What I’ve Done Recently

Hypomania, Self-Care, Success!

Frustrated, Defeated and Hypomanic

The weekend before last, I was frustrated, overwhelmed, feeling defeated, and mildly hypomanic.

I felt like a failure as a mother, for I hadn’t been able to get my son to take his high school equivalency exams. Told that I make it too easy for him to stay in his bedroom compounded my feeling of guilt.

How could I balance compassion for my son’s severe migraine pain and social anxiety with consequences that forced him to take more responsibility?

Repeated what I’ve told him before (without a hard date): He had to move forward – with school, with helping around the house, with addressing his anxiety, or with work – or he would have to move out.

Now that he’s a legal adult, we’re no longer legally obligated to house and feed him. We don’t intend to kick him out. But, he must move forward and take responsibility as an adult member of the household.

Provider Education, Take Two

The National Alliance on Mental Illness Orange County (NAMI OC) chapter asked me to retrain for the new two-day Provider Education curriculum.

I had served on the Provider Education team that first structured the five-week course content into a two-day format, and we had done it in two days numerous times.

Turns out the “new” curriculum varied very little from what we were teaching. By lunch on that Saturday, I lost my temper. I was insulted.

Explaining that I had a lot going on in my life (mother’s stroke, dad’s death, son’s anxiety), I left with the “new” two-day curriculum binder in hand.

Self-Care

After losing my temper at NAMI OC, I knew I needed a break to pull myself together and bring myself down from irritable hypomania before the International Bipolar Foundation (IBPF) Women’s Mental Health panel discussion on the following Tuesday.

How did I recover? I left. Booked myself into a hotel in La Jolla Sunday through Wednesday and relaxed. Not everyone can do this. I realize that. But, it’s cheaper than psychiatric hospitalization.

Women in Mental Health

On the International Bipolar Foundation’s Women’s Mental Health Panel, I represented the mature women living with bipolar. Mental health activist and actor, Claire Griffiths, represented the perspective of a teenager. Aubrey Good, the Social Media and Program Coordinator of IBPF, represented the young adult perspective.

I had a wonderful time meeting IBPF staff and volunteers and loved being a part of their panel discussion. I hope to do more public speaking events in the future.

Success!

When I returned home Wednesday, my son had showered, dressed, fed himself, and was ready to take his first high school equivalency test. He passed. I never doubted his ability to pass the test.

BIG DEAL: He overcame his anxiety and didn’t get a migraine. Two days later, he took the next test despite migraine symptoms. He took migraine and nausea medications and faced his fear. Again, he passed.

Two down. Two to go. Moving Forward.

Connecting with Online Friends in Real Life

This weekend, Sarah Fader came into town. She managed to connect with several mental health advocates and writers over the weekend.

Sunday, we met with:

I never would have tried to visit so many people in such a short time!

Mini-Family Reunion

Sunday night had the pleasure of meeting my uncle, two of my cousins, their spouses and kids in Anaheim. Family. Love. Great food. Fireworks in the sky. Thank you!

I CAN Do It

Lesson Learned: If I take care of myself, I can achieve more AND so can my son.

This Is My Brave Now – A Guest Post by Kitt O’Malley

Thank you, Jennifer Marshall for featuring my guest post on This is My Brave:
This Is My Brave Now – A Guest Post by Kitt O’Malley.

Secrets are more damaging than openly being yourself. - Kitt O'Malley - thisismybrave.org

This is My Brave as I write these words. This is My Brave as I blog about living with bipolar disorder. This is My Brave as I use social media to advocate for mental health. This is My Brave as I train to volunteer educating others about my experience living with mental illness. This Brave enables me to stand up and speak out against mental health stigma and discrimination. Fellow mental health advocates have emboldened me. Together we are braver than we are apart. This Brave connects me to others. This Brave breaks down walls I constructed to protect myself. This Brave breaks down walls others construct to protect themselves from their fear of mental illness and of those living with mental illness.

For years I disguised depressive symptoms behind a mask of high achievement and perfectionism. As a college freshman, I grappled with suicidal thoughts, believing that the world would be better off without me. I did not tell my parents, for I did not want to disappoint them. I did not tell my college acquaintances. I kept my secret. Those friends I did tell made me promise to get help, which I did. The psychologist I saw practiced cognitive behavioral therapy which helped me to distance myself from my suicidal thoughts.

Finding my brave over the course of my life since then has been a gradual process. I spent my twenties in and out of therapy. By the time I was thirty years old, I had undergone years of psychotherapy, gotten a masters in psychology, became a licensed marriage and family therapist, worked at a battered women’s shelter, treated children and adolescents in day treatment, and adolescent girls in residential treatment, and counseled pregnant and parenting adolescents. As you can see, I was pretty deeply involved in the mental health field. Until one day I just could not, for the life of me, get out of bed. Not at all. This time, I called my parents and asked for their help. Crying over the phone, I told them that I just couldn’t do it anymore.

My parents flew up to help. All I had to do was ask. For the first time, I sought medical help for my depression. No longer did I try to tough it out using only psychotherapy, now I added psychiatric treatment and antidepressants to my arsenal. Unfortunately, tricyclic antidepressants triggered a week-long manic psychotic break, during which I did not sleep and thoughts raced through my mind faster than I could comprehend them. Since this break occurred in response to medication, I was not diagnosed bipolar at the time.

Recovery from this break involved moving back in with my parents. I took a temporary position with a commercial real estate firm that began a decade-long career in commercial real estate, a field not as emotionally demanding as psychology, but that took advantage of my still undiagnosed hypomanic symptoms.

My hypomanic symptoms were not yet included in the DSM diagnostic criteria for bipolar disorder. Instead, I was an overachiever diagnosed with chronic depression. I would tell doctors that I was at the very least cyclothymic, for I achieved more and produced more – way more – than others. I was a full-on workaholic. At work and in my personal life, I was honest and open about my diagnosis of depression. When undergoing dosage or medication changes, I informed my supervisors, for such changes often temporarily affected my behavior at the office.

At the age of thirty-nine, I began once again experiencing the euphoric sensation that God was calling me to do something. I recognized the symptom as mania and called the advice nurse, who recommended that I see a psychiatrist or go to the emergency room immediately. Upon receiving a diagnosis of bipolar disorder type II, I again openly shared my diagnosis with my employer.

In the workplace, with friends, and with acquaintances, I always found it more natural to be open and honest about my diagnosis. Having once been a mental health professional, I long had a passion for mental health. I knew that others could not see my illness. I knew that by sharing this fact I would challenge their assumptions.

Secrets are more damaging than openly being yourself. Once I hid behind perfectionism. As I became more accepting and forgiving of my own imperfection, of my humanity, as I showed myself the same compassion I once showed my clients, My Brave grew, grew to what it is today. This is My Brave now.

What I’m Working On Now

NAMI Ending the Silence Program, This is My Brave, Transformed by Postpartum Depression

Last Thursday, I interviewed at NAMI Orange County to participate in two of their programs:

NAMI Ending the Silence

NAMI Ending the Silence is an in-school presentation about mental health designed for high school students. Students can learn about mental illness directly from family members and individuals living with mental illness themselves.

NAMI Provider Education

The NAMI Provider Education Program presents a penetrating, subjective view of family and consumer experiences with serious mental illness to line staff at public agencies who work directly with people with severe and persistent brain disorders.

Saturday January 31st, the next NAMI Orange County Provider Education program begins. I’m taking the course as a provider, even though I have not practiced psychotherapy since I was thirty. Perhaps I will later be trained to be a provider educator myself, if it is not too socially stimulating. Honestly, after my interview, I became hypomanic. Not sure what I can do without triggering symptoms.

Another project I am working on is finishing a 750-word piece for This is My Brave. Thank you, founder Jennifer Marshall who blogs at Bipolar Mom Life. I have writer’s block and finding it difficult to complete.

This is My Brave

This Is My Brave, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, provides a community and platform for people living with mental illness to speak out to end the stigma associated with mental health disorders.

Transformed by Postpartum Depression

Along with many other books I want to read, I REALLY want to finish reading my good friend Walker Karraa, PhD‘s new book Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth.

Transformed by PPD

STIGMAMA.COM

I am a proud contributor to Walker Karraa, PhD‘s groundbreaking website STIGMAMA.COM. February’s theme is storytelling and fiction. Contact STIGMAMA.COM to submit your piece.

STIGMAMATM provides a nonjudgmental, supportive, creative community for women to speak their truths OUT LOUD, for with the wisdom and support of others we can unpack the stigma of mental difference in motherhood.