Shaken on Day #1 of Mental Health Awareness Month

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I’m writing this post on May 1, the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Month.  The irony does not escape me that yesterday I wrote that I decided I’d take more breaks from bipolar & other mental health-related matters.  I spaced out about May being Mental Health Month!  The bombardment of Mental Health Month announcements that are appearing on my Facebook and Twitter feed won’t let me forget about mood disorders.  Oh well.  This could still be as good a time as any to stick to my plans to detach.

Except “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry,” as the Scottish poet Robert Burns surmised, don’t they?

The triggering began last night.  I almost missed the top headline that popped up on my local internet provider newspage. The title caught my eye: “Helicopter Crew Spots Missing Woman”  I felt compelled to open the link because I thought there was a chance I might know her.

I was right.

It was someone I knew over a decade ago .  I’ll call her Elana.  Elana was a close friend of my husband’s, and they shared some other mutual friends.  My husband was friends with her husband who I’ll call John.  Elana and John attended our wedding, and they invited us to theirs as well.  Elana was beautiful, accomplished, and driven.  I envied her ambition, her career plans, and her family.

The internet article stated that Elana’s friends said she made comments implying that she intended to hurt herself.  She was located by an aerial search on a beach in “dire need of medical attention”.  Somehow she had driven to that area in an unstable condition for over thirty minutes.  She was attended by medical personnel and taken to a unnamed hospital near that area.

This situation triggers me on certain levels, and not all of these levels are “rational”.  Writing helps me to deal with my unnerved feelings, and if you are reading this, thank you, because it helps me to know that someone out there is reading this too.

The period of time when I knew Elana took place long before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  My job back then as an office assistant was unfulfilling and stressful.  I wasn’t paid very much, plus I had no benefits.  I didn’t know what I really wanted to do with my life.  Moreover, despite the fact I was finally in a healthy, loving relationship, I was still depressed.

I felt insecure and to top things off, I was way too controlling of my husband’s friendships.  I loathe to admit it, but if I can’t be honest in a blog, what’s the point?  I was jealous regarding my husband’s friendship with Elana.  There was absolutely nothing to fear whatsoever.  He made it crystal-clear to me they were just friends, and that he was in love with me.

Before I met Craig, I was in a longterm relationship in which my boyfriend had been “just friends” with a woman and you know the rest of the story…it had a bad ending.  That contributed to my insecurity and my jealousy of my husband’s friendships with any woman.  So, yes, I discouraged Craig’s friendship with this couple.  I’m not proud of it, but that’s what happened.

Then, I became ill with bipolar disorder and Craig spent all his time taking care of me and our children.  He let his close friendships go for good.  Between Craig’s taking care of me during my seven hospitalizations, caring for our two little girls, and working, he was burned out.  He couldn’t foster his friendships.  As I had fallen apart, I couldn’t reach out to anyone on his behalf, and I had let all my friendships fall to the wayside too.

Suffice it to say I’m feeling very unnerved this morning.  As I write this, Elana is in a hospital somewhere, and I hope the unit is a lot better than where I was hospitalized.  T

I told my husband about the article.  He was upset, of course.  I encouraged him to get in touch with Elana’s family and send her a card or anything – preferably while she’s at the hospital.  This is going to sound a little weird, but I think it’s SUPER-important to send someone a card or small gift when they are in a mental hospital or soon after they are released.  I’ve written about that issue at the beginning of this blog.

Even if the patient couldn’t care less at the time, I guarantee you that down the line it will really matter to him or her that you cared about what they were going through.  When one is hospitalized for mental illness, there is still shunning by some family members and friends (yes, there is!) and the patient becomes a pariah.  This happened to me.

Very, very few people reached out to me during my hospitalizations.  Whenever I discover  that someone I’ve known is in the hospital for mental illness, it tears at me.  It just does.  It doesn’t matter that she’s not my friend.  I can relate to her experience all the same.

When I told my husband to please get in touch with Elana or her family, and to do it as soon as he could, he saw I was about to break down and cry. He knew what I was thinking.  It didn’t matter that he hadn’t spoken to her in years.

He said, “Of course I will.”

 

 

Making Sense of It

If you shed a tear when the nightmare breaks
Just remember dreams go in opposites
You’re holding on
Yes, you’re holding on to make sense of it
You realize you’re not the only one
Who’s trying to make some sense of it”

Split Enz, “Make Sense of It”, Time and Tide

Yesterday I wrote about stigma towards mental illness in regard to my relationship with my Mom.

Suffice it to say, I didn’t have as much fun writing about that painful topic as I did when I blogged about adorable Boo the Pomeranian and Gywneth Paltrow’s $300 pillows.  But the topic of parental stigma has festered in my brain for some time, and after I finished writing the stigma piece, I found that writing about it helped me feel better.

Two nights ago I had a phone conversation with my Mom.  We discussed the postpartum bipolar book that I’m writing.  At first she said I was “obsessed” about my topic.  Her choice of words really hurt me, but in retrospect I think she was oblivious that her saying “obsessed” would upset me so much.  Mom has such a deep-seated stigma towards mental illness that it can’t help but affect her perspective, and I’m at the very beginning of coming to terms with that.  It’s highly unlikely that she’ll magically change her views – she’s almost eighty-years-old, and while I hate sounding like a pessimist, I just don’t see it happening.  So the change needs to be on my end.

Stigma aside, sometimes I feel like scrapping my book project.  There are days when I feel like I’m too immersed in the bipolar world, but I can’t help feeling obsessed so interested in it!   Despite having a father with bipolar and then being diagnosed with it myself, I still haven’t completely made sense of bipolar disorder in my life.  Writing about it helps me to crystalize my feelings, and in doing so I feel empowered instead of apathetic.

I want to reach other mothers who have lived through my kind of experience.  At first I wasn’t sure if there were any other moms who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder soon after childbirth. But I’ve been coming across these brave women here and there.  Some of them have graciously agreed to be profiled in my book.  When it comes down to the nitty gritty, I’m writing the book I would have wanted to read after I was diagnosed, and I’ve been told by some mothers that there is a need for it.  That’s all the validation I need!

A chunk of my book focuses upon my decision to try living without bipolar medication.  The section chronicles my carefully researched and planned year-long tapering process off bipolar medications, and what happened to me as a result of that decision. (A hint: it was a disaster.)  If my cautionary tale helps even one mother avoid suicide, then I have no problem being “obsessed” with bipolar!  (I don’t wish to sound histrionic, but I almost lost my life to suicide as a result of being med-free and using natural supplements/modalities.)

These days, as a research tool, I check Amazon.com regularly for new releases specifically about bipolar.  There are at least one or two new books published every week.  Some of these books will be great to use as references for my book,  i.e. Perinatal Psychiatry by Carmine Pariente et al, Two Bipolar Chicks Guide to Survival by Wendy K. Williamson and Honora Rose, and  Preventing Bipolar Relapse by Dr. Ruth C. White. While other books won’t necessarily help me, they have brought a smile to my face, such as the racy cover of Deborah Kaminski’s Bipolar and Me.  I never know what new listings I’ll discover in the bipolar literary genre.

Bipolar

 Gotta love it

 

Sometimes our re-commitment to a project emerges from unforeseen sources.

I’ve been in need of a little fire underneath my kettle about completing my book.  Lo and behold, I got fired up yesterday when a new bipolar-themed book appeared on my Kindle titled Med Free Bipolar: Thrive Naturally using the Med Free Method by Aspen Morrow.  Out of curiosity, I bought Med Free Bipolar, which is free and published by the independent publisher Pottenger Press.  So far I’ve read the book’s description, the first chapter, and the Recommended Products section, in which I tried one of the suggested products, Q96, that didn’t work for me.

The Amazon description page reads,

The primary goal of Med Free Bipolar is to show that treating bipolar effectively through natural means is not only possible, but highly likely.”

I don’t know how someone in good conscience could promise such a thing, especially in writing.

In the Author’s Note at the beginning of the the book, Morrow writes, “If you are not sure if the Med Free Method bipolar edition is right for you, take the quiz…” and a link to Morrow’s blog is provided.  The quiz is detailed in an attempt to screen out people who should not try the Med Free method, yet Ms. Morrow still implies that most people with bipolar can live “med free”, which I find to be contradictory and unethical.

This is obviously a sore subject for me.  I’m not stating that all people with bipolar disorder must depend upon bipolar medication in order to live stable, healthy, fulfilling lives.  According to my research over the past two years, a small percentage of people with bipolar can live well without medication.  I’m just not one of them!

Unless I consulted a medical school graduate/bipolar disorder expert who had supervised many patients who proved they could live well without meds long-term, I would never trust following anyone’s “method”, no matter what they write is possible.

No way, no how.

Queston Dr

The blessing in disguise is by my reading a bit of Med Free Bipolar , my resolve has been strengthened to finish writing Birth of a New Brain.  Nothing will stop me from sharing my postpartum bipolar experience, as well as including other mothers’ experiences, with the world where our stories belong.

I don’t work for Big Pharma – I’ll state that for the record.  I didn’t want to have to take meds and of course I’d rather not now.  But my meds have saved me .  Anyone who reads my book who’s on the fence about living without bipolar meds will have second and third thoughts, which is one of my goals in writing the book.  I’ll also be able to sleep well at night knowing that I’m not giving people false hope and/or putting them in danger.

I know that Ms. Morrow has the best of intentions in helping others, and I’m sure she has played a part in some powerful success stories that will be discussed in her book.  But I stand by what I wrote here.  My goal is to be as authentic, ethical and inspiring in my writing as I possibly can.  If my book can help moms make more sense of how to live well with postpartum bipolar disorder, and how to do that safely, then one of my biggest dreams will come true.

Mara hair