How I Wish My Doctor Would Have Explained My Bipolar Diagnosis

How I Wish My Doctor Would Have Handled My Bipolar Diagnosis

{Ben and I on a vacation in St Thomas, 2 months after my illness emerged.}

Looking back on my bipolar diagnosis nearly eleven years ago, there are many ways my doctor(s) could have handled explaining the news to me. Only now am I able to clearly see the advice and encouragement which would have made my recovery journey a little easier.

A diagnosis of mental illness is not a life sentence.

When I first heard the words “Generalized Anxiety Disorder” and “Bipolar Disorder” I was devastated. The doctor may have well handed me a slip of paper that said: BROKEN BRAIN and MENTAL PATIENT, because that’s how those labels made me feel. Instead, I was given a diagnosis and left to figure out what that meant. I wish my doctor would have taken the time to assure me that yes, I may have bipolar for the rest of my life, but that it was treatable and manageable and that I’d be able to have a full and rewarding life despite my diagnosis.

Keeping a journal or mood chart would help me reach a recovery path sooner.

I wasn’t introduced to the concept of the mood chart until several months into my diagnosis. My dad was the one who from the beginning encouraged me to keep a small journal where I could jot down the date, the meds I took (and dosages), how I felt that day, and any side effects I experienced from the meds. It was a simple activity that helped me to get a handle on my illness and I encourage everyone to utilize it no matter what type of diagnosis you encounter. Looking back at my old journals sometimes makes me sad because I remember how sick I was back then, but I also realize how far I’ve come.

You may have bipolar disorder, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have children.

One of the things that most devastated me when my mental illness first emerged was an intense fear of not being able to fulfill my dream of one day becoming a mother. I don’t remember many of the doctors I saw during the first year following my diagnosis ever broaching the topic of motherhood, except for one. The consultation with the doctor who listened to my concerns over not being able to have children provided me hope for the future. He assured me that wasn’t the case, and that by working closely with my doctors and putting a support system in place, a family was indeed something I could have. Within eighteen months after that consultation I was pregnant with my first child.

Learning to protect your sleep will be your greatest advantage next to your medicine, for managing your condition.

I am a night owl. I’ve tried to flip my preferences, by forcing myself to go to bed earlier in order to wake up before the sun. But I just love the way the house gets quiet after the little ones have been tucked in. There are plenty of nights when I have the motivation to keep burning the midnight oil, but experience has taught me that I will only pay for the lack of sleep in the days that follow in the form of erratic moods. Maintaining a regular sleep/wake pattern has been crucial to my long-term recovery and I wish I would have known this earlier.

The sooner you begin talking openly about your struggle, the sooner your true healing will begin.

I hid my struggle for many years because I felt so isolated and embarrassed. I was convinced that none of my friends or extended family members would understand. I thought everyone would think I was “crazy” for having suffered the number of manic episodes I had endured. The feelings of shame were so intense that I began searching for stories of other people who had made it out of the darkness. I told my psychiatrist that I wanted to start blogging about my experience and then write a book, and she immediately discouraged me from disclosing. I’m glad I didn’t listen to her advice. The point at which I made the decision to write openly about my mental illness was the beginning of a better life. One in which I didn’t need to feel ashamed about a condition that affected my brain.

 

What do you wish your doctors would have told you when you were first diagnosed?

 

A Conversation on Ditching Perfectionism

Back in May, I met Sarah Bagley when she attended This Is My Brave. Like I had in 2013, Sarah had auditioned for Listen to your Mother DC this year, but her essay wasn’t selected. She did, however, make the cast of Listen To Your Mother Baltimore, and although I had traveled to the Baltimore show, I missed her performance live since I severely underestimated the time it would take to drive there. (My bad. I had thought the show was in downtown Baltimore when in reality it was in Towson, which is quite a ways further.) The good news is that I’ll get to watch her performance on YouTube when LTYM releases the videos of all the performances in all 32 cities! (Amazing.)

Sarah invited me to be a guest on her podcast, where she talks with people about pushing past perfectionism to achieve their goals and what living a B+ life looks like to them. Sarah is a recovering perfectionist, and I can relate on so many levels. Growing up I feel as though I was constantly striving to be a perfectionist, yet at the same time, when I realized that I was never going to excel at whatever sport, activity, class, or musical instrument, I’d find another to pursue. Maybe the next new adventure would become my passion.

What I didn’t realize was that my passion was right in front of me. I’ve always been a writer. From the time I was young I was keeping a diary. Falling in and out of love throughout highschool I wrote sappy poems. When I traveled, I kept a travel journal, documenting the highs and lows of the trip, the new and exciting places I’d seen, knowing that when I returned home I could read back over my words to be transported back in time.

Even though I knew from an early age that I loved to write, my fear of not being a perfect writer kept me from pursuing my passion. Luckily, I’ve moved past this unfounded trepidation to embrace the beauty of being myself, imperfections and all.

As Anna Quindlen writes in her book Being Perfect, “What is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.”

Sarah and I talked about writing, blogging, mental health, the show, and why self-care is important. You can listen here! (Thank you to Sarah for her patience during the interview as my kiddos interrupted more than once. Her editing skills were put to good use!)

Thanks for having me, Sarah! It was fun!

Recognition > Fame

When I was nine years old I wanted to be a famous singer. Forget that I had an average voice and even worse dance moves. The proof is in this photo of an old family video. If I had a copy of the video that I could upload to YouTube, I would. I’m sure you’d fall over laughing. But it was 1990 folks, and this gem is only available on VHS. (Or my cousin Kristen’s Facebook page, where I got this screenshot.)

RecognitionOverFame{That’s me on the left in the hideous pink outfit, big hair and huge bow performing as lead singer with my cousins and brother rocking as the band in the background.}

As I got older I began to realize that it wasn’t fame I was coveting, it was recognition.

When I began excelling at recruiting at a DC-area creative recruiting agency, I noticed early on that I was motivated more by the appreciation of my clients, bosses, and peers than I was by the commission from making a placement. Sure, the money was nice, but it wasn’t what got me out of bed in the morning. The thank you letter from a client endorsing me as a recruiter, the email from a candidate who was head-over-heels in love with her new job, and the high-five from a colleague after closing a tough search were what got me fired up. I craved the praise from those who witnessed my hard work. It was what made me want to keep getting better at what I was doing.

Recognition feels so much better to me than fame. Fame feels contrived and manufactured; recognition feels earned and deserved. One can be famous for a day with a viral video or blog post, but people we recognize for being good at what they do will always be there.

As long as they keep creating great work.

This whole fame and recognition thing has been on my mind lately because This Is My Brave has been getting a lot of media attention lately. Yesterday a top local lifestyle magazine hit newsstands with a story on the show. This week we filmed a rehearsal of the show for the metro area’s leading evening news station which will air the week of May 12th. People are noticing all the good things we’re doing. And it feels so good to get recognized for what we’ve been doing to prepare for the show and what we’re going to actually do next month.

I didn’t create This Is My Brave to become famous. I did it to shed a light on a topic that I believe is important we talk about openly: mental illness.

My Associate Producer Anne Marie and I are merely the vehicle which will bring This Is My Brave to life. The breath and the voice of the show is made up of our fourteen brave and beautiful cast members who will stand up on stage on May 18th to lift up their hearts to the audience. These courageous individuals will talk on stage about things people often shy away from like suicide attempts, crippling agoraphobia, the painful reality of dealing with anxiety on a daily basis, and they’ll even find humor in what it’s like to live with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

We’ll laugh {probably mostly at my dance moves again}, cry, and beam with pride at what This Is My Brave will reveal. I can’t wait for you to see it.

Mostly I can’t wait for you to recognize how this show, this organization, this community of passionate people has come together and how much we’ve accomplished in less than a year. All thanks to our cast and extraordinary supporters.

Today and tomorrow are the last days to order an official This Is My Brave tee-shirt via our Booster!

BRAVE bracelets and tickets to the show are on sale via our website and EventBrite!

All proceeds from merchandise and ticket sales goes directly to This Is My Brave, Inc., our recently-formed non-profit, so that we can continue our mission of ending the stigma surrounding mental illness through the creation of community programs which encourage the sharing of personal stories.

Thank you for your continued support!

Singing in the Back of a White Police Van

9809202266_096a89dab8Photo Credit: Mikka Bee via Compfight cc

Driving in the misty spring rain to meet two of my closest girlfriends for lunch yesterday, I looked out my window and found myself thinking back to April four years ago.

Beside me on the highway was a white police van, with a fenced divider separating the driver and passenger in the front from the “cargo” in the back. Four years ago I was the cargo in one of those vans and we were traveling on that same road I was driving today. Only, four years ago I was very sick and was being transported to a psychiatric hospital, the exact opposite of my health now, as the years have taught me how to manage my condition successfully.

My 3-and-a-half-year-old firecracker buckled into her 5-point harness carseat behind me, oblivious to the thoughts going through my head, was the size of a poppy seed in my belly when I rode inside that white van.

Except, for this post I don’t want to focus on the crushing sadness of that week – the fact that my husband had to experience sending me to the hospital again, how I had to start back at the beginning on my recovery path again, on psychiatric medications making it a “high-risk pregnancy,” or the fact that I had to leave my precious 18-month old son for a week so that I could get well. Instead, I want to share a side of the story I haven’t written about much before. [Read more…]