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!

On Refusing to Take Medication

I avoided medications of all varieties for much of my adult life. When I was 36, I had had too much of my depression and opted to start taking Prozac under the care of a psychiatrist at Redwood City Kaiser. I stayed on anti-depressants alone until I was 47 when I finally acknowledged my bipolar disorder after a suicide attempt and added mood stabilizers to the list of drugs that I was taking. Why did I go so long before I sought relief? Mostly because of a prejudice that had been drummed into my head by my mother, a registered nurse, who believed that medications should be avoided at all costs and that my depression and manic swings were character flaws. When I stopped listening to her, the quality of my life improved and I was able to be the person who I always knew that I was.

Many people feel that people who refuse to take medications should be forced to take them. They cite incidents such as a New York City man who went off his meds and started hitting people with a hammer or a schizophrenic woman who killed her baby in a fast food restaurant’s bathroom. The recitation of such litanies by certain advocates who favor forced medication is stigmatizing because the vast majority of people who go unmedicated don’t commit such crimes. Their struggles are worse than those of us who don’t take them, but it is important to understand their reasons for refusing.

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The Disease Didn’t Do It — You Did

Many people in bipolar support groups counsel the newly diagnosed not to feel shame for things they did while they were in episode: it was the disease that did it, not them is the reasoning. This cleaving of the self, I think, does not help us get a handle on the illness and its effects on others in our life. In fact, it strikes me as downright irresponsible: you never have to make amends for anything you did.

Denial of the damage we cause is linked to this exculpation due to mania. Some say that making amends has nothing to do with apologizing. Warped logic causes it to mean nothing more than admitting to yourself what you did without making restitution or apology to those we harmed while addicted or in the throes of mental illness. I find this cheap recovery and I am suspicious of anyone who flaunts it.

Too often, I have seen people who insist that their sickness absolves them relapse repeatedly. Perhaps it is due to the fact that they do not understand the seriousness of their disorder. Or maybe they desire license to act on impulses that they would reject on moral grounds if they were in their better minds.

I take a different approach: I am responsible for my actions even when I do not remember them. Because of my denial of my illness, I harmed others. Therefore I either make peace with them or avoid them so they are not disturbed or shocked by my return to their lives.

(Families might find it better for their sanity to forgive things done in episode for the sake of their sanity while expecting the patient who now knows better to take proper steps to minimize further recurrences.)

But there is a bonus: because I am accountable, I get to own the good things I did with more resolve. I get to own the steps I have taken towards resilience.

Here is the grim truth: if I do not take ownership of the bad things I did while in episode, I cannot own the good things I accomplished. To claim otherwise invokes an irresponsibility that case workers and other mental health practitioners best not encourage.

My diagnosis is a blessing, yes I said it

After living with a diagnosis of Bipolar I for 9 years, I can honestly say that it is a blessing. What?!?!?! You may be asking as you read this. Yes, it’s true, having Bipolar is a blessing. Why?!?!? I will explain.

First of all, who else can say they can vacillate between moods within minutes of each other and still manage to stay sane? Who can laugh, sing, dance, and cry all while making dinner and with her toddler dancing along with her? Who can listen to a Pitbull song, and feel so moved by the upbeat tempo and meaning that she cries as she is driving to a work meeting? Who?, you may ask. This writer is who. This woman who has been called everything from lunatic, crazed, insane, impulsive, to say the least. I don’t consider┬ámyself any of those adjectives, rather I think I am eccentric, sane, responsible, and spontaneous! Take that Webster’s Dictionary!

Yet, I cannot do this alone. I have the support of my family, my psychiatrist, my friends, and now, my social media community whom I consider colleagues.

If you are reading this and have been recently diagnosed, I feel your pain. After my initial diagnosis, I was so drugged up on 5 different medications round the clock that I was a walking zombie, without emotions whatsoever. But hang in there, I know it’s easier said than done, but it is do-able because I did it and I consider myself a #Bipolar Survivor.