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Why don't you just throw a cast on your brain?

I believed the earth was shaking, when I was first in the psych ward, an actual snow blower came up against the window causing my adrenaline levels to rise in terror. Another patient ran to my side assuring me that I was okay but I was not convinced. I hid in the pitch-black laundry room thinking it was the only safe place in the hospital, but in the next heartbeat I thought I would be crushed to death by a pending earthquake. I had to keep moving, even if it was in circles, around and around the ward. Amusingly, it now reminds me of being on a racetrack. I walked the hallways, unable to sleep for days, ingesting pill after pill, trying to close my eyes, which felt spry and stapled open. When I observed my reflection in the mirror I saw something divine. I believed my body was a holy temple for souls to rest in. But despite my intense spiritual experiences, I just continued walking the hallways, unable to sleep. I was only twenty-six years old and I was being hospitalized for the second time. I will never forget my new psychiatrist first approaching me and asking if I was okay. Earlier that day I felt like I had been beaten to a pulp, but when he spoke I was listening to the gentlest and kindest voice I had heard in years. My last doctor, at the other end of the country in Ottawa was also magnificent—a kind French man. But his office was bright yellow and I believed the colour stimulated my hunger (perhaps explaining my 35-pound weight gain). But this new doctor, Dr. J, seemed to care even more if I was okay. He told me I should take a shower, something I had not done for days and I was motivated to do it. Dr. J reminded me of how special and successful I was. After having only been out of the hospital for a couple of weeks, I was determined to go to Korea to teach English. He prescribed me six months of medication, even though I had met him because of a suicide attempt. He never questioned me. He trusted and respected me. This was amazing because I never even respected myself. When I rambled on about creating an organization about Bipolar Disorder, he never seemed to doubt me and now I am learning not to doubt myself.  2681290940083925091bQWmfe_phI cannot just throw a cast on my brain and head back to work thinking I am 'okay', so instead of being hard on myself and justifying my absence to others and myself, simply okay saying I am in recovery and doing better thank I was.  There are times when I do feel pretty good but with the nature of bipolar disorder it seems it is difficult to find a stable long lasting balance in my mood, sleep and way of being.  This time has been humbling and I am grateful for the things I have been able to accomplish, but I have found peace now in knowing that recovery is where I am at and that is good enough for me.  I have chats with my psych nurse to thank for this.    I actually want to head off to boot camp to do something to ease the depression and restlessness.  It is only by sheer will-power will this happen so I need to throw myself into a structured routine that will push and motivate me.  Alter Ego Fitness…hmmm…I think this is what I need to do this awesome boot camp program!     I am scared, but excited!  Talk soon and thanks for reading.  xo ~Andrea

The stars below…

Having bipolar disorder I have floated so high as to literally see the stars below me in a breath taking gaze above the earth, and in the next heart beat seeing the devil dancing and laughing at me during a torrid and insane psychosis. It was as real as breathing air into my lungs and as natural as opening my eyes to wake in the morning. Bipolar has brought me to my knees losing all ability to prepare a meal for myself becoming disabled and confined to my bed for days at a time. Taking a shower has felt like an attempt to build a house on my own and I recall not being able to taste my food as ALL things were stale and bland. However, I feel that due to bipolar I laugh harder, feel deeper and at times 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 as my cursed gift as it has brought me to become a relatable figure opening a space for others to heal and share their story. We hear the arguments that have almost become trite about mental illness being compared to diabetes or heart disease, but if we were to truly reflect, consider and accept this point of view, then our attitudes toward the mentally ill would certainly alter. Our brains are organic entities and our doctors operate in a biomedical model who tell us that it is merely a chemical dysfunction in the brain, hence the recommendation for prescription drugs. Just as a person with diabetes requires insulin, so do I require a mood stabilizer mixed with an anti-psychotic, but surely my prescription would be the only one that would raise questions and doubts. Babe Thoughts, Andrea 🙂

A Bipolar Surf

That is exactly how I have been feeling as I try to coast by way through this medication adjustment period, but taking naps in my car in between errands is the last of my worries.  It feels more like I am life's surfer crashing, falling and being tossed among the waves of a bipolar storm.  I recently had a medication tweak and I am realizing quite a significant one as I am transitioning from one anti-psychotic to another with a few other tweaks along the way.  🙁  I have been experiencing some very strange symptoms and/or side-effects as of late, but I am beginning to wonder if they are all that unique.  I have only heard of one person who has experienced something similar, so here it goes…I will try my best to paint you a picture of the world of babe having an 'episode' being affected with bipolar disorder.  I decided it was going to be a fabulous day and took a stroll with my boyfriend down to Oak Bay Avenue and it was gloriously charming.  The oak trees hung above our heads as we walked holding hands, the air was crisp, and we shared stories about the past and future all the while seal watching on the dock.  As we we returning to the car, it hit me like a wave…whoosh!!!  I was in the surf and tumbling deep into the water…what did this 'episode' feel like?  As I stared at the ground, the rocks on the sidewalk started to appear as if they were raised up, like they were a top layer above the laid ashpalt and every tiny speck (mark, dirt, twig, berry, piece of garbage, etc.) became as visible as the cars on the road in front of me.   As I looked over at my boyfriend I told him that the 'feeling' I had told him about that I had experienced a long time ago seemed to be creeping over me.  Then my experience became familiar and I was angry…'how could this be happening again?'  The tears began to well…being around people felt uncomfortable and the lights began to beam brightly.  As I sat in the passenger seat I explained that as I tried to focus on letters, whether on a street sign or the back of a car, it was blurry and all lines became fuzzy or doubled.  All of my senses were heightened but in a squirmy and uncomfortable way.  Even depth perception was a blur.  I felt paranoid and uncomfortable in my own skin and it was an overwhelming debilitating feeling that washed over me. I came home feeling panic stricken and nervous but I began to feel somewhat comforted by the familiar surroundings of my home and my very empathetic boyfriend; I just held my cat while laying on the couch and things eased.  It felt safe to be indoors where all the stimuli did not feel like it was attacking me.  Later on today, I still feel the shell shock effects from the bipolar 'episode' but at least I can focus enough to write this blog, which is sure sign that this adjustment will simply be a readjustment into a new balanced and healthy place.  We all surf the waves of life and at some point we crash, get caught up in the waves, maybe even get tossed, but the most important thing is to grab your surf board and keep swimming because eventually you will catch the dream wave and stand long enough to enjoy it.  As I lay here on the shore, I am happy to have had this experience today because it allowed me to share it with you and hopefully encourage you to KEEP ON surfing babe!!

The Bipolar 'Blues' in a Mixed State?

It is a difficult place to be in when someone you care about wants to spend time with you and you want to be with them, but you feel as if you are wrapped in chains and can not get out of bed.  They aren't really understanding why you are not just simply getting out of bed, but lay lethargic until late in the afternoon and they find it difficult to grasp that it is not something you can just 'get over'.  I have been depressed for quite some time now and I realized today that what I actually might be experiencing is a 'mixed' state.  I feel all over the place to the point where I often cannot articulate it at all, from feeling so tired that I sleep 12-14 hours a night to now staying up until 3-5AM feeling wired these past 2 weeks and waking up early feeling quite sparky after 4 hours sleep.  I usually then drain and crash for the latter part of the afternoon and intertwined with all of this I am very irritable, sad and then at times intermittently productive, but it is such a whirlwind.  I am not complaining, well maybe a bit, but I have never been in this kind of state before and wonder if anybody else has felt similarly?  Due to doctor's orders I am staying awake on 4 hours sleep all day until tonight, hoping that when I double up my sedative medication (also on orders) that I will feel somewhat composed for my 8:30AM appointment with Dr. Song in the morning.  I am off work right now and my boyfriend is right, I don't know how to relax.  He bought me a beautiful spa package for my birthday and here I am in my pj's, and feeling so 'blah' and feeling quite guilty about it as many of us do.  This is not the blues, this is bipolar BUT I will now stand up and take that shower, make that spa appointment, eat lunch and take a long walk with my boyfriend.  It will feel like I am building a house, moving bricks and wood, but as long as I do a little bit, keep pushing and don't give in too  much to the depression, I know I will be okay.  🙂  It felt good to write that!  Thanks for reading and I love you all! xo   Babe Picture credit: elfwood.com

Mental Health Leave From Work

Even Bipolar Babe's sunshine dims from time and time and I have found myself in a place that I have not been since 2005, which is needing some healing time away from work.  I noticed that I begun struggling  a couple of months ago to get to work and requested a later start time as my sleep was ranging from 3 hours then to a longer night's slumber on the weekends of 14 hours!  My ability to keep a 9-5 schedule became impossible and to wake in the morning felt as if a ball and chain was wrapped around my body.  I barely had the energy to shower and would show up for work with wet hair and no make-up, not having had breakfast which is something I always do.  I began having an extremely difficult time making my lunch for the next day and my organizational abilities began to falter.  I worked in an office setting and although I had always disliked cubicle life, I began to feel overwhelmed by its staleness, lack of sunshine and by the type of environment that it brought.  It felt as if every ounce of energy was soon gone and this became my every day reality.  I began to cry quietly in my cubicle often and the anxiety and fear of an attendance review due to my sporadic absences lunged anxiety into my gut daily.  Luckily, the people I worked with were amazing and I was able to temporarily focus on the task at hand with short blasts of energy, but always falling into a deep depression as the sun went down and it remained when it came to beckon me for another day.  I struggled and suggested working from home but with long-time set rules in a work place, even the most accommodating manager has their hands tied.  I am now inspired to explore the topic of workplace accommodation for people with a mental illness and I am sure that several employers would embrace this opportunity. People often think that if you alter your work setting, the amount of work you do (which is not a solution as you lose your income), or your work hours that the problem may be resolved.  It may prove to aid in recovery somewhat but with all these considerations the fact remains I have an illness.  I automatically feel defensive when people say 'you have so much going on, maybe you just need a break' and with this it seems that the impact of the illness as the leading factor in a 'breakdown' or a 'relapse' is lost.  I prefer to call it mental health time and I am slowly learning that it is necessary for my health at this time.  I remind myself that I am not deficient, behind the game or weak for having to take this time to recoup.  I recently headed up a very successful and amazing event called the 'Bipolar Babe Benefit' which may have contributed to my need to seek refuge but then again having once run for the nomination for member of parliament did not cause me to falter.  I believe it all depends on where my illness is playing out in in my life at the time, how the chemicals are flowing in that busy brain of mine and how stable Ifeel overall.  I have no control of these particular things.  I don't ever want to sound like a victim because I left those sentiments behind awhile ago but I feel it is important to stress that it is not the fault of the person who has the breakdown just as it is not for the person who has a heart attack.  If an employer were not to hire you due to the fact that you have a mental illness, then it may not be one that you would want to consider anyway.  I disclose in my interviews and express how important it is to work with an employer in an accommodating workplace.  There may be benefit that your personal experience can be used on the job, just as one of my manager's most kindly commented that I was a change agent in the workplace and having been honest with my co-workers I allowed a freedom to be understood and it personally brought me peace. I have only recently been living a rich, plentiful and busy life balancing school, work and the babe project and God has afforded me all of these wonderful opportunities, but there are several things that I have learned through this experience.  I will balance my life in a way that will be the most accomodating for me and I will explore this during my mental health leave and once I am well enough I will work with my employer to find a position that does not exasperate my medical condition.  I will remember and do the things that I love to do, such as taking walks by the ocean with my boyfriend and spend more time cuddling my cat.  I will remind myself and take action knowing that my nutrition is of utmost importance and my water intake is key to flushing the lithium through my body.  I will resume counseling sessions and ensure to partake in long conversations with close friends over tea.  I will go to the Pandora Arts Collective (PAC) and share in art therapy and I may even feel like speaking to a group of teens about self empowerment while having a mental illness for this is one of the most healing acts that I can do.  Do not think that sick leave consists of never leaving your home and sleeping all day but it is time to rejuvenate and to take comfort in that everything will work itself out in time.  Take a deep breath, download a CD with beautiful sounds of the ocean, put on your headphones and cry.  I am so blessed I still feel inspired to write as this is one avenue to easing the way out of the darkness.  Let the healing begin.

Where do 'I' Begin?

Well here I am feeling inspired, creative and so grateful to be here writing a wonderful post to you folks. It is late and we all know how important it is for us 'bipolars' to get our sleep.  We can lose our heads if we are not careful!!   I have no trouble sleeping in but the dance to the bed is generally done at a not so decent sane folk's hour.  I would rather write instead and enjoy the pleasure I get from any form of positive interaction, especially when everything connects so perfectly in that interaction taking place in my brain.  It seems to really 'ping and pong' when I am up creating prose or poetry late at night. I mentioned to a friend how I often feel it is confusing for me to make sense of my diagnosis.  When someone accuses me of being a certain way because of my bipolar-ness, it really makes me roar.  I often think 'Who are you to tell me what I do, and don't do because 'they' gave me this label called bipolar?"  I am who I am because I am who I am!  It is difficult at times as I often wonder "where does my personality begin, and where does the illness end and so on…"  Where do 'I' begin?  I have come to the conclusion that we don't know all that much about the inner-workings of the brain and fail to agree on definitions of the mind.  The language we conjure up to attempt to explain the 'something' wrong with someone who has a 'mental disorder' fails to deliver coherence.  Even in this sentence it makes me dizzy!  We are unaware of how to make distinctions and when we point to the brain to indicate an illness, it sparks an array of discussions. Is personality affected by what we deem mental illness?  If we –subtract– what we call an' illness', would we then be the way we were 'supposed' to be in the first place?  If we –subtract– this illness then am I whole?   Should I be feeling less than what I do now?  Am I feeling too much?  How much do you want me to feel?  They say she is sick, then tell her she is a creative genius.   They say she can accomplish anything she wants, 'of course, she is after all bipolar!'  They say she won't be all that successful because she  has bipolar, and she will not be able to do things like travel or hold down a full time job.  If she has sporadic absences due to her illness, they tell her to work less.  She has to simply keep up!  Now she accomplishes a lot and they say 'she can do it because she is bipolar and she has the energy to do anything!'  They say 'be careful now!'  She has bipolar and could crash and actually probably  will because she is bipolar.  You say 'Hello, are you bipolar?"  I say "No, I'm Andrea and I have bipolar.  What is your name?  Oh…great to meet you ADHD!" They say "you should be in bed young lady!"  I say "You're right!" Bipolar Babe   

The Green Mask Mystery

 Well, get this!  As I was feeling pretty darn blue last night as you already knew, I was waiting for my beloved kitty 'Mango' to come home for a very long time!  She is usually home by 9pm, then 10, 11, 12…came along.  I surely thought she was dead.  I kept telling myself not to worry but I had this sinking and most horrible knowing that she was in harm's way.  I sat on the couch and attempted to nap and stared at the kitchen window as the cold air came rushing in.  I was not closing that window for a second.  1am, 2 , 3 and caught a couple of shut eyes but opened wide at 6AM.  Still thinking my beloved Mango was some dog's breakfast, I glanced around the bedroom and she was there under the desk!!  She must have somehow got passed me during 4-6AM and instantly I knew something was wrong.  She was under the lower part of the desk and was 'hiding'.  When cats go to die or they are sick, they cuddle into small places and want to be alone.  This was strange for Mango, always sitting on my bed and walking on my hair in the morning.  I pet and examined her and she had what appeared to be a green mask on her face.  "Anti freeze!!!!" I assumed!  Thank goodness for that emergency vet magnet I grabbed awhile ago at the Vet so I called them immediately!  I called a cab, put her in her carrier and soothed her meows all the way to the hospital.  I was nearly in tears as I handed her off to the pet doc. and was overwhelmed by my sudden emotion. 🙁 We examined the sweet manx and it appeared that all her claws were either pulled right out or scraped down to the core.  No, people did not do this.  Anti freeze was ruled out instantly and looked like my kitty may have run into some 'trauma'. It was quite possibly a grass stain causing her to pose as the green raccoon!  Boom!  X-rays 4 of them.  Her ribs are intact, she looks good…nothing here to worry about.  He tells me to leave her at the hospital for the day, some antibiotics, pain killers, IV solution and supervision for the day.  I love the idea of all of this care…I ask the inevitable question$ and he tells me, I choke then I head home.  A tree, animal attack or barely escaping a vehicle accident?  If only she could talk! I actually get home at 7AM and I surprisingly don't flop back to bed, I jump in the shower and sing "My babe is alive and in good hands!  Whoo hoo!"  I dress in some really nice hand me downs from a kind lady from work and I feel somewhat anew.  I think 'How nice of Anne to give me these clothes!' I do my homework on my lunch break and find time to buy a dress-the dress for the Evening to Inspire night at the Empress tomorrow.  I feel excited and buy an awesome pair of shoes, both second hand and both fabulous!  I am productive and dedicated to getting the task done and time just flies with my good mood and extending smile to all.  I repeat the story all day.  A friend drives me to get my baby from the vet but I have to wait 2 hours, my ride has to go and another two friends show up to finish the deal with me.  Mango is finally ready to go with loads of instructions, pain killers and antibiotics.  I see the bill, I see the bill, I see the bill, I ask for an itemized list of costs…it begins 1, 2, 3…21.  :O I suddenly regretted having purchased the dress today, I am comforted by the fact that it cost me half of what a new dress would go for.  Most of all I was super grateful that I had enough in my entire savings to cover the cost.  I do have to say though, it is highway robbery!  She probably would have licked her wounds clean under the desk  and we could have called it a day.  Still, we are marked as cruel or inhumane by others, but mostly by ourselves for not paying for a service that =love.  I realized I am very grateful to have Mango and will never ever ever let her leave the house ever again!  I heard there is a site on how to make the indoor cats life more enriched, we will be doing that together and I will be spending less time on the computer. Strange.  Most would expect me to lose it and fall apart today-I mean I would have thought this.  I think my flat lined state somehow eased my emotions during the entire ordeal.  Last night as I lay on the couch waiting for her to come home I could feel my body trying to surge the ol stomach flip, but flat line would not have it.  The only ounce of emotion was when I dropped a tear in the vet's office at 6am.  Not bad! Two hours of sleep and here I am writing this BLOG.  Amazing, could it be this horrid and scary event has lurched me out of my flat line?  As Mango nearly flattened her own line, it somehow brought me back to life. Go figure.  Love you Mangs!  To 21 and onward!  8.5 lives will get you there safely!  🙂

Having a Parent with a Mental Illness

I had the best parents growing up who cared for me deeply. Dad was working graveyards a lot and it was not very often that I would completely fall asleep until I got my goodnight kiss from him. Mom was always making things fun, play dough, construction paper and encouraging my creative side. There were unexplained incidences that took place during my childhood and I bet that many of you can relate. Late one night I had my friend Tracy sleeping over and we were woken up by my grandparents and father speaking quite loudly, saying things like 'Bridget Bridget!" "She is not even responding!" "What is wrong with her?  It is like talking to a wall!"  Now I realize my mother was catatonic.  As the sirens of the ambulance pulled up, I heard the attendants come in the house and it was not too long before my mother was screaming bloody murder. I now find it strange that two full grown men would need to put a straight jacket on my 110 pd mother, but they felt the need to anyway. I guess that is something I have always wondered about. At the time I did not know what was happening except my mother was screaming and an ambulance was taking her away. Tracy and I cried softly trying not to make any noise. I always wished someone would have come into my room that night and explained to me what had taken place. I was around 7 years old and I knew enough that something was wrong with my mother. There was no explanation the next day except to say 'your mother is in the hospital'. For what? A broken leg? A heart attack? If the two former things had taken place, there is not doubt that I would have been told what was truly going on. We shelter our children from the realities of having a parent with a mental illness, but in reality they never are never truly shielded from it.  There will be an impact so it is deciding what kind of impact that is going to be.  They are confused when they hear of strange conversations about hospitals and medications and how the ill parent has something 'wrong' with them.  If a child is not provided a truthful explanation of events past, then the immediate reaction is to recoil in shame. The point is to be honest with your kids. Tell them what is going on and assure them it is nothing to be ashamed, but can become part of a support team for the loved one.  I was never afforded the privilege of visiting my mother in the hospital and because of the stigma that pervaded my childhood experience I became afraid of psych wards and became ashamed of my mother, and was uncomfortable having her around my peers. I know I was a kid but it still brings tears to my eyes to think of how this cast a shadow over my childhood in manyrespects but at least I am here for her now.

Sometimes we forget those closest to us…

It is funny how quite often we tend to forget to praise and recognize those closest to us.  I had a particular man come into my life, nearly right from the dawn of Bipolar Babe…he never even met me and offered me his services, his office, ink from his printer, down to anything I needed to make it happen for the kids!  He overwhelmed me with his passion and generosity, I really did not think people like him existed.  I met with this fellow and he was shaky and meek but very keen to help me and Depressed Diva out.  His heart was in the right place and I was happy to have him aboard.  He told me that since being part of Bipolar Babe he now feels a spark in his life, like he is eager to push on with things.  He has created a marketing strategy and we have started to execute it by meeting with Alan Rycroft from the Kool Aid Society and he brought me to REES.  Even though he had been feeling quite bothered by his bipolar disorder he pushed on taking me around and helping me build valuable networks.  He is pulling together information to help Bipolar Babe thrive with possible funding and I know he will be key in helping me with the upcoming fundraiser.  This gentleman calls himself old and useless when he has been dedicated and amazingly reliable.  He is a key team player and I don't know where Bipolar Babe would be without him.  He is such an asset and his contribution helps further the cause for the kids and for that we are all grateful! This man's blog can be found here: http://www.schnerchpj.com/blogs/?p=243  You can purchase his book here: http://www.authorsden.com/visit/viewblog.asp?AuthorID=50684 Patrick Schnerch is a fabulous writer and has several published books, one that I am reading now and it is more raw and real than anything I have ever read – it is a piece of courage and hope.  He is a 'peaceful warrior' that is often sensitive and is way too hard on himself.  He does not see how talented he really is and how much I admire his awesome perseverance in life.  I just wish he would realize that his contribution in this world and to the bipolarbabe project is valuable and priceless and I love and appreciate him.  I look forward to having him on new tasks while recognizing his own efforts to complete yet another book in October.  He is interviewing me for the book and I feel so grateful to have the opportunity to help him further his own activist causes. I apologize to Patrick that I did not write this sooner.  I sometimes get caught up in all the amazing things happening in my life and tend to think that people just know how important they are to me, so now you know Patrick, Bipolar Babe loves ya and looks forward to pursuing the fight against stigma with you to make this world an accepting and understanding place to be for the youth and for everyone!  It has just begun and you and I are doing this together! Much Love xo     ~BABE

Doing it for the Kids!

 As many of you know I have been pondering whether to incorporate and become a nonprofit organization or remain a project for now.  I filled out all the paper work but something inside me was telling me to slow down…I tend to like things now now now!!  Then I slowed down a little tonight and met a lady named Lisa for a chai latte.  The moment I saw her I felt a sense of calm and her smile shared sincerity.  She locally leads The FORCE Society for Kids' Mental Health  http://www.bckidsmentalhealth.org/ This woman is AMAZING!!  Talk about living your life for a cause!!  Her dedication is admirable and with her personal experience of having children who have mental health issues, she took a difficult situation and found creative and meaningful ways to accommodate and help her children to live a plentiful and successful life.  She realized the value in reaching out to other parents and after years of selfless work for the cause of children and mental health, she is now contracted by FORCE to do what she loves-education and advocacy.  She is a wealth of information and knows the system inside and out.  It is so impressive!  As I listened to her share her story, I felt a certain authenticity that is so often absent.  I felt her passion and resilience and then I thought she reminded me of someone…me.  As we bounced off a gazillion ideas we were overwhelmed by the awesome impact that we could create together in the world of youth.  She absolutely loves Bipolar Babe and is offering me much needed help through invitations to make meaningful connections and has highlighted how our work could compliment each other.  She feels like an angel and I committ to help her so that we can further the cause together.  With education stigma will cease to exist! It's for the kids!