Uniquely, Bipolar-ly, Me

Bipolar disorder.  There.  I said it.  It’s what I have…my particular flavor of brain cooties.  I have ups.  I have downs.  I also have a somewhat “normal” state.  One thing I’ve learned over the past few years, though, is that bipolar disorder is different for each person who suffers from it.  My own variety is mine, unique, particular to me.

turbo-roller-coasterI didn’t understand this for a long time, to tell the truth.  When I was first diagnosed roughly 13 years ago, I didn’t even realize that there are two distinct “varieties” of bipolar disorder.  There’s bipolar I which is what most people think of when they think of bipolar disorder.  The manias are wild, bright, colorful rides without needing much more than a nap.  Of course, there are also the lows.

Then there’s bipolar II, which I have.  With bipolar II, the highs are less intense, in general, but the lows

…oh, those lows.  They’re killer.  Literally.  The successful suicide rate of bipolar II is very high.  Everything is drained of color, like a black and white movie that’s been colorized to shades of gray.  Or an abandoned amusement park.  There are other types of bipolar disorder, and many within the medical community are now seeing bipolar as being on a spectrum rather than being distinct types.  Personally, from what I’ve learned, that would make more sense.

 

I cohabitated peacefully with my diagnosis for a few years.  I mean, I had lived with it for all of my adult life and then some without even realizing I had it.  Once diagnosed, I did seek treatment. But that treatment didn’t stop me from having my little mini-highs and two to three day lows.  As I mentioned, the rest of the time I was pretty much even keel.  But then something began to change.  I was in school full time, and loving it.  Have I told you I adore being in school?  Well, I do.  But suddenly I had no energy.  Taking a shower was a monumental task.  Completing assignments for school, well, it got done, but just by the hair of my chinny chin chin.

depressedThen the semester ended.  And I crashed.  I never had crying spells before during my mini down periods.  Suddenly, though, I was crying non stop.  And this was going on for weeks!  There were a lot of external sources of stress adding to my organic plague and it all came together in a perfect storm.  I crashed.  I was hospitalized in what was fortunately a marvelous facility with staff that cared.  And I’ve already written about the “Quiet Room”, so you know something of my experiences there.  It’s too bad all psychiatric facilities aren’t as good as that one.

This occurred ten years ago and I’ve tried to go back to school, but my focus is off.  My memory is pitiful.  Until I feel that little nudge saying “It’s time”, I’ll hold off.  Meanwhile, I’m actually fairly stable, and it scares me to say that!  I haven’t been stable in ten years.  Now that I am, I’m scared of going off track again.  Plus, I miss the feeling of hypomania.  Such a wonderful, euphoric feeling most of the time, but I absolutely do not miss the lows.  Those killer lows.  I’m on a mood stabilizer which keeps me from feeling the extremes.  I think our recent move is also a positive thing for me.  I miss the trees around our previous home, but I do like being able to look out the window and see neighboring cows wandering the hillside and Christmas lights on a nearby house.  I can do laundry without having to trek down into the dungeon, whoops, I mean basement.  (Lifting imaginary glass.) Here’s to you.  May you be finding success at what passes for stability in your life, too.

Hypomania, Wherefore Art Thou?

alone-in-fogI’ve talked a lot about the depression, the ceaseless days and nights spent in overwhelming darkness and despair.  That’s because, for me, depression has been a near constant companion over the past 13 years.  I’ve broken out from time to time, but generally speaking, depression has literally shadowed me.  Episodes of “normality” (whatever that is) and occasional periods of hypomania have let me know, fortunately, that I can go into a period of remission.  And, I believe that’s where I am now.  Thank goodness!

But what of this hypomania of which I speak?  What is it?  Well, for people with bipolar II, hypomania is…generally…a period of elevated mood.  It’s not as extreme as it is for those with bipolar l, but it is usually a happy, energized time.  A period where the world is charming, we’re charming, and life is grand and wonderful.  Generally.  I’ll get to the conditions in a bit.

amusement park ridesI’ve mentioned before how I had these periods of being down, usually just physically, followed by periods of euphoria.  That euphoria is something to be craved.  It’s like the best kiss ever, the most exciting carnival ride, the most fun time even during mundane tasks.  It’s the energy to work all day, put together a decent meal, play games with the family after dinner, and follow it up with an amazing romantic episode with your significant other.  All that and more.  Smiling the whole time.  Conversation comes more easily, witty remarks flow from your lips, creativity is at its max, we love more deeply, and the desire to do something…anything, really…is strong.

lots-of-money

All of this comes at a price.  Sometimes that price is literal.  Mania and hypomania are noted for spending sprees, often with money that’s borrowed.  Credit card debt is not uncommon, at all.  Later, during periods of relative sanity, someone with bipolar disorder will look at the purchases and wonder, “Why?”  I know I have.  Anxiety can be enhanced during mania and hypomania, as well.  During hypomanic spells, angry outbursts may be common.

However, we don’t remember this.  Or at least some of us don’t.  We remember how good we felt, perhaps because of how nice it was to not be depressed!  And the hell of mood stabilizers is that while they are intended to prevent those deep, dark periods, they also tend to prevent the up side.  I mean, what’s the fun of having bipolar disorder if you can’t have a little hypomanic spell once in a while?  (wink, wink)

This is a very brief, very generic outline of hypomania.  Ask two people how they experience it and you’ll get some similarities, but there will also be differences.

Then there are mixed episodes.  Oh, boy.  What fun (she says in her most sarcastic voice).  I’ll get to that in another post, along with discussing a plethora of other mood disorders.  Did you know it’s estimated that 25% of the population have or will experience a mood disorder at some point in his/her life?  Hopefully I’m passing along some information you see as valuable.  And, as always, if you have any questions, please pass them along.

The Ugly Demon and the Crafting Sword

You know that I have bipolar disorder, right?  I mean, I admit it in virtually every post!  What you may not realize is that the bulk of my time is spent depressed rather than hypomanic.  At one time I would have said deeply depressed, but now…fortunately…it’s just depressed.  The difference, you ask?  Well, deeply depressed is an overwhelming feeling of helplessness, hopelessness, some shame as a bit of seasoning, sadness, and a belief that it will never, ever end.  Depression is bad enough.  Deeply depressed is like drowning in air.  It’s staying in bed because there’s no energy to even get up.  With depression, the feeling is that there is a life preserver out there somewhere, it’s just a matter of finding it.  You might note that I didn’t say anything about being sad.  It’s my belief, not a fact, just my own belief, that clinical depression has little to do with sadness.  I’ll talk about that in another post.  I found my life preserver in the hands of a compassionate, skilled psychiatrist and an outstanding therapist.  Well, that and the right pharmacological cocktail.  But it took the pdoc (psychiatrist) understanding how neurotransmitters work to come up with my cocktail.

Depression world cloud

But wait!  There’s more!  I also craft!  Yes, even while depressed, I craft.  Crafting gets me into another world for a while.  When I get into the zone, the depression is pushed to the side.  I become happy, hopeful, excited even!  And I’m learning there’s a whole bunch of people who feel the same way.

You see, I belong to a Facebook group for craft hoarders.  Yep, you got that right.  Craft hoarders!  We can’t pass up craft supplies without buying something.  We sneak it in in the middle of the night, or mixed in with groceries or such.  We’re that bad!  Actually, we’re pretty good.  Pretty good at hiding our crafting obsessions from others!  HA!  We may have a designated crafting space, but that doesn’t stop the supplies from tumbling out all over the house.  As if a mere designated space could hold the bounty of our supplies!  But we use these supplies!  Or we will.  Someday.  Someday soon.  Glitter. Paper. Fabric. Deco mesh. Buttons. You name it, I and others have it.  And it will all be put to good use.  I will soon be getting a good sized she-shed with an attached shop.  No, not the shopping kind of shop.  But the kind where my youngest will no doubt work on cars, motorcycles, and such.  But it’ll make a good overrun area for supplies!

Artist painting.

I was surprised the other day when one of these dear people…a woman, as are most of the group’s members…mentioned being depressed.  I was relieved when she received so much support.  Sadly, there is still a great deal of stigma attached to mental illness.  However, I was astounded at the number of other members, literally dozens, who admitted to struggling with depression and anxiety.  This one thread was so full of positive energy as admissions were made to the difficulties of life with depression, and the benefit of creating in keeping the ugly demons at bay.  Also, the positive affirmations to one another to keep crafting.  I was actually in tears.

I am not my illness.You might have noticed one of the categories on my blog is “crafts”.  If it’s a blog for mental illness, why add crafts, you may wonder?  Because while I might have bipolar disorder with a heavy emphasis on the depression, that’s not who I am.  It doesn’t define me.  I’m multifaceted and one of my facets includes creating.  Actually, since reading some of the comments within that FB group, I’m pondering the possibility that a great deal of creating comes from those who suffer, in one way, shape, or form.  Could it be we’re given these talents to help us cope?  I do know I want to reach out to these women and see if any of them are willing to share how they create.  I’ve seen the work of some of the people in this group and it’s astounding!  I’d love to show it off on my blog.

Anxiety Rears Its Ugly Head

I just wanted OUT!!!   I wanted to run out, screaming at the top of my lungs!  And if I hadn’t been (at that time, anyway) such a quiet, reserved person, I might just have done so.  But at 15, I was very quiet, very reserved, and did not in any way want to call attention to myself.  I couldn’t even tell my parents what I was experiencing.  Yet here I was, attending a big sale at a local store with my parents and about 75 to 100 other people, all of us in a small building, waiting to hear who won the door prize.  By that time, I was almost hyperventilating.  I guess it must have shown a little because when we finally left that horrid setting, my mom asked if I was okay.  I mumbled something and we headed for home.

I now know this was a panic attack.  I also know that my panic attacks began at a very young age.  You see, I used to have what one doctor termed a “delicate system”.  I hated that term.  I didn’t want to be “delicate” as this was the era of “Anything a boy can do a girl can do better” and I was one of the girls determined to prove this adage correct.  However, it was true that I got sick a lot, mostly with ear and sinus infections.  As a result, I missed quite a bit of school.  But, if not for my old friend anxiety, I would have missed far less.

You see, when it came time to go back to school, my heart would pound and I would literally feel weak.  I was terrified, despite having plenty of friends and being an “A” student.  I didn’t know what I was afraid of, just that I was afraid.  I’d tell my mom that I still didn’t feel well and I’d get another one or two days’ reprieve.  And it wasn’t like it was fun and games to stay home.  I had to stay in bed and in my pajamas.  I certainly wasn’t doing anything wild and crazy.

It was easier to go back on a Monday, when everyone else had had a weekend off.  I felt that my reemergence into the classroom wasn’t as dramatic as it would be on, say, a Thursday.  Now, I don’t know that that’s true, but that was my perception back then. Even now, if I’m absent a Sunday or two at Church, while I miss the people there, my heart beats hard in my chest when it’s time to return.

The difference between “then” and “now” is twofold.  One, I’ve discovered a name for what’s wrong with me.  Anxiety.  It has a name!  Hurray! Giving it a name means it has a definition and, yes, my symptoms are right there.  “Generalized Anxiety Disorder”.  It would look better if my flavor of anxiety had a cooler name, but my flavor is pretty gross…I’d had to take on some of the other flavors.

And two is coping mechanisms.  I know no one is going to call me names or try to hurt me if I miss a Sunday or two. I remind myself of this.  I know when I meet someone that he/she is possibly just as nervous as I am, so deep breaths and a big (forced) smile help put the other person at ease and his/her ease helps me feel at ease.  (Did that whole sentence make sense?) Deep breaths, as I’ve told my youngest on many occasions, deep breaths slowly in through the nose…hold…and slowly out through the mouth.  This helps the physical symptoms of anxiety and the physical kinda tricks the mental.

Knowing when to leave is key, also.  I knew when to leave at that sale I attended at 15, I just didn’t know I truly needed to just get outside the doors into the cooler, quieter air.  I know this now, so I leave even if it means walking away from a cart full of groceries.  Now, don’t act like you haven’t done that.  LOL!  I know at least a few of you have done this, or maybe completed the purchase, but in such high-stress mode that you wish you had walked away.  Like many things, there are times I think I have to be the only one, but I later discover there’s a whole bunch of other people who have done the same thing or felt the same way. Knowing when to shop and when to stay away from stores is another, for me, essential coping mechanism.

Now, some may consider this separate from coping mechanisms, but I add my medication to this list as without it, I’m a mess.  A big, ol’ anxiety ridden depressed mess.  I’m grateful to the mini-pharmacy in my upper right desk drawer for helping to keep me on relatively stable terms.

I recently submitted a brief questionnaire to BPHope magazine which essentially asked if there were any external stimuli that contributed to a mood.  Oh, my goodness!  I could have typed forever, but for me the biggest is sound or noises.  Being in that cramped, very noisy room at that sale brought on a full scale panic attack.  Going back to noisy, generally cramped classrooms after the quiet of home was also a trigger.  Now I know this and knowing, they say, is half the battle.

Do crowds bother you?  How about being in a noisy environment?  How do you cope?