Bipolar II disorder

Trying to care for me

In the five years between these two photos:
I stopped being employed;
I left a two decade toxic relationship;
I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, diabetes, bipolar disorder, and cPTSD;
My youngest child was identified as experiencing High Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder;
Two grandchildren were born;
Relationships with my two adult children have been restored and improved; and I’m navigating the ongoing process of co-parenting with the ex.

I guess, my adult daughter could be right about vampire DNA ūüėā
02/24/2021 – In the four years since the above collage photo, I’ve become grandma to two more grandchildren (4 GRANDKIDS! ūüė≤ ūü§Į); Fought time and time again to stabilize from hypomania & depression; worked my @$$ off to get employment ready; completed two vocational programs simultaneously; and became employed during a pandemic‚Ķall in the midst of chronic turmoil and drama.

The smile hides depression and self-loathing…a severe lack of self-esteem and sense of futility. The hair and angle of the pic hide the double chin and side padding of obesity. You can’t see the fibromyalgia, hypothyroidism, type 2 diabetes, PTSD, Bipolar 2 Disorder, and Binge Eating Disorder. Yet, I look healthier and happier than ever before… according to an FB friend.

I wrote about being functionally depressed and nothing has really changed. I still pretty much only venture forth from my dwelling are occasional grocery shopping trips and to to work. My ADLs (Activities of daily living) are sporadic – personal hygiene is taken care of whenever I have to leave the apartment or I feel too disgusted by myself. Nutrition is not a frequent thing…I may or may not eat 2 Baked Lays single serve bags of chips for breakfast or dinner. One thing has improved – I’m not waking up gasping, choking and feeling like I may have had a heart attack because I’m using my C-pap machine to deal with the sleep apnea again.

Despite the depression, I did a thing and I took a risk. I applied for a Full-time position within the organization I am currently employed with. It’s a Peer Support position, which I completed my training, with flying colors, just as the COVID shutdown started last year. I just emailed the department that manages such things to ensure my application has been received. It has been received and submitted to the hiring manager.

I’m also reaching out or responding to opportunities to connect with people I’m connected to through my faith community. I’m participating in a book study of Rich Villodas, The Deeply Formed Life. I participate in our weekly Zoom service. Right now we’re discussing how it might look when we start meeting again, since some of our faith family isn’t able to engage and participate often unless it’s remotely. I submitted some ideas, which were favorably received.

Partially because of the diabetes, I’ve decided to join a couple of my friends on a menu planning journey next month. I’m in no way prepared. The logistics of my life are chaotic and kind of overwhelming. So, I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to make it a complete success. However, I reminded myself “progress not perfection.” That made my inner perfectionist cringe in horror.

To that end, I decided to focus on breakfast. Simple, quick, easy diabetic friendly breakfasts I can prep primarily in the microwave. The first recipe I found was Breakfast Burrito in a Jar on Diabetic Foodie. Since I don’t have jars, I followed the link to the next breakfast, Mexican Microwave Scramble.

Between the Depression, Hypothyroidism, and fibromyalgia, as well as circumstances in my life, I’m really fatigued & low energy. I’m not sure how I’m still functioning at all. I just know that no matter how close I come, giving up isn’t an option.

How are you doing? For real, sometime sharing helps.

To the me I used to be

As many of you may know, yesterday was October 31st. Some cultures celebrate it as a sacred day, others don’t celebrate it at all. In my corner of the world it is celebrated as a fun, commercialized way of being in brief community with neighbors you don’t know, with children in costume knocking on doors and acceptably begging for candy, while caregivers observe from a short distance…aka Halloween. (It’s also a way for those same caregivers to get their own sugar rush when they tax the candy haul.)

Anyway, that only has passing connection to why I’m writing today.

Today is the first day of NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. For some of us who blog, this is Nano Poblano – “the World’s Least-Official November Blog Challenge”

I won’t be writing a post a day, as I have attempted in other challenges. Instead, I’m committing to 10 posts this month. I’ll also be linking to 10 other posts this month.

Welcome to my first post of the month. Now, back to what I was writing about.

Last night I shared the requisite costume pic of my youngest, who will be 11 in a little over a month.

She looks older, huh? Sooo not ready for that.

When I woke up this morning, there were many “ūüĎć” and a few “‚ô•ÔłŹ.” The last “like” was from a guy who had attended the same high school as I did. Just about the only interactions we have are reading and occasionally clicking our reaction to each other’s posts. But, he posts nice pictures of nature and other things I find mildly interesting. We reconnected at our 30 year class reunion a couple of years ago.

He may or may not remember, but, we had previously connected on FB back in 2010 or 2011, when I first joined the ‘book. It ended after a contentious interaction when the world didn’t end according to the 2012 Mayan Calendar predictions.

Depression had its hold on me and I posted some joke about being disappointed that the predictions had been wrong. He took exception to that and expressed his disagreement and disapproval.

That triggered anxiety and activated my defensiveness. I felt attacked. I was shaky and feeling threatened for no apparent reason. That was about the time another h.s. acquaintance and I got in conflict over something else, entirely.

I reactively “purged” my FB account, hoping to deactivate my hypervigilant hypersensitivity of the moment. I remember that I still felt threatened in some vague, amorphous way.

Some of that stemmed from my desire and need to be understood and accepted. However, I equated being understood with being agreed with and being accepted meant being justified and approved of. Anything else felt like I was under attack and unsafe.

I still don’t really understand the root reasons I experience anxiety around feeling rejected and not acceptable. I guess that hearkens back to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, with a sense of belonging being a basic need.

All I know, is that my gut clenched, my breathing got shallow, and my heart hammered when I saw the guy at our class reunion. Our online disagreement had such an impact on me. I wanted to avoid him and hide, because I was certain he would remember our interaction and be judging me by it.

Chances are he doesn’t remember that interaction. Otherwise, we probably wouldn’t be connected today. If he does remember, it likely doesn’t matter to him one way or the other. Regardless, the fact is that a molehill had been amplified to seem like a mountain, and, I think it’s possible that interaction will stay with me for a long time.

Part of me looks back on that time and sees the degree and type of reactivity and judges past me harshly. However, there’s a bigger part of me that understands and accepts who I was back then.

So, here’s my message to the me I used to be:

I love you. You’re not ridiculous and never were. You were living with the results of trauma. You were living without knowledge or understanding of the mental illnesses in your brain. I’m proud of you. You knew your reactions were signs you needed help and you paid attention to those signs. You had the courage to ask for help. You put in the work to change, heal and grow. You had the strength of character to own the consequences of your actions and behaviors from then and before. I’m grateful to you. You made me, me. You’re amazing. Thank you.

Midnight musings of a bipolar mind

I sit here, tonight, exhausted and grieving the fact that what I thought was helping to alleviate the persistent depression, is, in fact, helping…just not the way I thought. It has triggered a mini-hypomanic phase. So, instead of the constant, slow, and steady oppression of “mid-level” depression, I’m now experiencing a continual hypomanic cycle, scaled down and dialed back to a flowing stream instead of a flooding river.

I’m exhausted…and not just from the lack of sleep and disrupted sleep, which may or may not be related to the new, supplemental, medication. My little girl has been going through a rough time lately, which is exacerbated and amplified by her high functioning, autistic brain. Quite frankly, I’m living with a verbally and physically abusive eight year old child. A couple of days ago she told me she wished I was dead. Screaming, I mean the “Is it live or is it Memorex?” kind of piercing scream,

is almost a daily thing. Hitting and kicking are among her repertoire of behaviors when expected to transition from a desired activity into an undesired one: Bed to getting ready for school, playing to taking a shower, being home to leaving to go to the store. You get the idea.

Now, I have to go through the search and hiring process of obtaining the services of another Personal Support Worker for her, primarily because her abusive and erratic behaviors burn people out. Probably because I have yet to figure out how to hire someone mentally and emotionally equipped to do the job who has actually been educated and trained to work with children on the autism spectrum. It’s difficult to find someone with that level of education and experience, much less someone who is willing to work for less than $15/hr, 71 hr/mo, for me, and still have to look for additional work, while trying to accommodate the schedule we need the most.

My heart is breaking at losing the current person who’s been working with us. It’s a selfish thing and probably illuminates just how much work I still need to do on boundary setting and codependency. They listen to me. They want to support me as the underlying value of being her PSW. Since they are the only person of any intelligence and emotional stability I deal with on a continual basis during the week, who isn’t a professional service provider of some kind or part of a structured group gathering in a faith community, I’ve become a bit too dependent. Meaning, I could very well be nearing the stage of emotional vampirism.

The night we informed my daughter of this pending change, she was rudely ecstatic. It hurts me to see how hurtful she is to others. That hurts more than the things she says and does to me. I shared my bewilderment and concern about how vitriolic her words and attitudes are. I expressed my overwhelm and sense that I’m not doing enough. Between the depression, bipolar, ptsd, hypothyroidism, diabetes, and fibromyalgia, some days, many days, the only reason I get out of bed is the fact I have to get her up, ready, and off to school. I can only see what I’m not doing and getting done.

They told me how they had agonized over this decision for a couple of weeks, even to the point that it had been the primary topic in their meetings with their support person. They told me that the one thing that gives them hope in this situation and for my daughter’s future is seeing how hard I work for her benefit.

The women I met with yesterday, her DDS (Developmental Disabilities Services) Service Coordinator and her state provided ABA Consultant (ABA is a form of behavior therapy for those on the autism spectrum), also expressed how hard they see me working. Again, all I can see are the things I haven’t gotten done, either due to overwhelm, fear, or forgetfulness.

I even went so far as to let her Service Coordinator know that I’m fully aware of her Mandatory Reporter status and that I will never let that knowledge prevent me from being honest, for two reasons:
1. If I feel it’s reportable, I’ll share it because I KNOW I need additional support.
2. If I don’t know it’s reportable, then it’s EVIDENCE that I need additional support.

The reality is that I ALWAYS need additional support. Especially with this whole bipolar/ptsd thing happening in my brain.

This past weekend I learned that there are two different kinds of bipolar mania: euphoric and dysphoric. I learned about the dysphoric during a breakout session at this past weekend’s 3rd Annual Regional Shattering Stigma with Stories: Shameless¬†day conference. In the same breakout session I learned that the supplemental medication I was recently prescribed to address the persistent depression is one of the many that can trigger mania in the bipolar brain. I should have known something was up, when I started feeling “up” almost as soon as I started taking the med. But, it felt so good to actually feel good after over four months of unrelenting depression.

The question is do I keep on this medication regimen for a while to see if it’s at a managable level that I can use constructively or do I assume that it’s all bad, no matter the degree, and go off the med, back into depression? I don’t think it really is a choice. I have cognizance and awareness, based on¬†the information about what this version of mania looks like and how it was triggered. As long as I’m honest with my therapist and my prescriber, as well as myself, I think it’s doable.

Of course that could be the mania talking.

It’s a terrible thing to not be able to trust your brain.

Approximately Functional

My bloggy friend, Sara, from Laments and Lullabies, has graciously agreed to guest post today and share her story. Many thanks to this strong, talented, and spirited woman who so eloquently describes her journey from The Dark into hope. The details are different, but we share the same story, I just think she  tells it better. Thank you Sara.

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I have a touch of the crazies. Though no hard diagnosis of a chronic mental health concern has been made (bipolar II has been discussed but not confirmed, among others), what is for certain is I suffered a major depressive episode after the birth of my daughter more than three years ago.¬†Essentially, fairly common (unfortunately) postpartum depression overstayed and squatted in my brain, stinking up the place and¬†destroying ¬†property. It brought its friend Crippling Anxiety along for the ride. I’ve always been prone to significant dips into The Dark, but in my life before marriage and children, it was easier to manage. I had developed coping skills that suited my lifestyle but transferred poorly to my new life. I could no longer hide in bed for a few days until it passed. Nor could I pick up and leave town to clear my head. I had a marriage and a tiny human to nurture, and I didn’t know how to do any of it.

Now, after a year and a half of cognitive¬†behaviour¬†therapy, a stint as an outpatient in something called “Day Hospital” (think day camp for people with enough crazy to function poorly, but not enough to be fully hospitalized or monitored), and a promiscuous stretch with a myriad of meds, I’m feeling more stable, more functional, more human again. I can do things like leave the house and bathe myself regularly, which, if you have any experience with depression and anxiety, are not things to be taken for granted.

The most remarkable sign that I am recovering well (do we ever fully recover, or do we, like former alcoholics, always have to work at it?) is how I’m facing stressful triggers. Everyone has stress in their life, but for people with depression and/or anxiety, even the smallest things can knock us down, activating all kinds of maladapted behaviour (my go-to is total withdrawal/shutting down/disassociation and dermatillomania). My family and I have dealt with some pretty serious stressors lately which include, but are not limited to; job losses, illness,¬†financial¬†insecurity, and custody battles. There was a time when all this would have nearly destroyed me.

My greatest triumph, as of late, is staying sane during these trials (more or less). Yes, I’ve had a few melt-downs, a few moments or days of hopelessness, anger, sadness, and debilitating panic, but they are not my constant companions. There has been a sea of change within me, and I owe it, for the most part, to three things: the¬†availability¬†of help when I needed it; my ability to accept help; and my support¬†network, a.k.a. friends, family, and the scads of mental health professionals I’ve seen in the last couple years.

I’m extremely fortunate that, living in Canada, every service has been provided for free. Even my meds are heavily subsidized. Without this safety net, I don’t think I would be in such a good place now. More specifically, I have worked with cognitive¬†behaviour¬†therapy and my gifted social worker/counsellor to rewire by brain, altering destructive thought patterns and behaviours and learning new ways to handle capital “L” Life.

I was invited to guest post here to share how I’ve managed to deal with the poop/fan combo. Partly, I’ve undone things like catastrophic, black and white, and automatic thinking. In short, my habit was to jump to worst case scenario for¬†EVERYTHING. My daughter didn’t eat her veggies? She’s going to suffer brain damage or possibly death by malnutrition. My husband and I had an¬†argument? Our marriage is doomed and my whole life is a lie. You get the gist. For many people, this seems ludicrous. For people like me, this is normal . . . so normal that we don’t even realize that other people DON’T think this way. Dealing with this junk every minute of every day erodes the spirit and the mind. Being unshackled from it is more than liberating, it’s life changing. Now, when I catch the flu, I just eat more super food and ride it out. Thoughts of ebola and pandemics might float through but they are not The Truth anymore, and I can recognize that. I suppose that’s how I’m getting through life right now. I still argue with my husband sometimes, but I know that we are a strong couple, best friends, and a great team. We have survived worse, and for once in my life, I can imagine the other side, beyond the difficult present. They call it hope, and it’s new to me.

In fact, that might be the quintessential difference between coping and not. Hope is simply not available to those of us swallowed by The Dark. It is the ultimate cruelty of depression and anxiety. Retrieving¬†hope, or discovering it for the first time perhaps, is how people keep moving forward. I reckon that destructive behaviours like addiction (booze, drugs, sex, gambling, food, bad relationships, etc.) don’t create hope, but they temporarily and artificially¬†release us from the¬†oppression¬†of hopelessness. Nobody finds meaning in a bottle of vodka, but meaninglessness takes a short vacation. People like me need to learn, sometimes late in life, how to hope. Sadly, many don’t, and they cannot teach it to their children. Sometimes, we lose the hopeless souls forever.

Many things I neglect which would help me even more include doing more for myself, getting more exercise, making more art, and spending less time in front of a screen . . . I don’t have any definitive tips or tricks on how to go from “I can’t do this anymore” to “I’ll get through this.” ¬†Certainly nothing that hasn’t been said. What I DO know is I’ve come from a place where the future was either impossible or horrible, to a present, where I’m pretty damned¬†tired¬†of the BS that keeps visiting me and my family, but I’m not giving up. It’s something I hope for all those who need it.

Hope doesn't solve my problems, but at least my problems won't win.

Hope doesn’t solve my problems, but at least my problems won’t win.