Welcome back guest writer Beth for a very personal look at the Theme Week subject, self care, from the perspective of Bipolar illness and hard times.
Trigger warnings in this piece: self-harm, suicidal ideation
If I asked you to brainstorm the idea of self care, what are some thoughts you would come up with? A serene yoga class? Eating well? Doodling in an adult coloring book or journaling? A soothing bath or massage at the spa? These are all great ideas, to be sure. However, it’s easy to come up with the nice, pampering ideas of self care. A lot of times, self care is hard. Sometimes, it is downright ugly. Sometimes, it means choices that you would do anything to avoid making but have to in order to survive.
I am bipolar, and over the last month and a half, mania began rearing its deceptively glamorous but dangerous head. At first, I put the mysterious boost of energy down to the new treatment I started for my autoimmune conditions, and I grabbed onto the sudden surplus of spoons with both hands. I kept myself busy with tasks that I hadn’t been able to complete, and then some. My sleep schedule became completely FUBAR as I stayed up later and later staying frantically busy, but I didn’t notice. I forgot to eat, but I didn’t notice. Self care flew out the window as my neglected body attempted to keep up with my frenetic brain. Before long, I lapsed into my first experiences of dissociation.
These episodes terrified me, and got my mind turning towards one of those gut wrenching self care choices: do I need to check myself into the hospital? I tried to talk myself out of it, instead turning to both my therapist and psychiatrist for help. Some minor adjustments were made to my meds, and advice doled out with a plea to call if things got worse. And holy shit, did they get worse. I shifted from dissociation into complete sensory overload and overblown anger and rage. I took that rage out on myself, beating myself up both figuratively and literally. When the anger turned physical, I (finally) had the clarity of mind to call my therapist as promised and get to the ER, where I submitted myself for psychiatric evaluation and inpatient care.
I spent five days on the psych ward, where I was extremely fortunate to have a top notch doctor heading up my care and a wonderful team of nurses and counselors to get me through the worst of the anxiety and the inevitable depressive slide and suicidal ideation. I am home now, but still in a partial hospitalization outpatient program, including group therapy instead of my usual one on one, for five days to make sure I can get through the aftermath. As an introvert, it was initially hard for me to talk about my problems in a group setting, but it truly is a big help. Knowing that I am not alone in my struggles when my world seems to be falling apart is a light at the end of a dark tunnel. After I complete the outpatient program, I begin a more rigorous schedule with my regular therapist and psychiatrist. It’s a long road ahead, which can be scary and hard to think about.
It’s not easy, and there have been lots of tears, pain, and frustration, but it was the right course of action to go into the hospital. Had I let it go much longer, I could have hurt myself worse than I already did or hurt someone else. It was vital for me to admit I couldn’t fix myself and needed professionals to step in and do their jobs. Temporarily overcoming that toxic shame of not being able to fix myself is one of the hardest things I have ever done, but it saved my life. I still have my moments where I struggle with that shame, but I have seen the benefit of accepting help when people offer it, and how to help myself in positive and realistic ways. I will never be able to completely be free of mental illness. However, I can learn how to manage it and how to cope when things go south, or how to pursue help when my own coping skills aren’t enough.