In order for the new to awaken, the old must die

If you’ve read any of my posts in the past you may already be aware of my journey with mental illness and know that for many years I have managed my life as best as I can when you have a mental illness and have relied on God’s love, healing and help and the support of family and friends for much of it. And this is something that has not changed in the slightest. I still work hard at staying well every day. I still pray. I still seek help and support and I still believe that a permanently healthy mind is possible.
 
But it’s time to share more about my journey and I will let you know now that this is not a short post. I understand if it’s not one that you chose to read too, as the content is predominantly about the struggles I and my family have been facing over the past year.
 
As I said, the past year has been a challenge. The past couple of months has been especially difficult. I won’t go into why because some of those reasons involve other family members walking their own journey, and I wish to respect their privacy. Let’s just say that due to my weakening coping skills, an increase in panic attacks and heightened anxiety and an overall sense that my previous strategies are no longer working like they have in the past, we decided to start the mental health assessment process.
 
For those who may not know, it’s been 15 years since I was first diagnosed with Bipolar 2 Disorder. I had an extremely public and debilitating panic attack at my place of work, was sent off to the GP who then sent me to a psychiatrist who put me on an antidepressant. Within a few weeks, my medication increased with the addition of an antipsychotic and then just a few weeks later I was diagnosed with Bipolar 2 and given lithium, one of the most powerful mood stabiliser drugs on the market at the time.
 
My hubby recalls the experience as highly unpredictable. Some days he would come home from work to a normal family life and normal wife. Other days he would walk in the door and find all the furniture rearranged, the table filled with hundreds of sorted receipts and a wife who resembled more of a twelve-year-old girl than a mother in her twenties. And dinner? Ha, yeah, most of the time I didn’t really know what time of the day it was and sometimes he would find me still in bed, unable to face the day at all and the boys sitting watching Sesame Street and Playschool. It was a difficult and confusing time.
 
You could say that the ensuing three years of medication and therapy were like a rollercoaster where I wanted to scream to get off but was too numb to do anything about it. The story is much longer but these are the most salient points. Now we know more I can see what went wrong all those years ago. But I’ll get back to that later.
 
I mentioned that I have lived medication free for many years. This was due to a new diagnosis in 2004, where I was told that I wasn’t Bipolar at all. Okaaaaay…
 
This new diagnosis was severe anxiety, depression, and mild OCD. To say I was relieved is an understatement. I was slowly taken off the medication altogether and I left the mental health process behind, relying on support, prayer and sheer strength of will to stay healthy.
 
During this time I have been through some significant cognitive therapy and had amazing prayer and healing therapy. Overall I think I have done pretty well for the most part. With the support and love of my hubby, family and without a doubt, my faith in God, I have managed to live a relatively ‘normal’ life with the regular ‘colourful’ days, which I call 4D days and a few bouts of depression that would eventually lift after a couple of days or weeks, at worst.
 
With so much support and success at managing my mental health, I felt that I was passed that part of my life. I felt that this was now just a part of my testimony, and not something I would ever have to manage to the same degree again. And for many years, I have experienced freedom from the worst effects of my illness, and these years have indeed been a Godsend.
 
This is why this past year has been so difficult. I’ve never fully understood why my illness continues to resurface and have unfortunately struggled with understanding that it isn’t something that I have done that has caused its resurgence. That it’s not a lack of faith or a lack of taking authority over my illness and all those kinds of things. I don’t mean to be unkind, but if you’ve not experienced a journey like this, you may never understand how it smacks you in the face when you think about how hard you have worked to stay well, only to find yourself in the same cycles again and unable to pull yourself free from the vortex.
 
In 2014,  we decided it was time to move on from our life in Sydney and we left everything we knew behind to seek out a fresh start in Lake Macquarie NSW. It felt like the right direction to move in as we trekked up the road to the beautiful and welcoming community and we started this new chapter of our lives feeling hopeful and refreshed. And since then, it has proven to be the right direction even though it doesn’t look like anything we thought it would!
 
Everything seemed to be going well, but then after a few months, things began to unravel. As I mentioned before, there have been some challenges for other members of the family that I won’t go into, suffice to say that both mine and my hubby’s time has been focused primarily on supporting them through their own battle. And despite the struggle to keep on top of things, I can still see that God is good, all the time, and through this experience, I see his hand at work in our lives every day.
 
What we didn’t anticipate though was the strain on my own mental health which, over the past number of months, has taken an unfortunate beating. So this is why we have recently reentered the mental health realm and after so many years of wondering why I just can’t seem to find a mould to fit into, I finally seem to have a diagnosis that makes sense as to why I don’t fit any mould at all!
 
The most frustrating thing about being reassessed is how the original diagnosis of Bipolar 2 was more accurate than we knew. Unfortunately, the psychiatrist medicated me in a way that in contemporary circles, is considered to be back to front. I don’t think it was malpractice, but that the understanding of comorbidity in mental illness has dramatically improved, resulting in more effective ways to medicate and treat patients.
 
Because I was given an antidepressant, and not initially assessed thoroughly for a mood disorder, the antidepressant effectively sparked off a manic phase and set the course in action. The antipsychotic was introduced to stabilise the mania and as you can imagine, the rest just unfolded in a jumbled up mess of trying to get better with ineffective tools. Being diagnosed with Bipolar 2, in my opinion, came about because of the choices made by both the psychiatrist and myself. I didn’t understand that I could so no, or that I could ask for an alternative medication, or even that I could choose to get a second opinion.
 
Much has changed since then. I know my own mind and body much better and know that I can choose my future direction. So over the next few weeks, we will have things confirmed by a full psychiatric assessment, but it’s pretty firm. The preliminary findings are what I suspected. Cyclothymic Disorder, generalised anxiety and panic disorder and melancholic depression.
 
I expect you’ve probably heard about the anxiety and depression disorders but you may never have heard of Cyclothymia. So what is it? It is a mood disorder classification on the Bipolar spectrum and is basically just a fancy word for rapid cycling mood swings. It means that I can experience many moods in one day, or over a few days at a time, continuously flowing between ups and downs, not being able to get a grip on one for long enough to feel relaxed and calm. I can dip almost as low and swing almost as high as a person with Bipolar 2, however, the swings are less intense albeit more regular, with often only a month or two between the cycles.
 
The disorder affects the executive functioning part of my brain and impacts my ability to maintain long-term focus on tasks, keep down a regular job and remember the stacks of writing I have penned during more manic moods. I forget to eat sometimes, lose track of time without reminders, frequently forget that I have met people before and struggle significantly to follow directions unless they are written down or on a GPS. And these are just a few of the things that I live with every day.
 
And these are just a few of the things that I live with every day.
 
The good thing (if there can be such a thing with a mental illness) is that Cyclothymia, albeit a serious mental illness in its own right, is a lesser form of Bipolar, and if treated with therapy and medication, is managed effectively. If not treated, it can lead to full blown Bipolar, and this is what we want to avoid.
 
Since receiving this diagnosis, and finally feeling like the behaviours and symptoms reflect my lifelong battle with the emotional rollercoaster set on repeat that runs around my head, I feel a sense of freedom.
 
But it’s still an emerging freedom.
 
Because for me, publicly acknowledging this diagnosis brings with it some complications to my life. But I believe that the only way to fight the stigma surrounding mental illness in Australia is to speak about it. So many people suffer from some form of mental illness, or are carers for their loved ones, and the more people I speak to, the more I hear about the shame and guilt that they feel because they’ve not been able to kick this thing.
 
Their struggles have brought me to a place where my choice to speak out is no longer something I feel I can put off.
 
For many years, I have skirted around the reality that I face and publicly supported and talked about my journey, but never truly opened up and shared without reservation. I’ve told people the bits that I think they can handle, or are willing to acknowledge and not be scared off by. And I’ve spoken about the grace of God and the role my faith has played in my recovery. But I’ve avoided the sucky stuff. The scary stuff. Because I think others won’t really understand and I might lose their friendship and respect.
 
But I can’t do this anymore. I can’t sit on the fence. I know so many people who have the same desire to walk free from their mental illness, rely on God for their hope and support and still struggle silently, feeling broken and unusable.
 
And so it is not just for myself that I speak transparently. It is for each one of them too.
 
It shouldn’t be hard to speak out. Australians, on the whole, acknowledge mental illness and do many great things to support communities who support those struggling. But I am not sure that the same type of support is being offered in Christian communities.
 
I say this with a deep sensitivity to the possibility that some will be offended by what I am saying and that yes, I still need to learn more and hear from more people about their experiences.
 
But I can’t ignore the growing number of people, like I said before, who are battling this fight alone; who don’t want to share their journey with their church for fear of being ‘put on the shelf’ or designated as too broken to use in ministry, the very thing that makes Christianity so beautiful; to serve the body of Christ and to feel useful and accepted are massive hallmarks of modern Christianity.
 
So why do so many feel they just can’t reveal their story? Why is there so much fear surrounding the discussion of mental health in the church?
 
The reason that I know speaking out about this is going to be hard is because there are some who would speak against the direction my family and I have decided to take. Some who would declare that I have lost my trust in my God and lost my faith because I have chosen to step into the mental health system and receive professional and medical treatment. Some who would even suggest that medication for mental illness is against God’s plans for my life; that mental illness is a demonic influence in my life and that I should not take medication for my illness, but instead pray for healing.
 
And I have my own druthers to deal with too on this front. I’ve been here before. I’ve walked this path and it didn’t have a good outcome. I lost my creative flow while on lithium. I couldn’t sing. I felt like I was living inside a glass bubble and everyone could see me but they couldn’t hear me screaming to find the way out. Yes, my thoughts were slow enough to catch, and I wrote more, but they and my family were the only things worth the journey.
 
And because I’ve been burnt by the mismanagement of my illness in the past, I decided that I would never revisit this path again, no matter what it took. The thought of losing myself again like that is one I have used to keep moving forward, to motivate me to keep trying every day to stay well.
 
But just over the past two weeks alone, I have had a significant increase in panic attacks. I had four just yesterday and had to call the Mental Health Help Line to work through them and get some practical help to change my perspective. I have also had moments of joy and within seconds been thrown to the ground by emotions again, reeling in self-doubt, frustration, fear and severe anxiety as if the previous feelings didn’t’ even exist.
 
And I’ve prayed and do so every day. I’ve sought and continue to seek God for healing. I’ve declared his peace over my mind. You name it, I’ve done it and do it every day.  
 
And I don’t know if I would be sitting here, writing this post if I hadn’t done those things.
 
I believe with all my heart that God saves me every day from a worse experience and that his healing is already happening, and has happened, in my life. It is this core belief that I hold onto with every ounce of my being and what keeps me from giving up altogether.
 
But living in the truth of what I believe – standing firm on those foundations – is hard work. Anyone who says it is easy is living in denial. Sorry. I won’t pretend to be on top of everything anymore just because that is what I have been taught to do. I won’t try to convince you that I am fine and I won’t be concerned if that makes you uncomfortable because what I described before has just been this week.
 
You see, next week I might have the same kind of week. Or I might have one where my 4D days show up and all that I plan goes to the wayside as I dive deeply into a creative flow and fill my existence with only that flow. This may sound like a beautiful place to be, but there’s always a catch. There’s always something that gets forgotten and this is the price I pay for diving deep.
 
Time walks away and forgets to remind me to do normal things like eat; to participate in conversation, and to connect with those who I love.
 
And so despite the possibilities of ‘losing’ some of who I am, I am stepping onto this path.
 
But this time, I am doing it as an empowered woman. This time, I am holding the hands of both my loved ones and my Father in Heaven who loves me regardless if I take medications or not.
 
And this time, I walk this path to enable the rest of me to rise up and let the better parts of me come to life. This time, I choose to trust the path for I trust the One who leads me and believe that this time, we walk through it together.
 
Three days ago I took my first dose of medication in 12 years. And this time, I have a medication to treat the primary illness first, rather than the wrong way around. So far, I feel fine, despite the rollercoaster described earlier. It’s 9:40 am as I write this, and mornings are often better anyway. But I have no idea what 10:40 will be like though, and this is what my life has been like since I can remember. 11:40 might be different yet again.
 
And who knows what tomorrow may bring? All I know for sure is that this time I am choosing my own direction and that for the first time on my mental health journey, I feel like I am in control.
 
If you’ve read this far, I consider it a privilege that you’ve taken the time. I will always be a verbose writer. It’s just a part of who I am. Just like my unique wiring. At the moment, I am in need of a little recalibration; a little ‘maintenance’ but the truth is, my mind works on a level that I am only just beginning to grasp and there is a beauty and a wonder in it working this way.
 
I am not trying to change who I am by choosing to trial medication and therapy again. I am not weak or lacking in faith by doing it, either.
 
I am choosing to get better. To become the best version of me that I can. And if medication enables me to reduce the mental clutter and think clearly, write more effectively and share my journey more powerfully, then that’s what I am going to do.
 
And God told me that he will never leave me or forsake me. So between the two of us, I’d say we’ve got it covered.
 
Thanks for reading,
 
Miriam

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