Sally’s Been Thinking…about Mental Illness

I have been thinking about mental illness for a long time. I have enough research and experience with others to write a book. Unfortunately, the topic became quite personal after I completed radiation for DCIS, ductal carcinoma in situ, see last Novembers blog post, I’ve been thinking about Being a Person with a Serious Iillness.

As I drove home from my final radiation appointment, I found myself going beyond the hyper-vigilance that had plagued me for a month. My mind was racing so fast with so many ideas that I knew was not typical Sally thinking. After a visit with my doctor, I was put on a mood stabilizing medication that helped me to sleep and slowed me down. That was great and I moved happily into fall and winter.

Sadly, my best friend had been diagnosed with brain cancer and was fighting for her life. I saw her for the last time shortly after beginning the medication.  I fell into a deep depression that held fast through Beth’s battle and death. It did not dissipate until March, after a week in the sunniest city in the country, Yuma, AZ. I arrived back home in Winterset ready to engage in my life again. I was so relieved to be free of the depression that I failed to notice symptoms of an episode of hypomania. My family tried mightily to help me recognize it, but off I went to Anchorage, Alaska where the sun was shining even through the nighttime hours. I engaged in some unusual behavior for me and the friend I stayed with contacted my family with concern.

I barely returned home when I was off again to attend a conference in Dayton, Ohio. Again, no realization that my behavior was off the charts. It was only after sending a series of strange photos to my family that they began charting a course of intervention that would get me back to normal. Let me tell you that hypomania comes with its own set of denial (much like that of an alcoholic). I did everything I could to assure my family that I was fine and mentally healthy. I saw nothing strange about trading in my one-year old Honda Fit to lease a 2020 BMW Roadster, but they sure did.

I never got to the point of full-blown mania, but my actions were regularly inconsistent with my values. Caring very much for my son, friends and the rest of my family, I agreed to take Alan with me to see my doctor (the one who prescribed the mood stabilizing medication) and to see the therapist I’d found shortly after my last depression ended. Once we heard the diagnosis, we were all relieved. Not happy, but relieved. A psychiatrist confirmed my bipolar disorder shortly after those visits.

Now a new regimen of medication ensued, and I nearly surrendered to the darkest depression I have ever experienced. A shift in medication and seven weeks later, I was on my way out. And up. You may be able to tell that I am definitely recovered from the depression because this is my first blog post since November 2018. This time, however, I am working weekly with my therapist, seeing my psychiatrist who is 50 miles from home, and initiating a plan of many activities to keep me from racing and going back into hypomania.

Why am I writing this? Why am I sharing my experience with a disorder that has so much stigma attached? First, I am writing this to let you know there is life after diagnosis. Secondly, I want to be part of the fight to rid the stigma tied to mental illness.

For what it’s worth, I’m well today, December 5, 2019 and I have a toolbox filled with ideas to deal with both the depression and the hypo mania. That seems the best thing to do at this time.

I have access to treatment. I have family and friends who love me. And I always have hope; the hope that God consistently provides. Here is the bible verse that keeps me from spinning completely out of control in either direction: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed,” from 2nd Corinthians, chapter 4. I hope you find comfort and encouragement in these words as well.

Until next time,


7 Responses

  1. Joye Moo
    | Reply

    Sally, it takes a lot of bravery to tell your true story. I congratulate you and hope you can continue to be well of body, mind and spirit. All the very best to you my friend.

  2. Patty Savola
    | Reply

    Dear Sally, know that you are in our thoughts and prayers, and that we love you.

  3. David Mattson
    | Reply

    Hi Sally,

    I am far away and you might not remember me from the little church in Dollar Bay. The First Lutheran Church is now sold and it has become a child care center. I am currently in Sarasota, Florida staying at my sister’s Villa. Actually a fairly modest place but people call them Villas.

    I am writing to thank you for all the solid information you shared in your blog. I didn’t know so many things were happening to you. People don’t realize how close we all are to the edge of mental problems all the time. It takes courage to be honest and open about what is happening to you. I am also very happy to hear that you are getting help and finding ways to cope.

    The thing about God is that he/she will help no matter how bad or hopeless the situation. And, God may grant you peace.

    I wish you the best,
    David Mattson in Sunny Florida

  4. DuWayne Zamzow
    | Reply

    My dear cousin, Sally,
    I had no idea you were going through all this, but I thank God you have found the path to overcome all that! I want you to know you are loved by all of us and I, personally, am so happy you were able to recognize and deal with the problem. Look how many people you have comforted in the past. Now it’s our turn to give you a lift. I’m glad you are close to your son (what a blessing). I know what it is like to be alone, but it brings you closer to what’s most important – God’s love! Try to have a memorable Christmas and please keep in touch! Love you! DuWayne Zamzow

  5. Jane Ekholm
    | Reply

    Thank you Sally for sharing this. I am using your book “Waiting forGood News “ in my Befrienders group at Hope Lutheran in Fosston, MN where i serve as senior pastor. It will probably be my first, last & only call due to age, but I am loving it.
    We need to hear reality like this & there is precious little of it in copy!!! My prayers are with you. Peace, Jane Ekholm

  6. Jim
    | Reply

    Be well

  7. Ann
    | Reply

    Brave post — and very inspiring. Your vulnerability is beautiful. I can identify with so much of what you write. I love following you on Facebook; keep up the great posts! ❤️

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