In my final post, I’d like to address my fellow sufferers of mental illness and chronic physical illness.
So to begin with, it sucks being a patient, and knowing that you have to be one for the foreseeable future– and let’s be real, for most of us it will be the rest of our lives– that just. Plain. Sucks.
It is, however, what it is. So I decided to accept the reality of my life– the fact that there are certain things I will not be able to do, and certain things I will need have help to do, and certain things I will have to do to maintain stability that other people don’t– and not be bitter about it. That doesn’t mean I don’t get pissed off and frustrated at times with the limitations my mental and physical illnesses place on my life. It just means I don’t live there.
Also, it’s not all limitations. My illnesses grant me certain skills and abilities other people do not have, too. I have a depth of compassion for people that I would not if I didn’t deal with these issues. I have an extraordinary level of creativity and intelligence, and when I write I have a deep well of emotional experience to draw from. I will be a better nurse because I’ve been a patient and a better priest because of the deep spiritual work I’ve done to heal and the faith that sustains me through these trials. I will be able to spot mental illness in my patients that come in for physical problems before other nurses. These are all useful and valuable things.
I inherited bipolar from my father, who inherited it from his mother. It’s a family legacy. It became a crisis when I was fourteen. At that point I had my first major depressive episode. By fifteen I was cutting myself every day, my anorexia, which had begun at age nine, and my bulimia, which had just started, were in full bloom, and I was abusing prescription drugs (that I got from my father, actually. He was a surgeon.) The day I had planned to commit suicide a teacher found my sliced up arms, informed my mother, and I was admitted to my first psychiatric unit. It was the first of many. My bipolar was not correctly diagnosed until I was twenty-one, which is typical; it takes on average six years for bipolar to be correctly identified and treated. Due to other co-morbid issues– the complex PTSD, dissociative disorder, eating disorders, etc– it took another six years before I was stable on medication.
I have been on some type of psychiatric medication non-stop since I was fourteen. Times when I have tried to go off of it have resulted in suicidal depression, panic, mania, and even psychosis. Going off of medication is simply not an option for me; my brain needs it to function. I am absolutely willing to put up with taking twenty pills a day, dealing with side effects, and seeing a psychiatrist 2-4 times a year if it means I stay functional and sane. Without question and without hesitation. Even though this is one reason that I can never be pregnant. I value my sanity that much.
It’s a terrible thing to be afraid of your own mind, but I have been, and I don’t want to be again. So I will do whatever I have to to remain stable.
Medication alone is not a cure. It is a tool that works in combination with therapy, good nutrition, enough sleep, healthy social interaction, and other forms of self-care; it’s an individual process depending on your illness and your needs. Do not let anyone tell you that “medication is toxic” or it will hurt you or convince you to get off of it because it makes them uncomfortable. Fuck that noise. This is your life and if it works for you, then use it. At the same time, don’t let anyone force meds on you if you feel they don’t work for you. They’re not for everyone. Again, it depends on your diagnosis. Don’t let your diagnostic labels become who you are. You are not bipolar or depression. You have bipolar or depression. You are a person separate from your illness. Don’t get too comfortable in inpatient treatment, ever. It too, is just a tool. If you take meds, I suggest you get a medication organizer and fill it once a week to keep you on track. It may also be helpful to keep a journal to track your symptoms. When you see your doctor, go over it with him/her. Have a list of people to call when you need help for specific things; I have a list that’s like, “when I need a pep talk,” “when I need a listening ear,” “when I need unconditional love,” “when I needs spiritual support,” “when I need immediate help.” I have those people and their phone numbers in my cell phone in a special file. And for God’s sake: if you are feeling suicidal, do not mess around. Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Counselors are available there twenty-four hours a day to help you if you are in crisis. (Also available at National Suicide Prevention Lifeline where you can chat online with counselors.)
Mental illness does not have to run your life. As long as you take care of yourself, it can be manageable.
Physical chronic illness is similar. It takes diligent self-care to manage. I’m doing so much better in this area thanks to being on Plexus. My pain levels have gone dramatically down and my energy has gone dramatically up. I’m able to focus to get things done. A lot of the side effects I had from my psychiatric medication– bloating, constipation, brain fog, etc– have been completely resolved by the Plexus products I take. It’s really remarkable and like nothing else I’ve ever found. So if you have an autoimmune disease, chronic pain, chronic fatigue, or are trying to manage the side effects of psychiatric medication, I highly recommend you give Plexus a try or at least check it out. (You can do so here.)
This isn’t a Plexus ad, however, so let me say that managing chronic illness also involves making sure, like with everything else, that you are well-nourished, well-hydrated, well-rested, and taking all prescribed medications. Taking care of your stress is a huge factor for managing chronic physical illness as well. Get therapy or pastoral counseling. Have a spiritual practice that you do regularly. Have distractions available for when you have bad pain days; for me that means cuddling with my cat and watching netflix, cuddling with my cat and reading a novel, cuddling with my cat and doing a crossword, and maybe cuddling with my cat. If you need to and it’s possible to, take a day to stay home and rest. Never feel guilty about saying “no.” You only have this one body, and your body has some special needs. It has limits that you needs to respect, or you’ll end up paying for it by getting sick or being in extra pain. It’s easier to prevent pain/illness than to treat it later so keep that in mind, and really weigh what the cost is to your health before you make a commitment to a certain activity. I have often over-committed myself and then needed to scale back. It’s a learning process. But no one will respect your health boundaries if you don’t respect them yourself first. So make sure you do.
I hope this series has been helpful to some of you. I hope I’ve been able to impart some wisdom from my experiences and give some hope to people dealing with the same issues I have. Have compassion for yourselves and each other. Healing is possible.
The Lord protects and preserves them—
The Lord sustains them on their sickbed
and restores them from their bed of illness.
I said, “Have mercy on me, Lord;