Check out the guest blog I did for Emerald Barnes’s “Dreaming Awake.”
Check out the guest blog I did for Emerald Barnes’s “Dreaming Awake.”
A few months ago I wrote about how I had again received the diagnosis of bipolar disorder. As many of us know, one of the major characteristics of bipolar disorder is mood swings. My doctor prescribed medicine that worked quite well in stabilizing my mood–that is until January 27, 2016. On that day, I had a hysterectomy.
Last year I was diagnosed with Stage IV endometriosis. The only permanent treatment is a full hysterectomy. After six months of unsuccessful attempts to get pregnant, we made the decision for me to have the surgery. After I healed, the physical difference was amazing, particularly in regards to my lower back pain. I can now walk long distances without much discomfort. Yay me! Mentally is a different story.
One of the side effects of a hysterectomy is that you are thrown into menopause, and one of the major things about menopause is that you have mood swings. Bipolar disorder and menopause is no joke. Although I’m on medication, the emotional upheavals were unbearable. I found myself getting irritated at little things (an aspect of hypomania) although I’m regularly taking my medication. On the flip side, I was crying for no reason at all. Because of these things, I made the decision to go on hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
Along with my medication, HRT has helped with the irrational irritability and crying spells, however I still struggle with one mental challenge. I can only describe it as the most horrible mix of depression and anxiety that I have experienced since I was a teenager. On a good day, I constantly think about my own death. Not in a suicidal ideation type of way, but always thinking that I will be dying soon, either from a horrible accident or from fatal health issues.
On a bad day, the thoughts and feelings are so bad that I don’t like leaving the house, and I even feel shaky trying to drive–shaky in the sense that I’m panicked and hyper-aware of other cars because I’m waiting for the car accident to happen. You would think that being hyper-aware would make you safer, but I don’t feel safer so I usually find someone else to drive. Even then, I’m still looking out for disaster.
My daughter likes to sleep in the same bed as me to have mommy snuggles before slumber. I’ve gotten so panicked about me dying in my sleep and not wanting my daughter to wake up with her dead mother in bed with her that I’ve started refusing her requests. I don’t tell her the real reason why, but focus on her getting older and needing to sleep on her own.
Trying to sleep is a whole other issue. Not only am I plagued by thoughts of dying of a heart attack in my sleep, but anxiety over a house fire or natural disaster keep me up until the early hours of the morning. I will lie in bed and plot exit routes out of the house, safety precautions in case of or a tornado, or I’ll just cry because I don’t want to die yet.
This is no way to live. I’m hoping my doctor can switch my medication so that the madness can end. Until then, I’m writing more poetry just to get it all out of my head.
This is just a glimpse into mental illness and bio-chemical changes within the body. The next time you encounter someone with these issues, please remember this post and be compassionate–that person has enough hurt and worry to deal with without the need for social sanctioning or ostracizing.
As I stated in my v-log on depression, statistics posted by Huffington Post earlier this year show that 30% of college students report experiencing depression so severe that it disrupts their school work. I mentioned in the video that I was in that 30%.
What’s interesting to me is the timing of things – a couple of days before recording that video, I decided to request my transcripts from my university. Since I quit my day job, I have been asking myself, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” As I started down that line of thought, I requested my transcripts to take a look at where I had been and revisit those subjects I had been so passionate about in my younger years.
When I first started off at college, I was convinced that I wanted to be a print journalist. I even had dreams of being an investigative journalist who uncovered big government scandals in the vein of Watergate. Being a passionate writer, print journalism seemed like a natural choice for careers.
Unfortunately, I quickly became disheartened with what I was learning in my journalism classes. I quickly learned that sensationalism was the order of the day – “if it bleeds, it leads” – and preserving the First Amendment had fallen behind how much ad space you could sell (which in essence, morally ties you to the whims of the corporations who advertise with you).
I was lost. I didn’t know what to do. My vision of my future completely disintegrated under the weight of a capitalist media system which had no regard for someone like me – someone who just wanted to write and seek the truth. This realization coupled with the shock of a failed relationship and struggling with my own identity sent me drowning into an abyss.
I became very depressed. So much so, that I lost interest in writing and researching topics I had previously found interesting. I no longer wanted to be involved with the Society for Professional Journalists. I no longer want to go to my journalism classes. In fact, I no longer wanted to even get out of bed. Since I couldn’t will myself to get out of bed or take a shower, I stopped going to class. My anxiety reared its ugly head. Because I didn’t go to class, I knew I would have to talk to the professors, which caused me so much anxiety that my fight or flight response had me fleeing – in so much that I just avoided the whole situation by continue to be absent. I was close to flunking out of school.
In high school, in all four years, I received all As and one B. During this particularly dismal semester in college, I earned four Fs and one D. It was absolutely humiliating. SO humiliating that this is the first time in my life that I have allowed myself to be this candid about it.
I took time off to really think about which degree would really interest me. Along with writing, I was passionate about social issues and had a somewhat morbid fascination with criminals, serial killers in particular. I also took time to recover from the depression, stress and anxiety – on my own, which wouldn’t be as helpful as I thought.
With these insights, I finally went back to school and changed my major to Sociology, emphasizing criminology and deviant behavior.
The next four years were much different.
To be continued
When I put in my notice on October 20, 2014, it was actually something that was a few months in the planning…sorta.
The company I work for changed sometime within the past four to six years. I have some ideas on why it changed, and I’ll explore those in another post. For now, I’ll just say that I was growing increasingly uncomfortable with the direction we were headed, particularly in regards to the working atmosphere.
In May, my husband and I began discussing plans to relocate to Chicago. Being in Chicago would put us closer to my family and his sister’s family. We even set a timeline – once our daughter finished her first year of school in June 2015, we would move.
Then things at work got astronomically worse. The bad environment that I had observed in other parts of the company came to rest directly on my shoulders in the form of a new boss. It was not just an issue of having a bad boss, it was an issue of having the worst employee interactions I have ever had in my entire professional career, both with this company and other companies – and I used to work for Wal-Mart, which is known for treating employees badly.
Although we had planned for me to leave the company next year, my experiences over the past six months, my interactions with one person in particular, are what influenced me to make the decision to leave right now, at this point in time.
For those who know me personally, I have never left a job without having stable employment waiting for me at the end. This time it was different. After reading a particular e-mail, I walked into my boss’s office and gave notice. I couldn’t wait until I found other employment – it wasn’t about ending a job, it was about saving myself. My doctors have even documented improvement in my conditions since I gave notice, further proof that quitting without a “plan” is sometimes the healthiest way you can take care of yourself.
I don’t regret the decision one bit.
It has been over a month since I got my official diagnosis. As you may remember, Dr. P was toying with the idea that I’m bipolar. She had said, “I’m not ruling out the possibility.” To me this meant that she wasn’t sure.
During my final appointment, she decided what to write in my chart, what advice to give my primary care physician. As she explained it to me, I did not have enough symptoms for a definitive diagnosis of bipolar II. She stated that my doctor and therapist should continue to be watchful for any mood cycling, and if does occur, she suggested a mood stabilizer to add to my daily cocktail. Basically, I’m a borderline case, someone who is right on the edge of the diagnosis, dancing precariously on the side of anxiety disorders mixed with depression.
Here is my official diagnosis:
Depressive mood disorder
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Social Anxiety Disorder
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Honestly, this all sounds right to me. Just looking back over the years and the experiences I’ve had, this mix makes sense. Not that bipolar doesn’t make sense, just that I always defined my “cycling” as long patterns of chronic depression, broken up by uncontrolled anxiety attacks, which on one occasion included “psychotic” features (meaning dissociation and hallucinations).
As I explained to Dr. P, I allow the stress to build to the point that my mind forces me to take somewhat of a vacation. It’s a survival response, although many would call it crazy.
Now, to continue on my path of getting healthy, I need to make sure that I continue to take my medicine and not allow myself to get fooled by the notion that “oh, I’m okay now.” I’ve done that before, and the result has been less than attractive. I’m also continuing therapy with Dr. F, changing my lifestyle and most importantly, being more aware of my physical responses to things, particularly when I begin experiencing signs of a panic attack.
This is the course of action I’m taking. Not just medicating myself, but looking for ways to prevent these responses before they happen, to get at the root cause and placate it. This approach has been working well for the anxiety. Not so much for the depression. It seems that medicine is the only thing that helps with that darkness.