I have been neglecting what I hope will be my life’s work, writing my memoirs about living and struggling with bipolar disorder, specifically my experiences with multiple psychoses. I decided to get a rose gold cuff bracelet engraved with the acronym, “JFDI,” which stands for “Just Fucking Do It.” I want to remind myself daily by wearing this that I need to simply sit my ass down and write whether I feel like it or not. However, despite this new beautiful addition to my jewelry collection, wearing it has yet to spur much action on the writing front.
I decided to journal about how I was feeling regarding writing this book and the following words spewed onto the page and as usual my own writing process has exposed me and shed some light on my avoidance:
“I believe a big part of my procrastination is that this is a painful story to share. When I sit down and write it, I have to dig deep in the dark recesses of my mind and retrieve memories that quite frankly hurt to hold onto. No one wants to admit that they lost the one thing that most of us would never fathom losing – their sanity. Let me be very clear here, “losing your mind” and “losing your sanity” are two very different things. One you have more control over and can recover from quickly while the other is a complete loss of control, a complete break from reality.
When you lose your sanity, you dissociate and your mind fractures into something unrecognizable. I am not saying you cannot come back from that but it’s harder to reconcile – that your mind was not your own. You’re scared shitless then reality slips back through the cracks and you wonder, “will that happen again?” Unfortunately for me it happened not once, but twice. You start to feel like a visitor in your mind and wonder when the darkness will come again and consume you.”
Now reading that back to myself after writing it was an “Aha!” moment in that I did not even realize I was harboring a deep rooted fear and pain towards writing this story. It’s understandable. I just didn’t know that this was yet one more thing holding me back from writing. I have decided to start slowly to confront the pain and sit with these memories a little bit everyday until I am ready to unpack them and process them. I believe through writing this book I can come to heal even more than I already have – and don’t get me wrong I’ve come a long way from those days spent rocking back and forth crying slumped against my bedroom door coming to terms with the fact I had lost my mind to a mental illness I was now saddled with for life. I spent days, weeks, and years drowning in grieve that I would never be “sane” or considered “normal.” I had a very real identity crisis accepting my bipolar disorder and letting go of the vision of myself pre-diagnosis.
I am in active recovery and have been stable on medication for years now and think it is finally time I start putting off my goal to write my memoirs. Is it scary? For sure, as I have laid out my thoughts above on it. Am I capable? Absolutely. I know in my heart of hearts this is something I was meant to do – to share my journey in the throes of mental illness so that someone trying to navigate those same waters may have a guidepost of hope to look to and understand that it does get better. I am living proof it does get better. I am not saying I do not still struggle with the inevitable ups and downs of this disorder but I have come to realize you need to give yourself grace. You need to understand healing is a process, a journey unto itself. I simply want to show that you can go from falling apart on your bedroom floor to managing your symptoms and picking yourself back up.
I was looking through my old journals and sketch books for content for my book I am writing on my memoirs and unfortunately but fortunately stumbled upon this sketch and was reminded of how I used to feel and was a little shocked by the date this was drawn. As long as I can remember or at least vividly since I was 12, I recall struggling with deep deep depressions, the type that linger and leave you feeling deflated like there’s no hope or way out. I would spend hours crying in bed contemplating death, the meaning of life, what I deemed my shitty existence and when it was really bad I turned to darker thoughts – of ultimately ending my life. I always felt different and more emotional than other children, then teenagers, then adults. I reflected on everything, literally everything in painstaking detail. One simple thought could spin into ten others and suddenly I was wondering, “why am I alive? What’s the point of this? if this is all there is.”
I would later discover I have bipolar disorder type one and am thus prone to these deep depressions as part of a cycle involving periods of mania as well. I was up and then down, up again then crashing down back again, over and over again – it felt like a rollercoaster from hell. I naively thought my depression stemmed from feeling stuck as a child and then teenager in a city I hated, at a school I hated and resented with people I came to loathe. I thought by choosing a University far away in a large city would diminish these feelings and I would be more happy. This worked for awhile and proved a great distraction and new adventure but the pendulum is always swinging with my disorder and it would swing back into the dark depths of my mind again, and even harder this time.
I remember one month I did not leave bed to do anything except study and attend class when I did not accidentally sleep through it, always feeling lethargic since depression does take a physical toll on the body. I lost friends to my depression and one was brave enough to tell me the truth, that he could not bare to watch me fall further into the dark and he could not continue to try to rescue me from my mind. One of the scariest moments of my life was when I was put on antidepressants for the first time and was living on my own from home with roommates. I went to take a bath to relax and heard voices telling me to kill myself, to “just do it” and I had flashes of myself slitting my wrists and the blood draining into the tub. It felt visceral, so much so that I immediately jumped out of the tub, ran to my room and called my family who begged me to take a leave of absence from school and come home.
I would ultimately take this leave, spend months and I mean months in my bed watching tv to distract my mind from the swirling thoughts that I was not good enough and I could not cut it in this life. I would gradually recover, go back to school, then had my first psychotic episode leading to my official diagnosis of bipolar disorder. I experienced delusions and hallucinations that were not real and would eventually return home again to recover from this episode since my brain was super foggy from all the medications I could not even dream of studying so intensely as to finish my degree. This is when it turned darker for me and I would have my first ever suicide attempt (a silly one I’ll admit but the intent was very real) and subsequently be hospitalized for a few months for a major depressive episode featuring suicidal ideations.
On the 20th of November 2014, I was put on a form 1 at the Emergency Room after having confessed that I was experiencing frequent suicidal thoughts and that they were growing worse. My mother took me to the hospital after I admitted to her that during the night I tried to kill myself through water intoxication – drinking too much water. I had researched it and thought it was the easiest way to end my life without any pain or suffering. I drank several litres in a very short amount of time and became quite bloated and ended up puking it all up. It’s much harder to do than it sounds and as silly as it sounds it was my cry for help. It resulted in me being hospitalized for depression and I was put on a form one during my intake which allows a doctor to hold you in a psychiatric facility for up to 72 hours for psychiatric evaluation.
In my medical records it states that I admitted my thoughts of suicide were growing stronger over the past month prior to coming to the hospital. I mentioned I would have liked to inhaled gas fumes from a vehicle but had no access to a car. I theorized about drowning myself but realized it would be too painful and I would ultimately reactively grasp for air at the last second. I mention staying awake all night pacing the house while contemplating suicide. I remember vividly searching on Google obsessively ways to kill yourself without it hurting and continually came up with nothing that I had the means to do. I spent hours upon hours scouring the internet for a way out because I couldn’t see the point of living anymore. I felt like I had lost everything.
The thoughts became too much to bear and gradually shifted to even darker ones. I began to wonder “what is the point of life?” I have no purpose and if I have nothing to live for then maybe I should kill myself.” I convinced myself the struggle of my life and the deep-rooted shame I felt at having lost my mind, not just metaphorically but literally and clinically, was too much to handle. Needless to say I was not successful on my one and only suicide attempt. It scared me though into telling someone – my mother – that I was experiencing persistent suicidal thoughts. I may not have killed myself up until that point but I could not be certain I would not try again, next time with something more lethal.
In the hospital, I would receive the medication that I needed and would be put on for life. I am happy to say I have not had suicidal thoughts or tendencies since this very dark episode. I was brave enough to reach out for help when I realized I could no longer help myself or my thoughts. My advice if you are struggling with these thoughts is to tell somebody, anybody before its too late. Go to the hospital, admit yourself, ask for help. There are all kinds of helplines as well if you feel you need to be talked off a ledge or just want to talk to someone in general (Google is your friend). But more importantly, you are not alone, many of us have been to that dark, scary place in our brains and I am proof you can come back and see the light.
Recently I posed the question, “What does mentally ill look like?” on a picture of me on Instagram. I wrote the following in the description, “What does mental illness look like? People look at me and assume I’ve never been there. Why? Because I dress fashionably? Because I crack jokes and smile often? Reflect on your snap judgements of people based on their appearances and challenge them because in reality you’ll never truly know the demons they battle everyday and hide from the world. I struggle with bipolar disorder type one and have had multiple full blown episodes of mania where I completely lost touch with who I was or what reality is. I may not look the part but I’ve been in the throes of depression, I’ve cried more tears than I care to admit and THAT is why I smile and laugh often cause I choose to see and enjoy the light when I can and am capable. What does mental illness look like? It looks like your daughter, your nephew, your neighbour or the cashier at the local grocery store. Everyone has known struggle but some of us tuck it away better than others. Challenge your judgements, be kind to others cause you never truly know what they are or have gone through.”
My biggest pet peeve is when people first find out I am bipolar and turn to me and exclaim, “You? You don’t look like you’d be bipolar!” Like what does that even mean? Call me jaded but I feel it’s like them saying, “You don’t look crazy!?” There is still stigma around mental health and mental illness to this day despite many people like me trying to actively combat it. I write this blog so people may know a type-A overachiever like myself who seems like “she has it all put together” can also fall victim to having a mental illness and that it does not define you as a person, however for me personally, it’s a large part of what has made me quite frankly well – Me! There’s this idea perpetuated in the media and through film that mentally ill people are generally disheveled looking, talk to themselves or in most cases live on the streets.
The scariest generalization I personally think is that mentally ill people are violent. There are incidences when this is true but its way less common than believed to be. One of the very few times I’ve felt discriminated against was because of this erroneous belief. One of my old high school friends recently explained why we never chill at his place anymore and it’s because since he mentioned I was diagnosed with bipolar to his mom, she is scared for his safety when he is with me. She believes I will turn violent and have some kind of outburst towards him. I find this highly offensive and a little annoyed my friend did not feel the need to stick up for me and instead meets me secretly at the local coffee shop whenever he is in town. I am a very generous, understanding and forgiving person though so ultimately I let this go.
This is real life folks, not One Who Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. For example, my mental illness is more prevalent in the population than you would think: More than 5.7 million American adults or 2.6 percent of the population age 18 or older in any given year have bipolar disorder. And you’re going to try and tell me that they are all bat-shit crazy or violent? Mental illness can be treated contrary to whatever bullshit has been spun about it. On the right medication, a person with bipolar, schizophrenia, etc., can live a relatively normal and productive life. I will admit I have experienced psychoses which are complete breaks with reality but I never had any violent tendencies just delusional thoughts about who I was and what I was experiencing. The first one led to my diagnosis and was obviously a result of being mentally ill without proper medication and the second time was induced by a poor choice in medication prescribed by a well meaning but quite frankly moronic psychiatrist. I have been stable for over five years now that I found the right medication and take it regularly. I don’t look quote on quote crazy for a “mentally ill” person cause quite honestly I am not.
Mentally ill should not be congruous with “crazy.” I find that offensive and way off base, rather an ignorant view. There are people who murder, steal, cheat and are just in general assholes with no mental illness, so what’s their excuse? The reason I do not look mentally ill at first glance is because I got my shit together and because at the core I don’t hide behind bipolar as an excuse for my actions or behavior. I’ll admit it has impacted my life both positively and negatively but at the end of the day I take full ownership of that as being on me, Brittany, not “Bipolar Brittany.” I am everything despite this disorder – I am loyal to a fault (seriously If I love you I will support you to no end and never pass judgement), I am honest also sometimes to a fault (don’t come to me if you want something sugar coated), I am open minded and try to relate to people and life in general on a higher ground, constantly looking for meaning. I am all these lovely things and also not so lovely ones like lazy, unmotivated and anxious. I can easily say oooh that’s just because of the bipolar but I don’t – that’s a cop out and a way to which I choose not to live my life.
My biggest pet peeve is the stigma around these mental disorders and the fear to be identified as having one. My mother is well meaning but freaks out every time I meet someone new and “came out” as bipolar. I am always super upfront about my illness maybe annoyingly so. I mention it on the first date with any new potential lover because they should be aware of it and so I know based off their reaction whether or not I want to pursue that relationship any further. I will not have bigoted people in my life, I won’t, I can’t for my own mental health. People are alike in that we all have gone through some heavy shit. Some of us hide it better than others and some people like me enjoy talking about that struggle openly so others may know its normal. You’re not an alien for being depressed, for grieving loss, or in my case having lost your mind. You’re human and that’s how I feel we should relate to one another – as humans who are muddling through this scary and intense experience that is life.
Just be mindful the next time you throw the word “crazy” out there to describe someone or watch how you judge someone based off the way they appear. You genuinely do not know or will ever truly understand where they are coming from unless you take the time to get to know their struggle.
So I’m going to write about something so stereotypical around this time of year…New Year’s Resolutions. Each year I set general ones which I inevitably forget about in a month’s time but this year I am going to do my best to set tangible, reachable, time sensitive goals – if you ever went to any career building workshop, you’ll also recognize these as S.M.A.R.T goals. So what is the difference between your run of the mill goal and a SMART goal? A SMART goal is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. They’re called SMART for a reason in that they hold you more accountable since you have to do a little bit of strategizing on how you’re going to complete this goal (Measure it? Time it?) and not just set it.
I tend to shy away from making these goals cause I feel I’ll be disappointed when I do not meet them after putting effort into thinking not only about the goal but how I can achieve it. If I am being completely honest this avoidance stems mostly from laziness and a fear that if I put effort into creating a SMART goal and it does not manifest, I will only prove myself right again in my negative generalized idea that I am destined to be a failure. But no more! New Year, New Me? Huh? I also think that expression “New Year, New Me” is a little ridiculous. I believe in life in general you should always be striving for greatness and growth but do not necessarily throw out all the good parts about yourself you may be neglecting. So without further ado…I have two major SMART goals I would like to set for 2021 and a few general ones that I will address.
My first SMART Goal? You’ve heard it before but this time I will be tracking my progress through a calendar and setting a time frame for it – To Quit Smoking! (once and for all) They say you never truly quit until you’re ready and I was just not in the right frame of mind to do the past five years of my life and the past two years that I tried on and off to quit. I want to be one year smoke free on this date in 2021. I quit last Monday and have not smoked since. What is different this time around? I am holding myself accountable. I intend to write down each day that I break down and have a cigarette and how many to be precise.
What is also different is my view and thoughts towards it. In just over a week smoke free, I have noticed I cringe when I smell smoke whereas before it would trigger me to light up or I would be so desensitized to the smell (having constantly being in it), I would not even notice. It now literally triggers a gag reflex and I do not enjoy it. I also am more sensitive to the idea of a set back this time around. I have decided that if I do give in and smoke I will smoke that one cigarette and re-set my quit date to that moment right after and acknowledge that I am human, and that in reality “that one smoke I just smoked today is better than the twenty I usually smoke in a day and to get back on the quitting train.” This is vastly different from any other thought processes I had in previous attempts at quitting where I would break down, have that cigarette than use it to justify smoking even more since what’s the point? I already smoked one.
It’s like my counsellor said (oh yeah, I go to a STOP smoking program as well currently) that it’s about decreasing that bond of my brain to nicotine. There’s a reason they call it the most addicting substance in the world. If I can just slowly remove myself from nicotine and my habit of “rewarding” myself with cigarettes I believe I can eventually remove it all together for good. I am currently using the patches which I was being supplied in other times I tried to quit but never ever actually used them consistently and properly. This time around I am sticking one on every day until I am ready to decrease it in size and then remove them all together. Another stereotypical thing you hear when quitting smoking is to DISTRACT. I am working on writing and reading and painting more as a way to ease the cravings and keep my mind off of them. But the most important difference I’ve noticed this time when quitting is my mindset. I have a new attitude towards it that is in my opinion very healthy and it can be summed up in a cliche, “Take it one day at a time.” I also believe if I can’t handle that then take it one hour, or even one moment at a time.” Trust me, the cravings do and will actually come to pass.
My other and final SMART Goal is to have the first draft of my nonfiction book (about my life and struggle with my mental health as a person with Bipolar Type One) written again, one year from today. I have set the goal of writing 100,000 words at a rate of 1,500 per day on average. I know what you’re thinking…this girl sucks at Math! But hear me out! This accounts for days dedicated to revising and researching. It also allows some slack days when I know, I just know I won’t want to push myself. I will be tracking this goal on NaNoWriMo which is a site for writers to literally set time sensitive writing goals and track them as they move towards these goals. I intend to post my goal on my wall to serve as a daily reminder of what I want to work towards and achieve this year. I may also post a little thermometer which is a thing us English majors did – to color in different milestones of word counts when writing big research papers. To visually see progress, encourages you to continue and helps you have an idea of how far away or how close you are to your set goal.
My run of the mill goals – ABS! Haha, I wish I was kidding but I am a little vain and used to have a very visible six pack in my youth and early twenties. I intend to work towards this goal by being mindful of working out consistently and being very aware of the trash I tend to feed myself. I also want to blog more! And will be working on some new content more often than ever before. This blog is now on its own Domain (if you hadn’t noticed) and therefore owned by me! It was the first step I made in becoming more serious as a blogger. The next will be to build more consistent content and build a followership (if you have any tips on that, please, please, please shoot me an email with advice! I eat that shit up!). I also now own and have rights to the logo pictured below. It was to be honest a spur of the moment purchase but I am looking forward to making business cards soon and sharing the word of this blog more!
I want you to know your goals are valuable and deserve to be shouted from the roof tops! And at the very least, if you’re not comfortable with that, write them down somewhere you can remind yourself and hold yourself accountable. We all deserve to test our potential and we should want to embrace change. For example, last year I set a really important goal for myself to lose enough weight to be 130 pounds (at the time I was 155 which is a little too much for a short bitty such as myself). I am happy to say as of today, I weigh 117 pounds. I crushed that goal! But I set time limits and tracked my progress (as nerdy as this sounds) on a graph. I wrote down each time I went to the gym in a week to be aware whether or not I was meeting my three gym sessions a week, I had and quite frankly the doctor had, prescribed. Your goals are achievable quite frankly if you believe they are (and obviously if reasonable). But I am going to share with you one secret – they don’t come easy. You have to strategize how to achieve them and sometimes why? The why is important to those of us who need to be reminded what our motivation is, for those days when we just feel like we don’t give a flying fuck about anything.
So Why? Why set Goals this year?
For me it’s simple – I want to be a forever changing better version of myself. I want to be standing somewhere completely different next year – somewhere better.
I’ve decided to write one of my “Life Update” posts since I have not done that in awhile now and in case anyone was curious on how’s it going, ahaha. I find myself recently in a funk of procrastination but have decided to finally get moving on some projects (fingers crossed I actually start). One of these projects is to write more frequently for my blog and give it a facelift so to speak. I intend to change the layout and buy an official domain soon and hopefully start to learn how to monetize my blog (if you have any tips leave a comment or send me an email). So far all I have done is fall down the rabbit hole of debating whether or not to switch to WIX for my blog, but after some research have decided WordPress exceeds my needs. I am hoping to learn how to do some coding soon and really tweak with this blog in a way that will help bring my vision to life. But first, let’s start with some content!
Last year around this time I was really insecure and fixated on my weight since it had been getting out of control as a result of my medications. I am happy to say I lost twenty five pounds since then and have managed to keep them off. I had a super active summer which I was proud of from playing tennis, to longboarding, to swimming, to running almost every day. However, life update alert – I have not exercised in three months now. I went from being super active to sitting at a computer all the time or lounging. I have been procrastinating getting back into a workout routine but have decided that THIS WEEK I shall start again! I have come up with a feasible plan of doing one short workout video a day, every day! (Well, we’ll see about that, haha) I found a great fitness youtuber last year when I started my fitness journey called MADFit and her videos range from minimal equipment to no equipment at all. She has a whole range of videos depending on what you’re looking for whether it be a full body or simply an ab workout – 10/10 I recommend her!
I have also been putting off what I think it my life’s project/purpose which is to write a memoir on my experiences with bipolar disorder from mania to psychosis, to depression, to mania and psychosis again and eventual recovery. I admit I get a little discouraged by the enormity of writing a book firstly and secondly one that exposes me in such a raw, inhibited way. I am a little worried that certain people will read this and think differently of me and judge me from where I’ve come from but honestly I believe it’s a story that needs to be told, and shared. I want that one person coming down from a full blown manic break from reality, to have a piece of literature like the one I intend to write so they know, “hey, someone else experienced this and came out better for it, maybe I can do the same.” Basically I want to offer hope to not just those with bipolar but to those who struggle with being “different.” Being different is a super power that needs to be harnessed and not stuffed down or hidden from the world. Our uniqueness should be celebrated and poor mental health should be acknowledge not just as a weakness but rather a strength – a place from which you can grow.
I digress… another thing I have been working on is chipping away part time at a degree in Graphic Design at the local college. I took what I imagined and convinced myself was going to be the hardest course by far called Applied Digital Technology which is basically digital art. We used three main programs: Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign. I have never used these programs before and have very limited computer knowledge (for example, I had to google how to properly “zip” a folder to submit my assignments). This is why I had been avoiding taking this course for I thought it would be the nail in the coffin that would indicate to me that maybe Graphic Design wasn’t actually the right choice. I decided to take it on though and online so virtual nonetheless! And drum roll….I aced it! I finished the course with a 92 which to me was beyond my expectations. I was so sure I was going to fail, like tank it!
Another new thing in my life is my renewed interest in photography brought on by school. I have been practicing taking portraits of my friends and can honestly say some of the stuff I’ve shot looks pretty legit, like profesh! I really enjoy the process of finding that perfect shot, from behind the scenes (staging make up and coming up with outfits), to the more technical and artistic aspects of it (finding the right light and camera setting). I recently sold my Canon Rebel T5i and upgraded to a Canon Rebel T7i and even got an additional telephoto lens (I have yet to play with, omg!). Below is the first picture I have so far taken with it of my dog Riley. I saw him on the deck shoving his nose in a pile of snow and immediately ran for my camera and chased him around the yard taking shots until I got this one!
So the general consensus is life is good but it could be better, however isn’t that always how it goes? We’re never truly content with what we have or enjoy the present moment for what it is. The point is I need to get off my ASS and start working on these projects, both my fitness, personal, and academic ones. The only way is to take it one day at a time and hopefully build up some momentum in setting and achieving goals. But one very key Life Update: I am in a very different space mentally and physically from last year, and the year before that, etc. I think I am slowly recovering to who I was before all this bipolar shit got in the way. Don’t get me wrong I appreciate my past of mental illness for it makes me a more open minded and accepting individual (some might say too accepting sometimes, but oh well) but I’d be remiss to say it didn’t completely fucking derail and blow up my whole life.
But hey, I got a story now to tell! And if you couldn’t already tell – I am a pretty bomb writer 😉
Stay Healthy Folks! And stay tuned for some new stuff from me,
“You are not trapped, you just need to relearn a few things. We all have doubts that make us feel trapped at times. If you doubt your ability to make a life-altering decision, to take on a new chapter in your life, or to fend for yourself after years of being overly fostered, consider this: Surely if a bird with healthy wings is locked in a cage long enough she will doubt her own ability to fly. You still have your wings, but your muscles are weak. Train them and stretch them slowly. Give yourself time. You’ll be flying again soon.” (p.60 “1000+ Little Things Happy Successful People Do Differently”).
I included this quote in the beginning of my blog post because it inspired me to write about how I feel like I have been a bird locked in a cage for years, half a decade or more. I did not recover swiftly from my first and then second manic psychosis. If I could fly before than I could not even walk after my psychotic breaks. My brain with all its chemical imbalances, shock and trauma, and inability to accept what had happened to me, firmly locked itself in a cage and refused to fly. I once was a bird who not only flew but soared in the open skies that was life. I had it all then I lost it all (same old story I know its a cliche for a reason).
After my first psychotic break I was unable to continue school which is where I truly learned to fly. I fell into a depression deeper than I could ever have imagined possible. Hours were spent laying curled in a ball clutching my head begging the tormenting thoughts to stop, “Your life is over now, you might as well end it too.” I cried all the tears I had and then some and when my tear ducts were dry, I shook uncontrollably. I was in misery. My brain had broken down and decided it had taken enough. I could not wrap my head around the idea that my dream of being a professor was over, that I had a mental illness and was not “normal” (whatever that means but I struggled with the definition of normal for awhile), that my brain devoid of all alcohol and drugs in its system hallucinated and deluded itself. It was too much to bear because deep down I realized my life would never be the same and that I was always going to be different (I had not yet learned that’s okay).
I would be hospitalized two more times after this for depression and another manic psychosis. I felt like an alien, like “less than.” My brain started to self-destruct and simple things like reading I could not do. I literally tried reading a paragraph in a book during this time period and could not remember even the first sentence after reading it, let alone processing it. I went from being an A student in a competitive program based on reading and analyzing texts to not even being able to read. Y’all I cannot even describe how heart wrenching this was. The thing I had been doing since I was a child and that came so easy to me became unfathomable. I began to panic and wonder if I could ever revert to myself, if I would ever be able to fly again.
Years went by on Welfare and then disability. I did not attend school and I could not hold on to employment and rarely sought it out for my mood was detrimentally low. My wings were not used for years and I definitely was and am still doubting my ability to fly. That being said, the past two years or so I have begun to flex my wings, trying to train them to move again. It has been a slow process and this blog has helped a lot. I can now read books (several at a time) and write coherently about them. I may be doing this on my own and not in a formal academic setting like before but it is still a major triumph in my books. This year, as of 2020, I have faced my fear of being unable to learn in a formal setting anymore following my psychoses and have registered for one course at the local college and am auditing one. It might not seem like much but it takes everything in me to do this because I have convinced myself from being in the cage so long that I can never get out. I have also just started (one shift down) volunteering at the local food bank and am exposing myself to the community which I have shied away from since becoming psychotic (I feel I am too different). I am also now deciding to set and attempt goals. Before I decided I could not possibly succeed at anything and so why try and why set myself up for failure by focusing my energy on a goal.
The point is I may have been locked in the cage for a long time doubting my ability to fly but I now see the possibility of it. I am still weary but I believe there is more potential within me. This WILL not be IT. I have more to give. I will fly again. But for now I will stretch my wings until they are ready and you know what, that’s okay!
“Not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of good luck, because it forces you to reevaluate things, opening new doors to opportunities and information you would have otherwise overlooked” (58) is a quote from the book I mentioned reading in an earlier blog post titled “1000+ Little Things Happy Successful People Do Differently” by Marc and Angel Chernoff. This quote really got me thinking about my life and how it took a complete detour from my original route.
As mentioned before I was a star student at a prominent University and felt I had nowhere but up to go (“up” being an eventual Undergraduate degree, Masters, and then PhD). I was defiant in my belief I was born to become a University Professor, specifically in the field of Art History, when all my ideas of who I was and who I was becoming came to a grinding holt with my first manic psychosis and diagnosis of Bipolar Type One. I had studied bipolar in brief as part of my psychology minor (an element of my undergraduate degree) and as part of a neuroscience course – which I aced, despite the professor continuously warning us that this course was no “cake walk.” The point is I had a foundation of understanding when it came time to being diagnosed with this lifelong affliction but had no clue the ramifications it would have on my life journey and the deep feeling of loss I would feel as I mourned my pre-diagnosis self.
It’s one thing to study bipolar but it is an entirely other thing to live it. Prior to my mental break and diagnosis, I had completed three years of my Undergraduate as a double major in English and Art History with a minor in Psychology. People often joked how did I stay sane with a course load that thick and now having lost my mind. I find this question ironic. I remember reading about cycles of mania and depression in those with Bipolar Type 1 in my neuroscience textbook and thought how eerily familiar that concept seemed and wondered nervously whether I could possibly have it. I would ultimately push this idea to the back of my mind.
The summer upon entering my fourth and final year of University, I had a psychotic break with reality in late August. I experienced visual and auditory hallucinations, delusions, as well as paranoia. I would be treated quickly and relatively effectively within a week to two weeks with anti psychotics and the mood stabilizer Lithium. I requested I be released in time for the first day of school and the hospital happily obliged with the promise I would return for a follow-up. The problem was when I left I was still struggling with some residual paranoia and found my brain couldn’t keep up at the pace it was at before while on Lithium. The best way I can describe it is my brain felt like it had melted. I understand they were slowing me down but they may have dosed me too high and I swung into slug brain mode. Also hindsight being 20-20, I now know years later I do not respond well to Lithium in general.
It was disheartening to find I could not remember facts or hold on to them in my brain for very long – being a history major who excelled at this normally I felt devastated. I was also entering the hardest year of my Undergraduate and worried I would not be able to maintain the grades needed to enter a Masters program of my choice at the rate my brain was working. My brain was regressing at a time when it needed to be at its peak. I panicked and ultimately decided to leave school in hopes of returning some day when I was ready. The problem with this decision which led to my deepest depression ever was that I highly identified with being not only a student but a successful, overachieving one.
I had to let that go. It took my years of being at my lowest and reading a lot of self-help books and quotes about failure to eventually do this – truly and utterly let go. As the quote in the beginning of this blog post suggests I was put into a position to reevaluate my life and my choices. A door firmly closed on my face but it opened another one – a deeper and better understanding of me as I am as a person. I was so busy with school and getting the best grades, and having the best leadership roles on my resume, that I never stopped to consider WHO I was becoming. And quite frankly I was becoming arrogant, selfish, naive, and closed off to the world around me. I lived in the universe of Academia but anything outside it I deemed as unimportant or irrelevant. I was working towards real and ambitious goals but I wasn’t doing the work on myself. For example, I lost many romantic relationships because I refused to make more time for the other person if it conflicted with my study schedule and p.s. my study schedule was overkill but hey it got me on the honor roll!
I was introduced to and became addicted to drugs as a way to escape the fact I never ever truly loved myself while at University. It is through recovery from psychosis that I am now sober and am attuned with myself. I may be more depressed than when I was in University, but I still love myself ten times more because I’ve had the time through recovering (which I still am and might always be) to reflect on my choices and how to make newer better ones but also to let go and stop holding on to the not so great ones I made in the past. The past is the past folks! Let it lie there, turn your back and don’t look back. Forwards is the only direction you need to be going. I also have grown to accept myself for the positive aspects and the negative ones. I take each day as a challenge to grow and for self-discovery. I used to shy away from trying to get to know myself better now I buy and fill out workbooks dedicated to doing just that!
I may not have gotten what I wanted, a fancy degree and career I could be proud of, but I got so much more from my psychotic detour – I found myself. I realized I am an insightful person with an opinion that matters. I now give love when I get it. If you are one of my friends I don’t judge you regardless of your journey and choices. I stand by people when they are at their lowest and try to lift them up. I found out I am the LEAST judgmental person after having experienced several psychotic breaks and struggles with my mental health. I understand each person’s struggle is unique and though I may not understand it, I can relate. I value writing and sharing stories – stories of hardship are my favourite for we’ve all been there. I also am aware that I am less motivated on medication, less prone to “put myself out there” and that on my worse days I forget all my good traits and decide I’m not even worth getting out of bed for. But the most important thing I’ve learned is I have a voice and that voice will be heard. I have experiences now, with bipolar, that are worth talking about so others can feel less alone.
Though I may not have gotten that degree, I got something I needed – something to write about and since a child I have been looking for content that inspired me to write something worthwhile, something that meant something to me. I now have the confidence and self-esteem to say my story is worth telling and it’s worth telling because it might just mean something to someone else too.
There is no hard and fast rule for when I know I am depressed but generally speaking a lack of motivation, constant negative or anxious thinking, hypersomnia and a sense of worthlessness characterize my waves of depression. As someone with Bipolar Type One, I am prone to manic episodes but I have had more serious and more often depressive episodes. One depressive episode where I ultimately had to be hospitalized I did not leave my bed for literally three months and became Agoraphobic (scared to leave the house). I literally drove myself mental with obsessive negative thoughts that spiraled further and further out of control until I could not see any way out anymore. Luckily my family and then doctors intervened and were able to turn this episode around (I will write more about this experience one day).
However, I may not need to be hospitalized anymore (or at least for the past five years or so) but I struggle nearly everyday with depression and my depressive thoughts. It’s just not as severe as before now that I have been managing my symptoms with an anti-psychotic. I have been struggling more so the past few months probably due to Winter but have really been trying to push myself to some degree. I struggle with motivation when I am depressed for two reasons. Firstly, I constantly feel low so do not feel like doing anything but sleep and secondly, my negative thoughts convince my brain sometimes that nothing is worth trying cause I will just ultimately fail at it, like I fail at everything. I am not saying these are rational thoughts as I have definitely had some major successes but when my brain dips to that low point, all bets are off on what I’ll think and eventually come to believe about myself. This keeps me stagnant and lacking the motivation to make positive changes in my life that may even help the depression.
To help with my depression, on days where I was feeling more positive about life I made two key decisions which will now at least give my days some more structure. I registered for a course at the local college and signed up to be a volunteer at the local food bank. These are ongoing commitments and even on days when I feel like I don’t want to exit my bedroom, I have put myself in a position that forces me out and into the community. I have essentially tricked myself into having motivation for I am a stickler for follow-through. I find I dread going up until the moment I go and then once I get going, I feel so much better. For example, I laid in bed for as long as I could justify it prior to my first shift at the food bank (feeling slightly dejected and anxious like “what did I get myself into?”). That being said once I got there and started organizing things and even had my first client whom I helped get her and her husband groceries for the month, I began to feel better about not only my day but about myself in general. It is a humbling experience to volunteer with the neediest of the community because it really puts your issues into perspective. I may struggle with a mood disorder but currently am not struggling to find my next meal and that is something I think more than just me takes for granted.
Though I have set more structure to my days, there are still some days that are wide open and gaps in time on the days even when I am busy that I fall prone to hypersomnia – sleeping excessively. If I am not busy I tend to fall asleep around 6, right after dinner. I nap a lot also because I feel like sleep is an escape from my reality and helps me avoid the feelings of worthlessness I so often feel. I slept an excessive amount this weekend that I am even too embarrassed to figure out how much exactly. I am not proud of my coping mechanism for my depression but it brings me some comfort and that is how I rationalize it in my brain. But it has now become part of my depressive and anxious thinking as well and so it is a vicious cycle. What I mean is that I am depressed so I sleep copious amounts then get depressed about the excessive sleeping I am doing. I think to myself about how much time I waste sleeping and it gets me down. I know I could be doing more productive things with my time such as reading a book or going for a walk but I can’t seem to resist those damn sheets.
My depression changes each year and honestly I think it is slowly getting less painful each passing year as I learn better coping strategies and start to understand the way my brain works. This year’s depression is not even close to the year I was Agoraphobic where I never showered and never brushed my teeth. Back then I was also constantly researching ways to kill myself. I was never brave enough to try any but my brain became obsessed with the idea of shutting itself off to cope with the misery. I’ll take hypersomia over that any day but I do realize this is still something that needs some work too. I can’t sleep every time I feel down or I’ll never be awake – sad but true. I hope adding volunteering and school to my schedule will win half this battle but the other days when I am off I’ll just have to brainstorm some ideas to keep my mind productive and distracted from its self-consuming thoughts.
For those of you struggling with depression, I feel your pain and understand that your experience is unique from mine but often the feelings can be the same. We feel like nothing is worth doing and that we are not worth it. We feel like every day is a battle and one we’ve decided from the beginning that we are going to lose. The important thing though is that you get up and try, try, try. If you fall short of what you intended for the day or you’re struggling with thoughts of falling short in life in general, remember this – Tomorrow is a new day, tomorrow you can try again.
In a previous blog post I mentioned my weight gain as a result of Abilify, an anti psychotic, and how I was determined to making a lifestyle change. This included watching what I eat and making sure I am in the gym at least three times a week. A month later and I can say that I have fully committed to the gym aspect of my lifestyle change but am letting go of the restrictive diet I had put myself on in order to lose that ten pounds I discussed losing before. In the long run this diet would not hold up and I would end up bingeing in rebellion, I am sure of it! It’s much smarter to continually make smaller healthier choices then to cut out all sugar and junk food as a way to manage your weight. I even banned myself from having juice during this diet!
I now understand everything in moderation is the key. For example, I may not have juice everyday but the occasional glass during the week won’t kill me and will keep me from swinging the complete opposite “fuck it!” direction of watching what you eat. I am working on consuming more water but find this a struggle as I find water bland and boring to my taste buds. Increasing your water intake from what I understand is a sure fire way to lose weight but I suppose I am not ready to commit to this idea yet. I also do not deprive myself of all junk food like I was for those three weeks following my wisdom teeth surgery when I lost those ten pounds. It’s important to “treat yo self!” as the cliche goes. If you do not indulge every once in awhile then you will go crazy and stress yourself out to the point of again, swinging in the “fuck it! You only live once!” mentality. That being said, I have not had Iced Caps from Tim Hortons or dark colored pop in two months now and am committing to eliminating these products from my life completely (the amount of sugar in them is unreal!).
The point is I may grab an apple instead of a cookie nine times out of ten but that tenth time when I really want the fucking cookie, I am not going to deprive myself of it. A lifestyle implies longevity and to be in it for the long haul means sometimes giving into that craving for a donut one day so you can stick to the yogurt for the rest of the week. Also life is meant to be enjoyed (for the most part, haha) and limiting your taste buds experience for the sake of a number on the scale seems just cruel.
Which brings me to my next topic – the scale. The scale can be your friend but it can also quickly become your enemy. In the beginning of my weight loss journey I was weighing myself nearly every other day except this quickly grew into frustration with the numbers rising and then dropping and then rising. It’s good to know where you are at to be aware whether your weight is getting out of hand but to obsessively check it becomes detrimental to the journey of getting fit. The number on the scale rising does not necessarily mean it’s fat you have put on but perhaps muscle. Also weight fluctuates to a certain degree. I find it much more healthier to weigh myself once a week if that. I recently did not weigh myself for three weeks terrified of all the pre-holiday and holiday snacking I did. I felt I was losing control when it came to my eating and I was sure it would reflect on the scale so I avoided it. I was dead positive I gained back the ten pounds I lost throughout the holidays.
I am happy to report that I DID step on the scale the other day and found I did not in fact gain back those ten pounds but am still at the weight I was three weeks ago. I could choose to be upset that my weight loss has plateaued or I could take it as a win that I survived the holidays unscathed. My counsellor gave me some good advice, she said the number on the scale is just that – a number. You are as fit as you feel you are. I may weigh the same but I definitely feel fitter. For one thing I can run farther and for longer bursts of time than when I first started this journey. I have noticed my legs have slimmed and gotten tighter. My arms are starting to slim but they are a little more stubborn and need some extra work. I still have strides to make in the gym but I am noticing improvements and that is what counts. Also getting to the gym is half the battle. I no longer plan lengthy strenuous work outs because I found I was losing gusto and overall motivation to continue going. Consistency is key. I now focus on going three times a week but doing what I feel I can do, not what I believe I SHOULD be doing.
The biggest part of the gym I love is the impact on my mental health. It has definitely improved these past weeks. I have more confidence in myself and the goals I set for this year because I showed up for myself with my gym commitment. Each time I leave the gym, I feel like I hit refresh on my brain since it truly rejuvenates your mind and body. I can think clearer and feel less stressed about making decisions.
My advice for those gaining weight on anti psychotics or any other medication is to really try and make the effort to incorporate the gym into your life. I am proof you can lose weight and I can speak to the mental health improvements, and hey let’s face it if you are on those medications you probably could use the positive mental health boost anyways. And my advice to those trying out a diet is moderation, moderation, moderation. Sure cut out some of the bad stuff, but leave enough of it to keep you sane. Also in any journey, whether it be weight loss, dieting, or anything new you’re trying just remember each day is a new day and you choose what to do with it. You can start my making small adjustments and smarter choices to reach those goals each day and those will snowball eventually to larger more meaningful results. And if you fall short, again don’t worry tomorrow is a new day (you can try, try again).
As far as side effects go I’ve had it pretty easy when it comes to my anti psychotic Abilify to mange my Bipolar Disorder. I have no nausea, tremors, or muscle rigidity.However, I do sleep more than usual since being on Abilify and I am experiencing some very serious weight gain though that could be attributed to the birth control I am on.
I did not realize how much weight I had truly gained until about three weeks ago when I was forced to step on a scale at my doctor’s office. I literally started balling as they left me alone waiting in her office for her to come in and consult with me on whether or not adding a mood stabilizer known to control appetite was a good idea. When she walked in she said I looked “voluptuous” but that she meant it in a good way. And I know she meant it this way because I carry extra weight well, so well that I had been deluding myself for months that it was not getting out of control. Most of my extra weight goes straight to my ass and boobs but as I slowly crept up in weight class, it started to gravitate to my arms and face which I was really starting to struggle with.
My psychiatrist asked me how many pounds I had gained since being on medication and I told him twenty pounds to which he was shocked but in actuality after stepping on the scale at my family doctor’s, I’ve actually gained thirty. This was a blow to my heart and my ego because I have always been in shape like annoyingly so. I even tend to have a six pack when I’m at my peak fitness. I have grown to become sensitive about my weight over the past year in particular since my mom has decided to voice her opinion on it but not in a constructive way, in a demeaning way. I’ll walk upstairs and she’ll comment “That skirt makes you look fat. You should really change,” or my favourite, “You sure you’re not pregnant or something? Cause you look totally fat!”
My mother is not one to talk she basically gave herself diabetes eating a full sized bag of chips and several cans of coke per night her entire life and I wish I was grossly exaggerating. She has heart problems and cannot be mobile for long periods of time because she can’t heft all her fat around. But have I ever once in my entire life made a comment about her weight? No, because I knew it was not my place and if I had I would have brought it up in a more sensitive manner. However, stepping on that scale put things into perspective. IWILL NOT BECOME MY MOTHER. I refuse to let my weight get carried away anymore from this point on, or rather since the moment I realized how bad it had gotten.
So what is my plan you may ask? My doctor and I discussed a lifestyle change and that is how I am choosing to view my new outlook on health so this becomes a permanent thing rather than a fad diet or fad workout. We decided to take a different approach to the mood stabilizer avenue because the mood stabilizer would block my birth control and I am not willing to have an IUD. I think this is a better plan because it motivates me to be healthier and do my research on what health is rather than taking a pill and hoping for the best. My doctor and I discussed what foods I should avoid, a.k.a. bread and carbs and what I should add more of such as fruits and veggies and of course protein. She has prescribed 3-4 times at the gym per week and I plan to stick to this as well as I can with my schedule.
I’m proud to say since about three weeks ago when I went to see my doctor I have lost ten pounds which I had made my Christmas goal. I did it safely too! I cut out coke and juice and added more water and tea to my diet. I cut out chips completely and unhealthy snack foods like chocolate and things chalked full of sugar. I actually now read the nutritional values of foods on the label which I have never in my life done before (sad but true). I also as of about two weeks ago started back in the gym and have managed three workouts this past week as planned. I just need to keep the momentum going and realize this isn’t some crash diet or get skinny quick trick but a lifestyle change, one I intend to make for the rest of my life.
Who doesn’t want to be healthy? When you take the time and sit to think of all the benefits such as feeling good and looking good on the superficial level. But also on the deeper level, things like lower risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes and don’t get me started on how your mental health and even memory can improve. It just makes sense and it baffles me how people choose to stay unhealthy for so long and I was one of them who veered off the path for a few years but exercise disguised it. I am now taking a more holistic approach to health, trying to fuel my mind, body and spirit. Another thing to consider is my age as I am getting closer to my 30s I can’t get away with the constant sweets anymore and staying up all night partying. That was cute maybe when I was 22 but now I am more concerned with the longevity of my life. It’s time to change and I think I have already got a good kick start and possess the dedication and motivation to make this a part of my life on a daily basis.
You need to consider your choices everyday and how they will affect you long term. Perhaps meditation would be better than binging your Netflix show. You can still get an episode or more in but create a space of time that is wholly dedicated to you. Perhaps walking to the mall for a change would be better than driving? Maybe you should try the salad instead of the fries today? These are small decisions you can make that will help you in the long run and they don’t necessarily need to be inconvenient. It’s all a matter of perspective.
Thanks for reading and I’ll be sure to update you on my fitness and life journey soon.
Has anyone else who comes across this post have gained weight due to medication use? If so please comment and share your stories.