Turn Your Eyes Toward Jesus Part 2

As I said in part one of these episodes, I want to remind you that this is a very sensitive and deep dive into my personal life and how I deal with mental illness, so please be aware of that. Because of the nature of the things I talk about,  it may be triggering for others who suffer or have loved ones who suffer with mental illnes. The reason I am doing this is because I have had many people that have questioned whether or not they themselves or possibly a friend or family member may need help. 

As I said, some of the things that I discuss may be triggering or difficult for those that struggle, so if that is you, you may want to either skip this episode, or come back to it later when you’re feeling up to it. 

Also please remember that there is a new nation wide suicide and crisis hotline number “988” that you can call if you need help. If you or someone you know is suicidal or deeply depressed, please seek help from a medical professional, preferably a psychiatrist, who can help you assess your needs. 

Disclaimer: I am not a Dr. so I can not speak to diagnosing someone.  All I can do is share my experience, what I’been through and what seems to have helped me.  With that let’s get started.

Before I jump in, I wanted to make mention of something that I said in the last episode about how I trusted God with all my heart and changed my habits and learned about my illness.  It may have sounded that because I had enough faith, the Lord took the illness away.  And I just wanted to make clear that I still deal with symptoms and issues with the illness practically everyday.  What changed is my attitude with which I choose to face the illness head on, with the help of my Savior Jesus Christ.  So now that we have that clear, I want you to know that I am an open book when it comes to talking about this.  

In fact, last week as I was contemplating how to enter into this very intimate conversation I came across some videos that my husband took of me when I was in the midst of the manic episodes that I had 7 years ago. I have actually considered sharing them, so people will see how scary it is.  But, I think the reason that I came across the vidoes, was to remind me of the trauma that comes from experiences like these.  And though I think they may be helpful in some cases, they still bring up a lot of trauma and difficulty for me when I view them.  So maybe at some point I will share them.  But now is not the time.

But if you do have questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.  I would be more than happy to share my experiences on a one to one basis.

In the last episode I ended with the fact that I had been on medication for about 10 yrs that seemed to keep the symptoms at bay.  So now we are going to talk about what happened during that time and after, that I can now look back on and see that the signs were there all along that the medication was not right for me.  

But first I want to share a quote from a talk given by Elder D. Todd Christofferson that I will be referring to during this episode.  It is called The Refining Fire of Afflication and can be found here.  He says, 

“When we have our Heavenly Father’s help, our adversity and our afflictions will refine rather than defeat us (see Doctrine and Covenants 121:7–8). We will emerge happier and holier beings. 

… “And after their temptations, and much tribulation, behold, I, the Lord, will feel after them, and if they harden not their hearts, and stiffen not their necks against me, they shall be converted, and I will heal them” (Doctrine and Covenants 112:13).

We could say that in adversity we come to know “the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom [He has] sent” (John 17:3). In adversity, we walk with Them day by day. Being humbled, we learn to look to Them “in every thought” (Doctrine and Covenants 6:36). They will minister to us in a process of spiritual rebirth. I believe there is no other way.”

So unfortunately, this life is a probationary time, where we are to learn and grow through our adversities.  Because let’s face it, no one gets through this life without affliction.  We all have challenges that we are dealing with.  And hopefully with the Savior’s help, our burdens can be made light.

I had a dream the other night, as I was trying to decide how to go about this episode.  I had struggled with knowing where to start, where to end, and what to include. I said many silent prayers as to what direction I should take.  And the Lord did not disappoint.  In the dream I was camping with my children when they were young.  I used to look for opportunities to teach them important life lessons.  We were walking in the woods and I found what looked like an apple.  It was freakessly deformed and as I looked at it, I knew there must be a lesson in this.  I cut open the apple to find that the core was hard and rock-like.  I wonder what this poor apple had to endure that it’s very core had turned hard.  And in that, was the lesson.  

As Nicole Wiley said in the last episode, trials and adversity can either humble us, or harden us, they can strengthen our faith or cause us to question our faith.  They can cause us to become bitter instead of better.  And I might now add, they can cause our hearts to be softened or hardened.  That is where our attitude comes into all of this.  We really do have a choice as to how we will react to difficult things. No one gets through this life without being rocked to their very core.

Now, let’s go back to the time that my current husband and I were rocked to the very core.  We had been married for just a few short years before I had my 2 back to back manic episodes and he was a trooper through it all. 

It all started when I decided that I felt so good that I was going to go off my medication.  I had already reduced it a few years before and had no problems, so I thought that now would be a good time to try.  There was another variable that I think contributed to me wanting to get off the medication and feeling like I could. 

I have to back up slightly to give you some context.  I had gone through a divorce, which I don’t think is a good experience for anyone.  But during the time after my divorce I felt ostracized from my church.  I felt very alone and forgotten.  And so instead of turning to the Lord I blamed the church for some of the things that I was struggling with.  So I began to distance myself, little by little.  You can read more about that here.

I began to feel like I had been held hostage by the laws and commandments that I had followed all my life.  So I began to make choices that took me completely away from the gospel I love so much.  

In the LDS faith, we choose to abstain from Coffee.  Which as you know has caffeine.  I’m not exactly sure why, but one day I decided to check out what I’d been missing.  I tried it, and it turns out I loved it.  Not the taste so much (although that came with time) but the way it made me feel.  I felt like I had more energy and could get more accomplished in a day.  Before I knew it I was up to 2 cups of coffee every morning.  

Now it’s not uncommon for people who suffer with mental illness to go off their medications.  In fact it is far too comman and is a major cause for many problems that can result from that. We get to a point where we are feeling “normal”, so instead of giving that medication credit for that, we tend to overlook that and think that we will be fine without it.  It is very disordered thinking.  Which I personally believe stems from the stigma put on mental illness.  No one wants to believe that they have to rely on medication to be “normal” for their entire life.  

I had also tried a new diet pill (which is a whole other issue that I won’t get into, lol), that was also loaded with caffeine.  So the combination of going off of my medication combined with the insane amount of caffeine I was taking in just put me over the edge.  

It didn’t happen overnight, in fact at first I felt so good.  I felt “normal”.  I was clear headed, I was getting so much done, I was losing weight.  What could be better than that?  Well, over the period of the next week, things continued to escalate.  I started adding things to my “to do” list, getting up in the middle of the night to jot notes in my journal.  I wasn’t eating well, and definitely not drinking enough water.  I was quickly escalating into a manic episode and didn’t even realize it.  

My new husband had not experienced me ever being anything but “normal” so he didn’t really know what was happening in the beginning.  Although he had been apprehensive of me going off my medication.  But it wasn’t too far into that week that he began to see signs that I was just not myself.  

To me, the beginnings of a manic episode are amazing!  I can get so much done!  I can run on empty and feel like I’m on top of the world, unstoppable.  I start to get into a euphoric state, where I think that I’m invincible and can do anything.  

This is where most people who suffer get into trouble.  Making big decisions when you are in the midst of a manic episode can be dangerous, expensive, and even deadly in some cases.  

Some people spend outrageous amounts of money, or do things uncharacteristic of them like drugs, alcohol, and sex to name a few.  Luckily for me, I think due to my upbringing, a manic episode has never manifested in those ways.  But I do become extremely and increasingly anxious and agitated.  I become very outgoing and exuberant, which I typically am not.  I am more of an introvert normally.  I become very chatty.  It’s pretty hard to shut me up for a second.  Even in the middle of the night. Which can be upsetting for your spouse who will also lose sleep.  

Go on like that for several days and soon, like I mentioned in the last episode your body just kind of shuts down.  For me it usually starts with a terrible migraine headache that nothing will quell.  It gets to the point that my body is so tired that begin to grit or chatter my teeth, like I’m freezing cold.  I then become more agitated picking fights with those I love for no apparent reason.

That is what happened on that horrible night 7 years ago.  I had picked a fight with my husband and it was an all out fight.  Which is extremely uncharacteristic of me.  I am normally a very kind and gentle soul.  But for whatever reason, on that day,  I was just mean.  I remember yelling profanities at him (words I never use in my daily life).  

We had a soccer game that night with my stepson, but I had chosen to stay home.  I knew I needed to sleep but I was beyond sleep.  No matter what I took or did, I could not go to sleep.  I had been this way for probably 3 days.  My husband was exasperated with me for good reason.  And so angry.  He left the house for soccer and even thought about driving around for a while after to cool off.

Meanwhile, back at home, I was able to put on my pajamas, take an over the counter sleep aid and crawl into bed.  I don’t remember much after that.  

I woke up at the sound of my husband coming home, but I was  pretty much catatonic.  I remember him asking me if I was ok, and I shook my head “no”.  He said do you need help?  And I shook my head “yes”. I remember him calling our next door neighbor who was a nurse and she ran over to help.  My husband began to describe to her what had been going on.  She asked me some questions and I tried to communicate answers, but was pretty unresponsive.  It was at that time that my husband thought I was having a stroke and decided to call an ambulance.

The rest of the next few days was filled with anxiety and despair for my husband.  I don’t really remember much.  Just bits and pieces.   Then waking up in the hospital in the psych ward, and knowing that I had to call my husband and my children.  I tried hard to remember their #’s.  I was hazy from the medication they’d given me.  But I knew in order to ever get out of there, I had to prove that I was in good enough condition to do it.  Looking back I don’t know how I did it, remembering those phone #s, normally on speed dial.  I had to reach back in my memory and figure out what those #s were and call them each and talk to them like I was “normal”, which I was not.  

My husband now says that he was so relieved to hear my voice that morning.  He still believed I’d had a stroke or something and didn’t know if I’d ever be normal agin, if I’d ever be able to talk to him again. He rushed to the hospital to be with me.  From what I’ve heard he broke every rule, or at least sweet talked the nurses into letting him be there as much as he could.  

He would show up early every morning.  Bring me lunch and spend hours with me.  I was in the hospital for about a week recuperating, each day a little better than the last.  I still had remnants of the manic episode hanging around, and would continue to do things that were uncharacteristic of me.  I remember one day my husband had come down to the hospital to spend some time with me.  It was during “gym” time (we were kept on a pretty rigid schedule there).  He went down with the group and we walked around and around the gym.  I knew I needed to get back into a good workout routine.  So I loved gym time.  He picked up a football and we began playing catch.  I would try to throw the ball hard at him.  I was angry that he was not taking me home when he came each time.  I was still not quite myself.  I would cry uncontrollably one minute and be angry and mean the next.  And in the times in between, I was sleeping, trying to “will”  my body back to normal so I could go home.  I had to do an intensive outpatient program which lasted another week.

I had my busy photography business which my husband was having to deal with rescheduling clients, and a trip to Utah to visit my family planned and I didn’t want to miss out on anything.  Meanwhile I needed to see a psychiatrist before they would even let me leave the hospital.  He gave me the diagnosis of bipolar, which I didn’t believe I had.  I mean when we went over the symptoms in outpatient care, I didn’t have over half those symptoms.  So I was very hesitant to go on any of the new medications.  

One of the meds that he put me on made my skin crawl.  I remember telling my husband that I felt like my body was being eaten from the inside out.  I just felt so icky.  Which is another reason many people don’t take meds.  The side effects can be more dabilitating than the disease.  

I just wanted to get back on the medication that I was originally on and that sounded good to my husband so we went to a  regular family practitioner that we knew and he agreed that  it seemed like the best idea.  

We were doing the best we could with the tools that we had at the time.  We made a lot of mistakes in the time between the first and second episode.  Not letting my body fully readjust, trying to get back into the normal routine of things too quickly.  Going on my trip to see family, which always has a lot of anxiety, busyness and noise involved.  Not things that are good for someone recently recovering from a manic episode.  It was all a recipe for disaster.  

I made it through my trip to Utah but towards the end (at least looking back now), I had begun to show signs of escalating into that state again.  I was super chatty with a hairdresser the day before I came home.  And just getting overly anxious.  On the plane I visited the entire time with a passenger next to me.  Which for a normal person may have seemed fine.  But as soon as I got in the car when my husband picked me up, he knew what was happening.  

I remember getting home and him just putting his head down on the bar with a big sigh.  He did not want to go through this again.  But he could see that it was starting.  I could not, which is very typical. I was in that “feel good” state again.   So we tried over the next several days to keep me calm and do what we could to help me sleep.  We made a lot of mistakes that we hopefully learned from during that second episode.

I believe now, that it happened to help us take note of the process that happens before I get to that hospitalization piont. It was like it was happening in slow motion.  Teaching my husband, teaching me, that these are the things I do before I get to that point.  I believe now that it was God teaching us, teaching me, how to see it coming on.  

I am not naive enough to think that it will never happen again.  But I do trust God that He has carried us through and taught us the things that we can do to keep it under control.  There is no other explanation for how things proceeded over the next weeks and months.  From getting the right Dr. to having a priesthood blessing.  Prayers were uttered and answered, that were miracles in the making.  We were at rock bottom and the only way up was to turn to the Lord with a full purpose of heart.  We knew that He was the only one that could help us now.  And He did.  He is an awesome God.  I will never doubt that he was in the details after that last episode.  And still is.  I know that he hears and listens to our prayers.  And answers those prayers on his timing.  In his way.

So many things happened that are very sacred and special.  Many I have written about in past blog posts.  So you can check them out if you’d like.  But what I really want to come through with this post is that there is help available to anyone who is suffering in any way.  

As Elder D. Todd Christofferson puts it, “Without God, the dark experiences of suffering and adversity tend to despondency, despair, and even bitterness.

With divine help, ultimately consolation replaces pain, peace replaces turmoil, and hope replaces sorrow. God will convert trial into blessing and, in Isaiah’s words, “give … beauty for ashes” (Isaiah 61:3). His promise is not to spare us the conflict but to preserve and console us in our afflictions and to consecrate them for our gain (see 2 Nephi 2:2; 4:19–26; Jacob 3:1).

While our Heavenly Father will not force His help and blessings upon us, He will act through the mercy and grace of His Beloved Son and the power of the Holy Spirit to sustain us when we seek Him.

I felt that sustaining power on so many occasionsions since that time.  It is unbelievable and amazing to me how constant his care for me has been, since I turned myself completely over to Him.  No one will ever be able to convince me that we do not have a loving, kind, compassionate Savior who descended beneath it all on that horrific night in the Garden of Gethsemene.  He did it for me, and for you!  We owe our very lives to Him.

My husband and I have seen the constant blessings promised for following the Savior.  We have had many ups and downs over the past seven years but the Savior continues to astound us with his love and care.  

As the hymn says, I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me.  Confused at the grace that so fully he proffers me. I tremble to know that for me He was crucified.  That for me, a sinner, He suffered, He bled and died.  Oh it is wonderful that he should care for me enough to die for me.  Oh it is wonderful….wonderful to me.

And that’s it for today, friends.  Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions concerning mental illness.  I would be happy to help in any way that I can.

XO Wendy

Author: Wendy Bertagnolli

Welcome to the pointing toward hope blog! I'm so glad that you found me. In this blog I share thoughts about my personal journey of living with Bipolar. I love sharing things that I hope will help you and others in their journey. But I am not defined by Bipolar. I am so much more. I'm a wife, a sister, a daughter, a mother, a grandmother a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and so much more! I hope you'll join me on this journey of finding joy in daily living. Though we may suffer daily with various ailments or situations, joy is possible. It's not elusive. We can point our compass toward hope. We can choose to live!

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