The Sick Child

Recently a thread has woven through my life, a phrase has stuck to my ribs, names have been called, and a life has been defined. It started in my teens when a friend called me a doormat. Then last year, when a co-worker called me the bosses puppet. And just this week, when my coworker said my student treats me like his servant.

Doormat. Puppet. Servant. I avoid conflict at all costs and this is what it has gotten me. I will go to extremes not to be confrontational; I will fawn, I will mask, I will freeze, I will flee. I will do it all except speak up.

I have read how to do it, I have attended workshops, I have stepped one foot into the shallow puddle, but never gone into the deep end of standing in my own voice. I stay in the shallow waters, and the results remain anemic. I don’t know what else to do. I don’t know how to summon the courage, even in the moment when I know what I should be doing, I won’t do it. There is definitely some heavy anchor weighing me down that I need to unearth. Lord, help me find the strength.

“I told you so,” trigger warning SI

I know Julie Fast says that it’s common for people with bipolar to have suicidal thoughts that she calls “cloud thoughts” that drift in and out, and while they are to be taken seriously, it is a normal part of the bipolar experience, and to take necessary precautions. I am thankful to have read her articles and books, and to have come across that perspective.

I thought I might cry during my virtual appointment with my psychiatrist, so I jotted down some notes beforehand so I would remember what I wanted to say. I had not told anyone about my Sunday and Monday, and speaking the words for the first time might be difficult. I started by telling him my mood is much improved and the thoughts had settled down. I explained that I had racing thoughts, and one that was appearing frequently was that there was a knife in the kitchen, and I could use it. I let him know that on Sunday the thought was looping in my head every five minutes, and I just avoided going in the kitchen. By Monday the voice was quieter and less frequent, but I still had anxiety and racing thoughts. Today is Wednesday and all I feel is the normal anxiety that I have every day. The voices and images have quieted down.

I also told him I use Natasha Tracy’s Suicide Assessment Scale and I was at a 2, the highest risk being a 10.

He said that from my description I was having intrusive thoughts and not experiencing depression. I confirmed that, and said that I was more anxious and high energy with no signs of depression. Maybe a mixed state. He asked if I’d ever experienced this before, and I thought about it and replied that I had not, that when I had suicidal thoughts in the past they had been accompanied with depression. He reminded me that if I were to feel concerned, I could call 911 or emergency psychiatric services.

We talked about the stress of my job, and I let him know that I work with a group of amazing women and we love and support one another through the difficulties. We are determined to support each other through to the month of May when school ends for the summer. He told me there was something to be said for taking care of yourself first. He has made it clear that he thinks this job is too stressful for me, and to avoid mood swings it would be better to resign sooner. I do respect his opinion, and I do agree that the job is stressful, but my team is so supportive that they have found a way to make it less stressful for me. It is working well for now. I am willing to take it day by day and assess my moods frequently. I guess this could be considered my psychiatrists “I told you so” session, since I seemed to be in a mixed state, due to the stress of my job. In any case, I got through my appointment without crying, the thoughts are gone, and I feel peaceful.

Mixed Episode

A bipolar mixed episode has come on very quickly. I was feeling depressed this morning. The dog wanted to take a walk at 5:00 in the morning, he is such an early riser! So we did that, but then I went back to bed and slept until 11:00am. I could feel the weight of depression, and I worked hard to make it lighter. I got up and had a cup of coffee that my husband made, he is always so helpful for my moods, having him around keeps me much more even. I told him I was feeling a bit of depression coming on, and asked him, “Would you be mad if I just went back to bed?” He said no, so I slipped back under the covers, but somehow within the next five minutes I found the energy to bolt out of bed and take a shower. I knew that would be best for my mood. I played a little game with myself, I promised I could take a shower but didn’t have to blow dry my hair, and I decided that was a good deal, so I went for it.

After my shower I felt a little better, but was teary eyed, which was unusual for me. I typed up a message to my psychiatrist letting him know the shift in my mood. I am hoping he will adjust my medication even though what he really wants me to do is find a less stressful job.

I am going to wait until after work tomorrow to go grocery shopping. I don’t seem to have the right frame of mind to push myself through that today. Who knows that could change. I do not have an appetite, which is also unusual. My mind is racing with thoughts, so that is the manic side I can slow down by writing, so I will probably write notes to myself for a little while so I don’t write a nonsense novel over here! I hope everyone’s day is delightful. Take good care of yourself!

Manic Author

Last September I decided to write a children’s book. It was something I’ve researched in the past, so it didn’t come out of the blue, but the drive I had to work on it did seem like manic energy. I wrote a cute little story based on my dog Dez. While standing under a tree he gets hit in the head by a ball. It turns our that Shakey the Squirrel is cleaning his house in the tree, and the ball rolled out and bounced on Dez’s head. It inspires him to clean his own room. This begins the journey, and it ends with a rollicking celebration of Dez’s clean room. Along the way, it teaches children a “fun” way to clean their room. The first time I wrote the book it didn’t rhyme, and it was dull, so my manic mind played with words to make it rhyme and it was so much more fun to read!

I took to Fiverr to find an illustrator and took bids from four different artists and chose my favorite, with username nitadraw. I loved her illustrations, and have included one here. All of this is costing me money of course, and I tell myself that I will be using Amazon’s kindle kids book app to sell lots of copies of the book so it’s ok to spend the money now, it will all pay off! Well, long story short, I was super ambitious when it came to the writing and fiverr conversations about illustrations, but once it came to the technology of the Kindle Children’s Book illustrations, I ran out of steam. The mania was wearing off and I was at the end of my adventure. I do have all of the illustrations and text saved, so perhaps this summer when I have vacation time I will actually publish it. My manic mind thought it was a pretty cute book, but regular ole me is plagued with doubt.

online therapy

Photo by Andrew Neel on

I am trying to recall the number of therapists I have had over the years, and I am having a hard time with my memory; I can only think of four. I have had therapists who specialize in Cognitive Behavioral therapy, Dialectal Behavioral therapy, and talk therapy. I have benefited from each of them at different times in my life. Over the last six months I have tried online therapy, and after three attempts to find a therapist that I would mesh well with, I found one I am very happy with and I look forward to our weekly sessions.

I chose to use, and honestly I didn’t do any extensive research, I just came across it on facebook and thought I’d give it a try. They have options for doing sessions with video, phone and chat, and I chose chat because I benefit a lot from the written word. Ideas cement in my mind more readily when I can read them, and I feel safe communicating that way. I feel free to explore my most personal concerns with my new therapist; she is encouraging and supportive.

You begin selecting your therapist through a series of questions that range from what type of therapy you’d like to try to the gender and age you’d prefer your therapist to be. After answering a series of questions they offer up a selection of therapists. You can read about them and their philosophy about treatment, and the type of treatment they offer. The process to set up an appointment is very user friendly, and you can select ways to be reminded of your appointment, I selected both text and email reminders and they will send them out as frequently as you request; I get reminders the day before, the day of and minutes before the session starts.

I do not know that insurance will cover online therapists. I have budgeted to pay for my therapy sessions as I think they are so crucial to my mental health and the convenience of doing it online is what keeps me going on a regular basis. The sessions range from $60 – $90 a session; I understand that I am fortunate to be able to afford this service. I simply cannot take the time off from work to go to a therapist in person on a regular basis. I sacrifice in other areas in order to be able to afford this service. It keeps me centered, balanced and stable. I don’t know that online therapy is for everyone, but I feel fortunate and blessed that it is an option for me. My current therapist specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy, which I am familiar with and it seems to work quite well for me. The convenience, choice, and preference for communication make it ideal.

My current therapist is actually living in the same city that I live in! I did not know that at the time that I selected her. She is very encouraging and a good listener. I look forward to each of our sessions and I feel I can be very vulnerable with her and tell her what I am feeling and experiencing. She reminds me that I am safe in telling her my thoughts, and I appreciate hearing that. My wish for you, if you should try this is that you find a therapist as wonderful, compassionate and understanding as mine is.

Crazy to the Left of Me

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Last night I googled “nervous breakdown” because I thought I might be having one. I was irritable, close to tears, overwhelmed and exhausted. But today I eased into each hour at work, floating above events as they passed, feeling assured that all was well. The pendulum swings back again and I am envisioning a scenario in which I do something so embarrassing and inappropriate at work that I am taken to a psych ward immediately. A chance to rest, I think.

The negative voices are whispering now instead of shouting. My therapist said I sound more grounded this week. While I have had a few symptoms here and there, I have not had a bipolar episode for 14 months. My psychiatrist is conservative in his approach. He still likes to see me on a monthly basis, and today he summarized my medication journey, explaining the many options we had if for some reason I should have a depression or mania while on my current medications. Right now my medication cocktail is working.

We had an ice storm recently and I had time off from work for four days. I curled up on the couch and read Ellen Forney’s books Marbles and Rock Steady They are both inspiring and educational, and especially compelling for creative types who are concerned about medication dulling the spark of creativity.

The weekend is here and tomorrow I will rest. I look forward to the quiet, the calm, and the slower pace that awaits me.

A Little Taste of Mania

I had a day this week where I was feeling happy and had to ask myself if I was becoming manic. I played my favorite songs that I listened to during my last manic episode, in hopes that I could nudge a tiny taste of mania into my week. So far, I have ranged from a normal happy to just ho hum. It feels stable, and I am thankful for that. I did purchase some items from amazon, which even normal me tends to do in spurts, and it wasn’t for an unreasonable amount of money. I got bubble solution, licorice for my husband, and two books about bipolar by Ellen Forney that I promised myself I would get months ago, so it didn’t seem all that impulsive.

I did find it interesting that the day I was feeling very happy was also a very good day for the student I worked with. It could be that it was a coincidence, but it reminded me that the energy I bring to that relationship is crucial. It was also a day after I expressed my insecurities to my team mates and they were able to reassure me that it wasn’t “all my fault” as I thought and that we are all searching for the right approach to helping our students. So sometimes it’s okay for me to express my paranoid thoughts; I was fortunate to have a chorus of support in return. What a gift that was.

I am still keeping a close watch on my mood, but for now it just feels like I have gained some confidence at work and that is leading to a happier disposition overall. I told my psychiatrist that I may be looking for another job over the summer, and he asked me why wait that long. He feels the stress of my work could trigger a mood episode, and that I shouldn’t be doing this job. I guess the reality is that I have chosen not to take his advice, and he either gets to say “I told you so,” or I will continue to remain stable while in this job that brings both struggles and joy.

Head Just Above Water

I am amazed at the strength I am able to reach for at each moment. I assume I have finally found the right combination of medications to treat my bipolar. Still, I struggle. I have been told three times this week by different people that I am doing an amazing job at work, and I can’t seem to summon that belief up for myself. I feel I am doing a horrible job and it’s only a matter of time before everyone figures it out. The negative voices are very strong. But with each moment I fight them. I try to recall the good mood I have in my therapy sessions when I am doing CBT, when I find a more realistic response. Yes, I want to do better, and I am doing pretty good. I am satisfied with feeling I am doing pretty good. I think it is a logical, realistic and rational reflection of my true skill at my job.

When I was talking with the principal of the school I resigned from a few years back she said, “you know you are a good teacher.” So I kind of stick with that. I am not great, or amazing, I am good. And I am ok with that. We all want to be excellent at what we do. I’m not there now, and that’s got to be ok with me. I can learn from others and improve. I am grateful to be in an environment where I have that opportunity.

Today is Saturday, and I like to take time to reflect on my week, and I have to say, each day was really tiring, but also rewarding. In my very best moments I get to smile and laugh with children and teach them something new along the way. I am blessed.

Manic Music

I’ve been reading Julie Fast’s Book Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder and it’s brought back memories of my last manic episode and reminded me how precarious the line is between being healthy and being unwell. My intentions in reading it was to help a friend in need, which it has done, but it created almost a sense of nostalgia for the time I was manic. I want to feel that good and confident again. I miss it. I miss loving my job, arriving early and blasting music in my classroom, running around and setting up for the exciting day to come. I remember the thrill of creating and executing lessons that the kids got excited about and learned from. I miss the thrill of living.

Today I felt happiness as I found the chores I had to do to be easier to accomplish than they have been in the previous days. I got more work done today than I have in the entire week before. I was thankful for the ease with which I carried out my tasks, and reflected on why that was. I didn’t think I was getting manic, but being happy is certainly something to question, as sad as that seems. Just look out for feeling too happy, I tell myself.

As the cooler air of the afternoon rolled in my spirits began to decline. I felt a sadness set in that I hoped was only temporary. Fortunately it was. I perked up once my husband came home and we were able to laugh about our day together.

I sought out music as a way to even out my mood. I listened to the song I put on repeat when I was manic. It’s a song by One Republic, “Counting Stars.” I would listen to it on my way to work and while I was setting up for my lessons in the morning. It had the lyrics “Everything that kills me makes me feel alive.” and in my mania it really seemed to speak to me. The whole song seemed to make sense to me, and I would sometimes sing to it in the car. It felt like such a universal sentiment, that we all are attracted to things that are bad for us, and it was my way of celebrating that I was not alone in this sentiment. I felt if we experienced it together, we could fight it together as well. Another part of the song says “no more counting dollars, we’ll be counting stars,” which was the part where I found hope. Every line of the song reverberated meaning, clarity and hope to me. Now that the mania is over, I still enjoy the song, but it’s not quite the same. It’s no longer the mantra that it once was.

Happy Holidaze

Marshmallow snowman floats in a dreamy hot chocolate. He looks pretty happy. I wonder if it’s a bit like being in a sauna; somehow you feel it’s good for you, but it’s just getting a little too hot. That’s probably a pretty good way to describe my holidays – not the weather, because it is comfortably cool outside, but internally I have some hot issues to deal with.

All of that can be dealt with in due time. For now I will sip my celebratory Bailey’s Vanilla Cinnamon Irish Cream on Christmas Eve and send as many well wishes and virtual hugs as you would like to accept, they are here for you ready, warm and cozy. Just waiting for your acceptance. Happy Holidays to all!