Faith vs Fear

Faith vs Fear

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Reflections on 2008

I've been watching the AP article about New Years Eve off and on all day. That's one of the wonders of the Internet: keeping up with events as they happen.
In addition to world and national events, 2008 was a momentous year for our family.
Some of the highlights:
1. Our youngest son, Jeff, called on Christmas Day from San Diego and announced he was getting married on January 5. Our two families hurriedly put together their wedding, and it was a resounding success. We're happy to have Nikki added to our family.
2. The arrival of grandbaby #13, Elizabeth (Libby) Jean, in March. Her parents, Brian and Tania, struggled for 7 years to get her here. We're grateful for her arrival.
3. David finally started getting his bipolar under control and did a great job of accepting the diagnosis. After 8 months of trying different types of medicine, he was put on lithium, which is helping to take the edge off of his mood swings. We also got his disability payments approved. That alone has helped ease our financial burdens.
4. Our daughter Lara, who lives in Mexico, spent the summer visiting with us. We hadn't seen her for 3 years, and it was such a joy to have her home.
5. Our youngest daughter, Katie, graduated from high school (I'm so happy to be done with public schools!), started school at the community college, and got engaged to her long-time boyfriend, Kevin.
6. I settled into my new job assignment as secretary/editor for the New Era magazine (the magazine for youth in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and got to go on my first travel assignment: to Ottawa, Canada in October. It was all around a great experience, and I am enjoying the change after 25 years of working as a typesetter/production assistant.
Some of the lowlights:
1. One of our daughters divorced, leaving her as a single mother with 2 young children.
2. David was hospitalized twice in three months. We nearly lost him in June to a bleeding ulcer. Fortunately our son Ben and son-in-law Wes were able to give him a blessing of health just before he collapsed and ended up in the hospital for 3 days. David had had serious trouble with hallucinations and hearing voices before that blessing; afterwards, the voices and hallucinations stopped. He still hears some noise, but it isn't nearly as intense as before.
3. The last week of August was especially intense: On Sunday, David's dad was admitted to the hospital because of Alzheimer disease. On Monday, I began taking a blogging class at the University, David started getting sick, and his dad passed away. On Wednesday, in between helping to plan the funeral and trying to take care of David, I had to move out of my office and move to the secretary's desk. On Thursday, David ended up in the emergency room for 4 hours with a severe headache. On Friday he nearly collapsed during the funeral. On Sunday he was admitted to the hospital for 3 days and was diagnosed with viral meningitis.
We're hoping 2009 will be a calmer year.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Getting Help

It's funny how we notice articles on a specific topic after we become intensely interested in it. Lately I've been rthis one at Yahoo! News on December 1, 2008. It says that 1 in 5 young adults has a personality disorder, and that "fewer than 25 percent of college-aged Americans with mental problems get treatment." The numbers see a little high, and before I take it at its word, I'd like to read more about how they did their research. Their range of mental illness issues also included alcohol and drug abuse, which may or may not be related to mental illness. But even if the numbers are overstated, it's obvious that there needs to be better mental health treatment available. Too many who are struggling with this issue either don't know help is available or how to get it. Fortunately, congress did at least one thing right this year when they passed Mental Health Parity legislation. DBSA discusses this bill in some detail. Basically the bill that goes into effect on January 1, 2010 ensures "that individuals living with a mental illness receive the same level of insurance coverage as those with a physical illness." It never made sense to me why our insurance wouldn't cover mental illness and counseling sessions that are designed to help make families healthier at the same level that they cover medical procedures.  At least this bill is a step in the right direction.   

Friday, December 12, 2008

Learning about Bipolar Disorder

I knew early in our marriage that David's mood swings weren't "normal," but I didn't know where to go for information, and he was in denial about his moods. Fortunately when he came to accept the diagnosis, my brother Kent, who works as a case worker for a mental health group, and another friend gave us some material that helped us learn what to expect. I also found my way to the Internet, and have been able to find a wealth of information about the disease and treatment of it. I noticed that some sites, like this, are sponsored by drug companies. I'm glad they have these sites because the information is still valuable, whether we use their product or not. Other sites are sponsored by nonprofit groups, such as at psychcentral and dbsalliance. When David had one of his catatonic "wanderings" last year I contacted someone in our area who was associated with dbsalliance, and their support was very helpful.
I recently started reading blogs written by those with BPD, such as this one, and they give me additional insight that I wouldn't otherwise have. David has been really good about telling me how he's feeling, but I'm too close to him emotionally to be completely objective, and it helps to read about other people's experiences. The images found through googling "bipolar images" like these are very moving and creative expressions of their lives. This video is a poetic representation that helps me understand how my husband feels. I especially like the image of the rollercoaster, because that is also how it feels to live with someone who has the disorder. The last phrase, "Remember: with the right treatment there is hope" should be given to all those suffering from it.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Our Story: The Condensed Version

Bipolar disorder doesn't just affect the people who have it; it also affects their friends, family, acquaintances, and loved ones. Living with a spouse or significant other with bipolar disorder can be frustrating, irritating, confusing, baffling, frightening at times, and on occasion just plain overwhelming. One thing about it is that it isn't boring. I never really know what to expect from David, even now that he's taking his medicine and is reasonably stable.
When we were married 22 years ago, we had both been divorced and brought 6 young children, ranging in age from 4 to 10, with us into the marriage. It has not been easy, partly because we were dealing with broken and blended family issues, and partly because our children (now numbering 9) are energetic, strong-willed, high-spirited individuals. We now realize that some of our problems were caused by David's disorder, which was only diagnosed last year as bipolar 1, schizoaffective disorder. Fortunately we all survived the experience, and our children are law-abiding, productive members of society.
    For most of the time we have been married, David has dealt with mood swings and difficulties in keeping a job. Until last year, he was functioning all right and learning to keep his moods under control. Then he lost another job, and his illness took a turn for the worse. After several weeks of not being able to concentrate, struggling with hallucinations, and taking long walks when he was almost catatonic, he agreed to see a doctor. It was a relief to have a name for what was happening to him, and at the same time frightening because we knew so little about the disorder. This is what I wrote at the time: "We had a long, very interesting and helpful talk about what is happening to him, and I'm still digesting this piece of news. Fortunately, most of the time he's rational and able to tell me what is going on in his mind. I don't know much about this disease, and I have a million more questions than answers. I just feel my husband has been handed a life sentence for an incurable, but hopefully treatable disease. This feels overwhelming. One of my questions is what do I tell the kids? Another is how in the world am I going to find the time to deal with taking care of him and everything else?"
    Some of the answers have come easier than others, and I have learned how to cope better, but we are still learning and growing with this challenge.
    David and I saw a clip about mental illness a few nights ago on TV. We were delighted to see it because we feel that the more the public knows about mental illness, the easier it is to get understanding and better treatment. And every time I hear a public service announcement or read an article encouraging those with the disorder to get help or asking others to learn more about mental illness, I smile to myself and hope it is reaching someone who needs the message.