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!!
In year 2, I was getting desperate; the various medication combinations, I had been trying, weren't improving my moods. I was sick and tired of being low, sobbing, and having negative thoughts of finding peace. I had done some research on Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) on various internet sources and even watched several ECT procedures on YouTube.
At me next appointment, my psychiatrist and I discussed my eligibility for the treatment (as I was med resistant and remained mainly in a severe depressive state), what the potential side effects were, and how it was going to be administered.
He referred me to the head psychiatrist, who performed the ECT treatments. I was scheduled for an initial trial of 8 treatments, on an outpatient basis, with a reassessment after the 4th treatment to check for any impact or side effects.
Here's my experience. I fasted prior to each treatment (like any surgical procedure). Hubby and I would drive to the hospital, as I required a driver after the general anesthetic, and I would gown up. I laid down on the gurney and was hooked up to an IV, blood pressure cuff, and the heart monitor. Through the IV they would eventually administer the muscle relaxer and general anesthetic. At the first session, the Dr. explained, step by step, what was being done and why. He then attached the wires to my head. Once I was all hooked up, the anesthesiologist started the drip and the Dr asked me to start counting backwards from 100.
I may have got to 97 when I realized I was awake and finished! The treatment only takes about 3 minutes from start to finish. I was then wheeled into the psychiatric unit to recover from my anesthetic, was allowed to each lunch, then was released to head home until the next treatment.
I had 4 treatments that were painless and uneventful. I already had cognitive impairments prior to receiving my ECT treatments, due to my Bipolar Disorder, but unfortunately the ECT made it worse. Typically, people that have the treatments may have short term memory gaps surrounding the day of the treatment or around that time frame, which gradually returns over time. Mine however were more extensive and the 4 treatments had not resulted in any positive improvements of my depression. So, unfortunately, any further treatments were cancelled as the risks outweighed the benefits.
In my opinion, the general ECT process was not painful and I had no physical side effects. It just wasn't right for me. I can say though, that if it had made a marked improvement in my depression, I would have gladly put up with a little more cognitive impairment.
Before you make up your mind about Electroconvulsive Therapy, please do research the topic, the procedure itself, the benefits and the risks, and watch a few YouTube videos. Get educated!
What was your mom like when you were growing up?
My mom was always there for me. She was very social, good at balancing work, friends, volunteering, and still have all the time in the world for her family. She's pretty much the same as she was except she can't work at the moment and personally struggles with her Bipolar Disorder. No matter what life ever threw at my mom, she was still always the happiest person in the world. In fact, she almost raised me and my sister by herself and we would do multiple multiple activities together. The kind of mom everyone should have growing up.
What are your fondest memories of you and your mom?
My favourite memories are camping, fishing, and throwing me the best birthday parties in the world! I've watched how hard she worked when she balanced work, volunteer, going back to school (making the Dean's list) and still giving us everything under the sun (but not material things). It's great motivation for me to think about and continues to make me smile.
What was life like after your mom's Bipolar onset?
Stressful at first because we didn't get along for awhile. I had entered my teen years and was a little handful so my new emotions and hers tended to collide. It was hard feeling like I had to walk around on eggshells to avoid confrontation. It was time consuming to learn about Bipolar Disorder however, learning about it made it that much easier to rebuild our relationship. I think the hardest part was her not being her old self anymore and seeing her struggle. Now that I'm older and more mature, it's a lot easier to cope with and be able to be there for her because I am more knowledgeable on Bipolar Disorder.
What would you like to say about the stigma surrounding Bipolar Disorder and other Mental Illnesses?
I absolutely fucking hate the stigma!!! Sorry, but it's true! I do not understand how some people can be so ignorant, disrespectful, and stereotypical. I have seen my mom lose many friends because they think she is "crazy" (I don't like that word) and I think that is what irritates me the most. I do not understand how people can be so insensitive to a person who has a mental illness. If my mom had broken her arm or got diagnosed with cancer people would treat her differently. She would receive get well cards, flowers, or even a signature on her cast, but because her brain is sick, people distance themselves from her and forget who she is as a person. It makes me sick.
What are your mom's best qualities?
Strength. Being strong enough to admit her weaknesses. Motivation. Her constant drive to return to work is amazing. Her ability to take care of herself but still take care of everyone else. There are sooo many things that I can only name a few because she is the best mom and my hero.
What have been the major factors that have contributed to your mom's constant improvement?
My mom always envisions herself going back to the "Old Laura" and I think having that goal in mind is probably the biggest factor. Also, if it weren't for her psychiatrist, she may not be where she is today because he is the best of the best. I also can't forget about family. It is very hard for a husband, in today's society, to stick around and my step dad has been her rock and is a stand-up guy. It's also important that she keeps busy and she does that about 6 days a week so she doesn't lose her motivation.
What is one piece of advice you can give to a child who's parent has Bipolar Disorder or another Mental Illness?
A piece of advice I could give to a child with a parent who has a Mental Illness would be to educate yourself on the disorder and never stop being there for them because having a very strong support system, who understands Mental Illnesses, is a major part of their healing. Just never give up and love them unconditionally.
After my onset, I went through a lengthy period of deep depression. Many days were spent either curled up in bed crying or on the couch with the inability to do the simplest of tasks. Personal hygiene flew out the window and I had to be reminded when to shower (still do occasionally).
I can't remember who's bright idea it was to get a puppy but the discussion came up. Everyone was excited to get one and everyone promised to help take care of it.
It had to be a hypoallergenic dog as I had allergies. We knew we wanted a small dog as our home and yard weren't very large. Also, due to my mental and physical state, at that moment, I didn't feel like doing multiple marathons a day to meet the requirements of a larger dog. Everyone did agree that they would help me with walking it though.
We knew we didn't want one from the pet store as around here the stores are provided with their dogs from puppy mills. We started looking online and found an older gentleman, living 4 hours north of us, that had Yorkie puppies for sale.
I was actually EXCITED en route to see our potential new addition to our family! When we got there, the gentleman was walking around his yard; 1 beer in his hand and 1 in each of his side pockets haha! The pups however were in great shape; needed a bath and grooming but were well fed and happy. I saw a tiny male Yorkie and he said, "You don't want him, he's a dud". At that moment I knew he was MY dog! A dud? All because his right ear was bent?
It was love at first site for me; I had a little man to take care of. We brought him home and while sitting around the dining room table with him ON the table, we all threw out names until we unanimously chose "Boomer".
Now when everyone left in the morning for school and work, I HAD to get up and bring this little guy out for his business and I HAD to ensure he had food and water. Boomer is a very sensitive and emotional dog. Not only does he sense and respond to my emotions but he visibly displays his own. He has become a true companion animal for me. I can't help but not laugh over the silly things that he does. I can't help but not melt over the unconditional love that he gives me. I can't help but not be forever grateful that he is in my life as he truly gave me the motivation and the reason to get up. I love Boomer to pieces!
One final note: the family promise to help out with him never happened!!
Laura Marchildon will blog honest and true posts about her real life experiences.