Mental illness: The unsung heroes and information

In the spirit of Mental Health Awareness Month, this post is a second installment about revealing my struggles with mental illness in order to help fight stigmas. You can read my first post here.

*****

Today I’d like to tell you a little bit about the unsung heroes behind people living with mental illnesses, provide some factual information, and share a few thoughts that have come to mind since “outing myself” about my own struggles with mental illness.

In some of the response I received after writing my blog post, people called me a hero. Although that is an extremely nice thing to say, the true heroes are the family members and friends who have to live with or be around a person who is mentally ill. The people who try to convince a mentally ill person that they need help or do not understand what they are going through, I imagine, is frustrating.

My husband is one of those heroes. Although he likes to maintain a low profile online — he’s German and stoic and private like that (unlike his wacky wife!) — today I am going to acknowledge him anyway. There were many times when I was sick that he was not only my first point of contact, but the only person who’d see my worst symptoms rage up in fire. It’s a lot for a person to handle.

Our children have never suffered from any of my mental health problems, because I have compartmentalized the Mommy part of my life and the mentally ill part of my life rather well and my husband and others have filled in the gaps. But that said, there have been many times since my kids were born that I’ve needed breaks to go running, go to yoga, periodically go on weekend getaways, spend time writing in solace, or take a day-trip here and there. My husband has stepped up to the plate every single time, and is an amazing father to our two children. I wouldn’t be at this place of wellness if it weren’t for him.

So please, before I share any more of my stories or information about mental illness, a quick hats off to my husband and all the other family members and friends who love and try to help people with mental illness. There are many of those people in my close circle beyond my husband, that know who they are, but he deserves the most recognition.

Oh! And one more person. Well he’s not really a person, but more of a person-dog. My pug dog, Luke, has been a savior in my life. Luke loves publicity, so let me just tell you he’s been at the ready for whatever kind of therapeutic doggy love I have needed. He still is. His birthday is June 4th — he’ll turn thirteen. Can I get a quick Happy Birthday to Luke?

Thanks.

Luke snuggles in the crook of my side when I need to lay down on the couch and let my brain reset, he sits beside me every single time I write at home, he follows me around while I do housework, he lays next to my side of the bed, and most importantly he looks at me with unconditional love-filled puggly eyes every single day. He’s a total diamond in the rough.

Luke

Beyond family, friends, and pets I need to recognize psychiatrists and all other doctors and medical persons that deal with mentally ill patients. We are not an easy crowd. During both of my psychotic episodes I yelled in people’s faces, broke hospital rules, made unfair accusations, refused medicine, and more.

Therapists and counselors — you are probably the most under appreciated people who work in mental health. Dealing with irrational, paranoid, and delusional patients sounds exhausting. I bow to you because I understand that it is a tough field to work in.

Mental Health Month 2016

As I’ve reached more acceptance about living with a bipolar disorder, I want to share an important link from the National Alliance on Mental Health to provide a better understanding for people who lack knowledge. Part of providing information helps fight stigmas. Mental illness is real.

I am Bipolar I. There is no great mystery, and I can see that clear as day when I am well. If you read up on it, I am pretty much textbook.

You can click on the link HERE.

*****

In the years leading up to my diagnosis I had experienced symptoms of a bipolar disorder, but it is an extremely hard illness to diagnosis. I had an eating disorder in high school, a form of mental illness. I suffered from anxiety, depression, and hypomania between 2005 – 2007 leading up to and after my parents divorced. I dealt with post-traumatic stress after the April 16th shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007 because I was teaching on campus and living in Blacksburg at the time. After both of my babies were born I had postpartum psychosis, another form of (maternal) mental illness, and a lesser known symptom of bipolar. And let’s not forget there are genetic factors.

All that said, until this past spring I have been in denial that I had a bipolar disorder. I continued to want to blame my problems on other people, myself, situational traumas, postpartum “struggles,” and a variety of other reasons why my brain malfunctions. I have constantly been searching for an “answer” in my brain about what I have experienced and why.

During both of my psychotic episodes I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote and filled countless journals and wrote inside books, on napkins, and on anything else I could get my hands trying to figure out what was happening to me. In the hospital, and off of the top of my head, styrophome cups were a consistent go-to. Mostly I wrote garbled, nonsensical words and phrases and incoherent thoughts when I was manic, though at the time I was just certain that I was writing a best seller.

I also collected “clues” during my episodes — old receipts, pages out of a magazine, books, mail, drawings my kids had made and what-not. When I was in the hospital I would sit in my room and write five-letter words and try to make new five-letter words out of the letters from the original words trying to find the “answer.” I constantly tried to solve a puzzle in my head that I couldn’t quite figure out. I would get fixated on numbers and patterns, too, but mostly words and letters.

Since writing my blog post last week, I decided to open up a folder of writings I had done when I was in the hospital the second time. I was worried it might be triggering, but I did it anyway. I looked at some of the things I had written — in crayons, pens, and sharpies. Mostly I wrote in capital letters. I underlined, circled, crossed out, and put asterisks next to certain words or phrases that might lead me to the “answer.”

In the same folder I found two meal tickets that I collected because I was certain that they would lead me somewhere as I tried to find the “answer.” If you’re curious — On May 12, 2013, I had 8 oz. of 2% milk, 6 oz. of coffee, 8 oz. of apple juice, grapes, scrambled eggs, biscuits & gravy, and 6 oz. of grits. Totally significant right? WRONG. I simply could not see at the time that not everything that came my way had meaning.

I wrote down the tiny inscriptions on any pills I was given before I would swallow them and started making a chart that included the exact time I swallowed them. I am pretty certain those letters/numbers mean something in the pharmacy world, but in reality they are insignificant. Yet as I started to stabilize those letters/numbers/times just HAD to mean something.

Currently and as I delve further into my past experiences I am realizing something. All of these writings and thought processes… wait for it… wait for it… are nothing more than symptoms of a mental illness — delusions and hypergraphia. Hypergraphia is a constant and intense desire to write. My whole life, even as a little girl when I liked to letter write, writing has always been something I’ve enjoyed.

Later in life writing became a coping mechanism for any problems or challenges. For the most part that is a healthy outlet (like right now!), but when I became manic, the volume of sentences, phrases, and words that I could write had no limits or coherence until I was well again.

You might imagine that reviewing just a few of my old writings and connecting them with the rippling thoughts that still live in my, now stable, brain might be cause for continued desire to find the “answer.”

And guess what?

I FINALLY figured out the answer.

I have a bipolar disorder.

What I RELIEF that I can finally understand this!

So it’s up to me now, because I will have to live with it for the rest of my life, as do others who have mental illnesses. Many, like bipolar disorder, are chronic.  But the great news is that mental illnesses are medically treatable once you have the diagnosis, development an acute awareness of your symptoms, receive external support, and continue educating yourself about whatever mental illness you are living with.

*****

One of the symptoms of bipolar that gives me a lot of trouble is a flight of creative ideas and a sense of urgency in which I must complete them. When it doesn’t happen — and never will — because I am a Mommy and my kids will always win-out, as well as my desire for wellness, I become extremely irritable inside myself. When the “super amazing ideas” slow down and my energy drops, I crash and feel down that none of my ideas came to fruition.

BUT.

Now that I know the “answer” to the extreme mood shifts that feel like continual rollercoasters, I can give that part of my brain a long vacation.

I’d like to give my right elbow/wrist a little break, too. I got absolutely ZERO sympathy or concern about my tendonitis after my last post. Thanks a lot people! Even my husband, the unsung hero, wouldn’t agree to let me hire a maid when I told him that vacuuming and cleaning toilet bowls would delay my recovery.

Sigh.

*****

As a reader, what are you most interested in about mental illness and/or my story? I’d love to (slowly) continue the conversations with anyone effected by mental illness, who works in the field, or is interested in fighting stigmas.

I am passing the writing/talking torch to you. Let your voice be heard!

About britta326

blogger, picture-taker, diaper-changer, runner

18 thoughts on “Mental illness: The unsung heroes and information

  1. Wow, Britta. I read both your first post and this post together and I can’t commend you enough for being tough enough to write about your experiences publicly. But as you said, it’s so important to fight the stigma and although there are signs that people are less judgmental about it today than before, there’s still plenty of misunderstanding and judgment going on about mental illness. I think hearing more about all aspects of your experiences and also how it may (or may not) have affected the people around you would be invaluable. Wishing you all the best!

    • Yes, it’s the personal experiences and thought processes that people share when when they are mentally ill that helps normalize mental illness. I had first-hand experiences and can now look at them with clear eyes and realize there is a lot to say that could be helpful to the field and others suffering. When I was sick, I could never figure out what was real and what was not real. When that happens it can put you in dangerous situations because you think that you are invincible or sink so low that life seems impossible. Thanks for reading. I hope you are doing well!

  2. Britta, I have bipolar II and fortunately it’s fairly well controlled, but it wasn’t until I started hearing everyday examples of how it manifests itself that I fully understood I had it. The broad-based definitions are helpful but don’t tell the whole story. Everyday examples help round it out.

    • Hey Belinda. Thanks for letting me know that you have bipolar II. Are you able to write or talk publicly in it? Or don’t you find it necessary? Do a lot of people in your life know or do you keep it quiet? Now that I am getting in a comfortable place with being bipolar I, I am trying to find the balance on what I share and what I don’t.

      • I talk about it openly with some discretion. I’m single so I sometimes wonder how much I should post on my blog in case I start dating someone with a lot of misconceptions. That sort of thing. I’m sometimes surprised — and disappointed — at the people who will reject those with bipolar disorder. I’m going through that right now with a friend I thought was really open and caring. I want to write more about it. Mine is very well controlled and has been for years, but I remember being out of control. I think writing about it is brave but also freeing, and it sounds like you have a wonderful support system. Go for it.

      • Thanks. I am sure there will be haters at some point, but I guess that is the risk I am willing to take. Mine, like yours, is pretty well-controlled now too, so if I have to deal with the doubters, I’d like to think I can keep my head. I probably won’t take it too much farther on my blog at this point. I have my kids to think of. They need a more peaceful mom (which is how I feel after writing publicly about some of this), but they don’t need a mom who gets swallowed up in this all the time. It’s a process. Someday I hope I can write more metaphorically about it in time.

      • If you’re like me you have lots to write about. Your blog can be about all of you, and your posts can be long or short. Obviously your kids are a priority, although maybe setting aside a certain of time to write is something you need, too. Feel free to peruse my blog and you can see a lot of the posts are just plain goofy. I go through stages. You probably can see that, too!

  3. Britta,
    I have read both your posts and honestly I was shocked. So let me first say I admire your honesty! You know we grew up together I was never in your “circle” I was always the outsider. So the stigma for me would be, there is no way someone of your stature in our community could suffer such a condition. You had it all, the perfect family the preppy clique, the best of everything what could possibly be wrong with you!
    That being said it is just a stigma, because I have lived my entire life surrounded by mental illness and also a degree of it myself, it can happen to anyone no matter their childhood, the fortunes, the fame or how much money you make. It certainly means alot to alot of people who just like yourself suffer mental illness and can correlate rather than feel shame.
    I suffer from OCD and anxiety and I have to say it really sucks. I have had many people tell me to get medicated but I refuse for fear that I would just be sloppy and unkept. I am sure this fear is unfounded, however I am not ready to take that leap.
    My point to you is your very brave and this blog has given atleast me the appreciation to say it’s okay to admit that your more than what people see, even if it isn’t “normal”.
    Thanks Britta for your bravery!

    • Somer — I am so glad you commented. You are right, mental illness does not discriminate. I felt I had a responsibility to come forward because as you pointed out, it may seem like certain people wouldn’t be touched by mental illness, but that is not always true. Since opening up about being bipolar and my past battles I have felt so much internal peace because I don’t have to hide it any more. I hope more people can come forward when they are ready, or at the very least gain a new perspective from my story. Life is hard. We all get beat up in one way or another. May as well help support each other by being honest about who we are. I am sorry to hear you suffer from OCD and anxiety. Sucks, but I am glad you can talk about it. And I am also glad you understand and are aware of stigmas. Thanks so much for reaching out. I stand with you!

  4. Britta, I stumbled across your post while looking for more information to better understand a psychotic episode a close friend is experiencing at the moment. Your documented experiences are almost identical. I wanted to commend you on your courage in sharing this post with the world and wish you well on your journey towards good health 🙂 Thank you!

    • Thank you. I’m glad my experience could help you see some parallels to what your friend was going through. Opening up about this was difficult, but worth it because it helped people. I hope to write more one day. Wishing you and your friend well!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s