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 all 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

Invisible Changes

I was looking for content ideas when I came across some information about Traumatic Brain Injury Month. It’s in September and Acquired Brain Injury Month is this month.

Either way, you get them, brain injuries are less than fun. I have one. I didn’t ask for it, but I have learned to deal with it in the best way possible.

A Migraine Gone Bad

My mom’s family has a history of migraines- my grandmother had them, my mom does, both of my sisters, a nephew and unfortunately, Cameron has them.

Luckily for him and my nephew Chris, they can ease as they get older due to testosterone. The rest of us aren’t that lucky. I was 30 before I ever had one, and once they showed up, they were awful.

For those of you who have been lucky enough to never have had a migraine, let me describe how it feels.

It’s like a thousand pounds of weight is sitting on your head, a vice is tightening on the sides, and the other symptoms aren’t fun either.

Many people differ on their symptoms, but mine include nausea (severe enough to require its own medication), blurred vision, and a few other not so great things. Sometimes I have signs before, called an aura, and sometimes I don’t. It’s a crapshoot.

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One day, a migraine went way too far and led to a mini-stroke. I was working and just not feeling well. My head was hurting and my right arm went numb.

I couldn’t even hold the crayon I was using to color with the patients I was working with. (At the time, I was a mental health associate at a mental health facility, and I was on a kid unit that day.) I kept dropping it. I was tired, nauseated, my speech was a bit off and I just wanted to go home. I left work early and went home.

I DO NOT RECOMMEND ANY OF THIS. If you even THINK you are having a stroke, please call 911 or have someone drive you to a hospital. The nurse I was working with felt terrible when she heard what happened.

She apologized to me and told me that if she would have known she would have called an ambulance herself. She and I are great friends, and I don’t blame her at all. I had no idea either, so it’s not her fault.

Once I got home, I just wanted to go to sleep. I also don’t recommend this, and I think almost every doctor and neurologist, including the one I still see, was not happy about this.

I could have died in my sleep, so this is another thing I don’t recommend. I was laying in bed and tried to turn over when my right arm wouldn’t move. I burst into tears because I was so scared, and my husband, Matthew, called my mother. Clearly, I needed to go to the hospital.

My mom signed me in and I was taken to get a CT scan almost immediately. At this point, I don’t really remember what happened the rest of the night.

I do remember hearing that my blood pressure was well above what it should have been, was unable to be controlled and there was evidence of a stroke so I would have to be moved to a different hospital.

My mom isn’t a crier, but she was crying at that point. She left when I was being transferred, and the last thing I remembered telling her was that if I didn’t make it, just let my babies know I loved them.

A stroke? I was only 30.

Today’s PSA: Strokes can happen to anyone. I worked with a kid that had one at 4, and he was left with an arm that was completely paralyzed, which he did not hesitate to use as a weapon. (For the record, he was one of my favorite kids EVER) Babies, teens, anyone can have them.

The Youngest Person on the Stroke Unit

I woke up a few hours later on the stroke unit at a larger hospital. It was Easter Sunday of 2013. I didn’t see my kids that day, but Matthew, my mom and a couple of other people showed up. I had a lot of tests run on me, and as it turned out, I was the youngest person on the stroke unit at the time. I asked.

I also asked what caused my stroke… like anyone would. The neurologists told me that in the course of my migraine, my blood pressure spiked, due to the severe pain, and things went bad with a blood vessel. I usually sum it up as a migraine gone bad. I was in the hospital for two more days and had a slight bit of physical therapy.

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It took some time for my changes to show up, as the neurologists warned, but they are there.

My short term memory has been affected. I have to write things down or I will forget them. I’m like Dory in “Finding Nemo” and “Finding Dory”. I have Evernote on my phone for this reason.

I still forget things and it’s frustrating but I have learned to adjust. My balance is off a bit, especially on my right side. The stroke occurred on the left side of my brain, so my right side, of course, is affected.

I have migraines, but they have been managed pretty well. It took a few years and a lot of pain, though. I have a great headache specialist. (If you’re reading this from the Louisville, KY area and need a headache specialist, let me know and I’ll give you his info)

I’m a huge talker, but unfortunately, my speech has been affected. I have aphasia, which is annoying but something I cannot control. I may pause in the middle of a sentence because I forgot what I was saying, or what word I wanted to use.

I do get frustrated when I can’t find my words, and I hated having to step back at work a bit for a couple of weeks, but it really was the best for me.

I was told to manage the stress in my life, and at that point, there was plenty. My marriage was going straight to hell, Julian was not doing well and the only thing keeping me in one piece was my job.

I had to let go of some of the perfectionism I carried inside and re-evaluate what was important to me. It took a lot but that’s what happened.

Every year on March 30, I have a fun day, no matter what is going on. It’s my reminder that I’m much stronger than I think and that I really can get through anything.

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Below are some helpful links for stroke warning signs, Traumatic Brain Injury information (I used to work with kids that have them) and Acquired Brain Injury information.

stroke warning signs

TBI information

ABI information

The Drinking Article

I love Buzzfeed. I have the app, read articles, and yes, take those weird quizzes every day.

I read an article about Chrissy Teigen a while ago and it stuck with me. If you don’t know who she is, she’s a model, has a hilarious Twitter (which I follow @chrissyteigen) and she’s married to John Legend.

I don’t watch “Lip Synch Battle” but I have heard it is pretty funny. She has also battled Post-Partum Depression (PPD) and anxiety. I am very familiar with this, because of my issues with this after Julian was born. It wasn’t my favorite time as a mom. I’ve also worked with women who were at risk for and/or who struggled with it.

Wait…Is That Me?

It turns out that Chrissy has issues with drinking, and it runs in her family. She said in the article (no spoilers) that she had come to realize that her drinking made her act differently than she would like to around others and it was hurting their reputation. She said that she realized that she needed to fix herself. The link to the article is at the bottom of this post.

I have felt the same way.

My sobriety date is 1/1/17. I was a very hard drinker for almost four years. I’ve been drinking since I was a teen, like many, but later on, the drinking got out of control.

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NAMI walk 2017

In late 2011, Julian was diagnosed with ADHD and autism. My husband and I had already been fighting a lot about how to handle his behaviors, but after his diagnosis, things just got worse. At times, we didn’t speak for days. Julian had become aggressive and difficult to handle.

Things were so bad that by 2013, I had begun going out for dinner and drinks with a group of co-workers every Tuesday. I needed the escape from my life at home. It hurt a lot that I couldn’t fix my marriage- I didn’t know how to stop the fighting or the mean things my husband was saying to me. I didn’t know what to do with Julian.

I knew that drinking was fun and it made me feel a lot better. Everything that was stressing me out went away and I didn’t have to do anything but be hilarious. I’ve always been funny, to begin with, but alcohol brought that out a lot more. This continued for about two years, until September 1, 2015. My entire life stopped and shattered that day.

I found out about Jake’s death the next day, September 2. I didn’t deal with it well at all, but then, when someone you love dies, you rarely do. I partially dealt with it by downing seven shots of Fireball. Most people would have passed out at some point, but I kept crying. I’m not really sure who put the Fireball away, but someone did.

I drank my way through the next year. I drank during the day while my kids were at school- some days I was barely able to get my kids off the bus. I drank on the weekends.

Looking back, it took a lot more than it did, in the beginning,ng, to get me anywhere near drunk. My hangovers got worse. I would spend the whole day either in bed or wishing I was. My stomach would hurt so badly that I could barely eat until the pain eased.

I didn’t pay attention to this. I drank so much that I scared my friends. One sent me home from her house with a trash bag in case I threw up in my husband’s truck. Don’t worry- he was driving.

The Fun Stops

The end came with lab results from my doctor’s office. I can’t remember the reason for the labs to begin with, but my doctor called.

She knew I had been drinking, but she didn’t know how much. She let me know that my liver enzymes were elevated and that I needed to cut back or stop drinking. My liver could still repair itself at this point, but if I didn’t stop drinking soon, it would not be able to.

I knew exactly what she meant. I’ve worked in the substance abuse field long enough to know where she was going with this conversation.

I thanked her and hung up.

The next night was New Years’ Eve, and I drank one last time with a friend, our husbands and another friend. That was the last time I have drank anything. The next day was January 1, 2017, and I started a sober life.

Last night of fun

My last night of drinking

Living a Sober Life

I can’t say I liked who I was while I was drinking. I may have been funnier than I already was, but I was also obnoxious. I was clumsy as a toddler- I’ve spilled drinks in my purse, almost fallen on sidewalks, and I even fell off a barstool at my own birthday celebration. That was awful, and that story can be found in my guest blog for savvyesposito.

I also affected my kids- Cameron swears he will never drink, and I’m not sure if his siblings will follow his example. They saw me hungover, tired and cranky. They had to see me the morning after I fell off the barstool and that’s not something a kid should see.

I’m a much better mom, wife, and person. I went into therapy in October 2015 and my therapist was thrilled to see me stop drinking.

It’s hard, I won’t lie. I have been stressed. I have had fights with my husband, even though we are working on things. I’ve had bad days with my kids. I’ve had to face life minus a coping skill.

I’ve replaced it with coloring books, meditating, reading The Big Book and a weekly yoga class. I’m doing a lot better with facing my feelings and dealing with them.

I do struggle. I have had issues staying sober. You can read my thoughts on that here

Staying sober is possible. It just requires taking life one day at a time.

Chrissy Teigen article

Toxic Family Members: Handle With (Self) Care

Holidays are great and all, but what about the relative(s) that you don’t want to see? You can choose to avoid them completely, or if you’re stuck being around them because you don’t want to skip a gathering entirely, you have to handle them in small doses. I’m in the second category. Anyone else? Raise your hand then keep reading.

I get that this happens year-round. I have a whole side of my family that I don’t see because of this topic and, well, that’s not entirely heartbreaking. I talk to one cousin on that side, Bethani. I’m a decade older than her, but we have a blast talking. She’s super smart and I’m really proud of her. Our Twitter chats are EPIC.

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How does one handle toxic family members? With (self) care. In my case, I have to do this sober- yuck.

Every family has their issues and the holidays tend to bring out the worst. What can you do?

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I Got New Rules, I Count ‘Em

(Many thanks to Dua Lipa, from “New Rules”. If you’re familiar with the song, read the list to the tempo of the song as an added bonus.)

One: Set boundaries and stick to them. Whatever and whoever it is that bothers you, write it down, make a list on your phone.. do what you need to create boundaries. If you need to, set a time to show up and leave. Everyone has limits on what they can and can’t deal with. If people can’t deal, then they need to look at themselves and think about why they can’t respect your needs. If you don’t drink, or only want so many, don’t hesitate to turn down the drinks at the party. Same with food, if you’re watching what you eat.

Two: Take a time-out. This can be from a person or the whole gathering. Take a short break outside, if the weather is okay, or just go to a quieter area, if possible. Holiday gatherings can get loud, noisy and somewhat overwhelming. It’s okay to need a break.

Three: Remember that their issues are not your fault. This is incredibly important to remember. You cannot take on someone else’s issues. Everyone has to take control of their own life, in one way or another. You cannot fix them, but can possibly be there when they are in a better place to work things out.

Four: Know the topics that may trigger issues and that some topics are just off limits. Some people do not have the ability to discuss certain topics without things going rapidly downhill- politics, sometimes sports, children, old issues, etc. If you know those are bad topics, don’t go there. If someone you have issues with brings it up, tell them you’d rather not discuss it and change the topic.

Five: Remember that YOUR wellbeing comes first. It’s not fun to be stressed out during the holidays, or any other time of the year. Take time for yourself before and after holiday gatherings to de-stress. It is worth it and so are you.

May your holiday gatherings be fun and drama/fight-free. Eat great food and have some laughs!

Leave some comments about how your gatherings went- did they go well?

Information courtesy of Psychology Today

Headspace

Pictures courtesy of Unsplash

Mental and Physical care are important

Making Connections for Better Physical and Mental Health

This question has been debated for years- is there a connection between physical and mental health?

If you ask me, yes. When I’m having a bad pain day, I’m not in a great mood. I try to pick myself up a bit, but I don’t feel 100% happy. It’s kind of hard to feel that way when your hips feel like they’re broken and/or your knees feel like someone kicked them out of places and they are throbbing.

This is about the same if I’m a bit more anxious and/or depressed than usual. My limbs feel twice their actual weight, I move slower and sometimes my stomach hurts. I know I’m not the only one that feels this way in either circumstance.

Mental and Physical care are important

I’m Not Sure How This Works But…

When you don’t feel mentally healthy, your body follows behind. In the case of depression, it can be difficult to get out of bed. If you can barely get out of bed, it’s not exactly easy to take a shower, brush your teeth, eat or drink. Self- care takes a huge hit. You can read a bit about this in The Hard Days of Mental Illness

Depression can also appear after a serious illness or medical events like a stroke or heart attack. It is sometimes missed by treating physicians because they are primarily concerned with treating the main diagnosis.

They don’t so much do this on purpose, but it isn’t their main focus. Less severe depression can be assisted by lifestyle changes like sleep, exercise, or even therapy. Anti-depressants can be prescribed depending on the patient’s needs and other medications. This information can be found at Psych Central

Chronic stress, for example, can increase heart rate, tighten muscles, and raise blood pressure. This also leads to symptoms like headaches (sometimes migraines, if you’re really lucky), stomachaches, chest pain, fatigue, and even changes in sex drive. Those are potentially dangerous changes. This is why so many people are trying to reduce their stress- plus, who wants to be stressed out all the time?

Relaxing is good for your health

How Can I Change The Patterns?

There are a few things you can do to change your mind/body connection.

  • Get in touch with your emotions. Recognize your emotions then figure out what’s going on behind them.
  • Express your emotions in a healthy way. This can be a bit of a change if you haven’t done this in the past, but this change is worth it. Try writing, drawing, even coloring. Talking to someone can be very healthy. If you can, find a therapist or someone else you can trust with your thoughts. Getting unhealthy thoughts off your mind can lift a huge weight off your shoulders without realizing it.
  • Try a bit of balance. This means living a life outside of work. Work and/or school isn’t everything in life. Try to find a way to relax- going for a short walk, yoga, reading, making pottery, watching a movie, anything that helps relax you. It may be time to look at the things that don’t make you happy and let them go.
  • Develop resilience. Building up resilience is good for your emotional health. Being able to bounce back from a negative event or stress can improve your outlook on life. This can include building a support system, being positive, accepting change and keeping things in perspective.
  • Take good care of yourself. This means eating well, sleeping, creating a safe space for yourself, and other things.

This information is from Family Doctor

Good food can boost your strength

Starting Small

If you haven’t been taking care of yourself lately in this area, here are a few ideas to restart that plan:

  • Make a doctor’s appointment. This can be your yearly physical with a physician, OB/GYN, even a dentist if you haven’t been in a couple of years.
  • Face masks are the best. Try one if you haven’t in a week.
  • Buy or update a planner.
  • Take a long, hot shower or bath.
  • Read a daily inspirational quote (if you have social media, this is very easy to do. There are many pages for these.)
  • Spend some time in nature.
  • Meditate, even if it’s for 5 minutes. (It may take some time to fully get into it, and this is okay.)
  • Journal. If you need ideas on where to start, see The Joys of Journaling
  • Watch a funny YouTube video or one with cats.
  • Do something creative- puzzles, painting, sketching, anything you can think of.

What do you think about the connection? Do you think it’s there? It is incredibly important to take care of ourselves in all ways possible.

For further reading: Can Stress Kill You?

“Mrs.AOK,