June 26, 2020

Life With Chronic (Mental) Illnesses

If there's one phrase related to mental illness that I hate more than any other, it's "suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem."

I want to get violent any time I hear or see someone spout those ignorant words because my mental illness is anything but "temporary." Unless you consider 30+ years as temporary.

I can't remember when I was first officially diagnosed with depression. It was probably in my early twenties after I had my first child. But the signs were there long before the diagnosis. I knew without a doubt at 12 that I had depression with suicidal tendencies but didn't have the words or a voice to ask for help even when I was seeing a therapist for other reasons (I'll get back to that). But going back even farther than that... I knew at 8 or 9 that there was something wrong with me. Something different than the other kids.

I didn't have the energy and enjoyment of normal kid things like my brother and friends. A lot of time, I would just sit and watch them play because it was all too overwhelming for me. Or I'd be content to play with my dolls alone in my room, lost in my thoughts. Of course, now I know I'm also an introvert so it makes sense that my friends overwhelmed me, but my thought definitely weren't always rainbows and unicorns.

Things started getting worse in junior high. I had no friends my own age after moving across the city. The one friend I had lived next door, and she was five years younger than me. We got along great, though despite the age difference. Back at school, I just didn't get the girls my own age. They were into makeup, clothes, trying to get "dates" with the boys to kiss behind the school or whatever. I mean, I had crushes on some of the boys, but I wasn't interested in that other stuff. I still wanted to make up stories with my Barbies and be left alone. I definitely didn't want to get dressed up and go on dates (ugh).

So my loneliness and depression increased the two years I was at that school to the point, I came home crying most days (which I hid from my parents so they wouldn't worry). I did end up in therapy for a bit. I don't remember why we went--I think originally it was to test my brother for dyslexia and that slid over to the counseling services. I hated it. And that experience turned me off asking for help for years.

See, the counselor we saw was just a witch and probably shouldn't have been working with children. We went every weekend for a while, but by the second session, I stopped talking because her answer to my loneliness and depression was to dump my one best friend--the one person that just got me and I could spend hours just talking to about everything--and start spending time with kids my own age--who were smoking and drinking and having sex and bullying me until I cried every day.

I just stopped listening to anything she said at that point. During sessions, I would stare at the floor and ignore her which really pissed her off. Eventually, she threatened to send me to a group home for defiant girls if I didn't talk to her. I just laughed because I knew my parents would never let that happen (nor could they afford it). The next week when I refused to go, I finally told my mom what had been going on in the the sessions. We never went back, and I've been very leery of therapists ever since.

In high school, things got progressively worse. I had friends, but I developed social anxiety that kept me from really connecting with anyone. I isolated a lot and only saw my friends at school which meant I spent entire summers alone in my room. I was "passively" suicidal meaning I wasn't actively trying to kill myself but wished I would just die in my sleep and be done with it all.

The stress of college made it even worse, especially when I started having issues with my boyfriend (my first serious relationship). At 19, I almost walked in front of a speeding semi with my only thought being, "I wonder if this would hurt?"

I still didn't seek help because I didn't trust therapists and felt like it was a personal weakness that everyone else seemed to be handling just fine. I floundered on, broke up with my boyfriend, quit school, and settled into a boring life of working for minimum wage and watching TV. It was all I could handle because everything else just exhausted me.

Eventually, I got married and started having kids. Me and pregnancy don't mix well, but I did it five times, and each nearly killed me emotionally. I had a break down in the hospital after my second child was born. They wouldn't let me leave unless I spoke to a therapist and set up appointments for after. I saw him for few months after, but it was an hour drive to his office to have him mostly ignore me for fifteen minutes then tell me I was doing good because I lied and said I was fine when he asked.

I wasn't fine.

I was a complete mess. I went off the meds he gave me when I got pregnant four months later, but when I was four or five months along, my OB recognized I was falling apart and put me back on something to get me through the pregnancy. I took that until the baby was about five months old. I remember standing at the sink, ready to take my daily pill and realizing it was doing nothing for me. Like I felt no different on them than when I wasn't taking them so I just stopped.

Nothing changed. I continued to muddle through life, constantly tired and emotionally distant from everyone, including my now three children (who were babies/toddlers at the time).

It wasn't until after my fifth child was born--actually not until he was one--that I finally got help. That was 2011. I was 33 and had a complete nervous breakdown that scared everyone.

It was so bad at one point that I couldn't speak. I just couldn't. I'd try but no words would come out. I walked around like I was 80 years old. I didn't eat. I hadn't slept in forever because of chronic insomnia. After weeks of my just lying in bed, only getting up to change/feed the baby and make sure the older kids ate something, my husband got me an appointment when a therapist who immediately referred me to a NP to get me on meds.

Did things get better after that? Not really. I took the meds, hoping for the best but never really got better than "at least I don't want to kill myself now." Which I guess is something. I was still emotionally and physically exhausted all of the time. I couldn't write (a favorite past time) and could barely take care of my kids. It was just my life and wasn't going to get any better--at least that's what I assumed. Mostly, I mourned for my kids because they wouldn't get to do all the fun things I saw other families doing because I just didn't have the energy or emotional strength to handle stuff like birthday parties and day hikes and big art projects.

Then in 2013, something strange happened. I suddenly felt really good. Really Good. It was weird, but I had "good" days before that I latched onto because they were so fleeting. This one felt different, though. It took me a bit to pinpoint why, but when I did, it freaked me out. See, a "good" day for me meant getting all my chores done and still having energy to do some writing or take the kids for a walk. A good day was laughing at the kids antics and not freaking out when they colored on the walls or spilled their cereal everywhere. This Really Good day was so much more than that.

In the course of a week, I decided I wanted to be an editor, put in paperwork for financial aid, enrolled in an online college, got a tattoo, talked on the phone (I also have severe phone anxiety so this was big) several times without missing a beat, spent a bunch of money on myself for no reason, and caught myself speeding home (I never go more than 4 miles over the speed limit... never).

I sat there thinking about how easy all of that was and how I didn't even ask my husband about investing thousands in going back to college when I have zero income as a stay-at-home-mom. It wasn't like me. I mean, I talk to him if I plan to spend more than $20 at the store to be sure our budget can handle it. Something was seriously wrong with me.

I did a little research that led me to bipolar disorder which I brought up with my mental health provider at my next appointment. He immediately agreed with me and changed my meds around. That was like having someone flip a light switch in my brain. I suddenly had energy and enjoyed spending time with my kids and wanted to write again and just was happy for the first time in my entire life. I was 36 years and only just then understood what "happy" meant.

But it didn't last. Over the years, the meds stopped working as well. The depression slipped back in. I ended up continuing with the online university to finish the degree I started in my 20s and the stress put me in the hospital on a 72 hour psych hold. Despite the setback, I managed to finish my degree (Class of 2015, Yo!) but everything has been downhill since then.

My mental health has deteriorated every year since then. I had no energy, felt sad and depressed every moment of every day. I cried a lot over nothing. My anxiety was through the roof. I couldn't deal with the simplest of stresses (and having five kids is stressful). I basically locked myself in my room for years to save what little bit of sanity I had left.

My doctor tried a few different meds but nothing seemed to help. Then in 2019, he told me there was nothing else he could try so I should go back to therapy because I just needed to talk it out. I agreed only because I thought therapy might help me cope with the fact that meds weren't going to fix my brain apparently and I was going to be depressed, lethargic, fatigued and unable to function in the real world the rest of my life. Still, it took a lot pysching up to walk into that therapy session because of my anxiety. Only to find out it had been canceled and I was there for nothing.

I haven't been back to that office since then. In October of last year, we temporarily lost our insurance and my meds ran out. I've been unmedicated for my severe mental illness since then and it sucks. I was unable to find another doctor because of the insurance issues.

I've barely been hanging on by a thread for months.

Every moment of every day, I'm depressed and anxious. Then the pandemic started and the world farther apart with the riots and protests. I can't sleep anymore because of panic attacks.

I just keep hoping I can make it until I can find a new doctor that's willing to try other meds. Or try anything really.

I finally caught a break last week when I found a new primary doctor for other health issues and she put in a referral to the behavioral health team at their clinic. Great, I'm on my way to having a new mental health doctor.

Except, now I'm stuck because to set up this appointment I either need to call them or go online to set up a video chat appointment. Seems simple enough, but remember I mentioned having phone anxiety? Yeah, that's serious. I don't use the phone. Ever. My husband makes all of my appointments for me. The thought of talking on the phone sets of a panic attack. When I was finishing my degree five years ago, one of my last courses required us to make videos. The only way I got through it was by getting completely drunk before I recorded them. It's the only way I could fight through the crippling anxiety that phones/videos give me.

So now I'm stuck with how do I get help for my mental illness when my mental illness is keeping me from getting the help? My anxiety has been through the roof since yesterday when I got the text from my husband about calling to make an appointment (apparently they won't let him do it--has to be me?). So I guess... I either get falling down drunk to make the call or just don't go and suffer longer.

This is life with chronic mental illness. I don't know how to function in the real world anymore. Most people would be like, just pick up the phone and call, what's the big deal? But it is a big deal for me. Just thinking about having to call causes my hear to race, head starts pounding, hands shaking, sick to my stomach. If my phone rings, I get a full-on panic attack and have nearly thrown my phone across the room in the past because of it. I hate phones. I haven't talked on one in years except when my daughter refuses to text and then it's only after she's called me three times in a row and ignored my text asking her what's wrong.

So, yeah, that's what it's like with bipolar, depression and severe anxiety. I'm a complete mess in my head. I don't enjoy anything. I can't concentrate on anything. I mostly sit and stare at the laptop without really processing anything I'm reading. Sometimes I play mindless games on my phone because I can't handle doing anything else. It takes a lot of energy to just get out of bed and take care of myself--to not want to die.

Written by justanotherjen

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