Crossroads

I think I am quickly reaching another crossroads in my life, this time in my career. I am a RN and have been for almost 21 years. I’ve done lots of great things in my career. I’ve also experienced burnout and mental health challenges, as have my fellow healthcare professionals. In fact, this is becoming a major topic of discussion in the medical field as a whole, as our jobs are more difficult and there are increasing incidences of violence, from patients and within our own community of professionals.

As for my own story, I was diagnosed with bipolar 2 disorder at age 33, after a severe bout of postpartum anxiety and depression combined with an abusive spouse caused the once hidden symptoms of hypomania to rear their ugly head. As for workplace violence, I’ve encountered it in nearly every setting in which I’ve worked as a RN. There were the adult patients who tried to pull my hair. One patient threatened to kill me for telling him that he was not allowed to smoke in his hospital room. Even in pediatrics, I’ve encountered irate parents who wanted to harm us in one way or another. I know many others in my field who have similar stories.

So how do we fix the problem? I really don’t know. I do know that I am becoming increasingly burned out as a bedside RN, with the overwhelming levels of responsibility and terrible work hours. My ideal job would be some kind of mental health advocate for healthcare professionals. I just don’t know yet where to begin or what it will look like.

Not over it yet

July 3rd will be 6 months since our house burned down. Six months since we lost everything. How long does it take to stop grieving the loss? I still feel homeless. I still feel like none of this stuff is mine. Just yesterday I was thinking of how much I wanted to nap under the quilt my Granny Tucker made me. It was white with squares lined in baby blue and pink. Inside each square was a butterfly and tulip, made from pieces of different cloth. I slept under that quilt every night from age 7 to 18. Mom gave it to me when I moved away from home. That quilt is gone now. So is my wedding dress. It was a steal on Amazon. I think I paid $15. It was white lace and tea length. I felt so pretty and Phillip says I looked so pretty too. Gone too is the first wedding ring set he bought for me. It had a heart-shaped center stone and the band had blue sapphires. The wedding band his grandfather willed to him is gone, too. I lost the boys’ baby books with their photos and ultrasound pictures. The oval stained glass window Mom made for me is gone. We have no books. We lost our Bibles. We lost my toy box that Grandaddy Hayes made me and the hutch he made is gone, too. These are just “things”, but they are really more than that. They represent my life, our life. Maybe I should be over this by now. Maybe it’s stupidly sentimental to cry. Maybe I’m just having a bad day. After all, we all did make it out alive, which is a blessing. But the hurt is still real and the tears still flow.

Yay for Chemical Imbalance! (No not really)

I have a chemical imbalance in my brain. My neurotransmitters are jacked up, specifically serontonin, nor epinephrine, and dopamine. I really don’t know how these things work, but this is the havoc they wreak:

I am one in five who has mental illness. I won’t pretend it’s okay and I am fine because it’s not and I’m not. It sucks to have your own brain, thoughts and emotions lie to you, betray you. And that is what my brain, and the brains of millions of others like me do. I don’t know for sure since I’m not “normal”, but I suspect normal people don’t have to try to gauge if their feelings and thoughts are reality or not. I don’t have that luxury. When I get sad, I have to try and figure out if there’s a reason I feel that way and if it’s valid or not. Am I sad or am I depressed? When I get angry, I have to figure out am I angry about something specific or am I hypomanic. All of this can be anxiety producing, which I have in addition to bipolar disorder.

So let me delve deeper into my brand of bipolar disorder. I call it my brand because bipolar is different for everyone. It varies in symptoms, severity, duration of phases, etc. For me, there is no happy place in bipolar. I have no euphoria, as some people do with mania or hypomania. I am just agitated, irritable, and prone to outbursts of temper. The insomnia that goes along with hypomania intensifies the agitation. It can, and has gotten bad enough that I have hallucinations, most likely from prolonged insomnia. I really hate my version of hypomania, and so does everyone else. I try very hard not to go there.

Depression isn’t much better, but it is my comfort zone. I’m an Eeyore at heart. My mood tends towards depression. I am very sensitive and cry easily. My heart is big and big hearts get hurt easily. When I get depressed, I just want to crawl into my bed and never come out.

I also have the added bonus of anxiety disorder. It seems as though it can go hand in hand with bipolar disorder for many of us. Panic attacks are unbelievably frightening. If you’ve ever had one, you know what I mean. Imagine having them at random, for no reason. I can’t begin to tell you how traumatizing they are. I can tell you many stories of my having public panic attacks that sent me running out of stores, buildings, etc.

Another component to this swirling mess, at least for me, are anniversaries. I have a syndrome of sorts when it comes to anniversaries of certain traumatic events. I may not remember that the event occurred on a particular day, but will just become inexplicably sad, then later realize why I am crying. I also have difficulties with holidays and certain months as well as seasons.

So I think it’s clear that my brain hates me and generally sucks, but how do I deal with all of this? I take medications and sometimes engage in psychotherapy when in crisis. Medications for bipolar disorder suck. If you normal people wonder why bipolar people have a hard time taking their meds, it’s partly because some like the euphoria they get without meds. For the rest of us, the side effects really blow. I used to be of average size. Then I started a mood stabilizer and promptly gained 50lbs in a matter of a few months. I’ve spent the last several years since my diagnosis on the weight fluctuation roller coaster. Being fat affects a person’s self esteem. I’m fat and I hate it. Yes I am actively trying to lose weight and have managed to lose some weight, but it comes off much more slowly than it goes on. Other meds have other side effects, like dry mouth, which can cause teeth to disintegrate. Some meds cause apathy. Others cause headaches.

Despite all of this, I am still plugging away at this thing called life. I’m working full time, though what I really want to be is a mental health advocate and not just a nurse, as I am now. I am married to my best friend, who also happens to have his own brand of bipolar disorder and anxiety. We have a blended family of four kids and two dogs and are fairly happy, though our children have their own challenges.

I started writing this post as a way of explaining what goes on in my head, but maybe I attached some hope at the end. It’s really way past time to end the stigma of mental illness, so maybe if those of us dealing with it can write about it, others might gain more understanding for us. Thanks for reading.

Sentimental Loss

I want to preface this post by saying thank you for the outpouring of love and support we’ve received since our devastating house fire. We are blessed that so many care about us.

I’m not a materialistic person. I know things can be replaced and have been. The most important thing is that we all got out of the fire alive and unharmed. But I am feeling stabs of sadness at knowing there are things we can’t replace. Every time I remember something else unique or special that we lost, I feel a lump in my throat. The fact that we lost our nest, our haven, that definitely hurts. I don’t really care that the TVs are gone or that the couch has been reduced to springs. What hurts me is that I lost the quilt my grandmother made me for my childhood bed. It was pink and blue with butterflies and flowers. It hurts that the furniture my grandfather made is gone. My Daisy Award and statue disintegrated. My husband lost all of his Air Force patches and service medals. He lost his grandfather’s wedding band. I lost the sentimental pieces of jewelry he had made for me, like the mother’s ring and necklace with the children’s names on it. Eli lost Woosey, the worn out plushie dog he’s slept with every night since he was born. Caleb lost his weighted blanket and plushie hippo.

So yes, while I am grateful and feel blessed by what we do have and the generosity of others, I can’t help but be a little sad at the same time.

A big fat f*$! you to the horror internet community for scaring the s%$* out of my child! 

My son has inadvertently discovered Creepypasta characters Jeff the Killer and Slenderman. I don’t know how he found out about these monsters of horror fiction, but he did and he thinks it’s all real. He’s nine years old and very sensitive so this has been traumatic for him. Therefore, I am pissed. What kind of lunatics create this bullshit and perpetuate it on the internet where kids can see it? 

I decided to do some research and what I’ve found is so disturbing, it would give me nightmares! I found all kinds of sites dedicated to Jeff the Killer specifically, since this is the character that has my son frightened and traumatized. I am incensed to find no websites boycotting Jeff the Killer. Do parents not know about this? 

As a mother, I have failed my child in allowing too much exposure to the internet. That has been remedied. However, my son still thinks this is real. He is traumatized to the point that he is having fear-driven hallucinations day and night of this character being in our house. He jumps at every noise. He turns on every single light in the house every day and night. He can’t sleep. He can’t be in a room alone. He can’t go outside. He’s regressing behaviorally. All of this because of a damn internet character. This mama is mad and going to do something about it. 

What Would Happen if We Went to Washington

I must preface this by saying that I am in no way trying to minimize the importance of all the other marches in Washington. It is about something very close to heart.

There are approximately 46 million people in the US with mental illness. That’s only the ones who have been diagnosed. Do they take into account the homeless with mental illness? I doubt it. Same for those whose cultural or spiritual beliefs preclude them from getting help for mental illness. Wow, that is a huge number. Approximately one in five adults with mental illness. One in five adults who are marginalized and whom upon judgement is passed.

I am one of those 46 million Americans. I am open about my having bipolar disorder because it is not shameful and I also am quite the opinionated person. I’m also passionate about the subject. There are so many other issues that swirl around mental illness. Substance abuse and violence are big ones. Of these, only 41% adults are treated for their mental illness. Lack of funding is a huge issue.

So what does this have to do with marching on Washington? What if all 46 million people showed up in Washington at one time? I don’t think we’d all fit. However, if if enough of us are willing, potentially a couple million, to march on Washington? Marginalizing and blowing off that many people would be a difficult task.

Could we make a difference in how Americans think of mental illness? Could we help increase funding for mental illness and increase awareness by politicians other than the ones already making strides in mental health reform. Maybe but it’s worth a try.

I think a grassroots effort to bring all of us together can make a difference. Have our March not only be those with mental illness, but also their loved ones. The loved ones of those who have lost their lives related to mental illness.

I envision brain hats, amygdala posters, photos of those lost, and a handful of other protest paraphernalia. More importantly, having scores of people descending on the US Capitol would make an impact. Ignoring mental illness is difficult when several million of us are outside their windows.

Now where to start…

 

Insensitive People. In Other Words, Be Kind to Everyone With Whom Your Paths Cross

Something occurred to me on Monday as I drove to work. It was a busy drive with people cutting off me and other drivers. The part that made me sad and convicted is that the majority of these drivers had church stickers on vanity plates with a spelling of gratefull or blessed. Mind you, I can be an aggressive driver myself, hence why I felt convicted. As a Christian, I am ashamed of the way my fellow faith members treat others. If Jesus wants us to go out into the world and proclaim him, how can we do so on Monday while being rude the other six days of the week? Do we think that’s acceptable? In my mind, no it shouldn’t be. If we don’t live hospitable Christian lives, how can we reach out to others and show the world that Christians are kind people. Next time I have a bit of road rage, I am going to stop and think how my actions make others feel. I will take a little time to pray for the other people also in the craziness of work hour traffic. I hope to be more cognizant of others. That is how we as Christians should live. It’s just my opinion but one I hope we all can follow. 

No New Years Resolutions

As 2017 is starting, I’m not making any New Years resolutions. Why? Because saying I am going to lose 50lbs or not drink Coke and eat chocolate are not realistic and might last one day, though I would love to lose 50lbs. I have decided this year to resolve to do things that we should all be doing every day. 

Love more, despite people having different opinions, belief systems, political views. It is a tenet of my own faith to come to people out of a place of love. To be able to care about someone despite disagreeing with them and not liking their behavior takes some maturity. It certainly doesn’t come easy and is something I have to work on every day. 

Be kind. I would consider myself a kind person, but I have room for improvement. Kindness is a must for me to do my job effectively and provide assistance to ill people. That level of kindness should extend to everyone.

Be patient. Patience towards others. Patience when driving is a big one for me. Patience waiting for God to reveal his plans for me and answer my prayers. I should hand my troubles to God, but my stubborness makes me want to take care of them myself, which usually ends in disaster. I would cause myself a lot less trouble if I can get my stubbornness under control and learn a little patience. 
I think, I hope these are resolutions that I can keep. Maybe I’ll get motivated o lose 50lbs. But I am absolutely not giving up chocolate! 

The Holidays Come Yet Again

It’s Christmas. It’s been Christmas in every big box store on the planet since November 1st. Why is it necessary for retailers to throw the holidays in our faces for nearly two months? 

I’m one of many.people who gets depressed around the holidays, December through February to be exact. Hibernation would be great because I could crawl in a cave in October and not come out until March. It would save so much money in psychiatry and therapy bills and medication costs.

There are several reasons why this time of year is tough for me. I’ve basically hated this month and the next two since age 11. That is when we moved away from home for a year so my dad could finish his training as an oncologist. It’s not my dad’s fault at all, but it was an unhappy holiday for me, being miles away from home and friends.

I’ve also had some very traumatic experiences during this time of year. The toughest was the year my then-husband was diagnosed with leukemia. I was eight months pregnant. He nearly died. We could not afford Christmas that year. Baby #2 came in January, three weeks early. My psychiatrist says that I have PTSD from the experience. 

Now I am dealing with cancer again, this time with someone with whom I am very close. The cancer is expected to go into remission and has been responding well to chemotherapy, but cancer just sucks no matter what. 

The bright spot in the holidays is that it is the first that we will be spending with my wonderful husband and our blended family of four children. I married my best friend on October 22nd. We adore each other’s kids, too. He is incredibly supportive, going with me to psychiatry appointments as my bipolar disorder medications are adjusted. I am blessed. 

I was hoping that this was the year that I got through the holidays without a meltdown. No such luck. Maybe next year will be better. I’ll get back up and try this again..

Welcome to my own personal Hell

Take a walk with me through my own personal Hell called bipolar disorder. First I will dispell some myths before I let you join me on this roller coaster that never stops. Just so the non-bipolar people of the world know, we cannot snap out of it. If we could snap out of it, we wouldn’t have if in the first place. Second, we don’t just like being this way. That’s like saying a person with a broken leg has the injury because they like it. Also, we will most likely not harm you, unless you say one of the above in our presence. People with bipolar disorder tend to be more self-harming and self-defeating. We have a grasp on reality, most of the time. And we are not “crazy” so there is no need to run from us. 

Now that the myths are out of the way, it’s time for you to join me on this winding path of a mood disorder. Ever been sad or depressed? Multiply it by 1000. Ever been angry? Like the love child of the Incredible Hulk ad Rambo angry? Multiply that by 1000. 

Every emotion felt by “normal” people is more intensely felt by those with bipolar.

I am in the throes of a downward spiral. I was feeling good for a while, then BAM. Out of nowhere it slammed into me like a freight train. 

The depression phase of bipolar goes way beyond sadness. To be perfectly honest, right now I do feel sad, but I also feel worthless, unwanted, and ugly. Maybe that’s not the truth, but that is what it feels like. It doesn’t matter how many times someone denies the truth about those feelings, they are still there.

Then there is the manic or hypomanic phase, depending on what type of bipolar disorder a person has. As someone with bipolar II, I have hypomania. This phase of bipolar disorder is not always happy and euphoric. It doesn’t always result in risky behavior. For some of us, myself included, it can be extreme agitation and anger that is uncontrollable. It’s really ugly for everyone involved, so I desperately try to stay away from hypomania. 

Another frustrating aspect of bipolar disorder is rapid cycling or mixed states. Not everyone has these issues, but they are really tough to deal with. I can find myself going from happy to sad to angry to sad then back to happy in a matter of hours or days. There is also feeling all emotions at one time. That is really difficult. 

Right now, I am depressed, severely so. Without reason. That’s another hallmark of this disorder, mood shifts with no situational cause. I do have situational depression from time to time, but at an extreme level. 

Extreme levels of depression lead one to feel ugly, unloved, worthless, useless. It also can cause a person to make poor choices in an effort to feel loved. That was how I fell into my 8 year marriage. 

Because we feel emotions so strongly, I think we all long for someone to love us as we are. That is a tall order for many nonbipolar people. Because of the misconceptions of bipolar as well as our own behavior that can be perceived as erratic at times, it’s understandable that we can be frightening. But people shouldn’t hesitate to take us on because no one loves as intensely as someone with bipolar. All most of us want is to be loved. 

When someone is very depressed, please don’t say it will get better. Really, all they need to know is that you are there for them. 

Please love us for who we are. Please support us when we go through mood shifts and remind us to go to our doctors if we haven’t done so. Medications are almost always necessary and need to be tweaked on a regular basis.

If you care about, love, or our friends with someone with this awful disorder, please hold our hands and walk through Hell with us. We need love and support.