Uncategorized

I Have Bipolar Disorder, But Bipolar Disorder Doesn’t Have Me.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve written anything in regard to mental illness, but -in honor of May being Mental Health Awareness Month- I thought I’d shine some light on my personal diagnosis: Bipolar Disorder.

I spent years assuming that I had a mixture of anxiety and depression…and medicated separately for each (mostly with alcohol, but also with prescriptions).  Anxiety and depression are both talked about so freely and described openly by so many people, that it was natural to assume that would be the appropriate diagnosis.  More than a few years but less than a decade ago, while taking an antidepressant, I had my first experience with what I know now as a wave of mania followed by depression followed by mania until I could get in with a psychiatrist who lovingly explained that my previous diagnosis was incorrect, and prescribed something that would make me feel level for the first time in ever.

Let me explain “mania” and “depression” to you as it relates to my experience with bipolar disorder:
Mania is not sleeping.  Mania is starting so many projects but not being able to focus long enough to finish any of them.  Mania is crying because I feel spread so thin.  Mania is not eating.  Mania is a very short fuse.  Mania feels like anxiety…because it causes me to be anxious.  Mania makes my muscles ache from being so tense.  It might last a few days.  It might last weeks.  It might last months.  literally.  months.  And it might seem better some days only to throw me back on the ground the next.  Mania is feeling like I need to sleep…and wanting to sleep…and craving the ability to just sit and watch TV or read a book or write…and, regardless, not being able to sit still…even at 2am.  Mania is impulsivity like most have probably not experienced since childhood…like…in mania, if I want something and don’t purchase it or make it or do it, it feels like my skin is crawling out of itself. Mania is not being able to sleep because I am 100% sure that we are getting bombed…and researching how far bombs can travel from various points around the world…and telling myself, “Your kids are safe.  You are safe, Dani.  Everyone is safe.” Over and over and over again.  And my husband telling me, “Everything is fine.  Everyone is safe.” And still not sleeping because…well…mania.  Mania is barricading myself in the house and telling myself it’s because I’m an introvert…when it’s actually because I’m too scattered and nervous to leave the house.  And, all of the sudden, when I least expect it…my mania can drop me into…
Depression.  Let me first say that depression is not a lack of not being grateful…but the lack of being able to feel gratitude.  Depression is not delusion.  Depression for me is extremely dark.  It feels worthless and painful and hopeless and suicidal…and, as difficult as mania can be to manage, the depression is what prompts me to take medication.  I can live with mania.  I can apologize for getting angry and snapping at my family…and I can tell myself that it’s fine to never leave the house or to stay awake for 72 hours with a few 30 minute nap sessions…but the depression is too dark to handle on my own.  And why try?  That’s like playing Russian roulette.

So, it’s been a while because I had taken a break while having babies, but I’m finally back on my medication.  Finally.  And, things haven’t immediately improved upon starting a medication for bipolar.  Not for me, at least.  It’s taken several weeks to feel “okay”– and I still feel pretty anxious…but it’s getting better.  I’m sleeping again.  And I’m taking deeper breaths.  And I can lay in savasana and not feel panic.  …Do you know how freeing that is?  To not feel panic when you’re accustomed to feeling panic (but hiding it) 24/7 for weeks on end?  Savasana has forever been the most difficult pose in yoga for me.  It’s when you have to lay still at the end of your yoga session and breathe and feel strong and confident and safe… The first night after having a pleasant experience with savasana, I couldn’t wait to tell my husband all about it…in detail…how calm and relaxed I felt, the images that floated through my carefree mind…and how I wanted to be able to access that feeling all the time.  –I know that people without mental illness also have days when they’re unhappy…or stressed…or anxious…  I know that I’m not supposed to feel calm and relaxed at all times; that would be completely unnatural to a human being.  But medication has helped to find a middle ground in the extreme highs and lows.

Anyway, this has been just a very brief glance into what my experience has been.  I wanted to write this because this is not a diagnosis that’s talked about.  Ever.  Or rarely, at least.  There’s a ton of shame and hush associated with it, whereas folks talk about depression or anxiety or ADHD without reservation.  So here I am!–declaring no fear or shame or hush…I have bipolar disorder, but it doesn’t have me.  Not today, at least.  And for that I am grateful.

 

Fearless Faith, Uncategorized

Speech//Hillcrest Hope

Hello friends!  Remember a few weeks ago when I was like, “I’m going to do a product review once a week from now on!”…and then I only did that one…and I haven’t gotten around to writing another…?  Yeah…  Sorry about that.  Eventually, I’ll start writing on a consistent basis, I’m sure of it.  And THIS is different than what I typically publish, because THIS is a speech.  I was asked to speak to a group of volunteers and donors of an organization that is very special to me– and, I figured, since it’s already written I might as well publish it.  If you are on the fence about volunteering or donating goods or supporting a non-profit financially, my hope is that this tiny portion of my story will push you closer to saying YES and giving yourself away.  I hope you are all having a fabulous week!!!–the sun is shining…the wind is blowing…Thank you God for this new day!


 

I’m not a speaker. Speaking to a group regardless of size is not something I enjoy.  However, when Rachel asked if I could do this for her…there is absolutely no fear or excuse great enough to keep me from behind this podium.

When I submitted my application, I had just over a year clean from drugs and alcohol.  I had an 18 month old daughter.  I was in a toxic relationship.  And I was trying so hard to get my head out from under water…and I couldn’t.  (Brief caveat: I was a preschool teacher…and I made $10.51 an hour, which is above minimum wage.  But at $10.51 an hour, you also don’t qualify for any public assistance.  No food stamps, no rental assistance, no TANF…) No matter how much I tried to save, no matter how hard I was trying to make decisions that would benefit myself and my daughter, I just couldn’t seem to catch a break.

At the time, I was living with my mom in Excelsior…Hillcrest had been mentioned to me several times and each time I disqualified myself: “I’m not ACTUALLY homeless.  I have a place to stay.”…really what I was saying to myself was, “Someone else deserves it more than I do.”—One day I ended up in the teacher’s lounge where I worked…with a parent of a child who attended this school…and this parent happened to have very great knowledge of Hillcrest.  So I took a deep breath…and asked her about it…and she said, “I think you’d be a great candidate.” And I said, “Well, I’m not REALLY homeless though…” and she just smiled and said, “I think you should apply.”  So I did…  I applied by myself…and during the interview asked if my boyfriend could stay with me (because things were likely not going well when I had filled out the application, but were better by the time I interviewed)…and Rachel told me “NO”…and I’m so glad that she did.

I moved in really close to Christmas…forgive me for not having the exact date, but I remember so clearly getting a knock on the door one of my first nights there… It was my church sponsor…with gifts.  They just came in and set all these gifts on the table, prayed for me, and then they left…and I cried and cried, because I was grateful…and I confused…because I had made so many awful mistakes…and again with that “Someone else deserves it more than I do.” –And, as a non-Christian…not quite an atheist…maybe an agnostic…it began awakening my soul…  Those gifts of towels and a homemade scrap booking kit were so much more than merely towels and a homemade scrap booking kit…

During my stay, I was taught everything—not necessarily because I didn’t know how to do them, but because I didn’t have the confidence in myself to do them without someone’s guidance.  For years, my decisions were poor.  My decisions were NOT good…they got me in trouble…over and over and over again.  So while I was there, I was taught everything…how to clean, how to follow rules and meet expectations, how to shop, how to budget, how to do laundry, how to microwave a hot dog, how to manage time, how to make popcorn, how to pray, how to ask for help…

It was hard.  Staying at Hillcrest was so hard.  One of the hardest things I’ve ever accomplished (and I’ve had three children, so that’s saying something).  …There was a time while I was there that my boyfriend took my car…a time when he took my money…and of course a time when I could no longer deny that he was getting high again……and usually I’d forgive him and continue on in this cycle of chaos…but during one of our case management meetings while discussing this relationship, Rachel asked me if I wanted Journey to think that this is how a father behaves.  She didn’t word it like that…but essentially that’s what she said.  …And something clicked.  I told him I never wanted to see him again…and, to this day, I’ve maybe seen him three times, and I’ve left as soon as he’s entered the room…he has minimal contact with our daughter through letters…and I’ve told him repeatedly that he needs to go through the courts if he wants any sort of visitation…because when I was at Hillcrest, I learned how to set healthy boundaries for myself and my child.

Close to the end of my stay, I was telling my resident managers about how upset I was about being alone (being alone was uncharted territory)…and how I was struggling with not answering the phone when my ex called…and they told me pray for the right person/people to enter my life.  And by this time, I’d learned to pray because it had been demonstrated regularly by my resident managers…prayer was the solution for nearly everything it seemed…and it WORKED and it turned me into a believer. So I prayed.  And I prayed and I prayed and I prayed…and I have no idea for how long it was…it logistically couldn’t have been longer than a few weeks, I met the man that is my husband today.  …He asked me out for coffee and I told him that I couldn’t spend any money…and he said, “I’m not going to ask you out and make you buy your own coffee…” And that was different.  I’d never dated anyone who had offered to buy my coffee.  I had never really DATED at all.  –I was so confused, because he had it all together…WHY would want to date a single mom…in recovery…in transitional living for homeless…… “Someone else deserves him more than I do…”  But I kept praying…and we COMMUNICATED (which is something else I learned here)…we got married in 2014 and today we stilllike each other.

I feel like I’ve been here and there…and I’ve tried to touch on just a few of the highlights of my stay…but I want to reiterate that this program is so, so, so, soooo much more than a shelter…or a temporary solution… Beyond the ability to save during my stay and getting childcare reimbursement and little treats for meeting expectations…this program gave me a life beyond what I would’ve ever imagined.  I learned indirectly and directly about God…about Jesus…about selfless service…about communication…and boundaries and recovery and credit reports and confidence and that I deserved so, so, so much more than I was giving to myself.  Today, I know with all of my soul that I am WORTHY of a place to call my own…I am WORTHY of healthy relationships…I am WORTHY of assistance…and my story is WORTH telling.  Oftentimes, because my story is mine…and I’ve lived it and heard it many, many, many times…my story loses it’s sparkle.  It loses it “WOW”…until I share it with someone who hasn’t heard it before…and all that shock factor and “OH-MY-GOODNESS…GOD-IS-SO-GOOD…” comes flooding back.

Hillcrest changed my life. –Actually, Hillcrest gave me the skills I needed to change my own life.  Completely.  I am a homeowner…a car owner…my credit is LOVELY…I’ve gone on a trip to Haiti to love on orphans and talk about Jesus…I’m the owner of a bachelor’s degree…I have almost 8 years of recovery…I am a stay at home mom and I can be because we SAVE and we PLAN and we don’t go on a bunch of trips because we BUDGET… …When I say that Hillcrest helped to change my life…I mean it.  I can do hard things.  Hillcrest has played a huge role in teaching me that truth.

Really quickly, before I’m finished up here, I just want to say that Rachel, Anne, other employees…people who donate time and talents for community living…and food and goods for the pantry…and church sponsors for the apartments…volunteers at the thrift store and volunteers on the campuses who build and clean and organize and pray— you are all so vital.  As a graduate looking back, without any one of those pieces of the program, something major would have been lacking.  Thank you so much for helping to create the person that I am and the life I have the opportunity to live today.