This Bipolar Life: Numb

I’m not really sure what to write sometimes. I wish I had profound things to pass along but the reality that I’m just one person and I’m not even particularly witty hits me pretty hard on occasion.

See, before the onset of my bipolar I was a wreck but had my good moments. Once we finally had a name for it there was a mixture of relief and fear. I was so grateful to have an answer and then fear because there is/was no cure. Nothing. I just became wrapped up in anxiety knowing I would have to live with this very difficult condition forever. No breaks.

I know some prefer to not have to talk about bipolar every day. Guess what? Me too. But this is my lived reality and I’m not going to sugar coat it for your comfort. That would be lying. That being said, do you really want me to write down every negative thing? Me either. 

So, rather than going through every emotion just know the most common emotional response is just “blank” and my logic response “numb”. I just don’t talk about it as often as possible. Instead I focus on politics and social justice (that is why my degree is in after all!) as well as trying my best to read real books and not just do them on my handheld or audio book, both of which I kind of suck at doing.

Now, what do I do when I get to these places? Well there are a few DBT tricks I pull out of my toolkit. First is opposite action, which means exactly what is sounds like. Feeling like you don’t want to shower, just get the hell up and do it. Next if that isn’t enough do something that interferes with thought, very hot shower, holding an ice cube, putting your face and/or hair under a freezing stream of water. 

Seriously, changing your physical state can have a huge impact. Finally, if neither of those work then I turn to radical acceptance and try to just allow what is happening to be. Harder than hell but supposedly it’s a skill I’m supposed to learn to use.

Weird, for someone who didn’t know what to write I’ve managed to do quite a bit of typing.

This Bipolar Life: Beyond Bipolar

I’m 44. I’ve known I’ve had bipolar now for 14 years of my life. That’s about one-third of my lifetime has been knowingly spent living with and battling this disease. Now, instead of continuing to fight it (ack – it’s awful!) I’ve decided to embrace it. I’m firmly in the “Who am I?” phase anyway at mid-life so this is just one more log on the fire, yes?

With the help of a new therapist I’m learning how to turn around and realize that I have let and even encouraged bipolar to define me for years. As he said, “You are successfully being treated for bipolar. Worry less.” Now I am ready to (slowly) approach accepting it as just another thing in my life that I need to keep an eye on. Just as if I had diabetes or another chronic disease.

It can get crazy, no doubt. I can buy a new car with zero thought. I can jump out of moving cars just because I can. I can do a lot of things. That doesn’t mean I have to or that I will. Just that I have passing thoughts, like a lot of people. Mine just happen to be weird.

Why? Well we can go into that in another blog post but for now suffice it to say that I’ve learned the following about myself so far: I like working with my hands, I like doing the laundry up to the point of putting it away, I enjoy doing certain crafts, I love spending time with those close to me as my Love Language is far and away “Quality Time”.  I thoroughly enjoy spending time with my family and enjoy travelling to visit them, although I’m not a fan of the good-byes.

I have figured out that I am a mom, a wife, a sister, a friend, a colleague, and more. For the moment I’ve let the “and more” bit just hang on out there as I’ve got enough with all the others in my effort to find out just exactly (or not so much) who I am, what I like, and where I’m going next.

This Bipolar Life: Silence is Golden?

Silence can be come in many forms and mean a lot of things. Years ago it used to mean my kids were up to something they shouldn’t be (imagine crayons on walls or flour all over the floor as the five-year-old tries to make pancakes, etc). Now, sometimes it’s a chance for me to intently focus on a project or it gives me a chance to be introspective and sit quietly in the space around myself and contemplate my navel.

But, there are times it is used as a tool, for better and worse. Yes, I’m talking about the “silent treatment”, something I’m guilty of doing on occasion. Why? Well for me it’s usually one of the following reasons:

  1. Because I feel hurt and need to withdraw out of fear of being hurt again, words can be painful and I am sensitive to them, perhaps more so than others.
  2. To prevent myself from saying something painful to someone so I don’t make a situation worse by hurting another with my own words. My dad used to say that I was at my most dangerous when I opened my mouth in anger, something I now understand to be true.
  3. To hurt someone on purpose. Yes, I have done this sometimes. It’s juvenile and petty but sometimes my inner 8-year-old comes out and I just want to make sure they know I’m angry. Of course this option really mainly hurts myself as the saying goes, “Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” It’s something I have worked diligently to diminish as a coping mechanism and I suppose because it was such a default for so long it will be an ongoing battle for me.
  4. Sometimes though it’s to push people away because I’m depressed. This is called “isolating” and is very common among those with mental illnesses. It’s because I just don’t want to have to deal with the real world which can be exhausting so I retreat into silence and solitude. This is not always healthy although occasionally it can be necessary to recharge.

So why is a silent response so common? Sometimes it’s easier to shut out a situation rather than being honest with others, something that requires me to open myself up to criticism and injury. Even though I may be hopeful that my feelings and thoughts will be accepted the reality is sometimes they aren’t and other times they are misinterpreted. Sometimes it’s just easier to avoid possible conflict or injury and silence is an easy way to do that.

However the reality is that I, and others like me, need to learn to push through the urge for silence and be willing to expose our hearts to those around us. In my opinion, that is truly the way to acceptance. So how do we do that? By speaking up when we are hurt or by sharing that we are feeling like saying hurtful words and need to walk away. Other times it’s by reaching out and letting someone know that we are beginning to shut out the world and perhaps just need a guiding hand or a hug to help us move through that space to get back to a healthy space in our lives.

Share your soul. Share your pain. Share your joy. All of you. Just give it a chance. Those who truly care about you will accept you as you are. Perhaps they will not accept your behavior (and they don’t have to in order to care for you) but they will likely reassure you that they are still there for you when you are able to interact in a healthy way. This might be all you need to return to a healthy space of loving kindness, for both yourself and those around you.

This Bipolar Life: Meds, Memories and Me

I recently watched ‘Inside Out’ and it triggered a strong response for me around memories, how they are made and how, sadly, they can be lost. I am lucky enough to have been born in a time with loads of ways to take photos and save them. Why?

See, I spent 10 years taking lithium. One of its well known side effects is memory loss, as documented in a detailed NY Times article. I’ve taken several other meds along the way, far too many to list here, but many of them share this symptom and the combined effect has been devastating. There are countless moments, days, weeks, even months that have been lost in my mind over the years. There are whole vacations or road trips I don’t remember doing. It really is that bad.

Lately, it’s been interesting starting a new job with these issues. I’m lucky enough to have a job I love with an organization I adore. But I have to admit that I’ve written more sticky notes in the last three weeks than I could have imagined. I use them for everything. In fact I use enough of them that I felt guilty using so many (I work at a nonprofit) that I started buying my own just so I know I’ll have them on hand.

Not to mention the whole “remembering names” bit! Now that is really a struggle for me. I keep trying to retain names and faces in a way that makes me not look like a blubbering fool. Trust me, it’s not as easy as it seems. Recalling names is my nemesis. Thankfully in my new job there is a photo album so I’m able to practice memorizing everyone. Placing names with faces will likely always will be a challenge. I have come to accept this, although I don’t like it one bit. Fortunately I’m now 40 so I just write some of it off as age.

In fact this is one of the reasons I am so dependent on Facebook. I know not everyone is a fan but it allows me to instantly capture my life and recall it at a whim. It’s a tool for me as much as it is an entertainment option. It helps me place names to faces and create memories out of moments. For that alone I am grateful.

This Bipolar Life: Bitch Mode, Mania, and Me

I can be a bitch. Especially when manic. Mania can be a difficult thing to manage and when uncontrolled can cause damage to myself and those around me if I’m not careful. For me, mania tends to manifest as agitation and frustration along with making plans to achieve what are sometimes unrealistic goals. After 10 years of dealing with this disorder I have developed a lot of techniques to avoid it. First are medication and therapy but self care is also a key component. Here’s a bit about my current approach:

Lately I’ve been traveling, getting very little sleep, and drinking more coffee than I should. I know that these are triggers for mania and anxiety so I’ve carefully tracked my moods. I use an iPhone app, iMoodJournal (there are several apps that track moods I just prefer this one) which allows me to be aware if I’m suddenly seeing a spike in my mood which would indicate that I’m trending upward to quickly and need to be more attentive to my choices. With that in mind I have worked hard to remember self care but I’ve not been in a particularly conducive space for any of my usual go-to self care activities. This means I’ve had to get a little creative to make sure I don’t trigger a manic episode due to the changes caused by my travels. Hopefully these tricks help you too.

I’ve gone for walks and listened to beautiful music. I’ve played with my beloved niece and nephews. I’ve been very active about remembering to smile. I’ve practiced mindfulness even more than usual, being careful to be present during my activities and interactions with others. I have been active in planning the day’s activities so I know what to be prepared for, something that helps me avoid the ever-present challenge I have with unexpected transitions. I’ve made sure to spend at least five minutes each morning lying in whatever bed I’ve landed in (I’ve been at three different homes in the past 5 days) to appreciate the sounds of the birds and ready myself mentally for the day ahead. I’ve practiced gratitude by intentionally responding to those who bring me something with heartfelt appreciation and I make sure to think of at least one or two things at the end of the day that remind me of a moment or two of positivity.

How do these things keep me from being manic? Well for me they help to ensure I stay centered in the reality around me. I am far less inclined to make big plans and instead am focused on just the day ahead, allowing me to be grateful and honest with myself as I check in with my moods mentally throughout my day. I have found the more I am able to remember to practice self care the more stable I am, allowing me to avoid mania, or at least keep it at a manageable level.

I hope these techniques are things you might be able to add to your day, whether you have bipolar or not they can be helpful. Best of luck and have a great day!