I'm a mentally ill person raising another mentally ill person. With chickens.

Archive for the ‘Advice’ Category

Decided I needed more space to answer these questions:

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How has mental illness affected me personally:  I have bipolar disorder, type 2. I also have an ADHD diagnosis. My son has autism, and my daughter has ADHD. So mental illness is the everyday norm around here. My bipolar isn’t the interesting kind that you see on TV with people going off their meds and then becoming a complete wild child. It’s mostly depression where I sleep and eat a lot mixed in with periods of time where I can get a lot done but don’t always have the best judgement. I’ve never heard voices, or ran around naked, or stolen anything.  My first manic episode, and probably most manic thing I’ve ever done, is marry my first husband on a whim. It was a random weekday, he asked, I said sure, two hours later it was done. Impulsivity is a thing I’ve learned to watch for now, but at 21 I had no idea that anything was up. Oddly, I WAS seeing a counselor at this point, and had been for some time, and she never suggested bipolar disorder either, even though when I look back on this time period it seems pretty obvious.
Having a mental illness makes simple things harder for me. I’m easily overwhelmed by tasks that aren’t broken down into small steps. Like housekeeping. I look around and just see the giant mess and don’t know where to start, so I just don’t start because that’s easier (even though I prefer order). Oddly, I manage my children’s issues pretty well, I’m just exhausted by them fairly often. I find that everyday interactions with people are often rather exhausting. But if I’m even a little bit manic the opposite is true. It’s a weird thing, but on a Myers Briggs test I will score as extroverted if I’m a bit manic, and introverted if I’m a bit depressed.
Having a mental illness, and then having my first child be mentally ill as well made me rather reluctant to have a second child. There are eight and a half years between them, and my daughter was honestly quite a surprise. A very good surprise. But pregnancy and bipolar disorder was challenging, because the medications I was on were not safe for the baby, so we had to find something to use to keep things mostly normal. The drug we used wasn’t ideal, I gained way too much weight, but my mood was good without being too good, so overall it was a success. I did not breastfeed, getting back to my meds and avoiding a postpartum crash was just too important.
I can think of many ways my illness has changed my life from what I thought it would be. I studied to be a teacher and a mental health counselor, but I’m not. I’m a stay home mom whose main job these days is chaeuffeur. Sometimes I am frustated by the fact that I have no career, that I am completely dependant on my husband, but most days it’s ok. I’m a big believer in the idea that things work out the way they’re supposed to.

What did I learn from it that might help others:  In my first graduate class the professor made a comment about people with mental illnesses being drawn to the counseling profession, and that it wasn’t appropriate for them to work in the field because they weren’t mentally fit. I was angry about this comment, but I didn’t say anything, and I hid my illness from everyone in my department for the next three years. And that was wrong of me. That professor was wrong to make a blanket statement about “people with mental illnesses” and I let her intimidate me into hiding and I shouldn’t have. Don’t hide your illness because you’re afraid of what people will think. It’s just an illness like diabetes or lupus or arthritis. You take your medication and you go to your therapist, same as anyone with any illness, and you learn to live with it just like anyone else. When you hide it you’re saying it’s ok for people to stigmatize mental illness and it is not ok at all. We are as important and valuable as anyone else. Never be ashamed of your disorder, and never apologize for it. It’s part of what makes you, you.
I have a much easier time saying those things than I do actually acting on them, especially when it comes to my kids. I do find myself apologizing for their behaviour more than I should. It is what makes them unique, and I should be happy just to have healthy, happy children, not apologizing for their lack of perfection.
The one thing that has helped me the most along the way is learning to share that I have an illness. I’ve found that when I have opened up about my own illness I have found a community of others who have similar issues and who were also looking for someone who understood. None of us are alone in this

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I’m telling you now

So before I continue giving my younger self advice (there really is a lot to say) I just want to say how happy I am with last nights election results.  Maybe we will start to actually look the first world country we’re supposed to be over the next four years.  I doubt it, but today anyway I’m hopeful.  (I can still get more affordable health and dental in Central America, but at least now I feel like we’re moving in the right direction.)

Younger Julie:

You will look for family everywhere, attaching to people like one of those sucker fish on a whale.  I don’t know why, but I suspect it’s an abandonment issue.   Figure it out or you will make choices that you will later regret.

Do not rush into marriage or parenthood.  They are both so much harder than you think they are going to be.  And while marriage can be undone, divorce isn’t the pain of ripping off a band-aid, it’s the pain of losing a limb.  And it doesn’t begin to compare with the pain that children can bring.  Not that children are bad.  They are a gift that I don’t have words to describe.  But loving them is a fierce and powerful thing; it is not the stuff of bunnies and teddy bears that you think it will be.  And that child-birth video from Mr. Baake’s class?  Remember how awful you thought it was?  The real thing is worse.

I know it seems like I have had nothing nice to say about relationships.  I’m trying to find something encouraging and I can’t.  So let that be a warning in itself.  If you spend your high school and college years settling for boys who don’t deserve you, you will be a bitter 40-year-old who thinks relationships are merely a necessary evil and that sex is a tool to get something you want.  You will be complacent and comfortable, but you will not be happy.

Do not settle for someone who doesn’t attract you: you are worthy.  Do not settle for someone who belittles your interests:   you are fascinating.  Do not settle for someone who wants to rescue you: you are a warrior.  Do not settle for someone who makes you feel guilty: you are blameless.  Do not settle for someone who tells you you need to be more.  You are perfect.

Love,

40-year-old you

NaBloPoMo: Better late than never

Well I was supposed to start writing last week, but first my oldest killed my computer and then I had company so better late than never I suppose.  And honestly, I don’t know when I’ve ever done anything on time, so why would I want to start now?  My friend is doing NaNoWriMo which I truly admire.  I’ve always  wanted to be a writer, but the thought of a novel is way to intimidating to consider.  I consider myself more of an Ann Landers/Dear Abby type writer than a novelist type.  I need a prompt to get anything done, and I LOVE to hand out advice.  (Hence the Counseling degree, which is going to great use.)  Anyway, I’m back at it after a year away from blogging, or writing of any kind at all.  Mostly things are the same, except I won my disability case so I am OFFICALLY crazy and getting paid for it.  Yay me.  I won based on the mental illness, the judge disregarded my digestive issues.  I find that somewhat amusing because the mental illness makes me really fun most of the time (hypomania, gotta love it) but the digestive stuff is really really hard to live with.  Strange standards these guys have, but whatever, after 18 months of fighting I’m disabled and getting a check again.

So I mentioned I need a prompt, and its true, I do.  And I saw a fun one today:  Write a letter to your 14-year-old self.  Interesting task since I’m 40 and that was a completely different life ago, but I’ll give it a shot:

Dear Fourteen year old Julie,

Please believe me when I tell you that boys are absolutely nothing like in the movies or in books.  I know that you love Sweet Valley High and all those teen romance novels, and you think that Footloose and Girls Just Want to Have Fun are the greatest movies ever, but you need to broaden your horizons and read and watch things that are dark.  Because you are going to get hurt.  Boys aren’t that nice.  Even the ones that are supposed to be–like the ones from church– just aren’t. I know you go to a religious school and no one has told you anything except that sex is for having babies, but trust me when I tell you it is SOOOOOO much more complicated than that. Boys want to have sex with you because they are chemically driven to have sex with as many people as possible in their lifetime.  You want to have sex with boys because you think you have an emotional bond with them and that sex cements that bond.  That’s basically how boy/girl brains are different.    Boys do NOT think you are the most fascinating person in the world and they do not really want to spend an entire day doing nothing with you.  Ferris Bueller is great but he does not exist in real life.  Same goes for Lloyd Dobbler.  I know that you will not believe this because you believe in romance and that everybody has a “one”  but try to at least consider the possibility that the boy trying to stick his hand up your skirt really doesn’t care what book you’re reading or what your parents do for a living.

And those things matter.  Who you are as a person–not an object–matters.  Spend less time worrying about boys and relationships and more time figuring out yourself.  You ARE smart.  I know right now everyone things that you aren’t, because you have a big loud personality and you think before you speak (work on that!) but you are smarter than you are given credit for and you are talented.  Figure out who YOU want to be and stop trying to be who your parents are.  You actually think psychology is interesting and you are surrounded by dysfunctional family and you have great people skills.  Do what YOU want to do, don’t just pick a career path because you’re too lazy to figure yourself out so you do what your parents do.  Same goes for your college choice.  Pick smart, not easy.  You will have many opportunities, pick the best one, do the research even though its boring.

LISTEN to that nagging voice in the back of your head.  It is usually right and you almost always regret it when you don’t.  If the situation feels wrong or uncomfortable, get out!  If you think you’re making a bad choice, you probably are.  Listen.

Find a person to talk to.  You are going to need a therapist (not a pastor, and not someone too emotional).  It will help you not be an angry adult and help you understand that your parents weren’t actually perfect.  It will also help with the identity issue that will always be there.

Finally, and these seem small, but they’re not:  Find a form of exercise that you like and take care of your teeth.   You are so much more beautiful than you realize (it is not vain to value yourself, just ignore those people) but you need to take care of yourself or you will regret it.  Also, smoking is bad bad bad!

Love,

40 year old you.