What Carrie Fisher Means To Me

“At times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of. – Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher is a hero for those of us with mental illness. She was open about her life and struggles and victories and helped people understand manic-depression. She helped people empathize. She educated others even though it was never her job to do so. She voluntarily put herself out there, risked judgement and bullying, so that others may never have to face stigma. Thanks to her and others like her, the raging stigma that has caused so much harm is finally lessening. I owe her a huge debt, not only for myself but for my daughters, both of whom live with mental illness.

 

*TW* bipolar, depression, eating disorder, anxiety, PTSD, rape

 

I am bipolar. I don’t talk about it. Maybe I should. Maybe I should be as open as Carrie Fisher about my mental illness. Not maybe…should. I should be more open. I’ve talked about my depression but never my mania, never about being bipolar 1. In a future post, I’ll describe in more detail what it’s like living with manic-depression. For this post though, I want to thank Carrie Fisher by telling her and the world about three people with mental illness (me and my girls) who owe her much thanks: who we are, what we’ve overcome, and all that we’ve accomplished.

Why talk about our accomplishments? Because one of the stigmas people with mental illness face is that we are less-than, that we are incapable, that we are worth less than those who don’t have mental illness. I assure you, this isn’t the case. Maybe this insight into our worlds will help others understand. Maybe it will invite empathy. Maybe it will show anyone who doubts the potential and worth of those with mental illness, that we are amazing individuals who live great lives and accomplish incredible things, and deserve respect and an end to the stereotypes and stigma that try to misportray or limit us.

Me:

What is it like living with bipolar 1?

I take medication and have been stable for many years. When I wasn’t on medication, my mood was far from stable. At the start of a manic cycle, thoughts raced through my head. My words couldn’t come out fast enough. I could write for sixteen hours straight at lightning speed or clean the entire house, do all the yardwork, wash and wax every car we owned, and still feel driven to do more. Someone needed some volunteer or charity work done? I would volunteer or charity-ify until I collapsed.

As the manic cycle proceeded, my racing thoughts would lose cohesion and become thought-salads. Ideas would jump around in spastic starts and stops. My over-the-top energy, once productive, would become problematic. I’d find myself in the gym trying to lift waaaaay more than was safe, or doing hundreds upon hundreds of repetitions until I gave myself a wicked case of subacromial bursistis. Or I’d find myself racing down steep hills on my bike, oblivious to the danger. I, grown ass woman, would try to climb to the top of trees just to feel the thrill. I’d wake in the middle of the night and decide, much to the neighbors’ dismay, that NOW IS THE PERFECT TIME TO VACCUUM OUT MY CAR. My concentration evaporated. My appetite evaporated. All that existed was ACTION. ACTION NOW. My attention darted from one shiny object or idea to the next. I craved excitement, danger. And that craving often got me into trouble. I was out of control. Mania controlled me. And then meds came along and the mania settled. I no longer have manic episodes and I’m thankful for that.

When manic, I was pretty much the same person inside: empathic, a caregiver, generally happy, creative, a people-pleaser. I didn’t become a Jekyll and Hyde. I wasn’t mean or nasty or hurtful. I was quite fun to be around, or so I’m told.

I was, however,  driven to irresponsible and compulsive actions. I put myself in stupid or dangerous situations.

 

What have I, as someone with bipolar 1, accomplished?

I’ve graduated Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Exercise Science.

I graduated with honors from University of Colorado with a Masters of Science in Kinesiology.

I taught a course at the University of Colorado.

I’ve worked in research laboratories, taught fitness classes, and worked in physical  therapy.

I’ve written seven books, the first of which will be published this year by Glass House Press. Yay!

I’ve made and sold my art in various forms.

I’ve painted murals (many gratuitous).

I’ve made and kept beautiful friendships.

I’ve volunteered as a mentor to children in need.

I’ve volunteered for Mobie Loaves and Fishes, serving meals to homeless people.

I’ve volunteered at schools.

And I’ve been a great mom and a great wife.

 

My eldest daughter:

What is it like living with a severe eating disorder, depression, and anxiety?

From observation, I can tell you it is hell. My daughter has been in eight different mental health facilities in eight years. Her body is covered in self-inflicted scars. She has nearly lost her life on multiple occasions.

 

What has my eldest daughter, as someone with multiple mental illnesses accomplished?

She graduated near the top of her class in high school.

She was accepted into the University of Texas (which only accepts the top 7% of graduates)

She has worked at several jobs, always putting her all into the job.

She has volunteered at Mobile Loaves and Fishes, serving food to homeless people.

She’s been a model but has decided to forego that as a career because it is not a healthy profession for her.

She has a steady boyfriend and plans for her future.

Her artwork has been displayed at the city level.

She is a caring, loving, and generous person and beloved by many.

 

My youngest daughter:

Lives with depression and PTSD after being raped two years ago.

 

What is it like living with depression and PTSD?

As an observer, I can tell you it is hell. I’m not sure I can explain the horror and pain.

What has my youngest daughter who lives with depression and PTSD accomplished?

She graduated valedictorian of her graduating high school class.

She has been the leader of several organizations on her high school campus.

She is attending a prestigious university.

She excels at math.

She has worked several jobs, and is always admired by her bosses.

She has a close-knit group of friends and is beloved by many.

 

So there you go, three people with mental illness who are doing awesome things in the world and who are, in no way, to be stigmatized. Yep, I feel a little weird shouting myself out but I’m taking a lesson from Carrie Fisher and letting the world know:

I have mental illness and so do my daughters and we’ve all been through the darkest of hell and back and guess what? We’re strong af and the world is better for us being here!

 

Thank you, Carrie Fisher, for giving me the courage to say that.

 

I love you and I am grateful you graced this world with your light. I hope I make you proud.

 

Me

 

“Bipolar disorder can be a great teacher. It’s a challenge, but it can set you up to be able to do almost anything else in your life.” – Carrie Fisher

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A not-so-great picture of one of the murals I’ve painted. But I love the message: never, never, never give up.

muralseal1

Another not-so-great picture of a mural I’ve painted (replete with dried food on the plexiglass because the mural is in an Elementary School cafeteria). 😀

But the seal seems happy despite the dried food (maybe BECAUSE of it) so I wanted to post it. Hey, maybe Happy Seal is telling us something profound – maybe we should all try to be like Happy Seal – no matter what life flings at us, find our happiness.

Then again, maybe it’s kinda gross, splatted, dried cafeteria tortureloaf or something.

 

Either way, much love to you,

 

Me

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Potholders and Mindfulness

TWIGGER WARNING: Suicide, mental illness, depression, grief, psychiatric hospital, eating disorders, anxiety, body dysmorphic disorder, self-harm, substance abuse

Do not read further if these topics are triggering.

As many of you know by now, about a week ago (I’ve lost track of the time honestly), I took my suicidal daughter to the emergency room. After twelve hours in the emergency room, she was transferred to a nearby psychiatric hospital. That first night in the psychiatric ward, she became medically unstable. In imminent danger, she was rushed to the intensive care unit at the regular hospital. The psychiatric ward informed me of this development and I hurried to the hospital, panicking so hard my hands shook on the steering wheel. Her time in ICU was the thing of nightmares. Hallucinations, ripping out her catheter, sheer confused terror. I arrived to find my baby with tubes in her body, blood on her sheets, and mittens on her hands so she wouldn’t harm herself. Her eyes darted to me. “WHY? Why, Mama? Why me? Why can’t I just be normal?” she said over and over.

After she stabilized, she was sent back to the psychiatric hospital. The HORRIFYING psychiatric hospital.

As I write this, she is still in the psychiatric ward, a horrifying, REPEAT – indescribably HORRIFYING place.

On Monday she will be flown to a co-occurring treatment center and need to be interviewed before our insurance will allow her to be admitted. If our insurance turns her down, I don’t know what we’ll do – try to find another place for her I guess. There are very few co-occurring treatment centers in the country though. This waiting and hoping for insurance to MAYBE allow my daughter to receive the treatment she so desperately needs is agonizing. But that’s a topic for another post.

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What do you do when you’re in the ER with your suicidal child for 12 hours? You try to help her be happy by drawing silly pictures.

What do you do when you’re in the ER with your suicidal child and you so want to make her happy? You draw her silly pictures.

What do you do when you’re in the ER with your suicidal child and you so want to make her happy? You draw her silly pictures.

My older daughter is tortured daily by invisible sadists. Her demons have been attacking her for almost a decade now. Her diagnoses are numerous: anorexia, bulimia, anxiety, depression, possible borderline personality disorder, substance abuse, addiction, self harm, and body dysmorphic disorder. And I have sought out every possible avenue of help for her. She’s had a consistent team of professionals since she was thirteen: a psychiatrist, psychologist, a registered dietician, and numerous support groups. She’s been in eight different mental health treatment centers/psychiatric wards in eight years. She’s been treated by the best facilities in the country.

And yet, eight years later, she is suffering as much as ever before.

SHE HAS BEEN SUFFERING FOR EIGHT YEARS.

MY BABY HAS BEEN SUFFERING FOR EIGHT YEARS.

AND NOTHING HAS HELPED HER.

Excuse me while I take a loooooonnnnng moment to go scream my anger and pain at the universe.

Okay. I’m going to switch gears now because I want this post to lead to something positive. This next bit of my post will give you a view into the mind of a parent of a suicidal child. I’m not writing this for sympathy. Honestly, I kinda don’t wish to talk about this pain anymore. Sometimes talking about it actually magnifies the pain. So I do not need words of sympathy. I write this because parents of children with mental illness need ways to cope with the overwhelming emotions this bastard of a disease causes. This disease that abducts our children and tortures them day in and day out. This disease that strips them of their happiness and their dreams and their life.

I am not a psychologist and I do not have a “10 Ways To Cope With The Pain Of Having A Child With Mental Illness” list. As a parent of child who is suffering, as a parent who has been pushed to the brink by this sadistic bastard of a disease, I do have one lame little story to tell you. One that I hope may help even if it’s just a tiny bit.

As any parent would be after nearly losing their child to suicide and placing them in a psychiatric ward, I’ve been massively stressed: worried beyond all description for her, feeling her every pain as if it were my own, terrified for her future, mourning all the losses, feeling powerless to help, and struggling to maintain hope.

Stressed and grieving to the point of shaking, sobbing, and rocking on the cold tile floor in the middle of the night.

Stressed to the point of almost shutting down.

Unable to focus on anything outside of chaotic thoughts and emotions, I’ve barely been able to perform the daily tasks of living. Unsurprisingly, I’ve haven’t had enough focus to be able to write, revise, draw, blog, or almost anything else. I’ve been showing all the signs of grief: insomnia, nightmares, zero appetite, unplanned weight loss, alternating numbness or intense emotional anguish. The smallest tasks have seemed gargantuan. I’ve felt physically weak and ill, beaten down, severely depressed, and overwhelmed.

Yesterday, I neared the breaking point. I needed something, ANYTHING to escape the worries and sadness, if only for one small moment. I didn’t know what that “something” was though.

As I walked around the house like a zombie picking up Fang the Kitten of Destruction’s collection of mangled and shredded cat toys, I bumped into this cheap, crappy storage furniture thing I own in the front entrance knocking off the bottom cabinet door. Inside the cabinet sat a plastic loom and a pile of colorful fabric loops, items I’d forgotten were there. Items from when the girls were little and we used to do crafts together. I pulled out the loom and stared at it dumbly for a long moment. Then, I took it and a few handfuls of bright loops to the kitchen, dropped into a chair, and started, with clumsy-numb fingers, to make a potholder.

And something happened. My fears and grief sort of eased into the background as I rotely worked. One potholder turned into two, turned into four. The afternoon passed. I won’t say the pain evaporated. It didn’t. But it didn’t crush me in its grip as it had been doing for a week solid. I think Buddhists would mention the word “mindfulness” here. As I focused on the repetitive task, the constant violent thrashing of fear/sadness/guilt/regret/loss/anger/mourning against my vulnerable psyche eased. My mind emptied a bit, a welcome draining of the tsunami of emotions that threatened to drown me.  

The pain is not gone forever. I know this. It will return. The wounds are not healed. I know this.

But for that brief respite from unbearable pain, a big thank you to potholders. And to mindfulness. And wow, this sounds completely lame as I finish this post: POTHOLDERS TO EASE YOUR AGONY. But then again, if a freakin potholder can take away even five minutes of another person’s pain because of this post then it was worth it.

If you need support, please reach out. NAMI (National Alliance On Mental Illness) is an excellent resource: http://www.nami.org/Find-Support

Reach out to a friend, to a family member, to a therapist. You do not need to bear this pain alone. Others want to help you. You are so very important and you are loved.

potholdercorrectallignmentP.S. The one on the lower right is supposed to be a sunrise. My younger daughter fell in love with it and asked if she could have it. I said, “I love you and of course you can have it, gooby.” So now she’ll be taking it to college with her and I hope this little sunrise potholder helps her through any tough times and reminds her of the value of mindfulness. As soon as I know my older daughter is safe within the walls of the treatment center, I’ll start sending her something to hopefully help her through the tough times. The treatment center has very specific rules about items allowed so my options are limited. I think I’ll send cards. I’ll probably start with my HUGS 4 YOU.

DrawingHugRobot2CopyrightI hope everyone in your world is in a happy place. But if they are not, I’m sending a big HUG 4 YOU to them and to you too and wishing you comfort and healing and strength and hope.


*IMPORTANT*

If you or someone you love is thinking of hurting themself, please call  1-800-273-TALK (8255)

http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/


You take care of you.

Much love to you and yours,

 

me