First, a warning for those closest to me:
Forgive me, but I’m NOT about to apologize for being truthful with the world, but I AM sorry if this entry is tough for you to read! Feel free to skip over anything you don’t want to know about me. I won’t hold it against you! This is MY story and I know it could help others to hear it, so I am giving you the opportunity NOT to read this one now, because you can NEVER unlearn this about me. I love you and that won’t change whether you read it or not!!)
I feel like I have been holding back from talking about all of my struggles, and I have been wrestling with how to discuss the mental health aspect on this blog thus far. Probably largely for the reasons in which most of us don’t generally discuss things like anxiety, depression, mania, and the other plethora of mental illnesses: it typically makes people uncomfortable to talk about it. Perhaps this is why there is that unspoken stigma surrounding schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, multiple personality disorders, and even eating disorders. Newsflash: these things exist whether we discuss them or not!
I, for one, would like for us all to be able to openly discuss our own personal struggles in life without shame, pity, or judgment, because we really don’t have the foggiest idea of what others deal with in their lives, only what they share with us (and even then, it’s probably not everything, anyway)! I realize that, as humans, we naturally attempt to understand another’s situation(s) or struggles through our own life’s perspective, and through the ways we are brought up, but how on earth can I understand anything with which I have exactly zero experience, or perhaps only know someone who knows someone who deals with the same issues?
I could never truly understand how one feels when they have fully submitted control to a substance, such as alcohol, and how that must feel to be faced with the decision of whether they want to continue on the path of addiction or if maybe today they will be stronger than their disease and find the help they know deep down inside would improve their life immensely!
I could never truly understand why someone who struggles with anorexia or bulimia feels the need to starve themselves daily, or why they never feel as skinny as the rest of the world sees they are, after years of binging and purging every single meal, never to allow their body the opportunity to absorb the nutrients they so desperately need to be healthy (those things that the rest of us see as obvious, but that is in complete opposition to what their minds and eyes see when they look in the mirror.
I could never truly understand what a paranoid schizophrenic feels when they claim that someone is trying to steal their thoughts and ideas, or why they feel someone is always listening to them (and what purpose would that even serve the supposed spy?). I can never truly understand these things because I do not suffer from alcoholism or from an eating disorder, or from schizophrenia. But what I do have is a long-standing diagnosis of Bipolar I disorder (around 1998-99) for which I am finally seeking a second opinion, long after I celebrated my 20-year high school reunion.
It may seem strange to others that I would have sought out a second opinion so many years after having been told (pretty definitively, I might add) that my mental illness has a name and various treatments available for overcoming it. Well, I’ll tell you – it is partly because for many years, I denied that it even was my mental illness. Sure, in high school I can remember countless sleepless nights when I would just continue reading or writing long after I was told to go to bed “because it’s a school night,” but I just thought that was normal of most teenagers! Aren’t we told to do things as teens, even if we didn’t think we needed it, because “oh, well, I could get some more of that essay done tonight in one shot (even though it isn’t due for another two weeks) because I’m just not really tired tonight.” Y’all, that’s typically called a ‘manic episode.’
The reason why it had become so easy to just disregard as a ‘mistaken diagnosis’ for me for so long was because I had only really remembered those manic episodes for select years – from about age 17 until maybe age 23. That’s not to say that, when looking back honestly over my past, I didn’t have periods of mania after those ages, only that they showed up in other ways, sometimes more subtly, so I often couldn’t recognize it in myself. Those other ways were much easier to convince myself that it was due to some other cause, like in the case of my promiscuity; I was just a slut who enjoyed sex.
And that was exactly what I told myself! I called myself the worst things in the world that I could think of, because I started to think those things were my truth and I couldn’t escape it. (My inner demons are much more than just Bertha, obviously, but it came to a point when I had to realize that, even though I do love sex, it wasn’t always within my control to decide wisely. Those chemical imbalances are quite the powerful catalyst to drive many unsafe behaviors. Add a little alcohol into the mix and I could no longer say no to a “good time” because I had lost all control of my decision-making abilities, and my demons were going to win that battle, too.)
But, I got really good at denying it!
So flash forward to now, mid-May 2020, and I am seeking a second opinion because I need to hear it for myself again. From another psychiatrist with whom I have already developed a good rapport, and (likely since I am no longer a teenager who thinks she knows better than a trained professional) I am ready to hear it, definitively, once again. I am 99.9% sure that it is exactly the diagnosis I will receive again once she scores the tests I had submitted this week, but I am honestly ready to hear it and to get myself the medications and therapies I need to live a life where my mental illness is as ‘in control’ as it can be. Bertha certainly doesn’t help my mental health, either, but it would be nice if this chemical imbalance in my brain were able to be balanced.
I’m sure those of you who are strangers or casual friends and acquaintances are confused as to what brought on this desire for a second opinion, so I’ll just tell you what happened the weekend before last. I started my day with a ton of energy, immediately from physically getting out of bed. (If you know me well, mornings are my crabbiest times, each and pretty much every day, because typically I need to allow my brain more time to “wake up,” even if my body is already out of bed, moving about.) I despise being awakened before I am ready, too, that I am almost another being, like a fire-breathing dragon the likes of Smaug. Seriously: DON’T WAKE ME UP unless you are prepared for the possibility of a huge, unnecessary fight that could have been avoided.
(Just ask my good friend, E, who had the pleasure of being my roommate for a time. She’ll likely tell you about the times when she’d sweetly sing “You Are My Sunshine” to me to wake me, and I would cruelly throw every available pillow, blanket, and stuffed animal at her from my top bunk perch. Back then she found it hilarious; and I guess now, looking back on it, I finally do, too. Thanks, E, for putting up with my crabby ass, btw! You are one amazing friend, mother, and person, and I don’t think I could ever say that enough!)
Fortunately, I’ve gotten a lot better about mornings in my adult life since sharing a room with E, but if Bertha had been a royal bitch the night before, or I didn’t get enough restful sleep, or someone interrupts my sleep before I am ready to be awake, Smaug returns with a vengeance and I can only apologize after the angry tirade is over. (Though, I promise I am still working on it!)
Anyway, back to what happened the weekend before last, and my waking with so much energy…
I felt like I could accomplish everything on my to-do list plus another 3-4 years’ worth of projects before the day was through. This had been so unlike me in recent years that initially I wondered if I had somehow accidentally taken my morning medicines in my sleep. (One of the meds I take is Adderall, used for the ‘off-label’ purpose of combating my fatigue; so naturally, I thought maybe that was the culprit.) I decided I’d better play it safe and only take my Adderall if it was necessary after a few hours, and only if I was feeling fatigued by then. That day I stuck to just my Prozac for the depression, since I felt that it had been doing quite a bit of good over the few months since Dr. R had increased the dosage, and I was feeling less depressed every day. Great news, right?!
Not so much. At that time in this COVID-19 lockdown my parents and I were on, I was living the overnight shift, because the first two weeks I was back at their house after my month in Kansas City, it was pretty necessary to avoid as much contact with my parents as I could until we knew I had gone fourteen days without any symptoms of the pandemic. So, of course, my waking time was actually around 7:30 p.m. and I was WIDE AWAKE. I was as jittery as my coffee-loving friends are after they have polished off the first pot of the day, I’d imagine, so I decided I would go for a walk and get some exercise that night. But after an almost two-mile walk, I was still too fidgety to just sit down and watch TV, yet I still needed to stay quiet enough so as to not wake my parents who, by that time, were asleep in the next bedroom. What was a girl to do?
Well, that’s where this blog began, actually. I had come up with the idea earlier but hadn’t actually looked into what it would take to start it. Luckily, I have the most amazing and awesome friends, because M suggested I look into WordPress earlier, so that night, when I had more energy than a room full of toddlers after a preschool field trip to the candy factory, I finally did my research and bigbadberthaandme.com was born. It was that night I was able to write what you would now recognize as my first couple of posts. Apparently I am at my most creative when I have enough energy to run a marathon or two or three. (Honestly, I probably didn’t even need that particular “endless night” to remind me of this; most of my best papers in college were written after very little sleep and typically, as close to deadline as I could submit them!)
That particular “endless night” lasted a total of close to forty straight hours awake, give or take 20 minutes. Some of you think this is crazy and impossible; in high school, many of those nights were more like 55-60 hours straight, so I am honestly just happy this most recent occurrence didn’t last into a third or fourth day. Truth be told, I sometimes don’t mind having days like that, but since it had been over a decade since I could recall having one that could rival those sessions like I had experienced in high school, I knew I needed to talk with my primary care doc and my therapist.
They both agreed that my concerns were justified, and after my therapist asked me questions from the mental health screening she had, I agreed that it would be beneficial to have me formally re-tested to determine if that diagnosis I had been in denial about for so long was actually really true. After several days of scheduling, and then cancelling, appointments with several clinics (to find one that my insurance would help cover), I was finally able to have my first virtual appointment with Dr. W. She asked me mostly background information about my life, my family, if I had experienced any traumas – really, all the basic information any mental health clinic will ask a new patient. She then instructed me she would be sending a couple of questionnaires via confidential, secure emails and to complete them as I as able. She also told me not to rush through it, but that all truthful answers would serve only to help me. Since I had learned enough about these tools already through my own psychology training (and I had already taken several similar tests, if not the same ones, in the past), I was prepared for these as well. I had forgotten how difficult it was sometimes to select only true or false, though, so we shall see what comes from this testing!
Postscript: I had originally set out to write about another mental health issue, but as I continued writing, I decided that I needed to make this two parts. The same warning at the top of this post will apply to family and close friends. I just feel it more appropriate to give it the time and energy it deserves, because it is by far the worst thing I have ever put my loved ones through and I don’t want them to have to relive it without sufficient warning to make that decision for themselves.