Tag Archives: bipolar

On Hiring A New Therapist

2 Sep

8668157615_a9d970b4f6_b ΞSSΞ®®Ξ via Compfight cc

Change has always been a hard thing for me. When one season comes to an end, and another sweeps in to take its place, I usually need a good few weeks to adjust and settle in. Take this weekend, for example. I loved celebrating the end of August with our anniversary date night and the two days spent soaking up the end of summer at the pool with friends. But until we ease into our new school routine I’ll be fidgety and uncomfortable with the newness of it all.

Speaking of change, I had to break up with my therapist of five years because she stopped accepting my insurance and there was no way I’d be able to pay the regular office visit amount out of pocket. I’m sad about not seeing her again, and feel terrible about not having the chance to say goodbye at our last visit. But I guess that’s just the way life goes sometimes.

Tomorrow I’ll meet a new therapist who I’ll share details of my life with. It feels like the first day of school when everything is new and I’m excited and nervous at the same time for all the learning I know I’ll do while I’m there. I’m sure I won’t be able to cover my entire mental health history in our first visit. But in the event we do continue on after tomorrow, I have a few expectations for our sessions.

I hope she helps me figure my complicated self out.

I hope she challenges me to see things from a different perspective.

I hope she teaches me how to be more forgiving of myself.

I hope she realizes that just because for the past three years I’ve been a “high-functioning” bipolar 1 patient, doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with my symptoms on a regular basis.

I hope that we’ll hit it off and have a long-lasting patient-therapist relationship.

I know this is a tall order and I have high expectations for how this will work out. The truth is, we may not have chemistry and I may have to try several therapists before I find one who meets my needs. I’m prepared to do that if I need to. I’m prepared to work through change.

I believe I didn’t invest enough effort with my last therapist. I didn’t go to the appointments with something in mind to work on. It was more like going to monthly appointments where I sat and blabbed about myself and what I had been doing since I had last seen her. It didn’t do me much good. I didn’t grow the way I believe therapy should help a person grow.

This time I want things to be different. I’m ready to work this time.

The sun is setting on one season and will rise with the next. Bring it on. I’m ready.

#OK2Talk: Join the Mental Health Movement

24 Jul

#OK2Talk-Join-the-Mental-Health-Movement2

Experiencing a psychotic break can be an isolating and debilitating event. If I talk about it, will everyone think I’m “crazy”? Will I lose my friends? Will I lose my job? Will I ever get better?

When mania grabbed a hold of my brain at the age of twenty-six, I thought my life was over. I had been hospitalized for three days and had to be tranquilized in order to force sleep, my mind brought back to reality only through the use of antipsychotics. The details were not pretty. I practically suffocated from the weight of keeping my pain bottled up inside. It seemed like no one in my immediate circle of family and friends understood what I had just gone through. My close friends tried, but the truth was everyone was so scared to talk about it.

I wanted desperately to find someone, anyone other than my psychiatrist and therapist, who knew what I was feeling. Wasn’t there anyone out there, a peer, who was like me?

My emotions pummeled my personality to the ground with their negativity. Thoughts raced through my head and nothing I did could make them stop.

Fear of the future. Guilt over what I had put my husband and family through. Sadness for the career that I had to leave behind. Disbelief in the words the doctors kept repeating. Anger that this was happening to me. Why me? Why?

I remember visiting bookstores with my parents where we’d search the Psychology section for titles that might help us understand what was happening to me. On one trip, my dad bought three thick paperbacks with promises on the cover which gave us hope. We went home and flipped through the pages, eager to find the answers to our questions.

We did find some, but they were clinical in nature. I was searching for different answers. I wanted to read personal stories of recovery and inspiration. I wanted to know that others had walked in my same shoes, had lost touch with reality, came crashing down to the darkest place they’ve ever felt, and made it out okay.

I wanted to know I’d be okay too.

Back then, in 2007, there weren’t many people blogging openly about bipolar disorder. There were women bloggers who were starting to open up about their experiences with postpartum depression, but blogging wasn’t nearly as prevalent as it is today. Social media was in its infancy, at least for regular Internet users like myself, so the ease in sharing information wasn’t quite there yet. You had to do the digging yourself, and my efforts at finding stories of hope and inspiration from other mental health consumers weren’t successful.

Back then.

The times, how they’re changing.

Today there are more and more people opening up each day about their journey to recovery from mental illnesses. There are blogs and vlogs, online support groups, Tedx talks, Facebook groups, and community performances which are educating the public on what it’s like to live with a mental illness. I’m proud to have opened up on my blog, sharing my true identity because I can now celebrate being a part of this change.

I can feel the change as its happening. I feel it in every email I get from a friend thanking me for writing about my story because they’ve been through something similar. I feel it in every message I receive on Facebook or Twitter from someone I’ve never met who has read my words and felt inspired to share their own.

This is how a movement starts.

It starts with one person who is brave enough to share,
who inspires others to share,
which in turn inspires the world to change.

 

On Tuesday I attended the launch event on Capitol Hill of #OK2TALK, a national media campaign produced by the National Association of Broadcasters in an effort to spread mental health awareness and teach young adults that sharing our stories of hope and healing can help others who are struggling. The campaign includes PSAs in both English and Spanish featuring teens and young adults talking openly about their experiences with mental illness. At the end of the ads, there is a call to action directing you to create the conversation about mental health online via social media.

NAB President and former Senator Gordon H. Smith described the campaign as “bringing the issue of mental health into the sunshine,” and I couldn’t agree more. I applaud the NAB for its commitment to increasing the awareness and understanding of mental health and I encourage you to contribute to the conversation via the blog, www.ok2talk.org.

Help is available and treatment is effective, and by encouraging society to be supportive of those struggling we will save lives.

 
#OK2Talk-Join-the-Mental-Health-Movement

The Truth About Living Openly with Bipolar Disorder

10 Jul

LivingWithBipolarDisorderMe & my little firecracker on July 4th

I will never regret my decision to write openly about living with bipolar disorder. Never. There is something to be said for reaching a point in your life when you take an important leap. One you can tell your kids about someday. When I realized it hurt too much to keep it bottled up inside was the point when I realized that I wanted people to know I’m not perfect but I still love my life just the way it is, mental illness and all.

I love the moments right before I fall asleep. My mind replays my day’s highlights, as if to ingrain the smile or giggle or kiss in a corner of my brain, so that I won’t ever forget it. Tucked away safe so that I can unwrap it again when I need that memory.

Lying still, listening to the steady rhythm of the one I love beside me, I think about the day that awaits me when the sun rises.  I soak up all the sleep I can because chances are, I was up too late writing the night before. I no longer set an alarm; the sweet voices of my kids will wake me when the sunlight pours into their rooms.

The truth is, even though I will never regret my decision to tell the world about the chemical imbalance in my brain, I still wonder if I chose the right time in my life to open my heart.

Living openly with a mental illness means you’ll always wonder if the world is judging you. You’ll wonder if you will ever be looked over for a job you applied to or a promotion you earned because of the fact the employer knows you have bipolar disorder. You might wonder if you will ever work a regular job again now that you’ve written about the darkest and also the most manic times of your life.

These are the things I’ve been worrying about lately.

The truth about living openly with bipolar disorder is that even though I know my husband loves me with his entire heart, someday he might not because my illness might get in the way one time too many. My entire world would come crumbling down around me.

And if my world did come crashing down, if I was left to manage on my own, how would I do that? Again, the future employment picture bubbles to the surface. How would I support myself financially when my loving husband has been the main provider for the last six years? And would my symptoms suddenly break through the surface again, like a volcano that has been dormant but now is ready to explode?

These are the big, scary thoughts that sometimes make me wonder if I did the right thing.

Because the truth about living openly with bipolar disorder is that once you’re diagnosed, it’s yours to live with for the rest of your life. It’s yours to manage, to curse, to medicate, to appreciate. There is no erasing a mental health condition. Therein lies both the beauty and the beast.

The truth about living openly with bipolar disorder is that it’s shown me how far I’ve come as a person. How I’m no longer afraid of showing my true colors. I love my brain and all the creativity it has allowed me to express. Even though it may break down from time to time, I love this piece of me which has shown me what I’m capable of. And that is overcoming my fears and insecurities.

For this I say, I’m glad I’ve decided to be open about the fact that I have bipolar disorder.

No looking back. There’s only the beautiful mystery of what lies ahead.

An Open Letter to My Former Psychiatrist: On Being Right

3 Jul

8122306436_73cee6df2bMukumbura via Compfight cc

Dear Dr. H***,

You were right. Five years ago this August, I left your office with my husband, round belly bulging with my nearly full-term first child, cursing your name. It was our first appointment together and you basically told me I was going to fail. When I explained to you that I had been off meds and symptom-free from my bipolar disorder for almost a year and that I wanted to stay off medication to breastfeed my son, you nodded with a sympathetic smile on your face and simply said we needed to have a plan.

A plan for which hospital I’d go to when I became manic to the point of needing that level of care. That level of care that you were so sure I’d need.

You were right.

At that stage of my fight, Dr. H***, I was still in denial about the fact that I had been diagnosed with a mental illness. I thought maybe, just maybe, since I had nearly a full year of stability without meds, that maybe the past had been a mis-diagnosis. Maybe those eight psychiatrists I had seen over the years since my two hospitalizations for mania were all wrong. I mean, I hadn’t experienced any significant episodes of depression or mania since 2006 and most importantly, I felt solid and stable. Didn’t that count for anything?

Didn’t that make me normal again?

I was so excited to be a mom and every spare moment I had was spent preparing for this new little life who would soon enter the world. His crib was set up, clothes had been washed and put away, and diapers and wipes sat waiting on the changing table in his blue/green fish-themed nursery. One of the last things on my list was meeting with you, a psychiatrist who agreed to treat me without medication for the remainder of my pregnancy and beyond, according to my wishes.

Man, am I glad we met when we did. Because you were so right. And when the time came, four weeks after his birth, when the compounded lack of sleep and absence of meds in my bloodstream caught up to me, my husband had someone to call for help. He called you.

I made it through. It wasn’t easy, in fact, it was pretty awful being in a psych ward for a week of my new baby’s life. But I got well with your help, and with support from my husband and family.

I focused on getting stable and my full-time job as a stay-at-home-mom. I followed my treatment plan and took my meds religiously. Then it happened again. I thought I knew what was best for my next baby. I didn’t. Full-blown mania reared its ugly head, repeating the nightmare a year and a half later when I found out I was pregnant with my daughter.

You were right again.

Those days are tough for me to look back on, the times I was in the hospital and the weeks of recovery afterwards. But I wouldn’t trade them for anything because they are a part of who I am now and they tell the story of how I’ve changed. Those slices of my life do not define me, but when added into everything else that makes me the person I am today, I am grateful for those experiences.

You are the expert when it comes to psychiatry, Dr. H***. Me, I’m just the patient. But when it comes to making life decisions, decisions about my future, I asked for your opinion but of course only I could make that call. You expressed the same sadness that so many in this world share over the injustice mentally ill people have when they expose their conditions. I was looking for justification that it would be okay if I wrote openly about what I had been through, but I didn’t get that. Once more, it was as if I were hearing “destined to fail” all over again.

Good thing I didn’t listen that time.

I’m writing now, Dr. H***. Remember when I told you I wanted to write a book? Well, I still do, but first I’ve started publishing myself online, to gain experience. I have a blog, and over the past two years my readership has grown tremendously, all organically, due to my dedication to sharing my story in order to help others.

I’ve met so many amazing people through blogging and social media. It blows my mind how I can write about what I’ve gone through and in return, I get emails from people saying, “Me too!” and “Thank you so much for being so brave.” My heart is blissfully content because I know I’ve uncovered my purpose in life and my words are having an impact on people, a positive impact. And every time I put my thoughts out there for the world to read, my voice grows a little stronger.

My new role in life is mental health consumer/advocate.

For years after I was handed my diagnosis I feared the backlash of people who knew me finding out about my mental illness. Conversations were uncomfortable, I cared too much about what other people thought of me. It didn’t take me very long to realize that living in fear is not really living. Taking off my armor and choosing to expose myself and my story was one of the best decisions I ever made about my mental health.

Revealing my vulnerability has freed me to follow my dreams.

And I have you to thank. Thank you for being right. Thank you for letting me fall. Thank you for being there when I needed you. Thank you for doubting me. Because I needed my chance to prove someone wrong and you were that person for me.

Respectfully yours,

Jennifer Marshall (your patient from 2008-2011)

 Experience_BML

There is Hope

3 Jun

OvernightCollage

If someone had asked me back in the summer of 2006 whether I ever thought I’d become a mental health advocate, I probably would have responded with tears instead of words. Because crying is what I did the most of that year. It was as if I were trying to cry out my severe depression. Cry all the tears until there were no more left to cry. Smiles, laughter, and happiness hid deep inside of me, dying to emerge, but too suppressed by the pain.

Back then, I couldn’t see hope. I couldn’t see my future because I was blinded by the tears of my sadness over losing my old self to my mental illness. I had a very difficult time accepting the fact that I was sick and needed help and medicine to get me back to well again. Each and every day of that year felt like a lifetime. I flew back to my parent’s house in Florida and spent several weeks with them while they helped me get treatment. The constant anxiety over my future, feeling like things would never get better, the intense darkness inside my heart made 2006 the longest and most challenging year of my life thus far.

The Overnight walk this past weekend was a night I will remember forever. I was honored to be among such an incredible group of nearly 2,000 walkers who each had been impacted by the loss of someone they loved to suicide and/or their own personal struggles with mental illness. The mood was solemn yet so full of inspiration. I met new friends and learned their stories of loss but also heard their dedication to spreading the message of hope and encouragement to those struggling. Hugs flowed freely everywhere you looked.

We talked as we walked, about the friends we had lost, about our own struggles, and about our hopes for the future: that we can help to break down the stigma that surrounds mental illness so that people won’t be afraid of reaching out for help when they need it most. Tons of photos we took during the night, posted to social media for the world to see, tell the story of our journey. I will treasure these images because they remind me how important it is that I’m sharing my story.

I walked with my friends Cristi @MotherUnadorned, Kiran @kferrandino, Jenni @zrecsmom, and Angel @mediamatson from dusk to dawn. We passed many of the gorgeous monuments and they lit the way for us as we made our way through our nation’s capital, passing the White House before making it to the dinner stop at 1:20am. At Farragut Square, we sat and ate for twenty minutes before heading out to finish the trek. We crossed the finish line at 4:15am and entered the finishing area where over 2,000 luminaries lined the walkway, each glowing with a loved one’s image and words of love and hope. It brought us back to the reason we were all there. To pay tribute to those we had lost and to strengthen our commitment to the cause of preventing suicide.

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Without the help and support of my husband, my parents, my in-laws, my brother and sisters-in-law, and countless other family members and friends, I may not be where I am today. Because when things became so hopeless for me, when I wanted to give up my fight to get well, they kept fighting for me. They stood by me, and fought hard. I’m so grateful that they did.

They gave me hope to keep going. To keep fighting. To keep trying to fly again.

I’m proud to say that today I am flying. And the only reason I’m looking back is to help others. To show them there is hope. That they can get well with help and hard work.

This luminary caught my eye on the steps of the stage waiting for the closing ceremony. It sums up perfectly what the Overnight is all about:

Hope&Help

Don’t ever give up hope. Help is available if you need it. If you are in crisis, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

PS. Thank you to all those who supported me on this walk. Collectively, the walk raised $2.6 million dollars – which is SO AWESOME! Donations are still being accepted though, for all the important work they do at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. If you’d like to donate, my walker page is available here.

On Staying Up All Night

30 May

LifeIsTooShort

Over the course of the past three months, I’ve made the transformation from Mental Health Consumer to Mental Health Consumer/Advocate, and from anonymous blogger to someone who finally realized she was entitled to call herself a writer. A writer who was no longer afraid to write her truth.

And I’m only just getting started.

Here’s a quick re-cap of the intertwining events of the past few months which led up to what is taking place this weekend.

Back in March, I attended the Wild Mountain Memoir Retreat as a newly self-proclaimed writer. It was on the Friday the retreat began when I read the email that I had received my first offer to join a major parenting website as a contributing blogger. A paid contributing blogger. They were going to pay me to write for them.

I was at the top of the highest high possible without actually being manic. It was blissfully refreshing.

This was my first post: My Love/Hate Relationship with Sleep. It was featured on the AOL Homepage on April 11th, and although it wasn’t the post I had hoped would be my “coming out” piece to the world, I was still very appreciative for the exposure and was in complete awe of the avalanche of love and support that followed from my family, friends, and readers I had never met before.

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The following day I posted what I would have chosen as my reveal post, had I been given the choice. My Time to Stand Up to Stigma was my big announcement to whoever was willing to listen. I stood at the top of the platform that is my blog and said {well, wrote, actually}: “I have bipolar disorder, and I’m no longer ashamed about it. I’m ready to finally show my true colors and talk about that piece of my life because I believe it’s important for me to do so.”

After having met an incredible person and fellow writer, Natalie, who happened to be my roommate at Wild Mountain, I had purpose to make my next leap. Natalie had overcome a suicide attempt last year, and her story inspired me to sign up to walk the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Overnight Walk {this weekend!} in Washington, DC. I had heard the commercials on the radio prior to meeting Nat, but it was only after listening to her tell me the harrowing narrative of what she went through that I actually logged onto AFSP’s site to register to walk.

I’ve raised $2,025 for the walk thus far, and will be meeting up with several blogging friends (and meeting new ones!) over the weekend who have also made the same commitment to the cause. We believe in the importance of speaking out, of telling our stories, of starting the conversations about mental illness so that we can help others. I am so proud to be a part of this amazing event. {Follow me on Twitter (@BipolarMomLife) as I live-Tweet during the event.}

I’m a part of a movement that is changing the world. One word at a time. One day (& night) at a time. One reader at a time. If I were never diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I might not be writing right now. I consider my mental illness a blessing in disguise because at first diagnosis I became a prisoner of my condition. But over the years I’ve learned that condition doesn’t have to take over my life. In fact, it enriches my life.

Over the past few months, I’ve chosen to stop wasting time being scared of being vulnerable because life is too damn short. I’ve realized that it’s my life to live and I control the end of my story. Staying up all night – for ONE night* – this Saturday into Sunday is only the beginning.

*I have put several precautions in place for this weekend, including asking my parents to be here so that the kids will be taken care of while I nap before and catch up on sleep after the walk. Staying healthy for myself and my family is my number one priority. 

My latest post for WhatToExpect.com’s Word of Mom blog is live! Please stop by & check it out if you have a few minutes. It’s got an important message. 10 Reasons I’m Thankful I’m a Mom Fighting a Mental Illness Thanks so much!

A Life I Love: Blogging for Mental Health

15 May

Sometimes it’s hard to come to terms with the reality of what life has thrown at me. Why me?

Sometimes it’s beyond scary to admit that I’m struggling. I feel so alone.

Sometimes I fear that my friends will turn their back on me if they know the whole truth. How am I going to share everything?

Sometimes it’s terrifying to look back at what happened in the past because of what could have been. I’ve changed so much in such a short amount of time.

Sometimes I look around at all I have, the decisions I’ve made, how far I’ve come and I am in complete awe of my life’s fullness. How did I get so lucky?

On days like today, when the sun is so far lost behind the piles of sheer white and grey clouds, I find myself wrestling with my emotions. On days like today it’s so easy to remember if I let myself go there. The dark days, the weeks and weeks of bleak, dull depression that had wrapped its claws around me like a cat that caught a field mouse. The not being able to pull myself out of bed in the morning and the falling asleep on the couch in the late afternoon because it was so much easier to dwell in my grief than it was to push it aside to try to function normally. I haven’t felt that heaviness, the crushing weight of desperation, in seven years.

 

And for that I have so much gratitude.

 

But on days like today, twinges of it come back. And I don’t push them away. I let them come and I let myself acknowledge them, if only for a moment. Because I don’t want to forget. I don’t want to ever forget what I’m fighting for every day.

 

My mental health.

 

Not only for myself. But for my family. For my incredibly laid-back, fun-loving, funny, intelligent and handsome husband. The one who was by my side from the first day it all hit to the present. He is my better half and has all the qualities that I lack which is why we fit each other so well.

 

Together we completed our family with first a boy, and then a girl. Two little people who everyone says look just like us. I couldn’t be more proud of them, of their personalities which shine and twinkle like the stars in a deep black clear summer night sky. Each night, as we read stories before bed and snuggle in close, and every morning, when I nuzzle their still-sleepy noses to wake up so we can start our day, I take time to breathe in their scents. It’s hard to believe that they’re mine. I will always be their mom. He will always be my son. She will always be my daughter. And I want them to always be proud of me.

 

My life is the reason why I keep fighting. My family, my friends, my heart. They all deserve to see me succeed.

 

Each day may be a new battle, but every one I win makes me stronger for the next fight. At the end of the day, when the sun is setting and I see the brilliance peeking out from behind a mess of clouds, I know I’m staring into my future.

LifeYouLove_BML

And I’m nothing but enthusiastic for what lies ahead.

I'm Blogging for Mental Health.

Maternal Mental Health Month

13 May

Courage_BML

In May 2011, Postpartum Support International (PSI) declared May as Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month. Over the past few weeks I’ve been busy writing some pieces in support of the efforts to raise awareness of women’s mental health before, during and after pregnancy. Two were published recently and I’m proud to share them with you.

 

Yesterday was the 5th annual Mother’s Day Rally for Moms’ Mental Health, hosted by Postpartum Progress, the most widely-read blog in the world on postpartum depression and other mental illnesses related to pregnancy and childbirth. It featured 24 letters (one of them was mine!) from survivors of PPD, postpartum anxiety, postpartum OCD, depression after weaning and/or postpartum psychosis. Their purpose is to inform and encourage pregnant and new moms who may be struggling with their emotional health. I was honored to be included again this year.

 

Along those same lines of postpartum and mental health, today a piece I wrote for WhatToExpect.com’s Word of Mom blog went live. (Yes, that’s really me in the picture included in the post!) In it I describe the feelings of guilt and sadness I experienced when I had to quit breastfeeding because I needed to return to my medication. I’ve learned that no mom should put unnecessary pressure on herself to breastfeed, especially if her mental health is at risk.


I hope you have a chance to check out these posts and please share if you know someone who might benefit from the information within. Thanks so much and I hope all those moms out there had a great Mother’s Day yesterday!

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