a journal of one person with manic-depressive illness

Friday, April 4, 2014


Two of my children have my diagnosis.  Effective treatments are an ongoing battle. And parenting is a scary proposition.  At times the collective functioning of our household is fight or flight.  Calm is a luxury. 

I have fears about the future, too.  How do you nurture relationships that are handicapped with severe mood changes and coping behaviors?  For every intimate triumph there are alienating failures just around the corner.

All parents have difficulties and insecurities with their parenting choices.  Mine come in the form of questions: How do you respond intentionally to a screaming child who is throwing chairs because his brain chemistry is whipping up a hurricane of neurotic thinking and emotion?  Disciplining those moments is much like sending your epileptic child to timeout for having a seizure.  Calming that storm requires a great deal of patience, which is challenging if the parent is already navigating her own internal upheaval.

I don't have the answers.  Every day we rely on Grace to forgive ourselves and continue loving each other more than we hate our illness.  Maybe that is the answer.


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Anxiety Blooms

No episode is an island. By that I mean, no emotional disturbance, chemical or otherwise, acts without provocation. Whether by chemical dysfunction or emotional input, there is always a trigger that sets the guns a' blazing. This is precisely why mental disorders are hard to acknowledge, diagnose and treat.

Incoming! The Anxiety Bomb. It's difficult to tell whether this is an allergic reaction to seasonal change, a genre of mania inflamed by the warmth and bloom of springtime; or if this is a lack of faith in God's plan for me as my family faces great challenges. Or both. Again, even with the knowledge and acceptance of my illness, how do I balance treatment with growth of character? Seasons of life are meant to change us and improve the ground we stand on, so how much responsibility do I take for my debilitating fears? The balance eludes me at times. So, what now?

The only peace I find lies in my surrender. I must allow the great Force of nature to take hold and bring to fruition the means and ends of my existence. I must have faith in God to survive the chaos of mortality, in the hopes of a great inheritance. Lessons are painful but they bloom into wisdom, greater faith and even ultimate joy:

2 Corinthians 12:

9. Then he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

10. Therefore, I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, I am strong.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Follicle's Foe

This summer was a productive one. I started writing music again-good music. I've even been recording with, and meeting great musicians. My mood has been a happy manic one, filled with ambition and creative drive. Amidst the excitement, the heat and humid green of middle-Tennessee had me yearning for a more adventurous season: crisp air and hot chocolate. After all, what could be more adventurous than putting on more layers! But looking for 'greener' grass in the red, orange and yellow fall sky is bound to disappoint the chemically-challenged.

The yearning is satisfied as 'that time of year' arrives with changing leaves...and moods. I am more anxious and less capable of dealing with everyday challenges. While everyone is suiting up for tailgating, I am wondering why football would want to make anyone sit around for hours eating barbecue. I become increasingly more introverted and annoyed with people and my surroundings.

Last year, when my moods sank like an unscrupulous anchor, I determined that medication was the cure. My nurse-practitioner prescribed an anti-depressant immediately, and it worked. It worked quite well, but with any medication there are side-effects. Some of these side-effects are tolerable, others are difficult to countenance. It may take months for these undesirable effects to attach themselves as unwanted companions. And when they do, the co-dependent relationship I had developed with my medication complicated the solution. I lost hair, lots of it. I divorced my anti-depressants; what woman can part with a prized feminine attribute?

The wintertime is a formidable opponent that cannot be taken for granted. I intend on pursuing all natural options available to me (until this season becomes too fierce a foe and other measures must be considered). Here is my plan thus far:

  1. Keep my moderate exercise regiment: cardio 3 times a week; weight training 2 times week; and occasional yoga classes (does wonders for the nervous system)
  2. Assemble a home-made light box

The most challenging of the two will be the assembly of the light box. I'm not much of a handy-woman, and my husband is neither handy or womanly-but history has conquered more onerous setbacks for much more honorable purposes than preserving hair follicles.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Dear Sunshine,

In the summertime, a hard-day's work is effortlessly accepted as a dutiful endeavor that only lazy and selfish people shirk. Energy is provided in excess amounts, the leftovers are then funneled to other projects like sewing, blogging, church callings, and even grocery lists!! Eventually, we take your warm rays for granted and look forward to the invigorating colors, and brisk air of the Fall (a poetic term, to say the least).

Then we remember, 'oh yeah...the sunshine disappears, too...ugh.' Depression sets in...tick...

At first it is subtle, the house gets a little messier, the workouts are fewer and far between. The irritability starts sprouting like a noxious weed, and pretty soon, a bonafide time-waster emerges. For most normal people, the distress does not progress any further. For those of the bipolar variety, the 'fall' has just begun.

This holiday season was the first time we've spent away from my side of the family. I figured it would be a fun adventure to really settle into a family routine-starting our own unique traditions and realizing our identity as a smaller family unit. While some of what I had hoped for materialized in ginger-bread houses, my mother's divine English toffee, and even her Christmas Eve Danish pastry- my quality time was spent more in bed rather than with my family. But my all-time low of the season happened on Christmas day.

We had invited the Mormon missionaries over to our house for dinner Christmas evening. I had planned to make my mothers rolls to really add something special to the occasion. And a simple event set it off in a hurry. The dough didn't rise! Most normal people would make rice, or improvise in some other simple way, but for me-it was a catastrophe that ended up with me in the bedroom, pulling on my hair, and pinching my arms with a trouser hanger. The visual would certainly scare or anxiously amuse the onlooker-but to me, it was the ONLY way I could cope with the intensity. The only way to stay the intensity was to inflict mild pain on myself. In the moment, the release actually feels good, and helps me ignore or respond in like manner to what I am feeling.

The most challenging part is putting on my game face to protect others from your illness. But I get better at dealing with it on my own, rather than foisting it on the shoulders of my loved ones.

I have to accept that when you (sunshine) take a vacation, I must also take a vacation from my own expectations. The house may be a little messier, the sewing projects might gather dust, and we might make a few more pizza runs. And this is when I put a plug in for my husband who is so patient with my shortcomings. My mother says, as long as you love your family, and feed them---the laundry and vacuuming can wait till the Spring. I think she is very wise.

And so it goes...Sunshine, I miss you (and so does the messy house).

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Ideas, Haircuts and Chairs--Oh My!

One of the more pleasant side-effects of mental illness is when you gamble with an idea, and it pays off. Mental illness is a blessing and curse; an onslaught of brain activity that is difficult to sort through and place properly. You may walk out of your house in an original ensemble, cleverly conceived and fashionable while simultaneously regretting the pending embarrassment of a bang trim gone awry.

This last week, my brain has done me proud! No matter the critic, I firmly believe that it is difficult to achieve these results without some talent and/or professional training...with mental illness, from time to time, neither is requisite!

My daughter needed a haircut--so naturally, I gave her one myself with no experience--if I had a friend over, or my husband looking over my shoulder, reason would have steered me far away from success!

Last, and somewhat least, is just a sample of my whimsical imagination. With a flathead screwdriver and dedicated arm, I plucked well over 500 staples from these wood chairs, repairing my homemaking image in just a few hours. Though I should give credit to the ease and convenience of a spray-paint can (probably invented by a manic/depressive). The bold colors matched with a traditional finish? A gamble this untrained eye would make again!

But throughout history, there are many more notable gambles that have enriched cultures, and lasted much longer than a haircut and dining room set. Many historians suspect that Leonardo Da Vinci, Mozart, and John Adams (well, the latter is actually my personal assessment) were manic/depressives. So that begs the question: Compared to their intellectual triumphs, can I really be considered a manic/depressive?

Perhaps this whole post is a bit ridiculous. Too late now--all of my mental energy has been expended on a haircut and I'm too lazy to re-write or even delete. But now I have come full-circle---the 'idea' of writing this post was really a manic delusion--and NONE of it is really that compelling.

This post is like a bad bang trim--a gamble that DIDN'T pay off.

Dang it.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Chemical Shame

I know this isn't a very en vogue point of view, but I love pharmaceuticals. I don't always love how much they cost me, or the many side effects, but they are nothing short of miraculous. The only thing pharmaceuticals cannot fix, is the inevitable shame of my mental illness.

The hard part is admitting that I need them. Well, actually, it's much harder dealing with the alienating expressions of those who don't appreciate mental illness. To many, being mentally ill is a stain on all aspects of a persons character, and even personality. All of a sudden, you go from being an expressive, pleasant, employable human being, to a mysterious and scary character.

But at times, even to myself, my illness can be scary and mysterious. Manic episodes are like an out-of-body experience, much like experiencing the life of a character in a book. It's boggling to the mind of those who experience suicidal thoughts, because we can look back on those moments and see the delusion with such clarity that it's difficult to explain even to ourselves how our mind reached such a critical point. It's difficult to admit because we can't explain the phenomenon in technical terms to those who really want to understand the illness, the only explanation within my reach is how I felt-which has never been considered empirical. This is not an easy sell to the average person trying to accept your condition as a bona fide illness, "just get up out of bed, then! What's the problem?"

In this regard, it's more simple to be a diabetic or a cancer patient because there are labs, cancer cells, insulin shock, and many other physical ramifications of these illnesses that make the psychology of acceptance much easier. There are letters of condolence, and faithful tears at the funeral of one who died from cancer. When someone dies of suicide, they are typically branded as hellbound sinners who were selfish and ungrateful. A shadow is cast on the family name as they struggle to regain the peace of mind that was lost in that fateful moment.

Much more, it's difficult to measure your spiritual well-being when faced with chronic mood problems. Inspiration and peace are like a goldmine to the chemically-depressed. Isolation, fear and distrust are commonly attributed to the spiritually-lost. Chemical fear obstructs the faith that you cling to with every fiber of your being, even if it is a small mite of spirituality, you never take it for granted. It becomes a battle of the will, much like the olympian who faces physical limitations in contrast to the imaginations of their mind. Sometimes there is triumph, and sadly, statistics highlight the tragic losses of those whose physical limitations could not match their spiritual aspirations.

I harbor shame in my heart. These episodes are difficult to explain to myself, much less the observing eye and ear. The most difficult symptom of this illness is the fear you see in the eyes of your children when you cry uncontrollably. The dissappointment of a loving husband who desires above everything else, your happiness. But every now and then, there is a shining light that warms my soul. I know God hears and answers my many prayers that have been offered in my darkest moments.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Cold Turkey Itch

Two weeks ago, a trip to Virginia left my pills behind in Tennessee. This was a very frustrating turn of events that would have turned the car around if we weren't already halfway to our destination. Coping for a few days without medication isn't the problem. It's going a few days without the kind of medication the requires a 30 day starter pack. Basically, you go a couple of days without the pills, and you have to start the packet over again...which means you don't just go a weekend without proper dosage, you go an entire 30 days without the proper dosage.


But before we even returned back to TN, I attempted to get ahold of my doctor, and failed. So the way forward was clear: cope. I experienced some pretty nasty withdrawals. I had been at the highest dosage of this medicine when I had to quit cold turkey.

This experience was humbling. I am usually the socially adept individual who can get a few laughs from just about anyone, who found herself scratching her arms uncrontrollably and shaking away the chemical imbalance. How do you explain this behavior to others, much less to your own perceptions of yourself? It's difficult to maneuver harsh physical realities with perception.

Arriving back home was a relief, or at least psychological relief--help is on the way. I'm still working up to my original dosage, and no longer experiencing the strange urge to scratch myself, but I am depressed, and have a hard time getting out of bed and starting my day. Functioning is always a challenge in the interim. Nothing is interesting, including this post--but I'm doing it anyway--gotta take the boring in with the excitment.