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!