Living With Multiple Illnesses

Life is hard. It’s difficult to navigate without directions and instructions, you have to figure it out on your own. You can’t follow other’s paths, for their journey is their own. You have your own path to follow, carved by the decisions you make every day. What happens when you’re living with a mental illness? It makes life that much harder. What if you’re living with multiple illnesses? Then things really get interesting. You have to learn to distinguish the differences between your illnesses, and manage them appropriately on top of just existing. Many times, mental illnesses and physical illnesses overlap, exacerbating everyday life.

I live with many physical and psychiatric illnesses. Bipolar disorder 2 rapid cycling with mixed features, borderline personality disorder, PTSD, social anxiety disorder, ADHD, high functioning autism, generalized anxiety, fibromyalgia, early onset psoriatic arthritis, and irritable bowel syndrome. That’s to name a few. They make my life hell sometimes. Other times, some of them are like a blessing. It’s a double edged sword to handle, really. Over the years, I’ve noticed and recognized when my illnesses are working together against me. My bipolar and borderline are besties, as are my fibromyalgia and IBS. They hang out a lot, and when they stick around my other conditions come out to play. My ADHD runs rampant when I’m manic, and it makes an appearance during my depressive episodes. It’s always there, it just becomes prominent during episodes. My PTSD is a trickster, it likes to surprise me when I least expect it. My autism is always there, it’s my operating system. I like to say that autism is just a different operating system for the brain, I’m just like everyone else only my wavelength of thought is on a different frequency.

Bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder. Two illnesses that are commonly diagnosed together and also commonly mistaken for each other. I was diagnosed with both on January 9th, 2012. I knew quite a bit about bipolar disorder but the BPD diagnosis threw me through a loop. I researched my illnesses and read as much as I could about them. Research is one of my obsessions, it’s an autism thing. I felt such relief when I received my diagnoses, it was like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. For so many years I asked myself “What is wrong with me?”, I had mental illnesses that were unchecked and didn’t know it. No wonder I felt like I was off all the time. I have been on and off medications for over 20 years now (I’m 34 years old), and I feel most like myself when I am on medications. Without meds I feel like Jekyll and Hyde. I can’t control myself, at all. I don’t like how I am without medications and when I saw how it was affecting my marriage and my family, I made the decision to stick with meds. It has taken me a few years to learn the differences between my bipolar and borderline, some days I am left mystified as to which one is causing chaos in my life. It really sucks when both are actively messing with me. At times I can be extremely impulsive, which can be caused by both disorders. Something will set me off, and my moods will flip on me causing me to split on myself, then I become terrified that my husband will leave me because I’m unstable (thanks a lot BPD). The hypomania, I have to admit I love being manic for the most part. I love feeling hyper and happy, and productive. I feel grateful for not being depressed. There is a downside to mania, though and it isn’t pretty. The impulsive out of character behaviour, the rapid mood swings and irritability, the racing thoughts and discombobulation. Not to mention the manic spending sprees, I’m so bad for that. Also there is the inevitable crash into depression that brings anxiety. I never know when the crash will happen so I get anxiety over waiting for the other shoe to drop. I’m not a big fan of mixed episodes, which is too bad because I get them on the regular. Mixed episodes are where you get symptoms of both depression and mania at the same time or as part of a single episode. My episodes vary, where I will have mental symptoms of mania and physical symptoms of depression, and vice versa. My depressive episodes are influenced by my fibromyalgia, which is a whole other basket of not so goodies.

My fibromyalgia affects me on a daily basis. I never know how I will feel when I wake up, much like my BPD and bipolar. Some days are worse than others. I can go to sleep feeling happy and fine, and wake up with strong pains radiating throughout my body. The weather seems to influence my fibromyalgia, severe and sudden temperature fluctuations in particular. Flare ups are no walk in the park, they can last for days if not weeks. I noticed over the years that a fibro flare up will almost always cause a bipolar depressive episode. It’s depressing when the weather is nice and you want to go out and enjoy it but your body has other plans. The worst days are when I’m bedridden. During a flare up I’ll have great difficulty walking, getting dressed, and feeding myself. Forget about regular housework. It’s a huge blow to my productivity when a flare up occurs. I’m a housewife and stay at home mom; I keep the household running and when I can’t do it that falls onto my husband’s shoulders, and he already works full time. I feel useless and worthless during flare ups, like I’m a burden to my family and friends. I don’t want my husband to have to come home and do all of my work too, that isn’t fair to him. Then the depression creeps in, and boom. Depressive episode. Some days it gets so bad that my husband has to come home from work and take care of me, which means taking care of our three kids as well since I’m bedridden. It breaks my heart when I am physically unable to pick up my baby and hold him because the arthritis and fibromyalgia in my hands and arms render them useless.

My ADHD is always around, but during episodes it likes to mess with me. It puts a kibosh on my hyperproductivity during manic episodes, it makes me wander around my house aimlessly. I daydream when I should be working, my thoughts race so fast in my head it’s dizzying. As much as I try to stay organized, I horribly fail. It stresses me out when my forgetfulness takes its toll on my household. I’ll get caught up in housework and forget to start dinner. I’ll make shopping lists and forget them at home. I try to multitask and get distracted by something and then forget what I was doing. I get confused between my ADHD and my mania at times, the symptoms are very much alike and it’s hard to differentiate between the two. I’m still learning to do so.

As I mentioned earlier, my PTSD is a trickster. It always catches me off guard, which sucks because I am hyper vigilant. I’ve learned most of my triggers but maybe not all of them. Rape is a big trigger for me, the word itself I find triggering. Rape jokes cause me to dissociate, and give me flashbacks. Domestic violence is another big trigger. It could be brought up in conversation, or I might have come across it on social media, it doesn’t matter. It will trigger flashbacks and nightmares, and panic attacks. It sends me right back to where I was during the sexual abuse in my teens and abusive relationship in my twenties. Usually my PTSD will trigger a bipolar episode, mainly depressive. I never knew how to deal with my trauma, I always just shoved it back to the recesses of my brain and pretend it never happened. But that only worked for so many years, then I started having flashbacks and recurring nightmares. It wasn’t until I told my psychiatrist about them that I was diagnosed with PTSD, and that was just over three years ago. I’ve come a long way since then, I did a lot of research and bought some self help books. I like to think I’m in recovery, and I’m doing well. I have PTSD episodes once in a while but only when I’m triggered.

I fight through my episodes and flare ups, I have to in order to keep my sanity. I can’t give in to the intrusive negative thoughts, it’s too easy to fall into that trap. I keep reminding myself that this too shall pass; I won’t feel this way forever. I will feel better soon. Better days are coming. I remind myself of everything I am grateful for, I keep a gratefulness journal and read through it often for motivation and strength. I distract myself with various activities, depending on my fibro and arthritis and how they affect me. If my hands aren’t hurting I crochet, paint, colour, bake, play World of Warcraft, and type on my laptop. If my hands are useless, I tend to read and watch TV. My children and husband help cheer me up, just by being themselves. My husband is my main support, I would be totally lost without him. He is extremely understanding and sympathetic, and compassionate. He’s there for me through it all whether it’s to hold me through my panic attacks and flashbacks, dress me and feed me when I can’t do it myself, or keep me in check when I’m spending too much. He’s been there for the good, the bad, and the ugly, and still loves me for who I am. He is my hero. My husband is an amazing partner and father to our children. My two oldest children know and understand that sometimes Momma has bad pain days and bad brain days. They will help with the housework (on top of the chores they already do daily) during bad pain/brain days, without argument. They know that I have medical conditions that are debilitating at times, they know what bipolar disorder and fibromyalgia are, as well as ADHD and autism. They also have ADHD and autism, both of them. We’re all high functioning. They are aware that they have those conditions as well. I think it’s important for them to be aware of medical conditions and how they affect people. I believe that their knowledge about my conditions and their own has helped them, in matters of empathy and compassion. My family is close knit, and when one of us is hurting it affects all of us. We all work together, as a unit. My family gives me strength to keep going every day.

Living with multiple illnesses is rough but manageable. I don’t sit and dwell on why I have all of these conditions, I don’t much see a point in doing so. The fact is I have them, and they aren’t going anywhere. There are no cures for my illnesses, I have them for life. I might as well make the best of things and live positively. I can sit and ride on the pity train, stopping at the “Woe Is Me” station, but I would much rather buckle up and enjoy the ride on this roller coaster I call my life. It has its ups and downs, twists and turns, and sometimes there is a fire, but somehow I always manage to stay on track. If I ever derail, I will pick up the pieces and get myself back on track. I only have one life to live, and this is it.

2016 in Review

Oh, hello! *waves* I know, it’s been forever! Too long, in my opinion. Where the hell have I been for the past year and a bit?! Nowhere extravagant or foreign, just the old and familiar setting of the caverns that is my brain. Mentally speaking, that is. Physically, I have been a hermit. I’ve stayed home all these months with the exception of a week or two during Spring Break last year and this year, and all of July 2016. Those times were spent at my in-laws’ farm which is about an eleven hour drive south of my remote northern Canadian bush town. It’s a patch of paradise, I say. I love the farm!

Let’s just say that 2016 was not my year. I know, apparently it wasn’t many people’s year. For me, it was a non-stop roller coaster ride of hypomanic, depressive, and mixed bipolar episodes with spurts of fibromyalgia flare ups and BPD episodes sprinkled in for good measure. I’m going to break it down, here’s my 2016 in review.

  1.  I started out the year with a close friend leaving town to move eleven hours south.
  2.  I picked up extra bartending shifts at my local Royal Canadian Legion until I was slammed with a major Fibromyalgia flare up, it sent me spiraling into a major depressive episode which eventually dissipated a few months later.
  3.  I put my back out pushing my mattress towards the wall, resulting in a mechanical injury to my spine, L5 area to be exact.
  4.  I suffered flashbacks and nightmares stemming from my sexual abuse and rape many years ago. I didn’t realize until a while later that my flashbacks coincided with the anniversary (HA! more like date of misery) of my rape.
  5.  I relapsed with cutting, so many times I can’t count. The scars are still quite visible for some odd reason. I have been clean since October 20, 2016.
  6.  I fought off intrusive suicidal thoughts and urges while maintaining composure during my time taking care of children. Unfortunately I had to stop taking care of said children due to my deteriorating mental health, which basically ruined the friendship my family had with this other family.
  7.  I’ve stayed strong and supportive while members of my family are struggling with debilitating illnesses. I’m still keeping it together, in order to support them and help them stay positive.
  8.  I took a month leave with my kids to stay at our camper on my in-law’s farm. It was amazing and definitely helped me come out of my black depression. I love the outdoors, and seeing my kids and dogs run freely around the farm without a worry was such a relief.
  9.  We came home earlier than anticipated, as my daughter fell ill with hand foot and mouth disease. Within the week my husband and I fell ill as well. We stayed in our home all of August, in a self-quarantine. My son was lucky, as he was only a carrier of the virus. I wound up developing viral meningitis, when I went to my local hospital I was humiliated and not taken seriously because “She’s Borderline, so…”, it took me over a month to recover from the meningitis. I will delve into more detail on this in a future post.
  10. I got into some of the worst fights with my Hubby ever, thankfully our arguments always get resolved and it only made us closer as a couple. Looking back, I think I inadvertently started every fight. I am so sorry, my beloved.

That’s pretty much it in a small nutshell. There are also factors that have benefited me this year. I made sure to try my best in all of the above events. I’ve been quite the bookworm, thank goodness. I certainly missed that hobby! Now that my children are past the toddler and preschooler ages, I’m able to sit and read for longer than two minutes. I should really stick to just one book and read it through before starting the next one, but that’s why I have bookmarks. I am reading various self help books, and holy therapy Batman are they helping me!

I’ve learned a few things from my ups and downs during 2016, and while they are things I already knew (well, knew OF is more like it), I finally understand why these lessons are repeated ad nauseum throughout the mental health community.

  1.  MEDICATION COMPLIANCE IS A MUST. Yes, I know. We’ve all heard it before, from doctors, nurses, our parents (or maybe just mine), therapists. You seriously have to stay on top of that shit. I’ve always half assed my medication routine, regularly forgetting doses on a weekly basis. Well, I smartened up and set alarms on my phone without the choice of a snooze button. Unfortunately, we had a snag in our prescription coverage and I wound up simultaneously going off three psych meds cold turkey. FOR FOUR BLOODY WEEKS. It was horrendous. My withdrawal was starting to die down when our coverage was reinstated, so I could start taking my meds again. Going off meds cold turkey and then restarting those same meds after going through withdrawal is no pony ride. I’ve had a few missed doses here and there since the coverage fiasco, and I noticed a major difference in my moods and energy whenever it has happened, and I can feel those effects for about three days. I now keep track off all my meds and my son’s in one weekly pill case. The alarm goes off, I do my med rounds. I will not subject myself to missed doses again. Not if I can help it.
  2. UNRESOLVED TRAUMA WILL COME BACK TO HAUNT YOU. You can run, but you can’t hide from your own memories and history. I know, because I tried. I’m 32 now; I was raped by Abuser #1 when I was 16. That was half a lifetime ago for me. The rape was a culmination of 5 years of sexual abuse. I tried to pretend it didn’t happen, but when I was 17 my parents found out, Child and Family Services got involved along with the municipal sex crimes unit, and I couldn’t pretend anymore. Once I turned 18, I had the file closed and did my best to put it behind me by ignoring what happened. I shoved all the traumatic memories into the deepest, darkest crawlspace in the recesses of my brain. I was good until I began a relationship with my ex (Abuser #2) in the winter of 2003. I was just shy of 19. That relationship lasted 5 years and 3 months, and left me with a lifetime of emotional baggage and trauma. It also left me with my beloved son, who gave me a reason to wake up and smile every day. It was in his best interest that I left my ex in March 2009, and I’m so glad I finally gathered the courage to leave him. I was recently diagnosed with PTSD, to be honest I identify more with Complex PTSD but I’m not the expert. These two abusers are largely responsible for me having PTSD.  I am finally on the path of recovery, all these years later. Hey, better late than never.
  3. SELF CARE IS VITAL TO YOUR MENTAL HEALTH. Seriously. Self care is key. On the days where I am at my lowest, getting out of bed is exhausting. That’s why on my worst days, I don’t leave my bed. I will do nothing but lay there in my hermit cave of furry covers and snuggle with my cats and dogs, existing. And it’s exhausting, but sometimes it has to be done. Think of it as mental self-preservation. If it’s too painful for me to move around, I am pretty much bed ridden. So I make the most of that time by doing activities that I find soothing. Colouring and reading are my big ones, along with painting. Only issue with that is I have early onset psoriatic arthritis in my hands, and when they flare up with my fibromyalgia I can’t even hold a spoon to feed myself, let alone grip a pencil crayon to colour. Sometimes self care manifests as Netflix and whatever comfort foods you can find, or devoting some time to a favourite hobby. Either way… when you are down and out, you need to take care of yourself. Self care doesn’t have to be extravagant manicures and spa days. Self care can be as simple as making sure you brushed your teeth that day, avoiding social media for the day, or simply just giving yourself credit for making it this far in life. Self care is identifying your own needs and taking the steps to meet those needs. It’s about being kind to yourself, and treating yourself the way you want others to treat you.

Learning these important lessons was not fun, as I learned them the hard way. Repeatedly. Now that the information has finally sank in and absorbed into my grey matter, hopefully I will never have to relearn why medication compliance is a must. Ever hear of Cymbalta Discontinuation Syndrome? Take it from me, it’s no picnic in the park. I would say it’s worse than quitting Ziprasidone (Geodon/Zeldox) cold turkey.

2016 has come and gone, along with half of 2017 already. Holy geeze, time flies. I’m still here, so I will take that as a blessing and be grateful I am alive.

***Edited to add that today is July 9, 2017. The date listed is actually when I started the original draft of this post. That’s right, I am a newbie blogger and don’t know how to edit the dates. I am the Queen of procrastination.***