March 18, 2010

What is going on here?!?

I think this is a question that many people with a mental illness ask themselves. Why am I feeling like this? Why am I acting like this? Why can't I make it stop?!

These were the thoughts that were rapidly firing in my head as I tried to figure out why I just couldn't be happy and go out with my friends, or why I just couldn't slow down and relax. For the longest time I hated myself for not being able to fix "it". In this society where we are told we should "just smile" or "walk in the sunshine" we assume it is our fault for not trying harder. We assume we are weak or bad for not perfectly controlling our mind and our body. We assume that there is something wrong with our personality as opposed to our chemistry. When I was first depressed to the point of suicide I got into a cycle of feeling agonizing pain of depression, exhaustion and defeat from not being able to fix it, and an extreme hatred for my lack of strength and drive to pick myself up. It wasn't until I was in the hospital on a suicide watch that I was given my first tentative diagnosis, Bipolar II.

Now, I grew up with a special ed teacher mom and a vocational rehabilitation counselor dad. I grew up being taught the importance of being sensitive to disabilities, the equality between every person no matter their difference, and the importance of providing access and help to those with specific needs that may be different from my own. I grew up obsessively reading the DSM and diagnosing my guinea pig, Herman, with Tourettes Syndrome because he had certain ticks and would squeak uncontrollably at times. (And although I knew all about Tourettes by the age of seven I knew very little about guinea pig ear mites). Anyway, when it came down to it,  I knew about disabilities. I knew all about "differences" and the normalcy of said differences. I knew all about what the word "label" meant in that community and knew that one should not use a condition to classify the whole of a person. 

Maybe this is why it hurt so much when I was diagnosed. Maybe deep down in my heart I knew just how little the rest of the world knew about disabilities. Maybe I knew the discrimination and misunderstanding that came with a mental illness label, because I found my mind screaming "No. Not me! I am not BIPOLAR. I am not like that. I'm not CRAZY". To me, someone who found every disability as simply another thing that makes us unique and special, this diagnosis made me into something I didn't want to be. It grouped me into a category that was bad. And whether or not the people in this category were "bad" or not, societies view and opinion of them was. I was not going to be one of them. I had spent my entire life trying to be perfect, flawless, and this was the biggest flaw I could ever imagine.

 However, on the other hand,there was the small, scared, childlike voice inside of me saying, "its not my fault". Even writing this today makes me tear up when I remember just how hard I tried to make myself feel normal, be normal. I tried so hard to control my emotions, but the more I tried, and the more I failed, the more I punished myself. I had two competing voices in my head, the blamer, "it's all your fault! If you tried harder we wouldn't be where we are today!" and the blamed, "I try so hard. I'm not good enough. I deserve this pain." It was a dangerous downward spiral that became even worse when it moved from mental to physical hatred. Having a diagnosis validated those "it's not my fault" cries of the blamed. It allowed me to start being a little bit nicer to myself.

It took me a long time to be nicer to myself, and in many ways it is still a very difficult struggle. The diagnosis, for me,  was one of the most life changing parts of my illness. Though it may not have been more life changing than almost losing my life, it changed my view of myself. It forced me to come to terms with the blamer and the blamed. It helped me realize who I really am and whether or not a label (BIPOLAR) defined me. At first I felt that the words were etched into my forehead. I felt that with one word I was someone completely different. Years have taught me that my diagnosis can never define me. It may define some of the traits of my illness, but it will never define my exact reaction to those traits, or even my reaction to my reactions. Through my diagnosis I have been able to take the blame away and realize that this is simply something  unique about me. A blessing and a curse that makes my life slightly different from other peoples' lives. In finding my diagnosis I have found the most important thing of all, the map towards treatment.

Next time...why do we love the diagnosis? We love treatment. Why do we love treatment? Because it allows us to function again!

March 03, 2010

The Diagnosis (Helpful Resources)

The momma and I have decided to make March the month where we talk about the diagnosis. So in the next month I am hoping to share my thoughts on the diagnosis (and more specifically that of bipolar disorder, since that is the one I know most intimately), my thoughts on the pain of having a new label ("bipolar"), and my thoughts on the importance of finding an eventual diagnosis so that you can get the treatment you need.

So, the first thing that I would like to do is to provide resources for information about the main diagnosable mental health conditions. I want to provide this first, rather then share my personal story, because to some, good resources may be more urgent. As I discuss my diagnosis throughout the month you can always go back to this post for further information. Because so many of these sites do such a great job at explaining and addressing these illnesses (though I hate to call them illnesses) I will simply provide links to their explanations and definitions rather than attempting to create my own. I want to provide resources so that you can learn more about these illnesses and their signs and symptoms. All of these resources should be hyperlinked, so just click on the pinky/purply text.

The best place to start when learning about mental illnesses is to check out NAMI’s (National Alliance on Mental Illness) “mental illnesses” links page. Through this page you can access information on illnesses such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression, borderline personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and many others. Each page talks about what the illness is, how common it is, what the symptoms are, what medications and treatments are used, and more. You can also visit and under “Learn the Facts” view a quick list of common signs and symptoms for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Depression, Bipolar, and Schizophrenia. For more detailed information you can visit the National Institute of Mental Health’s (NIMH) Health and Outreach page .

If you are worried that you are suffering from an undiagnosed mental health condition there are several online mental health screenings. You can find some of these at the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) website. At this link you can find confidential online depression, mania, and anxiety screenings, as well as a downloadable child mania rating scale. Of course, if you are not only worried that you are suffering from a mental health condition, but are also having thoughts of suicide please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline ( or call 1-800-273-TALK.

The important next step if you think you have a mental health condition is to talk to a professional. It is extremely important to talk to a doctor before you diagnose yourself, but it is also important to go into the appointment with as much information as you can so that they can look at all the facts and get you the help you need. If you do not have your own doctor, and cannot find one in your area resources like BringChange2Mind's contact us page and the Knowledge Exchange Network (KEN)
(1-800-789-2647, 1-800-789-2647 or  1-877-495-0009, 1-877-495-0009
Live operators available 8:30 AM — 5 PM EST to refer you to public mental health clinics near you) may be able to help you.
Once you have an appointment, Healthy Minds has a page devoted to “Choosing a Psychiatrist”, answering questions like “where do I start?” and “what treatments do psychiatrists use?”.

I hope that some of these resources help make it easier to learn about a possible mental health condition and how to move closer to a diagnosis. In my next couple posts I will be discussing my personal diagnosis, and the importance of reaching a diagnosis.