Monthly Archives: December 2012

Behind & Ahead

I don’t know about you, but for me 2012 went by ridiculously fast.

I woke up this morning realizing I had no clue of what I have accomplished this year, or even what I set out to do, so my mind began something of a mad scramble to look behind me.

I’m terrible at looking behind. My memory has become increasingly patchy, and it seems like every time I try it it takes longer and longer for the past to come into focus. Maybe I need a pair of prescription glasses to help correct my hindsight? I can say with some certainty mine doesn’t come in 20/20.

It doesn’t help that mixed states, mania, and even depression seem to work against my ability to look back. Timelines are full of holes, and ripe with delusional inaccuracies. If I let it (and didn’t probe the past) it would almost be as if it didn’t exist at all. So… I can’t say I have any miraculous lessons I can attribute to this reflection, just the comforting notion that I feel more at ease with myself now than I’m sure I did a year ago. That is something I am happy with, and I don’t think I even need to ask for much more.

Looking ahead is much easier. I have plenty of goals and dreams and things to accomplish, but probably the biggest news I can give you is that I am applying for SSDI (social security disability insurance).

This is something that has been on my radar since my last hospitalization (April 2011) but I haven’t felt like I was able to take on the enormous task of applying until after things finally ended with my last employer (due to the episode with delusions and paranoia at work).

To be honest, I haven’t been able to keep a job since that hospitalization, (which isn’t to say I was the most consistent employee before that) but my symptoms and my ability to withstand stress have both gotten considerably worse.

I am sincerely hoping that waiting to apply until now will mean having enough medical evidence, (I’ve been seeing the same psychiatrist for almost two years now, which is kind of a miracle for me) and that I will be more inclined to fight the long fight, since I’ve had the time to decide that this is what I need (and want) to do.

As I said, I have a lot of dreams and goals and aspirations, which isn’t something that is changing. Applying for SSDI will at least give me a chance to survive while I figure out if there is something more that could be done with medications, or by other means, and how to twist those goals into something tangible. For these reasons I am looking ahead to 2013 a little terrified, but ultimately ready to do what I need to do.

Normal vs. Normal

For the last week I’ve been wearing a doctor-ordered heart monitor, 24/7. Last week I casually called my doctor asking if there was any way to have my heart checked out, because I was nervous the Geodon has been having ill effects on my heart (which, heck, I don’t know, but I’ve been having some odd symptoms). They rushed me into the doctor’s office that day, and after an EKG they concluded that, at the very least, I have an arrhythmia.

Basically, that means I have an irregular heartbeat. This could be nothing at all (as many people have irregular heartbeats that don’t cause problems) but they set me up with the monitor to make sure there aren’t any larger problems at work.

This week I’ve found myself thinking back to my childhood, and even more recently, when I’ve thought to myself, “wow, it doesn’t sound like my heart is beating normally.” It sort of speeds up and slows down and pauses every once in a while, but since this is what I was used to… it seemed normal. 

After 27 years, this same activity has been deemed irregular. Abnormal, compared to most other hearts.

It makes me laugh, a little bit, about how often this sort of thing happens. Not about hearts, necessarily, but with life. Mental illness is another example of how, though I was used to the symptoms (they are my normal), I’ve been told that they are abnormal when compared to the general population.

Lots of little things raced through my mind, like growing up thinking one thing (that seemed normal) only to realize later that it was abnormal. Trying hard to avoid seeming normal through high school and college (coupling me with a group of people that had the same goal, making our actions ironically normal to us).

What is the fascination we all have with what is normal? It is a word that has its own stigma associated with it, is normal good? Is normal bad? What defines what is normal? Is it something you can quantify, or is it simply our own perception?

The thing that I don’t like about the word normal is that its being requires its opposite; abnormal. The connotation that comes with abnormal is a negative one. Nobody wants an abnormal test result at the doctor’s office, and who could forget the “abby-normal” brain Dr. Frankenstein puts in his monster in Young Frankenstein? 

So, if something isn’t normal, it is abnormal… leaving “normal” to be the option of choice.

With mental illness, it is easy to feel abnormal. What feels normal to someone with bipolar disorder might seem extremely abnormal to someone who doesn’t have the illness, and it is common to hear that our thoughts or behaviors are abnormal (when compared to the general population).

I have a few final thoughts on this matter…

First, lets consider replacing “normal” with the word average. An average can be measured with mathematics, it isn’t something that is based on our perception of ourselves and those around us. “Average” also doesn’t have a negative word associated with its antonym, so there is no particular pull  or shame involved with being average or not-average. Personally, just thinking back on my life, I can feel an extreme desire in my youth wanting to be “normal” (the same way kids want to be well-liked by peers), but if you replace “normal” with the word “average”, I have never felt inclined to be average (beyond wanting to stay within the realistic realm of human behavior, and not be so not-average I become a menace)!. The switch in words makes me feel more confident in myself, instead of making me feel ashamed.

Second, lets take a second to consider how the perception of what is “normal” is formed. When we are used to something, a set of symptoms, for example, if they are all we’ve ever known, we don’t have anything else to compare them to. How could we have another perspective, or even know that symptoms or actions aren’t average?

At the same time, there is the perception of “normal” that is formed in the community, basically social norms and standards set by the actions of the people within it. People’s personal versions of what is normal can be wildly different, and not fit into the community’s expectations of “normal” at all… and people can live their entire lives without realizing they are acting in a way that is considered socially unacceptable (because it is the only way they know how to act).

Personally, I believe that we are capable of creating our own personal “normal”. By going to therapy (to get another perspective of my normal) and having expectations for myself beyond what what been my normal in the past, I’m changing the way I manage my symptoms, and interact with others. Though I may be pretty far outside the realm of social normalcy (having pretty active bipolar disorder), I’ve found ways to connect with others and make that social normalcy more accessible.

And finally, if you don’t like not fitting in with the social norms around you, why not change the people around you? If you have recently been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, lets say, and you have been told you are now abnormal compared to your friends and family, you can switch things up by comparing yourself to the population of people with bipolar disorder. In other words, head to a support group. Surround yourself with people who share the same “normal” as you! Putting yourself where you are considered average, and the change in perspective can really help in the acceptance process!

Normalcy is a funny concept. I can’t say that I fully understand it, and what it means to the vast majority of people in our society. But, with bipolar disorder, I am in a constant state of change… which means I often feel free to change the things around me that others wouldn’t generally consider. My sense of normalcy, how I view myself, and how others view me are all things I have spent many years contemplating and trying to understand, but every day I still learn something new.

Maybe my normal and your normal are cousins. Maybe they’re familiar, or maybe they’re total opposites. The point, I think, is that they’re always changing too…

Families Failed by Mental Health System

I’ve looked at several articles lately that attempt to articulate the current mental healthcare situation, but I recently found one over at Time by Maia Szalavitz called America’s Failing Mental Health System: Families Struggle to Find Quality Care that really took it to a new place for me.

It is a little dry, but I think this article is able to grasp the gravity of what many of us have been saying for years; it sucks trying to get mental health care in America.

In light of the string of current violent events, mental healthcare is something that is finally getting some attention in our country… I’m hopeful that with enough people voicing their concern, things could actually change for the better.

Happy Holidays!

I just wanted to take a minute to wish you all Happy Holidays!

I’m very thankful for those of you who read this blog, as well as your comments and emails and phone calls!

For anyone who might just need someone to talk to, you can always shoot me an email at host@thebipolarcuriousblog.com. 

Thanks again for reading!

Still relevant, and at this time of year more than any. A few tips on staying sane(ish) this holiday season!

bi[polar] curious

A week before Thanksgiving my therapist told me that every single client that week had walked through the door with one complaint: The Holidays.

For those of us with round the clock anxiety, the holidays are the time of year when that anxiety gets taken up a notch. The knob gets turned to the proverbial “11” if you will, and the reason behind it can usually be pinpointed straight away: family.

Families cause even the most sane people stress during the holidays, and as decades of films have shown us, there is no such thing as a “normal family”. I’m sure everyone knows by now that the idea of a “normal family” is a bit of a joke, but I think that the real message here is that there is no such thing as a stress-free family.

The thing I have heard repeated as the number one tool…

View original post 813 more words

Up, Up, and Away

A week ago I increased from the 40 mg of Geodon I was on to 60 mg of Geodon.

The increase has been pretty similar to when I first began taking it (only the side effects -headaches, nausea, stomach pain-  lasted for only three or four days), which means a big jump in mood. Elevation, my dear Watson.

December Graph

This graph is for the month of December, and I increased at the dot that is between the 8th and the 10th.

The last time around I felt wonderful for about a week before crashing into depression, and then bobbing back back and forth until I leveled out. I am definitely curious to see how things go this time, and I am really hoping I can maintain some of the good, albeit slightly hypomanic, traits (motivation, less anxiety, alertness) in a more permanent fashion.

Lately, though, I’ve been hanging out in something of a pre-mania, which is almost mimicking what happens to me before depression. I have periods of fleeting manic symptoms that come and go, increasing in severity as time passes. When this happens with depression (with depressive symptoms, obviously) it usually bottoms out into a longer episode… so I am interested in seeing if I’ll top out into mania. I did, to some degree, when I started the Geodon.

The most prevalent symptoms I have been having are intense hyperfocus, mind multi-tasking, and an overwhelming amount of motivation. Mostly mental sorts of symptoms (as opposed to earlier with Geodon, which was primarily physical symptoms of mania like being unable to sit still, compulsively doing things so I was never at rest, and feeling an overwhelming amount of energy), with a few brief physical symptoms as time has gone on.

The mental symptoms are generally nice things to have, being able to intensely focus, for example, is great for getting things done… except it also means I periodically (pre-mania) focus through all of the things I should be doing. Eating, tasks with higher priorities, sleeping… it is easy to shrug them off (or, well, it just sort of happens, I don’t mean to) for whatever I’m focusing on.

The mind multi-tasking can be nice at times too, it is a lot like going to the library and taking out 15 different books and laying them out on a big table so I can read all 15 at once, and draw conclusions from all of them at the same time. The problem with this one is that there is this grouchy librarian who keeps walking around telling me to put the books away, and I can’t seem to remember how to do that. They just sort of keep piling up.

And then, when this symptom phases out for a bit before returning, it is like I’ve suddenly realized I can’t read 15 books at once (what was I thinking?) and I get totally overwhelmed with the amount of information hanging out on that table in my head.

The motivation I enjoyed at first as well. It is nice to feel compelled to do things, especially after being unmotivated for so long. Unfortunately, this has gone beyond a motivation to simply do the dishes, or go Christmas shopping, it has transformed into a motivation to do all things equally. I feel equally as motivated to cut snowflakes out of paper as I do to make sure my dog is fed. Prioritizing has gone out the window, and it seems like whatever feels like the most compelling task at hand is the one that ultimately gets my attention.

If anything, the phasing in and out is the biggest bitch of all. I feel like I’d be way more likely to be able to adjust to all of this if it was happening in one straight shot, but since the symptoms keep coming on strong and then receding before coming on strong again, it is like being at the beach being pelted by waves that keep activating my brain, but after the waves crest there is this sort of desperate, exhausted, overwhelmed feeling (unpleasant, to say the least) when I’m between waves.

I find the timing on these waves to be incredibly confusing. I changed the times I was taking my medication  when I began taking Geodon to avoid the 2-4 pm energy drain from hell I was having (rendering me unconscious during that window of time) which worked until I increased the dosage. Now I’m getting the energy drain again between 2-4, how did it catch back up with me?

In any case, this has been an interesting ride, and a state that I don’t think I’ve talked much about before so it seemed to warrant a few notes. This is the first instance I’ve really been able to see symptoms of mania coming on like symptoms of depression have for me (at least, this is the first time I’ve noticed it) and this is the first time I’ve also been able to actively identify when my symptoms were moving from nice, friendly hypomanic ones to those more akin to mania.

Mania is always something I am interested in, but I have a hard time really focusing on it because I am usually so intensely focused on other things when it happens. The threshold between hypomania and mania is of particular interest to me, so I guess for that reason (at the very least) I can thank the Geodon for letting me take a long hard look at something elusive.

Our Reaction to Tragedy

Last week when I was writing my blog post on Friday I had my television on mute. I can’t write when there is a lot of noise, so I often mute the TV for several minutes at a time to get a thought across.

That muting meant that I was blissfully unaware of the troubling news that was being relayed through that TV, the news of the Connecticut shooting.

Honestly, I don’t want to talk about this. I really don’t. In the time following the muting, I really think I’ve heard enough, and have gone out of my way to avoid hearing more than I really need to. I find the whole thing just too upsetting to be able to listen to the news like a broken record, and as much as I didn’t want to say anything about it here, I determined that to ignore the situation would probably be more harmful than to just say what is on my mind.

So here we go.

As appalling as the shooting (and so many other shootings lately) was, the brunt of my frustration and anger isn’t coming from the act itself. I’m not saying it wasn’t tragic (it was), or that it couldn’t have been prevented (it could have), but I am overwhelmed in times of tragedy with the feeling that dwelling on what could have been will only make the reality of the situation harder. I realize that that dwelling is something that comes easily to us as human beings, and a lot of the time it can’t be helped, I just choose not to view things that way if I can help it.

To me it is more important to take on the weight of the situation and say, “this happened. It was horrible, and there was nothing we could do about it. Now what?

I am no stranger to the sensationalism the media adds to many of their stories, but I found that I was much more disturbed by the media’s reaction to this situation than by the situation itself. News reporters were running wild with long-winded statements like this one I heard on NBC;

There is NO WAY anyone could UNDERSTAND WHY someone would do something like this!

Ok, now I can see how you might say that the act of violence didn’t make sense, or that it was senseless, but statements like the one above seriously make me furious.

I realize that my view isn’t the norm, but I am someone who has experienced feelings of homicidally through mental illness. This isn’t common (for me or the general population), but it isn’t exactly rare either. I work very hard to make sure nothing comes of these feelings, and I have a number of systems in place to make sure things do not escalate to the point of violence.

If there is anything in my life that is hard to admit, that is a big one. I know the notion frightens people, and you can believe it frightens me much more than it has frightened anyone else. It isn’t something I am proud of, but it is something that I live with.

For that reason, I find it very easy to have feelings of understanding toward acts of violence like this one. I know what it feels like, and how convincing it can seem, and how easily one could get swept up in it.

It is very important for me to say that there ARE people who understand, and that as hopeless as things may seem, there ARE things that you can do. 

Unfortunately, statements (like the one I mentioned from NBC) do nothing more than perpetuate the stigma around mental illness. If someone was feeling isolated and violent and hopeless, can you believe they would feel any sense of relief or hope from a statement like that one? I wouldn’t. I would retract into isolation and fear even further, it would make things feel worse. 

When this is how the media reacts to acts of violence on television, it is hard for me to understand why people are so surprised that these acts keep happening.

To my surprise I saw a bit on CNN (at the gym) where a pastor came to give his thoughts on what happened. I can’t say that I am a religious person, nor am I spiritual at all, but as soon as he spoke I found myself wanting to high-five this guy. He said;

I think we all just need to work on being more open and honest with one another.

I very nearly shouted, “thank you!” at the television before walking away.

There are a lot of issues being discussed about “solutions” to the violence our country has seen, and it seems to me that each person has their own idea, the own cause, of what will make things change for the better.

I don’t think there is any one solution. Just like treating mental illness, there is no one remedy… there are a series of things that help, and when all put together they can make a big difference. Unfortunately, I think many people are used to the idea of a single solution for their problems, and this has left little improvement lately.

What I do know is that mental healthcare needs to be more accessible and affordable to the people who need it.

Another statement on tv that left me appalled was;

Right now it is easier to get a gun than it is to get treatment for mental illness.

I don’t care to get caught up in the “mental healthcare vs. gun control” debate, but when I considered this, as someone who has a mental illness and sought treatment, I found myself disturbed by the notion that I might agree.

It isn’t that mental healthcare isn’t out there now (it is) but there are a lot of hoops one has to jump through, and it is difficult to find. People just don’t feel comfortable asking where to find it.

As much as I didn’t want to say anything about the shooting, I felt compelled to be as open and honest about this as I could be (especially since I didn’t want to). It is important to me to say what others aren’t saying, to speak when others are afraid to speak, and to let people know that there is hope and understanding and things you can do before the feelings of violence take over.

I don’t think that the violent feelings I have sometimes make me a bad person, they are outside of my control, all I can do is seek help when I need it to avoid dangerous situations for the people I care about, and those in my community.

There are people who do understand, and I hope that by coming forward and talking about this, I can support others who are too afraid to speak.

There is hope out there, don’t give up! And if you need something, it is ok to ask.