Coping through Life’s Struggles with Mental Illness

It feels at times that there is no one that can handle hearing or trying to understand the truth and the rawness of mental illness. I can be an advocate, but I am also a victim of something I wouldn't wish on another living soul. I don't know why I was chosen to live a life imprisoned by my brain. There are many horrific illnesses and I'm not here to put them on a scale of 1 to 10, but I know that mental illness would rank pretty high up there in what it its victims endure.

There are times when our condition is regulated. Our medications are working, our therapy is going good and we can find a sliver of peace and hope that we can live a normal existence like others. Then we find ourselves blindsided by a medication change, a trigger that causes our symptoms to act up, a physical malady that knocks us off our delicate balance of trying to keep it together. We unravel and we take our loved ones with us.

Our loved ones are incapable of fixing us, soothing us, getting us back on track. We are at the mercy of our psychiatrist and medication in the hopes that they will have the magic answer that will pull us out of our torment. Those we have the ability to reach out to put boundaries on us as there is only so much they can take. They know when enough is enough and they are incapable of coping with a struggle that we ourselves don't even understand.

I found out last month I have to have breast surgery. It may be cancer, or not. This alone is enough to rock the world of someone that lives with panic anxiety disorder, depression and BPD. I have done what I can to wrap my brain and my thoughts around possible scenarios and try to keep things in a proper place. Then my surgeon tells me that one of my psychiatric meds does not do well with anesthesia, so I will have to withdraw from the medication. It's up to my psychiatrist to figure out what new remedy will fill the void in the meantime

Like a drug addict, withdrawal includes a ravaging of your physical body and mind. Sweating from head to toe, shaking, then freezing and needing five blankets and the heating pad. Gastrointestinal upsets which must happen to purge the medication out of your system. Migraines from hell and periods of extended crying and agony as the drug that has been stabilizing you leaves your system. Then there is the start of the new medication to take its place. Will it work or not? The first week is always a fun time of the introduction of new medication into your body. It interacts with your thyroid meds or your cholesterol meds or whatever else you might be on. Your mind becomes a fog as to what is the continued withdrawal of the old medication or what is it the side effects of the new medication?

 In the meantime, you are not truly fit for public consumption. Even the smallest of tasks seems insurmountable. If you are lucky enough to have someone who will do them for you, as I have my faithful husband, then you are over taxing the one person you have as your lifeline. They are frustrated, tired, at the end of their rope and not able to fix you. There is no fix truly. I have learned over my lifetime that there are times of “normalcy”, the ability to function and care for yourself. Then there are times we are rendered incapacitated and incapable of doing for ourselves and we are at the very mercy of others to do for us.

When the medication changes happen in our brain, there is confusion, upset, turmoil and frustration in trying to cope and just form simple thoughts. It's like walking through a dense fog in your mind and there is no ability to see the way out. There is no one that wants to deal with us when we are in crisis. I do not blame them and it's hard to beg for understanding and one more thing to being asked of someone who has already given so much. I have found that usually during these seasons I am alone. I don't say this for pity, it is just too much for others to handle.

Therefore, we shut down as people. We disappear from our lives and the shame, the anger and the pain of the struggle takes over. It is worse than self-pity; it is self-loathing and an indescribable feeling of not wanting to exist. Of not wanting to burden your loved ones or not wanting to face another day; the medication has won again. We can't live with it and we can't live without it. Thus, the conundrum becomes a cycle of trying to maintain during the periods of time when you want to check out.

There are methods and things they teach you with Dialectical Behavioral Training, Cognitive Training and talk therapy, meant to help get you through these periods. I don't know about anyone else, I just know that when my brain is in transition like this, nothing works. It all goes out the window to a place unknown and I am incapable of retrieving the skills I use on a regular day. The psychiatrist relegated to seeing you as a petri dish and attempts to find the Holy Grail drug that will level you off and get you back to normalcy.

You are at the mercy of the doctor and the medication trying to find the needle in the haystack of a fix. In the meantime, each attempt is its own special hell trying to see whether the medication will blend and work with your system and other meds that you take. It is a maze of confusion and I am the mouse.

I know people do not want to hear this. They don't wish to come in to the travail and anguish we go through, those of us with mental illness that are trying to find stabilization. No matter what part of the journey you're on, your age, your race, your intellect, your knowledge of what you're up against, it all goes out the window during these times. I can tell you with certainty that these times will always exist.

In order for me to find out if I have cancer in my breast, my psychological stability must be tampered with and knocked off kilter. I must endure this on top of the other. My eyes burn from the acid of my tears and I know I am not alone. All of us who suffer with this thing called mental illness have to go through these cycles. It is a part of the hand we were dealt. I am locked in a fight with my own brain.

We know there is a light at the end of the tunnel, that things will eventually fall back into place and we will be able to sit in the path of normalcy for a time. This scary place now will soon be a memory and somehow, someway a solution found. In the meantime, I want to tell you, we must hang on together. Even if it takes everything you have, give it. Do not give in to the whisperings that tempt you to give up. Remember this is temporary and we are warriors. Therefore, we fight.

Get radical if you must, but make your voice heard. Reach out to your doctors and those around you even if they don't feel like dealing with who you are right now. Do it in spite of feeling you do not have a right to reach out. I know that we are strong, some of the strongest people I know suffer like I do. Now is the time for that strength and tenacity. Use everything you have to get through.

I write this because I know the journey we are on is not all Sunshine and Lollipops. All of it is lumped into one big test of endurance. I won't give up on me and I'm asking you not to give up on you. We are in this together.

With you on the journey, Alice

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