The Importance of Support Groups

The Importance of Support Groups

There are many different types of treatment for any mental health disorder including but not limited to various types of medication, talk therapy, family education, rehabilitation, and support groups. I have especially found support groups to be helpful in dealing with and managing my bipolar disorder and PTSD. There are various types of support groups; some are for generalized mental health, while others specified for certain disorders.

I was very reluctant to go to a support group my first time because I was afraid. One of my PTSD symptoms causes me to be terrified of anything, especially anyone, that I don’t know. It’s a challenge for me to simply run errands; the thought of sitting next to another person and talking about my life seemed to be impossible. When I was in Connecticut, I researched support groups at my local hospital and found a weekly group called ‘Depression and Bipolar Support Group’. In the beginning, my mother came with me, she has always been extremely supportive of me in every way. It took many weeks to get comfortable with the others at the group, but soon, these individuals became close friends that I still talk to years later.

Going to a support group where the other people there have the same illnesses as you do is a comforting feature. I moved back to Arizona in 2009 causing me to leave my Connecticut support group and the friends I have there. Again, I was scared to start going to a new support group. Meeting new people and the intimacy of discussing what’s going on in your life and how you’re feeling is nerve-racking for me. My husband came with me in the beginning for this new group, ‘Taking Control’, which is also for bipolar and depression. Over time, the others in this group became my close friends who I still hang out with.

Each support group that I have been a part of has become a huge part of my life. The groups gave me a place to go and talk about my mental health issues where other people actually understand and relate to me. Sadly, my last support group was discontinued, but luckily I still talk to and see some other group members. I have found a new support group for bipolar depression called ‘Bipolar Bears’ (I love the name), but again, I’m extremely frightened to go. This is a new group for me, at a hospital that I’ve never been to, in a part of town that I don’t know. I’ve talked to a close friend from my last support group, and we have talked about going together; we will support each other, while we go to a support group. Now, I just have to get myself to actually do it.

Mental health support groups have helped me get through many difficult times and I suggest them to anyone and everyone who struggles with mental health. Being able to have people relate to the things we go through is a very comforting feeling. Meeting more people that help support you through your life is a blessing. Maybe this post will help me actually get to this new support group. I suppose I’ll find out soon enough.

ECT – Electroconvulsive Therapy

ECT – Electroconvulsive Therapy

Electroconvulsive therapy, ECT, is one way to treat severe depression and mania. The treatments are done under general anesthesia, allowing the doctor to induce a seizure by passing small electrical currents to the brain. ECT is known to be controversial because of how it was administered many years ago and the serious side effects it used to cause, but it is now much less dangerous.

I started ECT in February 2015 because no other treatments were working and I was desperate for something to help. In the beginning, I was doing the treatments 3 times a week for 4 weeks, then once a week for 4 weeks, then every other week for 8 weeks, and finally once a month. It has been a successful treatment for me. It has not solved all my problems or completely removed my depression, but it did get me out of a major depression when every other treatment failed. At this point, I want to stop the treatments, but I remind myself how beneficial they have been for me.

ECT is physically demanding the day of the treatments. I’m groggy (I assume from the anesthesia), I have confusion, my jaw hurts badly from the seizure clenching, and my body is overall exhausted. All of these symptoms go away within at least 24 hours. The only lasting effect I have is memory loss. Supposedly, the memory loss for most patients is temporary and only goes back a couple weeks or months at the most. Memories generally comes back shortly after treatment ends. However, my memory loss goes back years. I had even forgotten that my grandmother passed away, so I had to deal with her death all over again. Since I’m still doing monthly treatments, my memory does not improve. The cost is also a difficult aspect to handle, but all of the side effects and aspects are still easier to deal with than many months of a major depression with no relief.

Today was my 33rd treatment. It’s a lot on my body and mind. I don’t know how much longer I can handle these treatments. I know that my psychiatrist and my mother want me to continue with the therapy because they have been mostly successful. They are concerned about what will happen if and when I stop because of the success. This I understand, but I wish they would put themselves in my shoes. I feel that if ECT got rid of my depression and made me stable, then I would be happy to continue. However, I still take 7 different psych medications every day and an additional 2 medications as needed. In addition to all of that, we are going to be adding another psych medication within the next couple weeks. I also have to take 3 other medications for some medical conditions. I hope I get to stop ECT at some point, but I fear that if I do, I will regress to a horrible depression or mania.

Mixed Episodes – Feelings of Depression are Too Much To Handle

Mixed Episodes  – Feelings of Depression are Too Much To Handle

I feel worthless and pathetic pretty much every day. If I’m lucky, I’ll get a 20 or 30 minute reprieve during the day where I still feel horrible, but I don’t necessarily wish I was dead. I have not been lucky today. I am continuing to experience a lack of sleep and an excess amount of energy. My productivity is ongoing, I continued to deep clean various parts of our house and organize everything I could find. However, even though I remained physically energetic, my emotional side diminished into an even deeper depression.

From the moment I woke up today, I felt as if I could do nothing right. My mental state has been overall unworthy. My feelings are menial, shameful, worthless, insignificant, pathetic, stupid, and undesirable just to name a few things. Just as an example to the depths of my emotions, I watched a movie that is absolutely hilarious, but I wasn’t able to laugh at even one thing. I just stare at the TV, watching the movie and trying my best to sit still, and I listen to others laugh hysterically.

Normally I am capable of faking how I feel. I just put on a ‘happy mask’ and I don’t let people see how I’m really doing. I have been waiting all day for even the smallest part of my emotional state to change, but there have been no improvements. Honestly, I don’t really expect anything to change, I don’t deserve to feel better.

Tomorrow morning is my next ECT treatment. I’m not looking forward to it, but I will be extremely grateful if it can help even out my mixed episode. Feeling this depressed but not being able to sit still is extraordinarily excessive. It’s too much on my brain and my body. I wish I could allow myself to give up, but that’s not something I allow myself to do.

IV Ketamine vs Clozaril

IV Ketamine vs Clozaril

I know I need another form of treatment, and my psychiatrist is respectful enough to give me a choice. However, as stated in my last post, making any decision is extremely difficult. This decision feels as if it’s nearly impossible.

At first thought, IV Ketamine terrifies me. I used to get high off of Ketamine, I’m now 11 years sober, but the possibility of dissociation is what scares me the most, it brings back traumatic memories which trigger my PTSD. I’ve already tried Clozaril once and ended up with a fever around 2 weeks. I had no other symptoms and my weekly blood work came back completely normal. Even though Clozaril is a very risky medication, it doesn’t scare me like the IV Ketamine does.

The information I found out about Clozaril after research and talking to my psychiatrist:

  • Giving Lithium with Clozaril can help prevent the low white blood cell count with a 94.5% success rate. I am already on Lithium, so this is beneficial to me.
  • The risks of this drug are increased for me because I’m Ashkenazi, which is Eastern European Jewish heritage.
  • Only 1-2% of patients that take Clozaril develop agranulocytosis, a blood disease that increases the susceptibility to infection. Only 1-5% of patients may have seizures, but that can be avoided by titrating the dose up slowly.
  • Clozaril is 60% effective for patients.
  • I would have to do weekly blood tests for 6 months, then do blood tests every 2 weeks for 6 months. I could then go to blood tests every 4 weeks if there were no problems. Blood tests are required to get medication.
  • From what I understand, my worst case scenario is: I start to get a fever or other symptoms, I call my psychiatrist, he would send me to the hospital where I would get blood work done and they would make sure my fever goes down. Then I stop the medication again and have to try something else. This is what happened last time.

The information I found out about IV Ketamine after research and talking to my psychiatrist:

  • The IV Ketamine trial consists of the first 2 treatments, which are done within 1 week. I would generally start to see some type of result within 24 hours. If I don’t see results after the first 2 treatments it would be considered ineffective for me.
  • This treatment is very effective, and patients don’t have to wait 6 weeks for medication to start working.
  • I would be monitored at all times by a doctor. If I had a panic attack during the infusion, he/she would be able to treat me.
  • I can take something for my anxiety before the treatment to help me stay calm.
  • Some patients experience dissociation during the infusion. Dissociation can cause a lack of control mentally and/or physically. This is the part that is a trigger for me. Just writing about it now is causing a massive anxiety attack.
  • Maintenance treatments are done anywhere from every 3 weeks to every 3 months. Every patient is different.

Now that I have all of this research, I should be able to make a decision, but my indecisiveness is always there. I’m leaning more towards the Clozaril rechallenge. I understand the risks and as long as I immediately tell my psychiatrist about any symptom I have, I should be okay. I know I could get a fever again and it won’t work, but then my options will be narrowed down for me. I also have several reasons not to do the IV Ketamine. First of all, it terrifies me. I’m having an anxiety attack right now just thinking about it, what will happen when it’s time for the actual treatment? It is very expensive and not covered by insurance. The first 2 treatments are $600 each, and every maintenance treatment is $400. The IV Ketamine is also new to me, and new things scare me. I’ve done the Clozaril before so I know what to be on the lookout for.

The only reason I’m considering either is because the psychiatric benefits outweigh the medical risks. Writing this post has helped me realize how scared I am of the IV Ketamine. I don’t think I could handle the treatment. I think my best option is to rechallenge the Clozaril.

 

Inability to Make Decisions

Inability to Make Decisions

Making decisions never used to be a problem for me. I was able to make decisions for myself without any assistance; it wasn’t scary or anxiety-provoking. Then a couple months ago, decision making because a major problem in my life. To this day, deciding what I want is not only difficult, it can often be impossible. For me, when it’s time to make a decision, it feels as if I’m standing in front of a massive brick wall instead of standing at a fork in the road.

My husband will ask me what TV show I want to watch, and all I can do is stare at the options. One trick I’ve tried is ‘Eeny, meeny, miny, moe’. Yes, I know it sounds like I’m in grade school, but this is a serious issue. I honestly fight with myself every day to decide what I’m going to wear, when I’m going to complete certain tasks, which route I will drive to get somewhere, and more. I would even prefer to watch the same channel for hours that’s playing a show I don’t even like than trying to choose what TV show I do want to watch.

My therapist wants me to start making small decisions, and I have been, but not without a huge amount of effort and stress. I have figured out several times what to wear and what to cook for dinner. It seems as if others don’t understand that decision making causes anxiety or panic attacks some days. It’s more than being indecisive, it’s being incapable of making certain decisions.

My husband and other family members try to help by asking me what I want. Here’s the thing, I don’t know what I want, and being put on the spot to make a decision is petrifying. It feels as if no matter what I choose it will be wrong. The only thing I know I don’t want to do is anything new. Doing new things and going new places scare me and provoke anxiety attacks. I like repetition, the same schedule over and over is not boring to me, it’s comfortable.

Here’s the problem I’m presently facing. The medications I’m on and the ECT treatment I do every four weeks is not helping enough. All of it has made a huge difference from where I was at a year ago, but it’s not enough. The suicidal ideations won’t go away and I’ve changed from a depression to a mixed episode. My psychiatrist gave me three options for my next form of treatment. I already ruled one out (I’m proud of myself for doing that). But now, I still need to make a decision between two very difficult options. I have done extensive research on both choices. My next post will be about the choices I have, it’s too much for me to get into right now. My biggest concern is that if I can’t decide what I want to watch on TV, then how am I supposed to decide what my next form of treatment will be.

 

Excessive Talking Causes Problems

Excessive Talking Causes Problems

Everything I do is wrong, at least that’s how I feel. I just can’t make the people I want happy. I’ve felt like this for a long time now, so why do I keep trying? I’m sure it’s all in my head, but feeling like this on a regular basis is depleting. At least I’m aware of my irrational bipolar symptoms such as this one. I know deep down that I’m not doing everything wrong and making everyone unhappy; awareness is helpful to me.

It’s hard enough to do that when I’m not in a bipolar episode, how can I expect myself to do everything ‘right’ in the mixed episode I’m currently experiencing. One of the symptoms I’ve been dealing with is excessive talking, even to people I normally wouldn’t talk to. I’m constantly afraid I’m going to say the wrong thing or something inappropriate. I’ve done it before, so I’m sure I will do it again. The problem is that I can’t always control what comes out of my mouth. I try to stop myself from talking as much, but it doesn’t seem to have any effect.

It would be one thing if what I was saying made any sense, but it doesn’t. I struggle to stay on one topic. There are so many thoughts running through my head at one time,  I seem to bounce from subject to subject. I also tend to forget what I’m saying altogether. All of these things make normal conversations very difficult and generally unpleasant for the other person involved.

I think this blog is helping me get out some of my thoughts. I’m hoping it helps me reduce the amount of crap I convey to others. Writing can be a theraputic tool. I’ve never liked it, but at this point, I’ll try anything.

Bipolar Weight Gain

Bipolar Weight Gain

It’s been almost four months, and I have gained more than 20 pounds. I have gained most of the weight during the past month, which I don’t understand. This past month, I have been watching what I eat and working out for an hour a day, 5 to 6 days a week. The weight gain is definitely not muscle. If the weight gain isn’t from eating, then I would normally assume it’s from medication. However, the only med change I’ve had is the addition of the supplemental vitamin, Deplin, which is not supposed to cause weight gain.

So why do I keep gaining weight? I’m eating much healthier, working out regularly, and I’m more active in general (due to mixed and manic episodes). I keep trying and the only thing that happens is I gain even more weight. What am I supposed to do to get healthy, weight wise? I wonder how many other people experience this same struggle? Are there any suggestions? I’m just about ready to take Hydroxycut or some other weight loss pill, but I know that won’t mix well with my meds, and it will only add to my current mixed episode.

Weight gain is not something I’m willing to accept. The only thing I can think to do is to talk to my psychiatrist about it.

 

Never-ending Bipolar: Keep on Trying

Never-ending Bipolar: Keep on Trying

Lately, my bipolar feels like a never-ending staircase. The longer I’m on it, the harder it gets; as if I’m never going to win. Does anyone ever ‘win’ when it comes to mental health? Maybe, if you’re lucky, you can have a few months of remission, but then it starts again.

I  wasn’t even doing that well a couple weeks ago, but I was a whole lot better than I am right now. I found out about a friend who took his own life, and that triggered another episode for me (according to my doctor). I wasn’t even close with this guy anymore, but he was a good man. Apparently, it brought up every other death I’ve gone through. Not to mention I’m jealous that he had the guts to do it and he’s finally at peace. Why does my brain think like that? That’s a sick thought. I don’t want to commit suicide; I could never do that. But I can’t stop thinking about it.

I wonder what life is like for people who have control over their own thoughts and actions (I can’t always control myself during episodes). I keep doing all of the things that I know have helped in the past, and I’m trying some new methods as well. The only other thing left to do is wait; I get to wait to see if something is going to work.

I know what my life is going to be like. I will have many manic episodes, depressive episodes, and mixed episodes throughout the years. If I’m lucky, I’ll have a few months in between where I feel good, and that’s it. Maybe I’ll be able to work again someday, maybe I’ll be able to make new friends (I’m currently too scared to meet new people), maybe I won’t spend at least half my income on  mental health medical bills. Instead of wondering what could be, I just need to live in the moment. Today, in my mixed episode, I will be productive and do the best I can to manage my anxiety/panic attacks and my overall episode. I will keep climbing those stairs in hopes of a better solution in the future.

 

I Can’t Stop Moving

I Can’t Stop Moving

Last night I actually slept a combined total of 7 hours. For weeks now, I’ve only been getting 4 to 5 hours a night. So when I woke up this morning, I thought maybe I would feel more like myself. I was wrong. I know the signs of depression and the signs of mania. I generally experience one or the other, but I can tell now that I’m definitely in a mixed episode.

Mixed states of bipolar are when a person has both depressive and manic symptoms. My symptoms include a lack of sleep, talking faster and more often, being extremely active, increased anxiety/panic attacks, suicidal ideations, and hopelessness. Currently, my biggest issue is that I can’t stop moving, I can’t sit still. While this can be positive because I’m extremely productive, it also interferes with daily living. I’m completing all of my normal errands and tasks, and I’m adding in a bunch of new things to do. I’ve organized the closets and cabinets, cleaned the blinds, moved the furniture to clean underneath, took the vacuum apart to clean inside of it, leveled all of the framed pictures in the house, cleaned the hangers to remove all dust, and cleaned the ceiling fans. These are just some of the things I’ve done in the past 2 days in addition to my normal activities. It’s because I can’t sit still, mentally or physically.

Today, I went to a meeting to celebrate someone’s 2 years of sobriety. I was concerned how my body would react to sitting still for an hour. My right leg trembled uncontrollably for the entire hour. I kept telling myself that I could do it, don’t panic. My husband, sitting next to me, pressed on my leg trying to stop it from shaking; of course, this didn’t do a thing. Even now, as I type , I’m rocking back and forth. Sitting still is impossible. Even on Valium, I can’t relax how I should be able to. I think that maybe, if I’m active enough, I’ll be able to calm down. I don’t know what else to do.

Pushing Your Limits

Pushing Your Limits

Knowing your limitations is just as important as pushing yourself to do things outside of your comfort zone. This is an aspect where I really struggle. I like routine; knowing exactly what I’m supposed to do and when brings me comfort. For me, the unknown, which includes anything new, is terrifying. It happens to be one of my PTSD triggers, which almost always causes an anxiety or panic attack. If it were up to me, I would do the same things every day; I would never go anywhere new and talk to anyone I don’t know.

Lucky for me (even though it may not feel like that at the time due to my fear), my husband is there to encourage me to branch out in many ways. Tonight, he got me to go to a bar and play darts with a couple of our friends. My first thought was, ‘How can he expect me to go to a bar where there are a lot of people?’ I felt angry, but I was really just afraid. I did everything I could to not go to the bar, but in the end, I went. Mainly because I can’t say no, it’s something I’m working on. So I went, and of course, I was extremely anxious. I couldn’t stand still. I had a hard time staying aware of everything that was going on around me. So I took a Valium, which helped calm me down but did not get rid of the restlessness. We played darts, and to my surprise, I enjoyed a large portion of the evening. While some moments were extremely frustrating, most of the time was manageable.

I went through just about every emotion this evening, which is exhausting and quite a bit overwhelming. But the most important part, is that I did it. I left the house and went somewhere that was unfamiliar to me. I faced a fear and pushed my limits. It doesn’t work out every time I try something like this, but it did this time. I feel a sense of pride for making it through the night and managing my anxiety attack in public. But I don’t see myself doing that again anytime soon. It’s important to have a balanced life in order to be healthy (in some way, despite the Bipolar and PTSD). I know I can’t have a healthy life if I only leave the house to go to the grocery store.

I want to express gratitude for my husband that pushes me to branch out in many different ways. Even though sometimes it’s too much, there are some times that he is right. Everything he does comes from a place of love. I’m lucky to have him. Having the man I love stand by me through all of my vast emotions makes me an abundantly fortunate woman.