Daily Archives: September 27, 2013

Interview Series: Ellen Forney

I was given the opportunity to briefly interview Ellen Forney, the extremely creative author of Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me: A Graphic Memoir.

Ellen Forney1. I love your bravery, honesty and style in which you communicate your story.  It’s unlike any other I’ve encountered.  Tell me when and how you knew your story needed to be told.

You mention my experience (below, question 2) when I realized I was going to need to process my experience in comic form. That would have been a few years after my diagnosis. I had to wait a long time to tell my story publicly though, I just wasn’t ready to expose myself like that. Once I was stable though, I felt I needed to tell the story for myself, and for anyone struggling like I had that might benefit from my own experience.

2. I read in an article on Publisher’s Weekly, where you said of your bipolar disorder, “I remember it dawning on me, oh, I’m going to have to deal with this in a comic!” When I was reading your book; “Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo & Me” I felt like I was getting in your head.  How does it feel to have so many people have insight into your mind, your life and your bipolarity?

It’s a little weird but I’m used to it, to a degree – I’ve been doing autobiographical comics for a long time. This is a significantly more personal story, of course. Two things: I’ve found that having my story out there has made me feel stronger; I definitely exposed myself but still, I was the one that put the story together, of course there were some things I decided were private.

3. I’d like to delve into your life as a bipolar comic, and artist.  Would you say being bipolar has enhanced your creativity or are you creative despite it?

Who knows? It’s a part of who I am, I can’t really separate them.


Thank you so much to Ellen Forney!

Marbles Cover

The ever so fabulous International Bipolar Foundation (where I frequently guest post) is hosting a discussion and book signing with Ellen Forney October 3, 2013.  If you’re in California (which I am not) check it out!  For more details click here.


Mrs Bipolarity

Mental Illness in Plain View

“Mental illness pierces the veil,” she writes at the end of her book, “and those who suffer from it dwell with their fragility in plain view.”  Dr. Montross

RANT STARTSBeing Mentally ill (I am Bipolar yay!) is a big fucking problem. We lose jobs due to missed days because of our chronic and lifelong conditions. It is hard for others to sympathize with us because there are no physical symptoms to prove “Hey I have voices in my head”. People just have to take our word on it. And sometimes I feel like my word is worthless to those unafflicted. 

I honestly believe that some think we are weak and lazy and over/under weight due to choice. Well, you can all kiss my crazy ass! It is way more than that. Our medicines make us groggy, our moods make us unpredictable (oh does that sound like fun! Try going out on a family outing when your panic attack hits you because everyone is wearing a mask due to it being Halloween, and your 5 and 6 year old nieces see you have the panic attack. Such fun) So yes we stay in safe places and don’t always enjoy being in a grocery store or at a concert. 

But there is hope….I have to believe that. 

Anybody relate to this rant of mine. I know you can so go ahead and get the frustration out. 

I won’t judge no matter what your illness. 

I am calm now….RANT OVER NOW 

Of all the afflictions that fall upon us, few remain as misunderstood and stigmatized as those that affect the mind.” Dr. Christine Montross

The problem is that the mentally ill already have to struggle everyday to try and act like we are not ill. We take our little pills, pay the good Doctors, try to keep our agitation to a minimum, and then we still have to do the every day things such as eat, sleep, bathe, answer a phone call, clean our living space, budget our money, and try to keep our relationships with family and friends in tact.  

All this can be overwhelming. I mean just picture yourself not answering your phone because you’re at a loss for conversation. Oh that is typical….I know everyone gets that way sometimes but the mentally ill may not answer for a week. Then the electric gets cut off because you missed the disconnect warning call since you’re not even listening to your voicemails….no electricity. That happens to everyone but not when they have the money to pay the bill in the account. It is not laziness holding us back. Oh we are very stimulated and stimulating people but even with meds we are not well. We manage better but wellness feels like it can never be obtained. Or maybe it is just me. I have been doing okay but lately I am very ….overwhelmed. Oy

I guess Overwhelm is the key word today



Tomorrow (Saturday Sept 28) is my 50th birthday.  Yep, the big Five-O.  I didn’t think it was going to bother me, but I’m shocked that I was wrong.  All week I’ve been irritable.

It didn’t bother me when I turned 30.  It didn’t bother me when I turned 40.  Interestingly, it did bother me when I turned 25.  Why?  Because I was a quarter of a century old.  I’m having similar thoughts this week…I’m turning a half century old.  The other day it hit me that I have more days behind me than I have ahead.  I think that’s when I started getting a little sad.

On Facebook I stumbled upon an old friend from high school recently.  She said she was excited we made contact because she was anxious to see how my life was going.  She said she wanted to know because I was filled with so many hopes and dreams.  I can’t remember what those were specifically, but I’m certain it wasn’t where I am today.

I did not expect at 50 years old that I would be diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  I always had extreme highs and extreme lows, but I didn’t know that I would be branded with a name for it.  Until being diagnosed a few years ago, I just thought I was a very strange kid who felt like I never fit in.   Sure, many kids feel that way who do not have bipolar, but, I lived in that bubble 24/7.  I’m still in that bubble.

I did not expect, at 50 years old, that I would be living in a shabby community in an apartment the size if a postage stamp.  The cute home in Scottsdale, Arizona is long past and will possibly be the only home I’ve ever owned.

I did not expect, at 50 years old, that I would be a recovering alcoholic who had destroyed a career and wound up homeless for a period of time.

So those are most of the things that are bringing me down.  There is, however, a lot of joy in my life and many things I’m grateful for.

Refusing to admit I’m gay, or thinking I could overcome it, I met a wonderful woman and we were married for five years.  I’m saddened that I turned her entire life upside down, but there is something fabulous that came out of it and that would be my beautiful daughter.  Being an alcoholic I missed way too much of her life. I’m happy today that we have a great relationship.  She lives 1500 miles away so I don’t get to see her as much as I’d like, but through the miracle of Skype we are able to stay in touch.  While I’m not sure I believe in fate, I do believe my ex-wife and I were brought together to produce such an amazing kid.

Accepting that I’m gay was hard and coming out of the closet was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done.  Every day, when I look at Maurice I realize coming out if the closet was the best decision I ever made.  Never did I imagine that I could possibly end up with such a wonderful man.

So I live in a tiny apartment in a neighborhood that’s not ideal.  It may not be where I expected at the age of 50, but it sure as hell is better than living in the streets like I was 10 years ago.  I have food in my belly and a roof over my head and that’s more than what millions of people have.

As far as destroying my career, it was for the best.  My ego was stroked, but I was not really happy.  Had things continued in the direction I was going I would probably still be there.  Making good money but working a job I hated.  I may be 50 years old, but I finally know what I want to do when I grow up – getting a Masters of Divinity degree and becoming an ordained minister.

If it seems I’m rambling a bit here, it’s because my head is rambling.  One minute I’m sad and the next minute I am grateful.  No matter how I feel, I’m turning 50 no matter what.  I just need to stay focused on the good things in my life…and there are many.

Were there any particular birthdays that were difficult for you?  I’m interested in hearing what they were.

Mental health stigma in the UK

Reblogged from Save Me From BPD:

Click to visit the original post

  • Click to visit the original post

Tesco pulls 'psycho ward' costume as consumer complaints mount

Tesco apologises for 'Committed' costume as Asda is forced to withdraw a mental patient fancy dress costume.

Tesco has become the second retailer to apologise for selling a fancy dress costume billed as relating to mental health issues, saying it is "really sorry for any offence caused".

The supermarket giant withdrew the bright orange adult costume called "Psycho Ward" from its website after a flurry of consumer complaints.

Read more… 479 more words

I have also been following this horrifying trend of retail sellers offering offensive caricatures of "mental patients" as joke costumes. I hope that public outcry will serve to educate not only the retailers, but also the public, that caricaturing the mentally ill is no more acceptable than putting on blackface and an Afro wig. Much less acceptable, since "mental patients" are represented as intrinsically violent. Thanks savemefrombpd for publishing this excellent article.

"Did You Forget to Take Your Meds?"

*Please note that any side effects from the specific drugs mentioned in this piece are from my own personal experience.  It in no way indicates what you could expect from the same prescription. Drugs affect people in different ways.  Also, make sure to discuss with your doctor any changes in your own medication.

One of the most confusing aspects of mental illness is treatment, and whether medication should be part of that treatment.  While I can’t answer that for you, I can tell you about my own journey through the medicating process.

My first psychiatric drug was an antidepressant prescribed by my gynecologist after the birth of my first daughter. He prescribed Zoloft, primarily for prevention of the daily migraines I had begun having, but also for the severe postpartum depression that, though I did not say much to him about, he must have sensed from my demeanor.  The “happy pills” worked their magic; my migraines decreased in frequency, and my depression lifted significantly. I do remember an embarrassing moment after taking the first pill.  I was walking through Walmart a few hours later when suddenly I had a dire urge to go to the bathroom.  Like, in a really bad way.  I nearly didn’t make it to the toilet (I may have knocked a few people down as I ran through the aisles), and it was ghastly once I sat down! Loud and ghastly! I don’t think there was a soul left in that public restroom once I got through. Fortunately, this smelly little side effect only lasted a few days. I stayed on Zoloft for about three years, content with the results.  I did notice that it lowered my libido a bit and heightened my irritability, but my husband was understanding (or scared of me) so it didn’t concern me too much.  

Since Zoloft is considered safe during pregnancy, I remained on it while pregnant with my second daughter and also while I breastfed her for a year. I had never been happier, and I had a lot of energy.  Nothing out of the ordinary until…

Things started to change.  There was a definite shift, but I couldn’t pinpoint it then, and I certainly can’t now.  I just knew I wasn’t “okay” anymore.  The depression was back, yes, but sometimes I was really happy too.  I was too happy, and the irritability was at an extreme. I was irritated that I was happy, and irritated at anyone and anything around me.  I made an appointment with my primary doctor and told him I didn’t think my antidepressant was working anymore.  I admitted to feeling depressed and irritable, but I didn’t mention the “too happy” feeling. I didn’t think it was relevant.  He prescribed a different antidepressant, Lexapro.  I don’t remember if a wean-off from the Zoloft was necessary; I just remember the Lexapro was the ultimate Turn Me Into a Royal Bitch drug for me.  I didn’t even make it a week before my husband and I both decided that it was a mistake.  If I had taken it longer, possibly the bitchiness would have subsided, but it was not a gamble we were willing to take.  

My doctor tried me on a couple of other antidepressants, but they all produced the same effect.  Finally, I told him about the other symptoms I was experiencing, and he referred me to a mental health clinic.  At that point I just wanted relief, so I made an appointment to see an intake therapist at the clinic.  After speaking with her (this time I was honest and didn’t leave out any symptoms), she gave me a preliminary diagnosis of bipolar disorder.  I had read very little about the illness prior to this, but I had had my suspicions; still, it was a shock to be right.  I was scheduled to meet with the psychiatrist, and she confirmed a diagnosis of bipolar disorder (it was later down the road when I was additionally diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, social anxiety, and panic attacks). And of course, her first course of action was to get out her prescription pad and start scribbling out drugs I had never even heard of before. 

The first combo was Depakote and Effexor.  I immediately hated the Depakote, as it made me gain 5 pounds a week and caused a lot of scary hallucinations.  As far as I could tell, it did nothing to stabilize mood, so she switched my meds. And switched them again.  And again. Along with each drug came new side effects; some annoying and some downright unbearable. Many made my symptoms worse rather than providing any form of relief. Finally I got fed up and *like an idiot* I just stopped taking any of it.  Okay, maybe “idiot” is harsh, but I was definitely an uninformed individual about the potential dangers of abruptly stopping psychiatric medication.  Besides making me dizzy and sick, it was most likely the main trigger of the biggest psychotic break I have thus experienced.  Very bad things happened after that, and I will spare you the details since I have written about most of it before, but suffice it to say I went off the deep end and lost my family in the process.  I’m not going to sit here and blame medication (or the lack of) for the things I did during that time period, but I do feel like the constant switches between medications (often with no reprieve in between) and then the complete absence of medication so abruptly did nothing to help my mental status.  I made some very irrational decisions that seemed perfectly rational (to me, and only me) at the time. I was a mess, and it didn’t seem like I would ever get better.  I was committed to a mental hospital on two separate occasions, and there were so many med changes I can’t even remember them all. The second hospital wanted to change my diagnosis to schizophrenia and so anti-psychotic medication got added to the pile.  Those made me so groggy and zombie-like, I didn’t even feel alive.  It led me to wonder, countless times, which is worse: the symptoms of my illness or the side effects of these drugs?  I would get fed up with meds and go without them for a while.  Then I would end up in such a mess that I would succumb to trying them again.  This cycle repeated oh so many times.  I really didn’t think there would ever be a “perfect cocktail” for me.  I didn’t even want to try anymore.  In the midst of this I had started drinking (something I had never done before), and my hair had started falling out.  My marriage had fallen apart in the beginning of all of this, and my subsequent relationships fell apart as well. I still had joint custody of my daughters, but I wasn’t allowed to be with them without the supervision of another person.  I had hit rock bottom, and even that bottom seemed to be crumbling underneath me.  

Then, a breakthrough!  Cymbalta and Lamictal did the trick for me, along with regular therapy.  My moods stabilized, the more psychotic symptoms went away, and I was eventually able to hold a full time job.  I found an apartment and was able to get my kids every other weekend like a “normal” parent.  At some point I decided I was all better – cured!  never had bipolar to start with! – and I weaned myself off the medication that had supposedly helped me so much.  And, surprisingly, I actually did quite well without them.  For about two years, in fact.  I did have a suicide attempt at one point during that drug-free era, and now that I look back there were instances that hint at the fact that perhaps I wasn’t doing so great after all, at least not all of those two years.  But I was able to keep my full time job – I even advanced to a management position – and I kept my inner demons at bay as much as I could while I was at work or any other public place.  I was also trying desperately to keep it together at home, but my new marriage was not a happy one, and it added a lot of stress to me.  I recognized that I needed more than just therapy to keep me afloat and I resumed the Cymbalta and Lamictal.  Klonopin was eventually added to help with my anxiety. It became a regular occurrence for my husband to flip out on me and say “did you forget your meds today?”  This wouldn’t just happen when I actually had an obvious bipolar symptom rear its ugly head.  It was whenever I showed the least bit of emotion about anything. I really detested hearing that said to me, especially when I knew it was unwarranted. But sometimes (increasingly more often) I wondered if he was right.  Sometimes I would double, even triple how many times I took my medication in a single day, in hopes that it would make me act “right” for him.  But it didn’t fix my marriage, and it didn’t fix me.  I started drinking again, and even more so after my dad passed away.  

Thankfully, I had a good therapist at the time, and she helped get me through the death of my dad and another failed marriage, and I stopped relying on overdoses and drinking to get me through my life.  I abruptly walked out of my job one morning, but I think I just needed a clean break from everything that had been weighing me down.  It wasn’t a mature, or even sane, thing to do, but I was one step away from the breaking point at that time, smothered in stress and discontent, and I saw a window to fly out of. I moved out of my apartment and tried to move on with what little self-worth I had left. Things got better, and I began to unbury myself from the wreckage.  I found another job and began a healthy relationship. I didn’t feel like I was breaking anymore.

I have went through med changes since then, and I have stopped/started many times too.  It seems to be one of those lessons I never learn, though I am trying! Right now, my current medication is not doing so great for me and I am going to make an appointment to discuss what my next options are.  It’s an overplayed scene, but I’m used to it.  My bipolar is of the rapid-cycling variety, and it’s harder to treat. I accept this.  Do I like it?  Of course not!  But I do what I have to in order to be the best I can be.  Sometimes I actually do better without any meds at all, but sometimes they are a necessary part of my treatment.  I’m never going to wake up and be cured from mental illness.  I doubt I’ll ever be able to go drug-free for any lengthy amount of time, let alone forever, but who knows.  It could happen.  Some people do great without medication.  Some don’t.  Me?  I don’t know if I’ll ever feel completely “fixed” either way.