2016 has been a year of ups and downs for me. I had a setback early in the year in February due to a medication change last October and went in the mental ward inpatient for the first time in five years. I was depressed with vague thoughts of going to bed and not ever waking up—not nearly as elaborate a suicide plan as I had put into action on other attempts but one that came without the usual obsessions which worried me a bit. So I went in before they could develop more fully and be more threatening.
I tried to remember what to pack and what not to pack from the last time I had been in during 2011. Could I bring jewelry? I decided to leave my rings and watch at home. Could I bring deodorant? I couldn’t remember. In my confused state, I couldn’t remember any of it. Finally I decided to just pack my makeup bag, contact lenses, and clothes.
This time, I saw what people on the front lines of mental illness have to do to protect the mentally ill and the other patients in the hospital. As soon as the triage nurse entered in the computer that I was there for suicidal thinking, I jumped the line of all the patients there before me. A nurse came out of the back and motioned to me, calling my name.
“Yes, ma’am,” I said.
“Come on back here to holding,” she said.
I wondered at that term. I told Bob to stay where he was at the desk, that they were already calling me back, and she led me back to a windowless gray-walled room with a box bed anchored in the middle of the area with a thin grey mattress covering it. She asked me to change into a blue uniform made of some indestructible plastic-fabric material and put all my clothes and my purse into a “personal belongings” bag and left me in the room by myself to wait on the doctor.
Finally I was seen by the doctor on call. He asked me a few questions (I don’t remember what exactly) and left me alone again to wait, this time on an intake counselor from the mental ward.
I thought, “You know, if I weren’t really suicidal when I got here, I might be once I got out. This is nerve-wracking.” But intellectually I knew the reasons behind a separate waiting area—to get mentally ill people out of the waiting room into somewhere safe. I remember being given a blanket to wrap up in because the temperature was dropping outside, and I was barefoot and bare under my uniform, which offered very little protection from the cold room.
After a while, I was told I would be admitted but they had to wait until they had a person available to come pick me up and take me across the street to where the mental ward was. I was relieved to finally be admitted around 9 p.m. that night.
I came out with a prescription for my old medicine and approval of coverage for it by my health insurance plan. I was elated but sobered by the fact that I had still slipped into a depression even after being in remission for so long.
Life did not improve immediately—it was a slow climb back out of the trough. Finally in October I began to improve and by Thanksgiving, praise God, I felt like remission had come again. I was active in my life again and happy to be alive. My anxiety levels dropped a great deal and I felt great.
Remission is defined as the cessation of symptoms from a remitting and relapsing disease. Remission is often used in context of cancer, where patients are found cancer-free after treatment, or syndromes like rheumatoid arthritis that can wax and wane in severity. But it has its place in the lexicon of bipolar disorder as well, with symptoms disappearing and the person returning to normal functioning without impairment.
Remission in bipolar disorder is much like remission in RA—it is not considered “cured” if your symptoms disappear. It is assumed that you can have them return at any time, particularly if you step out of treatment. I have continued my medication regimen with three-month checkups with my psychiatrist and continue counseling as well—if the combination worked to get me to remission, I feel there is no reason to stop it.
How long will this remission last? I hope another five years or longer. But in practical terms, I have no idea and no promise that I will stay at normal functioning. All I can do is continue my treatment and map out a healthy plan for myself in the coming year.
I gave up making New Year’s resolutions a long time ago. And I’m not sure my plans to continue in mental health are applicable to anyone but me. But I’m going to try to add more healthy habits to my routine in an effort to continue my remission. I hope to lower my caffeine intake and increase my exercise—lower caffeine contributes to lower anxiety and more exercise contributes to the production of healthy endorphins to regulate my mood. I hope to surround myself with good friends, good music, and good books. I hope to eat if not less, then better food that promotes healthy functioning. But I have a great deal more of one attribute I did not have this time last year, and that is hope that life will continue to improve and that remission will become again a way of life.
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.