It’s time to start taking my own advice

For years, through hardships and bouts of mental illness, through both bad times and good, my unofficial motto has always been “keep moving forward.”

I haven’t been following that. At all.

I’ve let my anxiety cripple me in a number of ways. I haven’t applied for a job in months – there’s always some excuse. My cover letter needs work, I’m not happy with my resume, it’s the holidays and no one is really hiring. There’s always an excuse. A reason not to do it.

I’m worried that I won’t find something. I’m worried that I spent all of this money and time on a degree that I’m never going to be able to use for one reason or another. Now it’s to the point where I’ve worked myself up so much about the whole thing that I’m literally crippled with fear about the whole process.

What if I’m not good enough? What if all of the work that I’ve done, all of the sacrifices I’ve made, leave me with nothing but huge student loan bills? What if I let my husband down? What if I do get a job and I’m really not cut out for it? What if, for the past three years, I’ve made nothing but bad decisions?

At this point, I don’t know what’s worse – failing at everything and letting everyone down, or facing my fear and actually succeeding. Because succeeding means facing all of my fears and powering through them. And that’s a terrifying thought.

It’s times like this I really hate mental illness and the fact that I’ve been burdened to carry the load. Sometimes I think I’m not strong enough to handle it. Sometimes I want to curl up in bed and wish the world away. But I don’t have that luxury. I manage to keep up with everything that needs to be done, but for whatever reason, I have a really hard time facing this.

But I have to face it. It’s time to stop letting the fear run my life. It’s time to take the reins again. It’s time to keep moving forward.

Happy New Year!

I’ve been severely neglecting this blog recently. I resolve to post more often. I’m paying for the domain, I might as well use it, right?

To catch up from the last few months, the new meds are working great. I’ve got some breakthrough anxiety, which I’ll address with my doctor this week, but generally speaking things, mood-wise at least, are going well.

Holidays are an especially anxiety-ridden time for me. Time with my family, time with the in-laws (although due to the weather we didn’t head across the state this morning. I think we’re shooting for February at this point once I’m off weekends again), Christmas parties with friends, Christmas party for work, and we had a wedding to go to in the middle of things. The bottle of Ativan came everywhere with me. I shouldn’t have to carry benzos with me to social functions just so I can get through the night without totally panicking. Luckily I only had to take one twice, and at the wedding, we left before that feeling of panic got too bad. So yeah, that’s an issue that needs to be dealt with. But in terms of bi-polar mood, things are going pretty good.

I still haven’t found a job. Granted, with the holidays I haven’t put much effort into looking. Between being busy and I know most places don’t really hire right around Christmas. I’ve spent some time retooling my resume and my cover letter, and have gotten help from Career Services on both, so I hope they’re ready. I need a new job sooner rather than later. Finances are one reason, I go back to nights in February is another (I’d like to be gone before that happens, although that’s probably a pipe dream), and to be honest I just don’t like my job anymore. I have a lot of mixed feelings about the company I work for; unfortunately, nothing I can get into here, but I have a hard time going to work every day.

I need to get moving on that front.

So that’s it for an update. Nothing major, just a lot of little stuff. But sometimes that little stuff adds up and the combination of them all can be a problem.

Books and more

I’m still on the major reading kick, but I’ve slowed down a bit. Dan Brown’s new book The Origin sapped a lot out of me. While I like the early Dan Brown books (both his Langdon series and the stand-alones), I’ve become tired with his style and formulaic approach. I ended up skimming the second half of the book and then turning it over to Mike to read as he still really enjoys them. To each their own. He doesn’t denigrate my literary choices, and I don’t his.

I’ve literally had no time to look for a new job the past few weeks, which has been depressing. It’s just such a process to sit down and search, and then edit cover letters and resumes to try and tailor it to that position. Apply. Wait. Rinse. Repeat. I did get a line on a website to pick up some part-time hours doing proofreading and editing, so I’m going to look into that more thoroughly this week. We definitely need the added cash flow. We’re barely breaking even, if we are at all at this point. Fucking student loans.

My therapist claims that I’ve just about reached the point where we can say I’ve “graduated” from therapy. He’s been impressed with how I’ve jumped into using the techniques he’s been teaching me with both feet. To be fair though, a lot of this I already knew. It just seems like after the episode on August that I lost that skill and had to rebuild from almost scratch. The one thing I don’t like about the place where I get therapy is that a lot of the therapists have religious training of some sort, and reference God and whatnot. So far mine hadn’t done that, until this week. Being an atheist, I was trying really hard to roll my eyes, but I was unsure how to approach it say, ‘yeah, that doesn’t work for me’ without being rude. Then again, he technically works for me, so maybe it’s worth revisiting when I see him in a few weeks. Just a friendly reminder that I don’t buy in to that, and while I appreciate where he’s coming from it’s just not helpful. Maybe it’s better to let sleeping dogs lie, especially if I’m almost done with him barring a quick check in here or there. But their connection with Christian religion made me somewhat wary about being seen there in the first place. Something to think about.

I’ve had some interesting conversations with a few people this week that have confided in me that they suffer from mental illness. One in particular is insisting on treating her depression “holistically” under the treatment of a “healer” (whatever that is). She’s modified her diet to some diet she read about on the internet, is taking St. John’s Wort and Vitamin D, but she’s refusing to do any kind of therapy because she’s convinced herself that they’ll force her onto meds. Now, I have no problem with integrating diet and vitamins into treatment plans (hell, I take vitamin D every night during the winter and when I’m on night shift), but she is far from stable. And I’m not sure the diagnosis of just depression is completely accurate. But I’m not her, I gave my opinion when she asked me, and that’s that. She can do whatever she feels is right for her. I don’t have to agree with it. But I hate watching someone spiral out of control because they eschew psychiatric medicine or treatment. I’m aware that I’m one of those people that need the psych meds and probably always will. I don’t think everyone is in that same boat, but I also believe that there are times that forgoing treatment for is just an exercise in futility and that you’re more likely to watch your life crash and burn. I don’t know. I just hate watching people struggle when they don’t have to.

 

Finally got the official anxiety diagnosis

My shrink for years has been wary of adding an “official” anxiety diagnosis. He believed that it was really a minor problem that reared its head only now and then. But I think the depressive episode that was literally brought on by anxiety opened his eyes a little bit. Not that in the grand scheme of things it matters, but on some level, it’s almost nice to know that it’s a recognized thing and not just a minor annoyance. My team recognizes that it’s actually a problem. Just having it acknowledged makes me feel less like I’m making something out of nothing. If that makes sense.

The Zyprexa has been a godsend. We upped the dosage a little bit at the last appointment, to 7.5 mg as I’m still getting what I call flashes of mood aberrations. Hours where I’m irritable to the point that I retreat back to the house and try not to interact with anyone as little as possible /(including the cats – yes, I can get irritable with them). Or maybe half a day of mild depression where the negative thoughts start to creep in. I’m able to beat them back for the most part, but the underlying feeling is still there. So we decided to increase the dosage by 50% to try and even that out.

Something happened recently that put my life in stark relief. Last year a friend of our’s wife was diagnosed with melanoma. She’s spent the last year in treatment, but at this point, she’s literally dying. The cancer has spread to the point where there’s nothing that can be done. It would give her a few more months at most. So she’s decided to stop treatment and just treat the pain. Part of me feels like such an asshole, thinking about all of the things that I’ve been worried and fretting about over the past few months. Money, jobs, all of the normal things that people worry about. But our friend is about to face the reality that he’s going to lose his wife. I know that people’s pain is an individual thing, we can’t quantify how much we love or how much pain we feel based on other people and their experiences. But I feel like my problems are so trivial compared to theirs. I feel guilty for being depressed for four weeks over nothing compared to what they’re going through. I know I really shouldn’t, but I do. I feel like despite all of our problems and worries, I still have a husband that loves me who I’d move the moon for, a nice little house, four great cats, supportive families, I don’t know. I feel like I don’t have the right to be depressed.

 

The things no one tells you

All things considering, I was lucky when I was depressed. Despite the fact that when I originally reached out for help my shrink was out of town and none of the other resources in town would help me because I wasn’t suicidal, I still got help within about a week of reaching out. I was able to make an appointment with a new therapist relatively quickly. Once my doc was back in town he reached out his first day back and we spent the next six days (playing a bit of phone-tag, I admit) working through things before we ultimately decided on a med change. As much as we both complained that it was taking too long, in reality, the whole process went pretty quickly. When I was in college I fell into a pretty deep depression, and it took two and a half months to get in to see someone and in the meantime, I literally couldn’t get out of bed. I essentially failed a semester of college and was only able to keep my financial aid by the grace of God and a letter from my shrink. This could have been a lot worse than it was, with far worse consequences of having to repeat a few classes.

I was able to go to work during this. It was hard, and exhausting, and took more effort than I can even describe to work a 12-hour shift, but I did it. I’m sure it was fairly obvious that something was up – I didn’t wear make-up or my contacts, I hid in the lab whenever possible to keep from interacting with anyone that I didn’t absolutely have to. But when I was out and about in the building at lunch or dropping paperwork off to someone, the thing I heard the most was “are you feeling ok? You look really tired.” Part of that was definitely the not wearing make-up thing, but I was exhausted. I kept trying to keep in mind that these people really meant well, and they didn’t know what was going on, and they were concerned or at least wanted to put on the appearance of being concerned. But what they didn’t realize was that answering that one simple question, even with a well-prepared lie was absolutely exhausting, and meant that I spent the next two hours in the lab interacting with people as little as possible trying to recover. I’m an introvert by nature, but that surprises most people as I’m very friendly and while at work do my best to friendly and upbeat. Maintaining even a fraction of that personality was almost more tiring than anything else. I’d get in my car at the end of the day and just sag into the seat and try to muster the energy to drive home and collapse into bed. People’s concern made the day worse than they’ll ever realize.

The other thing that I wasn’t used to was that everyone had a suggestion to help my “sleep.” Vitamins, yoga, sunlight, shopping, cuddling my cats, taking a walk, etc. When someone is depressed the last thing that they want to hear is “I’m sure you’ll feel better if you do this or that!” No. That’s not what I needed. I needed a med change. I needed therapy. People were absolutely well-meaning, and maybe because I’ve been there, but the last thing I’d tell someone that I even maybe suspected was depressed that they’d feel better if they just went outside, or cut gluten out of their diet.

But things are much better now. I’m sleeping normally, I’m getting stuff done on my days off, I’m being social and not hiding in my house, laughing and joking again, pretty much back to normal. I get flashes of irritability and anxiety, and I think the dosage of the Zyprexa may need to be slightly increased, but generally speaking, I’m back on my feet.

One thing I learned from this experience is that there are no resources for people who aren’t suicidal or having a total psychotic break. I heard a lot of “you’re under the care of a psychiatrist, even if he’s out of town we’re not going to change your meds” or “you’re not a danger to yourself, so you’re going to have to tough it out until he gets back” or “there’s no room in the hospital so you can’t voluntarily commit yourself unless you’re suicidal.” My therapist and I have talked about this, and he agrees that it’s a problem. Like I said to him, what if my doc wasn’t back for another three weeks? Would I really have had to keep suffering until then? What if by that point I actually was suicidal? What if the mere fact that I had reached out to so many people only to be rebuffed made me not reach out at all in the future? I mean, why should I? No one is going to help me. I don’t know what there is that can be done. I can understand not wanting to screw with meds, but why isn’t there such a thing as emergency therapy appointments? At least in my city you can call in the morning if you hurt your knee and get in with an orthopedic doctor or PA. There are emergency appointments for injuries, but not mental health? Seems kind of dumb and almost counterintuitive.

There’s an idea somewhere in there, we’ll see if it germinates into anything.

Anyway, I’m done rambling.

There’s a light at the end of the tunnel

My shrink changed my meds last Sunday. I started feeling slightly better by Monday afternoon. To be fair, I was in a fog and exhausted all morning, but it was still an improvement. Tuesday was a bit better – the fog only lasted until about 10, but I was exhausted. By Saturday, mood-wise, I felt pretty good. Pretty good to the point where I was concerned I was swinging the other way and becoming manic. My shrink pointed out that when you’re feeling as low as I was, even for the short four weeks that I felt that way, feeling normal feels deliriously high, even when you’re really not. The exhaustion I felt from taking the Zyprexa lasted until about Saturday. Now I seem to be able to (mostly) get through the day with a little help from my friend Diet Coke.

But I’ve been thinking about it. How do you explain what depression feels like to someone that’s never experienced it? And if you really get down to it, depression feels different for each of us. It’s more than feeling sad. It aches, deep in the center of your joints, between each vertebrae. It’s an all encompassing hopelessness, the feeling that no matter what you do nothing is going to turn out right so why bother trying? The sense that you’re just a burden on your entire family and all of your friends. An exhaustion that seeps into your every pore and makes it impossible to get off of the couch.

But we live through it. We come out on the other side and work to pick up the pieces, get back to life. Back to routines. Back to remembering to feed the cats without them sitting on your chest and glaring at you. You make a peach cobbler for your husband as a way of apologizing for putting him through it. And you do what you can to hit life with a renewed vigor to prove to yourself that you’re not worthless, and things can work out in the end.

Here’s to hoping.

Fuck you, Depression

The worst part about bipolar disorder is that you’re swimming along, nice and stable, maybe with a little anxiety thrown in on the side (but it’s manageable), when BAM! Depression.

I’m not used to depression. I tend to stray more to the mixed or hypomanic side of bipolar disorder, so when it’s depression that rears it’s ugly head I’m never prepared. And I don’t know if I have a hard time dealing with it than most or this just is what it is, but I struggle.

It started about two weeks ago and creeped in very gradually until I spent three days on the couch last weekend with no motivation to even move, while I stared at the TV without really seeing anything, napped, and just felt so despondent that I stopped caring about absolutely anything.

I managed to pull my shit together and go to work this week and act like nothing is wrong (can’t let anyone see a sign of weakness, that good old Italian Catholic upbringing kicking in as well as the fear of making sure I didn’t give anyone anything that could be used against me later), and would come home and be worse off than I was to start with. I’d go through the day mentally chanting “fuck you, fuck this place, I hate you all, I just want to go home to my cats” while trying to act as normal as possible. Meanwhile, there’s a cold, dark, heavy ball of misery sitting inside of my rib cage keeping constantly alert to its presence. Every morning on the way into work I’d wall off that ball, keep it contained so I could get through the day.

I’m pretty sure this whole thing was brought on by anxiety – I haven’t found a job yet, our financials aren’t in a good place now that some more of my student loans have exited their grace period, the stress of trying to live up to people’s expectations, the stress of working a job that I really don’t like very much most days, and now the stress of not letting the world see that I’m drowning.

And then there’s my shrink. I emailed him Friday to let him know what was going on and he was out of town until Monday. OK fine. Called the local crisis hotline, I’m not suicidal so there’s nothing they can do. Same thing from my PCP – you see a shrink, he needs to be the one to treat you. Fine. Totally understand. I can get through until Monday.

Doc emails me back after 5, he wants to talk. Am I free the next day? With my job we really don’t know what the day is going to be like until we get into it and see how everything unfolds, so I told him I’d email him the next morning when I have a better idea. Emailed him, gave him a few options for that afternoon. They don’t work. What about Wednesday? Same thing happens. No worries, I’m still surviving, and I’m off all day Thursday and Friday, and while my in-laws are in town, I’ll tell them I have a doctors appointment and stay home from whatever they and my husband are going to do and deal with this. I email my shrink a time. He. Never. Calls.

I just can’t at this point. All I want is help, and I’ve reached out to anyone I can think of that would be qualified to actually help me and I’ve gotten nothing in return. I’m about done asking. I’m also about to switch doctors (which sucks because I’ve been seeing him for almost six years and I really enjoy working with him, but this is ridiculous).

I’m tempted to just say fuck it and keep the status quo and hope that it goes away on its own. I’m done caring. I don’t ask for help – it’s not in my wiring to do so. And the fact that I’ve asked for help from multiple avenues and gotten nothing in return is so disheartening that it makes me just want to stop asking.

So yeah, fuck you depression.

How do I know what’s real?

Some of us are perfectly content with normal life. And some of us feel like we’re destined for more. But how do I know if that feeling isn’t the bipolar talking? Do people other than me actually feel that way? Or is it the delusions of grandeur that come along with the manias putting ideas in my head?

Can I even trust what I think? I don’t know what other people with bipolar go through, but I swear, I question every thought, every feeling. Are the genuine? Or are they the product of the disorder? I talked a bit a few weeks ago about negative thoughts and understand that they aren’t real, but can’t the same be said of positive thoughts? Of positive feelings? How do we know what’s real and what’s not?

It’s exhausting going through every day questioning everything that goes on in your head. The paranoia that comes from it is brutal. It makes you question all of your decisions – did I make this decision based on good information or was it a mild delusion? It makes you question all of your feelings – is this a normal feeling for this situation or is this not the proper reaction?

It’s no wonder I have anxiety. I question everything, second guess everything, worry about everything. I’m just so tired.

Things like this make me think I need to be back in therapy. It’s like having an existential crisis every day.

Maybe, though, these kinds of questions are a good thing. It means I can recognize that the disorder can put thoughts into your head. That it can create realities that just don’t exist.

I don’t know anymore. I feel like inside of my head is an interesting and exhausting place to be. On some level I wish it wasn’t like this – I wish it was easier.

Depression, anxiety, and the job search

And we’ve now reached the portion of the game where a touch of depression rears it’s ugly head and causes me to question all of the decisions I’ve made.

The theme this week is should I have gone back to get my Masters? Was it really worth the time and the money? Am I going to be able to get a job?

On some level, I realize that that’s the anxiety and depression talking. It’s normal to question decisions, especially decisions that will affect the rest of your life.

But I also realize that I had to do something – I couldn’t continue to work in my current job if we wanted to have kids, if I wanted to work a normal 9-5 schedule, if I didn’t want to have to be at work at 4 AM on a regular basis. I didn’t have a lot of options. Going back to school and getting the MBA seemed like one of the only viable ones. I don’t regret it. I know that with enough effort I’ll find a job and will get started down a new career path.

It can be hard, though, when you get into these mindsets to not start questioning everything or to not start doubting yourself and everything that you’ve done. The trick is to think past it, to realize that not only is this the illness talking – the part of you that skews your thinking into negative pathways – but also that everyone goes through this, even those that are neurotypical. It’s normal when coming to the cusp of your life where everything changes, to wonder if you’re doing the right thing. Or if you made the right decision. It’s normal to overanalyze and stress and worry. But if you’ve got that underlying mental illness, these same normal things can start a cascade that’s hard to stop.

Don’t let that cascade start.

You have to believe that you made the right decision. You have to believe that you’ll land on your feet. You can’t let the negative thinking slow you down or stop you from doing something, especially something new. If you do you’ll be sitting in the same place in ten years that you are now wondering why you didn’t do more with your life, why you never took risks. I don’t want to be that person. I want to look back on my life someday and see that I challenged myself, didn’t let myself sit idly by and let opportunities pass by. I want to tell my kids and grandkids how I took life by the balls and didn’t sit back and expect things to happen to me – I made them happen myself.