What I Learned After Spending Christmas in a Psych Ward

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This holiday season, while many will be celebrating with cocktails and carols, parties and presents, some might find themselves in the same place I was nine years ago on Christmas Day: a psych ward. If it happens to you, or maybe you’re reading this and you know someone who may go through a similar scenario this year, here are some things to remember.

 

Don’t blame yourself.

Things happen which are beyond our control. Pointing the finger at yourself only makes the initial stage of recovery more challenging. Instead, point your finger three months down the road and remind yourself that it takes time to heal from a psychiatric trauma, and that is just what you intend to do.

 

It will get better.

A new year is a new start. Be sure to carve out at least a tiny chunk of time each day just for you to do something you enjoy. Go to a yoga class, meet a friend for coffee, or read a book in bed. You are important and it’s okay to remind yourself that you need attention too. Always putting the needs of others before your own and ignoring self-care can be detrimental to your mental health.

You’re not the only person this has happened to, even though it may feel this way at the time. Sometimes a stint in a psych ward is just the prescription we need to reset our recovery.

 

Go easy on yourself.

The transition back to “normal” life will be hard. Take lots of warm baths, soaking in the luxury not afforded in the psych ward. Read books that nourish your soul. Write in your journal until you begin to understand your journey. Someday you may want to share it so that others don’t feel so alone.

 

It’s going to be okay.

The first Christmas after {aka the first post-hospitalization anniversary} will be the toughest. All the feelings will come back. Don’t push them away, because that’ll only prolong the experience. Just let them come. There will probably be tears. There will definitely be sadness for the Christmas that wasn’t. But try not to dwell on what was lost, and focus instead on what was gained. Do your best to pull out the camera and take some pictures. Chances are, you don’t have many, if any, from the year before.

 

Know that this doesn’t define you.

If anything, the experience has made you stronger, more compassionate, and maybe it has paved the way for you to find your voice as an advocate. The truth about living with a mental illness is that once you’re diagnosed, it’s yours to live with for the rest of your life. It’s yours to manage, to curse, to medicate, and in time, it’s yours to appreciate.

There is no erasing a mental health condition. Therein lies both the beauty and the beast. The beast launches us up to heights we never thought possible, then hurls us crashing to the ground with a flick of his wrist and an, “I told you so, sucka.” But the beauty lifts us up and helps us lick our wounds, teaching us we are more than our diagnosis and we have important work to do.

 

If you’re ready to begin sharing your story, please consider submitting a poem, song, or essay for publication on our non-profit’s website: http://thisismybrave.org/submissions
 
 

Confession of a Lithium-taker

confession of a lithium-taker

I have a confession to make. I haven’t had a blood Lithium level done in over a year. My psychiatrist has the patience of a saint, but at my last appointment she got a teeny bit irritated with me.

Time is what we want the most, but what we use the worst. – William Penn

 

It’s not that I haven’t thought about it. It’s the first thing I remember I haven’t done when I notice my quarterly psychiatrist appointment on my calendar. And by then it’s too late to squeeze in a blood draw, so instead I make excuses of how busy I’ve been and how challenging it is to get to the lab within the 8-12 hour window after my nightly dose with two kids in tow, not to mention their school schedules.

Plus, blood tests just suck in general. Who likes to get pricked with a needle first thing in the morning. I’d rather run three miles in the freezing rain.

I take my medication religiously, I tell her. And I do. Every night it’s the last thing I do before crawling under the covers. It’s been one of the keys to keeping me stable these last four plus years. Staying faithful to this medication which has given me my life back is a promise I made to my husband and father the morning I was released from the my last hospitalization. I won’t break that promise. My family and my health are too important not to swallow a little pill which keeps me “in the middle” each night. Unfortunately, regular blood tests come with the territory.

Making my health a priority

 

I’m sure other moms can relate to how I tend to put everyone else’s needs and issues before my own. Us moms are just used to being last in line. Running a household isn’t easy, the to-do list is constantly over-flowing with laundry, dishes, grocery shopping, picking up toys/messes/clutter, morning send-off, bedtime routine, repeat, repeat, repeat. When I do have time to myself the last thing I want to do is get a blood test. I’d much rather be making out with my husband, writing, reading, soaking in a bubble bath, or catching up with friends.

So I subconsciously put it off. Apparently for over a year, as per my doctor’s chart. Not good, as she needs to check my THS (thyroid stimulating hormone) since long-term Lithium use can affect the function of the thyroid.

Keeping that promise – an early New Year’s resolution

 

We all have things we put off in regards to our health. Maybe it’s a colonoscopy. Or a dentist appointment. Or a simple blood test. We need to stop making excuses and start giving our health the priority it deserves. Especially our mental health.

Why not get a jump start on your New Year’s resolutions by scheduling those appointments you’ve been putting off. Maybe you have something going on in your life and you’ve been meaning to find a therapist to help you work through it. Or you’ve been struggling to get out of bed for the past few weeks. Maybe you have a hard time coping with the holidays in general.

Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Make your mental health a priority, on all fronts. Calling a friend and sharing the hard stuff may seem intimidating, but those conversations end up to be the richest, most gut-twisting talks that at the same time are filled with relief and encouragement. Friends who know you best and who can relate allow us to see that we’re not alone.

As for me, the first call I made (well, actually it was a click using the online appointment-scheduler) was to the lab to make that appointment to get my arm pricked and the results sent to my doc. I’m heading in tomorrow after I drop my daughter off at preschool and I know it’ll feel good to check it off my list.

Yesterday you said Tomorrow. Just do it. – Nike 

 

The Time to Talk Openly About Mental Illness

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Photo Credit: Thomas Rousing Photography via Compfight cc

 

When I tell people I have bipolar disorder, I usually find myself explaining that I have Bipolar Type 1, since most people don’t realize there are different types. When asked about what I do for work, I tend to mention that I live with mental illness since my story led me to create This Is My Brave and they’re both so tied together. I take it upon myself to educate them because the more people who understand that my condition is treatable and manageable, the more accepting our world will become, one person at a time.

How I got to where I am today

I wasn’t always so confident when talking with people about mental illness. In fact, I remember quite vividly how terrifying it used to be to attend social gatherings after my illness emerged. It was as if embarrassment oozed out of me because of having to quit my job to take care of my mental health. I knew the small talk would at some point gravitate to conversations about work, and I often had to leave the room so that I wouldn’t start sobbing right there in front of my friends.

This went on the entire year following my diagnosis. I eventually learned how to skirt my way around the career discussions, simply suggesting I was taking some time off to regroup, a “sabbatical” of sorts. No one really felt comfortable inquiring about how I was doing otherwise, and I wasn’t in a position to be able to talk about it. Not yet anyway.

Even once I had found a medication that was working well to stabilize me, I still wasn’t ready to talk openly about my condition. Looking back now it’s apparent that my heart hadn’t fully accepted my illness as the life-long condition it is. A part of me was holding out for my bipolarness to go away after a few months of medication. The medication worked, and I was willing to take it. Until two little pink lines showed up on a white stick.

Throw in pregnancy and new motherhood

Bringing a new life into the world was a big decision. My fierce determination to have children without psychiatric medications in my system was not met with success. Yes, with my first pregnancy I was able to maintain stability until four weeks after my son’s birth. But the trauma of postpartum psychosis was a horrific price to pay.

Attempting to remain drug-free during at least the first trimester of my second pregnancy was also met with a less-than-desirable outcome. I never intended to be hospitalized at 5 weeks pregnant, forced onto antipsychotic medication to bring me down from the mania radiating from my every pore. But it had to be done. My mental health had to be put before the baby, as difficult a decision that was for me to have made for me.

Six years + stability = my turn to open up

Six years isn’t a magic number, but it was the amount of time my story needed in order to reach the point where I was ready to share it. I began blogging here, and even though I started anonymously, my gut told me soon my mask was going to be removed. Shedding the shame and embarrassment was easy. Today saying, “I live with bipolar disorder,” is like telling someone what I ate for lunch yesterday. It just is something in my life.

Staying committed to my medication, healthy sleep, and my doctor’s appointments is a promise I do not intend to break. My family is way too important to let my mental health slip.

Getting people to listen is a lot harder. But each time the door opens for me to tell someone I live with bipolar disorder and I’m okay, you can bet I’ll take advantage of it. It’s my hope that by continuing to share my story, others will be able to find the voice inside them telling them it’s okay they share, too. Collectively our voices are changing the way society thinks about mental illness and mental health. So let’s keep the conversations going.

 

Being Known as Bipolar Mom

Bipolar MomSummer Beach Trip, August 2014

Back when I started my blog three years ago, I guess I had the right idea when it came to choosing a name. It was me in that moment. I was a mom with bipolar, and I wanted a website where other moms with bipolar and other mental illnesses would land. And regular people, too, for that matter. I wanted my site to show up in search results. I was determined to get my story out there to help others who were going through similar experiences. Determined to make an impact, no matter how small. My heart told me that if I could reach people through my writing, I could help change the way people viewed mental illness in our society.

I knew in the back of my mind that I was so much more than my illness, but I needed a platform. So I built it, giving it the most obvious name. I set out on a quest and had no idea where it would lead me.

My words appeared anonymously at first, I had to test the waters. I wrote just words and only shared photos where faces weren’t recognizable to protect our privacy. But blogging behind a mask felt disingenuous and a bit like I was hiding something. It didn’t take long for me to realize my story was one I needed to tell with my real name. I wasn’t ashamed of the fact I had an illness in my brain. I deserved to have a voice, an authentic one, and I was ready to share my real life through not only my stories, but also through real photos of me and my family.

You see, until we put a face on mental illness, the face of a person who has learned to manage their illness so that the illness doesn’t control them, society will continue to stigmatize those who live with mental health disorders because they don’t understand. They don’t understand what we go through on a daily basis, they don’t understand how hard we fight to educate ourselves on the best medicines and treatments for our conditions, and they don’t understand how to support a person who is struggling with a mental illness. They fear what they don’t know. They don’t know it’s possible for a person with a mental illness to fully recover and live a beautiful, productive, successful life.

We can begin to change this ignorance by simply being open. By sharing our story when we have the opportunity. By letting go of the shame and embarrassment we inherited when we were diagnosed. And by not being afraid of being treated differently because of having a mental illness, but instead looking at it as a chance to educate someone and make a difference.

These days when Mary Lambert’s song Secrets comes on the radio, me and my kids sing it loud and proud. It’s no longer a secret that I live with bipolar disorder. I am sometimes recognized as “Bipolar Mom” when at networking events and I’m okay with this. I am a mom with bipolar disorder and my mental illness allowed me to become an advocate. I’ve rediscovered my love of writing and my blog guided me to create This Is My Brave with my creative partner, Anne Marie Ames, providing a platform and community for others living with mental illness to do what I’ve done.

I couldn’t imagine life any other way.  Happy Mental Illness Awareness Week, friends.

Today is National Depression Screening Day. Do yourself a favor and spend 2 minutes taking an online assessment of your mental health.