Tag Archives: mental health

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.

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.

Bipolar Disorder and Jobs

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder back in early 2013, though I’ve had it for years longer (I sometimes think I had it even into childhood, looking back). In fall of 2012, I got my first job. I worked in retail at a video game store. Video games were my life growing up, so it seemed like a natural fit to work there.

I loved it. I got to talk about games all day and keep up to date with what new games and consoles were coming out. My wallet may not have liked me much, but it was fine. I stayed at that job for a year and a half before I quit. It ended up being a toxic work environment, and it began eating away at my mental health.

After that, something changed. I don’t know what and I don’t know how, but it did.

A couple months later, I got another job at an electronics retailer. Although I wasn’t directly working with video games, I still got to talk about them with certain customers and coworkers (I made some really close friends at this job that I gamed with). I figured, “Okay, I can still be nerdy here, I can do this! I’m going to love it here.” I was SUPER excited about this new job. I showed up on early every day, I gave everything 110%, and I was always willing to learn and do more. 3 months down the road…

My whole mindset changed. Stress ate away at me, and I felt like I couldn’t even do basic tasks without nearly having an anxiety attack or feeling like I couldn’t handle it. I was a walking oil leak: my mental and physical health were draining a bit more each day until there was nothing left in the tank. Energy wasn’t something I had. I wasn’t having fun–I now hated what I did. Just a few months ago, I LOVED working here! Nothing changed in the workplace… literally nothing. So, what happened?

I crashed. That’s what happened. It took me years to figure this out, but I was manic when I went into the job; I had lots of energy and motivation and all of these new ideas of how my future was going to go. Then, the fuel tank ran dry, and I skidded to a halt in depression. All of that energy and motivation and ambition I had? Gone, like it had never existed. Negativity filled me, and there was no possible way I could see anything positive anymore. How did I cope? By deciding that the JOB was the problem, not me.

I ended up quitting after 6 months. My mind decided that there was no possible way I could salvage what I once had and that it was time to go. For several months, I was jobless and just lazing around at home all day. I’m not going to lie, it was nice for a while. But eventually, I got bored. In spring of the following year, I decided to look for another job. I found an opening at a cookie shop and thought, “Okay, I like baking. I can do this! I’m going to love it here.” I was super excited, super motivated, and I even got promoted to shift leader a month in (are you beginning to see a pattern here?). Working there was great. But, again, something shifted. A few months in, I began to hate it and dread going into work. Did I quit? Yep. When? A few months down the road.

This has happened at literally every single job I’ve had since I quit my first job. Each time things went downhill, I figured it was the job, NOT an internal issue that I had. So, I ran and headed straight for the next, new, exciting option. Things were hard once the depression washed over each time. I’d get bored with my work. I wouldn’t have any energy to deal with even the slightest bit of social interaction. I’d tell myself I hated what I did, even though I fully enjoyed it just a few weeks ago. I loathed having to go into work each shift. At a few of my jobs, my anxiety and fear of confrontation was so bad (my anxiety gets worse when I’m in depression) that I just stopped showing up with no call ahead of time until I inevitably abandoned my job. Super unprofessional, I know, but in the moment, that was the only thing my mind was able to handle.

The feelings leeched outside of the job environment itself. I’d begin to doubt anything regarding my future. I didn’t know what I wanted to do in life, because I lost interest in literally everything I used to enjoy while manic. I was a shell of a person.

I just recently lost my job. A quick summary: I missed too many days from being sick, I was going to be fired, so I quit. However, I still had the same cycle with work on top of that. Manic going in, depressed a month or 2 later. The other day, I talked to my therapist about this and my habit of quitting jobs. She told me, “You have to stop running. You have to make your situation work for you, otherwise the same problem is just going to reappear in the next job.” As she was explaining this to me, everything inside of me didn’t want to believe her and was trying to dismiss what she was telling me. But, she was right. It wasn’t the jobs that were the problem. It was me. Or rather, my bipolar moods influencing me. It was a hard pill to swallow, but I realized that I had to listen to her. The next day, I decided to voice my concerns with my managers (a big step for me, since I usually keep quiet and run), but that’s when I found out I was going to be fired. So, I won and I lost at the same time. But, I still see that as a big milestone.

Now, here’s the tricky part. If I have all of these interests and motivations while I’m manic, how do I decipher what I TRULY enjoy, since it all disappears when I crash? It took me a while to figure that one out. Eventually, I realized that you have to pinpoint what interest sticks around when you’re manic, baseline (“normal” mood), AND depressed. It may not smack you in the face, and you may have to dig a little to figure out what that is, but it’s there. What did I figure out my interest was in that regard? Writing.

I had written a few poems and prompts here in there during elementary and middle school. But in my junior year in high school is when I REALLY started writing. At one point, I said, “You know what? I want to be a writer/author ‘when I grow up.'” Some people shot me down though, because you “don’t make money” in that profession, unless you’re lucky. So, I dismissed it. Until recently. I did some soul searching and realized what I needed out of a job: to work from home, to make my own schedule, and to be my own boss. I realized that writing fulfilled all of those things (I realize you have a “boss” and somewhat of a schedule if you’re a published author, but that’s beside the point), and it has been an interest that’s stuck around through thick and thin. So, I’ve finally decided to pursue it. Sure, I’m going to have to have a side job in the meantime until my writing takes off, but the fact of the matter is that I realized my unhealthy patterns and decided to “make my situation work for me,” as my therapist put it.

What’s my point in all of this? Well, for one, to showcase what a lot of people with bipolar disorder deal with when it comes to working. But, I also wanted to share my personal story and how I’m overcoming the hurdle I’ve been trying to jump for 5 years now. Even if you don’t have bipolar disorder, here’s what you can take away from this: if you dislike or hate what you’re doing in life, don’t run, hoping that things will be solved elsewhere. While you may be in a situation like I was with my first job where the environment was toxic, in a lot of situations, the things that are bothering you can be fixed. You can’t let external factors lead you like a marionette. YOU have to take control of what’s inside of you. Make your situation work for you.

What it’s like living with bipolar disorder.

Cool, crisp air encompasses the fall day. Leaves crunch beneath my feet, and the smell of burning wood fills my nose. The air is still and calm. A casual stroll along a straight path helps keep my mind clear.

Out of nowhere, the trail begins to curve. It starts to twist and wind with no sense of direction. This is much more exciting, so I continue to follow. Without warning, a gust of wind sweeps me off my feet. Rather than falling, I start to float higher and higher. Soon enough, I’m flying above the Earth within crystal blue skies.

So many possibilities; I soar in one direction, testing how fast I can go. As a split decision, I abruptly turn toward a new direction. Soon enough, I’m zig-zagging through space and time. I fly higher toward the sun, nearly in reach of it. My hand is outstretched, and it’s nearly kissing my fingertips.

Just before it’s in my grasp, everything stops–the stars stop twinkling, the sun quickly dims, and the once-blue sky turns black. My body goes numb, and I begin to fall. I descend faster and faster toward Earth–everything is a blur. Before I know it, my body crashes into the cold, hard ground. Everything is black and empty behind my eyes.

After a non-restful sleep, I awake and take in my surroundings. The sky is a dark grey swirled with a murky brown. The grass is dead, and the trees are bare. The air is still–not even one sound pierces it.

I’m stuck, nearly paralyzed. I do what I can to drag myself to a nearby bench and crawl up it, grasping for anything I can. Eventually, I manage to pull myself up, but I have no more energy or will to do anything else. My body sits there, slumped over like a zombie, staring into the abyss that is my life. I am alone. No one can pull me out of this purgatory. I begin to accept the fact that this will forever be my future: a lifeless, paralyzed, useless nobody.

When all seems lost, faint music dances through the air. Its lullaby puts me in a daze until I inevitably fall into a slumber. What seems like a lifetime is quickly interrupted by rays of sunshine.

I open my eyes; the skies are blue, the trees are still clinging to leaves, and the sun shines bright again. My body is no longer in stasis. I stand up, brush the dirt off, and realize I’m where I was at the beginning of my walk. All is well, so I gladly resume my travels.

I am calm, and my mind is clear.

Then, out of nowhere, the trail begins to curve…