Lessons I’ve learned

December 5th, 2010

I wanted to share some lessons that I’ve learned over the years. I must admit I have judge others only to fall on my butt and be in the same situation.

I remember during my 20’s, a co-worker had to take a 1 month leave of absence due to major depression. He was a friend and I feel guilty about it now, but I was thinking that’s BS I want a 1 month holiday! Fast forward to 2007 after being diagnosed with bipolar, I had to go on long term disability for an 8 month “vacation”. Being on leave for mental health concerns is no vacation. It included a lot of heartache and hard work. Lesson learned.

When people would complain that they didn’t have the time and/or energy to exercise, I would think to myself  I go to the gym 5 days a week and horseback ride 6 days a week. I always felt that I was just better at time management and was more driven than the average person. After my diagnosis in 2007, I remember telling my friend that I’m tired after going to the gym 4x a week.  Her response was that’s “normal”. I finally got it; when I was doing all those activities before it was partly from the hypomania and it was partly because my mind was continuously racing.  The riding and the gym would silence my racing mind. Do I know why people say they’re too tired to exercise? Yes.

I was extremely good at money management. It was one of my obsessions. David Bach and Suze Orman were 2 of my favorite authors. I would see my friend struggling with paying off credit cards and I would think wow she needs to get her money under control. In 2008 I had been on LTD for 8 months. The reduced pay and no expense check was a huge pay cut. During that time instead of reducing my spending I continued to spend the same. When I finally got back to work I had gained 60 lbs from the medication and was feeling very uncomfortable with my body. I self soothed by spending money on clothes to hide my body. It didn’t hide anything and the amount I spent on clothes I could have gotten liposuction. Add this to a couple of hypomanic episodes and I had to get a $65,000 consolidation loan. Do I now understand how people get in financial difficulties?  Yes.

As soon as I got into horseback riding at 14 I have been thin and athletic. I ate healthy, but I  never had to worry about my weight. I would hear people complain about weight issues and I would think why don’t you just eat less and exercise. After my diagnosis a couple of the medications I was prescribed caused me to gain a lot of weight in a short period of time.  I had tried everything to try to get this weight off including hiring a trainer at $60/hour twice a week for 6 months. Nothing made the weight budge. I have only recently started to loose the weight, but this was after a medication change.  Do I understand what it’s like to struggle with weight? Yes.

Through these lessons I empathize more with others. I hope they will do the same with me. Thanks for reading.


October 24th, 2010

When I was first diagnosed with bipolar I was “checked into” a Psychiatric Hospital. After I was discharged I was given the opportunity to participate in an intensive group therapy program that ran from November to March, Monday to Friday; 8 hours a day. The program’s cost is covered by our Provincial Health plan. I was on  medical leave  and my Psychiatrist wanted me to do this program, so I was given a referral to take it.

The first day of “school” I was very nervous. The group is made up of 12 people in my phase (phase 1) and 12 people in phase 2 (who had started the program before us). I was told ahead of time that no one in my immediate group was diagnosed with bipolar, but everyone in the group had some sort of mental illness.

During the second week we had an exercise in one of Dr. S’s groups to draw a picture of a rose bush. I am a TERRIBLE artist, but we all just laughed about it. Then we had to put our pictures in the center of our circle and each group member had to comment on the picture. The group members were all very kind about my picture because I had won them over with my charm and good humor LOL! Dr. S was the last person to comment on my picture there was a long pause and his trademark smirky smile came across his face. He announced “Hiding Something”.

I didn’t like what Dr. S had said and I immediately was ready to go into battle with him on why I am the most open and direct person he would ever meet. Why did I get mad? Because I was hiding something and he was right. During therapy I was putting on a facade and wasn’t willing to get down to the guts of my issues. I wasn’t willing to show weakness in front of these people and tell some of my childhood horror stories . It didn’t matter that it happened when I was a child, I still felt I had to put this tough person front. That was my shield and often is to this day.

That night I went home and really thought about what Dr. S said. I decided I had 2 options I could be a seat warmer in therapy or I could actually do the work and dig up this crap in my past. The next day I brought my shovel.

Thanks for reading.

My furry therapist

September 11th, 2010

I have had my horse Fiero “Fi” since he was 2; he is 14 now. For the past 12 years he has been the one constant in my life. Boyfriends have come and gone. Friends have come and gone, but Fi has always been there for me. Horses have always been a big part of my life. Since I was a little girl horses mesmerized me. I read about them; drew them and dreamed about them. After many years of pleading, at 14 years old my parents let me start taking riding lessons. I was hooked.

When I was 23 years old I bought Fi. I had saved up $5000.00 from working 2 jobs. $5000.00 was A LOT of money to me, but I wanted to get a horse that would have the movement for dressage. I went to look at Fi Christmas Eve. He was totally furry, had crazy long legs and was at a bit of an ugly stage. When I saw him trot I fell in love. He floated. This was going to be my dressage horse.

He was such a sweet heart on the ground and I taught him to lunge, long line etc. He was going to be a big horse (he grew to 16.3 hh), so I didn’t break him until he was 4. He nearly broke me. I ended up having to take him to a western trainer, that was fair with the horses, but most importantly he wouldn’t get bucked off when Fi thought he was trying out for the Canadian Finals Rodeo. I had anxiety for the first year of riding him. He really scared me when I started him and I was well aware of the safety concerns. I just “sucked it up” and rode him 5 times a week. I still got bucked off a couple of times, but mostly I could stay on.

In 2005 he was going really well and I finally felt like we clicked. In hindsight his spookiness and hot temperament while riding was probably due to my undiagnosed bipolar. Horses are highly sensitive animals and he was probably feeding off of my differing moods. I was always patient with him and loved him to death, but he knew something wasn’t “right” with me. In 2007, I declared it was going to be “Year of Beth”. I had planned to take my riding to the next level. In reality I was just in a hypomanic episode and by June I would come crashing down. My major depressive episode was actually triggered by Fi. He had a minor injury, but as a person with a mood disorder knows what seems minor to the average person can feel very major.

By August I was planning my exit. I did seek out help from my GP, but at that point I should have been in-patient. My GP put me on antidepressants and for someone that has bipolar, without a mood stabilizer antidepressants are a recipe for disaster. The antidepressants triggered a mixed episode (mania and depression at the same time). It was unbearable. I felt I couldn’t see Fi and thought he was better off without me. My suicide note was mostly about him and directed my family on how I wanted my pension and RRSPs to be spent on paying for his care for the rest of his life. Luckily I was found and was taken to a Psychiatric hospital where I would stay for 6 weeks. By the second week, my Psychiatrist diagnosed me with bipolar. During my stay friends and family would take me to see Fi. He was the highlight of my day and I think he knew I was terribly unwell. He normally can be a bit hot at times, but during those few months he walked slower and his temperament was similar to a 30 year old horse.

In the horse community if a person is diagnosed with Cancer, horse shows and trail rides are organized in your honor. My experience when people found out I was diagnosed I would get the “deer in the headlights look” or the sideways glances of how fat I had become from the bipolar medication. There wasn’t any horse shows organized in my honor, but there were a few of my horse friends that were very supportive.

I had gained over 50 pounds in a very short period of time. In about 3 months I tried riding again, but got bucked off. I’m not sure if it was because of the weight gain or if it was just a fluke accident, but it scared me. I tried over the year to try riding, but the anxiety had come back with a vengeance and I couldn’t handle any extra mental stress, so I stopped riding. I still enjoyed being around Fi and went to the stable 6 times a week. No matter how crappy I felt he was always happy to see me. When I felt worthless, he was the one being in my life that made me feel I mattered to someone.

I have tried on and off to start back into riding, but I just can’t get past the anxious feelings. In the past 3 months I have finally come to terms that I may never ride him again. Some of the boarders at the stable can’t imagine keeping a horse that they couldn’t ride and every couple of months someone makes the comment on how lucky Fi is to have me. In reality I am the lucky one. He is what gets me out of bed and to work, so I can afford him. The times when I felt too high, he calms me down. The times when I want to do the unthinkable, he is what keeps me hanging on. I owe my life to Fi.

Thanks for reading.

My Bipolar Diagnosis

August 24th, 2010

2007 I declared would be “Year of Beth”. I was feeling grrrrreat! I told my friends that this would be my year. My year to take my career to the next level. My year to take my relationship to the next level. My year to……well you get the picture. I know now that I was in a  hypomanic episode and as those diagnosed know what goes up must come down and boy did I go down.

By June, I was in a full blown major depression. I couldn’t “snap out of it”. Everything that worked in the past wasn’t working anymore. I had never felt this horrible. I was useless at work. The simplest reports I couldn’t do any more. All day I would just open and close files on my computer, but I couldn’t write anything.

By August I went to my GP. I remember being in the waiting room for about an hour and thinking everyone knew I was depressed. I didn’t do depression. I looked at it as a sign of weakness and I didn’t want to be weak. When my GP walked into the examination room I burst into tears. He was shocked. He always saw me as happy go lucky Beth; full of drive and a great sense of humor.  I was a blubbering mess. He is a great doctor and took the time to talk to me; then prescribed me a SSRI anti-depressant and scheduled another appointment the following week. I was already planning my exit from life, but I thought the anti-d’s would save me. It actually made things worse.

Throughout August I tried unsuccessfully to off myself. The last attempt would have worked, but I was found and was taken to the local Psychiatric Hospital. I was committed……I’ve saved the papers. I don’t know what to do with them, but I feel I needed to save them. Kinda like saving tickets to a great concert, but not. My Psychiatrist explained I would need to spend the night on the Emergency ward because there were no beds available on the “lock down” ward. It was an actual padded room and I was locked in. Security would accompany the nurses when they checked my vitals; gave me my meds etc. I should have been humiliated, but I was past that. The next afternoon I went to lock down. Not a fun ward and I hope I never have to go back. By my last day I was in a full blown mixed episode and felt like I had lost my mind. I sobbed to my Psychiatrist that I felt like I was an animal in a zoo with no enrichment. I was not well.

The following week on Monday, I had been on the open ward for 3 days. I woke up at 7 am and I felt GRRREAT! I signed out my hair dryer; straightening iron; did my hair and FULL face of make-up. Very necessary for a patient staying on a psychiatric ward. The nurses were all pleased. “How great Beth your doctor is going to be soooo happy.” I told my friends that I would be getting out by the end of the week.

I met with my Psychiatrist and told her how great I felt. She responded that this was good, but she wanted to keep an eye on it since there is bipolar in my family. I told her no problem, but I knew I didn’t have bipolar. Progressively through the week I started to get irritable. I chalked this up to me being better and I didn’t need to be locked up anymore. My natural character is to be very compassionate to others, but I started getting snappy with other patients. I told my friend that it was because I couldn’t be around THESE negative people.

By Friday I woke up at 6 am and signed out my cell phone. I was a volunteer with Big Brothers and Sisters and had missed my weekend with my “Little Sister”. That morning at 6 am felt like the perfect time to call my little sister’s social worker and leave her a message on why I didn’t show up. It was a horrible message. I rambled. One of the lines was “I’m in the hospital, but don’t worry I’m not dying”. Two hours later I had come back down to earth and I was mortified. My Psychiatrist was at the front desk on the ward and I walked up to her and said I felt “Coo Coo”. She asked what do you mean? All I could explain was that I felt “Coo Coo.”

That night I was taken off the anti-depressants and I was given the dreaded peach pill (Lithium). My mom has bipolar, so I knew what my Psychiatrist thought I had. My Psychiatric Hospital stay was 6 weeks. Do I see depression or any other mental illness as being weak? Definitely not. It takes a lot of courage to reach out for help and I just about died from trying to suffer in silence. I will not do that again.

Thanks for reading. Beth

Tales from a Psychiatric Hospital

July 17th, 2010

Just wanted to share some of experiences and tips from my 6 week Psychiatric Hospital stay from September-October 2007……

1. When in lock down you can’t keep your used floss in your garbage. Can you believe that! When my nurse “David” held his hand out with a paper towel on it, I said you have got to be f’in kidding me that wouldn’t hold me….then in my mind I was like or would it? That’s why you can’t have floss in your garbage in lock down.

2. When in lock down pray you don’t get the room by the phone. I got that room and it was brutal. I felt terrible for one patient who was calling all the plastic surgeons in the phone book about getting a tummy tuck and when the price wasn’t right he then started calling veterinarian offices…the phone was taken away for 2 hours shortly after that.

3. When hospitalized food is currency. When friends and family bring yummy goodies SHARE. Most people will do the same. It’s all about Karma!

4. There may be patients that are physically challenge, so if they need assistance help them. I would set out their meal trays before my own, so they wouldn’t have to wait for their nurse.

5. When voting at the portable voting station don’t crap your pants! Seriously this happened! Hilarious and very direct BP lady that I was in the hospital with me was at the portable voting station and all of sudden said “Pardon me I just S*** my pants”, then got up and went to the washroom. We laughed for 3 days about that. My favorite part was seeing the uptight polling volunteers faces, I thought their eyes were going to pop out!

6. Once I was on the open ward I was allowed to just sign out in a book and could go on walks “on the grounds”. Luckily for me the hospital was across the street from a Petcetera, so me and another patient would visit the cats for adoption, go for coffee etc. etc.

7.  The Psychiatric Hospital is not a place to meet a boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, life partner, lover, mate etc. etc. During my 6 week stay I saw plenty of romances brewing. My opinion on it is when a person is at a point in their mental well being that they have to be hospitalized a new romance is not what they need on their plate.

Bottom line for me if you can’t laugh at life’s experiences you’ll cry and I’d rather laugh! I hope this journal entry gave you a laugh.

My Views on Social Stigma and Bipolar Disorder

July 7th, 2010

I have made the decision to be open about my diagnosis in both my personal and professional life. I didn’t take the decision lightly and certainly was advised by my psychiatrist,hospital therapists, and my parents to definitely NOT tell work.

I found it quite humorous that on one hand my psychiatrist and hospital therapists were telling me that I have nothing to be ashamed of, and it’s like any other disease like diabetes. Then in the next breath they told me not to tell work. Why? Because there is social stigma surrounding bipolar and last time I checked I have never heard people gossiping around the water cooler about Joe’s blood sugar level. Unfortunately I have heard the term “off her meds”, “belongs in a looney bin” too many times to count.

Social Stigma is a form of prejudice and just like a person doesn’t need to experience racism to know it’s wrong neither does a person need to have this illness to have empathy for a person with it.  I work with a group of racist people and it has taken me 2 years to train them not to make racist comments around me. With the inappropriate mental illness comments I often get, but I wasn’t referring to you. Sorry I spent some time in a “Looney Bin” and I don’t care if you weren’t saying it to me it’s not okay.

People often ask how do we correct this? It does take time and I do my small part by being open about my diagnosis, but a person doesn’t need to be open about his or her diagnosis to make a difference. Prior to my diagnosis I was a daughter of a mom with bipolar and if someone made inappropriate comments in front of me I would call him on it. I have had brass balls about this topic since I was about 14 and now that I’m diagnosed I’m even more passionate about it.

We are all people first and none of us asked for this illness. It’s not a character flaw and it’s not because we are weak. If anything I think I’m stronger than the average person.

This quote from the Canadian Mental Illness Awareness Week website www.miaw.ca  sums up how many people feel: “People with mental illness and their friends and family often say that the stigma and discrimination they face is worse than the illness itself”.  For me the illness is worse than what I have heard from ignorant twits, but it still hurts. Thanks for reading and please lets all do our small part.