Recovering From Conversations With My Mother

One of the hardest things I do regularly is talk to my mother. She is very critical. I don't make enough money, my hair doesn't look right, my lipstick is the wrong color, I need to lose weight, I need to be more social, I need to go to the gym more--the list goes on and on. There are always a quite a few things I am not doing right that I need to improve. If it is not one thing, it is another. Things are constantly being added to this list of complaints. Some of them are minor, but the negative energy and disapproval wears on me nonetheless.

These conversations full of unsolicited advice are very demotivating. They make we want to quit everything and give up. My hopeless and suicidal thoughts ramp up the more I talk to my mother. I have told her that I try very hard to stay positive and that these conversations bring me down. I tell her that I need support, not criticism. Yet these unpleasant topics come up again and again. The negative emotions that come up affect me for hours and days.

My parents are getting old. I feel like I should spend some time with them, but it is very hard. Lately, I have been limiting the time I spend with them. I do not enjoy the time I spend with my parents. I see it as a duty. Most of the time it is depressing, lonely, and painful.

I have taken to giving myself pep talks after I talk to my mother. I tell myself that I don't really want to give up everything and die. That is just a reaction I have when I am repeatedly criticized and insulted. I think of all that I have to live for. I think of how far I have come. I tell myself that I have a very good job. I do not make a lot of money, but I have good benefits and I have been getting raises.

It makes sense to keep my job even though it is not good enough for my mother. My job is flexible and I need a lot of time off to go to various health-related appointments. That is a benefit that is hard for people to understand if they do not have to live with a chronic illness. My primary illness is Bipolar I, but side effects and other health conditions have come up over the years, and other medications and treatments have been added. Taking care of my health has become a juggling act that not every employer would support.

When dealing with my parents, there is no joy, but I think of the importance of compassion. My upbringing was far from happy and stable, but without my parents, I would not be alive. You do not get to choose your family, and this is the family I got. Maybe the purpose was to make me stronger.

Saving Myself

It is hard to live with bipolar disorder. Even though I take medication, I still have symptoms. If I take enough medication to stay symptom-free, I can't hold my head up and work. That level of medication causes me to sleep all day. Medication takes the edge off of my symptoms and slows me down enough so I have time to think before I speak and act--and that has kept me out of a lot of trouble and has allowed me to develop better relationships and also to work full time. But I also have to use a multitude of coping skills to stay well, including setting healthy boundaries.

Because I experienced emotional and sexual abuse within my family, I have to limit the amount of time I spend with my parents to protect my mental health. I have had to keep very firm boundaries about how much time I spend with my parents, what kinds of activities we do together, and what we talk about. My parents are aging and now need extra help--which I give them one day a week at most--usually on a Saturday or Sunday. Sometimes I skip some weeks if they seem to be doing well. I also have to limit the time I spend talking with them on the phone--especially with my mother. My mother is disappointed by short conversations. She would prefer to talk for at least and hour, but I don't have time for that long of a conversation every day. I try to keep our conversations to less than 20 minutes and I call most days to check in on my parents. My sister, who is their Power of Attorney, lives in a different state. We have decided that if my parents need more help than I can give them, they will have to pay for that help by hiring helpers and nurses. I believe in helping my parents, even though I suffered abuse at their hands, but there is a limit to what I can do and still maintain my mental health. I have learned from my life experiences that saving myself is very important. If I am not careful, I can spiral up into mania or down into depression and end up not being able to work or take care of myself for weeks or months at a time. That is a great incentive to stay well!

Because I have a limited amount of energy, my focus is on work. I have friends, and I am involved in community activities, but I don't do everything I could possibly do because rest and sleep are very important to my staying well. I try to have fun every day and spend time with people I like, but I also try to be home by 9 p.m. every night. Sometimes, I make an exception to that rule and stay out late, but I always pay for it later with sleepiness and inconsistent moods. Currently, in my free time, I attend therapy one night a week, take a ukelele class, exercise, have coffee and dinners with friends, and go to movies, plays, and concerts. I am also a member of two social clubs, and I am on the executive committee of one of them. I stay busy, but I also rest and sleep quite a bit. Also, if I am not in a good frame of mind, which can happen at unpredictable times, I bow out of social events and work on maintaining my wellness. I would love to do more than I do, but experience has shown me that if I overextend myself, I cannot stay well. This is what led to me being on disability between 2008 and 2016. I am now trying my hardest to stay well and stay off of disability.

The Last Days of Summer

I'm enjoying the last days of summer. I feel like I've taken full advantage of the season. I've spent a lot of time outside, I took a 12-day staycation, and I've spent ample time hanging out at my condo pool where I exercised, sunbathed, and enjoyed talking with neighbors and making new friends. I also worked on decluttering my condo and having needed repairs done.

One reason I think I enjoyed this summer so much is that I focused on self-care, including working to improve my physical health, and it has paid off. I started taking Deplin for my MTHFR homozygous C667T genetic mutation and I also started taking iron supplements for an iron deficiency that I have probably struggled with for years. I switched doctors in the spring and my new doctor tested my iron levels, when I reported having heavy periods, which my old doctor had never done. Taking care of these health problems seems to have increased my energy level, and I also look and feel healthier. I have better color and my hair is growing in thicker (iron deficiency can lead to both paleness and hair loss).

I've also continued my weekly therapy sessions which I started in February of 2016. Although I've been in some form of therapy for years, this is the only time I have ever been able to afford weekly sessions. In earlier years, I tried to make it once a month, but that wasn't always possible. Having weekly therapy has helped me so much because I can work on problems I face every week. Before, therapy was overwhelming because I felt I had so much to rehash in my infrequent appointments. I have experienced a tremendous amount of personal growth over the past two years that I attribute to these weekly therapy sessions. I'm so grateful for them!

I also read two daily meditations every morning which help to give me a lot of clarity. It is a great way to start my days. I read The Language of Letting Go and A Restful Mind: Daily Meditations for Enhancing Mental Health. Both of these daily meditations have been incredibly helpful to me!

I love my job, but sometimes it is stressful. At those times, I use wellness tools from my WRAP. My favorite wellness tools to use at work are: taking a short walk, using some scented hand lotion, or doing a few rounds of square breathing. I also make sure to drink plenty of water during the day.

So, I'm feeling really good about the end of summer. I always notice seasonal changes since I feel so different at different times of the year. I'll miss the relaxing afternoons at the pool, and leisurely chats with my neighbors, but I'm ready to make the transition to indoor exercise and swimming at the Y. And, one of my new friends that I met this year at the condo pool is also a member of the Y, and we have already taken a trip there together. We are both going to miss the outdoor pool, but we both know we need to keep exercising!

Medication Change

In May, I took the GeneSight test and found out that I have a genetic mutation--MTHFR homozygous C677T. This means that I will have low folate levels no matter how much folate I consume. For this reason, my psychiatric nurse practitioner prescribed a supplement called Deplin, which is L-Methylfolate, and is recommended for people with this genetic mutation because it is a form of folate that my body can use. With enough folate in my body, I should have fewer health risks and my medication should also work better. A lot people with bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia, and ADHD have this genetic mutation and Deplin is considered to be a dietary treatment for these disorders.

Because I am now taking Deplin, I was advised to cut my doses of psychiatric medications in half. I am now taking 100 mg. Lamictal, 100 mg. Seroquel, and 15 mg. Deplin. I successfully cut my Lamictal dose in half, but I haven't been able to go lower than 100 mg. on Seroquel. If I take a lower dose, I don't sleep well, and feel very tired the next day. My psychiatric nurse practitioner suggested that a switch to a low dose of Vraylar, along with the Deplin, may work well for me and may end some of my dangerous side effects from Seroquel (whenever I take Seroquel, my blood sugar goes up, my cholesterol is higher, and I gain weight, and then have a hard time losing it). So, I may discuss making the change to Vraylar at my next appointment. Vraylar seems to work better than Seroquel for some people and have fewer side effects for some people.

Since this medication change, I've been feeling more alert. I've been enjoying the end of the summer, and I feel equipped to do everything I need to do with confidence that I can remain stable. I'm continuing to practice good self-care, which for me means drinking lots of water, eating well, limiting caffeine and sugar, exercising, getting plenty of rest and sleep, spending time with friends and family, avoiding alcohol, and taking things one step at a time.

My Father Stole My Retirement Savings

When I went on disability for bipolar disorder in 2008, my father asked me to put my retirement savings in a family trust. He said he would invest it for me so that I would never have anything to worry about. I gave him all of my retirement savings. I was hesitant to do so, but he kept asking for two years and made me feel that I was passing up a great opportunity because I wanted to stubbornly control my own finances. I finally gave him the money in 2010--hoping for the best.

Well, he retired last year and announced that he had not invested my money and had, in fact, spent it. He had lied about it the whole time and kept telling me the investments were doing great and my retirement savings had grown exponentially and I would never have to worry about anything.

I went to a lawyer who told me that this is a very serious crime--breach of fiduciary duty--and that there is no statute of limitations on this crime. He asked me if I wanted my parents to go to prison. I said, "No, I just want my money back."

Now, my father is slowly dying from bladder cancer. The lawyer said that the next step is to contact the Commonwealth's Attorney. I can't believe that my father lied and did this to me while I was disabled, and the fact that he is dying complicates things.

I got off of disability and have been working full-time for two years, and have been contributing to my 401K, but after getting off of disability, I had to start my career over from entry-level. I have been promoted and am now able to contribute 15% of my salary to retirement savings, but this was a huge setback. I am now 48, so I will probably be working for 20 to 30 more years. I have asked my parents for the money, but so far, they have not made any plans to pay me back.

When people go on disability, they often have access to a lot of money--any back pay that they receive, and any retirement savings that they have. This can make them a target for unethical people--including family members--at a time when they are extremely vulnerable. It is hard for people to stand up for themselves when they are suffering from conditions so disabling that they are not able to work.

I've decided not to got to the Commonwealth's Attorney. My father is dying and my mother is worried about the future. I would feel terrible about myself if I put them through the wringer right now. My mother said that my sister and I will each inherit half of my family's estate when she passes away. I can live with that. I own my condo and my car, I have very little debt, and I have plenty of time to save for my retirement. I think I will be okay.

Trauma

There is no doubt in my mind that trauma played a part in the development of my bipolar illness. I am not unique in this regard, but families tend to deny that trauma causes and worsens mental illness. And, in our society, we are discouraged from speaking the truth about our families. But, I cannot continue to honestly write about my mental illness without addressing this topic. I have talked about it in therapy for years, and I have come to terms with it, but it will always be something I have to deal with because the unpleasant memories will always be there.

From my earliest memories, I have experienced terror and insecurity in the care of my family. I remember being locked in my room for hours and locked outside "to play" and hosed off before I was allowed inside. My parents always put themselves and their needs first and my sister and I suffered for that. I was never treated with respect although my basic needs were mostly taken care of. If I complained of headaches or cramps, I was told I needed to toughen up. My physical pain was never taken seriously. And I often did not have warm enough clothes for the winter. I was told not to complain.

Because of my father's work, my parents traveled internationally for weeks, and sometimes months, at a time while I was left with relatives I didn't see often or know well, or complete strangers. I did not have many regular caregivers except for my grandparents who I would see several times a year. I was sexually molested by a 16 year-old neighborhood boy who babysat me when I was 6 years old. My family also moved 10 times to different states and Canada before I turned 15. I went to different schools every couple of years and never had time to become part of any community. I went to the same high school for three years.

My father was sexually inappropriate with me. He pinched my nipples and snapped my bra strap starting at age 14. He would "accidentally" walk in on me when I was showering and changing and I found him in my bed at night in his underwear or sitting in a chair across from my bed in his underwear staring at me while masturbating. Once, when on vacation in Hawaii, he demanded that my sister and I change into our swimsuits in front of him while he sat on the bed staring. I refused to do so, but watched in disgust as my sister followed this command. I was 16 and she was 14. I think she was too young to understand how abnormal this was. He also masturbated in bed on all of the vacations we went on as a family. It is hard not to notice such behavior. You can hear the wetness and the yanking. I complained to my mother about all of these things and she said that I was "overreacting and making things up".

Because of all of the discomfort in my home, I could not wait to go to college. I excelled in school as this was promoted as an escape route to a desirable life. It seemed so easy, I just had to do well in school, get a good job, find a good husband, have some children, and have a great life! I knew how I wanted my life to unfold but I didn't realize that I did not learn the skills to make that happen from my family. I didn't realize how much I missed. I was miserable from my earliest memories, but I always had hope that things would get better when I could be in charge of my own life.

I thought I wouldn't have anything to worry about because I excelled in both school and sports, was good-looking, in shape, knew how to eat a healthy diet and cook, and knew how to dress well, be well-groomed, fix my hair, and apply makeup. I enjoyed traveling, going to museums, and I appreciated art, theater, science, photography, reading, and learning. I started working at 14, driving at 16, and felt that I was well-rounded. I was even a National Merit Finalist. I didn't realize how far behind I was socially until I got to college and was surrounded by classmates who had lived in the same communities for their entire lives and had strong and healthy relationships with their friends and families.

When my friends' fathers' hugged me without rubbing their penises in my crotch and pulling me in too closely, I was shocked because that is what I had gotten used to at home--and what I recoiled from. It was also my family's custom for everyone to kiss each other on the lips when greeting and I hated this as I did not know any of my family very well, and they made jokes about how "incest is best", and the men in my family talked about having gone to the same whorehouse together as a family outing.

In college, I observed people who were members of loving and supportive families. They felt comfortable at home and missed living with their parents. It all seemed so foreign to me. I learned how far behind I was because of my upbringing and how much I would need to learn and experience before I could have a normal life. At about the time that all of this was dawning on me, I experienced my first psychotic break at the age of 19. It was a huge disappointment.

My biggest fear had always been "going crazy" but receiving my diagnosis led to years of treatment and therapy and finally to the understanding of mental health recovery and learning how to stay well enough to work full-time and support myself without having a mental breakdown every couple of years. I have had many setbacks in the learning curve of learning to live with my mental illness, but finally, at the age of 48, I feel like I'm where I should be in terms of self-care and independence. Looking back, my delayed growth makes sense because my growth had been stunted by my family circumstances until the age of 18. I am fortunate that I possessed the intelligence and drive to continue to grow even though I missed so much growing up.

Wellness

It has been 28 years since I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and I finally feel like I have figured out how to stay well for the rest of my life. It has been almost three years since I was  last hospitalized for mania. In the time since, I have made wellness the focus of my life. I work in the mental health field and my job is not too stressful. I work 37.5 hours a week and have good benefits and generous vacation time. It is never hard for me to get time off for doctors' appointments. It is a very good, healthy work environment. Having an interesting job that is easy to live with is very important to my mental health recovery. I have other health conditions besides bipolar disorder: PCOS, sleep apnea, psoriasis, allergies, and high blood pressure, and these health conditions are all well controlled by lifestyle changes and medications. I have found that keeping these conditions under control helps my mental health.

I am taking the lowest effective doses of my medications for bipolar disorder and they are working well: 200 mg. Lamictal and 100 mg. Seroquel. I have no complaints about side effects besides having to sleep a little bit more than I would like. It is much better than struggling with insomnia, psychosis, and mood instability as I have in the past though. When I think about the days when I was heavily medicated, being on such low doses of medications and doing well seems like a miracle. I also take the following supplements: a multivitamin, fish oil, vitamin D-3, and biotin. I take them because I believe they contribute to my overall wellness.

I stick to a routine. I have a regular bedtime and wake time. I believe that prioritizing quality sleep is the most important habit that keeps me well. I take my Lamictal and Seroquel between 8 and 9 p.m. and usually fall asleep between 10 and 11 p.m. I wake up at 7 a.m. on work days. I usually stick to the same routine on the weekends, but I occasionally stay out late with friends. Staying out late always requires sleeping late the next day because, with my medication, I always need 8-9 hours of sleep to feel rested.

I exercise every day. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, I do a full-body strength training routine using dumbbells and a kettlebell. I have realized that I feel much better when I feel strong. Lifting weights also helps me to sleep much better. On the days that I don't lift weights, I at least take a walk, but I also enjoy cycling, hiking, and swimming.

I make time to spend time with friends and family. I am also friendly with my neighbors and people I encounter while out running errands and shopping. Having good relationships with people in my community is important to me. I eat well, limit my caffeine intake, and drink lots of water. I have made a Wellness Recovery Action Plan, and I follow it. I meditate twice a day -- in the morning and at night. I also take deep breaths as needed. I never realized how much these habits would help me until I incorporated them into my life. I go to therapy once a week. My therapist is encouraging and helpful and understands the challenges I face living with bipolar disorder. This kind of support helps me stay motivated to stay well.

Staying well is fairly simple, but it takes attention to detail and commitment. Doing all of these things regularly and keeping a routine is what keeps me well. Life is good. The things I am currently working on to improve my life are losing weight and decluttering my home, and these things are much easier to focus on when I am well.