Inspirational Women: Empty Next Lifestyle
Recently, I have talked a lot about mental health. The struggles that come along with mental health issues, personal stories of triumph and struggle, coping mechanisms, facts and symptoms to look for. I have shared my own personal struggle with depression and attempted suicide at the age of 15. You can read it here. Today, I want to introduce you to Sheila from Empty Next Lifestyle.
Sheila has been dealing with mental health ups and downs most of her life and a mental health warrior in her own right. Here is her story, in her own words.
Do you deal with a mental illness?
Yes, after years of suffering from cycles of mania and severe depression, I was diagnosed with Bipolar l Disorder 20 years ago. I was initially treated for depression only, which is a common misdiagnosis when dealing with manic/depressive disorder. However, when I took antidepressants over a period of time I became more manic and destructive.
“I was initially treated for depression only, which is a common misdiagnosis when dealing with manic/depressive disorder.”
Help me understand what it is like to live with this?
I will tell you how it affects me without medication, at its worst. It’s like jumping off a high dive flying through the air for a while, feeling invincible. It’s exciting and euphoric…like endorphins on steroids. During these periods I feel super creative and confident. I multi-task and start large projects and make bold statements. I’m a sassy girl who is the life of the party and isn’t afraid to get something started. I am reckless and make horrible decisions with major consequences. I sleep sporadically, maybe 4 hours a night but I am never tired. But then my body and brain wear down from constant activity and no rest.
First, my excitement turns to irritation when my senses become hypersensitive. Every sound and smell gets on my nerves and one wrong word will set me off on a screaming, fighting, curse-spurting binge. After all of that, I feel extremely guilty and go into a time of self-loathing which includes endless crying and wailing, sleeping for days and days. In other words, I take a nose dive into the mud that covers me with a heavyweight of despair and hopelessness. This can last for days or weeks or months.
Then it all starts over again….
Have you dealt with this your whole life?
My mother always called me a “nervous” child and I had an unhealthy fear of everything from bugs to dying. I remember my mind going very fast and being moody. At times my senses were too sharp…everything sounded like fingernails on a chalkboard. Someone sipping coffee, the hum from the television (the old kind with the tube), anyone singing off key…I would do homework in my closet to get away.
I got pregnant when I was 14 years old which sounds crazy but it was one of those choices with consequences (Although this one turned out to be wonderfully life-changing with the birth of my only son who is now the 38-year-old father of my 4 Grandlovies. He’s has touched hundreds of lives with his God-given gift of love and compassion.)
Bipolar is a lifelong disorder. It can’t be cured but it can be managed.
How old were you when you first got diagnosed or got help?
During my 20’s while attending college and starting a career, there was a lot of stress and the depression would crop up from time to time. Bipolar is a series of cycles between mania and depression that can last month, weeks, days or hours. At this time, my cycles were spread over weeks at a time. The mania would manifest during the semester when I would stay up writing papers and cram for exams. By the time summer or Christmas break arrived, I would be exhausted and spend my time in the dark, sleeping.
There was a point in my 30’s where I began rapid cycling. This means I would go from manic to depressed and back to manic several times a day. It was at this point that I became suicidal and experienced a mental breakdown.
As I mentioned before, I was seeing a family practitioner who had misdiagnosed my symptoms and was only treating the depression which increased the mania. I finally realized I need to visit a real psychiatrist and after a series of tests, I began a series of medications to address Bipolar l.
I wish I could say that took care of it…but I can’t. Over the last 20 years, I have tried prescription regimens with over a half dozen varied drug combinations, each one with its own set of side effects. It is difficult for someone who’s world is out of control to believe they will finally get the “cocktail” right, but it does happen.
“Bipolar is a lifelong disorder. It can’t be cured but it can be managed.”
What are some of the survival skills that help you get through a rough day or rough period?
- Pray and sing out loud or in my head. There are days that prayers and songs are playing continually in my head.
- I’ve learned to give myself a break. When I am starting to feel irritable and out of control, I look to see if I need to let go…let go of expectations and false responsibilities and “have-to’s.”
- Put one foot in front of the other. I tease that I do “commercial cleaning”. When all I can do is watch TV, I get up during commercials and pick up a couple of things. Sometimes it gives me enough momentum to accomplish larger tasks.
- Breathe and release. I take in a big breath and let it out, think and express what I am feeling and what I need.
- Go to my support system. My husband helps me because he has worked to understand my disorder and my mom who loves me even when she doesn’t understand. Support is crucial.
- Find something that makes me happy. For me, nothing gets me out of a funk like my Grandlovies and my puppies Cadence and Cappie. I just have to think about them to improve my mood.
Have you learned your triggers? Or have you learned how to spot when it is about to get bad?
I am in a good position because I have learned a lot about this disorder and learned how my mind and body work together. When I am starting to get manic, I will start to talk fast. If I’m tired and feeling numb and uninterested, I know depression is coming on. Fear of the unknown is also big for me and loud noises or being startled can bring on an anxiety attack.
Rest is something I have learned to embrace. Sometimes I just need to sleep and I give myself permission to take naps and days off.
What is something you can tell people that have family members with a mental illness? Is there anything they can do to help?
The best thing you can do is love unconditionally. The person with Bipolar Disorder struggles to live normally and would love nothing more than to be rid of the ups and downs. Don’t hover and don’t constantly remind them of their diagnosis…they are not their diagnosis. Be present and listen with understanding but don’t buy into a victim mentality. Take time away and recharge when you need it. Caring for someone takes a lot out of you.
“When I am starting to get manic, I will start to talk fast. If I’m tired and feeling numb and uninterested, I know depression is coming on. Fear of the unknown is also big for me and loud noises or being startled can bring on an anxiety attack.”
Is there any specific story you would like to share?
After I was diagnosed and began treatment for my disorder, I felt numb. My “normal” had been extreme ups and down. I was used to flying high and when that didn’t happen, I lost all my confidence…the false confidence that comes with the Bipolar “high”. The medication created a new “normal” for me that didn’t feel right. I believe one of the reasons many people with Bipolar Disorder quit taking their medicine is because they are afraid of losing what they believe has been the best part of them. It took a while to get adjusted to this new me. I had to build my confidence from the ground up. I even thought that I would never be able to work again or socialize. But I did. My little one was having trouble in preschool and I began volunteering to help with him in the classroom. In working with children who were not judging me, I found my confidence and my voice once again. At the end of the year, I was offered a teaching position and began a new journey.
Medication is an essential key to managing Bipolar l Disorder. I tried to stop taking mine at one point and it was not a good experience. I have learned there is no way I can “control” the mania and depression enough to live a functional, productive life. People sometimes tell me that I will become addicted to the medication. To that, I respond that I guess a diabetic is addicted to insulin. I am not ashamed to take my medication every day and I will be thankful to take it every day for the rest of my life.
Words of advice or encouragement?
Love yourself and realize you are not a Bipolar person…you are a person with Bipolar. Don’t listen to anyone who says that you are lazy or crazy or worthless. You are not “using” this as an excuse to do nothing or get away with everything. You really can’t control how it affects you any more than a diabetic can totally control their blood sugar.
You are fearfully and wonderfully made by God. He makes no mistakes.
I encourage you to check out these posts (and more) from Empty Next Lifestyle!
- How To Find, Or Not Find, A Job When You Have Bipolar
- How to Practice Self-care When You Have Bipolar Disorder
- 5 Ways You Lifted Me Up When I Let You Down
- My Insanely Sane Bipolar Life: Why am I Here?
- Bipolar Triggers and Tips for Social Events
- Loving Your Grandchildren When You’re Depressed
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On a personal note, I am honored to call Sheila my friend. She has been an amazing inspiration and continues to encourage me with her courageous and kind spirit. Thank you, Sheila, for your honesty and transparency on this important issue. I pray that your words will touch someone that is struggling and has no idea why! I pray your words will reach them in their hour of need. Thank you, my friend. Keep inspiring! I have come to love you dearly.
“You are fearfully and wonderfully made by God. He makes no mistakes.” -Sheila
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10