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themuslimhippie

At the intersection of race, culture and mental illness

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Bipolar

Disability and Mental Illness

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I began thinking about applying for disability in 2012. I had lost my job after a bad manic episode. At that time my mom was battling inflammatory breast cancer as well, and my children had just returned from a four year stay in Senegal with their father’s family. Stressed out doesn’t even come close to my mental state at the time. I simply couldn’t work under those conditions. I couldn’t even get off my couch or take care of myself in any capacity. I had no concept of functional self-care in any sense and I was barely lucid. After my mom passed away in early 2013, I became completely unstable. I went into a psychotic depression, sleeping off and on for several months. I was paranoid and delusional. I lashed out at those around me, accusing them of the worst things imaginable. My behavior was almost unrecognizable, and yet no one suggested I go to the hospital or even to my psychiatrist to get evaluated. They just lectured me to get myself together and stop acting out. Days merged into nights and I never knew what time it was or even the month. I developed bronchitis and then pneumonia but I still never left my house. I was too psychologically unwell. My primary care doctor was able to get antibiotics to my house as she knew I’d never make it to the emergency room for treatment.

At some point that winter, I finally decided to contact an attorney to help me file the paperwork for my disability claim because I knew I couldn’t complete it on my own. I remember telling the clerk I felt so poorly that if someone offered me a salary to simply staple papers all day, I’d have to decline because I didn’t have the energy to operate the stapler. I just couldn’t do anything productive. Even breathing was painful. I wanted to die. It took me 2 long years before I was able to get a hearing with a disability judge. My case was denied twice before that time. It was decided that I was sick, but not sick enough for disability. So I wanted to plead my case in front of a judge to see what would happen. On the day of my hearing, I was extremely nervous. Someone offered me a ride to the courthouse, because by this time I had stopped driving. I didn’t live on my own anymore either; I was staying with a family friend until I got back on my feet. Losing my mom took everything out of me. I was a shell of a person. Going to the courthouse was scarier than I thought it would be. My social anxiety was raging that day.

When it was my turn to go into the courtroom, my knees turned to jelly. I thought I was going to be sick. My attorney escorted me into the large room and showed me to the table where I would sit for the next hour. There were several people in the room already: The judge, the court reporter, a spectator/another disability lawyer, someone reviewing my case, and then my attorney. It was overwhelming and frightening. I felt like I was on display and I immediately wanted to run from the room screaming. But I couldn’t. I felt trapped. I sat at the table and shakily poured myself a glass of water. But I was too nervous to drink it. My attorney sat at an adjacent table. The judge introduced herself and explained why we were all there. She tried to put me at ease but it only made my anxiety worse. She asked me to begin telling my story and explain how I had come to be hampered by my mental illness. She wanted me to recount what had gone on for the last two years. But what scared me was that she had my medical records in front of her. How could I possibly remember all of that? I started talking and began stuttering right away. I do that when I’m nervous. Everybody in the room looked at me, puzzled. That made me more anxious and I continued stammering. I couldn’t stop. It was hard for me to put together a coherent sentence. My attorney looked so confused. Just a few minutes ago I was speaking clearly and without stuttering. I could tell she didn’t know what had happened and if I was faking my stutter. I was so embarrassed, but I had to keep talking. It was excruciating. My face was so hot, I thought it would explode. It felt like I was talking for hours.  When I was done, the judge asked me a bunch of questions. I felt defensive and angry. If my medical history was right there, why was I being cross examined? It made me feel like a criminal. I was sad and humiliated. Everybody in the room could hear my most personal medical details; the worst parts of my disorder and what it had done to me. I’ve never been so ashamed in my life. I knew the judge wasn’t trying to hurt me and yet I felt demoralized by her pointed questions. All this in order to determine if my mental illness was in fact debilitating and disabling. This wasn’t fun at all. When it was finally over, she concluded that my medical records supported what I had testified to and that she would make a ruling in about 6 weeks. My attorney said that was a positive sign that things had gone in our favor.

In the end, I was declared fully disabled and entitled to benefits. But the point of my story is that when I hear people speak disparagingly about those receiving help from the state, it traumatizes me all over again. That was one of the worst experiences of my life. It was bad enough to have to live like that for those years. In a fog of complete mental instability and confusion. But then to have to recount it in a room full of people as though I was on trial was something that hurt in a way I can’t explain. I don’t mind being disabled by my mental illness. But when I think about that day, I hate my disorder and what it’s done to my life. I hate that I had to tell a group of people about my illness in that way because it isn’t readily visible and obvious. That’s what hurts and shames me. And that’s what I resent about the disability process.

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Vulnerability

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I was feeling vulnerable. I was feeling less than pretty. I was feeling old and worn, discarded by society somehow. I needed validation in that moment. I needed acceptance and maybe a bit of ego stroking. I’m human too, after all. But I was rebuffed. I was brushed aside like my feelings don’t even matter. That really hurt. I didn’t say anything though. I never do in those situations. I don’t feel comfortable expressing when I’m feeling like I need more from people. I’m embarrassed to be so complicated. And it hurts that being ignored makes me feel so deeply wounded and unaccepted. I hate this about myself. It makes me feel so exposed and raw. So easily able to be dragged over the coals of indifference at a moments notice. So I just sat there, in the dark, in my house. And pretended everything was fine. I laughed and joked like I wasn’t dying inside. As if I didn’t want to retreat to my inner most feelings cave and never come out. I willed myself not to simply disappear. I’m still fighting the urge. Part of me wants to write and get my feelings out, and part of me wants to run and hide in a dark corner where no one can ever find me. I want to hide in shame because I hate that I need validation from others at times. I desperately want this to change. And quickly so I never have to feel this way again. So I’m never having to force myself not to walk away from the world when I don’t get what I need. Being vulnerable like this feels like a curse.

A letter to my friend mental illness

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Dear BP,

Hi, how are you? How have you been? I’ll admit I’m a little nervous writing to you because I don’t want you to think I’m asking to see you. And I don’t want you to think about me and decide to visit. I’m just not ready to be around you. But I did want to check in with you since you’ve been relatively quiet lately. If you recall, it’s been about six months since we spoke. Well formally anyway. I see your posts online from time to time but I never comment. I think we were last together at the hospital, right? That particular stay was a doozy! I hope I never go back. Remember that one girl who kept attacking everybody and calling us names? That was so wild.

So Ziprasidone and I are pretty friendly these days. I know how you guys feel about him, which is also why I’m staying away. But he’s good for me. I do miss our old friends though. How’s Elevated Mood doing? I hear she might be coming to town soon. I know she always heads this way in the spring for an extended visit. Ooh, maybe she’ll get to see the cherry blossoms this time. Tell her I said ‘hi’ if you talk to her. Out of everybody, I miss her the most. She can be a lot to take, but she doesn’t mean any harm. She just has a ton of energy. We always have fun when we’re with each other. I wouldn’t mind getting together with her for old time’s sake.

Hey, you know who I’ve been thinking about? Impulsivity. Man, we used to get into so much trouble back in the day! I’m so glad I’ve learned to love him from afar. But sometimes I like to reminisce about the things we used to do. If nothing else, to remind me what life used to be like before my health got better. Do you remember when he and I went to get matching tattoos? Goodness, it was like we couldn’t help ourselves. We just had to do it and nothing would deter us. I was shaking so much in the chair from all my nervous energy that the tattoo artist got upset. He said if I couldn’t sit still, he wouldn’t continue. Imp just laughed at me.

Afterwards I felt so ridiculous. And by then, Imp was nowhere to be found, as usual. I was embarrassed I’d let him talk me into getting the tattoo. What bothers me is I’m not even supposed to have those. It’s against my religion. But as soon as Imp started hyping up the idea, I couldn’t say no. And it came up out of the blue, so suddenly too. We didn’t think about the consequences or wonder if we’d regret doing it. This didn’t occur to either of us. All that mattered was getting that ink. To be honest, we’d been hanging out with that guy Compulsion too often back then, and we let him influence our choices. I think both Imp and I are pretty suggestible, if you ask me.

Oh my gosh, do you know what I did the other day? I decided to create a gratitude journal to remind myself of all the good things in my life that I’m grateful for. Oh BP, it’s been such a help. Every day I write about the things that make me happy and what I appreciate. You know they always taught us to do this whenever we’d go to the hospital. Well I finally got around to it. You should try it sometime. You’d love it!  And maybe it will give you a better outlook on life.

Guess who I’ve been chatting with lately? Insomnia! Can you believe it? I know we used to hate each other. But we’ve since reconciled and we’re spending almost every night together. We laugh and carry on like two little old ladies. Her jokes about not sleeping are too funny. And she still loves to play pranks on me in the middle of the night, as much as she always did. That Insomnia is such a card! We really have to stop meeting up though, or I’ll get sick again. You know how that goes.

So I have to know, how’s BPD doing these days? Do you see her often? Has she gotten herself together yet? Last I heard she was ruining yet another relationship. I’m sorry to say it but I hope I never interact with her again. She and I do not get along. She makes me so mad, I can’t stand it. And we always bring out the worst in each other. It’s always all or nothing with us. Things are either great or horrible. There is no in between, it’s awful. She’s just not a good influence for me so I try to avoid her at all costs. And if you remember, I had to go to therapy partly because of her. I’m still salty about that. I’m not trying to shift blame or anything, but I can’t help thinking that if I’d never met her, my life would’ve been much less stressful and anxiety ridden.

Speaking of my cousin Anx, did you hear she had a baby? Yeah, she named her OCD. I’m not one to criticize name choices, but OCD? Ok, I have so many questions. Don’t tell my cuz 😉 But why that name? What does it even mean? That kid’s going to have a tough time in life with a name like that. Why OCD? Is it a family name? Is it symbolic in some way? I keep saying it over and over, letting it roll around on my tongue so I can get used to it. It just makes me feel so prickly inside when I say it. But I can’t stop. I’ve repeated it about 500 times now. OCD. OCD. Nope, I still can’t get used to it. It sounds strange in my head, like an echo and a hollow tinny sound all at the same time. Oh wait; I’m getting fixated again. Don’t mind me. You know I do this sometimes. It’s gotten better, but I still slip now and then. My brother Buspirone has been helping me overcome it. He’s been such a blessing. He has his moments, like everybody, but overall I’ve loved having him around. I wish I had told him sooner that I needed his help.

You know, Depression has been on my mind a lot lately. I can’t help thinking about him and wondering if he’ll ever get better. He just seems so lost sometimes. It’s like he lives in his own dark world where no one can reach him. I feel so badly for him. He brings everyone down with his misery, negative outlook and detachment, and he doesn’t even realize it. He’s a good guy, just misunderstood I think.

I guess you heard that Anger and I made up a few weeks ago. We decided to part ways for good, but in doing so I think we’ve reached an understanding. I’m so happy about it. I think he realized how he much he was hurting me and knew why we couldn’t see each other anymore. It’s really for the best. I sometimes get scared that I won’t find anybody else, but I’m trying to be patient. I don’t want to go back to him just because I’m lonely. It’s hard though. Being alone I mean. I can’t shake the fact that I’ll die by myself, with nobody there to notice. That thought bothers me all the time. People say ‘just be positive’. But even in doing so, I haven’t found anybody else that understood me like Ang did. A friend of mine always counsels me to accept things as they are and to look forward to better times. You know that girl Patience? The one everybody always talks about? Well she’s his best friend. I guess that’s why he’s always so calm and collected. Maybe I should meet her someday. She sounds lovely.

I’m not even going to ask about Grandiosity. He annoys me to no end. Always thinking he’s better than everybody and deciding he can do whatever he wants. He seems to think the world revolves around him. That guy is so obnoxious. And he makes me look bad when he’s around. I get sucked into his schemes and plans, and I forget who I am. But his presence is so intoxicating. You know how he is; charismatic and charming…until he completely alienates everybody with his over inflated sense of self. I’m sure I’ll run into him again soon. It’s inevitable.

Oh wow, I just realized this whole letter has been one big gossip session. Hey, maybe we both needed that. Anyway, I hope you’re doing well, BP. I don’t hate you or anything, but I need some space. I hope you can accept that. I know we’ll always be in each other’s lives. I just think it’s best if we limit our time together. Take care of yourself.

Love,

Karen

Dealing with migraines, anxiety and bipolar

Placeholder ImageI’ve had migraines since I was a child. As long as I can remember I’ve been dealing with them. My earliest recollection is laying down in the nurse’s office in 4th grade, with one hand on my stomach and the other flung across my forehead and eyes. Even though it was dark, I could still sense light trickling in from somewhere. And it hurt. The nausea was excruciating and I just wanted my mom to come to the school and make everything better for me. That was the beginning of my long history with migraine headaches.

For years, those headaches were the only complaints I had. Being active in sports and social activities didn’t allow me to notice anything extra. But then I was diagnosed with ADHD, bipolar disorder, and anxiety. My life drastically changed. Things weren’t only different because of the mental health diagnoses. But I also had to adjust to how my mental and physical health were so intertwined; both symptom and treatment-wise.

It seems like everything about my illnesses and medication regimen intersects. Sometimes I feel like I’m running on a hamster wheel, trying to keep up with it all. if I get a migraine, I have to be careful which meds to take to alleviate it. The wrong ones can send me into a depressive episode. Or into mania. And just having the migraine itself is a threat to my mental wellness. If it lasts too long, I’ll get sick mentally. And the headache always brings a bout of anxiety and panic symptoms with it. Which is another assault to my system.

My body just can’t handle the weight of physical and mental illness together. It’s too stressful. So I’m always vigilant, making sure to take care of my neurological health so that I don’t have any mental side effects. It’s a unique and specific dance I do every day just to stay healthy. And it’s extremely exhausting at times. But lately, I’ve been well on all fronts, which makes me very happy.

When Spring Brings More than Flowers

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It’s only mid-February. Winter is here in almost full force in the DMV area. But I’m already looking ahead to spring. Not so much in a good way though. It’s more a feeling of dread. Mania hits me every single spring. No matter what I do. I can take all the vitamins and minerals that are supposed to alleviate mental health issues. I can fast or drink only water. Consume nothing but juices and berries, restrict carbs, and take my psychiatric meds…. nothing helps. And most things make it worse, so much worse.

One doctor finally explained that my circadian rhythm just doesn’t adapt well to the extra hours in the day. Well, great. I feel like the only person on earth allergic to sunlight in this way. Ok I know that’s not true at all. But when I’m feeling sorry for myself or hating my bipolar illness, it seems to be so.

It’s happened each spring since I was a teenager. As soon as the time moves forward an hour and I’m exposed to more sun, I have a pretty major episode. I’ve even started to notice physical changes during those times. My skin glows, my eyes and hair are extra shiny, it’s crazy. Sometimes my eyes actually turn more hazel than dark brown during spring mania. I remember having a kind of ‘glow’ when I was pregnant. This is like that glow, but on steroids. It’s that much more pronounced.

A good friend of mine commented on my change in appearance once during an episode. She said she couldn’t put her finger on it but that I looked noticeably different. Possibly younger, even. She asked what had caused me to radiate like that. She was suspicious, I sensed. She didn’t ask any more questions and we just let the uncomfortable silence hang in the air until I left. It normally would have been embarrassing but since I was in the throes of mania, I took it as a complete compliment. I thought everything was simply wonderful and I was happy everybody else thought so too.

One time in college during one such episode, I was racing to a job interview. And I do mean racing! I was going so fast that I sped past a cop while blowing through a yellow light that turned red. Of course I got pulled over. I remember the officer was so annoyed that I was in such a ‘good mood’. He kept trying to bait me into an argument about why I was going so fast. And he insisted on repeating that he should give me a ticket. I just kept saying, “Ok” to whatever he said, and smiling like I had gone mad. Finally he threw my license back at me and stormed off. To this day I don’t know if he understood what was happening or not. But at least I didn’t get a ticket.

I’ve recently begun to read articles about spring mania. I’m glad that others know what this is like, though I hate that we all go through it. Nothing good comes from my springtime mania, and I almost always end up in the hospital. The last major episode I had was when I went to Los Angeles one April to visit a relative. That was a mistake. Not the trip, mind you, but the timing. I should have paid more attention to my symptoms. By the time I got on the plane to LA, I was already fully manic. I know that now. When I got home, I’d stopped sleeping and eating. I had the inappropriate cravings I only get during mania. And my mood was off the charts. Needless to say, I had to get sorted out at inpatient. I’ve since learned that changing time zones during travel can cause a manic episode. Good to know!

I keep looking outside and seeing the gloom winter brings with it as an unwelcome +1. I know that we have a ways to go until the time changes and spring comes blossoming in. But I’m still preemptively nervous. I hope this time things go well and I am thinking positively. But I’m also prepared for what usually occurs. I don’t want to say it’s inevitable, but that’s how I feel sometimes. Here’s hoping the upcoming season only brings showers and flowers for me and those who experience spring mania.

How to stay well in the spring with bipolar disorder:

  1. Make sure to get plenty of sleep. Regardless if your body wants it or not.
  2. Eat a well-balanced diet. Food definitely plays a role in how our episodes play out.
  3. Take your meds exactly as prescribed and be sure not to skip any doses. *If you take medication, that is.
  4. Monitor any symptoms that may occur, as soon as you notice them. Then check in with your health care provider.
  5. If all else fails, and you end up getting sick, please be kind to yourself. Get the appropriate help needed for the situation and don’t get frustrated with any setbacks.

When Talking About Mental Illness is a Blessing

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Something happened when I participated in the Twitter #ThisIsHowAnxietyFeels hashtag. I realized how similar people are in their mental health journey. And I saw that what I experience isn’t as unusual as I thought. I know it sounds cliché and it would seem after all these years I would have already surmised that point. But this was different. 

I’ve met a ton of bipolar & depression sufferers over the last decade or so. All of their stories mirrored mine in some way. So I’ve felt a sense of solidarity. But anxiety is something that I’m still learning about. As is OCD. Bipolar disorder has taken a front seat, pushing aside all my other struggles. Even when talking to doctors and therapists. Anxiety just sits in the back, huddling in a dark corner, waiting to be recognized or acknowledged in some way. Anxiety for me has been like a lonely wallflower at a raucous party. 

Anxiety is really the root of many of my daily occurrences, when I think about it though. I’d wager it’s more troublesome than my bipolar issues, because I know those so well at this point. And I know what to do when I have a setback. But reading what people had to say about their life with anxiety really made me rethink how I look at this illness. I understood, probably for the first time, how anxiety impacts my relationship with others. And how I react to different situations when my anxiety is running amuck. I didn’t think I had many light-bulb moments left when it comes to mental illness. But I was mistaken. 

I had no idea that anybody else would relate to cleaning a floor meticulously by hand during an anxiety attack. Or that anyone would ‘get’ the feeling of isolation to the point of thinking you’ll die alone. I couldn’t have known people would understand my habit of checking things repeatedly even when it doesn’t appear to make sense. Actually anxiety made me believe that I had nothing noteworthy to contribute to this entire sharing session. It turns out that wasn’t true. 

If you deal with anxiety in any form, I highly recommend that you check out this hashtag and interact with other anxiety ‘practitioners’ 😉 You’ll gain so much insight, and if nothing else, you’ll see first hand that we’re not alone. 

Speech Therapy For Those With Mental Health Challenges

I often find it hard to express myself. The word I would use is muted. Whether I’m depressed or manic, or even in a mixed state, it’s the same no matter what. The words just don’t come sometimes. It feels like I can’t tap into my language or expression center properly. As if my brain can’t connect with my emotions. At those times it’s like the elevator in my body can’t reach all of the floors. That’s the only way I can describe it. During periods of depression, I feel too blunted to find the words that correctly express the way I feel. So I often end up remaining silent. When I’m manic, I definitely can’t find the right words to convey my thoughts. My words are always jumbled due to the fact that my brain is going haywire. The thoughts are moving too quickly and all at once. So I end up speaking faster than I mean to, and saying things in ways that have unintended consequences. I hate it and yet I can’t seem to stop it.
It just always feels as though people don’t understand what I’m trying to say, no matter what state of mind I’m in. And it’s extremely frustrating. But the other day I came across an article about speech therapy for people with mental health issues. Right off the bat, the author mentioned that those with a mental illness often feel alienated from their peers due to an inability to communicate their thoughts and emotions effectively. I felt so relieved when I read this. I thought I was the only person that was affected by this and I’ve felt so ashamed for so long. I thought this was a personal flaw of mine, and yet another way in which I was somehow deficient. It made me feel so terrible. The article went on to state that speech language therapists help mentally ill individuals improve their communication skills and implement recovery plans in order to help make their speech more fluent and to help them express their truth and improve social skills. All of these are areas in which I could use assistance, and I feel empowered knowing there are professionals that can help in this way.
I recently stopped using social media because of this inability to communicate. I just couldn’t find the words to say what I felt, so I took a short break. But now after reading this, I have hope. I am looking forward to finding a speech language therapist in my area to work with in order to begin to tackle some of my communication and social skills issues. And I hope it will make me feel less anxious about expressing myself no matter what mental state I am in or what mental health challenges I face. And now I don’t feel so different or afraid.

Fighting My Demons

 

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In the shadows

Nobody ever sees what you don’t do. The things you know are wrong & shouldn’t do, the things you’re tempted to do… But don’t. What you almost did that time. The close calls. The near misses. The internal struggle between right and wrong. No one can see that.

They can’t appreciate how hard you work to silence the ghosts calling you to revisit old habits. Those pesky things sneak up out of nowhere trying to catch you off guard. Oh the tricks they play… But sadly, no one understands this private journey. Because it’s invisible.

They only see when you actually do stumble. Maybe you’ve resisted for the longest time, say 20 years. And then 1 day you finally slip. Someone will always be there to laugh and say ‘I saw that!’, with a disapproving glare. It’s so frustrating. All you can do is hope for the day when someone sees all sides of you and still wants to interact.

Delusions

 

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My kids used to live in West Africa. They moved there with their father’s family when I got sick. Staying in contact with them was easy enough; if the phone or skype was working. We used magic jack to talk, but sometimes it was out of service. For the most part though, I could talk to them whenever I wanted.

One time before they were set to return, I hadn’t been able to contact them for about 2 weeks because their phone was broken. I happened to be going through a dark depression that was made worse because of my mom’s ordeal with cancer. I really wasn’t well. Out of the blue, I started feeling paranoid that my family was tricking me about the kids. I had this sinking feeling that maybe I hadn’t talked to them because they had actually passed away. I thought that Senegal or ‘in Africa’ was just a euphemism for them being dead.

Maybe people thought I was too unstable to handle the truth and so they made up this elaborate story to try and protect me. Maybe they weren’t going to tell me until I was safe and not going to hurt myself. These are the thoughts that raced through my confused mind. I started grieving for my kids as though they were truly gone. I actually felt the empty pocket where my heart once was, and the negative space in my soul that one feels when they have lost a loved one. Everything hurt in a way it never had before. I walked around the house like a zombie for most of that day; touching their things and sobbing. I didn’t know who to trust to figure out what was happening. I spent hours trying to piece together the memory of when I last spoke to my children. Nothing came. I was in panic mode all afternoon. Why couldn’t I remember? Who would tell me the truth? Nobody, I felt that everyone I knew was in on the ruse.

Finally at some point in the evening, I got a phone call from my ex-husband telling me that he had just spoken to the kids and that they were doing well. He updated me with the latest goings on and how school was progressing. I wasn’t sure he was telling me the truth until he said that I should call and talk to them. I don’t think he had any idea about my thought process, but he must have sensed that I was apprehensive. Of course I rushed to call the kids as soon as we were done talking. At that point, even before the phone connected, I felt like everything was ok. I knew he wouldn’t go that far with whatever story I had concocted in my mind. He just wasn’t like that, alhamdulillah he’s a nice person. Talking myself through the paranoia helped calm me down and start to think more clearly. Then, of course, I was able to talk to my kids. This stopped the delusion altogether and I started to feel a bit better.

An interesting thing. Even though my fears were unfounded, I was extremely exhausted by the end of the night. I had spent the whole day grieving for my children, trying to get a hold on my memory and sanity, and trying to understand how long I had been in this state of confusion. It was one of the worst days of my life. I was so tired after talking to the kids that I had to rest and sleep for a few days just to get my strength back. This doesn’t happen to me often. But in a depression that includes psychosis or in mania where you lose touch with reality, this can happen. Thankfully, I haven’t had an experience like this in several years. By the will of Allah, I’m hoping to keep it that way.

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