This Bipolar Life: Goldilocks and Me

Almost universally people with mental illnesses struggle with figuring out when they can trust their brains. Like, at what point is my depressed brain overriding my daily existence? When does it stop and I find a new normal? How do I know? When can I trust it? Now? Later? When I’ve gone X time since the last depression/mania? How long does that need to be before it’s okay to have faith in my thoughts and feelings?

These are just some of the questions that have bounced around my mind over the past several months as my moods have gone from chaos to relatively stabilized. See, I began weekly solution-based talk therapy about a year ago and four months ago removed some meds from my routine.

Now, when I rate my moods they’re all solidly in the middle, between ‘Slightly Happy’ and ‘Really Happy’ with the occasional ‘Kind of Sad’ but no longer any manic or devastating lows. Like, nothing. No spikes, no depressions, just middle. Like Goldilocks.

“Normal” is something I have worked for. Hard. I make efforts every single day to help live with my bipolar disorder but I still don’t trust it. I’ve lived with the chaos of depression and mania swings for so long this feels wrong. I mean, it’s good, not bad, but scary. Seems weird, huh? Like, how could you finally find a decent stability only to question it?

I do question it. I do worry. I want to trust it. So desperately.

Right now I’m taking a leap of faith.

In myself.

I can do this.

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.

TBL: An Open Letter to My Children

I know it’s hard. I know it’s unimaginably difficult to live with a parent who sometimes quickly vacillates between the ups and downs of life.

I know because I’ve lived it. It was my reality. For years. And now it’s yours. For better or worse, this is what you get. Frankly, I think I’m a pretty rockin’ mom all things considered, although feedback from my kiddos may vary.

Loving me is one of the easiest, hardest, and most worthwhile things you will ever do. I am completely worth it and the reward is priceless but the effort is sometimes harder than you will ever imagine and for that, I am sorry. In retrospect and in advance.

For what, you ask? Well for the reality of living with a parent like me. Who loves deeply, cares passionately, is fiercely loyal, and damn funny but at the same time sometimes very sad, exceedingly happy, and generally somewhere in between the two.

You’ve seen me as you’ve grown and you know I don’t tend to do the “let’s get on an airplane and take a vacation!” kind of mania. In fact, you know me well enough to know that when I’m going to Goodwill it’s probably because I need some sort of retail therapy. You also know that when I’m up in my room reading or doing artwork that I’m trying to find my center and occupy that space. Not that you know what that means yet but I want you to know that I understand.

I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to have a parent disappear and not really know why they can’t just “come out and play” but rather are held back by the invisible restraints of overwhelming depressive states. That I occupy these spaces for mere hours at a time makes them no less difficult for you. I get that.

I’ve been there. When you’re not really sure which version of your parent you’re going to see that day. When you’re smiling and happy and then they say something that unintentionally takes the wind out of your sails. When you’re sad but they’re in a disconnected space at that point so they don’t always notice.

I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to cry and hope that your parent cares enough to understand. Hope that they’re even in a space to. To not be certain and yet crave it so deeply that there is no other way for you to live and love, just this. Careening with hope and caring with the desperate wish for a parent who is whole, present, loving, and predictable.

I’ve been there. I am sorry about the predictable and whole bits, those will never be me, not in the way you’re looking for. I am whole. Just not the way you hoped I’d be. I am present. Most of the time. When I can’t be, I have a whole village present for me just in case. I am most definitely loving, deeply and without apology. I love you and always will.

I’ve been there. As for predictability? Well, it’s never really been my thing and who knows? When you grow up it might not be yours either. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

I’ve been there. It’s hard sometimes but I promise I’m worth it.

XOXO/Mom

 

This Bipolar Life: Weekly Wrap Up

I hope you’ve all had a great week. Here’s a collection of interesting articles I’ve come across in the past week. I hope you find them informative and helpful. Have a fantastic weekend!


What We Are Not Being Told About Suicide And Depression (Alertnet.org)

For nearly two decades, Big Pharma commercials have falsely told Americans that mental illness is associated with a chemical brain imbalance, but the truth is that mental illness and suicidality are associated with poverty, unemployment, and mass incarceration. And the truth is that American society has now become so especially oppressive for young people that an embarrassingly large number of American teenagers and young adults are suicidal and depressed.

Big strides for mental-health reform, but work remains (Seattle Times)

The well-documented problems of Washington’s mental-health system are not completely about funding. A $90-million cut during the Great Recession widened existing gaps in access to treatment. But the system for years has been confusing and fragmented, often thwarting well-intended families from getting critical care for sick loved ones.

9 Ways to Cope with Having a Mental Illness (PsychCentral.com)

The world is pretty much in the Stone Age when it comes to psychiatry. This makes it hard for people with any degree of mental illness. It’s especially hard if you’re not quite able to function like other people but you do well enough so that your problems don’t show every day.

No Longer Wanting to Die (NY Times)

I fit the demographic profile of the American suicide — white, male and entering middle age with a history of depression. Suicide runs in families, research tells us, and it ran in mine. My father killed himself at age 49 in April 1990. A generation before, an aunt of his took her life; before her, there were others.

The Sticky Stigma of Mental Illness (HuffPost)

Mental illness strikes close to home, both yours and mine. According to the National Association of Mental Illness, the number of people in our society grappling with these diseases is truly staggering. One in four adults in the United States will experience mental illness in a given year. 20% of youth ages 13-18 will also experience severe mental disorders. 1.1% of American adults live with schizophrenia, 2.6% live with bipolar disorder, 6.7% live with depression, and 18.1% face anxiety disorders. Serious mental illness costs our nation $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year. 

Comment: Some people with bipolar struggle to communicate, here’s why (SBS News)

Every day we are confronted with information that stimulates many of our senses at the same time, but we don’t perceive this information in its component parts. Rather, we perceive it as a whole without being conscious of doing so. But people with bipolar disorder struggle with this integration process, and this might make it hard for them to communicate.