Tag Archives: medication

The Health of Our Heads

In retrospect, I can recognize the signs. It starts with agitation. I mismatch and contradict what people say. My filters are gone and I sometimes say insensitive things, things I wouldn’t normally say or would have said more diplomatically. I don’t sleep well that night. And the next day – well, the next day is unbearable.

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For most people, Mental Health Awareness Month means educating ourselves about mental health and acknowledging its importance. It means that for me as well. I’ve always been intrigued by various mental disorders and learning about them and how they affect people and their families. But over the last two years since the commemorative month was designated, the awareness part of it means something much more personal, much closer to home. May is Mental Health Awareness Month. For me, it’s every month.

My typical bipolar episode is one that most people don’t really know about: the mixed state. It’s when you experience both mania and depression at the same time. There aren’t that many references to it, and when I find one, it’s very short, almost dismissive. And that’s dangerous because of the 10-15% of people with bipolar who commit suicide do it while in a mixed state – you’re depressed but you have the energy of mania to do something about it. One minute you hear raging and wailing in your head, and the next minute you can’t stop crying. You don’t rest. You don’t lie down waiting for it to pass because you can’t. You pace, you walk in circles around the kitchen table, you feel like throwing your head into the wall, and sometimes you do. You’ll do anything to stop the relentless churning. It’s like having an egg beater in your head. And usually the only thing that stops it is the right medication.

Often when people feel better after taking their medication, though, they think they don’t need it anymore and stop taking it. And they immediately go into an episode. I knew that I wouldn’t stop taking my medication because I felt better, and so I developed this false sense of security that if I just took it every day, I would never experience another episode.

But if I don’t manage my stress, I can easily have what is termed a breakthrough episode. It will seemingly come from out of nowhere because I wasn’t paying attention to my triggers, and I wasn’t aware of the signs I exhibit when I’m beginning to go into an episode, the signs I mentioned at the beginning of this post. Over time and vigilant self-awareness, I have come to recognize the signs much earlier and can take some backup medication that my doctor has prescribed for these situations. It usually does the job, and I am back at my baseline within 2-3 days, very grateful that I didn’t advance into a full-blown episode, which sometimes feels like a glimpse of hell.

There are worse disorders than bipolar, worse diagnoses and outcomes. This is not a poor-me post; it’s an attempt to increase knowledge during Mental Health Awareness Month. We are not just in treatment centers and residential facilities. We are among you every day, working, paying bills, taking our kids to scout meetings, grocery shopping, lobbying for our children who have developmental disabilities, trying to function even when our neurotransmitters misfire, hoping like hell that when they do, we’ll gain the upper hand.

[image credit: Gifts for Awareness]

Surfacing

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In 2008, when I was a new blogger, I would find a few blogs that I liked and read them for a few months, and then the blogger would stop blogging. Their last post would be a fairly typical post for them, with no indication that they were going to stop blogging or needed to take a break from it. So I would keep checking back and wonder where they were. And after a few months I remember thinking, if they were going to stop blogging, whether for a while or permanently, why didn’t they write a post to that effect? Why leave us hanging? What gives?

Of course, since last year I did that very thing, I now know the reason. It isn’t because they wanted to leave anybody hanging. It isn’t because they were trying to encourage anticipation or garner attention. It’s simply because they didn’t expect to stop blogging. And probably because of a lot of other things they didn’t expect.

For instance, they might not have expected their site to have been hacked, as mine was shortly after my last post (I must have garnered some attention). Nobody expects that. Neither did I expect my feed to be invalidated (and as bloggers know, having your feed invalidated is a bad thing – cost me $150 to have it fixed). But the upside was getting to rebuild my site and deciding to add some new features, including a page for my Editing Services and a revised About page (less about events, more about what I believe in). It’s been time consuming to rebuild, but also therapeutic.

And boy, did I need therapy. I suppose that was something I did expect. But I didn’t expect that it wouldn’t make everything all better. (Does that make sense?) I somehow thought that with all the time (and expense) I put into psychiatric care and therapy that by now I could go on my merry, well-adjusted way. I didn’t expect that my medication would make me feel dull, uncreative, and sluggish. I didn’t expect that I wouldn’t be able to write for over six months.

I didn’t expect that when I would try to sell my house again, after owning it for nine years, that it would not only be worth less than when I bought it, but less than what I still owed on it. And so, one stress-filled short sale later, I downsized to an apartment less than half the size of my house. I had thought my year of letting go was over, but I found out that I had a lot more letting go to do! My Goodwill tax deduction is going to be pretty substantial, for one thing. But we are settled in our new place, and Nigel can still ride his bike to school, which is important for him.

Nigel. I did not expect Nigel to continue to have seizures. I also didn’t expect that increasing his medication would cause severe aggression, necessitating police involvement. I didn’t expect that my sweet, funny, gentle son would be replaced by an angry, volatile, downright mean stranger. Thank God the worst of it subsided after about a month. But it was a month of stress-filled phone calls and appointments with doctors and counselors, visits to police stations, and being on pins and needles in my own home. Now that Nigel has adjusted to his medication increase, I would like to say that since doubling it he has not had any seizures, but unfortunately he has. And I don’t know what to do. As much as I hate saying this, it feels like epilepsy has the upper hand. I didn’t expect that.

It’s not so much what we don’t expect in itself; the hard part is learning to accept it, to acknowledge that it’s now part of our identity, and ultimately deal with it. Constantly kicking our ribs to move forward, to not crawl into bed and cry (and when you’re wrestling with bipolar, that’s a tall order). But ultimately, curling up on the couch to watch a movie every night – escape – became a greater risk than turning the computer back on and doing what I believe I was put on this earth to do.

It got to a point where something in me couldn’t stay down any longer. I am surfacing. For one thing, I have a book to finish. It’s always been in the forefront of my mind, waiting for me to dive back in. And blogging, well, what can I say? I might need to take an unexpected break now and again, but for me it’s definitely a case of once a blogger, always a blogger. I’m a bit rusty, but I’m back.