Pink & Blue Mummyland

Pink and blue parenting through pink and blue moods….

Fear of the fog

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It doesn’t take much to worry me when it comes to my mental health.

Today I feel low. I feel unmotivated, unable to concentrate, like I’ll never manage to achieve anything that’s of worth, and altogether too exhausted to go up to bed. Staying awake into the night and writing long diatribes is a key sign that Churchill’s famous black dog might be following close behind me. I find myself too scared to stop writing and go to bed, because then I might think, and that could lead anywhere. Or I might find myself completely unable to think, which is even worse.

The thing is, the fear of it can be just as bad as the actual thing. The memory of having been so ill not all that long ago (eighteen months can feel like forever or yesterday) makes me hyper alert to any possible symptom. The thought of being that unwell again induces a level of anxiety I normally only experience in an episode of depression, so I end up on a roundabout of doubt – am I anxious about becoming depressed, or anxious because I’m depressed?

As is always my key tactic, I try and work my way back to see if there is an actual cause for feeling low. I search the calendar for hormone surges or forgotten traumatic anniversaries. I look back over Facebook and Twitter to see what might have nudged me off kilter – social media can be cruel in its reminders of what I haven’t done or become. If I can find a solid reason why I might feel like mud, then there’s more of a hope that it will pass without effect, that it is just a normal bad day, like normal people have.

There’s nothing like experiencing what normal people experience to remind you that you’re not actually normal. In a bad few days a normal person can curl up, eat chocolate, and watch a movie that provides an excuse for a good cry. For me, any longer than a couple of days and I start getting antsy.

So, I start putting things in place. I stop listening to the news, and exchange sad Joni Mitchell music for something brighter. I make sure I go out, even if it’s just to the supermarket cafe, so that my four walls don’t become overbearing. I get up, I get dressed, I eat – I make myself do all the things that most days I hardly notice myself doing. I talk to friends – if my best friends don’t hear from me for a day, they come knocking.

It’s an effort trying not to get depressed when depression is one of the things you most fear.

But who knows, it might all be better tomorrow.

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Gone are the Words

I’m having a hard time writing. Depression makes my brain feel like fudge. CableGuy’s response to this was “yummy.” Me – not so much. It feels like everything is moving slower than it should. Unless it is a word or sentence that I want – then is slips away into the shadows, impossible to trace through the dense sludge.

I really wish that I could take my depression and describe it in writing. In my head it’s a piece that is, in turns, heart-breaking and heart-warming, with a trace of cynicism and a soupçon of humour at my own expense. But it seems impossible at the moment, and – even worse – like it will never be possible again. And somewhere under the lack of motivation resides a fear, that I might never be able to write again, and therefore lose a part of myself that I might never get back.

One of my biggest vices is jealousy of other writers. I spend most days wishing I had written things by other writers who say things better than me. Or (an even less attractive trait) have more readers than me. Glennon Doyle Melton of Momastery fame has a good rule of thumb – if I’m jealous of another person’s writing, take a moment to feel it, but then share it. Because jealousy is just love in disguise. Jealousy is loving but then wanting. Generosity is than loving and then giving.

So, I now share part of one of Glennon’s descriptions of depression and how it affects her life and her writing. I chose it partly because her experience is so like my own, but mainly because she said it better and I am jealous. She writes about it in exactly the way I would like to be able to. So rather than loving and wanting it, I’ve decided to love it and share it. Here is a small section of her masterpiece, but please do read the entire essay here.

About depression…

“Every once in awhile – something scary happens to me. A black, heavy, murky fog sets in over my heart and my head. When this happens, I do not alternate between super high and super low. During these awful times I alternate between super low and super numb. The fog is so thick that even when I get still and try to find my way home to myself – I can’t. During these times, none of my usual tricks….quiet time, sunshine, exercise, friends, prayer . . .none of them help me find my way through the fog. I can go through the motions of the day . . . I remember what to do – pack the lunches, smile at the kids, sweep the floor, hug my husband….repeat. I just can’t remember why any of these things matter. The love, the life that usually infuses each of these tasks with meaning is gone. I become like a robot. I have completely lost myself. All I want is to disappear into a dark room. Gone is the joy, the drama, even the suffering that makes me, me. This state of mind has nothing to do with my dramatic personality. It is more like a complete loss of my personality. I’ve suffered this loss three times in my life. Once when I was much younger and suffering from bulimia and alcoholism. Once after my second child was born, and again about a month ago. I have come to believe that this loss of myself is what is commonly accepted as depression.”

About writing…

“I’m hesitant to medicate away my depression because I worry that my depression fuels my writing. What medicine does for me is help me to relax into life a bit. Craig’s perspective is that when I’m on it, I am the same Glennon, I just “struggle a little less.” I agree. I struggle a little less. And I also lose the feeling that if I don’t write I will die. This is how I feel when I’m depressed. Since I lose my joy and meaning, I come to the blank page to create meaning and joy, to get it back. Because I become desperate to make sense of things. And that desperation, I’m afraid, is what makes my writing good. So it scares me, I guess, not to be depressed. A lot of really good writers are depressed. But, as Craig says – “Honey, don’t a lot of good writers also kill themselves?”

The fact that Glennon can take the meds and still write like this gives me hope. Please, please, do visit Momastery. And please do read the whole of Home To Myself – much of what she writes about earlier in the article describes bipolar life to a tee.

Even though she doesn’t have it. Sickening.

I won’t be jealous, I won’t be jealous, I won’t be jealous….. Loving and sharing, not loving and wanting.

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Kicking denial into touch….

When I started this, I had every intention of writing blog posts daily with all sorts of witticisms related to bipolar and motherhood and Christian faith, and how these three interleave (or clash with resounding wordplay!). The reality is, of course, that things aren’t ever as smooth as you think they are going to be.

The short to medium term plan with regards to my bipolar is to stop the antidepressants I have been on for years, and replace them with a mood stabiliser, so as to prevent the episodes rather than just treat them when they arrive. It’s now fifteen years since my first antidepressant – I started on Prozac (fluoxetine) at nineteen, and have since worked my way through most of the common SSRIs and a few tricyclics for good measure. Most of them worked for a while, and without many side effects, but even when they got rid of the depression it was never permanent, and we ended up back at the beginning, trying yet another drug. I’ve since learned that this is typical for many people with bipolar, and the fact that antidepressants work temporarily is one of the reasons it can take so long to diagnose.

I’ve had a bit of a medication crisis recently. Things haven’t gone entirely as expected, which has led to lots of stress and heartache. Having never really had any side effects related to psych drugs, it would seem that I’m really quite sensitive to the sedative effect of the mood stabiliser I’m on (quetiapine, for those in the know!). Reducing down the antidepressant venlafaxine whilst increasing the quetiapine was going really well until the very last little bit, which I really didn’t expect seeing as I had been on the maximum dose for nearly a year. I get very low when I stopped taking the last half tablet, but the amount of quetiapine needed to bring me back up caused an unbearable level of drowsiness and had a whole body effect – until lunchtime I couldn’t get up the one flight of stairs in my house without my whole body aching, which isn’t ideal when sharing a house with two small children.

Eventually, I got over the withdrawal effects of the venlafaxine, and managed to bring the quetiapine back down to a manageable level, but it’s left me very fearful of the next step of the plan – reducing the second antidepressant, mirtazepine. Because of the extent of the difficulty I had when on higher doses of quetiapine, my doctor will probably have to introduce another mood stabiliser, like Lamotrigine, or my ‘scary drug’ – lithium.

I had a bit of a reality check the other night. I realised that, although the bipolar diagnosis was a relief, I’m still in denial with regards to just how serious it is. I’ve suddenly been hit by the gravity of the situation – that being bipolar is likely going to mean a lifetime of medication to stay stable, and that I will have to either learn to live with side effects on a day to day basis, or suffer the consequences of not taking the drugs I need to stabilise my mood.

So today is not about kicking bipolar into touch, but about kicking denial. It seems to be an ongoing cycle that I think I’m fine and dealing with it, something happens to knock my confidence, and I have to go over it all again, dealing with it all over again. The truth is that I have a serious mental illness, which I ignore at the risk of my own health and safety and those around me.

Today I will kick denial with what hurts it the most – truth.

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