Love Through Bipolar

This post might be triggering, as it discusses loving someone with a mental illness, so here is the official **TRIGGER WARNING** Topics discussed in this post include bipolar disorder and loss.

I Was Enchanted

I could go on for a while about all the good things about Jake because there were so many.

But yet, he struggled, like many of us do. When I met him, I really had no idea. Mental illness really isn’t the first thing most people talk about when they first meet someone. In fact, our first conversation was about Julian. However, ADHD and autism is a whole different story from bipolar disorder.

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Jake had beautiful blue eyes and a smile that would melt your heart. I didn’t know that he hid so much, even up until the very last day I saw him, the day before he died.

Meds and the Truth

I’ve tried many medications for migraines and one just happened to be Depakote. This is also used to treat mental health illnesses, including bipolar disorder. We were talking about this one day and finally…

I take that too, but not for migraines.”

What?? Was this it? I’d been waiting for Jake to say something. I’d seen signs of something going on, but I wasn’t sure what. Sometimes we would talk constantly and then go days without speaking. His birthday had just gone by and instead of wanting to hang out, he had said he’d rather be alone. He’d even told me he considered himself as a “project” for me to take on. I didn’t see him like that at allย and made sure he knew it.

“What do you take it for?”

He looked away for a minute and then back. “Because I have bipolar disorder.”

Well, then, that was explained. He actually asked me if that changed how I felt about him (nope, not even a little). Apparently, this had caused issues in the past. Some people just aren’t equipped to deal with it, but that’s still really painful for the person involved.

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“The stakes are high, the water’s rough..” – “Ours”, Taylor Swift

Jake’s darker side did make a few appearances, but never once did he get aggressive towards me. We argued a bit, but that’s it. In two years, he only yelled at me twice. Me? More. But then, I’m just naturally loud.

Meds? It’s a well-known fact that many people that have bipolar disorder (and other illnesses) have compliance issues with taking medications, and he was one of them. Along with his brother, I tried to remind and encourage him to take his medications, but it didn’t always work.

Jake and I learned how to read each other- I have always been good at reading others. Thanks to this skill, I was able to tell when he was or wasn’t taking his meds, or when he was or wasn’t having a good day. This helped on his end when I was deeply upset and didn’t want to talk.

He tried so hard to hide this from me, but I still saw everything. I told him that I wasn’t scared of what he was trying to hide. I needed to see it to know what I was dealing with. There were days he just wasn’t the person I knew. He wouldn’t talk or return my texts, but everything was in his eyes.

In his manic episodes, he’d barely sleep, get paranoid (this went really bad a couple months before he died and we didn’t speak for a month), and other things would happen. In a depressive episode, he basically shut down. I would literally have to wait for him to come out of these periods.

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Google Became My Friend

I started researching. I knew a lot already about mental illness, but how to love someone with one? Totally clueless. I learned to give Jake his space, even though it hurt. I made sure he knew I was there when he needed me. I learned not to take everything so deeply, especially if he was agitated and it just wasn’t him. None of this was easy, and it hurt so much to watch him struggle.

This wasn’t perfect, not from the first day. Let’s start with the fact that I’m married. Jake was a huge flirt, and that’s a whole different post. I had to learn that just because he didn’t show me that he cared in the ways I thought he should have didn’t mean he didn’t care at all. He just cared differently. He made sure I took my migraine meds and had breakfast at work, asked me daily how Julian was doing, let me cry, and among many other things, he cared about me for me. That is the best thing he could have done. I did exactly the same for him.

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I know you can’t love someone out of a mental health situation, but you can definitely help them through it. Love helps with that. Jake was a bit quiet and distant in the days before his death, but none of us saw anything like what would happen on September 1, 2015, coming.

It is entirely possible to love someone with a mental illness. Just remember to take care of yourself, don’t let them get away with everything because of whatever they may have and as always, reach out if you need to.

NAMI

DBSAlliance

Essential Facts to Know About Bipolar Disorder

**Trigger warning: this post discusses mania, depression, suicide and other topics that may upset those who have lived experience. Please read with caution.**

Bipolar disorder is a complex mental health illness. It affects millions of people (2.6% of the American population), but yet, you may not see the signs for a long time. I have friends that live with this illness and while they do struggle, they also have great days, weeks and even months between episodes.

It hurts my heart when they are not doing so well, but all I can do is support them if they want it. The disorder and its many presentations differ among people, even among episodes. One episode can be a mixed episode, the next can be full-on depression. There is no way of knowing, even if there is a known pattern of episodes.

There are facts that can expand your knowledge of and help someone you know that has bipolar disorder.

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More Than Mood Swings

Almost everyone has mood swings- some days we are happy, some we are sad. In the case of bipolar disorder, these changes affect a person’s ability to function in daily life- work, relationships, school, etc. These changes include mania (“highs”) and depression (“lows”). Suicide attempts are common in those with bipolar disorder, especially during a depressive episode. The risk is even higher when there is a history of previous attempts.

Bipolar disorder can be treated with therapy and medication. Some have issues staying compliant with their medications because of side effects and/or once they feel better, they don’t see the need for medications.

It is vitally important that once medications are started to stay on them unless otherwise directed by the prescribing physician. Many people with this disorder can live full, productive lives. Most people see their first episode between their late teen years and mid-20’s.

What does mania look like?

  • Feelings of euphoria and elation, in some people- this can come out as irritability or anger
  • Impulsive, high-risk behaviors- this varies among people, but this can include spending sprees, sexual promiscuity, daredevil-like behaviors, and drug and/or alcohol abuse.
  • increased energy, rapid speech
  • decreased sleep and appetite
  • disorganized thoughts and difficulty concentrating

What does depression look like?

  • Feelings of hopelessness and sadness
  • Inability to sleep/sleeping too much
  • Loss of interest in regularly liked activities
  • Feelings of worthlessness/guilt
  • Changes in appetite, weight, or appearance

Causes, Types and Risk Factors

There isn’t a single cause for bipolar disorder, but there are multiple contributing factors.

Genetics- This disorder tends to run in families. Please read Mental Health and Genetics: The Main Connections for more information on how genetics play a role in certain mental health illnesses. Scientists are working on finding abnormalities in specific genes in this case.

Biological- Researchers believe that some neurotransmitters don’t work correctly in the brains of those with bipolar disorder.

Environmental- Outside factors, like a major life change, may trigger a biological reaction or genetic predisposition. It’s hard to know for sure, but it is seen as a possibility.

The Different Types of Bipolar Disorder:

  • Bipolar I: An individual has both manic and depressive episodes of different lengths.
  • Bipolar II: Less severe manic episodes than Bipolar I, but the depressive episodes are the same.
  • Rapid-cycling: experiencing four or more episodes of mania, depression or both within one year
  • Mixed episodes: Mania and depression occur at the same time. This means someone can feel hopeless but yet energetic enough to do risky things.

Risk Factors:

  • A family history of bipolar disorder or other psychological disorders
  • Alcohol and/or substance abuse
  • Major life changes
  • Stress
  • Medication interactions- for example, some antidepressants can induce mania.

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Knowing When to Get Help

When someone you care about seems a bit “off” for a period of more than a few days, it may be time to get them to go to a mental health facility, therapist or other assistance. The concern can be sudden or gradual after seeing someone not taking care of themselves, acting out of character, spending large amounts of money, or showing other signs of mental distress.

It may be hard to talk to them about it, but it may be what they need most. Knowing that someone cares for them may be the push they need to get help. Bipolar disorder does not get better on its own.

Their treatment may include medication, CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy) or other options as needed. They may even have a co-occurring condition that may also need to be treated. The most common conditions are ADHD, anxiety, eating disorders, and substance abuse.

If you or someone you care about is in a bipolar episode and experiencing thoughts of self-harm and/or suicide, please get to an ER immediately, or call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. You can also text HOME to 741741. Both are free.

Support and Love

Those with bipolar disorder need two major things from those they love and care about: support and love. It’s not easy to battle your own mind every day. It can get exhausting. I’ve watched my friends battle through issues with medications, hallucinations, depressive and manic episodes. This is not fun, but they did not choose their chemical makeup. They just try to get through life like the rest of us.

If you love someone with bipolar disorder, please read Mental Illness and Relationships

It can be a bumpy road, as I learned, but it’s entirely worth it.

Pics courtesy of unsplash

Information courtesy of Mayo Clinic

Psych Central

My Fearless Leader

There’s a common saying in the autism parenting community that I love: “Autism is a journey I never planned but I sure do love my tour guide.”

In honor of Autism Awareness Month, this post is for Julian. He is now 12, almost as tall as me, and is still my lookalike. Most of all, he is what his psychiatric nurse practitioner calls “well-loved”.

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In a firetruck at the 2018 FEAT Autism Walk

Back to the Beginning

When he was five, I had no idea what we were in for. I just knew that he needed me and more help than I could give him. I doubted myself so much because even with all of my knowledge and work, I still couldn’t manage him.

I dreaded going out in public because it was a risk- he was a runner. What if he ran off? What if he had a meltdown? His meltdowns were loud and lasted at least a half hour. I made my trips as short as possible. I went out alone when I could so I didn’t have to worry about chasing a very fast kid.

School was a tougher topic. He struggled to sit through kindergarten and didn’t like his teacher but loved her assistant. Even after his ADHD and autism diagnosis and medication, he continued to stay away from his peers. He remained quiet, barely speaking to anyone. Julian was in his own world, both at home and at school.

It turns out that’s a personality trait- he is my quietest child. He won’t talk to people he doesn’t know and needs prompting sometimes to speak to those he does. Eye contact is non-existent and I don’t force it. As long as I see that he’s looking at my face, I know he is listening.

The Road to Now

Julian has spent a lot of his childhood in therapy. He started with a social worker in 2013, a psychiatrist, who recommended group therapy while he was in third grade, and now he sees Ann, his nurse practitioner, once a month.

Group therapy helped more than anything else. I had to pay out of pocket for it because insurance wouldn’t cover it.

I didn’t care.

It was worth every penny. He learned skills that he can use for the rest of his life- sharing, talking about himself in a group, handling challenging emotions, and other topics.

Julian struggles with empathy, even after that was a theme in the group. We work on this a lot. He may say something that hurts another person’s feelings but doesn’t get why.

I explain to him why what he said was not so nice and that he needs to think things out a bit more before speaking (hilarious for me to say that because I am the wrong parent for this) and apologize. Sometimes this works, sometimes I lose him.

Julian also developed a sense of humor. For a while, we weren’t sure if he had one. He didn’t get sarcasm and was so serious. I had to explain jokes to him.

He has been fearless pretty much since he could walk. There have been incidents that resulted in broken bones, staples, stitches and other assorted injuries. None of these things stopped him. As he’s gotten a little older, he has learned to hesitate a little, but he’s still the first to get into something.

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Eating his 4th birthday cake with a cast

Humor finally hit him and I was thrilled. His humor is dry but we appreciate it. Sarcasm is still not a thing for him but it’s not for everyone.

Julian thinks in incredibly concrete ways. He eats certain foods (pretzels are life) in a certain way. He thinks things should happen in a particular order and doesn’t always get why it doesn’t happen like he thinks it should.

However, he’s very smart. Seventh grade has gone well- his IEP focuses on his handwriting (it needs improvement) along with other goals. His grades are good and his best subjects are math and science. He’s always been talented in those subjects.

In many ways, Julian is like most 12-year-olds- he loves playing on his Xbox 360 and riding his bike. He thinks the prank videos on YouTube are the funniest things he’s ever seen. There are just a few quirks involved.

I’m Not an Expert

I read a lot about autism. I worked with kids all over the spectrum for almost five years. I’ve been injured in the process but loved the work. It truly changes you and how you see the world.

Still, I am not an expert. I do not know what it is like to be Julian. I do not know what it is like to be in the lunchroom full of noisy kids and have to block it out so you can eat and try to talk to your friends. I do not know what it feels like to be super bored for a minute or two in class but yet, it feels like forever.

I do, however, know the feeling of wanting to hug a wonderful child who won’t let me because he hates the feeling. I know exactly how it feels to watch your child yell loudly over the shape of pasta because it’s not the right one. This has happened, but not in years.

I’ve often wanted to take a trip inside Julian’s mind, but I know this is impossible. Since I can’t, I try hard to remember where he is and help him through his needs. We don’t let him have everything he wants, because that simply isn’t how the world works. We do, however, make accommodations when we can.

Julian has been an adventure to raise. The road has been a bit bumpy but I will stay with him forever.

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Yay! He finished therapy (2015)

If you are the parent/caregiver of a special needs child, how has the path been for you? Please share in the comments.

RA and Me

I wrote a post a while back about having chronic illnesses and being a mom. Chronic Conditions and Momming was written before my rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis.

1. My older sister has lupus and we had the same rheumatologist at one point. Once we discovered this, we thought it was hilarious. There’s a lot of rheumatologists in Louisville, and we ended up with the same one?

2. My grandfather had severe RA. He died in 2016 at the age of 83. His hands were curled up from the severe joint deformities. He took medications for it, but still had issues that weren’t able to be reversed.

3. I am currently taking a mild medication daily. I had to wait for my thyroid meds to be regulated before I could start RA meds. That sucked but things are good in this area. (Short version: I’m on Levothyroxine due to a partial thyroidectomy in 2017.) Joint pain is REAL.

4. My biggest issues? Joint pain in my hands, knees, and hips. Like many others, I’m super stiff in the mornings and it takes at least an hour to loosen up. Hot showers help. Moving around does help but also hurts. Eventually, the stiffness goes away. Usually. If it doesn’t, then it’s a bad pain day, which leads me to #5.

5. I don’t like taking pain meds. They make me tired and nobody has time for that mess. I usually won’t take them unless I can barely move. I’ll use a heating pad, massage, stretch, etc. The pain meds I do have, however, are non-narcotic.

My doctor is pretty smart- probably not a good idea to prescribe a recovering alcoholic hardcore narcotics. She probably enjoys having a license to practice.
Rheumatoid arthritis sucks. I hate missing out on things because I’m tired, hurting, or both.

Pic with Cameron

It’s possible to live life with chronic conditions. I have two. Some days are just worse than others. I can get through them with humor and my support system.

If you have a chronic condition, how do you get through it?