Thank you to my loved ones

Thank you to my family and new friends for making my life brighter. I love you all.

When I look back on 2015, I see all of you and how blessed I am to be surrounded by loving people. Some of you I have known my entire life and others of you I have just met. But each of you plays an important role in my life. Thank you for standing by me and being a source of encouragement in the dark times and rays of sunshine in the good times. I love you for different reasons, but all are equally important.

Thank you for listening when I poured my heart out. Thank you for holding my hand when I needed help navigating the darkness. Thank you for loving me when I was unlovable.

Thank you for your laughter. It has encouraged me more than you know. Laughter makes the days better and I am forever grateful.

As I reflect back on 2015, I see you, my family and my friends. I couldn’t have done it without you. I hope that 2016 is a better year than 2015 because years should be better as we grow. Thanks for helping me grow.

Merry Christmas to everyone.

Catherine

My Happy Place

It’s December 20, 2015, and I’ve almost made it to my happy place. In some ways, I am already in my happy place, as in the case of my wonderful boys and the home we’ve created. A year that started with a tumultuous divorce is ending as the year I discovered that I can do life by myself. I can take care of me and my mini-mes.

This year has been a challenge in managing my bipolar disorder. Chronic, unrelenting insomnia led to mood swings, which in turn led to medication changes that did not work. I am finally on the right drug cocktail, for now. The gift of having bipolar is that I have been helping to admin a bipolar Facebook group. I’ve also tried to break the stigma, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.

This year, I have let go of friendships with people who wanted to manipulate me through my illness. I’ve lost some other friends as collateral damage. I’ve also been blessed to have the opportunity to reconnect with old friends who love me despite my being a little kooky.

I’ve tried to let go of old hurts as water under the bridge. Forgiving people, as difficult as it may be, sets me free.

My faith has been reaffirmed this year, too. I’ve stopped running away and am now running to God. It’s still a struggle because I want to take back my troubles after I turn them over to him.

Finally, the last item on my happy list will be coming as of December 28th. That is the day I start a new job, the next phase of my career. I have been blessed as a nurse to do many things in 18 years. I will miss the important friendships I have made in the past four years. I will be leaving behind a very supportive manager who has always had my back and who I consider a friend. But my new adventure is leading me in a direction in which I am interested. I will be helping to change the way people think about their healthcare. I am blessed to begin this new journey.

To all who have stood by me and with me this year, I love you from the bottom of my heart. Your love and support means more than you will ever know.

Soon we will be on to 2016. As my pastor says, the best is yet to come.

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Christmas Is Not The Most Wonderful Time of Year

Christmas is supposed to be a festive time of year, but for many people, it is emotionally difficult. There are many reasons why it is not my favorite time of year.

It started when I was 11 years old. We moved 5 hours from our home for a year so my dad could complete a medical fellowship in pediatric oncology. This was his calling, so I don’t fault him for that. I also don’t fault my mom for being horribly depressed that year because we moved not long after my grandmother died. Life really changed for us in 1986. I remember being sad at Christmas, not because of material things, but because we weren’t home. I distinctly remember going to my room and crying later on that day.

The Christmas of 1986 seems to have stuck with me, all these many years later. Even though we were back in my hometown, living in my childhood home again by the following year, I still felt sad at Christmas.

There were some other traumatic experiences that occurred around the holidays. It seemed as though they waited to happen at that time.

There were a few fun Christmases in there. There was my mom’s habit of picking the worst possible tree in the lot to use as our Christmas tree. There was the year that we couldn’t figure out why our tree was turning brown, until we realized that our dog, thinking the tree was his personal bathroom, was peeing in the water in the tree stand. An especially fun one was with my college sweetheart. I had followed him to the Midlands after I graduated nursing school. That year, we had very little money for Christmas. He ended up finding a little scrub of a Charlie Brown tree. We had no stand, so stuck it in a bucket full of rocks to hold it in place. That was a fun time, but still bittersweet because I wasn’t home.

Fast forward to 2006. My paternal grandmother died suddenly. She had Alzheimer’s and multiple strokes and was bedridden in a nursing home. Although it was a blessing for her that she passed, it was sad for all of us. I found it especially poignant, as I was pregnant with my first child.

We had a bad holiday in 2009 as well. My then-husband was fighting for his life with a relapse of leukemia. I was 8 months pregnant. I honestly could find nothing to celebrate. We would not have had any Christmas for the kids that year had presents not been donated to us. I will be forever grateful to those wonderful people.

Multiple Christmases came and went. Each year was stressful because my now ex-husband would practically bankrupt us to get presents for everyone, except me. I honestly can’t remember a single gift bought for me. That’s not being materialistic on my part. That just shows how I was disregarded.

Last year was the first for just my sons and I. We decorated the tree with blue and silver ornaments and pretty blue and white lights. We added personalized ornaments. Every year, I buy one for each boy with their name and year on them. We decorated the tree again this year and I hung a wreath on the door. That is as much Christmas as I can do. If it weren’t for my two little sweethearts, I know I wouldn’t put up a tree.

This year, I am really trying hard not to let the holidays get me down. My sister Julie and I have created a tradition of seeing Trans Siberian Orchestra every year, which lifts my spirits. I will continue to smile and have talk of Santa Claus with my kids. We will watch Charlie Brown, Muppets Christmas Carol, and How The Grinch Stole Christmas. I will do this for them and maybe, just maybe by doing so will change how I feel about Christmas. One can always hope.

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Life has not turned out the way that I planned

10460729_10205259288500726_5255428379661790663_nIf someone had asked me at age 18, how the path I planned would go, I would have said that I would go to nursing school, then medical school to become a pediatrician. I would have met my future husband while in college and had three kids by the age of 30, and we would have grown old together. Oh boy, how I was wrong. I did finish nursing school (in 5 years instead of 4 and my parents are grateful that I finished at all). Medical school did not happen and I was not married with three kids by the age of 30.

Life, however, has been more interesting. I did get married, at the age of 31. I had my first child two days before my 33rd birthday, my second at age 35 and stopped there. My marriage did not last, though not for lack of trying on my part.I decided not to go to medical school after nursing school. I was a pediatric nurse for much of my 18-year career, so I sort of followed that dream.

Life dealt a series of blows along the way that darn near sunk my ship. There was the unfortunate and life-threatening illness of my now former husband. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and anxiety disorder at age 35. My youngest child has autism and my oldest has ADHD. I am a working single mom, an RN Case Manager instead of a pediatric RN.

Am I sad for the way this has turned out? No, I am not. I have met many wonderful people along the way. I have had experiences that I wouldn’t have changed, and some that weren’t so great. All of the trials and tribulations have brought me here, at age 41, to a whole and more well-rounded person. Yes, there are parts I could have handled better or skipped altogether. I don’t particularly like having mental illness and I wish my children, for their sakes, did not have challenges to deal with.

But if these things had not happened and if life had gone according to my plan at age 18, I would have missed out on the two most precious gifts God has given me, my beautiful children. They are both sweet. My oldest is sensitive, kind, and thoughtful. My youngest finds joy in unexpected things, and gives hugs like a linebacker.

At age 41, with all the trials and tribulations, I can honestly say that I am happy with how things have turned out and am hopeful for the years to come.

New Beginnings

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This month has been the beginning of a new me. I’ve been working on this for awhile, or rather God has been working on this for awhile. I am a stubborn nut to crack. I try so hard to maintain control of my bipolar disorder that I have built up huge walls so that no one can see the mental demons that I wrestle with on a constant basis. I didn’t even let God in. The walls began to crack and eventually fell down. I had a complete mental breakdown, the kind that makes you wonder why in the world you are here in the first place. I was drowning in a sea of worry, doubt, fear, and the mental demons that have plagued me for years. Then Jesus grabbed my hand and drew me up from the water and into the safety net of His boat. I have been crumbling and He has been using it for His good. Letting go of control hurts so badly. To ask for help has been painful. To allow others to see the pain and know the crazy thoughts in my head has been excruciating. My story isn’t over yet. The bipolar disorder and anxiety disorder are still present. Those will not go away. But God can use my brokenness for His good. I do not know yet his plans for me. I feel that He will use my story of bipolar disorder to help others. I will wait and see. And let Him be in control. He does it better anyway.

Anxiety, Autism, and ADHD! Oh my!

Imagine for a moment that you are stuck indoors for days on end because of monsoon-like rain. Imagine what that’s like when you throw children into the mix. Then multiply times 10 and you have my life at the moment. My 5-year-old and 8-year-old sons have autism and ADHD, respectively, and are a challenge on a normal day. All children are a challenge on a normal day, but mine are bouncing off the walls challenging. On a sunny day, they have recess at school and then play outside at daycare after homework time. They often ride their bikes in the driveway once we come home. All of these get them sufficiently worn out so that they are too tired to argue, fuss, and fight. It’s been raining for days now. I’m not sure when the sun shone last time and I’m not sure if it’s planning on shining again. It is driving this mama insane and coinciding with my episode of severe anxiety. The noise inside my head plus the noise of my little monsters (as I affectionately call them) is making it very difficult to be a good mom.The kids are fighting with each other and arguing with me, which is causing me to yell at them. I then feel guilty for losing my temper. My 8-year-old told me that he hated me tonight. Awesome. I’ve locked myself in the bathroom purposely several times. I wish I could drown out some of the noise, but oh how Mommy’s ears hear! Maybe if I stood outside in the monsoon, it would drown out the noise. Or I would just be distracted by the squirrels that just floated by on a mini-ark. It sounds promising either way, except for the getting cold and wet part.  I think I am going to stick my fingers in my ears and sing “lalalalala” until this rain is over. Hurricane Whatever-your-name-is better move on soon. I need to see the sun before I completely lose my mind. I wonder if I am alone in feeling this way. Surely other parents, parents without mood disorders, contemplate the possibility of drowning to avoid the noise of their stir crazy children. Anyone? Anyone?

I Am Not Healed, But Am Getting There

September and October were tough months, but through the adversity, I have found a job I love, the promise of a new relationship, and happy children

This past month has been a hard-fought journey with a narrow, winding road. This has been one of the hardest destabilizations of my life. In my desperate quest for healing, I have forgotten the One who heals all, the Lord our God. My faith has been shaken by this test. My mind has not been clear. I keep having a recurring dream that I am drowning. A hand reaches down to the water to grab my hand and pull me up. I now realize that is our Lord, reaching to me in my weakened state to save me from completely going under. This is not to say that my life is *poof* magically better. It’s not. My journey still lies ahead of me. I am feeling battered and bruised by my experience. I am still anxious, fearful, and sometimes tearful. I am still working through the pain of betrayal by those whom I thought were my friends, but who shattered my trust. I know God will use this experience in some way. It may be to increase my faith or to help someone else who also may be drowning. I don’t know for sure yet, but I know He is pulling me from the ocean of my fears, misgivings, and hurt and into a place of healing. God is holding my hand and that is all I need to get me through.

The Show Must Go On

“The show must go on.

Inside my heart is breaking.

My makeup may be flaking.

But my smile still stays on.”

Depression and anxiety rip my soul. The wounds are deeper than any that could be made by human hands.

It all came crashing down Labor Day weekend. A medication change did not work. My moods had been fluctuating rapidly and I fell over the cliff into the deepest depression I have experienced in many years. And with this, came anxiety. Regular panic attacks have become my new normal. That and utter despair. Getting out of bed takes a colossal effort. I spend my days on the edge of crying or actually crying. It hurts, physically and mentally. Things that normal people do, like drive a car or go to work, are as scary to me as a horror movie. My brain is a horror movie.

One of the major things to understand about your disordered brain is what triggers emotional responses. Certain situations are very triggering. My biggest trigger right now is work. I work with people, lots of them. And people bring with them drama. I don’t like drama, therefore I don’t like people right now. People can be cruel to each other. Frankly, people suck. I walk in the door at work on the verge of a panic attack. I walk out the door, either actually having a panic attack or thanking the Lord above that I didn’t have one that day. Panic attacks are painful. They cause one to become short of breath and have chest pain. They cause stomach upset. I am chewing Tums like they are the best tasting candy ever made, even though they taste like slightly flavored chalk. I’ll probably develop a kidney stone from my overconsumption of Tums since they are doing nothing to quell the burning pit in my stomach.

A disordered brain is also a brain that cannot think clearly. Memory is very impaired. It makes a person feel drunk, and probably appear drunk. There are times that I cannot remember my name, my birthdate, what year it is, the names of my children, where I live, or how to get there. I struggle to get thoughts from inside my mind expressed, by speaking and by writing. This is actually the fourth or fifth time I have tried to write this post because I couldn’t get the words out. I still don’t feel like I am making much sense. I wonder if this is what dementia feels like.

All of this started with a medication change. One of the worst facets of bipolar disorder is its ability to morph over time. Each person’s brand of bipolar is different, but we all share the common issue of medications losing effectiveness after a period of time. That is why there is a plethora of medications to treat various aspects of the disorder, and its evil friend, anxiety. Unfortunately, changing to a new medication is a crap shoot. It either works or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, the results can be disastrous.

I’ve got to figure out how to cope with this. I am starting therapy, which should help. Drawing helps. Writing helps when I can make sense of my jumbled thoughts.

Through all of this, I am foremost a mom. Thankfully, I have support from my parents to help me manage the children during this time, but they need their mom. They need a functional mom. A mom who provides a safe place for them. So even though I can barely keep my head above water, and my heart is breaking, I still smile for them. Because the show must go on.

Stripping Away the Armor

I’ve never actually worn armor, but I’ve certainly seen armor. It is protective, but also can be heavy and stifling. That’s how my heart has been for years. Surrounded by armor, which left me feeling heavy and stifled.

Each time I experienced a major emotional hurt, I added more armor to my already stifled heart. I thought that if I armored my heart well enough, I would no longer feel emotional pain and be able to push forward. I was afraid if I allowed myself to cry, I would fall apart completely and leave me vulnerable, which is a feeling I do not enjoy. Little did I know that I was already damaging myself through this carefully and misguided attempts at covering up emotional pain.

Sure, I cried, but not on a level where I could really open my heart. I eventually got to the point where I didn’t know how to rid myself of the armor.

Then I met Jesus and he stripped the armor from my heart. It leaves me vulnerable, which is frightening for me. However, He is carrying me and my damaged, but unburdened, heart. As my heart has been opened, the old wounds are coming roaring back to the surface. Man, this hurts. It really, really hurts, but through this hurt comes healing, the healing of Jesus Christ. He is the only one who can strip away the armor surrounding our hearts and heal our old wounds. It leaves us vulnerable, but He can carry us. He’s got this.