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Monday, January 11, 2016

Recovery Road

I struggled to write this week’s blog.  Every week I strive to create something meaningful that will touch someone’s life….. but also, keep the text short.   I have to remind myself that I’m not writing a book...at least not yet.      The common theme that kept resurfacing was my first psychiatric hospitalization.   Although it was my "only" inpatient stay, I refer to it as my first because it keeps me in check.   It reminds me that if I don’t follow my treatment plan, I could very well find myself back in the nuthouse!

As I attempted to write over the past few days, I found myself reliving the painful consequences of my bipolar episodes.   Episodes…that’s a funny term.   It’s almost as if my life has been reduced to a sitcom or drama depending on which mood I am experiencing.   When I’m manic and try to write my “Great American” novel, I often divide my book into chapters according to the men with which I have had relationships, significant life changing events, jobs I have had, or by the painful consequences of my deeds.      These subjects alone could easily be expanded to a six-part book series!    Hey,  maybe I can entitle my saga “Fifty Shades of Crazy!”  

I don’t want to bore you with a litany of my past sins, that would only embarrass my family and shock friends.    If you want to know how I “qualify” as being bipolar, message me and we’ll talk.    I’ve added a separate page to this website with a list of signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder.   I will say that I have experienced EVERY symptom on that list.    When I was admitted to the hospital in 2006, my symptoms were so severe that I was experiencing hallucinations.        The first night I spent in the hospital, I saw a white rabbit donning a black top hat on the cart next to my bed.   Seeing the rabbit didn't frighten me; what terrified me most was that I waved to him and he waved back.      I don’t ever again want to revisit that chapter of my life.  

Over the course of the past twenty years, I have learned some valuable lessons about my recovery that I would like to share.   

Lesson #1:  BEWARE OF NON-MEDICAL ADVICE!   I’m talking about unsolicited advice from family and friends.    I know when I was first diagnosed, it was difficult for many people to accept I was bipolar.   I had caused tremendous pain and brought incredible shame to my family.    I’m sure it appeared to outsiders that my bipolar diagnosis was simply an excuse for bad behavior.    I’ll admit, when first diagnosed I experienced a great sense a relief because after years of mental torment I  finally had a medical cause for my symptoms.       It's against human nature to believe in something you can't see.   We demand physical proof! There is no definitive medical test to prove or disprove bipolar disorder.      There's no magic blood test or scan to say without a doubt that you have a mental illness.   The harsh reality is that it can take years to successfully diagnosis.        So it’s hard for people to wrap their minds around something they can’t physically see.  You can't put a cast on a broken mind.

Upon release from the hospital, I was filled with self-loathing, fear, paranoia and anxiety.    Many well-meaning people came to me with cures or remedies for my mental illness.    When they told me I didn’t have a mental illness, I believed them.   I trusted them when they said I didn’t need medication.     So I combated my mind alone for seven years, riding the violet waves of manic-depressive moods until the battle became so overwhelming that I perceived suicide to be my only solution.
 
My advice would be, listen to your health care providers, follow their direction, and take your medication!    As your mind clears, your decision making will improve and you will be able to repair the wreckage of your past and build trust and relationships again.      

Lesson #2:   BE HONEST!     Honesty with your doctor and therapist are of utmost importance.    There is no need to be ashamed or embarrassed.      To accurately diagnosis and treat your illness, they need to know all the symptoms.    I usually sought help with my family doctor when I was depressed.   Typically, my symptoms of depression were so clear-cut that I was immediately prescribed an antidepressant. I wasn’t honest about my other symptoms, the ones that manifested during a manic episode.    In my defense, I really didn’t consider them to be “symptoms”; I thought I was just a reckless, immoral person who just needed to learn how to control her behavior.   In my situation, antidepressants without a mood stabilizer are dangerous.    They eliminate the depressive symptoms but tend to throw me into a manic state.      Symptoms of depression brought me to a therapist when I was twenty-six years old, but I was too ashamed to tell her what I had done in the past, and as a result she was unable to properly diagnosis my illness.  I often wonder how different my life would have been if only I had been honest with that therapist.  

Lesson #3:   YOU HAVE CHOICES!    It took me about a year to realize that I have a choice as to where I receive my treatment.    I love my therapist and have developed a trusting relationship with her.   You rely on your therapist, counselor or psychologist to help you develop tools and coping mechanisms to manage your symptoms.    Usually, psychiatrists are utilized primarily for medication management.    I don’t recommend changing your doctor or therapist every time you don’t agree.   Remember, they are the experts, not you, but you do have choices.   In my own experience, I had been seeing the same psychiatrist for two and a half years.   The appointment process was horrible and her staff treated me as if I had an infection they didn't want to catch.     If my appointment was at 9 o'clock, I often would sit in the waiting room for two hours before seeing her face to face.   My time with the psychiatrist would last a total of three minutes, she would write me a prescription and schedule my next visit.    My psychiatrist was so overbooked that she sometimes forgot my diagnosis.   During my last visit with her, she asked, “What are we treating you for today?  What’s your diagnosis?”   At that moment I knew it was imperative I change psychiatrists,  but I  didn’t just pick a name from the yellow pages.   I consulted immediately with my therapist and asked for a referral.      I now have a new psychiatrist and she has been wonderful.

Lesson #4:  DON’T STOP TAKING YOUR MEDICATION!   This is probably the most important lesson I have learned.   Just because you’re feeling better doesn’t mean you’re cured, it means the medication is working!     You are feeling better because your moods are stabilized!    

Lesson #5:   FORGIVE YOURSELF!   Don’t dwell on your past but don’t forget it either!    It’s important to remember how far you have come in your recovery.   Forgive yourself for your past sins.   Being Catholic, the sacrament of reconciliation is an excellent tool for me.   Just an FYI, You don’t need to be Catholic to see a priest for confession.

It has been ten years since my first breakdown, I still wrestle with my past, but I can’t let it dictate my future.    All I can do now is continue to treat my illness to the best of my ability, move forward and strive to be the person God intended.     Every day, I submit myself to the will of God.  I ask Him to let me be the face of Christ in everything I do and say.    I’m not always successful, in fact, sometimes I fail miserably, but I know He is by my side to pick me up when I fall,  lead me back when I stray and keep me on Recovery Road.

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