Tag Archives: Mania

Swapping Big Moves for Little Moves

Let’s face it, living with bipolar disorder has had a huge influence on the way I make decisions. It hasn’t been all bad, I admit the impulsivity I tend to feel has left a trail of both exciting fun memories in my wake as well as some cringe-worthy ones, but I’ve spent a lot of time considering impulsivity and the ways it has both helped and harmed me.

Instead, today I want to specifically discuss making big moves.

For a long time I believed that I only made impulsive big, life altering decisions when I found myself experiencing hypomania and mania. This was evident when I dropped out of college, for example, at age 19. The idea of living aimlessly in the Colorado sprawl seemed like a wonderful idea, and it was great… for a while.

Likewise mixed episodes have lent themselves to impulsive big moves as well. Spur of the moment breakups would be an example, running away from home. Usually these kinds of big decisions have been fueled by the need to escape something (rather than make a positive change in my life) and the results have tended to be regrettable when I returned to rationality.

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot more about how that overwhelming impulsive urge influences depression, because for most of my life I would say I didn’t think it did. I mean, is sitting down and watching a full season of Ru Paul’s Drag Race because I’m too tired and depressed to do anything else a big impulsive move? Yeah… I didn’t think so.

Lately I’ve been seeing it a bit different. Maybe it is the nature of the depression I face, maybe it is a little mixed and coming with a small paper cup full of mania to act as a dipping sauce. Whatever the reason I’ve been able to hone in on this feeling, this urge to make a big move, and somewhere inside of me there is this spark that says,

If you make a big, sudden change in your life this depression with disappear.

To be fair, I’ve been doing this all along. In my younger years I found myself in some kind of Job-Hopping Phenomenon loop that I tried my best to grasp but couldn’t understand.

I would start a new job, be doing fine, and then start sinking into deep depression. The answer always seemed to involve quitting and starting a new job, where my hypomania would take over and I would feel great for a while until… you guessed it… wash, rinse, repeat.

For the most part I always chalked this job-switching thing to be coming from a place of reason though, not emotion. I told myself, “well, maybe this isn’t the right job for me,” and I’d launch myself out into the world feeling a sense of purpose every time I tried to find a new one. It kind of acted as a really inefficient, W2 swamping sort of band aid.

I didn’t connect the dots between these actions and that general bipolar big move urge until this month. I’ve been declining into depression for almost two months now, swiftly and severely enough for my psychiatrist to be on red alert (more on that next time). Honestly I think what I am experiencing may be a depression-heavy mixed episode because I’ve found myself in several swirling pools of psychosis where I seem to find myself in another place.

While I’m there everything is turned on its head, the only consistent element is that I feel overwhelmingly compelled to make a big move!

Sometimes the urge is to run away and start a new life, or get a job, or demolish my relationships with people… but every time the haze wears off I’ve been thankful to find I haven’t done any of those things.

With my manic and mixed episodes I feel like I have had the opportunity to practice not making those big moves I find myself gravitating toward. I’ve tried to remind myself of how horribly wrong they tend to go sometimes, and how what I am experiencing at the time is typically in the minority of how I feel otherwise.

The last few years my treatment resistant symptoms have left me experiencing severe depression without much alleviation, so much so that the only thing I could do was binge watch Ru Paul’s Drag Race. I feel like that might be what is causing me to hesitate when I fall into those whirlpools that try to bully me into mixing things up, because now I know that even when I do nothing at all I can make it out the other side.

In the grand scheme of things, I often picture bipolar disorder as a set of scales. I used to chuck whatever blocks I could find at them knowing that if one landed, they would flip my emotional state into the opposite direction and I could slide from depression into mania almost immediately. This crude method was effective short-term, but didn’t set up any kind of system for long-term stability.

The last few years I have been learning to scale down those moves when the urges hit. Instead of running away, maybe I’ll take a shower. Instead of getting a job, I assign myself to take out the garbage every Monday and see if I can consistently do it. Instead of destroying my relationships I turn on the Xbox and funnel my aggression into some kind of PvP deathmatch.

Instead of chucking those big blocks at the scales it is more like I am adding single grains of rice. While there is a kind of tension that comes from refusing the big move beast the satisfaction of an impulsive remix, I’m finally understanding that I can come closer to making those scales balanced by making little moves than I ever did with the big ones.

 

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Mental State Dual Citizenship

Psychosis has often made it really hard for me to keep things straight, and even in my younger years I put a lot of effort into trying to separate depressive or manic periods and thinking from those where I am more stable. Before I was really able to pinpoint when I was experiencing mania or depression, one of the ways I did this was to consider these situations almost another version of reality.

Trust me, the idea of reality gets rather skewed while experiencing psychosis and though I’ve been on the hunt for ways to gauge whether the reality I’m experiencing makes sense with the reality of the people around me it can be frustrating (and impossible at times) to try to truly gauge the two.

So, as I mentioned, one of my first lines of defense has often been to think of my psychosis ridden bipolar disorder as something of a dual citizenship. That means I am a resident of two worlds; one world everyone else knows and sees on a regular basis, and another where (much like Alice’s wonderland) things can get a little weird.

It might sound a little funny, and while this other reality I live in from time to time doesn’t have talking playing cards or freaky cats (that would be something) I do often find myself dealing with life seeming to have a much different pace, the truths of the reality are often a far cry from what I’m used to, and even my motivations and dreams seem very different than in my regular day to day life.

Yesterday, for example, I spent about half the day living regularly. I washed some dishes, watched Ru Paul’s Drag Race, and talked to my Grandma on the phone.

The other half of my day was spent in depression land, a different sort of reality where (pace) no matter what I did, I couldn’t seem to catch up with what needed to get done. The (truths) I faced in this place seemed to be that my relationship was totally unstable and deteriorating before my very eyes, leading my (motivations) to demand I make sudden and dramatic efforts to curb the situation.

After several hours I found myself back in regular life, the reality of depression land having vanished and been replaced with (pace) feeling on top of things. (Truths) My boyfriend cares about me, he even brought me home some chocolates. (Motivations) For the love of pete, don’t make any sudden moves!

It seems like the last few depressive episodes I’ve had I find myself plopped down right in the middle of where I left off, which is rather maddening and definitely confusing as heck. A bit like waking up from a bad dream only to fall asleep and find myself right in the middle of it again!

Mania land is a little different for me, less like I feel overburdened by the information around me and more like everything starts to fade away like one of those Bugs Bunny cartoons where he keeps screwing with Daffy by drawing him into some kind of weird half plant half platypus and the setting becomes little more than a blank sheet of paper.

The (pace) often feels like I am so ahead of the game that spending six more hours writing isn’t a big deal. The (truths) usually suggest I’ve been worrying far too much lately, leading my (motivations) to urge me to brush off all forms of responsibility or concern. Hijinks ensue.

Mixed land, well, it’s a place I try to avoid at most costs but unfortunately I’m quite familiar with it. Everything about the (pace) there usually feels much too slow, like I am ready to run a marathon but I’m trapped in a vat of peanut butter; too much energy and no way to expel it. The (truths) that seep in tend to be based on suspicion, that people are hiding things from me or are up to no good (heh), leading my (motivation) to either have a meltdown at them or try to sleuth my way to the truth in some kind of jacked-up Film Noir version of reality.

Sometimes describing my mental and emotional states as places helps people understand how jarring it is to be sitting around one minute, minding my own business, and then suddenly be thrust into another odder, often less productive version of my life. I can be sitting pretty one second and in depression land, or mania land, or mixed land without warning; sometimes it takes me some time to even recognize something has changed. After all, the people around me go on with their lives and their own reality as if nothing has changed, and if I’m having a good day they may not notice that anything has changed on my end, even though I’m somewhere else.

Ultimately, time has shown me that I am probably not actually trapped in some outrageous form of reality manipulation by warping me to suspiciously similar copies of my life and that this dual citizenship is actually coming from within me, not externally. Still… I can’t say for certain that there isn’t some kind of brain gnome in my noggin who happens to keep forgetting to turn the basement light off or something, leading me to hear a high pitched whine where there wasn’t one before.

In all seriousness though, mental health is a tricky thing to understand, even for those of us who experience mental illness every day. Having said that, thank nuggets it is therapy day today.

 

Providing an Outlet

Even since childhood I have often equated pain (emotional or otherwise) to be like electricity. Failing to provide an outlet for that force once it has entered my system generally results in short circuiting; an explosion of force down an unintended pathway as it tries to escape.

This morning I leaned in to kiss my partner goodbye as he left for work and stubbed my toe. You know the feeling you get when you know something gruesome has occurred to part of your body (in this case: a toenail) without looking -you can just feel it? Well, as pain started shooting through my foot I knew I wasn’t ready to look down and look at the damage quite yet. Even so, my first impression was to scream out in pain… but with my boyfriend standing less than 12 inches from my face (and it being 7 am in a crowded apartment building) I decided to hold it in.

Big mistake.

That energy that should have been released out my mouth shot down my throat to the next available thing; my arm. I immediately punched the wall (twice, apparently the first time wasn’t quite enough to allow all of that energy to escape) and winced as he left, attempting to walk off the pain in my foot.

While my big toenail is split (right in time for sandal weather, drats!) it wasn’t until my hand started to swell up from punching the wall that I realized that maybe I should have just screamed. Denying myself a natural outlet for letting that energy out certainly backfired, and my attempt to help my boyfriend and neighbors by keeping my seemingly inevitable screaming at bay ultimately hurt me in the end.

In my experience, the turmoil experienced in mental health isn’t much different. Providing myself with an outlet while depressed usually means verbalizing or writing through what is bothering me, while my manic outlets tend to be more physical; cleaning/exercising/and creative based projects. It took me many years to realize that, like punching the wall because of my big toe, failing to give myself an outlet for that energy trapped inside has often led me to explosive behavior, and outlets that have been seriously more damaging than what might have occurred if I had just followed my natural instinct.

I’ve done several training workshops about how to mitigate suicidality in crisis situations for other people, and I was shocked when each technique boiled down one core idea; confront the person about feeling suicidal, and then talk about why they feel that way with them.

Certainly I was expecting black hawk helicopters and swat teams and maybe a little magic to be involved, but ultimately providing an outlet for the person to express those feelings verbally in a nonjudgmental atmosphere proved that allowing some of that energy to escape was usually enough to disarm the threat of imminent suicide and get the person to some kind of treatment.

I would say that usually in my most dire moments I find myself at a loss for how to get that energy out. The fog associated with depression or mania might make it seem impossible, or unnecessary, and I might feel trapped in the moment, unsure of where to focus that energy without hurting myself or other people.

And obviously… I’m not perfect at it. After 15 years of considering this idea I still find myself punching walls occasionally or throwing my phone or rushing to my therapist feeling like a ticking time bomb because I’ve become certain that any words or actions on my part will destroy whoever I’m around (not true, as it turns out, but it still feels that way sometimes).

One thing I’ve done to help myself along though is to make a list for each of my intense mood states of good, useful, positive, harmless outlets that can help me get whatever energy I’m feeling out in a safe and satisfying way. Any time I think of something new, I add it, and that way when I am in the throes of a depressive fog, or so revved up on manic sunshine, or so irritable and agitated I don’t want to leave my room I have a little something to jog my memory.

Otherwise I might wind up punching the wall all the time and I’d never get my deposit back.

The Trustworthy or Untrustworthy Self

I have always tended to operate under a series of hard rules. Hard Rules; you know, like “oh crap, I just touched that burner and it was hot!”

New rule: don’t touch hot burners!

This is a rule that is always true. If I see a hot burner, I don’t touch it (at least, never on purpose but I’m a bit of a klutz). Having said that, many of these sorts of rules that I’ve gathered up over the years have been helpful, some even life-saving. Don’t throw temper tantrums at your boss. Don’t swim out into Puget Sound where the undertow can drown you. Don’t get in a car with a random stranger. Don’t ever wear black and brown together.

Sounds useful right? Well, for the most part it is, but I have always had a tendency of somehow shuffling all rules into the “hard rule” category. Inflexible. Rigid. Once it is there, it is there forever.

Even though that is a concept that seems useful when it comes to ideas like “don’t touch a hot stove burner,” it is useful because a hot stove burner is always hot.

On the flipside, there are aspects of my life and of having bipolar disorder that might be true sometimes and not true others. Of course, in my life having a mental illness is true, but to say that I am always manic or depressed or agitated or homicidal or suicidal is not true.

These sorts of facts lead me to strange places somewhat reminiscent of math class where these rules become much more complex.

“My suicidality warrants hospitalization if and only if it is a level three on my suicidality scale, requiring x, y, and z… (you get it).”

Despite all the nit-picking and tweaking that has gone into these rules, these ways in which I keep myself alive and relatively healthy, there is one that somehow slipped under the radar. It managed to sneak into the hard rule category without any real revisions over a period of years:

Because of my bipolar symptoms, I am not trustworthy.

These days I can see the difference between a generalization and a rule, but the truth of the matter is that despite how my understanding of myself and my symptoms have improved, there has been a wall of fear that has kept me from being able to edit this statement.

I don’t know exactly where it came from, I don’t know if it was something external that I was told or that people suggested or if it was purely created out of the fear I had of myself and my inability to control myself sometimes. Yes, there have been some incidences that have scared people, but I expect this rule is probably more about how much I scared myself.

For me there was always a big fog around my symptoms or any number of the unhealthy urges swirling around inside me at any given time. I mean, what if something happened? What if they just slipped out before I could realize it?

For many years I allowed myself to defer back to this rule. When people would ask me,

“Oh, do you want to hold my baby?”

or

“Can you watch the cash register for me for a minute?”

or

“Mind unwrapping this new kitchen knife set with me real quick?”

The answer was always no. No, sorry, I might punt your baby. Or steal all the money. Or suddenly believe I can juggle knives.

A few years ago I had a friend who had a baby and she insisted I hold him. As it turned out, I held him and he didn’t burst into flames. Or turn into a squealing pig. In fact, nothing weird or inappropriate happened. After returning the baby to her I considered two things that really shook the foundation of the untrustworthy rule I had created.

  1. My friend trusted me so much she practically forced me to hold the baby.
  2. In that moment with that baby, I was trustworthy.

This friend did not know much about my past, but she knew my diagnosis. While part of me clung to the notion that she trusted me because she didn’t know about the bulk of my untrustworthy behavior, it felt meaningful that in that moment on that day, she considered me trustworthy enough to hold the most precious thing in her life.

On top of that, the fact that nothing went wrong was kind of like a slap in the face to the rule that had been created. I could be trustworthy. Er… maybe not all the time, but sometimes, yes.

Even though this one moment was the key to begin revising this rule I had created for myself, it has taken thousands of situations and the knowledge I gain about myself and my symptoms every single day to keep reshaping it into something more true.

After all, when my symptoms first started I was really just a kid. I had no idea what they meant or why they were happening, and I had no skills or knowledge to help me keep them from exploding out from me whenever they felt like having a party. When my mind wove a terror filled tapestry for me, I didn’t know I shouldn’t believe it.

Really, getting to know how my different mental states work have been like working out any other part of my body. I couldn’t walk into a weight room and bench press 300 lbs on the first day because I had to build strength first, I needed to learn my own limits in order to push myself to my goal, and be able to take care of myself and heal up if I pushed myself too hard.

Even though having mental illness is a constant for me, my understanding of myself and my symptoms have changed over time. Living with it means adapting as my understanding and knowledge grows, and affording myself more trust over time because that unknown I have been so afraid of? Well it is shrinking every day.

 

Travel; Mental Health Hurdles

This year my Grandma turned 80 years old, and to celebrate my family wants to host a camping trip in her honor. The reality of the situation though is that traveling anywhere (whether it is just heading downtown, upstate, across country, or across the globe) while living with a mental illness involves taking a bit more into consideration than the “where” and “when”.

Things got panicky last week when some crossed communication left me under the belief that my boyfriend and I would not be able to bring our own vehicle to the camp because of it’s affiliation with the military.

For anyone else, carpooling seems like the obvious answer, right? Well for me, living with bipolar disorder means knowing my triggers, and anytime I start to feel trapped in a strange place without an exit strategy (oh, say, like on a beautifully landscaped but guarded-by-armed-men sort of military recreation site – I have no affiliation with the military personally) I melt down. And I mean total manic/psychotic, you’ll-find-me-in-the-woods-later melt down. It is almost like a guarantee, and knowing myself well enough to know this would be an issue (after kicking countless ‘vacation’ situations in the balls while psychotic and trying to escape) left me in a bit of an odd position.

Of course, it isn’t unusual for me to try to push myself through things like this. Tell myself, “well, those other times are a fluke, and you will be totally fine this time.” I start to feel like I am making a big deal over nothing, and when friends or family who don’t have to make these kinds of considerations for themselves agree, I have a bad habit of walking into the same situation over and over again and reacting poorly on ‘repeat’.

Last week’s situation was a little more special because I went in to see both my therapist and my psychiatrist, and both immediately sided with the rational, more cautious part of me.

“Absolutely not,” they both said. “You’ve been triggered this way several times before, and you know that walking into a situation like this will be more of a strain than you are likely to handle.”

Keep in mind, my situation is really pretty singular in that my symptoms are not regulated by medication. My symptoms of bipolar disorder and anxiety are treatment resistant (they have not responded to any medications), so I am largely in a position to have to cope with them on my own. That is another big reason why it is important that I am familiar with my own triggers, because knowing what could put me in a dangerous position and either preparing myself for the outcome or avoiding the situation altogether are the best strategies I have for dealing with my symptoms on a regular basis.

I have found one of the biggest strategies that helps me when traveling or heading into a potentially stressful situation is knowing I can leave at any time. If I have an exit strategy, if I can leave the stressful environment before my irritability or mania becomes psychosis things are much more likely to go smoothly.

Even though my therapist and psychiatrist both agreed this trip would be detrimental for me, I couldn’t help but feel bad about needing to cancel. I mean, my granny is 80, and you can believe she has been talking about this for a month already.

The final decision I made was to go back and double check the policy that would keep me from having my escape route. I scoured websites and even eventually called the navy to help clarify their policies on bringing in civilian vehicles to their recreational sites. And -wouldn’t you know it? The entire situation was a communication error. We should be able to bring a vehicle to the site without a problem (so long as we have the proper documentation, yada yada yada).

Ultimately, the problem is no problem at all, but I am proud of myself for taking the steps I did (talking with my boyfriend, my therapist, my psychiatrist, and looking for a solution) before responding emotionally or making a final decision about going, or not, to this event.

Sometimes living with my current mental health situation can feel like I have to live in a small bubble to survive, and while the bubble feels safe it also shields me from many of the life experiences I want to have. That bubble doesn’t guarantee I wont become depressed, or manic, or psychotic, so I don’t feel like forgoing all manner of travel and personal growth that comes with it should be kept from me because doing so does not mean I will be able to live peacefully. I will have bipolar and anxiety outside the bubble, but I have it inside the bubble as well. For me, the trick is knowing what my absolute deal breakers are (like transportation) to keep me from moving from a “moody” travel situation to an emergency travel situation.

Of course, there is a lot that goes into it beyond that to prepare, things like

  • having my doctor’s information handy and with me at all times
  • bringing all medications, and extra in case of emergencies
  • making sure I will be in a position where I can eat regularly
  • making sure I will be in a position to have the best chance of sleeping fairly regularly
  • using coping skills to help counteract instabilities
  • maintaining an awareness of my current state
  • informing my fellow travelers how to best help in an emergency situation
  • and knowing when to pull the plug on the trip

to name a few.

Even though I have gotten over the transportation hurdle regarding this short trip, it is still a few months away. I have plenty of time to worry (heh) as more things come up, but I hope to smooth over as many of the rough edges as I can before I get there.

Depression Under the Radar

Like most people, when you hear the word depression you probably associate it with emotion. Sadness, perhaps, if you’ve never had it yourself. Despair, even, if that is something you’ve come face to face with. I know when I hear the word depression it is easy for my mind to make an association jumping straight to utter and complete hopelessness, or going a week without leaving the house, or even suicidality.

However, the truth of the matter is that depression has many symptoms associated with it that may not directly involve feeling sad or hopeless at all, and it is this odd grey area that I’ve found myself in lately.

Though I haven’t been having feelings of despair (profound or otherwise) I am definitely feeling exhausted all the time. I am more anxious than usual and having a hard time being in public places. I am less motivated and less interested in things, and I keep bouncing back and forth between wanting to eat everything I can get my hands on and not having an appetite at all.

But, despite all of these things, my first reaction when I saw my therapist last was to say things were going well. It wasn’t until she asked about my appetite and sleeping that I started noticing all of the other (emotionless?) symptoms of depression have been stacking up, but without that emotional sort of sinking feeling they’ve all latched onto me under the radar.

Once I noticed it I felt a little silly for not noticing it before. After all, I consider myself pretty experienced with depression’s escapades at this point and beyond that, there are plenty of times I have had symptoms of mania come on without the bliss or agitation I normally associate with it. Things like increased energy, impulsivity, lack of appetite and sleep, have been pretty easy for me to notice, but something like decreased energy could be any number of things from my immune system to stress to the weather. It isn’t until I can see all of those symptoms together that I am willing to start labeling them.

I guess I am hoping that since my stress level should (that’s the key word) be letting up in the next couple weeks I can simply play hostess and seat these other symptoms at a table while they wait for their friend emotion to arrive. If I’m lucky it’ll get stuck in traffic or be too sad to come to the party, and if not I will have my wait staff ready to do what needs to be done to keep things afloat.

Big Change Bringing Optimism; 10 Years in Seattle

Today is my ten year anniversary of the day I moved to Seattle to go to art school.

The funny thing is that moving here was never something I aspired to, in fact I thought the city was dirty and full of all kinds of sad and frightening things. Frankly, I really just think I got lucky when my depressive stint in a cold house in the middle of the woods on an island was interrupted by a phone call from the school with an open invitation to come down.

I already had been to college once and dropped out after a mixed/manic episode and I was already familiar with the burden of student loans. Still, the offer was too tempting to resist, and swapping the dark and quiet island for loud, bright city streets also meant swapping my depression for hypomania.

The sudden shift in my emotional state taught me a few things, even though it was something I really didn’t understand at the time. Learning that the excitement and insomnia that came with being in new places made me feel quite spectacular, and that my depression could temporarily be outrun led to a lot of attempts to shift gears and outrun that depression in later years. Unfortunately no matter where I ran, it always managed to catch up with me.

The biggest thing I remember about this day ten years ago was laying in bed awake trying to sleep while the streetlight poured in and the fire station only three blocks away emitted what seemed to be a constant siren. It felt like the epitome of the opposite of where I had come from and it took several sleepless days for me to become tired enough to sleep through it.

This change, though not one I expected, coming to me with all its sense of newness and opportunity, produced a two year period of almost uninterrupted hypomania (with the exceptions of a few mixed and manic nights), something I have not experienced since. While I’ve learned that trying to outrun depression is something that acts as a temporary fix for a more permanent problem I face, knowing that opportunities for growth are something that can help me rise above it (even just temporarily) has been wildly invaluable.

And the city? A big portion of the original area downtown where I moved has been gentrified, and the run-down convenience stores and bars have been replaced with shiny new condos and rustic taprooms. A lot of the homeless population has moved on to other parts of the city, replaced by people who work in technology often having more money than they know what to do with. Sometimes it is strange to me to think of the way the neighborhood used to be with fondness and find myself feeling like the distrust I have for this shiny new version trumps any negative feelings I had about the dirtiness and sadness of the way things used to be. At least before I felt like the city was being real and honest, instead of trying to hide the unfortunate business of homelessness and those of us who still live from paycheck to paycheck.

The reality is that the city I moved to ten years ago has become an entirely different city, and while I feel lucky to have lived there in a time where it was a place I really did feel at home, it has changed as much as I have.

At any rate, there is a dream of the next place, wherever it is. I don’t know how long it will be before fate comes knocking and I find myself terrified by how dark and quiet it is while I am trying to sleep.

In the meantime, thank you Seattle for 10 years.