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Tardive what??

Wow!  I am learning more and more every day about bipolar disorder and the topic of medication seems to come up quite often as it is such a controversial topic!  People ask me if I take medication and I am always a bit leery to ignite the conversation in fear I come across someone that would be critical of my decisions to medicate…then I just remind myself that everyone has their own path and others ought to respect mine as I do theirs.  It's that simple really.  🙂

I am a bit of a hypochondriac and with all the side effects that I read about and experience I am tempted to go off my medication at times.  Then I am reminded of a  friend who has a mother with bipolar disorder and she would always say “When my mother goes off her medication, she would start giving her things away and ponder running for prime minister.”  I am also  reminded that there is an average 3 month relapse rate for those going off lithium, and when I did cease medicating once I fell to a suicide attempt.

Recently, the most disconcerting thing that I learned about is a condition called tardive dyskinesia.  It is often described as a reaction to anti-psychotic  medication, usually the older ones given in high doses and it results in your face having involuntary facial movements including grimacing,  twitching cheeks, puckering, having your tongue move in and out of your mouth and all of this happens involuntarily.  This is a very scary fact for anyone that is trying to use mediation as part of their support system.  Personally, I am always analyzing my face and tongue, and I often reflect with trepidation, “So when is my tongue going to just pop out of my mouth??”  Besides all the acne, weight gain, and now I HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT THIS?  Last week my tongue seemed somewhat swollen and I was making clicking noises on the side of my mouth.  My dose was lowered and the symptoms have thankfully subsided.  Sometimes it just feels so overwhelming and frustrating, like I am battling with the medication to gain control.  The good part about it all is that I have been wholly stable for about 8 years and here I am today flourishing and kickin butt in the world.  Is it worth it?   The meds?  The fears?   For me it is but I say this reluctantly as there is still a part of me that wishes I could be drug free.  As for others, I highly recommend talking to your psychiatrist about this highly unknown condition.  It must be so socially stigmatizing to have to experience tardive dyskinesia, so now you are armed with the knowledge of knowing not to judge someone when you see it in action.  For others with bipolar disorder,  you need to know if the medication  you are taking is putting you at high risk for Tardive dyskinesia, ask questions about the types of medication you are on and the stats around the risk.  Best to get the facts and ask questions now.  Just a tip from your friendly bipolar babe.  😉

New Years Bipolar Style

I felt a little trepidation going to a New Years Party where I barely knew anybody, but I braved it and took it on anyway, embracing the night hoping to have a blast.  I don't drink and it is a strange place to be when everyone around you is getting intoxicated.  I usually don't mind in the begin.

I felt a little trepidation going to a New Years Party where I barely knew anybody, but I braved it and took it on anyway, embracing the night hoping to have a blast.  I don't drink and it is a strange place to be when everyone around you is getting intoxicated.  I usually don't mind in the beginning of the night, it is just at the end of it when everybody starts acting goofy, still, I just laugh about it and throw away the judgements.  Well, you would never know what happened… the acid feeling induced by my illness came over me (I mention this feeling in previous posts).  The lights got brighter and fuzzy, the room felt small and confining, worse I felt like I was 'high' or something and to be around people was disconcerting and quite awkward.  It felt like 1000 eyes were staring at me and I was so uncomfortable that my face felt as if it was getting squished.  I took to the other room hoping nobody would notice and I called a friend while staring into the darkness, which also felt strange and looked twisted.  I explained to the party host that I had to go, but nobody ever understands where I am coming from.  They try their best to offer solutions but hiding away in a bedroom at 8:30 was not going to take the pressure off.  I had to leave 'now'.

I should not have drove in such a condition as the lights where overwhelmingly bright and all felt trippy.  I recognized that I was also feeling very manic, on edge and extremely anxious.  I drove straight to my friend's home where the mood was ambient with all the tea lights and the company was quite welcome as she asked me what she could do to make me feel better.  There was no music busting, no people yelling, just us relaxing in the dim lights.  My symptoms seemed to ease and I should have stayed there and then gone home, but my boyfriend was at the other party, and as I felt better I decided to go pick him up.  BIG MISTAKE!  As soon as I arrived the symptoms reappeared and as I stood by the roaring bonfire I realized this way of life was not for me anymore.  My physical being was telling me loud and clear that soothing noises, quieter people, and a more relaxed atmosphere were more up my alley.  The ride home was horrendous to say the least, but we got home safely, still the spell felt like it was getting worse.  As 2AM rolled around, so did the worst of the attack as my anxiety levels were now causing my body to tremble and racing thoughts were driving me crazy!!!  I decided to take a shower and with my new found eye sight I could see every speck of dirt on the shower stall, it made my shower seem dirty and gross.

I remember trying to fall asleep taking plenty of medication to help, but as I lay there it was as if my eyes were stapled open and my heart boomed inside my chest.  Eventually as the snoring eased beside me, I began to feel some inner solace.  My heart began to slow down, my eyes began to ease and my thoughts treaded on lighter ground.  I learned something about myself on New Years.  I learned about my triggers… a) Don't stay up late b) Beware of booming music and situations that may cause me stress.  c) Never feel like I can't leave.

It had been one of the worse attacks in months.  Still, I know this is not an omen of things to come for the New Year, but simply a reminder that I have limitations and I don't ever have to feel bad about them.  I guess I am just a little bit more sensitive than others and I love myself just the way I am…as should you!  xo Babe

Race Track

In life there are twists and turns, and even burn outs. I often feel my emotions running rampant, so far to the point that I can’t control the reactions within my body. I experienced an extreme manic episode the other night. I was tremendously upset over something in particular and found my mind racing. My thoughts were winding round and round as if there was a horse running a track in my brain. As I lay on the couch experiencing the night’s events over and over, I felt sick to my stomach, like pain stabbing, gut wrenching anxiety eating my guts. Everyone has their own ‘triggers’ and mine stays close to events that take place with loved ones such as a partner, friends and family. I actually stared at the fire until 7AM and took 4X the amount of anti-anxiety medication that I am generally allowed. My mania gets so intense that even the strongest medication ceases to work. It reminded me of the time that I walked the psych hospital hallway for what felt like days and my eyes were metaphorically stapled "open".

There are also the times when I have to ‘leave’. When I say ‘I have to go now!’ I absolutely mean I have to go now! The other day I was at a friend’s and I had worked an afternoon shift and I had walked in the rain for 40 minutes to get to her home. Although relieved to arrive, I could feel my body resisting my want to socialize and be awake. It is often difficult in a social situation with a group of friends, especially ones that drink, to not feel like the ‘Debbie Downer’ when you have to leave. I have learned how important it is to educate my friends about my illness and how sleep regulation is vital to my well being; now they know too.

I am actually going through a time of great loss right now and hope that the New Year will bring some much needed optimism. I am also jumping hurdles with my illness during this time and I am so grateful for a work place that is so understanding and others who are there for me.

Much Love, Babe

Babe Being Published in an Anthology

Well, the title says it all!  It is not my own book just yet but it is definitely a small contribution to the world to an anthology titled "Side-Effects".  I was approached over a year and a half ago by a woman named Lenore.  She was holding a call for submissions on a website, asking for writers to be part of an anthology – a book that showcased the stories of people who live with a mental illness.  They were particularly interested in those living well with mental illness and she asked me to contribute.  I was excited to say the least!  Some time had past and Lenore told us that they were going to be searching for a publisher and we needed to finish up our pieces.  I had 80 pages already tucked away that I had been writing for quite some time before and thought that I could use some of that material but instead I became extremely inspired and wrote the piece furiously in one day. 

Quite some time had passed, possibly 8 months, and just the other day Lenore informed the writers that the anthology is to be published by Brindle and Glass Publishing.  How exciting!  I wanted to share a piece of the excerpt with you, so hope you like it.

"Having bipolar disorder means I have floated so high I literally see the stars below me in a breathtaking gaze above the earth. And in the next heartbeat, I see the devil’s face dance and laugh at me during a torrid and insane psychosis. It feels as real as breathing air into my lungs, and as natural as opening my eyes when I wake in the morning. Bipolar affective disorder has brought me to my knees, made me lose all ability to prepare a meal. And even when I do, I am unable to taste my food. ALL things become stale and bland. Taking a shower is as difficult as building an entire house. I become disabled and confined to my bed for days at a time.  However, bipolar illness has made me laugh harder, feel deeper and at times made my thoughts flow in perfect harmony, allowing my creative juices to boil for poetry, art and writing. Although my hands shake and I depend on medication to function, I see bipolar disorder as my cursed gift. It has brought me to open a space, a place where others can heal and share their story, and for this I am grateful."

Images of Mental Illness

I have to admit I am not the most mild mannered person in the world and for people reading this who know me are probably saying "Really Andrea?  Would have never guessed!"  lol  …er…anyway, my point is that I just get so darn worked up when I stumble upon images of stigma that are so apparent  in this world and they grossly exist in our society without notice.  It is not the people unaware that anger me so much but the stigmatized ideas that have been formed around the topic of mental illness.   When we say the words 'mental illness' no doubt certain images come to mind.  Quite often those images are not pleasant and in speaking with others I have conjured up a few to share with you.

Pictures of homeless people disheveled and begging on the streets, skipping over to images of evilness that scowl in hopes of instilling a brimming fear in the onlooker…the glare of a criminal and the classic person suited up in a straight jacket behind bars screaming to be released.

Then we  observe the media and if someone has a 'freak out' on the news, then automatically people assume the individual has a mental illness and even if they do, the entire story is often grossly misconstrued.  I asked a kid once who do you think of when I say mental illness, he said the joker from Batman! 

Mental illness is not the face of a stalking sociopath out to track you down and harm you, but consider could it often be as simple as looking at a young beautiful girl's face knowing she is the image of mental illness, and she was born with her disorder by no fault of her own.  It may be trite to say but true to admit that the face of mental illness may even be your sister, father, someone you love and it may even be you.

Squashed

Life has been pretty swell lately, but it still comes with its stalls and struggles.  I was feeling so depressed that I took the vital step to take up exercising.  SQUASH to be exact!  Besides the pain in my middle knuckle from failing to hold the racket properly, it has been quite the experience.  The 'Victoria Squash Club' is owned by a great guy named Stuart and this place has amazing energy, mainly due to Stuart, staff, and their smiling faces.  He sometimes offers newbies free lessons to see if they like the sport before committing to anything…quite swell!  The one odd thing about me is that due to a combination of an essential tremor in my right hand and my lithium intake, I shake like a leaf!  I also have social anxiety, which causes me to shake in new social situations, not all the time, but often,  sooooooooooo…for my first lesson I resembled a leaf in the Autumn wind!  My hands were shaking and I could tell it made Stuart a little nervous as he had never dealt with a situation like this before.  Instead of questioning my bodily reactions to the medication, he just took it in stride and taught me like anybody else, so I openly told him the story about the tremor, lithium, and the illness.  He wasn't too surprised as I wore a 'Bipolar Babe' t-shirt to my first practice, but I could tell he was a bit nervous as he guided my swing, I could barely hold the racket up without having it shake vigorously, but thanks to Stuart I was comfortable to continue. 

My experience at the club extended into meeting a new friend who rallied with me and the first time we sparred I could hardly hit the ball.  She was patient to say the least.  We burst into conversation 'post-whip Andrea's butt rally' and we shared what we do.  I told her about Bipolar Babe and how my passion is sharing my story with the world which catalysts into mental health education.  Why do I do what I do?  I told her that I believe we need to ignite mental health education in the world through having conversations free of stigma and sharing personal stories of inspiration.  Her reaction was amazing!  She talked about the importance of such an initiative and I was impressed by her receptiveness and openness.  I notice that the more that I share, the more others open up and start telling stories about themselves or their loved ones who have a mental illness.  Even after all this time, sometimes there is a small surge in me when I share about having bipolar, but usually I feel clear and open.  I share my story of living with bipolar, to bring to light what it is like for others who live with such a disorder and I do so to create an empathetic, understanding and awesome world for people to live in.  Thanks for doing your part and creating that world with me!

Caring

Oh my!  I have not written in so long.  I do deeply apologize.  I suppose I have been feeling a little uninspired, the flat line has seemed to crept back into my life a little, but not with some amazing times of contentment in between.  🙂  So someone asked me today, what do you do if you get a phone call from a friend and they tell you that they are deeply concerned about their friend who has bipolar disorder.  For instance, he is doing very strange things like running down the street with no shoes on for no apparent reason or they thought it was a good idea to visit the neighbour naked.  It may seem funny at times, peculiar and maybe even very odd but one has to take some serious steps to help that person, the someone they care about very much.  So what can you do?  Here in Victoria we have what is called the NEED crisis line and I have used it to rescue a few folk that have gone over the deep end.  I have just discovered that both the 24 hour line and the Youth Line are now closed.  Please call The Vancouver Island Crisis Line for service.  1-888-494-3888.  These people are great at pointing you in the right direction on next steps.  People always come to me for crisis information but the best is to talk to people that are trained in this area.  Quite often people who are having issues with a mental illness will go to the hospital with the right person, and that person is often someone they love and trust.  When addressing someone about going to the hospital, best not to tell them something is 'wrong' with them.  It is best to express yourself in a caring and non-judgemental manner and say that you are concerned and you want them to see a doctor to put yourself at ease, then ask them to attend the hospital with you so they have a hand to hold while in emergency.  Out of all the chaos, sometimes a very cool, calm and caring person can make the most bizarre and sometimes scary situation right.  Never be afraid to ask for help and gather the troops of  people who care about the one that is in distress.  Even when you are the most frustrated remember, it is not the person that is meaning to act out they way they are but an illness that has taken over them.  Be strong and know there is always a next step and in reaching out you are finding out exactly what that is.  🙂  HUGS!  BABE  🙂

Education is Vital for the Strength of your Support System

When I think about mental health and creating a support system of well being for an individual, I cannot stress enough about how important education is for all people involved.  I recall being with a family awhile ago as their son had experienced a psychotic break with reality, and I simply sat with them and told them my story.  They were afraid because he had been acting irrationally and they did not understand that his behavior was not his fault.  I explained that psychosis is simply when one sees things, hears things and/or believes things delusionally-things that are not real or true.  There is still much debate over this definition, but in a nutshell, it helped them understand that his delusions were not something he could control on his own.  I explained the ups and downs of bipolar and all of the things that you can find in between.   The hill and slope theory is constructed too simply to engage in an entire picture, so in telling my own story I drew an abstract which helped them understand more fully what had been going on.

Once the individual affected is well enough, I encourage them to take on some education of their own.  People ask ‘So really, what is bipolar anyway?’  ‘How can I help myself?’  ‘Where can I find some Q & As on the Internet?’ ‘Am I alone in this?’

I know how vital it is to educate oneself but not get bogged down in information as it is overwhelming out there so I would like to recommend two sites that provide a solid background to the illness and advice for one to discuss with others or utilize it to help themselves.

I hope that you find this useful: Mood Disorders Association of British Columbia: http://www.mdabc.net/  Canadian Mental Health Association: http://www.cmha.ca/bins/index.asp   These sites provide information on support, Q&As, bipolar illness information, and so much more.  There are many books out there that I have found amazing too, but the #1 book is the story of a woman afflicted with bipolar disorder named Kay Jamison’s An Unquiet Mind.  A definite read for inspiration and for those that are part of  a support system.     In your educational travels do know that it will bring you to amazing places, it will inspire you and often take you down a road of healing.  It did for me anyway, and armed with that knowledge you can achieve anything…especially be able to kick bipolar’s butt and know there is hope!  😉  Much love, Andrea xo

Bipolar Babe Benefit – Afterglow

I have to say "WOW!"  A night of bliss, fun, and all around amazingness.  We held the Bipolar Babe Benefit show with a total of 50 babe volunteers.  The team effort took a lot of stress off my shoulders and created an environment of manageability and balance.  It was quite the experience to strut my stuff wearing the Bipolar Babe superhero outfit, walking on a runway while being encouraged loudly by the crowd.  The whole experience was therapeutic, exhilarating,  and magical.

Diane Pancel sang an amazing opening song inspiring the crowd with her awesome vocals.  She was followed by Stand Up for Mental Health comedian Josh Zed, loved his great take on the super hero trio!  🙂  The night followed by the Hair and Costume Show sponsored by the Hair Garden Salon and Victoria Costumes.  Depressed Diva, Borderline Belle and Anxiety Angel were stunning followed by Hope, Love and Gratitude.  I finished off the show moving us along to the 'Stigma Stomp'.  It was just perfect feeling the energy from the crowd as the enthusiasm was intense!

I just want to thank everyone that attended last night as I could really feel the love in the room.  I felt so comfortable speaking from the heart and as I mentally let go of the piece of paper in my hand, I was able to truly be me.  It feels wonderful to just myself and be at peace with that.  Thank you for being so supportive of me and most especially to the cause.

The cause is what I was aiming to bring into the room with my speech.  It felt wonderful to speak about my mother, but to also recognize how important it is for families to communicate and talk about things like a mental illness of a parent, son or daughter.  I believe it begins with our youth as they are open, blossoming and still forming their opinions.  If we reach them with a story of someone who has a lived experience of having a mental illness then perhaps it would have a positive impact, even a very vital one.  It is those conversation free of stigma that we ought to share with each other that will move us forward in this world, specifically to a place that is understanding, loving, empathetic and most of all truly empathetic.  

Back to Work…

Well, it has been awhile.  Missed you guys!  I hate when I get into those 'flatline type – I can't write' modes.  Despite the writer's block, things have been quite amazing.  I am beginning to feel a sense of balance in my life and I believe going back to work has a lot to do with it.  I told my doctor that I wanted to head back part-time and he supported my decision to do so.  Upon returning I was not sure what to expect, so I just went with it when my boss took me around and reintroduced me to my fellow co-workers.  I was nearly in tears a couple of times as certain people were 'extra' happy to see me and I thought it was so kind.  I felt really special seeing everyone again. 

Many people thought I was away on a Temporary Assignment at another ministry, but I let them know the truth and when people look at me with puppy dog eyes I am quick to tell them that 'really, it is okay…it could be worse.'  I am not downplaying that I was really sick for quite some time, but the worst feels behind me and I don't harbour ill feelings about my experience.  Nothing is perfect, I still experience strange episodes where my eyes get all fuzzy and social awkwardness can feel overbearing or I have 4 hours sleep.  I have yet to experience anything negative at work because I am slowly coping and I am incrementally working towards coming back into a full time position. 

I feel like I now have some structure in my life which helps me feel more balanced in many respects.  I am a lucky girl and I am grateful for the people in my life including all my friends at work, you are so valued and I am thankful for your kindness.