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The truth is I should be doing my homework right now, but I have so much to say. Last week marked the beginning of the end of a very long road. If you know me personally or have been a dedicated Deskraven reader, then you know I am not shy about sharing my diagnoses with my readers. This is because I believe in assigning pain a function so that our suffering may not be in vain. This, emboldened by the power of community, has offered me a great deal of meaningful processing and the subsequent healing that follows. The mission now is to return that information back to the masses.
That being said, I live with Mixed Bipolar Disorder, PTSD, and Panic Disorder w/ Agoraphobia. I have many posts archived on all of these disorders if you care to learn more specifically about how these can impact your life. For now, I will be concise.
In short, Mixed Bipolar Disorder is characterized by disorienting mood swings and behavioral changes that often result in significant social and professional consequences. Mixed episodes are unique in that in contrast to Type 1 or Type 2 Bipolar Disorder, Mixed Bipolar Disorder consists of both highs (mania) and lows (depression) simultaneously. This is considered significant because people who experience mixed episodes are at a greater risk of suicide due to the impulsive energy mania provides while also being in a state of depression. This presents differently for each sufferer, but in general I experience a great deal of grief and agitation that can range anywhere from clinical sadness to full blown psychosis if I am not careful to force feed myself self-care and the power of saying, “No.”
Similarly, PTSD is characterized by mood instability, sleep disturbances, and a false sense of reality brought on by trauma. Trauma consists of experiencing something life threatening such as war, relationship abuse, addiction, mental illness, an auto accident, a chronic illness, medical trauma, an untimely death, a sexual assault, etc. – or watching someone we love experience these things. Trauma is relative so what may be traumatizing for you may not be for someone else, or vice versa. Most people who experience these types of life disturbances experience a period of profound grief. Often with the help of a professional counselor or spiritual teacher, we are able to move through, process, and release trauma in a way that both honors our suffering, and releases us from our entanglement to the traumatic event. This allows us to move forward with little to no lasting impact on our mental health. Individuals who become stuck or stagnant in this process develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Finally, Panic Disorder is characterized by panic attacks, the sensation that you will in fact die at any second, physical manifestations of fear including shaking and hyperventilation, and the fear of their inevitable return – usually in public. As you can see, this disorder is incredibly cyclic and self-perpetuating. The good news is this also makes it one of the most treatable mental health conditions. Agoraphobia is often the product of Panic Disorder in that this experience triggers pathologized avoidance of public, wide open spaces, crowds, and any location that may produce the inability to escape to the point that it becomes a clinical phobia that interferes with your quality of life or your ability to leave your home.
For some reason my soul decided that the above conditions resulting in two in-patient psychiatric hospitalizations would not suffice for one lifetime. So, in addition I also experienced a car accident in 2015 that ultimately lead to me developing physical chronic pain. Subsequently, I had several other injuries over the years, including a concussion, but believe this incident to be the most significant. What I should have done was seek treatment from the Orthopedic Surgeon and Physical Therapist I was referred to, and made the person who hit me pay for it. Instead, in my stubborn naiveté, I accepted a $1200 settlement and never went to the doctor. For the first couple of years I had aches and pains, but in general I remained very active and physically fit. Sometime in 2017 my injury worsened.
Suddenly, I found myself collapsing at the side of my bed when attempting to stand up. I found I could no longer tolerate my yoga practice because the nerve pain was excruciating. I could no longer enjoy being active in nature or playing with my son. I experienced neurological symptoms and nearly lost consciousness. My posture began to suffer and I developed difficulty walking, standing, sitting, sleeping, driving…existing. No matter what I did I couldn’t get comfortable. The pain was constant, burning, and sharp; localized in my lower back, shooting into my hip joints, and down into my lower extremities. I experienced inflammation, pins and needles, numbness, muscle spasms and migraines. At the height of this I found myself completely unable to work, slowly losing everything I had worked so hard for, and applying for long-term disability before the age of 30. Countless ER visits, a bajillion CAT scans, innumerable blood draws, and one grueling in-patient hospitalization later we were able to rule out life threatening neurological conditions and auto-immune disorders.
Last week I met with a Spine Specialist and received the MRI I have been seeking for years. Finally, I got some answers: L5/S1 central disc herniation and a narrowing of the spine, sometimes referred to as Spinal Stenosis. In light of these results my doctor referred me for various types of treatment including chiropractic adjustments, a 20-session spinal decompression program, and pain management including spinal steroid injections with the end goal being complete physical rehabilitation. Fortunately, he believes I am not a candidate for surgery at this time. He is also considering additional MRIs as he has seen in his practice a neck injury masquerading as lumbar pain.
After some discourse and the types of answers that only yield more questions, we decided the best course of action would be to get a second opinion before we commit to a decision and begin pain management. Currently, I am spending 2-3 days a week in doctor’s offices, receiving chiropractic treatment, alternating between hot showers and ice packs, consuming copious amounts of ibuprofen, altering my lifestyle as much as I can tolerate, and spending 30-40 minutes a day hooked up to a TENS unit at home with the help of my beautiful wife.
The more doctors you meet the more you realize why medicine is considered a practice. No one really has all the answers. It becomes paramount to advocate for yourself in the medical setting, and to work together to find the best course of treatment for you. Finding a good doctor or therapist is a lot like dating. Chronic pain is not that different from psychological anguish. The outcome is the same, and sometimes it takes time to find the right provider.
Somewhere I read that ruin is a gift life gives us because it is only in the dismantling that we are able to transcend our suffering. In this light, I have come to appreciate my white-knuckling desperation as an indication of teaching, as well as the not so gentle push from my loving wife to seek treatment. Perhaps the key to becoming a true patient is to simply not engage in resistance, the same way mental health recovery means not resisting the good that is being offered to you even though you’ve been told your whole life that you don’t deserve it. It’s okay to feel how you feel, so long as you’re willing to do something about it. The truth is I am as stubborn as they come, however, this trait will never serve me unless I learn how to shift resistance into determination.
Humility has been my calling to self-development and recovery my calling to life. Similar to the way a flower manages to bloom between the cracks in a sidewalk, at some point you learn that overcoming suffering is a choice. I know this experience is going to teach me exactly what I’m made of because the only way out is through. This resilience is revelatory coming from someone who previously held no sense of self-preservation. I say that to say this: Do not ignore your pain in whatever form it takes. Address it.
Healing is not only for you, but for those who love you, and refuse to stand idly by while you concede to what your life has become. The truth is that despite every obstacle you have faced, you do not have to accept victimization or enabling on your path to wellness. The truth is you can decide to take accountability, to change, and to do whatever it takes to reclaim your quality of life. I know there will be days of purposeful set-backs. Sometimes I make progress. Sometimes I cry and the chores don’t get done. Still, I can see myself on the other side of this, and I can’t wait to give my wife the partner she deserves.
Discuss: How has chronic pain impacted your life and mental health?
**If you’re a mental health survivor or mental health provider and want to tell your story – please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!**
For more excellent insight and entertainment through a collaborative approach to all things mental health, including a guest post from yours truly, visit the Blunt Therapy Blog by Randy Withers, LPC! For additional perspectives on suicide prevention from master level mental health providers visit, 20 Professional Therapists Share Their Thoughts on Suicide!
In collaboration with Luis Posso, an Outreach Specialist from DrugRehab.com, Deskraven is now offering guides on depression and suicide prevention to its readers. For more information on understanding the perils of addiction visit, Substance Abuse and Suicide: A Guide to Understanding the Connection and Reducing Risk! In addition, for a comprehensive depression resource guide from their sister project at Columbus Recovery Center visit, Dealing with Depression!