Fighting the fear within

Hi friends, Welcome to the Pointing Toward Hope podcast. I am your host Wendy Bertagnolli. This podcast is filled with positivity for anyone seeking to find more hope and joy in daily life. The goal is to reach as many people as we can to help them to overcome and find joy even in the midst of extremely hard adversity. Thanks for listening. Be sure to subscribe and leave a review so that we can help as many people as possible. If you or someone you know has a trial that you have been able to get through or are working through with the help of our Savior, please contact me so we can get you on the podcast. This is episode 40.

Keep Up the PACE

Chapter 3

FIGHTING THE FEAR WITHIN 

“Fear is just excitement in need of an attitude adjustment!” Russ Quaglia

To say that I was afraid of what might lie ahead was a great understatement. I came from a long line of family members who suffer from depression. Some have been on medications with complications and some have been content to struggle with the disease on their own. And then there are some that remain in denial and are afraid to admit that something might not be right. I found it necessary to find some sort of middle ground.

At this point, I feel it is very important to address an issue that has a way of clouding one’s judgement. More specifically, one who is not thinking rationally as is. This issue is that of how people who have never suffered from depression, or have not been closely involved with a loved one who has, view depression in general. There is still quite a stigma against people who suffer from mental illness.

Just the other day I happened to mention to a colleague that I was writing a book about my experiences with depression. The comment that I received was one that I have heard on many occasions. I would be willing to bet that most sufferers have as well. “What do you have to be depressed about?” Believe me, I have asked myself that same question almost every day. This is one of the reasons most people find it difficult to seek the help of a professional. What I know now, is that depression is not a respecter of persons. It can and does affect both males and females, rich and poor, young and old.

Depression is not a reflection of one’s life, it is an inward disease without an outward appearance. Although symptoms are not physically seen, does not in any way mean that they do not exist! I was very fortunate to have a therapist who, from the beginning, explained this disease thoroughly and helped me to realize that this was not a reflection on me as a person. She gave me many options and explained each option in great detail.

Upon diagnosis is the best time for you to find a good support system. A loved one, trusted friend or counselor can help immensely. If you are not so fortunate as to have a support system at home, there are many support groups and therapists in every community that can help you.

Never give up hope, there is always a solution. As I spoke of in chapter two, I have always been a highly motivated person. I attribute much of this to the work ethic that my parents taught me. They taught me to take pride in myself and my accomplishments, and to always strive for something better. I believe that having positive role models in our lives is imperative to our success.

I remember on one occasion, I wanted to ride my bike down to the local convenience store with a group of friends. It was a sunny Saturday morning and this was a day when my siblings and I were required to help out with various chores around the yard. I must have been about ten or eleven years old. On that particular Saturday, it was my job to weed one of our many flowerbeds. It happened to be the one that was full of prickly bushes that would fill out the bed about three feet in width and grew low to the ground. The trick was to pull all the weeds that would grow up between the bushes. This was a job that was detested by me and all of my siblings, and I assumed my parents as well. Otherwise, why would they always make sure that one of my brothers or I had this job?!

Other than the scratches and cuts up and down my gloveless arms, what I remember the most was having to go back and finish my job because I had not done it to the best of my ability. This experience taught me a great lesson in taking pride in what I do and learning the importance of doing a job right the first time so I didn’t have to go back and do it over! I have to admit our trip to the convenience store was one that I felt I deserved beyond any shadow of a doubt. That candy never tasted so sweet!

As I began my road to recovery, these early lessons began to come back into my mind. I was able to realize that without risks there can be no achievement. And without working hard and lots of practice, how would I ever get better and stronger?

Starting on the medication was a huge risk for me, but one that I was willing to take in order to achieve a more fulfilling life. A better life! As the medication began to take effect, I was able to start thinking more clearly and rationally. I began to enjoy the simple moments in my life as a young mother. Bathing and feeding my young family became rituals that I relished. Even their mischievous moments became more enjoyable.

For example, the time I was overcome with panic, unable to find my four year old daughter McKayla. I had searched the house three times yelling out her name. I had sent five and half year old Chris, to scour the neighborhood homes. I had looked under the beds, just in case she had fallen asleep in one of her favorite hiding places, all to no avail. I called my husband at work in a panic. He reassured me that she would turn up and urged me to continue searching. We both knew how much she liked playing “hide and go seek”.

I hung up the phone, said a fervent prayer, and continued my hunt. As I was searching our toy room for the third time, I heard a muffled sneeze. I opened the closet door to reveal a “chicken-costume-clad” McKayla crouching ever so quietly in the corner. I scooped her into my arms and sobbed as relief swept over me. “Why wouldn’t you answer me when I called, sweetheart?” I questioned. With her innocent blue eyes, she looked up at me and said, “I thought you would get angry because I am wearing my costume, I’m sorry mommy.”

She had a dance recital coming up and I had asked her not to play in her chicken costume. As I documented this experience later on, I was able to see the improvement in my ability to stay “pulled together” at a time when previously, I would have been unable to cope. At the same time, it helped me to see how much I had missed feeling emotion. It felt so good to “feel” again.

But even though I had experiences like that one from time to time, for the most part my emotions remained on an even keel ninety percent of the time. I knew, that because of this glimpse of how good it felt to “feel”, I wanted more. I wanted something even better! I wanted to enjoy every positive moment. I wanted to feel sad when conditions called for sadness. Happy when things went well. And I started feeling as if the medication kept me from feeling some of these emotions. At times, I felt simply numb to emotion.

That is when I began to seek for something better. I have always been an avid reader. I loved to go to our local library. To this day, I have a stack of books beside my bed waiting to be read. I consider myself a “bookworm” because I rarely finish a book. I simply “worm” my way through looking for things that apply to me and my situation. I am a big fan of self-help and motivational books. So it was at this time that I made a trip to the library and returned with about eight books on depression, more specifically on alternative forms of healing.

As I read and reread I was able to see a common thread amongst most theories. Nutrition and physical exercise play a big part in maintaining our hormonal balance. But what I remember most was reading about serotonin, the brains own natural anti-depressant and tranquilizer. And I was intrigued that physical exercise played such a key role in the release of mood-enhancing substances known as endorphins. When endorphin levels become elevated so does one’s mood and vice versa. “This is it,” I thought “this is the key!”

I decided then and there that I was going to be in control of my own destiny. I had read enough and documented enough of my current patterns, to know that to go off of the medication “cold turkey” was not only dangerous, but could also set me up for an all-time low! Something I definitely did not want to have happen. I had worked so hard to come as far as I had. Instead I formulated a plan and set some goals, working with my physician. Together we devised a plan to wean me slowly off the medication. I had been working hard to exercise on a daily basis for about two years which explains the glimpses of emotion I had experienced.

Another major key in fighting depression is our diet. So I set out to find a nutrition plan that I could live with. Sifting through the wealth of information on nutrition is a job in and of itself! But as you are searching for something that will work for you here are some hints that I have found helpful. Be careful to avoid those that promise a “quick fix”. Avoid the diets that eliminate whole food groups. Make sure that whatever you choose, it is something that you can continue for the long term. If you have a hard time sticking with something for 2 weeks, you will never be able to stay with it for life. And above all, try to find a plan that works with your family as well. There is nothing harder than trying to fix yourself something different than your family. And it is just as important that they learn healthy habits too!

I have found that moderation seems to work the best. Instead of eliminating your favorite foods just try to learn how to enjoy them in moderation. Now, this is really important! Though I personally have learned how to function normally without the help of medication, and what works for me, does not mean that it will work for everyone. And it won’t always work for me, for that matter. I want to reiterate the importance of working with your personal physician and or therapist to find what works for you. There are so many options available today!

Throughout the years there have been times when I have let my priorities get out of line and I have not paid attention to what my body was trying to tell me and have had to return to medication. It’s not the end of the world! It is an option that is available to us and personally, I am so grateful for that! Whether you decide to try medication or not, definitely consider taking on an exercise program. This is where the list of priorities from chapter one begins to play in.

I hear so many people say that they cannot find the time to exercise. I agree that with a family, a husband, a job and all of our household duties, it is difficult. But if you make it a priority, even if it means getting up an hour earlier than everyone else, or giving up on your afternoon nap when your children are sleeping, you do it for one reason; Until you start taking care of yourself you really can not effectively care for anyone else.

Once you realize this you will be on your way to making some very positive changes!

Your assignment: Look back on your list of priorities that you made in chapter one and make sure that you are still working on them. If not, recommit to making this a priority! In your journal or on your calendar start to document your highs and lows and record your emotions. This will, not only help you to see and understand more about yourself and your emotions, but will also help your physician in making a correct diagnosis, should you choose to see one. Also, I highly recommend starting an exercise program. I truly believe that this is probably the key change that I made and have continued to do throughout my life that has kept me from slipping back into those major bouts of depression. Plus it keeps you young and looking great and that alone helps improve our spirits!

Thanks for reading today. I hope you are enjoying the book. Talk to you all again soon.

XO Wendy

Willing to change

Hi friends, Welcome to the Pointing Toward Hope podcast. I am your host Wendy Bertagnolli. This podcast is filled with positivity for anyone seeking to find more hope and joy in daily life. The goal is to reach as many people as we can to help them to overcome and find joy even in the midst of extremely hard adversity. Thanks for listening. Be sure to subscribe and leave a review so that we can help as many people as possible. If you or someone you know has a trial that you have been able to get through or are working through with the help of our Savior, please contact me so we can get you on the podcast. This is episode 39.

Chapter 2 

“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up each time we fail.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson —

I want you to stop and think for a minute about all of the people you know that you would define as successful. I believe that you will find, as I did, that one of the common denominators that each of these individuals have, has to do with the pace they choose to set for their lives.

It has been shown in many studies that people who lead a busy life are more efficient and more effective people in general. Why is this? Most people would tend to believe that the opposite is true. But the main reason lies in the fact that busy people don’t sit around waiting for life to happen to them, they go out and make life happen for them!

When I graduated from high school I earned a cheerleading scholarship to attend College as well as a partial academic scholarship. It was my first experience away from home. Granted, it was only an hour drive so I could go home if the need arose. However, I was determined to survive on my own merits and so I tried to go home only on special occasions and when I had free time.

Free time was a rare commodity because I also chose to work as much as I could, to ease the financial burden on my parents. So between school, cheerleading practices, games, dating, and work, there was little time for homework let alone homesickness.

But on one particular day I was feeling relatively “blue”. Had I known what I know now, I would have been able to see this as a clear symptom of depression. It was a gray, and rainy morning and it just so happened that my first class was very early (due to work and practice commitments). To tell you the honest truth, the only reason I kept attending this class was that fact that I was really hoping for a date with a cute guy in the class!

I walked into class that morning ready to sleep through most of it, as usual, but to my surprise found written vertically on the board in huge capital letters the word PACE.

My professor proceeded to ask the class if they knew what this word meant. Most of us yelled out various definitions such as, setting the progression of an event, rate of movement, distance covered by a runner, and so on. Not one of us could give him the answer that he wanted to hear. And so he began to break it down. Positive Attitude Changes Everything! You control the PACE at which you will build your life, one experience at a time. You, and you alone control your attitude. Yes, you will experience ups and downs in this life. Yes, you will have heartache and happiness in this life. And yes, you will always be in control of the attitude with which you choose to face these experiences.

You have the power to learn and grow and become better because of these experiences. You also have the power to use these experiences as a crutch or a thorn in your side. To say, “If it wasn’t for this. . . I could have been this. . .” or “If this hadn’t happened. . . I would have been a better wife, mother, father, husband, daughter, friend, etc.” It’s time to throw out the “should haves”, “would haves”, and “if only’s”!

“Wow!” I thought. The rest of the class was a blur because I knew that with that one important lesson he was talking directly to me! I began to regret the many times that I had slept through the class thinking I “should have” taken a different class, and realized for the first time in my life that I literally had the power to control my own destiny!

Mind you, this was a small glimmer of hope, for there were many events that would take place in my life that would teach me the importance of putting that thought into action. I have to give credit to my parents, because they are two of the best role models anyone could hope for. My parents did everything they could to help me to learn that it was up to me what I would make of my life.

They helped me to build a strong foundation of religious belief, a love of God and family, and strong moral values. For this I will be eternally grateful. There have been many times when I have turned to this foundation of strength and endurance.

But there comes a time in every person’s life when they have to find these truths out for themselves. Some will call this awakening, discovering your identity. I like to call it “setting the PACE”. When everything that you have experienced in your life up to this point comes together like the pieces of a puzzle that suddenly connect.

When you finally realize, “Hey! I can make a difference in this life. I have just as much right to be whomever I want to be as any other person, regardless of what I have had to endure or what I will have to endure in the future!”

But this requires more than a thought, it requires action. Now don’t suppose that after that my life became perfect, full of sunshine and happiness. In fact, this was a small awakening that I would look back on to draw strength from, in my deepest, darkest moments.

NOTE: It’s important to take a breather here and explain that as many of you know, life happens and things can change drastically over the years. In the next section I will be talking about my former husband, who remains a good friend to this day. Was that marriage a mistake? Absolutely not. It was part of my journey and helped shape me into the person I am today. And we got 4 beautiful and amazing children along the way.

Now back to the book.

Shortly after this realization, I decided it was time to set my life on a course that I had always dreamed of. More than anything I wanted to be a wife and a mother. It just so happened that my future husband, had been chasing me relentlessly. You know the statement, “Sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees?”

Well, in this case that statement rang true. This boy moved into my neighborhood when I was just eight years old and he was eleven. I will never forget my Father looking me directly in the eyes one night over dinner and saying, “Now Wendy, that’s the type of family you want to marry into!” My response was that of a typical eight year old, “Daaaaaad, ewwww!” To this day I still have not figured out how he knew before I did that that boy was the one I would eventually marry.

Our courtship was not easy. To say it was bearable would be a great understatement! My future husband would probably tell you that he would prefer to be hit by lightning than to go through our courtship again! Over a period of about a year and half, I single handedly succeeded in getting him to fall hopelessly in love with me. How I managed to do this I will never know. I think I did everything I could to torture him and drive him away.

We lived just three houses apart from each other on a dead end subdivision. I lived at the top of the street and he lived near the outlet. This put him in the perfect spot to see me drive up and down the street with various dates. Over that year and a half, we dated and then broke it off half a dozen times, and it was during those times that I proceeded to torture him.

I truly did not intend to do this. I felt that we had made it clear to each other that neither of us would have a problem with seeing the other person dating someone else. So you can imagine my surprise when he proceeded to feed me a little of my own medicine. Over a period of three weeks he made sure that I saw him having a great time with three different and very beautiful girls. Little did I know that he had no particular interest in any of them. One was “just a friend”, one was his friend’s date, and only one was actually a girl that he had any interest in. This didn’t matter to me, because what you see and what you feel can be two very different things and I felt jealous!

Not just a little bit, I was extremely jealous! To make matters worse, not only was I jealous, my mother was jealous for me! I knew it was time to make my move I had to reclaim my status with him! Now this may seem egotistical and I assure you that I really had no intention of raining on anyone’s parade, but I had finally realized what I was giving up and I wasn’t going down without a fight!

Fortunately, it never came to out and out combat. Whatever I had done to get him to fall in love with me must have been the right thing because he unloaded her like a bad habit! Lucky for me, he is a patient and very tolerable man. He has been the “wind beneath my wings” so many times I have lost count. To say he brings out the best in me would be a great disservice to him. He has treated me as if I were what I ought to be thus, I have become what I am capable of being. I hope that I do the same for him.

Having related this experience, let’s get back to setting the PACE. You see, I had to tell you a little bit about my husband in order for you to understand what he had to endure for most of the first eight years of our marriage. We brought our first child into this world just ten short months after we were married. Then seventeen months later, we had our first daughter. It was at this point that I realized how hard being a mother really is and I remember looking into my husband’s eyes and saying, “If you want more children, it’s now or never because I am not going through this stage again once I am out of it.”

If you have ever had two children in diapers and on a bottle at the same time you will be able to relate. I was so not independent and I knew if I became independent again I would never want to go back to that lack of independence.

Unfortunately, I was setting myself up for a long and hard battle with depression. First of all, if you have ever had a child or you have witnessed someone who had a child, you know how hard it is to return to pre-pregnancy shape; both emotionally and physically. Following the birth of our second child, I became pregnant again within twenty two months. After eight short weeks of constant questioning of myself, “What was I thinking?”, I miscarried this pregnancy.

Instead of seeing this as a sign that maybe I wasn’t ready for another child at this point, I blamed myself for the miscarriage because of my constant questioning. Consequently, I became pregnant again and delivered a beautiful baby girl twenty seven months after our first daughter. I think at this point I had a “help me make it through this stage Lord, and everything will be ok. ” attitude.

Boy, was I ever in need of an attitude adjustment. And yes, boy number two came along twenty two months later. So if you are doing the math, I had four children under the age five! What a nightmare! Not the children themselves, but my inability to deal with the task at hand and my ever changing hormones.

Now, you can see why I call my husband a patient man! Over the space of about four years I would go in and out of deep bouts with depression. I had a hard time coping with the mundane tasks of the day such as laundry, cooking, and cleaning up after the kids. Everything seemed overwhelming and instead of tackling one task at a time I gave up. Essentially this created a vicious circle. Not following through, giving up, and then berating myself for being such a terrible mother and person. It would get to the point where all I wanted to do was go to bed and wake up when it was all over. A serious sign of Post Partum depression.

Depression comes in different forms for everyone. So it is important that you understand that my experience with depression may not be what you have experienced but that does not make yours less real. Also it is imperative to understand that Depression is a condition that there is no cure for. Except in some cases of Post Partum Depression or other situational or environmental depression. And even then it’s tricky.

If you have been diagnosed with depression then you have to learn how to manage it so that the symptoms will be at a level that you can function with. There are many great medications available today that work very well and I highly recommend seeking out a professional who is trained in working with your specific form of depression to find out what works best for you.

For me, when a bout of depression is coming on I can actually feel a dark cloud settle upon me. It is so real to me that I feel like I could reach out and try to push it away. That’s when I know that something is out of balance and I need to re-evaluate what I have been doing. For you it might be much different.

The point is that it is important to get to know your body and your emotions well enough that you can manage it when it arises. During that four year period when I really did not know what was going on with my health, and the above situation would start to improve I would think, “Hey, things are looking up!” So what else would any normal person do at that point? You guessed it, I would take on another project. “I am woman, hear me roar”, right? Slowly and steadily, I was leading myself down a path where sometimes there is no return.

I was setting a PACE that had nothing to do with positive attitude and everything to do with lack of control. Because I felt that my abilities as a mother and a woman were out of control, I was looking for anything that I could control. As I sunk deeper into depression I struggled more to look like I was on top of it all, on the outside.

I wanted anyone and everyone to know that I was in control, when I knew full well I was anything but in control. If you have ever suffered from depression or know someone who has, you may be able to relate to this scenario. At home, behind closed doors I was falling apart and yet when I was around people I was very good at concealing what was really happening inside. I would put on what I like to call the “happy face” also known to many as the “mask”.

Of course this is not always the case, a lot of how we act and react has to do with the stages of depression we are in and how many times we have hit the lows. I happened to be very fortunate to have someone who loves me finally pick me up off the floor and tell me, “This is not real life. You don’t have to live like this!” My husband helped me to realize that it was time to ask for help. This disease was bigger than me and it was dangerously out of control!

Over the next few years I began my long road to recovery. It was never easy. My first step was to visit a therapist and talk about my options. This woman helped me to see that choosing to be on medication was not surrendering to the disease, but the beginning of the fight. She helped me to realize what my pattern had been for each bout of depression that I had experienced and what I could likely expect over the coming months.

She pointed out to me the pros and cons of being on medication. This was something that I could not have done for myself because I was not thinking rationally at that point. I feel that she helped me to understand that I needed an attitude adjustment, I needed to be willing to change my lifestyle and I needed to be able to think clearly so that I could set a new PACE.

As painful as change can be there is always growth and opportunity waiting to occur. For me, this meant starting on the road to recovery with what any person should do who has a disease, and that is to take the proper steps to help your body heal.

Even with all the controversy and stigma at that time over anti-depressants and depression in general, I couldn’t justify not taking this chance. It was a badly needed light at the end of the tunnel, it gave me hope! 

Your Assignment: 

Find a notebook or buy a cute fancy journal (whatever helps you want to write), and write down your feelings and experiences. You may think that this is a waste of time but, I can’t tell you how many times I have looked back on what I wrote during those down times.

Whenever I read the words that I penned myself, it helps me to know that things did get better, even when I could see no way out. Generally, I am not one who would push people to see a therapist.

But in the case of depression or the meriad of other emotionally dysfunctioning diseases, I highly recommend talking to someone about what you are experiencing. Even if it is just to sit down and have a real “heart to heart” with your husband, mother, sister, best friend, or clergyman.

Talking things out and getting them out in the open will not only let someone else in on what you are feeling, but it also helps you to sort things out in your mind. Talking it out and admitting that you might need some outside help, that what you are doing is not working, is the first step on your road to recovery. And believe me, what lies beyond that first step is worth the risk of putting it all out there. Hiding behind the “happy face” is no way to really LIVE life!

You are held

I promised that today I will be doing a little recap on what’s been happening with my mental health over the past several months.

Just to preface, I’ve learned so much these past few months, more than ever before, about how important it is to let go and give your burden over to the Lord. In Matthew 11:28-30 it reads

Come to Me, all ye that labour and our heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

I’ve learned now more than ever, how much I can and should rely on the Lord and trust in Him. More than anyone, He knows me.  He knows my heart.  He knows my fears.  He knows the burdens that I carry.  And He really is the only one that can shoulder that burden like no one else.  He asks us to take His yoke upon us and let Him do the heavy lifting.  How much easier it will be for us if we trust Him enough to let Him carry us when we can not carry ourselves.

This experience that I had the last few months has been nothing compared to what I’ve been through before when dealing with bipolar.  But I have found that one of the most difficult parts of living with bipolar and being on the healthy side, is the fear of falling to the unhealthy side again.  It is such a dark and frightening place to be.  And there is so much trauma that can come to the surface because of being in that dark place. But sometimes we have to fall in order for the Lord to lift us up again.

When a loved one approaches you and says that things don’t seem right with you, it can be really devastating.  And there is a real part of you that doesn’t want to believe it for fear of ending up in the dark place again.  But that is when you really need to put your trust in those that know and care about you and especially in the Lord.

Sometimes the burden of living with bipolar becomes extremely heavy to bear.  Even when I’m healthy, I worry about becoming unhealthy.  I worry that my loved ones are always worried about me and watching my every move just to make sure I’m ok.  I hate more than anything for those that I love to worry about me.  So it’s become second nature for me to try to appear fine when deep down I may be struggling. 

Struggling with just the simple fact of being tired of carrying the burden itself.  Over the last few months for whatever reason, I was just really, really tired of carrying it.  And I would pray so many nights to Jesus that I was just so tired, please just take this away so I don’t need to worry anymore. 

And apparently, this whole time He was trying to teach me the way to ease my tiredness.  To let Him take my burden upon Him, even if just for a little while.

So when my husband approached me to discuss what he had seen in me over the last few months, it was really devastating to me.  Here I thought I was physically and mentally feeling better than I ever had.  And that I was doing great.  It was only in the recesses of my own mind that I gave way to my deeper feelings of how tired I was from constantly monitoring myself.

I was very, very emotional that night as we discussed the importance of checking in with my Doctor. I had the biggest knot in my stomach and felt physically ill. I was so scared that if we discussed it and there was an issue, then I would have to go into the deep rabbit hole of going through the process of trying to find a new medication.  The thought of that was a pure nightmare for me to think about.  

My husband offered to give me a priesthood blessing which I accepted.  He went to prepare himself for it and I went into the other room to plead with the Lord.  In that moment I realized that I had no control over the journey that the Lord had in store for me.  And something just broke inside of me.  I remember saying to Him that I was so scared of having to go into the dark place again.  I heard Him whisper to me, “Do you trust me?”  And I said back, “I do.”  And I heard it again, “Do you really trust me?”  and again I heard myself say that I did.  In fact I said, “I trust you so much that if going back to that dark place is part of my journey, I will do it.  I don’t want to do it.  But for you, to show you that I trust you, I will do it.”  And I meant it.  I really, really meant it. 

I went into the living room where my husband performed the blessing.  He laid his hands upon my head and started the blessing.  The first thing he said was “the Lord knows that you are tired of carrying this burden.  He wants you to have the courage to continue in this difficulty.”  And that’s when I knew that in this journey on Earth, this illness will always be a burden that I will carry.  But I don’t have to do it alone.  That He is there.  And He knows that I am tired.  He knows!  I hadn’t said those words to anyone but Him.  And that was Him telling me that He hears me. And He will help me to shoulder this burden if I will let Him. 

I don’t know how else to describe how I felt except that I felt so “held”.  That is the only word I could think of.  Like I was enveloped in a big warm hug. And I felt that way throughout the rest of that week as I prepared for my appointment with my Doctor. As I sat in his office and discussed our next moves I felt that the Lord was there being my rock to hold onto.  As I agreed to tweak my medication a little bit, I just felt so “held”.  

And I thought of His hands pierced and bleeding to pay the debt of my affliction.  Those are the hands that held me in that moment, and let me know that it was all going to work out according to His will.  And I trusted Him more than I ever have in my life that I would be able to handle whatever was in store for me.  

Just to give you a little insight about me if you’re new to the podcast, I was diagnosed five years ago with Bipolar ll, after having 2 manic epsodes within two months that landed me in the hospital.  Although, I have suffered from depression for most of my adult life.  

Fifteen years ago I had my first mental breakdown.  At the time I wouldn’t accept the diagnosis and kind of set about to prove the Doctors wrong.  I was in denial and did not want to be labeled as “crazy”.  Because let’s face it, that’s what most people think of when the word bipolar is mentioned.  That word is tossed around so lightly these days as people talk about someone else’s behavior that they don’t understand.  And to be quite honest, it is really distressing and inconsiderate to those of us who have mental illnesses of any kind. 

Anyway, here is my timeline. I had suffered with what I thought was depression from the time my first child was born.  I had Postpartum depression.  And with each child it would get a little bit worse.  With my fourth and last child, I finally realized that it was time to talk to someone about it. I knew from my previous births that the depression usually did not subside for around 9 or more months after the baby was born.  I remember the therapist telling me after we had talked, that I had two choices. I could either take medication that would help me feel better within a few weeks or I could go ahead and wait it out and be miserable for the next several months.  Well, that was kind of no brainer for me. So I went ahead and went on the medication. 

Over the few years after that I jumped from medication to medication.  They would work for several months and then all of sudden I would be feeling horrible again. During that time I started researching alternate forms of medication.  I realized that there were so many other things that I could do on my own that would affect how I felt.  Such as working out, making sure my stress levels did not get too high, making sure I was getting good sleep and good nutrition, and so on.  So I started working towards that and slowly weaned myself off the medications for what I hoped would be forever.  And I was able to maintain that for probably around 4 or so years.  

But when you have a severe chemical imbalance, the chances of it coming to the surface again is quite likely, and may warrant medication.

I have mentioned before on the podcast that I do not discuss any of the medications that I have been on over the years because everyone’s body is different and what worked for me may or may not work for you and vice versa. I think that is a dangerous road to go down.  We each have so many different chemicals and hormones that affect how we respond. It’s so important to follow what your Dr. suggests and find something that works for your body.  I highly recommend if you have the funding or if your insurance will pay for it, that you get DNA testing to find out what your body is compatible with. I will discuss that in a few minutes.

Anyway,that breakdown 15 years ago, was what started me on the road to finding out what exactly was happening with my body. As I said I was in denial and did everything I could to prove that Bipolar was not what I had.

I went back to my nurse practitioner at the time, and explained what had happened.  She knew my history and from what I explained to her about what had happened, we both came to the conclusion that I just needed to get some sleep.  I had not been on any medication for the previous 4 or so years which I mentioned earlier, and didn’t believe that I would ever need it again. She put me on an anti-anxiety med that I would take as needed.  Just when I felt stressed or a little out of sorts.  It would calm me down and then I’d be ok. 

At my next yearly appointment I was feeling some depression setting in. I had read about a certain medication in a magazine that had helped someone else.  So she agreed and prescribed it for me.  I was on that medication for 10 years.  Clear up until my second breakdown (or manic episode) that landed me in the hospital. 

And that’s where things started to get super out of control.  If you want to read more about experiences that I had while trying to find the right meds you can go back to my post Living with Bipolar and several posts after that one.   

Luckily at that time I was referred to a great psychiatrist that told me right from the get go.  You have Bipolar ll, no arguing whether or not you have it. Apparently that’s a pretty common experience.  I wonder why?  With such a stigma about it, it’s no wonder that people don’t want to be labeled.

He said, “We are just going to work to get you better. It might take some time. But we are going to find out what “recipe” works best for you.”  It was actually so comforting to have someone finally take control of something that I could not.  And I also finally accepted the fact that I did indeed have Bipolar.  

But it wasn’t a death sentence… this would actually bring me back to who I really was, underneath the mask of Bipolar. He wouldn’t  put me back on that medication that had worked for 10 years because he said it was the wrong medication for my diagnosis and it would never work for me again.  

Over the next year we were able to find my recipe.  And once I did, I felt so much better than a year before when I was completely at my lowest point ever. So I never really questioned whether or not I could feel even better than I did.  I didn’t feel completely like myself as I had on the medication that I was on for 10 years.  But for me it was so much better than where I was a year before.  It was good enough. I did not have a DNA test with that Doctor.  He never suggested it, and I had never heard of it so there was no reason to do it.

I had my DNA testing done in 2019 when I was forced to change Psychiatrists because my current one was retiring.  The Doctor that I found (after doing my homework to find a good fit for me), recommended it.  I didn’t even know that such a thing existed and gladly said that I would. I had mine done through GeneSight Psychotropic and it is called Combinatorial pharmacogenomic test.  What it does, is tell you what drugs on the market today are highly compatible, somewhat compatible, and not at all compatible  with your individual DNA.  So it is very valuable information.

We did that at my second appointment with the new Doctor.  I was floored to find out that the medication that I had been on for 10 years (the one after my very first breakdown), was only moderately compatible with my body and the wrong medication entirely for my diagnosis.  It was for depression and what I needed was a mood stabilizer since my moods were either really high and things were going great or I would sink into a deep depression. Apparently my first Dr. was right. One of the reasons I will always push for anyone going through mental health issues to find a good psychiatrist.

We also discovered that the medication that I was currently taking was only moderately compatible with my DNA.  When we went over the report, my new Doctor suggested that eventually I might want to switch to one that was highly compatible for me.  Of course I had been feeling good for 4 years at that time and was pretty gun shy when it came to switching.  Why would I fix what was not broken?  So I would go to my regularly scheduled 3 month appointments over the next year and we would discuss it again and I always said, “no, I don’t want to mess with what I’ve got going.”  And he was very understanding and accommodating and agreeable.  Until I started having some pretty severe sleep issues. Which was probably one of the biggest reasons that I ended up back in the hospital the second time.  I was under a lot of stress and hardly slept at all for about 5 days.  Not good.

I have mentioned many times that getting enough sleep is critical for someone who has a mental illness like bipolar. (Really, sleep is so important for everyone!) So that was a pretty great concern.  My doctor mentioned that the other medication had a sedative.  I would take it at night and it would help improve my sleep.  But I still wasn’t convinced.  Finally after nearly another year of not having really good sleep, I was ready to try it.  

So that brings you up to date on my timeline.   I switched medications at the end of March 2021, right after I started doing the daily podcasts (not great timing on my part). I was terrified of going back into that dark place, but my Doctor assured me that it would be better for me according to my DNA test.  The first 4 days were so scary.  I started feeling very jittery like I was on speed or something.  

Similar to the way I feel when climbing the scale toward a manic episode.  A good way to explain the kinds of things that my husband was seeing, is that they were small things that most people would not see or notice.  Such as doing simple routine things in a different order than normal.  Or becoming a little agitated about things I normally wouldn’t be affected by. 

I called my Doctor and he assured me that it was not a manic episode according to what I described and asked me to give it more time.  Within a few weeks the jittery feeling was gone and I felt better than I had since 2015 when I had the 2 back to back hospital stays.  I finally felt like myself again.  I had no idea that I could feel even better than I did.  I was sleeping again. I had drive, and motivation. I felt clear headed like a fog had been lifted.  I could focus and get things done.  I loved it!  And I still do. So what happened recently? Well, here’s the story.

Luckily, I am very good at keeping a daily journal.  Just a couple of paragraphs of how I am feeling, and what’s going on in my life.  It has been very helpful in being able to look back and discover where things started to become a little unbalanced.  I had become a little lax on some of my daily habits.  I was missing a lot of workouts, and my nutrition was really suffering.  I was eating a lot of junk food and a lot of sugar.  I was under a lot of stress, because I had to go through several medical procedures in one month.  I am 53 and have a lot of hormonal issues as well.  

And I got to the point where sleep was starting to become an issue again. So all this comes into play just as I have been working on adjusting to the new medication.  When I look at it that way, I think that it wasn’t just the medication switch, it was everything combined.  It was like heading into the perfect storm…. Again.  And that’s why it is so vitally important to have a good support system in place.  Someone who knows you well and can see when things are a little out of order (for me that’s my husband).  And also to have a Doctor that is a good fit for you, that you feel comfortable with and who knows your history well.  

I started to have what my Doctor calls “outliers”.  Which basically means that I was super steady for a period of time and then I would spike and do something that was out of character for me.  

What is interesting to me is that these things were so tiny that if you don’t know me well, you would completely miss them.  Also, as I said in episode 32, most of the time they are such small things that even I can’t see that it is out of character.  Which is quite common according to my Doctor.  

So when these things start happening there are two directions it can go.  Either someone recognizes it quickly and you see your Doctor and make adjustments.  Or no one recognizes it until it’s too late. You have already climbed the scale to a manic episode. Which could mean hospitalization.

In my situation, we caught it very quickly, I was able to make the necessary adjustments in my medication.  Remember I had just switched, so we were kind of in the process of finding the right recipe again.  We knew it was compatible with my DNA. We just needed to find the right dosage.  We made a minor change and since then I have been fine and the “outliers” have stopped.

But this whole experience taught me so much about myself and my illness and the journey that I’ve been on.  I have gained an entirely new perspective that I think is really important.  Especially when it comes to helping others be able to overcome their struggles. And also to allow me to continue on my journey toward wellness.  I know now more than ever that I have to be so vigilant with my daily habits, and be sure I don’t miss days with my medication.  That’s why I like to call those who suffer with mental illness, warriors.  Because we are in the fight for lives every single day. 

Even though this is a sickness that can not be seen by the naked eye, like cancer, or diabetes.  It is still life threatening.  People who have not been through it or witnessed a loved one going through it, don’t understand that.  That’s why we have so many suicides and so many mentally ill people who are not getting the care that they so vitally need.  They don’t have a support system in place that can help them.  It’s easy to abandon someone when you feel like they are just being negative and difficult.

We need to be better at recognizing and understanding when someone is ill and support them instead of shunning them.  There is nothing more frustrating for a person who is suffering than to have someone say that it’s all made up or they are doing things to hurt people intentionally.  

It becomes debilitating and demeaning to be made to feel like there is something wrong with you as a person.  When the truth is, you are sick.  What you have is an illness that needs to be separated from the person that God made you to be. There is nothing wrong with the  “you” God made you to be.  You are human just like everyone else.  Your illness does not define who you are.  Just like you are not the cancer or you are not the diabetes.  Yes, it is something that you have, that you live it.  But it doesn’t make you, you!  

So my invitation to all of you today is: If you struggle with mental illness of any kind, find a psychiatrist that comes highly referred and is a good fit for you.  Going to a psychiatrist does not mean you will necessarily need medication.  There are many behavioral modifications that you can make with their help. Choosing to seek help is not a sign of weakness! It takes courage and strength to admit that you need help!

And then do whatever you need to, to find someone who can be a good support system for you.  Someone that knows you and can help assess the situation when things seem out of the ordinary.

If you have no one, seek out a therapist.  I know all of this is expensive and sometimes it’s hard to get insurance companies to pay. I won’t even go into my thoughts on that disservice! But if you can find a way to do it, the investment into your health will be worth every last penny.

And if you are a loved one of someone who is struggling, do everything you possibly can to help them recognize how much you love them and support them and want the best for them.  Encourage them! Don’t demean them.  Don’t minimize their illness or their struggle.  Validate their feelings and do whatever you can to help them to know that they can trust you.  

And to all of you together, I encourage you to trust in the Lord with all your heart, might, mind, and soul . Because He’s got you in the palms of His Hands.  You are “held” always!  Until next time. Take care. 

XO Wendy

If you made it this far. Thanks for reading.  If you or someone you know has a trial that you/they’ve been able to get through with the help of our Savior, please contact me so we can get you on the podcast.  My goal is to reach as many people as we can to help them to overcome and find joy even in the midst of hard things.

A choice to make

Well hello again! I can’t believe it’s been nearly 3 months since my life began to rock a little. But I am back and happy to be here.

So let’s start this out right. Good morning! And welcome to the pointing toward hope podcast I am Wendy Bertagnolli and this is episode 32.

I have to say that sometimes when I think I’ve got it all figured out, God steps in and says, no, I have something else in store for you. And when that happens I am almost always caught a little off guard by it. As most of us usually are.

Back in April when I was posting daily, I was on a great run. I was so prepared, things seemed to be flowing freely and I was doing so well with the blog and podcast that I was able to stay a week ahead (which I thought was fabulous). Until that last week. I had completed 3 podcasts for the next week.

But for some reason they just didn’t feel right. I didn’t feel good about them and so I decided not to post them and see if something esle came to mind that felt right. Nothing ever did. But I am so glad that I didn’t delete them because now is definitely the time the Lord intended for them to be heard/read.

I have said so many times that I feel like a lot of this process of doing the podcast and writing the posts is mostly for myself. It’s very therapeutic for me. But I also want to extend the things that I learn on this journey with others.

Living with Bipolar, and really, walking this journey of life in general, is much more difficult to do alone. But in this particular case there was definitely something that I was supposed to learn.

Over the past 3 months since I stopped posting it has been quite the roller coaster. If you’d like to jump back to episode 31 and take a listen, I talked about the Lord catching you when you fall. Well I think He was giving me a little heads up. It’s time to practice what you preach! Lucky me!

To my credit, one of the reasons that I let the posts go for a while was because I was starting to become more stressed and worried about it than I would have liked to have been. I was worried about staying on schedule. I would ask myself: Was I getting the right message out? How can I market this so that more people who need it can get to it? And #1 on my mind was how do I find the right people to interview that will be willing to share their experiences with others in the hopes that it might lift and help another. Because I think that’s so important when it comes to the trials of life that we endure. When we share what we’ve overcome, it can be someone else’s survival guide.

All of that was just weighing heavy on my mind and I realized that I just needed to let it all go for a minute and focus on my health.

Stress, as you may recall from episode 6 Habits to adopt for good mental health, is a major catalyst in pushing someone with bipolar ll toward a manic episode so I have to be super careful about that. If you have’t listened to that one, I highly recommend going to check it out.

As I mentioned in episode 31 I talked about trusting the Lord enough to let Him catch you when you fall. But looking back, I may have been a little slow on the uptake of that one! Things started happening that were signals that I was slowly progressing towards the manic side of the scale.

One thing that most people might not know about Bipolar, is that when tiny little incidences occur it is easy for them to go unnoticed. Especially to the person who is experiencing them. It’s quite common that they don’t recogize these things in themselves. But hopefully, they have a good support system or caretaker in place that will likely pick up on these things long before it becomes a problem.

That’s what happened in my case. Now it’s really important to note that when confronted by your caretaker it may come as an unwelcome blow. I mean we already feel that we are “broken” and to have someone tell you that there are some cracks becoming visible, can be hard to take when you think you feel great!

It may seem like they are trying to take that good feeling away from you. And some people become somewhat argumentative, depending upon their nature of course. But, it is in these times that you need to be so full of trust with your main caretaker as well as with your Savior. You have to have so much trust that He’s got you in the palm of His hands. Always!

Having my caretaker (my husband) intervene is where the lesson began for me.

The rest of this podcast and the following 3 (which will be posted every other day) were previously recorded the week that I didn’t feel good about posting them.

The episode after that will be my experience of looking back to what came after that to see where things started to become unbalanced.

I will say that this episode may be a bit of a trigger for those of you who suffer with trauma. I think I did a pretty good job of maintaining composure enough to get the message across. But it was certainly a very down day for me, as you may pick up on.

You might also think (after listening to all 4 episodes) that everything with me seemed fine. Which for the most part it was. But after that last week things began to deteriorate slowly but steadily. And over the following few months it was clear to my husband that something was wrong and it was time to intervene.

I tell you this because, to anyone else (including myself) I would have seemed completely normal and put together. But now, being able to look back, I can see clearly the path that I was on.

I don’t want to go into too much detail here because I will get into that in episode 36. In that episode I will be as real and as raw as I can about what bipolar and the progression toward manic episodes is really like. So stay tuned for that.

With all that in mind enjoy the next few episodes. Once they are finished my posts will become a little more sporadic. 1x a week to monthly or bi monthly is my goal. Because I have most definitely learned my lesson that self care and my mental health must always be at the forefront of my mind. Ok here we go!

I lay here in the dark and I think of you in a beautiful garden. Exhausted from your work here on Earth. As you kneel near the rock, under the tree, I see you open your hands to the Heavens. And the words start to pour out of your mouth. It’s as if He’s right there, your Father, knowing what has to come next.

I begin to weep as I realize that the pain you must suffer is in some small part, due to me and my choices, to the decisions that I made, that I made a clear choice to create. The tears come freely now as I begin to understand that it is not just my choices, but my pain, my life, my illness that you so clearly will experience in these moments of the most awful act anyone could ever endure. 

 I am torn…on the one hand I feel the utter disgust at the decisions, the choices, I made that are causing you pain in this moment.  Yet on the other hand, I feel the most incredible feeling of love and peace knowing that YOU love ME enough to do this for ME.  Who am I?  I am not learned, or important, or worth the pain that you are suffering at my expense. 

I watch as you begin to cry.  It’s as if I can feel your tears on my open hands.  They fall in great droplets of pain and empathy and I am taken in great waves of grief. How could this happen?  Why is this happening?  Who would allow this to happen?  And then I remember with great clarity, that this…. THIS was part of the plan.  His plan, to save us all.  

I hear the words ring in my ears that you speak aloud.

John 17:1-4

1 … Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee:

2 As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.

3 And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.

4 I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.

For a moment I am taken back to the fight.  The fight for this plan to save us all. This eternal plan.  And I remember it is in large part about our choices.  Something called agency.  Some call it “free” agency.  But it is not FREE, it comes at a cost.  A cost you so freely give

In the Book of Mormon we read in

Alma 7:11–13

11 And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.

12 And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.

13 Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now behold, this is the testimony which is in me.

In D. Todd Christofferson’s talk Free forever to act for themselves.

He said “It is God’s will that we be free men and women enabled to rise to our full potential both temporally and spiritually, that we be free from the humiliating limitations of poverty and the bondage of sin, that we enjoy self-respect and independence, that we be prepared in all things to join Him in His celestial kingdom.”

He goes on to say,

“I am under no illusion that this can be achieved by our own efforts alone without His very substantial and constant help. “We know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.”  And we do not need to achieve some minimum level of capacity or goodness before God will help—divine aid can be ours every hour of every day, no matter where we are in the path of obedience. But I know that beyond desiring His help, we must exert ourselves, repent, and choose God for Him to be able to act in our lives consistent with justice and moral agency. My plea is simply to take responsibility and go to work so that there is something for God to help us with.”

I see Him there.  Bleeding and in pain and I think of the many who suffer due to a choice that they did not choose.  For those that do, it’s comforting to know that we have a Savior, who lives, who loves us, and who suffered the unspeakable, so that we can know joy again, no matter our circumstance.

I turn away as the pain is too much to bear.  And then I am back, in my bed, laying in the dark and my pillow is wet with the tears that I wept.  And I realize that I do have a choice.  In this moment of sadness and pain.  I do have a choice, because of you, my Savior, my brother, my redeemer, my friend.  And I silently thank you, once again for allowing me to remember that I am not alone.

XO Wendy