Can you believe that today marks the one month anniversary of “Finding Who We Are”? I know it may not seem like much but to me it is. It has been incredibly encouraging hearing your stories, sharing in your pain, and allowing you to have a voice in the world of Mental Health. I can’t wait to see how this continues to grow and where we go in the future!
This week’s entry comes from a great friend. “E” writes over at That’s What Anxious Mom Said and she and I have known each other well over a year now. She spends the majority of her writing time blogging about the hilarious things her kids say/do and also sharing stories about her difficulties with Bipolar Disorder. When you get done reading her entry, make sure you pop over to her page and peruse through her writing!
We hope you enjoy E’s piece and are encouraged by it.
I’m a mom to two kids. I’m a wife. I’m a daughter, sister, and friend. Occasionally I try to be a writer. I’m also a person who suffers from bipolar disorder and multiple anxiety disorders.
Everyone has a thing, and anxiety has always been mine as far back as I can remember. As a very young child, I’d lie in bed at night, absolutely paralyzed with fear that something bad would happen. A movement in the shadows made me think someone was coming in to get me. Other times I’d make myself sick with worry that my grandmother had died suddenly (she practically raised me). Or maybe a poisonous spider would bite me and I’d never wake up. The older I got, the more intense my anxiety became.
I began experiencing depression sometime around my early teens. I often felt like I had no business existing, a notion that was reinforced with the knowledge that I was an unwanted pregnancy carried only because abortion was unconscionable. Self-loathing was also a big theme.
It took more than two decades of struggling first with anxiety and then with depression before I sought help at age 29, about three and a half years ago. At the time, my primary concern was anxiety, since that seemed more acceptable to talk about than depression (I brought up depression as casually as one can very soon thereafter). At the time, I still struggled with sleep, often going night after night with little to no rest. If it wasn’t insomnia, then it was my anxiety causing me to get ramped up with the same old fear that someone was going to come in to hurt my family, that my son would stop breathing in the night, that a natural disaster was going to happen, that some terrorist group would nuke us…my brain could come up with endless possibilities for tragedy and disaster. Paranoia was awful, too.
Over the following two years, I took antidepressants and anxiety medications. While the medications seemed to help for a short while, progress would eventually halt and things would go downhill again. My doctor would try different dosages and sometimes added in something else to hopefully balance things, but the end result was the same. Between anxiety and my brain telling me that not only should I have never existed, but that my kids would be better off without me on a daily basis, it felt like I was at an all-time low. After getting frustrated with my meds making things worse, I went cold turkey and saw what an all-time low really looked like.
At the insistence of my primary care doctor, I set up an appointment to get a second opinion on my diagnoses. (My doctor felt that many of my symptoms pointed to a milder bipolar disorder, which she’d said at the very first appointment I had with her. That was shot down by the first psychiatrist I saw.) The same symptoms still hanging around after two years of treatment and antidepressants ultimately making things worse made my doctor even more suspicious that bipolar disorder was the culprit. (Apparently taking an antidepressant without a mood stabilizer can do this to people with bipolar.)
The first person I saw (an NP) for the second opinion told me that I wasn’t an artist and thus couldn’t have bipolar disorder and wanted to prescribe me the same medication that had increased my suicidal thoughts. So, I sought a third opinion. That psychiatrist diagnosed me with bipolar disorder (type two).
It’s now been almost one and a half years since I got my bipolar diagnosis. It took a little while to get my medication cocktail just right, but now that it is, my life is vastly improved. There’s still some ebb and flow, but the depression (and hypomania) is largely kept in check. The psychiatrist also referred me to an excellent therapist who has helped me a lot.
One thing I’ve learned over the past year or so is how important it is to be proactive with your mental health. Track your moods and symptoms. Learn your triggers and avoid them as much as you can if possible. When you recognize the signs that depression is looming, practice whatever self-care habits you have and cut out as many potential stressors as you can. Also don’t be afraid to use your voice when it comes to doctors and other mental health professionals — if you know something isn’t working for you, speak up. If they aren’t listening to you or taking you seriously, then try to find someone who will, if at all possible.
Thank you, E, for taking part in this series and sharing with us the lessons you’ve learned. We hope you have enjoyed this week’s entry! Look out next week for Entry #5 and if you want to participate, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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