Healing Emotional Wounds

This is something that I have wanted to blog about for awhile now–the emotional component of mental illness. There is still so much that I don’t understand about mental illness and about my own diagnosis. Why does this happen? Why do I feel so powerless to control it? What is going on in my body and mind to create these physical, mental, and emotional symptoms? How do I heal from this? How can I fix this? Will I ever get better or will I continue to cycle again and again? I am learning and I am observing and trying to figure it all out. Maybe someday things will make more sense. I do feel like there are answers out there and ways to heal all of the broken parts of me. I feel like I am putting together a large puzzle. I am given one small piece at a time and I have to find where it fits. I still have so much more to learn! But at the same time, I am learning. And I am starting to see some things that I didn’t before.

Learning to manage my mood disorder is like learning to be a weather forecaster. No one can control the weather. But as human beings, we like to understand things and see patterns and make predictions, because it makes us feel more “in control” of the situation. It helps us to prepare better or know what to expect. You can’t always predict shifts in the weather. Sometimes you see them coming, but you don’t know when the storm will hit. That’s what my mood shifts are like. Sometimes there are obvious stressors or “triggers”. Sometimes I can feel things building up and I know a storm is coming. Sometimes I am just going along and get hit out of the blue. Sometimes multiple triggers hit at once!

January turned out to be the perfect storm. Winters are typically a hard time of year for me. I entered into a depressive episode mid-January. It happened slowly and it took me a few days to recognize it. I was struggling, but still managing to take care of things at that point. Then last week I got hit hard with the flu. It wiped me out for two days. I literally couldn’t get out of bed! I felt so helpless and tired and sick. My depression got worse, and my anxiety sky-rocketed. I was irritable and on-edge. The higher levels of anxiety meant that my mind was too active at night to settle down, which led to several nights with little to no sleep. And for me, that’s bad. Because getting no sleep triggers manic episodes. The cycle just continues!

My husband took three days off work to be home with me and help with the kids. I was completely checked out and unable to do much. I could barely get out of bed and feed myself. I couldn’t take care of the kids or meet their needs. All I could do was rest and try to take care of me. I talked on the phone to a few family members and friends, which always makes me feel better. It took all the energy I had just to take a shower. But it felt nice to feel the warm water on my skin and to brush my hair. It was just exhausting!

On Monday, I went to see my doctor. I begged her to up my meds so I could get a handle on things–I was really struggling! But I felt like both she and my husband minimized my symptoms and thought things would even out. (It’s ok, it’s hard to tell what’s really going on from the outside!). They wanted to just wait to see if things got better on their own. “Give it another two weeks,” she said. I knew I couldn’t make it another two weeks if things kept going the way they were. Two weeks sounded like an eternity! It made me feel frustrated. I just want to get back to feeling like me! After I insisted, she agreed to up the dose. We picked up my new prescription and went home.

The next day, my husband went back to work. He can’t stay home forever, and I wanted to try. I told myself, “I can do this!!” I wanted so badly to get better!! I tried to push through the exhaustion and get up and start being a mom again. I kept things simple. Cereal for breakfast. Frozen pizza for lunch. I took Helam to school in the morning, but once we got there he said he still had a cold and wanted to stay home. We turned around and drove back home. I was too tired to drive Lily to school in the afternoon. I was still in my pajamas. I couldn’t get out of my car and face all of the other parents. I couldn’t smile and pretend like I was ok. I really wasn’t.

My friend gave Lily a ride to school. I promised Lily that I would be there to pick her up. I put Maria down for a nap and tried to sleep, but I couldn’t. Luckily Helam is able to entertain himself. I was grateful for his presence, because I didn’t want to be alone. I called him into my room at one point in desperation, asking him to hold his mommy and pray for her. I needed someone to comfort me and hold me and let me know I would be alright. I felt bad asking my 7-year-old to be that person, but he gladly obliged! Maybe it was a good thing that he stayed home. I needed his presence!

I was determined to keep my promise to Lily. I reached out to a few family members and my husband to let them know where I was at. (Really struggling!!) Then I packed my two kids in the car and drove to the school to get Lily. It started snowing. I felt like I wasn’t really in my body. Like I was detached or disconnected somehow. I felt numb. I started to feel really paranoid and afraid that something bad was going to happen. I knew I probably shouldn’t be driving, but we got to the school safely.

The school pick up area stresses me out. All of the parents are trying to find spots along the curb. They don’t let you in. They honk and zoom past you if you slow down. It sent me into a panic attack. Lily got in the car and we turned on our Harry Potter cd. I tried to stay calm and breathe. As I drove home, I knew I couldn’t make it all the way home. I needed to pull over. I told Helam to call Daddy and tell him to meet us at the library. I made it there and pulled over to the side of the road. I turned on my emergency lights. When my husband arrived, I couldn’t even talk. I just moved over to the passenger seat, shaking.

The rest of the day didn’t get much better. I held things together for the kids. I tried to act calm on the outside. I even read them bedtime stories and we laughed together. But once the kids were in bed and my husband came down to talk to me, I lost it. I started sobbing uncontrollably and shaking. I told him I felt like screaming. I was so scared and felt like I was going to die. All of the emotions I had been holding in came spilling out. I asked him to just hold me and reassure me. I was so tired, but worried that I was too worked up and wouldn’t be able to sleep. I didn’t want to be up alone at night like this, while everyone else slept. I felt like I had reached my breaking point.

I felt God saying to me, “Becky, just let go. I’ll catch you. It’s ok.” I thought back to the time when my oldest son fell out our 3rd story apartment window. He could have died, but miraculously he just came away with a few scratches on his back. I know he had angels watching out for him! Even though he was ok, that experience was really traumatic for me. It really shook me up and made me feel like the world was a scary, unsafe place. My home, which was supposed to our safe haven, was no longer protected in a bubble. My safe little world shattered that day. I couldn’t protect my children. They could die at any moment, under my watch. Even when I’m trying my best to take care of them. I must not be a very good mom, because it was my idea to crack the window and let in some fresh air. If he had died, I could never have forgiven myself.

A counselor explained to me once that “trauma” isn’t just something that war veterans or rape victims experience. Trauma is any life experience that made us feel afraid and unsafe. It creates emotional wounds, which have physical and emotional responses when triggered. For me, that was when I started having panic attacks. It took a long time for me to feel “normal” again. But part of me has never been the same. My view of myself and my identity as a mother changed that day. It made me doubt my abilities and my gifts. It diminished my belief in myself and affected my sense of self-worth. It is one of my biggest triggers now–feeling like I’m not cutting it as a mother and like I can’t do my job.

My husband stayed up with me until I was able to fall into a drug-induced sleep. It was still a rough night, but I got some sleep. And since he was home I could sleep in the next morning. Sometimes that’s when I get my best sleep–from about 6am to 9am. I know, it’s weird. But I think I feel safe because other people are awake and nearby.

I still feel tired–I am physically and emotionally drained. Still a little numb. But I feel like I just needed to sob and release all of that pent up emotion. I needed to feel all of those strong emotions and release them somehow. I needed to be held and reassured and comforted. I still have many things inside that need to heal and I am trying to find ways to heal them.

I am hoping that once my higher dose of meds kicks in, things will even out. It usually takes a week or two. I am taking it a day at a time. I am grateful for modern medicine and good doctors. I am just learning that medicine doesn’t HEAL things. So I am trying to do other things as well to heal my body and mind and address my emotional and spiritual wounds.

I am finding things that help me heal–music, writing, self-reflection, counseling, connection with others, empathy, a good cry, sharing my story, working on false negative beliefs, hugs, talking with a friend, service, etc. Exercise helps me a TON, but I’ve been too exhausted to do much lately other than stretching. I miss it!

A wise physician once said, “The best medicine for humans is love.” Someone asked, “What if it doesn’t work?” He smiled and said, “Increase the dose.”

-Unknown

Emotional wounds hurt, but they can heal. We have to identify them and re-write our inner scripts. I have to tell myself every day that I am a good mom. I ask my kids and my husband to tell me that too. I keep saying it, hoping that it will sink in and that I’ll start to believe it. There is still work for me to do and things for me to process. Sometimes I might break down or have a panic attack when those broken, vulnerable parts of me are triggered. Be patient with me. Just be kind. I am fragile right now. But I am also strong. I’m fighting and I’m not giving up!

Why We All Need “Grace Days”

This morning I felt my energy returning. I finally got back to the gym for my 30 minute morning workout! It felt amazing! My depression is starting to lift and I have to hold myself back from sprinting forward in excitement! One step at a time, Becky.

I have learned that even when I am trying to live in a healthy way and faithfully taking medication to help keep me stable, depression and anxiety can pop up without warning and knock me off track. I am trying to learn how to roll with it and how to slow down when I feel myself slipping. I have had to learn to be flexible! Because I have a mood disorder, I have to pay careful attention to my mental/emotional state and make adjustments as necessary. If I feel overly stressed, anxious, or tired, I need to pay attention! I need to respond to what my body is trying to tell me. If I don’t, things just get worse. Really, it’s no different than noticing that you are coming down with a cold and taking a few “sick days” until you are up and running again. You could call it a “mental health day” but I kind of hate the distinction. Mental illness is an illness that affects you mentally, emotionally, and yes, physically. Depression sucks the energy right out of you! A sick day is a sick day, whether it is due to a “mental” or “physical” illness. Mental health and physical health are closely intertwined!

A year or so ago, I came up with the term “grace day” to give myself permission to slow down and take care of myself when I’m struggling. I say to myself, “It’s a grace day/week! It’s ok that I’m not accomplishing as much! I’m sick! No expectations. No judgment.” Instead of beating myself up for feeling depressed and for struggling so much, I take a sick day (or week, or month!). It’s harder when you’re a mom with young kids at home, but I have learned that I need to take care of me! On my “grace days”, I slow down, simplify, and try to focus on the basics. I depend more on my spouse. I also reach out to close friends and family and ask for help. I clear my calendar of anything that doesn’t need to happen that week. This week, I rescheduled my kids dentist appointments and made an appointment with my counselor instead. It was what I needed to do! I think we all need “grace days”–days when we slow down and rely on help and forgive ourselves for being weak.

Maria Grace is my third baby. I chose her middle name, not knowing that the year following her birth would be a rough one and I would need to rely a lot on God’s grace! Grace is a gift from God. It is “divine aid” that He sends to us in our time of need. He gives us strength when we are weak. He sends His mercy and unconditional love and hope to us when we struggle. He does not abandon us or leave us alone! I need His grace every day. My mental illness reminds me of that. It reminds me to depend on God and others when I feel weak. He makes me strong!

After yet another battle with anxiety and depression, I know that I can pick myself up and move forward. I know that I can get back up and start again, because I have in the past. I can do this! I also know that I have people in my life who love me and “have my back”. I am not alone and I can rely on others when I need help. This knowledge is empowering and it gives me hope! It helps me to see that I am healing and making progress, even if I continue to stumble. “Animo!” (Look it up, it’s my favorite Spanish word!)

The Ups & Downs of Bipolar I Disorder

It’s hard being a goal-oriented person and living with a mood disorder! Depression can show up at any time and disrupt all of my well-laid plans. Mania can send me into an upward spiral that feels good at first, but can quickly get out of control. Sometimes I feel like I’m riding a roller-coaster… while trying to slowly sip hot tea and write out my autobiography by hand. Yeah, good luck!

I was first diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder three years ago, after giving birth to my third baby. It was the first time in my life that I had ever experienced what is called a “manic episode”. (That’s just a medical term for an extremely “up” or elevated mood–think the opposite of depression.) People with bipolar 1 disorder (yes, there is more than one type!) experience both extreme highs (mania) and extreme lows (depression). During a manic episode, my mind feels sped up. I feel super energetic, I have a mind full of creative ideas, I talk faster, I can’t sit still, I can’t sleep, I feel ecstatically happy, and I feel like I am invincible. Sounds nice, right? I’ll admit, I love the part of mania that makes me feel excited, energetic, and happy! It’s fun for a day or two, but getting no sleep days on end can turn things scary fast. My over-active mind made me constantly distracted, on-edge, and obsessive. It soon turned from extreme happiness to extreme anxiety, fear, and paranoia. I even started experiencing delusions, which are strongly held irrational beliefs. I lived for 3 or 4 months in escalating mania (not knowing what it was), and let me tell you, it was no picnic! I ended up in the hospital where I finally got much-needed medical help and an official diagnosis.

For me, receiving a diagnosis was a relief (I finally knew what was wrong!), but it also came with feelings of shame, stigma, isolation, and fear of what others might think. No one wants to be labeled with a mental illness. Why it is viewed so differently than other physical illnesses, I simply don’t understand. Last I checked, the brain is part of the physical body too! When the brain (your command center) isn’t functioning correctly, it affects every part of you–your thinking and ability to reason, your moods and emotions, your energy levels, your appetite, your ability to sleep, etc!

With time, I am learning to accept my diagnosis. I feel a strong desire and need to talk about it and share my story, but it’s still hard, especially when I don’t know what people’s reactions will be. Initially I felt pretty vulnerable and it was hard to share, but I have reached a point now where I just don’t care about what others think. (At least not enough to stop me from writing and sharing and speaking out!). I care more about the people who are struggling and who feel alone and misunderstood.

I have found many things that help me manage my mood. I’m not either “depressed” or “manic” all of the time–most of the time I am just in-between. But things can always change, and most of the time those changes are unpredictable. I don’t need “fixing” and I don’t need constant help, I just need love and support. Those are the best two things you can offer to someone who deals with mental illness!

One of the first things I did when I got home from the hospital three years ago was to start researching and learning all I could about bipolar 1 disorder. I learned a lot and it helped me to feel better, especially reading the experiences of others. Bipolar disorder may be a life-long diagnosis, but personally I don’t think of myself as “bipolar”. It is not “who I am” and it is not how I would choose to introduce myself. It is not an adjective to describe me or a core part of my personality. It is simply a mental and physical condition–something that often gets in the way of me feeling and acting like myself!

Let’s stop adding to the stigma! Please don’t use the term “bipolar” to describe someone who is acting “moody”! The best way to help a friend or family member with bipolar disorder (or with any mental illness) is to take the time to listen, to ask questions, to withhold judgment and preconceived ideas, and to take the time to learn about their disorder. You may just learn something new!

What Depression Feels Like to Me

I have been in a depressive episode for the past week or so. I feel tired. So tired that it is hard to get up and get going in the morning. I just want to keep sleeping, but I have three little kids who need me! They are what keep me going! I feel sluggish and foggy in the head. It is hard to think and make quick decisions. I have very little energy, so I’m just focusing on the basics right now. I have to push myself to do things that I normally feel motivated to do–get dressed, clean up the house, exercise, eat. At home I look around and feel overwhelmed at everything that needs to be done. I fall behind on housework and hope that my husband and kids will pick up the slack. I wish things didn’t depend so much on me, but at this stage of life, they do. When Mommy shuts down, things just don’t get done at home. Laundry and dishes pile up. It’s ok, I’ll be back up and running soon! And in the meantime, we’re surviving just fine. My house looks good today because it’s the weekend and my husband is home!

I rely a lot more on my husband during these times. He cooks dinner and takes care of the kids so I can have a break. Yesterday we had a family day. We took the kids to play at Discovery Gateway and they had a great time! Then he stayed home and let me go grocery shopping without the kids. It was glorious! I wasn’t in a rush. I could go as slowly as I wished and take my time to make decisions. I picked up a sugar foot scrub for myself because I need to make time for self care right now!

If you have seen me up and about and you had no clue I was depressed, it’s ok! It’s hard to tell from the outside. It actually makes me feel better knowing that I don’t look like a total mess–because I feel like one! I just keep going and doing and trying to smile, even when I don’t feel like smiling. Just know that I’m fighting. I don’t need you to “fix me” or to tell me how to stop feeling depressed. I’ve learned a lot so far on my journey and one thing I have learned is that there is no “magic switch” to turn it off. You just have to ride out the storm, doing the best you can to keep afloat, knowing that eventually the depression will lift. I’ll feel like myself again, hopefully soon! Keep inviting me to do things. I’m not one who likes to hide away when I am depressed. I need people in my life! I need to feel safe saying that “I’m not ok right now” and having that be ok! And don’t think that I can’t do things. If it is important to me, I’ll still do it! I’m stronger than you think! Depression has taught me how to be a fighter.

Not Alone

Welcome to my blog! I’m Becky. I love to read and write and to connect with others in meaningful ways. I’m an advocate for mental health issues–creating awareness, sharing stories, breaking the stigma, and just having the courage to talk about it! We are all on a journey. We have all faced times of mental and emotional stress! Our life experiences shape us, break us, teach us, strengthen us, and heal us. They help us to discover who we really are! We all need support on our healing journey. And we are all capable of healing and finding joy! I am eternally grateful for those who have loved, served, and supported me on my journey. None of us can do it alone. Let’s talk about mental health!

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton