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!

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.

The Daily Gazette: March 14th, 2015

One thing I enjoy most is reading other articles and blog posts about mental illness and will be sharing my Top 3 with you in the hopes of increasing awareness:

Mental Health: A New Priority in Corporate America – by Nancy Wang

Joe Sifer was a moody, agitated and sometimes angry young employee at Booz Allen Hamilton in 1996. He suffered at work. He was told he had potential but he needed help.

Now a senior vice president at that same strategy and technology firm, Sifer said without the care the company provided him 20 years ago, he would not be where he is today.


Mental illness rampant in war-torn Syria – by AFP

Damascus – Exhausted by four years of war and economic hardship, Syrians are suffering from an epidemic of mental illness, from suicidal adults to children plagued by recurring nightmares.

The number of Syrians with mental disorders has increased by a quarter since 2011, the health ministry said last month, revealing the extent of the damage for the first time.


Offering help to families, independence to mentally ill – by AZ Central

George Cejudo sits at a table with his easel. Carefully, he mixes his paints and applies them to his canvas. Slowly, he begins to shade in the lower face of a portrait.

Cejudo, a Phoenix resident, was enrolled in the PSA Behavioral Health Agency’s respite-care program for families caring for adults with mental illness about two years ago.

Cejudo’s family found support. He found independence, enrolling in an art program.

For more of these updates please subscribe to my blog here.


This Bipolar Life: Coming Out

When I was first diagnosed with bipolar depression I actually took it rather well. I was relieved to have an explanation and some sort of lifeline to get out of the hell I was going through. Between raising three children under five, a tween, working full time and being a partner, well damn…it’s enough to challenge anyone and so ’round about 2005 my brain had just had enough of “normal”. Fortunately this all happened in a safe way with friends surrounding me but it something was wrong so, it was off to a psych doc for me and they eventually figured it out and started me on a med regimen that helped. A lot.

I have spent years wondering if I really have bipolar disorder and it’s only recently that I was able to truly accept that regardless of the label, something was wrong. That and it seemed like the label sort of fit based on all the stuff my care circle was saying so…bipolar disorder it was! An anxiety disorder diagnosis is just a bonus! Now I just had to figure out what to do about it. I’d always been religious with my medications so that wasn’t an issue. But learning how to not only live but thrive with this condition became my primary focus. I read every book, page, and blog I could get my hands on.

You know what I learned? Most people don’t want to talk about it. Ever. Not even quietly in corners. Not even in comments on a Faceboook post. They don’t even want to “like” a mental illness related post. It makes them uncomfortable. As a society we just keep it secreted away and hope that perhaps if we don’t talk about it then it’s not real. Sort of like playing peek-a-boo with a small child, if I can’t see it then it doesn’t exist.

That pissed me off. A lot. How could something that affects over 5 million people (in the US alone) just be tucked away never to be spoken of? What was that going to do to help get funding for research or to normalize the issue? Nothing.

That’s where media (including this blog) comes in. See, when I get pissed I get active so I did just that. I made the very thoughful, difficult, and deeply personal decision to come out of the bipolar closet. Publicly. Not just to my friends, not just to my family, but to complete strangers. Via email, my local newspaper, my public Facebook profile, through my Twitter, and on my blog. Why? In the hope that someone, somewhere, will realize they are not alone. That there is at least one other person out there who understands and cares. Maybe someone who will see a bit of themselves in me. Yes, it could cost me friends, or a job, or other things I can’t think of yet but I have faith it will all work out. Besides, I don’t want any of those things if they can’t accept me as I am, completely. I already have all I need and anything else is icing on the cake.

Best of all, I learned today that my efforts have already made a difference in at least one person’s life and for that alone I am glad I’ve made the decisions I have.


This Bipolar Life: Is Love Enough?

We all know how important love can be and are familiar with the old adage, “Love is all we need” but in reality is it truly enough when it comes to relationships with people who struggle with mental illness? I’m going to share a bit about my life and then examine this issue from both the  as  someone who loves a person with bipolar and then from the perspective of someone with bipolar.

The every day reality of living with me tends to involve more ups and downs than a mini roller coaster and can be something of an adventure as I’ve alluded to before. But in general it usually involves variations between slight depression, when I feel horrid because I forgot to help the kids with their homework or I tend to get teary over stupid little things.  If I am in the midst of hypomania I can be elated because I got a card in the mail. I was over the moon! But, for me the other side of hypomania is that I tend to manifest by being bitchy, something that gets on everyone’s nerves (understandably) and I’ll just try to get through the evening without an argument. See? It’s a little adventure, every day. I think 95% of the time it’s about like this.

Being someone with bipolar disorder I know the pain and joy (to the extent possible) that I bring to the lives of those who love me. In my worst states, I know they make extraordinary sacrifices and suffer right alongside me sometimes, as I surf the waves just trying to stay afloat. I struggle to believe I am worth their efforts, hope, and love. It is so terrible to watch them see me do everything I can, knowing there is very little they can do to help, because in the end it is my battle to fight. They can stand beside me but they can’t do it for me. This is true in high mania just as much as in severe depression. Friends and families are left to watch from the sidelines as they pray I make it through okay. And so far I have.

Now, as a person who loves someone with bipolar I can appreciate the unique experience that it is. Loving them for all they are, in spite of and sometimes because of, their bipolar disorder. Wanting to support them but knowing that at some point I may not be able to for my own safety or sanity. At their most challenging moments, hearing their pain or excitement, feeling it even, and yet being unable to make it go away or even dampen it a bit. The hurt caused by watching that happen before my eyes is irreparable. I can move past it but it is unforgettable. My heart aches for the future ahead of them and yet at the same time I am optimistic that they can move successfully through the current situation and rise above to reach for the stars. I believe in them and their ability to do so. The only other option is one I refuse to even consider. It’s just too scary. And that is, for me anyway, one of the the core aspects of being the loved one of someone with bipolar disorder. Fear. That at any point there will be an episode they just can’t get out of and I will have to sit back and watch it (and them) spiral, in either direction, toward an unknown destination.

In the end, loving someone with bipolar means never really knowing what you’re going to be dealing with from one day to the next. There is moderate stability for most of us but more often than not that doesn’t completely eliminate the waves, just makes them more manageable, hopefully for everyone.