Monday, May 2, 2011

My Supportive Husband

I believe that my spouse has always been supportive yet it took many years to teach him how to show this. We’ve been married for nearly four years now and together for almost ten. I cannot imagine life without him but it took a long time for him to come to an understanding about how to show that’s he’s supportive of me and understanding of my illness.

I was just diagnosed last Spring. For years my husband has shown his love towards others by playfully poking fun at them in various ways. This has always been a dynamic of our relationship and although it sometimes hurt me, he didn’t quite get it or comprehend in any sense why it would affect me differently than it did the rest of his family. There were times I would cry and scream out for him to understand why it was that what he said made a difference in the way I thought about myself. That stinkin’ thinkin’ that bipolar people are so good at, always thinking the worst is going to happen, was made that much real when he would say the things he did. When I would tell him to stop saying or doing what he did to show his love he would assume I was joking. I wasn’t.

Not long before we were married I was diagnosed with depression, which was incorrect. It wasn’t until my diagnosis with bipolar that everything began to change. I completely broke down due to overwhelming amounts of stress in my life and was placed under a suicide watch with partial-hospitalization for three months following. During that stay I received my bi-polar type 1 diagnosis.
During my partial-hospitalization my therapist requested a meeting with my husband to discuss said diagnosis. She explained what was going on and what I needed from him. He said that he understood but just as it took me three months to learn to manage my symptoms it took him several months to show his support and compassion. I would come home and tell him what I learned about myself and when he would say certain things which triggered my stinkin’ thinkin’ I would remind him that this kind of behavior was not beneficial to me.

After a while of my attempt to teach him he needed to change, I broke down in tears! I asked him why couldn’t he show that he was compassionate and supportive of what I was going through and his answer changed my view of our relationship. He stated that he was supportive, and that he just didn’t know how to show this. I told him that I needed a hug when I cried, I needed him not to say negative things around me or about me as I would take it to heart and stress over such statements, that when I told him to stop doing or saying something he needed to stop joking around. I had to teach him what it means to me for him to be supportive or at least show that he was and always has been. Since that final breakdown approximately eight months ago things have never been better than they are right now. If my husband ever steps back into his old habits all I have to do is remind him, once and that’s it. When I come home crying because I’m overwhelmed with stress he’ll hold me. Later he’ll do what he can to alleviate some of that stress.

I hope that your spouse can be as supportive as my husband always has been and now has learned to show.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Need to Remember the Important Things

This past week I've done something I shouldn't. I've forgotten to take my medicine three times. Once I took it late. Now this wouldn't be so bad if it was a supplement or something that wasn't necessary. Not only does my medication control my bipolar and help me function as "normal" people would in our society but it eliminates my migraines which I've had since the age of four.

Lets start by saying that although my parents brought me to the doctor several times as a child for migraines no doctor ever took me seriously. I didn't use the term migraine until I knew the definition, which wasn't until I was either eight or nine years old. I just knew that it was the worst pain in the world and lights were my enemies. 

Now as many of you know, now that I've been diagnosed with bipolar I realize that I've always had it. The symptoms have always been there. So when I was put on medication for this illness I didn't think about it's possible connection to my medication. It wasn't until this past year when I had to live without medical insurance for a while and pay out of pocket for my medication did I piece together this puzzle.

When I wasn't medicated I would have at least 2-3 migraines a week and several headaches. When I was able to afford my medication the migraines would disappear. I later did some further research only to find that my mood stabilizer, Limictal is used as a migraine medication overseas. It prevents migraines! I also came to find that there is a large correlation between those who have bipolar and those who suffer from migraines. All my medical symptoms since I was quite young have been tied together with one diagnosis. What a relief! Too bad I was always going to the wrong kind of doctor.

Thus it's no surprise that yesterday I had my first migraine since December. It's my fault. I need to be sure to remember. It's important! Not only a mood stabilizer but it saves me a lot of pain that I could do without, thank you. Better luck next week.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Wish it was easy...

I wish so many things about the bipolar disorder most of all that it was easy. I wish that I could say that I've always known that I have had the bipolar disorder. I wish I could say that there's a simple test for it and that it was a simple thing to discover. So many wishes, yet as with many real life situations my wishes do not come true.

I was first diagnosed with depression in college. I had known something was very wrong for a long time but my father, who also had bipolar type 1 couldn't comprehend that someone else in the family could be suffering from a mental illness as well. I knew the diagnosis was wrong, not at first but eventually. The antidepressants made me so content with everything. You could have told me that my house had burned down and we would have to sleep outside on the grass and I would have been perfectly okay with that.

I never thought that a day would come when I would feel at peace, no longer suffering. Since I can remember I've always been a very wound up individual and what I mean by this is that I always seemed to hold an incredible amount of stress and anxiety within me. To think I could be any different didn't seem possible. To me this life was normal. It was all I ever knew. Now that I have been diagnosed I look back at my life and I'm certain that I've always had the bipolar disorder.

Everyone else, especially those in the medical field seem to sense that I had bipolar. After I was diagnosed however was when they all decided to tell me. I asked, “Why didn't you tell me?” I sometimes wish that they had let me in on the secret. The question is, would I have believed them? Maybe not, I don't know.

There isn't a blood test or a brain scan that can tell you if you have the bipolar disorder. I wish it was that simple, that easy. So many people are misdiagnosed with other kinds of mental illnesses before getting the proper bipolar illness diagnosis. Perhaps if there was a test misdiagnoses wouldn't occur. I was diagnosed by the third, fourth and fifth psychologists I saw. This illness is not easy, but when you finally receive the diagnosis everything becomes more clear. My last and most recent psychologist adjusted my medication a ton when I first came to see her and now I'm what I can only consider “normal”. I've never felt this way before. I wish all who suffer from this illness can one day feel the peace and serenity that I now feel. Not overly or under medicated and with the tools I need to succeed.

It may not be easy. It may not be a simple test but once you know, life does become as easy as it's ever going to be for those with this illness.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Understanding of the Illness

My father was bipolar and passed away before I received my diagnosis and I wish I had gotten to know him better. He walked miles in the shoes that would one day be passed to me. I didn't want them! I would love to return them! But now that I have them I want to run with them!

I know now that he felt the same way I do about many of life's obstacles but it's sometimes difficult to express yourself in a manner which other people can understand. Having good questions to ask is always a fantastic place to start. Here are a few that I came up with which may help you get to know your bipolar friend a little better. I'm sure they'd love to have someone understand them on a deeper level who doesn't suffer from the illness.

      1. How would you describe a typical depressive or manic day? What kinds of “symptoms” do you associate with each?
      2. Which side of the illness do you prefer, the manic or the depressive and why?
      3. Of course there are times you wish that you didn't have this illness but are there any times that you're glad that you have bipolar?
      4. What's the most difficult thing about the bipolar illness for you?
      5. Since finding out you have bipolar are there any people in your life who have treated you differently due the stigma that is associated with the illness?
      6. What are some personal traits that a person with bipolar experiences yet are not usually attributed to the illness?
      7. Has the diagnosis changed your perception of self?

Walking a mile in my shoes is never something I'd wish on anyone but I do wish that people would understand that I'm not crazy I just have to manage the symptoms of life a little differently than other people.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Can Anyone Still See Me For Me?

I had this theory when I was first diagnosed last year with Bipolar that everyone would treat me differently and I would be an outcast. That of course was the long held stigma which plagues mental illness talking, or was it? A few months after I was diagnosed I decided that I was going to defy the stigma! I was going to live an open life. Who ever truly knew me would not judge me for some new information they had just gathered. They would judge me for the life I had lived and the personality I had shown all my life. They would love me for me.

Unfortunately I have come to find that in this world stigma can be a very difficult thing to over turn. Some of us literally go out in our Bipolar or Depression t-shirts thinking that walking in the open, unashamed will change the perception of others. We think that if we believe enough and try our best to live as though there is no stigma it will all go away. People will be educated and not judge us for our illness but who we are as individuals. I'm coming to doubt this a bit.

I try my best to always be optimistic but it is well known that however optimistic I appear to be, deep down I'm a cynical person. Most who have this illness do not tell those they work with for fear their coworkers will see them in a different light and begin to treat them as it they are fragile and at any moment could break into a million shards of glass.

Once, I made the mistake of letting my coworkers know and my boss actually questioned if it was safe for me to be around children. How offensive can one person become to another? Can my actions not speak for themselves? Anyone who has had any interaction with me at all knows that I'm wonderful with children. I was born to care for children; they never stress me out. To assume that all those with bipolar are a danger to children is stereotypical.  That was the first thing that opened my eyes to truly how deep seeded this stigma is rooted.

Currently I work with someone who is a friend of my husband's. Somehow he found out of my illness and suddenly my boss doesn't think I'm able to be alone in the store. They assume that due to my illness I cannot handle any stressful situation on my own. Typically it's when I'm on my own that I'm not stressed out. It's my day to day dealings with people which stress me out, especially those who question my abilities, something which until I was diagnosed never happened!

I used to manage stores, direct operations, supervise departments. Now suddenly I find myself at the bottom of the corporate ladder with a big brick wall and no way to get around or over it, at least not in the foreseeable future. Due to my illness somehow I'm less capable medicated than I was unmedicated and untreated. It makes absolutely no sense! How can someone who is unmedicated and untreated be more capable than someone who sees a doctor regularly and is well medicated? It's illogical!

I'm considering this summer going back to school to become a graphic designer. Perhaps in a field where you can be your own boss or at least work from home I will not be treated in such a manner. I'll be attending school and working full time, which is something I've done before, unmedicated and untreated so surely I can do it again now!!

Someday there will be a world without a stigma for mental illness, but I cannot see it! Why am I not treated as I was before the illness was made public?

**I thank my husband, grandmother and few close friends who still see me for what I am, simply Jen.**

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Clothes to make me feel pretty again

It is said that the woman makes the clothes yet I've come to believe this may not be true. I remember there was a time when my wardrobe was filled with stylish clothing and accessories. A time when I went to work and I felt like one of the prettiest girls in the room all because of the outfits I wore. I realized yesterday, looking at the girls in the department next to me that I'm not nearly as fashionable and well dressed as they are.

Now most of the girls are younger than me, only one of them is married and she has a kid yet my clothing doesn't hold a candle next to theirs. Granted I'm an adult now and shouldn't worry about they way I appear in relevance to others. I shouldn't care what other people think of the way I dress. Yet, it's not the perception of others that's bothering me it's the perception of myself. I don't feel I look good in the clothes I've been blessed to have.

When I was a child my nicest clothes came from either garage sales my grandmother would take me to or as Christmas gifts from my grandparents or aunts. My parents would take us thrift store shopping or give us hand me downs from my mom and my aunts when we needed clothes. Until I started running competitively my shoes were the five dollar kind you bought at Walmart, usually all white. After I began running my parents would buy a twenty dollar pair and get upset when they lasted me a month before falling apart. Once I began working outside the home I started buying my own running shoes usually from a department store. My parents, after much reluctance and arguing bought one pair for me after my feet continued to blister and bleed due to the old pair I was wearing. At that time I couldn't afford to replace them myself and my parents would have returned the pair my mom purchased if it were not for my grandparents offering to foot the bill and my father being too proud. That season until a new pair were bought my feet were mended each night as they were always cut up so badly.

I'm aware we were quite poor, but this stuck with me in a very real way. The connection between good clothes and my self worth. When I was in elementary school I was constantly picked on as most of my clothes were from two decades ago! Kids are not very nice in elementary school! Often I'd come home in tears because of the constant torment I felt at school. I begged my parents to send me somewhere else. At the age of nine I began receiving a steady paycheck and saved most of my money, soon having enough for a year at a private school in the area. I never went to that school though, and my money was used towards, food, bus passes, and clothes for myself and my sisters.

In junior high I had moved to a different neighborhood which was a nice fresh start. Upon starting school I met Corin and Isa who taught me how to dress, put on makeup and do my hair. My mother never learned such things and thus was not able to teach me, her oldest daughter. I'm very grateful as this was a turning point for me in my school years. I began finding more "in-style" clothes at the second hand stores and my popularity began to rise. At one point I was so good at finding the "in-style" clothes my sisters would have me go shopping with them every time we went down the street to the Salvation Army Store and did some shopping.

The best portion of my schooling in relation to clothing was High School. At this time it became very popular for people to dress in "vintage" items they found at thrift stores. I absolutely adored this stage as I could find several things inside my budget which would not make me a cast out as it had when I was much younger. High School was also when I began my first full time job at the age of sixteen. I worked at a restaurant which was across the street from my bank and in the same block as one of our towns two malls. Oh what a teenage dream. I could get paid, cash my check, and go clothing shopping before getting home to help pay many of the family's bills. Lets just say I didn't save much of my money during that time.

Fast forward a bit. After I moved out of my parents home in college and thus not helping with the families finances I seemed to have more money. Strange, considering I was now paying rent and my own bills, but true. For the next six years my closet grew enormously. It didn't help that for a while I worked as a supervisor at a clothing store.

Once I married I stopped buying many clothes. I had other responsibilities and other bills which needed attention. This was fine until spring of 2010 as I was the same size in clothes for the majority of the past nine years. This past spring was my first admission to the hospital and when I received the diagnosis of Bipolar I, Anxiety Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I remained in hospital treatment, not able to work for three months. During this time my workouts decreased to a near stop and I was given plenty of money though insurance to eat at the hospital's cafeteria. So with the decrease in activity and increase in consumption of course I changed sizes.

After the hospital stay I went on a diet for the first time in my life. I dieted for months and lost only one or two pounds, but no sizes. Winter was approaching and I realized I didn't have any sweaters, slacks for work or long sleeve tops that fit. Ugh! So for my birthday I asked for gift cards to Target which would help me buy a few essentials. It helped a great deal. I went from no clothes to a few.

Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful for what I have, yet my self-confidence is greatly related to the clothes I wear. When I feel stylish, I feel pretty, then I feel confidant in every step I take. Yes, I've never been a tiny model stick of a figure like my youngest sister, Julya. I've always been a little curvy and I like it. Gaining a few extra pounds should not mean that I don't get to buy pretty clothes and look fantastic when I want to dress the part. Yes, I did have a child to care for in the first few years of our marriage and my looks always came second to his looks and needs but that child is back with his own mother now and I need to live for now, not the future.

I also shouldn't assume that I'll be able to get much smaller than I am currently at least not permanently. I've been thinking a great deal about my husband and I starting our own family some day, not immediately so no one get any ideas. It's true I do have baby fever no matter how much I attempt to fight it, the urge is there. We're just not ready.

First of all I need to learn to care for myself before those around me. I've never done that before. When I was growing up I cared for my sisters and often my parents. When I became an adult I cared for my husband and very shortly after we were married a baby boy for two years. Shortly after our foster son when back to live with his mother, I adopted a cat. I've always been the "caregiver" to everyone but myself. I need to teach myself that I'm not selfish if I would like to buy a new sweater which we can afford to look and feel pretty.

So in an attempt to care for myself and get back to the days when I felt as though heads turned when I walked in I went shopping yesterday. I went to Kohl's with the budget of $30.00. I could buy what ever tops or sweaters I loved as long as my total remained under that budget. It worked! I bought a lovely top I'm now wearing for $7 and a beautiful cardigan for only $8, both on clearance. I love the way I look! I love the way I feel! This morning as I dressed I even put my contacts in, did my makeup and hair. I feel pretty again and happy!
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