The Hospital Badge

3498888736_510d06cd2dyyellowbird via Compfight cc

When I meet other people who live with mental illness, it’s inevitable that at some point the topic of hospitalizations comes up. It’s as if the number of times you’ve been committed is like a badge of honor.

It’s not, but it is at the same time.

When you’ve been in the hospital, you learn how to fight to get well. You learn to have compassion for other people’s struggles. You learn to realize that your brain just doesn’t work like a plain old regular person’s brain works.

And so you learn coping mechanisms for how to manage your illness.

In group sessions you’re taught how to listen and be present in the moment. You’re shown how to use art to express your feelings and work through your emotions in art therapy. During the exercise class you might appreciate the calmness that comes from the breathing exercises and stretching of yoga.

But it doesn’t mean that you’ll be fine when you’re released. For me, having been hospitalized for mental illness was… [Read more…]

The smell of spring

Wednesday night I went on my second run in preparation for an upcoming 5k. I got home as my husband was finishing up dinner with the kids. By the time bath time was over, the kids were tucked in and stories read, I had to limp back down stairs to clean the kitchen.

I am clearly out of shape, even though at first glance I appear to be fit. I discovered the 5k last fall when I signed up for one in order to force myself to start working out again. It worked, and I went from having to walk most of the 3 miles each day I trained, to being able to run the entire thing by the end. It was awesome. Definitely empowering to know that my body is capable of running a race, actually completing it.

Back in the fall, those thirty-five minutes each weeknight evening or Saturday morning were so calming and thought-provoking for me. I knew I needed to find another one this spring, so I recently signed up for one in early May giving myself a month and a half to get ready.

This is week one of training and it’s been the most perfect weather for running. Slightly cool, mostly sunny, with a light breeze to keep you going. The smells of spring are everywhere around me as I’m running and I find myself taking the deepest breaths possible to make sure I take it all in to the fullest.

My sense of smell is hyperactive. I tie scents to experiences, to specific times in my life. I can recall memories just by taking a whiff of an old perfume or cologne my husband used to wear. It’s kindof weird, but neat at the same time.

When the scent of a season starts to emerge, I sometimes think of two of my hospitalizations. One was in the spring and one was in the fall. The spring one was the most recent, and the spring time was also the season in 2006 when I was diagnosed and then fell into a deep depression for the rest of the year. My parents were with me every step of the way and my mom and I used to go on long walks and we’d pray the rosary as we walked.

I think she prayed because she felt helpless. I felt helpless too, so I followed. I think our prayers were answered many months later when I found the medicine that works for me. My daily tears dried up and I started to enjoy life again. It was incredible.

I think the way the seasons constantly turn helps to remind us of the past and how far we’ve come. And no matter how bad things may be now, they can only get better with time. The next season will be here before we know it.

Checking in with the doc & Kony 2012

Had a checkup with my psychiatrist today. I brought the kids with me since it’s only a 30 minute appointment and it was right at 12pm, so I fed them before we left and brought the ipad to try to keep them occupied. She brought in a few toys for my little man to play with and my daughter sat in the stroller happily tapping away at the ipad. A tiny bit distracting, but nothing a mom of two toddlers isn’t used to.

I like how my doctor asks about my writing. She knows it is important to me and she supports my voice. My last psychiatrist didn’t read my book draft since I became emotional during the one appointment when I told her about it, handing her the draft to read. She told me at the next visit that she hadn’t read it since I became so upset. The fact that she didn’t read it (or so she said) made me sad. I was handing her a glimpse into my thoughts, feelings, and emotions having lived with bipolar disorder and she turned around and told me what felt like “you’re not worth my time outside of paid appointments.”

I would have stopped seeing her, but didn’t really have a choice since insurance was covering my visits at almost 90%. So I stuck with her until our insurance changed and I was forced to find a new doctor. I was lucky enough to find a very good one whose office is only 5 minutes from our house.

 

We talked about my mood during today’s visit and I admitted I’ve had some hypomanic periods over the past two months, but they are manageable. I always have a good sense of awareness about my moods and when I feel an elevated period, I know that I need to get more sleep and nap when the kids nap. I take Ambien if my mind is still buzzing when I know it’s bedtime. I’m also fortunate in that my husband stays on top of things too and encourages me to get rest when he knows I need it. We work as a team to keep me healthy and I like that.

My doctor and I discussed the recent news of the Kony 2012 movement and how Jason Russell, the filmmaker who was the voice of the campaign, was recently hospitalized in California under a 5150 psychiatric hold. He was trying to raise awareness about a horrible war that was going on which most Americans probably knew absolutely nothing about until news of the viral video his organization created hit the evening news. When I first watched the video two weeks ago, I’ll be the first to admit, I was kindof shocked by the message of “Making Joseph Kony famous”. But then it hit me. What better way to slap the world in the face to get them to realize how much shear devastation this one person has caused to so many innocent children? The campaign had a call to action too. They want to get the word out to have Kony arrested and put to justice. By the end of the 30-minute video I was a follower. I even shared it on my Facebook wall, encouraging my friends to watch it.

 

And then the story broke on Friday about Jason’s detainment by police after he was found naked on the streets shouting obscenities and pounding the pavement with his hands. The first thing I did was remove the share post of the Invisible Children Kony 2012 campaign from my Facebook wall.

 

How incredibly narrow-minded and judgmental of me to act in such haste. I immediately didn’t want to be associated with the guy just because he had suffered a public mental breakdown? Wow. Talk about needing to have an introspective weekend.

All I could do was think back, all weekend long, about how his story has some similar characteristics to my own. Not nearly on the same scale, of course, but in small part, similar. At the time of my first psychotic episode, I was under a great deal of stress from my career and the goals management had set for me in the coming year, in addition to being in the midst of an emotional affair with a co-worker and mid-way through building a brand new single-family house with my husband. Talk about having a lot on my plate.

I feel so blessed to have had the support I did when I went through that most trying time of my life (and theirs, I’m sure.) My husband did not abandon me, my parents and in-laws wrapped their arms around me in support, and my closest friends were there to listen to what I was going through whenever I needed to talk. I was so lucky that I didn’t have to suffer in the public eye like Jason is right now.

I’m sure there were things said behind my back by people wondering what the heck was going on with me. But I didn’t have to read about it online or hear about it on the news like his friends and family are doing right now. I pray that they don’t read or hear the negative words being thrown about on the Internet and news talk shows, and that if they do, that it only strengthens their defense for him and their efforts to help him get well. I’m praying for him. He’s done so much good work. He does not deserve all the hate. Not one bit of it.

I am not proud of my initial reaction to what happened to him. I wanted to write about it here to help teach myself, someone who suffers from a mental illness which caused four psychiatric hospital stays, not to turn my back on someone because they are going through a trying time. Let this be a learning experience to myself and the other 83 million people who watched the video. Don’t turn away because I believe that some people come into our lives as blessings, and others come into our lives as lessons.

Can friends double as therapists?

I find myself wondering why my condition is so difficult for people to talk about. I am someone who wears my emotions on my sleeve, and when I feel a need to talk about what I’m thinking or what I’ve gone through in the past regarding my bipolar diagnosis, it’s sad to me that I usually feel completely alone. My husband is of course always here and will listen whenever I need a shoulder to cry on. And I do feel as though my support system is strong. But sometimes I wish that more of my girlfriends would show an interest in what I have been living with these past six years. It almost feels like a dirty little secret. Except it’s not dirty, and it’s not even much of a secret anymore. I guess that people are just uncomfortable discussing mental illness. And that makes me sad.

What got me started thinking about it was my drive home this weekend. My high school girlfriends and I had planned a girls’ weekend to catch up and unwind without the stress of having to chase around toddlers, change diapers, and do naps, baths and bedtimes. (Our husbands graciously all agreed to our request for some R&R and amazingly we were able to find a weekend that worked for everyone.) Except the weather decided not to cooperate and instead of the beach for four days of sun, sand and cocktails, we were forced to choose a different location. One of the girls had just sold her house, and she was in the process of moving out so we gathered some air mattresses and crashed there for three days while Hurricane Irene wrecked havoc all up and down the East Coast. Luckily for us it was not much more than a bad thunderstorm with heavy winds by the time it got to our area.

I guess a part of me was hoping that at some point over the weekend I’d get a chance to talk with everyone about my hospitalizations, my recoveries, and my hope that I can somehow change the public’s perception of bipolar disorder and postpartum psychosis by telling my story and the lessons I’ve learned. But our conversations seemed to revolve more around our kids, work, and family life in general. Don’t get me wrong, I had so much fun getting to catch up and spend time with some of my friends who I have known for the longest time. The memories we made this weekend were priceless. I should probably get back to seeing my therapist regularly again instead of trying to turn one of my friends into my own personal Carl Jung. It’s on my to-do list for tomorrow morning.