So I’ve been a bit silent and, much to my loathing, it’s not been in my control.
Part of the reason I chose to start a lifestyle blog was because it gives me the freedom to talk about a variety of topics. One of the the things that is very important to me is being candid about my battle with mental illness. With all the stigma surrounding mental illness I feel that if I don’t talk about it? I’m contributing to the miseducation and fearmongering of the masses.
I know it’s not a pleasant topic. Mental illness rarely makes for a happy go lucky fun time. However, if we don’t talk about it? We reinforce the idea that we’re somehow ‘bad’ or ‘wrong.’
So today I want to open up about my recent med changes for a number of reasons: the lack of understanding from some of the people in my life, the seemingly unavoidable belief that meds work instantly, and, even more, the stigma surrounding taking medication for any kind of condition that isn’t visible.
The kid gloves are coming off. I’m going to be as honest and blunt as possible. So here we go.
I have bipolar disorder and I rapid cycle. My particular battle with bipolar disorder includes a co-morbidity of major depression.
*For me, this means that my depressive cycles are major depressive episodes and, more often than not, require intervention after a certain point. I get very low, have little energy, and my suicidal ideations (which I’ve had since I was very young) start to become realistic escapes and plans from the overwhelming despair. I’m also irritable, paranoid, more anxious than usual, and my chest feels like there’s an anvil on it. Every breath is a challenge. I stop finding enjoyment in anything which puts a huge amount of stress on doing things like reading, writing, or singing. For more info on major depression check here.
At my last visit with my psychiatrist, he forced me to have a ‘come to Jesus’ moment. While my major depressive episodes last from three to five months normally, this particular one has been consistent for over six months. I was told I was worrying people and that we needed to revisit taking an anti-depressant. I’ve been digging my heels in like a four-year old throwing a quiet tantrum over this for three months.
I’ve mentioned my reticence about taking anti-depressants in previous posts, but for those who are unfamiliar with my blog or bipolar disorder or mental illness in general here’s a refresher on why: I’m not just **depressed. In fact my major depression is a symptom of my bipolar disorder. Often, for me, taking anti-depressants along with my mood stabilizer and anxiety meds is a terrifying experience. First off, it takes about six weeks to adjust and see if they’re working. On top of that they tend to extend my major depressive episodes, cause panic attacks, and prevent me from swinging into a manic episode (admittedly I need my hypo-manic episodes because of the sheer productivity and creativity involved) or returning to my ‘***normal.’ The side effects are particularly abominable. From gaining weight to too much sleep or too little sleep or no appetite at all or a million other things. I hate taking them not only for the aforementioned reasons, but because coming off of them when they aren’t needed is hell. Not only are the withdrawls hell, but it’s very difficult to discern when you no longer need it. And going off a medication only to go back on it again can cause the medication to become ineffective.
The current medication I’m on was also chosen to help with my insomnia. It’s called Remeron. I’ve been on it for almost three weeks at the posting of this article. If you’ve been reading my blog you know that I’ve been working on getting healthy and losing weight. One of the most common side effects is weight gain and I’m currently experiencing an overabundance it. For some reason I’m craving carbs all the time, potatoes and chips especially, and sweets. I’m not a big sweets person. The gain has been really hard for me. I’m trying to get it in check by stepping up on intake and exercise. However I’m still balancing out on the medication so I don’t feel like I’m ever going to get the weight under control.
Another common side effect is excessive sleeping/somnolence. The first week on Remeron I was sleeping about eighteen hours a day. However after speaking with my physician (always always ALWAYScheck with your physician before messing with ANY of your meds in ANY way) and two more weeks of adjustment, it’s a little better. I still require more sleep than I’ve ever needed. I, sans Remeron, can function well on four hours. Right now that has been updended. It’s the equivalent of my experience with Lunesta i.e. if I get less than eight hours I can barely hold my head up. It’s causing me to miss appointments and be late. I hate being late. I’ve tried going to bed earlier, but no dice. Setting alarms only works if I don’t sleep through them. I used to be a light sleeper. Now I sleep through tornado sirens. At this point, it seems that I’m going to have to let it even out and go from there.
Some other things I’ve noticed is that I’m more paranoid and I don’t have a lot of energy. Granted, I don’t usually have much energy in general when I’m going through a depressive episode, but at the moment phone conversations and hangouts can be a nightmare, taking everything out of me.
However, I am seeing improvements. I’m noticing that, slowly but surely, I’m not as tired, I’m not suicidal, and I’m finding motivation again. Hopefully in time my energy will return, my paranoia becomes manageable, my appetite recedes a bit, and the excessive sleep tones down.
This is one of the hardest parts of taking medication. Most of them make you feel worse before you feel better. Oftentimes, even if you’re used to the balancing act, this is very discouraging and you’re tempted to stop taking it altogether. It’s times like this when you very much need your support system to kind of push you to keep going and give it more time.
I can’t even begin to stress how important a good, healthy, and understanding support system in the battle with mental illness. For most of us it’s the difference between life and death.
But what happens when they don’t quite get it?
Part of the struggle of mental illness is how isolating it can be. You can find support groups and connect with other people with mental illness, however sometimes those relationships can be detrimental if that person isn’t actively seeking help or is drowning themself. Personally I can’t stand to see anyone in pain and want to fix it. The reality is: you can’t save anyone when you’re out of commission and, for some people, focusing on other people’s problems is a way of escaping their problems. On top of that it’s tempting to let maladaptive validation i.e. feeling like you’re helping people/getting happiness/approval via that even though your problems are getting worse and you are far from better can justify saying ‘screw it’ and going down the proverbial rabbit hole.
I love my friends and family, but a lot of them don’t get this. They think medication is like a Tylenol or antibiotic, offering immediate relief or relief within a week. So some of them jump on the ‘if it’s making you feel bad just stop it, it’s not worth it’ train. Some of them think I’m stupid for taking medication. Some of them don’t understand why I’m asking for space or telling them I need time. They take it personally even when I try to explain I’m going through med changes and I’m trying to get my head on straight. And then some think I just need to ‘try harder’ and ‘push through’ because they understand cause they get sad too or have an illness themselves. To this I just want to say…no. I’m not trying to be ‘special’ or feel sorry for myself, but while people can empathize with what I’m going through? They’re never going to be in my head.
First off, I’m not sad. Sad, on its own, is a feeling, it eventually goes away. Depression is different. It’s not something that goes away. My mental illness will never go away. I’m not just ‘feeling’ something. I have bipolar disorder and, at this moment, I am depressed. I have a condition that affects my brain chemistry. The ‘feelings’ aren’t fleeting, they’re long-term and have consequences. This isn’t a funk I’ll snap out of. And I may have happy moments, but just because someone is laughing and smiling doesn’t mean they’re okay or cured.
When I cry or get upset about side effects I’m not overreacting. They’re interfering with my life and, in some cases, I’m choosing between my mental and physical health. Due to my history of suicide attempts and suicidal ideation? I have to choose my mental health first. However it’s hard when I’ve worked hard to achieve something and have to put it on hold because my brain decided it doesn’t want to work properly
Lastly, this is hard and I don’t always want people around to see me like this. It’s not because I’m ashamed for them to, it’s because I need to sort out my head and I can’t do that around other people. I need to focus on me and I can’t do that if I get the slightest whiff of someone else being in trouble I’ll ignore my issues. I’ll come back but I need time.
While I know it’s not my job to explain every part of my illness to them and I know that I shouldn’t have to keep trying to establish boundaries (because asking for space is establishing a boundary) when they aren’t being respected. I know it’s not my job to educate people. However, I would rather educate and try to strengthen relationships by offering information. Unfortunately there comes a point when I need to say, “Hey you’re hurting me and not respecting me, either change this or leave.” Some people don’t want to put in that effort or deal with the crazy that comes with my life and that’s ok. I’d rather they walk away being honest and early on as opposed to losing someone important to me that’s been there for years.
There is no cure for what I have. I’m never going to function like a lot of my friends and family can. I have to create my own world, my own normal. And believe me, even if you don’t SEE me fighting? I am. Please respect my journey and health like I respect yours.
❤ Later Lovelies
* I say ‘for me’ because my experience may have things in common with other people’s, however everybody’s disease is different. I can’t and won’t try to speak for everyone because it’s silencing other people’s voices and people thinks it gives credibility to the ‘all mental illnesses are textbook and everyone has the same symptoms’ bull ignorant sources spew.
**I suffer from major depression, which is a form of depression, but it’s not the same as depression. I also am not trying to say my experience is worse than anyone else’s. I’m only one person. I only know what I experience. I do not want to ever belittle anyone by implying my struggle is more significant than theirs.
***My baseline normal is what I function on when I’m not having a manic or depressive episode. It tends to have a degree of depression in it.