Mental Illness and Relapse

Mental illness is a funny and unpredictable thing. For some people, it’s brought on by an external stressor, such as a death in the family or financial burdens. For others, it’s biochemical; for whatever reason, the chemicals in their brain just go haywire and mess things up. For the people that experienced mental illness after a major life event (or many smaller life events at once), I don’t want to say that it’s any easier to deal with, because it’s not. But there’s a little more understanding to it than there is with people who just randomly experience mental illness. “Oh, this major, stressful thing happened in my life and now I’m experiencing depression/anxiety. I know why this happened, so maybe we can get to the root of the problem and deal with these emotions to lessen the symptoms.” Whereas if it’s biochemical, there’s more uncertainty. “Oh, you were completely fine, and then out of nowhere, you started experiencing depression/anxiety/bipolar disorder? Well, it’s probably chemical. So, let’s put you on some meds to help balance things out. Oh, but wait, there isn’t a one size fits all with psychiatric medication. Each one affects each person differently, and there’s no way to guarantee which ones will help you and which won’t. So… let’s trial and error things til we find out what DOES work.” There can be overlap as well (having a biochemical imbalance along with an external stressor that triggers the onset of a mental illness), which can make things tricky too. You may know what triggered everything, but then there’s still that tricky medication adventure you have to endure to try and get better, no matter how much therapy you go to or how well you improve your situation.

Time has passed. You’ve found the perfect combination of meds, therapy, and coping skills. Your symptoms are little to none. You finally feel like you’re in a good place. This feeling could last years for some, but only a few days for others. Regardless, out of nowhere, you wake up. Something feels off, but you’re not sure what. Your mind is duller, you don’t have as much of a spark. You get that feeling like there’s a pit in your stomach. You begin to have unwanted thoughts in your head. Then, it clicks. You know this feeling, the feeling you fought so hard to get rid of and overcome. The feeling that your mental illness is creeping back in. You don’t know why, but it’s happening. Sometimes, it comes on like a ton of bricks. If you’re like me, it sneaks back in gradually. If you could imagine a veil floating ever so lightly over your face, that’s what it feels like. You can almost see the life draining from yourself.

Here’s the tricky part: you see it coming, you know it’s happening. But… you don’t know how long it’s going to last. Am I just having an off day? Or am I going to experience another year of bottomless depression?

With my experience with bipolar disorder, I experience this more often than I’d like. I naturally have waves of up and down moods. With the meds that I’m on now, I’m in a pretty good place most of the time (unless I forget to take my meds one day. Oops). A lot of times, I won’t know what my mood is going to be for the coming day. I literally have to wake up each morning and evaluate myself as to whether I’m going to be manic, normal, or depressed. I can HOPE that if I’ve been normal for quite a while that it will continue that way. But the reality is that I could very well just wake up manic or wake up depressed, with no rhyme or reason. On the days I randomly wake up depressed, I almost feel MORE depressed than my body/mind intended because I don’t know how long it’s going to last. Granted, my depressive days tend to only last 1 or 2 days at a time now. But I’ve been in a place where I’ve had depression for well over a year. You can’t blame me for having that fear of, “Is it happening again?”

How do we deal with this? My best advice is to hold on to hope and reach out to those that help you, whether that be a doctor, psychiatrist, friend, or family. You’ve been in a good place before. It can happen again. You got through it, you can push past this bump in the road. Ask your therapist for some coping skills. See if you can adjust your meds to help get things back under control. Let your loved ones know you’re going through a rough time and need extra support–that alone can help tremendously, because it gives you a sense of security that you’re not left on your own to survive the storm. But most importantly, you have to believe that you can get past this relapse. Mental illness is a parasite; it sucks the life out of you, the host. If you give in, it can eventually kill you. If you continue to fight back and work on getting rid of it, you’re going to be so much better afterward. You just have to fight.

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“I know someone with mental illness, and you’re not like them.”

This is a phrase I’ve heard several times over the past 7 years that I’ve been diagnosed with mental illness (back then it was depression with anxiety, now I’ve been re-diagnosed with bipolar disorder and anxiety).

People like to believe stereotypes. Namely those that are neurotypical (people without any mental illness), they tend to view depression as sadness, anxiety as nervousness, bipolar disorder as “normal to crazy/bitchy” mood swings, and schizophrenia as multiple personalities (to clear this up now, schizophrenia has nothing to do with multiple personalities. That is a whole different illness on its own). While those may be some symptoms for SOME people, each mental illness has a wide variety of symptoms that vary in type and severity from person to person. Person A may have depression and feel hopeless, like they have no place in the world, that nobody loves them… and person B may have more physical symptoms, such as not being able to get out of bed in the morning, not being able to shower or make themselves food, feeling tired all the time… it’s different for everyone, no matter what illness you have.

I have bipolar disorder. For me, I have mood swings. But, they don’t involve me being completely fine and normal one minute then in a split second, turning into a raging bitch. In fact, most people with BP do not experience that at all. When I’m manic, I get overly confident, have all of these new ideas and plans for my life, I like to brag, and I have a lot more energy and motivation to do things that I normally do. After anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, I’ll crash into depression. In that mood, all of that motivation and ambition vanishes, and I have little to no energy to do things, even basic tasks like cleaning or showering. However, this is not how a lot of people view bipolar disorder. Unfortunately, a lot of what gets remembered about BP, or any mental illness really, are the extreme cases. Some people, when they experience mania, they go into psychosis or go “off the rails”. They can become aggressive, violent, belligerent, and just treat everyone around them like shit. This is where the, “I don’t think you have BP disorder. I know people with BP disorder, and you’re not like them,” comes into play, even though I’ve been clinically diagnosed for over 5 years now, and my diagnosis has not changed once. Because I don’t have “extreme” symptoms, that apparently makes my illness invalid and null to some people.

What I want people to understand is this: no two depressed/anxious/bipolar people are the same. You can’t compare depressed person A to depressed person B and try and determine who “actually has depression.” That’s not how it works. We have to realize that each illness has a wide variety of symptoms with thousands of different combinations that someone may experience. That’s also what makes treatment so hard; every person reacts to meds differently. Person A may feel great on Prozac while person B may feel suicidal. Everyone. Is. Different.

Let’s forget the stereotypes. I understand that it’s easier for some people to understand mental illness through simple groupings, but that doesn’t help anyone. It doesn’t help the mentally ill person, because the neurotypical isn’t able to completely understand them and know how to properly help. And it doesn’t help the neurotypical, because it’s misinformation that leads to ignorance and in turn the inability to help their loved ones. Let’s educate ourselves and those around us. Telling someone that they’re not really [insert mental illness here] doesn’t help anybody.

Ocean’s Love

The air is cool, the breeze kissing our skin as the waves fill our ears with a soothing lullaby. We take in the salty air around us, leaving all of our worries behind with every breath. Although the air is crisp, the space between us is anything but. Our bodies are inches from each other, but not quite touching; sparks of desire and lust fill the gap.

After several long moments, our eyes finally meet, and everything around us and inside us intensifies. His eyes–crystal blue, lightly speckled with grey and hints of green–appear as swirling galaxies filled with burning, passionate energy… and mine are emitting a lustful curiosity. Our eyes are locked, and the energy between us transforms from shy and reserved to eagerness and fantasy.

Our gaze breaks momentarily down to each other’s lips. And suddenly, the void between us is gone. Our lips meet with a fiery intensity, sending uncontrollable emotion throughout. Skin meets skin and heaven meets hell. What’s bad is good–what’s wrong is right. Inhibitions are lost as our bodies are one and time stands still.

As our eyes open, the blur around us comes back into focus, and we slowly pull away, taking in one last look. Just as fast as the moment lasted, we turn our focus back to the water, and we become strangers once again.

Silent Emotions

It’s the dead of night. Wind howls its eerie song, thunder pierces the sky, and rain drops tap dance upon the roof. What once was a bright, roaring fire is nothing more than a few red coals. What’s left dimly lights the colonial style living room. A crystal glass lies on its side on the table; whiskey dribbles onto the hardwood floor, glistening ever so slightly from the fireplace. Mascara stained tears slowly roll over her cheeks–her gaze is focused on what lies within her mind. A heavy pit sits in her stomach as a picture frame lies on her lap, the glass shattered and bloody. The rain finally stops, and her empty gaze shifts back to the present situation. Her face is heavy with exhaustion. She gives a brief, uninterested glance at the mixture of blood, glass, and whiskey. A disheartened sigh escapes her mouth. The grandfather clock chimes twice, and silence follows.

Writing and Perfectionism

You’d think that if you’re a writer with a perfectionist streak you’d have the best, well-thought-out pieces, right? No problems, no road blocks, no grammar issues, nothing.

That’s rarely the case.

Being a perfectionist is a hindrance to writing, a lot of times. NOT a perk.

Back in middle school and high school, I always excelled in language arts. I received good grades on my papers. I liked writing, and I was good at it. But, we were urged to follow steps.

  1. Research
  2. Outline
  3. First draft
  4. Edit
  5. 2nd draft
  6. Edit and peer review
  7. Final draft

For me, I made it a habit to stop after step 3. I’d get all my research done, make a rough outline, then fill in the blanks. I wasn’t like some students where they’d type out word vomit, whatever came to their mind first, with the intention of fixing it all later. No. I’d sit at my computer, look over my outline, and think over all the possible ways I could write something before getting anything down on paper. When I finally decided, “This is it! THIS is how I want to say X,” it would get typed out. Then, rinse and repeat for the rest of the paper. After it was all said and done, I’d read over my paper and think, “Ya know, this isn’t half bad for my first draft!” So, I’d turn it in and make the smallest, most insignificant changes for future drafts, because nothing really needed “fixed.” My final draft was essentially my first draft, with maybe a couple things switched around. And it worked. I don’t think I ever got below a B on a paper in high school. I used this for creative writings too, not just research papers. Mental first draft, hard copy and “perfect” final draft.

Fast forward a few years to when I want to start writing a book. Mind you, it’s 2018, and I’ve had a couple book ideas since 2014. However, things have barely gotten out of the planning stages. Why? Because I’m a perfectionist, and my previous methods do NOT work in this realm. I can’t just think up the entire plot and dialogue for 300+ pages and write it all down straight from my head. Hell, I can’t even think up 3 pages ahead of time in “perfect” detail. Books aren’t concrete like research papers–they’re fluid. Each page builds on the last, and you’ll never know what page 10 is going to be until you’ve finished page 8 or 9. Sure, you can have a rough idea, but once the words hit the page, things can (and will more than likely) change. Sounds easy enough. Just write it piece by piece, what’s so hard about that? Well, if you have the privilege of being a PROCRASTINATING perfectionist like me, everything. Everything is hard about that.

The way my mind works is this: if I don’t think I can do something perfectly the first time around, I don’t want to do it at all. I’ll keep putting it off and putting it off until before I know it, weeks, months, and even a couple years pass by. Remember how I said I’ve had a couple book ideas since 2014? What happened? Procrastinating perfectionism happened.

I’ve built up bad habits. I’ve conditioned my brain into thinking I can’t write unless things are “perfect” (I’ve been quoting perfect, because there’s no such thing as perfect. There’s always room for improvement, as my old band director used to say). So, nothing gets written. Absolutely nothing. And it’s not even as simple as, “Oh, it’s not going to be perfect. Guess I’ll just put it off til the right idea comes to mind.” There is physical anxiety that comes with all of this. I become afraid and get a pit in my stomach at the thought of getting something “wrong.” That’s not an easy feeling to overcome. Being a perfectionist tends to be glamorized, especially online on sites like Tumblr (looking at you, studyblr/studyspo communities). But for a lot of people, it’s a form of anxiety that can be debilitating. So, how do you overcome the writer’s block that inevitably comes with perfectionism?

You write. You just have to fucking write. There’s going to be a LOT of self-talk that comes with it. You have to re-wire your brain, and the only way to do that is to accept that your first draft is going to be shit and WRITE. No, it’s not going to be easy. It’s going to cause stress, and you’re going to want to fight it. But you have to keep pushing yourself without backing down until it finally happens. Once you finally get some words down on the page, you may hate it. But you’ll get a feeling of satisfaction that you actually wrote something, for once. Or, you may get lucky and be able to say, “You know what? This isn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be,” and not have to re-write that part 8 times. No matter what outcome you get, you wrote, and that’s big.

There’s this quote I found online a few years ago that I absolutely love:

“For a star to be born, there is one thing that must happen: a gaseous nebula must collapse.

So collapse.
Crumble.
This is not your destruction.

This is your birth.” -Zoey Skylar

 

The Phoenix

Something lives inside of her… A fiery longing for something more. A soul and body can only take so much heat. It grows and grows as she tries to conceal it, but it’s hard to tame the flames. The walls come crumbling down as ash clouds the air. All seems lost forever in this one person graveyard.

But there’s a stirring within. Amidst the burning coals, flames shoot high as she rises like a phoenix. Nothing is ever broken–only transformed.

The Calm After the Storm

The sky was dark with clouds overhead–the moon and stars nowhere to be found. A single candle sat in front of her as she gazed into the flame. Her mind emptied completely. Suddenly, wind tore through the air. The leaves of nearby trees rustled furiously; branches swayed back and forth. Her hair danced angrily around her pale face, ignoring the uproar around her. The grass tickled her skin, though she felt numb. Nothing could break her focus as she lost herself in the fire. The flame flickered aggressively. The wind grew faster. All of a sudden, the candle’s light went out at the blink of an eye. Darkness surrounded her. Life finally snapped back into her eyes as she peered around. She was alone. Anxiety began to swell—panic set in. She clawed at the ground trying to grab anything she could to remind herself that she was still there as her mind took her elsewhere. Just as she was about to crumble, she looked up. The clouds began to dissipate. Slowly, the stars twinkled one by one. The moon, full and large, peeked out. Her body calmed as a sense of hope washed over her. The calm after the storm fueled her. Then, out of the corner of her eye, she saw something—the flame danced once again.

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Thoughts, insights, and life experiences that I've personally encountered over the years and some creative writing. My writings/posts may not be used without permission.