!!! So, I learned in 2015 after 9 years since my initial diagnosis, that YES I really truly do need to take my medication every day consistently and continuously. Ok, got it.

And you, my fellow reader and confidante, what did you learn from 2015???

On Fear

I once read that the opposite of love is not hate, but rather fear. Interesting, right? Fear, is the absence of love, it is what drives anger, violence, and other negative emotions/actions. Hate is a complement of love, therefore, it is comprised of love at its core. This may sound a bit metaphysical to some, but the point that I am trying to get at is that fear is the opposite of love.

That being said, when we act out of fear, we unleash all kinds of wrath onto ourselves and others, which prevents us from doing good for ourselves and others. Let me give you an example. When you are stuck in a job that you absolutely dislike, but are too afraid to take the next step and apply somewhere else for fear of letting go of your supposed comfort.

Refusing to change for the better even though there are greater benefits than consequences to the change for fear of [insert excuse here]. There are so many instances where fear holds us back from our true potential, and let me tell you, I have been guilty of all of them I’m sure.

But the beauty of life and living, I believe, comes when we release that fear. Yes, it is easier said than done, but if you go through the correct process for yourself, the benefits are amazing. Suddenly, that new positive relationship you have been looking for everywhere appears to you. Your dream job becomes suddenly available and you have the opportunity to apply.

It is important to note as well that opportunities present themselves to us on the daily, whether we choose to act on them is on us. Again, what keeps us from acting on those great opportunities is fear.

Fear is comparable, in my opinion, to sucking our thumb as an infant. It becomes ingrained in us as a sort of comfort that we can revert to whenever something is different or challenging. We know that in the long run it is bad for us, but we do it anyway. Why? Because it is what we learned as children.

Fear kept us from running into the street because a car might run us over. Fear kept us from touching the stove because we might get burned. Fear kept us from staying out too late as teenagers because we might get in trouble. Fear, fear, fear.

Now, in all of these examples I just gave fear has kept us safe, but it is a false sense of security with a double agenda. Yes, fear keeps us from doing dangerous things, but at the same time, it also keeps
us from doing amazing things.

What we should focus on, then, is respect. I respect traffic laws, therefore, I will not run into the street. I respect that heat can hurt me, so I will not touch a hot stove. I respect my parents and their rules, so I will not come home late.

See what I just did? I turned the fear around and converted it to respect.

If you respect someone, you don’t try to infringe on their rights. However, if you fear them, you try to take away their rights and privileges for fear of what they may do if they have them.

I can go on and on about fear and how it is the sole cause of so many terrible things that happen in our lives and in our country, but the truth of the matter is, I don’t want to. Why? Because I don’t want to sound preachy and you do not want to hear it either. It’s not hard to see for yourself how fear is at the core of violence, oppression, racism, discrimination, etc. I invite you to look beyond what the telecasters tell you and really examine the news for its core values. You will find fear in the most unlikely of places, even in a television commercial advertising a clothing sale.

Make Mine a Virgin Please

I know this or at least should know this by now: that anyone taking psychotropic medication should not drink alcohol. And not just heavily or casually, NOT AT ALL. Yet, I have largely ignored this warning for the past 9 years since my initial diagnosis, claiming I can handle my symptoms. Oh how wrong have I been.

I started to reflect on my life and my health especially about a month ago when I completed my 7 years without a manic episode. It hasn’t been an easy 7 years and one thing that has contributed to my ups and downs during those seven years, besides lack of sleep, has been drinking alcohol. Now, I have not been a heavy drinker, daily drinker, or alcohol abuser in any sense, but I have been known to drink casually, and occasionally get drunk. I admit it. I’m not proud of it, but it’s the truth. And as someone with a mental health diagnosis and above all, a mental health advocate, I have been a hypocrite.

Yet, last month, I had a rude awakening. After a night of drinking at home, I woke up distressed, anxious, and languishing the entire day. I was a horrible person to be around, and even worse, a horrible mother to my two little girls. That day I took the final decision to never again have an ounce of alcohol in my life. That’s not to say I haven’t been tempted. At the grocery store they sell so many flavorful options, but I am better than their marketing.

In addition, I have decided to wean off all my stimulants such as caffeine. When once I would chug a RedBull in the afternoon, now I opt for a glass of water, and perhaps a nap or some yoga. I feel all the better for it and the results have been slow but apparent. I am actually more energized, have more stable moods, and am a better person all around.

I am amazed at my results, and although I have to persevere to keep my promise to stay away from any and all stimulants, one look at my little girls’ faces and I know I can do it. Ever better, knowing that I am healthier and more energized keeps me motivated to do better.

7 years

RE Camera

It has been 7 years since I had a full fledged manic episode. It has also been 7 years since I’ve been in a psychiatric hospital. I waited until November to write this post because my last hospitalization began in October 2008, and I did not want to write a post in October about how I have been without a manic episode for 7 years for fear of jinxing myself. Luckily, October has passed and I can proudly say that it has officially been 7 good years without a manic episode. That’s not to say I don’t get the typical Bipolar ups and downs, because I do. The difference, and it’s a big difference, is that I have not been 5150’ed and had to stay against my will in a psychiatric ward.

But let’s not turn this post into the horrors and inadequacies of psychiatric wards lest I scare off readers. Instead, I want to focus on all the progress I have made that has kept me out of those “looney bins” (I gotta poke fun to keep from becoming depressed).

In the past 7 years, I graduated from UC Irvine, got married, had 2 wonderful little girls, worked on and off through my pregnancies, bought a home, and have recently interviewed for my dream job (fingers crossed). So, I haven’t discovered any cures or vaccinations, established peace in any turmoiled countries, or created anything other than arts and crafts. Yet, I feel accomplished because not only have I triumphed over my daily mood swing obstacles, but also over life obstacles. I have succeeded in life when I was told after my diagnosis in 2006 that I would not could not do it.

I would like to make clear that this post is not meant to glorify my accomplishments, but rather shed light on a subject that many fail to address: how can you deal with life issues at the same time that you deal with your mental health issues? It’s simple, really. You take it one day at a time and with lots of support. I cannot emphasize enough how establishing a support network for myself has been my saving grace. From close friends and family, to the internet, including this blog and Twitter. I have found a relief and a sense of belonging amongst fellow Bipolar survivors, and have learned so much from them.

Let’s keep the learning going and pass on your knowledge on how to cope and triumph over your diagnosis!

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Re-Raising Yourself

Even as I look at my own childhood, I see how my parents wanted me to stay young and innocent as long as possible, but without too much fantasy. I was not allowed to believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and any other “fantastical” character. I grew to have a fear of people dressed in character costumes such as Ronald McDonald, the Red Robin bird, clowns, the characters on Sesame Street, you name it I feared it. I don’t blame my parents; they were trying to do the best they could with what limited knowledge and resources they had. Yet, I confess that in order for me to have become a well-adjusted adult, I had to re-raise myself.

Re-raise yourself I ask? It is a concept I stumbled upon in many a psych book that I have read after being diagnosed with Bipolar I. It is a very complex concept, yet it basically means to identify habits, fears, customs, or other behaviors that are counter-productive to your well-being and adjusting your behavior through constant re-direction and behavior correction. The term means what it means: re-raising yourself to the point that you correct your behaviors such as a parent would do so to a child. You must remember to be patient and kind with yourself, however, so as to not instill more fear into your psyche and fill those voids with love and compassion.

I recommend this exercise to everyone and anyone who feels they have been shortchanged in life and want to make some real positive change in their future. It seems as a human race we tend to repeat our errors over and over again, without any progress. My favorite saying┬áis that the definition of insanity is doing something the same way repeatedly and expecting different results. If it doesn’t make sense, then think about it. Have you ever yelled at someone for not doing something correctly and after the umpteenth time of scolding them, they still don’t correct their behavior? Maybe, perhaps it’s time you correct your approach in order to produce different results.

I also recommend this to people who tend to run away from their problems, either literally or theoretically. It’s odd to see someone move to a new job, a new state, country, what have you in order to change their lives only to repeat the same behavior patterns. Like the saying goes, wherever you go, there you are. And I have been guilty of this, so please don’t take this as condemnation or judgement of any kind; I am not exempt. It has been through trials and tribulations that I have learned to change my behavior and attitudes towards all kinds of issues. From child rearing, to marriage, to employment, to saving money. And I am still working on all of those because just like a plant, life is constantly growing, changing, evolving, so I have to constantly grow, change, and evolve my behavior and attitude.

Sounds like a lot of work doesn’t it? But life is work, because you get out of it what you put into it. However, if you do it right, it becomes a labor of love and can move you in more ways than you imagined.

Saving up for depression

The title sounds weird, right? Incoherent and non-sensical. How can you “save up” for depression? What does that even mean? Well, I like to think I coined this term and it means that whenever I feel happy, experience a positive event, feel energized, I try to engrave these moments into my memory so that when I feel depressed, I can revisit them and somehow see the light at the end of the tunnel. Therefore, I “save up” good memories to counteract the awful moments that I sometimes find myself in. It’s not easy, and it didn’t come to me through a psychiatrist or self-help book, although those help as well, but rather through a self-realization that thinking about happy thoughts helps me get through the tough times, usually.

The last time I had depressive feelings was over a month ago and through the entire period I concentrated on my daughter’s birthday that had just passed, and her elation at the event. It helped me get through the depression. I also thought about eating watermelon with my family on a certain hot summer evening and how Isa, the youngest, got watermelon all over her hair, ears, and of course, face. It was enough to bring a smile to my face and motivate me to shower and be ready for my kids.

I am sure that we all have good memories we can look back on, either recent or in the past, that can get us through those tough moments when we feel nothing but despair. It helps to remember that there is a light at the end of the tunnel after all.

On Being Mexican and Having a Mental Illness

I have been wanting to write on this topic for what seems like ages, but have not had the courage or will. Now, I have both. I come from parents who emigrated to the US when they were both very young, fleeing the poverty they grew up in. For that, I am a million times over thankful and appreciative. Why? Well, not just because of the economical advantages I have benefited from and the public university system I attended here in California, but for the public health system. Yes, there are many complaints about the current mental health system in the US, and across its various states, but all in all, I am so grateful.

I imagine that if I had had a manic episode like the one I had in 2006 in Mexico instead of in the US, I would either be in a penal facility or worse, dead. Why? Because in the town where my parents are from, presumably where I would have been raised, there are no psychiatric wards, only hospitals, jails, a military post, and lots of armed police. And as a I tend to be aggressive and violent when confronted while in a manic state, I can assure I would more than likely be dead. I can almost guarantee this because my actions would probably be construed as those of a drug addict, rather than a mentally “insane” person.

In addition, this lack of mental health care in Mexico further facilitates the stigma around mental illness in this country, and the mystery that shrouds MI. It is so profound and extreme, this mystery, that my own parents, after my Bipolar I diagnosis in 2006, insisted that I was under a witch’s curse. They did not stop to ask themselves if MI ran in their families, or if perhaps I was really suffering from a chemical imbalance as the psychiatrist explained. Oh no. It was witchcraft for sure. They even sent a picture of mine to a known witch doctor in Mexico so he could “diagnose” me. The result: a friend of mine who frequented cemeteries had put a curse on me. They questioned me various times to see which friend of mine visited cemeteries, and my answer was always the same, “None of them, leave me alone.”

Yes, the state of mental health in the US is not the greatest, but it far surpasses that of Mexico, particularly the small towns where education and awareness are not present. I am sorry to say this, and I am sure that in the larger cities, it is a different situation, but it has been my experience that it is not so in small towns; and Mexico is comprised of mostly small towns.

The reason why I wish this were not so is because I lost an uncle to suicide, and he presumably, also had Bipolar I. He was living in Mexico at the time, was never formally diagnosed, but his behavior and actions have led me to believe he was in a Manic episode followed by a Depressive state when he committed suicide. He was under the care of a regular physician who did prescribe him medication, but the rampant stigma of being labeled as “crazy” as a Mexican adult man caused him to not take any of the anti-psychotics or anti-depressants that I believe could have saved his life, or at the very least, prolonged it.

Therefore, with confidence and sorrow, I can say that it is a sad state of affairs in Mexico with regards to mental health. People would rather not be healthy and take medication, than be labeled as “crazy” by friends, family, neighbors, even the very doctors who treat them. I wish I could say otherwise, but for the time being, I am so very grateful for the decision my parents took at age 17 to emigrate to the US and have me in this country where I am able to receive adequate mental health care and medication. Yes, there is stigma here, but I am healthy and am able to function with some degree of “normalcy” as long as I take my meds.

Depression doesn’t just hurt, it kills

Who on this earth has not felt the pangs of despair, sorrow and pain associated with a loss of some sort? It is usually temporary and associated with the stages of grief. Don’t let this fool you, this is not Depression, and you are not Depressed.

Depression often comes without an event or trigger. It is a state of low mood that has caused one too many deaths by way of suicide. As I have often heard people say, “It is all in your head, snap out of it”, yes, it is true, it is all in my head, it is the neurotransmitters in my brain that are causing this. Care to learn more? The answer is usually no.

And, even though I take my meds on a daily basis, at the same time, Depression can strike at any moment, much to my dismay and that of my family. My only relief and savior from Depression has been my writing. I find that when I write while in a state of Depression, it helps to heal my mood. Lately, I have also tried exercise, after taking the advice of a friend. It is an arduous task to get myself up out of the funk that I am in and into the doors of the local gym. But somehow, I manage, and in reality I feel all the better for it. Exercise really truly does improve mood, at least for me.

This post is not meant as a guideline for things to do when feeling Depressed; they are more like suggestions for when you find yourself in this low mood. Please remember that there are a million alternatives to ending your life even when in the depths of despair, try one, try all of them, please.

Sent from God to the psychiatric ward

I have heard this term referred to as Grandiosity, Delusions of Grandeur, and so many other variations, but they all mean and refer to the same thing: an elevated sense of self-esteem, sometimes leading the person to believe they are famous, omnipotent, wealthy, or otherwise very powerful (Wikipedia.org). I have often wondered why this happens, especially since it occurs more often in people with Bipolar Disorder than any other mental diagnosis. And, I have experienced thoughts of grandeur myself, to the point that during each of my two manic episodes, I have believed that I was sent from God to save humanity.

I have done some research on the causes of Grandiosity, as well as asked all of my psychiatrists, but no one has a definitive answer as to why this happens. This may sound odd, but I have even gone so far as to speculate if people back in the Biblical times who claimed to be sent from God suffered from Grandiosity. And if so, they were heralded as saints, not sent to a psychiatric ward and pumped with various meds. To make my point more clear, who’s to say I am not actually sent from God? Who’s to say my thoughts of grandeur during manic episodes aren’t a manifestation of God’s power? And what would have happened if I had lived in Biblical times? Would I be heralded as a savior?

Somehow, I doubt all of this, even as I write it. Why? Because I remember that in my manic episodes I tend to be a violent person when confronted by someone or asked to stop my delusional actions (e.g. trying to heal the sick). And from studies and research, I know that Jesus was a calm and patient person, never quick to aggression like I am during my manic episodes. So, alas, I am not sent from God, I am not here to save humanity, but I am here to get the word out on mental health and staying sane.

There’s a saying in Spanish that goes, “de poetas y locos, todos tenemos un poco.” Translated, it means “of poets and insanity, we all have a little.” And I do believe this is true, but I don’t believe I am sent from God. And if I get an inkling feeling that I am, I know it is time to up my meds and take a nap.

What I know and what I don’t

I have never attempted suicide myself, but an uncle of mine did once, and well, paid the ultimate price, his life. He was unofficially diagnosed by my mother and her sisters as Bipolar, whether or not that was true, we will never know. What I do know for sure is that he was pushed to a point where he no longer found meaning in his life. I also know that I have felt such despair that I wish someone would take my babies and just let me sleep. I have felt so depressed and in the midst of nothingness that all I wanted to do was lay in my bed and do and be nothing. Just nothing. This would usually come after a late night, a restless, sleepless night. Or, when I “forgot” to take my medication because I know better than the psychiatrist. Wrong!! So wrong!!

I now know that I don’t know more than any psychiatrist no matter how flawed I may think they are or how much higher my IQ may be, I am at the mercy of their education and experience. I put it so dramatically because that is how I sometimes feel. I feel as though I am helpless sometimes and not only at the mercy of the psychiatrists, but at the mercy of my mind. Why? Because it leads me to think things, things I should not be thinking. Like, “don’t take your meds, you’re fine”, “your mood swings are totally typical”, and my favorite, “you are not Bipolar, everyone else is.”

I also know that everyone’s life has meaning, no matter what you or others may think. And sometimes it’s hard to see through all the mugginess and fog, but believe me, your life has meaning. Whatever it may be, make it your mission to find it. Make that your daily goal! I dare you.