My Teeter Totter Times

3Little_Girls_by_mysticmorningWhen I think of my childhood, I can’t help but see dualities galore; hence, the title of this blog. I am a fraternal twin. My twin and I are like night and day in some ways. I am right handed; she is left handed. I have fine hair; she has thick hair. She was also the more dominant twin. I preferred to follow the leader.

When my younger sister by a year and a half was born, she joined our fray and we became the triplets, but I still remained the sister who felt like she had no identity and preferred then to be invisible. I was always heavier because my emotional eating started even then. You see, when school began and I was separated from my twin and younger sister, I felt like something inside me was lost. When my sisters proved to be above average intelligence in school, I still couldn’t pick up a book to read. I couldn’t understand why I was different. In third grade, a teacher I loathed back then realized I had a learning disability and I needed special classes to catch up with my peers. (Now, I owe her a debt of gratitude.)

Great!  I’m not only a freak because I’m a twin and fat. Let’s add stupid and special on top of that. Of course, my sisters used my insecurities as ammunition when they wanted me to cry, and I would do the same to them with theirs.

One bad thing about the three of us girls was that two of us would gang up on the third all of the time. It was like a tag team match that would alternate over and over again. The fighting could get really bad at times.

In fifth grade, the verbal harassment on my weight from other kids started. The daily nickname “Buffalo” was not a name that inspired a girl to feel good about herself. So, depression set in and I isolated myself from my peers. Fortunately, my ability to read greatly improved during that time. I surprised the teachers with my ability to outdo even the honor readers in comprehension at the end of the year test for fifth grade, which moved me up the ranks ever since.

I didn’t leave my insecurities about being different until well into high school. To prove I wasn’t stupid anymore, I read books like a fiend and competed with my sisters for top grades, even though our younger sister received straight A’s regularly. However, another duality between my twin and I appeared. She was better at science and mathematics, while I was better at writing and interpreting literature. We would help each other, so we both excelled in all areas.

To prove I no longer needed to feel isolated for being a twin, I had gained a strong circle of friends in junior high and began to not care what those outside of the group thought, but for years I still was not having any luck with meeting guys because I was still heavier than most girls my age. So at the beginning of my junior year of high school, my sisters and I went to a weight loss specialist and were put on Fen-Phen, an appetite suppressant.

Fen-Phen was definitely a miracle all right. I lost forty pounds in six weeks and my sisters lost thirty-five. We were eating less than our recommended 1,000 calorie diet and I was going regularly to twenty-one and under night clubs with my circle of friends on the weekends. Looking back, I would say my behavior teeter tottered on mania during that time. When Fen-Phen was starting to get bad publicity and women were having heart problems, we stopped taking it. Soon after stopping, I was in the hospital with an acute gall stone attack. Depression started to take its course after my surgery that removed my gall bladder.

My twin sister also had gall bladder problems during that time that appeared in the beginning as just stomach flu. My younger sister also started having stomach and back pain, but the tests came back negative for her. The doctors diagnosed her with clinical depression at fifteen. My twin had surgery a month after mine, but my younger sister wallowed in pain for months refusing to eat. She was slowly starving herself to death.

Finally, my father refused to believe her pain was just “all in her head” and forced the doctors to send a scope down to her gall bladder because he was sure she had the same thing we had. He was right. Her gall bladder was full of sharp crystals and it was severely inflamed. However, my younger sister really was depressed too and started ten years of trying anti-depressant after anti-depressant. Finally, she earned the title “treatment resistant” when most anti-depressants were used on her and she did not respond to a new study using magnets.

Two years after my younger sister’s diagnosis, I ended up in the hospital with my first psychotic episode and my new diagnosis of Bipolar 1 disorder, but my younger sister still was just depressed. Yeah right!

This year she was finally diagnosed with Bipolar 1 disorder.  Don’t get me started on her story. I can go for hours, but it is not my story to tell either. I respect my younger sister’s privacy.

Weight continues to be a major problem even today. My past experience with dieting does not endear me to try what is out there now, even for just calorie counting. I know my medication causes me to gain weight, but I’m use to being fat. Years ago, my old therapist told me that dieting wouldn’t work for me because I wasn’t scared enough. I’m still waiting to be scared.

Our Voices Will BringChange2Mind.org

The Close Sisters 2“One in six adults has a mental illness”—Glenn Close

“And we face a stigma that can be as painful as the disease itself”—Jessie Close, sister

“Change a mind about mental illness and you can change a life”—Glenn Close

The new BringChange2Mind.org commercial directed by Ron Howard promoting people to stop keeping their secret and lend a voice and helping hand to other people with a mental disorder touched a lot of lives Wednesday as the new campaign was launched nationwide. The site and commercial were amazing. Testimonials of real people talking about their experience with their disorder were very heartfelt. I couldn’t help but feel a large and deep amount of pride and empathy for those in the commercial and on the site. Very touching. Very powerful. Very inspirational. The site also allows people to tell their own story and links everyone to important sites that will get people the help they need.

To promote people to go to BringChange2Mind.org, founder Glenn Close and Jessie Close appeared on Good Morning America, The View, and Dr. Nancy on October 21, 2009. They both did a wonderful job of speaking out against the powerful stigma of mental illness.

The Close sisters’ major message to all of us is that “you are not your illness. You can get help. You should get help. You don’t need to be embarrassed”….”Get treated. Your symptoms are treatable and you can have a full and productive life. You have to get the right meds, the right balance, and it is possible”….”And be willing to live with some side effects.”

Jessie added the side effect comment at the end of the View segment, but explained in Good Morning America that she was thin most of her life, but the medication she has been on for the last ten years to treat her bipolar disorder has caused her to gain weight. I know I have that very same problem.

Learning more about Jessie’s life with bipolar disorder proved to me how easy it is for people to go through life tortured by the duality of bipolar disorder without ever knowing that they have it. In Good Morning America, Jessie and Glenn explained that Jessie might have started showing signs since infancy, but it really became apparent as they look back when she was a teenager. However, their family never recognized the signs because that wasn’t part of their vocabulary while growing up.

“You hardly went to a psychiatrist; it’s just not done,” Glenn Close explained about the time period she was growing up in and how mental illness was treated.

How many families out there have the same problem? I know mine sure do.

It took Jessie until the age of forty-seven to be diagnosed properly. She learned about her problems with bipolar disorder when her own son was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder (roughly schizophrenia with bipolar disorder).

I know from many people I’ve met that thirty years without a proper diagnosis is not uncommon in the “Baby Boomer” Generation and even the mid to late ages of Generation “X.” Why? Because people didn’t and wouldn’t talk about it, so some people really didn’t know! It was shameful to get help, see a “shrink,” and be treated and labeled as “crazy” or “freakish.” That is what we have to change now.

Bring Chang2Mind.org will help change the power of Stigma world wide as long as we give them the power and the voices to do so. Show your support now!

One Step at a Time

Shaking hands 1I believe in fighting against this terrible Stigma. I have let it dictate how I should live my life way too much. I became and quit being a high school English teacher because of my fear of the Stigma. I still wonder how the Stigma is affecting my life now. I will do what I can to help eliminate the stigma one step at a time. I see so much need in my own backyard that I will do what I can to strengthen the organizations around me. I just became a member of NAMI, but I have more experience with a different organization out there.

However, I have a secret. Yes, I know. I’m a bigot because of it. If you read my first blog “Don’t Make Me Go Bipolar on Your Ass,” you would see that I believe we should tell others about our bipolar disorder so we can help eliminate the Stigma surrounding it. Well, I’m sure one to talk. I want to.  I plan to. But so far, when I open my mouth…I shut it immediately. Fortunately, I have a plan to change that.

Since I met my husband four years ago, I have become a part of a great service organization that works to help communities with any need they may have, the Lion’s Club.  Well, in each individual community they are supposed to be general. They can help the community at large in anything they deem as a need for their community. However, in the district, state, and even the world, they concentrate on seriously helping the blind and deaf with a huge variety of services. This world-wide service organization became the “Knights of the Blind” for Helen Keller in 1927, but the club started in 1917. I am proud to say I became a member in February 2009.

But why couldn’t I tell these amazing, caring, compassionate people before that I’m bipolar?

Unfortunately, this organization does have its share of problems. It’s still “the good old boys club.” Don’t worry. Women are being sought out to join, but there is still some animosity in some clubs and we women really have to work to be heard. Another problem is that the majority of members are 55 and over. Here I am, 29, and I’m “playing” with my parent’s and grandparents’ generation.

That is my problem. Will the older generation accept me as an advocate not only for the Lion’s Club, but to join Lions and NAMI supporters together?

I have 3 strikes against me: female, young, and bipolar. Geez, I’m also opinionated! I’m in trouble.

I already get comments about being so young. It’s embarrassing.

“Gee, it’s nice you brought your daughter with you,” my husband and I have heard numerous times. My husband may be ten years older than me, but come on! Okay, okay. I can’t deny that I look more like 23 than 29, but still! They even know I’m his wife and they are just trying to make a joke thinking it is funny, but I’m sensitive to that kind of thing.

The reason I’ve decided to try and get my Lion’s club to get more involved in their local NAMI is because I think they would be an incredible force to reckon with to help us with our fight against the Stigma and their superior ability to raise funds. It would also increase the level of service NAMI can do for our community. One problem my local NAMI has is that its supporters will donate some money, but they are not willing to donate enough time to fundraisers to generate even more money for programs. However, my Lion’s Club is very strong and has superior skills in fundraising.

Before I walk into the next meeting and try to get support for my agenda, I plan to go about this monumental shift in view point, slowly and only one step at a time. My first step begins in a couple of weeks. I am introducing a small group of Lions and their spouses to NAMI and a NAMI supported treatment center for children and adolescents. Their reaction will help me judge whether I will have too many problems moving forward with making this alliance with the Lion’s Club and NAMI. Wish me luck!

“Oh No You Didn’t!”

The other day I discovered a link to the Time article “Me and My Bipolar Disorder” by Andrea Sachs. I was excited to see that it was a Q & A with madness coverMarya Hornbacher, author of Madness: A Bipolar Life. A little while ago, I bought her book to add to the pile of books I have acquired about Bipolar Disorder. I hadn’t yet read her memoir, but it is in the pile of memoirs I plan on reading near the end of my research for a future book.

This Q & A was going to give me a faster look into Hornbacher’s life, which also made me more envious of her. Why? She managed to be a published writer, and she was actually able to help people with bipolar disorder fight the Stigma nationally through Time Magazine. Well, so I thought.

I read the article and found speed bump after speed bump. Ouch! That hurt! My green monster surfaced when I reached the end.

Okay. Breathe. Just BREATHE! You’re taking this far too personally and you are probably overreacting. You’re just jealous and taking this all out of context.

I put the article away, but I was still furious and throwing myself into a hypomanic state. I even showed it to my therapist when I saw her, who didn’t think it was as bad after skimming it quickly.  

Why did the Q & A bother me so much?

I was expecting an activist against the Stigma and someone to foster more understanding.

My therapist again explained to me that I am not the norm when it comes to bipolar disorder. She stresses that I hit the nail on the head when I told her that twins have an unnatural level of intuition that other people do not have. We learned to communicate and read each other without using normal means. Because I can do this with both my sisters, I am also able to use the same intuitive skills on my own self.

Okay. So I’m even more different than different. Go me!

So, let’s go back to the article. What upset me so much? It has been a couple of days now, so I should be able to do this rationally now. Right?

Problem #1: She lumps all bipolars in one messy, ugly package.

Problem #2: She connects eating disorders and substance abuse with her bipolar disorder and blames them on her bipolar disorder. (I know people do this, but is it really healthy?)

Problem #3:  She also describes rapid cycling bipolar as the norm for those that are bipolar.

Problem #4: I wonder if she was right when she says that “Many suicides are accidental. There’s a death wish, but it’s fairly vague. It’s different than actually trying to die.” Because people are going to take that as truth, I am really bothered by the possibility that it will generate the public to belittle the hardships of severe depression.

Problem #5: She wants to be cured because she believes some people in society view us as “helpless, hopeless, and freakish.” Okay. This doesn’t sound completely wrong here, but the context of the whole article rubs me the wrong way and makes me feel like she agrees that we are this way and we need a “cure.” She seems to be fueling these views people have about bipolar people in general, rather than helping to eliminate the Stigma. Due to some loaded questions, I suspect the writer had a lot to do with the overall connotation of the article and wrote the article to emphasize bipolar people as “helpless, hopeless, and freakish” to appease an objective or an editor. 

So, how does this article change people’s opinion about bipolar disorder? It doesn’t. It actually fuels the stigma, in my opinion. Those that are bipolar and their loved ones need to work hard to stop this Stigma. Furthermore, if we allow ourselves to be labeled, we always will be.

I’m still angry, but not as much. Thanks for letting me vent. You should have heard me a few days ago!

These articles and memoirs can help open people’s eyes, but be responsible, respectful, and clear about your experience with the disorder. Do NOT tell the world we are “mostly” or “all” a certain way when you can’t speak about us as a whole.

Read the article and let me know what you think. Am I being too harsh? Am I the one in the wrong here? Am I so very different?

Are You Your Disorder?

the-screamThis question bothers me mainly because I often do feel like my bipolar disorder is a major part of me. Am I my disorder? No, but my disorder is a part of me. Being bipolar to me is as natural as having blue eyes. Am I my blue eyes? No.

 So, if you ask the most important question I keep hearing lately….Does bipolar disorder define me?

 Here I have to stop and think. I keep on thinking, What do you really mean by that?

I’m assuming that you are asking me if I let my disorder dictate how I live my life. The answer to that question is very easy….Yes.

For ten years, I have been altering my lifestyle because of the disorder and the assumed limitations I have because of it. I have allowed other people time and time again to define what I can do, instead of internally studying my own desires and defining for myself what I am capable of doing. I look back on my life now and see to my horror the mindless, overworked zombie the teaching profession turned me into. Then when I left, I very slowly realized I was missing something huge and fundamental to my life, my writing. I knew I needed to center on changing my life, but I kept putting me off because of the responsibilities to my husband and family.

 I attempted to work on me by researching and writing about bipolar disorder thinking the disorder was my main problem, but the writing was geared more towards helping others. Again, I was focused on everyone else instead of me.

 To top it off, eight months ago I, with the help of my psychiatrist, went off Lithium and Abilify gradually and replaced them with Lamictol, so my husband and I could try to have a baby. However, the pressures of family problems, the drastic shift in the economy, and my sense of failure to get pregnant were not making the transition easier. I worried too much in everything else, and I still was not paying enough attention to me.

In August, I ignored the warning signs that were obvious because I loved the new found creativity I hadn’t had since high school. I started a novel based on my life that slammed me into traumatic experiences I knew were painful, but I never thought would lead to a possibility of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. So the pain whipped me from depression to mania without my medicine of choice as my usual buffer. I started therapy, but it was already too late. I was manic, asked for help and was put back on Abilify, but that same night I knew it was now too late for outpatient treatment.

When my husband woke up for work, I asked him to take me to the hospital. I was showing signs that I was becoming delusional. It was only a matter of time for me to lose complete control. My third hospitalization allowed me to face some of my fears and I amazed everyone with how well I recovered from a manic induced psychotic break, but I spent time finally defining and loving me. I dropped all the outside stress and finally focused on me and separating me from my bipolar disorder. The hospital stay also allowed me to meet others who are bipolar who are not in my nuclear family. Seeing others like me allowed me to realize that there really are a lot of people just outside my front door that need help, but the support is just not there. I joined the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) and am looking into finding ways to help, but I am being selfish because I need these support programs too. 😛

My whole life “bipolar” has defined me. Now I have to work on separating it from me, so I can define me and define bipolar as a trait, not my life.  By meeting others with bipolar disorder, I hope to get the help, support, and strength I need to accomplish this.

So on that note, if you read my blogs let me know when and how “I’m my disorder” so it will help me learn the difference.

Thank you William for the suggestion of this topic and for forcing me to confront my bipolar demons.

Have You Found Your Soul Mate?

soul mates 2Qualities I have noticed that I possess and desire in others are ambition, perseverance, and thoughtfulness. I hold these qualities dear to my heart. Knowing what qualities you love in your own self is important when you are single and looking for Mr. Right, not Mr. Right Now.

I know. I know. How do I know?

“The most difficult thing to explain in life is the simplest truth called love.”    –Ramanathan Srinivasan

 Of course, I don’t know! However, I still want to put in my two cents about it. I know I found the love of my life by searching for someone who truly fits those qualities without having him tell me he did.

  “Find the person who will love you because of your differences and not in spite of them and you have found a lover for life.”   –Leo Buscaglia

Watch and observe, girls. Don’t list off a bunch of things you want and are prepared to do all you can to change in him if he doesn’t fit your mold. We are not sculptors of the human flesh and brain. Also remember that you are not perfect and neither is everyone else, so find someone to love you for you and show the decency of doing the same. People don’t change their core qualities. You don’t either. So learn your core before looking for someone else’s. Even Plato agrees that we need to look for the other half of our core.  

In Plato’s Symposium, Aristophanes states that when we were created by the gods, we were in the form of male, female, and androgynous spheres. We were happy, but strong and powerful in our complete forms. We decided to storm the heavens to mingle with the gods. The gods were angry and punished humans by separating us forming halves of the whole. From then on, humans have been searching for their other half, their soul mate.

So, how do you find your soul mate after you identify your own core? Some people believe that fate brings you together somehow, which I agree. However, you still have to be willing to use the tools fate hands you. What am I talking about? Well, let me tell you my story and then I think you will have a better understanding of what I’m trying to get at.

 At the end of my second year of teaching, a colleague and good friend of mine was filling out a profile on Match.com. She tried to get me to do the same, but I hesitated. I didn’t have the time or patience to deal with a dating service that was just like the bars but more constant. I had enough rejection in my life when it came to men that I didn’t need guys on the computer to reject me even faster. At twenty-four with only one boyfriend in my past, I believed I would remain the single spinster with a house full of cats and a part of me almost preferred that. Almost…

I watched my friend, and she cinched it when she showed me exactly how the site worked. She even did a search for me of my criteria and I was amazed at the results. For the first time in my life, I was able to be critical instead of just on display and desperate. I filled out my own profile and then let the games begin. Of course, I went through a bunch of duds and seemingly great guys rejected me, but it still didn’t take me long to spot him. After a month on Match.com, I came across his profile who wasn’t the most handsome man but he was a mechanical engineer. Yes, he was plain and ten years older than me, but I knew by his profile that he “said” he fulfilled my core requirements. Now, I had to discover if he really did and if he would reciprocate interest in me.

We chatted online for two weeks and then talked over the phone for two hours and we knew we both wanted to meet. Before him, I met one other guy that “said” he was my core, but wasn’t, so I was hesitant. Will he be a creep, a stalker-type, or abusive?

We met June 25, 2005 at a small country pizza pub. With one look, I thought, Crap. He looks disappointed. Oh, well. Let’s get this over with so I can go home.

By the end of four hours of talking at the pub and then at Culver’s for ice cream, I knew. With my root beer float stained shirt, I knew he was the man of my dreams. He was the man I wanted to marry. He was all I wanted in myself and in a life partner. He had my core qualities and he even had the qualities I wish I had. He was perfect and it shocked me he was still single. I just had to be myself to win him over too. He didn’t even care when I told him I was bipolar!

He proposed July 28, 2006 at his townhouse with his Christmas tree up and the ring in the tree with lights. He knew Christmas was my favorite holiday. So, he gave me Christmas in July. We were married June 2, 2007 in the church his parents and grandparents were married.

So, now it is your turn to pay attention to your core and wait for fate to give you the tools you need for love to find you. If you have found love, let others know by telling your story in the comments.