I am many things. I fill many roles. I exemplify many virtues and many failings. I tend more towards happiness than unhappiness, more towards optimism than pessimism, more towards believing the best in people than believing the worst. I keep my chin up, my head high and smile through the pain, knowing that tomorrow will be better.
And that usually works.
And the medication usually works.
And I’m ok, I’m good, I’m on solid ground.
And then the world changes a little bit and I’m reminded that my condition isn’t curable, just manageable.
I was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder at 20 after my previous diagnosis of mild depression was thrown out. After a sexual assault, I went into a months long manic period. If you’ll read the link I’ve included I engaged in nearly all of the symptoms listed. I was quite literally out of control. During that period I felt like I was outside myself. I could see what I was doing was harmful and I just couldn’t stop it. One day I had a panic attack and thought I was having a heart attack. When the ER doctors told me what it was I decided it was time to go back to see my old psychiatrist. We tried various drug cocktails, including Lithium (which made me feel like I was experiencing the world through a thick layer of cotton) and it took a long time to figure out what was going to work best.
The mania period ended just prior to my senior year of college. I was walking the tightrope of mental health mostly because I still felt like an open wound. I supplemented my medication with alcohol, wild behavior and far too many dates. I packed this life cocktail into my wounds hoping they would heal but they merely scabbed off.
I would feel better for a while, stop my medication, and then fall right back into a depression after a month or so. I wanted so badly to be cured, to be fixed that I was very close to delusional about what was actually going on with my mental health.
It took years of feeling better then feeling worse to finally commit to staying on my medication. It’s taken years of therapy to understand that I’m not fatally flawed because of my chemical imbalance but that it is as much a part of my as my eye color and the size of my feet. I can do nothing to change it.
That was a hard pill to swallow (pun intended).
For years now my mood has been stable, I only rely on a very low dose of an SSRI, a medication that deals with increasing the amount of serotonin in the brain. I use cognitive behavior techniques in my every day life to combat the symptoms of my condition. Recovery International is a mental health group that focuses on the teachings of Dr. Abraham Low and his work with cognitive behavior therapy. My former in-laws introduced me to this work and I will be forever grateful. There are few days that go by that I don’t use the tools that are taught through this work. Two favorites of mine are that I “have the will to bear the discomfort” of an unpleasant situation and to remind myself that I am just an average person, so nobody expects perfection from me. With these things working in my favor life is generally good and the real Erin gets to shine through the condition.
Still there are times that I feel down, or blue, when the world’s colors seem a little grayer, the night a little blacker. Usually I can shake it off in a day or two, but sometimes it lingers and I’m reminded that my fight is a life-long one. The coming of winter always reminds me of this most poignantly. Colder temperatures and longer nights rob me of my precious sunshine, sunshine which helps create the chemicals that keep me balanced and happy.
For a while there I didn’t even recognize that I was feeling worse. I felt tired, but I’m always tired (I’m a mom!). I lost interest in my normal activities, but I blamed that on being tired or the busy schedule my son has. It wasn’t until I realized how disconnected I felt from everyone around me that I knew something was wrong.
Now I know and now I can fix it. Sure it won’t be permanently fixed but identifying the problem is half the battle. So long walks with the dogs, more vegetable gardening, eating al fresco will all help get me out into the limited sunshine hours. Purposefully engaging in social activities, making myself complete to do lists, and writing, writing, writing will help me “fake it til I make it.”
And sooner than I realized I’ll be back to singing silly songs with Connor, baking delicious treats, and generally my nerdy, happy self again.