BUT GIVE US ROSES

My last post on here was on April 8th. I had just been discharged from the hospital admission that saved my life – or at least my mental sanity. I saw All Time Low live on March 31st which was a dream come true. I was trying to “keep swimming”, The reality was that, despite not being depressed anymore, I was paralysed with fear of relapsing back into that dark and suffocating hell. A state of mind which, inevitably, brought me back to depression on and off for a few week, reinforcing my fear. It was a vicious cycle and it took me a lot of tears and work with my therapist – blessed be she – to overcome it.

So what happened between April 8th and June 18th?

You weren’t meant to bear that burden
Look at the roses in your garden

You can breath now and forget
Forget it gets hard for you to stay
But you don’t really have to throw it all away

These words are from the ATL song which the name of this blog comes from. This is what happened. I went out and photographed the roses. And no I’m not saying that’s the cure for depression. I take my meds painstakingly. But there’s a new monster I’m fighting, its name is depersonalisation. It’s making me go insane. And nothing like photography helps me grounding myself back into the present moment. I should actually be photographing more — it’s just so hard sometimes. Everything is so hard sometimes. But if I think back to the person I was on April 8th well, I’m a whole new different person. As my psychiatrist said when declaring I was finally in euthymia (because yes she did!): I’m myself again. And no matter if it looks like I’m obsessing over them, I believe that knowledge is power and so I’m reading and researching my illnesses as much as I can to not let any of them take over again.

Because now I’ve seen the roses.


How We Manage Our Relationship While Both Being Mentally Ill

This is an article I wrote with the hope to become a The Mighty contributor. Posting it here while I wait for the editors to review it and decide.

You know all those posts you see on Tumblr or Instagram, saying that you can’t be in a relationship if you aren’t at peace with yourself? “You can’t love another person if you don’t love yourself first”, things like that.
Well, I have Bipolar Disorder and my partner has Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). We’ve been in a relationship for three years and a half. You’re probably thinking we’re crazy — well, technically, we are. Who is neurotypical? Not us.
Talking about madness, we are madly in love. Actually, I proposed to them (they’re agender) on April 4th 2014 and they said yes, so we’re going to marry. But I’m not here to tell you that love alone is enough against mental illness: it is not. What I am going to tell you is how we manage. Here’s how we’ve got our relationship to grow and bloom despite mental illness rooting deep around its bulb.

1. Communicate and reach out – This probably is Relationships 101, but if both of you are living with mental illness this is vital: talk to each other. Reach out if you’re not feeling well. Let the other person know your triggers. Work on a list of coping strategies and do it together. Have a couple crisis plan ready to turn to. You need to know what helps your partner and what doesn’t, as you’re both going to be the caregiver at times, and you’ll need every piece of information about your partner’s illness, no matter how little. I know I sound like crappy self-help books, but really, make lists, write plans, do whatever you need to do to make sure you’re communicating. This will save you a lot of arguing and tears.

2. Set healthy boundaries – This is going to be painful. I guess it’s better to state this straightforwardly. You’re not and you CAN’T be your partner’s therapist. You’ll need boundaries to avoid getting badly hurt or hurting your partner badly. It’s hard to set them and harder to respect them, because you’ll find yourself wanting to save your partner, but the truth is you can only lend your hand: you can’t walk your partner up the road to reach it. They’ll have to walk by themselves. The same goes for you: you can’t pretend that your partner is your therapist. That’ll hurt both of you, for once you’ve confused the roles it’s hard to take a step backwards. Also, your illnesses need to be confined into boundaries, or they’ll eat away your relationship. Ask your therapist for help in doing this.

3. Beware the guilt trips when you’re the one feeling well – I remember a period of my life when depression had got a hold of me and I was completely sucked into the Bipolar depressive episode – except that my Bipolar was still undiagnosed and I had been misdiagnosed. At that tine, my partner’s BPD hadn’t emerged yet. They were not well – anxiety and depression were there – but not too bad either. A sick pattern had then developed: I would feel abandoned and painfully lonely when they went out with their friends (note that we live three hours away), and they would feel guilty for just living their life. My illness made us argue every time they left home. Compromise got us through that painfully tangled pattern: we decided that I needed extra care through extra texts and extra calls, but I promised to wait for those text and calls trying to remind myself that I wasn’t being abandoned. So what I want to highlight here is— mental illness will try to make you feel guilty for absolutely everything: don’t let it make you feel guilty for living, even when your partner is ill. You have the right to live.

4. Don’t believe everything you feel – Here I’m especially referring to dissociation, derealisation and depersonalisation. When a person experiences one of these symptoms, he or she probably simply does not feel. No love, no affection, no anything. We’ve both been through that kind of apathy and we know it can drive you crazy. “What if I don’t love them anymore?” We’ve both been tortured by this question playing and replaying in our minds. If you’re experiencing this right know, just hang in there. You DO love your partner. Ask for help. Ask your partner to be extra sweet— that helps sometimes, but don’t worry if it doesn’t. This shall pass. Don’t believe everything you feel — or don’t feel.

5. Don’t believe their mental illness – Sometimes, your illness will make you say things you don’t really mean— nasty things, things you’d never say to your partner. If your partner has said something that is really not like them, it probably was their illness talking. Make a list of your partner’s illness symptoms and signs, so you’ll know when not to believe to what they’re saying, and you’ll be able to help them acknowledge they need help.

6. Get involved in your partner’s treatment – Go meet each other’s doctors, know what meds your partner is prescribed and help them with taking them as prescribed. Be an active part in each other’s therapy process: this will boost your trust in each other and help you understand each other’s illness(es) better.

7. . Don’t lose hope – Love wins. Even against mental illness. Use semicolons instead of full stops (we’ll never forget you, Amy). Your story has just begun!

 

I’m Being Discharged

I’m being discharged to an intensive outpatient programme. It’s going to happen tomorrow morning, and on Friday I’ll be flying to London with my partner to see All Time Low, the band who saved our lives. My life is re-starting. And I’m not ready. I’m fucking not ready. My psychiatrists said things would be even worse if they discharged me on Thursday literally throwing me on the plane, and I know they’re right. After all, they think I’m ready for discharge. They even agreed to the London trip, even if I’m putting myself at risk (mania, to name but one), because they know how important it is to me. I can’t go and spoil it all because of my anxiety. 
I need an anxiety management plan and I need it tomorrow. I’m not going to leave the hospital without it. I know the anxiety disorder is just a secondary diagnosis, but to me it is destructive and disruptive just like Bipolar and I need that to be acknowledged by doctors.

But I trust them. It was them who saved me last week. 

Now that I’m being discharged, when I look around I can feel waves of gratitude. This bare hospital room saw me at my worst, and now silently watches me flourish like the flowers in my garden, finally free from the chains of this terrible depressive episode.
I am so grateful for this admission. I forever will be.

[Inpatient, day 8]

Mental Illness Timeline and Memories

This post is personal in the sense that I wrote it for a personal reason: not to forget. I don’t want to forget what my mental illness did and made me do. I don’t want to forget how unwell I can get. My brain sometimes erases memories and no, I don’t want to forget. Then, when I finished writing, I thought it might be helpful to others, or even inspire them to do the same – to which I say do it, absolutely do it! It is painful but so liberating and mindfully useful to understand more about your illnesses (it happened to me).
This is obviously a very harsh and honest post, so here’s your TRIGGER WARNING. But there’s a positive ending! 🙂 
My credits for the inspiration go to Marya Hornbacher because I got inspired while reading her Madness: A Bipolar Life


2000? 2002? (Age 7-9?)
Hysteria. They say I should try and control myself. I scream that I can’t. They say I’m self-indulgent. I break down and scream I am crazy. I scream I need to be hated because I am crazy. I don’t even remember the first time I’d say those things, so that’s why there’s no fixed date.

2002 (Age 9)
Primary school. Lunch break. I have had a huge fight with my best friend some days ago, so I am sitting alone. Suddenly I see all the other girls walk towards each other. Suddenly they are all there together in a circle. I try to join the group. One of them leaves the group, she stays in my way, half-smiles at the others and says to me: “No. You can’t join us. Not you.” I walk back to where I was seating, frozen. When we leave to go home I leave school alone. My mother is waiting for me and the moment I see her my body start to shake uncontrollably, tears running down my face. “They are evil! Please just take me home”, I scream. I feel like I am going to pass out from all the pain. Now I know that’s called a panic attack. I’d been a bullying victim since the age of 6. I so wish I could talk to 9-year-old me right now.

2005 (Age 12)
“I’m just a crazy shit. What a shitty sister I am. You’ll just have such a horrible memory of me, you’d be better off without a sister like me.” My brother is 7 and tries to tell me it is not true. But I’m still haunted by the ghost of me screaming like that in front of him – and doing that again again and again as the years went by.

2007-2012 (Age 14-18)
High school. A panic attack at every oral test. Insomnia takes over by my fault – I choose to stay up to write (because I wouldn’t let go of my passion) or to study what was still left despite studying all day (my high school is a high-ranking one with the highest performance rates in the whole region… and the lowest rates of good mental health of students in the whole region, but who knew that at the time?) and I keep doing it, I keep going without sleeping more than 3 hours. In the end, my body isn’t just able to sleep at all. “It un-learned how to do it”, a doctor would tell me years later.
In April 2011 my best friend’s father dies. Trauma still haunts me – he was like a father to me.
My last year is hell on Earth. I can’t get up in the morning and when I do I always, always cry from the very second I throw my feet on the floor from my bed to the very second I open my classroom’s door. The anger and worry in the voice of my mother when she finds me in bed and screams “Do you want to fail?”. I would never manage to explain to her that failing was my most terrifying nightmare, because it would have meant spending one more year in hell.
I often think I’ll kill myself if I really happen to fail the final exam or worse, to get refused the admission to the exam. I won’t be alive to repeat the year. That’ll be my way out. Nothing’s worth staying anyway.
I think I owe my life to the manic perfectionist me who managed to get me out somehow. And I think hell is when you find yourself forced to be thankful to a sick part of you.

2013 (Age 19)
2013 is pure, deep mania. I am the most excited, elated, uncontrollable version of me. The maximum grade at uni in Italy is 30 and my grades are all 30s and some 29s (sporadically). Like having all A+s and some As sporadically, if you know what I mean. Of course, those 29s were failures to me.
My mind had decided that my academic career had to become some sort of a redemption compared to my high school one and mania took over.
My uni mates ask me “Ellie, but when do you sleep?”. My answer is always a laugh. “I just don’t!”. I really don’t get that it isn’t normal, let alone healthy. And I can’t sleep anyway, so why bother?!

2014 (Age 20)
What the fuck is happening? Why am I even alive if I can’t get into a shop to get groceries? Why is my mind doing this? WHAT THE FUCK IS HAPPENING!
Panic. Terror. I cry to my mum on FaceTime: “I’m going crazy”. Fury – I am furious with myself. I am in Ireland, I am living here – in the Country I call Home – thanks to the Erasmus study programme. I am living my fucking dream and my mind sometimes doesn’t let me leave my bed. Oh, but sometimes everything is just so perfect and shining and exciting and – why can’t I control myself to make it like this all the time?! Am I really going crazy?
2014 is also cancer year. Melanoma. Lymph nodes. Surgery. Surgery again. The wait – the wait to know if I am NED. I am, in the end: 2014 – the year I get cancer and the year I beat it.
Thanks to getting cancer, 2014 is also therapy year – the first time I entered a therapist office and, a few months later, a psychoncology psychiatrist office. “Please stop this for 5 minutes. I only need 5 minutes” I cry to my therapist referring to the anxiety. She is still a student and I see her eyes fill with tears.

2015 (Age 21)
If in 2013 I was manic and in 2014 I was ultra-rapid-cycling, 2015 was pure, angry, terrifying depression. Not surprisingly, I am misdiagnosed with MDD. My brain tends to erase memories of it randomly so here’s what I remember of 2015. I don’t want to forget. Ever.
• Fighting with my girlfriend. A lot. I was not able to leave my bed and she went out with friends (we live in different cities, of course she did). I was a jealous shit, I really treated her badly – she will say no if you ask her, but I’m done with self-indulgence.
• Constantly crying desperately with my face hidden in my pillow.
• Constant panic attacks. Constant anxiety.
• Constant anger. Screaming at my girlfriend for minutes and minutes and minutes because one of my earrings got lost in our hotel room in Dublin and according to my mind it is “her fault” because she hasn’t been too careful while moving our clothes from the bed to the wardrobe. And so I’m there messing up all our room while screaming, and then throwing myself at her feet to apologise while having a panic attack and crying. She bought me back my earrings. My illness was abusing the two of us, but I still feel like I abused her.
• Not wanting to get out of my bed. Not wanting any light to get in.
• Not being able to go shopping because of the agoraphobia and panic.
• And finally, the part whose existence no one likes to be reminded of: wanting to die. I am a burden, you will get on just fine without me. The refrain of the suicidal chorus got me. And I believed it.
September 2015. My best friend tells me my illness is too much and our friendship is over – after ten years. I want to take my life, I can’t see a reason to go on like that. I have started pouring one of my meds into a glass to OD on that – it was a bottle of Xanax and now I know that luckily benzos alone don’t kill anyway – but my girlfriend senses something is wrong and calls me. It was one of the countless time she saved my life.
2015 is breath-taking pain as well. Excruciating pain all over, in each little unknown muscle tissue and bone, like my body were tearing itself apart on its own. Fibromyalgia, they say in May. I had known that since March. I have always been a medicine geek since becoming a patient, and I like self-diagnosis. Yeah, I know that’s a taboo, but you know what? None of my self-diagnosis was ever, ever proved wrong.
(A little moment of sweetness: 2015 is couple mental illness year as well. It is the year my girlfriend is diagnosed with BPD due to family abuse, which I helped her realise and notice in the first place. We got through an awful lot of excruciating pain, but we still rock our techniques and strategies to cope, and soon we “won’t count the years on one hand that we’ve been together”. Who said a Borderline and a Bipolar couldn’t rock? <3)

2016 (Age 22)
They all hate me. They will never want to have anything to do with me again, I’m just a crazy shit. They are surely talking behind my back, I can feel they are. They hate me. I’m left alone with no friends because they all hate me and want me out of their life like She did. And my girlfriend deserves so much more, why she would ever want to sacrifice herself all life long marrying me? She surely wants to break up but she doesn’t know how to tell me. Oh yes that must be why she doesn’t tell me. She is talking about that with her best friend right now. I’m sure of that. My life has no meaning whatsoever. I have to end it before I have to go through that pain. I know things are like that, so what’s the purpose? Why am I still here?
I save myself because my phone, on silent mode, buzzes in my pocket. While I read all the texts my girlfriend had sent me without me noticing the buzzing, I realise I am at a huge road crossing near my photography school, where I was supposed to be at, and about to cross with the red light of the traffic light glaring through the darkness.
That psychotic, terrifying night was the second time my girlfriend actually saved my life.
I think that psychotic episode sums up a rollercoaster year like 2016 was: up down mixed up down mixed A&E up down up down med change up down down up med changed mixed A&E med change…
…and here comes another part of the story. It started, and ended well, thanks to what my parents once defined as “obsession towards my illnesses” and thanks to me being a medicine geek. Because I had studied, I had studied for days and days and hours and hours. And I loved my psychiatrist, but if there was one thing I was sure of, it was that treating a patient with Bipolar with three anti-depressants and no mood stabiliser was to be considered at least weird. Plus, I wasn’t well AT ALL. I was constantly on a psych A&E corridor crying for help. I was getting up, down and mixed more and more rapidly.
But then a catatonic depression hit me in mid November, two weeks before my graduation date, and I thought enough. I phoned the only Mood Disorders Centre we have here, asked for some names and numbers, phoned the first of the list and said that I was going to check myself in hospital unless the psychiatrist I was on the phone with was up to see me in a few days time. She said yes. I’ll never forget her face when she saw the list of the three anti-depressant I was taking, which she immediately started to get me off of. I successfully graduated – with the compliments and awe of the whole commission – with a dissertation on Bipolar Disorder on November 30, 2016.

2017 (Age 23)
January 26th 2017. 
I’ve been seeing that new psych for two months and a half now. I’m not completely okay, I’ve been needing frequent med adjustments, but I’m better for sure. I’m finally heading towards stability.
When I got to my first appointment my psych was shocked by the meds I was on. Later she told my mother that “quite honestly I was really in a bad place when we had our first session”, so hey. Let’s take some time.
I think 2017 will be named Lithium year, haha. She started me on Lithium and Aripiprazole immediately and she saved my life, honestly. She also managed to treat my fibromyalgia getting me off Duloxetine (I’m on Pregabalin now), and she’s trying to get my sleep to become natural again (!!!!!!!!!). I can’t believe how lucky I got to find her.
As I edit this (Jan 29th), I’m on four meds and have been almost always stable since my last session with her – which was on the 17th. My first twelve stability days. Maybe it won’t last, but at least now I know how it feels like. My girlfriend has been quite stable for months. I’ve got tears in my eyes, because well, the Doctor would say… that “just this once, everybody lives“.

I WISH I REMEMBERED

I wish I remembered. I wish I remembered what, how stability felt like. Oh, if I only could remember. But I don’t. It’s a journey without known destination. And sometimes it would really help to remember. I remember I wrote a post once, during one of my brief periods of stability in the past, but this blog hadn’t come to existence yet – maybe it was Instagram, but how do I find it? Because I feel kinda stable, you know. I do! My sleep patterns are perfect, my energy’s coming back defeating asthenia, my appetite is following, my weight – oh well let’s not talk about my weight until I’m over a BMI of 16 thank you very much and fuck that shit -, my mood is pretty much normal (!!!!!!!!) and I’m doing a fab job at lone DBT therapy which I’m very proud of.

But? Yeah, there is a but. I’m self-harming. For the second time in my life I’m self-harming, but this time I think the matter’s more serious because I show the addiction signs my girlfriend showed. And do you think I know why I’m developing such addiction? I HAVE NOT THE SLIGHTEST IDEA. Grand. Brilliant. Isn’t it?

So I wish I remembered. Is stability perfection? Oh, perfection is such a dangerous word to me and to my recovery. 

I wish I remembered.

PS: I’m currently 19 days clean, by the way. 😀

They gave me therapy (Cliché pt. 2)

Aye, I’m still alive. Not that my Bipolar put an effort to attain that objective, but. I’m alive.

Since I last wrote I’ve really changed psychiatrists and found out that my old psychoncolgy psych was trying to kill me without even knowing – she’d put me on three (THREE) antidepressants with no mood stabiliser. I don’t know how I’m still out of hospital after the multiple manias I fell into, but oh well.

When I entered my new psych’s office I was actually in the midst of one of the worst catatonic depressions I’ve ever experienced and I had a few days left before my graduation (YES I DID GRADUATE IN THE END AND IT WAS A SUCCESS, I’LL POST A PIC 😀 😀 😀 ), so she put me on send-this-poor-girl-up rescue therapy. Doing that she allowed me to graduate showing my full potential and it was brilliant, I’m so proud of myself for that.

The downside? Yes, mania. Multiple manias. Again. This time I hit a 10 and did end up to the A&E with a double dose delorazepam IV and my therapy substantially changed.

I graduated on November 30th. Now, a month later, I’m (I think) (oh Goddess let’s hope so) finally heading to stability with my Lithium finally starting to work and I survived.

Again, I survived.

And here’s a pic of my graduation 😀

30112016-laurea-38-1

 

Celebration

Celebration. If there is one thing I will never forget, it is how celebrations make you feel when you are severely mentally ill and not (yet) in remission. I will never forget the deep, unescapable dissociation which you really get, maybe for the first time, that it is a horrible tool but for your body and mind it seems like the only tool they have to escape, to be away, away from everything and everyone, just away. Away is the only hope when a mentally ill person is forced to take part in a celebration they don’t feel – not because they don’t feel the atmosphere or anything of that sort – they just DON’T FEEL. That’s it. Their illness’ ultimate end is to suppress all feelings to stop the pain coming from them, without making any pitiful distinction between hurtful feelings and joyful feelings.
And so there the ill person stands. Or sits down, or whatever seems more likely to make them invisible. I have been that person so many times. I have been that person at Christmas celebrations, at family members’ birthday celebrations, at friends’ birthday parties (those rare times when my social anxiety did not stop me from going) and at my own birthday parties. 

I’ve been officially diagnosed with mental illness in October 2014, when I entered my psychiatrist’s office for the first time. I had just been discharged from an oncology ward where I’d got my second surgery to remove melanoma and its cancerous, malignant cells from the skin on my back. My fabulous – I’ve never found a better adjective to describe her – roommate had been spending all the days we were in there together convincing me to accept the full help offered by the psychoncology ward of our hospital – where I had just started talk therapy – and get myself into psychiatrist treatment. She was 70 years old, maybe even a bit older, and she was there for her third or fourth surgery. She had no lymph nodes left in her lower body and was due to start radiotherapy – I’d got more luck, my melanoma was at an earlier stage comparing to hers. And I’ll never forget her looking at me, smiling – she was always, and I mean always smiling – and saying to that scared, depressed and panicky mess that was me then: “Why the hell should we care about whatever little pill we have to take to make our brains happy? I’ve been taking mine for thirty years and never regretted that!”
The day I was discharged I phoned the psychoncology ward and got myself an emergency appointment with the woman who still is my psychiatrist today. The day after that, I walked into her office.
My roommate’s name is Caterina. Yes, I said IS because she still rocks life, SCREW YOU SKIN CANCER, and luckily depressed and panicky me was still able to ask her her phone number before my discharge day, so that in the future I had the chance to thank her for practically saving my life: And to check up on her from time to time, which I still do.

Since then I celebrated two birthdays.
2014 was- well, I actually don’t remeber a single thing from that day so I can’t tell you. That says enough I guess.

Last year – well, last year I got diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder just a few weeks before my birthday, and then- then my dog died the morning before my birthday. She had been like a sister to me since I was 8, and I was turning 22, do you see what I mean, do you? I just couldn’t bear the thought of celebrating, I canceled the small party I had organised and ended up eating sushi with my then best friend, which would be a nice and lovely memory, if we still talked, if she still were what she used to be to me. But we don’t, because she cut me out of her life completely some months ago, causing me the greatest trauma I could ever imagine I would suffer from. She really was my sister, I don’t care about blood, she fucking was. We planned to go live together in her little adorable house and we’d just finished redecorating. I still have the house’s keys. I’m currently actually grieving and I honestly think I’ll never get over any of that.

And then, there it comes, 2016. I guess you’ve already figured out that the day of my birthday is October 29th. Where I am is currently 1:40am, so that means it’s been my birthday for one hour and forty minutes already. And you know what? I AM FUCKING EXCITED. I am!!! I’m excited about the presents, I’m excited about having treated myself to a gift today, I am honestly, honestly excited.
That doesn’t mean my mental illnesses are not trying to intrude and regain control. I’m still anxious as fuck, actually I’m so anxious that I have social anxiety for my OWN party with my OWN (and few) friends. I panic at the thought of my dad waking up in a dark mood (I sometimes think he has bipolar too, even though it could be a milder form – no he doesn’t know, or even aknowledge the possibility of it and I’m not brave enough to tell him). I panic because me and my little brother don’t seem to be getting along anymore since he’s entered teenage-hood. I panic even more at the thought or lunch-time all (happily?) together with my grandparents because my grandma is literally a walking trigger. I panic at the thought of ME waking up in the middle of a bipolar episode and, like the voices in my head love to tell me, ruin it all.
BUT, I now can breathe and remind to myself that I AM IN CONTROL. I am in charge. Like the Doctor, I can shout that THIS PLANET (my head, lol) IS DEFENDED. Because I will defend my childish excitment. I will defend my birthday party. I will defend myself and I’m gonna be the winner this time. After two whole years in talk therapy, psychoterapy and CBT and, of course, on meds, I now am a warrior. I fight a war every day from the second I open my eyes in the morning. So I bet that makes me eligible for the fact that I FUCKING DESERVE A BIRTHDAY PARTY!!! 😀 😀 😀 😀

me-28th-oct-16
…and there’s my gift to myself: this amazing haircut and hairstyle I got from my lovely hairstylist after MONTHS!!!