Dear Menopause,

In my last post I was talking about menopause; how brutally fast it hit me and how I felt I was rubbed from my youth.

It took me two good days of crying to calm down. My flight instinct is usually the first to kick in, and you guessed it right: I couldn’t escape from my ovaries…

So there I was, equipped with an acquired skill of acceptance and with lots of support and encouragement from my family, I had no choice but to start using my good old brain.

I looked at my soon to be 43 years of life and thought about them hard. My childhood wasn’t the happiest time of my life. My early teens were definitely unhappy years. By 16 I had lost my mother and was deeply depressed. I had a few good years from 18 to 24 then bam hormones kicked in and I was not 100 percent. With lots of good will I managed to get through to 29 and then I got pregnant.

Now I know I had postpartum depression, but at the time I didn’t. Motherhood was beautiful, would never have wanted anything else, but I was tired. A few good years from 33 to 36, and then the apocalypse.

Up till my forties I was silently surviving bipolar and I also didn’t know it. My second birth gave me a bigger postpartum depression that was accompanied by a period of change. If you are a regular visitor, you know the rest. If not here is the summary.

I got prescribed antidepressants and soon discovered they made me manic. A couple of years went by – hellish, painful, and dark. From one psychiatrist to the other, from one hospital to the other I went without any hope to feel better.

I suffered so much and so did my family and friends. The only exciting topic in my mind would be imaging my death- the end of suffering.

Finally a cure was in the horizon. I started a new treatment and after this long journey now I am as stable as I can be. I tapered down my old medication and got started on high dose levothyroxine along with Rtms.

Back to the subject at hand.

I feel so lucky and blessed to have had our children in my early 30’s. If I had started therapy with levothyroxine early on in my life, I doubt I would have been able to get pregnant or keep my pregnancy.

I don’t have enough research to back up what I am saying here. But I am quite certain that all hormones are connected, though how exactly I don’t know. For sure my treatment is a life saver. I would have been dead without it.

Yet, there is a price for everything- again this is not backed up by research and it is just a gut feeling. I probably had my perimenopause in my late 30’s and again this too went unnoticed.

Thyroxine protected me – thank you Lord- from the mood swings and depression of this tough period. When I started to have severe migraines and eyesight problems as well as muscle issues I gave it little importance. Then my period stopped and the sonogram said I had a poor egg count. My lab tests put me at post-menopause although am only 42!

I am also happy and fulfilled. I just want to preserve this state as long as I can because now my problem has shifted: I LOVE LIFE!

I might have early aging that I cannot prove to be related to my current therapy, but I AM ALIVE! Doctors do not see a clear link between levothyroxine and early aging. Not sure if it is because no one researched it before, or because they didn’t connect the dots.

I am working hard to preserve my body and mind to be able to live to the fullest. I am not afraid of death – not at all – I just want to live well.

I currently take 5 mg MELATONIN at night to lower my FSH and LH hormones – culprits of many old age diseases – thanks to my dear husband’s brilliant research and mind.

Along with probiotics and multivitamins I take INSTINOL to aid me in this murky period of change. I walk my daily 10 thousand steps and workout 3 times a week.

I eat as clean and lean as I can, wake up early, work hard, and play harder.

Enough with self pity and victimization. I don’t have time. Life is full of joy and has marvelous ways of turning what we first think as negative to be the best thing that ever happened to us. Example: me and my bipolar.

So dear menopause,

Thank you for knocking on my door. Just know dear, although you are welcome, I am not pausing anything now or ever.

I hope my warrior friends are equally fighting with zeal, loving themselves and their graying hairs. Nothing will stop us from being who we are, from being complete and fulfilled.

Let’s keep on shining.

#happily_depressed

Post menopause – a stage that came too soon

One day that started like any other I discovered that both my ovaries and hormones hit the postmenopausal stage.

You would think that you would have the time to transit, to digest it, to say your goodbyes..

You would think that your last period would be a celebration with the words “finally” shouted over and over again.

You would think that you would throw all these pads and tampons away and say “good riddance”…

Yet, this whole stage was as brisk as missing a train by a few minutes. One day you think you are young, next day you have the hormones of a an old woman.

All the stigma, the sitcoms, the jokes, the religious connotations flood my mind.

It is really the M word? Is this it ?

Will everything from now on be downhill?

First thing I blame is society followed by the internet, then biology.

This poor female body of mine, tortured by period cramps requiring painkiller shots at 4 am, these tears that wouldn’t stop for days before menstruation … The food-cravings, the stigma, the tender breasts. The pimple outbreaks and unruly hair…

Then comes sexuality and virginity, followed by another spike in hormones during pregnancy.

A body that undergoes so many changes… expanding, contracting, opening and closing, going through cesarean and vaginal birth, breastfeeding, leaking, with stretch marks, scared, and scarred …

But a woman’s body is magical. It is beautiful.

And so is her mind…

To undergo all these changes and more.. To have the capacity of producing life, and more importantly of sustaining it.

I am ok with with menopause. I think it is just about the timing.

It is too soon for women to reach it in their 40’s. We have just figured out what life means. We have just figured out how to manage a family and a career. We have just thought that everything is supposedly under control.

We had to deal with the monthly visitor for half our lives and now we have to deal with an unwavering one.

We need to come to terms with nature and change yet again. We need to prove to ourselves that it is ok, that we will survive and ultimately be fine. We need to do all this while in control, with all other duties fulfilled.

We need to do this in silence, without drama, without shedding a tear. We need to be content and grateful. We need to be happy that we have reached this stage and that we are finally not going to worry about getting pregnant.

Instead of painkillers now we will be prescribed calcium and hormones. For those of us who are fancy and can afford it, they will tell us don’t worry you can have a natural therapy instead.

I know that somewhere very near or far, a woman just like me is going through menopause. I know that you also have had or are having your doubts or feel and felt scared. I also know that there are millions of women warriors across the globe who have done all this and that and are now grounded and serene.

To all of you queens out there I salute you. I am in owe and admire what you have done and keep on doing. Do tell us that everything will be fine. Talk about the good side of change please, help us your fellow women not be trembling believing this is the end. Send us hope from the other side of this hormonal rainbow. Just please tell us everything will be alright.

To be continued

“C” for Control…

My last post was on how to deal with potential catastrophic situations. I talked about how a negative thought leads to fear and eventually a loss of control over one’s feelings. I also shared with you how I tried to change my thoughts to regain control and navigate those potentially difficult times.

As if the universe was reading my blog, I was faced yesterday with another one of those horrifying surprises.

I don’t know if I would have survived this one have I not been through a similar situation last week. Thought control is not my modus operandi. I discovered that it is a skill that some of us have to learn.

The saying is perhaps true: “No pain, no gain.”

Yesterday I had no choice by practice thought control. It saved me. I didn’t want to be submerged in hopelessness. I didn’t want to be a victim. I didn’t want to be “all about me”. I didn’t want to ask “why me?” or “why now?”.

I knew that these questions were irrelevant. I had to preserve my energy and come out stronger. This is the only way I can survive.

Despite how cliché it sounds, relief to me is found in “it could have been much worse.”

We tend to forget this. There is no limit to catastrophes. Things can always be more painful, or less tolerable.

I think solace is in lack of attachment, in acceptance, in finding the power to stand up again and keep going – all while knowing that you will probably fall down at some point. One has to always create reasons to live – even when there seems to be none.

Over and over again life keeps on proving that it is indeed very short. Moments are never repeated. I am trying to engrave this into my mind. Never to waist time looking at the past or hoping for a different future. Never waiting for an outside source to pull me out, or give me something I that I think I lack. It is really very simple, to the extent that it seems so complicated.

Everything is within. No one or nothing will make us feel complete. Being kind to ourselves is the best type of kindness. The best work one can ever do is working on oneself. The fruits of this labor are the reason we are alive.

Keep on going my friend despite what seems impossible to overcome. Everything eventually is over. But let us be careful, for life also can be over sooner than we know it. So let’s make it count.

#happilydepressed

On navigating difficult moments…

As it is its habit, life puts in our way unexpected events . Little and not so little challenges that we inevitably have to face…

I have always dreaded facing such a situation; one of fear of the unknown, fear of change, fear of loss.

Nothing makes us grow as much as being out to the test. I was faced with one of these frightening situations recently, and yes my first reaction was definitely more negative than anything. I started to see all what could go wrong, with one horrifying scenario unfolding in my mind after the other.

Fast forward, and I reached the darkest thought that I could ever imagine with all its gruesome details. I was lucky at that particular moment that I noticed how my mind affected my body. My heart was racing, I was crying uncontrollably, I couldn’t breathe properly. I had lost all control.

Luckily, I decided that I needed to calm down. I had to find solutions, to think rationally and I was literally paralyzing myself with all the dread I was feeling.

I decided to try and change how I think and stop myself from breaking into a thousand pieces just because of a possibility. I was not certain of any outcome that was to unfold. So why be in this state now?

I tried to tackle my anxiousness by realizing that there is so much I can do to change events. Yet, I was still in control of my reactions.

I stopped plotting the cascade of catastrophic scenarios. Instead, I started to visualize how life has its ways of sending us gifts that initially look and feel terrifying.

Instead of focusing on all what could go wrong, I asked myself to shift my thoughts to what could actually go right.

Soon, I discovered that I was indeed feeling better. I gained control over my racing thoughts and heartbeats. Once I made this realization, I was surprised that I was no longer making a conscious effort to think this way. It just happened. I shed a few tears of relief and then took a deep breath.

I surrendered to the million possibilities, believing that good things do indeed happen. Adjusting to the present moment made me hopeful and stronger. Isn’t it true that there is no point of living in any past or future?

Now is all what I have, and will always have. This very second as I am writing these words is all there is, was or will ever be. This very moment is hopeful, positive and I relie on this very belief that I will make it to this next moment where nothing else will exist except me being grounded and believing that ultimately I can make a conscious choice to stay in control.

In this very existence, there isn’t any place for fear. Every single moment of my life prepares me for the next. Yes, bad things do happen and sometimes they happen to good people too. This I cannot prevent. Realizing that control is inside me is a game changer.

Let us live to the fullest every moment and embrace our existence. May we always find the power to be hopeful and believe in miracles. For as long as we have this belief, we will find solace in the present moment.

#happilydepressed

On raising children

Being a parent is a joy. It is a also a blessing. Parenting is fun. It is mechanical, and creative. It is demanding and exhilarating.

Being a parent means you are always on the clock. There are no days off, no working hours, and definitely no job description.

Being a mom is a whole different league. It is natural to many, difficult for all. Being a mom (and sometimes being a dad too), means that you have to be omniscient: you must know it all! You are a 24 hours caregiver, a cook, a cleaner, a storyteller, a nurse, a magician, an entertainer, a teacher, a driver, a policewoman, a judge, a coach, a love blanket, a problem solver, a listener, a worrier and a warrior…

All these skills come with the job. You either have “The Instinct”, read books, or learn as you go. We will be better in some skills, and worse in others. We will prefer some skills, and loath others. We will all eventually feel our way through the years and manage to our raise children into becoming independent beings with adequate skills to survive.

Yet, parenting doesn’t end there. Think of all the previous time consuming, physically demanding, repetitive and thankless tasks as basically the fun half of your job as a mother, as a father…

Parenting beyond immediate need fulfilment

So what now? My child eats alone, bathes alone, cleans his room, and studies alone. They don’t depend on me to drive them everywhere. I don’t wrestle them to go to bed, or to comb their hair. No more purées, teething, or boogie man under the bed. No more fighting over toys or sippy cups. No more diapers or wet sheets to change in the middle of the night. No more small feet to kiss. No more sweet baby smells. No more good night kisses. What could be more needed? Why isn’t my job complete?

Yes, I had forgotten to mention that a parent perhaps needs to be a psychic too!

I used to ask myself over and over again: are my children happy? Are they fulfilled? Content? How will they be as adults? Are they resourceful? Grateful? Resilient? How much can I teach them? What shortcuts can I offer them? How can I sooth them? What can I promise them? What problems will I be able to solve for them? What can I do to make them happy? How are my actions influencing the way the think, act and dream? What mistakes should I tell them to avoid?

The second part of parenting, doesn’t demand immediate attention. It is ongoing, endless, evasive, and intentional. It is about ensuring the psychological well-being of our offspring. How much nature and how much nurture is at stake here! Is a child inherently good? Born happy? What parts am I really screwing up? Can I fix it?

You got it. There is no straight answer to any of the above.

It is quite difficult to assess whether our children are happy, traumatized, anxious or fulfilled. What behaviors they will outgrow, and what will remain as a personality trait. We can’t know their future coping mechanisms, their resilience, empathy or whether they will grow to love themselves. Dwelling on these questions alone didn’t serve me much.

Parenting and mental illness

One not so beautiful wintry day, mama fell very ill. Mama could not even do the one percent of the chores of basic parenting. No more cooked meals, drop offs, help with homework, or bath time. Mama was in bed or in the hospital – almost always crying and in her pjs.

They weren’t the best times.

Years later, and without much details, and with a lot of effort and luck I got better. So much better that I could start thinking of the effect of my mental illness on my children. For more details on this journey you can refer to previous blog posts.

I was ridden with guilt, shame and of course fear. If I was scared before my illness of how “well” I was raising our children, now you can imagine how I felt. I knew that what they saw, what they lived cannot be forgotten.

I found myself taking a whole different perspective now that the “harm” was done.

We cannot undo events. They already happened. The question is, do we let all this pain pass without learning?

I still don’t know how to answer all of the above. Yet, children might as well be better adults now that they have witnessed within their family mental illness. I have to highlight though that despite how ill I was, I tried within my capacity at the time to shield them as humanly as I could from how I was feeling. But children are very smart at detecting and feeling things even if unspoken.

Parenting and transcending challenges

We talked with my daughter (as her brother was just a toddler at the time) and explained things to her. We told her about my illness in child-friendly words. We talked about depression, anxiety, and mood swings. We talked about neurotransmitters and the side effects of the medications I was taking. We answered her questions. We listened. We tried to make it more human and less scary.

I didn’t think it was enough, or that it would be useful. Like I said, this type of growth is not linear. Yet, one day my 10 year old comes back from school telling me her friend had a panic attack and that she helped her through it.

You can imagine how I felt at the time. How can she know what a panic attack is, how can she help another 10 year old breathe! How can she handle this with such a grace and à savoir faire that doesn’t match her age?

Although this singular event does not mean much in the grand scheme of things, it helped me put things into perspective.

Kids have a level of resiliency that is far higher than what we assume. They internalize negative emotions and it will show on a whole different set of behaviors. They could have trouble at school, night terrors, or start losing stuff. It will show on them in a way or another.

The key here is not to forget why they are “acting” this way suddenly. Connect the dots and don’t feel guilty. It won’t help. Don’t scold and punish. It won’t help. Understand and explain. This is a much better approach.

Work on yourself first as you are a priority. Yes, you are the sun and moon to them, and everything in between. You won’t help them if you don’t help yourself. There are good days and bad days. Try to achieve normality and mundanity as much as you can.

Show them glimpses of what used to be before. Explain again. Tell them you love them and always will. Make their existence a reason to live for. Never forget how much you love them or how much they love you. Tell them they are not the reason you are feeling this way. Tell them you will win this fight. You will do it just for them.

Believe in the power of love. Hugs can go a long way, without much words needed. With love and care they will feel safe again. They cannot be ignored or assumed too little to understand. It is better to say the truth, even partially, than leave it to their assumptions.

Parenting without a crystal ball

So yes, we won’t know if our kids will be happy when they grow up.

But meanwhile;

  1. Know that life works in mysterious ways: what could seem like a huge ordeal now and a real impasse, is in fact a hidden real opportunity for growth.
  2. Guilt and shame will make everything worse. Don’t feel guilty, and please whatever you do make sure your kids don’t feel it either.
  3. Build empathy during your interactions with your children. You need to show understanding,
  4. Perhaps the most powerful thing I have done with my daughter is telling her that each new experience gives her a new tool in her toolbox. Whenever she faces a challenge, she has to look in this toolbox for something that will help her navigate the situation. She has really good tools now that she uses regularly.
  5. Accept that your offsprings’ mental health and happiness is also beyond your control. You can’t be “responsible” for each single aspect. You role is to help, and not to control.
  6. Let them do their own mistakes. Many things are learned by doing and not by preaching, just like falling in love.
  7. Be there for your children no matter what. Say this out loud, repeat it, and then say it again. They have to know this on an organic level. They know you will be there to pick up the pieces. We all need someone to do that sometimes.
  8. Be the first one to cheer and root for them. Tell them you are and always be their number one fan.
  9. Understand that no matter how you look alike, they are independent and different human beings. They will have their own dreams and make their own mistakes. You won’t make an apple tree an orange tree. The sooner you realize this, the sooner everyone will be happy. Listen to their dreams and dream with them.
  10. Forgive and love yourself. Work on yourself. Be the better version. Learn from your mistakes and aspire for more. This is a precious life-long action that your children will see you do. Basically, let them learn by watching.

In short, we all tiptoe through parenting. Don’t be too harsh on yourself. The world wasn’t created in one day. Take a breath and make the best out of today instead of worrying about things you cannot control. Remember that each day brings new opportunities for learning and for healing. Enjoy the process, it is actually fun.

On waiting for remission…

Waiting sucks

Waiting sucks. Whether waiting for a bus; your turn in a public restroom; your birthday present; your dessert in a restaurant; or even waiting for yourself to finally fall sleep. Waiting sucks when you did well, when you didn’t do well, or when you didn’t do anything at all.

Waiting is seen essentially as a waste of time. It is the place between two radically different states. Waiting is ambiguous, monotone, and yet interesting,..

The interesting stuff lies between where you were before needing to wait and where you will be after waiting is over. It is like a twilight zone, where we discover things we didn’t know before…

How can waiting be active ?

If waiting were passive, life would be so dull. We wait all life long for things to happen: some of them we want and some we are very keen to avoid. We learn to wait as soon as we are born. We wait to be fed, cleaned and cuddled. We even wait to die…

Waiting changes as we grow. We discover sooner or later that our needs and wants are not instantly met by the world.

Frustration builds up as we face negative experiences where waiting was not just long, but led to an undesirable outcome. We resort to prayer, to superstition, to therapy and sometimes we end up in depression; waiting.

Waiting and expectation go hand in hand. The higher the stakes, the higher is the expectation associated with waiting. Waiting for a bus is unlike waiting for remission. The first is bound to happen (the bus will eventually come no matter how late). Yet, some other waiting is tricky. What happens when you wait for remission? For better health? For a better future? For a full life?

What to do while waiting other than waiting? What can be done before waiting to make waiting more bearable? What can be done to make waiting matter, so that it makes sense?

How can we wait for remission?

I have learned so far that waiting for remission boils down to two main factors. The first, is wanting to get better. (For the sake of simplifying things, we will assume that we actually and truly want to get better). Interestingly, the second factor is accepting not getting better.

It was so confusing to me. The more I wanted to get better, the more frustrated I became. After being frustrated waiting, I gave up hope, which definitely didn’t make waiting any easier or quicker.

Waiting is a skill that sooner or later we better learn to master, especially if we are waiting for something of such great value such as remission.

We could complain or wait in silence, while we are shattered internally with each second bringing us closer to the end of a bottomless void. We can swim in the darkness and sink deeper as the pain never lessens. This would not mean that we are accepting this reality, but rather that we give up. We give up hope, we can’t see any other possible scenario. This is it. And if this is the case, remission will never happen.

Yet, if we surrender, maybe things could change. We surrender to and accept the pain, the guilt, the remorse, the shame, the pity, the ugliness of it all. We accept the status quo while knowing that nothing stays the same forever. We need to know this in on our bones. Like seriously know that nothing ever stays the same forever. It is not over, until it is over. Repeat it, feel it, believe it, know it.

We should never give up hoping to get better. I always say, if I feel better for a minute now, next time I will feel better for two minutes, then three, then an hour and so on. Yes I will get worse, but then I will get better again. Hope cannot be taken out of a person unless they decide to give up. One single minute lived without pain, means more minutes will come. Just wait.

Bottom line

Wait actively. Listen to your soul and body. Don’t undermine your thoughts. You are still creative even if life is putting you down. You still have a mind, even if you are drugged down by the doctors. You know what it is that is really wrong with you. Better still, you surely know what is really good with you. Yes, there is plenty. You are just looking the other way.

Wait while searching. Dig deep, and take it step by step. Work on everything you know how to solve, and leave the rest to time. Work it like a puzzle. Your life is a giant Lego. Do the easy parts first. No one will fix you. You need to fix yourself. There is no perfect scenario. Life is not black or white. Accept being in the grey zone.

Make your bed, shower and eat real food. You can do that. Do your laundry and get a hair cut. Get back to this thing you used to like before. Was it writing , painting, composing, gardening? Pick up something you never had the chance to do before, but always wanted to learn or do. Make waiting count.

Don’t be the same person once waiting is over. You would have lost double the time. Either way you have nothing to lose.

The goal is to rediscover yourself beyond your illness. There is an “I” behind the illness. You are not the illness. Who is it who is waiting for remission? What will s/he do if they were not sick this very second? What would have happened if they hadn’t fallen sick? What is this bloody and agonising state trying to tell me?

Don’t wait for an answer. You already know it.

Think. Cry. Fall. Shout. Rise. Create. Pray. Write. Paint. Run. Sing. Build. Forgive. Love. HEAL

Make every second waiting count.

Forgiveness and recovery

The blog has shifted gears. My writings were sometimes exercises of introspection – reflecting my state of mind during my struggle with depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. Other times, I would write about what I thought was wrong with the medical system as it stands today; not seeing the person as a whole or just silencing and over drugging the mentally ill till they slowly lose themselves in an array of side effects and endless adjustments of dosages. I also wrote about misdiagnosis and malpractice, and how our lives could change just by being given one very wrong label or another.

In my last few posts I started sharing with you the lessons taken home. There is no pretentiousness or ‘I know better’ in my words. I try to repeat this one way or another because it is so important!

So here goes…

Today I want to talk to you about a pivotal moment in my recovery.

You know getting better is not linear. If anyone tells you so, then they either don’t know what they are talking about, or they are simply really very optimistic, or just they were super lucky and are the 0.01%.

Recovery has so many elements. Naive, I used to think about it like a finish line. It was actually more of a destination, and to get there you have to take a bumpy ride.

To recover, I of course needed be on the right medication. I was supposed to find stability. Yes little by little I didn’t have anymore mood swings. A small relapse here, a little adjustment there…

I relate to this as trivial compared to what I went through. I didn’t feel depressed or have this huge void eating me up; true. Yet, I felt surprisingly guilty. Probably not surprisingly.

I was not able to feel relief. Why aren’t you happy now? Good question! I was faced with two major problems.

One: the aftermath of what ‘I have done’ to my family witnessing all this suffering. Two: the immense fear of this ordeal happening again. Three: I know I said two but I also had memory issues, self-confidence issues, brain fog, and 20 plus kilograms to lose to fit in my old socks because of all the meds I was taking before finding the right treatment, tapper off a few others, and of course I had to reintegrate into society.

After spending time feeling stagnant in these negative thoughts, I talked to my psychiatrist who suggested that these signs are very well similar to those of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In brief: the experience of illness is so intense that in itself it becomes traumatic and creates guilt, fear and flashbacks. Are you familiar?

He suggested I undergo a few sessions of EMDR – Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing therapy. It is non invasive, simple and fast method of psychotherapy. I was skeptical at first but I tried and It worked really well on my trauma. Highly recommend it if you find a qualified therapist.

Relief was not immediate. But at the time I decided that I needed to open a new chapter in my life if I am to recover. Again this does not happen over night. It is a process. You plant the seed.

How can I ask those around me to forget what happened if I am constantly thinking about it? How can I be ‘normal’ if I am living every moment waiting for another attack? How can I expect to be ‘forgiven’ if I cannot forgive myself?

Forgiveness was the magic word. And trust me it is everything but cliché. 

I had no choice. I internalized this and repeated it to myself for the millionth time. Mental illness could happen to anyone at anytime. Mental illness is not a choice. Mental illness teaches you how to be human and humane. This experience showed us all how we are connected and how we love one another and how blessed I am to have my family and loved ones. They also used to tell me the same, but you know guilt…

Before all this, I had to forgive myself for the pain I went through. I decided that I will allow myself the suffering that passed and say it is ok. I don’t judge you. You were hurting and you are fine now. Again, you water the seed.

I gave myself a pat on the back and a big hug for the long road travelled and I said it is ok. I looked at all the things I have learned. How strong I have become. How loved and cared for I was and how things could have turned much much worse.

I looked at my family hoping day in day out that what dwells inside my soul will reflect into my behavior. Little by little, things began to change, and a new normal appeared.

The seed grows into a plant.

My dear reader I decided to be kind to myself because I had suffered enough and I invite you to do the same even if you are not in recovery, or even if you are not mentally ill. We have all suffered one way or another. We deserve to live guilt-free.

Allow yourself the gains you have achieved though little they may seem; for today is a good day and we only hope we replenish the well a little more tomorrow.

What does self-care actually mean?

I talked in my last post about self-care and its importance to mental health and well-being:

Today I would like to elaborate a little bit and dig deeper and try to tell you what I really mean by this concept.

Superficially, self-care is really simple to understand. It entails taking care of yourself. If you google the term you will find diagrams and articles giving examples of self-care including eating well, good sleeping habits, going for a walk, listening to music, and so on… Basically, it is about any action you do to take care of yourself.

I of course agree with all of the above. Who wouldn’t? But I like to stretch the concept a little bit more to include some other essential elements to our well-being that we tend to overlook.

Self Care is about Self Acceptance, Self Forgiveness, and Self Love.

Self-care is also essentially about self-acceptance, self-forgiveness, and self-love.

If we don’t accept, forgive and love ourselves we will not be able to truly care and mend our wounds, and ultimately start unfolding to meet our true self.

My new year’s resolutions, my goals, were almost never achievable not just because I lacked the will and the motivation to reach them. I discovered it was because I was rarely true and honestly accepting where I was at; I was not forgiving myself for my “mistakes” and I was judging myself for “lagging behind”. I didn’t love myself wholeheartedly and doubted that I could ever achieve anything.

We also get dragged and pulled by negativity right and left. We are consumed by toxins and more importantly by toxic relationships. We spend hours tending to these tasks while we could be using this vital life energy on our beings.

Self Care is about using our intelligence and intellect; our senses and sensibilities.

Self-care is about using our intelligence and intellect; our senses and sensibilities. We know down deep inside what we need to develop; what capacities we lack in order to become stronger and more complete.

I discovered along the way that my anxiety would reduce exponentially when I would “work” on myself away from the attacks. I had to accept me and forgive me and love me.

Another attack was bound to happen. Anxiolytics had to be stopped – they were threatening my life; I was becoming “addicted”. At the time, pain equaled pill: it was unbearable.

Putting thoughts into compartments helped me a lot. I blocked the negative energy coming from outside. I protected myself. I set boundaries. This is very important in self-care and it is not selfishness.

Along with compartmentalization, prioritizing, labeling my emotions, and repeating that I want to be happy and that I can be happy were all part of the package.

I repeat that I am under treatment and that I am very lucky that I found a good one that works for me. The final result would not have been possible without it.

But for months during my illness I suffered from severe brain fog. I was not able to think clearly. It was the residue of all the bad chemicals in my system – yes even after I quit them. It was the strangest feeling. Still deep under the person was still there; the process was in place.

The real you is always there. Your beautiful self is there, whispering and waiting to be heard.

I am telling you this because no matter where you are at now in your journey it is never too late or too early. Despite the heavy meds you are taking, despite the pain and the rejection you are feeling towards yourself: you can stop, assess and reconsider.

The same goes if you just feel that you are not in-synch with yourself. If you feel you are unhappy, starting a mild depression. Stop. Assess and reconsider.

I invite you not to wait till it bubbles up into something that becomes more organic and more difficult to manage.

“There is no higher or lower goal. There is only one goal, Self-Realization”

Meher BABA [The Answer 26]

The importance holistic of self-care

Tear and wear as we approach our mid-thirties and forties not only gets to our bodies but also to our minds. 

Life has such a demanding rapid pace. It leaves us a few moments for reflection and decluttering. We rarely put ourselves first; we say, later, just let me finish one more thing first. We silence the rising alarm saying “I am tired” until we become unhappy and eventually psychically and psychologically unwell.

Small droplets form oceans. 

These oceans form because of events that are out of our control. Life is not easy. Yet, we are at fault too. We rarelystop, assess, and reconsider our strategies before it is too late. We ignore our intuition and end up caught in vicious circles leading to more physical and mental pain. 

I learned throughout my journey that in order to break free from negativity, it is imperative to decide to be self-critical and assume responsibility. One has to want to be genuinely happy, or at least try to. Being passive brings us no good. 

The wish is the beginning of the realization of the dream. 

Quite often, in conversations with people, I see how they are absorbed by hopelessness. They simply cannot see any different outcome. Circumstances seem like a life sentence. They don’t put themselves first and gradually become someone else. 

We carry too much on our shoulders, and we either give up or wait for things to miraculously change. 

We forget that our mental health affects our physical health and vice versa.

When we become emotionally unbalanced, we develop all sorts of illnesses. Our immunity weakens. Look around you. Chronic back pain, migraines, indigestion, weight problems, fertility issues… Dig deeper. You will probablyfind a lot of emotional turmoil too like sadness, remorse, fear, anger, and guilt. Later these develop into anxiety, depression, PTSD, and eating disorders. 

We might not be able to avoid everything. But there is always something we could work on: caring for ourselves. 

We cannot take care of others if we don’t take care of ourselves. 

Remember that a bad day will always end. Small real changes go a long way. Recognize the importance of yourmental well-being and know that some choices though hard to make are for your best.  It is never too late to be your first priority. 

Our mental and physical well-being are closely related. When we feel overwhelmed by physical pains, we should stop and think: is my body trying to tell me something? Is there a psychological reason for my physical suffering? Often, when we dig deeper, we discover that many illnesses are due to feelings of guilt, fear, and anxiety. Take a breath and reconsider.  As Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī said, “What you seek is seeking you.”

 “What you seek is seeking you.” Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī

Bipolar – my disability

My illness is flagrant. It is clear as sunshine. Bright as a star. Big as a 10 cart diamond ring. Obvious to the naked eye…

Yes it is when I have an episode.

But when I don’t…

It is dormant. Blends with the background. Goes unnoticed. Quiet common. Just like the flue. It is a John Doe..

I tend to forget, for am human. And we humans tend to do so. A lovely quality we have. Makes us able to live, to turn the page.

When my illness strikes back, am always surprised. It takes me a few days to adjust. As if it is the very first time am experiencing the symptoms. All fresh.

The pain is new, yet the depth of the scar is familiar. I remember the fear of falling into the abyss of mental illness with all what it means – more meds, more symptoms, more side effects, hospitalization, days in bed, fear of losing my mind, fear of losing control, fear of finally giving in to suicide…

Yet I know I can’t. Something tells me this cannot be the end. I recall the conversations I had, the notes I wrote, specifically for these moments to remind myself not to give in.

I try to summon my strength, the strength I have and the one I don’t, and pretend to stand up. I rise in my dream above myself, above my tears, above my hospital bed and tell my doctors to let me live some more.

But if you are ill like me, you will soon learn that living isn’t the point really. So what is the point of having a life with such an illness that makes hell a walk in the park? On average I get two good weeks a month and if am lucky we can stretch them to three.

I am heavily medicated, but at least the meds I take do work.

I got PTSD. I am being treated for it, but I feel mostly guilty all the time for how my illness affects my loved ones.

That’s where am at now with my bipolar. I cannot always embrace it. I don’t rise above it. I wish I could say it differently, bipolar is my disability…

Part one: On Guidelines for treating mixed episodes and rapid cycling in bipolar disorder – Beacons Of Hope: Thyroid hormone replacement and rTMS treatment.

My problem with my illness is not my illness per se, it has always been how the medical community thus far dealt with me as a series of isolated symptoms; instead of seeing me as a whole person.

Things have been moving on though. Let me tell you my story with this new treatment am on.

But before that, we have to talk diagnosis. We have to talk guidelines. We have to talk knowledge.

Looking back, the past three weeks seem like months.

My beloved husband researched and researched my condition over and over again. He wouldn’t surrender or admit that I won’t get better. He believed that there is a way out and that I could be cured. At least he told me “let’s have the honor of trying”, bless his pure heart.

Less than three weeks ago I was self admitted to another mental health hospital. I left the very same day. Surprise! Though practically no one understood, everyone accepted, believing I had some internal compass that points to truth. In fact, I was too restless for a single room and too “aware” to stay in a ward.

In a parallel world my husband had found a doctor in London at the London Psychiatry Centre who had very convincing arguments saying that he could treat my condition. In fact he already successfully helped hundreds like me. This brilliant man is called Doctor Andy Zamar. His attitude, bedside manners, and ultimate responsiveness to his patients make him deserve my deepest respect regardless of the outcome of my ongoing treatment. He doesn’t believe in the status quo and he bothers to read what

have written before him.

We first had a FaceTime consultation during which he made me read some research he had gathered regarding bipolar disorder. Specifically, he wanted me to read in black and white as he said how wrong it is to take antidepressants when one has a mood disorder. He made me read out loud the Maudsley Prescribing Guidelines in Psychiatry for those suffering of rapid cycling. It said loud and clear to “withdraw antidepressants in all patients”.

That my friend is an interesting finding. I have been given antidepressants by the medical community that treated me in the past three years. In 2017 Effexor led me to the emergency room trying to quit it as it was impossibly painful to deal with its withdrawal symptoms. Mind you it was done under medical supervision. But that is another story.

Later on in 2018 I began self medication when I quit lithium by myself – which interestingly I discovered does not work on its own in my particular case as per the guidelines. It has also lots of side effects I could not deal with. So I self medicated and started Prozac 20 mg for 7 months. I did that because I thought it would be a safety net that won’t let me fall into deep depression.

I was wrong, I couldn’t have done myself more harm unknowingly. I did rise into hypomania which inevitably led me to deep depression. When I went to see doctors just before meeting Dr Zamar, they advised and prescribed an increase in Prozac to 40 mg and this is when hell broke loose.

Doctor Zamar diagnosed me then with ultra rapid cycling bipolar disorder otherwise unclassified. I had hypomania turbo charged, as he explained with depressive content. Talk about suicidal thoughts!

Again I read during our call what described my state. Doctor Zamar was not reinventing the wheel. The paper is called Melancholia Agitata and Mixed Depression [Koukopoulos et al. Acta Psychiatr Scand 2007: 116 (Suppl. 433): 50-57. The paper is more that 10 years old!!

So on page 52 here is the “clinical picture of agitated depression” – it was describing me in a nutshell …

Melancholia Agitata and Mixed Depression
Melancholia Agitata and Mixed Depression p.52

So people someone was saying why I was committing suicide in ink…

Check this out

Melancholia Agitata and Mixed Depression
Melancholia Agitata and Mixed Depression p 53.

The last time Doctor Zamar prescribed antidepressants was in 2004. Say what you may. But isn’t it a million percent better to be safe than sorry?

This is a heavy post I know.

My final words are those of hope. Now that we know what not to do, the action he proposed is derived from new research based on thyroid replacement therapy and rTMS.

The treatment combo am doing is that I take on one side Olanzapine known as Zyprexa which is an atypical antipsychotic that is supposed to calm my hypomania.

Secondly I do rTMS or Repetitive Transcranial MagneticStimulation; a treatment that not only has enormous success rates for treating depression but it is virtually side effect free.

Last but not least, Doctor Zamar is using Precision Medecine Nd treating me as a person. We do weekly ECGs and blood tests. He takes my side effects seriously and he doesn’t brush them under the table. He listens. Mind you this post could sound like praise to him, which it is. But listen my friend, it is to everyone of us working with people. Stop being an ear and nose doctor and look at true bloody person you are treating.

At this clinic they do take swabs to send for genetic testing to stop wasting your time. As their website says there is no “one size fits all”. Genetic makeup therefore is very important in deciding treatment, knowing what works and what won’t and also knowing what would be tolerated. In psychiatry this saves light years.

I will be staying explaining in my following post the thyroid replacement therapy.Meanwhile I urge you to read this beautiful hopeful article published on their blog: Bipolar News – Millions could benefit from bipolar breakthrough #worldfirst

TBC

You are not the problem; you are the solution

I have been away from writing for a while. It was a period of re-evaluation. I needed time to gather my thoughts before I share them with you.

Today, I want to talk about living in the now. I want to talk about living without fear. I want to talk about hope…

I want to talk about waking up without wanting the day to end. I want to tell you that it’s possible to enjoy life even if circumstances are not ideal.

I want to share with you today my insight about a previously feared decision that I was very hesitant to make.

I was hesitant to live.

My fear blocked me. Doubt was consuming me inside out. I didn’t like the present (my illness) , I regretted the past (my recent diagnosis with depression and bipolar disorder, my genes, my upbringing…), and worried incessantly about the future (relapses, pain, facing myself or even another day).

This topic was my obsession. I thought of nothing but bipolar disorder. I was not sick with the disease, I was the disease itself. I couldn’t put a distance between me and “it”. Bipolar was the boss of me, and I didn’t know any better.

Little by little my dissatisfaction with the situation kept building up. It was sort of an unconscious rebellion surfacing. With hindsight, I understand why I opposed certain hospitalizations and certain drugs or doctors. I refused over and over again to be numbed. Because when I get numb, I forget why I am in this situation in the first place.

I knew something was amiss.

The healing system I surrendered to was treating my symptoms and not my illness.

Traditional psychiatry attempted to take my pain away without telling me that I will also lose myself in the process.

I have been aware for a while that my condition is psychological but to a big big extent also physiological.

I couldn’t accept that my childhood, no matter how sad it was could still affect me some 30 years later. I couldn’t accept that moving from one country to another is enough of a reason to have me sedated by force while I was trying to escape from the ICU after a suicide attempt.

What couldn’t they see? What is being told to me by this suffering? Why is my family witnessing this? Is it all coincidence? Is it all in vain? I was a mental health practitioner at some point, how could I be the patient now? What happened to me???

As my rebellion became my revolution, I weaned myself off drugs. But that was only the beginning. Slowly my cognitive abilities came back. Not all, I still have memory blockage, or loss. I lack concentration sometimes too. But in general I can tell you with confidence that this is my brain. Those are my feelings. This is my reality.

I began to put 2 and 2 together and made some parallels- and those made and still make sense to me. They might not be universal truths; but is there such a thing?

I thought that each hospitalization began with a series of blood tests. Why do they keep on saying that there is no bio marker for mental illness!! A lie. A big fat ugly lie.

I don’t know about you, but I would rather have a half truth than none at all. The medical community has knowledge about biological, pure physiological imbalances that accompany depression, or any illness to that end.

People just take the easy track and stop investigating, or they don’t want to claim responsibility. Tell me why is my sedimentation rate (ESR) abnormal? Why is my vitamin D so low? Why is my thyroid imbalanced? Why did I bleed for weeks with no end between my periods staining every surface I touched before I was diagnosed? Hormones anyone? My ferritin was low, my proteins were in the wrong values. Soon after I started treatment I began to have bad cholesterol. Is my mother the reason for all that? Or is it rainy Paris? Or maybe my then 2 extra kilograms?

I was prescribed “vitamins and supplements” yes, but no one ever told me that they would be key in healing me if taken religiously and monitored regularly. I was told not to miss my antipsychotics, my antidepressants, my anxiolytics; those drugs that alienated me further and further from me, from those around me and most importantly from the truth.

I was told I need to play sports and bathe when I was pinned to my bed by drugs. Yes yes, exercise is good for depression. Not once was I told that there is a link between what goes into my body (food yes food!) and my physical or psychological condition.

Not once was meditation mentioned. Not once was yoga mentioned. Not once was even coloring-in mandalas brought up. Just take the drugs and come back for more. I was offered psychotherapy, but I didn’t give it much importance then. I think now it was because I felt to a huge degree that talking about my problems wouldn’t make them disappear.

I realized that no matter the good will around me is, no one would help me but me. I decided to take charge of my life.

At 38, I finally decided to become an adult.

I will listen to the medical community orthodox or not, because yes they do have insight. But most importantly, I will now forward listen to myself. I started to believe in me. I started to believe in my cognitive abilities surfacing and my instinct.

I knew I am no longer Bipolar Disorder. I am Me.

Simply put I began to circle around the idea of inflammation. I knew that illness meant imbalance and imbalance was often caused by inflammation. I also thought that inflammation is not only physical but psychological. I thought I would enforce a way of doing – a way of living – that is anti inflammatory.

When you are ready, the stars align. Without being esoteric, when you buy a red car you start seeing red cars all around you. When you brain focuses on a certain topic, you see it in plenitude.

I began to dig for links and for alternative remedies. I found that others – plenty of others- think the same. I hadn’t given alternative ways a serious thought before. Cancer healed by pure will and some plants? Yeah right!

I think that if you want to go alternative and drive off road, you cannot pick and chose. It has to be integral or better still systematic. Again that is me talking not science.

So it figures that turmeric or curcuma is a miracle drug that treats a wide range of problems relating to inflammation. It figures that I need to treat my candida problem that has been an integral part of my life for the past 10 plus years if I want to heal. Not one, not a single medical authority wanted to establish this link; as if I had several bodies or as if my organs were not related and living in the same ecosystem.

It figures there is a link. And yes, essential oils do work if taken long enough and right enough. It seems that the liver needs a proper cleanse to get rid of all the bad stuff we feed ourselves all the time. Otherwise healing would be in vain.

It figures that sugar and gluten can also be part of the problem, feeding regularly the inflammatory machine. The more you eat it, the more inflamed your body will be, and the more you will crave it. Funny, I consumed jar after jar of jam before my first hospitalization; a food that I truly dislike.

Activities are also inflammatory. Sitting hours in traffic jams is inflammatory. Dealing with negative people and draining meaningless tasks is inflammatory. Going for a walk is anti inflammatory and so is listening to music. Playing with the kids is anti inflammatory; trying to prove that I am right all the time is inflammatory. You get my point.

None of that would work alone. It is a system. A wholistic system that you create and you alone- it has to make sense to you.

The knowledge is there. I am no genius and you don’t have to be one.

We went through hell and back – all of us. Whether you lost a child, a limb, a job, or financial security. You are unhappy because you chose to define yourself as a problem. I Am The One without a Mother. I Am Bipolar Disorder. I am Divorce. I am Unemployment. I am Obesity.

While doing that we forget all the other things that we are, or aren’t! Yes you could be bipolar and it is sad, but you are so much more than that. And you are not so many other bad bad things.

The truth is there is always better; but mind you there is always worse.

So let us take a leap of faith and try to breath it out.

Say it out loud with me

I am not my illness, I am me.

I know this is not an ideal situation, but there is no such a thing.

I know I cannot control tomorrow, but thinking about it constantly won’t change a thing;

When I need help I will ask for it, but I am in charge of my existence;

I live for a reason; and that reason is to understand and free myself from suffering;

I am as happy today as I could ever be….

I beg you please to listen to yourself. Listen to your body. You are not the problem: You are the solution.

Bless

TBC