Monthly Archives: January 2014

The Bipolar Friendship

Whether you’re two friends and one happens to have bipolar disorder and the other doesn’t, or if you’re in the ever-intense double bipolar friendship (which tend to be some of my favorites), maintaining a friendship that includes bipolar disorder can be a confusing but rewarding adventure.

I must admit, the most common thing the bipolar-less person asks me is what their bipolar friend’s actions ultimately mean. Apparently there are things the (cycling, I’m not entirely sure about the stable ones) bipolar friend does that the average human friend doesn’t do, and I’ve seen some trends (and, well, lived them). What it boils down to is that problems with bipolar friendships seem to come most often from something like misinterpretation of our actions.

I thought I would put together a list of ways to help the friendships of anyone who is friends with someone with bipolar disorder. This could be for non-bipolar folk, or bipolar diagnoses alike, as long as the second person in the friendship has bipolar disorder.

1. Making Plans 

The most common situation I know of is that two people have just met and they have really hit it off. Maybe they’ve hung out a few times and really enjoyed themselves. The trouble comes when bipolar disorder switches gears from a good or stable mood to a depressive mood.

So maybe one friend calls the BP friend, but they don’t want to hang out. Maybe they text them some other time, and they can’t, for whatever reason, hang out. This is about the time where a lot of people would shrug them off and maybe not call again, or continue making plans with other friends and stop inviting the BP friend.

Instead, I would recommend sticking with calling the BP friend to hang out and inviting them to social situations, and here’s why: there may be many times we don’t feel physically or mentally able to be around others, and these times can last from a matter of hours to a matter of months. It is something we have no control over, and you better believe we want to be able to be out with our friends.

The refusal to hang out is nothing personal, and it is important to a friend to see it that way.

2. The Disappearing Act

It is also common for a symptomatic bipolar person to fall off the face of the earth sometimes. One minute they’ll be in your life, and the next you wont be able to reach them by phone or email or whatever. This is another area where friends take it personally, but it is almost always because of bipolar symptoms flaring up. Your BP friend may be feeling very overwhelmed, or depression might make them feel like isolating themselves. BP friend might even be having a situation as serious as delusions or mania (and locked themselves indoors to clean the apartment for a week straight).

For a person with bipolar disorder who is still having symptoms, we can be extremely inconsistent. Many people love this wild and spontaneous aspect, but others take it personally when we are very open and friendly one minute and have disappeared the next. Many of us will come back around when we’re feeling better, and sometimes others need a little reminder that you’re still there wanting to be friends.

3. In Times of Trouble

I think many people make friends with bipolar folk because of their strong empathy and vivid personalities. It isn’t as widely realized that our upbeat attitudes can often come at the price of very low, depressed moments that follow.

It is 2 am. Your phone rings. It is your BP friend. They’ve clearly been crying and want to talk.

The risk of suicide for someone with bipolar disorder is unfortunately a very real danger. If we’ve gone out of our way to call someone, it is (in my experience) usually an emergency situation.

Staying calm and simply talking to your friend can do a lot to make them feel better.

One step further, if you’re pretty close with this person, having an emergency plan set up ahead of time with them in case this situation arises is a great idea (and is something I’ve done for a couple of my friends).

Really, being available to talk when your friend needs to talk is a huge part of the bipolar friendship.

4. Not Your Job

I would really hope that our good ol’ BP friend would be taking care of themselves. A lot of tension in relationships come from when they are not, and the friend feels the need to try to take care of them.

I realize that helping out a friend who is in trouble is one thing, but having a friend rely on you solely for their needs is no longer a healthy friendship. It is important to notice when your own needs aren’t being met because, like everyone else, your priority should be to take care of yourself first (after all, there isn’t anyone else who is going to).

5. Try to Be Forgiving

Though there are those in the bipolar community that will remove themselves from society when they feel volatile, there are others that find themselves in a situation where they can’t hold back. That’s right, our favorite word vomit. 

Wow, yes, it is truly terrifying to think of how many horrible, insulting things I’ve said to people over the years. Sometimes it just comes out, and even though I only mean it for the slightest of moments, it is already out there.

Let me just say, our minds play tricks on us. One minute we could feel things like love and adoration and respect, the next we feel like Tina Turner in Beyond Thunder Dome. I’ve even had situations (more often than you’d think) where I become delusional and accuse people of the wildest, weirdest things they’ve never done. (Now you know why I opt to just stay home from the party…)

Being able to see, say, the humor in these situations helps me a lot. Being understanding, knowing what my friends truly think about me helps me remember that the things they say (or I say) don’t always count. If you’re going to hold a grudge, maybe a bipolar friendship isn’t for you.

 

To finish things off, I thought I’d conclude with a list of reasons why people with bipolar disorder make kick-ass friends:

10. We are a resilient bunch, you can’t keep us down
9. We are often forgiving of others
8. On occasion we’re the life of the party
7. We know how to be risk-takers
6. Many of us are creative
5. We love to make up for periods of depression when we’re feeling better
4. We’ve all led very interesting lives
3. We are a very humorous folk
2. We can empathize with whatever you’re going through
1. You wont find a more passionate group of people out there!

SSDI Prep – Things I Can No Longer Do

If you haven’t figured it out by now, the fact that my SSDI hearing is coming up quickly means that the main topic on my mind is… the social security hearing!

Today I’ll be playing off my last social security update where I mentioned a list of things I need to get together before the hearing. The list is as follows:

1. Keep a diary
2. Make a list of things you used to do but can no longer do
3. Make a list of medications
4. Write out a description of your job duties of your former jobs
5. Meet with your lawyer

So I’m already on that diary bit, as I mentioned before. It has been getting easier to bare my soul in my notebook, and I am trying to be as candid as possible to be as transparent as I can about my symptoms and how they effect my life.

Next up on the list is to make a list of things I used to do but can no longer do.

I imagine that for someone with a physical disability, this would be rather straightforward. What about for me?

The biggest trouble I have with this task is that most of the time it seems like our government considers a disability to be something that suddenly happens to someone in one fell swoop. One suddenly becomes disabled under this system, and when considering mental health, things often aren’t that simple.

I’ve had symptoms of bipolar disorder for over ten years. The moment at which I am choosing to consider my “date of disability” is the last time I was hospitalized and my employer fired me. Though I’ve worked somewhat since then, I have not been able to reach a level of employment I was at previously and couldn’t stay employed at any one job for longer than two months.

So… even though my bipolar (and anxiety) symptoms have reached a point where I can no longer keep working at a full time pace, I’ve had evidence of symptoms for years prior to that.

It is all kind of a gray area.

Despite not knowing the exact moment I began having ridiculous paranoia about imaginary things my friends are doing, this is obviously still an issue… so I tried to think of specific incidences that have happened over the course of the last year or two that I could build my list with. Here is a taste of what I came up with, things I could do before that I can’t seem to do now:

  • Go out after dark (with friends, support groups, on dates, or walking the dog) without experiencing paranoia
  • Ride in a quiet car or bus without having a panic attack
  • Listen to music (including in waiting rooms, grocery stores) or attend a show without experiencing severe mood swings
  • Sit comfortably in a group (friends, co-workers, weaving guild events) without feeling anxious or paranoid
  • Commit to plans (with friends, family, or appointments) and follow through
  • Feel motivated and focused when doing creative projects (weaving, drawing, painting, writing etc.)
  • Work or socialize past 8pm (partially a side effect of the medication and partially sleep issues)
  • Feel motivated to leave my apartment
  • Go without accusing my friends or boyfriend of doing things they didn’t do
  • Be able to rely on myself to use tools for projects including knives, razor blades, power tools, scissors, etc. without fear of impulsive self-harm or suicide attempts
  • Be able to follow through with calling friends to make plans

There’s a brief smattering. I still have a bit of time, so I am kind of just adding to the list as I go.

The problems I have with work are largely social, combined with my inability to work consistently at any given time. This list, however, is more about the way my life has been impacted outside of being unable to work, how my daily routine might be effected by bipolar disorder and anxiety.

I’m just hoping this will seem as signifiant to my lawyer and judge as it does to me.

Replacing Guilt With Gratitude

It seems like most often in the throes of turmoil I feel an overwhelming sense of guilt for putting the people around me through whatever abject misery I’m subjecting them to. You know, things like making them uncomfortable as I cry constantly, or irritating them as I whine about how much my muscles hurt from depression and anxiety. Maybe even such fun as accusing them of doing or thinking things they didn’t do… or, everyone’s favorite, breaking their things in a fit of rage.

The guilt that comes with being “unmanageable” is overwhelming at times. Sometimes my ego swells into that place of, “you really deserve to be around somebody sane,” -in other words, you deserve better than me. This is apparently just me wallowing in my own depression and whatnot, and when I recognize these moments I find myself uttering a long, sloppy, “I’m sorrys”.

Now it is one thing to be sorry about messing someone’s shit up, and it is another to find yourself saying nothing but “I’m sorry” for hours at a time.

What I wonder is if my string of “sorrys” really makes any difference to the receiver. I mean, one sorry is nice to hear. Maybe even two, but then it is time to move on to other conversation. I’ve sensed that my broken record of “sorrys” is inevitably doing more harm than good, after all, is my obsessive behavior undoing the very peace I’ve meant to convey?

Lately I’ve changed tactics. One moment a week or two ago I realized that as much as I was saying I was sorry, what I really meant to say was thank you. 

Thank you for being supportive of me.

Thank you for putting up with my endless emotional black hole.

Thank you for listening to the things I have to say that may not actually make any sense to you.

The result was instantaneous. With my first sobbing, “thank you” to my boyfriend (replacing the long string of “I’m sorrys”) something happened that I didn’t expect.

I didn’t have anything to say next.

Somehow the “thank you” acted as a period on the end of my emotional run-on-sentence, leaving Corey feeling good about helping me and me ultimately feeling less sorry about how I was acting.

I realized that after all this time there was only so much apologizing I could do about being who I am and at this point I’ve used it up. My boyfriend knows who I am. My friends know who I am. My family knows I am struggling and that it isn’t my fault. There is no apology they haven’t heard, or that will change the way I feel. I’ve tried apologizing to feel better and it doesn’t work. 

I’m not saying being grateful is a cure-all, I still cry a lot. I still have fits of anger and excitement. The difference is that I’m not letting my guilt about feeling this way control my actions and my relationships. I want the people around me to know how much I appreciate their love and support, so why not focus on that instead? I bet you’ll find it does a lot to change a situation for the better.

The Depression/Mixed Episode Flux

It seems like this time of year it is pretty common for me to be bouncing between significant depression and chunks of mixed episodes. Even so, there is a chance it is the Latuda causing this agitation, so I can’t say for certain what is causing it.

My boyfriend, Corey, seems to have unlocked the key to noticing when I am having a particularly bad mixed episode. Basically, any time I slam doors, or scream in the kitchen, or can’t sit still, or refuse a comforting hug he’s been suggesting we go outside for a walk.

Taking a walk seems to be the only thing that can somewhat counteract my mixed episodes. It feels like taking a cork out of a bottle that has been rapidly building pressure. Something about nature makes me feel less like throwing the pots and pans and breaking spatulas.

So far paranoia hasn’t been the issue, the issue is something more akin to pure rage. It is almost like being turned into the incredible hulk because all I want to do is smash things and fight.

When I was younger I used to just smash things and fight. It felt quite nice, actually. I can’t help but feel like holding it in seems just like holding my breath, because ultimately when I run out of air, I just explode.

The thing I’ve been keeping my eye on is that potential explosion. The last significant time that happened I blacked out and don’t remember any of it, talk about terrifying. Like I said though, there seems to be less psychosis this round, so things might turn out fine.

Yesterday the agitation didn’t happen at all anyway. Pure depression, instead, where things are down and for a moment they feel even more down. 

Next week I’m seeing my psychiatrist so I don’t feel particularly nervous. In fact, I’ve had a few blips of mixed states that erased my anxiety altogether (as mania normally does for me) which is almost a welcome situation, as uncomfortable as it can be!

SSDI Prep – Keeping a Journal

My hearing is in just over a month.

I rung in the new year with an intense sense of urgency and anxiety.

My lawyer sent me a brochure that listed some helpful things I can do to prepare for the hearing. The things listed include:

1. Keep a diary
2. Make a list of things you used to do but can no longer do
3. Make a list of medications
4. Write out a description of your job duties of your former jobs
5. Meet with your lawyer

I decided to start number one (keep a diary) when the new year began.

I keep general diaries, and I also have a small book I log my mood charting information in every few hours. This, however, would not be enough. The journal they’re requesting wants times I wake up and go to bed, what I do around the house, and generally things that are bothering me. 

I consider myself a fairly adept writer, so no big deal, right?

Ugh.

Now, normally I don’t write out my thoughts much anymore, aside from writing NT (for “negative thoughts”) or RT (for “racing thoughts”). I try not to get bogged down in the content, because even trying to explain the things going through my head to my boyfriend is extremely distressing because I know they don’t make any sense.

When I was psychotic the other day I was having an emotional tug of war because I could hear this loud, impending sound in my ears and even though I kept referring to it to Corey, I also was somewhat aware that he had no damn clue what I was talking about and the situation didn’t make sense.

This situation left me feeling extremely embarrassed.

Then, on to journal day number one. Mixed episode. My mind was throwing images of violence and self harm at me. I sat down and tried to write out what happened in the five minutes previous but found myself hitting a brick wall.

How do you explain something that doesn’t make sense? If what I’m feeling has me wanting to harm small, defenseless creatures, how do I convey that in actuality I’m an animal lover? These tangled up, most twisted parts of me are not things I share with everyone equally, and I’ve only started sharing them in the last couple years. How can I show the most ill parts of me knowing I would be both embarrassed but also knowing this is all information that would potentially help my case?

The lack of money I talked about in the last post is really not the stressful part of this. The difficulty comes in being shown, over and over again, that there is something keeping me from doing what I want to do, and that player manipulates my life in many ways.

How do I take off the mask? I’ve been living openly with bipolar disorder for the last couple years but that doesn’t mean there are things I allow many other people to see. I mean, writing about something like homicidally is one thing, but actually standing in the kitchen, talking to my boyfriend about it as it is happening is frightening at best.

People with bipolar disorder often spend a long time learning to mask their symptoms, make themselves look “normal” or act the way most other people do. It is really one of those things that when you try to peel those layers back, it comes with some resistance. Something about it doesn’t seem right. It feels terrifying, even if you know it is the only way you can truly receive help.

I’ve got five more weeks of diary writing, I’m just hoping it doesn’t feel as horrible as it has the first couple days. In any case, I expect to have a spiral-bound piece of my actual life, as I know it, to show for it. If this will help me win the case, so be it.

SSDI Prep – A Doctor’s Testimony

I got a call from my SSDI lawyer this week. Basically he wants to add the testimonies of at least one doctor to my case files, preferably the psychiatrist I’m currently seeing, if not another as well.

The trouble with this is that 99% of doctors will not do this for free. And when I say not for free, I mean it costs several hundreds of dollars for each doctor.

My lawyer assumed (correctly) that I have virtually nothing in terms of money but told me my chance of being awarded a favorable verdict will require more proof from a doctor. 

Obviously, I believe him, and though I often scrape by doing whatever it takes to survive, this is a situation where I need to do whatever I can to win. At this point I’ve put over a year of my life into this process, and it is important for me to feel like I’ve done everything I could do to increase my chances of coming through it on top.

(Ok, so I’ve been watching too much survivor, and clearly that doesn’t mean things like lying or cheating or stealing, just the general sort of MacGyvering I do to figure out how to solve the (there isn’t enough) money problem.)

As of right now, I am waiting to hear back from the attorney about how much it would cost for my doctor to do the review I need, and then I will figure out from there weather I can make that work or need to find another solution.

Ultimately the answer will probably be another form of deprecation. Giving up my phone to save what I need to, or not eating out for the next six months, or whatever. Realistically, this is the sort of thing that comes standard with my life, and it isn’t something I’m complaining about, just stating. Of course, if I can figure out a way to have my cake and eat it too, I will.

I think the point of all of this is really to convey how much our current social security disability system requires one to give up before offering them a chance to be taken care of. I mean, I would gladly give the doctor everything I have if it guaranteed me a social security award, but that isn’t the case. When applying for social security means living for over a year without any income and relying on the people around you to take care of you simply for a chance to make your case to the government, I must say it is a very hard road to go down.

I realize that people say that if it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it… but is this system causing the people with the most need extra unnecessary hardship?

In any case, I knew this was what I would be getting into when I started this process a year ago, and that is why I waited for so long to give it a go. I wanted to be sure that this was the right road to be going down, and despite the hardships I am still sure. Still pressing forward, figuring it out as I go.

A Hospitalization Free New Year

After reflecting on the events of 2013 I came to a rather important conclusion:

Any year that does not involve a psychiatric hospitalization is a good year.

Thanks to not working, I managed to scrape through this year without any hospitalizations or emergency room visits. I credit this to taking it easy (and not working), my extremely patient boyfriend, my own persistence, and a bit of luck.

This may not have been the most memorable of years, or the most fulfilling, and it definitely wasn’t the most productive, but living with bipolar disorder I expect thing to go up and down (and they do). What this has left me with is the total appreciation when things aren’t entirely shitty… which may sound like I’m setting the bar low, but I know my sheer gratitude for not being so sick I had to rely on a company of strangers to take care of me leaves me more grateful than many people who take their health for granted every day.

So, dear readers, though I wish you stability this new year, I wish you fulfilling livelihoods, and to be around people that love you, what I hope most is that with a good support system, some personal persistence, and a bit of luck, we can all have a hospitalization-free 2014.

Cheers!