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Life, Love, Adventure

My Quest to Erase the Stigma of Mental Illness

Today I Ran For My Life…

Yesterday I remained curled up in a chair for 8 unbearable hours unable to do anything even close to productive. I sat, pen in hand, notebook open and all I accomplished in those hours was two sentences. One of them makes no sense to me now because I couldn’t keep a train of thought going and the second was an attempt at prayer but I only got as far as “God please…” It hurt to think because the darkness that enveloped me suffocated my brain preventing coherent thought from forming. Random thoughts would intrude my mind in bursts reminding me of all I SHOULD be doing especially in preparation for Thanksgiving which was only two days away. The thought of cleaning anything, especially when I couldn’t even summon the energy to shower, made me wince. The only thing I longed for was a deep sleep from which I’d never return.

Today I woke up and ran 7 miles in below freezing temps and now here I sit as words are flowing effortlessly onto the paper. Who was that shell of a person yesterday? I remember WANTING to run yesterday because I knew it would make me feel better…I simply COULDN’T. I caught glimpses of my running magazines mocking me from the coffee table as I fought back tears that threatened to flow as I was reminded of my weakness.

When my son came home and said he had track practice in the morning I initially cringed. But then I realized that I needed something to force me out of the house so I heard myself telling him I would be the one to take him in the hope I would force myself to run while I waited.

After a fitful night’s sleep I woke up to the howling wind and immediately regretted my offer. However, my duties as a mom couldn’t be ignored so I dressed in my winter gear and tried to think positive thoughts. Thank God I somehow managed because today it saved me from the pit.

The first mile was freezing and difficult but I was grateful that I was at least moving…a huge improvement from yesterday. The wind stung my face and froze my neck but oddly I loved it. The cold fresh air felt so REAL and INTENSE. My quads burned as I ran up each hill and I found myself focusing on each footstep as I tried to avoid slipping on the ice. I realized in that moment I was light years away from the chair I was paralyzed in just 24 hours ago. The physical exertion took me out of my mind and kept me in the moment.

All I wanted to do was continue putting one foot in front of the other, breathe in the fresh air and get lost in my music and the moment. I was actually free from the grip of my mind that always had to fight so hard just to stay alive.

I realized that this opportunity was a gift so I needed to embrace it because if I was honest with myself, history shows these moments can be few and far between. That’s one of the things I absolutely hate about this illness — the ups and downs can be maddening and most of the time come out of nowhere. BUT, despite how awful I feel during a “down” and am convinced I will never make it out alive — a day like today DOES eventually come. When it arrives I have to remind myself to enjoy every moment, welcome the discomfort that comes with pushing my body beyond its limits, take extra time to breathe in the air and appreciate the singer screaming about hope in my ear. I can’t spend time worrying about what I will face when I wake up tomorrow –something I am not very good at but am trying to work on.

I finished my run exhilarated and proud of myself for taking the leap from my chair to a freedom run. The cobwebs and demons that haunted me just hours before had been left behind at the starting line. The darkness that’s relentlessly chasing me was unable to catch me and for that I am truly grateful. Yesterday I wished every breath I took would be my last. Today I am intentionally breathing deeply and with each one holding on to the knowledge that at least for right now, in this very moment everything is ok.

Matthew 6:34 — Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.

The Day I Finally Woke Up

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about wake up calls. No, not the kind you’d request during a hotel stay, but instead the moment when something happens to you that changes your life forever. Mine occurred several years ago with a smack upside the head. Yes…you read that right but it’s not what you think. Allow me to explain…

I’ve written about my experience with an eating disorder and its ups and downs in relation to my mood swings. Several years ago when I stopped using alcohol as a coping mechanism and first received my bipolar diagnosis, my eating disorder decided to show up as a replacement coping skill. I’ve always had ED tendencies and thoughts but I have experienced many years on and off throughout my life when — including now — I did not act upon those urges.

However, one evening when my husband had to work late, I found myself alone on the couch, after putting my two toddlers to bed, facing the beginning of what was about to become a doomed rollercoaster ride. I knew from my racing thoughts what was in store for me and as my mind and body became restless the thought of escaping unscathed seemed absurd.

So what did I resort to in order to combat the inevitable?    Food.   I ate whatever I could get my hands on. I don’t specifically remember much except that it was a binge of monumental proportions that I wished would last forever. But of course eventually it had to end and when I stopped eating the comfort I had momentarily experienced vanished.

It didn’t take long for guilt and disgust to consume me. I panicked as I thought about my weakness and all of the calories that I had stuffed into my body. It had been many years since I had purposefully thrown up — mostly because I was determined to be healthy during my pregnancies and while nursing. But here I was alone with nothing to stop me.

I’ll spare you the details but suffice it to say it was a very desperate and self destructive moment. When I was finished I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I was instantly horrified to the point I began gasping for air. Most of the blood vessels in my eyes had burst. My eyes were painfully swollen and black and blue marks faintly littered my skin.

Immediately I panicked. What the hell did I just do? What was I thinking? What if one of the kids had seen me? How will I ever explain this to my husband? Did I truly hate myself that much? Am I that out of control? What if my heart had exploded? What if I had died choking on my own vomit? I was frozen in shock staring at my reflection trembling with self hatred and regret.

Suddenly a thought interrupted the panic from out of nowhere. “God just smacked you upside the head.” It startled me at first but then I knew with every fiber of my being it was true. Now don’t get me wrong. I do not believe God actually hurt me or caused those injuries to happen. God does not do that. That is not who He is. However, that thought relieved me because right then I knew He was there trying to protect me. There was no way around the fact that what I had done was terrible. The evidence was in the mirror.

God speaks to us in a still, small voice. (1 Kings 19:11-13) But what I always ignore is the fact that it is up to me to listen for it. The majority of the time I’m stubborn, prideful and quite frankly don’t want to stop and listen. I prefer to take matters into my own hands. But where did that philosophy get me? On my hands and knees on the bathroom floor while my kids slept because I didn’t take a moment to simply ask God for help. To be completely honest I didn’t want His help and He knew it. He could have prevented my eyes from exploding but He knew I’d only continue right back down the destructive path I had left behind many years ago. He knew there were so many wonderful opportunities in store for me that I could not yet see, but it was up to me to choose the right path and I clearly demonstrated I was unable to choose wisely.

The situation could have been so much worse. Medical complications from bulimia include torn esophagus, arrhythmia, weakened heart muscle and heart failure to name just a few. God saw where I was headed if He didn’t intervene. He knew I needed a serious wake up call. He knew I needed hard core evidence that I was making a terrible choice and I am so grateful for that. My ‘smack upside the head’ was God watching over me, knowing what would happen; not stopping it, but allowing it in order to wake me up before something totally devastating happened.

Never once did I think God was punishing me. When everything became real in that moment when I was forced to face myself, something profound happened that changed me. I saw everything — all the consequences that would one day be my reality if I didn’t decide to change right then and there.

I looked as though I had lost a boxing match. I soon had to face my husband and I had to figure out a way to explain to my kids why I looked this way. Those tasks seemed impossible. I was completely broken. I started to cry, finally asking God for help while promising to never binge and purge again.

This time it was not an empty promise. I chose to heed the warning that my wake up call delivered and I have not had the urge to ever do that again. There have been times since then when I have wanted to purge, but the memory of my reflection in the mirror reminds me of my promise and I know without a doubt that God has taken that choice off the table for me.

I’m not sure why this has been on my mind or why I felt it was necessary to write about. Maybe to get me to stop and consider current areas of my life in which I need a wake up call? Where have I pushed God’s love and guidance aside and decided to go my own way? What have been the consequences? Do I really want to keep shoving God aside? Have there been other wake up calls in my life that I haven’t recognized or refused to listen to? Do I need to revisit them?

Whatever the reason (and I know for sure there is one) I am certain God already knows it. He wants to draw me closer to Him so I can experience His love and protection. Just like the parent who has to watch their child fall in order to learn how to walk but stays close by to prevent catastrophe — God is right beside us knowing what’s best for us and when it’s necessary to step in. Sometimes we don’t realize it until we grow up, look back and see how obvious it is. I’d bet if we all reflect on the defining moments of our lives with an open mind we’d clearly see God at work trying to get our attention.

In what area of your life do you need a wake up call? Where do you need God to intervene? What prevents you from asking for help? Then the million dollar question is — When He calls you to wake up will you listen?

Smacked Upside My Head

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about wake up calls. No, not the kind you’d request during a hotel stay, but instead the moment when something happens to you that changes your life forever. Mine occurred several years ago with a smack upside the head. Yes…you read that right but it’s not what you think. Allow me to explain…

I’ve written about my experience with an eating disorder and its ups and downs in relation to my mood swings. Several years ago when I stopped using alcohol as a coping mechanism and first received my bipolar diagnosis, my eating disorder decided to show up as a replacement coping skill. I’ve always had ED tendencies and thoughts but I have experienced many years on and off throughout my life when — including now — I did not act upon those urges.

However, one evening when my husband had to work late, I found myself alone on the couch, after putting my two toddlers to bed, facing the beginning of what was about to become a doomed rollercoaster ride. I knew from my racing thoughts what was in store for me and as my mind and body became restless the thought of escaping unscathed seemed absurd.

So what did I resort to in order to combat the inevitable?    Food.   I ate whatever I could get my hands on. I don’t specifically remember much except that it was a binge of monumental proportions that I wished would last forever. But of course eventually it had to end and when I stopped eating the comfort I had momentarily experienced vanished.

It didn’t take long for guilt and disgust to consume me. I panicked as I thought about my weakness and all of the calories that I had stuffed into my body. It had been many years since I had purposefully thrown up — mostly because I was determined to be healthy during my pregnancies and while nursing. But here I was alone with nothing to stop me.

I’ll spare you the details but suffice it to say it was a very desperate and self destructive moment. When I was finished I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I was instantly horrified to the point I began gasping for air. Most of the blood vessels in my eyes had burst. My eyes were painfully swollen and black and blue marks faintly littered my skin.

Immediately I panicked. What the hell did I just do? What was I thinking? What if one of the kids had seen me? How will I ever explain this to my husband? Did I truly hate myself that much? Am I that out of control? What if my heart had exploded? What if I had died choking on my own vomit? I was frozen in shock staring at my reflection trembling with self hatred and regret.

Suddenly a thought interrupted the panic from out of nowhere. “God just smacked you upside the head.” It startled me at first but then I knew with every fiber of my being it was true. Now don’t get me wrong. I do not believe God actually hurt me or caused those injuries to happen. God does not do that. That is not who He is. However, that thought relieved me because right then I knew He was there trying to protect me. There was no way around the fact that what I had done was terrible. The evidence was in the mirror.

God speaks to us in a still, small voice. (1 Kings 19:11-13) But what I always ignore is the fact that it is up to me to listen for it. The majority of the time I’m stubborn, prideful and quite frankly don’t want to stop and listen. I prefer to take matters into my own hands. But where did that philosophy get me? On my hands and knees on the bathroom floor while my kids slept because I didn’t take a moment to simply ask God for help. To be completely honest I didn’t want His help and He knew it. He could have prevented my eyes from exploding but He knew I’d only continue right back down the destructive path I had left behind many years ago. He knew there were so many wonderful opportunities in store for me that I could not yet see, but it was up to me to choose the right path and I clearly demonstrated I was unable to choose wisely.

The situation could have been so much worse. Medical complications from bulimia include torn esophagus, arrhythmia, weakened heart muscle and heart failure to name just a few. God saw where I was headed if He didn’t intervene. He knew I needed a serious wake up call. He knew I needed hard core evidence that I was making a terrible choice and I am so grateful for that. My ‘smack upside the head’ was God watching over me, knowing what would happen; not stopping it, but allowing it in order to wake me up before something totally devastating happened.

Never once did I think God was punishing me. When everything became real in that moment when I was forced to face myself, something profound happened that changed me. I saw everything — all the consequences that would one day be my reality if I didn’t decide to change right then and there.

I looked as though I had lost a boxing match. I soon had to face my husband and I had to figure out a way to explain to my kids why I looked this way. Those tasks seemed impossible. I was completely broken. I started to cry, finally asking God for help while promising to never binge and purge again.

This time it was not an empty promise. I chose to heed the warning that my wake up call delivered and I have not had the urge to ever do that again. There have been times since then when I have wanted to purge, but the memory of my reflection in the mirror reminds me of my promise and I know without a doubt that God has taken that choice off the table for me.

I’m not sure why this has been on my mind or why I felt it was necessary to write about. Maybe to get me to stop and consider current areas of my life in which I need a wake up call? Where have I pushed God’s love and guidance aside and decided to go my own way? What have been the consequences? Do I really want to keep shoving God aside? Have there been other wake up calls in my life that I haven’t recognized or refused to listen to? Do I need to revisit them?

Whatever the reason (and I know for sure there is one) I am certain God already knows it. He wants to draw me closer to Him so I can experience His love and protection. Just like the parent who has to watch their child fall in order to learn how to walk but stays close by to prevent catastrophe — God is right beside us knowing what’s best for us and when it’s necessary to step in. Sometimes we don’t realize it until we grow up, look back and see how obvious it is. I’d bet if we all reflect on the defining moments of our lives with an open mind we’d clearly see God at work trying to get our attention.

In what area of your life do you need a wake up call? Where do you need God to intervene? What prevents you from asking for help? Then the million dollar question is — When He calls you to wake up will you listen?

Hold On For Dear Life…

As I write this I can feel anger and frustration flowing through my pen and onto the page. Several things happened over the past few days that struck a nerve within me sparking an outrage that I am just now beginning to shake.

Many are already aware of the controversy over a Halloween costume that was being sold depicting someone with razor blade slash marks on their wrists as a result from a suicide attempt. The gash marks were horrifyingly graphic and realistic. Just seeing the picture on Facebook brought tears to my eyes and sucker punched me in the gut knocking the wind out of me. This triggered what became an endless wave of emotions pulling up memories and thoughts that have quite honestly been overwhelming.

My eyes were immediately drawn to the tattoo on my left wrist of a runner that I got to remind me of the strength it took for me to finish my first marathon. But then I was thrust back in time to all the moments I was unable to fight the urge which left me full of shame. Then my thoughts quickly shifted to all the people I’ve met during hospital stays who had on the previous evening tried to take their own lives and were now confined to a psych ward after their wrists had been sewn back together. They struggled with a deep depression due to the fact they were unsuccessful in their attempt which later turned into horror as the reality of what they had done began to sink in.

I felt my chest threatening to explode as I remembered a friend who last year gave into his battle and committed suicide leaving behind a wife and two children. The guilt for not having recognized how far into the pit he had fallen crushed my spirit.

Visions of former students — some as young as 9 years old — bombarded my mind. Students whose scars I discovered accidentally as well as those who had willingly shared with me because they were already convinced life was hopeless.

I became nauseous as I vividly remembered a fourth grader who instead of writing the answer to a math problem on her white board wrote “I wish I was dead” and held it up for the class to see.

I thought of another student who spent the morning on my lap sobbing because she had found out as she left for school that her uncle had committed suicide by shooting himself.

I thought of a woman I did not know personally but who had recently taken her own life. She was a mother and teacher surrounded by friends yet felt there was no way out of her pain.

I had visions of students being taken away in an ambulance to the ER only to be given a sedative and sent home to parents who were overwhelmed and exasperated because there was no help readily available and nowhere else for them to go.

The images, thoughts, and emotions attached to every one of those situations swirled out of control in my head threatening to drown me. Anger welled up within me turning to a desperation to DO something. I wanted to run to every school, teacher, nurse and parent and plead with them to help me spark a movement.

The problem we face is most of us are so overwhelmed with life and this world that every second seems to get more and more messed up. Hopelessness settled in as I became aware of the enormity of the task at hand when it comes to helping people with mental illness and the reality that most of us lack the time and energy that is necessary as well as the knowledge and appropriate skills to help. So many people live on the brink of death everyday, battling the demons that try to convince them they’d be better off dead yet we are often at a loss of how to help.

Fortunately my lack of hope was short lived as I remembered why I started sharing my struggles with the world, so instead of diving back into the pit on whose edge I found myself once again, I resolved to use my intense emotions to give a voice to help those who haven’t yet found theirs or who are ashamed or scared to ask for help. I’ve seen so many faces affected by suicide and have shared their tears as they try to hold on, summoning any ounce of strength they have left.

Thousands of people expressed outrage about this costume. We as a society have to come together and demand better treatment and more respect. Our outrage has to move us to action — Be willing to educate yourself, pay close attention to everyone around you, step up and reach out even if it scares you or makes you uncomfortable, support, listen and commit to loving each other. Let others know it is unacceptable to deem people ‘crazy’ when they can’t control the chemicals wreaking havoc in their brains. Demand more resources for our schools to effectively help the growing number of kids dealing with mental illness by providing training and an environment to allow teachers to spend time fostering relationships instead of being forced to focus on paperwork and data. Appreciate teachers who are pushed to their limits and whose own mental health is at risk as they become more overwhelmed. How can we be effective in helping our kids when there is limited training and resources dedicated to this very complicated issue?

I admit this all overwhelms me and what I’ve written isn’t pretty. But those faces have been imprinted on my mind for a reason and I can’t stop fighting the battle that they are struggling to overcome. My purpose in sharing my outrage is to convince you that more has to be done and that we all have a responsibility to take action because it affects EVERYONE whether we realize it or not.

This verse from a Seventh Day Slumber song has always resonated with me because it expresses how I’ve felt so many times but also begs for the desire, strength and motivation to spread hope and keep going.

“I want to be dead but still alive
I want to breathe hope instead of choking
I want to feel the fire deep inside
burn through me
and carry me away…”

Don’t ignore the fire within you. Use it to make a difference and join me as I continue to share and discover ways we can make things better and share the hope that is available to everyone of us.

1 John 3:17-18 ESV
But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

Fighting The Winter Blues…

This is a throwback to an article I wrote in December 2010 for our local running club’s newsletter. I decided to share it with you now because I think it is interesting that I had been diagnosed with bipolar by this time but I couldn’t yet fully come to terms with it or admit it to anyone. My doctor had suggested that I may also be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder due to the fact that certain symptoms worsened during the winter.

This is the time of year our moods tend to shift whether we have a full blown mood disorder or not. Seasonal Affective Disorder is very real and when fall is in full swing with winter on the horizon, daylight decreases and time spent outside becomes limited. Many people — approximately 10% of Americans — will experience this disorder. This is the article I wrote based on what I was experiencing at that time. I think it also illustrates how writing down and tracking our symptoms is extremely beneficial in understanding behavior and mood ultimately leading to a proper diagnosis along with finding strategies for coping with these shifts in mood. See if you can relate:

It’s 4:45 am. Thirty seconds ago I was peacefully dreaming and now my head is screaming “NO!” at the blaring alarm clock. I don’t feel like running. I reset the alarm and go back to sleep. The next morning I wake up at 3:00 am and obsess over the treadmill awaiting me downstairs. I once again reset the alarm. That night I slip into bed and just say screw it altogether and set the alarm for 5:30 — not going to even try to get up early this time. I already don’t feel like running. I’ve succumbed to my lack of motivation and laziness which is what I beat myself up with.

I ask myself…is it pure laziness or is there more to it than that? According to my doctor and a recent newspaper article I read , I may be among the 10% of Americans who suffer from the “winter blues” or Seasonal Affective Disorder– SAD. The symptoms include:

A change in appetite, especially a craving for sweet or starchy food
Weight gain
A drop in energy level
Fatigue
A tendency to oversleep
Difficulty concentrating
Irritability and anxiety
Avoidance of social situations and a loss of interest in the activities you used to enjoy.

I think they were observing me when they wrote these guidelines.

Throughout all of the research I’ve done, everyone seems to agree that exercise, especially in the morning, is crucial in overcoming SAD. Now I don’t know about you, but having been a runner since I was five, I don’t actually feel like I’ve exercised unless I run. Lifting, ellipticals, walking — none of them provide the feeling of accomplishment running always delivers. Running is in my blood. The catch is, I know it will provide the relief I seek, but part of the problem is the overwhelming desire to stay sedentary especially during the darkness of winter.

I try to recall the days of summer when SAD doesn’t seem to exist. The long hours of sunlight that fuel the sensation that I could run forever. Taking trips to destinations simply to run on the trails a place has to offer seems so long ago. Running feels so much different in the winter than in the spring and summer. And I remember having this problem all the way back to my competitive days in high school. It was torture for me to compete in indoor track, but by the beginning of April I began to feel the weight lift from my being; running and life would turn back to normal.

I often think of my running friends who boast about running 10-18 miles when it’s single digits outside. I’m sure they didn’t wake up exclaiming, “YES! It’s 8 degrees out and I get to go run for two hours!” But I know the feeling of accomplishment that lasts with me throughout the day after I’ve actually done it.

As I sit here wrapping up my thoughts I can feel the soreness in my legs settling in from my four miler on the treadmill. It may not have been from a ten miler but it’s from miles and effort nonetheless. I can’t help but smile knowing that today I conquered the lack of motivation I woke up with this morning and hopefully that will inspire me to repeat the action tomorrow. I’ve convinced myself that every run counts and I’m one step closer to overcoming this hurdle. I remind myself to savor every run I manage to take and the feeling it gives me when I’m done.

So if you can relate to any of these symptoms, know that you are not alone. It was a relief to read about it in the paper and come to the realization that I’m not just being lazy. It’s also comforting to know that being a runner I’m already one step ahead of the game.

I once heard someone say, “ I always regret it when I don’t run, but I never regret having run.” It’s days like these I try to remember that. With every step I take I’m claiming victory over each daily battle and thanks to running I know I have it in me to beat this thing.

 

Looking back at this I am reminded how important it is for me to exercise in order to maintain stability. I struggle with this constantly especially in the winter, as many people do, when outdoor conditions downright suck. Whether it’s bipolar disorder, depression or SAD it is clear that maintaining a healthy workout regimen is extremely helpful in prevention and management of symptoms.

If you think you may suffer from SAD be proactive. Get plenty of rest and exercise. If any of the above symptoms interfere with your ability to function and complete ordinary daily tasks see a doctor. You can also find more information here:

http://www.mayoclinic.org
http://www.nmha.org

Revealing An Eating Disorder…

I woke up one morning when I was 15 and decided to stop eating. Was there a specific reason for that decision? Not really. I don’t remember saying to myself, “Well ___ happened so now I have to starve myself.” But looking back, armed with the knowledge I have now, I clearly see how the development of an eating disorder (ED) coincided with the early symptoms of my bipolar disorder and in my particular case ended up becoming my primary coping mechanism for dealing with the total chaos that had taken over my teenage body and misfiring brain.

I was extremely sensitive — as many teenage girls are — but imagine that typical sensitivity intensified exponentially by a blossoming mood disorder. Add to the equation a natural tendency toward perfectionism along with a competitive drive to be the best at EVERYTHING…well let’s just say for me it was the perfect storm.

The need for attention, the insatiable drive to compete with other girls on every level and desire to maintain a sense of control certainly contributed to my illogical thinking. Regardless of what led me to the decision to stop eating I ultimately used it to cope with my out of control emotions which in reality just intensified my mood swings. Walking around starving all the time heightened the anxiety and agitation that was already present. Checking the mirror literally 100 times a day to see if I got fatter from the 3 carrots I ate tired me emotionally and defeated me. I became obsessed with food and how I looked compared to everyone else around me. This obsession took over my life to the point I no longer cared about getting straight A’s or winning races because I had no energy left to care. Anger would rage one day while numbness and apathy overwhelmed me the next. I never knew which part of me I would wake up to. I was trapped in a vicious cycle.

During the early stages of my ED I suffered mainly from depression and would often have no desire or energy to eat. But I clearly remember one day flipping through the channels on tv and stumbling upon a show about eating disorders. The girl being interviewed was there because she made herself throw up after every meal. At first I was appalled but that didn’t last very long before I was convinced that this behavior was the answer to my struggle. Was it really possible to actually eat — a lot — and then get rid of it and not have to feel guilty for eating? It seemed so perfect!

One characteristic of my mania back then was a sense of invincibility. Consequences for my actions did not exist in my mind. When I heard about bulimia that day I only paid attention to what I believed to be the answer to my prayers and immediately fell in love with the idea of bingeing and was overcome with excitement to finally eat.

Looking at my reflection in the mirror I simply said, “Screw this not eating crap” ran to the kitchen and ate everything I could get my hands on. It was such a rush being able to do whatever I wanted knowing there was a way to deal with it afterward.

It was not long before my ED became entangled in the vicious cycles of my mood swings. When I was depressed I starved myself. When I was feeling invincible I decided it was ok to eat whatever I wanted. Giving myself permission to eat whatever I wanted granted me an overwhelming sense of relief and intensified the high of my mania. Either way the end result was an out of control teenager who began making extremely bad choices.

I was sensitive to everything and everyone around me and often blew up at the drop of a hat. Grades? Sports? College? None of it mattered anymore. Even when I received acceptance letters in the mail from colleges I blew it off and felt no joy about my accomplishment. All I knew was I was miserable, moody and trapped in a full blown ED. Yes, I was well aware that my eating habits were abnormal but the point is I did not care. Even when someone scribbled in my yearbook under my senior picture “bulimic asshole” initially I got pissed but then accepted it as the truth. That was my identity and I believed every word of it.

This pattern was prevalent all throughout college and my early adulthood. Once I became pregnant though I was able to remain healthy and stable which to me is ironic given the hormones that rage throughout a pregnancy. It wasn’t until several years later that I experienced a full blown relapse that coincided with my bipolar diagnosis and several hospitalizations…one at an actual eating disorder facility.

Today I still have tendencies and sometimes find myself going back to that mindset but through a lot of work and management of my bipolar I am, for the most part, able to keep myself in check. In hindsight I have learned so much and it has always been a part of my mission to share this portion of my story.

The time has come for me to share this other facet of my life. I want those who are trapped in an ED to understand that they are not alone. I want to share the coping tools I have learned with anyone who is suffering with this mental illness — yes, it is an illness — give insight to parents and teachers who need to be aware of the intricacies of this disorder especially since far too many girls (and boys) are dealing with this struggle. The statistics are staggering. BUT…it is treatable and recovery IS possible. Just like any other mental illness we have to become informed, aware and empathetic in order to make progress and ultimately save lives.

Thirty years ago I never ever believed I would get married, have children and a successful career. I only envisioned dying. I was convinced I was “crazy” and would never be able to survive. However, there were many defining moments that helped me recover and gave me strength to keep going. My mission is to openly and honestly share so you can see that a healthy life truly is possible and that no matter how helpless and hopeless you feel about yourself or a loved one there is HOPE. Continue with me on this journey and no matter what DO NOT GIVE UP.

~~ You are not what you’ve done
and this is not who you are
no matter how far you’ve run
you have not gone too far ~~ For Today

“I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.” Psalm 34:4

Shout to the World…

There’s just something extremely powerful about a former drug addict or a survivor of suicide attempts or mental illness standing on stage at a music festival sharing their testimony for hundreds o…

Source: Shout to the World…

When Things Make No Sense…

What if you woke up tomorrow and for the life of you couldn’t figure out how to measure ingredients to make breakfast for your family? What if on the way to work you experienced a full blown panic attack because you suddenly couldn’t remember where you were going? What if you found yourself staring blankly at your checkbook unable to grasp the concept of writing a check which is a task you’ve completed effortlessly a million times before. Would you feel desperate and afraid? Would you obsessively wonder why your brain is constantly backfiring causing routine tasks to become nearly impossible? These situations are just a few examples of what I’ve been dealing with lately.

Unfortunately I’ve dealt with cognitive difficulties such as an inability to string thoughts together coherently or process and organize information ever since my doctor and I began what has been nearly a decade long search for the right medication cocktail. But lately I’ve sensed these issues are more than just a result of a med change especially since they seem to be lingering longer than usual. Something odd and scary seems to be happening in my head making it very difficult to function, especially at work. Whether due to med changes, aging, years of being a lab rat for countless psychiatric drugs, lack of sleep, excessive sleep, the cloud of depression or detachment of hypomania — who knows? Most likely the answer is all of the above, but regardless of the cause I’m learning that it is a common component of bipolar that I’m just beginning to learn about.

Several months ago I started to notice that I couldn’t keep up with certain tasks. I couldn’t sleep because I was under a tremendous amount of stress and little by little I noticed I was struggling to keep my moods stable. Processing, organizing and keeping track of data became much more difficult. Presenting information to my class or to peers took a tremendous amount of effort. Participating in professional conversations triggered panic attacks because I feared that whatever came out of my mouth would be nonsense. Imagine standing in front of a room full of children when your thoughts suddenly freeze and no matter how frantically you search the next thought remains out of reach. Feelings of stupidity, uselessness and embarrassment quickly settle in as your audience stares at you wondering why you’ve stopped talking. Hopefully you eventually recover, but everyday the fear of it happening again haunts you.

What makes it more frustrating is that one day I might be totally productive as I am able to complete all of the tasks in front of me (including data and planning) seemingly effortlessly. Everything makes sense and not another soul — including myself — would ever sense there was something wrong with me. However, the following day I may not be able to add fractions or comprehend a fourth grade reading passage. More often than not though the second scenario has become my reality.

Over the years I have become quite good at coping with these issues and have been able to function successfully in most situations. I’ve learned when to ask for help and when to keep my mouth shut. I know when it’s necessary to allow myself extra time to complete tasks or take time to be alone to gather my thoughts and recharge my batteries. However, in the last few months it has become increasingly difficult to manage these symptoms successfully even to the point I’ve had to take time off from work.

I’ve been avoiding sharing this because I feared it would discourage those who follow my story. But then I realized the most important thing I can do is to remain completely open and honest. This became clear when I read an article on a mental health website where the author described the exact symptoms I was facing. It made me feel so much better to know I was not the only one experiencing this and it gave me hope.

Right then I decided it was more important to be honest than to remain prideful for fear of appearing weak or like a failure. I’ve had to remind myself that despite these setbacks there are still things I am really good at and it’s ok to have to put other things on the back burner for now. I’ve had to work really hard to keep from resenting what is happening or feeling robbed by this illness. I’ve felt sorry for myself and wanted to throw in the towel completely instead of searching for the silver lining. After all, this has thrown a huge wrench in my plans for the future and I’ve struggled to understand where this will lead me and why it is happening.

But recently a friend compared life to a story that is full of plot twists which has really helped change my perspective. Maybe the strengths I have been discovering will turn me toward bigger and better opportunities where I’ll be able to help people in a different capacity or perhaps I will wake up tomorrow morning with a clear mind able to pick up where I left off without ever having to change my path. Either way I am learning that no situation is hopeless. Afterall, God already knows how my story will turn out and all I have to do is trust and follow his lead. Never in a million years did I think I’d actually go through with writing and sharing my struggles with the world. But in the midst of dealing with these cognitive issues I have learned to channel my energy elsewhere and it has opened unexpected doors. When I focus on that and keep moving forward in faith, I see this current plot twist taking me down a path full of unknowns but I’m also witnessing the good resulting from my willingness to take risks.

Whenever I’m on the brink of succumbing to the belief that things will never get better, without fail something totally unexpected happens to remind me that God is really looking out for me and using me to help others, just in a different capacity than I envisioned. Isn’t the most memorable part of any story when the main character is confronted with something completely unexpected but she digs deep to endure all of the twists and turns, ups and downs, roadblocks and surprise detours? The author knows exactly where the character will end up along with everything it will take for her to get there. She just needs to keep moving forward.

Yes I’m having difficulties managing and dealing with these worsening set of symptoms but if my past is any indication the road ahead is sure to make me stronger. It was only a year ago that I first wrote about my diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Clicking ‘Publish’ was one of the most nerve wracking things I’ve ever done because I had absolutely no idea where it would take me or what the consequences would be. At that time I never imagined I’d experience a relapse or have major trouble solving simple problems. But every single setback has presented new lessons and opportunities to strengthen my faith and trust God because He already knows what’s around every single corner.

Maybe this current set of circumstances will make me more compassionate to others. Maybe being honest will help someone else who is struggling. Maybe writing about these symptoms will encourage someone else or enable others to understand what it feels like to have to deal with these difficulties.

So as difficult as it is to deal with these cognitive difficulties now, I have to remind myself that it really will all work out as it is supposed to even if it looks completely different from what I envisioned a year ago. I’ll go to bed tonight not knowing what tomorrow will bring but I will continue to remind myself that’s ok because the author of my life knows and that is enough to give me peace and carry me through another day.

Depression…My Chilling Account

Yesterday I took some time to re read old journals and I stumbled upon something I wrote that illustrates just how serious my depression got years ago. As I reread this section the words seemed so distant and hard to relate to but it was very chilling to me to reflect on just how debilitating it had become.

I’m sharing this journal entry despite how scary and crazy it seems because I want people to truly get that depression is so much more than sadness. And for those who have been in this dark and desperate situation thinking you have lost your mind because the thoughts and feelings become so horrible and overwhelming…you are not alone! The thoughts and feelings do not define you and they will go away…I promise.

This was written when I felt hopeless and was the only way I could describe what was going on inside me:

I’m alone in a pitch dark room but I feel something approaching me. I keep turning around but it always seems to be behind me. The presence is darker than the room and no matter how hard I try I can’t see anything. It’s dark and mean and finally I recognize it — the depression is back. I want to escape but there is no way out. It’s starting to envelop me and I can’t get away from it. It breathes in my ear and the hair on the back of my neck stands up. My nervousness is slowly turning to panic because I know what it is capable of doing and I can’t stop it. I flail my arms around blindly hoping to catch it off guard but there is no contact. I’m completely surrounded.

It’s starting to penetrate me. It slowly crawls into my skin and takes my breath away. It starts to laugh and my nerves become irritated. I feel like I’m being violated and I want to tell it to stop but I can’t get the words out. It’s now saturating my brain, squeezing all the goodness and life out of it. It fills the space with fog and engulfs my entire head. Thoughts become muddled and I try to complete a thought — just one — but I can’t find a way to finish. There’s this noise. It’s soft at first and then slowly turns into a dull buzzing sound that grows with every attempt to think.

Suddenly it drowns out my inner voice that’s trying to stay alive but there’s no use. There’s no point in fighting it. It knows my weaknesses and it’s preying on them all. I fall to the ground, curl up and try to make myself as small as possible. I grab my head and try to shut out the noise but it doesn’t work. I get a burst of courage and in my head shout “NO! Please no. Go away. Get out of me.” Then I start to cry. I know it won’t listen. My whole body becomes agitated — every nerve and cell feels as if it’s on fire. I know suddenly that I have to rip my skin off to make it stop.

I look around and stare into blackness when suddenly I spot it. It’s shiny and has my name on it. I feel relief because I know I’ve found an answer. I take the razor and study it but a tiny voice tells me to put it down so I listen to it. Then it hits me. What was I about to do? How could I be so stupid? Panic overtakes me and I have to get out of there but I’m lost and alone and have nowhere to go.

Reality takes a stab at me and shakes me out of my trance and it’s too much. A voice tells me, “Go ahead. Kill yourself, you know you want to. Do everyone a favor. It will be such a relief. No more pain. No more madness. Just do it.” I squeeze my head hoping it will explode. It won’t go away. It has me. It’s in charge but then all of a sudden I’m calm again. I see it in the corner. My meds. That’s it. Just a handful and you’ll go to sleep forever. The depression will be quiet and the noise will go away. It’s so tempting. That’s all I want right now. For the madness that’s taken over my brain to go away.

Enough is enough. I come to the realization that it’s never going to end unless I take matters into my own hands. It’s necessary. It’s time. I move slowly toward it hoping something will interfere and stop me. My strength and hope is gone and I have one last thought to grasp at…Please just someone stop me. Take over, hurt me, hit me, knock me out, kill me. Do something so I don’t have to.

But I give up. There’s nothing. Just my meds and they have my name on it. My mind has been made up. It’s the only way. And that realization brings me peace and sadness and suddenly I wish things could have been different. How did I let this happen? What did I do wrong? Why won’t it leave me alone? I’m so confused and conflicted. I realize this must be what it’s like to go insane. I never thought I’d get there but now there’s no way out. That I’m positive of. I have the pills in my hand and the voice is whispering in my ear to do it. But something keeps me from swallowing them. I scream, “I f**king can’t take it anymore!”

I know there are reasons why I shouldn’t do this but what they are I can’t figure out. It’s too blurry. I feel like if I knew I’d change my mind but no matter how hard I try I can’t focus on anything. Nothing will stay still. I drop the pills because I’m so confused. I pray for God to kill me then I pray for Him to help me and then I just break down and cry.

I feel myself floating and it’s eerily quiet. I have this burning desire to find God. I want His help so badly but I can’t figure out how to find Him. I try to remember everything I’ve been told about Him but nothing makes sense. I feel like He’s too far away and I’ll never know Him. I’ve heard other people talk about Him and how He intervened and changed their lives but I’m so defeated. I’m lost. I don’t know what to do. I know what I want suddenly but I know I’ll never get it. There will be no clarity for me. I am convinced I am going to be stuck here forever and I should just accept that. I finally pray to fall asleep hoping that God will decide to help me…guard me in my sleep.

As I begin to drift I envision the darkness and evil exploding and evaporating. There is a sense of relief and freedom. I take a deep breath and it’s cleansing and when I exhale the poisonous fog leaves me. When the voice in my head starts to scream at me I look it straight in the eye and say, “Get the hell away from me!” The fog recoils and when I open my eyes again I say thank you to God and it is finally destroyed.

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