Monday, June 26, 2017

Grieving Through Bipolar Disorder

I’ve been putting this post off for some time now because I haven’t felt strong enough. I’m still not entirely sure I’ve got the strength, but if it takes me a few tries, I think that will be just fine. If you have bipolar disorder, sometimes you’ll feel so down that it naturally feels like you’re grieving. In my case, sometimes I am. I’m grieving the loss of who I used to be.  In the last several weeks, I’ve found something truly heart-breaking to grieve about, and there’s no mistaking these emotions for anything else.

On May 10, 2017, my father passed away. I’ve said it out loud a thousand times, and it still doesn’t seem real. He went to the hospital for a stomach ache, and two weeks later, he was dead. He died at the same hospital as my mother. In his final hours, he was having trouble breathing, so there was a tube down his throat, and he was strapped to the bed. Very similar to what they did to my mom. When it got closer to the inevitable, I was sitting alongside him, and rubbing his arm, telling him how much I loved him. Suddenly, one of the nurses felt his pulse and said he couldn’t find a pulse. So, they ushered us out, but the room had a very large picture window. I almost collapsed in the hallway as I watched my 87-year-old father receive thrust after thrust into his chest to bring him back to life. They were successful, but it was one of the most God awful things I’ve ever seen, and I’ll never forget it.

We went around the corner to the waiting room where some other family members were, and we decided to sign the paper to let him go. It wasn’t fair to him. It was his time, and as much as my heart breaks as I write this, my father is gone. After losing my mom, I knew some of what to expect, but this has been a different grieving process. Somehow, it’s become not only grieving for him but both of them. One night I suddenly came to the stark conclusion that I was an orphan. I have no parents anymore. It sucks all of the air right out of you when you come to that conclusion. There’s no fixing this situation, it just is.

I was already going through a pretty heavy duty depressive episode when my dad got sick. Suddenly, I had to find a way to clean up that mess, stuff it in a closet, and focus on the fact that I may be losing my father. Every time we opened the closet, a little more creeped out. It left me feeling completely helpless and downright selfish. I couldn’t handle even the tiniest details or tasks. It felt as is bathing and eating were things the old me did. I was a different person now. My father was all I had left in my family. I have siblings, but all of the relationships are strained at best.

We managed to pull it together to have a memorial service for him. My father had been a petty officer in the Navy, so they had the flag folding ceremony at the service. I’ll never forget it. I cried my eyes out the whole time. They gave the flag to me. I was grateful to my siblings for deciding that I could have it.

Honestly, I didn’t do a lot of thinking about my depression versus my grief. I know I flew off the handle in a flash if something didn’t go right, or I was expected to make a difficult decision. I knew I wasn’t sleeping and if I did, I had nightmares. I was chained to my bed, and nobody bothered to tell me where the key was.

Some time has passed, and I’m doing a little better. There are still things days that I cry for hours. There are still days when I see something on TV about a father dying, or if a certain song is playing, I can’t control the grief. It’s getting somewhat better, but it’s still taken over my life and my bad days far outweigh the good. I had a doctor appointment, and she was able to refer us to a therapist that works on weekends. Perfect for us. This past Saturday, I saw her. The good news is, I like her and she didn’t fall asleep while I was talking.

This is a huge step for me. Deciding to go to therapy did not come easy for me, but when it suddenly occurs to you that you aren’t even living life, you’re just existing, well, something has to give. I miss my dad; we were so alike. I am like my mom too, but on the other hand, there are some ways we couldn’t be more different, but I was Daddy’s Little Girl. He got me a necklace with a charm that said that in my early 20’s. I still cherish it to this day.

They say that you go through five stages of grief when you lose someone. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. However, not everyone follows these exact steps, and people with bipolar disorder have the potential for feeling these emotions ever deeper than the average person. (I am not saying that anyone has it easier if they aren’t bipolar, believe me) We just feel everything deeper; it’s the curse of bipolar disorder. Most people can progress through these steps naturally and begin to heal. I’ve noticed that I might go through two or three steps in one day, and then spend the entire next day in denial.

“Someone with a mental illness, specifically a mood disorder such as bipolar (or unipolar depression), may experience certain stages more intensely or much longer than average, causing triggers, which lead to an episode or bipolar symptoms. Severe depression, irritability, irrational thinking/behavior, drug/alcohol abuse, and suicidal tendencies are some common symptoms triggered by death”. – Source -

So, when you read something like that, it doesn’t take a degree in Quantum Physics to figure out why I decided to start talk therapy. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to get past the concept that all the family I had left that to rely on are gone. My mom died in 2008, and I’ve still never gotten over that, and when you add my father’s death, I have no hope for my future ability to process grief. I’m trying to remain optimistic, as hard as that is sometimes. Father’s Day was horrific and Mother’s Day never gets any better.
I am putting zero expectations on my recovery, and I’m not allowing anyone else to either.  Nobody has any right to tell you what you should or shouldn’t be doing in this instance. Thank them for their suggestion and move on. Only you can make the decision to push forward, and you will. It’s going to take time, and it doesn’t matter how much as long as you’re trying.

Remember your track record for surviving devastation is 100%.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Guest Post - Psych Central Blogger, Hetti Ross - Name That Stigma

Bill Clinton once said 'Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all.'  It is incredibly sad to witness stigma directed at a person who is mentally unwell and it is equally  sad to see it happen online. What's perhaps even more difficult is when there is stigma in families, so people suffering are left feeling isolated and unsupported. I count myself lucky in many ways, I didn't suffer like many do with my family but the insidious nature of stigma still raised its head.

When I received a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder in my twenties, my father, a remote man, became visibly upset and told me he understood as there had been 'a woman with bipolar on casualty, spinning around on a plastic swivel chair and doing laps of the corridor.' (Casualty is a long-running drama centered around a fictitious A&E department in England). I suppose I could have been upset by this flippancy but I already knew my parents wouldn't understand. Although on a practical level they may have helped when I became unwell: driven me punctually to doctors appointments, reminded me to pay bills, helped me keep on top of housework, taken me to the supermarket and this practical help cannot be undervalued, what I often wanted more is emotional understanding and support.

During one particular dark period, whilst at a shopping center, I bumped into a friend of my mothers between the racks of M&S. My depression was such at the time that I feel didn't particularity communicative so made my excuses and snuck into an overly hot, overly crowded cafe. My mother upon hearing of this encounter, said “oh good heavens, they will wonder what's wrong with you now – I think I will tell them you have 'a touch of anxiety.' She seemed rather pleased with this inventive excuse – cue a self-satisfied swish of the hand - whereas I simply inquired about the truth, but truth is relative and anxiety is still a mental health issue, just not one that will make others feel uncomfortable. I must add at this point I don't know what a touch of anxiety is, it sounds like a throwback to 'it's just his nerves' or maybe its a god awful rash.

A few years after being diagnosed, I had to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital. Once I began to feel less bone achingly depressed, I took the kindly offer of occupational health classes, downstairs in a small claustrophobic room. I made Christmas cards – though it definitely wasn't Christmas. I did Tai Chi sitting on a chair – bit confusing. I went for a brisk walk around the hospital grounds. I went for a jog around same grounds in the cold pouring rain. I made an Easter card, though it definitely wasn't Easter. And I made a pink bauble.

After a while, I began staying behind after sessions to help tidy up – the only other option would be to go back up onto the ward – a sort of hopeless green walled, worn carpet, monotonous place or to sit in my room staring up at the bleak barred window or waiting for a fly by visit from my mum. One day, as I stuffed paper and pencils back onto shelves, the lady who ran these sessions, who I thought very nice, asked what I wanted to do with my life. I had just turned twenty three, so a reasonable question, except I didn't know of course, so I told her this and added, as an afterthought, that I might go into the care profession.

'You have to be careful you know, you won't really be trusted.'
I didn't know what she meant. I wondered what sort of untrustworthy person I was supposed to be. I said 'what do you mean?'
'After Beverly Allitt, the nurse, the mentally ill aren't trusted.' (Beverly Allitt killed four babies in her care in 1991, attempted to murder three more and cause grievous bodily harm to six. She is serving a life sentence and it is believed suffers from Munchausens by proxy).

I would like to tell you I had a quick fire response or that I stepped upon my soapbox to defend the mentally ill or that I eloquently tried to educate – although one normally concludes those working in psychiatry, in whatever capacity, will be educated, open, non-biased and not fond of perpetuating stigma. Unfortunately, I did none of the above. I simply skulked away, upset, humiliated, horribly disappointed with tears in my eyes.

It feels perverse to be diagnosed with an illness, any mental illness in fact, and then, whilst struggling/crawling through it, to find one of the most notable and persuasive side-effects is society no longer accepts you. It sounds absurd to put it like this but for many, this level of disregard, is a daily occurrence. We have come so far as a society in accepting a myriad of things -  but still can not find our way to destigmatize mental illness. Are we really, beneath all the progress, no farther forward than asylums – a penitentiary for the less appetizing parts of being human – a reminder as T S Eliot said that 'humankind cannot bear very much reality.

I spoke about my experiences (past and recent) with friends a few days ago, those also with mental illness, and I found myself saddened because my experiences are far from unique. People have suffered unbearable pain, and yet had to trawl through hellish stigma – at the very times they needed the most love,  kindness and understanding.

With all this in mind, I have begun a hashtag - #NameThatStigma to help raise awareness of the added suffering we have to contend with whether dealing with depression or Schizophrenia. It's a way to show each person they are not alone, we are here and to show those who don't suffer, who may never suffer that there is nothing more absurd than being treated like a pariah because one is  ill.

So, please, join me by sharing your experiences of stigma on Twitter using #NameThatStigma – it's time to put stigma where it belongs -  in a box called societies shame.

Bio: Hetti is a writer living in Scotland. She is a freelance writer by day, a fiction writer of night, and a very tired person in between.

She is founder of We Are The Beautifully Weird Facebook community -  supporting people struggling with mental illness and/or providing an inclusive space for anyone who has ever felt they don’t quite fit in.

Hetti is also adopted and explores this over at Psych Central at her blog, Adoption: Rewriting Our Narratives and runs #AdopteeChat on Twitter – every Wednesday, 8-9 BST. 

She is currently finishing her second novel whilst trying to publish her first.

It's a great honour for me to appear on Rebecca's website today. I want to express my gratitude for the fantastic opportunity and thank her for all of her support. She really is wonderful.