One small step towards ending the stigma about mental illness.

Dear everyone:

Many of you already know this, but for those of you who don’t, here it is: I have Bipolar I Disorder, also known as Manic Depression. I no longer feel the need to hide it. It is a part of who I am and it will be for the rest of my life.

I was diagnosed almost two years ago, after a hospitalization following a severe manic episode. Prior to that I was depressed for about 9 months, but had no idea what my diagnosis was, and was scared to take any meds because of the side effects, losing my “identity” and having to change my lifestyle to avoid interactions with recreational drugs such as alcohol, marijuana, etc. I saw a therapist during that depressive time but felt I could not trust her, because she just “didn’t understand.” I thought I could do it on my own, with yoga, natural medicine, and coping with friends and recreation. But I finally had to accept that I needed help from “the system,” on November 30th, 2013. I probably would not have survived the severe manic episode that lasted the greater part of fall ’13, had it not been for the tremendous efforts of my best friends, and my family. I didn’t even realize that I was pushing people away, blaming them for my problems rather than looking internally for answers and solutions. But they didn’t go away, they stayed, and joined forces (with a facebook live stream and everything!) to make sure that I didn’t take it too far, potentially hurting or killing myself.

When I was at my darkest point in November of 2013, I felt like the whole world didn’t understand me, but I was still left alone in my head with my thoughts and fears. The experience of looking in my dad’s eyes and trying to communicate, but seeing a blank stare because he just didn’t follow what I was saying, will haunt me for the rest of my life. The look in my mom’s eyes when she showed up at my door in crown heights, threatening to call the cops if I did not check myself into a hospital, is something I never want to see again. After lots of negotiation and deliberation, eventually my two best friends in the world, Elly and Cath, and my mom Kim, finally convinced me to check myself into the emergency psych ward at Columbia Medical Center in Washington Heights. I had a team of about 6 people following me into the hospital as I dramatically lead the way to the emergency admittance (in a battered fur coat, rainbow paints, and snow boots of course).

I honestly don’t know if I would be here right now if it weren’t for all of my loved ones, particularly those three, coming to my aid that day. It was the hardest thing I’ve done in my life to check into the mental hospital, to give up total control of my mental health, and my overall living conditions for just 2.5 weeks. I had to release all of my earthly posessions, including my rosary, photos, etc etc. It felt like I was so naked and vulnerable and had no idea who I was anymore. I didn’t even know what I was getting myself into, but I just knew that whatever it was couldn’t be worse than what I was suffering through at that moment (psychosis, delusions, paranoia, dissociation, to name a few of the worst symptoms).

No one should have to live like that.

The experience in the mental hospital, though necessary for acute care and medication stabilization, still haunts me to this day. I repeatedly asked to only see female personnel, as I have had issues with sexual assault and feeling threatened and triggered by men in general, particularly when I am a 10 on the manic scale. Yet, time and time again, I was presented with male doctors. I was first held in a caged off area with people withdrawing off of narcotics, and harassing/scaring me even more than I already was. Then I was moved to a pig-pen to sleep the night in a huge room with 20 other people (they had promised my mom that when she left at 4 in the morning, I would be transferred to a private room), including a man who was saying agressive things to me and scaring me EVEN MORE. Then the nurse bargained with me and told me that if I slept in the “big room” that night, she would let me have another klonopin (a benzo narcotic similar to xanax, that is very addictive, particularly for someone like me who actually needs it, and has an addictive personality). So I sucked it up and managed to sleep because of all the meds I was on. Then in the following few days at Columbia pres, MORE male doctors kept coming in and trying to evaluate me, triggering me all along. Why would I want to give up control and trust my biochemical future in the hands of a MAN, of all people?! But alas, I had to take the pills (including 4mg of risperdal by the way, which is a disgusting medication for many reasons). Then, I was told that I was going to be transfered to St. Vincent’s, a more permanent facility in Westchester, at 7pm-ish. I said goodbye to my parents, still terrified. Then I passed out because of all the meds I was on, naturally, and was shockingly awoken from a deep sleep at ~2 in the morning, TERRIFIED, strapped in a gurney and taken to Westchester. I had no idea where I was going because it was dark and I couldn’t see out of any of the windows in the ambulance. When I got to St. Vincents, who was there to do my intake at 4 in the morning? An old scary man, FURTHER triggering me STILL. I said some pretty terrible things to him, but why would I trust him with my inner most thoughts and fears? They forced me to do the intake while I was comatose on meds and terrified for my life. Great job, St. Vincents. THEN, in the hospital for the next 2 weeks, I met some great patients there and bonded with people I could empathize with (which I still do every week at support groups such as DBSA right here in Pasadena), however, the psychiatric care there was disgusting. I met with Dr. Sass (better known at the hospital as Dr. ASS) for a total of 30 minutes the entire 2 weeks I was at this hospital. Could barely get a diagnosis out of her let alone questions answered about side effects, etc. I was on a shit ton of Lithium and Risperdal by the time I left the hospital, and they weaned me off the klonopin just as fast as they threw it down my throat at Columbia. I had to book an outpatient program in Long Island simply for them to ALLOW ME TO LEAVE THE HOSPITAL. feeling trapped there was almost worse than being trapped in my own head.

When I started at North Shore Family Guidance Center in Westbury, Long Island, I just needed to get the fuck out of the hospital. Then I ended working with a psychiatrist and social worker there for the next year, trying to put my life back together while at the same time working, and maintaining an image of normalcy because I was so embarassed of how I had acted in the past before my diagnosis. I was then depressed again, but comatose on meds, for that whole year of 2014. Dr. Edelheit, my psych, put me from 2 meds to FIVE MEDS, when I already felt like my entire personality had been annihilated by the 2 meds I was already on, and when I complained of side effects, she only wanted to give me more meds, including a dementia pill to combat the cognitive side effects. My therapist at NSFG was a wonderful person, but like all therapists I’ve ever seen in my life, I felt I couldn’t trust her, and didn’t want to listen to anything she had to say. So finally I was like fuck this I’m getting a new Psychiatrist ASAP, and fired my therapist because I felt it was a waste of my time money and efforts. I found Dr. Albin in Roslyn, Long Island, and for once I had a doctor who listened to my concerns, and worked with me to find the right balance of medication. In the course of a year, I went from 5 meds, to now just 1 mood stabilizer, Lamictal, which controls my symptoms but does not stifle my IQ, cause weight gain/acne, kill my sex drive, and overall personality.

But no medication regime is perfect. Because of the 1.5 years I was on Lithium, I developed a hypo-thyroid condition. That is one of the many reasons I got off the drug. Then, I discovered I had PCOS, a condition that affects hormonal balance and menstrual cycle, so I went on birth control, not knowing at first that it has a common interaction with Lamictal. Later I found out about the interaction (but was still on Lithium so my mood was not going ANYWHERE besides blank and lifeless), and brought it up to both of my doctors.  We all didn’t think it was going to be a problem. Then once I was off the Lithium fully, in May of 2015, I noticed that my mood was less stable when I took the inactive pills of my birth control. My gyno, Michelle Allen, had no comment on the interaction with the mood stabilizer, because she is not a specialist in psych. My gyno told me to refer to my psych, and my psych told me to refer to my gyno. None of them had the balls to handle it all on there own, they all had no comment on the situation, didn’t even know that it was a common interaction.

So I persevered nonetheless, planning a move to California that I had been dreaming of for 8 years. I went to every single doctor I had, to ensure that I had 3 month prescriptions to hold me over until I got to LA. I had my thyroid tested to make sure I still needed my hypo-thyroid med even though I was off the Lithium (did my body heal itself?) I had and have been working so hard since my diagnosis to take action and make my life better. Because I REFUSE to be another statistic (20% of the people with bipolar disorder will die by suicide). I want to live my life and be happy just like everyone else.

So I got my act together and drove across country, got my ass to LA relatively unscathed. I had a minor manic episode triggered by an unsafe motel in Texas, but luckily was able to stay with a good friend in New Mexico and stabilize for about a week before making the final push to Los Angeles. I also realized that the manic episode aligned with me taking my inactive birth control pills, so I called my psych and gyno again (this is mid august 2015), and plead with them to figure something out with my BC and mood stabilizer. Still, they both pointed to each other to take the responsibility to fix it, yet I was in the end left with no one doctor to confidently guide me.

When I got to LA, I was so scared for my life. Everytime I feel manic, I feel scared for my life. Because of the statistics, because I’ve lost close friends to suicide and drug overdose in the past, and because I have flashbacks to the first major manic episode in 2013.  I used to have a “roommate” here in LA who was at best distant and mostly saw me with her girlfriend (who I have no negative feelings towards, but wasn’t comfortable exposing the darkest parts of my mind the second time meeting her). My ex-roommate did find me a beautiful apartment, but then in a way left me in it to wallow while I was trying to wrap my mind around what my new life would be like in a new city. I tried to be considerate of her own issues, but could not see why she wouldn’t want to be fully there for me while I was in crisis after 5 years of being close friends. If the situation were reversed, I would at least physically be there in her time of need. The ironic thing is she volunteers many hours a week for a crisis hotline, but can’t help her best friend in crisis, even when she is directly affecting it. Maybe people just need that distance in order to help others with challenging issues. Long story short, she felt she didn’t need the apartment after all and we were discussing finding subletters just a week after “moving in” together. She slept at the apartment a total of 2 nights in the 10 she “stored her shit here”. She controlled the apartment while simaltaneously mentally checking out. Rather than worrying about finding a subletter, I was like fuck this I’d rather live alone than stressed about a roommate (after Keith in Harlem 2013, I don’t think I can ever handle that again), and felt so abandoned by her that I just gave her all her money back and a week to get her shit out of the apartment.

Living alone has been challenging, but empowering at the same time. I feel like I finally have a space to sing, dance, love, cook, and exist in peace. I continually go back to fostering inner peace, whenever I obsess over someone else meeting my expectations of being “there for me” in my time of need. I can’t trust doctors, I can’t really trust anyone but myself. But what about when I can’t even trust myself? Who do I turn to then?

To add insult to injury, I finally found a GP out here and got blood work to see if I still needed my thyroid medication, and low and behold, I found out that for the past two months or so (since my previous blood work in Long Island), I was HYPER-thyroid now. That explains some of the insomnia, mania symptoms, jittery-ness, anxiety, lack of appetite, weight loss, and over all hyper-active behavior I have been experiencing, feeling GUILTY for and blaming on being too “bipolar.” So now I am going through thyroid imbalance, menstrual hormone imbalance, bipolar brain imbalance, all at the same damn time, while living alone in a new city where I now can’t even talk to my best-friend/supposed roommate. Fun stuff right?

And finding a therapist is a whole other magilla. I finally found two therapists (with the help of my amazing best friend in the whole world) who don’t even take insurance, but I am hoping that one of them will click with me and I can begin to build a relationship of trust.  In the meantime, I have also found an amazing support group in Pasadena called DBSA where about 8 people come who have either depression or bipolar, and we all sit and listen and empathize and help inspire proactive positive action in each other’s lives (or at least thats what it inspires in me). It’s hope that I am not alone in this world. 

I still struggle every day with symptoms of both mania and depression (more on the manic side though typically), but I am definitely getting better at it now that I have been aware of my condition for over two years.

I have learned that I need to be my own best advocate, because these fucking doctors don’t have to LIVE inside my body everyday. That pleasure is reserved for me, myself, and I alone.

And it’s time to break the stigma on mental health issues. It is ILLEGAL to deny a job or school entry to someone because of the knowledge that they are bipolar. So what do I have to hide? Am I trying to maintain some sort of perfect image? Not any more. Am I trying to impress some boy or girl that I want to date? No, because if they have a problem with my mental illness, better clear that up now and get them out of my life before we even get to know each other. So from here on out, I am not hiding this or feeling shameful about something that I literally have no control over. I can try as best as I can to control my actions and how I affect others (and one of the main differences between now and 2 years ago is I’m NOT acting on all of the impulses and dark thoughts in my head). But in the end, if you can’t take both the good and the bad in my life, you don’t deserve any of it. If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. My kitchen will be better off without you probably in that case.

I am putting my health first. I will not be another statistic. If you or a loved one struggles with mental illness, you are not alone. We all must be kind and compassionate to each other in our times of need, because you never know when it’s going to be too late. I am eternally grateful to everyone who has supported me throughout these past few years trying to sort out my mind and emotions, and get back to the KrissyG that I always was and always will be. My identity may be fluid, but I still feel like I have this consistent soul that is there no matter what craziness is being projected on the surface. And it’s taken me a long time to come to that conclusion, and stop comparing myself to other people and other versions of myself. I just want to live and enjoy life as much as possible, while growing with others and encouraging them to do the same. Is that so much to ask for? I think so, but it’s worth every drop of effort.

Thanks for reading this, if you’ve even made it this far. Stay safe and strong.

With peace and love,

Krissy

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