This Bipolar Life: Letting Go of “How”

So, my life has been turned a bit sideways as of late and yet I’ve managed to navigate some very big changes while staying mostly calm and balanced. Of course, I still did my standard “let me manage everything” bit and tried to control how it all happened along the way. I’m sure you can imagine how well that went. Eventually I realized what I was doing and stepped back. I decided to focus on the desired outcome (the what) and try to let go of process (the how) we got there.

I found I started to feel much more relaxed and very fluid, allowing things to move around me as I remembered (and reminded myself as needed) that I had no real control over anything. This is an ongoing life lesson for me as I have been a “control freak” for as long as I can recall. Or at least I used to be. After lots of therapy I have gotten to a space where I really am better at just letting things go, thankfully.

How have I accomplished this so far? I’m not entirely sure. I think a lot of it has to do with the realization of just how much work it is to try to manage all the details. It’s frankly just exhausting. I know it’s driven mostly by irrational anxieties and that I’m worrying and/or overthinking unnecessarily, but that doesn’t change the fact that my brain instantly wants to control the process. It’s a struggle at times but it’s totally worth it for the relief of not being and instead allowing myself the peace that comes with not being in charge all the time. I do like being the boss on occasion but doing it all the time?

I’ve worked hard at recognizing that everyone uses their own methods and that they can be unique and still be effective. Trust me, getting to that point has taken a lot of work and there are times when I still forget and go back to my old ways. Where I try to over analyze the entire situation and attempt to convince people to do it “my way”, because of course that’s the best way, right? That’s usually when someone in my care circle gently reminds me that my brain is on overdrive and I need to just breathe and trust the process, even if it doesn’t match mine.

In the end I’ve learned that what matters to me is getting results rather than getting stuck in the details of how we get there. Finding that balance has given me a relief I would never have thought possible. Most of the time anyway 😉

This Bipolar Life: Exploring Boundaries

Actually the weekend was fairly good and then late Saturday afternoon presented us with free tickets for the kids to go to Emerald City Comic Con, something they have always wanted to do and involves a huge amount of fun (and tons people – we’re talking 80,000). So at crack of dawn Sunday morning arrives and as it turned out I wasn’t going to be able to go with them. They would have to attend solo as a little group. My little group.

I was able to arrange for an adult to drive them and be on-site if there was an emergency (thank goodness!) but while they were there they would be wandering within the crowds of thousands. That’s right. Thousands of people. Surrounding my little crew of three. Now, my oldest is nearly 16, and the other two are 13 and 12, it’s not like they are small children who can’t navigate a building, especially together. I knew they were going to have tons of fun though and us parents had decided this was their chance to make a “just us kids” kind of memory and they could pull it off together as a team. Mind you this same team argues about whose turn it is on the xbox and can’t remember to do their laundry regularly so I was more than a little uncertain of its success potential!

As you can imagine I then spent the next hour of the morning prep time dishing up eggs and pancakes while offering up instructions on how to “keep safe”, “stay together”, “make good choices”, etc. It wasn’t until they were headed out the door that I remembered to say “Have fun!” I had gotten so wrapped up in my fears around them being unchaperoned that I had forgotten the entire point of the trip. I hoped they’d heard me as they jumped into the waiting van to head off for their adventure.

So…all of this starts and I proceed to spend the rest of what should have been a relaxing Sunday wrapped up in the anxiety attack from hell. I made sure to only text them every other hour or so though and only called twice to see how they were doing so I think overall I handled that part pretty well. I figured a helicopter mom would be kind of a buzzkill and that’s the last thing I wanted so I stayed back a bit, which was really hard! I wanted every detail, I wanted photos, I wanted to know what they were doing. In short, my bipolar brain wanted control and constant reassurance and hated that I didn’t (and shouldn’t) have it.

Anyway, I tried everything to shake the anxiety but nothing worked. My wife did everything possible to distract me but it was always there in the back of my mind, just waiting to jump to the forefront the minute there was a gap. I watched tv, slept, worked, read my book, wrote on my blog, and even surfed the internet for a while but until they were safely home I was a bit of a wreck. Of course they made it home just fine and had enjoyed themselves immensely. I’m pretty sure it’s on the agenda again for next year!

As usual there was a lesson in it for me:

My kids can do just fine when I give them trust, time, and space to work together and I can get through them doing that if I just trust the flow of their development and stop trying to manage it. I think that’s one big fat hint to just get my anxiety-ridden-control-freak of a bipolar brain out of their way and let them sort stuff out on their own without trying to referee quite so often.

Do you ever get little parenting lessons? What are they? Share them below in the comments! I’d love to hear from you 🙂

This Bipolar Life: The Meds Merry-go-Round

So whenever you get a diagnosis of bipolar the first thing the docs, and reasonably so, want to try is medication. Of course this is along with behavioral therapy but they definitely want you on meds. This can get very interesting as you sometimes have to try dozens of different meds and/or med combinations to figure out what works – and more importantly, what doesn’t. When they don’t work, well that can trigger any number of reactions, some fun and some not so much.

I have been on at least two dozen medications and countless combinations over the ten years since my diagnosis. I can’t even tell you what’s worked with what anymore. It wasn’t until well into dealing with this that I even started keeping records of such things. I can tell you I’ve learned there are some that really don’t work well with Sudafed (that turns me into a raging bitch if I take it for more than three days) and I can also say with confidence that there are others that will simply knock me out cold. If there is a side effect I’ll find it and sometimes it can really make this challenging. Although there are certainly physical side effects (fatigue, weight gain, skin problems, etc.) I’m going to focus today’s blog on my mental side effects, which by the way, are some of the most difficult to identify when trying a new med. I’m unable to even figure out a good analogy for the process but when you have a mental condition figuring out which mental issues that arise are caused by the condition vs. the new medication can be very tricky.

Before I get started, let me say it can be hard to tell between a good mood and early mania (or alternately situationally sad and early depression), so that right there adds the first layer of annoyance. Sometimes I just want to think I’m normal and just happy or sad, you know?

Anyway, my manic side effects often seem appealing at first as I suddenly have more energy, I’m ready to try new adventures and I’m generally much more pleasant to be around. I’ll drive myself into the ground trying something new and often find myself sleeping much less than normal, around 4-5 hours a night. I’ll be up at odd hours trying some new “thing” I just had to do. I’ll find myself getting more agitated than usual (which is how I know its mania and not just a good mood) at minor issues, responding to a small problem with an overblown reaction. I’ll start talking faster than normal and my thoughts start to ramp up in speed.

But I really know it’s mania when the “Well I can buy that, it’s only X dollars.” starts, something I nearly always do when manic. Note that money issues and bipolar often go hand in hand. It’s very difficult to manage and personally you’ll find my debit card in my wife’s wallet on those occasions. I can easily get to the point where I just can’t trust my own judgement on spending so…off to her wallet it goes and I move on a cash-only basis. You might also find me kicking off a road trip at the last minute or planning some new adventure that we just must do! It can be overwhelming for the folks around me to keep up. These are about where my mania has reached although I know others have found much higher and more difficult heights than I have, I just wanted to give you an insight into mine as part of this process.

My depressive side effects can be hard for me to notice at first. I just start to slow down and don’t do as much around the house, I don’t call as many friends or post as many things online, I simply begin to delicately (or sometimes not so much so) step back from my life. I’ll let myself go a bit and won’t pay as close attention to what I’m eating or even if I am throughout the day. Then I stop doing pleasurable things. You won’t find me coloring, or reading, or eating tasty things just for the fun of trying them. I’ll pass over the chance to go out and see friends or go to a movie.

If it gets even worse I’ll start to have a hard time getting out of bed and will have to pull myself physically up to make sure I function, as I have a lot of responsibilities and few of them go away or can be pushed off just because I’m having an episode. I mean, the kids still need to head off to school, right? They deserve a hug from mom on the way out and a bit of supervision to make sure they eat first (I swear those kids would voluntarily starve if they had their way!). On rare occasions though, even that’s not enough and the days start off without me. I just stay in bed. Not for the whole day but at times it can be hours. I’m not even sure what I do while laying there. I think I just generally obsess about something and my mind wanders while I drift in and out of resting. Regardless, I’m definitely not productive and am wasting time and energy in ways I’d rather not.

Obviously both types of side effects can impact my life in pretty dramatic ways and let me tell you, they are rarely appreciated by the people around me. Especially the depressive ones, those are met with concern and worry (and sometimes frustration that I can’t just “pull myself out of it”) while the manic ones are generally greeted with excitement at first as people think I’m “better” and “okay now”.  It’s a bit difficult to explain to them when suddenly I’m not. Both mania and depression can be difficult to identify at first and, as you can see, clearly mental side effects of meds can be overwhelming and complex. So the next time you have a friend trying a new med combination, be compassionate and try to understand, it’s just as confusing for us as it likely is for you.

This Bipolar Life: Dinner and a movie

Do you ever take things more personally than others might? Has someone ever done something that is perfectly normal, acceptable, perhaps even reasonable and yet you still found it offensive to you in some way? Well bipolar brains experience that a lot. Here’s a very brief tale of how I went through that just last night. Enjoy!

So we were supposed to have movie and dinner last night as a family, minus my wife of course because she’s working two jobs and is gone in the evening, but the kids’ dad came over and we were going to settle in for a nice evening. We had all the kids at home and were going to make a nice meal.

You may be wondering where the bipolar part comes in, it always does, and in this case it’s about teens and their natural propensity to disappear to their rooms for hours on end. At some point in the evening, well past the dinner hour, I called the kids down to talk. They were thrilled at the prospect I’m sure but I felt it was necessary. To be fair, so did their dad. However, we took two very different approaches.

He had ready access to his rational mind and gave very reasonable explanations for why the children should be downstairs while we were having a family night and how they should turn off their screens. Then he spent the rest of the time helping to decipher what I was saying as mine was nearly all focused on the emotional aspect. See, I took it personally. Something my bipolar brain does A LOT. He helped them see that what I was feeling was valid and that it translated into thoughts, which he helped me put into words. He, and others, often help me see that a situation is not about me and help me step back and see it objectively. Once I’m able to do that I find that not only am I calmer but so are the people around me, especially my kids.

So, if a bipolar person in your world takes what you say and twists it try saying something along the lines of, “I think perhaps there’s a misunderstanding…” or, “Actually I perceive it as…”. Try using some ways of helping them reframe the issue without feeling attacked. It’s a hard balance to strike but one that is important when dealing with folks like me.

This Bipolar Life: Mind Games

Can you imagine what it’s like to never really trust your own thoughts and feelings? I don’t need to imagine it. I live it, every day. I never know if it’s my bipolar brain distorting my thoughts or my rational mind generating feelings I don’t know if I can’t be certain of either.

It’s not often a serious issue, typically I can rely on my rational mind (thank you meds!) but recently I had a situation arise where I needed to follow my gut instinct and I wasn’t sure I could or should. As a bipolar person, I’m never sure what my inclination really is. I spent hours weighing my options and trying to figure out if my gut feelings were being driven by my bipolar brain or my rational mind. In the end I had to go on faith that it was best to err on the side of caution and go with my a combination of the two (having hope that my bipolar brain wasn’t distorting my thoughts) but it took me a while to get there.

That I cannot have faith in my own mind, in my thoughts and feelings, is one of the biggest frustrations of bipolar disorder for me. I want to be sure. Being something of a control freak I have always wanted absolute certainty. Instead now I live with nearly constant questions and frustration. I’m always wondering and never confident.  In every area of my life. It makes it very difficult to make decisions. This struggle to retain access to my own mind, to my true “self”, is one of my greatest losses from all of this.