Why I haven’t posted in over a month

I haven’t had health insurance since I left to go on my backpacking trip in April of last year.  Before my insurance expired, I refilled all of my prescriptions. Even though I had gradually reduced the amount of medication I was taking – to make the supply last longer – as happens, it eventually ran out in the summer.  I didn’t refill it until this January, when I was at the doctor’s,  paying out of pocket for a completely unrelated reason.  While I was there, I figured I’d ask how much I would have to pay for my prescriptions without insurance. To my utter bewilderment (not to mention pure joy), it costs less than 60 euros for a 3+ month supply. Wow.  I had been expecting a bill of several hundred euro, which is why I had been putting it off for so long.  Naturally I got both prescriptions refilled and began taking them again the very same night. Relief. Remember, I’ve been on the on/off medication train several times.  Sometime last year, I finally accepted – and embraced – my meds, and their power to help me.  I wanted them back.

So why haven’t I posted about this, considering how relative it is to my whole journey?

In mid January, I posted about self harm.  What I failed to mention was the fact that I cut myself the same night I wrote the post. I didn’t want people to know.  I want to give people hope, an example of things getting better. I want them to read my words and imagine moving past this negative stage and back onto happiness.  I don’t want them to read my earlier posts of improvement and good times, only to then see that I’ve failed again. Because naturally, with a depressed mind, seeing me fall means there’s no hope for them either. That’s not the message I want to send.

Anti depressants are not instant fixes.  They will not make you better overnight.  In fact, often times, they’ll make you worse before they help you at all.  But once you get past the initial tough stage, it becomes worth it.  You can feel again.  You can think again.  You can get yourself out of bed again.  You can socialize again – hell, you want to socialize again.

That rough spot began in early January for me, and lasted until about three weeks ago.  I wrote that post, felt like a hypocrite for not telling the real story, and just left the blog alone. A little while later, I got a comment on a post, simply asking me if I was happy.  I couldn’t bring myself to respond. I didnt want to lie.  But I also didnt want to tell him the truth – that no, I wasn’t happy.  At least not right then and there.  So I just ignored the comment. And the blog altogether.

And then, soon after, the rough storm turned into a sunny afternoon with a beautiful rainbow. I felt better.  Again, I had one of those “it’s working” moments.  It’s funny how it sneaks up on you – gradually, you improve, but it happens over time and it’s hard to pinpoint when things got better.  And then, one afternoon, I was sitting on my kitchen floor, listening to Sia and drinking a chai.  And I smiled to myself because at that same time mere weeks before, I had called in sick to work because the thought of leaving my bed left me feeling  crippled.  I noticed how far I had come, and how calm I felt, and I smiled again, happy that I was back.

I haven’t posted because the first couple of weeks were spent feeling sorry for myself, while the remaining ones were spent surrounded by friends, good food and fantastic fun. I was so busy enjoying everything that I never took the time to write.

So, to the person who asked me if I was happy: 

I’m not happy everyday. Sometimes, I go days, weeks, even months, being unhappy.  I have times where I want nothing to do with being alive. I have times when I’m angry at myself, or the world around me. I have times where life seems pointless, and happiness seems fake.

And then, overall, above everything; all of the negative; all of the days I want to die, are the days where I am so, so, so incredibly happy.

After living in a dark, cloudy mind for so long, the sun seems to shine that much brighter once it finally does come out.  I feel the joy a million times over. I revel in it. I spread it. I sing at the top of my lungs in crowded – and empty – bars.  I cook (and also order, let’s be real here) delicious food with friends. I look forward to going to work, and planning fun activities with the toddler I am so lucky to take care of. I smile. I laugh. I make a fool out of myself. I have fun. I am happy.

Of course, sometimes that euphoric feeling is nothing but a manic phase. Sometimes I even have to ask myself, “am I happy or am I manic?” And I can never really know for sure. But it doesn’t really matter. The fact is I feel the joy and that’s enough for me, as long as I keep myself in control.

Any mental illness is a journey.  Every journey takes a different road, or takes a different turn.  Keeping up with yourself is important – checking in with your thoughts, keeping track of your feelings and major events. It helps to understand yourself when you can look back at what you’ve said, done, or felt, and view it with a different part of you. That’s what this blog is to me. I try to be as honest and open as possible, and then I go back and read through things later on.

So. To conclude, this rollercoaster ride is still going.  I’m buckled in tight, and I’m not getting off any time soon. 
I’m going to enjoy the ride as much as I can, when I can.  And I hope you do too.

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A week in the psych ward

When my doctor told me I had to stay at the psychiatric hospital, I had to decide what to do about work.  I was working full time at a kindergarten.  Although the German health care system ensures you are paid for any work missed due to documented medical reasons, I wasn’t sure what to tell my employer.  Should I be honest, and risk ridicule or a change in people’s perception of me, or should I lie and say I was home with the flu, and have no one be the wiser?

At this stage, I was worried about that sort of thing.  I didn’t want anyone to see me as weak – I mean, after all, I was missing work for being ‘sad,’ wasn’t I?  Of course there is much more to it than that – but depressives don’t always give themselves enough credit.  And, let’s face it: unfortunately there is still a strong stigma, and not everyone is empathetic or understanding.

After much consideration, I ultimately decided to tell only one person at work the truth, and I told the rest I had bronchitis – that was believable because it happened to be going around the school at the time.  Apart from one colleague, everyone at work was left in the dark.  I preferred it that way.  They didn’t need to know.  My opinion on this matter – believe it or not – has not really changed.

So, along came that dreaded, long-awaited Monday morning.  Nick and I woke up, I threw some clothes and basic essentials in a bag, and we set off.  The hospital was only two subway stations away – I was about to be locked up a mere five minutes away from my comfort zone.  Somehow, that made everything worse – so close to home, yet so far from normalcy.  As we were sitting in the waiting room, organizing paperwork, I contemplated getting up and leaving – going back home to bed, pretending like nothing had happened.

We were sent upstairs, greeted by a nurse upon arrival.  I immediately didn’t like the place.  It was so cold and sterile.  There was no life in that building.  All doors were locked; a nurse and a key required for everything.  I was shown to my bed and Nick and I said our goodbyes. I knew I was going to see him later that night – he had promised to visit me – but despite that knowledge, I felt lonely and abandoned when he left. Everything was so foreign to me (in every possible way) and the thought of facing it all alone was not a happy one.

I was introduced to Evie – one of my three roommates, who happened to be ten times crazier than I was.  She was a very nice woman. I feel bad saying she’s a big part of why I felt so uncomfortable.

Just a reminder: I am Canadian, but I live in Germany.  I do speak German, however it is not my native language and therefore not my language of comfort. Handling such a sensitive situation would have been difficult already, and I had given myself the added stress of facing it in a foreign language.

Soon after my arrival, one of the nurses came to sit down with me.  She had a stack of papers, a whack of questionnaires to fill out together.  We sat and spoke for about twenty minutes.

Why are you here? – My doctor insisted.
You’re not German, I see.  Where are you from? – All the way from Canada to a German psych ward.
What sort of symptoms have you had?  – What symptoms haven’t I had?
Are you suicidal?  – Isn’t everyone?
(I was very cynical.)

I was told all about the daily routine:  7:00am wake up.  Check the schedule upon waking up – if your name is on the list, go for blood work before breakfast.  8:00am breakfast.  Medication rounds.  Meetings with doctors/therapy sessions.  Lunch at 11:30am.  Medication rounds, where required. Visiting hours.  Dinner at 5:00pm.  Medication rounds, where required. More visiting hours.  Quiet time after 8:00pm.  9:00pm: final medication round.  Lights out at 10:00pm.  Try to sleep through the noise of disturbed people all around you.

The schedule didn’t sound so bad (apart from the 7am wakeup, of course). I was happy to hear that I had lots of time for visits, and even happier to find out that I was allowed to leave the building during those hours.  The nurse was sure to remind me that – at least until they got to know my patterns and behaviours – I would not be permitted to leave without supervision.

After the nurse told me all she set out to tell me, I found myself alone in my room, desperately wanting to go home.  I knew there was a common room where I could entertain myself with board games, cards and fellow crazy people, but I wasn’t particularly interested in any of it. 

As I was lying in my new bed crying, Evie came in and started talking my ear off.  She spoke incredibly fast, and it was sometimes difficult to understand her.  She’d ask me all kinds of questions, but she never gave me enough time to answer before she moved on to the next one.  She was very friendly, and wanted to introduce me to everyone else in the ward.  I didn’t want to make friends.

That hospital had been home to Evie for over six months by the time I met her, and she had no idea when she would be allowed to leave.  Unlike me, Evie wasn’t there voluntarily.  Even more unlike me, she was more than happy to stay.

My first meeting with the doctor was pretty uneventful.  He asked me the same questions the nurse already had, and set up some appointments for the upcoming days – blood work, electrocardiography and an MRI.  He also gave me a few questionnaires to fill out, to help with coming to a diagnosis.

In the afternoons and evenings, I was lucky enough to have friends come and visit me.  I don’t think I spent a single afternoon alone.  That helped keep me sane, but also reminded me of how much I knew I didn’t want to stay there anymore.

At the end of the day, I just felt like the hospital was not the place for me to get better.  Being surrounded by so many people whose mental afflictions were much more severe than mine just reminded me of where I might end up one day.  I didn’t like that constant reminder.  For me, it was easier to imagine myself living a normal, happy life if I was surrounded by normal, happy people.  I felt like the hospital brought me further into my illness instead of bringing me to a point where I believed I could combat it.

This is not the same for everyone, as I learned from Evie.   She improved there.  She actually got the help she needed there, because it was the best, most comfortable option for her, and she wanted it.  She needed the stability.  She needed to be woken up every day.  She needed to meet with doctors.  She needed to have her meals prepared and placed in front of her three times day.  She needed routine created for her, because if left to her own devices, she’d never have it.  I didn’t feel that was true for me.

I decided one week was enough.  I was checking myself out.  The doctors and nurses tried their best to convince me to stay.  They reiterated again and again that constant observation and supervision was the best way to diagnose me.  I agreed.  However, I protested and stood my ground.  I was leaving.  I didn’t want to risk coming to a graver diagnosis, and I felt that was the only possible outcome if I stayed at the hospital.  With reluctance, they wrote a synopsis of my stay and passed all necessary information onto my psychiatrist.

I left with a diagnosis of “suspected bipolar disorder, type 2”. Several months later, I finally made a follow-up appointment with my psychiatrist.  Several months after that, I was diagnosed again.  This time, with schizo-affective disorder.  And thus began my “recovery.”

My Two Closest Friends

Depression never used to knock before coming in.  Depression would just show up, uninvited, and stay as long as she pleased.  She’d hang out with me wherever I was.  She’s quite lazy though, and usually convinced me to stay in bed all day.  We wouldn’t do anything!  Even if we watched a movie, I could never pay attention because she was so distracting – always rambling to me, talking about god-knows-what.  It’s really hard to focus on one thing when someone is talking in your ear about something else.  Basically, whenever she came over, I was stuck doing whatever she wanted to do (and that doesn’t consist of much).

Sometimes, when I had friends over, she’d leave me alone for a bit.  She’d hang back, I’d hang out, she’d wait for them to leave, and then she’d come out as soon as the door shut behind them.  Usually, though, she’d demand all the attention: my friends would come over to hang out with me, but they’d end up hanging out with Depression.  I’d kind of just be there in the background… somewhere.

One day, Depression and I were hanging out.  She left soon after she came though – which was a very rare occurrence! – so I decided to go out.  I ended up meeting Mania that night.

Mania and I instantly hit it off.  We went out together with a group of my friends and had a fantastic night out.  We spent a bit too much money and drank a bit more than we maybe should have, but I didn’t care!  It was too fun to care.  After that night, Mania and I hung out nonstop for about two weeks.  We had become inseparable!

I guess Depression heard that Mania and I had been spending a lot of time together, and she wanted to be a part of it.  But for some reason, our schedules never allowed for us to spend time as a trio.  Depression kept asking me to hang out more and more frequently.  Every time she’d heard that Mania had been over, she’d insist on coming by the next day.  She was even more selfish during these visits, if that were even possible.

Everything had to revolve around her.  If she didn’t feel like eating, we wouldn’t eat.  Oh, but if she did want to eat, we’d eat an unnecessarily large amount of food.  If she didn’t feel like talking, we’d sit in silence.  But, of course, if she did want to talk, we’d talk nonstop about whatever she wanted to discuss.  I say ‘discuss’, but really it was more of a lecture: I just listened to her talk; I never had a say in anything.

Eventually, I couldn’t even have friends over anymore while she was in town.  She would literally take the phone out of my hand and write up some excuse.  She even forbade me from going to work.  She’d call in, pretend to be me, and say she was sick with the flu, or food poisoning, or whatever else came to mind.

I don’t know why I never stopped her.  I just never really felt like I could.  Peer pressure, maybe?

Anyway, I started to strongly resent Depression.  Hate her, really.  Looking back, I realize that Depression had sort of become a little jealous of Mania.  But at the time, I just wanted to hang out with Mania and forget about Depression entirely.

Mania and I always had so much fun together.  She managed to make me forget about Depression, even though we’d been so close for so long.  I always thought Depression and I would be in each other’s lives forever, but Mania made me second-guess that notion.  She pointed out how terrible Depression treated me.  I honestly never realized it until then, but it was a very abusive relationship.

It was a good thing that Mania and Depression were never in the same room.  I feel like Depression would have definitely taken away all the fun.

Those days, I hung out with Mania as much as I could.  Depression would still come by every once in a while, but she didn’t stay as long as she used to.  Mania was my new best friend.

The early days of my friendship with Mania were great!  We would always be on the go, doing something, going somewhere.  We would spend our free days making things, writing stories together or planning a trip.  I would go to work and she would entertain herself – that was another thing I greatly appreciated, because Depression couldn’t handle me leaving her alone while I went to work.  We went out on the weekends and the occasional – albeit rare – week night.  We had a great social life and my friends absolutely loved her.

After a while though, she started to go a little wild.  And, well, I saw how much fun she was having and couldn’t resist joining in.

We started to go out a lot.  We spent money on things we didn’t need.  We drank. We did drugs. We had a very unhealthy sleep schedule.  We would go days without sleeping properly, and then crash for 20 or more consecutive hours.  Usually, I’d wake up to an empty bed and the doorbell ringing: Mania was gone, and Depression was back.

It was exhausting, keeping up with those two!  If I wasn’t with one, I was with the other.  I had very few days to myself.

Depression came over after Mania and I had had another binge.  I wanted her to go the second she walked in, but I didn’t want to be rude, and I had a hard time flat-out asking her to leave.  After all, she did just want my company.

She eventually opened up and told me she was upset – she felt like Mania had taken over and that I didn’t like her anymore.  She told me she missed me, and just wanted to spend more time with me.  She asked me if we could just stay in bed all day and pretend to watch movies while she distracted me, like old times.  The fact that this all made me feel guilty didn’t even matter: I was so exhausted after my binge with Mania that it actually sounded like a great idea.

So, we stayed in that bed for almost an entire week straight.  We slept most of the time.  We ate occasionally.  We would start a movie and I’d turn it off after a few minutes of her rambling.  I would wake up in the morning and see that she was still asleep, and I’d resolve to stay in bed so as not to leave her. It always upset her to wake up alone.  Sleep, sleep, sleep, repeat.

After a couple of weeks, Depression left, and I was by myself for the first time in over a month.  I was able to reflect on things, and I realized that maybe Depression wasn’t as evil as Mania made her out to be.  She was just lonely.  I felt bad for her more than I felt hurt by her.

Mania wasn’t perfect, anyway – was she?  Sure, we had loads of fun together, but I always spent way too much money while she was around, and it took me days to recover from our sleepless, drug and alcohol induced binges.

It was hard to talk to my other friends about Depression and Mania though, because they didn’t know either of them like I did; they could never really understand our relationship.

Sure, Depression held me back sometimes, but she also held me closer than any other friend ever had.  I could feel how much she wanted me around.  No one can argue the fact that it feels nice to be wanted. And yes, Mania would encourage me to do things that might not have been the best idea, but in the moment, it was always so fun and exhilarating.  We spent money I didn’t have, but we created amazing memories.

Mania was much better at winning me, as well as everyone else, over. She would show up, just like Depression always did, and instead of coming in to hang out, she’d insist we go out and do something.

She wasn’t always in her wild, party mode: sometimes she’d revert back to her original form, and we’d be incredibly productive.  She’d come over and help me clean my house (this was especially nice when she came after Depression had been over, because there was always an accumulated mess), or we’d cook a delicious dinner, or we’d paint something or draw something or rearrange my apartment.

I started to resent Depression.  Again.  This time, more intensely.  And it stuck.

She’d come over and my spirit would sink away to nothingness.  I knew that the moment she walked in the door, there was no more fun to be had.  So I got fed up.  I told Depression that she couldn’t just keep coming over without at least telling me first.  She needed to give me a warning before she came, so I could prepare.  I could never get anything done while she was around.  What if I needed to do laundry?  What if I had someone visiting and actually wanted to spend some quality time with them?  Reluctantly, she agreed that she’d let me know she was coming when possible, but couldn’t always be sure how long she’d stay.  Fair enough, I thought.

As with many things, I was wrong.

These days, Depression sometimes lets me know she’s coming.  I know she’ll be here in a few days.  I can prepare myself as much as possible, but I can never really prepare.  I don’t know how long she’s going to be here.  I know I’m going to be stuck with her, and I know I can’t tell her to leave, but I don’t know when she’ll be gone.  Trying to plan my life around her uncertainties is even worse than being utterly uninformed of her arrival.

Mania never tells me when she’s coming.  I’ve asked her to, but she refuses.  She says she wants it to be a surprise.   I’d rather be surprised by Depression than by Mania.  I want to know when Mania is coming because I want to be able to look forward to the fun.  I want to be surprised by Depression because I want to be oblivious that I’ll be in pain until the pain has already begun.

Unfortunately though, that’s not how it is.  Depression’s compromise was a warning.  She won’t leave me alone, but she’ll let me know when she’s coming.  Mania’s ‘compromise’ is surprise.  She won’t leave me alone, she certainly won’t inform me of her plans, but we’ll have a blast when she gets here.  I cannot rely on her.

This is how it is.  These are my two friends, Depression and Mania, and they’re going to visit me until they tire of me.  They’re going to stick around as long as they please, without my permission, my consent or even my affection.  It’s not certain how often they’ll come, or how long they’ll stay.  It’s not even certain that they’ll ever leave.

All that’s certain is me.   I am certain that I cannot, and will not, ignore them. I am certain that I will accept them.  But most of all: I am certain that they will be my friends, and not my keepers.  I will run the show; they’ll just be my co-stars.

Schizophrenic Parenting

It’s pretty nice to be at a point where I can think about what I want for my ‘future’.  I didn’t always think I’d have one – I didn’t always want one.  I still have days where I don’t.  But, generally speaking, I do.

So, what comes to mind when I think about my life five, ten, fifteen years from now?  Kids.

Do I want kids?  I honestly do not know.  If I do have kids, though, it definitely won’t be any time soon.

I need to be realistic and honest with myself.  I need to think of the pros and cons.  And I can’t be selfish about it.  Would I really be able to raise a healthy, stable-minded child, when I can’t even describe myself that way a lot of the time? And even if I did manage it – hopefully, with the help of said child’s paternal figure – would it really be the right thing to do?

Even if I can teach a child right from wrong, how to cross the street safely, how to feed him/herself, etc… do I really want to subject my own flesh and blood to a life of living with me?

Like I said, I need to be honest with myself.  And realistic.

Schizo-affective disorder is likely with me for life.  And there is no telling whether it will get worse or better, stay the same, or if I might pass it on to future generations. Genetics aside, though, I just don’t know if it’s fair to bring a child into my world of uncertainties.

Looking back at my not-so-distant past, there were periods where I was the child.  A grown-up child – the worst kind.  I needed to be taken care of.  I needed people to watch out for me, to keep me safe, to make sure I was keeping myself healthy and alive.

If I fall into a state like that again, what would happen to that poor babe of mine?

I can say – and part of me believes it – that it wouldn’t happen if I had a child.  I’d persevere.  I wouldn’t let my mind stop me from taking care of my baby, because my maternal instincts simply wouldn’t allow for it.  But is that really true?  Would it really all pan out that way?  It kind of seems like a naïve way to look at parenting.

But then again, by saying this, am I just furthering the stigma about mental health?  Am I just putting myself down?

We’ve all heard the stories about mothers hurting their own children while in a psychotic state.  Sometimes, the poor mothers and children don’t survive.  Sometimes, they do survive, but are left with a scar and an inability to trust the very person who brought them into the world. This isn’t always a woman who suffered with her mental stability before she had kids.  Postpartum depression comes in many forms and severities – mild to downright scary.  All this tells me is that having kids is always a risk, regardless of your state of mind beforehand.

So, there are some of the cons.  What about the pros?

With me as a mother, I think any child would have a rather open mind.  They’d have to.  They’d be surrounded by me and my loud opinions, and I’d certainly introduce them to other opinions – even some I don’t necessarily agree with.

They’d grow up with an understanding of life that a lot of kids are likely sheltered from. It isn’t all black and white, and no baby of mine would be a stranger to that knowledge.

They’d grow up with more responsibilities than the average child.  But, at the same time, I would baby them more than I probably should.  It’d be an interesting mix.

“Come on, you’re 8 months old – make your own dinner!”
“Oohh, come here, let me cuddle you to sleep even though you’re 15.”

I think, especially for me, a very important factor about becoming a mama would be to make sure I had that perfect partner in crime.  I’d need a dude with a clear understanding of me and my quirks.  He’d need to know how to deal with me at my absolute worst, and he’d need to know how to encourage me to be my absolute best.  He’d also need to understand that I’ll have days where I hate him for doing just that.  But he’d have to stick to it.  I don’t need to be married to him for all eternity – but I do need to know, with confidence, that he’s up for the challenge – and the ultimate reward – of parenthood.  With me.  For good.  But isn’t that the same for everyone?

Finally, the biggest and most important pro of all: that baby would be LOVED.  I would love that tiny human with my entire soul and more.  I’d shower that munchkin with hugs and kisses and words of affection.  I’d embarrass that baby well into their teenage years.  I’d bake them their favourite cookies at ungodly hours and I’d always let them crawl into my bed, regardless of how silly the reason.  They’d be my entire universe and they’d be well aware of it.

While love is a very important tool in parenting and life in general, it doesn’t solve everything.  It can’t pay the bills.  Love isn’t going to pull you out of bed when you’re feeling low.  Love, sadly, can’t conquer everything in the world we live in.  There is a lot that goes into raising a child, and I still don’t know if I’ve got it all in my schizo-self.

I really don’t know what defines a good potential parent.  A person could appear to be the strongest and most reasonable person on the planet, but then the responsibility and the feelings of vulnerability that come with parenting may break them down completely. How can you know what kind of person someone will be once their entire life has changed?  How can you judge someone’s ability to do something without giving them the opportunity to actually do it?

Unfortunately, though, it seems to me that the people with the strongest opinions on the matter are usually the ones who don’t really have a clue.

Often times, I hear people talk negatively about schizophrenia, bi polar disorder, depression, borderline personality disorder (the list goes on).  As soon as I mention I’ve got one – or two, or a combination – of the above listed disorders, they’re extremely surprised, “oh my god!  I’m so sorry!  You totally don’t seem messed up at all!”  they go on about how guilty they feel about all the nasty things that just escaped their mouth.

But maybe, if you’re so surprised, and you feel that guilty about what you just said, you really don’t know what you’re talking about.

I think there are a lot of factors to consider, and I think there are a lot of uneducated people with skewed opinions on the matter who spread the wrong kinds of information.

So, what do you think about it all?  Should the mentally ill be parents?