Bipolar Disorder, My Real Opinion

Do you feel like crying?

My husband asked me how my psychiatrist’s appointment was. I didn’t feel like talking about it. I felt it was easier to write it out instead. This is the result. I was hesitant to post this as a blog as it is so sensitive and personal but this is who I am and writing is part of my process.

She asks me, “how are you feeling?”. I say in my quiet, mouselike voice, “Okay…I guess”. I am clearly not. I am emotional.

“Do you feel like crying?” she asks me. I don’t answer.

I ask if I was hypomanic the last time I was seen, three weeks earlier. I am told I had described myself as “borderline hypomanic” when last seen. I had described being upset about putting our beloved dog down and being worried about how my Mom was handling that (I am very close to my Mom and often feel her emotions too).

I proceed to tell her about my “over-productivity” over the last few weekends involving cooking, baking, reorganizing and very little rest or relaxation.

She asks about my anxiety. I say I have been rather anxious. She asks if there was a particular reason. I ask if I have to have a reason to be anxious, to which she agrees, I don’t.

I describe the nausea and horrid anxiety I’ve been feeling, and my difficulties with food. She comments that I’ve lost weight. I realized earlier that day that my shirt and blazer were looser than previously noticed when I was getting dressed. I replied that I really had no appetite and lost weight unintentionally. I know what you’re thinking, “why is she complaining about losing weight” but you have to understand this means I am really unwell.

The nausea has been overpowering.

I thought I was being heroic by not taking Ativan for a couple of months and using Clonazepam very sparingly, only when I really couldn’t sleep.

I was trying to do this without benzodiazepines.

But she asks me if I had been using them and I said no, not really. She advises me it’s okay to do what I have to, to be able to sleep and calm down. She says to think about my mental peace, and how important that is because it is obvious (to her too) that I am not happy, I am not myself and I am feeling miserable (and that the weather doesn’t help).

I respond, “I don’t even know who myself is sometimes,” (truthfully, that is most of the time) and I was rather tearful.

Again, “Do you feel like crying?”

Yes. I start to but then I stop because I can compose myself so quickly it’s scary and I am already distracted by another thought.

I feel the hypomania fighting, clawing its way to the top. Trying to speak and take over the conversation because sad Melanie is being too quiet.

I describe how I was feeling so sad that morning but by lunchtime and certainly by the time my appointment came around, I had begun to feel hypomanic and chatty again.

I discuss how I become so frustrated because I know what is happening and I can’t stop it.

She commends me for being able to recognize all of this, which says a lot about me and while I “forget” who I am, to think about all the good things I am doing or still able to do. I am working consistently, I cook, I bake, I find ways to keep my brain busy. I even do extra work on the weekends to make extra money. Essentially – “you are high functioning”.

She asks what brings me joy or what do I do that I enjoy. All I come up with is that I would just love to have time to sit and read for pleasure. I love books. I want to just read. And write. As I wrote that, I am reminded of a C.S. Lewis quote,

“We read to know we are not alone”

She assures me it’s okay to take Ativan and Clonazepam as needed. I don’t have an addictive personality where I will abuse these medications. They are there when I need them.

I just feel like it’s somehow taking a step back but I know it isn’t because in order for me to take a step forward, I have to be able to tolerate/survive the present and get my symptoms under control.

Sometimes we have to rely on those tiny pills (or “emergency pills” as I initially called them in early years) more than we want to, to bridge the gap between anxiety and “stability” or as I call it, my “baseline” (which is really a low-level anxiety that is manageable but still on occasion likes to remind you it’s there).

I feel like my moods shift back and forth, like an oscillating fan. I might experience a soft breeze of anxiety or a more forceful burst of hypomania. I could have a calm lull of nothing. Unfortunately, unlike a fan, I don’t have settings I can choose from.

I am trying so hard to come to terms with things I can’t change. It’s hard to let go of certain situations and to try to put distance between myself and bad things or sad things that have happened.

The sad and unfortunate reality is no one has a solution. There is no magic pill. No magic wand. No cure-all. No remote to rewind time. No remote to pause or stop time. No one has answers. No one can do anything to make things better for me or the situations I face or the ones I care about most have to deal with.

No one has any answers, there is not a damn thing anyone can do to make things better and this is not me being dramatic, this is just the cold hard truth.

People often respond with “I’m sorry”, “I don’t know what to say” or seem to imply they are afraid of saying the wrong thing. There is no right or wrong thing to say. Just don’t give me purple prose. Don’t feed me fluff and tell me things that you can’t guarantee or know will happen (i.e. “Don’t worry, everything will be okay”).

I’ve had to adjust to a new reality since my diagnosis and have experienced some of the worst anxiety attacks and bouts of depression and agoraphobia.

I’m not asking anything of anyone. All I can hope is that by reading this, you are gaining insight into the muddy waters of my mind.

Sometimes the thoughts are so heavy, they drag me down as though I were drowning in quicksand.

I struggle to stay afloat.

I may seem composed. I might be that day. I might be anxious and terrified on the inside. You might never know because I am so good at hiding it. I am so good at hiding it I seem “normal”.

I am exhausted is what I am.

I advise my doctor I am afraid of sleep. I can’t sleep because I have nightmares. I don’t remember them but I know I have them because I wake up breathless. And we know how important sleep is when it comes to mood disorders.

So now I must focus on getting myself to sleep better and to relax and get my anxiety under control. I have to. I can’t afford to fall apart. I don’t have the strength to, and then to put myself back together. So if Ativan and Clonazepam are my bandaids and Polysporin, well I guess I better use them to prevent further infection.

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Bipolar Disorder, My Real Opinion

Don’t Minimize My Feelings

Find out who you are and do it on purpose- Dolly Parton

I started writing this blog post about 5 weeks ago, after a conversation I had with someone who made me feel like my feelings were being minimized. I know it wasn’t that person’s intention and I am not going to “out” that person because he or she is not a bad person, it’s just one of those unfortunate situations where you hope someone understands you (or is trying to) and it turns out that is not the case.

If I decide to open up to someone, I am making myself vulnerable to potential judgement, to a possible argument and the chance that the person actually doesn’t really have the time to speak. The worst thing you can do to me is make me feel like my thoughts are not valid or they are not important. Because my thoughts are very real to me and sometimes are scary as hell. Believe me, I live with them. They keep me hidden at home sometimes.

Vulnerability can be beautiful. I appreciate when people show me their true selves and show me they are vulnerable. I would never hurt those people and I know they would never hurt me. Unfortunately, there are so many people who are afraid to let this part of them be seen (if it exists in them at all).

I realize I am not the easiest person to be friends with, or be related to, or be married to or live with. Although at the same time (and not to pay myself on the back here) though I do struggle with self-confidence and self-esteem, I know at my core I am a good person. I am a strong-willed, fiercely determined, ambitious, loving, generous, patient person with more empathy than I know what to do with. This empathic nature gets me into trouble though, because I am a sopping wet sponge when it comes to absorbing everyone else’s emotions, even from a distance! (Sorry-tangential thinking there)

Okay back to the subject at hand. I may not be the most easygoing person at times, but I am never intentionally difficult. Unless you are trying to get me to open up and I have clammed up, and no matter how much you try to pry me open, I won’t budge. I want to explain why this is and what my thought process is, because I think it is important for people who care about me, or who want to understand me to know and this is the best way I can explain it.

Before I delve into my thought process, I want to talk more about the issue of minimizing thoughts and feelings. We are human. We all have thoughts and feelings. How willing we are to express them is an individual choice. I can be very expressive at times, and it is those times when I hope the person I am talking to recognizes I need to be heard. If I feel like I am wasting someone’s time or this person does not have the time of day for me, it is unbelievably frustrating and painful. Or if the person on the receiving end of my call/texts (or however we are communicating) questions the logic behind my thoughts and feelings, it is a crushing blow. I am aware that what I feel and think may not seem logical or rational to many people (no one said anxious or depressive thoughts were rational), but let me work it out. I like to think out loud sometimes.

Sometimes, I become preoccupied with the idea that I am a burden to my friends. I don’t know when this started or why I think this way, but this belief only strengthens when I am feeling depressed or starting to go on my downwards spiral. I worry that I am a needy friend and that when my friends see messages from me they think “Oh boy, not again” or “She’s so draining” or “She’s so needy”. I hesitate to reach out when I need help.

Instead, I suppress my emotions and I try to keep it to myself. I have written about having great friends, which I do but when I get in one of my “funks” I almost don’t believe that I have friends. What ends up happening is I drive home from work, sad, in pain and tears, wanting to call someone, but I can’t, because if he or she is busy, I will be disturbing them (or so my mind tells me).

My thoughts spiral further and further to the bottom of the pit. I begin to feel like I am a waste of space. I start to doubt my abilities. I wonder why I bother blogging or with mental health advocacy, I think “Am I really making a difference”? and “Who cares about my Instagram account and what I have to say?” and so on.

When I come out of my “funk”, I remember that these thoughts are just thoughts. The same way my anxious thoughts are just thoughts and not necessarily true and not necessarily indicative of things that can and will happen, because anxiety is not a psychic. At least I hope mine doesn’t evolve into one. That would be f*cked up.

When I originally started to write this, I was listening to Florence + The Machine’s “Shake It Out”, and the lyric, “It’s always darkest before the dawn” spoke to me. You don’t know light without dark. You don’t know good without bad.

Or, as Albert Einstein once said,

In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity.

What opportunity you ask? For growth. To develop strength. To learn an important lesson. Let your difficulties teach you something. I know I certainly have. Over the last 6 or so years, I have been challenged more than I deserve, I have experienced profound sadness and absolutely terrifying anxiety, stigma, the loss of friends, more stress than I ever thought I could handle and I am still standing.

Do you want to know what I have learned?

Here it is: No matter what life throws at me, I am still here. Yeah. Take that life! I’m not getting knocked down. I’m not going anywhere. 

 

 

 

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Bipolar Disorder, My Real Opinion

Where Does Time Go?

I ask this question all the time. Where did time go? How does the time pass so fast?

Just a heads up, I am in a mixed state, and this blog post may reflect the spectrum of emotions I am currently feeling, so you are going to see some sad, anxious, irritated/angry thoughts. I am NOT looking for pity of any sort, and I am actually okay, just venting. I also have been hyper and not sleeping very well hence the irritability and agitation. I would say this blog is impulsively written, but it is not. If you know me, you know I am honest, to a fault and I do not sugar coat things and just tell it like it is. Even if whatever “it” is isn’t very nice.

Sometimes I think out loud. Sometimes I have no “filter” (thank you hypomania) and sometimes people just need to know the truth (I’m just blunt). The same way I tell people not to give me fluffy responses to my comments or my rants and tell me “Don’t worry, everything will be okay” when they have absolutely no way of knowing that and neither do I. All I know is things will happen the way they are meant to happen.

I don’t know what prompted me to do this today, but I decided to delete some old text messages off my iPad. You know, the ones that are alerts from the bank or the phone company and whatnot. In doing so, I came across so many messages to and from people I haven’t spoken to in months (or even over a year or more at this point in time), or who seem to have disappeared from my life.

I felt a rush of sadness. Like I felt I couldn’t breathe for a minute, I felt a rush of emotion.  Has it really been that long? Is it me? Did I do something wrong? Why do I not speak with these people anymore? Or why do some of my messages go unanswered? Did people forget about me? Are people that busy? Am I a difficult friend? Am I a burden?

Yeah, I get it people are busy. It’s easy enough to forget to answer a message, maybe for a few days or so, or a week, but come on, this generation is pretty attached to their phones.    And quite a few of these people are supposedly “good friends” or “close friends”, so what gives? I get the people who are going through or who have gone through difficult  times but we have had the “I’m there for you” conversation and I actually take the time to send “Just checking up on you” messages periodically when they go MIA.

I try really hard to stay in touch with the people I care about. I even started to reach out to friends I felt I was “neglecting” when I was in my bad state/funk for the last couple of years. I will say, that no matter how “bad” I am feeling, I am still here for my friends. I will warn them that I may not be that responsive or what state I am in so they know why I am “quiet” or being a hermit. I may not be fun or able to go out all the time, but I always (or almost always) welcome my friends in my home. Even when I feel shitty.

And I really want to say thank you to the close friends who do the “check-in” for me and know my patterns. They know me so well that they tell me when they will be unavailable to answer their phones/texts. Another friend who is going through a hard time is also always reminding me she is there for me too. These people are definitely special to me.

When you live with bipolar disorder, it is important to surround yourself with the right kind of people. I know who my friends are. I know who the “imposters” are. I know who is worth my time and who isn’t. As my Mom and I always say to each other, “you only have so many spoons”. And I want to save my spoons for those who count. Or if you read The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, you know you only have so many fucks to give. If you haven’t read that book, you should, because it is life-changing. It puts things into perspective.

I have said before that I am not into the “power of positive thinking” and I am not necessarily an optimist or pessimist, I refer to myself as a realist. I am a practical-minded person. I see through people’s bullshit. My husband tells me “you don’t trust anyone”, which is true in a sense. To me, the most reliable person is myself. Which is funny because anxiety and depression make me see myself as “unreliable”.

What I mean is that I don’t trust people to do things the way I like them done or I don’t trust that people will follow through with certain things. I am a “believe it when I see it” person. That’s not to say that I don’t believe people are good, are kind, are thoughtful or generous. Because I do see people that are and I have experienced acts of kindness, generosity and I am grateful for that. I just have a certain distrust because it’s my way of avoiding disappointment.

I fear disappointment because it makes me feel awful. Who wants to feel disappointed? No one. Maybe I am just a really sensitive person? Actually, yes, I am a really sensitive person. I am strong, I am stubborn, but I think people sometimes forget I am sensitive or how sensitive I am. I can easily misread a text message as being rude or curt.

I am getting better with that though. I am learning to remind myself that Facebook messenger/texts/WhatsApp messages are not always the best way to convey important information and that it’s really hard to discern a person’s tone of voice through those methods of communication. So if a message seems “suspect” to me, I have to learn to let it go. Otherwise, I am just fuelling an unnecessary fire. Or as David Bowie sang, “Putting out fire with gasoline”.

I want to share a story about giving too many fucks and what happens when you stop giving too many. I used to care what people at work thought of me and was concerned I was being judged. I felt like no one liked me and felt very isolated. The one person I was friends with left to work for another company. I was so upset and then our articling student, who I was close with, finished his term and was gone too. My two “people” who knew what I had been going through (it had been a terrible summer in 2017) were gone.

So, I decided I would adopt a new attitude. I would focus on my work and act like the little things didn’t bother me. And then something strange happened…All of the other staff started to talk to me, and ask “Are you coming for lunch?” and I now have developed friendships with a few of them. I am comfortable enough to have lunch with these people even when I have a bad day and feel anxious. I have even been able to tell two of them about my journey with bipolar disorder and my experiences with mental illness. I chose to save my energy for what mattered at work.

To quote Mark Manson, the author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck,

Essentially, we become more selective about the fucks we’re willing to give. This is something called maturity. It’s nice; you should try it sometime. Maturity is what happens when one learns to only give a fuck about what’s truly fuckworthy. As Bunk Moreland said to his partner Detective McNulty in The Wire…”That’s what you get for giving a fuck when it wasn’t your turn to give a fuck.”

Bottom line? Choose your fucks wisely.

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Bipolar Disorder, My Real Opinion

Honesty Is The Best Policy- I think

If I told you I didn’t answer your call because I was at a doctor’s appointment, what would your first reaction be? Would you think I was seeing my family physician for a specific reason or for an annual check up? Would you be worried that I was feeling unwell for some reason? Would it ever cross your mind that I was seeing my psychiatrist for our regularly scheduled appointments?

I have to leave work early to go to my appointments, so when I say goodbye and I am leaving for the day, if anyone asks, I just say I have a doctor’s appointment. I sometimes am met with a look of concern, and am asked “Are you okay? Is everything okay?”. No one thinks I am going to see my psychiatrist. Only those at work who really know me know where I am actually going.

Why am I thinking about this now? Well, yesterday, during my appointment I missed a call, and then received a text message asking how I am etc. I apologized for missing the call via text and said I had been in a doctor’s appointment. The response I got back was hope I am okay. I made a decision that I was not going to sugar coat and say “Don’t worry, I’m fine, it’s nothing”. Nope, not how I want to do things. I responded that I was at my psychiatrist’s office. I am pretty sure this made the recipient uncomfortable because the next message ended the conversation and I felt like I was being brushed off.

So, it got me thinking. We have mental health and we have physical health. We need to take care of both. We go to various specialists or to our family doctor when something is physically wrong. A psychiatrist’s specialty is to treat mental illness and to help you maintain your mental health. I take care of my mental health. I am tending to my mental health. What is wrong with me being open to anyone and saying where I was?

I will tell you – NOTHING. There is absolutely nothing wrong with me expressing myself and feeling comfortable enough to say that. Did I feel slighted and like this person did not want to hear anymore or know more about it? Yes. But I want to know what makes people so uncomfortable? Particularly if they already know I have bipolar disorder.

I think I know what it is. Some people forget I have bipolar disorder. Not that I am trying to pat myself on the shoulder, but I have adapted very well and I have good insight into my illness and how to manage it as best as I can. These past 8 years have been one heck of a journey and there have been numerous stressors/crises that I have no idea how I got through, but I did.

Why do people “forget”? I am high functioning. I am not sure how I became this way, but I push myself every fricken’ day to get out of bed and go to work. Yes, there are days when the anxiety wins and I stay home, but those are rare compared to before. I function at work. People at work don’t notice my symptoms because I am so good at hiding them or “controlling” them. I mean, worst case scenario, I can just say I am PMSing right? Or really busy/stressed.

I am open about my experiences with bipolar disorder. There are a few people at work who know about my journey, but there are also definitely people there who would not know what to do with this information and it’s easier for me if they don’t know. It’s not worthy my energy. You never know how someone will react when you tell them, but sometimes you do get a sense of who may understand you.

Recently, I reconnected with two friends who had both played important roles in my life. One actually facilitated the introduction between myself and my husband and has always had a big heart and is a kind person. The other, is someone who I had a relationship with and who actually was with me when I developed anxiety and first had panic attacks. He is a kind soul and I was lucky to be with someone patient and understanding, considering I also had agoraphobia. I don’t know what made me want to reconnect, but when I did, I was really forward and shared my diagnosis. I was met with supportive responses.

I wasn’t surprised. These are people that were in my life when I started to have anxiety and first started an anti-depressant. These are definitely two people who are non-judgmental and I am happy I decided to reconnect with them. I don’t think these friends realize the impact they have had, so I hope that they read this and now know.

I have to add that when I met my husband, he had the opportunity to witness a panic attack during our second date. And it didn’t scare him away. He couldn’t do enough to help me. He is still like that.

Bottom line – some people do not have the capacity to understand, some people don’t care to understand, and those who do understand- cherish them. As my mom keeps saying, “Every day is a gift”. So tell people how you really feel!

Tell them how you feel, even if it makes them uncomfortable. If someone you care about isn’t supportive of you, tell them. Or if they make you feel uncomfortable for being you, say something. Life is short, so you should enjoy the people in your life and get rid of the people who no longer bring you joy. I told my doctor yesterday I know who my tried and true friends are (and they know who they are) and that I don’t need to have 100 friends. I just need people in my life that are genuine.

I am not the easiest person to be around at times. I am irritable and agitated and sarcastic and excessively chatty and perhaps annoying when I am hypomanic. Or I am bordering on being a hermit when I am in a depressed state. I am either too willing to share, or not willing to share at all. Or I am angry at the world and think no one understands or cares, but that is so far from the truth.

It is not difficult for us to believe the lies depression and anxiety tells us. I mean, when you’re in that state, it’s easy to feel like you deserve to be alone, and nobody cares, or you are a burden etc. My mind tells me “Keep it to yourself. NO ONE WANTS TO HEAR IT. YOU ARE. BURDEN”. But keeping it all in, that is not a good idea either. When you reach that breaking point, and you just can’t stop crying because you’ve held it all in, then depression tells you “Do you even have anything to be this sad about? There are people who have it worse than you”. And then you cry even harder. Or at least that is what happens to me.

Sometimes I feel guilty for sharing my thoughts because I am convinced the person on the other end of the conversation is thinking “Okay, what is she so worried about/complaining about? It’s not so bad. It will pass or get better. Other people have it way worse”. Yup – that is my thought process. I am afraid of being a burden or people wondering what is so bad in my life that I am “always anxious” or never happy.

I realize this blog post has gone off on a bit of a tangent here, I apologize. I think being able to share your thoughts without fear of judgment is important and it is great when you can share how you feel with someone who doesn’t minimize your feelings. I had an incident the other day at work on lunch where someone minimized my feelings and it made me feel pretty sh*tty, especially because she knows I have bipolar disorder and anxiety. Like I said before, some people forget I do.

Is honesty the best policy? Maybe. I think is if you want to know who your real friends are and you want to be your real self.

 

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Bipolar Disorder, My Real Opinion

How Am I?

 

Ahhh… the question that I think most people with mental illness hate answering. How are you (or how have you been)?

The first thought that pops into my mind is “Does this person really want to know or are they just asking for the sake of asking?”. You know, some people just follow social conventions and follow protocol when conversing or when they haven’t seen you in a while (or spoken to you in a while). And there’s the problem. If you haven’t seen/heard from me in a while, and you are my friend, shouldn’t that give you some indication of how I am doing?

Yes, friendship is a two-way street, BUT, a mood disorder makes it really hard to reach out and say, “Hi! Let’s get together!” or “Let’s chat tomorrow” or make plans and actually keep them. Or even pick up a phone just because, or sometimes just sending a text message or email is hard. You don’t want to expose your true thoughts and feelings and feel like you are under a microscope. You probably aren’t under a microscope, but your anxiety and depression tell you otherwise.

Our minds tell us nobody understands and nobody cares. We begin to believe it. It’s funny, because I look back to how many people were at my engagement party and wedding, and how few of them I have actually seen since my wedding! Is it my fault?  Is it their fault? Does it matter? Do I care?

The people I really care about and that I thought cared about me should know better. Sorry to be frank, but they really should.

Do I have friends? Yes. Do most of them know I have bipolar disorder? I would say many of them do. Do they know I withdraw and “hibernate” when I am not doing well? Yes. Do they reach out and try to help or do anything? Well…few do.

No one is psychic and knows how I am feeling, but if a friend knows my patterns, all I ask is to check in once in a while. I hate “how are you”, but maybe “I’ve been thinking about you, just wanted to say hi”, would get me less irritated. Or just tell me “you’ve been on my mind, I wanted to check in”. I don’t care if you tell me “you’ve been quiet lately”, because then I know that you actually noticed. And I will appreciate that perceptiveness more than you know.

I get that people are busy and have their own lives to live. But I shouldn’t have to rationalize to myself why people aren’t there for me when I am always there for them. I am emotionally and mentally drained. I had a very difficult 2017. Well… I have had a very hard time for the past 5 years let’s say. Getting back to my earlier point, if you are a friend, act like a friend. No, it doesn’t have to be tit for tat by any means. Just be real and sincere.

Have I become bitter and cynical? Am I now a pessimist? I hope not. I am just frustrated and angry about things that have happened to me and my family. Family is everything to me – and we have a small family, so it makes it that much harder to deal with.

Anyone who works full time knows it is tiring. You have limited free time. You only have the weekends. Anyone who has a mental illness AND works full time knows it is even more exhausting because you spend 5 days a week trying to regulate your moods at work and (hopefully) not explode at someone or cry at your desk and trying to keep your anxiety at bay (which is not easy to do). Nothing about anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder is easy.

Am I happy? Not yet. But it’s not out of the question. Some day, I am sure I will be happy again. I just don’t know what will make me happy, and it’s not going to be something material, it has to come from within. They say happiness is a journey and not a destination, so maybe this is a very very long journey.

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International Bipolar Foundation

Thank You For Showing Me True Friendship

This post was originally posted on International Bipolar Foundation: http://www.ibpf.org/blog/thank-you-showing-me-true-friendship

DMB quote

Dear Friend (On Your Birthday), 

We met almost 17 years ago, we dated in Grade 10, we had fun while it lasted (all of 6 or 7 months), and went through the “awkward” phase were we couldn’t be friends because “exes” weren’t friends in high school. But, that didn’t stop us for long. We didn’t realize it right then and there, but we built what we now know is a strong, long-lasting connection that has become one of the most important friendships in my life. 

In my first year of university, when I was overcome with fear after I experienced my first panic attack, you were there. I struggled to understand why I was experiencing social anxiety, generalized anxiety disorder and had agoraphobia and of course, with the awful side effects of Zoloft. You didn’t change your opinion about me. When I would call you in-between my classes at school, you picked up and listened to me and said whatever you could to calm me down. 

When I started working in my career job, you were only a phone call away or text message away. You always are here for me. I am so grateful for it. 

You didn’t judge me or look at me differently when I told you about my bipolar diagnosis. Instead, if you hadn’t heard from me for a couple of weeks, you would try to reach me to see if I was okay. I remember once I really wouldn’t answer anyone’s messages as I was “hibernating” and you had to contact my husband (boyfriend at the time), to see if I was okay. 

When you ask me how I am and I say “Okay”, unlike most people, you know that means anything but “okay”, and you try to find out what is going on, but don’t push me too hard to share because you don’t want to pressure me as you know I could withdraw and hibernate. 

Our friendship is a judgment free zone. I can tell you anything and vice versa. I’ve never been so honest with a friend or been able to speak (or text) so freely without fear of being judged. I can admit things to you that I don’t even what to admit to myself. We just get one another. We can tell each other about fears and know that with complete honesty comes complete truth. We support each other’s mental health and emotional health and have helped each other through many tough situations.

I will never forget one spring day a few years ago when I was having a particularly emotional day at work and you came to meet me at my office on lunchtime, and sat with me for an hour, while I cried my eyes out. I was in such a dark place and I don’t know what I would have done without you that day. 

There are many times where I have been “a mess” and you came to the rescue. 

You are the shining example of what a true friend is. You are proof that you can have a long-lasting friendship and grow together, of a friendship where we are both there for each other and where we know each other’s tendencies enough to know when to reach out to one another. 

We are here to encourage each other and support each other, to motivate and inspire each other and we make sure we don’t compromise our sense of selves.

There is no formula for happiness but for whatever reason, when I’m with you, you remind me of happy. When I am anxious, I message you because you remind me of happy. You remind me of an earlier time in my life when I was more carefree and happy. You take me to a place where I feel “normal” and can forget about the difficult thoughts I am experiencing by distracting me. I guess it says a lot about a friendship when you can make a person forget about their problems- even if it’s for a brief few minutes.

When I met my husband, he knew there was a really special friend named Mike in my life. I am lucky that you both like each other and we can all spend time together (and you both have a good sense of humour which means lots of laughs ensue when we are all together). One of the last times I was in a dark, dark, place, you came over and the three of us just sat and talked for hours and it was perfect. 

Thank you for all the late night chats, the long conversations, the support and the confidence you give me. 

Don’t ever let anyone change you. 

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International Bipolar Foundation

What Happened When I Asked A Few People To Get Loud For Mental Health

This was originally posted on International Bipolar Foundation’s website for Mental Health Month/Mental Health Awareness Week: http://www.ibpf.org/blog/what-happened-when-i-asked-few-people-getloud-mental-health

those who mind don't matter

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) first introduced Mental Health Week in 1951, and it has since become a yearly tradition. The official hashtag for Mental Health Week is #GETLOUD. CMHA and the Mental Health Commission of Canada asked that everyone speak up and get loud for mental health during the week of May 2-8, 2016. And of course, as you know, May is Mental Health Month in the U.S.

I asked some friends and loved ones to #GETLOUD and share their views on stigma, supporting me (as a person living with multiple mental illnesses) and to share what they have learned from reading my blogs.

I didn’t do this so I could receive praise or accolades. I wanted to write this blog to 1) show people that you can function well despite and in spite of your diagnosis (es) and that people do recognize it 2) people understand you better than you think and3) you may not realize that you make a difference in other people’s lives. My ultimate goal in life is to write and share my story so I can help other people know they are not alone and to bring understanding and awareness to anxiety disorders, depression and bipolar disorder.

Here are the views of my support system:

Let’s start with my Father. My Dad is a lawyer/mediator and has had clients who have had mental health issues and mediates many cases where the plaintiff has been through trauma and has a mental illness and is unable to work (because of a car accident, or perhaps was on long-term disability). This is what he had to say:

“Understanding the effects of mental health issues on an individual from reading about it is certainly not the same as seeing its impact on one’s child. My daughter Melanie bravely announced that she is bipolar and suffers from an anxiety disorder. She is an example of someone who can function at a high level and multitask galore. She struggles from time to time and has to put up the brave front. She has perfected her acting skills when she has those darker moments. We are proud of her accomplishments, particularly in light of her daily challenges. She is a shining example that despite suffering from a mental illness, one can succeed. When I mediate cases involving individuals who suffer from mental health afflictions following trauma I make sure to use Melanie as an example that one can overcome challenges and move forward.”

On World Bipolar Day, we used the hashtag, #MoreThanADiagnosis because we wanted people to know that we are more than that, and that we can have a real life and not be confined by our illness. Yes, I do have to “act” at work, but the important thing is that I CAN work. I think it is important to show others that there are accepting employers out there.

The next response is from my husband, Daniel, talking about how to support a significant other.

“Things change after a diagnosis, but they don’t have to change for the worst. Being in a long-term relationship with someone who has a mental illness is no different than being in any relationship as all relationships involve hard work and dedication. I have learned that the best way to support a person living with a mental illness (or multiple mental illnesses) is to be kind, patient, caring and to throw some humour in the mix, because as my wife’s Grandfather would always say, ‘Laughter is the best medicine’”.

I will say that humour and laughter is important. Especially when you have anxiety, because something that I find really helps anxiety is distraction, and what better way to distract yourself from your anxiety than laughter?

Nicole, someone I worked with and became close friends with had this to say about friendship and being there for your friends:

“True friends know when their best friend is having a bad day, or is feeling off. They don’t walk away, they stand by and remind them they are loved and you are here to listen anytime. True friends don’t let anyone they love and care about go through this alone. Bipolar doesn’t change a true friendship.”

Nicole never changed how she treated me after I told her about my diagnosis. On my wedding day, as it was nearing the ceremony and I was becoming a little big anxious, she knew what to do to calm me down. She can tell when I am “off” and will check in on me. That is something important for a friend to do, because people who suffer from depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder often tend to withdraw and try to isolate themselves.

Gabriel, a close friend but also someone I work with for my part-time business, talks about a misconception and strength:

“If a diagnosis like bipolar disorder is supposed to slow you down and make you vulnerable then someone needs to tell Melanie because clearly she never got the memo. Melanie is an incredibly hard worker as well as a loyal and compassionate friend. If anyone is dealing with a new bipolar diagnosis they should look to this strong, intelligent young lady for guidance and inspiration.”

I will say that I am a perfectionist and work harder than I should, to my own detriment where I don’t take care of myself, but that’s a story for another time. The point here is that someone else recognizes that fact and the fact that just because you have a mental illness, it doesn’t take away your ability to work or be a good friend.

Mike, a long-time and trusted friend since my early high school days and one person who knows how to handle my anxiety best and be honest with me (even if it’s something I don’t want to hear) said:

“I support my friend because I need them to know that whatever stigma may unfortunately exist out there, does not exist to those who mean so much to me.”

He also said that,

“I guess it is also about trying to separate you from the “illness”. Sometimes I get hurt by some things and can admittedly get mad or whatever. And I need to take a step back and remember it isn’t “you” doing it. I can’t hold anger towards you for it. But sometimes my feelings were hurt and I got a bit upset. I have learned not to let those things hurt me as much. Understand it isn’t “you” and wanting to be understanding an empathetic towards you and make it less about my “feelings”.

This brings up a good point. We all have our good days and bad days. Sometimes my response to people in text messages can seem rude or curt, when I don’t mean them to be, or I am being impulsive because of the state I am in. I never mean to hurt my friends or family and I am trying to be better with my agitation and irritability and to warn people when those symptoms are rearing their ugly heads so they won’t take my comments personally.

Another long-time high-school friend who plays a large role in my life, Elana discusses anxiety and what she’s learned about mental illness over the past few years:

“When Mel had her first panic attack I didn’t realize what it really meant aside from having anxiety and I couldn’t appreciate how difficult the experience was for her. I know people say a condition doesn’t change a person but for Mel, I think that it made her more aware of herself and gave her determination to not let it get the best of her. So no, it didn’t change her but it motivates her.  Reading her blogs and the different articles she’s forwarded to me over the last six years, has made me more aware and understanding of the struggle people with mental illness experience. It’s important that people accept that a mental illness can be just as debilitating as a physical ailment. Yes, the symptoms are different, but they are very real! I learned that just because a person appears happy, doesn’t mean they are.  Since her diagnosis I have become more aware of mental illness and it even has made me more sensitive to my uncle who suffers anxiety as a result of his mental illness. Mel’s determined to stop the stigma and she does her best to encourage and educate her family and loved ones about her condition and mental health in general. Just this year I supported her in World Bipolar Day, something I wasn’t truly aware of, it wasn’t for Mel. So thank you Mel!”

A few things to take away from this:

1) Sharing information really does make a difference and can help your support system to better understand you.

2) Mental illness should be treated the same way as physical illness.

3) A mental illness can change you for the better- I always say that being diagnosed with bipolar disorder made me a better person because it gave me the chance to get to know myself better and I learned to be more compassionate. I admit I still struggle with self-esteem issues and there are bad days, but I don’t regret receiving my diagnosis and finally receiving an answer as to what was “going on” with me.

Elana’s brother, Jordan, has also become a good friend and wanted to say a few words:

“I never really understood Mel’s day to day challenges. She hides things very well. That is one of the reasons I love reading her blog. It allows me to have a better understanding of how she feels and what she struggles with and that allows me to be a better friend. Her blog also helps me with my anxiety issues. There always seems to be something in every post that helps, like an anchor in choppy water. She has the ability to change my perspective (when thinking about mental illness) and routinely shares great stress reducing exercises I can practice at work or home. Mel continues to dismantle mental illness stigma through her work and gives all of us (who struggle or know people who struggle) tremendous hope.”

I do hide things very well, sometimes too well. Sometimes I just don’t feel like sharing, but it is important that people recognize my pattern of doing this and that they read my blog posts and find out how I am feeling. I do find I can express myself better in writing. I highly recommend it – journaling helps too – think of it as getting those negative thoughts out of your head!

This quote also goes back to my earlier point about how you can make a difference by sharing your story. You really never know who you are helping, whether it’s a stranger or a friend.

I hope that anyone reading this can find some comfort, learn something new or if you have bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression (or any mental illness or are just a mental health advocate), you can show this to someone who supports you, a family member, friend, or someone you want to understand you better so they can get a sense of what we go through and how important it is to have a real, honest support system.

Thank you for taking the time to read this!

love don't judge

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