Wake The Dawn

 

My post last week was of a rather somber tone. But sometimes somber is necessary. And sometimes God confirms that in bold ways, in-person, in real time. I experienced that today.

Yes, I will elaborate.

This past weekend I visited Edmonton for a wedding, and on Sunday (yesterday) I attended mass at 10:30am at St. Joseph’s Basilica with my piano instructor. She was still struggling with the loss of her elderly father to illness several weeks ago, but it was a gloriously beautiful Mass and it moved her a great deal. When I returned home yesterday evening, I read Janet Klasson’s post “For those who will die unprepared…” and found it a confirmation of the tone I took last week. (As a side note, her posts, and Mark Mallett’s, have been of immense help to me in my own spiritual journey. I highly recommend both of them though they are, perhaps, not for the faint of heart…)

This afternoon at my music history lesson, I happened to walk in moments after she had gotten off the phone with her daughter, who had called to inform her that her best friend’s brother died in a tragic accident last night, around the same time that I was reading Janet’s post. He was 19 years old and unbaptized. His 22 year old sister, the best-friend of my piano teacher’s daughter, was baptized this year after a powerful conversion experience that took place during the same week as my hospitalization this past February. My teacher was understandably badly shaken, and I spent the first fifteen minutes of our lesson praying the Divine Mercy chaplet while she called her daughter’s friend, then we prayed together for the young man’s soul and his family, and I offered her what comfort and reassurance I could.

To be honest, I wasn’t floored. These sorts of experiences have happened with such frequency in my life over the past year that while they usually take me off-guard, I find them comforting now rather than unnerving. I’m not a “seer.” I don’t receive visible apparitions from Our Lady like some people do. But I have experienced direct, internal communications in prayer on very rare occasions, and divinely inspired dreams (which occur which equal rarity and which I usually don’t share with anyone, since I often can’t interpret them properly until years later).

This evening, while beginning my daily family rosary, I experienced the soft, maternal touch I’ve come to associate with Our Lady and inwardly heard four words:

I need you here.

There is work to be done in this world. Heaven may be my eternal home, but God still has a purpose to fulfill with my life and if I wish to do his will, I have to be willing to accept whatever length of life he gives me.

I have no guarantees it will be a “long life,” but at the very least, I don’t anticipate I’m going to keel over tonight. Each and every person has a mission to fulfill with their life, whether they know it or not.

Are you aware of the mission God has given you?

When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!” The saying spread abroad among the brethren that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” ~ John 21:21-23

None of us can know for certain (leastways not without direct divine revelation) how long we have to live. John (the above-mentioned “man”), ended up being the only Apostle not to die a martyr (or by his own hand, if you count Judas). Personally, I think his fate in this life was much more difficult to endure than the fates of the others. He lived to old age, and left us with a number of beautiful letters and the ever-puzzling, endlessly deep Book of Revelation. Don’t assume he “got off easy” because he was the “favourite.” To live a long life after knowing Jesus personally would have been immensely painful. Not only that, he lived through the loss of Mary as well.

No, a long life is not necessarily a “golden ideal.” But neither is a short life, necessarily. There are no “golden ideals” on this earth. This life is not “the point” of our existence. It is temporary. Yet our actions here, in this brief period in history, hold consequence for all eternity.

So it’s worth asking yourself on a regular basis:

How am I using my daily life?

Personally, I wish to use my life to bring hope and joy into the world, in accordance with God’s will for me. I wish to use the time I’ve been given to create as much beauty and love as I can, to help my fellow sojourners in their respective life journeys. For as long as I’m here, I will strive to “wake the dawn.”

Until next time, take care and God bless.

Kasani

How Do You Use Your Time?

Original Song: Bury Your Heart – Flyleaf

How are you spending your time?

As a devout Catholic, this is something I ask myself every day.

I may only be 23, but with my life experiences and mental illness, I think it’s safe to say that I am far more aware of my own mortality than most other adults, both young and old. I don’t assume that because I’m young I have a long life ahead of me. I could die in my sleep tonight. I could die on the drive to work tomorrow. I could be diagnosed with a life threatening disease next week and be dead within the month.

Whenever I make reference to that reality to any of the people in my life, they almost always brush it off and discourage that line of thinking as “negative” and “doom and gloom.” I’ve had people who know me less well quip comments such as “don’t be silly, you have you whole life ahead of you.”

Oh really?

Have you received a personal revelation from God that I’m going to have a long life?

Because in case you haven’t noticed, people my age die all the time.

I understand why the people who care about me dislike this subject, because they emphatically don’t want me to die. I also understand why people in general dislike this subject. It’s uncomfortable, isn’t it? Nobody wants to talk about death. Not until it’s staring one in the face. And even then, many people would rather run from it. Turn their back and flee from reality. Hide in the newest distraction—the next experience, gadget, book, hobby, job, educational endeavor, vacation extravaganza… you name it.

Run away. Just keep running. Don’t ever look back.

That seems to be the motto of the society we live in: Never. Acknowledge. Death.

To the point where we cover up murder with fancy names like “euthanasia” and “abortion” and claim they are “humane options” to “difficult problems.”

Here’s a difficult problem for you: You’re going to die someday, regardless of what life choices you make.

How does that make you feel?

This post is a rather dramatic switch from my usual tone, but it’s not intended to be depressing. It’s meant to be thought provoking. Because how you respond to the thought of death says a lot about how you are currently living your day-to-day life.

I actually look forward to death, and not in a suicidal way. Trust me, as someone with type 1 Bipolar Disorder, I do not take suicide lightly. I’ve been suicidal before. I couldn’t be farther from that place now. What I currently feel is homesickness for heaven. I long for a reality that cannot be fulfilled in this life. I long for my Lord and Savior. For complete union with Him in heaven. But my time here on earth isn’t finished yet, and in the meantime, I have to be patient. My greatest “fear,” if you will, is that I will, in-fact, have a long life and die of “old age” when I’m 101.

I do not want to be stuck here that long. I really don’t. And not because my life is bad. I have a very good life. I just know that as long as I’m on this earth, living this life, I will never be fully satisfied, and I yearn for more. I’m impatient.

That said, I would never, ever allow that impatience to rush me.

“For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” Philippians 1:21

As long as I am still breathing, God has a purpose for me to fulfill on this earth. And in my better moments I want nothing more than to fulfill that purpose. That awareness fills me with peace and happiness far more often than I am anxious or unhappy.

A very great deal of the anxiety and depression experienced within our society has nothing to do with “mental illness” and everything to do with “life choices.” And I don’t mean big choices like who your spouse should be, or whether or not to get cancer treatment (though obviously such choices will have a major impact on you). I mean daily decisions moment to moment. Where do your thoughts go when you first open your eyes in the morning? What’s your first choice when you get to the end of the day and want to relax? How do you approach the work you do for a living? What is your attitude? Why?

I don’t care of you’re Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Atheist… Really, I don’t. I know what I believe, and there’s nothing anyone can say to fundamentally change it. Though I must say, if you don’t have a faith or opinion on a belief system, you may want to do some serious thinking and research…. far better to do it now than put it off until you’re dying. Because you are going to die, whether you like it or not.

Most religions believe in a higher power of some sort that we have to meet when we die. If you’re a Christian, then you believe that “being” is a Good and Loving God in Heaven. But have you considered the fact that Heaven, by its theological definition is not a place, but a person?

Heaven is God. It’s a relationship with supreme Love.

If you haven’t started that relationship now, while you’re on earth… what sort of meeting do you expect with this “God” on the other side?

“Hey there. I know you gave me 23 years to start building a relationship with you, but there were just so many shows on Netflix to binge-watch I couldn’t be bothered to get around to getting to know you…despite the fact that you loved me into existence and died for me. Sorry bro.”

That really isn’t meant to be funny. It’s actually quite sad. Because it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that in my country, were we to be wiped out tonight in a nuclear war, most of my generation would be making a just such an excuse to their Creator.

So the next time you reach for a game on Facebook, flip open Pinterest, or open the browser on whatever electronic device you prefer, ask yourself this:

What am I doing? Why am I doing it? If this were the last 15 minutes I had to live… how would I rather be spending it? And why do I feel that way?

Until next time, take care and God bless!

Kasani

How To Cure Mental Illness

Yes the title is meant to be controversial. This is a controversial subject. In other news, the links I mentioned can be found here:

Peter Breggin, MD
Truehope – Mental and Physical Wellbeing

And I apologize for my previous post being blank. I am apparently still learning how to use technology… ^^;

I will keep you all updated on my progress with this new method of managing my life. Until next time, take care and God Bless!

Kasani

The Road to Recovery – Part 2: Hospitalization

 

To be honest, I don’t think I can top my last post. I couldn’t be more honest than I was in that post. And sometimes, honesty has to be tactful. I don’t want to embarrass anyone other than myself with these, so this story will be told largely through other people’s words and art. It’s not for me to give away the secrets of others. I can only give away my own, if I choose.

Please love one another for me. ❤

dancinggirl

 

 

 

 

 

 

~ Kasani ❤

 

The Road to Recovery – Part 1: Just Another Manic Christmas…

Edit: This was scheduled to be posted on April 1st at 7am but the post never showed up so now I have to re-write it. Guess that makes me an April Fool for trusting technology…

Before I say anything else, can I just wish all my readers a happy, glorious Easter? Regardless of whether or not you’re reading this on Easter morning when I’m posting it, or years later. If you’re a Christian, every day should be Easter for you. Christ is alive, doncha know? ❤

This will be a three-part series. I mentioned in a post about a month ago that I would explain what all has been going on in my life, so this is it. In part 1, I’ll explain what happened over Christmas/New Years, in Part 2 I’ll explain how I got hospitalized, and in part 3 I’ll discuss my plans moving forward. This has easily been the most traumatic year of my life so far, but it’s also been the most freeing and validating. I’m a little nervous to see what the upcoming weeks will bring, but I’m also excited. What I’ve experienced in the past 5 months has been nothing short of miraculous on many levels.

So let’s get started, shall we?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My last big post last year was entitled “Embracing the Cross – Part 4: Building a Personal Relationship with God.” In that excessively long post I assigned us all some homework. I am now here to tell you that I failed all of that homework, through no intentional fault of my own.

Don’t ever tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humour. He does.

Overachieving is not always a good thing. Especially if you are trying to overachieve in something God didn’t make you to do.

“If you are what God made you to be, you will set the world ablaze.” ~ St Catherine of Siena.

As many of you already know, my real name is Catherine. I have many patron saints, all of whom used to intimidate me half to death. St. Catherine of Siena had direct conversations with God the Father. St. Catherine of Genoa got to visit purgatory in-person on multiple occasions. St. Catherine of Alexandria got gang-raped and killed for refusing to obey her human father. I was always partial to St. Catherine of Sweden. All she did was talk her fiance into taking a vow of virginity so they could live together chastely like Mary and Joseph (Jesus’ parents).

I think the thing that always terrified me more than anything else, though, was that nearly all my patron saints were nuns. Now, I myself am not called to be a nun. Trust me. I asked God. He told me so. But a few years back I had a priest jokingly tell me that God had told him that I would become a nun someday. I wish he hadn’t said that, because it put me into a lot of spiritual turmoil for a very long time. The thing is, everyone is called to be a saint, but not everyone is called to religious vows. Marriage is an equal calling to the priesthood or religious life. It isn’t inferior. It’s harder. That’s why St. Paul recommends to people that they stay single. It’s easier to be saintly when you aren’t living with another human being and trying to raise children. But who ever said Christianity was supposed to be easy? Certainly not Jesus…

My two favourite saints of all time (next to my mother Mary of course), are St Therese of Lisieux and St Joan of Arc. I will probably do posts about each of them at some point. On the surface, they don’t seem to have much in common. St. Therese knew God was calling her to be a nun at a young age and so she moved heaven and earth to enter a nunnery at age 15, despite everyone (except her dad) trying to stop her. And she succeeded. Eventually she died of tuberculosis at age 24, but not before writing a beautiful story about the art of trusting God (click here for the free audiobook).

St. Joan of Arc began receiving visions of angels and saints when she was a young teen and God raised her up to become the youngest Commander and Chief of France in history (she was 17 years old, and had had no prior training in anything because she was a poor peasant girl). She led France’s armies to victory against the English over and over again despite overwhelming odds and placed a crown on the head of the rightful king, just as she’d promised she would. She was rewarded for her service by being abandoned to her enemies in the hour of her greatest need and burned to death by the Church that she so dearly loved and valiantly served at the age of 19. Mark Twain wrote a fantastic book about her that you can find the free audio recording of here.

What did these two young women have in common? They trusted God completely and were willing to risk everything for him, even their own lives and reputations. So if you’re a Christian, let me ask you something:

What have you risked for God today?

I’ve already risked everything I have for him: my life, my loved ones, my reputation. I’ve been physically slapped across the face, hand-cuffed twice, drugged against my will and shipped off to a mental hospital in a straight-jacket in the back of an ambulance, all because nobody was willing to believe my repeated, calm, ruthlessly rational explanations that I was fine and didn’t need this sort of treatment. That I wasn’t planning to hurt myself or anyone else. That I didn’t need taking care-of. That I wasn’t crazy. That the only label you can truly slap on me from the time I was a small kid is that I’m a goody-two-shoes.

Yes. Kasani Zanetti was at a psych ward this year. Does that make me crazy? I don’t know. You’ll have to decide for yourself. What I do know is that I was terrified the first two days that I was there because it was a mixed-gender ward and I was afraid of the other patients (the last time I was in a psych ward at age 16, I was too innocently naive to be scared of the other patients).

Then I began to realize something.

There wasn’t anything different between me and the other patients, except that they had a whole host of life-problems I didn’t have.

I didn’t meet a bunch of crazy people. I met an anxious, homesick single mother who was ashamed to be attending group therapy at a mental hospital while her own mother looked after her baby boy at home. I met a pregnant mother, no older than myself, with a physically abusive husband at home taking care of their two other young children. I met a young, overweight native man in a wheelchair because he’d lost his temper and kicked something so hard it broke his leg. I met a teenage girl who wants to become a singer/songwriter, who joked about Monty Python and was brave enough to admit in group therapy that she was there voluntarily because she was struggling with self-harm.

And those are just the patients. Don’t even get me started on the staff.

I went to a mental hospital, and guess what? I met a bunch of fellow human beings who had various labels stuck to them but their real problems weren’t “mental” problems. They were “life” problems. And the doctors still tried to screw me over and act like they knew better than me. Fortunately, I’ve done my research and am smarter than anyone ever gives me credit for.

Yes, I can take care of myself. No, I don’t need medications to do it.

Christmas was an immensely powerful time for me. I had a re-conversion experience in which I gave my life to God completely, again. I was surrounded by friends and family and overwhelmed by the beautiful, generous gifts I received from them.

joan of arc present
The St. Joan of Arc statue me dad got for me from the EWTN religious catalogue.

My dear friend Penelope down in the U.S made me these posters and mailed them to me.

My Light…

The above picture is of my two original characters, Muir and Althea, sprites from my fantasy novel that I’m currently working on. Muir was originally Penelope’s character, Mordred, from her authorian fantasy that she’s working on,  but we thought he would make a cute pairing with my main character. So then I loaned her my main character in return and she named her Anya. (See below picture)

…and My Dark

I had already been working on a Mordred-inspired piano composition last fall but the immense gratitude I felt for all the gifts, combined with inspiration from the bible (See Mary’s canticle in the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke) helped me finish this composition early in 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

Penelope and I are teaming up as artists and pooling our resources (our fan-bases) so we can launch out into the great not-so-unknown and become published authors. Penelope already has an online business doing commissions, so if you ever need any art done, please, please check her out. She is fantastic, and you can find her Patreon page here: P.J. Manley’s Patreon Page.

 

 

 

As for me. I will continue writing blog posts, making YouTube videos, and living my life. I refuse to let other people tell me what to do any longer. I will take respectful advice but I won’t necessarily follow it unless I agree with it. If you’re interested in my Patreon page you can find it here.

Thank you all so much for being who you are. ❤ You can read part 2 here.

 

Until next time, take care and God bless!

Kasani

 

 

Self-Harm: For Parents

I was recently having a conversation with a concerned parent who was thoroughly puzzled as to why so many of her daughter’s close friends are cutting themselves. She couldn’t fathom what would drive a person down such a path. This isn’t the first time I’ve run into an “adult” (by which I mean people in the age-group of 40 and upwards) who doesn’t understand the phenomenon among young-adults that has come to be known as “self-harm” or “self-injury.”  I’ve already done a three-part series on this subject, which I encourage you to check out if you haven’t already. But those posts were mainly directed at people who are dealing with self-harm personally. It’s different for people who are “on the outside looking in” at a loved one who is struggling with such a problem. So this post is for all of the parents, siblings and friends who don’t understand self-harm, but want to help somehow.

The first thing you need to know is that it’s not your fault.

It’s a horrifying thing for a parent to discover that their child is self-harming. It prompts a million questions and self-torturing emotions—how did I miss this? What did I do wrong? Am I a failure as a parent? What should I do?

I can’t answer those questions for you. What I can tell you is that self-harm is a personal decision that your loved one decided to make because they were/are going through serious psychological/emotional pain. The cold, scientific reason behind self-harm is that it releases endorphins which distract from the internal anguish the self-harmer is experiencing. It creates an “afterglow” of sorts that offers a sense of relief. And this effect is highly addictive. It creates a pattern that is very difficult to break out of. And the more often you’ve done it, the harder it is to get away from. It’s no different than alcoholism or drug addiction—except on one very important point: breaking free of the addiction is not as “easy” (I say that with irony) as resisting the urge to go to the liquor store, or not making a trip to your local drug-dealer. Self-injury comes in many, many forms, and short of cutting off your own arms and legs, there’s really no way to “remove yourself from the source temptation,” as one would be normally advised in Christian circles.

So what is one supposed to do?

Therapy is a good place to start. Another option is getting the person in-question committed (voluntarily or involuntarily) to a psychiatric institution. There are a few things you need to keep in mind, however, if you make that choice:

1. There are psychological consequences to a person spending time in a psych ward. You are likely going to face some backlash later on as the person tries to cope with the serious wound to the self-esteem that spending time in an institution creates. Like it or not, there is a stigma around mental illnesses and psych wards, and the people inside them are just as vulnerable to it as the people outside them.

2. People can still self-harm in psych wards. The staff do their best, and if the patient is there voluntarily and cooperating, it can be a good and safe environment. But if the person is there involuntarily and is angry/depressed, they will still find a way to hurt themselves, regardless of what the staff do. I’ve seen this first-hand.

3. Regardless of where the person is, a measure of trust is required on the part of the family and friends of the self-harmer. The worst possible thing you can do is turn into a “hovering helicopter” that refuses to leave the individual alone. While it’s important to keep up regular, positive interaction with them and make sure they know they are loved, smothering them is going to have the opposite effect you want. It will drive their already damaged self-esteem even lower into the dirt, which can lead to angry outbursts and an increase in self-harming behavior.

You will have to sit down with your family and decide the best course of action, because every family is different. Just know that self-harmers deal with a great amount of shame and disgust over their own condition. Criticizing them, or demanding answers, even in a “nice” way, is not helpful. People who self-harm don’t “do it for kicks.” It is the result of deep psychological pain, and it will take time to heal from it (in more ways than one). Prayer, patience, and emotional support are the best things to surround a self-harmer with. Recovery is guaranteed, just so long as the self-harmer themselves has the personal desire to break free, and the outside support necessary to make that desire a reality.

Until next time, take care and God bless!

Kasani

Withdrawal – Part 3: Joyful People Suffer

It’s been a long time since I posted anything. Or at least, it feels like a long time. Realistically it’s only been a few months, but that might as well have been a lifetime ago. A lot as happened since then.

I’d like to start with the good news: I successfully came off of my last medication (Lamictal/Lamotrigine) mid-December last year. It was, in a way, the most freeing experience of my life. It precipitated a manic episode that ended with me in the hospital, but that’s all right. I learned a lot from it. Christmas 2017 was beautiful for me. So many blessings. I had a strong re-conversion experience in which I gave my life to Jesus again to do with me what he willed. Admittedly, if I’d known doing that would end with me in a hospital, I probably would have hesitated. But God knows our weakness. He hid from me how things were going to turn out. He wanted my complete and unconditional trust, and he was there for me every step of the way. He and His mother, Mary.

I plan to write a blog series explaining what happened. For now, though, I’m still processing everything and picking up the pieces (i.e. catching up on everything I’m behind on after two weeks out-of-commission, and praying to discern God’s will moving forward). I just wanted to send a shout out to my few followers that yes, I am still alive! And I’m doing great. Just decidedly worn out after everything. I look forward to writing more in the future.

Until then, take care and God bless!

Kasani

 

 

Sit Down, Buckle up, and Hang on Tight: Riding the Bipolar Roller Coaster

(If you’re curious about the cover picture, it’s a self-portrait I drew a few years back with mania and depression anthropomorphized into fictional characters. I’ll let you figure out which is which.)

What is bipolar disorder?

To quote Wikipedia:

“Individuals with bipolar disorder experience episodes of a frenzied state known as mania, typically alternating with episodes of depression.”

It’s a teeny-weeny bit more complicated than that (<– please note the sarcasm in this statement). I’m not going to launch into a full, in-depth explanation, because plenty of books have already been written on the subject (for an excellent, highly entertaining book check out Welcome to the Jungle by Hilary Smith. It’s the first book I read about bipolar disorder, and it’s by far the best. I guarantee you’ll get a laugh– something you won’t be getting from most other books on the subject. Instead, I’ll just walk you through the terminology I make use of:

Manic episode – You’re bursting with energy. Sleep is impossible. You’re either euphorically happy, alarmingly irritable, or paranoid, or some combination of all three. Some people fly into rages (thankfully I’ve never had that problem). Your thoughts are speeding along at roughly a million miles per minute, which starts out exhilarating, but it gets old very quickly (just staying focused on one conversation is difficult, let alone trying to read something or plan your day). The speeding thoughts can enhance your creativity, but you have the attention span of a gnat, so you might start a dozen new projects in the course of a day, but you won’t ever finish them. Your judgement goes out the window. You do stupid things: driving recklessly, maxing out your credit cards on spending sprees, breaking up friendships, quitting your job. Hypersexuality is another symptom. Ordinarily you might be a very chaste, conservative wall-flower, but in the throws of mania you are liable to get into a lot of trouble if you’re in the wrong place with the wrong person (or people). You aren’t in your right mind, so you aren’t morally culpable, but when sanity returns you might end up facing some devastating consequences (this is something I’ve never had to deal with, thank God, since my only major manic episode took place while I was safely with my family). If things progress far enough you can become psychotic. You have delusions of grandiosity that leave you convinced that you’re a celebrity, or that you’re Jesus (this is actually a very common delusion, even among non-religious people), or you’re on a mission to save the world, or you’re invincible, can control things with your mind, can fly, etc. Hallucinations are also a possibility. The symptoms of psycho-manic episodes are very similar in some ways to the symptoms of schizophrenia.

Hypomanic episode – This is another way of saying “mild mania.” Take manic symptoms and turn them down a few notches. It still interferes with your life, but you’re able to function at least semi-normally. Sometimes hypomania can actually be a positive thing, since the extra energy and creativity isn’t compromised by incapacitating racing-thoughts. It can also be quite enjoyable if euphoria happens to be a symptom.

Depressive episode – In other words: depression. Anyone who has ever experienced it probably doesn’t need an explanation. Bipolar depression is very similar to major depressive disorder. Symptoms of depression include utter misery and despair (that’s not an exaggeration), crying, lethargy, exhaustion, apathy, loss of interest in formerly enjoyable activities, inability to feel pleasure, morbid thoughts and suicidal ideation, excessive and irrational guilt, intense self loathing, insomnia, loss of appetite and weight loss, and withdrawal from friends and family. There are three potential differences in bipolar depression: firstly, antidepressants usually kick in immediately and have the potential to shoot you over the moon into mania, so you have to be very careful with them. Secondly, some people experience hypersomnia rather than insomnia. They are unable to get out of bed for days. This is not due to laziness, but rather absolute exhaustion (the intensity of it defies description) and apathy.  The third potential difference is an increase in appetite, rather than a loss, which can result in impressive weight gain (eating a whole tub of ice cream every day, for example, or sitting down and eating spoonfuls of sugar straight from the bag. It doesn’t help that a number of medications used to treat bipolar have weight gain as a side-effect). When someone experiences hypersomnia or increased appetite  it’s considered an “atypical depression.” I’ve never had either of those problems. My depressions are pretty typical. Unless they’re mixed episodes.

Mixed episode (also known as Dysphoric Mania or Agitated Depression) – You’re depressed and manic at the same time. I’m not joking. This happens rather frequently (in my experience, anyway). Take the emotional anguish of depression, along with its self-loathing, guilt and suicidal ideation, and mix it with the energy, impulsiveness and racing thoughts of mania, and you have a very dangerous cocktail. According to the stats, about 40% of people with bipolar disorder attempt suicide at least once in their lives, and roughly half of them are successful. In other words, 1 out of every 5 people with bipolar disorder end up killing themselves. Mixed episodes are the main reason for this. In straight depression, exhaustion and apathy make suicide less likely. Exhaustion and apathy are probably the only two depressive symptoms missing in a mixed episode. Energetic impulsiveness + thoughts of suicide = dangerous. In my experience, mixed episodes are also the time when self-harm urges hit you the hardest (if you’re someone who has that problem).

Rapid Cycling – In ordinary bipolar disorder, a person doesn’t get more than 4 episodes per year (that doesn’t sound like much, but one episode can last anywhere from a few days, to months). But it doesn’t always work that way. If you have more than 4 episodes over the course of a year, you are considered to be rapid-cycling. It’s a common problem in bipolar teens, and antidepressants can play into it in a big way as well.

So there’s your brief overview. If you have any questions, drop me a comment.

Take care, and God bless!

Kasani

My Story – Part 2: The Aftermath

After the ship of my old life had been shattered on the rocks of hospitalization, I was dragged aboard a new, unfamiliar vessel, and I wasn’t sure how to feel about it. Fully coming to terms with my diagnosis would end up taking several years.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

While still in the hospital, after medications had grounded me once more in reality, my doctor tried to explain to me that in bipolar disorder, what goes up must come down. A depressive episode almost always follows on the heels of a manic one. But I was still hypomanic, and thus cheerful and optimistic and feeling great. I assured him that I was overall a very happy person and I was sure I’d be fine. And I wasn’t deluded in thinking this. I was going on experience. For most of my life I’d been a happy, well adjusted person. Happy was my norm. I had no way of knowing just how radically that would change.

Not surprisingly, I did experience a depressive episode a couple weeks later. At the time, I thought it was the worst experience of my life, mainly because it contrasted so drastically with the euphoria of the preceding manic episode. But looking back, I can see it was pretty mild. It only lasted a little under two weeks, and I didn’t end up needing antidepressants. After that episode, God granted me 7 months of almost total stability. This allowed me to get back on my feet and start trying to live my old life again, but it did nothing to prepare me for the reality of my disorder.

By the time August rolled around, I was completely adjusted to my disorder (so I thought) and not the least bit embarrassed or uncomfortable talking about it. It was a bit like a cool new label that put me in a separate category from most people– like a weird sort of bragging right (boy, did that ever change over the next several months…). My best friend, who had been diagnosed with ADHD within the same month that I was diagnosed with Bipolar (funny how these things work out), was amazed by my nonchalant attitude towards my disorder. She had been having a difficult time coming to grips with her own diagnosis without it completely destroying her self-esteem.

The difference between her and me was that she had been struggling with the effects of her illness every day of her life without fully understanding it, and now she was still having to deal with it every day but with the added bonus of having a label slapped onto her that essentially declared her “defective” because of it. There was no way to deny the reality of it. It was part of her life 24/7. The fact that she was a straight-A student, whom her friend’s thought the world of, did nothing to ease the initial sting of the diagnosis. She did eventually come to grips with it, and even met and befriended some fellow sufferers of the disorder, but adjusting to the diagnosis of a mental illness takes time.

For me, the fact that I had a mental illness hadn’t yet sunk in. While the events surrounding my hospitalization had been very dramatic, the disorder seemed to have vanished into thin air after a month had gone by. Once I stabilized, it was as if it had never happened. The only changes in my life were that I was now on medication and I had to monitor my sleep and stress levels to avoid triggering another episode. Other than that I felt normal. It wasn’t compromising my ability to function like a normal person. I didn’t feel the least bit embarrassed about it.

In the fall, that changed.

Part-way through September, 2012, I crashed into a depressive episode. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was the start of what would turn into nearly two years of rapid-cycling. After September, I went on to have 12 more episodes over the course of the next year, and 6 the year after that. The first year of that very nearly killed me. From December 2012 to May 2013, I went straight from depressive episode, to hypomanic episode, to depressive episode, to hypomanic episode, with only a day or two of stability here and there. The depressive episodes typically dragged on for close to a month, while the hypomanic episodes usually lasted a couple weeks. If I hadn’t had a very effective antipsychotic medication (Zyprexa), the hypomanic episodes would almost certainly have progressed into full-blown manic ones, and I likely would have had to be hospitalized again. Thankfully that didn’t happen. But most of the hypomanic episodes were dysphoric. In other words, they were mixed episodes. So to say that they didn’t lead to euphoric happiness would be a very impressive understatement. I was miserable.

It was around this time that I began to feel very insecure about my disorder. When I was stable,  I had successfully taken several university correspondence courses and passed with flying colors. In 2013, I failed a university course because I was hypomanic for my midterm and depressed for my final. I began to think I would never be able to attend an actual university. If I couldn’t handle just one correspondence course, how could I possibly handle a full-time course-load on a real campus?

I withdrew from all my friends except my previously mentioned best friend (most of my friends at that time were not a very positive influence anyway). I muddled along putting one foot in front of the other, and stumbling into a number of pitfalls along the way. I came to have a very intimate understanding of why people self-harm, and thoughts of suicide were rarely far from my mind. As far as I can remember, my faith life did not deteriorate, but it certainly didn’t improve either. To be honest, I’ve forgotten large chunks of that period, especially some of the depressive episodes, and what I do remember is foggy at best. The only reason I know most of what took place in my head in the years of 2012 and 2013 is that I kept a journal. It was one of the coping mechanisms I latched on to.

The year 2014 marked the beginning of my recovery. It was a much stabler year, thanks to changes in my medication. The first mood stabilizer I was put on when I was diagnosed was Lithium. It didn’t work, and over time it began to give me alarming muscle weakness as a side-effect. Any muscle strain at all caused me to shake like a leaf. I looked like a caffeine addict whenever I so much as raised a tall glass of water to my lips, and walking up a single flight of steps left me gasping for air and utterly exhausted. Thankfully those symptoms went away when I was taken off the drug. The next mood stabilizer I was put on was Lamictal. Once I reached a high enough dose, it worked marvels. I’m still on it now, and I don’t experience any side-effects from it at this point. But it took quite a while to build up the dose to the level at which I’m currently taking it, and I experienced some strange initial side-effects until I adjusted to it (disorientation, lightheadedness, panic attacks). It controls the depressive episodes better than the manic ones, so I still have Zyprexa on hand to cut off hypomania before it progresses too far. I’m also on Wellbutrin (an antidepressant). This combination of medications works very well for me. Over the past year (2015) I’ve only had one hypomanic episode, and one depressive episode. I don’t have any side-effects (well, Zyprexa can turn me into a zombie, but that’s kind of the point. Thankfully I don’t have to take it much). I am very, very blessed to have discovered this in only a few years. I know many people have a lot of trouble finding medication combinations that work, and many of them have to deal with unpleasant side-effects from them.

December 23rd, 2015 will mark the end of the fourth year since my diagnosis. A lot happened in those 4 years that I’m not going to try and summarize here. Some of it will appear in future posts if it’s relevant to the issue I’m discussing. To wrap up, I am finally adjusted to my disorder. Having experienced the full range of symptoms that it can throw at me, it’s no longer a frightening thing. I’m comfortable talking about it. I’m back to living a relatively normal life. I’m happy again. Whether that will last or not is in God’s hands, and I’m content to leave it there. One of the most important lessons my disorder has taught me is that we have to live in the now. The future is impossible to predict. Life is much less stressful when we let go of the illusion that we’re in control and instead trust God to take over the navigation of our vessel. He knows where we’re supposed to be heading, and he will give us all the grace and support we need in order to get there. We just have to be willing to accept it.

Take care, and God bless.

Kasani

My Story – Part 1: The Diagnosis

When I woke on the morning of December 24, 2011, the sky was cloudy. I could tell this, not because I could see the sky, but because the light coming in through the metal grate over the window was a cold, grey shade. The window looked out on an enclosed courtyard covered by a large dome of honeycombed skylights. There was a tree in the courtyard and some benches.I can see these things in my mind’s eye now, but they were not what initially captured my attention. What I first noticed, as I raised my head, were the claw marks on the walls. Someone had dug their nails frantically into the drywall over and over, and perhaps had applied their teeth to it as well.

The first question that came into my mind was not why am I in a child psych ward? I recognized that I was, but it didn’t matter much to me at that moment. What I wanted to know, as I eyed the marks with a certain amount of horror, was whether or not I had been the one to make them. In my drugged haze and the scattered confusion of the still prominent mania, I couldn’t remember any of what had taken place.

Some of my memory came back to me in bits and pieces as the mania diminished, but the first few days of my stay there have remained a fuzzy blur to this day. I do remember being profoundly relieved to learn I had not made the marks on the wall of my room. What little else I remember is both cringe-worthy and amusing. For instance, I have a vague memory of being locked in a padded room in the unit–the one saved for unruly patients when they threw fits–not because I’d been violent but because, as a fellow patient later explained to me with great amusement, they hadn’t been able to get me to stop singing. I hope the nurses in emerge had a similar sense of humour, because I sang Christmas carols at the top of my lungs for the majority of the nine hours that I spent waiting there, my exhausted mother at my side having long since given up the task of quieting me.

I don’t remember being told I had bipolar disorder. I must have been told at some point, because I remember sitting in a room with my parents as the doctor gently explained to them why they assumed I had the condition. Then the doctor took me aside into another room to discuss the matter with me. I have no memory of what he said, but I do distinctly remember asking him why he sounded like Darth Vader and feeling convinced he was breathing oddly just to see if I would react. I remember his laughter and his assurance that he simply had a cold. And I remember remaining convinced that he was lying to me.

Looking back at my level of paranoia during those first few days of treatment is quite comical.

(For an explanation of the symptoms/terminology I use in reference to bipolar disorder, check out my post on the subject)

My parents received my diagnosis with a certain amount of relief. Whatever was going on, they hadn’t lost me forever. It was treatable. And it wasn’t, as my mother had feared, schizophrenia. But none of us really knew what the diagnosis meant. It was close to a year before I began to really understand what I was dealing with. In those first few weeks, all I knew was that I had been through an incredible ordeal and my life would never be the same. If I had known at that point just how true the latter statement would prove to be, I’m not sure I would have survived it. But as humans, we are blessed with not knowing the future. It’s a greater mercy than any of us realize.

But how had I gotten to the extreme point of needing hospitalization in the first place?

To continue with the boat analogy from the homepage, my little boat had been sailing along without too many glitches for most of my childhood. As I grew into my teens, the waters grew rougher, but what teenage-hood isn’t rough at times? As the waves grew higher and the troughs between them grew deeper, I struggled to keep my little vessel from capsizing. I didn’t understand why the moods I was experiencing were so uncomfortably intense, but I chalked it up to hormones. “Moody” and “teenager” go together like “peanut butter” and “honey.”

It was my riding instructor, of all people, who rang the first alarm bell. I had been horseback riding for about 6 years. My riding ability, once cemented at a slow but steady rate of improvement, had begun to fluctuate between skilled, and utterly incompetent, right alongside my moods. It was infuriating and disheartening, and my horse was none too pleased with me either. My instructor was at her wit’s end. How was it possible for a student to excel at challenging manoeuvres one lesson, and fail miserably at even simple warm-up exercises the next? Having worked with horses for over 50 years, she had developed what I can only describe as a sixth sense. She could see what was going on inside me just by looking me in the eyes, and what she saw concerned her. She spoke to my dad about it.

“Have you ever considered that your daughter might have some sort of disability?”

My father was utterly taken aback. How could someone suggest such a thing? I was a high functioning, capable individual. There couldn’t be anything wrong with me.

Things continued along in this way for several years, a storm brewing secretly beneath the veneer of my everyday life. Then in December of 2011, a month shy of my 17th birthday, the storm broke. I had no way of knowing I was in dangerous waters. I didn’t feel normal, but I didn’t feel bad exactly. I began taking on more than I could swallow in commitments and failed to feel stressed out by it. I began to feel I could accomplish anything I put my mind to, regardless of the challenge. I was invincible and life was my oyster. Those of us who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder recognize such feelings of grandiosity as a major warning sign. In type 1 bipolar, when you reach that point, there’s nowhere to go but up. And I kept going up– much, much too high.

My riding lessons began to turn into rodeos. My horse was highly sensitive and intelligent, and whatever it was he sensed going on in me, he was not happy about it. I was unable to get through a lesson without him trying to throw me. My guardian angel was definitely looking out for me because my horse employed nearly every trick in the equine book to get me off, from bucking and crow-hopping to rearing and bolting. My riding instructor was floored. My horse and I had gone through a lot of ups and downs together in the preceding months, but he’d never behaved anything like this before. Something was wrong. But we didn’t know what.

That was when my ship finally crashed into some rocks.

My parents didn’t initially recognize that I had become delusional, but they were getting concerned by my increasingly erratic behavior and they kept me home. I knew something was wrong with me, and I had crying spells in which I sobbed out all the various things that had bothered me over the years. This alternated with ecstatic excitement over the belief that I was reaching a whole new level of existence. I had numerous bizarre insights into books and other things that my parents couldn’t make any sense of. I exclaimed “Oooh, I get it. I get it!”  with alarming frequency (which, oddly enough, has been an inside joke in my family ever since. Whenever I become unusually cheerful and giddy, my father invariably asks me “Do you get it yet?”). Finally, one evening, after telling my parents good night, going to bed, closing my eyes for several minutes, and then leaping out of bed and skipping back into their room declaring “Wow, I had such an amazing sleep!” with total sincerity, my parents realized I was no longer living in reality.

They rushed me to the nearest hospital, an hour away from our small town. By the time we arrived, I was conversing amiably with my guardian angel, convinced I was a prophet from God and that I had the cure for cancer. I was also at some level aware that my behavior was not what it should be, and decided it must be because I had a brain tumor.

But, of course, I had the cure for cancer, so everything would be okay.

We spent the entire night in emerge. I had gotten the idea into my head that the key to moving on into a higher level of existence was demonstrating that I was able to breathe correctly. I spent the night making repeated trips to the reception desk to earnestly inform the nurses there that “I can breathe!” and then returning confusedly to my bed after receiving their forced smiles and nods.

Morning arrived without me having slept a wink. My poor mother had spent the night keeping track of me while my father grabbed a bit of rest so as to be fit for driving the next day. We were sent to another hospital in a larger city, another hour away. A nine hour wait in emerge later (during which time I began to hallucinate and my delusions grew even more convoluted) I was finally admitted to the child psychiatric unit. After going for nearly 72 hours without sleeping, the cocktail of medications I was given kicked in and I slept for most of two days. December 25th found me still in the scattered, confused grip of mania, but my delusions and hallucinations had ceased and my parents were able to come and attempt to celebrate Christmas with me, bringing me a number of presents that would make my stay in the hospital more comfortable.

But the largest, most life altering present had already been delivered to me: I was Bipolar.

(Click here for Part 2)