Writing, self doubt, and getting through it

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So, quick update before we get into the actual post. My primary care doctor has agreed to prescribe my already established (though poorly working) psych meds to hold me over until I can get in to see the med manager here. I picked them up Thursday night.

Writing is a huge part of my life. It has been since I was 8 and wrote my first story, which was in all reality a fan fic based on A Little Princess. At first, I wrote with pen and paper. I filled my journals with fanciful stories and some rather bad poetry. When I was 14, I first began building the fantasy world that now has almost thirty one novels planned for it. It was rather childish and the characters were too perfect and overpowered, but it gave me a chance to escape from the misery that was my life. I even started co-writing a story with my world and characters with a friend where his characters came to my world.

I dabbled with poetry again in my teen years, but it has never been one of my strong suits. I branched out from my fantasy world into varying types of science fiction. As I progressed in my writing life, I added dystopian fiction to my list of attempted genres. Then I did more fantasy stories that weren’t set in my long term fantasy world project. I’ve also got a rather long series of urban fantasy stories that I want to write.

Even now, I have a folder on my computer that’s also backed up in two other places full of story ideas. Right now it sits at twenty one ideas not currently tied to any of my major story lines. I’m always finding new things I want to write about. I love fantasy and science fiction in all of its incarnations, though I’m iffy about erotica/erotic romance in those genres. I’ve read some good ones and some truly awful ones. Then again, that’s true for reading any book in those genres.

I have a tendency to put some hot button topics in my books and explore them in my fictional worlds. In Into the Sands, the WIP I’m trying to finish right now, I’m dealing with refugees and how they’re mistreated in the country they flee to. This is reminiscent of the refugee crisis in Europe. In Fury, the science fiction standalone novel (which may actually end up as part of a series, but I don’t know yet) the main character has to overcome her prejudicial hatred of an entire group of people to learn to value lives that aren’t like her own.

In one of my urban fantasy novels, which currently exist under the collective title of Fang Faces, I deal with a main character with mental illness. I explore her self hatred because of what she is, who her parents are, and how she can’t control her own mind. I deal with her isolation from everyone around her as she falls deeper into the abyss. She ultimately finds herself and builds up a powerful support group. This character is very near and dear to my heart since she is living through what I have.

Sometimes my bipolar makes it difficult for me to write. I have days, sometimes weeks, where I barely manage a few hundred words. I can’t focus. My characters don’t matter to me. What I do write feels flat, dead, and useless. I feel like I’m a failure. But that’s the depression and self doubt talking. Once my moods improve the self doubt lessens.

You notice I said “lessens”. It doesn’t ever completely go away. I doubt it ever will, more because no one ever goes through life without some self doubt rather than some moral failing of mine. Everyone has this little voice that tells them they’re not good enough, that they’re a failure, that people are going to ridicule them.

It can be overwhelming at times, especially if you combine it with mental illness. Self doubt is one of the things that can lead you into a death spiral that is hard to pull yourself out of. Everyone deals with it, but for those who suffer from depression it feeds into their sense of worthlessness. Self doubt can lead to despair and that can lead to hopelessness. That hopelessness can lead to suicidal ideologies and even the attempt.

I have found, on those days when I have more control over my moods, that when self doubt creeps in I need to do something else that I find enjoyable. If I’m writing and I’m having issues, I grab my knitting needles and do some knitting. If I’m knitting and I start hating what I’m working on, I pick up my crochet hook and do something else. If those don’t work, I read. If I can’t read and the fiber arts aren’t working, I try to write again. But not on one of my stories. I’ll try a blog post or a letter or a journal entry. Something different that I can put somewhere once the feelings pass.

If you have those days where you just don’t feel like anything you do is worth it, take a chance and try something new. Pick one of your favorite hobbies and work at it. Go for a walk. Talk to a friend or family member. Do what you need to do to get yourself out of that funk. Because the harder you work to get out of it, the easier it becomes to push back against the self doubt. There is a way to prevent it from overwhelming your life. Just take it one day at a time, sometimes one hour at a time, and remember that there are ways out of every hole.

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Depression doesn’t have to be fatal (TRIGGER: discussing suicide)

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November 26, 2013 – two days before Thanksgiving. I was in the deepest depression I’d had in a long time. I’d had enough. I was living in a toxic environment, with only my husband to support me. I was out of work and on permanent disability because my bipolar and anxiety had gotten so bad that I couldn’t handle working outside the house anymore. My meds were all screwed up again and I was cycling from depression to hypomania and back again with little help from anyone. My counselor had left the practice and I wasn’t seeing anyone else. My med doctor was so backed up I couldn’t get in to see him.

So I did the worst possible thing I could do: I tried to kill myself. I downed half a bottle of Klonopin, a drug prescribed to help with my anxiety. I was ready for it to be over. But then, a part of me rebelled. It came out stronger than the self destructive streak had been. It demanded that I save myself. So I called the crisis line for my counselor. I told them what I’d done. They got my address and said help was on the way. I texted a friend of mine who’d dealt with suicidal thoughts as well. She got in touch with my husband. He was out of the house. I was too scared to text him myself.

I started losing my sense of reality. I went out to the living room – I’d been hiding in the small bedroom which was the only real place my husband and I had in the house where we could safely exist without enduring the nastiness of our roommates – and sat on the couch. My friend and husband showed up within a few minutes. The cops and the ambulance a few minutes after them. I remember trying to answer questions and then nothing. I lost consciousness.

The next thing I remember is walking through the halls of the hospital I’d been sent to’s mental health section. I was put in a room with three other women. It was late, probably 2 or 3 am. So I just passed out again.

I was woken up at 6 to have my vitals checked. They were worried because of my overdose. Once they were done, I couldn’t get back to sleep. So I took a shower and went into the cafeteria/common area. I watched something on the TV, though I can’t tell you what it was. I was still out of it. Breakfast was served and I managed to eat it all, even though my stomach told me I shouldn’t eat anything.

As the morning progressed and I got to deal with the group therapies going on, I began to regain my sense of self. I was still in deep depression and was beginning to wonder if I’d done the right thing in calling everyone. Then I was called out of the therapy session and taken into a room where I was to meet the first of the two people appointed by the court to analyze my situation and decide if I was a danger to myself or not.

They deemed I was, and so I was placed on an involuntary hold. I couldn’t check myself out of the hospital and they would keep me until I was declared stable by my psychiatrist. I wasn’t happy, but I dealt with it the best that I could. It wasn’t my first trip to a mental hospital and I figured it probably wouldn’t be my last.

Three days later, I was taken out in shackles and packed into the back of a police car. I was taken to the courthouse and left to sit in the hall outside the courtroom for around fifteen minutes. I wanted to cry. I wanted to run. I wanted to scream. All I could do was sit and wait.

I already knew the judge wasn’t going to accept any excuses or pleas from me, so I kept quiet as the judge signed off on my involuntary confinement to the mental hospital. I was then taken back to the hospital, still in shackles. They never came off. Once inside and back in the wing I’d been in, they removed them and I was allowed to go back to whatever it was I wanted to do, within the limits set on me by the hospital.

Two days after that, I was informed that I wasn’t going to be staying at the facility I was already in. They weren’t equipped to handle someone of my “level of care”. So they sent me to a much smaller hospital. Once again, I was stuck in shackles and packed into the back of a police car. They could have put me in an ambulance. I’d had it happen once before when I went to the ER while suffering from suicidal ideology. But once again, I was made to feel like a criminal.

The second hospital turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me in terms of being hospitalized. It was small, only having fifty beds. The staff there was amazing. I was shown to my room – it was a private one instead of me having to share – and I was told that I could close the door only when I went to bed for the night. I was okay with that. They told me that I’d be assigned a psychiatrist and that I’d be seen later that day.

I went to lunch. The food, while still institutional fare, was better than at the previous hospital. I wasn’t expected to talk to people as I ate, which I was at the other one. I was allowed to sit back and watch and learn. After lunch I was encouraged – not required, like the other hospital, but encouraged – to attend the group. I was told it would be better for me in the long run if I did go to the groups, so I did as I was told.

The psych tech who was running the group didn’t single me out, didn’t make me introduce myself, didn’t ask me questions. He just ran the group and encouraged us all to participate as we felt we could. There’s that word again: “encourage”. I was treated with more respect there than ever before at a mental hospital.

The staff kept tabs on me. They talked to me when I needed someone to talk to, when my mood swings and anxiety threatened to overwhelm me again. My psychiatrist listened to me and asked all the right questions to assess my problems. She didn’t put me on meds I didn’t want to take, and we worked together to find the right combination to take care of my needs. I wasn’t allowed any anti-anxiety meds because of the fact I’d overdosed on benzos, but for the first time I didn’t care. I felt almost human again.

I had one more visit with the court appointed person (I don’t remember what they’re called anymore). She declared me fit to be released. 48 hours after that was confirmed by the court, I was released. That was December 8th.

I’m one of the lucky ones. There are many who don’t get a second chance after attempting suicide. But I survived, and I’m here to tell everyone that it eventually does get better. You may not feel that way now, but it does happen.

I love tattoos. I only have one right now, and it needs to be touched up since it’s around 15 years old. But I’m not going to do that yet. Once the farm is producing an income, I’m getting a semicolon tattooed on my left wrist. If you don’t know why, check out Project Semicolon. (Project Semicolon’s website) The more I learn about it, the more I want that tattoo to remind me when I hit dark times that it doesn’t have to end now. I can get through it.

I’ve had suicidal thoughts since my attempt. But I’ve never actually tried to follow through again. I reach out to my husband and talk to him about it. I have friends now online that are willing to listen to me when he’s not able to. I have a support network, something I haven’t had in a long time. My life isn’t perfect, and I still struggle, but I’m not alone. I don’t have to be alone. No one has to be alone.

4 weeks of potential hell…and what I’m doing to survive and thrive during them

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I have an appointment this afternoon that I don’t want to go to. It’s the second of its kind and after this week I’ll have two more to go. What is this appointment you ask? It’s the required group therapy that I have to do before they’ll even let me in to see a counselor.

Let that sink in for a moment. Group therapy. For someone with social anxiety. (And yes, they know I have social anxiety.)

This group is supposed to be an introduction to the services they offer at the clinic. It’s called “Managing Your Road to Recovery.” It’s from 2-4 pm every Monday for four weeks. It isn’t something I have an option to avoid.

Last Monday we talked a little about possible triggers, among other things. When asked for examples, I brought up “large groups of people in small spaces”, “groups bigger than 3 or 4 people”, and “loud voices.” I don’t think it occurred to anyone in that room that I was talking about my personal triggers. I know it didn’t to the woman running the group until, after we finished for the day, I went to her and told her my issues.

She looked surprised, and then told me that half the group was graduating so we wouldn’t be as full this week. She also said that if I couldn’t handle it, she would see about setting me up for one on one sessions, but that it would take longer to get a counselor if we did it that way. Because there are specific topics that have to be covered, and it’s harder to do them in a one on one situation than it is in a group session.

I left feeling like death warmed over. My anxiety was so high I was actually shaking when I got into the truck. My husband stopped at the grocery store and we got drinks. He got iced tea. I got a one liter bottle of Mountain Dew. That’s a comfort thing for me, and it helped me wind down. I don’t drink soda that often anymore, so as a rare treat it helped. Not a lot, but enough that I was able to start thinking again instead of simply reacting.

To give you an idea, imagine 23 people – all adults – sitting in a small room that’s built for maybe 15. Many are talking, trying to express their ideas. The majority of those talking have no concept of “indoor voice” and are rather loud. Add into that a dog in the background who we were told was a service animal who instead of lying quietly like they’re supposed to do (and yes, I know people with service animals so I have an okay knowledge of appropriate behaviors for them) was restless and constantly whined and made little yipping noises. This dog is also a large breed dog, so she takes up even more of the limited space.

Incorporate into that scenario a few people who actually poke fun at those who mention triggers and, in some cases, actively use those triggers to try to get a rise out the person who mentioned them. Then have a facilitator who doesn’t seem to care that it’s going on, though she does try to get people to let others speak before they say anything.

That was the hell I endured for two hours last week. I don’t know who graduated from the sessions last week. I’ll find out today. I also don’t know if there are going to be any new people added, so I can’t say for certain our group is going to be that much smaller.

Now, from what I’ve said before this, you’re probably thinking I’m stressing out about today. You’re right. I am. But, there is another part of this. It’s what am I doing to alleviate as much of that stress as I can before I go that’s the important part.

I have social anxiety. It has damaged me most of my life. I won’t say it’s crippled me, because there are ways I’ve found to deal with life outside my preferred tiny bubble of existence.

The first thing I do usually is make sure I have a buffer between me and the rest of the world. That could be my husband, a friend, one of our roommates, etc. Someone else who I can fall back on to carry the conversations and deal with people so I don’t have to. That’s how I get through grocery shopping and most of the other stuff I do when I’m outside the house. I can’t do that completely this time because I can’t have a guest with me. But my husband does wait in the parking lot for me, and is there when I go on a break so I can spend a few minutes talking to him to help take the edge off the anxiety.

Another thing I do is focus on the reward I’m giving myself for getting through it. Last week it was soda. This week it’s going to be chocolate. I’m going to stop at the grocery store after I’m done and buy a couple York Peppermint Patties, or a Milky Way, or maybe just a plain Hershey’s chocolate bar. Something I don’t get often to reward myself for getting through a hard time.

Then there’s blogging about it, which is what I’m doing now. Getting out some of the fear and anxiety that’s turning my brain to mush right now is actually helpful because it lets me express myself without forcing me to stammer over the words that just don’t come easily when my anxiety hits. I also know that I’m sharing with people who may understand where I’m coming from, which helps me feel less like I’m alone in the world.

I’m also preparing myself mentally for this. I know I have to do it. I know I can’t avoid it. I know it’s going to happen. So I ask myself “how are you going to handle this?” I can make a plan. I don’t like talking in front of other people all that often so I can keep quiet and let the others talk. I don’t have to converse with those around me, though I can and will answer if I’m addressed directly. I can doodle on the edges of the worksheets we’re given, or on the blank pages we’re allowed to write notes on if we want to help keep me calm and more focused.

I get to have some cuddle time with my fur babies – my cat Reidar and my gray bunny Stormy. I will have some one on one time with my husband too before I go. These things help buffer me from part of the pain I feel when I have to do something like this.

I am also working on things that I enjoy. Writing on one of my projects, editing another, reading, knitting or crocheting…these things help keep me calm and centered. I may do all of these before I go, or just one or two. It all depends on what I can focus on.

When you deal with mental illness, you get a lot of the whole “get over it” or “it’s all in your head” comments. It isn’t as easy as “just think positive and it’ll change” for any of us. But focusing on the negative, on how everything is shit, on how we can’t deal with it, makes things harder. I don’t have a choice in how my brain works. I have no meds and very little at hand to cut down the harshness of my bipolar. What I can do is pick my battles and find ways of pushing through it. I’m far from being good at this. I am still more prone to letting my mood swings stop me. But those small successes, when I can turn a bad day into a few good minutes in the maelstrom of mood swings, those give me the strength to move forward another step or two.

My Bipolar story

I’ve talked a lot about being bipolar, but I haven’t said much about when I was diagnosed and what happened to lead up to it. So let me share my story with you. It’s unique to me and though it may hold similar aspects to others you’ve experienced/heard, everything here is seen through my perspective and my experiences.

As a child, I was very moody. It didn’t help I grew up with an undiagnosed/untreated bipolar mother who swung between perfectly wonderful to batshit crazy and abusive. There were certain things that would trigger her temper, but for the most part you never knew when she was going to make the shifts. It was a hard environment to grow up in, and was made even more difficult by a father who wasn’t really “there” even when he was home. He was something of a workaholic so every time overtime came up or a teaching trip was scheduled, he was gone.

My mood swings came in bouts of hiding from everyone, being irritable and occasionally violent (mostly towards my poor younger sister), and being so wired that I wouldn’t sleep for days. They got worse as I hit my teen years. Then, when I was sixteen, my parents found a note I’d written in a fit of depression that shared my thoughts on possibly committing suicide. I lied to them about it being an assignment for seminary (I grew up LDS), but I know they didn’t buy it. This was the first time I saw my mom take my mental health seriously.

She went through the church and took me to a counselor. He was kind of worthless because I couldn’t see him without my mom being present, but he did refer me to the first psychiatrist that diagnosed me with Bipolar II disorder. He put me on Depakote and told my mom to make sure I took it.

I tried to rebel. I was a teenager. It’s what you did. But I was so scared of my mom that I ended up taking my meds mostly on schedule. There were times when she’d leave me alone that I’d flush my pill down the toilet rather than swallow it. I thought I was fine, that I didn’t need the help of the medicine. I was very wrong.

When I was seventeen, I’d had enough. I took a whole bunch of Advil and chased it down with half a bottle of Nyquil. My dad found me passed out in the bathroom in a pool of vomit. I don’t remember much of what happened after that, and my dad swears it didn’t happen. But what I do remember was waking up and being told I had a bad case of the stomach flu. Maybe I did only have a bad case of the stomach flu and the Advil/Nyquil scenario was something that I dreamed up in fevered delusion. But I don’t think so. I truly believe I tried to kill myself.

I have a feeling my mother suspected something like that was happening because she took me back to the psychiatrist and told him the Depakote wasn’t working. He added Lithium to my drug regimen and told my mom I needed regular blood tests to make sure the Lithium wasn’t killing me. So we stopped by the pharmacy, picked up my prescriptions, and I went back home.

I despised the Lithium. I felt like a zombie. Things I used to get pleasure out of, like reading and writing, held nothing for me. My friends complained that I wasn’t any fun anymore. My teachers were worried about me. But my psychiatrist insisted it was the only way for me to stay sane and my mom enforced it. So I continued taking the drugs that were slowly ruining my life almost as much as the untreated Bipolar did.

My mom didn’t like how I was acting and took me back to the psychiatrist. He told her it was a side effect of my disease and INCREASED my Lithium again. By this time I was taking more than the standard therapeutic dosage. My blood tests started being every week instead of every month. The phlebotomists at the hospital grew very familiar with my face.

I pretty much was forced to continue taking Depakote and Lithium until I was twenty one. That’s when I moved away from my parents and started living with roommates. At that point I didn’t have health insurance or a lot of money, so I stopped going to the psychiatrist. I cut down on the meds I was taking to make them last longer. I started feeling human again. I cut them down even more. The mood swings returned but at least I could feel again.

I was dating someone at the time and it seemed like it was very serious. At least it was to me. She didn’t see it that way and eventually we broke up. I found out later she ended up sleeping with my now ex-brother-in-law and two of my older sister’s friends as well as several men from her workplace. Once I got over feeling betrayed, I felt a great sense of relief that I was well away from her.

But at that point my moods were all over the place again and I needed a change of scenery. So, at the age of 22, I went to Job Corps. I still had some of my Lithium left. I’d started seeing the psychiatrist again and he insisted the Lithium was the only thing that could “save” me. Once I was at Job Corps, I stopped taking all meds.

Some very good things happened at Job Corps. I made new friends. I met my husband. I learned a lot. But underneath everything was the roller coaster of moods that was slowly killing me again. It was another eight years before I started doing something for my mental health.

At one point in my life, I was a mother. I had four children in five years – two girls and two boys, in that order. I loved my children deeply, but I wasn’t a good mother. My mood swings were so out of control that at one moment I was happy and taking them to the park and the next I was screaming at them and closing them in their rooms because I couldn’t deal with them. I couldn’t even take care of myself all that well, let alone four little kids. My husband wasn’t much help at that time. He disappeared into his computer and didn’t offer much in the way of assistance – either with the kids or with the cleaning. It got to the point where our apartment looked like a garbage dump. The police were called and our kids were taken away.

We fought to get them back and won. However, only a few months later we lost them again because I was still untreated and we stopped taking care of the house. This time our loss was permanent. We signed away our parental rights in 2010 and our kids were put up for adoption. Shortly after we signed away our rights, I got a job at a company with killer medical benefits. So, at the urging of my husband, I got back into a psychiatrist.

He confirmed my Bipolar II diagnosis and started me on meds. I started to feel human again. Then the guilt settled in. Why hadn’t I done this before? I’d have been so much better as a mom if I had. I’d have been able to take care of the house, the kids, my job, and my husband. A counselor helped me understand that even if I’d been stable I’d have still been overwhelmed because the biggest thing we lacked – other than me being treated – was a viable support network. We had none.

I still struggled with taking my meds, sometimes turning to alcohol over the pills I was prescribed. But I got better. I became stable again. With the new drugs on the market, I was quickly pulled off anything that made me feel like a zombie and put on something else.

Now, once again, I’m suffering because of a lack of mental health care. But I see a light at the end of the tunnel. I have hope again that I’ll feel stable one day soon.

Writing with bipolar

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If you’ve been hanging around my blog for any length of time, you know that I love to write. Specifically I love to write fantasy and science fiction. I hope to one day be published in both of those genres, and have dozens of books I’d love to write. I’m even working on one right now. I love writing and enjoy spending the time I do with my characters. There’s just one rather large block in there that I have to deal with regularly.

Mood swings. Specifically the ones caused by my bipolar, as well as the problems with anxiety I’m still dealing with.

When I get hit by a mood swing – whether it’s hypomania or depression – my ability to focus goes out the window. I’m lucky if I manage 300 words in an entire day of writing. Instead I spend my time reading random little things online or futzing around on Facebook and Twitter. If I’m trying to read a novel at that point, I can get a chapter, maybe two, before I’m done and can’t focus on it any longer.

On those days, I’m easily irritated. I get frustrated with myself, with my characters, with my life. When that happens I start the downward spiral that leads to the thoughts of “I suck”, “I’m a failure”, “I can’t do anything right”, “Why do I even bother?” Those are very dangerous thoughts for anyone to have. My husband calls this my “death spiral”. Once I start down that hole, it can take a very long time to drag me out of it.

My death spiral tends to stymie my creativity. It steals my pleasure in anything I do. It make everything seem like a chore that I just can’t handle doing anymore. These are the days where I have to force myself out of bed, force myself to eat, to take care of the animals, to even care about what I need to do. I have just enough strength of mind to take care of the necessities. Writing – which is necessary to me – stalls and I feel like I just can’t do anything about it.

I’ve been asked before what I do to write on those days. It’s simple: I don’t. I let my mind wander and do what I need to so I can stay sane. What makes those days difficult is writing is part of what keeps me sane. I need the outlet to channel my chaotic thoughts and weird internal conversations. What I do on those days is read random little silly stories online, the ones that take maybe a minute or two to read. I put on a movie or TV series on Netflix and have that playing in the background. I do as much knitting as my scattered brain will let me. It usually isn’t much, maybe a few rows, but it gives me something creative to do.

I need that creative outlet. It’s part of what keeps me going. Writing is my favorite pastime. I spend more of my time doing that than I do anything else. Even reading, which I do a lot, can take second place to writing. I have been reading since I was four. I’ve been writing out the stories tumbling around in my head since I was eight. The written word has been, for me, a life saver many times in my life. I need it to keep me going.

People often equate truly creative minds as belonging to someone who is mentally ill. They talk about how, because authors/artists/actors/etc are battling the demons of their mind, they must be these incredible people who create stunning images with their chosen media while under the influence of those demons.

Bullshit.

I will admit that there may be some out there who can work when depressed (or when they’re plagued by any of the other psychiatric disorders), but the majority of us struggling with this can’t. It completely stifles our creativity and makes it so we can’t even be bothered to do something we obviously love. It gets to the point where we just give up. Where the strength comes in is when, after those dark times have passed, we get back off the ground and get to work again.

Some people never resume what they loved after they find their lives back on track. It reminds them of the pain, or they think – because of the way society trains many of us – that because they’re stable they can’t create anything worth doing anymore. We need to encourage each other to get back on the horse. Pick yourself off the ground just one more time. And do what we love.

The aftermath of the appointment

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Okay, so last Friday I talked a bit about how hard it was for me to even get in to talk to a counselor. My appointment was at 1 pm on Friday. I had high hopes for what it was going to be. I was finally in. I was finally going to get the help I need.

It sort of worked out like that.

The first thing that happened was I had to fill out paperwork. That’s why they asked me to get there 15 minutes early. No big deal, and most of the paperwork was just reading and signing the usual forms to give them permission to treat me, permission to share the information with my primary care doctor, their financial policy, etc. Nothing too strenuous.

Then I got taken back. The woman I saw was named Amalia. She took me back to her office. The first thing she said to me was, “We’re here to figure out if you qualify for our services.”

Um, what? I’m bipolar, I suffer from an anxiety disorder, and I’m off my meds. You’re telling me I may not qualify? Apparently yes, that’s what she meant. So after all the crap they put me through, there’s a chance I might have wasted my time.

Thankfully that wasn’t the case. After five minutes of very basic questions about my situation, she decided that yes I did qualify for their services. Then we got into the deeper questions about my life, my diagnosis, my overall mental health, if I was suicidal, had I ever been suicidal, etc. The big questions that they have to ask to get an idea of how to set up your treatment plan.

When we were finished, I expected she’d tell me that she was going to set me up with either herself or another therapist. I was told it could take 2-3 weeks to get me set up with a counselor. I kind of gave her a blank look. She said it was because they had to work out who was going to see me and how to fit me into their schedule. Fair enough. I can understand that. I wasn’t as worried about the counseling – though that is something I do need badly – as I was about the visit to the psychiatrist to get on proper medications to help with my bipolar.

That’s when I got hit with the whammy. “It could take up to a month or more to see the psychiatrist.” I just froze. I’m supposed to go for another month, maybe longer, with out of control mood swings that I’m fighting every day to hide from those around me because it would cause them problems? You know, the problems that made me contact the mental health services for the county I live in in the first place? That was not what I wanted to hear.

I asked her why that was. “We only have one psychiatrist working full time. We have an intern here for three months, but she’s only part time. With how small the towns around here are, we have trouble finding someone with the necessary credentials to do the work.”

Okay, I live in a fairly small town. The town that’s 45 minutes away – where I went for my appointment – is bigger, but is still definitely not a large town. But that’s one psychiatrist for the two cities. I checked. Between the two towns, we have a little over 18,000 in population. That’s both combined. Does this tell you something about where I’m living now?

So I asked if there was anything she could do to get me in sooner. I told her I was relying solely on my anti-seizure meds to keep me stable, which they’re not doing. She told me she’d try her best to get me in sooner, but that she couldn’t promise anything. I accepted that and then went to talk to their finance lady about how I’m going to pay for my appointments. If I can do one thing, I’ll manage to avoid huge co-pays. So I’m trying to do that one thing.

I realize that part of my problem could be solved moving to a bigger city. But the difficulty with that is I can’t afford to move, neither me nor my husband want to leave the farm, and really we’re where we belong and where we’re needed the most. We also live on the coast and I’m not trading that since being here has somewhat improved my mood. I’ve hated living in large cities for a while now. I feel like they’re sucking the soul out of me and my mood tanks more often there.

I also realize my post may come across as me whining. But I think this highlights yet another problem with the lack of viable mental health care in our communities. It’s the small towns and rural areas that suffer the most because they can’t get reliable doctors, social workers, counselors, etc. out to them. Then, in many areas, the nearest city that might have the services someone needs could be a 3-4 hour drive one way. Doing that once a week for counseling isn’t worth the cost of being in the car for that long and the gas. When you’re first starting to get your meds set up, you could be in to see your psychiatrist once a week. That adds another brick to the financial wall that is being built up by this.

There is also a limit to what Medicare, Medicaid, and private pay insurance will cover when it comes to mental health. Services that are needed regularly may only be covered for a short period of time. Or you may have to pay out a huge deductible to your regular doctor before you can even think of getting mental health care. I had to deal with that last one for almost two years. I could never get up to the cost of the deductible unless I ended up in the ER. So I was making payment plans and paying the full appointment cost each time I went. It got so I’d avoid going to them as long as possible just to keep from having to spend almost $200 a visit, which is something I couldn’t really afford. I would go until just before my meds ran out without seeing the psychiatrist. Or I’d ignore the fact that the meds weren’t working until I couldn’t do it anymore. That is not a healthy way to deal with mental illness, but it is a fact that many people face every day.

My saga of finding mental health care

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Today is my first counseling appointment since I left Idaho almost a year ago. I put off finding a new one for a while because I still had medicines that I thought were working. Yeah, I know. They weren’t but I was clinging to the need to save money and decided I wanted to wait. Then I started running out of my meds and was in the position of needing a doctor to prescribe me new ones. Thus started my endeavor to get into the mental health care here in Oregon.

As I said in my previous post, mental health care here is a joke. It might be better up in Portland, but in the area where I live it sucks. It took from December to April, with me calling at least once a week, to finally get them to give me an appointment.

It started with me calling in December because I was running low on meds and had no more refills from my prescriptions in Idaho. I called and asked for an appointment. They took my information down and told me it could take one to two weeks before someone would call me. That was a little frustrating but I was still okay on having some meds so I went ahead and accepted that. They didn’t call me back.

Three weeks after my initial phone call, I called again. I repeated my request and then told them I’d been waiting for a phone call back. They apologized and said they’d send my information on to the clinic for counseling. When I mentioned I needed the med management, they told me that the doctor who’d worked with them retired. They told me they could still get me a counselor and asked me if I wanted that. I said yes. When I hung up, I started looking for a med manager. It was now January and I didn’t have what I needed.

Two weeks passed and still no phone call. I called back. The woman I spoke with said she’d look into it and call me right back. This was in the morning. I waited until the close of business and heard nothing. She didn’t call at all that week. This was beginning to piss me off.

I called again the following week. I finally got someone to talk to me and told I’d be called back within 48 hours. Lo and behold, they actually followed through. I got a call from the office. Unfortunately I wasn’t in a position to talk so I asked if they could call me back the next day around the same time. She said yes. The next day I didn’t get the phone call. But the day after that I did. So we did the intake evaluation over the phone and they decided I was “eligible for their services”. Apparently being diagnosed with bipolar and anxiety wasn’t enough for them. They said they’d call me back the next week to set up an appointment.

Guess what didn’t happen? We’re now into February. At the end of January I had two seizures in a row. My husband took me to the doctor on February 1st and I got my Lamictal renewed. Lamictal is an anti-seizure drug that my last psychiatrist was using to also deal with my bipolar. It isn’t enough to handle my mood swings, but it manages to take the edge off the worst of them.

So once I get back from the doctor, the next day I call again to talk to the mental health people. They say they’ll “look into it” and call me back the next day. I told them I’d heard that before and nothing had been done. They assured me it would happen. It didn’t.

I sent an email to my regular doctor asking him for a list of potential doctors and counselors in Salem. He mailed me a two page list. I started calling the day I got it. Two days of calling and I was still without care. They didn’t take Medicare. The doctors weren’t accepting new patients. They didn’t prescribe meds. They only did family/marital/pediatric counseling. And on and on.

I tried McMinnville. If you didn’t live in Yamhill County, you weren’t getting help there. Everything was tied to the county’s mental health department. So that one was a bust as well. I was really getting frustrated. And desperate. My mood swings were starting to get out of control.

All through February and March I called at least once a week, sometimes twice, to harass my local department of mental health and push them into getting me in like they promised. Nothing. Then last week I got a phone call from them. They wanted to set me up with an appointment, but did I still need/want their service?

What kind of stupid, fucked up question is that? I’ve been trying since DECEMBER to get help. So I set up an appointment. Then I asked about med management. I asked them if they’d replaced the one who’d retired. They seemed puzzled by that question since their med manager was still working for them. Can you guess how pissed off I was at this? Then they told me they weren’t the office local to me. They were the one in the town that’s a 45 minute drive from here. I jumped on it and set up my appointment for counseling. I’ll get referred to the med manager through today’s appointment. They offered to set me back up with my local office, but I’m seriously thinking I’ll stay with the other one – if they prove to be decent and don’t treat me like shit.

The problems I had are indicative of what’s going on in the mental health care field today. Limited services, a lack of qualified doctors/counselors, and no real federal/state funding to fix the situation. Mental illnesses are still stigmatized and those of us with them are treated like second class citizens by the medical field. I am so tired of being made to feel like I’m less than human all because my brain isn’t wired correctly.

I want to put an end to the stigma, the poor care, the too many people without medications or counseling or whatever else they may need because no one seems to care. The only way this is going to happen is if sweeping reforms are made to the health care field. We need to make our voices heard. We need to let the world know we aren’t going away and that we deserve the same level of care and compassion as those with physical illnesses/injuries.

Bipolar disorder is real…and I have it

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I know I’ve been silent for a while on my blog. Between my bouts of depression and just not knowing what to post, I haven’t written anything. Today I want to talk about something near and dear to my heart: mental health care.

For those of you who are new to my blog, I have bipolar disorder and anxiety. I was diagnosed with Bipolar II when I was sixteen. Over the years my moods have fluctuated so much that at one time I was pretty much almost unable to take care of myself or my family. If you’re curious, the definitions of bipolar diagnoses are here. I have been in the psychiatric hospital five times, four for suicidal ideology, the fifth for actually attempting it.

I’ve been told I “don’t look sick.” I’ve been told “just get over it.” “Just think positively.” “You don’t have social anxiety. That’s just an excuse not to make friends.”

Bullshit.

Mental illness, like the other invisible disabilities, isn’t a physically visible illness. We don’t carry signs proclaiming our diagnoses. Some have visible scars from self-harm, but that’s not all of us. There are those of us – me included – that are in recovery from an eating disorder.

None of these things – the self-harm, the eating disorders, the depression, anxiety, mania, schizophrenia – are going to go away. They are going to be with us for the rest of our lives. They are something we have to manage, whether it’s by medications, counseling, meditation, or other methods. No person is the same, and their treatment plans aren’t going to be exactly the same as someone else’s.

When living in Idaho, I had access to mental health care. It wasn’t always the greatest, and I had my fair share of assholes and people who didn’t understand me. Some of my doctors didn’t listen to me when I explained about my problems so they prescribed me things that didn’t help, or turned me into a zombie to the point where getting out of bed was harder than it would have been with me not on meds.

I have chosen to go the route of medication and therapy. In Oregon, that’s not easy to manage. It’s taken me four months to get in with a counselor who can then refer me to someone to prescribe me medications that should help regulate my moods better. And that’s where I live. Because of the run around I was getting, I called to Salem and McMinnville – the closest good sized cities – to get help. Salem had lots of people to call, and not many who actually managed meds. And those that did weren’t taking new patients. In McMinnville, the only mental health care was tied to the county mental health department so they wouldn’t take anyone outside Yamhill county. Idaho had way too many problems for me, but it did have better mental health care facilities.

The care for those with mental illnesses in the US is terrible. So many clinics are overfilled and underfunded. Hospitals are more for ending the immediate symptoms rather than taking a longer view approach to get you set up on something that can actually help you. Medical insurance won’t cover psychiatric care, or if they do it’s a very limited number of visits they’ll cover. After that it’s all out of pocket. When you’re trying to get set up on a treatment plan, you could be going as often as every week. Sometimes multiple times in a week until you get stabilized enough that you can function.

Because of my bipolar and my anxiety, I am counted as permanently disabled. I can’t work outside the home in a standard job. That’s one of the reasons I love being on a farm. I can do work I enjoy that doesn’t entail me dealing with the horrors I suffered working in the private sector. The never ending panic attacks, constant depression or mania, the constant feeling of being out of control mentally. I was relieved when I got the judgment I did. I started stabilizing, though not enough to go off meds. I wasn’t going to the hospital constantly because people thought I was having a heart attack. I felt alive again.

Every day is a struggle for me. There are days where the only thing getting me out of bed is the fact that I have animals to take care of. I can’t just ignore them or they’d be harmed. There are days where I just want to curl up and sleep the day away. My husband doesn’t let me do that, and I have responsibilities to the household that I have to perform. I don’t want to, but I’m forced into it.

I have my first appointment with my new counselor this Friday. From there I’ll get my appointment with a local psychiatrist to see if I can get my meds updated and stabilize again. Right now I’m using only my anti-seizure medicine (which is also prescribed for mental health issues) to maintain my equilibrium. It’s not working that well. I’m hoping it won’t take much to get me stable again, though I’ll have to wait and see.

Mental health issues aren’t a joke. They’re not “just in our head” in the way some people think. Those of us with them don’t always function well in normal society. This does not make us freaks, retards, liars, hypochondriacs, or insane. We are people with a medical problem that requires special care.

If you know someone with a mental illness, don’t judge them on the days where things aren’t going well. Be there to be supportive. If they need an ear, let them call/text/email you. Educate yourself on their diagnosis, if you know it. Don’t tell them to “get over it” or other phrases that you may think are helpful but actually hurt us. Don’t treat us like we’re helpless either. Treat us as you would anyone else, and understand that some days will be better than others for us.

NaNoWriMo…in APRIL?

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Hey everyone! Today is April 1st, which means it’s April Fool’s Day, my younger sister’s birthday, and the start of April’s session of NaNoWriMo.

What’s that? You thought NaNoWriMo is in November? Well, it is. But there are also two sessions in the spring and summer. These are called Camp NaNoWriMo, and they’re just as fun as the November session.

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With Camp, you don’t have to do 50k words in a month. You can choose your word count goal and set it for whatever you want. Mine is currently set for 25k, but that might change if I stay productive with my writing. You have the option of increasing or decreasing your goal at any time during the month to fit what’s going on with your manuscript. Most don’t decrease it, but they do increase it as their progress allows.

Another difference is instead of forums you have cabins. Cabins are where you’re partnered up with 11 other people (cabins hold 12 members) to help support each other, bounce ideas off one another, and in general hang out and chat with each other. You can be put into a cabin randomly, you can set up a private one with friends, or you can opt out of the cabin situation altogether. It’s all your choice.

You log into the Camp NaNo site with your regular NaNo log in information. I ended up resetting my password because for some reason, between November and now, I kind of forgot what it was. The new password works for both sites, so it’s all good.

Camp NaNo is a great way to breathe some life into your manuscript, if you’re struggling. Or it’s an awesome way to start a new idea you’ve been kicking around. I love chatting with people on how they’re writing is going, offering suggestions, and just hanging out with my virtual cabin mates. This year I’m in a private cabin with some friends from Wordcount Warriors, a writing group I’m in on Facebook. We’re all already supportive of each other. This gives us a way to chat without cluttering up the group’s feed, though we are encouraged to post there too.

I love writing challenges like NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo. The only one you’re competing against is yourself. You’re pushing yourself to accomplish something you might ordinarily have trouble with. I’ve used them to start projects, finish projects, just get words down in a project. Last November my goal was to finish a single novel in 30 days, not the usual 50k one but 100k+. I succeeded at that. It needs major rewrites and revisions, but that’s okay. I got a first draft done. That’s what I was aiming for.

This April’s goal is to get at least 25k into my current WIP Into the Sands. Originally I was hoping to have it finished by the end of March but that didn’t happen. Between days with no focus, not feeling well, farm life, and other factors I barely made it to halfway. I want to finish it in April, but life may not let me get that far. So I’m going for 25k to get me started.

Come join the fun with Camp NaNo. If you don’t want to, but know someone who might, direct them to the site. Have fun with it. And whatever your April goals are, may you achieve them with great success.