The Perfect Storm

I’m writing this three days fresh out of an acute treatment unit. It’s a locked facility similar to a mental hospital, but smaller. 

It’s not the first time I’ve voluntarily admitted myself to this unit due to extreme symptoms and personal safety issues, but it’s been at least two years since my last visit. 

Finding a workable med combination and being committed to therapy has kept me on track for the most part. Any episodes I’ve experienced over the past couple of years I’ve been able to manage at home with the support of family. 

Sometimes though, things start slipping out of control. Have you heard the saying, “a perfect storm?” Well, that’s what happened to me during the month of June. 

I’d been looking forward to our family vacation to Florida for months and it didn’t disappoint. Trips to theme parks and the beach were fun and just what we all needed. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. 

However, the two hour time change, getting slightly off track with my meds and too many tropical cocktails were not a good combination. 

Upon returning home I learned a family member was extremely ill and was hospitalized. I ended up caring for my 13-year-old cousin while other family members went to help. I now had another kid to take care of in addition to my own two, with extra sporting activities, orthodontist appointments, etc. I love my sweet cousin and didn’t mind at all, but I had no recovery time after vacation. His five-day stay with us eventually turned into three weeks. 

Because of some family dynamics going on during this time I was extremely triggered and began having flashbacks and nightmares of abuse I suffered as a child. The trauma was so bad that four years ago I spent 35 days at a residential treatment program trying to make peace with the past. To say the intense flashbacks were a surprise is an understatement. 

During this time we had a week from hell. My son developed walking pneumonia right before he was to travel to Boston for a once in a lifetime opportunity to play with a marching band in a 4th of July parade. 

Our backyard caught on fire when a stray spark ignited some very dry branches and weeds. The fire department was called and my son suffered some smoke inhalation from trying to put it out. 

A water main broke in the street outside our house and we were without water for a day. 

And the next day a transformer blew, which knocked out our power and gave us no way to cool our house in the 95 degree heat. 

By my birthday on June 30, I could barely put one foot in front of the other. I had been running on automatic pilot for weeks. I was entirely and completely numb. I had become severely depressed and was at the point I had given up. I was very suicidal. 

It was the perfect storm. Four weeks of incident after incident. 

Those of us with bipolar disorder are incredibly sensitive to stress. Any one of these incidents would have been enough to set me back a little. Combined together it was a recipe for disaster. 

I look back at last month and recognize that most things I had no control over. Some things, however, I did and could have done differently. I could have listened to my doctor who strongly encouraged me to enter treatment a week before I actually did. She also wanted me to increase my medication dosage but I refused because I feel it makes me too foggy. I could have taken more time for myself and forced myself to do more healing activities. I could have avoided alcohol. And, I could have stopped beating myself up for having difficulty with the stress and accepted I was having a hard time. 

The six days I spent in the treatment unit seemed to reset my system. I did finally agree to the medication adjustment and I willingly participated in many DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy) groups which was a good refresher for me. 

All in all, the month of June was a reminder to me how important it is to be mindful of moods and stress levels. Finding yourself with severe symptoms of bipolar disorder is only one perfect storm away. 

But, hanging in there, pushing through and being willing to get help can turn disaster into strength. I hate this illness, but I find again and again it’s made me stronger than I ever believed I could be. 

Read the rest of Paula’s posts here

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