Bipolar Is Not An Adjective

I forced myself to get up from the computer and take a few breaths prior to writing this, as I was initially fuming inside. I think I can now write without sticking my foot in my mouth (hopefully), and not winding up deleting this post afterward.

So, what triggered my writing this post? Facebook!

Facebook? You Said “No” to Facebook!

I admit, I was always adamant that I was never going to join that site, as I do not do well in such social settings. I saw it as a way to display to circle of loved ones how one another can out-fun each other on a daily basis. “My life is better than your life.” I found that it would be a blatant, in-my-face banner that reminds me every day that “I suck! I’m a loser!” Yet a little over a month ago, I did indeed… well, “suck”. I sucked up my reservations and created an account. My reasons for doing so, was so that I could start connecting with those people in my life who have been there for me through all of this. They are people who I want to be in contact with more than just via email and text. However, before I knew it, I was getting friend requests from family and friends whom I hadn’t seen or talked with in three years.

Found on Digital Trends Website

The sudden influx of loved ones back into my life was anxiety inducing, but I have since adjusted a little more and have gotten calmer. It’s purely family and friends, but it still can be quite the anxiety fest for myself. However, the site continues to throw stress my way, which does not help me at all. I will not go into the boring details here, but one such stressful experience is that since joining, I have gotten messages requesting favors from two male family members on Facebook who I have not talked with in three years. And, to make it worse is that one of those individuals did not even bother to include a “Hey, long time no see”, or “How have you been?” in his message. It was just an immediate jump to the “call me”. I did not call him, but rather messaged him back, trying to be cordial. I explained that I couldn’t call as I’m barely starting to branch out via Facebook. I did not mention anything I’m going through, but I asked him how he was doing. What was his response? Nothing. I never received a response to my message. I guess I was no longer needed, since I was going to be unable to do the favor.

Um… Summer, What Does That Have to Do with This Post?

Sorry, I guess I needed to get that off of my chest.

I am here to write about something that I read today on my news feed. I was going through it, and I saw that one of my family members had commented on a post from one of their friends (someone whom I did not know). I usually ignore those kinds of notifications in the news feed, as I feel that they are none of my business. However, I do get nosey sometimes when something catches my attention. The post was about someone moving back to the state, and a lot of people were posting either happy or sad comments about it (depending on which side of the move they were located). So, I was curious who this person was, since it was a friend of my family member’s. I extended the comments to view all of them, and the first one blaring right at me started off with the following statement: “ 🙂 🙂 😦 😦 I’m feeling bipolar about this…”

I cannot even tell you how much restraint it took for me to not chime in on that open conversation and say, “Bipolar is not an adjective!” I’m glad that I did not, as it would have had negative results for me in multiple ways, but I was so tempted to do so. I do not even know why it got to me as much as it did. I have heard the bipolar term used in such ways before, and it always infuriates me, but I’ve never had such a strong urge to tell the person off. Maybe, it was due to her being friends with a relative. Maybe, I felt connected in that way. Who knows? But, what I do know is that I felt pure anger at this person, not just frustration. I do not know the woman. What I do know, though, is that she is terribly uninformed regarding the subject of bipolar and how hurtful such a comment can be.

In anger, it’s easy for me to look at her and say that she’s ignorant. However, in a much more cooler state – one in which I can think more calmly – I’d rather not use such an unkind term, but rather say it’s pure misguidance and lack of true understanding. She has not taken the time to do any research on what bipolar truly is (as is the case with many people), and in that lack of knowledgeable pursuit, she presents herself as completely misguided. I would hope that others who read her comment see it for the obliviousness that it is, but that’s probably not going to be the case. I know that is a cynical view, but I have heard my own family use bipolar as an adjective. But, I try my best to view people who use the term in such a way as needing to learn more about it, and not as if they are inconsiderate or trying to be hurtful.

However, even while trying to view today’s situation in this way, I still find myself upset that the word has been once again used as if it were just another way to describe one’s day, feelings or actions. NZ Cate has often discussed the need for both respect and acceptance for mental illness on her blog, Infinite Sadness… Or Hope? Just the other day, I commented on this very subject while posting on her blog. It happens way too often, and sadly does not seem to be going away anytime soon.

I guess some may say that this is a pet peeve of mine, as I get quite worked up over the issue. However, it’s more than that. It has in actuality become a passion for me. I think it’s important for those of us in the bipolar community to be passionate about such topics; otherwise they will never be fixed. I’m tired of the misconceptions that bipolar is just another term to be thrown around. It’s hurtful. I have even heard and read people describing their pets as being “bipolar” due to their behavior on a particular day. I’m not saying that animals cannot suffer from forms of mental illness, but you have got to be kidding me that such terms are being used even to describe dogs, cats and other animals just because they are having a not-so-great furry day. How on earth are we supposed to gain acceptance and compassion from people, if this continues? And, sadly it’s not only bipolar that is used in such a way. I’ve often heard Schizophrenia used as an adjective when describing some behaviors of people. “Amy had a fight with her boyfriend last night. So, she’s being all schizo, today.” Really? She’s having a bad day and experiencing the torturous anguish that robs a sufferer from so much of their life?

For Your Information, It’s Harmful

It never ceases to amaze me how hurtful people can be, without even realizing just how much harm they are causing with such remarks. Some may ask, “How is such an innocent comment harmful?” The answer is quite simple… because it’s disrespectful to every human being who suffers from mental illness. In addition, it spreads that wounding unawareness around, making it even more difficult for gaining understanding and compassion from those outside of the mental illness community. I’m not saying that people who do not suffer from mental illness are not in pain at times in their lives. When a person is having a horrible day or mood, he or she definitely deserves – and should allow him or herself – to express those feelings and emotions. It’s healthy to do so. However, that expression can be done without disregarding the seriousness of mental illness.

I don’t ever hear anyone walking around saying, “Oh, he’s being all diabetic today.” “Man, can that guy be any more cancerish?” Why don’t people use those same illness terms in the same way as mental illness? People don’t use diabetic and cancer as adjectives, because they are recognized as true and painful illnesses. If someone was to say one of the above examples, he or she would be seen as beyond disrespectful, and would probably face some looks of repulsion from others. I agree with that repulsion. I do not want to see anyone turning those illnesses into mere descriptions of someone. But, I also do not want to see mental illness used in that way either. Why is mental illness the exception? Why is it acceptable to throw those terms around as if they are not worth anything more than a place in a dictionary?

Bipolar is painful. It can have its wonderful points when we’re in a state of high that feels as if nothing can stop us. However, that also comes with the risk of doing something that can lead to disastrous results. And, I don’t even have to go into the effect that the depression end of the spectrum has on us. To be so high that you feel unstoppable, and then to drop with such intensity that you want to exit this life forever, is not a way to describe having a bad day. It’s a way to describe pain and despair. It’s a way to describe the mental torment with which our minds struggle. It mentally and physically hurts, both inside and out.

Bipolar is not fun!

Bipolar is not cool!

Bipolar is not an excuse!

Bipolar is not an adjective!

 

The Overweight Moon

Earlier, I read a post by But She’s Crazy called 170 Pounds of Compassionate Acceptance. As someone who has struggled with my weight my entire life, I connected with her experience of weight gain. The fact that But She’s Crazy had the courage to write a post on her weight has inspired me to finally write a post on the topic that I have been putting off for some time now. I’ve mentioned my weight issues only briefly in posts like Expectations. However, my goal was to eventually write a dedicated post on the issue, which always seemed to be thwarted by my fear of the sensitive issue. So, I guess that I best be getting to writing before I chicken out again.

I was four-years-old when my pediatrician first told my mom that I needed to lose weight. I still remember being at the doctor’s office that day and being weighed. It’s a quick snippet of memory, but it’s there. Maybe that’s due to the fact that it was my first taste of weight loss talk that I would have for the rest of my life.

“Chunky”

By the time I was six years old, I had been on a couple of diets. That never worked, though. I would lose weight, but then I’d gain it back. I was never a severely overweight child, just more “chunky” as one of my uncles nicknamed me back then. No, I did not like the nickname. But, it did accurately describe my build as a child. I often wonder if I would have been left alone and not put on diets by my doctors, then maybe I would have eventually slimmed down permanently. I was so close to “slimness” at that age, but just a little thicker than that. But, my doctors made a big to-do about it.

This weight loss roller coaster began around that age. As a young child, I did the Slim-Fast diet one summer (which I would do again at least four more childhood summers). I had asked my mom if I could please do it ‘cause I had heard my dad talking about wanting to try it (he’s since slimmed down to a healthy weight for his height and age), and I had seen commercials for it on television. I wanted to be skinny like all the other girls in my class and thought it could make that happen. No matter if I wasn’t even out of grade school yet, I wanted to be skinny like the girls on the commercials and in my family. The hatred for my body had begun and it would never leave.

The Woes of Losing Weight

I remember in 2007, I had put on a lot of weight from college. That in combination with the bipolar issues, including depression, that had been hovering over me throughout my final year in college sent me soaring into the weight numbers. However, when I went to the doctor that year for something else, a blood test revealed that I was pre-diabetic. I needed to lose weight or I was going to become a full-blown diabetic in not too many years.

So, I went on yet another diet. My doctor sent me to an endocrinologist who specialized in diabetes. She turned out to be a nightmare of a doctor. I’ll never forget my first meeting with her while she discussed my BMI. She held a chart in her hand and with her finger she pointed at the healthy BMI and weight range for my height and age. “This is where you should be, but you’re waaaaaaaaaaay over here.” To add to the enjoyment of that revelation, she also slid her index finger across the chart as she extended her “way” to show just how far I was from my target BMI and weight. Talk about wanting to melt into a puddle of humiliated goo and evaporate. Staring at a pile of poo would have been more pleasant than sitting in that office. I stood with her, though, because I was terrified that I’d become diabetic. Diabetes runs in my family and it has hit people who are not even very overweight. So, I knew it was serious business. I continued to see her for a few months, and in that time she put me on the strictest diet I had ever been on in my life. I was restricted to 800 calories and only 20 carbs per day.

When the Weight Loss Hurt Me

I kept up with that diet for three months, however around a month and a half into it, I started getting very sick. When you’re on such a strict diet, you must keep up with your doctor appointments due to the danger it can cause, and I kept up with each and every one. However, what ended up happening was my gallbladder could not take it. This is a common side effect of losing weight too quickly. The gallbladder will develop stones, and in my case cease to function like it should anymore due to the size of those stones. And, although my so-called doctor should have known that was the cause of my agonizing attacks that would last for hours on end, she did not. She told me first it was probably an ulcer and prescribed an OTC anti-acid. Then, when I insisted a month later that it was not an ulcer, she claimed I was overreacting. I then told her that my cousin (a registered nurse) suggested that it could be my gallbladder and an ultrasound would find the problem. She did not want to send me for an “unnecessary” test, but she wrote the referral anyway, with such a look of like she was just humoring me.

Well, needless to say, the ultrasound proved that my cousin’s concerns were correct. It was indeed my gallbladder. My doctor still didn’t want to do anything about it, though. She said we would just wait and see if it gets worse. Well, considering that at that point every single thing that I ate was causing an attack, that was not an option. She called me after 5pm on a Friday to give me my results. And, it wasn’t until after I asked her if there was something else I could do other than wait that she then said, “Well, do you want me to give you the number for a surgeon?” I was stunned. I mean seriously? She was asking me as if I was supposed to know what the heck to do. I remember just saying, “Um, ok.” She then gives me the number and says, “Good luck” and hung up. Paging Dr. Female Dog!

Thankfully, I ended up going to another doctor for a second opinion, who helped me way more than that other “doctor” ever could. A few weeks later I had surgery to remove my gallbladder, and I have not had any pain like I did from those attacks ever since. In addition, since then I have been diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). I was diagnosed in 2010, but it was a diagnosis that I should have received back in 2007, when I was seeing the endocrinologist. She should have found it considering her specialty in endocrinology, yet she did not. My new excellent doctor says that is part of the reason why I have struggled with my weight and blood sugar so much, and more recently my blood pressure too. PCOS messes with many areas of the body. That doesn’t mean my poor eating habits have not had anything to do with it. They’ve had everything to do with it. It’s just that PCOS has had a hand in it as well.

So, Back to the Enjoyable Topic of Weight Loss

By the time that my gallbladder had been removed, I had lost close to 70 pounds. We’re talking about a 5-month time frame. Part of that was due to the diet, but the rest was due to being unable to eat anything for two months due to the agonizing gallbladder attacks. But that doctor thought we should wait to see if it got worse.

Anger rising… rising… two deep breaths… ok, calm.

I still had more to lose, but I was feeling great and was getting in good shape, as I exercised regularly as well. I was proud of myself, and I thought that maybe this was it. I was going to finally lose weight and keep it off. I was no longer dieting on that 800-calorie restriction, and had went to a higher allotment. I kept losing while doing that, though. Unfortunately though, in March of the next year, my mom got sick.

She’s much better now, but at the time she had serious issues with circulation in her legs, and that March she had to be taken to the Emergency for the problem. This would be the first of four visits to the Emergency that year. From that point forward, my mom progressively got weaker and weaker as the year moved on. And, by the time the fall came around, I saw a completely different woman in front of me.

As my mom got weaker, I began to change too. My depression, which had subsided prior to this, was returning, and with it my poor eating habits did too. I was turning to food for comfort and I did not care what was happening to my body. And, by the time 2009 came and I sunk into the darkest and deepest depression that I had ever experienced at that point, I was no longer thinking about weight loss. I stopped caring about everything. So, I couldn’t care less if I gained weight because it just didn’t matter. There was a part of me that had hoped that if I kept eating, then maybe I’d gain enough weight to cause a heart attack, and then I wouldn’t have to do the job of ridding myself from this world. Nature would just take its course.

When the Concern Returned

After my diagnosis and the bipolar medications started to work, I was becoming stable again and my desire to get healthy started to return as well. I did not have the motivation or drive to be able to do it, though. I was fortunate though, I had someone in my life who had a way to “fix” all of my problems… bipolar and all.

“Have weight loss surgery, you’ll lose weight, you’ll be beautiful, and your bipolar will go away.”

I’ve mentioned that above quote before in the Expectations post I mentioned earlier. This was a statement that was made to me last year, by a woman who thought she was helping. Yeah, I don’t understand what she was thinking, either.

I was a mess after hearing this. I felt as if I was being crushed in multiple ways. First of all, she was obviously lacking in knowledge about bipolar, which made me feel horribly misunderstood. And then secondly, I felt completely insulted. So, let me get this straight. I have bipolar because I’m overweight, and in order to get rid of that bipolar I need to lose weight. Then, by doing so, not only will I be “cured”, but I will also become beautiful, since obviously she thought I was the walking definition of hideousness itself. Well, geeze! Why worry about weight loss at all? Just plant me on the hood of an Air Force fighter jet and I can scare away the enemy with a single glance.

Upon my retelling of this to my therapist, she summed up my feelings and emotions about what was said to me best. “Oh, Bullsh*t!” She immediately turned red and covered her mouth, but it was just an honest and real reaction that flew out of her mouth before she could censor it. And, I’m so thankful it was not censored. I needed to hear that. I needed it because at that point I felt like a worthless and disgusting human being. What added to this great feeling was when upon telling my psychiatrist the woman’s comment at my next appointment with her, she asked me what my therapist said. And when I told her, she said that she agreed with my therapist’s sentiment. I’m so thankful that I now have doctors who treat me like a real person, even when they’re talking about mental illness and my weight.

Hypomania – My Weight Loss Drug

As I’ve said, my weight loss problems started in childhood, but it was when I was twelve years old that they became harder to handle. Since then, I’ve gone from overweight, to thin, to overweight, to thin, to overweight… ok, ok, you get the picture. But, I had started to get a control over it (or so I thought). Since, my diagnosis, and talking with my therapist, I’ve noticed a pattern. In a depressed state the fridge becomes my friend, as I’ve mentioned. However, I tend to lose much more easily when hypomanic. During a hypomanic episode, I can lose a lot of weight, but that’s due to not really eating. The reason for this is that when I’m hypomanic, I don’t want to stop to eat. Just as stopping to sleep becomes a hindrance and obstacle in my life, so does eating. I lose my appetite and continue to focus all of my energy and attention on tasks and duties, many of which are pretty pointless to be honest. And, then when I’m in that hypomanic state, I also spend much more time in my fantasy world. When I’m locked away in that world, then food is the last thing going through my mind. My basic needs are pushed aside to make room for my imagination and overflowing ocean of ideas and thoughts that flood my mind.

It would be nice if hypomania was safe to be in all of the time. I would love that. However, the fact that I have noticed these patterns has helped me to better understand why I eat in the first place when depressed. I have finally realized one of the most powerful reasons for me. Control. Go figure, eh? I’ve heard so many people say that on those specials where people who lose weight talk about their reasons for eating in the first place. And, now here I am saying the same thing. I guess I can’t roll my eyes anymore. If you wish, feel free to roll your eyes, though. Believe me, I’ll understand. But, I guess the reason for my control was one that never really registered in my mind until therapy helped me to start realizing it.

I started to notice my moods and charting them after my diagnosis. And, as I did so, I began to notice that every time I hit a low point, I headed for the fridge. One day, I realized that I was standing with the refrigerator door open, and just staring inside. I was not hungry, and yet I found myself looking for comfort food. I talked about that with my therapist and thus opened the floodgates that were holding in years of eating. I discovered that I viewed eating as a form of power. Eating is something that I had control over and no one could stop. No one could say, “Hey, put that down.” Well, yeah, I guess they could, but I didn’t have to listen. I wasn’t a little kid anymore, and no one was going to tell me what to do. Eating was something that I could manage myself, and I was the one making the decision on what, when, and how much to eat. I have no control over the pain that depression inflicts, but food gives me that control. It places a hammer in my hand that smashes the pain away, albeit temporary. And, when that relief wears off, I’m back to the fridge for more.

So, with this newfound knowledge in my arsenal, I now am working to change my lifestyle and no longer working to diet. I have not been on a diet for some time now, and I have lost 21 pounds over the last several months. Unfortunately, I gained 8 of those pounds back, but I’m now in the process of losing them – and hopefully more – again. My psychiatrist, therapist, and primary all say that diets will not work, and that instead I have to focus on changing how I view food and that will make the difference. I’ve heard that so many times on shows like Oprah, but I did not believe it. I mean how do you not diet and lose weight? That’s not what I’ve learned since toddlerhood. But, apparently it does work, and that is what I am aiming to do with my life from now on.

But She’s Crazy said it best in her post that I mentioned earlier, stating that “I may not end up with a bikini body (honestly, I’ve never been built that way), but I’ll have a healthy body.” This is myself in perfect illustration. I’m not built to have a “bikini body” either, but that is not what I’m going for anymore. I am finished with that mentality. It was that mentality that has lead to countless views in front of the mirror and just hating what I see. Years back, it was that same mentality of thinking that – although I was already a very thin size at the time – made me feel that I had to be even skinnier, and it lead me to almost collapsing in the bathroom after starving myself for a week. I suffered a hypoglycemic (low blood sugar) attack, all over trying to be skinny. I am not thinking like that anymore. I want to think like what But She’s Crazy so beautifully describes. Maybe it’s all that I’ve been through in recent years. From dealing with my mom getting sick and helping her recover, to dealing with my own medical issues that have left me numb to life during depression, and barely alive at times even when not depressed. No matter what the reason, I just know that I’m not that person anymore. I’m just someone who wants to be healthy. There is not anything I can do about my screwed up brain, but there is something that I can do about my body. And, that is what I want to do… make my body healthy.

I’m still learning to change my thinking. I will say this, though. That feeling of control that food used to give me, is now the reward I get for telling myself I’ve had enough. So, I guess something is working. I’ll see what happens. Either way, thin or not, I will always be Summer Moon. Maybe I’m meant to be an overweight Moon, and not a thin one, but I can at least try my hardest to stay healthy. Depressions will continue to come and with each one, I’ll turn to food, as it’s been my friend for so long. However, my goal is that I’ll someday be able to look at that food and then turn back away.

 

Separation Anxiety and Bipolar in Kids

I never wanted a lunchbox in kindergarten. I didn’t want anything that was so permanent. I only wanted to take a brown paper bag. And, when it came to what I allowed my mom to put inside of it, well that was where my mom started running into issues with my teachers. I would cry if my mom put anything more than half of a sandwich, a tiny handful of crackers and a small juice box in that bag. I didn’t want any more food than that inside. In my five-year-old mind, the more the food inside that bag, the longer it meant that I had to stay there at school. My mom had to explain this to teachers many times, as they always addressed the problem that I never had enough to eat. My saying to them that I wasn’t hungry was not a satisfactory answer. But really, would that be enough for anyone to hear a child with such little food say? They thought something was wrong at home, until finally my mom was able to fully explain in detail what was going on. It was no longer questioned after that.

I had a severe case of separation anxiety as a child, and it lasted throughout my high school years. Since my diagnosis, I have learned more about the signs of bipolar, and I have found interesting articles on bipolar in children. Bipolar presents itself differently in children than it does in adults. One such symptom can be separation anxiety. On the right hand side of my blog, there is a link to information on bipolar in children. In addition, there is an article on separation anxiety and how it can relate to bipolar in children. That article is to which I’m going to be referring in this post.

This article defines separation anxiety as “the excessive anxiety that occurs when a child has to leave the home or the person to whom she is very attached.” It’s normal for young babies and toddlers to be attached to their parents, but it becomes an issue when that attachment extends into the older childhood years. By the time a child reaches school age, he or she should be able to leave home and the parent(s) to whom he or she is attached. So, when a child cannot make this separation, it is then that separation anxiety becomes the probable reason.

The Goodbye Fence

Kindergarten was an entirely new experience. I was entering a world that I had never seen before. I didn’t always cry when my mom would drop me off, but I always wanted to be home. My teachers were kind, I had friends, and I enjoyed playing with them, but it didn’t match the comfort that I had when I was home in my mom’s loving care. But, I soon found a way to help myself say goodbye to my mom in the mornings. The school had a fence through which you could see the driveway as parents drove off. So, every morning, I would run to that fence and stand there. As soon as I would see my mom and dad (my dad was driving, as my mom doesn’t drive), I would then wave and smile. It made me feel good to see my parents, especially my mom, one last time before the day began without her.

I did this every day for months, until one random day when I was told that my morning ritual was no longer being allowed. My mom had taken me into the school to drop me off, when the teacher told her that I was no longer allowed to wave at the fence, due to the fact that other children were now starting to do the same thing. It was stated as being a danger for children to be so close to the fence, since it was by a driveway with cars. I was devastated. I began to cry and my mom just tried to comfort me. She held me and gave me a long hug and said that it would be ok, and she’d see me soon. But, that is not enough to calm a child who has just been told she could not “truly” say goodbye to her mom. To me, my goodbye was not complete. My mom eventually left, and I was forced to stay inside the classroom until she and my dad drove away.

What those teachers did not realize was that it was crushing for them to do that to me. What compounded the issue was the fact that the rule was enforced suddenly, and without warning. My mom was not even able to properly prepare me for this change in rules prior to my going to school that day. From how I see it, they just viewed it as a “child will get over it” type of situation.

The Wink Goodbye

I could not stop crying that day. The tears kept flowing and they wouldn’t stop. Finally, as I sat in my Kindergarten classroom, we were all supposed to be working on an assignment that was given to us. Everyone was quietly working. Meanwhile, I was at my seat, wiping my unending tears on my sweater’s sleeve. I felt as if I was in mourning. I did not recognize that emotion at that young age. But, as that same reaction came out in future years due to the same separation anxiety, I could now say that it indeed felt like I was mourning. Eventually, my kindergarten teacher came up to me and asked me why I was crying so much. I could barely get the words out, but tried to explain to her. She just said that it was a rule that was meant for my safety. She still didn’t understand that it was more than just saying goodbye at the fence. As I look back on that experience, I realize that the wave goodbye was a final reassurance that my mom and dad were still really there after they left me at school. I was five-years-old and it was what I needed. Not having that wave goodbye cut that security out of my life.

Going home that day was a blessing. It was a miserable day and I was so ecstatic to see my mom. My mom and I talked about what had happened that day and she and I began to come up with a way for us to deal with the new rule. That is when we came up with “The Wink Goodbye” tactic.

The way it worked was that I would stay on the playground, away from the fence, after she dropped me off. Then, as she and my dad drove off, and I could see their vehicle pass by in the distance, I would wink in that direction, and she would do the same while looking through the fence as they passed. I could not really see my mom winking, but my five-year-old brain created the image, so as she drove past, I could indeed “see” her winking at me. That was our goodbye each and everyday, for the rest of my kindergarten experience. Best of all, the teachers never knew about it. I wasn’t going to let them take that away from me too.

It Just Didn’t Go Away

The separation anxiety never went away. If anything, it just got worse as I got older. At least as a young child, people look at you and think that it’s understandable. However, when you’re twelve and crying hysterically for your mom and dad, it becomes an entirely different picture.

I slept in my parents’ room until I was eleven years old. I slept on this fold-up style couch/chair. But, thanks to my bed wetting (which lasted until eleven as well), I kind of… um… ruined it. So after that, I moved to sleeping bags. I just couldn’t get myself to sleep by myself. I tried… boy did I try! I would tell my mom, “Tonight is the night, Mom! I’m moving into my room.” I would feel pumped and ready to go, but by the time nighttime came, I was in awful tears and in a depressed state. My mom would come into my room and say, “Do you want to come back in our room?” I would and I’d be calm again. I don’t even know what it was really that kept me from being able to sleep by myself.

The Hysterical Bed-Destroyer

I had a lot of fear as a child. I had a lot of worries too, mainly about my parents. I always worried about losing them, and it was a thought that was regularly on my mind. The OCD did not help any of that. But, then there was the strong desire to move into my room. I wanted to be a “big girl” and sleep in my own room, but each time the night came, I just couldn’t do it. So, I don’t really know what was the driving force behind my inability to sleep alone.

The article “Separation Anxiety and Bipolar Disorder” that I have referred to, discusses that a child may become hysterical if forced to stay by his or herself. That really hit home for me when I first read it. I remember this one time when I was around nine-years-old, and I had the urge to clap one night. It was bedtime and I had a strong urge to clap really loudly. So, I did. Well, my mom said, “Go to sleep. You do that again, then you can sleep in your own room.” What she didn’t realize (and what I also didn’t realize ‘cause I had no idea of its existence) was that it was my OCD that was making me do it. I had this urge and it was like I had to satisfy the urge otherwise things felt wrong for me. Life was wrong if I didn’t clap. I know that sounds completely absurd, but that is how I saw it that night. So, I clapped again.

It… kinda looks like me that night.

Well, my mom made good on her threat. She pulled me up from the floor and walked me to my bedroom. She then left me in there to sleep alone. That was all it took to flip the switch in my head. I was suddenly thrown into a rage. I started screaming and crying. I was hitting the walls. I was throwing objects around my room and making a complete mess. I pulled all of my blankets and bedding off of my bed and threw them on the floor. I then got the mattress and pulled it as hard as I could until it slid off and onto the floor. All that was missing, was me turning green while my muscles tore through my clothing. I was angry and throwing a nine-year-old-sized tantrum. Except the tantrum wasn’t that of a child trying to get her way. It was that of one in fear. I was suddenly thrown into the lonely environment. It didn’t matter how familiar it was, because it was not comforting to me at that time of night. It was frightening and I felt alone and angry because of it. All of my fears, worries, and worst of all my OCD thoughts, were my roommates, and without my mom and dad, I was all by myself to deal with their mental torture.

My mom finally came back into my bedroom. She saw the mess and I truly think she would have spanked me hard, if she had not been so tired. My mom spanked me as a child, but I rarely required one; a scolding or mere look would usually do it for me. But, that night, the frustration on her face was one that, to this day, makes me think that she wanted to smack me. Instead, she looked at me and told me to pick up all the bedding, move the mattress back onto the bed and then go to sleep in their room. The rest of the mess I would have to clean up the next day. So, I did what she said, and off I went to their bedroom.

The Retreat

Unfortunately, these moments of anxiety did not leave as I entered my teens. By my senior year of high school (12th grade, 17-years-old), I was still unable to leave my mom and home.

I went to an all-girls Catholic high school, and part of the requirements to graduate, was to attend four class retreats (one each year). The 9th and 10th grade retreats were easy, since they lasted half a day and a full day respectively. The 11th and 12th grade retreats were a different story, though. My 11th grade retreat was going to be an overnighter, and my 12th grade one was to be four days and three nights away from home. Needless to say, I was terrified when I learned of this requirement.

When the time came for me to go to my overnight 11th grade retreat, I did not want to go. I begged my mom to let me pretend that I was sick. She said that I could do that if I wanted, because she knew how awful such an experience would be for me emotionally. But, then she gave me an option. She said, “You can either pretend your sick for this one, and be forced to go to the four-day retreat next year, or go this year, and skip next year’s retreat.” It wasn’t like I could skip both retreats, as that would draw attention from my teachers. Talk about a suck-filled decision to have to make. Either way, I was going to be gone overnight. Yes, the obvious choice is to go on the one night retreat and skip the other, but when even one night away makes you physically and emotionally ill, that’s still not an attractive option.

However, I knew what I had to do. So, I forced myself on the one-night retreat. It was God who helped me to get through that. As I stood at the back door, my dad waited in his work truck. My mom told me to be strong and not cry in front of him because he would have just turned the car around and brought me back home. He would not have dropped me off at school in an emotional mess like that. So, I stood there, staring out the door. My mom kept looking at me, just encouraging me to take that step outside of the door. It was such a struggle. I was trying to catch my breath and gain my composure. I then took a deep breath and walked right out of the door, without looking back. I still remember my mom saying, “Good girl” to me as I left the house.

The drive to school was hard. I was trying not to cry in the truck, but I couldn’t hold it in. I just kept looking out of the passenger side window, so my dad would not see me. I think he knew, but also knew that I was trying not to show him. Finally, I got to school and continued to cry in the bathroom. I remember girls in there thinking that something had happened because I wasn’t someone who cried in front of people. I always hid my tears as a kid, and still try my best to do so. But, the “mournful” emotions that would overwhelm me during those anxiety-filled experiences were too powerful to fight.

The hour ride to the retreat location was another stressful one. I was in the school bus and crying my eyes out. I was trying to be quiet ‘cause I didn’t want all of my classmates to see me. Everyone else was laughing and excited, whereas I was an emotional mess. My friend was sitting next to me and kept trying to tell me jokes to cheer me up. She tried so hard, and managed to get me to crack a smile a few times, but I always reverted back to tears. The entire day, I had to keep excusing myself to go to the restroom so that I could cry in private. At lunch I was crying uncontrollably and couldn’t eat. One of my other friends asked, “You miss your mom, don’t you?” I couldn’t even answer, just nod. It was the same story, all day long, that is until dinnertime.

This is where something that has always baffled me occurred. The anxiety disappeared… and I mean completely. This is something that has always happened, even as a child when I was staying at family’s houses when my parents would go away. The anxiety would just disappear by the time evening came. It was then that I would realize just how close I was to going home. The nighttime had finally arrived, and I knew that once I fell asleep that the hours would fly by, and I’d awake to the day on which I’d be going home. Often times, I wouldn’t even sleep. I would stay up all night and watch television, as I was not tired. I just wanted to be home so badly. So, when this same thing happened the night of my retreat, I was not surprised. It was then, that I was able to finally fully appreciate the experience that the retreat was supposed to be giving me. The second day was a much more relaxed and enjoyable day, as I knew soon I would be home.

As for the 12th grade retreat, I followed through on my plan and pretended that I was sick for it. To make up for my absence, I had to do additional community service hours (in addition to the required 100 – 25 per year – that our school required for graduation), but that was fine by me.

The experiences that I had with my separation anxiety go on and on, but there is no reason to list them all, since they all are pretty much variations of the ones I’ve mentioned.

So, Did I Have Bipolar Back Then?

Who knows? My psychiatrist and psychologist both think it’s very possible, considering this and other issues that I experienced as a child. However, they also know that they cannot be certain, as they could not observe me back then. Separation Anxiety is a common symptom in children with bipolar. But, children can have separation anxiety and not be bipolar. So, unless someone creates a time machine for me to go back in time, then I’ll probably never know.

I will say this, though. Bipolar or not as a child, I was indeed severely anxious. If you know a child who is exhibiting such anxiety, then please address it with his or her doctor. I did not know what was wrong with me as a kid, but I knew something was not right, as other kids weren’t as emotional as I was in such situations.

Please don’t ignore the signs in your kids.

 

...But She's Crazy

I have a crazy, wild idea — just bear with me and give it some thought because I need you guys involved to actually make it happen. (If you’re an impatient reader, feel free to skip the next couple explanatory paragraphs.)

Thanks to posts by and comment conversations with Pride In Madness and Sarah at bi[polar] curious, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the struggles of the mentally ill as a social class and the desperate need for a worldwide conversation about and realistic understanding of mental illness. As a class of individuals, we exist but are invisible, silent, much like homosexuals were until recently. We hide our illnesses out of fear of being defined by them by the people around us, who often have a diffuse, vague understanding of what living with a mental illness is all about. So we retreat into a closet of shame and…

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When Anger Takes Control

In one of my posts, “Expectations”, I mentioned that I take medication for impulse control. This medication helps with regulating the anger that has formed as a result of a combination of both my bipolar and impulse control. A bonus of this medication is that it also helps with the OCD. My psychiatrist says that both my OCD and the bipolar anger (how I refer to it) come from the frontal part of the brain. I’m not going to even pretend to understand the physiology of it all, so I’ll just explain it as I have learned.

All people get angry, bipolar or not. It’s a normal human emotion, that my doctors also say is extremely healthy to feel. We must feel it to continue functioning properly as human beings. When the average person gets angry, their anger comes from the part of the brain that fires off those emotions. However, the anger that I get, and that she said many people with bipolar (and some without) also get, comes from the frontal lobe area of the brain. She said that when that part of the brain becomes over-stimulated, it prevents you from being able to control your impulses, so the anger comes so fast that I can do a complete 180-degree turn. However, the medication that I take now is great, and it has helped immensely! It’s called Tenex, and I take the generic version of it, called Guanfacine. As long as I continue with that or a similar medication, then I’ll be able to manage it. I’ll probably need tweaks as with all of my medication, but it’s working for me and that’s what’s important.

When I Knew It Was Bad

I didn’t start this medication until after an episode, back in 2009. With the exception of my mom, one of my cousins, and my doctors, I’ve never told anyone the truth about this experience. But, I think that it’s time that I finally write about it. I had been diagnosed with bipolar for only a few weeks at this point. I was still struggling to adjust to that news, and at the same time deal with all that I was feeling even prior to the diagnosis. I had been on my mood stabilizer for only a week, and it hadn’t done anything for my moods yet. But, little did I, or my doctors, know that it was the anger that was going to become more dangerous than the bipolar itself on one particular day.

It all began because I wanted to make a grilled cheese… one stupid, grilled cheese. My mom was in the kitchen and I had just gotten out of the shower. I grabbed a frying pan and placed it on the flame and left it heating up. I got the bread and buttered it, and went to the fridge to get the cheese. However, there wasn’t any in there. I asked my mom, “We don’t have any cheese?” And, she said that it had finished. It was then that some sort of switch was flipped. I yelled at her for not telling me ahead of time. She had seen me preparing to make one and did not tell me.
I was so upset and quickly turned off the flame that had been on now for almost five minutes. It was then that I just snapped without any warning. I suddenly picked up the buttered slices of bread and threw them across the kitchen where they hit the wall by the back door. It was at this point where my recollection becomes blurry, so I will give you a combination of both what I do remember and the information that my mom has given me. She said that she looked at my face, but that she did not see her daughter. She said my eyes were somewhere else and I had a look of so much fury in me. I then grabbed the frying pan by the base, not the handle. I do remember standing there with it in my hand. I remember clearly wanting to throw it with immense force across the ways into the sink, but for whatever reason I restrained myself.

After that, it once again gets blurry. My mom said that my face was still one of someone else. My anger was clear. She said that instead of throwing it, that I then grabbed it by the base again with my other hand. However, it was at that point when the searing pain snapped me out of my rage. The frying pan had just been sitting on a flame for almost five minutes, yet due to me being so gone, I had not felt the extreme heat of the metal until it had been in my hand for almost ten seconds.

It was then that I screamed and dropped the pan on the floor (which began to melt from the heat). I began crying and I was in so much pain. My rage turned to a different kind of anger. I was now angry and upset that I was in pain. But that eventually subsided though, and was replaced by fear as the pain increased. My hands were bright red, swelling, and slowly forming white blisters. I just remember my hands and body shaking uncontrollably. It was so painful. My hands felt like they were on fire. I had second-degree burns on both of my palms, and was at a loss as to what to do. I just remember looking to my mom for help. I was so lost.

I Didn’t Want Anyone to Know

My mom called one of my cousins who’s a nurse. She gave my mom some instructions of what to do, until she came to take me to the emergency. I just held my hands under cold running water. I couldn’t remove them because each time I would try, the pain would immediately take over. My mom called my dad who was at work, and as usual he began yelling and was furious. My mom didn’t tell him what happened, just that I burnt my hands on a frying pan. But, when my dad gets worried about someone he loves, he yells and expresses it in that way. It’s just how he is. He was far away working, so was not going to be able to get home until another half-an-hour, so he sent one of my older brothers to the house (they work together) since he was closer. When my cousin arrived not long after, she and my brother helped me into the car, and off my cousin and I went.

I remember feeling so helpless at the emergency. My cousin had to fill out my chart for obvious reasons. And as I sat there waiting, I just kept staring at my hands, looking at what I did to them. When they first called me to do the initial questions (blood pressure, find out what happened, etc.), the nurse asked how I burnt my hands. I told her by accidentally grabbing a frying pan by the base. She looked at me with a strange look and then asked me, “We’re you trying to kill yourself?” I remember looking at her and feeling frightened inside. I thought she was going to find out it wasn’t just a clumsy accident. My fear was (and still is) that I’d be hospitalized. I was so frightened that the truth would be found out. Prior to even entering the hospital, I remember almost begging my cousin not to tell them what had really happened. I trust her so much and that is why she and my mom have been the only two people (aside from my therapist and psychiatrist) who know what really happened that day. I didn’t want anyone to know the truth. I was afraid they’d put and keep me in the hospital and I couldn’t let that happen. I was extremely relieved when I asked my cousin to please not say anything, and very caringly and earnestly she replied, “I won’t.”

I know she is one of the people who may be reading this blog, so I just want to say, thank you again, Cuz! I appreciate you giving me the opportunity of revealing what really happened in my own time.

So, as I sat there, looking at the nurse, I didn’t know what to say. I just shook my head and put forth a fake little smile, while whispering, “No” to her question of whether or not I was trying to kill myself. She said that she needs to ask that question when such injuries occur. Thankfully, she believed me and did not press it anymore.

Once I had the Silvadene crème put all over the burns and my hands were bandaged up, the pain began to subside quite a bit. By the time I returned home, my anger that was present earlier was a mere remnant on the wall… literally. The butter from the bread when it hit was still up there, reminding me of my excellent portrayal of Baby Jane’s cruel sister.

I was calm now, though. And, after a while, I became almost giddy. I’m not sure why. It was just a switch in moods I guess. Thankfully, not all of my fingers were bandaged, so I still had a few open to use. This allowed me to at least be able to peck at the computer. I think that it helped for me to get back to some kind of normalcy after such an experience. I couldn’t do a whole lot, but I pecked away, and did a lot of researching and reading on what I had gone through. I wanted to read about others who could understand, because at that point I did not even understand what it was that truly had happened. I had reached highs in my anger prior to that experience, but that was the first time of reaching such a point. It was pure rage that went through me that day, and it terrified me.

The Reflection

It was also then, that I could truly reflect upon what had transpired. The memories that I did have of that experience were strong and clear, while the rest were muddled and hazy. I felt so much emotion that resonated on various levels.

I was hurt that I had put my mom through that. The guilt for that was the worst of all. She did not deserve to be yelled at in any way, let alone for such a menial thing in the first place. She also definitely did not deserve to have to witness her daughter flip out on her. I disrespected her that day, and to make it worse, I also

frightened her in the process. I am sorely sorry for that. And, to top it off even more, I also put my cousin out on her day off. She works nights as a nurse. And here on one of her days off, I go and take time away from her busy day so I can go to the emergency… for an unnecessary injury no less. It wasn’t right.

I also felt so disappointed in myself for throwing the bread across the room. I still tear up when I think about that entire experience, but the bread part gets me on a unique level. My mom and dad have always worked so hard to provide for their family. My dad sweats and gets tired as he works hard every single day to put food on our table. And, what do I do? I throw it across the kitchen. I am so disappointed and disgusted with myself for disrespecting my parents and their home like that. It hurts me that what my parents work hard for was just wasted and ruined because of me. I wish that was a regret that I did not have.

Ultimately, though, I began to feel like I deserved what had happened to me. I deserved to have second-degree burns after how I acted. I deserved to struggle with basic daily tasks due to my two hands being bandaged and in pain when touched. It was my rightful punishment for acting like I did. And I admit, that I even wondered if it was God dishing out the punishment.

They Helped Me… They Listened!

I was extremely nervous about telling my therapist and my psychiatrist what had happened. When I saw my therapist a few days after the burns occurred she immediately had a worried look on her face when I walked into her office with bandaged hands. I knew I could not hide it from her, but I didn’t want to either. As scared as I was to tell her, I also wanted to hear her support. I wanted to hear her non-judgmental voice, and I had hoped she would tell me that I wasn’t a bad person.

She listened to everything that I said, and she indeed gave me that very support that I needed. She also told me that I needed to tell my psychiatrist. I did not want to. I worried she would put me in the hospital, but my therapist insisted that at that point she would not because I was not in the rage-state at that time. She insisted that I tell her. I can now say that I’m quite glad that I followed my therapist’s advice.

My psychiatrist explained that what I was experiencing was not a normal kind of anger. It wasn’t produced in the area of the brain where “normal” anger is, but rather in the frontal lobe, as I mentioned earlier. And, most importantly, she stressed to me that what was happening to me was not a fault of mine. It was not a character flaw. It was a biological malfunction that was causing it and when combined with my bipolar it just became too much. She said it’s common with bipolar. It was also explained to me that my OCD and mild Tourette’s (which I’ve had since childhood) come from the same area in the brain, due to that section regulating impulse control.

In addition, my therapist helped me to take that medical information, and better understand what happened to me that day. After discussing the experience at length, I realized that although the bipolar and impulse control were the cause, the experience itself was a reaction to a particular trigger. When this all happened, I was in the midst of a deep and dark depression. I felt so hopeless and alone. And, I also felt like nothing was going right in my life. Everything seemed so pointless and upside down. Then, the day came where all I wanted to do was make a simple grilled cheese. So, when I discovered that there was no cheese in the refrigerator, that was the trigger. However, the trigger wasn’t the actual grilled cheese (or lack thereof), but rather what the grilled cheese symbolized. It was the idea of once again something not going right. It was a moment where all the built up feelings of disappointment – feelings of hatred for myself, the feelings of failure, frustration, loneliness, emptiness, and being misunderstood – just all came rushing out and I exploded. It was the gunshot that triggered the avalanche.

The Anger Today

I still experience the anger today, but nowhere near the intensity as back then. My hands are completely healed, and thankfully I did not cause more serious damage to them. However, my memories of that day are still clear, and cause me to flash back to that day each time that I place a frying pan on an open flame. I know my mom thinks of it often too, as she always warns me to be careful whenever there is something hot on the stove. She’s always done that, but since that day, she has become much more persistent about it, repeating it multiple times.

And then, there’s the impulse control medication. One unpleasant effect of the medication is a result of it actually doing its job. When I begin to feel one of those outbursts coming, the medication seems to show its true effect as it keeps the anger restrained. It’s in that moment that I can feel the anger, but cannot release it. It’s like a lid has been sealed over the release valve, but the contents of the valve have not been removed. I can physically feel it inside. It’s an uncomfortable sensation that goes through me, and there is not a single thing that I can do about it. It’s just how it is, so I just have to deal with it.

I guess it’s better than the alternative, though.