Re-learning Normal Emotions

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This week has been full of ups and downs.  Mostly ups, but some bad days and good days; some good moments, and bad moments.  I had a lot of time to reflect on what that means in regards to my illness.

Looking back…

I have had some GREAT moments in my life (hindsight, these times were most likely hypomania that I didn’t know I was having).  During these times I felt on top of the world… I felt like I would never have a bad day again.  I could bake 10 homemade goodies, make all of my personal care products and cleaning products homemade, keep a spotless house, keep up with laundry, play with the kids, exercise, eat perfectly, plan and prep meals for the week, etc… all in one day.  I thought I was doing what I was supposed to be doing as a “good mom and wife.”  I thought I was amazing.  Little did I know, I was living out my illness.  This is what hypomania looks like in my life.

This was usually followed by a low period (depression).  Those low periods were terrible.  Unfortunately I didn’t know what was going on so I thought I was a horrible wife, mom, friend, etc.  Sadly I had people on Facebook tell me I was being negative and even had a good friend de-friend me on Facebook because of it (because that helps)… I digress… I couldn’t get out of bed, off the couch, sat staring at my computer for hours and hours, etc.  My house was trashed all the time.  Laundry would pile up into loads and loads of laundry that needed to be done.  My kids were sitting in front of the tv so that I could stay on the couch, on my bed, whatever.  I often felt like I wanted to run away and had suicidal ideations (never thought I would go through with anything… just thought that maybe the world would be better off without me).

At this point in my life…

I am considered to be in “remission” from my illness.  I’m not having the high moments (hypomania), and I’m not feeling depressed.  I still have some anxiety (mainly in the evenings), but it has gotten much better.  I was scared to drive for a little while for fear I would get in a wreck, I was scared to let my kids out of my sight, and I would wake up in a panic thinking someone was going to die.  All of this recently until the doctor put me back on a medication for anxiety (he had taken me off of it thinking it wasn’t working, but obviously it was).

So the other day I had what most would call a “bad day.”  I immediately started thinking, what if I’m going back into depression? What if this isn’t the right dose and medication. I was worried about a bunch of stuff.  Then, this amazing thing happened.  I dealt with an issue that was bugging me.  And all of a sudden I started feeling better.  The rest of my day was better.  Not amazing, but not depressing.  I realized something in that moment.  Moments of stress, anxiety, anger, frustration, and fear are normal.  It’s just when they last and last that they become a problem.  I’m learning that simple problem solving can rid me of these emotions, and I can move on with my day.  On the flip side, moments of joy, peace, happiness, being carefree are normal.  Ups and downs are normal.  It’s the extremes for long periods of time that aren’t.

I have lived in a state of extremes my whole life so I didn’t know what was normal.  I’m having to re-learn a lot as I’m in “remission” thanks to the right dose of the right medication.  I’m also trying to learn what is anxiety caused by my illness, and what is just normal, regular old anxiety (my doctor reminds me that some anxiety, sometimes is normal).

So here I am, living this life that God has given me.  Sometimes feeling joyful, at peace, happy; and sometimes feeling angry, frustrated, or irritable.  Ultimately, I’m loving life and this new found peace that I am feeling.  I’m still praying that it will continue.  My fear sometimes is that the medication will stop working, or that something will happen to cause me to go back into my cycle.  So, I’m taking it one day at a time.  That’s all anyone can do, right?

My Story: How God Brought Me From the Pit to Complete Joy and Peace

These past many years have been a very wild ride.  A definite roller coaster.  And I have seen God working through every part of it.  Even when I fought and fought.  Even when I wanted to give up.  Even when I was incredibly impatient.  Even when I just flat out didn’t understand.  God had a plan the whole time.  Looking back, I can see his plan unfold over the past several years (and I mean several… like 10 or more).

Life is hard, y’all.  If I’ve learned anything, I’ve learned that.  It takes a lot of leaning on Jesus and allowing Him to carry you through it, or we wouldn’t make it.  I have had a lot of things happen in my life and I could wallow in it and say “why me?”  But instead, I chalk it up to the fact that God has a plan to use everything for His glory and name.  He also wants what’s best for us at all times, and sometimes we have to go through the yucky times to get there.  We end up stronger in the end.  Scratch that.  We end up realizing we have strength in Christ.

Just over six years ago, my brother committed suicide in a very gruesome manner.  At the time I was 7 months pregnant with Levi (my third child in a little under 4 years).  I had Levi then went through terrible, terrible postpartum depression.  I wanted to run away.  I just couldn’t do it anymore.  I was put on some medication and it helped me get through it, but I wouldn’t say life was any easier.  I was grieving.  I had three kids 4 and under.  Robert worked every single day.

We moved to Dallas 6 months later and lived with my in-laws.  I knew if I didn’t start working, we would never be able to leave my in-laws.  So, I got a job.  The next year and a half were brutal and I was still struggling with depression and severe anxiety (and panic attacks).  I was still processing my brother’s horrible death.  I quit working because I couldn’t manage anymore.  My dream was to homeschool, so I tried to do that with Karis and it was pretty much a flat fail.  We moved to Frisco a little later and life was pretty good for a few years (the only working I did was part time at a preschool, which was pretty awesome!).  Then, I tried working full time again.  Bad idea.

Just over two years ago I went into the hospital because I was “passively suicidal.”  Truth is, I just couldn’t live this life anymore.  I had nothing left in me to give.  I would go to work, do an okay job (all while feeling incredibly anxious and on the verge of a panic attack), come home, and go to bed.  Robert took care of everything.  He did an amazing job.  Not only did he do the basics, he went above and beyond like keeping up with laundry, keeping the house clean, etc.

Going into the hospital was the best thing I could have done for myself. I was able to process the feelings of grief about my brother’s death that I was pushing back because I couldn’t handle it.  I met other people like me.  I felt for the first time like I wasn’t alone.  I made friends that I still talk to today.  I was able to just rest.  Do crafts.  Exercise.  Do yoga.  Eat really well.  I almost didn’t want to leave.  It was a breath of fresh air.

Going to the hospital led my doctor to a new diagnosis for me: Bipolar 2.

The next two years have been pretty wild.  I worked off and on, always having to quit because of my illness.  I couldn’t handle a job.  It was too much for my mental health.  It led me back to the hospital in November of 2014.  I realized then that working is just not possible for me.

Last year around this time, Robert received an email from the Operations Director (now Site Director) of Camp Eagle.  We were excited but obviously didn’t get our hopes up because it had taken months (from the time he applied) to even receive an email.  Soon after, Robert had a phone interview, then soon after that, we found ourselves at Camp Eagle for an in person interview, tour of the camp, and a chance to hang out with and meet the staff.  It was amazing.  But, we still didn’t get our hopes up because even though we had this visit.  I’m not sure how many weeks went by (it was excruciating while we waited), but Robert eventually received the offer for the Maintenance Director position.  It was official.  We were moving back to camp.

This past year has been so amazing in so many ways!  I would not want to be anywhere else.  But I can’t say the whole year has been perfect.  This summer I made the realization that my medication wasn’t really working all that well.  I had a major hypomanic period, followed by a major depressive period.  Back to not being able to get out of bed.  Back to sleeping all the time.  Back to passive suicidal thoughts.  My life is so perfect, why am I so depressed?

We decided to put the kids in school again instead of homeschooling because I didn’t think I could handle it because of my depression.

It wasn’t until I saw a new doctor in October (November? Somewhere in there) that I felt like I could do this.  He took so much time to get to know me.  He went back to the beginning.  Through my conversation with him, he came to the conclusion that I do in fact have Bipolar 2 and we need to get it under control.  He made it clear that it is possible to get it under control.  His confidence gave me a huge relief.  He weaned me off of two meds and started me on a new one in which I had to slowly increase the dose.

Around this same time, Karis was really struggling in school.  Long story short, we ended up deciding to pull her out of school and homeschool her.

This school year (since I pulled her out) has been amazing.  Homeschooling her has given me a reason to get up every morning.  We have grown together in our relationship.  It has been fun for me to use some of my teaching skills that I haven’t been able to use in a while.  It hasn’t been easy (lots of trial and error with curriculum, etc), but it has been just what we both needed.

I was still having some hypomania episodes followed by depression (though not NEAR as severe), so my doctor increased my medication one last time and this is it.  This is the right medication and the right dose.  I feel completely and 100% normal.  I have good days, and I have bad days… just like everyone else.  But I’m not hypomanic and I’m not depressed.  I’m also not near as anxious as I used to be.

Between feeling really well, the fact that the boys’ school is 35 minutes away, and the fact that at camp homeschooling just makes more sense, we decided that next year we will homeschool all of our children.  I am so excited that I already ordered all of their curriculum (after hours and hours of research… and thanks to our tax refund).

I share all of this because I have realized a few things.  God had a plan from the time I was in college (well, obviously even before that, but this is where I see things start).  I got my teaching degree, and I love to teach.  It just happens to be in a different way than I envisioned.  I have wanted to homeschool since we were at our last camp, and I’m finally able to do this.  He led me to an amazing doctor who has not given up until he found the right medication and the right dose to help me not have symptoms of hypomania and depression.  My anxiety is the lowest it has ever been.  I have the desire and will to keep up with my house (which has always been a point of anxiety for me), keep up with laundry (which I’ve never been able to do before), homeschool, cook dinner (which sometimes means mac n cheese, dining hall, or something really nice and I’m okay with all of that), bake once in a while (but not obsessively), be content with my body (still getting there, but much more content than ever before), exercise for enjoyment, spend time in the word (not out of guilt, but pure desire), enjoy time with our wonderful community (which, being an introvert, this is huge), reach out and serve others, and just enjoy life.  The ups and downs.  The good and bad days.  This life that He has allowed me to have.

We went to San Antonio Saturday and while it was somewhat stressful (San Antonio River Walk on a Saturday was a bad idea), I feel like these pictures show the pure joy that I feel.  I feel like I can breathe.  Laugh.  Enjoy life.

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I can’t express how thankful I am.  I tell God every day.  I wonder if he’ll ever get tired of hearing it?  Probably not.  He delights in praises and gratefulness.

Where are you in your journey?  If you’re in the middle of the fire right now, know that God will use this for His glory and your good.  He loves you.  He knows what’s best.  Just hold onto Him.

Inability to Balance Related to Bipolar II

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Like I wrote in my last post, my doctor told me he wouldn’t give up until I no longer have symptoms of Bipolar II.  I am so thankful for a doctor that has faith that this is attainable.  Until he said that last Monday, I thought I would always live with the symptoms to some degree.

As the new dose and new med are getting into my system, I’m beginning to feel more stable and balanced than ever before.  This new stability is helping me see something that I’ve never seen/understood before.

I have struggled with balance in every area of my life for as long as I can remember.  Food, exercise, alcohol, weight obsession, and even cleaning and laundry.  I’ve had an all or nothing attitude about everything.

I ate perfect (obsessing), or I ate terrible.  I exercised 2-3 hours a day (doing exercise that I hated) or not at all.  I have been obsessed with my weight since I was a kid.  I focused on it completely or gave up. I had too much alcohol too often, or I didn’t have any.  I had a spotless house, or I had a house that was trashed.

As I’m becoming more stable I’m realizing that it is possible to have balance in these areas, and I’m finally coming to that balance that I’ve always desired.

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Recently, I’ve started exercising 4-5 days a week.  Karis and I hike for an hour each afternoon.  I love hiking most of all, and even though it’s not strength training, I’m okay with that.  I eat healthy much of the time, but I don’t fret over a piece of cake or sugar in my coffee.  I eat when I’m hungry.  I try not to eat out of emotion.  I eat more intuitively than ever before.  I eat and exercise for health rather than weight loss.  I learned that some of my issue with weight is out of my control because of medication, and I’m learning to accept that.  It’s really cool that my Fitbit shows my resting heart rate over time, and it has slowly been decreasing, which is huge!  I have beer (or wine) a few times a week, and when I do, it’s just a few.  I don’t drink to cope anymore, which was a huge issue when I was in the thick of things.  My doctor told me it’s really common for people with high anxiety to drink to cope because it takes it away for a time.  But the downfall of that is that it can lead to addiction, and it’s really bad for you.  It also doesn’t help with weight issues :-).  There are so many more healthy ways to cope and take care of yourself, and I’m learning to practice those things.  So, I don’t feel like I need it anymore like I used to.  Instead of drinking alcohol, I drink my favorite hot tea or coffee (decaf at night).  I play a game with my kids or Robert.  I journal.  I sit on the porch and enjoy the evening.  I chat with friends.  I go for a hike.  I clean.  I spend time planning for homeschooling or researching homeschooling curriculum (the nerd in me enjoys these things).  I cook or bake.  I write.  There are so many more things that I can do for self care and to cope with feeling bad.  If none of these things work, I take medication designed to help with anxiety instead of drinking.  It’s made a world of difference for me!

My prayer now is that this balance in my moods and every area of my life stays this way.  I have heard of many people finding the right combination of medications and things stay great.  I’ve also heard of people finding the right combination and it ends up not working as well down the road.  So, I’m just taking it one day at a time.  If nothing else, I’m learning more about myself every day.  I am able to control things better with the wisdom and knowledge that I have gained, and I have also learned a lot about practicing self care… the most important part of my day as far as I’m concerned.

The most important part of all of this is that God has led me to the right doctor, a great counselor, and great friends and family to support me and help me through all of this.  I feel that God has a purpose and a plan for all that I have gone through and continue to go through.  I have seen Him work in my life and the lives of my friends because of my illness.

Being this open and vulnerable is really hard sometimes.  I have the fear of what people will think of me.  But I have found over time that vulnerability is courage, and that courage is what helps others.  It’s worth it if I help one person to feel encouraged through my vulnerability.