issue 99 (our 8th year)
issue 99 (our 8th year)
By: Sarah Freeman
Yes, I love the holidays. In fact, I probably love them too much. I am so emotionally over-invested that I sometimes get overwhelmed, creating a horrible disconnect between the fantasy and the reality.
The truth is that I have gone through the same cycle of manic hyper-anticipation and inevitable anticlimax so many times that I have finally come to embrace the wisdom of AA:
“I have had to admit that I am powerless over Christmas and it is unmanageable for me”
The emotional pressure, temptation to spend too much, drink too much, exposure to toxic family members, other peoples’ expectations (or my distorted perceptions of them) – the list of triggers and stressors just go on and on. More and more we are coming to understand the huge role that stress plays in bipolar disorder. Given how stressed out most folks can get around the holidays, it is no surprise that people with bipolar disorder can find this time of year extremely challenging.
A couple of years ago things got so bad that I actually took an unscheduled vacation in early December because I recognized that my Christmas shopping was starting to spin out of control and I needed a “pattern interrupt” to stop me developing a full blown mania.
Now I have finally wised up to the perils of the holiday season and am able to enjoy an authentic, appropriate, joyous experience with my family and friends
Here are a dozen strategies I have developed to make sure I enjoy the holidays and stay well – my 12 Steps of Christmas:Now I have finally wised up to the perils of the holiday season and am able to enjoy an authentic, appropriate, joyous experience with my family and friends.
AA’s 12 steps work miracles because the steps are all grounded in the principle of always practicing rigorous honesty. For someone with bipolar disorder, rigorous honesty requires that we prepare when well for the times when our mania and depression will distort our perceptions so much that we cannot be honest because reality is lost to us. I hit a turning point with my holiday overspending when I realized that spending more than I could afford was a form of deceit – that buying an over the top gift was not a message of love to the recipient but a lie to them. However, if I become manic this powerful insight will be lost to me, at least temporarily. My bipolar illness makes concepts like “willpower” and “choice” irrelevant once an episode takes hold. So I admit my powerlessness and focus on prevention instead. Please take a good look at the list above and consider what YOU can do to make these holidays a genuine celebration for you and your loved ones.
Our new Bipolar Carers Support Group meetings are held at South Yarra on the first Tuesday of each month commencing at 7:00pm (except January).
Close family and friends (bipolar carers or caregivers) can be a primary source of support for a person with bipolar disorder. Discussions include ways caregivers can take care of themselves, deal with the bipolar disorder and the personal impact it has on them.
Enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are over 18 and have bipolar disorder you may be eligible to help us trial new, online self-guided interventions designed to improve quality of life in people who experience bipolar. We are comparing two types of interventions that have been created by international experts which both include videos, exercises, tools, forums and an online coach.
To find out if these interventions are helpful, you would also be asked to complete 4 assessments (which include a telephone and online component) over a 6 month period. You will be reimbursed for participation in these assessments.
If you would like more information about the research or would like to participate go to: www.orbitonline.org
“Never give up” is the sign I currently have up in my home. I have a slogan like this which I read out aloud daily. Every few months I change the slogan. Never give up because things can change for the better.
I come from an abusive childhood and also had an abusive first husband. I didn’t have many friends as a child. After breaking up with my first husband I had a nervous breakdown and was put on medication for depression. There was a custody case at that stage and it was very traumatic. I have tried suicide 6 or 7 times. I just couldn’t live with the highs and lows, mostly I was in the lows.
Right now I am in a good space. I go to a walking group and an exercise group. Life’s wonderful for me at the moment. I’ve been on medication for 40 years. For me, Zyprexa (Olanzapine) works well. The only bad thing about it is it makes you put on weight. I kept trying other drugs which were less likely to put on weight but I’d end up a “mental mess” so keep going back to Zyprexa.
Trauma tends to be a main trigger for me. This year the hot water service broke in January and my dog died suddenly in February. Something else bad also happened and I had another nervous breakdown. I took an overdose of all my medications and ended up in the psych ward. Two months later I did the same thing again because I was drinking. Drinking has this affect on me. In fact, for me suicide attempts have always been associated with alcohol except for my very first episode.
This year I ended up saying to myself “You’re meant to be here. I’m supposed to be here for a reason.” The last few months I have been feeling really good and positive. I haven’t been drinking. I am getting out more.
When I got low I used to close the curtains and live in the dark. I would stay in the house unless it was absolutely necessary to go out to get food. I didn’t want to get out of bed. I never showered. I would only brush my teeth every 3 days. The house was neat but not clean. I would be in a really dark place. I didn’t want to see the outside world. I would just sit inside watching the TV news constantly to see what the next bad thing in the world was.
I’ve had to get home help from the council. They do lawns, gardening and housework for a small fee each month.
I always have depression – even when I am hypomanic it’s a mixed episode. I have been diagnosed with depression, schizoffactive, Borderline Personality Disorder, Bipolar Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
I have heard voices. There is a 5-6 year old little girl personality with me all the time to protect me. She goes quiet when I don’t need her. She has been with me since I was 5 or 6. I hear her voice and she gives me direction..…”C’mon Kim. Have something to eat.” In my last episode there was a destructive male voice telling me to get alcohol and commit suicide.
I have limited access to my medication. I can only collect 3 days worth of medication at a time to prevent suicide attempts.
Remember I said alcohol is usually involved with my suicide attempts? I am now seeing a drug and alcohol counsellor. She has helped me so much. I have been seeing her weekly for most of this year. I’ve learned to like the person I am without alcohol. I was a binge drinker. I also used drink to get rid of the voices and to help me sleep. Now water is a substitute for alcohol.
There is hope out there. I’m never going to not have these disorders but medication can keep me on an even keel. I have a male friend who used to tell me I was beautiful but I couldn’t take the compliment. Today I can honestly say I am a nice person. I’m nice to be around. I’m still friends with him. He is going through depression and we help each other. Having regular contact with a friend really helps. Don’t sit around. Go out and talk to people. A lot of talking does help.
Finally after all of these years I’ve found a psychologist who knows me and understands me. Find someone you connect with. I have had 3 marriages and a long-term relationship. I have 4 daughters and despite my abusive childhood and relationship difficulties I still have a loving and close relationship with all 4 daughters to this day. It’s been achieved by guts and determination and a lot of counselling.
My third husband would ply me with alcohol regularly to keep me quiet and so I wouldn’t demand his time. He did me a huge favour by leaving. He talked to me like I was a child or an idiot. He never let me drive saying “you’re on medication”. I enjoy my own company now. It’s getting to know myself. I know I’ve got limitations. I love my house. I love my teddy bear collection. Find something you like to do.
Walking is wonderful. It gives you a good feeling. I walk my dogs and am in a walking group. I was looking down at my feet when walking but now I look around and enjoy the experience.
Recently I drove to Pakenham to see family. It was out of my comfort zone and I felt fantastic when I did it and got home. I’ll do it again at Christmas.
I still get anxiety and panic attacks. I use Valium for that – maybe one a day.
I had ECT in one episode. I had it 12 times and was in hospital for 7 weeks. That was when I was told I had schizo-affective disorder.
I have pets. I think it’s very important to have animals if you can. They are like my kids. They give love back. They stick close. They make me get up to feed them and care for them. Take them for walks. They always let me know when it is Schmako time!
So that’s some hints from me. Never give up because things can change for the better.
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