“I’m Not A Mess” (Except When I’m A Mess)

 

 

“I’m Not A Mess” by Dyane

Trigger Warning:

A touch of profanity and silly, embarrassing neck movements 

 

Last Friday I was inspired by the writing of Dr. Walker Karraa, founder of Stigmama.com and author of the bestselling book Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth.  

Dr. Karraa wrote about how the media only portrays women with postpartum mood disorders (PPMD’s) as sad. The reality is that I, along with most women with PPMD’s, use the full range of our emotions.  Many of us don’t walk around 24/7 with gloom and doom expressions.  I came up with my ditty “I’m Not a Mess”, and I felt pretty spunky when I recorded my tune.  Little did I know that I’d become a major mess over the weekend.

Valentine’s Day was beautiful and sunny, but I woke up out of sorts.  The previous night I read a Freshly Pressed post that deeply affected me: Asher’s “Bipolar as Unexpected Gift” on My Beautiful Machine.   In a nutshell, I allowed Asher’s post title to trigger me.  I wrote a complaint to WordPress letting them know why I wasn’t thrilled with their selection.

Next, I wrote my own blog post about Asher’s post.  I broke my stringent rule of not waiting a minimum of twenty-four hours to review and publish any post.  Instead, as soon as I finished typing “Do YOU think bipolar is a gift?”, I pressed the blue “Publish” button.  Shazam! I had no idea what I was about to stir up.  

I received more comments about “Do YOU think bipolar is a gift?” than any of the other 257 posts I’ve written. (Speaking of comments, I apologize for not having responded to comments yet. I will! My apologies!)

If I could re-do Valentine’s weekend, I would have put my energy into doing something else than writing about Asher’s post.  It’s so easy to look back at such events and think, “Hmmmm – that wasn’t good for me, as much as I wanted to hop on my soapbox and pontificate!”   I should have given stinky Lucy a lavender and mint-scented bath instead, or hang out with the girls, or God forbid, work on my book. But nooooooooooo!

Ironically, Asher and I wound up getting in touch with one another after I published my post. He took the high road instead of becoming defensive. I thought he had every right to be huffy, so I was pleasantly surprised by his positive attitude. We both agreed on how much we love the blogosphere, and it was nice to interact with a blogger who could take my criticism with a grain of salt and a cup of compassion.  Asher was willing to re-examine different perceptions of bipolar as gift, as evil incarnate, or somewhere in between…  (You all know how I feel about that! 😉  I was grateful to him.

Moving on….

Then, Saturday evening I became The Devil.  

Valentine’s Day is always weird for me.  For years I’ve pretended that I’m low-maintenance and claimed that I don’t need a mushy card, flowers, high-end chocolate, a nice dinner, and so on. But that has been a blatant lie, and like a volcano, I’ve kept my bubbling, lava-like anger inside of me until I finally burst. 

I didn’t communicate with my husband about my expectations – my first big mistake.  When Valentine’s Day came round, my husband gave me a card, but that was it.  When Craig and I turned in for the night, I made a caustic remark that irritated him more than I thought it would.  He became an ice cube and fell asleep instantly.

Meanwhile, yours truly fumed. I even started crying – it was unusual for me to cry over a rebuff like that, but I felt so hurt and disappointed.  I wanted our evening to be special, or at least have some affection, but there was no hug or kiss goodnight.  Nada.

I couldn’t sleep.

That became a BIG problem.

I took an extra 25 mg of my Seroquel.  I read a book. Still, no sleep in sight.

I fumed some more.  Then I did something extremely rare.  I woke up Craig from his enviable deep sleep.  I told him that I couldn’t sleep.  He didn’t hear my snorts and sniffles; instead he rolled over and he went back to sleep within seconds.

I woke him up again.  The same pattern took place.

I barely slept the rest of the night, and my history has shown that’s disastrous.  Even one night’s lack of sleep messes me up big-time!  The following day I was a zombie and despite another beautiful, sunny day, I stayed in bed. I was exhausted, I was still bottled up with anger  and what was worse was that I felt depressed.  That scared the sh*t out of me, as I hadn’t felt that down in a long time.

I tried taking a nap, but it wasn’t happening.  The only thing that brought me comfort aside from Lucy licking away my tears was watching the sixth season of “Nurse Jackie”.

In the afternoon Craig inadvertently made some noise as I tried in vain to nap. I got out of the bed and met him in the hallway, unable to look him in the eye.

Our girls were at a playdate, and so I let loose like Mt. Vesuvius.  I slammed the door several times, screaming all the while like a banshee about every wrong he ever did me for the past seventeen years of our relationship, and I screeched other things that should only be thought about, but never said out loud in anger.  

I told him that he should have woken up when he heard  me say that I couldn’t sleep, and he should have helped me somehow.  

Ever since my bipolar one kicked in (which, aside from a genetic predisposition to bipolar, was mainly caused by no sleep due to labor), without proper sleep, I become the biggest mess of all time.

My tantrum was so awful that afterwards my throat was bloody.  That evening I took extra Seroquel PRN per my psychiatrist. (Coincidentally PRN stands for the Latin phrase pro re nata, which means “as the situation demands.”) I’m allowed to use Seroquel PRN when faced with acute insomnia.  Thank God I slept through the night.

Craig and I made peace the next morning, and I explained to him that in the future,  if I ever wake him up and indicate I can’t sleep, it’s imperative that I need his assistance.  I should have taken extra Seroquel at the first sign that my insomnia was much worse than usual, but rage and sorrow clouded my judgement.  If Craig had urged me to take the medicine, I could have nipped the cycle in the bud.

This is no rocket science-like realization, but it took our having that kind of argument to realize that as someone with bipolar one, we can’t screw up even one night of my sleep if we can help it.  And yes, it needs to be a “we”.  

The best valentine I could ask for from my husband, bar none, is mental health support. When it’s obvious that I’m emotionally disturbed at bedtime (a precarious time because if I’m upset, I don’t sleep…) I need him to pay close attention, even if he’s tired and/or mad at me.  I need him to check in with me, and suggest I take extra medication if I haven’t done so already.

We learned a sober lesson from this Valentine’s Day.  Next year I’ll remember to ask for what I want instead of repress my feelings. I don’t expect a diamond ring or roses, but I do expect communication, kindness and proactiveness from my partner.

 

Literally right after I finished writing this post, I spotted an International Bipolar Foundation Facebook announcement of a new app called “Aware” creating awareness for people living with bipolar disorder.  Check out what it does below…

http://www.meganharley.com/#!aware/c1u5g

 

Aware is a wristband worn at night. It is unique in the sense that it is specifically aimed at people living with bipolar disorder, providing a way to measure, monitor and manage their sleep to ultimately become aware before a possible relapse as sleep acts as a prominent bio-marker in people with bipolar disorder.

 ‘Aware’ is about exactly what the title suggests, creating awareness for people living with bipolar disorder with sleep being a prominent bio-marker in terms of managing the disorder ” After many intense interviews and observations it was apparent that sleep has a major effect on bipolar disorder relapses and eventual hospitalization.

 This then led to the influential design ‘Aware’ which is a wristband worn at night, enabling a method to measure,monitor and manage their sleep to become aware of a possible relapse and aim to prevent it from happening.

 

 

 

 

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I’ve Come a Long Way from Hell

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I’m writing this blog post as a treat to myself.  My friend Doreen Bench, blogger extraordinaire of “Always Recovery”, wrote that blogging helps lower her tension level and that’s what I hope happens today.  Last night my daughter suffered terrible ear pain that came on quickly.  I realized that it must have had something to do with her trip to the pool earlier in the day.

A look at WebMd under “treating ear pain in children” suggested that she had swimmer’s ear. She kept screaming as waves of pain hit her, and I gave her acetaminophen and a warm compress, but nothing seemed to help her feel better.  I knew that if she could fall asleep, we could probably wait until Urgent Care opened in the morning.  She finally dozed off, but I knew she would most likely wake up again during the night, and she did wake up briefly twice, but thank God she was able to return to sleep each time.  As the daughter of a speech therapist trained in ear anatomy/function, I knew that if she was able to sleep for long stretches, we could avoid the ER.

Words fail me when I try to describe what was like to see my child hurting like that.  I had an ear infection when I was little and over forty years later, I can recall how, apart from the pain of childbirth, nothing else ever hurt that bad.  As I comforted my girl, I wanted to tear my hair out. I felt helpless; moreover, I was utterly frustrated, furious, and frightened.  The three F’s from Hell!

So first thing this morning we headed to Urgent Care so we could get in line before the doors opened at 9:00 a.m. We left our beloved new puppy Lucy alone for the first time since we brought her home.  Lucy has become my third child (I freely admit it – dog lovers will understand this!) and it was tough for me to leave her.  I put on classical music to soothe her, and made sure that she had food, water and toys.  At that moment I wished I had gone through the extensive requirements to certify her as a psychiatric dog so I could bring her to Urgent Care!  I had seen dogs in their office before.  My last visit to Urgent Care (which was only a couple weeks ago – I swear to God the place feels like a second home!) I observed a fellow patient with his big,’ol Lab dog waiting to be seen.  But, as I often do in this blog, I digress.

Avonlea did, indeed, have swimmer’s ear and it’s good I brought her in because it was in the early stages.  I couldn’t imagine what her pain level would be like if I had waited much longer. She was prescribed ear drops with a steroid and anti-bacterial agent, and in the future when she goes to the pool there are other ear drops and ear plugs she can use to prevent this from happening again.

I’ve been to this medical office often in the past eight weeks.  Aside from today’s visit there were two Urgent Care trips for yours truly, two separate “Well Child” visits for my daughters, and one “New Patient” exam for me with a general physician so that I could get the required referral for my mammogram.

While we got ready to leave for Urgent Care this morning, I dressed up a little nicer than I usually do.  My usual outfit consists of sweats, jeans or a casual skirt, a tank top and my $7.00 black flip flops I bought in Hawaii! I barely style my hair and my makeup routine is simply eyeliner and Burt’s Bees $4.99 lipgloss.  However, lately I’ve been hooked on watching “What Not to Wear” re-runs with Avonlea and Marill.  To my great surprise they enjoy the show as much as I do. Today the “What Not To Wear” stars’ fashion rules inspired me to look a little more pulled together so I could present well to the doctor.

The reason I bring appearances up is that I looked, more or less, like a “normal” mom.  I wore a dress for a change.  It was a hand-me-down, like literally all my clothes in my closet, but it was  understated and I liked its charcoal gray hue.  I put my hair up in a ponytail, smoothed on some makeup and I wore a beautiful freshwater pearl necklace.  Avonlea likes it when I dress nicely, and even though she was in pain and scared, she liked the fact that I made the effort.

Looking put together also helps me in terms of my constant struggle with social anxiety.  I’ve always been shy in most circumstances, and I grew up with anxiety that worsened over time, especially after the bipolar diagnosis. I have social and generalized anxiety, and I’ve done all sorts of things, both traditional and holistic, to try reduce my angst.  It’s very common for people with bipolar to also suffer with anxiety disorders, which makes total sense to me!

Anyway, I was very anxious about my daughter’s ear, and that intensified my regular high level of anxiety, so I was an anxious mess this morning. Still, I powered through it!  I validated myself for being a good parent and for taking care of my child.  I didn’t reach for my anti-anxiety pills, Baclofen, which I’ve been off for almost three weeks.  I just took deep breaths and reminded myself how well I was doing in spite of my anxiety.

Then, on the way out of Urgent Care, as I de-hunched my shoulders with relief at knowing Avonlea’s case was not severe, I was triggered.

I spotted the doctor who technically was the first person to diagnose me with bipolar disorder.

At first seeing him didn’t make any sense to me. Dr. S., my children’s former pediatrician who worked in the same building as the Urgent Care clinic, was sitting down in the waiting room chair.  He looked like a regular patient instead of being on the job that day. Dr. S. held a baby in his arms and was cooing at her (or him), and he was seated next to a pretty blonde woman who I believe was his wife.  (Later on I realized he and his wife may have been there to see another doctor for their newborn, but I’m not sure.)

Eight years ago I took my second baby to see Dr. S. for her six-week-check-up and I brought him a bunch of gifts.  I was taking superfast and I was elated.   He took one look at me and exclaimed loudly, “You’re manic!” as if he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. I immediately burst into tears, which I did not do in public.  I felt on a gut level that I had “been caught” at having bipolar.  I calmed down enough to convince him I would seek immediate psychiatric help. I admitted myself to the hospital after that incident to be officially diagnosed with postpartum bipolar disorder one.

I had initially chosen Dr. S. as my daughters’ pediatrician because he was brilliant, funny, and great with kids.  Dr. S. was also very cute!  I was intimidated by his high intellect and good looks, but I didn’t dwell on those qualities too much because he was such an outstanding doctor.  Of equal importance was that he developed a good rapport with my older daughter in particular.

Seeing Dr. S. today, albeit briefly (we didn’t even have eye contact!) brought back vivid memories of my falling apart in front of him, of being at the very beginning of the disease that would almost destroy me numerous times, and other ineffable feelings. As I walked Avonlea outside to our car, I allowed myself to wallow in my “trigger zone” for a few minutes.  Then I forced myself to let those negative associations go.

I thought to myself, “You are NOT the person you used to be.  You are stronger and you are doing so much better.” It’s true.  I’ve come a long, long way!  It’s a cause for constant celebration, really.

As I write this, my sweet girl is so worn out from the pain and fear of going to Urgent Care that she fell asleep on the couch.  A daytime nap for this energetic nine-year-old has been absolutely unheard of for so long, and as I gaze at her napping, I feel such love for this person. She has beautiful hands that look like they belong to a pianist, complete with polished nails (in pink, of course!) from a manicure I gave her before she went to the pool. Those hands are so very different from the chubby little nubs she had eight years ago.

Watching her in repose, free of pain, is magnificent.  Absorbed, I forget about my own troubles for a few minutes.  Now I see her arms move and stretch as she wakes up once more. I know I’ll see both of my children in pain again.  And I plan on being the strong one, the healthy one, for each of them to lean upon for support as much as humanly possible.  I’ve spent enough time ill with bipolar disorder, shut away in hospitals seven times in eight years

.  It’s time to be available on a moment’s notice to help my kids face any pain they’ll encounter under my watch as well as when they strike out on their own.   It will take a Mack truck to stop me from being there for them.

Not Crazy, Just Mad

bIt’s a Sunday mid-morning on Mother’s Day, and I’m in our front yard sitting in a patch of sun.  The inside of our home is much colder than the outside temperature, and I just want to warm up a little bit.   Our three chickens Hazel, Malena and Emily cluck soothingly beside me in their coop.  My husband Craig is in the living room supervising our girls playing with Lucy the feisty puppy.

We just had an argument.

I blame Mother’s Day for it.

Over the past few days, I prepped Craig about Mother’s Day, saying I would like to “do my own thing”, within reason.  I didn’t require gifts, flowers or  fancy dinner.  I thought that he’d consider himself lucky to have such a low-maintenance wife!  Then I clarified my request and said I wanted to have a lot of writing time.  I didn’t think I was being unreasonable, and he didn’t say that was unacceptable.

But just now, after I had been glued to my laptop for a few hours, my husband just told me that I had a “dysfunctional” relationship with our computer.  That was a low blow.  I’ve freely admitted I’m online too much as a rule, both to him and to pretty much everyone on the planet, but to throw a nasty label like that at me really hurt.  Plus, it’s Mother’s Day.  Shouldn’t I be treated like the Queen that I am?

Now I sit in a puddle of sunlight feeling like I’m in an icy bath.

How dare you say that to me on holy Mother’s Day!!!  I wanted to scream at him.  It would have felt soooo good to yell.  But I won’t do it because I stopped my rage-fests a long time ago.  Making a complete spectacle of myself is the last thing I want to do in front of my girls, our puppy, and our new neighbors who moved in yesterday next door.

So I’m taking a deep breath.  I’m taking another one.  I’m going to keep away from my innocent computer for a while.  Our relationship is not dysfunctional.  I have a life outside of being online, albeit more narrow than I’d like it to be.

My MacBookPro and I are just friends!  We have a healthy relationship consisting of mutual admiration and respect.  I’m reminded of a great 1984 sci-fi, romantic drama called “Electric Dreams” that depicts a love triangle between a man, a woman, and a home computer.  It really was a charming film, and I loved it so much that I bought the Giorgio Moroder-composed soundtrack.  

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I digress.  I need to shake off my anger and do it as swiftly as I can.  I hate feeling this way.  I know what I’ll do!!!

It’s puppy therapy time!

Photo on 2014-05-11 at 14.47

I shall take a few private minutes with my furball, tell her of my woes, and hold her gently in my arms.  I will let her lick my face even though her breath is pretty iffy – I’ve seen what else she licks and it ain’t pretty, or hygienic for that matter.  I don’t care.  I’m upset and I need comfort.  It’s refreshing to realize I can give myself a time-out with my canine.  Wow.  This is so cool!

As I embrace this coping strategy I can already feel a shift in my rage.  I’m still quite upset by what happened, but I’ll discuss my hurt feelings with Craig after I’ve had my Lucy time.  It might not be such a bad idea to suggest to Craig to have a few minutes alone with Lucy before we work things out.

Suggesting to hang out with one’s pet to overcome a nasty spat may sound simplistic.  I don’t think it is.  The feedback I’ve gotten from my pet-owning friends is that their “fur children” have helped them with emotions such as anger, sadness and loneliness immeasurably.  I remember the comfort I felt as a little girl laying by my Irish Setter’s warm side, hearing her gentle
breathing and watching her chest rise and fall.  It has been a long time since I’ve had my own dog comfort me, and the gift of Lucy’s unconditional love is a Mother’s Day gift of the highest degree.

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Where’s My Cape? I’m a “2014 Mental Health Hero” in Chato B. Stewart’s Cartoon-A-Thon

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Yesterday on the first day of Mental Health Month, I was triggered.  In reading the local news headlines I discovered that someone I knew who I’ll call Elana had been reported missing.  She was found alive through an aerial search, but she had attempted to take her own life.  

I told my husband about this tragic news last night.  Craig was a friend of this woman’s long before I met him, but they lost touch over the years.  Yesterday he found out exactly where she was being hospitalized and he spoke with an administrator working on her case.  I encouraged him to get her a card and he sent it to her this morning.  I know that a card sounds like a little thing, but it’s not.  Especially when the illness is a mental illness connected with a suicide attempt.  I know with all my heart that as she recovers, she will appreciate his gesture very much.

Today I kept thinking about Elana’s situation, although I moved on with my obligations.  I dealt with various mundane duties: making beds, bill paying, laundry, putting away dishes, working out, driving the girls back and forth from ballet and playdates etc. that I was supposed to accomplish. Was a little Facebooking & Twittering thrown into the mix?  You know it was!  (And yeah, it was more than a little.  I’m working on it!)

My day brightened up considerably when I got an email from the mental health advocate/cartoonist Chato B. Stewart.   Who is Chato B. Stewart?

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Chato is a man of many talents.  I’ve known Chato as the Psych Central Network and BP (Bipolar) Magazine Cartoonist/Blogger .  He’s the artist behind the “Mental Health Cartoons” drawn from his personal experience of living with bipolar disorder.  Chato creates positive, provocative and sometimes even funny cartoons!  (He is sensitive to the subject matter, that’s for sure.)

Chato believes there is power behind humor, and his motto is “humor gives help, hope and healing”. His mission is use humor as a positive tool to cope with the serious effects of mental illness. He has won the Wego Health Hilarious Activist Award and  a prestigious Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) award, and he’s a father of four and a devoted husband to his wife Joan.  (Plus, he has a full-time day job, no biggie!) 

Chato emailed me to let me know that he selected me to be one of his 2014 Mental Health Heros!  Chato’s recognition of my mental health advocacy efforts, which I’ve done on and off over the past five years, completely lifted up my spirits.  He’ll be publishing my story on his Mental Health hero website this month, and get this – he’ll be drawing a cartoon of me (yep!) for what he calls his Cartoon-A-Thon.  

When Chato started the Cartoon-A-Thon in 2008, he wanted to “actively contribute in a small way to Mental Health Month, which was established by Mental Health Americana in 1946.” Since then Chato has drawn many heroes who can be nominated by anyone, or personally selected by Chato. 

Why a Cartoon-A-Thon?  

Chato explains his philosophy on the Mental Health Hero website:

“The purpose of the Cartoon-A-Thon is to use humor and laughter as positive tools in dealing with emotional disturbances which affect many people and families due to mental illness.”  

Chato brainstormed an idea of drawing cartoons about mental health disorders each day in May for Mental Health Month.  In 2008, he drew 18 cartoons. The following year he drew 31 cartoons .  In 2010, he introduced his Mental Health Heroes and he featured 31 heroes in the mental health community.  

In 2011 and 2012 he kept up with the hero theme to give his peers a platform to tell their story.  Many readers were excited in 2012 when Chato’s three daughters started drawing their versions of the heroes.  Once again, they’ll pull out their crayons and draw alongside him in 2014.  The fact that Chato’s little girls will be drawing pictures of me will be funny, and my two girls will get a HUGE kick out of their efforts as well.

Here’s an example of 2013 Mental Health Hero Margarita Tartakovsky’s cartoon!   460-Margarita-Tartakovsky-Mental-Health-Hero-for-Mental-Health-Month-2013-cartoon-by-Chato-Stewart-150x150

So my day contained happiness and sadness, just like every day does, but on this symbolic beginning of Mental Health Month, I felt those two emotions to a more amplified degree.  All the more reason for me to make time to exercise, even though it was a heatwave and I felt like blowing it off.  And all the more reason to calmly reassure my husband that when I said to him that I felt “triggered” by Elana’s situation, it didn’t mean I was going to fall apart.  

I emphasized to Craig that triggers are not always rational; they are not always easily tamped down and controlled.  He told me how much he appreciated my explanation, and that it helped him to hear my perspective.  Then he wrapped his arms around me and he said how glad he was that I was doing well.  That was pretty cool to hear, and his words meant more to me than any award I could ever receive.  

To view the 2013 winners, see their cartoons and read their stories, visit: http://mentalhealthhero.com/

To learn more about the illustrious Chato B. Stewart, visit his website: http://www.chatobstewart.com/

 

                                                    Please donate to my walk benefitting Postpartum Progress! 

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For more information about the June 21st walk for Climb Out of the Darkness and to donate please visit:

http://www.postpartumprogress.com/join-climb-out-of-the-darkness-2014#comment-18563

 

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