Guest Writer Wednesday: Lithium, Ativan, Abilify, Oh My!
Guest writer, Audrey, shares her story about learning to live with bipolar disorder. She shares her story to help people going through similar challenges with mental health feel less alone. She wants to shed light on bipolar disorder to make space for healing within herself and within others. Let’s welcome Audrey to the Unicorn Mission!
How My Story Goes:
- April 12th, 2007: I walked out of the classroom where I was student teaching, just one month before graduating from college. I was having intense feelings of depression and anxiety during my student teaching experience. I got to a breaking point and decided to throw in the flag.
- Memorial Day Weekend 2007: I experienced a severe manic episode – included distorted thoughts, hallucinations, not sleeping, frivolous spending and other unusual behaviors.
- June 2007: I went on a family vacation to Hilton Head Island in the midst of my manic episode. My parents started giving me a “blue pill” to take. I had no idea what it was, but I trusted them, so I took it. It turns out it was Abilify, which helped me come down from my manic episode in about 5 days.
- June 2007: I saw a psychologist for the first time.
- July 2007: I finally realized and accepted my bipolar diagnosis a month and a half after receiving my diagnosis.
- December 2007: I graduated from CU after student teaching a second time in a different classroom.
- January 2008 – July 2017: I was on a rollercoaster of a journey. I spent many of these years feeling good for 3 months, followed by 3 months of depression and anxiety, then 3 months of feeling good, followed by 3 more months of depression and anxiety. I figured out that within 6 years of cycling through these different moods, I spent about 3 of those 6 years feeling depressed. I was prescribed almost every medication out there for bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety. I was taking up to 4 different medications at any given time.
- July 2017: I took a leap of faith and started seeing a holistic doctor. I spent several months doing an intense supplement regimen to address my horrific gut health. There is a lot of research coming out about the impact of gut health on mental health.
- July 2017 – June 2018: Overall, I have experienced life-altering changes and have felt the best I have felt in I don’t even know how long. I experienced a few periods of depression and anxiety during this time, but nothing longer than a month.
- June 2018 – Present: I am feeling the best I have felt in a loooong time and am at my healthiest in the last 10 or so years. I haven’t experienced any major depression or anxiety. I’ve been working on weaning off of the last prescription medication that I’m on.
4 Things My Story Taught Me:
1) Lean on those around you – it’s ok to ask for help
When I am at my lowest of lows, I don’t even have the energy to think about what I need to do for myself, let alone know what to say when people ask, “How can I support you?” There is also a sense of pride that goes along with this. I am a 30-some-year-old-lady. I should be able to get out of bed, shower, do my make-up and walk into work confident about everything I am going to accomplish that day.
Let me tell you, one of the best decisions I have made when it comes to asking for help is disclosing to my supervisor at work about my bipolar diagnosis. He was the first of seven supervisors with whom I felt comfortable sharing this. He accommodated me by allowing me to work from home and provided me with increased support when I was in one of my funks. I know many people may not have a supervisor with whom they feel comfortable disclosing this type of information. If that is that case, I encourage you to find confidence in one of your co-workers who will be there for you when you are having a rough day.
Not only is my husband, Ray, the goofiest guy I know (see photos below). He is also incredibly compassionate, selfless, are caring. He is my saving grace and has been my strength and pillar during the last 8 years. We met online on OKCupid. (Yes, one of the free dating sites.) He was living in South Carolina at the time and was moving to Denver in a few months – he put Denver on his profile being the smart guy he is. I messaged him first, and we spent the next couple of months chatting online and over the phone. We met each other the second day he was in Denver, dated for two years, were engaged for one year and just celebrated five years of marriage. I disclosed my diagnosis to Ray early on when we were dating, and I fully expected him to run for the hills. While he didn’t fully understand the extremely challenging journey we were about to embark on, he made the decision to come alongside me. He has been there for me every single day the last 8 years. He held me when I was in tears. He laid by me when I wasn’t able to get out of bed on the weekend. He made sure I was eating when I didn’t have an appetite. He has gone to appointment after appointment with me. He has seen me at my worse and loved me no matter what. Ray is a Godsend. Period. There is no way I would be where I am today without his steadfast love and commitment to supporting me to become the best version of myself.
I am also very close with my family and am blessed that they all live nearby. Their support and love means the world to me as well. What can I say? I am one lucky lady!
2) Make sure you are taking care of yourself
That sounds simple, right? Well, that hasn’t always been the case for me.
Growing up, I was an athlete. I did gymnastics, played softball and basketball, and played soccer competitively. In my mid-to-late 20’s, I ran a handful of half-marathons. After Ray and I got married, I let myself go. Maybe it was knowing that I got my 'catch', so I didn't need to impress him anymore? Who knows. However, I do know that it impacted my entire well-being. My wake up call came last July when I started seeing my holistic doctor. After running some health screenings, he said to me, “by looking at your numbers, you are considered to be pre-diabetic”. My jaw dropped. You have got to be kidding me! I am 33 years old and you’re saying I’m pre-diabetic? Nah, you can’t be serious.
I tell you what – that was all I needed to hear to kick my butt in gear. It was then that I knew I HAD to prioritize taking care of my body. I stopped drinking soda, cut back on my sugar intake in a big way, eliminated white potatoes (one of my fave foods), and started working out at FIT36 – a High Intensity Interval Training gym. I tell you what - it's amazing what happens when you start taking care of your body. I feel great in my skin and have more confidence than I have had in the last decade. I credit this transformation to 'The Big Three' - diet, exercise and working with my holistic doctor.
3) Don’t feel ashamed
A couple of weeks ago, I sat down to have some quiet time and do some journaling. Quiet time is something I struggle with and don’t take the time to do as often as I would like – so I was looking forward to this time. I cracked open my bright colored journal to find a blank page to write in, and I came face-to-face with my internal demons from just three months prior:
“I DON’T CARE! About my marriage, my job, our upcoming family trip, my relationships…
What is wrong with me? I am not enough. I am needy. I am selfish. I am burning bridges left and right with my family and friends. I am verbally abusive to Ray. I am a big fat baby. Is Ray even happy with me?”
I paused. Who was the person writing these dark thoughts? It couldn’t be me - the person who just celebrated 5 years of marriage with the most incredible husband a girl could ask for, who is going on 7 years working at a job that they are passionate about, who is blessed with an amazing family and network of friends, and who has been fortunate enough to be a jetsetter and go on some incredible adventures. As hard as it was to read my feelings during this dark time, I felt at peace knowing that person was in the past and hopeful they wouldn’t present themselves again.
Another moment of shame has shown up by way of comparing myself to most of my friends who already have two or more kids. Ray and I have made the commitment to figure out my own health before starting to have a family. The pressure I have experienced, both from those around me, as well as internally, has been far from settling. It has only been in the last year that I have come to terms with the necessity of taking care of my health before trying to bring a new life into this world and becoming fully responsible of raising them to become a confident, independent individual.
We all have our unique road leading us down this twisty, turny path called life.
4) Be open to sharing your story
This wasn’t always easy for me, but in the last few couple of years I have felt called to share my story with others. There are people in my life who don’t necessarily encourage me to be open about my journey and that is frustrating at times. When I first open up to someone about my story, I typically describe my struggles with depression and anxiety. I leave out the whole “bipolar” part because a) most people don’t know much about it, and b) it can come across sounding like I’m “crazy.”
I had an amazing experience the other day that confirmed the power of being open and sharing my story with others. I was meeting with an individual who wants to volunteer with a youth in the organization that I work for. During the interview, he disclosed that he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder a few years ago. I then had this internal conversation, while still trying to listen to him, about whether or not I should share my diagnosis with him. I decided to go for it and boy, am I glad I did. I emailed him the next day and made comment to hoping I didn’t cross any professional boundaries with sharing my story. A couple of days later he replied and said:
“It was honestly a really cool experience to go from slightly fearful to so relieved at my own honesty to even more at ease with your candor, so thanks for that! It’s been hard to even broach the subject with friends and family so far, so it was really nice to talk openly with you, an essential stranger, about our respective struggles in a non-therapy or support group environment. I also really admire that you’ve been able to open up in such a taboo place like work, and I hope that one day I can do the same.”
This, my friends, is why I encourage you to be open about your story. It may not be easy and it for sure will feel uncomfortable, but it’s worth it. Other people want to hear that they aren’t the only one going through an emotionally challenging time.
Finally, I’ll leave you with this quote my holistic doctor shared with me during one of my first visits with him:
“and i said to my body. softly. ‘i want to be your friend.’ it took a long breath. and replied ‘i have been waiting my whole life for this.” -Nayyirah Waheed
Carry on, unicorns, inspiring others to want to be a part of this amazing unicorn tribe.
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Bio: I am a Colorado native who has a passion for working with youth coming from diverse backgrounds. I’m one of those Colorado natives who doesn’t go skiing or camping. On the weekends you will find me taking it easy at home, going to Rapids games, spending time with family, and eating at Park Burger followed some ice cream at Glacier (I mean… eating a kale salad followed by some fat-free yogurt). Hey, everyone is allowed a special treat on the weekends :). I am also known for taking a lot of photos. Everywhere with everyone.
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