Sunday, June 7, 2015

On Being Afraid

So, I'm back in school.

It's been an interesting journey.  Just a short three weeks, but full of so many things.

Let me back up first.

About a week before school started I facilitated a DBSA group meeting.  The before, during, and after of that each deserve a post of their own.  But life has been so busy, I have written many posts for this blog in my head, but they've never made it to the computer.

So, a quick sum up.

Before:  I was sick with anxiety for about a month leading up to the meeting.  I mean, really really REALLY bad anxiety.  But, after an appointment with my therapist, he helped me see that it was my perfectionism at play again and advised me to begin the meeting by telling everyone how nervous I was and why.  I knew that would be scare in and of itself, but I also knew it would help tremendously.  And that knowledge and plan gave me enough peace to survive the next two weeks until the meeting.

After (I know I'm jumping around here, but there is a reason):  I was on a high.  It had just gone really well.  Everyone had been so kind and positive.  And I was so proud of myself for doing it!

During:  We talked about relationships and commitments.  For the most part, this was good.  But there was one part in the conversation where pretty much everyone who has been dealing with this mental illness for longer than I emphatically gave me the same statement, "Just don't commit to anything.  Ever.  It's too hard to know if you'll be able to follow through or not."

And that was it.  We were mainly talking about commitments to other people, like babysitting someone else's kids, or something.  But, we talked about commitments in general as well.  And this statement was something they applied to pretty much everything.

So, I tucked that in my back pocket, forgot about it, and rode my post-facilitator high for the next couple days.

Fast forward a couple weeks to school starting.

It turns out that being a student again has brought my perfectionism to a heightened state.  I feel like I have to do everything and do it all perfectly.  My online class has several optional assignments.  They are optional because we don't have to do every single one, but we do need to do a certain amount.  I am having a hard time not doing everyone for fear that the teacher will think I'm lazy and a poor student.  Even though she specifically set it up for us to NOT do every assignment.  I missed 1.75 points on the first quiz and I was devastated.  There goes my chance at 100% in the class.

And then there are a few "big" assignments due at the end of the semester, but it's making me crazy that I haven't completed them yet.

I just want everything done.  Done perfectly.  And done now.

But (obviously), I can't.  And so I'm constantly fighting the feeling of being a failure at school.

And that statement from my peers keeps just runs around in endless loops through my brain.  "I never commit to anything ever."

And I just keep feeling like this whole thing is a mistake.  How could I possibly presume to commit to two and a half years of school when I myself avoid commitments as small as "sure, I'll watch your kids for you!"  I'm never going to be able to see this through.

And it's not just the school work.  It's the rest of my life that I was already failing miserably at before I decided that going to school for 10 hours a week, plus at least 3 hours of studying a day seemed like a good idea to add in.

My house looked like a bomb went off and then someone let loose a whole clan of baby chimpanzees to play in the rubble.

Dinner planning happens about 15 minutes after we should have begun eating.  If we have real food on hand, we eat that.  Otherwise, we eat out.  Bleh.

And I'm having to say, "Hold on.  Just let me finish this (fill in the blank) and then I'll listen to your story" waaaaay to often to my kids.

And for the first two weeks I was more of a monster than a mom or a wife or a human being.  I think the only reason I was nice last week was because HH was sick for the first half of the week and it was his birthday over the weekend.

There's a lot of negativity pent up inside of me right now, but it pretty much just boils down to one thing.

fear

I'm so so very afraid.

I'm afraid that taking this on is going to result in the exact opposite of what it's supposed to.  I'm afraid I'm not smart enough, don't have the time, don't have the willpower to make it into and then through the program.

I'm afraid I'm failing my children by not being as available to them and by being so short on patience lately.  I'm afraid they'll take this as a sign that I don't want to spend time with them.

And when I'm being totally honest inside myself, I admit that it's nice to get a break.  To get away and associate with other people and to not deal with their tiresome fighting, whining, and incessant questions.  And I wonder what kind of broken mom feels that way.  And I feel guilty for bringing them into this world if I'm just going to waste these years by trying so hard to get away from them.  And I hate myself for not want to just be with them and soak up every moment of this privilege that I have of raising four beautiful children.

And then I look up from my textbook and see my house and my chest gets so tight I can't breathe.  It's so messy!  What happened to me?!  I used to be obsessive.  I used to have a cleaning schedule that included vacuuming at least twice a week, all of the laundry being done in one day, dusting at least once a week, cleaning out the fridge at least once a week, cleaning out the dryer house regularly, etcetera etcetera.  Now it's whatever HH has time for.  After he cleans up dinner and puts the kids to bed.

So, you can probably guess how I feel I'm doing as a wife.  Epic FAIL.  Not only is he doing everything I'm supposed to be doing, but I'm super mean to him about it too!

Our diet is a mess.  My workout routine has completely fallen apart.  I'm supposed to do a triathlon in 10 weeks and the last time I swam laps in a pool was during the triathlon last year!

Everyone keeps asking me how things are going.  I just put on a smile and comment that school is definitely hard, but I'm loving it!

Because I should be.  Right?

I mean, so many people have sacrificed to help me.  Not the least of which is HH.  And he has so much invested in this beyond his time and money.  This is his ray of hope.  His light at the end of the tunnel.  This is what is giving him the strength to persevere through all my nastiness and drama.

Because he thinks this going to fix things.  To fix me.  (My words, not his.  He is much more delicate and politically correct.)

But every day I'm hearing that voice in my head, "I don't commit to anything.  Ever."  And I'm wondering what on earth I think I'm doing.  How can I possibly do this?  I'm so afraid I'm going to fail.  And think of all the people I'll disappoint.

Everyone.

But even more than that, I'm afraid of what comes next.

This feels like my last chance.  Like if I can't do this, then I'm destined to a life of endless cycles of misery.  With frequent stays at the hospital.  And all of the other mess and madness that comes with my decent into that dark abyss.

Sorry, this one is a bit of a downer.  Maybe that's why I haven't posted in so long.  I've been wanting to have something to say that is inspiring and uplifting.

The best I have is this.  Yesterday, I was driving the kids home from their counseling appointment and we were talking very candidly about life.  I was telling them why I wanted them to go to counseling in the first place.  So they can learn that life is about learning and about making mistakes and about trying again.  And I found myself using me going back to school as the example.  And asking them if it would make any sense for me to drop out of school just because I didn't get a perfect score on my quiz.  Or because it feels hard and I'm afraid to submit an assignment because then the teacher might judge it to not be perfect quality.

All of this kept tumbling out of my mouth effortlessly.  All the while, inside my head I was thinking, "What?  Yes.  Yes.  This is right.  Why is this so hard for me then?!"

So, at least the concept is there somewhere inside my brain.

There may be hope for me yet.

Friday, March 20, 2015

But For The Grace of God

I hope you know that, for your sake and mine, I really try to stick to topics that are either useful to you, or something I need help and reassurance on.  This is by nature a very personal blog, so I am constantly second guessing whether I've been guilty of over-sharing or not.  I am sure that at times I have been.

I keep a personal journal for the things I need to write down either to remember, or to sort through that are more private and not really appropriate for worldwide viewing.  But sometimes after recording something there, I feel quite strongly that I should also share it here.

Such is the case with my journal entry from last night.  All morning I've felt this pressing prompting to share it here.  So, hopefully, this is useful to at least one of you readers.

"I have felt empowered by the grace of God so much this week.

Every day has had challenges--many of them testing my mental and emotional resiliency.  I've had a lot of anxiety.  I've gotten down and I've gotten angry and frustrated.  I've wanted to turn to the coping skills that are easy and familiar, but harmful in the long run.

But instead, I've read my scriptures and the *Ensign.  I've listened to *Conference talks as I make dinner or clean the house.  I've asked for help (so hard!), I've prayed for help to stay patient with the kids and HH.  I've prayed for help in general.  And I've tried to take care of myself by exercising (might've overdone it a bit when the anxiety was really bad) and eating well.

And I've been blessed one hundred fold.  I've been able to stay patient, to return to a positive and cheerful mood, and even to be able to honestly say to HH that not one part of me doesn't want him to go on this "guy's hiking trip" he's leaving for.  I'll miss him and I'm a little worried about being on my own, but he needs this break in so many ways.

And the Lord keeps reminding me that I have enough--because He has given me all that I need."

That's it.  Short and sweet because I was in a hurry to get to bed. :)  But, I've had some amazing experiences this week and have been able to recognize some real personal growth that has been so gratifying and reassuring.  And I know that these steps I've taken are directly related to this added strength I've felt.

*Click these links for more information about the Ensign and General Conference.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Theme for 2015

Remember how instead of New Year's Resolutions, I do an individual theme for each year?

Yeah, I didn't remember that either.

Until I came across this post that I started writing back in January:


So, in 2014 I pretty much forgot that I had a yearly theme instead of New Year's Resolutions.

I looked it up and guess what my theme for last year was?  Hope.

Haha.  That's sort of a slap in the face.


And that's about as far as I got with that post.

But, it was a good reminder.  Mostly, because it reminded me that I had already come up with a theme for this year.  Or, more aptly, I knew what my theme for the year needed to be.

But back in January I was having a really hard time coming to turns with it.  It was so scary, it hurt.

Now it doesn't feel so hard.  And I can see why it is what the Spirit had prompted me to choose.

My theme for 2015 is Learning to Love Myself.

Darling A likes to play a game with me where I ask who I love and lists off everyone, usually ending with herself.  Today she switched things up and added me onto the end.  It gave me a moment's pause, but then I was really happy to realize that I could answer her question in the affirmative, without any doubts.

For someone who has spent a lot of time as a professional self-loather, that is a really big deal.

With the current changes and goals I have set in motion, I have to work on loving myself.  I haven't done fabulously well with our new diet the past few days.  But, I'm okay with that (and even willing to share this "failure" here) because I'm working on loving myself.  And the main reason I let myself slide on the diet is because it was creating more stress than benefit the way I was doing it and it became a matter of what I needed to do to really take care of me.

The funny thing is, my motivation for getting back on the diet (in a new, less stressful, modified way) is because I love myself.  And I love myself enough to not eat the sugar that gives me headaches.  Even though it sounds so good!

More importantly, I'm having to learn to love myself enough to believe in myself.  Because going back to college is really hard and really scary.

And I haven't even registered for classes yet!

So, I know it's going to get harder.  And I'm going to have to remember why I'm doing it--because I can do this and it's going to be the path to a different, better future for me and my family.

Today I worked on loving myself by not getting frustrated when I wasn't the fastest or the strongest in my class at the gym.  I got to the place where I felt good and the workout was putting a smile on my face and then I stayed there.  I didn't pick up an extra weight plate, even though the instructor had two.  I stuck with my one because I knew that it was workout enough for me today and it wouldn't make me so tired and sore that I would be a grump for the rest of the day with my family.

Winning.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

More on Acceptance, Or Why I Want to Be a Currant Bush

First, I have to share a video story with you.  Many of you have probably seen it.  It's told by Elder D. Todd Christoffersen, an apostle of the Lord.







I love this story.  The very first time I heard it, I knew I'd just learned an important lesson for my stubborn heart.

And no matter how many times I hear the story, it's the same experience over and over.  It makes me want to weep, as I so fully understand how the currant bush is feeling.

Even in this very moment, I am frustrated because the word I really wanted to use in that previous sentence is not coming to me--something I experience frequently in my writing, ever since ECT messed with my brain.  I always considered myself to be a pretty talented writer.  But now, I feel like my ability to express myself has been reduced to the quality of a child.  And I find myself asking, "Why, God?  I know that through your guidance and grace, I have been able to help uplift and inspire others through my writing.  Why can't I have that ability still?"

The day before my most recent stay at the hospital, I sobbed into HH's arms, an utterly heartbroken lament, "I could be so great!"

I don't mean that in a conceited or arrogant way.  What I mean is, I know I have been given talents, as we all have.  And I know that I could accomplish great things, if given the capacity to develop those talents.

I have a willing heart!  I want to do so many things!  I want to do good!  I want to help others!  I want to be strong!

What I lack is the opportunity to focus on developing those talents.

Instead, I spend much of my time surviving.

At the worst of times, this means finding the strength and desire to keep placing one foot in front of the other, to walk away from the dark abyss my thoughts desire to lead me to.

But even now, when things are not so dire, I am rebuilding.  Learning how to be an engaged wife and mother again.  Trying to clean my house without wearing myself out and becoming a rage monster.  Struggling to remember how to make the recipes I've made for my family for years, but that ECT has now mostly erased.  Relearning how to become and be a friend.

And enduring the days when depression welcomes itself back into my life.

People have come into my life who are doing the very things with their lives that I want to do with mine.  And they are doing them very well!  As I believe I could.

And sometimes, it is hard to watch them and keep kind feelings in my heart.  As if their talents somehow detract anything from me and my life.

So, I keep coming back to this story about the currant bush.

And reminding myself that I am shortsighted.  As the Lord is not.  And He knows what I can be.  And what I can be great at.

And that what He wants for me is most assuredly greater than what I can imagine for myself.

For what He wants for me is to be as absolutely great as I can be.

And I can't do that on my own.

And I need to be cut back and trimmed on occasion.  Or maybe, all the time.

And I need to remember that the Lord is not only doing these things because He knows they will prune me into what He created me to be, but that He also knows I will survive every cut.

He knows that what I am learning as I navigate life with a mental illness is ultimately of greater worth, to me and those around me, than what I could be doing without it.

My brother recently told me that he is impressed at the burdens and trials the Lord allows me to have.  My brother is so wise and insightful.  And that new perspective was something that I really needed that day, and has stuck with me since.

The Lord prunes us back so we can grow into what He knows we are created to be.  He allows us to carry the burdens we have so we can develop the strength we need to be whatever that is.

He knows I have a willing heart and He is shaping it into what will ultimately bring me greater happiness than I can imagine.  In His garden, I am not a great big tree.  I am a currant bush.  He sees the big picture, of how everything in His garden grows and comes together and who is needed where.  He is not content to let me just grow haphazardly, as fast as I can.  He knows that becoming something truly useful takes time, care, effort, and patience.  He is the Gardener, not me.  Sometimes I get anxious and frustrated and I think I want to be the Gardener.

But, when I remember this story, I know I don't really want that.  I want to become what He knows I can be.  And that require faith in Him and His plan.  And more willingness to see the growth that having Bipolar II provides.  And less resentment for what I think it is taking away from me.

In life, I am His daughter, with infinite capacities.  I need to trust in Him.  That He knows how to shape and prune me.  And to allow Him the time that requires.  And that I don't have to be a great big tree to be happy.

I can be happy as a currant bush.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Big Deal

So, first things first, I have to share today's exciting news:  I met with my psychiatrist this morning and (drum roll, please) my next appointment isn't for 8 more weeks!  For the past several months (pretty much since I started seeing him), he's been setting up my appointments pretty much every 1-2 weeks because he felt so uncertain of my safety.

So, eight weeks is a really big deal.

It means that we're both feeling optimistic that whether this is just a phase, or whether I've actually turned a corner--it's going to last.  At least for a little while.

In the interim, we're doing a 4-week "detox", of sorts.  No gluten.  No dairy.  No sugar.  It has to do with stuff I've been reading about leaky gut and the GAPS diet.  It's not an exact science.  And it isn't following anything I've read to a 'T'.

It's just following my gut.

No pun intended.

The other main big thing is that I'm looking into going back to school.  Either for my Physical Therapy doctorate, or as a Physical Therapy Assistant.

That's proving to be more complicated than I initially expected.  I have a ton of questions about how to get started and answers are difficult to come by.

But nothing worthwhile was ever easy, right?

At least, that's what I'm going to tell myself.

So, I still don't know if I'm feeling better because of the changes and effort I'm making, or if it's just a phase.  But, I'm going to stick with believing the former and hope that these two big changes will help the goodness continue.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Acceptance, Reality, and Perspective

These are the concepts that have been mulling around inside my head of late.

Several weeks ago my therapist was trying to convince me of the merits of "Radical Acceptance".  In dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), this method is used to just sort of determine that where you are right now is okay.

And I actually started writing this post a couple days later to try and sort out my feelings.  Because mostly my feelings were all involving a lot of anger.  A LOT.

This is how my post continued:

"That may be oversimplifying things for a bit, but as far as I am concerned, that sums it up.

And I recognize the merits of such thinking.

I mean, how else can I find peace in my situation?  If I am constantly feeling the need for something better, how can I be happy?

I get it.

The problem is, as far as I can see it, my current circumstances are inherently devoid of peace.

It doesn't matter if I accept that things are the way they are and they are just going to be this way.  Because things are pretty awful right now.  I'm constantly battling dark thoughts and desires.  And the idea of accepting that this is just "who I am" now, is even more depressing!

But, I think my therapist was suggesting that if I accept this as "who I am", those dark thoughts will dissipate.  That perhaps, they are a result of my constant fight to get back to who I once was.  That if I accept this as my new reality, I will find peace.

The problem is, I'm not sure how much of all of this I'm supposed to accept.

I feel like I've accepted that I have Bipolar II pretty well.  And I know that means that I won't always be happy."

And that's where I quit because I was just too frustrated and annoyed and frustrated.

And I ended up in the hospital a few days later because those dark thoughts wouldn't leave me alone and HH couldn't stay home to keep a constant watch on me and I told him I didn't think I had it in me to keep myself safe any longer.

The hospital stay had its pluses and minuses, as they always do.  Way too much to write about, really.  The main thing is that they actually agreed that most of my meds haven't helped and took me off of all but one.  It's a mood stabilizer and the ones that I think have really been bothering me are in a class called "atypical antipsychotics".  That's a fun one to throw out there.

So anyway, about two days after they took me off my last one of those, it was like my head cleared for the first time in longer than I can remember.  I'd just had a really upsetting phone conversation with someone I love and the dark thoughts started coming fast and I could feel them piling up and all of the sudden, I had the strength and the motivation to stop it.  I knew where that path leads and I didn't want to take it.  So, I stopped those thoughts and replaced them with rational, more positive thoughts.

It's not like I haven't tried that before.  But, for the last long while, I couldn't.  I just couldn't.  I don't know how to explain the inner workings of my mind better than that, sorry.

But now I could.

I can.

I've been home for a little over two weeks.  And they haven't been perfect.  I had a significant crash last Monday.  And a few bad days following.

But, I've been able to stay above that line.  Where the dark thoughts rarely come.  And when they do, I can stop them and move on.

And that's a pretty big deal.

But, I'm still stuck on this idea of acceptance.  And what my reality is.  Because I don't really know.

HH and I are feeling optimistic.  I'm making some significant changes in my life (more on that to come) that are supposed to really make a difference.  I fighting hard to stay happy.  I'm making myself smile every chance I get.  Even while typing a post on my computer.

But last week my therapist made sure to remind us that the thing about Bipolar II is that it goes in cycles.  3% of the time in hypomania, 50% of the time in depression, and he didn't specify the rest, but I think it must just be in stability.

So, I've been second-guessing all my happiness and my hard work at finding it and keeping it.  Maybe I'm just in a good phase of my "bipolar cycle" and my "hard work" really isn't all that hard.  Like when I tried hypno birthing with my last baby and I thought I was rocking it and at least dilated to a 6 or 7, but when I got to the hospital I was really only at a 3.  And then when the real contractions hit, I about gave up on the whole natural birth thing.

But, those second-guessing thoughts are part of the thoughts I'm trying to keep myself away from.  They don't really help.

Except that I am just trying to figure out how much of all of this I need to accept.  Am I really going to just have to endure the cycles of this illness?  Or, do I have the power to make things better in one way or another?  I have to believe that I do.  I can't accept that I'm going to just be depressed 50% of my life.  Especially not when that depression brings such scary and disastrous thoughts.

Now I just have to see if I have the stamina to make the big changes I'm working on and to maintain them.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Guessing Game

Sorry for leaving things with the previous depressing post for so long.  I kept meaning to write something that was a little more hopeful, but I just never could.

So, things have been bad for a while now.  I'm just so sick of it.  And I'm back to lying frequently when asked how I'm doing.  Sorry if you've been the recipient of one of these lies.  I just get so tired of constantly bringing everyone else down.  And, even though I know they're offered with good intentions, I get tired of the sympathetic looks and comments.

And I feel like other people are getting tired of it too.  Like, come on, you can't seriously be that down for that long!

So, instead I tell people that I'm doing better and then the conversation moves on to something else.
And it's just easier.

But, the other night while HH was praying (we pray together just before bed each night), my mind fixated on something he said about me and it might have started to wander a bit.  But, I think maybe it was inspired wandering?

I started to think about how awful I've felt for so long and how it's been forever since I really felt like "myself".  And how it's been forever since we had a period of stability, when everyone could just be themselves without worrying about how it might effect me.  When I could try to host something in my home and everyone else wouldn't freak out (we can't let Cheryl do that--the stress might put her back in the hospital!) and come up with all these excuses why someone else should host.  (This keeps happening, lately.)  When everyone (myself included) trusted me to be a "normal", functioning human being.

And then a little flag went up.  You've felt this way before.  So, I kept racking my brain (memories are still a serious challenge to pull up).  Until I hit it--every time I took anti-depressants, I eventually went off because this is exactly how I felt!

When I found out that I had bipolar II disorder, I was kind of excited.  I thought that now I'd be able to find a medication that would help instead of hurt.  And it explained why I always felt so yucky on anti-depressants--because they weren't made to treat what was wrong with me.  And so, I have been open and willing to take all of the different medications they've prescribed.  I've given every single one of them a good run, in spite of side effects like dry mouth (resulting in bad breath) and dry skin, serious tremors, confusion, so tired I can hardly get out of bed or accomplish anything during the day, hungry all the time, never feeling full (consequently, plenty of weight gain),  etc.

I kept trying the meds because I kept feeling awful and I had faith that something would eventually help.

But when I had that epiphany the other night, it occurred to me that perhaps I feel so yucky because I feel so yucky.

The lethargy that I feel nearly all the time makes it difficult for me to do the things that I love that normally help when I'm feeling down like working out, cooking and baking, and even playing the piano.  I've actually reached a point where I HATE working out.  HATE IT!  I do it because I keep gaining weight and every time I get dressed or walk past a mirror I tell myself I'm getting fat--even though I know that's not actually true.  But I feel it and I hate myself for it.

So, these negative aspect to these side effects just keep perpetuating more and more negativity in my life.

So....  I'm going to go off all of my meds.

This is kind of scary.  But, it feels right.  I'm going to at least try it.  I'm not saying I'll never try meds again.  I freely admit that things weren't exactly peachy before meds.  There's a reason I wound up in the hospital multiple times.  There's a reason I was so willing to take meds when we changed my diagnosis.  But, nothing is working.  I have a hard time believing that the medication is doing any good.  I mean, HH is debating taking me to the hospital at least once a week because things are so bad.  So far, we've managed to find a safety net and keep me home.  But, we're really not all that far from things being as bad as they can get, so I doubt the medication is what is keeping me safe.

This is going to be a hard sell for my psychiatrist though.

He's already told me he couldn't ever support a plan that doesn't include so meds.  And I understand where he is coming from.  And I have a lot of respect for him and his plans for treatment for me.  A part of why I'm writing this is so my thoughts on the matter are written down and more solidified in my mind.

But, he is a doctor.  And he definitely knows a lot more about all of this than I do.  So, how can I convince him that my reasoning is justifiable?  That something in my gut tells me that for some reason these medications don't mesh with my physiology.  Sometimes I wonder if maybe they're all designed to treat bipolar I?  Because that really is a different beast.  And since I've been on the meds, I don't often experience the hypermedia side to bipolar II.  Other times I wonder if it's just me?  If for some reason, medications just don't sit well with my body.  I've always had pretty strong reactions to medication.  For instance, I can only take a half dose of night time cold medicine (and even then I only take it when straits are dire) because even that much knocks me out for 24 hours or more.  So maybe, I just experience the side effects so strongly, I can't ever feel if the medication is working?

It doesn't help that there are so many options when it comes to medications to treat mood disorders.  And countless combinations of all these drugs.

But, right now, it just feels right to at least take a break.  Maybe this won't work either, but starting fresh could be good, right?

Ugh.  I just wish I knew.

For now, I'm going to give it a go.  If you're a praying person, please offer up a prayer on my behalf.  I had to go off of my meds temporarily during ECT and I don't remember it, but HH said the withdrawals were pretty rough.  Which scares me a little.  That and venturing away from what I know my doctor will want me to do.  But right now, this is the only path that I can see that is lit up by the light that hope brings.

And I could really use a little hope.