This Bipolar Life: The Coin Toss

Making decisions is not my strength, yet. I’m working on it but the whole finality of the choices gets me. Like, what if I’m wrong? What if it goes sideways? What if? What if? What if? Increasingly I am also making sure to wonder if I’m right too and that’s helping!

Fortunately I have tools to use. I use techniques like remembering to go through pros/cons and asking those around me to help play out the scenario over coffee/zoom. Their feedback is invaluable as I don’t quite trust my gut just yet (another thing I’m working on) because although my mind is on point my brain chemicals can get whacky occasionally and cloud my ability to clearly see options.

Seriously though, I’m a grown-ass woman who often get’s stuck and can’t figure out what to watch on tv, which craft to pick up, which project to start, business to launch, relationships to end/start, meals to make, jobs to choose, careers, empty nest decoration…just all of it. Talk about ridiculous, right? Well I have a tool that works really well, here goes:

My solution – AND IT WORKS 100% FOR ME – has been to rely on a coin-toss. After becoming fully aware of my choices, benefits and consequences I figure out my top two options and throw a coin up. While it’s in the air I instinctively know which one I want. Heads or tails, each representing a commitment to seeing something through, and I know. Instantly. Before it hits the ground, which choice I want.

ALWAYS. Then, no matter how the coin lands, I’ve finally made my decision and I can move on.

Just one tool that works for me. Maybe you’ll find it helpful too!

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: 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.