Mental Wellness Is More Than Pills & Therapy

Author: Kim Barnett

When I was initially diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder I in the early 2000’s, there was not much explained to me about managing the symptoms of the disorder, other than the psychiatrist prescribing me with a couple medications, that he hoped would work and suggesting I see a therapist to help with coping with the dire diagnosis. 


I was in my early 20’s when I first heard I had Bipolar Disorder, and was still in college at the time. I was really into partying up until this point and having a good time with friends. I was self medicating, as some would say, with alcohol, weed and occasionally other drugs. School was really an afterthought and mostly something I felt I had to do, rather than something I wanted to do. 


One day, after partying for a few days, my body and mind finally couldn’t take anymore. I went into what is called psychosis. I didn’t know who I was, thought I was famous, had rapid speech, couldn’t sit down and was pacing a lot, was paranoid, thought people on the television were talking about me or to me, and even thought my roommates at the time were demons. I was trying my hardest to shut my body down to go to sleep. I tried taking a sleeping aid and that didn’t help. Loud noises were a definite trigger and would startle me. I was in bed one of the nights when I couldn’t sleep, and was so scared to move that when I had to pee, I just peed in the bed. My best friend at the time helped clean me and the bed up. God bless that friend, as I’m sure that was scary and emotionally painful to witness. 


My roommates reached out to my mom and stepdad, and my stepdad came to pick me up so they could get me help. They all thought that it was drug or alcohol related, although at this point I had not had any substances in a couple days other than the sleep aid. I’m sure my previous use a couple days prior was not helping the situation though. My step-dad drove me to Moorpark, Ca, which is roughly 30 miles from Northridge, CA where I lived at the time. We were headed to his and my mom’s house. On the way there he had music playing in the car. I proceeded to sing at the top of my lungs and dance to the music. Mind you, he was listening to music I had never heard before, so I was making up the words. He must have been so confused and worried. This was not my normal behavior.


At their house, I waited for my mother to get home from work and I was a cigarette smoker at the time and remember smoking more than half a pack of cigarettes as I waited. Chain smoking was a problem I would come to know later as part of my manic tendencies. Once she arrived and saw my behavior, she immediately took action and drove me to the Emergency Room. My mom’s best friend and my brother went with us to the hospital. In the car I remember being in the backseat with my brother and bothering him on the ride there. Unfortunately or maybe fortunately, I don’t remember many details of that ride. It’s almost as if I blacked out at this point or was sleep walking, since I had been up for 4-5 days straight. It was later explained to me by a psychiatrist that when the body is awake for that long it does act like it’s sleepwalking or micro sleep, in order to protect itself. 


I was immediately attended to at the hospital, filled out some paperwork as best I could, then admitted. I was told later that I attempted to run out of the hospital and was caught by security and brought back. I was admitted to the psych ward, which are now called behavioral health units, here in California. In the psych ward I was medically and psychologically evaluated. This included drug tests to ensure this wasn’t a drug induced psychosis. All they found in my system was THC from the marijuana I frequently smoked. I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and put to sleep with something they injected into my veins. I slept for 3 days and do not remember what happened during that time, except a vague recollection of eating some food. 


I was in the psych ward for almost two weeks. The staff administered medications I couldn’t pronounce and had no clue what they did. I was required to go to group and one on one therapy sessions, participate in activities like arts and crafts and exercise and we were even allowed to smoke on the patio but only at certain times. During my stay, I was severely manic so my moods fluctuated from angry, depressed or extreme euphoria. I was so unruly at one point that they strapped me down to a bed all night by myself, to keep me from moving or disturbing the other patients and the staff. 


Eventually after two weeks of this, I was deemed stable enough to leave, even though I was still severely manic. Once released I was assigned an outpatient county psychiatrist, who prescribed three medications and told me to get a therapist. I did not have insurance at the time and government services were not that great, but at least it was something. The mania lasted for about three months and got a little bit better as the days passed. I started talking to a therapist as suggested and thought I was doing better and that I would be able to put this past me. I went back to work at the Olive Garden and continued school at Cal State University, Northridge as well. Those roommates however were frightened by me and asked me to move out. So I did.


All of this traumatized me and created scars that I thought would never heal. I was told that healing was not possible for me and that the only way to manage my bipolar was through medications and talk therapy. It wasn’t until a couple years ago that I started to believe differently and seek out other options to heal my wounds and the trauma endured from experiences such as the above. This is only one of my experiences out of many similar ones from my past. 


In December of 2020, my path crossed with a Holistic Psychologist and my world of self healing began to open. A new way and perspective of mental health and wellness was finally being introduced to me. I learned that medication management and talk therapy are not the only options to help treat my symptoms. They are helpful but there is more that can help heal my past traumas and wounds. Through this Holistic Psychologist, I learned and began to practice meditation, journaling, breathing techniques, and visualization. I began reading books on these topics as well as practicing some of the knowledge I was learning from these books and teachers. Slowly my perspective started to shift and I began to feel more like myself again. A new world had been opened up. One that does not hold on to the past and shrivels away in misery, but one that learns and grows from the past and uses the knowledge gained to heal from the painful challenges I’ve been through in my life. 


Yes, I still go through challenging times, however, I now have a way out and can get back to a regulated state easier than before. The first challenge, to this new way of living, came in the form of another dire and unwelcome diagnosis on March 7, 2021. I woke up on the morning of March 7th and the right side of my tongue felt slightly numb. I didn’t think anything of it at the time and proceeded to get some water and exercise on my indoor bike. About an hour after I exercised, I was having a conversation with my husband Chuck. He said something funny and I of course laughed at his joke. As I laughed, I noticed that it felt like only part of my face was moving. I told Chuck that my face felt weird and asked him if anything looked off. He said it looked like only the left side of my face was moving. I immediately went to the bathroom to check out my face in the mirror. What I saw was shocking and terrifying!


The whole right side of my face was frozen and slightly droopy. It was also almost completely numb, including the majority of my tongue. My first thought was the worst, that I had a stroke. I’m only in my late 30’s, so the chance of it being a stroke was slim, but my mind has a tendency to always think the worst. I also thought that maybe I slept funny and it was just asleep, like when your foot falls asleep. I kept slapping it, trying to wake it up, but it didn’t work.


A good 30 minutes or so went by before I finally decided I needed to seek medical attention. Chuck and I went to the nearest Emergency Room. I was so scared that they were going to tell me I had a stroke. My heart was pounding and my hands were clammy in anticipation of a diagnosis. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Chuck was not allowed to come into the Emergency Room with me, so I was left to deal with this on my own. I was so scared! The nurse at the front asked me why I was there and I explained that half of my face wasn’t moving and felt numb. I was wearing a mask and she asked me to remove it so she could take a look. I removed it and she examined my face. I was so fearful of the situation that I began to cry like a baby. She comforted me and explained that I was in the right place for help. I was immediately seen by a doctor. They did some strength tests with my hands, bloodwork and some other tests. They finally had an answer for me about the diagnosis. I had Bell’s Palsy.


Bell’s palsy is a condition that causes a temporary weakness or paralysis of the muscles in the face. It can occur when the nerve that controls your facial muscles becomes inflamed, swollen, or compressed. The condition causes one side of your face to droop or become stiff. You may have difficulty smiling or closing your eye on the affected side. It’s sometimes caused by a virus, which I didn’t have and sometimes caused by stress, which I was not under. So in my case, the main cause was unknown, which made it even more frustrating that this was happening to me.


The condition is normally temporary and usually only lasts a few weeks to a few months. They prescribed some medications and after a month I seeked out physical therapy as well as acupuncture. Unfortunately it’s been almost a year and I’m still affected by the condition. I’ve developed synkinesis, which means some of my facial nerves have repaired incorrectly and cause involuntary movements. My smile is still crooked as well. This additional diagnosis of Bell’s Palsy to my already existing Bipolar Disorder was disappointing and sent me into a deep depression. I even resigned from my Executive Assistant job as I didn’t know when or if I was going to recover, and I didn’t want my employer to have to wait for me to get better.  


Eventually, I pulled myself out of the pits of despair and utilized all the tools I had learned from The Holistic Psychologist as well as continued to take my Bipolar Medication and talk to my therapist. I’m grateful I had all those self care tools in my back pocket, otherwise I may not have ever come out of the depression I was in. Currently, I’m doing well emotionally. My face has not recovered fully, but it’s better than it was at onset. I’m in a much healthier mental space and am learning to accept my new normal. I may not be where I thought I would be in my recovery process from Bell’s Palsy, but I believe I’m right where I’m supposed to be. Resilience sometimes comes out of challenges and adversity, and I’ve become one bad ass resilient human being.


My advice to anyone struggling with challenges or adversity in any form, is to hang in there and seek out avenues that you may not have explored previously. You’ll never know what could have helped you through the challenge if you choose to not be curious and receptive to alternative opportunities for assistance. Resistance and fear of what we don’t know is common, but sometimes when we explore the unknown, we find what we were looking for all along and growth occurs. That’s what happened for me and I’m a better person because I walked through my fears. 

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