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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!

 

World Bipolar Day 2017

WPD logo2

My mind is slow. I am recovering from one of the most destructive depressive episodes of my life, and I can’t think like a neurotypical person. So I am writing while not knowing exactly what I am going to write. But, as I said in my post for the International Bipolar Foundation campaign “#MyBipolarFuelsMyPassion4” (check it out!), my Bipolar fuels my passion for writing. And I couldn’t just stay silent on a day like this.
My 2016 article was a celebration of people diagnosed with Bipolar— the title was “Here’s To Us”. I hadn’t founded this blog yet, so I don’t think any of you read it.

Today, I want to celebrate the professionals. The caregivers. The apps. All the people, the services, the facilities whom have got our backs.
I want to celebrate my own psychiatrists, whom I owe my sanity to, for taking care of me — and when I say care I refer to its deepest, profound meaning — during my recent admission.
I want to celebrate Mrs C.Z., who was my psychologist back when I was still undiagnosed, for saving my life.
I want to celebrate my partner, the brightest side of me, for they are the most loving caregiver despite having to fight their own demons in the meantime.
I want to celebrate my parents, who struggled to understand at first and still there they are, standing by my side despite all we went through because of my illness.
I want to celebrate the developers of Medisafe, the app that constantly reminds me to take my meds as prescribed. I want to celebrate each and every nurse and healthcare worker of the ward where I was inpatient, for choosing to work in a psych ward.
You all are part of what World Bipolar Day aims at: fighting the stigma around mental illness. And so thank you, you beautiful, beautiful people. And happy 30th March.

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]

This Ward

This ward is peaceful. Sometimes some patient gets restless and upset, but nothing shocking or disturbing has ever happened. I was so scared by all the tales on psych wards, but now I know: you’ve got to understand mental illness. That’s the key. If you do, nothing can scare you.

This ward is hopeful, literally: it is full of hope. Hope to get better, hope to find the right cocktail of meds, hope to be able to live again, to function again, to have a real life again.

Perhaps this ward is an exception– in that case, I was lucky. But this ward is what saved my life, and to this ward I’ll be forever grateful.

[Inpatient, day 5]

My Mind Used To Think [Thoughts from Inpatient]

My mind used to think I wouldn’t be a true Bipolar because I’d never gotten admitted. Well, guess what? That time has come. I’m officially inpatient. Have been for two days now. I got extremely lucky: the ward is nice and pretty quiet for a psych ward, the psychiatrists and nurses are just fantastic.
My mind used to think I would never be deemed ill enough for inpatient. Turns out it was wrong. I was desperately ill when I came here. Depression was scaring the shit out of me and my parents, we got through hell. 

Now I’m not well. I’m not cured. But I’m going to be better and start functioning again. So please, please get help when you need it. Chances are you actually are very ill and inpatient is the best solution, even when your mind tells you otherwise. I was sure I was going to be laughed at and sent home. Never believe everything you think

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“.