Shiny Pennies

By Kate Lynch O'Neil

Shiny Penny pic 2“You’re Lucky”, I’d hear – and I never got it.

My childhood was great. I was blessed with having a good education, parents and extended family who instilled solid morals and a hard work ethic. Looking back, I can see how some could say I was lucky.

But after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1997, I didn’t feel any shiny penny in my pocket. I felt deprived of a so-called “normal” life and questioned my very existence. This, of course, is common when trying to rebound from a life-threatening bipolar episode. Everything is foggy. Only a glimmer of reality remains.

As I’ve recounted many times, my reality felt more blessed as I traversed those ‘bleeky’ bipolar waters and shed myself of the stigma ridden self-loathing. I eventually held a rewarding professional role and met a fabulous man who became my husband and Father to our now six-year-old son.

I worked hard and overcame seemingly impossible trials – battles I’ll always bear personal witness to as I manage my compliancy with healthy concern. I had my support group. I had my regime of medications that worked and I had a team of medical clinicians who knew me well and whom I could trust. Looking back, I surely did have not one but a full bucket of shiny pennies.

My family has recently relocated, moving from Massachusetts to Virginia. My first order of business was establishing a new medical team. We arrived in April, but my first doctor appointment was late August – as a “well patient” that’s the best I could do. And this was via much communication with not just psychiatric practices but also with the direction of internists and nurse practitioners. I thought I was “on it”. For 18 years I’ve had the same practitioners and never dreamed my care would be this difficult or inefficient upon moving.

I get it. I was lucky. But now my luck seems to have ‘hit a snag’.

Beginning a relationship with a psychologist in Virginia for the talk therapy aspect of my bipolar management was relatively painless. But the brand of therapy was completely different from what I had in Massachusetts – in fact, when I was told that I thought I was better than bipolar – or that I could manage it without great fear of a relapse, I was surprised to hear that as a bad thing! I’m compliant. I manage my behavior. I’m a good Mom, wife, community leader and advocate for our cause of eradicating stigma. I do the best I can, which from my estimation and that of my MA practitioners and support system was pretty good.

It’s difficult, but I try to remember my new clinicians don’t know me. They don’t understand where my base line sits, so clearly they can easily make assumptions and assessments that I question – a first.

After finally meeting with my new psychiatrist, I thought maybe things would work. She was thorough and understanding when assessing me, and my case. We’re working on our relationship and the best care for me. It takes time, trial & error, and most importantly, communication.

I see how lucky I’d been with my previous medical team. Good clinicians and awesome support, love and guidance make all the difference in the world when managing your way out of the stigma-ridden darkness.

I have such gratitude for the work with my former therapist. After 18 years together, I feel like there’s a computer chip in the back of my head that holds her advice and wisdom. When I’m unsure about a challenge or risk of relapse, her advice echoes through my mind. She knew me better than anyone in this world, but now we start again – that’s scary and I’m not sure if it’s going to be luck or hard work that keeps me on track. Maybe both. But I’ll say one thing: I’m determined to maintain my health, and if that means using my knowledge of the system to make my good health happen, that’s fine.

For now, “I get it”. I’ve had a life that’s required – for good and bad – hard work and good support. Now in the thick of things, I wish I had been more grateful for being so lucky.

But there’s no time like the present. Better understanding realities of the country’s health care system, I now need an extra dose of luck to get me through this clinical mess.

I have a horseshoe carefully sitting just right on the windowsill over the kitchen sink. I like to think that helps, but really it’s just a reminder to stay vigilant and believe in myself. “I can do this”, I say to myself. Thanks, life, for the good luck – a new shiny penny’s worth of cheerleading and guidance would be great.

 

 

 

 

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