March 22, 2011

Keeping up with Family and Friends

Filed under: Guest Blog — Tags: , — BringChange2Mind @ 1:06 pm

I compare myself to my family members and friends all the time.  I spend many unproductive hours beating myself up because I need to rest but feel it’s a waste of time.  I feel guilty when I rest and am unable to rest because I feel I should be doing something constructive.  I should know better by now.  When I’m tired I get symptomatic.  I have bipolar disorder and I take medication for it but when I don’t rest the medication has a hard time working for me.

One of the many doctors I’ve spoken to says ‘sleep is medicine’.  I know it is but…  I know I have to take care of myself but… I’ll just finish this or I’ll just do that THEN I’ll rest.  In the meantime my symptoms raise their ugly heads.  Confusion, dizziness, nausea, feeling separate from, feeling like I’m in a fish bowl looking out are all symptoms I feel when I’m overtired.  I also have an almost overwhelming urge to flee wherever I am, to be quiet until the feelings pass.  Husband #5 found it disconcerting that I would crawl into our closet and shut down; I felt safe in the dark, on the floor, even when I was lying on shoes.  If I don’t respect the fact that I’m symptomatic I get worse and basically am not worth much to myself or anyone else.  So why is it so difficult for those of us with mental illness to take things easy?

Many of us have family members who are creative people with daunting energy.  In my family it’s my son Sander, 28, who is prolific, my sister Glenn and my powerhouse father, who died two years ago of a massive heart-attack.  I have envied those three and have watched their successes when I could barely put two sentences together (depression) or was as wild as a hare (mania).

But wishing doesn’t the person make.  I remember telling my mother that I was going to study French and flying so I could be a translator/pilot.  This was a long time before we knew I suffered from bipolar disorder.  And I told her I wanted to be a doctor like my father.  I’ll never forget her looking at me, both times, and saying, as kindly as she could, that “I don’t think that would work for you.”  I met the same discouraging attitude about many ideas I had, manic or not.  My parents knew something was wrong but didn’t know what it was.  My mother saw me go through so many cycles that she would try to shut down my ideas before I got in too deep.  Whatever it was, my mother knew my high energy would sooner than later turn into what she called ‘exhaustion’ which is what we now call depression.  We were all bewildered back then.

Now that I know what it is I’m dealing with I can approach my chosen activities and work with the humbling knowledge that I must pace myself: I must weigh what it is I’m doing with everything else I’m doing, in other words, I mustn’t overload myself.  There are few things that I dislike more than resting or putting something aside, even when I know it’s best.  When I delve into my feelings it becomes evident that I’m embarrassed to not be working myself sick.  It’s a bitter pill to swallow that others can work themselves into the ground without becoming ill, especially when they’re family members.  I’m a competitive person but competition isn’t the name of this game.  I’m certainly vain but vanity has no place in this.  Staying alive and living well is what it’s all about.  I believe that my family and friends understand more than I give them credit for.  I believe they are thankful that I have learned to pace myself and know how much I dislike limiting my workload.  It must be a relief for them.  I know it’s a relief for me.



  1. Well said, my friend. Wise words for anyone living with a chronic illness…and perhaps for those who are simply trying to “keep up” in this overwhelmingly busy world. Love you!

    Comment by Cinda Johnson — March 22, 2011 @ 1:14 pm

  2. Hi Jessie-
    Thank you for putting into words what I know my son feels. He, like your son, is 28; Ben has worked his way back from 7 hospitalizations for schizophrenia – and the resulting embarrassment that he seldom talks about – to, finally, success in school (part-time, because he now, thankfully, knows what he can handle) and recently his first job in eight years. I worry that he has taken on too much – after all, yes, “Sleep is medicine”, love that! But – this is his journey. All I can do is watch, support, and love him.

    He recently wrote:
    “If I were to give one piece of advice to the reader of this ‘message’, I would say that in order to get to where you want to be in life, what you have to do is walk the path. Now, I understand that this probably sounds easier said than done, and – I won’t lie- it is. I now have goals for my life, and I must be willing to actually perform the steps that the goals require. One way to make this easier is to learn from one’s past, and embrace the lessons which will make walking the path easier.”

    I am so proud of him – and hope you remain proud of yourself. When I had hip surgery, I was proud to walk to the mailbox. Go and sleep on those shows if it helps!

    Thanks for your openness. I hope to meet you at NAMI National 2011.
    author, “Ben Behind His Voices; One Family’s Journey from the Chaos of Schizophrenia to Hope”, pub. date 9/16/2011, Rowman and Littlefield

    Comment by Randye Kaye — March 22, 2011 @ 1:34 pm

  3. You are more talented than I am at expressing yourself, and I applaud you for that. I need at least 10 to 12 hours of sleep a day, and thought people needed less sleep as they got older. grrr. I, too, find without the rest, I don’t function. My kids understand the ups and downs, as they also have bi-polar. But my husband of almost 36 years is still trying to figure us out. Example: When on vacation we would be sleeping in, recharging. He would be up early and exploring. He came back this one time to wake us up and I finally said to him, “why are you mad at us because we need more sleep than you? We don’t get mad at you because you need less! Go explore and then show us later!” Well, it made him think and at least THAT problem got solved. All the others aren’t as easy. He doesn’t recognize when I’m so depressed I need to be hospitalized. Thankfully, my daughter does. We support each other. He’s a great and generous man, but he really doesn’t understand bi-polar or mental illness.
    Cinda, I’ve learned to stop trying to keep up, and just do my pace. (It was so very overwhelming!) And it works for me! Best of luck to both of you, love you.

    Comment by Veda Connolly — March 22, 2011 @ 1:58 pm

  4. Learning not to compete with others is a lessons everyone needs to learn.”Staying alive and living well is what it’s all about” for all of us. Your candidness is greatly appreciated as I’ve had my bouts of depression & wondered why I couldn’t deal with things “like others”. Because of people like you who share their difficult life the rest of us can feel we’re deserving to be whoever we are.

    Thank you. Lisa

    Comment by Lisa Fuetsch — March 22, 2011 @ 2:31 pm

  5. My human, Joanne, has also learned to step back and slow down to keep herself healthy. Because she has treatment-resistant bipolar disorder it’s even more important that she watch her diet, her sleep, her social interaction, in short: her life. As her service dog, I work VERY hard to help her keep her life balanced and to alert her when she’s heading for trouble. In my second job, mental health advocate, I make it easier for her to fight stigma, educate the public about psychiatric service dogs, and make sure people with psychiatric disabilities know their rights under federal law to have emotional support animals (pets) in no-pets housing and without paying any pet deposits or fees, as well as their rights to service dogs (see for details).

    I hesitate to ask you to take on something else, but I heard you have a psychiatric service dog. As a psychiatric service dog myself, I’d love to see an article or video in which you talk about your dog and what he/she does to help you deal with your disability.

    Comment by Maeve, Psychiatric Service Dog and Advocate — March 22, 2011 @ 4:06 pm

  6. Thank you, you have put into words everything I am going through right now, I’m always thinking I’ll just finish this or do one more of that & I pay for it later on in so many ways. I’m now working on finding the righ tbalance for me – life-family-home-work what’s important, what isn’t, what can I do & the hardest accepting what I can’t. Again Thank you 🙂 k.

    Comment by Karina — March 22, 2011 @ 11:08 pm

  7. Jessie, I have a good friend who, in my eyes, seems to do everything (and very well), be all things to all of the important people in her life, and just sails along, tireless and unflappable. Her response when I dole out my envious admiration? “Smoke and mirrors, it’s all smoke and mirrors”. Over time I’ve realized that there is more than a little truth to that, not just for my friend but for most people. It’s just that we don’t see their entire world, only what they choose to show us. In reality, we ALL have to pace ourselves, slow down to rejuvenate and replenish. If we don’t, sooner or later we pay a price. Those who have figured this out and embraced this simple fact of life are far ahead of the game and much better equipped to go the distance.

    So while it may seem like a hindrance to have to dial down, take a breather, or punch out,in reality all of us need to incorporate this into our lives. You’ve just done us all a favor with your open and honest reminder.

    Comment by Nanci Schiman — March 22, 2011 @ 11:26 pm

    • Good comment Nanci! ;-}

      Comment by Lisa Fuetsch — March 23, 2011 @ 11:26 am

  8. I so enjoyed this post and your ability to put into words what many feel. I admire you for coming out with your bipolar illness and even more so for being such a strong advocate for mental illness and making others aware. When I read your words as to what you’re experiencing, it amazes me that you do what you do. My late husband was diagnosed bipolar just one month before he took his own life, he always had huge mood swings and we never knew why, just called it being “moody” or “cranky and mercurial”. Once the diagnoses was made, everything made sense.

    I love the PSA you and your sister Glenn did for BringChange2Mind, it’s what allowed me to find this remarkable group and Facebook fanpage. The work you and all the others do is so essential and I commend you all for what you’re doing to take mental illness out of the darkness and let everyone who will listen know, many are afflicted, from all walks of life and it can happen to anyone – and does.

    Your comment about having to take it easy and pace yourself applies to everyone. We all get so busy, forgetting to take time to look after ourselves. The body can only take so much before showing us it’s in trouble, prevention and awareness for self preservation must become a priority. I love your open candor, your sense of humour, your down to earth approach and thank you for advocating for the many.

    Take care of you!

    Comment by AllUCanBe — March 23, 2011 @ 8:30 pm

  9. Hey Jess,
    I was just given a good piece of “visual advise” by a friend. You are in a boat, in a stream and instead of practically always trying to row UP stream, give youself a break, and let the stream carry you DOWN stream! So simple and to me, helpful.
    I beat myself up like you do and go against “the flow”. Often a waste of energy. So, I am going to try and happily, go with the flow and be kind to myself.
    Wonder if this is our genetic make up?
    Love you,

    Comment by Tina Close — March 26, 2011 @ 4:32 pm

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