Friday, December 30, 2011

New Year's Resoutions: Sticking With It

I have been working on a sermon about how to stick with New Year's resolutions and I realized some of us might be thinking of goals we want to set for the treatment of our illness. Here are a few tips on how to stick with your goals:

1. Create a plan with small steps to get you towards your goal. If your goal is to loose 50 lbs., that may seem too daunting and discouraging. Set a five pound goal first, then ten pounds. Setting too big of a goal overloads you and it seems too big to accomplish. For more about how our brains can get overloaded with too much information and then we make undesirable decisions, check out this article: Blame it on the Brain.

2. Be flexible. Change your goal as life situations arise and realize that the goal you set out with might be different three months from now. For instance, if your goal is to run a marathon and you find you are overtraining and getting injured, switch to a half marathon. Yet at the same time...

3. Be strict. Meaning, while you need to be flexible, don't compromise on what is best for you. Don't let other people or ideas of what is "normal" pressure you into doing what is not good for you. If you need a certain diet to stay sane, don't let peer pressure tell you it's ok to eat what is bad for you "just this once."

4. Be kind to yourself. If you struggle with keeping up with your goal, don't give up. Don't see it as a failure, just decide to start again.

Good luck in the New Year!


Rev. Katie

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Fighting, Not Failure

Yet again, I have had trouble keeping up with my treatment plan. It all started with ice cream after dinner one day. It was a busy day and I said to myself that just one small bowl of ice cream is fine, I won't eat too much. Then I figured I could have a bit of dessert another day. Then Christmas came and I thought "It's Christmas, I will only have dessert today and that's it." It ended in many bowls of ice cream and dozens of cookies after a depression set it because I was eating poorly- and it was all down hill from there.

For a while I saw these times of struggling with my plan as failure. Failure to do what I need to be stable, weakness on my part for giving in to eating wrong, or spending too much money, or staying up all night. Now I know it is not failure, it is me fighting to have the life I deserve. No matter how hard it is and how many times I mess up, I will keep fighting to get better, it is the only option I have.

Now what I am coming to terms with is that I can not take a day or hour off of my treatment plan. I can't just eat a bowl of ice cream once, or stay out late because I am with friends, or skip a workout. It may seem strict to some people, but for people like me it is what we need to do to survive.

Due to my illness, I have many limitations on my life. The more I try to be "like everyone else" and have the same lifestyle other people can have, the sicker I get. Sometimes people around me see this as weak to need so many things to take care of myself and weak when I can't always follow the plan. Instead I see it as strong for continually fighting for my life.

I hope you all fight for your life as well, no matter how many setbacks you have.


Rev. Katie

Monday, December 26, 2011

Where is God?

One of my favorite TV shows is United States of Tara about a wife and mother who has dissociative identity disorder (what used to be called split personality or multiple personalities). I love this show because, in my experience, it is a very real portrayal of what families go through when someone has mental illness. It shows how hard it is to remain a couple, how the children are affected by the disorder, and how life is continually up and down.

In the show the husband, Max, is steadfast and seems to be able to handle anything. In the last episode of the series, just as they have their last meal with Tara who will be going for three months to a doctor for help, Max kind of looses it. He basically says (well, yells) what everyone else is thinking. He asks why his wife, who tries so hard to be a good person, has to go through this, why do his children who have never done anything wrong get dragged into this? Why did God put them on Earth? Just to mess with their lives? In the end he says that they deserve some mercy.

So often, these are the same questions I have.

As a minister, I want answers to these questions. Were I doing pastoral counseling with someone else in my situation I could think of a million things to say to them. Such as: God does not do this on purpose. No one deserves this. We are just part of the larger system. There are many lessons we learn from everything that happens in our life. Etc...

But, in reality, I have no idea why this happens and I don't think God is going to make it better. I know that may sound depressing to some people, and sacrilegious to others, but that is just not part of my belief system. I believe God is love and while God will love me and my family through whatever happens, God can't change it because if God could, God would have already. Sometimes, maybe even constantly, bad stuff happens. What I hold on to is the relationships I have. The good times I do get to spend with my husband and son. The amazing people I meet in life. And while sometimes it seems so bad that there is no purpose to all of this, I just have to decide that I will keep going. My faith tells me that no matter what, there will be people who love me who will walk this path with me. My faith also tells me that I need to have faith in myself. As soon as I loose faith in myself, I get worse, I can't function, and I miss all the love other people have for me.

So, where do I think God is? I believe God is crying along with me, outraged with how life can be so unfair, but loving me just the same. Where do I see God? In people like my husband, son, family, and friends and in myself- when I remember to have faith in myself.

I believe that life just sucks sometimes, but I thank God I am not alone.


Rev. Katie

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Finding You: Artistic Journaling for Mental Illness

I am very excited to announce a new program of the Carolyn L. Farrell Foundation which starts Jan. 16, 2012! We are starting an artistic journaling program for people with mental illness.

Many of you know that I scrapbook, which is one of the ways I help manage my bipolar disorder. In the times when I am depressed, my scrapbook reminds me of what is good in my life and what I have to look forward to. When I feel manic or I am upset that my illness is particularly bad, my albums remind me of who I am, what I care about, and what I have accomplished.

It is so easy for our illness to take over and we end up with distorted thinking, deep depression, and self doubt. In those times we need something that can remind us of what is real in life, what is good, and something that inspires us to keep with our treatment program.

Finding You will allow you to create a journal that helps you through your hardest times. It will help you remember who you are, what you love, what you achieved, and what your treatment plan is. It is an ongoing program so you can come and go when you are available and it is accessible to people of all artistic levels. If you are interested in participating, please register today!

When: First and third Mondays of the month.
Where: West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church, 20401 Hilliard Blvd.
Time: 6:30-8:00pm


Rev. Katie

Monday, December 12, 2011

Exercise Works: CrossFit

I sat on the phone for a bit this morning arguing with my husband about going to exercise. Jeff is out of town, which always sets off a bipolar trigger and I do not do well. I was angry and depressed this morning, thinking life will never be better and I am sick of doing all this work to be well only to have my illness flare up constantly. Jeff said I had to go to CrossFit this morning, I argued that exercise doesn't really help and I wouldn't go. However, I really like the people at CrossFit so I went anyway and within ten minutes I was feeling better.

photo from
Yes, exercise works, no matter how often I swear it doesn't. For me it has to be high intensity exercise and so CrossFit is perfect. It is high intensity and challenging so you immediately start to get a mood boost. Running will do the same thing for me, but because I am so slow, I have to run for at least a half hour before I start to feel any better. CrossFit is totally different and I feel better right away. For instance, today's workout was:
Warmup: 15 sec. Sampson Stretch and 15 box jumps: repeat 5 times
Workout (for time): 1,250 meter row
                                   100 Sit ups
                                     75 Squats
                                     50 Push ups
                                     25 Pull ups
                                     10 Burpees
Cooldown: 125 meter row sprint, 3 times

In all the reading I have done about exercise and mood, high intensity is best. Low intensity still helps, but you have to do it for much longer and let's face it, if you feel awful the idea of doing anything for thirty minutes is agonizing. However, you can convince yourself you will do something for ten minutes and if you feel better right away, you will end up sticking with it for a full workout. And, we should exercise at least every other day. I try and exercise every day because if I skip a day, I am a mess, which is probably why I was so bad this morning- I did not exercise over the weekend.

So, if you feel awful right now, go out and exercise, for ten minutes. Run around your block, do box jumps on a low box or step, use the elliptical-whatever-just ten minutes. You will feel better.


Rev. Katie

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Just Can't Get a Break

Every time it seems like I am getting a little better, something else goes all wrong. I posted last week about not having that sense of doom all the time in Goodbye Heavy Heart. Well, that did not last for too long. I am severly depressed again and I am now having extreme panic attacks.

I have two classes of panic attacks, one is my everyday attack. Sweaty palms, racing heart, anxiety and fear. I can usually mentally talk myself through those. There is a second class of panic attack that I rarely get, but when I do they are horriffic. It is like the most extreme terror you have ever felt in your life, magnified because you have no idea why it is happening. You feel like you might die, or your mind will split in two because the fear is so intense. Reality is all distorted and you think extremely bad things will happen. Usually I get these attacks in response to something and it stops after the trigger is gone or I have talked it through with Jeff (my reality meter.) This past week though, they keep happening.

Love statue in PA. Photo by Jeff Norris

I have to admit, I hate feeling crazy. I hate that just when I get a whole bunch of stuff in order to be healthy, bad things still happen. In times like these, all I have left is faith. Faith that somehow things will get better and we will figure this all out. I will get the right medications and work on whatever issues bring up the trigger so I can get through this. I have faith, but honestly I have no idea where this faith comes from. It's basically a belief that love conquers all and there can be a Happily Ever After.


Rev. Katie

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Stopping a Manic Episode

The other day I went to get weighed at Weight Watchers. I have had a great week- exercised every day and not over eaten at all, even on Thanksgiving- so I was very excited to see how much weight I had lost this week. Instead I gained 1.6 pounds. Instantly, I was a wreck. I was mad, sad, and felt like life was not worth living because no matter what I try to do to get better, I never will. I came home and told Jeff and then said "You're taking me shopping today because I should get something good out of all the work I did this week."

Jeff instantly recognized the trigger and knew I was spiraling into a manic episode. I did not recognize it at all. The trigger he noticed was my comment: "You're taking me shopping today because I should get something good out of all the work I did this week."

As Julie Fast and John Preston mention in their book, Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder, poor self awareness and poor self control show you are about to enter into a manic episode. One thing they say to watch for is: "Ignoring the signs that thoughts such a, 'I deserve to have a good time. I've been sick for so long!' mean that they are ill." Then there is also the excessive spending that comes along with mania as well which they mention later.

So, what do you do to lessen or stop a manic episode before it starts? Have a plan. Our plan is to make sure I eat correctly, exercise, take my medication, get enough sleep, have some down time, and take a walk with Jeff, which is exactly what we did yesterday. It did not make me better instantly and today is still not such a great day, but I am far better off than had I gone on a shopping and eating binge all day. By having a plan in place, we stopped a manic spending and eating spree combined with what probably would have ended in us fighting and me not taking my medication. Instead we ended up with a fun day together, a great long walk this morning talking, and some basic depression, which is far better than the other option.


Rev. Katie

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Staying Well During the Holidays

The holidays can stress out even the most mentally balanced of people and the holidays can really mess up those of us who have mental illness. Why? Because of family dynamics that bring you right back to your childhood so you revert back to your unhealthy self. Because many of us need to follow specific diets and schedules to manage our illness and those get thrown out the window with travel and other people thinking you are "weird."

This post is a reminder to stay sane during the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday which kicks off the holiday season. I did a bit of preparing today so I can stay sane for the holiday tomorrow. We have scheduled in exercise for tomorrow morning. I made my sugar free, gluten free, healthy versions of stuffing and sweet potatoes. I don't drink alcohol or sugary drinks, so I have my Chocolate Mint black tea ready. I don't eat dessert so I have some flavorful yogurt prepared. I have my alarm set (as always) to take my medicine. I have my backup anti-anxiety meds should I need them. I have taken the time to remind myself of who I am and what is truly important in life.
Cooking cornbread stuffing. (Photo by Jeff Norris)

Here is a list you can use to help you keep well:

1. Keep your sleep schedule as routine as possible, even if people think you are weird for going to bed early.
2. If you can't drink due to your medications or other reasons, don't let peer pressure get to you.
3. If there is no healthy food for you at the event, bring your own food. And don't volunteer or allow people to convince you to make foods you know you can't eat; you know you will at least taste them and then it's all down hill from there.
4. Don't take home leftovers you don't want in your house.
5. Get out an exercise.
6. Remember, your health is more important than pleasing a family member, looking cool, or whatever else might seem more important at the time. 
7. And lastly, there is really no nice way to say this - Don't take shit from anybody. Do what you have to do to be well.

May your holidays be joyful and balanced.


Rev. Katie

Monday, November 14, 2011

Goodbye Heavy Heart

Photo by Jeff Norris
I was at an event last night where I saw old friends. We were catching up with each other and asking how work and family life are. As I honestly answered them, with the good and not so good, I realized that this is the first time I have not had a heavy heart. Often I have felt so weighed down with life that when friends asked how I was, I always felt this sadness in my heart. Even though not much has changed about life, I no longer feel that weight of sadness. I was just fine with things being the way they are. Some stuff is really good in life, some things are hard to handle, like being a caregiver for my mom. It is not that I don't care or feel nothing (as has happened with other medications), I actually feel a bit at peace with the way things are overall.

I admit that I hate my medicine because it has side effects I am scared of. However, I like it too because it has gotten rid of the heaviness, the weighed down spirit, the extreme anger, and it lets me deal with life better. It has taken away a lot from me and this type of drug increases in risk the longer you stay on it, but it does work. What scares me now is what if the risks get too high and I have to stop the medication at some point? I don't want to go back to having a heavy heart and all the symptoms of bipolar that are so much better now.

I also know that what works today may not work tomorrow, or a year from now. The only thing predictable about this illness is that it is not predictable. That is why you take the illness one day at a time and enjoy what you can, which is why I appreciate the weight being lifted. Before, I could not enjoy anything without having a heavy heart, last night I noticed I feel free, which is new for me.


Rev. Katie

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Exercise and the Brain

For my birthday yesterday, my husband gave me the gift of sanity...exercise.

Exercise makes a big difference in our mental health, even for those who do not have a mental illness. It makes us feel happier, more balanced, and allows us to focus better. In the book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, Dr. John Ratey talks about finding the power of exercise and the brain when a school teacher started having her students run on a treadmill each day. His book is amazing and speaks to one of the most important aspects of exercising for brain health, it must be done at a high level, at an aerobic level. While we are often told just 30 minutes of walking three times a week in enough, it is not enough for mental health, especially not for people with mental illness.

That is why my husband got me the gift of CrossFit for my birthday. We needed to make sure I had an exercise which is scheduled so I will show up, and that gets my heartrate up so I feel better. We have done two half marathons together so I know high intensity exercise works to treat my bipolar disorder, but it is often hard to actually stick with exercise when your illness is at it's worst. You need to have as many safeguards as possible to keep you exercising. The author of the blog Lithium and Lamictal writes about this in her post called Spinning.

At a 5K benefiting the Alzheimer's Association
As soon as I started running the other week, which increased the intensity of my workouts again, I was immediately better. I felt happier during the day and I could get more work done. The CrossFit workouts are high intensity, perfect for crosstraining, and I get to spend time with Jeff which makes it fun and great for my mental health.

So, take a class where someone will notice if you miss, workout with a friend, sign up for a 5K or even a marathon which requires that you train consistently. Read up on exercise and the brain and write down all of the benefits in a place where you can see the list so you always remember to exercise, even when you don't want to. Check out the links I have above in this post, and for information on how exercise helps for ADD, read Riding is My Ritalin.


Rev. Katie

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Partner Who Understands Bipolar Disorder

My husband went with me to see my therapist the other day. (Sometimes it is good to take someone close to you with you so they can bring another viewpoint into the conversation.) We were talking about how one of the worst times of day for me is at night. That is when I typically get very angry and irritated. I will stay up most of the night and often wake my husband up and talk to him, and even argue sometimes. My therapist asked him: "So, you bear the brunt of the effects of this?" I immedatly thought that yes, he does. He is the one I talk to all the time and he sees me at my worst. To my surprise though he immediately said "No, I think Katie bears the brunt of it."
My Amazing Husband, Jeff

I am continually reminded of how great my husband is and I beleive his answer was far different than what most partners of someone with bipolar disorder would say. Jeff understands that while it is hard for him to be married to me at times, bipolar is a horrible illness and I am the one who deals with it the most.

Jeff and I have been together for 17 years and most people tell me that since he is the one who has to deal with me the most, he is the one who is most affected by my illness. Most people do not think about what it is like for the actual person with bipolar disorder. Fortunatly, my husband does know that in the end, the disease affects me the most. His answer to my therapist allowed me to let go of some of the guilt I have over this illness and it helped me have more self respect. His immense love for me has helped me love myself. It also reminded me that Jeff really does understand what I am going through.

It can take a while for our partner to understand our illness. Jeff did not immediately know what bipolar disorder was all about. He did a lot of work, a lot of reading, and he has gone to many doctors and therapists with me. Since mental illness affects everyone in the family, it is extremely important that your partner is involved in the treatment of your illness. It is very important that they know how your bipolar disorder manifests itself so they can understand that what is going on is not you trying to be mean, it is a disease. It is important that they learn ways to help you.

Two books we have liked which can help you and your partner are Loving Someone With Bipolar Disorder by Julie A. Fast and John D. Preston Psy.D., and When Someone You Love is Bipolar by Cynthia G. Last, PhD.

I am grateful for all that my husband has done to understand bipolar disorder and how it affects me in particular. This means we can work together to manage this illness.


Rev. Katie

Friday, October 21, 2011

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Sometimes I hate my medicine. I hate that it makes me a different person than I was before. I hate that while it may help the bipolar, it gets rid of some of the things I like about myself.

For instance, I went to play Dance Dance, Revolution (a dance video game) with my son today and I can hardly play it. My coordination is awful now. This upsets me because I have fun playing this game, but more importantly, this is something my son and I love to do together.

When my bipolar is bad, I rarely have the energy to play the game with him. Now I am feeling a bit better, but I can't play the game because of the medicine. That just does not seem fair. I know I should not care and just have fun and play it anyway, but I do not like losing part of myself, something that I was good at. And honestly, it is really not the same and not as fun, to fail every time.

As I try to do things I used to be able to do, I am finding how much my medication has changed me and made some things impossible to do and other things much harder to do. I trip over myself running now, I am much more tired and dizzy all day, and my heart races when I am exercising.

I am constantly struggling with the question of: Is the medicine worth it? I don't know yet and I will just wait and see, but I know this is one of the big reasons why people stop their medication. While you gain some things, you may loose a lot of yourself.


Rev. Katie

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Avoiding Unhealthy Situations

There is an interesting balance between trying to manage one's mental illness and work and live in the world. To manage bipolar disorder, one must work hard to reduce stress, exercise, eat right, take medication, and get enough sleep. Often life situations are far more stressful than we can handle, and asking for help in that situation is hard. In my experience, in our society, it is acceptable to take time off or to need to adjust your schedule if you have cancer. However, to need to take time off or adjust things because you have mental illness is seen as a sign of weakness.

Good boundaries are important. Photo by Jeff Norris
I believe many of us with mental illness are more in tune with what is going on around us and dysfunctional environments are not something we can or feel obligated to continue in. I know for me, being someone who works extremely hard to have good boundaries and be responsible, I have a low tolerance for the opposite behavior. Being in environments that are not healthy can also set off a bipolar episode, so it is really unsafe for people like me to be in such situations. We need to draw healthy boundaries and be in as healthy a place as possible. However, in my experience, it is looked down on when we just wont put up with this behavior, especially if part of the reason is that it is harmful to us. I guess I do not know why drawing boundaries is seen as a sign of weakness as opposed to a sign of health.

One of the most important things people with bipolar disorder and other forms of mental illness need to do is create as stable a life as possible so that it is less likely something will trigger your illness. However, this is often the hardest thing to do because other people see you as weak, lazy, or not willing to love others no matter what. But the best thing my husband ever did for me was draw boundaries with me and say I had to get more help in order for us to stay together. When he put his health before mine, he actually enabled me to have the strength to do the same for myself.

I am hoping this blog post helps people remember that you need to take care of yourself first, or those you love will suffer. We can't let other people's judgement about what is good and right take over our own judgement. Most things in life are not black and white, right or wrong so if you need to make tough decisions in order to be healthy, do it.


Rev. Katie

Monday, October 10, 2011

Difficult Decision Part V

This is in follow up to my recent journey of deciding to take medication. (Part I & II, Part III, Part IV) I think this will be the last part of this series for a while.

After some cutting of pills to get a correct dose and timing, this new medication seems to be working out well, and I am learning to live with the side effects. I had all the tests done to make sure the more concerning side effects were not harming me in any way, and it does not look like they are.

This past week when I saw my doctor again, we did add in another medication (one I have taken before) for the depression since the new meds do not help with that. We will see how it works.

Overall, I am very glad I stuck with the medication and side effects to see what would happen. I thank my hsuband for the many nights he stayed up with me as I agonized over taking the meds.

Over the past seven months, my bipolar disorder had gotten so bad that there were many things I could not do. I was just too exhausted, angry, and unable to get myself together enough to really have the life I wanted. However, this week I decorated the house for Halloween with my son, which I really would not have been able to do before. And today we built a little fort on the couch and I read Harry Potter to him. I have started back on Weight Watchers for the weight gain, and I am working on other lifestyle changes.
In our "fort," after the collapse :-) photo by Jeff Norris

I understand that I have to live with and manage my bipolar every day, but it was at the point where it was taking over my life. Clearly we could not let that happen and I think that is one of the things people need to know about managing mental illness.

We do not choose to be this way, but when it gets to the point that we can't do things and be who we are because of the disease, we do have the choice to keep fighting and get more help. The help will change over time. I assume my meds will change again at some point. I assume I will have hard times, and even right now I am still in the mode of needing to do a lot of work to get stable. But there will also be times when I am stable and I am in a routine where I barely think of my illness.

We may not be thrilled with all the things we have to do to manage our illness, but many people have different kinds of illnesses and they all manage as well. The point is that we can help each other find what works, keep our routines, and have many wonderful days.


Rev. Katie

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Scrapbooking and Mental Illness

Today I opened up the large wooden chest which houses my many scrapbooks, which has remained closed for almost two years.

For many years, scrapbooking was an integral part of my life. It was my hobby, art therapy, and spiritual practice. I even taught a class at church many years ago called "Scrapbooking as a Spiritual Practice" and was hired to make scrapbooks for other people. Yet I have let this most important part of my life fall by the wayside. It is no wonder why my bipolar disorder has gotten worse these past few years.

My lack of scrapbooking is not the only reason I am struggling so much, but it is a significant contributor. Scrapbooking was my way of lifting my spirits, lessening the negative thoughts in my mind, and helping me remember who I am and what I want out of life.

When I looked through my scrapbooks today I was shocked at how much of myself I have forgotten. I have forgotten how creative I am, how proud I am of myself, how much fun my husband, son, and I can have together, what I have accomplished, and how much I have to live for. I have felt defeated and depressed for so long and with my art form hidden away and a room too messy to scrapbook in, I have no reminder. No way to process what is hard in life, and celebrate what is good. No way to connect with the divine as art is my main mode of connecting with that which is greater than myself.

I know from experience how important all art forms are in our lives and how imagination fuels the mind. However, I think scrapbooking provides a very important medium for people with mental illness.

In my experience, when I am depressed, paranoid, or manic, I have lost touch with parts of reality. For example, when I am angry and manic, I may think my husband hates me, never loved me, and wants to control me. This is not true, yet I can not stop myself from thinking it at times. Then we fight and I might refuse to take my medicine. Things slide downhill from there. However, my scrapbooks tell me different. If I actually took the time to look at my albums I would be reminded of how much my husband loves me, how much fun we have together, and how supportive of me he is. For me scrapbooks can stop a manic or depressed episode from getting full blown.

The act of scrapbooking is also the way I process things. Through page composition, color, photos, and words I can see the reality of a situation. If you ask me today about the two half marathons I completed, I will probably tell you that I was too slow, I never trained enough, I wasn't dedicated enough, and I was a failure. However, the act of looking at the pictures, writing about what it felt like to train in the middle of the Chicago winter and what it felt like to cross the finish line with my husband and son, shows me reality. I can be proud of the work I did, how I trained, and feel like a success rather than a failure.

I know my next project is to clean up my scrapbooking room and bring back that part of my life. I also know that the first ArtCare program for mental illness I want to create for my family's foundation, the Carolyn L. Farrell Foundation for Brain Health, is a scrapbooking program. By doing these two things I hope to help heal my mind and bring that healing to others.


Rev. Katie

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Religion and Recovery

The magazine BP Hope (Bipolar Hope) asked for responses to a question about religion and recovery for their fall 2011 issue. They used my answer, which I have posted below and you can also see online by clicking here. The online version does not have my name, but in the subscription it does.

 Question: Many of us draw strength from our religious faith and relationship with the divine. How has your faith helped you cope with bipolar and maintain your stability?

The fall issue of BP Hope looks great and I can't wait until I get my copy in the mail. I am really interested in reading the article about weight.

Follow BP Hope on Facebook, they have great posts and are a wonderful community. Also, I really love their blogs on their website. Two recent interesting blog posts are Money and the Manic Depressive and The Benefits of Going Public.


Rev. Katie

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Book Review: "Sometimes My Mommy Gets Angry"

We have always wanted to make sure that our son understands my mental illness in a way that is appropriate for his age. In my opinion, it is not good for us to hide such things from our children because kids tend to think that things happening around them are their fault. I know even when we explain exactly what is going on and that an illness is not a child's fault, they will probably think it is sometimes. I want our son to know my mood changes are not due to anything he does and I want him to understand this illness as best he can so his internalization of what is happening can be kept to a minimum. However, I have found little resources for young children of parents with mental illness, especially bipolar disorder. So, I was very surprised when I was browsing the children's section of our local bookstore when we lived in Chicago (57 Street Books) and I found a book called Sometimes My Mommy Gets Angry by Bebe Moore Campbell.

In this picture book, Annie's happy mother makes her golden pancakes in the morning, but Annie thinks "I hope that she is still smiling when I come home. Sometimes my mommy doesn't smile at all." When Annie gets home that afternoon, her mother is angry, yells at Annie and Annie asks her to stop yelling but knows her mother can't stop. Annie calls her grandmother for help, and her grandmother reminds her that she can take care of herself, to which Annie says "It's not fair. Every time my mommy has problems, I have to take care of myself."

Annie and her grandmother go over Annie's care plan, such as staying in her room, eating from her secret stash of food, going to the neighbors house in case things get really bad, and remembering that Annie can find sunshine in her own mind even if everything around her is dark.

The book ends with Annie caring for herself, finding joy in the falling rain and sunshine in her mind, and waiting for the next time her mommy isn't angry.

Overall, I think the book explains bipolar disorder in a way that is understandable to children. I am not so thrilled with the "play teasing" that the children in the book do to one another, but I can over look that. One of the things I really like is that the grandmother validates Annie's feelings, such as telling her that it is ok to be angry, it is ok to be scared, and then they create a plan for how to deal with what is going on. One thing I am a little unsure about is that the grandmother says Annie's mother has not asked for help yet, and it implies if she did, she would get better, which is not entirely accurate. Many of us work very hard to get better and still struggle with our illness every day.

Clearly though, this book is very accurate and I can tell because it makes me cry every time I read it. It describes so much of what my son goes through and how he has had to care for himself when I have been very sick. This is not something I want for him, yet it is a reality of our lives.

What I want him to know is that I fight this illness every minute, every hour, every day and will keep fighting so that we can have the best life possible. I hope he knows how much I love him, even when I am angry, which is also mentioned in the book. I make sure I explain what is going on, take time away if I get angry, and let him know that it is my illness making me angry or sad, not him. I find I have kind of gone overboard in this regard as he gets annoyed that I tell him I love him so frequently. He says "I know you love me Mommy, you don't have to tell me all the time!"


Rev. Katie

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Difficult Decision Part IV: "100% Better"

This is a continuation of my reflections of how difficult it is to decide to take medicine. (Here are Parts I & II and Part III.)

Reading the many possible side effects of my medication.
I have been on my new medication for a week now. As I mentioned in my previous post, I started with side effects of dizziness, extreme fatigue, and feeling faint. Now we can add to that some side effects I prefer not to mention, weight gain (yes in one week), and racing heartbeat just walking up the stairs.

However, according to my husband and son, I am 100% better than I was before.

Dang it!! This would be so much easier if the medication did not work. Then I could just stop the meds and have lost nothing. Instead I have side effects for which I need to have more tests run to see how the medication is affecting my body and now I fear needing to stop it due to finding out that it is hurting me too much to continue taking it.

I actually have never been this stable. Even when I was "stable" before, while I was able to get through my life and be productive I still had a baseline of feeling miserable, sad, and angry. Now mentally I feel fine most of the time, which is really weird for me (post about that coming soon).

I can't believe after a life of misery and after 13 years of medications, that we have found one which works, only to have the risk of losing my sanity again if the medication is too risky to take. Or I continue to take it but have side effects which seriously limit what I can do. Such as, is driving safe? Will I ever be able to exercise again or go on a bike ride with my son with this increased heart rate? Will I be fat forever?

What the heck is that all about?

These are the times when I question what kind of God, Universe, etc... messes with people in this way. What is the purpose in this?

All questions I will be exploring further, but for right now, I just need to wait. Wait to see how long this stability lasts, and wait until all the tests are done and we see what we are dealing with.


Rev. Katie

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Difficult Decision Part III

This is a continuation of my blog post Part I & II about the difficult decision to take medication:

I have been on my new medication for two days now and I am uncoordinated, dizzy, and speech is more difficult for me. I was not manic at night yesterday like I usually am, and I was a little more stable during the day yesterday.

Today my son and I were at the NAMIWalk for mental illness (shout out to all the wonderful people I met today) and I was tired again, but by mid-morning I was actually playing catch with my son as we waited for the walkers. I was thinking that maybe the medicine is helping and I was so grateful to be having fun with my son.

Then I was reading a book to him and I started to feel faint and like I was going to fall over. I tried to eat some cereal I brought with me but kept missing my mouth as my coordination was so bad.

I had driven to the walk because I thought could drive this morning, but now I knew I could not drive home. My Dad had to come pick us up.

This is why deciding to take medicine is so difficult. I might have been having a better day earlier just because it was sunny out and I do have some good days, or it might be the medicine. It is too early to tell if the medicine is working yet, but these side effects mean I can't really drive because I might get stuck somewhere and get dizzy. This means I need to stay at home for now.

The worst part today though was how my son was affected by all of this. I had to tell him that I felt faint and if I fall, I will be ok, but he should tell someone and call 911. I felt it was better to tell him beforehand so I did not just fall over and he would be scared and not know what to do.

So then my sweet 7 year old son was worried about me and acting as my caregiver. He wanted to keep my cell phone in his hand and as we were cleaning up the display table, he wanted to carry everything and make me sit on the ground so if I fell I would not hit my head on the concrete. I feel so awful about putting him through that kind of fear and in the position to have to get help for me if I needed it.

He told me I should not take the medicine anymore. I said it might make me better, more happy, so we can have fun like we were when we were playing catch. He said "What's worse: Being unhappy from bipolar or dying from medicine?"

Good question my beautiful child.

This is why the difficult decision continues.


Rev. Katie

Friday, September 23, 2011

Join Me at the National Alliance on Mental Ilness Walk

Tomorrow morning I will be at NAMIWalks Cleveland. I will be there as part of a walk team and I will have a booth for the Carolyn L. Farrell Foundation for Brain Health's bike tour, Ride to Imagine.

Please come out and walk and come visit me at my booth.
NAMIWalks Cleveland
Location: Voinovich Park behind the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
Cleveland, OH
Date: September 24, 2011
Distance: 2.5 MI
Check-in: 9:00 am
Start Time: 10:00 am

The Carolyn L. Farrell Foundation for Brain Health is named after my mom who is currently living with dementia. A few months ago we started the foundation to be able to bring ArtCare programs to people with dementia and other forms of brain disease, including mental illness. Right now we have an ArtCare program for people with dementia and we want to start one for people with mental illness. I would love for you to comment below or talk to me at the NAMI Walk about what kinds of art programs you think might benefit people with mental illness. Right now I am thinking about one involving scrapbooking as I have seen that be very helpful to people with bipolar disorder and depression.

I hope to see you at the walk tomorrow and/or at the Ride to Imagine on October 8.

Click here to donate to our team for the NAMIWalk.
Click here to register for the Ride to Imagine.
Click here to donate to the Carolyn L. Farrell Foundation for Brain Health.

Thank you for supporting our community and I hope to see those of you who live in the Cleveland area soon!


Rev. Katie

Difficult Decision Parts I & II

I don't always know if people really understand how hard it is to decide whether or not to take medication. Most of the time, people judge those of us who go off or won't take medication, as if just taking it would solve all our problems. However, medication is just one part in the treatment plan for mental illness, and while it may help, it also has big risks associated with it.

In order to shed some light on just how hard this decision is, I have decided to share with you what it is like to have to make the decision to take medicine or not. I have two parts of this post already and I will follow up with future parts as I progress in this decision.

Difficult Decision Part I (written over a few days of thinking about taking new medication)

I was struggling a few weeks ago over taking new medicine. I eventually came to terms with the fact that I have to take medication and took what was given to me. However, I just got worse and worse. I saw my doctor again last week, and he prescribed another new medication for me. When I got home and read about it, I just couldn't make myself take it.

This is a new class of drugs for me, with side effects that are significantly more risky. The probability of getting one particular side effect increases the longer you take the drug, and it is not always reversible. I could end up with permanent tardive dyskinesia, which is uncontrollable movements of the face, mouth, and other parts of the body.

A new warning from the FDA just came out this month about the serious risk of anaphylactic shock with this medicine. There is also the risk of NMS, which is a potentially fatal side effect.

With the other medicines I have taken, I knew that if I had a side effect, I could stop taking the medicine, and it would go away. This new class of drugs has side effects that are not so simple.

Frankly, at this point, I am not willing to take such a drug. These side effects sound too risky to me. No doctor, no matter how amazing, can predict what side effects and how safe any medication is for an individual.

Maybe I am too crazy to know what is best, but I see no way in which it is safe for me to take this medicine. I do not understand how medicines like this are even ok for people like me. I have not ended up in jail or in the hospital due to my illness. Were I close to death because of this, I might consider taking it. Instead I am miserable and barely able to function, but I still do anyway. This will get slightly better sometime and I will go back to gain a bit more ability to function, but at least I won't die or be stuck with facial ticks because of medication.

Maybe it is because I have been sick for so long that I have gotten used to knowing I will always be miserable. I know miserable. I know the hell of bipolar, but I don't know these medications and the side effects that could happen.

Is it worth it to take such a risky medication when no medicine has worked so far? I risk my life for the likelihood that the medicine won't work. That does not seem reasonable to me.

Difficult Decision Part II (written the next day)

I took a lot of time to think today about how my illness affects others around me; my husband, son, parents, friends, work. I can see how the current severity of my illness is making my son more sad and concerned. I see how my husband and Dad truly worry that if I continue to get worse, I will kill myself. I know many of the lifestyle changes I need to make to be stable, yet I am so sick right now that I can not do them.

I have spent my whole life sick with times where I was more stable, but never had a day without my moods going up and down.

But my husband asked me today, "What if this works?"

If it works, I could wake up in the morning and not hate my life. I could spend as much time with my son as I want.

I could get things done more efficiently. My family could stop worrying about loosing me either from suicide or packing up and leaving them. I could maintain all of the other things that help with bipolar and be very stable, not just stable enough to get by.

So, I will try the medicine for the first time tonight. I admit, I am scared. However, I have been scared before and that has not stopped me from fighting for my life and what I love.

The decision to take medicine does not end the day you start taking it. I will need to see if it helps, monitor any side effects, and get regular blood levels taken. The decision is ongoing and never easy.

I hope this gives you a glimpse into how hard this is for many of us, and not a decision we make lightly.

I would like to hear how other people have made decisions over whether or not to take medication. What helps you decide?


Rev. Katie

Friday, September 16, 2011

Faith in My Wellness and Our Future

When things get bad, as they are for me right now, sometimes a loved one says something that helps you laugh in the midst of despair, or helps you feel loved in the midst of darkness.

The other day I said to my husband "You want to divorce me don't you?" He laughed and said "No, but I would like it if my wife was a little less crazy" and he gave me a hug.

He has faith that somehow I will get back to my "less crazy" self. I think he is right, but I still don't know how he makes the choice, every day, to stay with me anyway.

Again, a song from the musical Next to Normal explains it so well. Here are a few of they lyrics from Why Stay?/A Promise:

Here's what I say to the girl who was burning so brightly
Like the light from Orion above
And still I will search for her nightly,
if you see her please send her my love.
And the boy was a boy for all seasons
That boy is long lost to me now
And the man has forgotten his reasons
But the man still remembers his vow.

A promise a man says forever
A man says I'll never regret or let you
The promise I made to stay and I stay true.
Knowing one day we'd remember that joy.
You'd remember that girl
I'd remember that boy, till we do
The promise I made I'll make it brand new.
A promise that I made to you.

To me, it's not so much about the promise he has made, but the faith that he has. Faith that thing will get better, even though we have been going through this for seventeen years. Faith in the vows that we made to stay with one another through good times and bad, sickness and health. However, it is not a faith in some outside force that will make things better, he has faith that we can get through this together.

Me and my boys, who always have faith in me and our future.


Rev. Katie

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The "Chosen" Illness

It is very interesting for me to watch how the stigma against dementia, which my mom has, and the stigma against mental illness varies. There are many similarities with both illnesses, such as how people are uncomfortable around you and there is this feeling that people with these illnesses are weird and embarrassing. However, the big difference is that most people have compassion for people with dementia. Not as many people have compassion for those of us with mental illness, particularly with bipolar disorder. I believe this is because most people think mental illness is a choice, whereas they see dementia as an illness inflicted upon someone.

But let me tell you, mental illness is never something I would have chosen. I would not wish it on my worst enemy. Why would I chose this much suffering? Why would I chose to have this affect my family?

No one would chose that. No one would chose to have something else take over your brain so much so that you try and stop yourself from your actions and you can't. It is as if you are watching something horrible happen right in front of you, but you can't get there fast enough to stop it. Some people even have times when they don't even know what they did for hours or days at a time.

The choice I do have though is to keep fighting. Sometimes the only way I can make that choice is because I have asked people to make it for me when my brain is so impaired that I can't do it myself. That is why people with mental illness need compassion. This is an illness which we did not choose, we deserve the same compassion as everyone else, and we need help.

I often hear people judge others with mental illness and say they are irresponsible, bad, and intentionally mean, especially when what someone has done has hurt another person. I do not believe it is alright for us to hurt others because of our illness, but the fact is, this illness does hurt those around us. So does every other illness though. Breast cancer devastates the patient's family and friends. Dementia causes many patients to be mean to their loved ones. Every illness affects the people we love.

People often say of patients with dementia who belittle, yell at, and demean their spouse: "It's just their illness." However when I do not act as kind as I should to my spouse, people have said to me: "You are a horrible wife."

Instead of blaming the person, it would be much better if we helped them. It was not until my husband had compassion and understood my illness was not a choice that we were able to work together to find a way for him to hold me accountable and intervene when I have little choice in my actions.

For instance, I overeat sugar when my illness is bad, and then the sugar just makes me worse. It was not until my husband understood that I can't just choose not to eat the candy in the house that he was able to help me. Just today I was very angry and went to get candy to eat, only to find he had locked it all away. He was able to give me agency in my life and help me do the right thing by taking over for me when my mind does not give me a choice in what I am doing.

Understanding that mental illness is not a chosen illness has allowed me to ask for help. Actually, it allowed me to insist that I deserved compassion, just like everyone else. Which means I finally know that I am a good person and I will do whatever it takes to be stable. I do understand some people have such severe mental illness that they can not even make the choice to ask for help, to try and be stable. We can still hold them accountable, but not believe they are a bad person who chooses to be this way.

I didn't choose my illness and I can't always choose what my mind does. However, I can choose, with the help of others, to set up my life and make a plan that gives me the most possibility of success. I chose to ask people to hold me accountable and help me get back on track. I chose to never give up.


Rev. Katie

Monday, September 5, 2011

I Was Never Free

As I have been reading "Welcome to the Jungle," a book about bipolar disorder written by Hilary Smith, there are many things I can identify with, but one thing I can not. I do not ever remember a time when I have been free of bipolar disorder.

Smith talks about how to handle when you or someone else realized your behavior is not your "normal" behavior, and you are diagnosed in late teens or early adulthood.

While I was not officially diagnosed with mental illness until I was 19, I knew something was wrong starting at age 6. I just did not start to receive medical care for it until I was 19.

I have no pre-bipolar life. No time when I was ever happy, stable, free of anger, mania and depression. When I read of people having a stable life and their trigger/onset starting when they are older, I feel a sense of loss and fear. I feel sad that I won't ever know the me who is not mentally ill. Then that makes me feel scared because it is kind of scary knowing you were never well. Then I am scared that I will never be able to manage this and be stable enough to have a good life. There was one time, a few years ago, when I was managing my illness, but that did not last for long.

Much of the way people talk about diagnosing mental illness is extreme, prolonged change in what is normal behavior for you. You stop enjoying things you once enjoyed. Well, I have never really enjoyed anything on a consistent basis for more than a few days, unless it is a manic over focused phase.

Or you find your mood is either more manic or depressed than normal. Well, I rapid cycle, so my mood has never been stable for more than half a day. All the diagnoses talk about a person being different than who they were before.

Who was I before? Or, who could I have been had my illness not started so early? Could I have been a happy kid who was not afraid to leave her house? Could I not have been a germaphobe who has perfected the art of washing her hands in a public restroom and exiting a bathroom without ever having to touch the water handle or a door handle?

Reading this book got me thinking about how the time of onset of your illness brings with it different reactions in terms of loss of self. People who's onset is later in life, from what I have read, sometimes feel a loss of self, of who they were pre-illness. In my experience, when you have always been ill, there is a loss of self, but not a lose of who you were, a loss of who you could have been.


Rev. Katie

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Yes, I Wear My Glasses

I just found a fantastic book about bipolar disorder. Seriously, go out and get the book now. It is called "Welcome to the Jungle: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Bipolar but Were too Freaked Out to Ask" by Hilary Smith.

Smith is a young adult writer with bipolar disorder who has an amazing truthful and witty writing style. I can't stop laughing reading her book. I will have a full review for you in just a few days, but I wanted to highlight one part of her book that I just love.

As I mentioned before, I am struggling with the fact that I have to take medication. In her book, Smith has a whole section about medication including talking about how so many of us don't want to take it. She gives great advice on how to combat our objections to medication.

At one point she says:
"Do you wear glasses? Do you sometimes go off wearing glasses for a month to see if your eyesight has fixed itself? Why not? Why is it easy to accept that your farsightedness is real and permanent, but hard to accept bipolar disorder? Can taking medication become as normal and acceptable to you as wearing your glasses?"

Well, I do wear glasses, I am quite blind without them. I have never "gone off" my glasses (unless I replace them with contacts.) How stupid would that be? I could risk seriously hurting people if I didn't wear my glasses and got in a car accident.

Not taking medication does the same thing. I seriously hurt myself and others when I don't take my medication and work on finding a mix that helps me.

Why does it take such a silly example for something to become so clear?

That is what I love about this book. It is full of glaringly obvious information that really, I should know, but it took her writing style to make it clear. Thank goodness for people sharing their stories in order to help others!

Rev. Katie

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Why Can't I Get it Together?

There are times when this illness is just so frustrating! Every day there are things I need to do in order to help stabilize my illness, and I can't do it. I often ask myself "Why can't I get it together?" Why can't I do all the things I need to help myself?

Why? Because there are times in the cycle of this illness where you just don't care anymore. There are times when you think no matter what you do you won't get any better so there is no reason trying. There are times when you know you should not be doing something because it is bad for you, but you do it anyway- it is like you are watching a train wreck happen and you can't stop it. There are times when we are in a social setting where self care such as a certain diet, sleep schedule, and exercise schedule seems ridiculous to other people so you don't do it because you don't want to be judged or made fun of. And frankly, the list of things one needs to do each day just to get by is ridiculously long and sometimes you are just too tired to do them all.

I have been trying to "get it together" for years and sometimes it happens, often it doesn't, but I can't give up hope. I do the best I can and keep fighting to get better. In times like these I try to remember what I want to get better for. I wish I had enough self-esteem to say I want to get better for myself, and that is my biggest motivator, but right now it isn't. I want to get better for my son who would be devastated if something happened to me. I want to get better for my husband who loves me too, and my parents so I can be here to help them. I want to get better because I love being a minister.

In times when you just can't get it together, what keeps you fighting for your health?

For those of you with a loved one whom you are trying to help, in my experience, it has never helped for other people to tell me what things/people I need to get better for. Saying I need to get better for my husband or son just makes me feel guilty. Saying I need to get better because other people in the world have it worse than me makes me feel guilty and mad. However, people who have told me I need to get better because I am worth it and deserve a good life, did make a difference. I know, it sounds backwards to some people, but that is what works for me. I would sum it up to say that unconditional love, not judgment, helps me. I don't know what will work for your loved one, but I just wanted to let you know what helped me in case they might be similar and it helps them.


Rev. Katie

Friday, August 26, 2011

Nickelodeon Stigmatizes Mental Illness

The popular Nickelodeon children's show iCarly ran an episode a week ago called "iLost My Mind." One character, Sam, checked herself into a mental institution because she and another character, Freddy, kissed. She thinks she has lost her mind because she kissed Freddy and when Carly and Freddy find out where Sam is, they try to break her out.

When I heard the episode would air, I sent an email to Nickelodeon expressing my concern of the impact such a show has on our society and kids. It increases the stigma against mental illness and it is also a risk to children who see it and will be too ashamed to ask for help if they are struggling with mental illness. I did not get a reply from Nickelodeon and neither did the other people I know of who sent similar emails.

My seven year old son and I actually really like iCarly and watch it together often so we watched this episode together to see what it was like. He is well aware of my bipolar disorder and the realities of mental illness, not the cultural misrepresentation of it.

After the show I asked him "How did you think the show made people with mental illness look?" He said "It made them look stupid."

Then I asked him "How do you think a kid with mental illness might feel after watching that show?" His eyes got wide and he said "They would feel really bad."

I get very frustrated when our society makes fun of people with mental illness. I am appalled though that a children's show would add to the stigma. The mental institution in the show is dirty, the "patients" either walk around like zombies, think they are from the future, speak as multiple people, or wear gas masks. The signs on the wall of the common room say thing like "Urine is for the Restroom," "Biting is for Food," "Don't Kill You're Friends," and the game area sign says "Don't Eat the Pieces."

For all those who think the show is just a comedy and does not negatively affect kids or their view of the mentally ill, just look at my son's response to the show. I remember my reaction to shows like this when I was little because at just six years old, I knew that there was something wrong with my brain. Seeing shows like this and hearing people make fun of those with mental illness made me ashamed, scared, and unwilling to ask for help.

I hope Nickelodeon listens to the many emails people sent in expressing concerns over the show. I hope they are inspired instead to create a public service announcement for kids that mental illness is just that, an illness, let them know where to get help, and gives them hope that they can get better.

This episode was highly anticipated by children and youth everywhere, and received over 5.5 million views on it's "world premiere" day.

Here is the best link I could find to the episode:

If you would like to contact Nickelodeon about this episode, you can email them at or: (212) 258-7579.


Rev. Katie

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Help from "The Penguin"

As a minister who has read a lot about counseling and as a person with mental illness who has been in therapy for 100 years (well, it feels like 100 years), I have read plenty of "self-help" and psychology books. Books about cognitive behavioral therapy, how to manage attention deficit disorder, nutrition and mental illness, 12 step programs, family systems theory, childhood psychology, Dr. Phil, and many more.

Each book and writer promises to be able to help me change my life, inspire me, and give me personal revelations. However, there is only one author I turn to in the midst of a life that is spiraling out of control and a breakdown of mass proportions- John, "the Penguin" Bingham.

John Bingham writes about running. He writes about how to start running, how to train for a marathon, how to avoid black toenails and chafing. So, why is he the author I turn to when I am, as I say, "loosing it?" Because exercise and a healthy lifestyle helps keep my bipolar, panic and ADD manageable and his books inspire me to do those things.

I stopped running when we moved back home a few years ago. In Chicago, the running community is huge and every pace runner and run/walker is welcome. In Cleveland, I am almost always the slowest, which would be ok if the running culture here was more open to slower runners. You clearly get the vibe here that slow runners should not be at a 5K, half marathon, or marathon, and there are very few slow runners at Cleveland races. It makes racing awful, yet one of the things I love about running is the races.

So, I picked up John Bingham's newest book, "An Accidental Athlete" and I have the courage to start running again. His book helped me remember I should not care that I am slow, because I love running. I love running for the fun of it and I like training for long races because it is a challenge. I like long runs with my husband where we talk and discuss the important stuff in life. Bingham focuses on the fact that running pace does not matter, instead, we run for all the great things it brings into our lives. Running changes our life no matter how fast we run. He says in his book No Need for Speed, "Through running, I create myself as I have always wanted to be."

The whole process of training for and finishing a race makes you a different person each time. You learn more about who you are and what you value. Not to mention, training for an event keeps you running, which is important because of the proven benefits of exercise on mental health.

When I stopped running, I lost myself. I lost all the progress I had made. I lost my decision to care about myself and believe I could get better. Bingham's books remind me I don't have to loose all of those things. I have the ability to change all of that and make my dreams come true. John Bingham says of runners, "The miracle is that we were able to reach down and find some part of ourselves that still believed our dreams were possible."

Reading his books reminds me that I still believe my dream of a good life is possible.

Where do you find hope and inspiration?


Rev. Katie

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Medicine Dance

There is a song in the musical Next to Normal (about a woman with bipolar and her family) called "Who's Crazy/My Psychopharmacologist and I." It talks about the medical treatment for Diana, the woman with bipolar, and how her husband Dan feels about her illness.

The part about the psychopharmacological treatment for Diana is scary, sad, and yet funny at the same time. For those of us who have done this medicine dance, this song is all too real. You take a cocktail of medications which give you a ton of side effects, and you are declared stable when eventually you feel nothing.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I don't really want to be on medication and I would rather manage my bipolar with vitamins, diet, exercise, sleep, and other lifestyle adjustments. I am afraid of the side effects of the pills, yet my bipolar can not be managed without them.

I recently talked to a teenager who has been told they should be on medication, but they do not want it either. I don't think people should be forced to take pills, but part of the disease of mental illness is that we don't think we need and/or we don't want medication. We must get good doctors and get multiple opinions if we need to, so we can adequately determine if we truly need to be on med's or not.

Looking back, I wish when I was in high school or younger, I would have had medication. First of all, my illness was not quite as severe, and the anxiety was the biggest problem. Interestingly, anxiety is the one thing which is easy for me to get rid of with medication. To know that I could have prevented years of crippling panic attacks with one pill makes me sad. I wonder how much more successful I could have been at the things I loved liked dancing, singing, and color guard. I lost so much by not being treated for my anxiety.

Let me describe the difference for you. When I am not on medication, I have panic attacks when I preach on Sundays. In order to do this thing that I love, I must adequately prepare, have a plan if my panic attack gets too bad, and do a lot of mental preparation. I preach, all the while telling myself in my mind that everything will be ok. I am scared to death, heart racing, palms sweating, for an hour, and no one knows. Or, I take one pill and am a little nervous, but present in the moment, with wonderful congregants, sharing a sacred hour with them.

It's a big difference, and while medication scares me, if I can find something that works, it can be worth it. The problem is the darn medicine dance. The side effects can be devastating and sometimes it feels like you spend most of your life cutting pills in half, timing when you take them, and trying new ones.

All this is to say that taking medication is a hard decision. I am attempting to come to grips with the reality that I have to take the pills. I still have to take vitamins, exercise, maintain a sleep schedule, meditate, and eat right too. Medicine won't take the place of a healthy lifestyle. As they say in Next to Normal "Is medicine magic, you know that it's not. But it's what we've got."


Rev. Katie

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Take Your Illness Seriously

I went to my psychiatrist this week. He asked me how I have been doing and I said "awful." He looked me straight in the eye and said "When are you going to start taking your illness seriously?"

Well, I thought I had been taking it seriously. I see my doctor regularly, try to keep the correct diet, exercise, and sleep schedule. I keep trying to take care of my bipolar without medicine, and that is why he asked me when I will take my illness seriously. There are people who can take care of their mental illness through exercise and nutrition, apparently I am just not one of them. When I can do all of the lifestyle adjustments perfectly, I remain pretty stable, but not if life gets too stressful, or I forget an element of the program for a few days, or I am out late for a meeting and don't get to bed on time. Basically, he was asking when I would accept the fact that my illness is too severe to be able to control without medication.

My doctor knows I need to be on medication, and also knows it needs to be my decision. However, I don't want to take it. There are not many I can take because I am so sensitive to medication. I can't take anything for the ADD because all of those pills made the bipolar worse. When I take very low doses of the few things that do help, my creativity lessens greatly, which makes my job harder, as writing is quite essential to preaching.

I do take my illness seriously, but I don't know that I am ready to accept I can't do this on my own. Part of it is because I am scared of medications and the side effects I encounter on them. The other part is the societal belief that people with mental illness can choose to get better. Much of society believes if we just worked harder, stopped being so sensitive, and tried harder, we would be fine. While intellectually, I know that is not true, emotionally, I feel like a weak failure because I can't take care of this myself. I try to combat this negative thinking, but it is still in the back of my mind that if I were a better, stronger, smarter person, I would not be sick.

I think I can take my illness seriously, but this will take some getting used to because this is the first time I have felt despair that I may not ever get better. On medication, I have never been stable, just about 20% better. Off medication, there were only a few times I have been 70% percent better, but only for a month or two, then I am a wreck. I feel like now, with the understanding that my illness is bad and I have to take medication, that I have to decide either to be a emotionless and uncreative medicated blob, or a raving lunatic. I am not sure I like either of those choices, but all we can do is deal with what we have.

So, we are changing my medication for what feels like the thousandth time, and I am afraid of it. I am afraid of the side effects and afraid of loosing the parts of myself that I do like, such as my creativity. I guess I just have to decide that I am serious about managing this even though I might loose something in the process.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Perfectionism, ADD, and Organizing: Not a Good Mix

My husband recently asked me how I used to be able to stage manage shows, or how I can plan church work, but I can't organize my own office. (Well, I can organize my own office, but usually only in a manic organizing fit and it never stays organized.)

I can organize and manage things outside of myself because I can see the individual steps and I can see an end to someone else's task, but not my own. I am too close to my own stuff to be able to see the individual parts. When I look at my office, I see a ton of stuff and no plan. I get overwhelmed, panic, and become unable to decide what to do next. I can sit in my office for hours and get three-fourths of the room done and be paralyzed with being unable to figure out the last steps to complete the project.

However, invite me into your office, and I can organize the heck out of it. You will have a place for everything, and everything in it's place. And here is where the other problem lies.

I want everything to be perfect. If something can't be perfect, my first instinct is that it's worthless. If my office can't be perfectly organized, with a place for everything, I think it is pointless to try and put things away. I can't visualize where the individual pieces will go, so they just get tossed on my desk. Part of the perfectionism is because if I don't see something, I forget about it. I need things to be perfect so I don't forget anything.

For instance, I actually had all my makeup organized in labeled drawers, yet I barely used any of it. This is because I couldn't see it. The ideal storage system for me would be to have everything hanging on my walls so I see it at all times. As a step in this direction, that is what I did with my makeup this week, I hung it on a magnetic board.

Most people don't understand why I just can't get it together and be organized. Literally, I just can't do it. Multi-step systems of organizing, like writing appointments down and transferring it to my calendar, are too confusing. I always forget to transfer the information because if it is not in front of me, I don't remember to do it.

I have been told, and read in various books, that the inattention and inability to see the individual pieces of a project are due to my Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD.) The perfectionism is part of both the bipolar disorder and the ADD.

I have tried everything to figure out how to deal with these complications of my illness and I have yet to find a solution. I have read a ton of organizing books and they all are too complicated for me. There are files, steps, bins, buckets, and rules as to how many times you touch a piece of mail.

If anyone has a system that works for you, I would love to hear about it. I could always hire a stage manager for my own life, and I am seriously contemplating doing that.

Rev. Katie

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Do You See What I See?

Sometimes I don't realize how odd my bipolar mind can be unless I am talking to my very rational, very linear, very stoic husband. I don't know how he does not see the world like I do. How come music does not bring him to tears, or make him feel deeply connected to something larger than himself. How come sad stories in the news don't make him feel as if the world is doomed to be horrible forever? How come stories of incredible generosity do not give him faith in humans and hope for a better world? Why isn't everything either filled with beauty, music, and color, or darkness and despair? Why can't he stay up until 3am because some issue is so important that we have to talk about it right now? Why can't he feel another person's pain or fear? Where is all the passion, beauty, fear, and anxiety in life?

I feel like he is missing out on life at times, but I am pretty sure if both of us were this way we could never stay together. It frustrates me that sometimes I can not connect with him on the intense level I function at each day. I am a little sad that he will never see what I see. However, it is his stability and logical yet creative mind that keeps my overly creative mind from taking over our lives. His mind makes him great at what he does, and mine makes me great at what I do.
He always says he likes how I am more artistically creative and more empathetic than he is. He feels he has learned a lot about how to care about other people and connect socially from me. He has taught me how to take my instincts and process them so I know what logical next steps to take. Together we make a pretty good mix.

It is hard not to feel alone in your illness if people around you do not see life as you do. This is one of the things that can break up people who love each other. It seems like you can't connect sometimes, or your partner does not understand you. Just because others do not see what we see, that does not mean we are alone. It is up to us to realize  we still have connections with others and it is probably our differences that make us great partners or friends.


Rev. Katie

Friday, August 5, 2011

The "Evil Spirits" Myth

I noticed this week that my blog came up under a search for the phrase "do evil spirits cause bi-polar." My blog was a search result probably because of the previous post I did about what religion has taught me about mental illness over the years. In my younger years it was not a positive message.

One of the reasons I wanted to write this blog about bipolar and spirituality was to help dispel this myth that evil spirits cause bipolar disorder. Whenever I would do a search of "bipolar spirituality," the evil spirits myth would pop up as a search result.
Photo by Jeff Norris

Besides the fact that it is just not scientifically possible for evil spirits to take you over, I also don't like that this line of thinking implies those of us with mental illness have no agency. If something else has taken us over and controls us, then there is nothing we can do. It is like being a puppet. We can't get better, we have no free will, we also have no responsibility. What that really means is that we have no hope. For me, hope is one of the things I need in order to live with this illness.

In the midst of deep depression, during mania, or thoughts of what life would be like without me here, I need hope. Hope is the feeling that what is wanted can be had. I want a happy and healthy life. Hope tells me that I can keep going. It says this whole month might be bad, but maybe one day next month will be good. Hope reminds me that I can learn to manage my illness. I can know myself well enough to notice triggers and stop a downward spiral.

It is extremely devastating and dangerous to promote the myth that bipolar disorder is caused by evil spirits. There are actual counseling centers and religious institutions that teach this myth. I really feel that for counseling centers, it should be considered malpractice to tell people they are taken over by evil spirits. I have no words for how scary it is to think something evil possesses you.

For all of you who, like me, were taught that mental illness is caused by evil spirits, it's not true. It is a chemical imbalance, it may be hard but you can manage it, and you have choice in your own life.


Rev. Katie