Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project, or, yes, I made it to the kitchen today.

bfmh14-copy-e1388959797718“I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.” 

There are pretty much 6 people who read this blog. Once you realize how long this post is, that may start to make sense.

When I started it, I just needed a place to write. I really needed a space, but I didn’t really need an audience. I get a little jump when someone comments, or I get an email saying that someone follows this, but this was primarily a little place for me, and I had no fancy paper notebooks to work with, and my handwriting sucks. Really, it does.

I wanted to write this post, as part of the Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project, because I think that while it is great that all sort of celebrities are announcing their mental health status, I don’t know that that really helps people on a day to day,  oh god how am I going to get all the way to the kitchen, I’m so tired my teeth hurt, basis. In my experience, the only thing that really does that, is knowing people who have lived through that, made it to the kitchen and lived to tell about it. Today, I made it to the kitchen. You can do this.

I was diagnosed with Bipolar II in 1992, after a not very successful trial of anti-depressants made it fairly obvious that I did not have unipolar depression. I spent 8 weeks in hospital getting used to lithium and also getting used to the fact that there was a name for the thing that caused me to lose my marbles on a fairly regular basis, and that that name was not just “tired” or “energetic”.

I spent my 20 year “crazy” anniversary in the hospital too. I’ve been hospitalized seven times in 20 years, which is pretty freaking low, given how things have gone. I have had good treatment, mediocre treatment, and downright horrible treatment. I had the best possible psychiatrist, but then she retired last year. I have taken at least one of almost every class of medication that has ever been even hinted at for BP, including one that is supposed to be for Parkinson’s Disease (that one, for the time being, is working).

I fought an uphill battle with self-harm. Mostly, I won. There are occasional skirmishes. I don’t beat myself over the head with them anymore.

I have significant kidney damage from medication, and it probably won’t get any better than this. I know where every public washroom in the entire city is located, and if I don’t know, I can find one. It is my superpower.

I wrote cranky blog posts about things I found completely unfair about living with mental illness, days when I really wished I could shuffle off this mortal coil without disturbing anyone, and things that are awesome (like peer support and friends).

In and between all of that, I did the following:

  • Got bachelors degree in physical anthropology and human evolution
  • Got college diploma in Early Childhood Education
  • Got bachelor of Education degree
  • Taught elementary school for 8 years
  • Got master of Educational Technology degree
  • Got married
  • Worked for an educational company designing online courses
  • Gave lectures to mental health professionals about lived experience
  • Got unemployed
  • Made really good friends in the physical world and online
  • Learned cross stitch
  • Knit a whole bunch of socks

(Resume available on request. I really need a job, just in case you were wondering. I’m not really trying to advertise.)

Being bipolar is not all of what I am, but it is a huge part of how I became this person. This has been with me my whole life, and it has shaped every decision I have made, and influenced all of my choices. I learned (slowly, and with great reluctance) how to be self-reflective. I learned compassion. That was supposed to apply to me too, but I have not quite got the hang of that yet. Further updates as events warrant. I learned that not only do I have a voice, but I really want to use it. I learned how to be kind. Again, not so much to myself, but I have to leave some startling growth spurts for my 40’s, right?

I also learned how incredibly cruel ignorance is, and how ignorant people really are. I learned what it is like to be marginalized and humiliated for something that is beyond your control. I learned how privileged I am to be a white, well-educated woman, from the right kind of family, when I interact with the mental health system. I learned how dangerous it is to be part of a minority against whom it is still socially acceptable to discriminate. I learned that stigma is a Human Resources issue, and discrimination is a Legal Department issue. I learned that fighting stigma is probably a good thing, but that fighting discrimination and harassment is more important. I learned that people change their behaviour when they have to, and not because you have a good argument.

Other Things I learned:

  • The whole “baby steps” thing is infuriating, but sometimes it actually works.
  • If you can’t get out of bed, put one foot on the floor. Then, if you drag it back under the covers, at least you can say you accomplished something.
  • Practice forgiveness, not in a religious way, but in a “I can let go of this thing I am beating myself over the head with today” way. It is liberating
  • Accept help. No one is so awful that they don’t deserve help. There is no way you are that undeserving, no one is. Humans are worthy, just because.
  • One of my favourite quotes is from Jenny Lawson (the Bloggess, read it. No, really read this blog, and also read Hyperbole and a Half). She says depression lies, and she is right.

Things I like:

  • online virtual worlds
  • Science fiction
  • DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy)
  • coffee (not the best thing for someone with an anxiety disorder, but there’s decaf, and that doesn’t suck as much as you would think)
  • Twitter
  • Politics
  • My cats

Things I know now:

  • I’m a pretty decent person
  • I can be useful
  • Panic can only last so long
  • I am 100% successful at not dying so far

If you made it this far in the post, I am truly impressed, and a little bit grateful (ok, a lot grateful). This is not something that people can do alone, and having someone read what you write is both scary and empowering. The Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project is incredibly important in that respect, and I hope that you go and read a whole bunch of stuff that people have written, and scare and empower them.

When I turned 32, I was probably having a worse day.

10 years ago today I left work to go to the hospital.

I left plans for my students, but I knew if I didn’t go, I would not live out the week. I went back, for a year, but ultimately didn’t really return to teaching. I left my career, my pension and my health insurance for a chance to live. I’m not sure, today, if it really worked.

Today I’m 42, which is the answer to the ultimate question about the meaning of life, but I’m left feeling empty and more alone and broken that I have in a long time. My mom called me to tell me the story of the day I was born. As soon as she got off the phone, I started crying. I’m not what they were hoping for. I am so full of unrealized potential, it probably explains why I am overweight. To be fair, I’m not actually hallucinating evil spirits, so I guess I am one up on my 32nd birthday.

I have no job, for a whole bunch of reasons, mostly related to the fact that no one will grant me an interview. My resume is not exactly the stuff dreams are made of anymore. I don’t really have much of a life. I feel so separate from my friends, with their careers, and their holidays and their homes and all of that. I even feel completely estranged from the community of mental health advocates I was part of in my city, because I rejected their med-free, all psychiatry is evil orthodoxy.

I get that I am just feeling sorry for myself today. Birthdays are either wonderful, or a super opportunity to ruminate on all the things that have not really worked out for me. I’m not actively sick. I haven’t been in months, which I think I should feel grateful for. This is the down-slope of recovery. I’m not sick, but I am bent under the weight of the consequences of living with serious mental illness. This is the baggage portion of the program. The airlines lost everyone’s luggage during the ice storm, could they not have lost mine?

6 year old me: It’s my birthday!!!!! Are we having cake? Did I get new markers? Yay!

32 year old me: Screw this. I’m done.

42 year old me: Both of you, shut up. I have no idea what I am doing here.

When you are really sick, the focus is on getting you past the point where you might die. Hospitals, doctors, therapists and your family just want you to ‘be well’ and get out of the acute phase, which is a good goal. Dying makes getting on with your life more complicated. Unfortunately, there is not much after that. I’m well, I’m just miserable because the fallout from being ill makes for a really depressing life.

Part of me thinks, stop whining. You have food and shelter, and a computer and internet. You have cats and a husband and a Christmas tree (that really needs to come down, come to think of it). I just can’t stop wanting. Wanting to go to work. Wanting to have purpose. Wanting to be something. Wanting to be able to answer the question “so, what do you do?” with something other than “I read a lot of news”. I wonder if this is just me.

I will be charming at dinner tonight. I will tell funny jokes for my friends. I will pull off looking good in public. It’s what I do.

I just wonder, on my 52nd birthday, how am I going to look back on today? Was it the end of a bad period, or the start of some fresh new hell? Was it just a day in a long line of really depressing days? My 32nd birthday was momentous, in that my whole life changed. I went from being a teacher to being a crazy person, full-time. I don’t want to go back to being a teacher, given that I really wasn’t that good at it, but I do want to be something.

Oh, that was a really loud siren. Two fire trucks just went past my apartment. I think at this point, I have to say, objectively, someone is having a much worse day than me.

I will pull myself together and bake birthday blueberry muffins. In times of need, acquire carbs. It is really the only sensible response. Wait, maybe the unrealized potential is not the only reason I don’t fit into those pants…could also be the drugs. Really, is nothing simple? Muffins. Yes, muffins. When I turn 52, I will remember the muffins. My muffins are that good.

Happy Birthday to me, Simone De Beauvoir, Dave Matthews, a fabulous woman in a Facebook group I’m in, and all of the other people, born today, who are awesome.