Manic Monday: Support

I cannot stress how important Support is for a person with a mental illness, let alone any type of disability. The two sayings “It takes a village” and “Friends are your chosen family” are phrases that stress the importance of support.

Now, I do not wish to discount family. Family is important. So often, however, for people with mental illness, family is not able to understand what a person is going through, and often family is who receives the brunt of some of our really unstable times, the meanness that can come out, and the stupid choices and actions that we make. I know. My family has not disowned me, but I know I did things in the past that many other families would not have tolerated. The point of family is that they don’t get a choice. They will always be your family. Sometimes, due to past actions or issues, your family is not able to step back and disengage from what is occurring, not take it personally, and be able to continue to provide support. Whether the bridges have been burned with your family, and whether they are still supportive is what matters in being able to have family in your support group.

When it comes to developing your support group, or network, you have to choose people who are healthy for you. How do you know who you can trust, how do you choose those people to allow in your close circle of support? I cannot stress enough that people who exacerbate your illness, or make you feel bad for not always being well, are the people you should NOT be around. Don’t get me wrong. I have friends who do not understand my mental illness, who will never have a clue and would not want to understand what I have been through. But it isn’t all or nothing. I have friends that I would not go to when I need to pour out my heart, because I know they would not be able to listen without being judgmental, or without peering down their noses and looking down on me. However, those people are still friends. If push came to shove, those friends would be there for me. I may not spend a whole lot of time with them, as I don’t want to feel bad for being me, but we value our friendships.

There are those friends who I can speak to about stress and pour my heart out to, but I may not be able to count on when things got really serious and scary. There are many circles to my support network. The people I know that I can screw up with, that I can be honest with, that I can struggle and ask for help with, that I can be my eccentric self with and not feel ostracized for it… These are the people in that inner circle.

Each person is different, each person comes with their own imperfections, their own abilities and experiences. So, to try and narrow that support to one person is unrealistic. One person cannot be all encompassing (though my husband would like to think he comes close). My husband is an excellent support person, but he has not been in my shoes. He has never had a severe mental illness, been hospitalized for it, or had the life changing experiences that I have had. He doesn’t have to, to be a support person. He just has to accept me for who I am. He is extremely good at being supportive when I struggle. If he is not able to be, then I find other friends who can be there for me.

There is also a great wealth of comfort and support being with people who also have a mental illness. They know what it is like to be anxious, struggle with keeping thoughts together, and question their sanity. However, I found that for me I felt more ill, more unstable, more sick when I spend a lot of time around others who are not managing their mental health well. I pride myself on the positive choices I have made so that I can become a healthier me. I enjoy being able to help others that are struggling with mental illness as well. I am not, however, willing to compromise my mental health while finding that support. I choose, and will continue to choose, to be around others who may, or may not have mental illnesses, but are truly healthy and making choices to be healthy. An example: I was accepted and participated in the Governor’s Commission on Disability Issues and Employment for our state. With that I spent time with people who have many different kinds of disabilities and all are successful and well in their own ways. They are wonderful examples, and I try to be a wonderful example of mental health wellness. I count many of those I met in the GCDE as people I could count on for resources and assistance if I needed it.

So, the people that are in your support group are those you can trust to love you for who you are. They will accept you and not make you feel bad for being odd, eccentric, unique. If you screw up majorly, you can apologize and they will forgive you. They will love you for you. That is what matters. That is what is important.

The Other Side to Home Schooling

I am not currently home schooling my daughter. Yet.  She is a bit young. I wanted to share some positive sides to homeschooling that a recent post might not have covered. Everyone has their own opinions, and everyone is entitled to share those opinions, but absolutes don’t work for everyone. Each person is unique and thus may learn differently and experience life differently.

I am a person who learned differently. If my mother had the option of homeschooling me, that would have been helpful in my early learning years.  At least for my elementary years. I liked to talk things out as I worked through problems, and I was a kinestetic (hands on) and auditory learner. Now, in public schools they don’t necessarily like a talkative kid. They want you to be quiet to learn: To fit into a box that is already made. For me, I was that square peg that did not fit into the round hole for my early learning experience.

Later, junior high, I excelled in different areas. High school, I took Advanced Placement classes and did really well. Why, you may ask? My classes didn’t have more than 8-10 kids in each class. I had a lot more one-on-one with teachers and I did a lot better because we were asked to talk problems out and to solve things doing hands on learning. With the education system the way it is right now, my daughter will be lucky to get into a class that has less than 32 kids in a room. I can already tell that she is a verbal kid. She talks while she is learning things and acts like she is explaining things as she goes. A lot like me, really. Do I want for her what I experienced as a kid? No. Ultimately, I want her to excel as a kid and then move into public schools once she has gotten her own learning routing down. How long that will be, I don’t know. But I am going to do my best to find the educational environment she will blossom in.

Now, the theory that home schooled kids are not well socialized has its merits. I went to college with a guy who was home schooled. He was/is a brilliant guy. He entered college as a 16 year old who already had a bachelors under his belt. The guy is smart, but to say he lacked some social skills when he first came to college would have been an understatement. Can we say socially inept? I am not sure if his family had him get involved in social activities with people his age when he was younger, but it would have helped. These days, homeschooling has become a lot more well rounded. Really, you say? Yep.

I have met with several moms that are homeschooling their kids. Here is what I have learned. The moms I know teach their kids actual academics 3-4 days of the week. Their kids are super well-rounded and ahead in their prospective grades, even with studying academics only 3-4 days during the week. How, you may ask? They then go out into society and learn hands on what they have learned through the week. They participate in a P.E. type class at their local YMCA. Their kids get to do PE with a whole bunch of other home schooled kids for as many days during the week that the moms wish to take their kids. This is also a requirement for our state.

Also, if there are subjects the moms are not confident in teaching, there are learning centers (academy) that can teach their kids the subjects in a small school environment with other home schooled students. The kids get a lot of interaction with others.

What if you would like your kids to have enrichment activities? I know of several local community choirs and musicians that can teach my kids about music, at least so that they can appreciate it if they are not wishing to participate like I have. Some of the other moms use the extra day in the week to go volunteer at a local homeless shelter or humane society. These kids have a lot more positive interactions with people in the community than they might in school. They learn humility, they learn the benefits of volunteering and giving to others without needing to receive something in return. They put what they learn to immediate and good use.

Now, ultimately I want my kids to attend a public school so that they can have a more competitive, and well-rounded school experience. There are some things that I would not be able to provide at home. I believe that this mostly includes school sports, clubs, and competitive music opportunities. I am sure I can find similar opportunities in the community where I live, and know that there are even junior proms or dances that are created for home school students. If the dissolving of school music and sports programs continues, then perhaps learning at home would not be such a stretch?

In the end, I don’t know if I will home school my daughter or not. With the school systems getting larger, the number of students in the classroom higher, and the number of teachers and funds to do enrichment activities dwindles, home school is looking like more of an option. I was a special education teacher for six years (k-12, transition high school), so teaching one-on-one may be easier for me to see myself doing that some other parents. I have a few years to decide, but believe me when I say I will look at how my kids learn and then make a decision based on that.

If you are interested in learning more, here are some sites that could provide more information:

About.com

Simple Home School.net

Homeschool.com

Home-school.com

Top 10 blogs on homeschooling.

Creating a Home School Environment:

Washington State Home school sites:

Washington Home Schooling

Home Schooling in Washington 

Washington State Government: Home School

Adventures in Couponing

Last week I took the first steps in couponing to save us some money. I only attempted one store, so this will hopefully change after I make some tweaks to my lists and collect more coupons.

This is what I know so far:

  1. I saved 40% on my overall costs, around $69 dollars. For first time out, I don’t think thats great, but I hope to improve. I was able to pick up quite a few household items and cereals that should last us for quite a while.
  2. I tried to plan with the hubby to come up with dinner ideas for the week. I believe that if I had been able to follow thru with this, with him, that I would have spent less on miscellaneous items. Better planning for meals, will make better lists of items to get.
  3. I still believe that keeping my hubby from going to the store throughout the week to pick up random items will save us about $240 a month. This also includes my random visits.
  4. I now get 4 Sunday newspapers sent to me with the total cost being about $26 a month. With that I get multiple coupons on items I can stock up on, or get multiples of, and being that most papers coupons are pilfered and searched through before I can actually get to them this will make it much easier. Saves on gas, time, and is even cheaper per paper when buying multiples.

With the help of my dear friend, Jenny, and the couponing websites (thriftynorthwestmom.com, thecouponproject.com, couponingtodisney.com, Redplum and Super Savers coupon sites) I will gradually attempt more stores, and do a better job at saving. My number one goal is to save at least 60% when shopping. So, first 2 goals for this week: Set a respectable budget for groceries a month and create weekly recipes with the hubby to plan for next weeks shopping trip. My plan is for Mondays or Tuesdays to be my super saving couponing days. Wish me luck people. It is in writing now, so I will attempt to be true to these goals.

Manic Mondays: The Diagnosis

For my second installment of Manic Mondays I am going to cover the diagnosis of a disability. In my case, mental illness.

While some people discuss the ins and outs of being diagnosed, I am talking about the positives and negatives of having a diagnosis. More along the lines of mental/emotional health after being diagnosed.

The bottom line is that its just a diagnosis. I view it as a tool only. It is the means in which you figure out whats going on, get the resources you need to deal with it, and then MOVE. ON. WITH. YOUR. LIFE. It is a diagnosis only. It does not define you. It does not tell you who to love, who to hold close to your heart, what you like to do, what your passions are. Those people who choose to stand by you throughout it all are your “support people.” Your diagnosis may help you figure out who those people are, because many people will cut and run when they find things are too tough for them. Those who stick close, are the ones you count on. Your diagnosis may influence some of your future decisions, to identify what would be good for you in the long run, or challenges that would exacerbate your disability. Ultimately, you are you. You have these experiences to build on that have created you as a person. The diagnosis is just a tool. This is where you say, perhaps years later, “Okay. This sucks, but its just a diagnosis. Now what do I do about it?”

Don’t get me wrong. If you had asked me about this 10 years ago you would have gotten a different response. It has taken me 15 years (holy crap! Has it been that long??!!) to figure some of this out.

I know that there are always nay-sayers who read a blog and disagree vehemently with what a person says. You have that right. However, people have the right to write and express their opinions in a blog. And that is just what this is. My opinion. This is just my view of having a disability, and as a professional who has helped many students and adults identify their disabilities, and how to go about continuing on with their lives afterwards.

What I have learned is that there is a fine line to my mental illness and how it has challenged me, caused me to rethink some of my decisions, and influenced me to make some really poor choices. My mental illness has created in me a creative spirit that I think is intuitive to seeing and experiencing life passionately and deeply whereas others may float along in life never truly exploring life’s adventure. That fine line is so difficult to discern where my disability ends and where the “me” truly resides. Whatever and wherever that line leads me, I like who I am. I may not like some of the things I do or say (as my mouth tends to spit things out that are random and stupid), but I ultimately like WHO I am. This may take years for others to figure out. It is a journey that each person takes. A person with a disability takes a whole different path, one of struggle, one of finding your “support people,” and one of ultimate redemption and happiness in knowing and liking who you are.

A diagnosis is a tool. Whether the tool leads you to taking medications, avoiding large crowds, getting a new piece of software to do your job, modified school or work schedules, accommodations and what not…. it is just a tool to help you get what you need so you can be successful. You are who you are based off of your experiences. Having a disability or diagnosis is just one of those experiences. That disability may color the hues of your final life’s painting, but it is just one aspect in the whole of your life’s masterpiece. You get to choose whether to let the diagnosis make you, or for you to remake it into something beautiful in your life. To me, it is all about perspective.

Manic Monday: It’s All About Quality of Life

For my first installment of Manic Mondays, I am focusing on Quality of Life. As a person with a mental illness, I have pretty much been on every kind of mood stabilizer, anti-psychotic, anti-convulsants, anti-depressant, anti-anxiety medication out there. What have I learned about it all? That though these medications were helping combat the mental illness, if they caused more problems with their side effects and made me feel worse in different ways, it wasn’t worth it.

Note: For those out there that are currently on medications and feel this is true for you, I am not proposing for any of you to go off your medications. What I am proposing is having a good sit down with your ARNP/Psychiatrist/medical doctor to discuss your medications.

Second Note: If your medication practitioner isn’t willing to discuss changing your medications, or just gives you the medications without explaining first what the side effects are, the goal of the medication treatment, and how to measure that progress… THEN I propose getting a new practitioner. It is your life, your mental health and if these people want your buy in, your commitment to take these medications, than you damn well better have a say on the effectiveness of said medication and whether it is negatively exacerbating other health issues in your life and your well-being.

Each person is different. One medication may work with a person’s chemistry positively where the person next door has negative side effects. The issue is finding that balance where you can live with the side effects and they do not outweigh the purpose or success of the medication you are taking.

For example: If you are given Depakote, at a high dosage, and this is for mood stabilization, but gain 60 lbs in six months…. changes are you aren’t feeling really good about yourself, depression has become a major factor, your health has gone down the tubes, and the stretch marks on your body are contributing to a significant lack of good feelings about yourself. I would say a good sit down with your therapist might be needed. Now, Depakote mostly likely isn’t the main culprit, but it is a big factor in some individuals weight gain as well as weight loss. Take it from me…. I was the one who gained 60-70 lbs in six months with Depakote after having my gall bladder removed.

Here is another example:

I had an ARNP that had me on significantly high dosages of Lithium at one time. I had to take several other medications to combat the side effects from being on Lithium. 2400Mg of Lithium can do a lot of damage to the body, especially if you are at toxic levels. I had my lithium levels done fairly regularly, but didn’t know to ask my ARNP what the results were, what level would signify toxicity, and whether it was really doing what it should. This woman never told me that I was at a toxic level, and when I moved down to California and saw a really cool psychiatrist, I found out my thyroid had stopped functioning because of the high dosages and was most likely the contributor of why I lost my gall bladder as well. Thank God I moved to California for a time, or who knows what else I might have lost from these high dosages of medications?!!

Now, Lithium works for me. It is one of the few medications that truly does help my racing thoughts and mania. But I have been doing fine on only 300-600mg of Lithium for the last few years, and rarely need any other medications on top of that to combat depression and anxiety. These other medications are taken on an “as needed” basis. I feel that when I was on the high dosages of medications, I was barely functioning and this made my symptoms seem worse than they probably would have been at a lower dosage. I had major shaking issues from the lithium, as well as struggles with completing sentences and thoughts. Before I was on lithium my thoughts raced crazily from one topic to the next. On high dosages of lithium, I shook like a meth addict and I couldn’t make one cohesive thought. The middle ground has worked for me.

So, learn from my mistakes. If your ARNP doesn’t explain to you why you are taking a medication, adequately communicate to you how this can affect you physically as well as mentally, and what the long-term side effects that could occur from taking said medication, then you may wish to communicate to your practitioner their ineffectiveness/ineptitude while working with you, and possibly search for another provider.

A lot of practitioners are type A, logical, linear people. They require data. Proof. So what I have done was when starting a new medication, I kept a journal. I wrote down what I was taking that day, and how I was feeling in the morning, afternoon, and evening. (This helps in identifying if extended release tablets are needed, or ineffective). I usually wrote a number between 1-10. Ten feeling awesome, one being suicidal tendencies. I wrote down at the end of the day, my overall reactions and feelings and this gave me good documentation over time on whether I was feeling improvement, or side effects were hindering my quality of life.

Not sure if this helps any of you… but for me… being honest with myself about what I can deal with and what I can’t, when it comes to side effects, helped me have a better quality of life. This way I stayed on my medications, and became a healthier me.

A Year Ago Today

1/27/2011

A year ago today, I was almost 6 months pregnant.

A year ago today, I sat in a waiting room with a dear friend waiting, hoping, praying and doing a fair bit of crying.

A year ago today, my husband went through surgery #2 for his thyroid cancer. It had metasticized to lymph nodes in his neck.

Yesterday, we discovered that the biopsy done on a suspicious lymph node they had found does not have cancer and at this time is not carrying the thyroid tissue cells that could cause cancer. Doesn’t mean that it couldn’t be there later. But it is the first good news we have had for a bit. He will continue to go in every 3 months for blood tests to measure his thyroid globulin levels. (he isn’t supposed to have any thyroid cells, and if there are they could be carrying the cancer).

A year ago, we were not parents and I was one emotional soon-to-be-mama. This surgery led to a large scar on his neck. It was super scary to me…. to know that his throat would be cut open and how close they would be to his jugular veins. I was so scared I would lose him.

We were at UW for the surgery as the surgeon in Tacoma felt that my hubby needed extra special care to do this type of surgery and navigate the sensitive tissues and nodes in the neck. He wasn’t confident he could do the job since he didn’t do that kind of surgery every day. The doctors at UW do. I remember sitting next to him as they prepped him for surgery. They had a young resident that was learning to insert the IV into his hand. I would say he was rather inept as he couldn’t seem to do it. There was blood everywhere, and luckily Mike couldn’t feel a thing. Nor did he see all the blood.

The resident doctors, the surgeon and several nurses came to check up on me about 4 or 5 times. They could tell that this momma was super scared and looked really pregnant. I totally appreciate the special attention they gave me. On top of that, the surgeon came and spoke to me and my MIL afterwards to discuss how it went. Mike came out of the surgery and being that he doesn’t do well with the anesthesia, promptly got sick. I, of course, started crying again. Why they had me come and see him when they hadn’t even cleaned him up yet, I have no idea. There was blood all over him. Sigh.

I can only look back on that day with thanks. Michael is still with me. We have been blessed with a beautiful child. Though we don’t know what the future holds and we continue to pray and wait for the day we are told his cancer is gone, or that he is at least finally considered in remission….

We hold on to what we have now. We are grateful for what we have. Things may not be perfect, but life isn’t perfect. Life is messy. Life is difficult and challenging. But thats what makes life worth living. These perfect moments we find amidst the chaos where we are truly thankful for what we have and the imperfections that makes life unique and special.

Cherish those close to you today, and always. Even those imperfect moments.

Don’t forget to giggle!

Whack-a-mom

I was observing my daughter and was reminded of the game… Whack-a-mole? Or Wac-a-mole? I have seen it spelled both ways.  Maybe (fortunately) it’s best that there are no mallets involved in our version of the “game” as the whacking to which I’ve been introduced, in all it’s onomatopoeiac glory, is that of little Sunshine kid hands hitting my face fairly well.

Who knew an almost 9 month old kid could hit so hard?

It must be that point in Sunshine’s life where the whacking, thwacking, and kicking of Mom is fun. Yes, she has taken her hand reached out and “whacked” other kids on the face too… but she seems to find the most enjoyment in doing this to Mom.  Perhaps this is because I don’t immediately burst into tears or look at her with confusion as to why she just hit me in the face.  (Note to self:  Consider crying as a response going forward.)  She is developing her fine motor skills and *thwack*…learning to try to grab Mom’s nose. *whack* ..ahah, she just missed. She is learning to pet the dog and cat politely, using an open hand instead of just grabbing them with both hands full and securing a clump of their fur as her prize. Oooo! Mom’s hair! *thwack* Another miss. She gets so dang excited about things she sees or does, and thwack, kick, boom…. slams her head into her moms nose, forehead, collarbone. Surprised she doesn’t have any bruises yet. Surprised I don’t have a broken nose yet.

Sunshine was sitting in her pack-n-play, wait… scratch that. She was STANDING in her pack-n-play. I would press my face against the mesh side (which surprisingly reminds me of fish net stockings aside from the tough mesh marks it makes on my face). Sunshine would try to grab my nose and then I would move and peek at her from above the top of the pack-n-play. She would giggle and laugh and we would do this over and over. This of course changed as she got more tired, would bounce or jump up and down and either hit my nose with her head, or reach for my nose… thwack it with her hand, lose her balance and thus fall backwards. (Little sleep makes Sunshine not a happy girl and she doesn’t handle falling as easily. Little sleep makes her a sore loser when she doesn’t get what she wants, or she gets frustrated a lot more easily).

It is so much fun to watch her giggle… but man does she pack a punch. I feel like one of those inflatable dolls (get your minds out of the gutter people!) that just gets pushed and pounced on and then springs back into place. I really feel like those poor moles that get whacked with a mallet and then come back for more. What are we thinking, moles?!!! Whether it is lounging in bed, rolling on the floor, or whatnot… it seems the funnest thing in Sunshine’s day is smacking her mom upside the head. Sigh. I will be sooooo happy when she grows out of this phase!

Until then, more whacking (in whatever form you choose), laughing and whatnot for your day!!