• Lee Ann

My Story of Mental Illness, BII, and Breast Implants

Over the years there have been several studies that suggest breast implants are correlated with mental health issues, and that women who undergo breast augmentation are more likely to commit suicide or have suicidal ideations. That’s not to say that breast implants directly cause mental illness. However, it does indicate that there needs to be more talk about mental health and breast augmentation, and also mental health and BII. It was my hope that the recent FDA hearings would touch on the issue of mental health, and including mental health screenings as part of the pre-implant checklist and informed consent process.

This is my personal story of Bipolar wrapped up in BII:

For starters, I will not claim that my implants caused me to develop mental health issues. Since early in my childhood I exhibited symptoms of mood disorder and anxiety. I have a long family history of mental health issues on both sides of the family tree. There are personality disorders, suicides, mood disorders, and anxiety disorders. So it is very obvious that I am genetically predisposed to developing mental illness.

By first grade I had already been referred to a psychologist by the school, and I regularly saw the school counselor for coping skills education. I was extraordinarily emotional and the slightest change or unexpected event would leave me hysterical and completely unable to cope.

When I was 12 I started my period and by age 14 I was put on hormonal birth control because I was consistently developing cysts on my ovaries and having extremely painful and heavy periods. In hindsight this was likely the very first symptoms of PCOS for me, but the band-aid of birth control hid that from my realization until very recently.

After getting on birth control my symptoms worsened. I became completely unable to control my emotions. I had violent mood swings, and I became extremely impulsive. My family assumed I was just having a hard time being a teenager.

I never talked about my struggles with anyone. The only person who probably even came close to knowing how deeply I struggled was my long-term boyfriend who was 3 years older. We broke up when I was 16 and he was getting ready to leave for college. I attempted suicide by overdosing on opioids. I was hospitalized and stayed inpatient in the psychiatric ward for about a week.

I attended counseling afterward, but I did not develop a good relationship with my counselor. She somehow mixed up my case with someone else’s and when she gave a synopsis of what happened to me that was completely 100% someone else’s story I just said, “yeh, it’s been hard” instead of correcting her. I let her continue believing that I had someone else’s story for all of our sessions. The one and only thing I did learn from those sessions was the value of journaling. I have kept journals since that point in time.

I did what I needed to do for the counselor to discharge me, and then I attempted to handle things on my own. I also went off the meds that were prescribed by the hospital psychiatrist because I didn’t like the way they made me feel. It is very common for bipolar patients to “fake” their way through treatment and to consistently try to get off their meds or to go off against the advice of their psychiatrist.

Three years later, at 19 I got my breast implants. It makes me angry now that I was even a candidate for breast augmentation. I honestly feel that at 19 I was not in a position to make that lofty of a decision. I was incapable of fully understanding the consequences even if someone would have explained them to me (but no one did). The prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain we use for rational decision making, is not even fully developed until around age 25. That’s why teens make crappy decisions at a higher frequency than adults.

I feel the surgeon took advantage of my insecurities and impulsiveness. I believe if he was operating under the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm, he would have at he least expressed his concern for a young girl who was obviously still struggling with mental illness. Instead he pointed out my “flaws” and “failure to develop,” promising he could make me look “perfectly” proportionate, and pressured me into scheduling surgery sooner than I wanted. With 13 years of hindsight I can see all of this clearly, but back then I trusted and believed everything he said.

Throughout my 20s my mental illness only got worse. I constantly dealt with mood swings, suicidal ideations, and extreme anxiety. I was at the same time dealing with daily migraines, chronic fatigue, joint pain, digestive problems, fibromyalgia, and strange neurological symptoms like difficulty swallowing and fainting. I exhibited disordered eating and body dysmorphia. I continued to abuse alcohol and opioid drugs.

Many times I voluntarily enrolled myself into counseling and psychiatric care, but I would never stick with the treatment, partly because I would feel it wasn't helping and partly because it can be very expensive.

During this time I tried over 20 different psychiatric medications. The medications never helped me. Some of them made me far worse. Some of them made me feel like a zombie.

Let me also mention that all throughout this time I went for my yearly PAP Smear and gynecological exam, I went to regular physicals, I went to see neurologists and other specialists, and I went to psychiatrists and counselors, and not one single time did anyone ever suggest to me that taking birth control could be making my mental health symptoms worse, nor did anyone ever mention to me the link between breast implants and mental illness, nor did anyone mention a possible link between my breast implants and any of my other symptoms.

Then, in 2014, when I was 27, I voluntarily committed myself into inpatient psychiatric care, and that is when I was given diagnoses of Bipolar and Borderline Personality Disorder. Up until that point I was only ever diagnosed with Depression and Anxiety disorders, but in all fairness, I did not do a good job communicating my struggles to the doctors until this point in time.

This time I knew without a doubt that if I didn’t make some serious changes I wasn’t going to live much longer. Life had become utterly exhausting and I just couldn’t go on feeling so sick physically and so strung out emotionally. I knew I had to make the effort to be completely open and honest if I was going to get the help I needed.

At that time I worked as an outpatient counselor (yes, even counselors have mental health problems), so I could set my own schedule and choose my client load. Over the previous year I knew I was becoming incapable of filling my role, so I began transitioning my clients to other therapists until I was barely seeing any clients at all.

Once I decided to commit myself I called my boss and was completely honest with what was going on. Luckily, the company I worked for was incredibly understanding and supportive being a mental health organization.

Because I had been gradually pairing down my clients for about a year or two I had no money to pay my bills or even to afford groceries. I was not performing even basic self-care. I was in the middle of ending a decade long abusive co-dependent relationship. I was binging on alcohol, not eating, chain smoking, engaging in impulsive behaviors, abusing opioids, experiencing psychosis, partaking in careless sexual encounters, and unable to sleep more than a few hours a night so it’s no surprise I was spiraling back into suicidal tendencies.

Somewhere in that whirlwind I hit my rock bottom, which is what made me decide to go to the ER and sign myself into the Psychiatric Unit. After I was discharged from inpatient, I made a commitment to outpatient counseling twice a week, then once a week, then once every two weeks titrating over the course of 2 years.

Also, at the request of a concerned friend, I tried staying on a cocktail of several medications for longer than I ever had in the past. I gave the medications a full year, but still felt they were poisoning my body and disrupting my system. This time I titrated off the medicines under the supervision of my psychiatrist.

When I started counseling my first goals focused on things like eating regularly and getting sleep. Over the next two years I started figuring out the things that truly do help me manage the symptoms of bipolar I experience. This is where I started learning that everyone is individual and what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another.

For example, some people really do flourish on medications, but I’ve always been someone who experiences a lot of side effects from medicines, and I truly believe natural remedies are best. So loading up on medications was never of any help to me.

Journaling and creative writing, on the other hand, are incredibly important to my mental health. I can tell when my mental health is wavering by whether or not I’ve been consistently journaling, and I can use writing to serve as a protective factor and coping skill to keep my symptoms from spiraling out of control.

I began curating knowledge like this about myself which made managing symptoms a little easier, and I was doing it without medications.

Then, in 2016 I became pregnant with my son and almost immediately my moods completely stabilized. The hormonal changes of pregnancy made me feel incredible. I was elated, and shocked. I was finally feeling a normal baseline of “content” with no wild swings into mania or depression. It was unbelievable to so suddenly experience total emotional stability after years and years of struggling to control my moods. I had never felt stable, at any point in my life.

That was the first clue that my symptoms were related to my hormone levels. When I brought it up to my psychiatrist she simply said it was “interesting” but offered no other feedback or advice, and she was even a psychiatrist who had a special interest in treating women of childbearing age.

Over the next few years as I learned more and more about BII and PCOS I began putting the pieces together for myself and discovering the things I needed to do get my health back on track. I quit smoking, quit drinking, and started exercising more regularly. I began decreasing my body’s toxic load by choosing safer, more natural alternatives to household and beauty products and by eating organic, unprocessed foods. The last big act of reclaiming my health came on February 18, 2019 when I had explant surgery to remove my breast implants.

Just recently I’ve had to face my first relapse of Bipolar symptoms in about a year. I could tell I was entering into mania, and I was actually a little excited about it thinking maybe I would now be able to maintain that energized mania without cycling into depression (irrational manic thought process - if you have Bipolar you can relate). Of course I couldn’t and within a matter of days I was entering into a deep funk. Now looking back, the signs of hypomania started about 2 months before and gradually increased into full blown mania. I have been working on several projects and healing from my explant surgery and just totally missed the initial signs several months ago.

However, now that I am living a much healthier lifestyle it’s SO much easier to get back on track. A huge factor for me in successfully controlling Bipolar has been quitting drinking (and opioid drugs). Drinking alcohol affects my mood swings SEVERELY, and even a few drinks will leave me emotionally unstable for days afterward. Opioid drugs always made me mellow, but the withdraw was always right around the corner and my moods would suffer.

I know now that simple things like journaling, using a day planner, scheduling self-care, consistently exercising, and spending time in nature are easy ways to keep myself afloat. I know keeping my blood sugar levels stable and avoiding certain foods is possibly the most important step I can take in controlling my mental and physical health.

These things, that are totally free and available to anyone, are the things that have saved my life. It’s almost as if the answer is too obvious - eat healthy, use food as medicine, move your body, TREAT YOURSELF WITH LOVE - that we overlook it or devalue it. Sometimes there is immense wisdom and beauty in simplicity, so if you’re struggling, give it a real shot, and I bet you won’t be disappointed.

That being said, just because something is simple doesn’t mean it’s easy. Making lasting changes is always going to be hard, but it will get easier as you build momentum and it will be worth it.

If anyone is reading this and currently struggling, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me. I am here for YOU. This experience has taught me that my struggle and the lessons I’ve learned from it can help others, and that is my mission. I refuse to let this struggle be for nothing. I will use it to break down stigmas and raise up my sisters and brothers.

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© 2019 by Lee Ann Coldsmith, Self Love and Soul Shine. 

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