To continue celebrating our Two Year Birthday, we are running A Day In The Life series of all our Defying Shadows writers. We hope this encourages you as you get to know us better! Enjoy!
Name: Julie Whitehead
Mental Health Struggles: Bipolar Disorder
What does an average day look like for you? (Don’t be afraid to share about your mental health struggles!)
I usually wake up in the morning around six o’clock when my husband’s alarm buzzes off, making a particularly obnoxious sound so as to wake up deep sleepers like Bob and me.
Well, that’s not really true. I usually roll over and groan when the alarm goes off, then drift back off to sleep until my youngest daughter, Rachel, comes to me for a hug before going and packing her lunch for school.
I may laze around in the bed for about five to ten more minutes. My medications (particularly Tranzodone, an anti-psychotic) make me sleepy most of the time. It doesn’t seem to matter how early I go to bed; the routine is the same every morning,
I finally get up when I hear my middle daughter, Amber, coming downstairs. I go and grab a couple of granola bars for breakfast. (Another of my medications, Abilify, a mood stabilizer, makes me gain weight, and although I am taking half the dosage I was before at 15 milligrams per day at night, I try to eat as lightly as I can.)
I try and help the kids get out the door with all of their bags, books, and assorted other needs for school, but they’re fairly independent in that aspect, so I only exchange a couple of words with them and say goodbye before they leave to wait outside for their buses.
I stay awake long enough to send them off to school and Bob to his office, with me still in my housecoat and pajamas. I take my morning meds—Buspar,(an antidepressant) Abilify ( a mood stabilizer) , Pristiq (another antidepressant) , and Nexium (reflux medicine). Then once they leave, I usually get back I and sleep another hour or so before starting my day.
Some days are better than others. If I’m in a depressed cycle, during my days off of work I may find myself in bed until 10:30 or 11 a.m. I always get up before noon, because Bob comes in for lunch around 12:30 p.m. But in those depressed mornings, it seems safer to stay in bed than to get out. Nothing can go wrong if I’m asleep in the bed, I think.
Once I do get up, I work on things in the house, my schoolwork, or go run errqnds, such as the grocery store, a doctor or therapy appointment, or visits to friends,
Once I get home it’s lunch time—I eat a light lunch and wait for Bob to come home so we can exchange news of the day. Sometimes I can fix him something before he comes home, sometimes not. He told me when we first got married that he could do cereal for breakfast and a sandwich for lunch, but he wanted a home-cooked meal for supper. So I try and prepare for that by taking out meat to thaw and making sure I have all my ingredients ready.
Some days are better than others in that area as well. Sometimes I forget to take out meat to thaw; other times I simply don’t know what I’m going to fix, so I have to improvise with what’s at hand. I can go to the grocery store on Sunday with a list and still come back with nothing to fix for suppers during the week. If I’m going to have an anxiety attack, it’s going to be in the grocery store trying to get everything I need without forgetting something. I have at times sat in my car in the parking lot and cried, praying out loud for God’s help because I was overwhelmed and could not face walking in and doing the weekly shopping. But usually it passes, and I wind up getting everything I need and everything is fine. Until the next Sunday rolls around.
After lunch, I wait for Rachel to come home to snacks and homework. I usually take the opportunity to check email again and see if I have any messages that need action. Since I usually don’t, I may go look at news online or do some Facebook. Rachel comes to me when she has questions about her homework, but she is fairly independent with it, so I don’t have to help her much.
Amber comes in next, and we exchange words about the day. Sometimes the afternoons are continuations of the mornings—when I’m in the low points I lay down on the bed and drift in and out of sleep until it’s time to cook dinner or go somewhere. Amber can supervise the younger one on days when I simply can’t stay up any longer. Those days are occurring less and less often as the months go by—something I’m very grateful for.
Usually the craziness begins after four o’clock—Monday is Karate lessons for Rachel, Tuesday is dance lessons for Amber and Rachel, Wednesday is church and piano for Rachel, Thursday is Karate again and drum lessons for Amber, and Friday during the fall is football games with Amber marching in the high school band. Saturdays start with Karate again for Rachel and then are spent running errands as a family—on the first Saturday of the month we go to the bookstore and buy books, and the last Saturdays during the spring semester are dance competitions. Sunday is church again and as I’ve mentioned before, grocery shopping and other planning tasks for the week.
And somewhere in the middle of it all we try to eat supper every night as a family at the table—or in the den watching a show the whole family enjoys if time allows.
It takes split-second timing to fit all this activity together –something I am no longer good at. I am very distractible since I am trying to coordinate all these different schedules. Luckily Amber will soon have a car to run herself around in—and Bob takes late-night duty, picking the kids up after I have dropped them off earlier in the afternoon. But having once been able to do it all makes the fact that I need so much help now sting just a little bit.
Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays are reserved for catching up house and school work. I wash laundry every weekday, a different person’s clothes each day to cut down on sorting time. Once I’ve done the washing and drying, the girls are responsible for their laundry, and I am responsible for Bob’s since he dislikes ironing even more than I do. I also schedule appointments on my free days—with my counselor, my psychiatrist, my hairdresser, and an occasional lunch with a friend.
We have a cleaning service come over on Tuesdays because I cannot cope with the entire house anymore. My kids are responsible for keeping their own rooms picked up and neat, and I usually tidy up quite a bit before the cleaning ladies come over. I know how to do everything, but I either do a slapdash job at it, or I get obsessive to the point of organizing everything in the kitchen, closets, or cabinets within an inch of its life. That’s bipolar disorder talking, too–an obsessive focus on the mundane.
On one or two Thursdays a month, I work at our church food pantry, handing out canned and dried goods and other nonperishable items. I am the youngest one there; most of the other workers are retirees. All of them know of my condition and are very nice to me anyway—a response that is becoming more common as the stigma of mental illness continues to lessen every day.
In between all of this activity I try to schedule an hour or two to write each day. Sometimes I don’t actually write anything except in my blog. Other times I’m so caught up in a project that I will forget to eat lunch because I’m so fixated on the task at hand.
Once all the craziness of the night is over, Bob and I get the kids to bed and retreat to our master bedroom—Bob to play computer games and me to read, think, and get ready for bed.
Sometimes we talk after the girls have gone to bed, but usually anything we had to say was said earlier in the day in our “check-in” calls. Bob calls twice a day to check on me—once around ten in the morning, then again at two-thirty in the afternoon. He makes these calls to assess my mood and see what I have been up to since he left for work. If there’s anything odd in my voice or a change in what I’ve managed to accomplish, he asks me if I’m all right.
Sometimes I haven’t accomplished much except checking email and writing in my blog—and other times I’ve gotten all the laundry done, run errands, and picked up all over the house as well. Both scenarios can be cause for alarm. But I don’t like to worry him, so most of the time the answer is yes, I’m all right. If something is wrong, I let him know so he’s not blindsided at any point before he comes in from a long day of working.
I used to hate the check-in calls because I felt like I was being monitored all the time. Now it’s just become a habit and not nearly as intrusive. He likes for me to call him if I need to leave the house on my days off just so he is sure that I am where I’m supposed to be. But I rarely leave the house on my days off when I don’t have appointments because I need the downtime from the busyness and activity of the rest of the week.
Once I take a bath and get ready for bed, I go back to the medicine cabinet for my nighttime meds. I take Zocor for high cholesterol and then Abilify, Tranzodone, Klonopin (an anti-anxiety pill), and Buspar.
My nightly bath is important to me—I went through a phase for about two years where I was so depressed that I only bathed on weekends and had my hair washed when my hairdresser applied my color every six weeks. I couldn’t see the point to these activities, or much of anything else, for that matter. So I am grateful for my nightly routine knowing that I am taking better care of myself now.
I go to bed at various times, usually right after my bath. Sometimes I go to bed as early as eight-thirty if I’ve had a particularly difficult day. It doesn’t seem to matter what time I go to bed—I’m still too sleepy to get up in the morning and function well. But it means the day is over and I can escape bipolar disorder for a little while.
What steps do you find help you when struggling with your mental health struggles? Getting out of bed every morning. Whether you suffer from hypersomnia or insomnia, the morning always brings the temptation to just stay in bed—either to get the sleep you didn’t get the night before or to simply get more blessed relief from another day of living a depressed life. But getting out of bed and staying out is a victory over yourself and your depression that can be savored and celebrated. Getting dressed for the day. It’s so very tempting to slog around in your pajamas all day, particularly if you don’t plan to leave the house. Or even if you do. You tell yourself what you look like doesn’t matter; no one really cares about you and what you look like. But getting dressed shows the world and your disease that you are ready for whatever may come along. Personal grooming of all kinds. From taking a morning shower to an evening bath, washing your hair, brushing your teeth, and fixing your nails—it’s all some of us can manage to do in a day is simply look good for it. (And smell good). But giving yourself that victory over the lassitude of depression can do wonders for lifting your spirits. Being kind to yourself. If all you can accomplish in a particular day is loading the dishwasher whenever it needs it, celebrate that accomplishment. Find ways to reverse the soundtrack in your head of what a horrible housekeeper, parent, caregiver, or worker you are. Resolve to take your small victories wherever you can get them. Not harming yourself in any way. Don’t associate with negativity—negative coping mechanisms or negative people. Don’t harm yourself with food, pornography, alcohol, drugs, or knives and scissors. Don’t call your mother every day if she is a hotbed of negative emotions for you. Protect yourself from yourself and other people who do you harm. Praying for help. You often feel like the universe is either uncaring or actively out to get you when you’re depressed. Pray to God for a victory to manifest in your life, no matter how small it is. God is ready to answer your cry if you are his child. Creating an environment that uplifts you. If you can’t muster up the energy to make up your bed, maybe you can light a candle in a scent you love. Maybe you can’t tackle the ironing alone and need comforting, uplifting music to accompany you. Getting out of the house. You may feel like no one cares to see you. Arrange to meet a friend for coffee, tea, or lunch. Make an occasion out of it. Pray for the strength to go to the grocery store, the bank, or for a walk around the block. Staying isolated can be deadly to their spirit for some people who are depressed. Find a reason to get out. Reading something inspirational. From a devotional book to the Bible to your favorite self-help book, reading inspirational material can uplift your mood. If the news depresses you further, don’t read it. You can go without being informed about every crime, criminal, and governmental outrage for a while until you feel stronger. Listening to inspirational music. Praise and worship songs are great. Calming, soothing sounds can be good for you as well. But if it suits your soul to rock out to the songs that you loved in high school, go for it! Only pick songs with positive associations for you. Now is not the time to listen to that CD your ex got you for your birthday two months before they broke up with you. Or any song that further depresses your spirit. Caring for someone else. Getting yourself out of your own head long enough to do something nice for someone else, stranger or friend, has a way of uplifting your own spirit as well. Create ripples of positivity around yourself to impact others in a positive way. Write a note, make a call, send flowers or chocolate, drop some folding money in the street performer’s drum case or the tip jar at the coffee shop.
How do you find your mental health struggles affect those around you?
They worry them. They make my loved ones anxious as well.
What’s one thing you love about yourself?
What are five things you are thankful for (other than family, friends, food and shelter –home)?
–the medical age of treatment of mental disorders
–my faith and the faith of my family
–my past opportunities
–My future prospects
–the support of my church
How has your life changed for the best from last year?
I have a 4.0 in my Master of Fine Arts in creative writing.
What’s your personal motto?
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again
What song is most played on your playlist?
INXS’ Beautiful Girl
If you had to pick a character from a movie or tv show, who do you relate most to?
I don’t really watch TV.
What motivates you?
The love of the Father
Julie Whitehead currently writes and blogs from Mississippi at her personal blog. She has been a university lecturer, a disability examiner, and a freelance writer. She carries a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and blogs to create awareness and help others understand the disease and its effects.