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

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

My Career in Psychology

I am not entirely sure when I decided to go into psychology. As a kid, I wanted to be a meteorologist. I love watching weather reports, even to this day. If there’s a storm coming, I’m all over the weather reports. I probably would have gone into this had I not realized that there’s a lot of math involved. I hate math.

An Interesting Change

I realized that I love fashion. I love clothes, makeup and at one point, designing evening gowns. Unfortunately, I cannot construct clothing. I can sew by hand but forget a sewing machine. I ended up selling mine to my friend Stephanie’s mother. I’ve tried making clothes but it’s always ended in disaster.

My college roomie, Barbie (Barbara IRL) has her degree in Apparel Design and Merchandising. Before she moved to Omaha with her husband and became a stay at home mom, she was a tailor in a bridal shop.

Me? I started college at Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) with the same major but got bored. In one of many long conversations with my grandmother before her death in 2002, she suggested that I change majors.

To what? I had an interest in psychology but really had no clue what to do with it. I put some thought into it and changed my major to Clinical Psychology soon after.

Moving Along as A Working Mom

Fast forward about five years to 2007, after a marriage, changing schools and two kids, I finally graduated from Spalding University with a Bachelor of Arts. Again, what was I going to do with it? I had planned to get a Master’s to become a child therapist, but having the boys had kind of halted that path. I didn’t think that I could pull it off. I figured in the meantime, I would work and see what I liked.

The universe laughed. Lily was born in February 2008.

It was 2012 before I even looked at the GRE. If you’ve never heard of it, the GRE is the Graduate Record Exam and my biggest nightmare. I hate standardized testing and this included statistics. Ugh. I didn’t do great, but I also didn’t do horribly. My scores expired in 2017. I took this intending to get into a Master’s of Arts in Teaching program at Bellarmine University, but I didn’t make it past the conditional admission, which lasted a semester. PRAXIS testing was even harder.

Between 2007 and 2012, I worked at two mental health facilities, an outpatient substance abuse facility and learned a lot in the process. You can read Real Stories of a (Former) Mental Health Worker to get some insight into one of those jobs. That one taught me a lot about myself as a person and a mother. There are some jobs that you cannot leave unchanged- that was one.

Wandering A Bit

I left the job I loved the most in 2015, after Jake’s death. I have not been able to find something I loved that much since. I have worked at an inpatient substance abuse facility, direct support worker, a program assistant at a large hospital, and right now I have a new job as a caregiver mentor, but I don’t know as of yet if I love it. The jury is still out.

To be honest, I feel kind of lost, career-wise. I’m not sure I will find something I loved as much as that job again. I felt like I was where I was supposed to be every single day I was there, whether I was working around the hospital or on the unit I eventually transferred to. I’m not really sure what my next move will be. I don’t like not being sure of things. It creates anxiety, and we all know I am not a fan.

What do I love? Writing. That was something I always wanted to do as a kid. Funny enough, Lily loves to write and draw. I’m glad to see that one kid has inherited my artistic abilities. The boys could care less.

What Keeps Me In Psychology?

The ability to help people. I’ve always liked that. I loved being able to help the kids I worked with. They were a blast, except for the bad days. Those were to be expected. Watching a 15-year-old finally go to a great foster family was super rewarding. The funny stories also help, because this field is full of it.

Also, knowing that all my hard work does pay off. In a way, this blog is a branching out of everything I have learned and done while working. I don’t think I will leave the field entirely, but I’m not sure what is next. I really don’t think graduate school is an option. My short term memory was affected by my stroke. I don’t want to go and not do well.

Do I Have Any Regrets?

None. Not at all. I went into psychology knowing I wouldn’t make a million unless I got a Ph.D. I have no interest in that. I’m not in this field for the money. I’m here for the people. That’s the best reason that anyone who wants to go into psychology or any similar profession should be in it.

I have learned a lot and had even more fun. That is what matters most. The piece of paper on my living room wall was just the beginning.

Pic courtesy of Pinterest