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: Life lesson #2,437,604

Okay, so I keep trying to find something super interesting to write about and all I can think is to share my life as much as I can. So, here’s something I’ve learned about myself: I can be impulsive, overly so, to the point where it can become destructive and challenging to manage. It’s almost always precipitated by an anxiety attack and at some point some impulses become compulsions. I’m not sure when and which but I know it sucks. Note that this is one of the key things I’m working on in therapy, promise!

Impulsive behavior and thoughts are part of bipolar 1 and unfortunately not new. They are alive and well and one of the most common behaviors. Easily magnified by atypical anti-psychotic meds like Abilify and Seroquel (see pgk inserts) impulsivity can be risky and damaging to the world around us.

So, what do you think of when the word ‘impulse’ comes up? Huge spending sprees? Picking up a random item at the check out aisle? Picking up a small child for a quick spin-around? Hopping on a plane/train/car for a quick “getaway”, unplanned and unprepared?

I have done all of these and then some. However, no one talks about the other side of impulsivity: opening our big fat mouths and spilling out a stream of consciousness. Behind a keyboard or in-person, doesn’t matter. Although, frankly, having a keyboard delays me just enough to edit, which can be better than continuing to blurt out words that are unhelpful and destructive.

This is one of the most difficult and disappointing behaviors in bipolar, because words, once said, cannot be taken back. Yet I frustratingly continue to engage in it, less so now as I’ve gotten further into the self-work to deal with it, but still way more than I would prefer. Mind you this happens during mania *and* depression so it’s not like I ever get a break from it – ugh!

It’s almost as if whatever is bouncing around in my head causing anxiety just has to be spilled out and talked to death for me to put order around the chaos of the thoughts themselves. In the process I can bring up conversation topics out of the blue and blow them out of proportion. This doesn’t always involve tears and such, it’s just sometimes really hard. Difficult to accept the reality of the destruction I leave in the wake of my ugly energy in those moments.

Once I realized my impulsivity was a product of 1) bipolar, 2) an over-active imagination, 3) not all about me and 4) a reality about myself that I could accept or drive myself mad trying to change. Does that mean I’m not intending to work on it? Not at all. Just that I’m not going to keep spinning my wheels in frustration when really all I want to do is discuss things. I find it difficult that those same conversations sometimes lead to unpleasant results. See? Really what I want is to control the outcome but yeah, that’s a tale for another post.

Anyway, remember that crystal ball I mentioned? Yeah, that’d be really helpful *before* I start opening my mouth, right? That said, I also am working on honoring what does. It can be quite useful in figuring out my triggers and areas for growth. So, guess that means it’s last night has handed me life lesson #2,437,604.

And….on to manage the next impulse!

This Bipolar Life: Professional Mania

Here’s a story I’ve never shared: About two years ago I bought a new car, okay I did so with a loan, but I still put my ass in a new class of manic, even for me. Brand new. I didn’t even test drive it. Nothing. They pulled it up and I signed the papers. Even with horrible interest rates due to my terrible credit rating (you know, the well known spending/debt aspect of bipolar). Regardless of these risks, and I did understand them, I still just bought it. It was pretty. It was new. It would be mine. 

Had I gotten inside I would have realized it wasn’t the right car for me. It doesn’t “fit” quite right and it has zero in fancy features. Not that every car needs to have built-in GPS but I was awfully used to it in my prior car, a Honda Odyssey minivan. That thing had a ton of features but I didn’t take good care of it so I eventually needed a replacement. Heck, I even hate that “my new car” has fabric seats so it can get stained – yay? Something that I really can’t stand. I probably would have walked away or at least bought something different. Maybe.

Anyway, that night I drove home in a beautiful blue suv with the worst case of buyer’s remorse I’ve ever had. I should have been flying high and excited about my new car. Wouldn’t other people be if they bought a new vehicle? Reveling in the new car smell and the “newness” of everything around them. Learning the signals and the windshield wipers and the radio and all that fun stuff. But not me, I knew I had gone above and beyond anything I’d done manic in the past and yet I just kept driving. I could have turned around and nullified the entire deal but I didn’t. Why? 

Because I would look like an idiot, I told myself. Because I would have to confess my stupidity and make “them” look at me with sympathy. Because I wasn’t sure I would be able to get out from under the loan I’d agreed to. So many more reasons I won’t go into but they were definitely swirling inside my head turning what should have been a wonderful moment into something ugly and unpleasant. Anxiety swirled all around me and all I could think of was how much I’d f’d up. It was all my fault. I wanted to throw up. I had failed at impulse control. Again. This time I’d gotten myself into a situation of such magnitude there was no way to get out of it that wouldn’t be overly difficult.

Right after and to this day I regret every signature. I know I am very grateful for a universe that allowed me to have a functional and beautiful car but often I just feel a slew of emotions when I swing open the door. Every time I climb in to drive I am reminded of my illness. The guilt in those moments just makes me nauseous. And it is all my own fault.

I knew all of this and yet I still did it. I. Did. It. Anyway.

And that, my friends, is professional-grade mania.

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