I’m back….. (and I’m a little upset)

Hi, everyone –

My friend called me a few weeks ago asking why I hadn’t posted anything to my blog in a while.  I gave her the usual excuses:  no time, writer’s block, I didn’t think anyone was reading me, etc.  Well, I realize that none of that really is true.  In fact, I think the only reason I haven’t written in so many months is simply because I’m feeling slumpy (is that even a word?).  I’m not depressed, clinically, and I’m not manic.  I’m just feeling blah.  I’ve been spending the last six months running kids to their activities, cleaning the house, working and trying to be better about volunteering and being an asset to my community.  And by the end of the day, I never wanted to write and share my feelings with the public.  I just wanted to crash in front of “Game of Thrones” and be drawn away by a fantasy life that is nothing like my own.  Again, not depressed.  Just not anything.  What I needed was a kick in the bottom to get me writing again.

Then, last week, someone who is very, very dear to me posted a link on Facebook that talked about all of the recent school violence that had occurred over the years.  The article discussed how each of the shooters had been on some kind of prescription medication.  And the title of the article read, “Facts Don’t Lie”.  I suddenly woke up.  I was hurt and amazed that the writer of this article could so easily place blame on medication as the reason that these young men went on shooting rampages in their own schools and in others.  I was also hurt to learn that this person who shared the link seemed to agree with its content.  It was hurtful because he knows my situation and that of my daughter.  We are both on a lot of medication to treat our variety of mental issues, including bipolar disorder, anxiety, ADHD and ODD.  These medications have been absolute lifesavers for us, and allow us to function like “normal” people in society.

I read through the article, and its basis was that all of these young men must have been spurned to violence because of the cocktail of prescribed medication in their bodies, something each “boy” had in common.  What about the other things they had in common?  They all had easy access to weapons, they were all caucasian, they all came from middle- to upper-middle class families.  Perhaps they all loved the color blue, or maybe they were all right-handed?  Do any of those shared traits and lifestyles point to violence?  Of course not.   Then why blame the medication?  Isn’t it possible that the kids weren’t taking enough medication, or the correct medication and that’s why they went on their shooting sprees?  I’m guessing the article’s author doesn’t have anyone in his family who suffers – truly suffers – from mental illness, and takes medication to keep them sane.  I’m going out on a limb here and will assume that this writer has never watched his child suffer in school, unable to function in public, unable to sleep, crying incessantly.  He has never seen his little girl throw uncontrollable tantrums over how a tag itches the back of her neck, or how her brain “talks to her at night” and keeps her from being able to sleep.  He probably has never had a wife who tried to kill herself because she was in such despair over the mental pain she was suffering.  He, himself, has probably never been unhappy and miserable for no reason, and unable to get out of bed for days at a time and unable to concentrate or focus on anything in his life, distraught over a mental illness that is not his fault.  How dare he blame the murders of so many innocent people on medication?

True, medication is not for everyone.  I live in Boulder County, Colorado, where a lot of illnesses are treated herbally or holistically.  There are hundreds of families who do not vaccinate their children, or give them cough syrup or even a Tylenol.  Do you have any idea how much I wish I could be those people, who don’t rely on prescription medication to keep them happy and healthy?  Sadly, I’m not one of them.  I tried the “no-meds” route for years, and it simply didn’t work for me.  If it were not for medication, my daughter probably would not be allowed to attend public school, and she’d be unable to function as part of her softball team.  She would not have any friends, and she wouldn’t be able to sleep.  She would cry incessantly over nothing, then sob in the corner of her room, rocking and asking us, “Why am I like this?  I hate myself!”  I am so thankful for the availability of certain prescription medications because they have helped to save my family.  But of course I agree that they are not suitable for all people.  Some people have been blessed with perfect mental health.  I’m just not one of them.

In addition, who’s to say that medication for diabetes or cancer or Alzheimer’s won’t have dangerous long-term effects?  Everyone seems to be so concerned with the medications prescribed to children and adults for mental illnesses because we don’t know how they will play out years from now.  There is not enough research or history to know exactly how these medications will effect us later in life.  But that is a chance I am willing to take to live my life with health and happiness in this moment.  Bipolar disorder is a debilitating, life-threatening disease much like diabetes or cancer of Alzheimer’s.  None of those diseases can be cured.  We are stuck with them forever.  And medication can provide longevity and mental and physical security to those who truly need it.

So, getting back to “Facts Don’t Lie”.  The “facts” are probably yes, those boys had mental issues that needed help.  But don’t blame the medications.  Perhaps the blame is on the doctors for not prescribing the correct medications.  Maybe the boys were prescribed drugs, but didn’t take them as directed.  Maybe they were not taking advantage of medication’s essential partner, which is therapy.  Anyone taking prescription medication for mental illness should also be in some sort of therapy and seeing his or her psychiatrist regularly.  Can we blame the parents for looking the other way?  Probably not.  I know from experience that there are times when you have done so much to help your child and nothing works, and it is easy to turn away and hope the problem resolves itself.  Hopefully they believed they were doing everything they could for their children.  Can we blame society and the media?  Absolutely.  Violent video games and movies?  Possibly.  Lenient gun laws and easy access to weapons?  Sure.  These boys were all bullied at school, treated badly for being “weird” or “geeky”.  Their crimes were all sensationalized on television, practically encouraging that if they’re going to go out, they should go “big” so they can have their legacy live on with TV, magazines and big-selling biographies.  But I emphatically do not believe that we can solely blame the prescription medications.  These drugs are meant to help people with mental illnesses.  And if the boys had been diagnosed correctly, prescribed the correct medications, were monitored by their doctors and encouraged to attend therapy, then I do not think it’s fair to blame the drugs.  Just like it’s unfair to blame the lack of security at the schools or the parents for leaving gun cabinets unlocked.  It was a tragedy.  And we can blame the shooters.  But there are simply too many factors and too much is unknown about these boys to simply blame the meds exclusively for their actions.

My dear friend who shared the article with me, and who appeared to be in agreement with its content, said in a later post that there is simply too much not known about the long-term effects of these medications.  But these shooters, these children themselves, could not have possibly been on medication long enough to suffer yet any “long-term” effects.  They were teenagers.  Babies, really.  In my opinion, “long-term effects” pertains to what these drugs might do to us twenty or thirty or forty years down the road.  And we don’t have those answers.  But in my situation, I would much rather have happiness and sanity right now, when I’m raising my children and trying to contribute to society, and suffer side-effects later.  If they kill me dead after thirty years of taking them, at least I know I had those thirty happy years.

 

On a separate note:  one of my recent readers commented that “this blog does seem like a drug company website”.  I can assure you, it is not.  Blogs are a way for people to express their opinions and share their thoughts and feelings.  I have had success with certain medications and I share those successes with my readers because I want them to know what else is available to them.  Many of you haven’t heard of certain medications, or combinations of medications, that have proved helpful.  I myself learned of my current drug combination from someone’s personal website and asked my doctor about it, tried it and found it was the right mixture for me.  I am, in no way, promoting medications on behalf of any drug company, and never will.  I do this simply because I want to share my positive experience with anyone willing to read about them.  Thank you.

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The Portal

My daughter, who is a sophomore in high school, introduced me to this great app for my iPhone. It’s called the “Infinite Campus Portal” and it’s basically a tool for parents to use to spy on their kids at school.

The app is awesome. It allows me to see if she gets to school on time or skips out early. I can use it to check attendance or to see what her homework assignments are going to be. Additionally, it sends me these text notifications telling me her scores on tests or recent homework assignments. She’s been back in school for less than a week, and already this app is my new best friend. It allows me to monitor her activities and comings and goings at high school, and provides me with a way to keep tabs on her without nagging.

It also got me thinking: what if my family had a nifty little “portal” into my mentally ill world?  Wouldn’t it be great if my family members could download an app onto their smart phones or tablets that allowed them to see how I’m doing during the day?  For example, if I forget to take my meds, a little text message would come across the screen informing the viewer so he or she could call and remind me.  Or if I skipped an appointment with my psychiatrist or counselor, the app would rat me out.  And if I was feeling particularly depressed or manic?  The portal app would send a quick notification to all interested parties so they knew to steer clear or intervene.  “Big Brother” for the mentally ill?  Maybe.

I wondered why my daughter would share her campus portal app with me.  What teenager wants her parents to know everything she does?  Doesn’t it seem like too much information?   Isn’t she afraid that if she skips a class and I get a message, she’ll get in trouble?  Or if she receives a bad grade or misses an assignment, will I be upset?  She doesn’t have a chance to make amends before the notifications come flashing across my screen – she doesn’t get the chance to make up the assingment before I’m alerted that she did poorly the first time around.  Why would a 15-year old girl ask me to put this app on my phone?  Why would she want me to know everything she’s doing during her school day?

Because she wants accountability.  She wants to feel secure.  She wants me to know that she’s doing OK or not.  She wants me to see what she’s up to during the day when she’s not home with me.  She wants to know that I care, and she wants me to be involved.  And I love that.

Maybe that’s all I want, as well.  Accountability.  Maybe I want my family to have an app, a portal, that allows them to see into my world.  Something that lets them know when I’m down, even when the mask I wear pretends otherwise.  Perhaps I just want to know that someone cares enough to check in on me, to spy on my emotions, without nagging me.  I think I simply want my family to have a head’s up so they know what they can expect from my moods on a daily basis.  I want them to know that I’ve not taken my meds or cancelled a therapy appointment, because those things don’t happen accidentally.  It’s a cry for help without having to reach out to someone.  They would just look at the portal and they would know without asking.  Because I hate communicating with my family about my illness.  I despise discussing my bipolar disorder because it makes me feel weak and unstable.  It makes me feel needy.  And I hate asking for help.

With my daughter, I also know that because she’s an excellent student and a responsible young woman, I will only receive positive messages through the portal.  And she knows that, too.  She realizes that I will be proud when I receive those messages, and that I can then tell her “great job” or “nice work” without her having to feel like she’s soliciting compliments.  She wants to know that I care enough to look for those notifications every day, to verify that she’s doing well and that she’s where she’s supposed to be.

And that’s all I really need, as well.  To know that someone cares enough to check in once in a while to make sure I’m still here and still moving forward, even if I’m moving forward slowly.

Go looking……

Hi, everyone –

Today I am fortunate enough to have my writing posted on an amazing website called Black Box Warnings.  I hope you will look for me there.  Thank you!

http://blackboxwarnings.wordpress.com

My piece is titled:  Much Ado About Nothing

Have a wonderful day.

Morning Prayer for my Healthy Brain

I recently came across some writing called “Morning Prayer”. I read it, then I read it again. And I loved it, thinking how directly it applies to me, but not for the reasons one might think.

I am trying hard to be a good Christian, and I have recently allowed religion back into my life, hoping it will guide me through my pain and misery. So please excuse the fact that while I’m going to share this prayer with you, I’m going to change it a little so that it applies more closely to my situation. I hope I will not offend any believers or better Christians than I.

Where the original prayer uses the phrase, “O Lord”, please allow me to substitute it instead with “My Healthy Brain”:

“Morning Prayer for my Healthy Brain”

My Healthy Brain, grant that I may meet all that this coming day brings me with tranquility. Grant that I may fully surrender myself to your good will.

At every hour of this day, direct and support me in all things. Whatsoever news may reach me in the course of the day, teach me to accept it with a calm soul and the firm conviction that all is subject to your will.

Direct my thoughts and feelings in all my words and actions. In all unexpected occurrences, do not let me forget that all is under your care.

Grant that I may deal straightforwardly and wisely with every member of my family, neither embarrassing nor saddening anyone.

My Healthy Brain, grant me the strength to endure the fatigue of the coming day and all the events that take place during it. Direct my will and teach me to pray, to believe, to hope, to be patient, to forgive, and to love. Amen.”

Amen

Sssshhhhhh

My mom is a patient at a hospital while recovering from surgery, and while pacing the halls I noticed a quote that was etched beautifully into the tiles of the floor:

“Quietly talk. Quietly walk. Quiet promotes healing”.

I like that. I’ve decided to make it my new mantra, but I’m also going to add a line:

“Quietly talk. Quietly walk. Quietly THINK. Quiet promotes healing”.

Perfect for my bipolar brain.

Hello. My name is……

The Associated Press released an article today regarding President Obama’s desire to “end the stigma of mental illness”.  Yes!!!!  Obama made public his intentions at a conference that was actually organized to discuss the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.  Attending the conference was actor Bradley Cooper, who recently portrayed to high acclaim a man suffering with bipolar disorder.  Also in attendance was Glenn Close, who has recently been seen with her bipolar sister in television commercials promoting awareness of mental illness.  The National Association of Broadcasters has announced its new campaign to promote positive awareness of mental illness through a series of TV commercials, radio ads and other social media outlets.  On a personal level, Ms. Close helped to start an organization called “Bring Change 2 Mind”.  This non-profit group produces public service announcements designed to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness.

President Obama is quoted as saying his goal in hosting the conference is to “bring mental illness out of the shadows”.  He commented that, “We whisper about mental health issues and avoid asking too many questions…..  There should be no shame in discussing or seeking help for treatable illnesses that affect too many people that we love.  We’ve got to get rid of that embarrassment.  We’ve got to get rid of that stigma”.  I have previously quoted author Terri Cheney in several past posts, loving what she says about how “disease thrives on shame, and shame thrives on silence”.  Obama gets that.  He recognizes that in order to reduce the stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness, we have to open up.  We have to promote awareness.  We have to talk about our disorders.  We have to show the public that there should be no shame in mental illness, and to do that we must not remain silent.

Part of President Obama’s health care initiative includes improvements to mental health coverage.  In fact, next year there will be a ban on denying coverage to people suffering with mental illness.  Public spending on services to aid the mentally ill has been greatly reduced in recent years, leading to closures of psychiatric hospitals and a reduction in care available to patients who need it the most.  It is commonly believed that until community services intended to help the mentally ill can be funded by the government, the stigma will remain.  Vice President Biden was quoted as saying, “Think of the irony here if through your great efforts, we encourage people to come forward and they find out there’s no one there to help them or they have to wait a long time”.  It reminds me of the line from the movie, “Field of Dreams”:  “If you build it, they will come”.  If the government provides federally funded assistance to patients suffering with mental illness, they will step forward.  They will emerge out of “the shadows”.  And perhaps they will do so shamelessly, as they should.

Bringing someone like Bradley Cooper on board is a great move.  He may not be directly affected himself by bipolar disorder or another mental illness as was his character in “Silver Linings Playbook”, but for those of us who are shallow (as I am) and easily influenced by a handsome man in a well-tailored suit, he could by a great spokesmodel.  He’s been actively promoting awareness of mental illness for several months and is publicly acknowledging that it had been part of his life without realizing it.  He says he has friends who have suffered silently for years who finally worked up the courage to come forward following his Oscar-nominated portrayal of a bipolar man re-emerging into society following a short stint at a psychiatric hospital.

But even Bradley, Glenn and Barack can’t do this without some public support.  And that’s where we come in.  We need to start speaking up.  How many of our friends don’t know that we suffer?  How many of us are silent?  How many of us don’t publicly admit that we have a mental illness?  Silence breeds shame.  We need to not worry what our neighbors would think if they knew we have mental diseases.  We have to stop living in the shadows of the stigma, and step forward and admit that we are ill and need public resources to help us to get better.

I’ll go first:

Hello.  My name is Cecily, and I am bipolar.

There.  That wasn’t so bad.  Your turn.

Checkmate

My 10-year old daughter and 12-year old son are sitting at the table behind me, playing a game of chess.  They are surprisingly strategic, and actually more likely to get through a game of chess without coming to blows than they would a game of Monopoly.  I try to pretend that I’m interested in their game, but to be perfectly honest, I’m too dumb for chess.  I can’t keep up with each piece and their various abilities.  So I sit by and occasionally throw out a “Good move, honey!” or “ooooh, you really got him there……”.

I can hear my son’s running commentary on the moves of his Queen.  He has had his sister’s King in “check” half a dozen times since they started, but she always manages to wiggle out of her predicament.  I’m fascinated by the way the Queen is the only piece allowed to move wherever she wants, as near or as far, backward or forward.  Yet as crafty as she is, she is often captured (at least the way my kids play).

Sometimes I feel like I have a lot in common with the Queen.  I can go anywhere, do anything, at whatever pace I like.  I can be powerful.  I have the widest range of abilities of any piece.  I can even survive (although barely…..) without my knight in shining armor on the board with me.  But I can be taken out of the game pretty easily if I’m not careful.  All I have to do is let down my guard and I’m a goner.  It’s flattering that the captured Queen is the first piece taken back when the pawn reaches the other side of the board, although that doesn’t happen very often.

But the Queen is feared.  I don’t want to be feared.  I want to be liked, plain and simple.  And nobody likes the Queen.  She’s conceived as manipulative and crafty, only interested in winning.  And that’s just not me.  It used to be me.  My life used to be about trying to get away with one trick or another, trying to think ahead and manipulate the actions of those around me.  But that’s not fun any more.  It’s hurtful.  And I don’t want to be that person.

I don’t want to be a pawn, either.  I don’t want to be the one taken advantage of, disposable and the always first piece sacrificed during play.   However, the pawn doesn’t ever move backward, only forward.  And in that regard, maybe being the pawn isn’t so bad.  I’ve spent the last year trying to move forward, instead of dwelling in the past and continually looking backward.

There has to be a happy medium in the game of life.  And I intend to find it.  I’m moving my piece forward, little by little, day by day.  I wish I could look into the future to see if I end up a winner.  But for now, I need to be content just moving my piece one space at a time, never backward, always forward.

Checkmate.