On Tuesday my friend Scarlet interviewed me about my mental illnesses and my service dog, Hestia! She has a great YouTube channel called The Labyrinth System. I will embed the video below, and below that is a transcript of the show done graciously by my friend Christi at The Wildberry Patch. Enjoy!
Scarlet: Hey everyone it’s Scarlet and today I am here with my friend Veronica and we are going to talk to about Veronica’s mental illness and how she copes and deals with it.
So, Hi Veronica!
Veronica: Hi Scarlet.
Scarlet: Thank you for being on my YouTube Channel.
Veronica: Thank you for having me.
Scarlet: So, why don’t you start by telling us what exactly you are diagnosed with.
Veronica: Um, I have, uh, three main diagnoses. I have bipolar type 1, I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from childhood bullying, and I also have agoraphobia which makes it really hard for me to leave my house.
Scarlet: Alright, and why don’t you explain a little bit about um, your bipolar disorder and what exactly it is and, um, what type one is versus type two.
Veronica: So, bipolar disorder you have highs and lows, and type two bipolar you don’t get quite as high as type one. So, type one bipolar, my highs, they’re called manias. Um, basically, you get really excited and most people get really happy. Some people get really agitated. Um, generally, um, people spend a lot of money, or do dangerous things.
For me, what happens is I get psychotic. Um, I usually start to believe that there’s some sort of war between good and evil out there, and I’m a magical being and I need to get back to that war. And so, my, um, mania, my psychotic manias usually result in me trying to do magic and trying to find the forces of evil and fight them in some way.
Scarlet: thank you for sharing. So you also have PTSD and agoraphobia. How would you say that your disorders interact with each other?
Veronica: Um, when I’m manic from my bipolar disorder, um, I don’t really experience that much of the anxiety from the agoraphobia and the PTSD. When I have a depressive episode from my bipolar disorder then the anxiety from the bipolar and PTSD really comes at me full force.
Scarlet: um hmm
Veronica: Um, it’s a really strong combination of depression and anxiety.
Um, uh, when I’m in the middle, which is, ya know, um, a fairly good percentage of the time for my bipolar disorder, um, I still have a lot of struggles with the anxiety, uh, from the PTSD and agoraphobia.
Scarlet: Makes sense. Um, so, you have your little dog Hestia with you. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about Hestia and what she does for you and, uh, what a service dog can do for people, uh, with mental illness.
Veronica: Hestia is actually my third service dog. Um, she, I’ll hold her up a little bit. She is an 8 pound Japanese Chin. Um, and, um, I’ve been actually pretty stable for the past year with my bipolar disorder. Um, I’ve only had two slight forays into mania. And, um, I’ve had either one or no depressive episodes in the past year.
So her main functions for me right now are with anxiety. And, um, the main thing that she does for me is, um, before I have a panic attack she starts to notice that my anxiety levels are rising and she’ll lick my arm very intently to let me know hey, you need to do something about your rising anxiety levels. Um, and so, um, at that point, I usually, um, use her for grounding, which you’re probably familiar with. You know, feeling your feet on the floor, feeling your butt in your chair, you know, really grounding you to the one moment in space and time.
Um, by petting her, and really focusing on every single hair that I’m touching, um, it looks to others like I’m petting her, but really, I’m grounding myself with her, and that really helps keep me present. Um, and then the other thing that, um, she does is, uh, pressure therapy, where she will actually, when she’s in my arms, she’ll push off of my arm and lean into my chest. And that pressure, it’s similar to the pressure of a weighted blanket. Um, and it really helps to relieve my anxieties. So that’s the main thing that she does for me.
S- So, um, you use your service dog to help manage your mental illnesses. Is there any other things that you use to help manage your mental illness?
Veronica: I’m also on medication. Um, I have, over the past twenty years, or so, tried almost every medication out there for bipolar disorder. Um, I had really bad side effects with most of them. Um, I got Stevens Johnson Syndrome, which is a life threatening rash of the mucous membrane. I um, had one that made me faint all the time. Another one I couldn’t read, and I was doing my PhD dissertation at the time, and, um, I had to have my husband read my papers to me. [laugh] Um, but, eventually um, I did find a medication that helps with my bipolar disorder. It’s Latuda. And I’ve been on it for a little over a year now, and it’s one of only two medications that are approved to help with bipolar depression. Um, and it’s the only medication that has ever helped with my depression. Um, and it also does a fairly good job of controlling the manias. And, um, about six months ago I was able to wean off of all my other medications, and now I just use Latuda for the bipolar disorder. And then for the PTSD and the agoraphobia, I use Hestia.
Scarlet: Awesome, Thank you for sharing.
Veronica: You’re welcome.
Scarlet: And you mentioned that you were, um, pursuing your PhD at one point, so, Veronica is a doctor. Do you want to talk a little bit about how, um, your mental illness affected your schooling?
Veronica: Sure. Um, throughout most of my education, I was not medicated and my mental illness was not controlled. And I use this to my advantage. So, what would happen is, I would have, um, in bipolar disorder, there’s the manias and the depression. There’s also something called hypomania which means you’re manic a little bit, but not manic to the point of totally being gone. Um, and so, when I’m hypo manic, I’m super super productive.
So I would, uh, become hypomanic, and I would do something like a thousand PCR reactions every day for a week. Or, um, I wrote my master’s thesis in one week. It was like a 70 page, um, thesis in a hypomanic episode. I wrote my PhD dissertation in less than a month in a hypomanic episode. So I would use my hypomanias to help me get incredible amounts of work done. And then when I had a depressive episode, I would just stay home, and, um, not do anything for a few weeks at a time. So it was really unhealthy, but it was how I made it through my PhD. Um, and then, when I graduated, um, and had to try to get a job in the real world, where you actually have to show up every day [laughter] um, that didn’t work out so well. And the depression returned…
Oh, so I’m starting to get a little anxious starting to think about this and do you notice that Hestia is doing her licking to tell me that I’m starting to get anxious?
Um, so anyway, I ended up, the depression was really bad, and my anxiety was really bad and I ended up having a really bad suicide attempt that caused permanent brain damage. And, um, I’m not able to continue in my, uh, field of research that I was in because of the brain damage and also just because of my disorder making it impossible for me to function outside of my home.
Scarlet: Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing that with us.
Veronica: You’re welcome.
Scarlet: And although you aren’t able to work a, uh, full time job, you are active in other areas of your life. Tell us a little bit about the nonprofit that you run.
Veronica: Um, in 2012, I helped to found Psychiatric Service Dog Partners with some friends. Um, it’s a nonprofit that’s run entirely by people with disabilities and, um, basically, we educate, advocate, and support, uh, people with psychiatric service dogs. And, um, that’s what I’m able to contribute now, to the world.
Scarlet: Awesome. And is there anything else that you would like the viewers to know?
Veronica: Um, I would like the viewers to know that, um, it’s a long road out there sometimes, finding what works for you in treating your mental illness. Um, it took me many, many years to find the right combination of medications and a service dog to help me, but don’t give up. Um, the, the right combination for you is out there.
Scarlet: Awesome, thank you so much for, um, for being with us, Veronica.
Veronica: Thank you for having me.
Scarlet: Thanks for watching everybody! Bye!