My Year of Mental Health

RainbowDespite my best efforts to blog every day, my posts have been somewhat sporadic. I’m sorry about that. For what it’s worth, it’s not you, it’s me.

No, really.

Do you remember back in January when I shared my carefully laid out my goals for 2013? They mostly consisted of reading more, writing more consistently, and taking charge of my writing career. So far, that’s going pretty well.

But there was another goal — nay, more a resolution — that I didn’t publicly share.

I resolved to make 2013 my Year of Mental Health.

Since I was a child, I’ve suffered from various mental health issues. There are times I’ve been fine. But there are lots of times when I haven’t.

Over the years I’ve been depressed, I’ve been manic, and I’ve heard voices and been unable to tell if they were real or in my head. I’ve been suicidal and I’ve self-harmed. I’ve taken crazy risks without caring about the consequences. I’ve suffered panic attacks and near-constant anxiety. I’ve been overwhelmed by feelings of helplessness that have left me curled up in the corner of the room for hours at a time. I’ve been hypnophobic and suffered from insomnia. I’ve obsessed over details, and been filled with rage because someone left a glass in the wrong place. I’ve feared and hated the outside world. And, on more than one occasion, I’ve hated myself.

And through all of this, there are two things I’ve always been: undiagnosed and untreated.

But it was okay. Because I got good at faking it in public and managing my symptoms in private.

Not controlling, mind you. Managing.

I got so good at it, most of my friends didn’t even know I had a problem.

When I was ‘up’, I could take on the world. I didn’t need sleep, so the hypnophobia wasn’t a problem. I could achieve anything. And sure, there was always a part of my brain anxiously fearing the day I’d crash into a ‘down’ condition, but I’d manage. I always managed. I was okay.

And then…

And then Little Brother came along. Little Brother, with his propensity for leaving a trail of mess in his wake. Little Brother, who demanded to be held and cuddled and loved, even when I needed my personal space. Little Brother, with his whirlwind tantrums and unrestrained laughter and overwhelming joie de vivre.

Little Brother, who threw my carefully ordered existence into disarray in a way that his old brother never had.

And suddenly I wasn’t managing.

Suddenly I was floundering.

Suddenly I was anxious and angry and unpredictable, as likely to burst into tears as scream or laugh or hyperventilate. Suddenly I was having panic attacks two, three, sometimes four times a week. Suddenly I wasn’t okay.

But I was scared. Scared to step outside my comfort zone and admit that I wasn’t okay.

But I needed to do it. For my children, if not myself.

And that’s why I resolved to make 2013 my Year of Mental Health.

I saw a psychiatrist in January. It was a big and terrifying step.

And now I can’t say I’m undiagnosed or untreated.

I was diagnosed with Bipolar 2, Generalised Anxiety Disorder, and mild OCD.

I was prescribed medication.

And now…

Look, I’m not magically okay. It’s… trying. To say the least. There’s trial and error in finding the right medication, and I don’t think I’ve got it right yet. Some days I find myself wishing for the good old days when I may have been “crazy”, but it was my kind of crazy and I knew who I was and how I would react to things.

Then I look around and notice how much calmer my children are, and how much I’ve come to enjoy the feeling of Little Brother curled up against me for “more more cuggles” before bed, and I know that no matter how hard this adjustment phase is, it will be worth it.

I’m not going to regularly talk about my mental health on my blog. But I wanted to let you know why I haven’t been around as consistently as I’d like. Oh, and also?

Speaking up about what I’m going through is another big, scary step.

And sometimes it’s important to be brave.

You never know who will benefit.

Ship in port

I’d like to dedicate this post to my good blogging friend Kim “The G is Silent” Pugliano. Her honesty and openness about her own mental health not only inspired me to write this post, but also went a long way toward helping me come to terms with my diagnosis. Thanks, Kim. You’re the best.

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28 Comments

Filed under Opinion, Random Stuff

28 responses to “My Year of Mental Health

  1. GOOD FOR YOU!

    I have a few friends with Bipolar, and you’re right. It’s something you manage. At times, fine-tuning the meds can almost seem worse than the original condition, but on the whole, they manage far better with the meds than without.

    I’d say more, but it’s time to get the kids out the door over here. Mostly though, GOOD FOR YOU!

  2. Pingback: #BlogFlash2013: Day Five - Health

  3. I feel for what you’re going through. I do not – cannot – talk about any health issues I may or may not struggle with, mental or otherwise (I have a dayjob career to worry about, and I have to be very careful and circumspect in what I reveal about myself online, so as not to injure my promotability and hireability in the future)… but I can say that I follow the blogs of a number of other authors, many of them established professional authors, and based on what I’ve read in those places, I can say with certainty that you are not alone in these struggles. And I can also say that everything I’ve read and studied on the subject (I took a Psych class in undergrad… just one, so I’m no expert at all, but there you go) says you’ve made the right decision, not just for your family, but for yourself.

    From here, my understanding is that it is not a straight upward leaning line. There are likely to be relapses and setbacks. I know a lot less about Bipolar than I do some of the other conditions you mention, and I’m far from an authority on the subject. I just wanted you to know you’re not alone and that you’ve got encouragement coming at you from out here in Internetlandia.

    • Thank you so much. The support from Interlandia makes me feel humbled and oh so very lucky to have such great friends. (You have no idea how long it took me to push the ‘Publish’ button on this post.) I really appreciate your message.

  4. For me to say you’re very brave to write about it is patronising, so I’ll just say that I feel humbled that you’ve been able to express this publicly and with such honesty. I hope the way will be smoother for you from now on.

  5. JackieP

    all I can do is wish you the best of life and give you virtual {{{hugs}}} may light and love be yours always

  6. You are so beautiful, Jo–inside and out. Each morning your funny fb posts make me laugh and brighten the outlook of a new day. You give much of yourself to our P&P community and we all benefit from your insights and wisdom. I hate the thought that you have suffered. I wish there were easy answers for the challenges that leave us gasping and broken–we have all been there. Maybe it’s a precursor to writing some of the more powerful scenes we offer. Sending prayers and hugs for healing and for your inspiring honesty. xxxd

    • Thank you so much for your comment, Denise. It means so much to me. They say creative people are more likely to have mental health problems, and I’ve often wondered which comes first. Is it our creativity that opens us to suffering, or our suffering that opens us to creativity? Either way, I feel blessed to be part of such a strong and vibrant community of supportive individuals. xxx

  7. Bravo, Jo. The first step is the hardest, but you’ve got Robbie and those two wonderful boys to help you stay on the path. Good traveling to you!

  8. WOW. What an honest and meaningful post, Jo. I am so happy that you found someone to help- and I believe that your writing about it will help to remove the stigma many feel about even considering that help may be in order. If it makes you happier and more functional, and if it makes your family happier and more functional, what stigma should there be? None. Absolutely none. Good for you- and good luck on your journey.

    • Thank you. That’s one of the reasons I chose to put all my thoughts and feelings out into the ether — because when I was struggling, I could read Kim’s accounts of having the exact same conditions, and feel like I wasn’t alone and I would be okay. The best thing I could do in return was to follow her example and pay it forward.

  9. Kimmy is my daughter. I am so proud of both of you. We all have our crazies (in yiddish they would be call Mishagas) some people’s are just more obvious or harder to control then others. Keep up the hard work Jo. We are all worth it!

  10. Hang in there my friend. I’m so sorry you struggled so lung undiagnosed. That hurts me for you. I had years to diagnose me from beginning to now and still my meds are being tweaked. My lithium levels are being checked tomorrow and usually when they are checked they are off and I feel vindicated. It’s not easy to find the balance and unfortunately it will always be an off and on struggle. Let your family and friends help you. Email those of us who understand, even if just to vent. You can even say, “I don’t want a response, I just want to vent.” I love you my friend. I’m so proud of you.

    • Thank you, Kim. So much. I love you, too. And I’ll be in touch as I try to navigate my way through this crazy rollercoaster they call normality. Count on it. 🙂

  11. A close family member has bipolar disorder and was undiagnosed for many difficult years. And although it was hard at the time, once the diagnosis was made things started to change dramatically for the better – and have been good for many years now.

    Congratulations for being brave enough to seek help and share with us. It’s much more common than many people care to admit. I hope things go smoothly for you and that you have lots of support.

    • Thanks so much, Raewyn. I really appreciate your message. I’ve noticed that now I’m talking about it, I’m hearing a lot more stories about others who suffer from the same disorders. It’s both comforting (Yay! I’m not alone!) and sad that mental health issues aren’t as widely spoken about or understood as physical health issues.

  12. Jo – I’m so sorry this has been happening to you. I’m sending you BIG HUGS to let you know I think you’re a brave and beautiful woman. Medication is not a dirty word because all it does is balance the chemicals. I know the future is looking very bright for you now (because my hubby was also like this and his meds work absolute wonders. He is now a happy man because the ‘noise’ is gone!) 😀

    Well done!

  13. Have a wonderful, healthy year Jo. Keep on writin’!

  14. Kim is totally the best. But you’re a very close second. I’m a mess, honestly – I was pretty jealous at how together you are, so comfortable with yourself and motherhood. I still think that – regardless of your diagnosis. Love you. Truly.

    • Thanks, B. If there’s one thing I know from personal experience, it’s that you should never be jealous of people who always seem “together”. They probably have all the same insecurities and fears and worries as everyone else, they’re just not brave enough to admit it in public. Love you too. (And, truth be told, I’ve always felt a bit like the geek at the cool kids’ table when I’m hanging out with you and Kim.)

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