Accepting the Rescue

reach for the rescueCould anyone rescue my daughter?

A year and a month ago, I didn’t know if I would ever see my daughter alive again. I had visions of her beaten, bruised body lying unclaimed in a foreign morgue whilst I searched the world over trying to save her. Her life seemed doomed to a destiny of heartache, suffering and pain that would eventually lead to an early death.

It could have happened. She had a one-way ticket to London and no money. She had burned just about every relationship bridge with family and friends. Her life spiraled out of control—only she didn’t seem to realize it.

I called on my prayer warrior friends—church ladies who had watched her grow up and loved her—and they responded with mighty prayers. Prayers for protection. Prayers for peace. Prayers for safety. For three long days of uncertainty their prayers kept me together.

And as Good Friday approaches, it seems fitting that I remember another parent with a beloved child. This Father knew his Son’s destiny included death. Only now, after my daughter’s experience, do I began to appreciate what God the Father must have experienced as he sent his only Son to a far away land where the inhabitants left his body beaten, bruised and lying in a tomb.

I know I wanted to mortgage the house and sell all my possessions so I could seek Sarah and bring her home to us. But I didn’t. My impulse would have driven her further away at that point in her life. I had to stand by and let someone else rescue her.

How tempting it must have been for God the Father to throw all the resources of heaven behind an earth invasion in order to save his beloved Son. But he didn’t. To save Jesus from the experience of the cross would have ruined the greater plan.

Saving Jesus from the cross would have ruined the rescue plan. #goodfriday Click To Tweet

The plan to sacrifice one for the sins of many. He had to stand by and let his Son rescue mankind.

And because Jesus suffered in every single way we as humans suffer, we have a Savior we can identify with, confess to and find rebirth within his love. He. is. alive. The plan is in place. To stay alive, we have to reach out to the Rescuer. Click To Tweet

 

You Need This Book if You’re Affected by Bipolar Disorder

bipolar disorder is not a life sentence

Here’s the skinny on the book that everyone should read if they know someone with a bipolar disorder diagnosis.

I remember the nurse wheeling me out of the hospital with a lanky newborn on my lap dressed in a white onesie with vibrant giraffes strewn all over it. My first baby wearing the first article of baby clothing that I’d eagerly purchased the minute I found out we were expecting.

As we settled our firstborn into the rear-facing car seat we had borrowed from a friend, I felt a sense of unease. The nurse had already wheeled the chair back into the hospital and the electronic doors had swooshed shut with authoritative finality.

“That’s all?” I thought. “They let us take a baby home just like that?” Admittedly, it WAS our baby—I had the bread-dough midsection and bloodshot eyes to prove it. Surely, though, the nurse had forgotten to give me something. A how-to manual would have been nice.

It took me another seventeen months to get my act together and feel confident so that when we brought our second daughter home, I didn’t keep glancing over my shoulder hoping they’d run out with a manual as we drove away. I filled the intervening months between firstborn and second born with research and experience. I learned all about feeding schedules and potty training and when to call the doctor. I felt capable.

For a while, at least. When I closed the trunk on our Prius and pulled away from the crisis center almost twenty-one years after bringing home our second beautiful daughter, I once again wished someone would hand me a how-to manual. I longed for guidance on how to help our once sparkling daughter navigate her way through her deep depression. I wanted answers.

And three months later, when my husband brought Sarah home from her second crisis center stay—this time with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder—I couldn’t believe that anyone in their right mind would discharge a patient who clearly still suffered from the aftereffects of mania into the woefully unprepared hands of shell shocked parents.

Sure, a sweet nurse had given me the title of a great book to read—but Dr. Kay Jamison’s book An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness, didn’t fall into the how-to category. It gave me hope that my daughter could achieve a normal life, but as a memoir, it didn’t give guidelines for how to navigate the diagnosis.

I have discovered the book that every newly diagnosed patient with bipolar disorder should receive upon discharge (along with copies for all adult family members): The Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide, Second Edition: What You and Your Family Need to Know by David J. Miklowitz, PhD.

Miklowitz, a Professor of Psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), School of Medicine, and Senior Clinical Researcher at Oxford University, UK, directs the Integrative Study Center in Mood Disorders and the Child and Adolescent Mood Disorders Program at the UCLA Semel Institute. Dr. Miklowitz’s numerous publications include the award-winning book for professionals Bipolar Disorder: A Family-Focused Treatment Approach.

Whew. Now that we have his credentials out of the way, let me explain why I love this book. Prior to my daughter’s diagnosis with bipolar disorder, I thought bipolar was just a happy/sad cycle that some people experienced (not to mention the name of my brother-in-law’s snowmobile/UTV racing team—Bipolar Racing). Now I realize that bipolar disorder has many facets and it has very little to do with happy/sad cycles.

I used to think that a bipolar disorder diagnosis equaled a life-sentence of pain, misunderstanding and trauma for both the patient and everyone who loves him or her. Not true. Miklowitz lays out challenges that will likely face everyone involved and takes each involved party through possible scenarios of not just coping, but thriving.

When Sarah received her diagnosis, I worried that she would never be able to have children (should she want to one day). Miklowitz includes a chapter just for women that analyzes the risk factors and helps women make informed decisions regarding their reproductive health.

I used to think that a bipolar disorder diagnoses meant that one person would have to struggle alone whilst everyone else in the family felt confused, betrayed, or outraged. Not true. Miklowitz shows how a family-focused treatment approach actually helps prevent relapses that require hospitalization (and trust me, hospitalizations equal trauma for everyone involved).

The survival guide serves as a true how-to book on thriving with a bipolar disorder diagnosis. Not only does it explain in laymen’s terms all of the vocabulary that attends the diagnosis, it explains the medications and side effects.

Since the median age for a bipolar diagnosis is 25 years of age, it stands to reason that families need to educate themselves as much as possible about the illness. More importantly, family members need to understand their role as a support team member and not a manager or owner of the illness.

Family members need to understand they are team members, not managers or owners of a #bipolar diagnosis. Click To Tweet

Patients diagnosed with bipolar disorder can do two critical things to help manage their illness—select a support team and come up with emergency plans of action for what they want to happen when they start to slip into either a manic or depressed episode.

Above all, The Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide serves as a framework for honest and difficult conversations. But those conversations pave the pathway for those affected by bipolar disorder to learn to thrive rather than just survive.

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First of All, Just Plead Guilty

My most expensive photo everI thought I’d share my $190 photo of a bird with everyone. It’s the first good photo I’ve taken of a Painted Redstart. You’re probably wondering how a photo I took could cost $190. Let me explain.

My plane had arrived after midnight, and I needed to teach in just seven hours. Pedro slept in the passenger seat while I drove home. I changed my cruise control to 55 as I drove through Payson, AZ during the wee morning hours. As I left town and headed down the hill to Star Valley, I yawned, and longed for an all-night gas station so I could buy a cup of cheep coffee and stay awake for the last 90 miles of my drive.

A bright light popped off to my right, and the instant adrenalin rush rivaled the blackest cup of coffee I could have consumed. I looked down at the speedometer and realized too late that I had missed the warning sign about the changing speed limit.

I knew I had received my first ticket-by-mail. A great way to end a stressful month. Not. When the bill arrived, I couldn’t believe it. The tiny town of Star Valley wanted to extort $210 dollar from me. Their electronically activated ticket-issuing computer had clocked me at 56 in a 45.

I begged to differ. I drove a Prius, and everyone knows that when in cruise control, the constant velocity engine keeps a Prius at a steady speed regardless of ups and downs in terrain.

As an inexperienced ticket getter, I assumed that I could just show up to court on the court date printed on the ticket, explain to the judge what had happened and he would have compassion on me and lower the fine (who has $210 extra dollars sitting around, anyway?).*(my 5 minutes are up, but the story isn’t over)

When I showed up, the receptionist at the courthouse told me that I couldn’t actually speak to a judge. I could get a court date. Things went downhill from there.

After six months of stress and worry about my daughter’s depression, suicidal thoughts and eating disorders—not to mention fighting with insurance companies trying to find the best care for her—I wanted to fight a battle I could win.

Instead, I ended up in a courtroom waiting for a judge who asked me a question I wasn’t sure how to answer. He wanted a black and white answer to his “How do you plead?”

I didn’t want to admit I was completely guilty, after all, I was guilty of speeding, but not guilty of going as fast as the computer had said I was going (I researched on line, and their sensors have a standard deviation of plus or minus 1 mile an hour).

Confused by his question, I pled not guilty. To which the judge answered that he would remand the case to the city’s attorney and I could show up in court three months hence.

Tears sprouted out of my eyes. I didn’t have time in my life (or money) to hire a lawyer, take another day off work and return to plead my case. I wanted resolution right then. The judge softened a bit and said I did have the option of go to talk to the city’s attorney and do some sort of plea bargain that would keep the ticket off my record and possibly lower the fee.

Did I mention that I’ve never been able to cry without an equal amount of snot gushing out of my nose? I think he sighed in relief when I petulantly turned my back and walked out of the courtroom. I made it to the bathroom to clean up my face, than headed to Star Valley to hunt down the city attorney.

By the time I arrived, I thought I had everything under control. When I spoke to the attorney’s secretary and tried to explain my plight, the tears sprang unbidden from some deep well. I tried to explain the injustice of a machine handing out $210 tickets because if a police officer had stopped me, we could have had a civil conversation and he or she would have been able to use common sense to decide whether or not I deserved a ticket.

Of course, I had come unprepared for another snot/cry combo, and the secretary had to leave the room to find a box of tissue. I ended up signing some sort of no-contest agreement with the attorney and he lowered the fine by twenty bucks.

I got in my car and drove slowly out of town and back towards home, the secretary’s advice to “get outside for a bit and enjoy the beautiful day” grating on my nerves like fingernails on a chalkboard. What did she know? I wondered if the almighty electronic ticket giver handed out tickets to people who drove while impaired by tears.

Not wanting to chance it, I pulled over and sobbed for a while. I put the car in gear and continued on my journey—the deep blue sky mocking me. By the time I saw the road leading to the fish hatchery, I decided maybe I would head up and look for birds. I didn’t really want to show up at home in my distraught state and try to deal with a depressed daughter.

I hiked around a bit, and a flash of red and black caught my attention. I grabbed my camera and hurried back to the spot. Forty-five minutes later, I had captured a handful of great photos of one of the more difficult birds to photograph—the Painted Redstart. They hang out in low underbrush (so the lighting isn’t that great), they move quickly (so one has to anticipate their moves), and their coloring—black with white and red accents requires a fair amount of sunlight to actually capture the beauty of the bird.

As I got in my car and headed home again, I realized that maybe that nice attorney’s secretary had been right. Something about nature soothes me and helps me to refocus my attention.

The closer I got to home, the more I realized that perhaps the judge and the attorney weren’t part of an evil empire trying to wrest hard-earned money from guileless drivers. If I had just pled guilty when the judge asked me, I probably would have been able to explain my case and HE would have lowered the fine (probably more than a measly twenty bucks, too). After all, I was guilty of speeding.

In retrospect, I know that all too often I try the same tactics with God. I do something outside of his will and he convicts me of my sin but I want to argue with him and justify my position and explain why it wasn’t such a big sin, more like a sorta accidental sin.

I try to argue with God an explain that I just 'sorta sinned'. Click To Tweet

But sin is sin. Guilt is guilt. They both separate us from God. And if I don’t plead guilty, than my Advocate has his hands tied. He can’t speak up for me to the Judge, and the Judge won’t be able to extend mercy.

Lesson learned. Here’s my $190 photo.

The $190 photo
Have you ever had an expensive lesson (with a little grace note of beauty to make the pill easier to swallow)?

The Last Word on My Mental Illness

Mental IllnessContinued from…

Today’s guest blogger authorized and participated in writing our #write31days series “31 Glimpses in to the Unquiet Mind” back in October of 2015.  This final post serves as an update and an explanation for all that Sarah went through and why she chose to participate and authorize this series.  She gets the final word.

During October, many people asked why I was letting such personal things be written about me for the Write 31 Days blogging challenge. The answer was simple. I wasn’t worried about the stories being too personal. I already posted so many strange pictures and status updates on Facebook and on other social media during my two bouts of mania that the October stories seemed to serve as an explanation to my strange behaviors.

But that was not the main reason I wanted this story told. Most of all, I want people to learn about mental illness through our (my family’s and friends’) experience, to show how real it is and how hard it is to deal with—especially when nobody knows what is going on.

I also wanted people to feel empowered to tell their own stories. The ability to share our stories and connect on a personal level is truly a gift. So many of us have gone through difficult, life-changing experiences that make us realize how important family is, and how important friends are.

When I was in the psych ward, I thought my family hated me and that they had done me wrong in the worst way. In the end, I knew they loved me and their love lead their actions. When I was depressed and wanted to find some kind of “death pill” online that would give me a painless end because I didn’t see any point in living anymore, it was my family that kept me going. I have never felt so much love as I felt during these last two years. I am so thankful for my friends and family who forgave me for my unexplainable actions and kept on loving me no matter what.

#mentalillnessI am currently studying at Walla Walla University, completing my Spanish major and getting teaching credentials for Spanish and art. Since I took a year off, I expect to graduate in 2018. With the exception of a few minor (and normal) ups and downs, my mood has stayed stable since my last manic episode in March of 2015 (and the inevitable month of hypomania that followed) thanks to the guidance of my ever-patient parents and family, the support of friends, consistently taking my medicine (a mood stabilizer called carbamazepine, which worked wonders after my first manic episode in Argentina), regular appointments with my psychiatrist and therapist, and a constant effort to maintain balance spiritually, physically, and mentally. I can’t wait to see what blessings and adventures this new year will bring.

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Semantics Matter! Do Your Part to Stop the Stigma!

I am bipolar.

Continued

On Thanksgiving morning Sarah and I woke and prepared for our quest—to run a 10K on Thanksgiving Day. Four years earlier, back before her bipolar disorder diagnosis, she, Laura and I had run in Huffing for Stuffing, a 5 and 10K event in Bozeman, MT that benefited the local food bank. This year, we invited friends to participate along with us—wherever they might live—and make a donation to their local food bank.

Laura ran a 5K in Tulsa, my friend Amy walked 5K in Alabama, another friend walked 5K on a sunny -6 degree morning in Bozeman, and Gilbert, a former student who suffered serious injuries in motorcycle crash last year, managed to walk almost five miles. Some of my other friends, Debbie and Kebrina, ran the real event in Bozeman, Montana.

In Holbrook, the below freezing weather and weak sunshine made my nose drip and my eyes water as we headed outside for our own personal “Huffing for Stuffing” event. It felt good to run with Sarah again, as if we had started a new chapter where the familiar characters had returned to doing comfortable things together again.

After we passed the halfway mark, Pedro texted both of us to let us know that he had breakfast ready. Since I didn’t want to stop mid ‘race’, I used the voice recognition feature to let him know that we hadn’t finished our quest. Later that day, I glanced at his text again and my heart almost stopped beating for a split second.

Right above Pedro’s innocuous words, “Oh! I forgot about your turkey run!” the words from a conversation between he, Sarah and I jumped out and squeezed my heart. It took me a moment to realize that the words above his “Breakfast is ready” text had been written back in March.

Back when Sarah suffered from mania and paranoia and had lost her executive functions (foresight, hindsight and insight). Pedro and I had each texted her “I love you!” and her response of “Whatever” glared angrily back. I had to scroll back through the whole painful conversation and check the date just to make sure.

God graced our Thanksgiving vacation with the greatest present ever—our daughter. Our sweet, helpful, funny, responsible, kind, talented, enthusiastic, and ready-for-any-adventure daughter. She has returned to college and she has a plan. She has goals in life and knows how to reach them.

She has dealt with the bumps in college life with equanimity and calm. She has come to terms with the fact that, like a person with diabetes, she will need to maintain a certain lifestyle in order to cope with her bipolar disorder.

We have both arrived at a point in our journey where the numbness of diagnosis has worn off and learning more about bipolar disorder seems like the right thing to do. I have learned that semantics make a difference.

I had gestational diabetes during my first pregnancy. The diagnosis required immediate lifestyle changes to get me through the last few months of pregnancy, and lifestyle changes in my late thirties when I realized that because of the gestational diabetes I could more easily fall prey to Type 2 Diabetes if I didn’t watch my weight.

People I know who identify themselves as diabetic—as in “I AM diabetic” always seemed to over identify with their diagnoses—turning it into an excuse or a crutch and bemoaning their life sentence that prevents them from indulging in what they long to indulge in (and then they often indulge anyway—worsening their situation).

On the other hand, those who take the “I HAVE diabetes” approach seemed more balanced in their lives. They have a long-term health issue that requires them to make some adjustments, but they don’t plan on letting their diagnoses dictate their life.

Making the distinction between BEING bipolar and HAVING a bipolar disorder might not seem significant at first, but semantics matter. I think it makes all the difference in acceptance—not just for one’s self, but for family members and friends as well.

After all, one would not go around cheerily announcing, “I’m cancer!” or “I’m kidney failure!” or “I’m heart disease!” One HAS those medical conditions. The having rather than the being expresses inherent hope that with lifestyle changes, medical intervention and follow-through, things will normalize.

Semantics matter. People HAVE a diagnosis. They are NOT the disease. #stopthestigma #mentalhealth #bipolar Click To Tweet

Cancer, especially, carries a comeback codicil. But eventually, one learns to live life in the present and ignore the shadowy scepter of relapse. It took a few years to realize that every time Pedro had a sniffle or a headache or a bout of dizziness that a rational reason existed to explain each of these things (common cold, dehydration, standing up too quickly). I fought against hyper-vigilance and helicoptering (not at all becoming behaviors in a spouse).

As the parent of a young adult diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I must rein in my inner vigilante and refuse to fall into the trap of analyzing every laugh, giggle, unusual text or delayed response. These things do not mean Sarah has relapsed. Hyper-vigilance and helicoptering are equally unbecoming in a parent of an adolescent.

And so for now, we spend our spare time learning—educating ourselves in the intricacies of a long-term disease that plays out differently in 99.9% of the cases. The family members of persons diagnosed with bipolar disorder have a responsibility to educate themselves about the disease, the resources available, and how to have helpful conversations in the same way that the family members of a person with diabetes need to educate themselves.

Only through open conversations, education, acceptance and planning can those with mental illness experience the support that they need to navigate the confusing waters of their diagnosis. Above all, they need to know that they are not alone. They are not pariahs.

If you have a family member with a #bipolar diagnosis, educate yourself! It's your job to help #stopthestigma. Click To Tweet

To be continued (Sarah gets the last word 🙂 )…

When You’re Ninety-Eight, I’ll be Ninety-Nine

Sisters and best friends

Continued from last week…

March

Louis and I swing into my parents’ driveway in Holbrook, Arizona, a few days after the last phone call, the one where Sarah sounded more like Sarah, the one where I realized maybe just maybe I could have my sister back.

The car’s clock glows in the desert darkness; it’s midnight. I ease out of the car, let Bella dart around sniffing her old home, and walk slowly to the front door. Light only seeps from one window in the house. Sarah’s window. Everyone else sleeps.

I open the front door. It creaks. I peer into the black entryway. Soft thumping sounds come up the hall and turn the corner and there she is. Sarah. She hesitates, and I hesitate. Are we still sisters, after all of this? The game we played as children unfurls in my mind.

When you turn eight, Sarah says, I’ll be six, but then I’ll turn seven.

And then I’ll turn nine, I say. Nine!

We giggle. Nine, so old, so far away.

But then I’ll turn eight, Sarah says. And you’ll turn ten.

Ten hushes us. We imagine the way we will be at that venerable age—fearless, probably.

And then I say, slowly, then we’ll get so old that when you’re ninety-eight, I’ll be ninety-nine, but then I’ll turn a hundred. And you’ll come knocking on my door, and we’ll go do old lady things together.

I run toward Sarah. She runs toward me. I fling my arms around her, feeling her skin, her bones, her hair, her hands. She feels different—raw somehow. But she also feels the same way she always has.

We talk for hours.

I'll turn 100 and you'll come knocking on my door, and we'll go do old lady things together. #sisters #bipolar Click To Tweet

May

High in the grapefruit tree at our southern California rental house, I press my phone to my ear and talk to Sarah. The sun sinks, and we keep talking. The streetlights flicker on, and we keep talking. She sounds more and more herself, more and more Sarah. She listens to me speak about my upcoming move to Oklahoma and all its intricacies. I listen to her tell me about Puerto Rico, about New York, about the things her unquiet mind led her to do.

Grapefruits plump and round stud the branches around me like small suns. I trace my finger down the waxy skin of the nearest one and drink in the sound of my sister coming back.

June

I am nervous when Sarah flies to Alaska for the summer. She has told me her frustrations about our father not believing she can last a week without getting fired; she needs someone to believe in her. So I try. I try to believe that she will work well and hard. I try not to betray my own hesitance.

She sends me several pictures once she gets there: a muddy-looking glacier as seen from the freeway. The impossibly sunlit evening hour. And, finally, a tiny log cabin. Red flowers spill from the windowsill. Aspen trees encircle the rustic structure. A little plaque on its side says her middle name on it—Katrina—for she has decided to go by that name, to distance herself from everything now attached to Sarah.

I stare at this third picture for a long time. I touch the warm phone screen.

This little cabin, prepared with care. Her new employer knows everything, yet she believes in Sarah.

I am her sister. I must have faith even stronger.

July

Every week I call her. Every week, the wild notes in her voice become calmer. She tells me about crisp Alaskan days, grizzly tracks, her kind and gentle employers. I tell her about the shroud of wet hot air that is Oklahoma in the summertime, about chigger bites dotting my stomach, about clearing brush with friends in crashing storms and sheets of rain unlike any Californian drizzle. We laugh at the jokes we tell each other; we squeal at each other’s cute stories. Always I ask her if she’s doing okay, if she’s taking her medicine, and always she says yes.

September

After three months, Sarah flies back to Washington to attend college there.

Her Alaskan employers ask her to consider working for them the following summer.

November

On my twenty-third birthday, she texts me Happy birthday!!! Do you have time to chat today?

I call her right away. She tells me stories about her classes and her work and her friends. Funny stories. Hopeful stories. I hear those friends chattering in the busy college cafeteria background.

“I’m talking to my sister,” Sarah says to them.

To be continued…

IMG_5432-242x300Laura Melchor writes from Tulsa, OK, where she works part time and goes to school full time.  She will graduate with her Master of Fine Arts in July.  She and her husband love their teaching jobs and enjoy motorcycle riding and camping in their spare time.  Bella, their German Shepherd dog, fully approves of their love of camping. She and Sarah have been ‘Spider Sisters’ for their entire lives.

Linking up with my friends Jennifer and Holley today.

An Important Life Lesson from an Epileptic Horse

Unquiet Mind 38

…continued from Saturday.

From the time I finished high school until I finished graduate school, I spent most of my summers as the horsemanship director of a Christian summer camp in central Oregon. One summer a coworker brought her horse to camp, a young, fiery-tempered gelding that she wanted to work with and eventually use as a mount for campers. We soon discovered that he had a unique problem.

For no apparent reason, the horse would suddenly stand stock-still and begin to quiver all over. He would drop to his knees, fall over on his side with a grunt, and proceed to thrash wildly—legs flailing and head twisting from side to side. After several minutes of mayhem, he would gradually cease his contortions, roll back on to his knees and heave himself up into the standing position.

For at least twenty minutes after an episode, he would walk gingerly around his stall or the corral, shaking his head and nickering inquisitively. I always thought he looked a little shocked. His behavior bewildered and confused us. Up until this incident, he had acted like a normal horse.

The first time it happened, I felt certain he suffered from colic, but since the episode didn’t digress into a full-blown medical emergency, I figured I must have misdiagnosed him. The second time it happened, the camp doctor witnessed the event.

“I’ve never seen an animal have a grand maul seizure!” he exclaimed.

“A what?” I asked.

“That horse suffers from epilepsy,” the doctor explained. “The seizure happens when his brain experiences a storm of electrical activity, causing things in his brain to misfire.”

We decided to not let campers ride the horse, regardless of how he progressed in his training. Over the course of the summer his owner had to bail off him a time or two when he had a seizure out on the trail. I always felt sorry for him—especially because he looked so dazed, confused and embarrassed when he stopped seizing.

***

The gradual fading of hypomania stretched out over weeks. In the meantime, we could only pray that if God wanted Sarah in Alaska, he would make it possible. Sarah did her part by remembering to take her new medication and keeping her appointments.

I could tell by the little things—the way she handled conflict, the way she made a conscious effort to use her phone in moderation, and her willingness to exercise—that the real Sarah had staged a comeback. Of course, after almost three years of struggles, we had all forgotten the ‘real’ Sarah. At times, she too, seemed unsure of who she really was. As we spoke about things that had happened during her manic cycle, she expressed remorse and regret and disbelief over her actions. She expressed deep confusion over how in the world she had ever thought that the things she had done could have seemed ‘normal’ to her.

I believe the cutting incident expressed a desire to pay penance for what she had done while manic, and because she still suffered from hypomania, it made perfect logical sense to her.

***

Some people may think that bipolar disorder is simply an extension of a person’s normal highs and lows, and that with therapy and self-awareness a bipolar person can avoid depression and mania.

Modern research does not agree. According to Dr. Jay Carter, Doctor of Psychiatry and author of multiple books on bipolar disorder, the prefrontal lobe of our brains develops last—and the information stored there leaves us first as we age. The prefrontal lobe acts as our moral filter, and it doesn’t fully develop until late adolescence. As a person ages, the wisdom of the filter slips away and a person loses the ability to think with ‘insight, hindsight, and foresight,’ according to Dr. Carter. In other words, irrational things look rational and a person loses the ability to see the consequences of one’s actions.

Dr. Carter explains that physiologically, a storm of activity in the prefrontal lobe causes mania. A person will experience racing thoughts that seem to knock out logical thinking by their sheer volume. Mania convinces a person that they don’t need sleep (and one of the corresponding problems with sleep deprivation is the loss of executive function).

After the mania, Dr. Carter explains, the prefrontal lobe takes a vacation for 6-8 weeks. He calls this the “temporary lack of executive functions.” According to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, executive functioning and self-regulation skills:

“are the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully. Just as an air traffic control system at a busy airport safely manages the arrivals and departures of many aircraft on multiple runways, the brain needs this skill set to filter distractions, prioritize tasks, set and achieve goals, and control impulses.”

Only now, as I further study bipolar disorder, do the things that Sarah did (especially whilst manic) make any sense to me. For a long time, I blamed myself and my parenting style for her bad decisions. After all, our goal as parents had been to raise godly children who understood the difference between right and wrong—and Sarah’s manic behaviors showed a blatant disregard for anything we had ever tried to teach her.

The devil loves to take our insecurities and use them against us during trials and moments of confusion. Click To Tweet

Bipolar disorder, like epilepsy, has a physiological basis and rational explanation. Just as that epileptic horse could not control when and where he might succumb to a grand maul seizure, a person has no choice over whether or not they will experience a storm of activity in their prefrontal lobe which results in a manic episode. When the mania subsides, a person will often fall into a pit of depression as their executive functioning goes back ‘online’ and they experience guilt and regret over their behaviors.

***

A week before her scheduled departure, the psychiatrist finally gave the green light for Sarah to go to Alaska. She made arrangements to meet with the psychiatrist over the summer via Skype, and made sure that she would have access to a nearby clinic for the monthly blood draws (to ensure that her white blood count stayed normal).

Pedro worried that Sarah would end up getting fired her first week on the job, and I worried that something might trigger another manic episode.  But deep down, I knew that God had arranged everything for her and he would use the situation as a time of rest and healing for Sarah.

…to be continued.

Linking up with my friends Jennifer Dukes Lee, Holley Gerth and Sarah Frazer today.

Introducing Hypomania-the Third Bipolar Sibling

Romans 8:35

…continued from Tuesday.

Blood dripped down my wrist in small parallel lines and I didn’t know why. Well, actually I did know. It’s not like I just woke up and looked at my arm and saw this. I was the culprit.

Minutes before, had I walked to the bathroom, crying like a baby, opened the drawer and proceeded to slice at my flesh like as if it were the most natural thing—the best way to express how much I hated myself in that moment. After I saw the satisfying blood begin to pool, I etched the words “I’M SORRY” near my inner elbow and then went over the letters again because they weren’t bleeding like the other cuts. I think by that point I was satisfied even though they never really reached the bleeding point, and I went back to my bed and felt better. Actually I felt amazing. No pain, just exhilaration. I took pictures on my cell phone of the cuts like as if they were some kind of trophy of my struggles.

A moment after I did it, I couldn’t figure out why I had. I was not a cutter. But in that height of emotion it was the only option. Something had sparked this explosion of self-hatred in a conversation I was having with a friend thousands of miles away. My careless actions and words during the conversation had caused me to relive and somewhat carelessly reenact the past—the horrible things I had done earlier this year when I was in an altered state of mind—and my friend had judged me. I took it like a blow to the face and in that moment believed myself to be the smelliest pile of poop ever, so naturally I had to make myself suffer for all my sins.

I had learned about coping mechanisms in the psych ward and realized that I had failed miserably at coping with my emotions this time. I decided to write about my feelings in a notebook:

“I’m sad. I’m angry. I hate myself. My mind, specifically. I want a new one. God, give me a new mind. Change it, rip it out and burn it in sulfur and give me a pure, healthy one. F*** my mind. I’m sorry. Forgive me for my sins. I don’t understand. Why did I think it was okay to talk to a complete stranger like that? I’m not like that. I failed the test. Why did he have to test me like that? I’ve never cried so hard before…this week. I cry so much these days. It’s unusual. I’m not depressed. I’m not manic. I feel normal. But I’m not. I’m not. I have a problem and even 900mg of lithium per day isn’t doing jack squat. Okay, it is. I’m better than before. You hear that? I’m BETTER. I’m better…but I know you don’t care. What you saw was a small piece of a large, ugly, f***ed up puzzle in my sick mind called bipolar disorder 1, the worst of them. I can’t make it go away. You saw a tiny slice of its effects. It could’ve been so much worse. I wish you would understand that but I know you won’t. And it doesn’t matter anyway. I cut my arm open several times with a knife. Why? I can’t say. I was angry and needed to break something. So I broke my body….”

I went on for about five pages and felt better afterwards. The next day I would have to go to work and try to hide from the students the obvious cuts on my arm. What had I done? I felt silly for having cut myself and I wished I hadn’t done it. The scars would take a while to fade. My impulsive and emotional behavior would take a while to fade as well.

***

Sarah shared with me the reason that she had cut herself, and she showed me her arm.  I struggled to understand what had happened and why a complete stranger would feel the need to ‘test’ Sarah so see if she had ‘changed’ from what she had been like a month ago.  I’m sure he felt it was his Christian duty to call out someone for sinful behavior, but I didn’t appreciation the devestation he wrought in our home with our daughter.

The line between well-meaning Christians and absurd quacks blurs when we take on the role of the Holy Spirit and try to convict people of their sins and faults.  No one would ‘test’ a person with a broken leg by removing their cast after a week an urging them to go for a jog to see if they’ve recovered yet.  Neither should we try to ‘test’ those who suffer from mental ailments just to see if they’ve recovered yet.

#Mentalillness, like physical illness, takes time to recover from. Be patient. Click To Tweet

***

Summer approached, and I worried about how Sarah would find a job.  Her moods had stabalized, but she still angered easily and seemed to have problems focusing on tasks.  For example, she worked in the school library whilst the libraian recovered from surgery, but couldn’t seem to reshelve books with any accuracy. I realized that my worrying would not get her a job.  My praying would not get her a job, either, if God didn’t think she should take on that responsibility quite yet.  And so I prayed for healing and that God would continue to work things out in his time and grant me patience in the process.

Sarah found an advertisement for a summer job at a small bed and breakfast lodge in Alaska and surprised me by applying for the job.  We talked about the necessity of full disclosure with her potential employers (something I had learned from reading An Unquiet Mind), and Sarah assured me that she would have no problem in authorizing her boss to contact her psychiatrist.

Within a day or two of applying, the owners called Sarah and interviewed her over the phone.  The sweet Christian couple, a retired nurse and teacher, actually wanted to hire Sarah, even after she explained what she had been going through.  They agreed that it would be best for the psychiatrist to give the go-ahead before purchasing Sarah’s plane ticket. Bless them.  The grace and acceptance they exhibited towards Sarah contrasted so sharply with the person who wanted to ‘test’ Sarah.  God knew exactly what this mamma’s heart needed.

May we always make an effort to build people up rather than trip them up. Click To Tweet

Sarah still had to overcome the hurdle of gaining her psychiatrist’s approval, though.  I drove her to her next appointment and we had a girl’s afternoon out.  This time her psychiatrist invited me in and I lerned a new term.  Hypomania. Evidently, Sarah was hypomanic and the doctor wanted to change Sarah’s medication and see how she resonded before approving the job in Alaska.

As a newbie to having a family member with bipolar disorder, I really didn’t know much.  I’d met Depression (deep and persistant), I’d been introduced to Mania (wild and irrational), and now a new sibling had stepped forward: Hypomania. The dictionary calls it a more mild form of mania.

Hypomania Cartoon

Sarah and I joked about hypomania being better than mania, but the affected person still lacks a filter. Sarah started the new medication and we settled in to await the results and the approval of her psychiatrist.

…to be continued.

 

Bipolar Disorder: There is No Fix-it-and-Forget-it Cure

God will NEVER leave you!

…continued from Friday.

Whilst Pedro sped towards California to pick up Sarah, I headed home the long way to indulge in a little phototherapy. I welcomed the alone time and the opportunity to stop whenever I wanted to snap photos of the beautiful spring flowers or get out and hike around looking for birds.

I planned on spending Friday night along the way, and then making a leisurely detour down to Tucson to look for a rare bird on Mt. Lemmon. Pedro called Saturday night and shocked me by asking, “When will you be home, we got here about an hour ago.”

He explained that he and Sarah had started talking about her application process at Walla Walla, and that he had told her, “If you’re not ready to go back to school, you can always come home.” For some reason, she didn’t think she had the option to return home.

We would discover over the following weeks that Sarah remembered some of what we said during her manic cycle, but not all of it—and usually in chunks. Before she left Puerto Rico, Pedro had told her that she couldn’t live at home IF she continued to make crazy decisions. So she remembered the first part, but not the condition.

Tears of relief sprouted when I heard about Sarah’s decision. While I applauded her desire to return to school, I worried that she couldn’t cut it quite yet. And so we settled in to the new normal, hoping that life would offer a season without stress.

We didn't understand the inner and outer workings of #bipolardisorder. Click To Tweet

We didn’t understand the inner nor outer workings of bipolar disorder, though. Sure, I had read a good book, and I knew the importance of taking one’s medication faithfully, seeing a psychiatrist on a regular basis and having a willingness to let prospective employers know about one’s diagnosis.

Both Pedro and I had a ‘fix it and forget it’ expectation. But we didn’t understand the cycle of mania. One the one hand, we loved that Sarah no longer operated under a dark cloud of depression. On the other hand, we couldn’t understand the giddy girl who had taken her place. She had left home in February an energetic college student and returned an excitable junior high girl.

Sarah’s social life consisted of spending hours on end chatting with friends in Portuguese on WhatsApp and other social media applications. She spent a lot of time in her room giggling and laughing out loud over funny things that her friends had said. Most of her friends were under the age of 18. She decided to volunteer at the school for the remainder of the school year, so at least her days had some structure—but with her nose constantly buried in her phone, I’m not sure how much actual work she performed.

After two weeks at home, the tension had neared the snapping point between the three of us. I invited Sarah on a weekend mother-daughter getaway to Tucson to hike and look for birds. I anticipated spending quality time with her, chatting about her life, her hopes and aspirations, and building some new memories to refuel our love banks.

Instead, she spent every moment not answering a direct question from me by chatting to her friends on social media and occasionally engaging me in a game of guessing how old her aforementioned friends might be by showing me their photos. I missed my young adult daughter.

We did stop along the way to take photos of a cool bridge at the bottom of a deep canyon and to eat a quick picnic supper. Afterwards, we kept driving to our hotel. The next morning, we woke up early and drove to a new birding spot—Sarah hiked a half a mile or so with me, than wanted to return to the car. After about an hour, I went back to the car, and experienced a moment of panic when I couldn’t find her.

Eventually, I noticed that she had left a note on the windshield saying that she’d gone to a nearby nature center to listen to a lecture. I joined her, and we spent an hour listening to the state of honeybees in the United States. Afterwards, we drove to a lake and once again, Sarah hiked with me a little before returning to the car.

The next morning, I had plans to visit several places bright and early. After leaving the hotel, Sarah realized she had left her phone charger. She called the hotel to make sure they had it, and we drove 20 miles out of our way to retrieve it. Things went downhill from there. Twice more we stopped at parks to hike and look for birds—and both times she only went a short distance before she would return to the car to chat with her friends on line.

The second time, she asked for the keys because her phone battery needed recharging. I kept hiking for another hour, hoping to find a rare bird that someone had reported in the area. Rain and worry turned me back before I found the bird. When I returned, the car wouldn’t start—by keeping her phone plugged in the entire time, Sarah had managed to drain the battery on the Prius. I childishly slammed a few doors and spoke sharply as I explained to Sarah that she had unwittingly drained the core battery—the one you’re not supposed to drain—by her insatiable need to use her phone.

Fortunately, we had roadside assistance and even though it was a Sunday, someone came and got us on the road again. By the time we arrived home, I felt grumpy and in a funk. My weekend away had turned out nothing like I expected. Instead of wanting to climb mountains and enjoy adventures like the Sarah of old, she contented herself with a quick stroll and hours of engagement on social media.

I missed my daughter, yet at the same time felt a deep sense of gratitude that she had returned. I just didn’t know what to do or how to act around her. She snapped and snarled, groused and grumped and couldn’t seem to perform even the simplest tasks without gentle (and not-so-gentle) reminders from me on how to perform them and when to perform them. I hate coming home to a dirty kitchen—but Sarah couldn’t seem to understand that when I asked her clean up after herself, I meant AT THAT MOMENT, not at five or six in the evening.

We had a couple of heart-to-heart chats about her behavior and how it affected other people in the family. Her forgetfulness and inattention both frustrated and scared me. She drove back from Flagstaff after an appointment with her psychiatrist and ended up driving almost 90 miles past Holbrook. When she finally realized she had gone too far, her car had almost run out of fuel with no gas stations within 20 miles.

One evening I went to the girls’ dorm to give a worship talk on self-harm. I felt unqualified to speak on the topic—but Laura had struggled with it as a teenager, so I had read several books with sound advice on what to do when your child became ensnared in self-harm. Most of all, I wanted the girls to know that Jesus had not only died for their sins, he had suffered so that they would know that he could identify with them. He bled for us, so we can take comfort in that knowledge rather than listening to the devil’s lies that we have to harm ourselves in order to feel relief from our pain.

The next day, I discovered that Sarah had cut her arm up in a moment of pain and remorse.

…to be continued.

At Last, a Breakthrough in Manic Behavior

Psalm 30:12

…continued from yesterday

“What do you think you’d like to do when you get out?” I asked Sarah on March 18.

“I dunno. Go back to Walla Walla, I guess.”

“Wonderful!” I said, happy that she had voiced an opinion and it didn’t include anything outrageously illogical. “Would you like me to check and see what you need to do to start school next quarter?”

“Yeah. I don’t have access to the Internet, so that would be great.”

At last, I had a task to do—something that felt constructive and helpful and as if Sarah had made progress. I called the admissions office and discovered that Sarah would need to reapply. I filled out the form for her online while she guided me over the phone with the answers.

“Hey, Sarah,” I said, “the next question asks if you’ve ever been arrested or have a record or been put on probation.”

“Oh. What should I do?”

“Be honest,” I advised. “If they want to know the details, they will contact you. You can probably say that ‘I was convicted of shoplifting while experiencing an undiagnosed mental health issue.’ or something like that.” I held my breath. Two days earlier, Sarah didn’t want my advice. Her answer would help me gauge if she had actually improved.

“Yeah. That sounds good. I probably should be honest about it.”

I breathed a prayer of thankfulness and continued filling out the application. When we finished, I hit the send button and prayed once again—who knew how the college would react to her reapplication form. I figured that God would guide their answer, which would in turn direct us in the best course.

If Walla Walla didn’t accept her, Pedro and I had no idea what to do with Sarah. Her options had narrowed due to her behavior. Her grandparents and aunt and uncle all felt a little hesitant about taking on her care—and at this point, we didn’t really know how much care she would need. In addition, from the vitriol she had aired in the previous month, we didn’t think she had much interest in living with us again.

We did feel certain that one of us should show up for her discharge. If returning to school worked out, she would need someone to drive her car from Reno to Vallejo, and then drive with her to Washington. Pedro and I debated and changed our minds a dozen times before coming up with a plan. He would fly from Tulsa to Reno the next day, visit his parents and pick up Sarah’s car, and then drive to California to pick her up from the hospital. He would make a quick detour to pick up her remaining things from his brother’s house as well. After that, they would drive to Washington via Yellowstone—make a road trip out it since the university would not resume classes for another week.

Pedro flew out the afternoon of the 19th, and the hospital promised not to discharge Sarah until he arrived. I received a reply to Sarah’s admission application, and I called her to explain what it said.

“They want you to call the dean of students just as soon as you can,” I said. “They want to hear your explanation about the shoplifting before they come to a decision.”

Once again, her response surprised me. “That’s cool,” she said. “I understand why they would want to talk about it.”

I gave her the number and promised to text it to Pedro so that she would be able to call just as soon as she had phone access. When we hung up, I wept tears of relief and gratitude. While she didn’t sound exactly the same as before all this started, I felt as if the real Sarah had started her journey home.

***

I spent the strangest nine days of my life in the psych ward. I don’t remember much about the first two days, but I know that on the first or second day a psychiatrist asked me what was going on. I talked for several minutes, explaining in a rush my difficult situation and that I was not suicidal and I wanted to get out of this place and I was angry. At the end he said something along the lines of, “I didn’t really follow anything you just said. You are displaying typical symptoms of mania. You have bipolar disorder.”

How could he not understand me? I made perfect sense. I had delivered an award-worthy speech. I didn’t believe I was manic and I didn’t know exactly what that meant but I sure couldn’t be manic. I was normal. The doctor prescribed Depakote and during the next few days I reluctantly took the medicine at the arranged times and went to the group meetings. The daily events were neatly written on a whiteboard in the main room, and since I had nothing better to do I went to most of them. During one group with a doctor of pharmacy I found out that using marijuana worsens the symptoms of mania tenfold.

The kind people I met there made the experience better, but I was sure I was in hell. I had no Internet access, I couldn’t shave my legs, some of the patients creeped me out, and I felt trapped. When my dad said I had prostituted myself, I hung up, ran to my room crying and wrote several hateful letters to him and everybody who had made me come here. I never wanted to talk to them again. Especially my dad. I was sure I could never forgive him.

As the days went by I began to calm down and realize that maybe everybody was right—the things I did during the last few weeks were not normal. My aunt and uncle would visit me every couple of days and they even said I seemed better, calmer. They would always ask me if I needed anything, and I asked for a notebook and drawing supplies. I wrote some strange poetry and stories in that notebook, and reading back through them I could see the progression from anger and confusion to acceptance.

Close to the end of my stay I ripped up the hate letters and agreed to have my dad come and pick me up from the psych ward. He had been right about everything and I just couldn’t see through the fog of mania. In the beginning I thought everybody owed me a huge apology for ruining my life, but in the end I realized they had saved my life. Now that the fog had started to lift, I couldn’t wait to see him and give him a big hug and tell him I was sorry.

***

If only mental hospitals came up with comprehensive aftercare plans! #bipolar Click To Tweet

I started the long drive home. I had no idea what the future would hold, but an overwhelming sense of peace flowed through me as I drove.  Once again, God had cleared a way where no way had seemed possible. I had a rosy glow full of expectations about the future.  Sarah had calmed down enough that the doctors declared her ready for discharge, and now all she needed to do was get on with her life.

If only.

…to be continued