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Hey all! This post is a bit off topic. I’m writing it with the hope that it will be selected for the Rheum Blog Carnival, but
I think my regular readers will find it applicable to their lives as well.

I’ve lost count of the times that I’ve been told by friends and family “You don’t need to be on those medication! They’re bad for you. You just need to exercise and eat better.” Living in a town with very liberal roots, I also get “Why haven’t you tried this herb that they collect in a secret mountain stream? You don’t need to take poisons! Have you tried a gluten-free diet? It’ll fix everything.”

—–
To everyone who tells us to stop taking medications,

Listen guys, I know you mean well. You’re trying to help me in a way that worked for you. And I’m so glad that lifestyle changes and naturalistic medicine helped you or a loved one. But listen:I am me. You haven’t lived a day in my shoes, nor would I want you to. But please understand a few things.

1. My illness isn’t my fault. Even if I ran miles everyday and only ate home-prepared organic food, I will still be sick. I know that you’re not explicitly saying that my actions and lifestyle is to blame for my illness, but that’s how it comes out. That’s what it feels like and it hurts. It makes me lose confidence in your opinion of me. It makes me not want to be open about my needs or limitations when I feel like you’ll view my illness as something I could easily change, if only I wanted to. I do want to change my illness, I wish that it would Disapparate out of my life as if it was magic. But these meds are the only thing keeping me functioning and I can’t jeopardize that.

2. Telling me to get off of my medications is akin to damning me to a life that’s almost not worth living. The negligible benefits that may come from the natural supplements or exercise and diet could take months or even years to manifest. Being off of my “evil chemicals” for that long would harm me in a way that your advice couldn’t fix. As I said before, these medications are the only things that keep me able to live my life and I can’t jeopardize that.

3. You don’t know enough about my disease and it’s effects on me to pass judgment on how I’m treating it. You don’t know what my medications actually do, and you don’t know the health risks and side-effects of these meds that you continually put down as “over-medicating” or “dangerous chemical compounds”. Every disease is different for every person unfortunate enough to have it. Your friend with the “miracle” cure? She might have a completely different subset of the disease! One size does not fit all when it comes to treatments for chronic diseases.

4. Those of us with chronic illnesses are completely aware of the effects of our medications. We know that they can cause liver failure or vision changes or high cholesterol levels. You don’t have to tell us that these medications can be dangerous because we know it already. But we have decided that those risks are worth taking to improve our lives. It’s all about quality of life for us, and sometimes it’s a trade-off. We trade possible future complications for the ability to actually live today. But we have already decided. Please respect that decision.

5. Respect. Please try to respect us. Respect our choices, respect our limitations, and respect our knowledge. We try not to talk your ear off about our illnesses, but please try to listen to what each day is like for us. We appreciate your interest in our lives and we love that you want us to feel as amazing as we can. Your friendship and concern are intensely needed and loved. Please just try to be empathetic to our illnesses.

Sincerely,
All the people living with chronic illnesses
——-

Ever since I was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder five years ago I’ve been bombarded by people who, with kind hearts, would lament that I chose medication. Now that it’s likely that I have Rheumatoid Arthritis or another autoimmune connective tissue illness, I’m sure that I’ll be bombarded with the same advice even more. It’s hard for a healthy person to understand what RA or bipolar is like. I don’t expect them to. I just wish that they would understand that we focus every day on how to manage our illnesses and live our lives. That’s what we think of from sunup to sundown: how to feel a little bit better the next day or how we’re going to change our lives to fit into the cages that the disease traps us in.

-Ashes

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[TRIGGER WARNING]
My favorite class this quarter has been Sociology 101, hands down. Studying how groups of people think the way they do and how a singular person works within the enormity of society fires up my brain.

This week, however, was incredibly difficult. We were studying social integration and suicide. For those non-Soc people out there, social integration is the degree that an individual feels connected and accepted in the many social groups they have. It’s a sociological fact that those who aren’t as socially integrated are more likely to commit suicide. Durkheim, the second father of sociology, found that men, Protestants, and the unmarried are at more risk of suicide than women, Catholics and spouses. To my knowledge sociologists don’t take into account mental illness when looking at the suicide rates, but I’m only halfway through the course.

When we were talking about rates and numbers, I was okay with the topic. It was abstract, far away, unaffected. My professor then brought up gender and the manner of suicide. Women who had attempted suicide reported that the reason that they slit their wrists or overdosed rather than a more violent way was because 1. they worried about what they would look like after death and 2. because they didn’t want to make a mess for someone else to clean up.

That’s when I almost lost it and started bawling in class. The two times I tried to kill myself I ODed on my psych meds because I didn’t want my mom to have to clean up bits of brain or blood from the bathroom. I didn’t give a shit about what I looked like; I just didn’t want to be a burden to whoever had to deal with my shitty actions.

My professor pointed out that gender socialization was at work even in the minds of people who, by most logic, were completely gone rationally. Women are socialized to care about their appearances and worry about cleaning responsibility. I don’t know how I feel about this. My reasons for my method of attempted suicide still seem so personal that I have a hard time reconciling it with society as a whole. I don’t doubt that my socialization had something to do with my choices outside of this one act, but my decision to take my life seems so huge to me. I can’t make it fit in the small boxes of sociology.

Obviously I think that sociology is still awesome and everything. I love this subject. But something about trying to take something so so personal to me and make sense of it within sociology is hard for me.

-Ashes

What is Hypomania?

A lot of people are confused about hypomania and it’s easy to see why. Bipolar means having extreme highs and lows, so how does “kinda sorta mania” fit into the disorder?

Hypomania is a symptom of bipolar II, one of the variants of the bipolar umbrella. We get all the horrible depression that bipolar I sufferers have, but we get a cheap half-assed version of the mania.

To me, the difference between mania and hypomania is the level of awareness I have while in a hypomanic state. From what I’ve read, people in mania mode don’t realize that their mania is driving their actions during the mania episode before they’re diagnosed. My hypomania makes me do things I wouldn’t regularly do (or wouldn’t do to excess), but I knew before my diagnosis that it wasntme making those decisions. I could also resist the call of hypomania at times rather than being chained by it.

Hypomania would give me the impulse and motivation to do things like clean, create a piece of art, hang out with acquaintances, spend tons of money I didn’t have or find something self-destructive to occupy my time. It is an amazing feeling, but it comes at a price. The lows weren’t worth the hypomania for me.

-Ashes

Lately I’ve been feeling so numb and dead inside. I’m just disinterested in everything and going through the motions of my life without actually feeling anything or giving a shit. I don’t know if it’s because of the crappy weather or the stress of my health affecting my bipolar or what, but it’s so hard for me to muster any motivation. I can’t think of anything to say in a conversation or anything to write in an essay.

On the other hand, I’ve been making friends. Some of the other people in my classes have invited me out and I go sometimes. It’s fulfilling in one way, but completely exhausting in other. Trying to relate to people is so trying; I’ve been living in my own little bubble where I only have to think of myself and Koios and the effort of trying to make emotional connection with new people is so great that I want to curl into a little ball and hide.

-Ashes

When Bipolar Strikes

Looking back, I can see the signs of bipolar even at age 6 or 7. It wasn’t very obvious then but now my past screams “This one is going to be nuts!” I’ve kept handwritten journals since around that age and reading through them hurts me. It hurts to see how much pain I was in at times. It hurts to see just how much I enjoyed my mini-hypomania even before I hit puberty.

My bipolar didn’t really surface until I hit high school. My mood shifts became more pronounced, I had more sorta-paranoid thoughts, I was more depressed than ever before. But I learned how to hide these things. Although I didn’t realize that I had bipolar, I knew that these feelings were abnormal– something to be hidden out of shame and fear.

When my dad left for Iraq in early ’05 is when my bipolar came out in full-force. I couldn’t function in school and I couldn’t face the confusing mix of wild highs and crushing lows without smoking pot many times a day. I stopped being able to hide my bipolar emotions. I couldn’t handle what my life was becoming.

I think the stress of my dad being in Baghdad started the bipolar chain, but if my homelife was stable besides my dad not being there I don’t think I would have spiraled down so fast. I became a mother to my brother and the responsible pet-owner, the housekeeper and my mom’s emotional babysitter. I think that change in responsibilities threw my bipolar path into overdrive.

What about you? Can you pinpoint when you’re bipolar first reared its head?

-Ashes

(Written on phone, please excuse typos and wrong autocompletes)

Koios Is On WordPress!

Koios has expressed an interest in authoring posts on this blog so I made him a WordPress account. I’m very excited for this change! I think that posts from someone who loves a person with bipolar could offer a different perspective on this illness and create interesting discussions. I’m not sure when he’ll come out and say hello, but we have some neat post ideas in the works so you’ll be seeing more of him in this blog. I think that Koios’s posts will also motivate me to get off my ass and post here more. It’s a win-win for everyone!

-Ashes

Bipolar and Faith

Amazingly, I don’t have a mountain of homework to do today so I can update!

With the possibility of an autoimmune disease looming over me, I wonder if it would be easier for me if I had some type of religious faith. It would provide me some sense of security and a god to place my faith in, rather than the flawed human doctors and a seemingly-indifferent world. Many people with bipolar gravitate towards religious fervor, but it’s never touched me personally.

From ages 8 to 12, I went on what I call “The Great Religious Search”. I tried just about everything: Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, new-age pantheism, Wicca. None of it made me feel less alone. None of them gave me answers about why I was the way that I was. None of them explained human suffering in terms that I could believe in, besides Buddhism but I saw that as denying and fighting human nature. Just about every religion I found denied human nature or was full of rituals that felt foolish rather than enlightening.

So I stopped looking. At this point I consider myself a secular humanist, but I haven’t found a relationship with a “higher power”. I’ve had many spiritual experiences, but none that would fit in the nice neat boxes of religion. So I ignore religious labels and live my life.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes wish that I was able to drop my skepticism and believe in something omnipotent and far-reaching. But once again, my bipolar black-and-white thinking comes into play. I either believe everything in a religion and experience it all, or it’s not the right path for me. So I believe in nothing that could bring me comfort in this life or explain my shitty luck.

-Ashes