Category Archives: Support System

Stabilizing

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I am doing an all-morning outpatient program Monday through Friday. Group therapy,  skills, expressive therapy – all working to put me back together again. Following the program, I’ll be going to Texas for a couple months to be with family for reestablishing healthy ADLs (Activities of Daily Living – hygiene, cooking, exercise, cleaning, etc.) that I can then use and not neglect when I return to my little apartment. One of my friends will board my cat for me while I’m gone – very generous!

An important revelation occurred to me in the last couple days. I’ve felt shame, ashamed of myself, since I was a very young child. Guilt is something you feel when you make a mistake. You can make restitution, ask for forgiveness, and change. Shame says “I am a mistake,” leaving very little room for fixing anything. I think this shame I’ve felt for so long may be fueling my suicidal ideation. If I’m not worth anything, then might as well take me out. It’s a wonder I only came across suicidal ideation after the fall of a high mania when I landed in the hospital with suicidal depression. The visions of me killing myself have plagued me since – almost 7 years now. And yes, I still feel shame. Not sure that will ever go away.

Down the Same Road Again

Here I am again. Anxious and suicidal. I have been feeling this way for several days now. Twice now I’ve stayed overnight at a friend’s house because I didn’t feel safe alone. I’m scared I’ll end up in the hospital, but at least I feel safe there. There are no temptations to end it all.

I think this was brought on by a med change. I’m so frustrated by that because my doctor and I made them, and made them slowly so that I wouldn’t have that hangover feeling until mid-afternoon when I finally had energy to start the day. I often fall asleep in the morning a couple hours after I get up too. I hate feeling like a slug.

I think lowering one drug in particular brought on increased depression and anxiety, as well as increased suicidal thoughts with plans (which I always have, even when I’m not actively thinking about suicide, I have the thoughts WITH plans).

That drug has been increased for several days now, but I’m still feeling horrible. Anxiety is cycling with suicidal plans. Impulsivity is growing. I don’t have the means to carry out my primary plan at home so most of the time I feel “safe” – I’m less likely to do anything. Doesn’t mean the thoughts aren’t there or the plans or the impulsivity. Sadly, my main plan is one I can carry out at my friend’s house where I stay when I feel unsafe. I’m not alone until after I fall asleep, I sleep pretty hard and I wake up groggily when people come downstairs. So I’m mostly safe.

I’m so tired of the lost time I get in the hospital all these days and weeks I’ve spent in my 30+ times. I grieve for the time even though there is nothing else I can do to stay alive. I grieve for the burden I become on friends to take care of my cat or bring me clothes. I’m ashamed of my self for not trusting myself to keep myself safe or using skills strongly enough. I’m very hard on myself. I feel a hospitalization coming. I’ve been on the increased medication for several days now and I’m still just as bad. I don’t know if I can wait a full week to give it a shot, or for another week after that when we increase the first medication, which is likely.

I don’t know what to do. I feel horrible.

Spring Dating

I’ve been doing a fair amount of dating the last couple months. Most breakups were weird, whether it was I who did the breaking up or he. I feel like a teenager or college student with some of the drama or figuring out what to do. I’ve been doing online dating which makes the intensity of relationships hard to figure out.  Do I stop talking to others once I’ve hit it off with someone when we meet in person? That’s my M.O. I only want to date one person at a time so I tell others I’m interested in online that a casual relationship has turned more serious and I don’t want to lead them on. A response that makes it weird when it hasn’t worked out and I go back to getting to know people, and I want to restart relationships. Normal guys understand. Drama-laden guys freak out. The whole dating thing has so much drama. Sigh. But I’m glad that I feel stable enough to offer myself in relationships.

I’m dating someone now that probably has some more staying power than others. We are really compatible, like each other and taking the relationship slowly. An interesting bipolar moment… I usually wait a few dates before explaining that my brain disorder is bipolar disorder and how it affects me. With this man, I needed to tell him on the first date (!!) since he had been married to someone who was bipolar and didn’t take her meds. I wanted to be clear that I’m a good patient, take my meds, have a good support system. Turns out it wasn’t a big deal for him, no matter how nervous I was about putting it out in the open so early. I’m stable right now, which is easier to deal with I’m sure. It’s the summer manias and fall depressions that we’ll have to deal with together. I hope I weather them ok – for my sake more than for his. But it would be good to see how he responds if I do get unstable or hospitalized. Important to know for longevity of the relationship. I need someone who can be caring and supportive and not freak out, withdraw or get really anxious. We’ll see!

Trying to Travel

For people with bipolar disorder especially, travel can be very destabilizing. Time changes, schedule and routine changes, new activities and people – all work to change one’s life enough that a mood change might commence. 

I’m visiting my family several states away, but in the same time zone. I haven’t seen them in over five years. We are celebrating Thanksgiving together since we haven’t done that in 25 years. The visit sounds great, right? My schedules and routines and stamina are different. Being with family is being around some kind of strangers since I hardly ever see them. We have different views on politics and religion so we don’t talk about them – my idea. We’ve done some kind of activity every day. So I’ve needed to have stamina for all the driving (they live in the boonies) and the activity itself. 

I discharged from the hospital the Saturday before I traveled on Tuesday. My mood really was stable. Starting yesterday I’m feeling a dip in mood toward depression with suicidal thoughts and plans. I would say I’ve been managing anxiety well – one day, one hour at a time. But anxiety, I think, is triggering this potential mood change, as often happens for me. Some environmental factor triggers anxiety which leads to suicidal thoughts, and I feel depressed that I’m feeling suicidal. 

My therapist thinks I get suicidal when I don’t feel perfect, my too high expectations aren’t met. Maybe in this case, I wanted to feel relaxed around my family. And when that didn’t happen – which should have been obvious from the beginning – I become anxious, then suicidal, then depressed. 

And that’s where I am now. I can probably make it til I get back home. I just don’t want to spiral as I do into needing the safety of a hospital. 

Religious Euphoria and Mania

adventToday begins the ban on contact with religious anything for Advent and Christmas. Since childhood, and worse in the last 23 years of bipolar expression, I’ve had a religious euphoria where I get delusional around Christmas. The experience usually culminates on Christmas Eve. But the mystery and mysticism that many churches infuse in their Advent celebrations has been known to trigger the delusion earlier than the week of Christmas. Last year, for instance, I had the delusion for the whole month of December.

It is common for bipolar mania to be religious in nature. Mine happens to take the form of a heightened sense of spiritual and physical unity with all of the world – people, animals, nature. That’s the euphoria part. The delusion is that somehow I personally – not Mary – am bringing salvation into the world by bringing Christ into the world, and I have a mission to help everyone experience the mystical unity with Christ and with all of the world in order to make the world a more peaceful place. This experience is long ingrained into my experience of Christmas, and I don’t know that it will ever go away.

I have had the euphoria experience many, many times, each an expression of bipolar mania, and not a rich spiritual life as spiritual directors and other pastoral colleagues I’ve confided in have thought. Each euphoria, when it reaches its peak, has a piece of the delusion in it. I am to save the world with my actions using the power of Christ. During one manic experience, the mania before my first suicidal depression, I was inviting strangers into my home for movie discussions about the efficacy of religion. Fortunately, no one showed up for the series. I was convinced at the same time that my religious experiences were pushing me to become a Benedictine Oblate. I was flying so high in my euphoria that I was blogging about the breathless unity and clarity of vision and the visions I was having. I even started preaching about them (I was the solo pastor at a church at that time). That was the highest mania I have had, and it crashed hard into a suicidal depression that I have been dealing with off and on for over 5 years. It was the first time I felt suicidal. It is common for manias to be followed by an equal descent into depression. The higher you fly, the lower you crash.

Back to today. In order to prevent or lessen the euphoria and delusion that I’ve had at Christmastime since I was a child, I do not participate in anything religious about this time of year. It’s hard to give up what was my favorite season and holiday, but it was my favorite because of the manic expression and delusional euphoria I experienced. It felt good to fly so high and have a purpose for my life! It will still be years until I might be able to tolerate or celebrate Advent or Christmas again. Maybe it’s the way it’s celebrated in mainline churches that makes this time of year so hard for me. I find it hard to tell because I started attending mainline churches at the same time as my bipolar flowered and my mood cycles kicked in.

I’m having an especially hard time this fall, and now it is likely to get worse as the euphoria and delusion will probably kick in. I’m acutely aware of the community I’m missing by not attending church or fellowship. Even people I only know by sight. I’m losing a significant piece of my support system.

I will return to church after Jesus’ Baptism Sunday (baptism and communion as sacraments are hard for me too – a little too mystical and could trigger some euphoria). So sometime in January I can go back to church – until Holy Week and Easter, another banned time for me because of my tendency toward religious euphoria during mystical or special times in the church year.

I ❤ bipolar.

One Week Done with DIY Residential

It’s been about a week of the DIY Residential Program. Following the strict schedule has been moderately easy. Dealing with suicidal thoughts has been HARD. As happened at my residential therapy experience in February, and is happening again – a rather normal reaction – I felt challenged by the material and resisted what my therapist and group therapy and classes presented. I’m resisting the ACT requirement of Committed Action toward your values, because I’m not at all sure I want to live or have a meaningful life. I think I’m just resisting and I’ll eventually break through, provided I don’t end up in the hospital first.

I looked up on the internet overdosing on my many medications, I called a suicide prevention hotline (1-800-273-TALK – they are amazing!). I keep a bag packed in the car in case I need to drive to the hospital. My support system has been life-saving, and I’m so sorry for dragging them through this horrible journey. Partly it’s because I don’t have residential staff to talk to about the terrible things I think about or see in my head, so I’m sharing them with my support system, local and national. Y’all have been great at encouraging me to keep moving forward and not follow through with the thoughts and visions. But as one of the images below says, I feel like I’m on a never-ending treadmill of suicidal voices and visions that I use defusion on every time they come up. Which is A LOT. In the middle of conversations, in the middle of reading, when I’m laughing at something someone said or at a funny show. Any time I’m alone, or with people. There they are, waiting for me to give in this time.

I started a new workbook that is specifically for using ACT with depression. I have high hopes for it. Until in one early chapter it makes the claim that depression is only a little bit biological and almost all about how we respond to situations – emotional avoidance or fusion with unhelpful thoughts. I’m still open to what it says, as clearly I need new ways of coping. But even though I’m depressed, I feel like I’m depressed more from the suicidal thoughts than I am in the traditional sense. I still get up and do everything I’m supposed to do as though I am following my values. But I still feel numb and separated from life, which is a feeling associated with depression. I’m avoiding feeling the emotional pain of suicidal thoughts? or what the suicidal thoughts are trying to tell me? (that I want things to be different? that I want to be strong again? that something needs to change?)

I also think I’m lying to myself in a couple different ways.

  1. I keep saying I want to die and need this life to be over. But I keep asking for help and I keep doing the positive things such as taking care of myself, exercising, socializing, going to the hospital to be safe, etc. Those are things that seem to say that I want to live and I want things to be different, not that I want to be dead. I really like the thought of being dead though. I’m very fused to that idea and I use a lot of defusion techniques with that one. So the lie is that I want to die, when my actions say I want to live. Which is what my therapist says too.
  2. I’ve started saying that I no longer have viable options for killing myself since the information I got about overdosing looks like I’d just end up waking up in the ER or ICU with heart and liver and other damage, or if I took enough I’d have seizures and a heart attack. Not the go to sleep forever image I have in my head. And I’ve mostly given up on slicing my arms or throat open after talking with people who have and still ended up waking up in the ER. So, the only plan that would really work involves a gun and I don’t have access to one, which everyone says is a great thing. It seems that I don’t have viable options. But I think I’m lying to myself, because maybe a heart attack from too many meds wouldn’t be so bad. I’m totally irrational on this lie. I really don’t think I’d do anything, I’d rather die from something that took my life and I didn’t have to do it. I just really want to be dead, which is the subject of Lie number 1 above.

With all of these lies and thoughts I’m continuously using skills to defuse from, to make room for them to just be, and just be words and just be pictures and not be imperatives I have to follow. I’m doing the right thing according to everyone in my care team (about 6 people, plus a bunch of auxiliary people when I’m in the hospital). I just still really want to be dead. And out of pain. It hurts a whole heck of a lot to feel like there is a black hole in the center that is slowly, tortuously sucking you dead into its center.

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Day 3 – DIY Residential Program

Well, I’ve made it to the third day of my strict schedule of workbooks, expressive therapies, meals, gym time and free time. I’ve had a FaceTime meet up with one of my supportive friends, dinner with another, and now lunch with another today. I’m still feeling pinched for time and tired a lot. I think I would feel that at an official residential program, because it takes a few days to acclimate. And that’s what I’m doing in the DIY program. Still acclimating to the schedule. The highly detailed google schedule is a life saver. I just have to look there to see what I’m doing, for how long, and with whom. And I’m logging whether I’ve done it so my supportive network can keep an eye on me. And they are! Thank you!

I’m noticing that I wish there were staff to process stuff with. I miss that daily check-in and extra work with a therapist to work on issues as they come up. I’m journaling, but mostly as notes for what I’m learning and not thoughts on what I’m learning. I do miss the staff portion of a residential program.

The topics I’ve studied so far have been self-worth (from a Cognitive Behavior Therapy workbook on Self-Esteem that I had from my therapist to review), and Thought Delusion (from an Acceptance and Commitment Therapy book, The Happiness Trap, which is the therapy I’m focusing on). The self-worth brought up tons of stuff, naturally, since I feel worthless much of the time which leads to feeling like throwing it all up in the air and exiting stage left.

However, the ACT topic of Thought Defusion, which I know and practice not as much as I should, reminded me that just exchanging negative thoughts with positive ones doesn’t work. And don’t we all know that. Better – stop being fused to them and believing them and following their commands. Instead, notice them as part of the thoughts that the brain churns out regularly and move forward with your life anyway. You can’t stop the thoughts from coming, but you CAN let them be and move on. And when you find yourself believing them, you can defuse from them with various techniques like saying to yourself, “I notice that I’m having the thought that…” or singing the thought to Happy Birthday or Jingle Bells, or saying them in a funny voice or thanking the mind nicely for offering its opinion. It takes the power away from the thoughts. You can use these with images and emotions too.

I had the opportunity to use Thought Delusion a lot yesterday as the old story of letting go of life via suicide reared its ugly head. I was defusing like mad. Eventually the emotion waned, as they do, and the thoughts were left with little power. But the anxiety and desire were hard to get through. You don’t use the skill to get rid of the thoughts, feelings or images, but to move past them by just noticing them and doing something else.

Here’s to the next topic!