“So How Does That Make You Feel?”

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I was never asked the question “How Does that make you feel?” not once; not ever in my eight years of going to therapy.

In movies, this phrase is uttered numerous times when a therapy or counseling session is portrayed. You would think after telling something sincerely to your shrink that you would then follow up with how that made or makes you feel. You are taught these basic communication skills back in kindergarten. I feel [blank] because [blank] or this happened, therefore I feel [blank].

This got me thinking about my own love/hate relationship with my own therapist. As a young fourteen year old, I asked my mom if I could see a counselor because I was sad all the time so I remember going to this bleak, therapist’s office full of drab colors; it was very uninviting. The woman’s clothing was just as bulky, drab, and the least bit flattering. Of course her personality suited her clothing and her office space.

It was made clear that I was her inferior because I was a child and she was an adult. She was sure I was just going through puberty and hormonal changes and was stressed due to my going to high school in the fall. She also said it was normal to fight and argue with my mother at my age, even after I told her my family dynamic at the time which included me taking care of my drunken, schizophrenic mother and fending for myself.

After that horrid 45 minute appointment, I never saw her again.

Then I got lucky when therapist #2 came around. Her name was Kelley. She’s the therapist I have to this very day.

Kelley insisted on meeting with my mother before she would agree to meet me. They discussed me, what I was like, my depression, along with my mom’s alcoholism. Kelley admitted that she also had two grown daughters, had been married the same amount of time that my own parents had, and that she too was a recovering alcoholic. She had many years of sobriety underneath her belt and felt as though she could help me understand where my mother was coming from.

Upon our first meeting, it was immediately decided that Kelley was a pot smoking, spiritual hippie. The first thing I noticed was all the white ceramic angels in the window sills that you would get for $2.99 a piece at Goodwill. Then I noticed all of the artwork plastered on the walls. Most of which she painted herself or had clients give their art to her. Behind the art plastered walls, we have mustard yellow walls; warm and bright. There were wind chimes that were hand made and hand beaded that hung from the ceiling. There must have been thousands of them.

The space was so much more warm and inviting than the last office I went to which was cold, boring, and old. Kelley herself was very sympathetic to where I was coming from and was nowhere near to being condescending like the last person.

I don’t remember much of that first session, besides filling out paperwork, but whatever she did was working because I came back week after week after week. I probably stopped therapy sometime in the 10th grade because that was the summer I found Jesus and thought I could handle things on my own and without antidepressants.

You all know the story now when I was a senior in high school, I went through severe mood changes suddenly and drastically, so Kelley brought it to my attention that I should be seen and medicated for bipolar disorder.

I saw my mother’s doctor, whom I have been seeing for four years now. Her name is Amy. She typically works with those who want Botox or have simple, in-office procedures. She minored in mental health when receiving her DO in medicine. I was originally seeing my primary care provider for medication, but once it was established that I needed anti-psychotics and the last three antidepressants hadn’t worked, he referred me to Amy.

She was very thorough and tended to be on the naturopathic route with all of her patients. Usually this would have deterred me from seeking her help, but she was the type of doctor that believed that prescription drugs wouldn’t be a cure-all. With vitamin supplements and addressing internal bodily issues, it can help heal you in addition to taking prescription drugs for the things supplements can’t help with.

After initially being put on the antidepressant, Prozac, and starting up on the anti-psychotic, Abilify, something that worked wonders on my mother, we addressed my blood work. I had anemia along with many vitamin deficiencies. So I went on probably 7 different supplements.

So in 2017, I was 19. I was on the 7 supplements, 1 antidepressant, 1 anti-psychotic, birth control, oh and an anti-anxiety medication, Xanax which I took almost daily for 2 years. It was crazy how much I was taking yet still suffered from severe mood swings.

I would fluctuate taking my meds because I didn’t think they helped, but it wasn’t until this year that my care team determined that even if I were to skip just one day of medication, that it throws off my entire system and I will go into a bipolar frenzy.

But not frequently taking my medication was not working. I would take everything correctly during my depressive episodes and would skate by without feeling too suicidal, besides my episode in January 2018. But this would allow me to then turn the depression into enough of an upswing of hypo-mania that I would then say I was fine and no longer needed my medication. So my nightstand was littered with full pill bottles of my medication cocktail until the depression came back around.

Kelley knew I only occasionally took my medication and although it would frustrate her, she never forced me to do anything I didn’t want to do. I mean, if she told me what to do, I probably wouldn’t have done it anyways.

In 2019, she got me painting. One spring day, she had all of her painting supplies out because she was painting with her last client. I said I wanted to paint and she smirked and said, “Grab a canvas.”

Over the next month, I created my piece called Community. It was a piece that meant a lot to me because I had people around me create a few words that were positive about me, whereas I wrote what I found good about myself. Together, we created a community of what I contributed to society.

During my sessions with Kelley, I would plan out, sketch, draw, and then paint these vivid and meaningful pieces of art, depicting pain, hardship, and struggle and we would talk about my grieving of my family in different ways, the grieving of losing Diego, and the sadness I felt. Without the art behind it all, I would have kept silent in therapy and wouldn’t have truly addressed my feelings.

It wasn’t until I fought with my sister about her wedding in January 2020 and made up with her that I started consistently taking my medication. That was in November 2019, and I have been taking them ever since. Everyday without fail, I consume Prozac, Abilify, birth control, Xanax if needed, Lithium and a lot of it, and Propranolol for the tremors from the other medication.

Now that I think about it… I only take Xanax when I fly and last time I flew was February 2019 when I went to Las Vegas. I detest flying and so I have to sleep during it. But I am too afraid to sleep on a plane so I need the meds to conk me out.

It wasn’t until I started taking control of my life that I was finally able to handle it effectively and have some good things start happening to me. When I started taking my medication again, I won Diego back and now we are better than ever. I was able to go to my sister’s wedding reception and I cried when I saw her in her dress. Her and I talk about once a week whereas before we didn’t at all. I got rid of all the random guys’ phone numbers and pictures of nudes from my phone. My parents’ and I’s relationship is really good. I am consistently creating new content, whether it be with my blog, drawing, painting, or cooking.

Yet a lot of bad things have happened since January of this year. A lot that I wouldn’t have been able to handle without the stability of my bipolar medication. I was fired and discriminated against after my employer at the law firm found out I was bipolar. My grandparents went into a nursing home due to my grandmother’s worsening Alzheimer’s and I haven’t seen them in person since the wedding. Usually I visit them every month or so, but haven’t been able to because of COVID-19. My grandmother thinks she is stuck on a cruise and she complains that they don’t get many visitors. My mother in law, Maria has tumors in her neck and just had them removed on July 6th.

All things I wouldn’t have known or been a part of if I was self-isolating and distancing myself from my family and friends. So with therapy, medication, and self-care habits, I am able to now keep a job, pay my bills, live on my own with Diego, the list goes on.

This post in no way, shape, or form is trying to force anyone into going to therapy or take their medication if they are bipolar or have mental health issues. It wasn’t until I reached rock bottom that I became an active participant in my life and decided to change things for myself. That route included meds and therapy, but everyone’s paths are different and that’s okay. No matter what you choose, know that I am in your corner, rooting you on.

God speed.

Dani

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