Monday, 19 August 2013

Suicide & Suicidal Ideation: **WARNING: POSSIBLE TRIGGER**


Today I'm going to talk about a scary subject: suicide. I'm going to start by throwing out a few statistics I found.

*One million people commit suicide worldwide every year. That's one every forty seconds.

*100,000 adolescents die from suicide every year.

*The second leading cause of death among teens is suicide.

These are just a few of the shocking statistics I found. But I'm not here to talk numbers. I'm going to talk about my experiences, my life, and almost my death. This is not an easy topic to write about because it takes me to my absolute darkest days. The days where I had lost all hope and saw no other alternative.

I want to first explain what suicidal ideation is and the difference between actually being suicidal. Suicidal ideation is something that is difficult for someone without a mental illness to understand, so I will do my best to describe it through my eyes.

I started having suicidal thoughts (ideation) in my preteen years. I was struggling with depression and as my world got darker and I slipped further into the abyss, I started thinking what the world would be like without me. I wondered if anyone would notice if I was gone. I wondered if anyone would come to my funeral. I wondered if anyone would cry. I wondered what kids at school would think and what gossip would be spread about my untimely demise. I also thought about random other things like who would get my stuff. I couldn't understand my thoughts. I knew they weren't normal and so I kept them to myself. The thoughts continued through my teens and into adulthood.

Fast forward to my dark years more than ten years ago now. Through circumstances in my life I fell into severe depression once again. The thoughts returned. I eventually became semi-comatose. I would spend hours staring blankly out the window willing my existence to end. I would see my death through the eyes of an onlooker. I became completely detached from the concept. I didn't want to kill myself. I just wanted to stop existing. I told my husband who of course became very worried and got me into see a therapist immediately. The first of numerous hospilisations during that period came about.

Unfortunately for me the suicidal ideation, like the rest of mental health issues, doesn't go away. Whenever I fall into a depression, the thoughts creep back up in the back of my mind. I once again see my demise from a disconnected viewpoint. Even today in my happiness, the dark ideations pop into my brain and I have to physically shake them out of my psyche. Suicidal ideation doesn't mean a person is going to attempt suicide but if someone is having these thoughts, take it very seriously and seek help. If someone close to you tells you about these thoughts, they don't necessarily want to die but they do want help and want the thoughts to go away.

My suicide attempts came out of seemingly nowhere looking from a different perspective now. They came during times when there had been a glimmer of hope followed by snuffing out of that glimmer. I tried three times. Each time it was snap decision. I didn't tell anyone what I was going to do, but I left an out each time. Like most women, I used pills each time. The first time the empty bottle was found next to me shortly after taking the pills and I was rushed to the hospital immediately. The second time, I took several bottles of pills and washed them down with vodka, but I knew someone would be home soon. However I wasn't discovered til the next morning. I woke up a couple days later in the hospital with mild nerve damage. And the third time, I wandered off in the night and took two boxes of OTC sleeping pills and washed them down with a bottle of NyQuil. I called the bane of my existence who was a thousand miles away. He managed to contact the person I was staying with and police dogs found me a few hours later.

It's scary to think how close I was to not surviving, especially the second time. I haven't actually been suicidal since my last attempt. The ideations still creep into the corners of my brain when I get depressed, but no actual thoughts of doing it. Suicical ideation is common among people with mental illness. It's a symptom of many mental illnesses.

Sadly someone who is actually going to attempt suicide may not even exhibit indicators. Sometimes the contrary. They may actually appear to be on an upswing in their depression like I was. While all threats to commit suicide should be taken seriously, it's the quiet ones that usually succeed. The person who has committed to proceeding with an attempt is unlikely to tell anyone.

If you or someone you love is exhibiting suicidal tendencies, seek help immediately. Not everyone gets a second chance like I did.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Emotional Scale

Everyone experiences emotions. Happy, sad, anger, fear, joy, excitement, sorrow, etc... However, for those of us with a mental illness the scale on which we feel these emotions is vastly different than a normal person's scale. If the normal person's range runs from 1 to 100, ours runs more like 1 to 1,000,000. I'm not exaggerating. So imagine the saddest event you've ever experienced and multiply by a thousand, you will get close to understanding how devastating and paralysing that same event can be for someone with mental illness. I'm not just talking about people who have severe depression or are bipolar. The emotional scale for all mental illnesses seems to be skewed. Of course everyone is different so everyone's scale is different, so I will only speak to mine.

Going back as far as I can remember in my life, I think I subconsciously knew my emotions were "off". I can remember certain times when I would have an emotion that actually caused me physical pain. As a child growing and learning, just like with all things, you learn what is normal and acceptable and what is not. I knew my emotions weren't normal and acceptable, so I had to outwardly fake things to appear normal. I buried the pain, sorrow, anger, hatred, etc. deep inside. Happiness and excitement were no better. Largely because once I hit a "high" with something, the next time had to be vastly "higher" or it just didn't have the same impact. It would become flat. For example, if I got a great birthday present, the next year the gift had to be bigger and better.

So as the years went by, my highs got higher and my lows got lower. To some extent this happens naturally with everyone I think. I've tried to describe it before like this: a toddler gets a new toy and they are ecstatic, but take that toy away for even a minute and their entire world crashes. Why the extremes? They don't have much life experience at the point to gauge their highs and lows on. Comparatively a normal adult gets a DVD they wanted and they are happy. The DVD gets lost or broken, the adult isn't happy, but their world doesn't crash around them like the toddler with the toy. The adult has had more life experiences to put things into context. An adult has experienced things like marriage, child birth, death, graduations, promotions, etc. that has developed their emotional range.

Because of my mental illnesses, my range of emotions got perverted as I grew. For me personally, there are many different factors that affected my scale. For example, emotional abuse, alcoholism in my family, sexual abuse, trauma, chemical imbalances and such. By my teens, my range was so vast that a good event in my life barely pulled me up past the half way mark. Life became darker and more pointless. I was fifteen when the depression finally took over and I succumbed and had a complete emotional collapse. Everyday was worse than the day before. When nothing can make you feel happiness anymore, that very fact makes every moment of your self slide further and further down the emotional scale. You eventually realise their is no bottom. It's a bottomless pit and the walls are greased. No climbing back up.

It took me literally decades of therapy, medications, hospitalisations, and self reflection to rework my emotional scale. It's by no means "normal" compared to the average, but it's nowhere near as vast. That's not to say I've magically erased all the bad from my past. It's still there and so are the low points on my scale. But I've learned to live in a narrower range. I've even managed to up the high side which not even seven years ago I thought would be impossible.

I try live in what I refer to as the "content" range. It's still a lot wider than most. Just ask my husband, he deals with my wack-a-doodle ass everyday. But I've gotten much better at realising when an emotion is an overreaction. Sometimes it's not exactly in the moment and I have to back track and make apologies for ridiculous responses (once again, talk to my hubby), but the fact that I can recognise my irrationality at all is amazing to me. So I forgive myself when I'm overly emotional and say or do things that hurt others. And I make apologies when necessary. I allow myself to have bad days, but have my depression combat kit at the ready with all the tools that help me stay in my "content" range. I've also surrounded myself with loving and supportive family and friends.  Those closest to me know my story so are able to help me regulate when necessary.

Living with a skewed emotional scale isn't easy. But with support and effort, it is manageable I've discovered. 

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Unexpected Benefits

I've been writing about living with mental illness for a few months now. Quite the accomplishment for me. Us creative bipolars fall into two categories I think: those with a never ending source of ideas that flood out easily and those that are gripped by fear of failure. I'm the latter. I'm getting better at embracing my creativity and actually producing things, but it's definitely a process that is taking me time.

So how then have I managed to consistently keep up this blogging thing I wonder? Let's see... 

I have been told by many people who have heard my story that I should write a book. Apparently surviving the hell I've been through and coming out the other side happier and healthier is impressive to some people. Even my mother, who could barely acknowledge my mental illness for most of my life, now brags about what I've overcome. It's all very strange to me. I certainly didn't choose this course of events. Who would?

I started this blog for one reason. After years of relative contentment, I started to get severely depressed after moving to the UK from the US to be with my new husband. I was confused by my conflicting emotions of pure joy to be with my love and the uncertainty and upheaval of leaving all I knew behind. I was starting to spiral and I needed to get the thoughts out of my head. I was suddenly realising that even though my illness was fairly well under control it wasn't gone. I became very scared. Scared I could lose everything I had worked so hard for once again. What if I woke up again in the hospital heavily sedated with little memory of the events that put me there? Could I survive it all again? I was gripped in fear!

I made myself do all the things I taught myself to do when I felt the depression creeping in. I tried to paint, went for walks, played games, watched movies, etc. but I was still struggling. I thought about that book everyone told me to write. Too much. Too big. Too scary. Then I started thinking about blogging. I did a little research, signed myself up on Google+, downloaded a blogging app, and wrote an intro. I scrutinised it for a couple days before finally publishing it out into the great unknown. I was so proud that I actually put something out there. I never anticipated what would happen next. People responded to my story.

I couldn't believe it. People actually read my blog! And better yet, they liked it! Amazing! This response encouraged me to write again and again. I got involved in the online support communities and started developing a repoir with lots of people. I find myself reading other blogs and researching topics almost daily. I thought I would run out of ideas quickly, but actually I find myself getting sparks of inspiration at nearly every turn. My biggest hurdle currently is focusing on one topic at a time. Suppose that's a good problem to have creatively speaking.

I have started to relax a bit. I work on projects. I explore my area. I smile and enjoy my surroundings. It has all started to fall into place. I am making friends and starting a new part time job. My new home is becoming a home! My blogging experience has actually given me a lot more insight into my illness and its manifestations. I think I'm actually getting better at recognising aspects of my illness I just chalked up to character flaws previously. I thought my blog would just be an electronic journal essentially, but it has become much more. It's a learning tool for me and those who read it. It's a cathartic and creative outlet. It gives me social interaction of sorts. And perhaps someday the foundation for that book? We shall see.

I tell my story with the hope that my experiences can help and inspire others with mental illness. Who knew I would help and inspire myself!

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Did I Trade in Cutting for Tattoos?

I started writing this blog as a way to help get some thoughts out of my head and hopefully help someone else along the way. I knew I was going to tell my stories but I didn't realise how much I was going to learn about myself along the way. The latest thing that has piqued my interest is why I get tattoos.

I started getting tattoos as soon as I was old enough to legally do so much to my mothers dismay. I've gotten tattooed six times now. Truth be told, if I hadn't tried so hard to conform to society norms in early adulthood, I would have a lot more. Six may seem like a lot to some and not much to others. All of them are easily hidden, but if I had my way I would have sleeves. I love every one of them, even my first one which is not the best, but it's part of me now and I wouldn't change a thing. I'm forty now and still want more. People try to tell me I'm too old to still be getting tattoos. They say I will regret them when I'm old. I think they will be fun to talk about when I'm in the old folks home getting a sponge bath from some young whipper snapper. Or I will end up with dementia and won't care what anyone thinks. So I'm gonna keep 'em coming!

The question I am asking myself is why do I like getting tattoos? I don't just like the self expression of having art on my body, I also enjoy the actual act of being tattooed. It's hilarious to those close to me because I have a deep seeded fear of needles and blood. But I love getting tattooed! I pass out nearly every time I get my blood drawn. Go ahead and laugh. I do at this point. So why do I love those little needles tap tap tapping away at my flesh? I wonder...

I was in my early teens when the depression, anxiety, and severe emotional pain started to grow. I would have such extreme inner turmoil that I would feel like I was dying. I would then slump into a period of complete numbness. Sometimes the antidepressants I started to take helped, but sometimes they made things worse. At some point the cycling pain and numbness became too much. I don't remember exactly how it started but I remember sitting in the dark crying and shaking. For some reason I had gotten a hold of an old hunting knife of my fathers. I was just pressing it against my skin. I soon pressed so hard that I cut myself and started bleeding. I didn't notice this immediately, but when I finally saw the blood I just stared as it trickled down my leg. I was mesmerised. I dragged the blade across my skin again. Another little line beaded up and started to stream down parallel to the other. I found some relief.

If cutting or self harm in general is alien to you, be glad. It's not a pretty place to be. So why do people do it? I can only say why I did, but the story is fairly similar across the board. Two basic premises: first, you have so much emotional pain inside that the infliction of physical pain actually eases the emotional and second, if complete numbness sets in feeling anything at all is actually a relief, letting you know you are still alive. I fell into both categories. The girl who hates needles and blood found solace in cutting herself. And I didn't care what I used. Knives, broken glass, pins, etc., didn't matter as long as I got my relief. The deeper my pain, the deeper the cuts. If this is still unfamiliar to you let me point out that cutting is not about suicide. Cuts are superficial. They may or may not scar, but are not done in an attempt to end life. It's all about the relief and release of pain.

I cut on and off through the worst parts of my illness. I pray that the worst is behind me and I can maintain my semblance of normalcy (whatever that is). I do have scars on my arms and legs leftover from those days, but thankfully they are not too bad. Visible, but not grotesque.

Now my tattoos... That's a different story. I love them! Every last one. And wish I had gotten more throughout my life to memorialise moments and milestones. I love the symbolism they represent. And the pain. Is that wrong? Is that sick? Am I still beyond help? In a group discussion regarding tattoos it was mentioned that a model had written a memoir regarding her journey through self harm and depression. She traded in cutting for tattoos. This made me wonder if I had done the same thing. So I started thinking about the similarities and differences.

First of all, my cutting and tattooing overlapped. Okay fine. Whatever. I'm crazy. Enough said. But are tattoos a healthier alternative to cutting? I read several articles and other posts to see what other people said before I wrote this. It was clear that people who have dealt with mental illness think tattoos can be a better alternative to straight up self harm. That's not to say that all people that love tattoos are mentally ill. Or that mentally ill people with tattoos use to self harm. As with most mental illness scenarios, there is no hard fast rule. I'm no expert so I can't speak for the masses. I do my best to inform myself before forming opinions and always keep an open mind.

So what about me personally? I do think tattooing is a release for me similar to cutting. I got two of my tattoos after the last time I cut. Neither time made me want to cut, but I was in a much healthier place mentally. Could it create the urge in an unstable person? Possibly. Now having thought about the tattoo process and the pain involved, I definitely think there is a correlation. The girl who hates blood and pain loves tattooing. I have a psychological desire for controlled pain which I see in other areas of my life as well. Not completely sure if that's considered good or bad. Just is what it is.

I'm sure a lot of people find it strange that I love the pain involved in tattooing, but to each his own. Would I recommend tattooing as an alternative to self harm? No. Is it a good alternative? Yes. But if I went back in time and got a tattoo instead of cutting every time, I'm sure I would have the most ridiculous collection of doodles on my body. The root cause of cutting needs to be addressed and stabilised before any alternative therapy is suggested, including tattooing. I absolutely see now that I use the tattooing process as a release because the illness never really goes away. I've just learned to deal with it better and channel my energy in somewhat more productive arenas.

I'm feeling the itch...

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

But Really... I Could Fly!

I know it's not unusual for children to have imaginary friends or create a fantasy world, but I've often wondered if there is a correlation between these things and mental illness. I had imaginary friends and a very active fantasy world. But there is one specific element I want to talk about today. When I was a little, I could fly.

Really I could fly. As an adult I rationalise that it's not possible, but I have such intense memories of flying like a bird when I was little that when I close my eyes and think about it I can still feel the freeing sensation. What's ironic to me is that I'm petrified of heights as an adult. But when I was a kid, I used to love swooping around the neighbourhood, diving and doing loop-de-loops, skimming the tree tops. Even as I write this I get this tingly happy feeling as I remember those days.

My best friend "Diana" loves for me to tell this story about my life to her and new people. She thinks it's hilarious that I am so insistent about my super special childhood abilities. She will say to someone "Kay thinks she could fly when she was a kid" which of course enrages my defences and I am immediately compelled to retort back "I don't THINK I could fly... I COULD fly!" And I will say the same thing to you if you ask me. I could fly when I was a kid.

I'm not sure when I stopped being able to fly. Think I was nine or ten. And I'm not sure why I stopped flying. It was such a freeing, empowering activity for me as a child. I sure could've used that kind of release as a teen. But all good things must come to an end as the saying goes.

So now as I sit here blogging my little heart out I wonder how common this is among people. I can't be the only person to have created such an intense escape fantasy. And as I reflect I realise that maybe I just swapped flying for other fantasies. As far back as I can remember I created worlds and personalities to escape my reality. I've never been diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder but I definitely have some of the characteristics.

My fantasies have always been so all encompassing. There have been times when I can sit and literally watch an alternate reality play out in front of me. The images are so vivid that the reality and fantasy blur together. It can definitely be frightening to have that kind of power because sometimes I lose control of the fantasy and it takes over. I eventually come back to the reality and can reflect back on the fact that the fantasy was just that, a fantasy. But not always. Especially when other aspects of my illness take over.

Normal people can't understand this. They can't understand how and why I would create these alternate worlds. They haven't suffered the mental and emotional pain I have. Everyone has fantasies, but most people don't get lost in them. They don't lose control. I do. It's scary. Even the nice fantasies I have to work really hard to keep them on the surface. If I get too close to that blurring line, something clicks and the fantasy takes over, maybe just for a few moments but sometimes way longer. Like flying.

Now any "normal" person who just read all of this will think I'm batshit crazy. I am but that's besides the point. Mental illness can include necessary coping mechanisms that we create to survive. Unfortunately severely mentally ill people can let these aspects take over without us even knowing it. It's imperative that I have a very close circle of family and friends who can recognise when detrimental thought processes take over. I need these people to keep me in reality when I start to wander off too far. Luckily my husband is willing and quickly learning to recognise these things. I will never stop fantasising. I need it and to some extent like it, as long as I control the fantasy and not the over way around.

... Now if I could just remember how to fly...

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Addiction & Mental Illness: Part Three

...So I was back in my childhood home. I was nearly thirty-five years old and I had literally crawled back to my mother, tail between my legs, begging for help. I quit everything. Drugs, alcohol, and the myriad of psychiatric meds I had been abusing as well.

I had no idea how I was going to get my life back, but since I had already lost everything, I somehow managed to realise I no longer had anything to lose. It was the guilt and shame that had kept me using drugs so I had to somehow figure out how to leave it all behind me. So I put some blinders on and just kept clawing my way forward, inching my way out of the darkness, the emptiness. I found a job at a restaurant within walking distance doing whatever they asked. I still hadn't won back friends and frankly everyone acted weird around me, so I just spent time alone. I worked, I walked, and I meditated. My head was starting to clear.

As the fog slowly faded away from my existence, I realised I didn't know who I was. But for some reason this actually made me happy. I realised all the bad things I had done in the past weren't actually me. I had created many different fractured personalities to deal with what I couldn't. I wasn't a bad person. I was at the mercy of my illness back then. I was neutral. I had no idea who I was, but that was good because it meant I wasn't bad. I could choose who I wanted to be. And I chose to be happy and good.

It wasn't always easy. Some days were straight up impossible. I would have to literally will myself through every second of the day just to get through it. It was exhausting. But everyday got a little easier. And something amazing started to happen, I started to like myself. I had come to appreciate the little things in life. I appreciated my mother for helping me, my boss for giving me a job, my friends for giving me another chance yet again, and God for getting me through the darkness.

Now did the idea of using drugs again float through my head? On bad days, yes. I would think about how that first high would make the bad feelings go away. And then I would make myself think about all the bad things that followed and ask myself if that's what I really wanted. The answer was no. I had started to see a glimpse of myself and I realised I wasn't so bad after all. In fact, I was pretty freaking awesome!

I had been through hell. A hell I wouldn't wish upon anyone. Somehow I made it through. I had a chance to start over. A chance to discover who I really was deep inside. I made some decisions about what kind of person I wanted to be and have stuck to it ever since.

First, no guilt or shame. There was no room for that in my future so I left it in the past. I wasn't going to let my past define me. 

Second, be open and honest. This goes hand in hand with not being ashamed. If I'm honest with people about who I am, I don't have to keep secrets about my past.  Not everyone will accept my past, but I have and that's all that matters.

Third, be generous. If I am able to give to someone in need, I do. Simple.

Fourth, be kind. Even if someone isn't kind to me, I try to be mindful of what they might be going through that I don't know about. Maybe they need a little kindness.

Fifth, appreciate what I have. I lost all my possessions at one point. I learned what is important. When I have more than I need, I appreciate every bit of it.

Sixth, ask for help. Guess what? I can't do it all, so if I need help, I ask.

I hope my story helps others get through their nightmare. I hope that it helps knowing it is possible to not only get through hell, but to end up immensely happy on the other side. And I have no regrets. If I hadn't been through my hell, I wouldn't have found myself. It was part of my journey. It wasn't pretty, but it was part of who I am.

I am Kay and I'm pretty awesome! Just sayin...

Monday, 1 July 2013

Addiction & Mental Illness: Part Two

*Warning: contains graphic descriptions and triggers*

...After spending years trying to pin all my happiness on my husband and stepsons, I was coming to the realisation that I was a shell of a human being. To keep myself from having time to think about the void in my soul, I kept busy. Really really busy. I worked a forty hours plus a week job. I had decided to go back to college and attended classes four nights a week. I had loads of homework. And I was raising two teenage boys. All the while my husband was working eighty hours a week and was having to go on business trips more and more frequently. To top it all off, we had taken in my father-in-law who had complicated medical issues.

I begged my husband for months into years to cut back at work. I needed more of him. Our marriage was crumbling. The love and caring was there, but the marriage suffered greatly. Looking back, I realise now spending more time with me wasn't going to solve my problems. He had married a character I created and I no longer knew how to play that part. It wasn't his fault or mine. It was the illness inside me that was taking over.

As the emptiness grew, so did the depression. Sleep cycles became erratic. Mood swings ran rampant. Food lost its taste. Everything was dull and grey. I would spend hours staring out a window contemplating how to end it all. My work suffered. My marriage suffered. And I suffered. I eventually had a breakdown at work and was found near catatonic on the bathroom floor crying hysterically. Next thing I knew, I was being checked into an institution. Again. After a couple weeks, I was back home but I still couldn't function and a few months later, I was back in the hospital.

I was so afraid of everything. The questions and thoughts blazing through my head dizzied me. I was cycling through manic episodes at lightning speed. In my haze, I found myself charmed by a fellow patient. I didn't know it, but I was about to delve into a world you can only imagine in your worst nightmares.

This patient, lets call him Daniel, related to me, wooed me, brainwashed me. Next thing I knew, my husband and I were separated and I was following Daniel halfway across the country. I convinced myself he loved me and on some level I think he did. But Daniel was an addict. Not an occasional drug user, but a full fledged addict. He would disappear in the middle of the night with my car and money and wouldn't come back for hours and sometimes days. In my warped state of mind, I decided that if I did the drugs with him, I could control when and how much we did. We were smoking crack, lots of it. It didn't take long before the drug took over my life, along with my cocktail of prescription psychiatric meds. My reality was askew. I couldn't quit and didn't want to quit. When I wasn't high, the pain, guilt, and shame was overwhelming, so I stayed high at all costs. I would beg on street corners for money to feed my habit, and in some cases, even worse. We bounced from place to place, taking what we could from whoever would help us, running from dealers we ripped off, sleeping in back alleys and abandoned buildings, hitch hiking all over the southeast US.

All the while my family and friends were slowly giving up on me. The help I was given I didn't appreciate. The only thing that mattered was killing the enormous pain inside me. I couldn't stand what I had become, I had to stay high or thoughts of suicide took over. I engaged in self harm to punish myself, to bleed the pain out, to see if I was still alive. I was in and out of hospitals with several suicide attempts. No one answered the phone when I called. I had nothing. I was nothing. Even Daniel had abandoned me. Over the course of three years, I went from being a wife, stepmom, daughter, sister, etcetera to a homeless drug addict.

Daniel was attempting to get his life together and I was dragging him down. I begged him to help me, but he was angry with me. Somehow he blamed me for everything bad in his life. He finally agreed to help me, but there was a price to pay. I somehow convinced my estranged husband to buy me a bus ticket to where Daniel was living in New Orleans. Daniel said he was going to help me get a job and place to live. What he actually had in mind was unthinkable. He spent three days beating me, raping me, torturing me. Breaking me. And he did. I was broken. I was at rock bottom.

I decided my only option was to beg my mother for help one last time. She begrudgingly agreed and so I was on a bus back home to Ohio. This was it. This was my last chance at help. My last chance to live...

Monday, 17 June 2013

Embrace the Crazy

Through my journey with mental illness, I think one of the hardest parts has been accepting who I am. When you are young, you want to fit in, especially as a teenager. Conversely, you want to stand out and get noticed so that your peer group accepts you. Teens are miserable human beings. So few truly know themselves because so many will sacrifice who they are for who they want be friends with. It's an incredibly hard time. Looking back on my teens, and having raised a couple boys through theirs, it amazes me that any of us survive this time. It's shocking how judgmental and unaccepting teens can be.

When you mix in mental illness, something that is difficult to understand as an adult today let alone as a teen twenty plus years ago, I wonder how I made it through. Well actually I do know. I completely suppressed anything that was natural to me in an attempt to be normal. Yea, that didn't work. Just made it worse.

It wasn't until about six years ago that I decided to "embrace the crazy", as I like to say, and accept who I am. It took twenty years, but I finally am happy with who I am. I've accepted my mental illness. Like many other illnesses, I can't just wish it away. I've had to learn how to live with it. Part of embracing the crazy for me has been to be open and honest with others about who I am. I now refuse to hide who I am. 

That doesn't mean I walk up to strangers and say "Hello my name is Kay and I'm batshit crazy. Wanna do lunch?" There still is stigma. I can't wish that away either. However, I do have the power to educate people. After I've gotten to know someone a bit, I casually drop little pieces of info about myself to test the waters. Generally it's greeted with a bit of intrigue which then is my opening to start and fill in the blanks and tell my story. I've found most people will actually ask questions to better understand me rather than run screaming from the room. Who knew being honest with yourself and others could be so beneficial for all of us?

I never used to have acquaintance friends because I had such extreme trust issues regarding my crazy head. Not anymore. I have learned to stretch my friendship circle further than I could ever imagine. Now I don't tell every dark deep secret to every single person. I have my set of boundaries, but they have been pushed even further than most non crazy people. That's because of my honesty. I choose to not lie or hide my past from others. I can honestly say (pun intended) that I'm 99% honest. "Of course I love those plaid polyester trousers you sent me mom! They're awesome!" I think you can see where that one percent is necessary.

I know some people are gonna read this and try to call bullshit, but it's true. Don't believe me? Call my former coworkers of five years at the restaurant I worked at before I moved out of the country. Restaurants are gossip monging cess pools, but I was immune because my life was flopping in the wind for all to see. And you know what happened? They all learned to accept me just the way I was and actually looked up to me, although part of that might have been because I was twice their age.

So what about the people who didn't receive my hints about my past and my crazy so well? Guess what? I have the power to not hang out with them. I can just walk away. There's billions of people on this planet and the close minded are not on my list of friends. However, I have always kept in mind that perhaps they themselves have circumstances that make them reserved and untrusting. Maybe they have problems I know nothing of so rather that judge them, I simply let them be. We all have our skeletons now don't we?

I know a lot of people are going to read this and can't imagine living as openly as I choose. Hell, if you had told me way back when that I would be so open, I would have laughed in your face. And maybe living this openly isn't for everyone. But learning to accept yourself the way you are is and always will be the best way to survive this life. Like they say, you've only got one life, so you might as well embrace your crazy and enjoy it! Happy trails!

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Oops... Busted!

So a funny thing happened to me today...

Quick background for reference:  My husband and I live in a town in the middle of England. Our neighbourhood is fairly average. Rows and rows of detached and semi-detached terrace homes. So your neighbours are very very close. We are friendly enough with the couple next door, "Dan & Marta", but other than small talk in our front gardens on a nice day, we don't interact. They have a baby and have been doing extensive remodelling the last few months.

... So I was coming back from a late morning wander in the woods. And as I was going past, I decided to peek in Dan and Marta's front window to see how the work has been coming along. And as I started to press my face to the glass, Marta opens the window! Oh so mortifying. I quickly play it off like I had seen her and was trying to get her attention, which I did. I started making up small talk. Turns out Marta only works weekends while Dan works weekdays. So like me, Marta is home alone most of the time staring blankly at the TV in between chores (though she's a little busier with a baby). The other commonality is that neither of us drive, so we are both limited on where we can go.

To make a long story short (too late!), we ended up walking up to the grocery store together this afternoon. Marta also invited my husband and I over for Dan's birthday next Saturday for a couple drinks. We also agreed we needed start hanging out, whether walking to the shop or just sipping a glass of wine in the garden.

I made a friend! Completely by accident. I was just being nosy. But I made a friend! Yea me!

Monday, 10 June 2013

Pet Peeves

Pet peeves. Everyone has them. Everyone is annoyed by them. Some common ones that annoy me personally are using the incorrect form of "there, their, they're", people who squeeze toothpaste from the middle and leave the cap messy, and people who litter right next to a trash bin. Really? You couldn't take an extra step?

However, not everyone reacts to them in the same way. Those of us with a mental illness can take what would be a little annoyance to the average person and turn that molehill into a huge mountain. Someone with OCD regarding cleanliness will find it nearly impossible to visit someone else's home. I mention this example because frankly it's probably the most well known overreaction to a pet peeve. We even have reality shows dedicated to OCD'ers helping hoarders declutter and clean. We can see how dramatically it affects someone with a mental illness to be thrown into their own nightmare. I'm not a fan of these shows because I fear that most people who watch will see the OCDer as a freak, further stigmatising them. Watching someone have a panic attack is not entertainment to me. However, if the message gets across of what a challenge it is for someone with mental illness to face their fears and overcome them, then maybe it's helping our community.

I've always just chalked up my overreactions to pet peeves as a huge character flaw of mine. I'm now coming to realise I don't really have much control over my emotional responses to certain triggers. I can do my best to control my outward reaction, but often that just makes the internal reaction that much more painful. My journey of self discovery regarding my illness has just now made me realise this about myself. One of my biggest peeves is when things aren't put away in their place. I am by no means a clean freak, I just want things where they are supposed to be. And taking like items and placing them several different places, absolutely drives me nuts. All bakeware should be together, gardening tools together, pots and pans neatly nested. If you don't have time to put it away in the appropriate place, then leave it out. Unfortunately, my husband is a "I hate clutter but don't care where he stuffs things" kind of guy. It's maddening to me!

Since I'm just now realising these reactions are part of my illness (not the average normal person's reaction), I've been doing quite a bit of reflection. My poor husband is the recipient of my undiluted knee jerk reactions since he is the one who hates clutter and is perpetually tucking things away in odd places. As I started really analysing my behaviour, I started reflecting back on past situations. One time, while living with a girlfriend, I went into a complete tailspin trying to marry up a plastic ware bowl with its coordinating lid. You know the ones. All the companies make them slightly different so you have to use their matching lid. I'm sure most homes now have a ridiculous amount of these ever so handy items. Perfect for leftovers, crafts, etc., we cram them in every nook and cranny of our kitchens. On this particular day, my crazy head had had enough so I pulled all of the bowls and lids out of every cabinet (and yes they were scattered all over the place) and spread them out on the kitchen floor and proceeded to marry up like pieces. My roommate was howling as I cussed and threw lids without bowls and bowls without lids across the room.

Looking back on this day, and other similar instances, I now understand my illness causes these ridiculous, sometimes hilarious reactions. I just wish I could laugh about it all the time. My husband and I got into it regarding our garden sheds a couple weeks ago. I came completely unglued throwing things and eventually stomping off like a child. I went off to the woods and watched the ducks swim for a while to calm down. When I returned I apologised to my husband for my behaviour, but explained that I can't completely control my reactions. A normal person would rant for a moment then move on with their lives. I can't. I stew over why he keeps putting things away in the wrong places. Is he trying to mess with my head? Doesn't he realise how crazy in makes me? We talked about the situation. I explained that the clutter that bothers him pales in comparison to my emotional response to things being out of place. He promised to try and put things away properly for me.

I suppose it's somewhat good to now know these emotional responses are part of my illness, but it's also deflating. Just another thing that I have to be aware of and deal with. Is it any wonder so many of us our exhausted all the time and have so many limitations on what we can do? 

Friday, 7 June 2013

Have I Got Hobbies?!?!

Even though I have been dealing with this illness for over 25 years, I find I still learn new things everyday about how it affects me. These things are generally disguised as normal things that most people deal with, but since I'm not exactly normal, they all affect me differently. For example, my never ending rotating list of hobbies. Even though I recently wrote about how I have trouble focusing on one hobby at a time, I didn't completely see how that has affected me my whole life.

Yesterday, I had a consultation with a nurse at my new family doctor's office. Since medical records aren't shared across international lines, it fell on my shoulders to provide as much history as possible. When the nurse hit the multiple entries regarding my mental health, the inquiries began. I choose to manage my illness without medication with the exception of the occasional anti-anxiety as needed. She was a little surprised by this considering my lengthy history. She asked me if I had any hobbies. Actually, it was more of a statement. My husband and I looked at each other and kind of laughed and simultaneously answered "billions". 

Suddenly it occurred to me that I'm not just a flighty person who bounces from hobby to hobby. It's all part of my illness. I suppose it's possible that "flightiness" is actually directly related to mental illness.

I've always been embarrassed and ashamed of this part of my personality. I've laughed it off, but deep inside it has always hurt. I've always just tried to will myself into having one activity going on at a time, but that actually causes me more stress. I always have doubts about my talent regarding my numerous creative outlets, so I tend to start then stop projects half way through. If I never complete a project, I can't fail at creating something great. Right?

Now don't get me wrong, I have completed projects, and when I do I feel epic. Sometimes inspiration hits me and I paint (or whatever) until I'm done. I actually become so immersed at these times that ten hours can pass and it will seem like ten minutes. But more likely I will have dozens of projects going on at once. I've never thought about it much, but I actually like it. One day I may paint, then go on a drawing spree, then switch to writing. It helps to have a little guidance, but I like that I have my little area of the house dedicated to my many projects (thanks hubby for that). So when inspiration strikes, I'm ready to go!

Thinking back, it's probably this part of me that allowed me to multi-task so efficiently back in my corporate robot days. My brain could bounce so easily from task to task and remember exactly where I left off. So strange to reflect on this and realise what I used to be able to do. But I had totally suppressed all emotion back then. Today my memory is such an unreliable thing. I can remember song lyrics, movie lines, worthless trivia, etc. but I have huge gaping holes in other frankly more important areas.

However, since "embracing the crazy", multi-tasking is not my strong suit. Oh I do it all the time. I just don't actually get anything done! But that's okay. My husband is learning how to gently nudge me in directions so I complete small tasks one at a time. I will probably always bounce around, but with his love and support maybe I can keep my billions of hobbies and occasionally complete a project and be proud of my accomplishment.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Is it okay to have a bad day?

Seriously, is it okay? And not only is it okay, is it sometimes good to let yourself have a bad day?

Let me give you a synopsis of my life changes. I'm an American. I married an Englishman last August and moved to the UK to be with him in November. Though I've become very close to his family, all of my family and friends are 4,000 miles away. I'm not working, but I am looking for a part time job (that's all my illness will allow me). I'm fairly isolated, but not really by choice. I need a certain amount of social interaction, not a lot, but some. I had learned to cope pretty well with my illness the last several years. I had a part time job which got me out and gave me a sense of accomplishment and belonging. And my close friends and family were there for support and the occasional lunch date. But now...

...I feel lonely. Very lonely. I am able to talk to my sister and mother on a somewhat regular basis and email and write friends. But it's not the same. My husband is amazingly supportive, but he can't do it all and frankly I think he is just now coming to realise how bad my illness really is. I had explained it to him at length, told him my stories, and gave him things to read to help him understand, but it's different when you see it live in living colour.

The last few months the distance and isolation have worn me down. I've been slowly slipping into a depression. I'm treading water, and I'm exhausted. While my husband is wonderful and supportive, he can't play all the roles. He can't be my sole source of interaction. He does get me out some for a lunch or card night at his sister's house. Little trips into town so I can peruse the charity shops, a type of shopping trip I actually enjoy. But over the last few months, I've started to feel guilty about all this. He's out working for ten hours then has to come home and entertain me. I can see the fatigue in his face. I can tell he just wants to come home, sit on the sofa, and sip a glass of wine and let the stress of his work day fade. And so I feel guilty.

I have learned a lot of natural techniques for handling my illness. I don't take medication with the exception of an occasional anti-anxiety pill. (I know the topic of meds is a hot button, so let me state that I neither support or admonish the use of meds, it's simply my choice.) I engage in short activities that distract me and give me small senses of accomplishment. I paint, bake, hike, and play video games (don't laugh, it's a great distraction). Most of the time, I enjoy these activities and look forward to doing them. However, when my illness creeps up on me, it takes a ton of energy to do these things. I have days when washing the dishes exhausts me and I'm ruined for the rest of the day.

So my guilt for making my husband feel like he needs to entertain me all the time has made me try to hide my growing depression. The depression makes me not want to do anything and I'm fatigued. To fight the depression, I make myself do my activities which exhausts me more and the joy they usually give me is tainted. I keep struggling to stay "up" but the spiral down has begun. Crying spells, anxiety attacks, catatonic time loss, hysterical outbursts, appetite changes, and erratic sleep patterns are taking over.

I've done what I consider to be the cardinal sin of mental illness. I hid my feelings. I stuffed down the growing anxiety and pain. I didn't allow myself to have a bad day and now I'm paying for it. I also have been keeping my feelings from my family back home because I don't want them to worry, so they don't even know what's happening now. And now it's getting so bad I feel guilty I haven't told them. It's just a big vicious cycle isn't it?

My husband clearly knows that I'm not well now since the last couple weeks have been a nightmare. We are struggling but working to get through it. In my lucid moments, I remind myself that it will get better. That I have found joy and contentment. That I have a wonderful loving husband. That it's spring and the world is beautiful. We are spending a week in a cottage in Wales next week and I'm hoping the time together and majestic landscape will help bring enough balance back into my life that I can get back on track.

Living with my illness is better than drowning in it.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Limitations: How I Climbed a Mountain

If you have a mental illness, one of the hardest things to accept is limitations. Old adages like "you can do anything you put your mind to" frequently doesn't apply to us. We have limitations.

I've struggled my entire life with this concept. There have been so many times when I know I can't do something but the society norm (or my mom) has made me feel inadequate if I can't. Work is probably the most prominent example. I'm not opposed to working hard, in fact, I tend to work harder than my immediate peers in an effort to convince myself that I am normal, even above average. Up until nine years ago, I held jobs that required many hours, a lot of responsibility, and loads of stress. Well in actuality, I sought out the responsibility and worked more hours than required. And looking back, I am sure much of my stress was self induced. My point is that for about seventeen years, my work life was peppered with everything from minor breakdowns to complete nuclear mental collapses. All because I hadn't accepted my limitations.

I have numerous limitations that I have tried to overcome throughout my life by simply forcing my way through the situation. Sometimes this works, but frequently it doesn't. I've accepted I can't work a full time stressful job. Part time with flexible hours is best for me. I can't run. I broke both my feet as a teen, that coupled with a less than stellar cardiovascular system and minimal coordination, limit me from most athletics. So now I enjoy walking/hiking in the woods a few times a week.

A major phobia that has grown over the years is that of heights. I don't ever remember being scared of heights until about six years ago. I went to an amusement park with a friend and we went up in one of those giant swings (300 feet up). As soon as we started getting above the tree tops, I felt my chest constrict and I couldn't breathe. The anxiety was paralysing. I closed my eyes tight, white knuckled the  handlebars, and tried to go to my "happy place" in my head. I do my best to keep my feet on the ground now.

However, as someone with mental illness, it's all too easy to let our fears and anxieties keep us from experiencing life. I think sometimes the trick is to find a way to outsmart our fears. If you would've told me I would climb a mountain someday, I would've laughed in your face. Mountain climbing brings to mind steep cliff faces high above the ground with muscular people rigged up in special harnesses, with ropes and pulleys and such. Hell no! I have neither the strength, endurance, or mental stamina for such an endeavor. But a little over a week ago, I outwitted my fears in the mountainous North Wales.

My husband and I were on holiday staying in a quaint cottage across from a pair of mountains. We planned going on some nature walks and the visitors guide in our cottage recommended numerous ones including one leading up between the two mountains to a hidden lake. So our first morning, we got dressed, slipped on our hiking shoes, packed lunch in a rucksack, and started our way up the rolling pastures leading to the lake. I tried not to pay too much attention to how far and long we had gone, because I knew I would start thinking we needed to turn back. We took short breaks when I got a little tired and took in the beautiful scenery. My husband would scamper up rocky outcroppings while I rested. Before I knew it, we had come to the lake. There was a sheep path gently meandering up the side of the larger mountain and my husband suggested we walk up a bit and find a nice place to eat our lunch. So up we went. 

As we ate our sandwiches, I looked around at my surroundings and realised we were actually quite high up, but it didn't scare me since I wasn't staring over a cliff edge. When I looked up the side of the mountain, I noticed we really weren't that far from the top. I could tell the climb the rest of the way would be a lot more challenging for me, but I knew I could do it. I started making my way up slow but steady. My legs were trembling and heart pounding as I reached the top. I did it! I climbed a mountain!

I'll never run a marathon or go sky diving, but this chick found a way to outwit my limitations. I didn't eliminate them, but I learned that sometimes you have to find back doors so that you don't miss out on the things that make life worth living.

Addiction & Mental Illness: Part One

As if being crazy isn't enough, people who have mental illness often find themselves abusing drugs. In fact, mental illness and drug abuse tend to go hand in hand. The crazies use drugs to escape their heads and drug addicts will alter their reality so much they start to go crazy. It's a vicious cycle that once embarked upon in either direction, becomes exponentially harder to control than either problem is individually. I'm stating this as fact based on my personal experience. When I had a complete mental breakdown in my early thirties, I delved into an unseemly world I didn't know existed.

Let me back up a bit first. The cracks in my psyche started at a very young age. I had bouts with anxiety and depression as far back as childhood, though I didn't know what was going on, I just knew something wasn't right. In my mid teens, the stress of peer pressure and wanting to fit in caused me to spiral into a couple years of quickly cycling hyper manic episodes and severe depression. At the age of sixteen, I snapped one night and next thing I knew I was waking up in an institution under heavy sedation. I had no memory of how I got there or how much time had passed. It was horrifying. I ended up spending six months at an inpatient psychiatric facility. But it wasn't enough.

The next school year, I was greeted with whispers and rumours and gossip about what had happened to me. The shame was too much and knowing I didn't want to go back to the psych hospital, I started self medicating to kill the increasing pain inside me. I would sneak liquor from my parents stash and cigarettes. I would stay up all night drinking and smoking. Eventually I started getting to know the potheads at school. Marijuana was a great escape. It numbed me, but it made me feel stupid which I didn't like. I started dating a guy in his twenties and he introduced me to cocaine. Now that was exactly what I was looking for. It numbed the pain and at the same time made me feel energetic and confident. I suddenly felt powerful. It was an incredible aphrodisiac for my warped brain. I could be everything I wanted to be when high on coke.

The problem with drugs, especially if you are already mentally ill, is that it makes your "highs" even higher than normal and your "lows" unbearable. To fight the lows, you do everything you can to stay high. So you do more drugs, harder drugs. You'll do anything to keep from feeling low. And many of these drugs not only leave you mentally drained when you come down, but you develop physical withdrawals that can leave you violently ill if the growing addiction isn't fed. Like I said, vicious cycle.

Surprisingly, after only a year, I actually managed to break away from the guy who got me into the drugs and bounced back a little mentally. However, to do it I basically just stopped having feelings at all. If I didn't have ups I couldn't have downs. So I just stayed in the middle, numb. I created a facade so I could function in society. Meanwhile, my emptiness grew and grew.

In my early twenties, I started to do the bar scene. I eventually started doing coke again on occasion with the crowd I hung out with. Now none of these people would I ever consider friends. We did drugs together and partied. That's it. I could let my flamboyant wild facade run wild with these people, because I didn't care what they really thought. I let this fragmented part of my personality take over. And I took great care to keep it hidden away from my real friends and family. I never was high around them, but as I more and more needed to be high, the less and less time I spent with people who actually cared about me. I didn't want them to see this character I created that I secretly hated.

At some point I completely lost all that was me. I had been faking who I was, creating different personalities to show different segments of my world, for so long I no longer knew what was real. I didn't know who I was and I had no idea how to find me. I was tired. Very very tired. Then I met a man. A good man. A man worth attempting to find myself again for. We fell in love and got married. I had quit all my bad habits and replaced them with him and his boys. They were my world. But that was a problem. I basically traded one addiction for another. They were my new drug, my high. And as with all drugs, the high is only great for a while, but then you need more. I needed me. But I didn't know who I was and I had no idea where to find me. The void that was in me once again took over and depression set in...

Focus: That Elusive Bitch

Well here I am writing my second blog entry. Pretty proud of this small achievement. This may seem silly to some, but to those of you like me, you can relate. I have millions of ideas zipping around my brain all the time. I'm fairly intelligent and somewhat creative, but harnessing these abilities is a daunting task for me. I want to try everything. Painting, writing, baking, drawing, hiking, knitting, weight lifting, golf, tennis, yoga, cooking, etc. But I have a deep seeded fear of failure. Even if I know I'm good at something and everyone around me affirms this, I am still scared I will somehow fail. Couple this with my mania and a dash of OCD... Well I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this.

I have at least narrowed my interests to the world of creativity. Art and writing have always been the best outlets for me and where my talents lie (if I truly have any - that's my self doubt creeping in). My brother is the musician and my sister is the athlete. I love music but have zero aptitude. Think Steve Martin in "The Jerk" and that's me. However that doesn't stop me from dancing my little heart out or singing at the top of my lungs, much to the dismay of all that witness these occurrences. And sports? Well I lack a certain coordination that is required. I actually have the ability to trip over my own feet while standing still. Don't believe me? Come on over and I'll sing you a song.

So what do i enjoy doing then? I love to paint! I totally get lost in the colours. When I get an idea in my head and sit down to put it on canvas, hours will pass like minutes. However, I struggle to keep focus on one idea. And I am perpetually fearful that what I create will be total crap. So I get stuck. I have probably only attempted 10% of what has floated through my head. And sadly when the "crazy" creeps up on me, that's when I need to paint most. Since I have so much self doubt and can't nail down ideas all the time, I tend to copy a lot of other works that I like. This at least keeps me painting, and hey that's how all the masters learned, so I am okay with that.

So what's my point you ask? Of course not. You know exactly what I'm talking about. Focus or rather lack thereof. This has always been so incredibly frustrating to me. And another reason why I hesitate to try new things. I have the tendency to start new activities or projects but then get distracted and abandon them. I am notorious for not completing things, even things I love to do. I hate it. I hate that my illness gets in the way of me completing tasks so simple for others. I hate that it prevents me from fully enjoying the hobbies i love. And it's so embarrassing. People will see the partially completed activities lying around my house and they can't understand why I don't just pick one up and finish it, then the next, and so on. Or why I attend a Zumba class twice with gusto never to be seen again. I wish I knew how to explain to people that I am not a total flake.

Now I have accomplished goals, some lofty ones at that. I have three college degrees of which I'm extremely proud. However, the price to reach such arduous goals was high. I had to sacrifice my "self" and put all my energy into my studies and harness the mania I created. This was always followed by a severe depression. It's sad because I'm so proud I somehow managed to finish these degrees with honours, but I have now accepted my limitations and cannot work to utilise these degrees.

I know this is a large part of the reason I don't emerse myself in many activities. The fear of letting the activity take over and losing my "self" again is horrifying. Obviously the down side is that I don't really accomplish many long term goals. And that is why this blog is a big deal to me. If I can actually keep it going for a little while, that would truly be impressive for me.

So wish me luck, say a prayer, stroke a rabbits foot, whatever your thing is and maybe just maybe I will be able to keep on writing this blog for awhile. Only time will tell.

Hi. My name is Kay. This is my story...

Greetings and salutations! Welcome to my first ever blog about living with mental illness. As anyone who suffers this affliction will tell you, the stigma can be unbearable. Most people attempt to hide their illness (which only makes it worse usually), because the general population doesn't understand it. Even in today's day and age of Internet, people don't get it. And frankly the fact that everyone and their brother is taking Zoloft, Paxil, or the like for what is essentially a temporary case of mild depression, is actually making the situation worse if you ask me.

If I had a penny for everyone I know who has taken an antidepressant for a short period of time, well let's just say I would have a pretty big jar of pennies. These normal, average, healthy people are not mentally ill. They do not have an illness that will be with them forever. They will not be learning coping mechanisms, defining boundaries, and accepting limitations. They will take their low dose of whatever for a little while and keep on going. They will realise one day they hadn't taken the drug for a week and still felt great and will forget why they took it to begin with. I am not one of those people.

I can remember not feeling "normal" all the way back to early childhood.  And as I got older, it only got worse. By my early teens, mood swings, severe depression, and anxiety were becoming the standard. I had no idea what was going on and I knew it wasn't normal. My friends weren't like this. When it got really bad I isolated myself. The rest of the time I created a facade for friends, family, and strangers. The character I created was very self-assured and charismatic. Everything I wasn't. Most people had no idea what was going on behind the scenes. But playing this part was exhausting and in retrospect probably exasperated my mental deterioration. The cracks started to appear to close family and keeping up the facade became more difficult so I went back to isolating myself. It wasn't long before I had my first complete breakdown at age sixteen and was subsequently hospitalised for five months.

Prior to my first institutionalisation and even for years after, whenever I was in a depression, my mom who clearly had no idea how to deal with me, would just say "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" and keep going. It took her some 20 odd years to realise it wasn't that easy. And frankly, if you are like me, someone trying to simplify the situation like that just makes things worse. If it were so simple to just "be happy", don't you think I would? Who would choose to be mentally ill? I didn't choose this anymore than someone with diabetes chose their disease. If they could just wake up and will themselves into having normal insulin levels, I'm pretty sure they would.

Well mom, my bootstraps are broken. But I'm still alive and kicking!

This is my story, my life. I am bipolar with borderline personality disorder. I have panic attacks and I get depressed. But I've learned to live with my illness. Most of the time now, I'm very content (I say content because to me that's a state of being, not just a raw emotion like happy). I still have bad days or even weeks, but I'm surviving and thriving. I have embraced my "crazy". I'm not a psychiatrist or psychologist, but I have spent the last 25 years learning to live with my illness, educating myself, making every day better than the day before. I'm not an expert. I'm just a woman with a story to tell. And I hope it helps someone get through another day.

Let's begin...