Tag Archives: insomnia

When Six Hours Feels Like A Triumph

Last night was the first night in three weeks where I slept for an entire chunk of six hours straight. I’m taking this a s a sign that I am finally moving out of the danger zone (hooray!).

The mixed episode I initially experienced (something I plan to talk a little more in-depth about later this week if I can get things going) gave way to serious depression… at which point my boyfriend and I had to move everything we own to a new apartment. The move was the reason I was trying so hard to stay out of the hospital in the first place, so I generally opted to confine myself to the apartment instead. Thanks to some exceptionally wonderful people in my life we had a lot of help with the move which was a definite plus since I had become little more than a mindless walking husk at that point; beyond exhausted but unable to get any rest.

If anything, the lack of sleep has been a big indicator of how bad things had really gotten because not only am I a big time sleep fiend (I can typically sleep 12-14 hours easy not depressed), but also because my psychiatrist has been ramping up my quetiapine dose (a move notorious for groggy oversleeping) and I somehow began sleeping less and less.

I am still a little out of sorts (I just ate some eggs out of a pie pan for lack of being able to find a plate in any of the boxes in the new place) but after getting a taste of sleep (and a peek at the big blue sky out my window) I felt decidedly less wretched upon waking this morning than any of the last 20+ recent days. Though I expect things to fluctuate throughout the day (it generally does for me) having even one moment of relief is enough of a kick in the pants to keep me going.

Thanks for all the kind comments and messages I received while out of commission! Though I haven’t been able to reply to any of them individually I just want you to know that your words have meant a lot to me during a very distressing time. Receiving supportive words from people while experiencing paranoia and delusions was one of the things that really helped me discredit a lot of the negative things my mind seemed to be generating, so thank you, thank you, thank you again!

Taking a Vacation from Mental Illness

As someone who lives openly with bipolar disorder, I take pride in being able to share my experiences as well as educate others about mental illness. Unfortunately, being unemployed (and this blog being the primary source of my attention lately) I had been starting to feel very two-dimensional.

After all, it seemed like all I ever did was talk about mental health, write about mental health, and think about mental health. I admit, I started to wonder if I was even capable of carrying on a normal conversation (particularly with strangers or people around my age) without talking about this (now, several years in, slightly tired) topic.

A week ago I was lucky enough to find myself beginning a journey to go on vacation to Florida. Being sick and tired of my normal, anxiety-driven controlling behavior I decided that for this vacation I would do something different. I would relinquish control of all the activities involved to others and simply be “along for the ride”.

For someone like me that is difficult, at best. Still, I was determined to spend this vacation worrying as little as possible, something that became tricky when I hit a bit of a road block.

I was in Florida at a friend’s house attending a barbeque. I had also been awake for 36 hours because of the way my flights had worked (and my inability to sleep on an airplane due to general discomfort and terror) and there was that moment that I always dread, the one where I meet someone new and they are about to ask me what I do for a living. I had just finished answering the lead in, “where are you from?” question when the woman I was talking to said, “oh, that’s nice,” and walked away.

This was like a get-out-of-jail-free-card. She didn’t care what I did (or didn’t) do. I went to bed with a smile on my face, not just because I hadn’t slept in thirty-something hours, but because nobody had cornered me into telling them my life story.

It felt so good being able to focus on other people’s lives and stories that I felt relieved when, three days later, the issue of my mental health still hadn’t come up. I was lucky that no big melt-downs had occurred on my end (thus not requiring me to explain myself) and though I was concerned for a minute that I was hiding in some way, the truth was that the big draw was not constantly feeling the need to explain (or defend) myself.

In addition to how much time I spend thinking about myself and mental health in general, it can be hard in my daily life to see people tip-toeing around my needs, or taking time out of their lives to take care of me. As much connecting as I have done with the mental health community, I have kind of drifted away from everyone else… leaving me feeling estranged from what it means to be simply human, no more, no less.

In the last several years I have a hard time thinking of any milestones where my own mental health wasn’t an issue, so being able to take a vacation from the constant worry and explanations that surround my own mental illness was an extremely significant experience for me. Basically, going to Florida was, for me, like being able to step out of my own head and focus on the world around me again. I really must say, it was magnificent. 

The Hypomanic Ascent

My episodes are not always straightforward. Instead of looking like a game of tetris (lovely solid interlocking chunks), my mood charting the last two weeks looks more like the work of a seismograph.

One day of depression. One day of mixed symptoms. One day with a depressed swing and a hypomanic swing. Two days of hypomania. One day with a depressed swing. One day with two depressed swings. One day with a hypomanic swing and a depressed swing.

And so on.

Around the first day of spring, I knew things were beginning to change for my mood because I was experiencing increased insomnia. That, and Corey (my boyfriend) was heading out of town, and I wasn’t pulling my usual hysterical, “I’m going to die without you,” bag of tricks.

Actually, for the first time in the six years we’ve been dating (and countless projects he’s gone across the country to work on) I felt fine about his absence. Confident. Relaxed. Awake. Giggly. Awake.

It wasn’t until I was dancing around the grocery store with a cart full of tater tots, laughing wildly and scaring the other customers that I realized it had come.

Hypomania!

I was elated (well, literally) about finding myself feeling so good. Despite almost wanting to talk in whispers (as not to scare it off) I shouted loud, animated, boisterous jokes.

Despite being as careful as I could about my sleep schedule (and taking Ambien without it doing anything except causing me to black out and wake up with paragraphs of nonsensical, albeit passionate writing on my phone) the hypomania stuck around for a few days.

Going, in a matter of days, from a deep place of loathing toward everything to suddenly loving everything can be a very interesting experience. After all, depression has this obnoxious ability to make it seem as if it will last forever. It seems like every couple years I reach a point where I begin to believe it, and this has been one of those years.

Having said that, it might be doubly frustrating to experience things in the opposite direction, as I did Monday. Going from feeling great, to crashing miserably in hysterics and despair, another instance of those mood tremors I was talking about.

At this point I am grateful for a change, even if it is an erratic one. Feeling great (even for a small fraction of the time) is preferable to feeling great none of the time. If my ascent out of deep depression into hypomania involves a lot of peaks and valleys I don’t feel like I can complain, because at least I feel like I’m moving forward again.

The Initial Aftermath

Yesterday was the SSDI hearing. Turns out I was dealt the most difficult judge, and despite my intense anxiety I went in feeling more confident than I expected to be going in (which is slightly laughable, considering I was on the verge of a panic attack at any given moment).

I couldn’t tell for certain, as the man was straight-faced and tight-lipped, but I’m about 98% certain he didn’t like what I had to say. I laid everything bare, even things I haven’t told my therapist at this point… all of these horrible questions making me say things I didn’t want to say (but needed to). I answered the questions as best as I could, and despite the anxiety felt a stillness of emotion for the hour I was engaged.

I’d be lying if I said it was anything less than traumatizing. The sense of relief I felt when I walked out the door (feeling as if I’d done and said everything I possibly could have) lasted about an hour. As soon as Corey and I got on the bus, it began. My mind started replaying every little detail, every moment that made me cringe. Every instant I have suddenly began second-guessing. All of this has made up some horrible loop in my mind, giving me only a 15-60 second window of being able to think about anything before my thoughts automatically cycle back to the hearing. The hearing. The hearing. The hearing.

“Alan Tudyk will be at comic con this year… what about when you said you’d only posted your blog once last week? It looks suspiciously like three posts. But I did technically only post once! One was a re-blog and the other two I wrote at once and scheduled to be posted on the same day. That’s one day’s work, it just looks like three!”

Gahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

I got in bed early last night and took an Ambien to silence this obsessive inner monologue. I felt sneaky, like maybe I had beaten it, when it started up again at 4 o’clock this morning.

I’ve been trying very hard to look at this hearing like I might look at a job interview. The way I feel about most jobs is that I am not particularly interested at first, I’ve even been wary about the amount of stress the job would put on me. Then, after thinking about it a little, I become interested. As time begins to pass, my enthusiasm begins to grow, and I move from being interested, to wanting the job, to passionately wanting the job, to feeling like I need the job and ultimately feeling like I can’t live without it.

In the last year, my mind has moved from a place where “it would be nice” to have SSDI benefits to, “there is no point in living if you don’t have them,” (which I understand is untrue, just the way my brain tends to exaggerate sometimes). Undoing this thought is difficult, and doesn’t really lend itself well to helping me not frantically obsess over this for eons.

The truth is that I’ve been obsessing over this for a year. I am ready, really ready, to obsess over something else. Wrestling with this situation has been extremely difficult, so please refrain from calling/texting me right now in an attempt to find out more detail about how things went. That’s why I’m writing this post.

Luck was not on my side. I will find out “for certain” in a few weeks, but I can say with some assurance I really don’t believe I won.

A Curious Switch

So things have been a little rough, and I’ve been losing track of time because Corey has been out of town.

I think I’ve finally nailed down the problem with this situation, and that is that I immediately feel very depressed and desperate within 24 hours of being alone. Something about him leaving (even though I know he is coming back) hurtles me into a place of depression.

What is even more confusing is that the last two days or so I’ve shot right up into hypomania, feeling pretty much the exact opposite of desperate and depressed. Confident, motivated, and energetic. Over the last few days I’ve walked something like 10 miles, a feat considering only days prior I was curled up in the fetal position rolling around in mental agony.

For me, hypomania is not the most common occurrence… at least not anymore. When I was in school is was the reigning mood state, now things only switch over if I am rather lucky.

I say “lucky” very loosely here, because as nice as it has been to be banging out projects very quickly and feeling inclined to exercise nonstop, I also can’t sleep -and no amount of ambien last night was going to convince me otherwise.

Out of all of this I find myself wondering, why now? 

I guess I am near the crest of the loop, could that be why? I also had that uncomfortable depression earlier this week, did I pull a switch? (Switching, for those that aren’t familiar, is going from one mood state into the opposite suddenly, without any time in-between.)

It is certainly true that hypomania is the last thing I expected while Corey is out of town, I wouldn’t be surprised if the reason for it lies somewhere outside my own understanding.

In any case, I will probably continue to text every person in my phone book, walk over the bridge to the next neighborhood over and back again, and continue spreading sewing projects across my living room floor until hypomania fades, leaving me wondering where all that energy and vitality has gone to.

Anxiety with a Vengeance

The last two weeks or so have been rather miraculous, my mood chart showing a flat line spanning days and days (and not along the bottom, so its a double miracle) but I haven’t been able to get much of anything done.

Why?

Anxiety is back with a vengeance.

It started out small, with feelings of dread and disgust creeping in at random times throughout the day. A feeling of foreboding, like something terrible was either about to happen, or was already beginning to happen, paired with a weakened gag reflex every time I thought about any of the recent choices I have made.

Next came the thoughts. Out of left field I was suddenly contending with things like, “what if I am just a lazy person and this is all in my head?” or “what if my medical bills use up my entire tax return and I have nothing to live off of?”

You see, good things have been happening. I was awarded 100% care coverage at one of the local hospitals (so I can afford to keep seeing my psychiatrist, hooray!) but that wasn’t before I racked up $700 worth of bills there in two weeks time. If anything is going to cause me to have crippling anxiety, money is one of the number one culprits. Or, let’s be clear, lack of money is one of the number one culprits.

The last month, the money thing didn’t really get to me at all. In fact, anxiety itself didn’t seem to get to me much at all, and I was hoping I had somehow out ran it, just a tad.

Next came trouble falling asleep. So many thoughts, so many worries have been swirling around that I can’t swat them away fast enough for sleep to take over.

Finally, in the last 48 hours, shortness of breath has come in as the cake-topper. I stand up… and have to catch my breath. I walk 5 feet… then have to catch my breath. I lay down… and, you guessed it, have to catch my breath.

It has always been odd to me how much anxiety feels like someone is sitting on my chest.

Anxiety often plays a pretty big role in my bipolar mood swings, contributing to the ups and downs as much as anything else, with symptoms popping in and out like any of my bipolar symptoms. I can’t help but wonder why it feels so much worse when the anxiety comes on its own (worse as in, the anxiety feels worse). Maybe it isn’t overshadowed by other, more serious symptoms? Maybe it is because I feel relatively fine otherwise, and this is keeping me from being as productive as possible?

In any case, I am hoping this increasing anxiety doesn’t trigger something else, or become so severe that depression decides to rear its ugly head and join in.

Bipolar Grey Areas

I’ve been thinking a lot about some of the more subjective areas of bipolar disorder, and wanted to share a little bit of what has been going on in my head. I’ve seen many examples of grey areas in bipolar disorder lately, namely things that don’t easily fit into one category or another.

These grey areas are part of the reason I think bipolar disorder is so hard for people to swallow. How easy is it for us to understand things that aren’t easily categorized? At the same time, is it necessary for these categorical distinctions to be made, or would we all just be better off with one expansive grey area that encompasses everything?

Alright. I know I’m being a little vague, but that is because it is hard to simplify this topic and say it is one thing or another, because the very point is that many of these subjects are neither one thing nor another. They land somewhere in the middle.

There are grey areas in the spectrum of emotion (ranging from depression to mania).

There are grey areas in the interpretation of our symptoms (when one symptom can be present for either depression or mania).

There can also be grey areas in our symptoms themselves (which I’ll explain in a moment).

So much of the diagnosis of “bipolar disorder” is dependent upon our interpretation, and our experiences, beliefs, and norms will influence how we interpret those grey areas.

The Spectrum

In bipolar disorder (type 1, we’ll say) the spectrum of emotion spans from depression to normalcy, and then up to mania. In the range between normalcy and an episode of either depression or mania, there is a grey area. What are you experiencing when your symptoms do not technically (and by technically I mean via the definition in the DSM IV) meet the criteria for an episode of depression, but you still have some symptoms of depression? What are you experiencing when your symptoms do not technically meet the criteria for an episode of mania, but you are still having symptoms of mania?

In this range, we are kind of left to our own devices, and our own definitions or interpretation of what we’re experiencing.

Personally, I consider any symptoms of depression minus suicidality to be “mild depression” and everything including suicidality to be “depression.”

This is a skewed perspective, though, isn’t it? From my own experience, I don’t usually consider my depression to be a problem unless it comes with feeling suicidal. I have experienced this many times, and because of my experience, that is where I choose to draw the line.

To you it could be different. Maybe you rank your depression as mild, moderate, and severe. Maybe you just use depression and “not depression”. The point being… it is subjective.

The same thing happens in the area before you reach mania. This grey area is particularly nasty because while some doctors will aknowledge “hypomania” (as many call this area), others simply don’t. What makes things more tricky is that this area is often considered to be one of good symptoms, so most doctors wouldn’t consider this part of a “disorder” (as disorders, by definition, have to be a hinderance to you in some way).

I think hypomania is the biggest grey area of bipolar disorder because, in terms of a disorder (as I mentioned above) it really doesn’t make sense. Doctors are usually only concerned with the ways the disorder is harmful, so I don’t think much attention is paid to hypomania, except by those of us who have experienced it and can see the bigger picture.

Symptom Interpretation

Have you ever had insomnia?

I think insomnia is a confusing symptom, because insomnia can be a symptom of depression, or it can be a symptom of mania. So can going without eating, for that matter.

For me, I really depend on the presence of other symptoms in order to read why insomnia is present. I learned a couple months ago that I really can’t tell, just based on insomnia alone, if I am heading upwards or downwards… it really stuck me in a weird grey area where I had to wait for more symptoms to come before I knew what to do.

It could be that insomnia, for you, only comes on in times of mania. It could be that it only comes on in times of depression. Or, like me, you could find yourself stuck… unsure of how to interpret a symptom.

Symptom Definitions

Here’s one I’ve been running into fairly often lately. Both on a personal level, and in people I talk to on a regular basis.

Feeling suicidal is the feeling of wanting to die, right? Well what if you don’t want to die, but you don’t want to live, either?

I’ve been calling this phenomenon “suicidal limbo” because for me it seems to be a weird sub-symptom of suicidality.

Does not wanting to be alive mean that you want to die? Because I don’t think that is exactly the case. Again, we’re entering weird grey area territory, because if you were to say to a doctor that you didn’t feel like being alive, they will almost always undoubtedly infer that you are suicidal.

So why is there a difference between how I feel about that statement, and how a medical professional feels about it? Well, I’ve experienced the symptom myself, and I have experienced feeling suicidal myself, and they didn’t feel the same. For someone who hasn’t experienced those things, they might seem to be the exact same thing.

On a side note, I don’t want to sound like people who say they “don’t want to live” shouldn’t be taken seriously, because they should. That is sort of where this whole grey area confusion began for me. I agree that this statement should be taken seriously, and I understand why (to many people) this sounds exactly like, “I want to die.” There has been something in my own life that has led me to feel like the act of not wanting to live is not quite as severe (it feels more like resignation) as wanting to die (which feels more like taking action, to me), but it is certainly just as serious!

I suppose the point I am trying to make here is that there are many variations of bipolar disorder, but I think these grey areas add to that to some degree. I think it is definitely possible that, even when we experience the same set of symptoms as another person, we interpret them in a different way making them seem different. All of that making us feel isolated and alone and contributing to the fear that comes so easily with bipolar disorder.

Really, the fact that many of us experience (or interpret our experiences as) something different and all of those interpretations fall into the category of bipolar disorder leads me to believe the disorder itself (on a larger scale) is one big grey area. While part of me is saddened by this fact, another part of me is content, believing this conclusion makes sense when you consider how many grey areas are within the “disorder” itself, and how often my emotions linger in those grey areas because of it.