This month marks my time of late onset bipolar disorder.
What has changed over the past seven years? I often ask myself that same question!
In 2000, one of my students, age 5, was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. I was working in the Early Years Program at the time as was a certified Developmental Service Worker which gave me the knowledge and specialty of working with children and youth with Developmental Delays and Learning Disabilities. I would do a lot of one-on-one work with the identified children
I’m writing this in response to a follower who asked me what a state of fugue was. I did “micromessage” them but one can not truly go into great detail in a micromessage. So, I thought I would take this opportunity to do so solely based on my personal experience.
Dear Abuser, I have hated you for more than 6.5 years.
By now, since the launch of our website and blog in March/2016, I hope that many of you have taken a moment to read at least one of the blogs or browsed through the resource library that I have found of value.
As I write this entry, I’ve just noticed that my launch coincides with my 6 year anniversary of my Bipolar Disorder onset. Subliminal? I wonder…
March 2009. Such sweet memories. I remember that whole special week and will cherish it until the day I die.
I realize many of you will “get this” as we all tend to do the same; wear the proverbial mask. For others, family, friends, and colleagues, they may not truly understand.
Knowing that, in this day and age, I SHOULDN’T have to wear one but nevertheless must.
What was Laura's personality like growing up?
Laura was most cheerful from the time she was born and later was a very energetic child, even though as a baby to teens the only thing she suffered with was allergies. As a baby, she was very itchy and covered with eczema but woke up each morning with a big smile and then would go go go! As a tween, she was always eager to go to school, had many friends which she maintained from Grade 1 to Grade 13. In high school, she did well, didn't skip school, had the same friends, both guys and girls mixed. She always abided by our curfews and never gave us any grief. From the age of 15 she had entered the work force, part-time, while she was in school, and was employed in long term jobs throughout her whole life.
How did you feel when Laura's late onset Bipolar Disorder set in?
We were devastated. She had taken on so much, she never cried, and we always wondered, not only how much she could take, but when she would break. Her youngest daughter was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, at the age of 9, and had to take the long trip from Northern Ontario to Sick Kids in Toronto for her treatments. We had seen her through a divorce after a long time being very unhappy, reeducating herself in a new career, and moving her two children, as a single mom, to a city where they knew no one, to start her new career. Even with all those burdens, everything still went well; she was happy in her new career, actually loved it, thrived in it. After 3 years in that new role, she was pushed over the edge.
In your opinion, how did Laura's Bipolar Disorder affect her life?
Bipolar Disorder changed my daughter (insert tears and a tissue here). She wasn't the same daughter any longer. The happy-go-lucky, hardworking, mother and daughter was broken. To this day I think it totally devastates her, the fact that she isn't able to work in the field she so fell in love with, because since she was a people person, and in the 21 years combined of her 2 careers, she has ALWAYS wanted to help others. Honestly, each day is a new day and she never knows how she will wake up.
How do you feel society regards those with Bipolar Disorder and other Mental Illnesses?
People are clueless as they are uneducated, uninformed, and don't know what people with Bipolar Disorder or Mental Illnesses go through on a daily basis. I think they can only understand the impact it has if a loved one, or close friend, has it. I think it has such a great impact on their life as a whole; socially, working, family, friendships, marriage etc. In closing, as my daughter once told me, in a very sweet embrace, (insert more tears here) "I will never be that same sweet girl". She feels a big part of her has died.
What have been the major factors that have contributed to Laura's constant improvement?
HARD WORK! and the love and support of everyone her heart touches; her husband, children, mother, father, sister, and a few choice friends. Plus, Laura's diligence on a DAILY basis to work towards a healthier mind and body through rest, diet, meditation, and most of all being med compliant. She has to ultimately help herself but she has unconditional love and support.
What advice can you give to someone who's child has Bipolar Disorder or a Mental Illness?
You can't fix their disorder. They have to work on themselves but you can stand by their side, listen, LEARN, and be there for them.
For three long years, very long years in my Bipolar Life, did I constantly, every day, miss the old me. I felt I wasn’t anything like the old Laura; I didn’t have the energy like her, I wasn’t happy like her, I wasn’t as smart as her, I wasn’t as motivated like her, I wasn’t as fit as her, and I didn’t love life like her. To me, it was like we were two different people; she was now dead and I hated myself somehow for killing her.
It wasn’t until I voiced this persistent frustration to my CBT counselor, that she gave me some very WISE words of advice, “In order for me to begin my healing process, I must first grieve the loss of my former self.”
That one simple statement was my “AH HA” moment. It made so much sense! I suddenly realized that when someone you love passes, you have to go through the stages of grief in order to heal and move on.
I had already gone through the denial stage in year 1 when I explained to my psychiatrist that I didn’t think I had Bipolar Disorder but was convinced I had a little emotional breakdown. At that point I had requested if I could be weaned off my medications and he gave me his blessing. 4 days into it, all those nasty and negative, feelings, emotions and racing thoughts returned in full force. It was an epic fail and I broke down sobbing with the realization I really did have Bipolar Disorder.
Year 1, 2, and 3 I had numerous bouts of anger; not necessarily directed at others but at myself due to my inability to do the things I use to be able to do, my frustration of being numb all the time, and the failure to experience true joy. I NOW see that going through that anger stage later became a positive driving force.
Year 1 and 2 involved the bargaining stage. I often voiced the “What ifs?”, the “If onlys”, “What could I have done differently?” In that year 3, after that AH HA moment did I finally realize that me, having Bipolar Disorder, wasn’t my fault! That life altering event, that trigger, was NOT my fault!
I would be lying if I told you that I didn’t still have depressive moments, as that comes part and parcel with the disorder, but that never-ending dwelling and despair of the depressive stage of grief HAS ended.
In year 5, I can honestly say I entered the final stage…acceptance. I have accepted that the Old Laura has died, I’ve truly accepted that I have Bipolar Disorder, and with that I have new restrictions and limitations.
I started working hard on the NEW Laura, yes, she is far from different that the other, but that’s okay. Now, in my sixth year, I’m starting to get comfortable in my new skin, learning new skills, and pushing myself to the greatest extent in order to reach MY full potential.
In times of anxiety or stress (which is often) when my body would be riddled with every physical, emotional, and mental symptom, I had a pill for that.
When sleep would elude me and I would stare at the clock, willing my fatigued mind, to slip me into a slumber, I had a pill for that.
I was tired however of taking these pills on a regular basis, as to me, it wasn't a healthy coping strategy, it seemed to be the easy way out. In my opinion, this had less to do with my bipolar chemical mix-up but more of a coping issue.
I learned about mindful breathing and focusing on the breath in my cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) classes. Hey, it sounded simple enough! I sat there with my eyes closed and breathed right? Haha! Um, no. Mindful breathing actually takes practice in order to filter out the background noises and thoughts and to refocus on my breathing.
The mindfulness of breathing makes you aware that during the process, that your mind will bounce around from thought to thought, to acknowledge that thought, and bring yourself back to the present.
There are 4 progressive stages of mindful breathing; from beginners to advanced. Practicing mindful breathing is set for 1 minute. In stage 1, you count, breath in, breath out, up to 10 and start over. In stage 2, you begin to "notice" your breath while still doing the counting exercise. In stage 3, you no longer count but just follow the breath in through your nose, down your trachea, as it touches your diaphragm, and the reverse process on the out breath (very lovely feeling). Stage 4 involves only noticing where the breath first touches the tip of your nose.
Even though I've been using mindful breathing for 4 years now, I'm still at state 3, but I'm okay with that as I find that stage very relaxing. I CAN however, breathe like this, without judgement, for extended periods of time, and with my eyes open.
Using mindful breathing is how I put myself to sleep at night, every night. It comes in handy when stuck in traffic or in a customer service lineup when I begin to feel stressed or anxious. My family often asks me how I manage to keep my calm when I am stuck in a grid lock on the 401 or patiently waiting 45 minutes at customer service as they messed up my recent BBQ purchase and couldn't locate it! I stand there or sit there and calmly follow my breath. I've greatly reduced my meds just by appreciating my breath.
There are many free apps (type in mindfulness meditation) on your phone or tablet, that you can download for mindful breathing exercises as well as many YouTube videos that you can follow along with. These sources really help when someone is first learning.
Who knew that when I was 43 years old that someone would teach me how to breathe again but I'm sure glad she did!!
Laura Marchildon will blog honest and true posts about her real life experiences.