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 Quiet Room (First Published 12/12/2013)

So, where was I?  Back a couple of posts or so ago…?  Oh, that’s right!  I crashed and burned.  Yep.  First, a correction.  This occurred at the end of Block III in the teacher ed program, not Block II.  The next semester would have been the final Block then student teaching before hopefully passing the Praxis test and entering the classroom as a teacher.

College classroom

Now here I was, three weeks left to spare in Block III, and I was crashing.  I managed to complete the semester.  I had to!  I’d invested too much, and had watched the investment my family had also put into my education, to quit at that point.  And I believed I just needed a little break before hitting the books again in the fall.  I had a whole summer.

That’s not the way it went, though.  A month later I was sleeping almost non stop.  When I wasn’t sleeping I was crying.  Or that’s the way it seemed to me at the time.  Looking back I recall so very little.  Just that things were very dark.

John had been attending some of my counseling sessions with me in an effort to better understand my illness.  We made an emergency appointment with *Flo (can you see being in therapy with Flo as the therapist?  J ) and had to make a decision.  Was I able to cope?  Was I in danger of harming myself? Was I able to care for myself and/or my family? Was a more intense effort needed to become stable?

I know John wanted only what was best for me, as did Flo.  I’m also sure he must have been terrified at that point.  We decided that the best course of action would be for me to be briefly hospitalized in order to be stabilized, a decision I’d make again today if necessary.

Doctor and patient in hospitalI was fortunate in that my then-doctor was affiliated with an amazing hospital in St. Louis.  Fortunate because the psychiatric ward (now THAT’s a shocking term, isn’t it?) there was for those like me…not for those waiting to dry out between drunks or drug highs or those who were criminals.  Just for those of us whose neurotransmitters were taking a hiatus. And I hafta say, except for the whole crying and sleeping thing, and being horribly depressed, it wasn’t half bad.  Staff was amazing, I had no responsibilities except to get better, the food was great (Hey, that’s important!), and there were plenty of snacks on hand.  We were well cared for.  If called to give it a rating, I’d say five stars.

I have to add I was a little antisocial.  Okay, make that a LOT antisocial.  I didn’t want to attend group therapy, or activities, or anything else that involved other people.  I wanted to be left alone with my book and be allowed to read or sleep.  I was there because I was depressed, not to make friends over arts and crafts.

Then came the first night and the discovery that my roommate snored.  Like a truck.  I absolutely could not sleep through that.  I made my way to the nurses’ station and begged to be allowed to sleep in another room.  All the rooms were full, though.  I then begged to be allowed to sleep on the sofa in the common room, or even in a chair!  Against regulations.  The despair I felt made my earlier despair look like joy, and apparently it showed, ‘cause I was informed that there was the “quiet room” and it was unoccupied!

Girl says shhhhWhat??!!  A quiet room??  Why wasn’t I told about this room before?  Quiet!  That was exactly what I wanted! I almost-happily gathered up my blankets and pillow and tip-toed my way to the room. I wanted that room and didn’t want anyone else to claim it!  My precious!  It was adjacent to the nurses’ station with a window between them.  I noticed the mattress was on the ground but, hey, I didn’t care.  There was no one in the room but me!  Quiet time, here I come!

As I snuggled down, I noticed something on the floor at each corner of the bed.  They were kind of like bent over, u-shaped bolts but each side was bolted into the floor.

The bed wasn’t bolted down. It was just a mattress.  So what could it be?  Then it dawned on me and I actually laughed out loud.

The room could more appropriately be called a “time out” room and was usually for those who needed to be quieted, not for those needing quiet.  I’m still laughing about this, though my husband and doctor were not too thrilled with it (read: horrified) when they found out.  The u-shaped bolt thingies were in case a patient needed to be restrained.  Oh, my.  I’m so un-violent.  The irony is just too much.  But, hey, I’m just grateful the room was empty while I was there because it meant I got to sleep at night.

I was placed on lithium, which is generally a drug of choice for depression, assuming the patient doesn’t develop a toxicity.  I did, but not for several weeks.  It works quickly and had me pretty much stable by the time my three day stint was over. Actually, I felt pretty darn good at that point.

Blood work conducted at the hospital indicated my iron level was dangerously low and that my thyroid had taken early retirement.  Two more potential causes behind my exhaustion and contributing factors to the depression.

So, I did gain some answers.  But better yet?  I got to sleep in the quiet room!

The Great Depression and Stimulus Programs (a history lesson) (Originally published December 16, 2013)

Sorry to disappoint, but this is not a history lesson about the Great Depression in terms of world history, but in terms of my own history.  Me.  The Great Depression of ’06.  Yikes!  Something just occurred to me.  How long did it take the nation to get back on track following the initial stock market crash?  OMGOSH!  I hope it doesn’t take that long for me to become mentally stable.  Seriously, this thought just occurred to me.  All righty, then.  Yeah.  Okay.  Need to take a breather.

Okay.  I’m back.

My crash didn’t quite rival that of the stock market back in 1929, but it sure as heck felt like it to me.  The lithium injected into my system was like a fake market stimulus, one designed to quickly turn the tide, but in the end…ineffective.  No government project works a la President Roosevelt.  Not even a government bailout a la President Obama!  Just a switch to another med.

Keep in mind, this was back in ’06.  2006.  Though my kids might argue the point, I wasn’t around in 1906.    And when I first started this journey I had no idea I would be one of the lucky ones (yay, me!) who has hard to treat depression.  It’s kinda like my thyroid.  Apparently it and my neurotransmitting (no, it’s not a word but I can pretend) system took off for the Bahamas together.  I do hope they’re having a good time.  Goodness knows they left a mess behind for me and my docs to try to fix.

So, anyway, my mom was the one who was great at keeping notes and keeping track of stuff.  Remember me saying that I actually thrust my purse at my psychiatrist to show him what it looked like, comparing it to the way my brain felt?  Well, my mom was at the other end of the spectrum.  She loved purses with lots of pockets and compartments.  Everything had its place and there was nary (I pulled that word out of my hat.  Pretty cool, huh?) a scrap of stray paper in sight.  She kept track of all of my brothers’ illnesses and that of my sister and me, noting medications that worked and treatments that didn’t.  She kept track of which bills needed to be paid and when.  She was that kind of person.

Now, had I known the journey I would be on with regards to medication I might have at least made an attempt to keep track of medications and side effects.  I’ve been on a bunch over the years, and several combos.  Sadly, my former docs had a tendency to throw the baby out with the bathtub.  “Let’s try something entirely different!” rather than “Let’s tweak this and see if we can make necessary adjustments.”  My current doc does the latter.  I’m crazy about him.  Note I said I’m crazy about the doc, not crazy in general, though a case could be made…

Anyhow, since my crash and hospitalization, I haven’t been stable enough to finish school, let alone be able to work.  I’ve changed my dream from having that teaching career to just having a good idea how I’m going to feel from one day to the next.  And hopefully feeling decent from one day to the next.  My dream is to now have the energy each day to care for my home and family, a dream that, sadly, doesn’t come true more often than it does.  I feel that I fail my loved ones on a regular basis.  Hubby says that’s the depression talking, and anyone who’s suffered from depression knows depression lies.

But enough of the negative stuff.  After several days of sleeping almost nonstop I’m actually awake!  And it’s a glorious feeling.  Youngest son put up Christmas trees and I think I may actually do some decorating today.  Hoooo-ray!!!

Have a wonderful day.  I’ll meet ya back here soon!

No, It Isn’t (First published December 19, 2013)

No, it isn’t (Not to be Confused with “No, it’s not.”)

“No, it isn’t.”

“Yes, it is.”

“No, it isn’t.”

“Yes, it is.”

“No!! It isn’t!”

“Yes! It is.”

Every few weeks I’d have this “discussion” with my hubby who insisted that my mood and energy swings were related to PMS.  To be honest, I was finally starting to see it that way, too, just before being diagnosed as having Bipolar Disorder.  Of course, this was after about 15 years of marriage, so there was plenty of time to have this “discussion”.

And face it, ladies, don’t you hate having any bad mood or angry outburst attributed to being “that time of the month”?  Talk about feeling invalidated!  Like I we can’t be legitimately angry or be in a bad mood.  Since we’re women it’s only because of all these wacky hormones flowing through us.  So, naturally I wasn’t happy having any and all bad moods attributed to PMS.  And as much as I adore my husband (and I did and really, really do…couldn’t get through this without him and his support) I did occasionally actually get angry about something and became even more angry when he felt it was “just my PMS talking”. Besides, there were so many other weird symptoms that went along with the bad moods/depressive states such as sleeping a lot, feeling achy like a bad case of the flu, ear/sinus pain, and just generally feeling sick.  Well, I know now these symptoms aren’t uncommon with the downside of BP, and even with unipolar depression.

But I did know there was something else going on. I just didn’t know what it could be.  Mental illness never crossed my mind, though I knew I had extended periods of depression.  Still, bipolar disorder is portrayed as the wild and crazy bipolar 1.  Very little is publicly known or publicized about BP II, or other numbers on the spectrum trail.

So, we “discussed” it periodically.  The thing was, I knew my symptoms didn’t follow a PMS course.  My symptoms were regular, but not on a monthly cycle.  My episodes were much briefer then, as is more typical of bp.  Short episodes of mania/hypomania and periods of depression intermixed with periods of feeling “normal” (again, whatever that is).  I loved the hypomanic state…calling it my “euphoric” period.  I was brilliant, exciting to be around, charming, creative, energetic.  These periods always followed the down period when I just couldn’t get enough sleep and felt like I was in a fog.

I remember for our family’s 10th anniversary planning on going to dinner at a restaurant in a town about 45 minutes away.  At the time, I worked as an on-air personality and news director at a small radio station in my hometown.  After my morning shift that day, I went home and slept until about 10 minutes before my afternoon shift.  (We lived about 5 minutes away from the station.)  I went back in without doing any additional news work, completed my afternoon shift and went back home to sleep until the family came home.  The thought of driving 45 minutes to a restaurant was so tiring…just the thought was tiring.  But we did it.  It turned out to be a not so wonderful experience, but not because of my state of mind.  Just a very expensive dinner for mediocre quality Italian food.  One of those stories we can tell and understand in the family, though.  However, it was my introduction to bruschetta, and for that I am happy. It’s like Italian salsa.  Yummmmm.

I have to wonder how many other women suffer from bp and are told it’s just hormones.  Is it more prevalent than we think? Would something a little stronger than Midol help more women deal with those energy/mood swings?  Research grant time!

(Warning: This blog post actually makes sense and flows in a decent order.  This may not be the experience on very many of my posts.  J)

No, I Don’t (Originally posted March 1, 2014)

“No, I don’t.”

“Yes, you do.”

“No, I don’t.”

“Yes, you do.”

“No! I don’t!”

“Yes! You do!”

This was my exchange with the therapist who first diagnosed me with having bipolar disorder.  You know Flo from the Progressive Insurance commercials?  That’s who she reminded me of even down to her appearance. Except she didn’t dress in white.  I’m talking about physical appearance.  In fact, I’ll call her “Flo”, as I really don’t want to mention anyone by name without his/her consent.

bipolar graffitti

So, anyway, there we were in Flo’s office (the “yellow room” she called it) with me completely denying I have bipolar disorder.  I don’t jump up and down on chairs a la Tom Cruise.  I don’t demolish walls in my home in the middle of the night to remodel.  I don’t stay awake for days on end and do wild and crazy things!  Shoot, 10:00pm is a late night for me, so obviously I couldn’t have bipolar disorder.  I just needed help with the hellish depression I’d been in for months.  Since leaving my home state of California, in fact, and a job, family, and friends I loved.

Au contraire.  Flo went down a checklist and I sat there across from her, nodding my head most of the time, shaking it once in a while, but it soon became apparent she knew what I was about.  Relief?  Fear?  I wasn’t sure what I felt, but I did realize I would be getting an answer to a question I’d long held: Why did I have these “energy swings” and what do they mean?

Turns out there is not just one type of bipolar disorder, but two!  Lesson one for me.  In fact, since then I’ve learned there are many who believe there’s a bipolar spectrum.  Bipolar I is what we typically think of as bipolar disorder.  The wild and crazy highs intermixed with periods of depression.  Bipolar II is more subtle in some ways.  The “highs” are termed “hypomanic” and oftentimes it’s a feeling of euphoria.

It’s not all rainbows and sunshine, though, but that’s something I’ll address in a whole ‘nother post.  (BTW—I’ve been told ‘nother isn’t a word.  Humor me.)  For me, though, it represented the good phase of my energy swings.  Plenty of energy to work, do the laundry, clean, and even have energy left at the end of the day to play board games with the kids.  Life was good in this state.  A feeling of “Ahhhh…”  But I didn’t recognize some of the down sides of hypomania, like making unnecessary purchases or making plans I couldn’t fulfill.

bipolar sign

The flip side of bp II is a deeper depression than that experienced by bp I, and generally longer lasting. I read a report a few years back that the fatality rate of people with bp II is greater than that of all cancer patients combined due to the high suicide rate of those with bp II.  Hmmm…now THAT’s cheerful, isn’t it?  🙂 Until I crashed all those many years ago, this was just my low energy cycle.  Couldn’t stay awake and felt as if I had the flu or a bad sinus infection.  Occasionally I’d enter a deep depression, but always came out of it after a few weeks. Not suicidal but deeply depressed.

So after all those years of asking various docs about my energy swings I discovered I was having mood swings.  Lovely.  I was one of “those people”.   But all I needed was a pill to fix it, right?  Right?!

Oh, how naïve I was!