“This is our life, this is our song” ~ Twisted Sister

So, I absolutely hate not having time to blog! You know, I love that you readers are spending time with me and reading my stuff but honestly, I actually do this for myself as well. Sometimes probably more so than others (see…I’m not lying…I don’t want my already point nose to grow anymore than it currently is 😳). For me, writing is therapeutic and let’s me work through things that I’m mulling or feeling or experiencing. When I try to keep a personal journal, I’m all gung ho for the first 2 days and then nothing. Writing here kind of keeps me doing it since ma likes reading these while consuming her quarter cup of Grapenuts but doesn’t open this until the Jumble and Wordle puzzles in the newspaper have been solved. I know where I stand.

Anyhoot, I get articles from PsychCentral delivered to my inbox and one came through the other day entitled: “Bipolar Eyes: Myth or Fact” and I was intrigued (took me 4 tries to spell that right 😐). I had absolutely no idea there was research confirming that those with bipolar actually have eyes with unique physiological features. I went to the actual scientific study to read more but after terms like ” inner plexiform layer” and “peripapillary RNFL thickness was reduced in all temporal sectors (P < 0.005)” I went with the summary from PC.

Apparently, these changes include:

  • Pupils tend to dilate during times of emotional arousal during both unusually high or low moods. This dilation can cause more sensitivity to light and that is usually during a manic episode.
    • This happens to me! I usually am pretty manic in the summer and last year was a doozie (it was BL – before Lamotragine). Working in the sun was causing me some headaches which are rare for me and I could feel myself squinting more and more despite having clip-on sunglasses (🤓). However, the other downside to this is my squint wrinkles are deepening.
  • The excitement from a manic episode might cause the eyes to look more ‘energetic’ or even wider.
    • Ma has said this to me so many times! Last summer she kept asking me if I was ok since she saw more and more rooms painted everyday when she stopped by (ma lives 2 miles from me and 8 from Terri…Terri is the smart one – and the pretty one 😎 ). I’d tell her I was fine because she worries enough about me and sissy…and I put her through hell 4 years ago. Anyways, when I would say “Ma, I swear on my original sociology text that I’m OK” she’d look at my eyes and say “Bullshit.” Yes, ma has a mouth on her. That’s where me and Terri get it.
  • Bipolar impacts eye movement and there’s slower reaction times in these during a depression. It also affects ‘vergence movements’ which allows for depth perception since the eyes are moving toward and away from things.
    • Well…this would have been keen to know since I was scampering around on my roof last summer while my neighbors laughed and took pics of me. 😬
  • Research is also showing that it’s more difficult for someone with bipolar to discern different colors. This is said to be due to thinning retinas and the rods and cones (something I know absolutely nothing about 😐).
    • This is so weird: The other day, I took down a plant hanger from my kitchen wall and patched the holes. I didn’t have any left over paint to touch it up so I took some of my cabinet paint…which is very similar…and doctored it up with some black, white, and any other color I thought would work just to make it a tad darker and a tad bluer. I was convinced it was a perfect match when I looked at my finished product. But when I used it, it was very very BRIGHT BLUE when I needed a soft BLUE GRAY. Now I know why!

When I read through all of this, I was amazed because I do complain about my eyes at times. Some researchers are saying that by looking at some of the physiology of the eye could help determine if that person has a higher chance of developing bipolar. Wow.

After reading all of this fodder-all, I searched for more physiological differences in terms of bipolar and found this in TechnologyNetwork: “In the largest MRI study to date on patients with bipolar disorder, a global consortium published new research showing that people with the condition have differences in the brain regions that control inhibition and emotion.”

I also found this from Pronhorpsych: Studies have shown that bipolar disorder reduces the amount of gray matter in your brain which affects processing info, thoughts and feelings; controlling impulses and sensory info; and regulating motor skills. The authors of the article state this: “This may explain why manic episodes often seem impulsive, careless, and thoughtless. Less gray matter might also lead to feelings of sluggishness and frustration, as well as trouble doing simple tasks when you have a depressive bipolar episode.” Charmed, I’m sure.

And genes play such a role:  “Research has identified 64 regions of the genome that are associated with an increased risk of bipolar disorder which is more than double the number of genes previously identified.” (Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News). This explains why we see it passed down throughout generations.

Finally, Frontiers in Psychology report that those with bipolar tend to have an attraction for negative emotions and focus more on threatening images than positive ones. You know, I like to think of myself as being a positive person and I really am with others. But, often times when I’m alone I do ruminate over negative things I’ve done or seen or have experienced. Maybe that’s why I sometimes hold on to anger more than I need too. Hmmmmm.

So, ya’ll are probably yawning now (like some of my students 😦) but all of this info that I slugged through did something very powerful for me: it validated that my emotion, behavior, impulses and struggles are real. Really real. Not just me ‘acting up’ or ‘allowing myself to get so down’ or ‘being way too out-there.’ It’s the disease (the term used by many researchers) that’s affecting my life. My way of being. My actions. I take meds to counter-act this and for stabilization but no medicine can take all of this away. No medicine can change brain structure or genetic make-up.

But this information can maybe change the stigma that’s associated with bipolar and other mental disorders. Just understanding what underlies bipolar and then the physiological underpinnings of other disorders such as depression and anxiety can maybe help people look at ‘us’ through a different lens. A lens that recognizes that who we are is greatly affected by what we have. No one asks for mental illness. You’d be a fool if you did. The fault lies in our brain, not personal weakness. And you know, my realization of these things normalizes my condition in my eyes. I hope this lessens how hard I am on myself. How guilty I feel when I’m cycling. How less than I feel as a person.

And more than anything, I hope it changes how all mental illnesses are seen. As ‘real’ illnesses that need to be treated as such and not to be ashamed of.

Kristi xoxo

P.S. Best 80’s video ever! 😉

‘Cause it makes me that much stronger’ ~ Christina Aguilera

So, this has been such a BUSY semester and I hate that I’m not blogging! I’m re-vamping all of my online classes along with videoing (is that a word? 😳) full lectures for each chapter in depth. It’s a crap load of work but worth it…the students are giving me some great feedback. Yea! (However I will admit this: I do my hair before that webcam goes on and when I’m recording, I do my best to channel Katie Couric 😃).

Anyhoot, another project that’s keeping me busy is that I’m a team lead in bringing the JED program to our campus! This non-profit works with high schools and colleges in helping them recognize the specific needs of the school and students and then helping them implement mental health resources and such. We need it so bad on our campus…so many students come to me to talk about their depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues and just today, a student talked to me about the time she attempted suicide. Our teens are really suffering right now and I worry about them.

Why are they struggling so much right now? According to The Light Program: “…there are multiple factors involved, including pressure to succeed in academics, financial stress, uncertainty about which major or career path to choose, increased social media use, and less stigma around seeking help.” In terms of the reduced stigma (which is still not where it should be 😐), it may be that students have always had these issues but are now feeling more open about seeking help for them. Hmmmmm.

The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds says that the mental health among college students is a crisis and backs up this claim with reporting this:

  • Almost half of college students had a psychiatric disorder in the past year
  • 73% of students experience some sort of mental health crisis during college
  • Almost 1/3 of college students report having felt so depressed that they had trouble functioning
  • Mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders and substance use are associated with lower GPA and higher probability of dropping out of college
  • More than 80% of college students felt overwhelmed by all they had to do in the past year and 45% have felt things were hopeless
  • 20% of female students report sexual assault or threatened sexual assault according to the Center for Disease Control
  • Only 25% of students with a mental health problem seek help

In addition they state that there is a tremendous lack of services in colleges and universities with the ratio of certified counselors to students overall being about 1:1000 – 2000 for small to moderate size schools.

At any rate, research has recognized the 5 biggest mental health challenges that college students face and having the resources in place to help address these is needed so badly. (In fact, studies clearly show that these issues greatly affects student success).

  • Depression: the American College Health Association found that 40% of students experienced at least 1 depressive episode during the 2018 school year and this was pre-pandemic. We know depression is even more of an issue now. In addition, severe depression rates have doubled in college students between 2007-2018.
  • Anxiety: A study from Pennsylvania State University (I know a GREAT blogger from Pennsylvania 😃) published a study in 2016 that found 61% of survey respondents (100,000 of them!) said anxiety was a ‘leading student mental health issue.’ In fact, The American College Health Association’s (ACHA) 2015 Finally, the National College Health Assessment survey, reported that nearly one in six college students (15.8%) had been diagnosed with, or treated for, anxiety. The same survey found that 21.9% of students said that within the last 12 months, anxiety had affected their academic performance, defined as receiving a lower grade on an exam or important project, receiving an incomplete, or dropping a course.
  • Eating Disorders: Sadly, the National Eating Disorders Association reports that 10-20% of female college students and 4-10% of males have an eating disorder which can include anorexia nervosa, bulimia and binge eating. In fact, anorexia is the most deadly psychiatric diagnosis with a mortality rate of 5.86 which means those who suffer from it have almost a 6x greater chance of dying (both suicide and physical issues stemming from the self-imposed starvation) than others in the general population.
  • Addiction: Stats from 2019 show that alcohol plays a leading role in the more than 1,500 annual deaths on college campuses. 35% of students have or do binge drink and 25% abuse other drugs including prescription painkillers, cocaine and ecstasy.
  • Suicide: this is the 2nd leading cause of death among college students and the suicide rate among people 10 to 24 rose 57% from 2007 to 2018 (CDC). Around 11% of college age respondents in a June, 2020 study  said they had seriously considered suicide over the past 30  days with people aged 18 to 24 being significantly more likely to  report this and 25.5% said they had seriously  considered suicide. That’s 1:4 of our young people having considered suicide. Honestly? That scares the shit out of me.

So what’s my point? I believe college’s number 1 job is education and that’s what I do…teach my curriculum as best I can. BUT I also believe that in order to ensure student success in terms of academics, we need to address these mental health issues as well.

You know, when I was struggling so much 4 years ago and had a break-down, I could barely function. Luckily, the worst time was in the summer and my online classes are always completely ready to go when a semester begins. I have all of the work, lectures, etc. posted as well as the modules I use set up to open and close automatically each week. In other words, they pretty much run themselves in terms of the nuts and bolts and I spend my time grading, communicating, discussing, etc. I was able to get by that summer…although I know I wasn’t at my best by any means. And now? Despite the stability I enjoy, I still have issues with having bipolar everyday. No medication is going to ‘erase’ this brain illness: I still have ups and downs (and am in a bit of a depression right now for various reasons 😕), still have to force an effort to be the Professor K I’m expected to be each day, still have heightened emotions that are just part and parcel of bipolar, still ruminate over things and beat myself up easily, and the list goes on (and on and on…charming).

Students and their ability to work and function is the same. Had someone reached out to me in college and recognized what I was refusing to address in the way I needed too, my life could have been very different. Actually, I think that even with no resources offered at that time, just being ‘seen’ for who I was and what I had would have been a relief. A validation. Someone outside of ma or pop who would have said “What you’re dealing with is important to me and I’m concerned” and validating my struggle.”

All of us want to be seen. All of us want to be heard. Not everyone struggling needs intervention…after all, doesn’t everyone struggle at various times in their lives? However, we all need to feel support and know that no matter what, there is a place that we matter. For so many students that I see everyday, that somewhere is here. On my campus. And it’s up to us to make sure we are ready for that task.

Kristi xoxo

“Lean on Me” ~ Bill Withers

Dear Terri,

So, I know you don’t get quite as mushy as I do, but bear with me because I promise to make this as painless as possible! Anyhoot, I don’t know if you realize this but you are a great sister to me and always have been…right from the start.

Remember when I couldn’t talk at first before I spent a few years with the Speech Pathologist and no one could understand me well…including ma and pop? The thing is that you always could; so from the very beginning you had to help me by being my translator and my voice. I wonder why you could get my words when others couldn’t? Maybe because it’s just a ‘sister’ thing? Or maybe because as much as we’re different, we’re so similar too (except in the ‘chest’ department where you were blessed more than me 🤨)?

There’s that arm!

Almost every single picture I have of us as kids, you have your arm around me. Not just casual like, but grippy…possessive…like you were broadcasting to everyone that not only were you my big sis (remember, you are significantly older than me 😐) but my protector too. And you had a job with that, huh? Both of us were bullied in elementary school…especially by that kid ‘B’ who would not only taunt us at school but also follow us home while making our lives hellish for that 2 block walk. But honestly, you remember that better than I do because you shielded me from so much of it. You took the majority of the bullying and pushed me aside. That was such a selfless thing to do, particularly for a kid whose instinct is often to protect themselves first.

I loved it when we would go to gramma and grampas. Getting on the floor with gramma while playing triple solitaire and squawking when we beat her. Running errands with her in the VW bug and arguing over who got to sit in front. I know…I won most of the time since I got carsick so easily. It was either win or have you see me puke. I honestly think you dodged a bullet in that case. And then we’d spend the night and grampa would make us something special and always had teen magazines for us to read. I think we both felt so cozy and loved and sharing those memories of all 4 of us together makes me smile every time. They both would be so so proud of you for the grandma you are today and your grandkids are just as lucky to have you as we were to have our own.

Thanks for the fashionable dresses, ma.

Did you know I started getting jealous of you when you hit Jr. High? You got to go to a HUGE school and have a locker and have more than 1 teacher and ride the bus (which come to find out sucked balls😬 ) and then the best part: go to dances and get calls from boys and have secrets behind closed doors with your best friends. I wanted to be a part of that so badly! And, you were beautiful too! I know you’re shaking your head or rolling your eyes or retching right now, but I’m being honest. You were…and still are! Being the first to try make-up made me long to be older and acting as the guinea pig for your hair styling skills was fun…but to a point. That damn nozzle on your hairdryer would whack me in the nose everytime…and I know it wasn’t YOUR fault…it was the dryer itself…right (🙄)? You know, I just realized that may have been the cause of my deviated septum, and not the broken nose I had years ago. Hmmmmm…

(Did you know I saved all of the letters you wrote to me when I was at summer camp those 2 summers? I saved every one!) 🧡

I loved talking to your boyfriends and even keeping them company while you finished getting ready for dates. I remember when Ben and you were an item and had an argument: he called and I was so pissed he was fighting with you that I yelled at him and called him a ‘hoodlum’…the worst word I could think of at the time. You were gobsmacked I’d do this but here’s why: it was my turn to stand up for you! And a secret? I always had a HUGE crush on Jack. HUGE! I pictured you dumping him and then him looking at me, scooping me up, and carrying me off into the sunset like a prince. A prince in a cowboy hat no less. Did it matter that I was 12 and he was 16? Nope. I figured that would work itself out in time.

And for a couple of years, I was your voice too! Calling into the high school, pretending to be ma, and telling the secretary you were too sick for classes that day. How I wanted to play hooky with you and your friends! When I’d be sitting through yet another lesson on biology which I had absolutely no chance of understanding, I’d wonder what you guys were doing. Make overs? Talking about boys? Sneaking a smoke? Exciting stuff to a younger sister!

You and your cute boys!

When you got married and left home, I missed you so much. The house seemed so empty. It was just ma and me and the vibe changed…the energy. That’s because you had brought it in. But it was exciting when A was born and I was an aunt. I could finally drive and loved visiting you in the country and playing with him. I can still see him on the walkway to your front door, riding his trike with his curly blonde curls bobbing up and down. Then when D was born and I was a bit older, I finally was comfortable changing his diapers and taking more care of him…that was so much fun for me and gave me the even bigger desire I had to be a mom myself. You are a great one.

Does this all sound too Pollyanna-ish up to this point? Like we never fought? Of course but these good memories stick out much better than the bad.

Showoff!

We fought like cats and dogs sometimes…we said things we didn’t mean…we did things we shouldn’t have to one another…and we sometimes couldn’t stand each other and made that clear. In other words, we were sisters. And yes, this sometimes still happens. But we always work through whatever it is and come out stronger on the other side. It makes these fights worth it just for that. BTW, the maddest I’ve ever been at you in my life was when you won the twisted balloons at the Mueller Christmas Party and you REFUSED to let me wear them. It still gets me going. 😬

I know you hear a lot about me being bipolar, especially since you read this and hear me talk about it with others. But I also know you battle so much with your own disorders too…after all, mental illness runs in our family and were both blessed to continue the tradition. Charmed, I’m sure.

The anxiety and depression you experience is horrible and I know your life has been affected by it in so many ways. We didn’t know much about mental illness when we were kids/teens…it just wasn’t talked about or recognized in younger kids. But our struggles were real…even if not always validated. I know these issues can cripple you at times and when they do and you reach out, I often don’t know what to say…because there’s no words that can truly help. It makes me feel powerless to protect you from this like you used to protect me from things. So we both listen to each other…commiserate with one another…and know that no matter what or when, we’re both there to listen. No matter what.

I know you’re hard on yourself for having anxiety and depression…in fact, we were talking about it this week. You said how you feel guilty for letting your grandkids see it…that you want to be ‘perfect’ like gramma and grampa were to us. But the thing is, you are. Your sweeties love you like no other and here’s what you’re teaching them by being who you are: that it’s ok to struggle…ok to express feelings…ok to say you need help. In other words, you are providing the example that being perfect isn’t possible, but being honest and true to yourself is. Think about how valuable of a lesson that truly is.

And today? You are still protecting me. Still keeping me in your grip. Still standing up for me and believing in me and loving me. In other words, you are still the sister I’m so blessed to have and my life would have been so lonely without you. I know this is getting long…and starting to get mushy…so I’ll stop here. But, just know that I love you. YOU. Imperfect, mentally ill, emotional YOU. Because just like you see the real me…I see the real you. And the vision that I see is wonderful.

Kristi xoxo

“I got a real good feeling somethin’ bad gonna happen” ~  Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert

So for once, I’m actually having trouble formulating sentences because of all the info I’ve been sorting through for this post. Let’s see if I can unravel this tangled ball of yarn (I crochet…I had to use this analogy… 🙄).

Anyhoot, being back on campus this past semester reiterated to me how smartphone use and social media are in the forefront of most (or at least a LOT) teen’s lives. I’m pretty adamant about putting phones away while I’m lecturing…it may sound ‘old school’ but I think it’s rude. As I tell my sweetie students, I won’t be on my phone when you’re talking to me. However, my nagging doesn’t work and if I excused every student from class for using their phone that day, I wouldn’t have many left to lecture too. It makes me sad to think these bright young people can’t not look at their phone for 50 minutes.

I also got upset when I walked into class everyday and found 95% (yes, I kept track) of my students on their phones instead of interacting with one another. When I started teaching in the late 90’s before smartphones and social media, my classes would be buzzing when I walked in. In fact, it was sometimes difficult to shut them up! How I wish for those days again when students talked, connected, discussed and made friends…’real’ friends and not just a face on a screen. Even when I see my students in the ‘pit’ (a place where students gather on campus…you have to somewhat cool to get in it 😎 ), they are interacting WHILE using their phones as well. I see a lot of screen sharing “You have go to see this!” so even the face to face interaction centers around social media.

In December of 2020, I wrote a post saying how I was going to quit social media and honestly, I felt almost brave taking this step since I’d be giving up something I centered much of my life around. But the funny thing is that I don’t miss it at all. Nada.

When Mark Zuckerberg created ‘The Facebook’ in 2004 (originally called this before it morphed into just Facebook), it’s intention was to connect students across the campus of Harvard. It was for students in one location that would help those of similar ideas/interests find one another. That’s all. But as we know, it grew at a phenomenal rate and there are now 2 billion users worldwide. Although FB wasn’t the first social media platform (remember MySpace?), it began the trend of countless other SM sites to where 73.7% of all internet use is for social media. Wow.

So, we know the breadth of the use of SM but why is it coming under constant scrutiny and why do I worry about it so much in my student’s lives? Here we go (but first a disclaimer – SM can be a GREAT tool for connection too…we can’t forget the positives!):

A study done at Harvard found this:

“When an individual gets a notification, such as a like or mention, the brain receives a rush of dopamine and sends it along reward pathways, causing the individual to feel pleasure. Social media provides an endless amount of immediate rewards in the form of attention from others for relatively minimal effort. The brain rewires itself through this positive reinforcement, making people desire likes, retweets, and emoticon reactions.”

How Social Media Affects the Brain

Other recent studies found this:

“Social media facilitates an environment in which people are comparing their realistic offline selves to the flawless, filtered, and edited online versions of others, which can be detrimental to mental well-being and perception of self. Excessive social media use can not only cause unhappiness and a general dissatisfaction with life in users but also increase the risk of developing mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Constantly comparing oneself to others can lead to feelings of self-consciousness or a need for perfectionism and order, which often manifests as social anxiety disorder.”

And the last nugget from the Harvard study (FOMO means Fear Of Missing Out):

“FOMO can take a toll on self-esteem and lead to compulsive checking of social media platforms to ensure that an individual isn’t missing out on anything, which can cause problems in the workplace and in the classroom. A study conducted by Harvard University found that social media has a significantly detrimental effect on the emotional well-being of chronic users and their lives, negatively impacting their real-life relationships and academic achievement.”

Now, are these findings ‘valid’? According to numerous other studies that have found the same info, the answer would be yes. In fact, The National Institute of Health (NIH) has officially linked teen depression to social media use: ‘These young adults who are affected with social media-linked depression often describe feelings of anxiety, envy, narcissism, poor body image, loneliness and decreased social skills. And, these effects are cross-cultural and not linked to socio-economic status.’ Remember, the brain still develops through the mid twenties so the effects of these issues can be more impactful with teens and can influence their actual brain development (and since they spend so much time on SM, this can influence these effects as well).

Think about this: the rewiring of the brain…the chance of increase of anxiety and depression…a skewed perception of yourself…more life dissatisfaction…increase in the chance of social anxiety disorder…and possible impact on face to face relationships and academic achievement. Why in the world would we ask for this by using SM? Is it addiction? Actually, yes; we get ‘addicted’ to that rush of dopamine and keep seeking it out. Addictionaly, SM platforms are GREAT at their algorithms which help them to feed you what you want so you’ll be hooked even more. Charming.

Does these consequences happen to everyone? Of course not! Does the likelihood of these things increase with the amount of social media use? Yes. And, research shows that teens are on social media between 5-7 hours a day! More than any other activity besides sleeping. And in terms of adults? The average time spent on SM is 2 hours and 3 minutes. Compare it to this: The Office for National Statistics found that the average couple spends only 2.5 hours a day together with 1/3 of time spent watching TV, 30 minutes eating, and 24 minutes doing housework. This literally leaves 3 minutes that couples spend conversing…not just saying things like “is the laundry done?” a day. Wow.

So, both teens and adults are making social media a priority…if not the main priority…of their time. Is it any wonder then that we see this:

In her book iGen, Jean Twenge found a substantial increase in major depression or suicidal thoughts, psychological distress, and more attempted suicides after 2010, versus the mid-2000s. Plus, this increase was by far the largest in adolescents and young adults.” And The American Psychological Association said: “Frequency of social media and smartphone use tended to be associated with suicidal thoughts and behaviors.” Yes, this is an association/correlation which isn’t necessarily tied to cause; but suicide rates have increased 60% for those 10-24 since 2007. Hmmmmm.

Look, I know this is a LLLLOOOONNNNGGGG post, but as someone who is concerned with mental health and mental illness, all of this scares the fuck (sorry, ma 😳) out of me. Truly. What if I told you that I have a ‘product’ that can increase mental health issues, impact your life negatively, and take time away from your family? Would you buy it? Would you force others too? My sonshine is always telling me to get back on Facebook or join another platform to keep up with things 🤔. I tell him that I keep up with things by calling people. Actually talking to them. Having them over. Finally, most importantly, would you let your kids buy this product?

But that’s what’s happening. Yes, people can say: “It doesn’t impact me…I’m fine!” but is this objective? From my experience I can see a decrease in my anxiety since quitting social media…I don’t see conflict over politics or faces/lives that I’ll never live up too…I don’t compare myself to people as much as I used too…I’m not involved in the ‘high school’ antics among my own peers…and I don’t need the external validation of a thumbs up like I very much once did. I’d post something and then look constantly to see how many likes I had and the more that came, the better I felt. In fact, quitting SM for over a year now has sort of reprogrammed my brain to where it was before. It took a while to get past that need for validation and to get over the idea that I need to let everyone know exactly what I’m doing. And to be honest, I love it.

Kristi xoxo

P.S. Take a look see at this to get ideas on how to use social media in a healthy way by Sannyu McDonald Harris: be intentional in the use and not on auto-pilot (this was my biggest downfall!), focus on real life relationships, limit your time on SM, only follow pages and people who bring you joy (not bring you down!), avoid using SM before bedtime (because of the blue light impacting sleep), use mindfulness and live in the moment, and take a break. 😃

Normal is just a setting on the dryer.

So, can you tell me the definition of ‘normal’, my sweet peeps? I ask because as I was doing my dishes today (after my routine peanut butter and jelly sandwich🤨), I thought to myself: I’m feeling normal!

Hmmmm. If you look this word up in the dictionary, here’s what you get (courtesy of Oxford Languages): sane, of sound mind, and right in the head. Oooookkkkkkaaaaayyyyy…

Then, thesaurus.com says that synonyms include healthy, reasonable and whole.

As much as I respect these 2 sources, I am still scratching my head regarding what ‘normal’ really is. If I’m healthy, I’m normal? If I’m sane, I’m normal? Wasn’t Ted Bundy both of these? He was physically healthy, had a bachelors degree in psychology (go figure), was admitted to law school in Utah courtesy of a letter from the Governor of Washington for whom Ted worked during this guys re-election, and completely sane in that he knew what he was doing and was able to act as his own attorney (even with only a year of law school under his belt) in a well spoken way. Sssoo…Ted Bundy was normal. Right?

On the flip side, what about when ma had cancer? She wasn’t healthy…but was still ‘whole’…still ma…still reasonable and of sound mind. But if you go by these definitions, she wasn’t ‘normal.’

My point is this: how do we define what normal is? To me, it’s like trying to define ‘love’ or ‘evil’ or ‘happiness’…it’s simply impossible to do in terms of a global consensus because these words are so personal and unique for everyone.

So, back to me feeling normal. I’ve been on my mood stabilizer, Lamotragine, for 12 weeks now and realized today that I’m feeling more ‘normal’ than I’ve felt in years. YEARS! I feel grounded and calm without depression and mania getting in the way of my life! I’m making a ton of things for Christmas presents and instead of feeling manic and rushed and anxious and stressed, I’m taking my time and enjoying the process of the work. When I see dirty dishes or a rug that needs vacuumed or paw marks on my floors, I don’t fret; when I feel like it, I simply clean things up without the urgency that once ruled me. This is a HUGE step for me! This past summer, while going through a really bad manic stage, I worked on my basement for 12 hours straight, 7 days a week with a frenzy that was horrendous…not just for me, but for anyone else around me as well. My mind was running as fast as my body and it was hellish to say the least.

I definitely wasn’t ‘normal’ at that point but with this 180° turn around I’ve had, I feel like I’m finally experiencing what I always pictured normal as being. I used to rush through the store or take hours even getting up the strength to go. I used to make things because of a need of ‘have too’ instead of ‘want too’. I had pretty much believed that normal was being so down one day that I saw nothing good, or so high that I saw nothing bad.

Now? I’m simply enjoying the pace of my life. In addition to the med, I also am utilizing what I learned in the meditation/mindfulness class I took this fall and have learned to be much more mindful and present in all that I do. I’m more mindful when I eat and enjoy the textures and flavors more than I ever have. I’m more mindful when cuddling my pets and take in their feel and smell and love. I’m more mindful when running and hiking, and even cleaning which is still a chore but one I’m happy to do since I love my house so much.

To wake up and feel good and excited while still taking things 1 step at a time is my ‘normal’ which I’m loving…and am so grateful for. Sometimes it’s scary to think about the power of psychotropic medication since it’s working on your brain chemistry, but to experience such a change in my mood and emotions and behavior illustrates how mental illness is truly an ILLNESS. An illness that needs treatment and care. It’s not a moral failing…an arbitrary stereotype…or a label we’ve internalized. Mental illness is real and it’s like the title of my blog says: It’s all in your head. Literally.

Kristi xoxo

“So darlin’, darlin’, stand by me” ~ Ben E. King

So, one of my students and I always walk out to our cars together after my last class and today she said something no one has asked me before: “How do you take everything people put on you?” I looked at her quizzically and she went on to say this: “We are always sharing things with you and burdening you with our problems…doesn’t that get hard to deal with?” I told her that it didn’t and I was just the kind of person people open up too. But, as usual, I started thinking about this more and realized that it probably does affect me more than I let on…or that I even admit to myself.

As the Grand Poobah would attest too, teaching Psychology (and Sociology) puts you in a position of teaching topics/issues/concepts that are so personal. For example, in my Marriage and Family class (my area of expertise…I have enough experience 🙄) we talk about issues including domestic violence, child abuse with special emphasis on sexual abuse, rape, infidelity, divorce, alcoholism, mental disorders and their affect on relationships and the list goes on. Pretty heavy stuff, huh?

In my Theories of Personality class that my student is in we talk about attachment, parenting, various conceptions of personality development that can go awry, personality disorders, theories that explore our neurosis, Horney’s Tyrrany of the Shoulds, the Inferiority Complex (Adler), our Shadow archetype (Jung), anxiety and defense mechanisms (S. and A. Freud), identity formation (Erikson), issues relating to freedom (Fromm), love (Fromm), conformity, social belonging, narcissism, psychopathy, real self vs. ideal self (Horney and Rogers), self-esteem, self-worth, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, self-image and you get the point. ALL of these topics can bring things up in students and even though it sounds absolutely horrible to admit, tears are sometimes shed.

Today we talked about Humanistic theories and discussed Roger’s belief in phenomenology and how it’s OUR perceptions, based on OUR experiences, that need to be the focus of attention. We live in our own bubbles based on things we have gone though which skews perceptions…but those perceptions, though maybe not rational, are real and need to be validated. After all, they’re ours.

So one of my students is a recovering heroin addict who spent 6 years in prison and has been clean since. She lost custody and contact with her first 2 children because of this but has another little girl she’s raising with her partner. The little girl has special needs and acts out uncontrollably at times. She’s in the process of being evaluated, etc. but it’s really hard for my student to handle. When we started talking about how our experiences shape our perceptions, she started crying and said this: “I’m a horrible mom. I get so impatient and so frustrated and I’m giving her these experiences that are going to screw her up. Maybe I’m just not meant to be a mom.”

This broke my heart. This woman is one of the kindest, smartest, and most motivated person I know and she works and tries with her daughter so hard. But, she makes mistakes. She yells and gets upset and cries and is now beating herself up over these times her daughter is taking in. After she calmed down I asked her this: “Name a perfect parent.” She couldn’t. I said: “Name a parent who is 9.9/10.” and she said YOU and I started laughing. WHAT? I told her that you could write every single mistake I made with O on the huge walls of our lecture hall and would still need room for more. I even called O on speaker and asked him to rate my parenting…he said he would probably give me around a 7.5-8. So, in other words, I have degrees in Psych and Family Studies, have worked with ages from 2- 70, have certifications out the wazoo…and I’m a C parent 😳.

She started laughing and we talked about how we are all going to ‘give’ our kids negative experiences because we’re human…they’re human…and when you have 2 imperfect humans interacting, there’s gonna be issues. But that’s OK. It’s normal!

Throughout the same class, students have also talked about lack of self-worth stemming from an assault, growing up in an abusive home where there was never any acceptance or positive interaction, feeling inferior to everyone else, confronting their ‘shadows’ and things they have done that they regret, etc. And I listen, validate, comfort, and sometimes advise if I think it’s appropriate.

And you know, in all of my 28 years of teaching at the college level, I have NEVER once talked about domestic violence, sexual abuse, rape, alcoholism in families, or anything else without a handful of students in each class talking about their own experiences or coming to my office to share with me. It breaks my heart. So much. And it’s hard to not bring that home and have it haunt me. I just want to take these young people and wrap them all up in a blanket and schlep them off to a bubbled island where they won’t ever hurt again.

But I have my own issues too. Ever heard of ‘Imposter Syndrome’? This is when you feel like a fraud in what you do…that you really aren’t good enough for the position. I feel like this a lot! Here I am…someone who did shitty in high school…standing in front of future lawyers and counselors and executives and teaching them for a grade that will be on their transcript forever. Sometimes I think I should be in one of the seats…not out in front.

And today? We’re talking about DV in class and I always get choked up. How can I not when ma suffered 28 years at the hands of a batterer? And then we listen to a 911 call placed by a little girl, 7, who’s reaching out for help while her step-father beats her mom in the background. This resounds with me. I used to hear R beat mom when I was in bed. The fear and paralysis and sounds and powerlessness are still there in my head. The first time I heard it I couldn’t believe what was happening. It was the most awful night in my life and growing up in a home with that throughout my teen years has affected me. So when I hear the call, I can understand the girl’s anguish. (And yes, I called 911, my grandparents, my sissy, etc. and we all tried to help ma as much as we possibly could but ultimately, it’s the victim that has to take the help 😔).

When I lecture about sexual abuse, how can I not think of the 2 years I was abused by my psychologist? How can that wound not be re-opened every single semester in multiple classes? Then, when my sweetie students start to share their stories with me, it crushes me.

I never get through my lecture on divorce without choking up to where I sometimes need to take a breather. I hated my parents divorce…it was so hard on sissy and I, and I swore my kid would NEVER ever experience the break-up of their family. Yet he did and I remember his pain. His tears. His shouts. His haunted eyes. And I beat myself up again and again for that.

When we talk about mental illness and it’s stigmatization and how hard it is to live with, I get angry. Why is there still so much shame associated with illnesses no one wants or deserves or asks for? And then when my students message me and tell me they experience depression or anxiety but can’t ask for help because they’re scared people will look at them differently, I cry…because they’re right. You are looked at differently.

So I guess I take on other’s burdens because they need me too. They need someone to share with and talk too and learn from…something I didn’t have in school. They come to me because I’m open about things I’ve gone through…they know about ma (she has actually spoken to some of my classes), me having bipolar, me having been abused, etc. I share with them because they need to know there are people behind these statistics…text chapters…articles. When I say to them: “I understand” they know it’s true. Look, they’re there for me everyday…the huge family I never had and they let me live out my passion to teach and make me feel like I might be making a bit of a difference in their lives. I get back so much more than I give to them so if another student ever asks me why I take so much on, here’s what I’m going to say: “Because I love you all.” It’s as easy as that.

Kristi xoxo

“But it’s time you started living…” ~ Mary Tyler Moore Theme Song

Dear Mary Tyler Moore,

So, I don’t know if God allows computers in heaven and I’m really not sure how’ll you’ll read this letter but I’m going to give it a shot anyway.

I grew up watching you on the MTM show and wanted to be you so badly. Not only did you have this amazing apartment (where you even got to sleep on a pull-out bed…how cool was that? 😲) but good friends that were your neighbors. You were beautiful, funny, smart, empathic and loved to eat salads like I did. And you know…besides the beautiful, funny and smart parts, I’m very much like you were then.

Every show that I watched up until yours started airing was about a family…you know, the dad who went to work everyday, the mom who wore heels to vacuum in, and the darling little angels whose worse problem was getting lobbed in the nose by a football. Then you came on the scene: this unmarried woman who lived alone, had a successful career and embraced singlehood and all that it entailed. Wow. What a new concept to me.

It’s funny to re-watch these shows now because the sexism in the workplace is horrendous. Lou looking at your butt when you walk out the door…you making $50 less than the man who had your exact job but had a family to support…the men in the newsroom calling you honey and asking for coffee even though you were an associate producer. It’s hard to remember that this was normal for the 70’s and sometimes I have to wonder how much it’s really changed. We’re still making coffee…often being talked to condescendly…and have to keep doing better and better to prove that we are the woman for the job. I remember when I met a neighbor after moving into my house. He asked what I did and I told him I worked at the college in town; then he asked what department I was a secretary in. Now granted this guy was about a billion years old, but even so it shows that we still have work to do. 🙄

I took you as a strong feminist and until I started reading more about you and realized how much our views on women mesh. You weren’t a big fan of Gloria Steinem, huh? In your last TV interview, when asked about why you didn’t relate to her well, you said this:  “I believed that women—and I still do—have a very major role to play as mothers.  It’s very necessary for mothers to be involved with their children.  And that’s not what Gloria Steinem was saying.  Gloria was saying oh, you can have everything, and you owe it to yourself to have a career.  And I didn’t really believe in that, so that was a little difficult for me.”

When I read that, I actually shouted AMEN! When I was growing up amidst the women’s movement, I thought I had 2 choices: have a family or have a career. Gloria chose her career and after having an illegal abortion in 1957, said she needed to prove herself and make her life count. It was as if she couldn’t see any way to do both but you did.

Why is being a mom often seen as second to being a career woman? “Oh…you’re a mom…so you just stay at home?” Uh, yeah…I did. And no matter how much I’ve achieved on a personal level, it doesn’t mean jack shit next to the fact I raised an amazing young man who is doing such wonderful things.

We’ve gone from saying “You can’t have it all!” to “You can have it all!” but is this true? Christine Hassler wrote this in the Huffington Post in 2011: “…not only are we supposed to have it all but do it all at 100 percent: the career, relationship, children/family all while looking good, doing good and being good.”

Really? That’s having it all? Hmmmm…I think that might be having too much. After all, how can you give 100% to 5 different things? How is that possible, and why don’t men need to do the same? An article in Psychology Today says this: “It’s true that many husbands are more willing to pitch in today, but things are far from equal. Taking care of the home is still squarely on the shoulders of wives, despite the fact that many are working. Some studies suggest that women have almost three times the workload of their husbands. Interestingly, these proportions stay about the same, regardless of whether a wife has a full-time job, and whether or not her husband is currently working.”

Yeesh. Three times the workload? So let’s see: we have being a wife/partner, being a mom, having a career, looking good (which is a requisite for women in our society today), and being good which is also still a societal expectation. And then we wonder why the hell women are twice as likely to be on anti-depressants and more likely to be on anti-anxiety meds than men. Some of this is due to biology…thank you, estrogen. But like the APA says, there are life factors as well: unequal power and status, work overload, and being the victim of abuse.

Maybe the question shouldn’t be “Can you have it all?” but what your opening song says: “You’re gonna MAKE it after all.” And to me, making it means being who and what you want to be. That’s part of what feminism is to me: having a choice in creating the life you want instead of having to follow a preordained path.

You didn’t have a partner or family on the show, but you were happy. Fulfilled. Had fun experiences. You did have it all…a full, satisfying life you were living on your own terms, despite what our culture said at the time.

And in your ‘real’ life? I know you suffered with diabetes beginning in 1969 after having a miscarriage, and that this disease almost blinded you as you got older. You had a benign brain tumor in 2011 and were very open about being a recovering alcoholic. And worse of all…you lost your only son after he suffered an accidental gunshot wound at the age of 24. I can’t even begin to imagine what pain that brought to your life. Bless your heart. 🧡

You see, that’s what I love so much about the ‘real’ you..and not just the TV you. You stood up for your own beliefs. You fought battles and talked about them…were open about them…didn’t shy away from answering the hard questions about them. So really, in that regard, you were the MTM on TV…someone living an authentic life and being exactly who you wanted to be. How refreshing…and how rare.

Anyhoot, I admired you as a kid and I still admire you as an adult. Watching your show not only gives me some really great decorating ideas (like when you antiqued a piece of furniture by hitting it with a chain 🤨), but shows me that being single doesn’t have to be seen as a flaw. I don’t need to feel less than because I’m alone; actually, you’ve taught me that I’m really not alone after all: I have an awesome family, friends at school, my students, my neighbors, my pets…I’m really blessed! You showed me I can have a full, happy life with ‘just’ me at home. Being single isn’t a curse…it’s an opportunity. What a great lesson that is.

Finally, you taught me that voicing views different from others is a privilege we should all take more advantage of, instead of this ‘herd’ mentality. I can be loved…liked…and me at the same time. Confidence isn’t conceit and having a sense of self-worth isn’t selfish. It’s simply strong.

So thank you for the lessons growing up…and the lessons I’m still learning now. You know, I can picture you having coffee with Rhoda, Phyllis and Lou while trading stories about anything and everything that comes to mind. Perhaps you’ll let me join you someday. If so, I’d be honored.

Love,

Kristi xoxo

Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.

Photo by Matt Hardy on Pexels.com

So, it was a long weekend of reflection, ruminating and crying…something a bipolar woman like me is very good at. Go figure. 🙄

I was talking to ma about how my last boyfriend moved on so quickly and seriously and how rejected I felt. He ghosted me after an argument where we both said things we shouldn’t have. However, I truly believed it was a cooling off period and he would come back so we could talk. I tried to talk to him once myself and didn’t get an open response so waited for him to make a move. Living 2 doors apart and the time we spent together along with things we went through had me convinced that this was the guy that was going to be the one to stick around and work on what we were building. Once again, the old refrain holds true: I was wrong.

It hit me this weekend when I saw him with his ex in the house I thought he was buying for ‘us’ so that we could have a balance of togetherness and independence and do the relationship ‘right’…not living together already but living close. This is going to be interesting now.

I lied to myself after J and I broke up. After that fiasco, I told my son (who is very strong emotionally…he obviously takes after me 🙄) that I would never let my heart be broken like that again. Never. And I was living up to it…for a while.

The rejections I’ve experienced in my life make me very hyper-sensitive (for lack of a better word) towards them and I think I know who was the biggest rejection of all: me.

My Theories of Personality class and I were discussing Anna Freud today and the various defense mechanisms we might use throughout life to mitigate internal stress. Three of them really smacked me in the face for some reason and made me think about the weekend: denial, distortion, and delusional projection explain so much to me about how I lived my life for decades.

You see, I always knew something was wrong with me…I’ve mentioned that before. I got help in high school and that led to 2 years of sexual abuse by the psychologist and understandably, that was a HUGE rejection of me as a person as opposed to an object. When B and I were married, I thought “this is it!” This is the guy I’m going to spend the rest of my life with and build a family with no matter what. In other words, despite the fact I had a mental illness, I was going to build that life perfectly come hell or high water.

So, I ‘denied’ everything that pointed to me being bipolar. Mania? Nah…I’m just really really ‘happy’ right now. Depression? Nope…not me. I just needed to clean more or make a big dinner. And then to deal with the imperfection inside my mind, I ‘distorted’ my reality in that I figured if the OUTSIDE was wonderful and perfect, then the INSIDE would be wonderful and perfect. I was perfect in a lot of ways…our house was fastidiously clean, dinner was always on the table at 5, holidays were a huge to-do, my room mothering was like no other (teachers fought to have O in their class since my class parties were legend 😳) , I parented the crap out of my son and loved on him until he was blue in the face, and pretty much created this ‘delusional’ world where everything was great. Super. Wonderful. Perfect.

I’m not going to lie…it was tough as fuck to do this. Sometimes getting out of bed took ages and I had to force it and then other times, not going through the roof took all the control and energy I had. The worst part? This charade obviously didn’t work…no matter how hard I tried. Why? Because charades are a game…not reality.

Hubby 3 accepted me completely…sorta. He accepted me completely as long as he was happy and settled and content. If I tried to talk about needing help or other issues, I was told: “You don’t need that…you’re perfect like you are.” Bless his heart…he meant that and thought that was what I needed to hear, but what he didn’t know was how devaluing that was for me. He wasn’t seeing ME. He wanted me to be the perfect one. He didn’t want to know that I was broken too. When our lives began going on different trajectories, he decided he needed to choose between his motorcycle ‘club’ and me and you know who won. I was thrown away for a group of grungy guys who drink beer, belch, ride Harleys and think they’re contributing a lot to the world. Ok. That didn’t hurt the old self-esteem.

J rejected me in the worst way possible and actually SEEING it made it that much worse. The absolutely most horrible and humiliating thing I’ve ever done in my life was to go to his apartment after this situation to ask him to work on things ONE more time. He rejected me (‘she’ was there 🤢) again when ironically, I should have been the one to kick his butt to the curb.

And now? It’s happened again. But the funny thing is this was a guy that I didn’t think would do it because it’s been done to him a lot of times too. It was like I finally found the man who could understand me. Would persevere with me. Would work with me. I did. I handled his ‘drinking’ problem…his anger issues…his trust issues. But he couldn’t handle anything about me? Women cheated on him with best friends and I’m so bad of a person that I’m left for saying 1 thing I shouldn’t have? Really? That’s how disposable I am as compared to others? Wow.

I threw my true self away for so so long in my life and I’ve had others do the same. I’m getting to where I feel unloveable. Or at least I’m loveable when they’re happy, but just not when I’m unhappy. They’re happy when I forgive their outbursts. Their anger. Their diatribes. But they can’t reciprocate. Really?

Maybe that person isn’t out there. I know I finally found her in me and am living as authentically as I possibly can (which is the only reason I can even write these things let alone hit the publish key). It took me about 35 years to do it and I’m wondering if that’s how much longer it will take me to find the person who accepts me for me…imperfect me who is going to fuck up and make mistakes. I’m ok with that me now. I hope someday I’ll find another who will be as well.

So, I realized I’m not just crying for the loss of another relationship that really meant something to me. I’m crying over the years I was lost to myself. For the hiding I had to do. For the daily performances I had to give. And I’m also crying for just how fucking hard it is to be the ‘real’ me.

Kristi xoxo

“Just another manic Monday…” ~ The Bangles

So, I called in sick on Friday which is something I rarely do. In fact, I have 2,176 sick hours accumulated over the course of my tenure which will add a year to my retirement when I decide to take it…I’m still so young now (cough cough). Anyhoot, my symptoms were: fatigue, lower back pain, arm pain, chest pain, shoulder pain, hand pain, leg pain, foot pain, and knee pain. Other than that, I felt great. 🙄 And, since I have so much insight into the workings of the human body and read WebMD on a regular basis, I have figured out the culprit to all of this: a patio.

For the last couple of years, my backyard was ‘meh’ and after getting Mally, it worsened this summer. There was a BIG dirt & weed (not the good kind 😐) patch and although I tried seeding it and covering it and watering it and putting barriers up around it, Ed and Mal continued their quest to make my backyard look like crap in that particular area. I called a couple of landscapers about laying a patio in the spot and the best quote I got was $2000. Wwwwaaayyy too much for me to justify…so…I decided to do it myself. Let’s take a look-see:

Digging this area out wasn’t bad at first…in fact the first shovel full was quite delightful as I reveled in creating this myself. By the 5th shovel full, I wanted to move to a condo that offers complete yard maintenance. But, with Edward, Mally, and Chloe (my baby grand-chihuahua) cheering me on, I got it done and after her inspection, Mally told me it was fine.

Now the fun part was going to start: picking my pavers at Lowe’s but before I could do that, I had to move the dirt pile I had stupidly piled up on the little concrete pad right behind me. I was so intent on digging, that I just tossed the scoops of dirt willy-nilly and was now trapped. So…I grabbed the God forsaken shovel again and moved all of the dirt to my driveway. In front of the garage and too close to the backyard fence gate. Then, I hosed off the area by where I was working and created a crap ton of mud…in front of my garage and the fence gate. The result? A 6×6 area of mud that I had to shimmy through the gate and climb over in order to get into said garage all while wearing clothes caked in dirt, water, mud, and I think some poopies I missed while cleaning up the yard before digging. Charmed, I’m sure.

Finally, I was off to Lowe’s without changing. What the hell…I just plopped a beach towel on my Jeep seat and took off with the assumption no potential mates would see me. 🙄

Did you know that when you study psychology and sociology in college, you don’t pay too much attention to math? Did you know it’s very difficult to turn 16″ paver sizes to feet in terms of figuring number and did you know it doesn’t take 100 of the fuckers to cover a 10×10 area? Well…I didn’t. And, when the old man was waiting with his forklift to get me a pallet and I was on my calculator punching in random numbers because I had no clue what I was doing, I said: “Bet you wouldn’t believe I’ve been teaching all my life…” He said: “Nope. I wouldn’t have.” Thanks, gramps. 🙄

So…since my Jeep could only hold so many pavers, I took 16 with me, along with sheets of paver bases which I also had to figure size of. To make a long story short(er), I ended up going back to Lowe’s 4 times. To get more pavers. To get 1 more paver. To return the many paver bases I had bought too many of. And, to get moolah back on the 64 extra pavers I had paid for and didn’t need. As a result, I know every person in the Garden Center by name now…everyone in the Garden Center thinks I’m an idiot…and they are all praying I never start another project again.

I got the area paved and it’s not perfectly level. No matter how much I tried, some of the pavers just wouldn’t get even! Once my back gets better, I’m going to dig out 3 and if I get those OK, it will look great! All in all, I lifted 1,750 pounds of pavers, pea gravel, and bricks along with the hundred shovel fulls of dirt.

Plus, I did a few more things in the backyard:

The bricks I took out are now bordering these grasses…I’m going to fill in with pea gravel later!

Now, along with this rigamarole, I also painted shutters, my awning, and trim on my house along with cleaning up the gutters. My sweet neighbor watched so he could YouTube it if I fell off the roof. I didn’t, but it was close.

Now, I did all of this in a period of just 4 days. That’s a manic episode for you, peeps, and I’m in a doozie of one because of all my med changes. You know, mania is a tough thing to handle. On one hand, getting all of this done by myself makes me really proud…unlevel pavers and all. I love knowing I accomplished fixing things up myself and have learned a lot! But, the motor inside of you during a manic phase never shuts off…and you can’t make it. I knew I was exhausted on day 3 but couldn’t stop myself from continuing until I about dropped. This weekend, I’ve been be TRYING to lay around and rest and I’m doing my best. Ma’s first tendency is to say: “Kristi, you need to slow down and not worry about getting things done so much!” and I know this is what I would probably say to someone too. But, that’s akin to telling a depressed person to “Just cheer up” or a person with anxiety to “Just calm down.” Neither works for those either. Mania is just as much out of my control as when I’m depressed. I’ve been on my mood stabilizer for a week now and up my dose tomorrow. It’s going to take a couple more weeks to kick in and until then, I just need to deal with this the best I can. I’m trying to channel it in ways that are productive, but it is what it is (my least favorite saying of all time.).

Anyhoot, thanks for looking at my yard work and understanding how much it means to me to have done it myself. Y’all are wonderful…truly! 😍

Kristi xoxo

“And the beat goes on…” ~ Sonny & Cher

So, I went to a specialist a couple of weeks ago in another city and feel so good about what my future bipolar treatment plan looks like! Yea!

First, this guy has both an M.D., and is a psychiatrist, plus a Ph.D. in Neuroscience. In other words, we’re on the same intellectual level (🙄). Anyhoot, he did the most thorough evaluation I’ve ever had and really dug around in my brain…Lord knows what he could have found.

According to Doc, I have been on the WRONG bipolar regiment for quite a while now and he was gobsmacked by what I was being treated with…particularly since the treatment was OK’d by another psychiatrist in the town I live in. However, that doc only met with me for minutes…he didn’t take the time to really find out all about my symptoms, and I’m a bit pissed by him just throwing some meds at me.

Basically, I am on 3 different anti-depressants which actually are working AGAINST each other in my brain. The 3rd is pretty much a mild one and is OK right now, but there are a few problems with the 2 main ones: just taking them together, which I’ve been doing for a couple of years now, actually counteract one another and are NOT indicated for bipolar. In fact, Doc said that both together are actually causing a ‘conflict’ in my brain chemistry and are most likely worsening my bipolar symptoms. He said that not only has it been like I’ve been on nothing for the my mental illness, but I’ve actually had a drug combo that was triggering more symptoms. What??? It’s making my bipolar worse? Yep…it sure is.

This was a major kick in the ass for me. For these past couple years I have been struggling more and I truly blamed myself. I kept thinking: “Hey…you are on these meds so anything you aren’t ‘controlling’ is your fault.” But actually, that’s not true. Doc put it this way (I think he dumbed it down a tad for me…thank God 😳): “These 2 meds are fighting one another…one is pulling stuff out and the other is pushing it back down. This fight is stressing out your brain chemistry even more.” NOTE: I’m assuming he means neurotransmitters but I can understand him using the word ‘stuff’ because when I asked what country he was from…he has an adorbs accent…he said to try to guess. I said “Turkey?” and he said “YES!! How did you know that??” And I honestly replied “I watch 90 Day Fiance.” He gave me a look for a long minute or two, scratched something else down on his pad, and continued our talk. 😳

Now, he also informed me that these 2 meds can also cause sweatiness, nausea, tremors, incoordination, etc. and I actually do have some tremors…they mostly occur in the evenings but were scary when they first started. I’ve also been tripping since I was a tot so I’m assuming my body was preparing itself for this drug cocktail ever since. Just sayin’.

Anyhoot, Doc is weaning me off of one of the meds right now and I’m almost completely done with it. I already feel better and he said I would because I’d be stopping that conflict in my brain! I feel MUCH less rattled and MUCH less manic…it feels goooooood! After I’m off of this one completely (Thursday) I see him a week later and then I’ll wean off the 2nd med. Once these are out of my bod, I’ll get prescribed Lamotrigine again which he feels is the best mood stabilizer for bipolar.

However, I’ve been on it before and although it seemed to help me, I was pretty zombie-ish. Doc said that was partially caused by these other meds and the fact it couldn’t work on my fucked up (he didn’t use that particular word but it’s the closest one I can think of…sorry, ma 🤨) chemistry. He said that really, all I need is a mood stabilizer and mild anti-depressant. With these 2 working together the way they should, I will be more stable than I’ve ever been before.

You know, it’s scary to sometimes think of how different my brain chemistry is and how much I need meds to stabilize it. During my evaluation, doc had me pick a past manic and past depressive episode and tell him all about it…he guided the questions. It was like he was dissecting my brain to really understand what happens when I experience these. Then he had me talk about my most recent ones and he did the same. After doing this, I realized that the episodes really have changed over the last couple of years.

When we were looking at these, I started bawling (go figure 😐) and he asked me why; after all, I wasn’t talking about anything disastrous that should be upsetting me. I said this: “I’ve been feeling like I’m on my own with this (bipolar) and to know I just wasn’t getting the right help I needed makes me sad. I would love to turn back these couple of years and live them differently.” He said he understood but that time can’t be changed…we just have to go forward and live from this moment on.

That’s sometimes easier said than done though…isn’t it? I actually wish I would have gotten help a LONG time ago instead of thinking: “I’m a psychology professor…I know what I’m doing.” I hate that I hid from this diagnosis for so much of my life and that it’s finally at the age of ‘cough-cough’ 54 that I’m seeing long-term hope. I hate that people have been affected by something I’m trying my very best to deal with. I hate I need meds and help and that this is one thing I can’t do on my own. I hate that at times I feel sorry for myself when I should always be grateful for who I am and all I have.

Anyhoot, I’m just so relieved that not only am I on a much better plan for bipolar, but I have some understanding of why things have been so tough for me. I love that I’m already feeling less conflicted and more ‘even’ and can’t wait to continue on this path.

Like any physical condition, mental illness is something that needs treatment…help. It’s not something we can talk ourselves out of or wish away. Like a broken leg, it needs a cast to straighten it out. In my case, both of my legs were casted and I couldn’t move/improve easily…I was battling myself. I’m not shamed by having to see a psychiatrist…by having to be on meds…by having this fucking (you call it this too, ma 🤨) illness. I’m just grateful there are people out there that can give me the tools to control it the best it can be controlled so I can live my life in the way I want…not in the way the illness wants.

Kristi xoxo

I love this art by Ellen Forney who has drawn her life with bipolar.
She is the author of 2 amazing books and you can learn all about her here!!!

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