Intro (AKA My Friend Catie Rocks!)
Today I’m lucky enough to present an awesome guest post by my old friend Catie Cameron. She is an aspiring writer, baker, and master of her many domains in Nashville, TN. She also wrote an awesome bakin blog http://flourmaiden.wordpress.com/ about the misadventures of a baker that I’m hoping she will start back up again.
She is blessing us with an inspiring story about her struggles with mental illness and how mindfulness and the support of others has helped her find new peace and acceptance in her life. I am honored that she is willing to share her story on my humble blog.
A Journey From Chaos to Calm by Catie Cameron
When you feel like you can’t control your own mind, you try to control everything else in your life. This way, when your thoughts are spinning, there’s something solid around you. This was how I felt for many years, not knowing it was a futile effort. It was only by letting go that I could stand still and find peace.
For most of my adulthood, I dealt with depression, yet with all my efforts, nothing felt right for long. Therapy, medication, exercise. Nothing. Perhaps the death of my younger brother in 2004 left an unpatchable crack. Or maybe it was something else, something deeper.
I even tried suicide twice, and couldn’t even do that properly. Now, I know it was the universe’s way of saying it wasn’t my time. There was something left for me out in this world.
Everything around me and in me felt wrong most of the time. There were months of happiness, but then I simply fell back down the well. Since I couldn’t stop my brain, I clung tightly to anything else that might save me. But when you squeeze too tightly to things, they break or pop.
In December 2012, after yet another crippling bout of anxiety and massive depression, I mustered up just enough energy to take myself to the hospital. Finally, they diagnosed me as having Bipolar II Disorder. It was a terrifying and relieving experience, thinking maybe this was right.
The hardest part has been learning how to deal with it, in coming to terms with this. To many, Bipolar means you’re “crazy.” It’s easy to victimize yourself with mental illness, since others do the same. Once I realized that I wasn’t a victim of this disorder, I found much relief.
That’s the biggest part of this, really. Of coming to terms with BPII. It’s knowing I’m not a victim and that I can take responsibility for my thoughts and actions. That simple comprehension changed everything for me.
Having friends and family that support me and stay vigilant means more than I could have imagined. This was evident in my last hospital stay in December. The number of friends that came to see me, let alone my super-supportive older sister reminded me of how much I was loved.
My therapist and I work a lot on mindfulness, as it’s quite beneficial for anxiety. Once I understood I could take responsibility for myself, I found I could practice mindfulness much easier. I don’t worry nearly as much about every little thing.
I also break up my day into smaller chunks, which helps with being in the Now. This may not work for everyone, but it does for me. There’s the work day, and the evening. My present moment is as small as I need to not feel overwhelmed.
I’m also taking medication for the BPII. The biggest realization is that it’s just an aid to my own efforts. Meds don’t cure this. Nothing does. It only takes my erratic brain waves from an EKG to a sine wave. Makes it manageable.
What I’ve Learned
One of the biggest ways I’ve found that helps in dealing with this disorder is knowing that no feeling is final. As much as I can, I sit with the bad feelings and acknowledge they exist and are real. Something about mentally staring them down and focusing on them helps them disappear. It also helps with knowing that I can take responsibility for them, by knowing I can choose to feel this way or not.
Accepting that some days I will have a tough time regardless, makes them feel less concrete. My therapist and I have devised a “First Aid Kit” of items to help in the healing of a downward slope. Mine includes chocolate, letters from friends, and a gift certificate for a movie. These small tokens allow myself to relax and let the day pass unfettered, again reminding me that this day will end and a brand new begins tomorrow.
There’s something about knowing others love you and want to see you do well that helps. It aids me in getting up every morning. But getting up and living for myself is more important, I think. I know that I have gifts and talents that should be shared.
When it comes to helping loved ones going through a tough time like this, the best thing one can do is remind them how much they are treasured. Unfortunately, they can’t be fixed by any one person, but being at the bottom of that well, it’s nice to know there’s people up there waiting to see their faces again.
And that’s where this story ends, for now. Mental stability meant I could go back to the things I love, like rock climbing and writing a novel. And being a good friend, sister, girlfriend, citizen of the world.