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.

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)

The Darkness Comes (Originally published December 31, 2013)

getting darkThe darkness threatened to close around me.  I felt the tentacles stretching towards me, reaching, snaking their way through to my body and soul.  I could see them, slowly moving in, becoming stronger, increasingly darker as they approached.  The fogginess in my head deepened, making me feel ever more lethargic, fatigued…any effort to do anything was almost too much.  My spirit began to sink, interest in anything I enjoyed was slowly diminishing.  I wish I could say my feelings towards those I love was unaffected, but that would be a lie.  I knew that love was there, but it was becoming separated from me by the darkness.  That’s the way depression works.  It’s a wall between all that you love and enjoy and yourself.  In the end, when it’s at its worse, nothing exists but the darkness.

Sometimes that’s a relief.  Does that sound strange?  I know some of you understand.  Just to let the darkness have its way…to sink, curl up, sleep, and close out the world.  It hurts less. That twilight, in between state prevents enjoyment, but you’re still very much aware of all you cannot do, don’t want to do.  You don’t care about much, but somehow care that…you don’t care.  You’re supposed to care, and you know that. But the energy, the strength it takes to accomplish even the minutest task simply isn’t there.  And it’s frustrating, aggravating, demoralizing…here it is again.  At least with the full darkness everything is shut out.  That’s not to say full depression is a good thing.  It definitely isn’t.  I’ve spent more than my share of time curled up in a fetal position, blanket over my head, too tired to even cry, and just wanting it to stop.  In that in between, twilight state, though, is the belief that you should be able to carry on as if nothing was wrong.  As if you were walking in the light.  As if all was well in your world when there may only be enough energy present to take a shower, get dressed, and watch TV.  And sometimes there’s only energy to choose one from that list, like choosing dinner in a Chinese restaurant.

The tentacles have been stretching towards me since early October.  I woke up one morning and all my interests were simply no longer interesting.  I felt flat, emotionless, yet not depressed.  Slowly, little by little, I could feel the cold, misty-gray tentacles moving towards me, grasping me lightly, just enough to be aware.  The tentacles were getting stronger, darker, squeezing harder.  I managed to fake my way through Christmas and prepared a separate, second dinner on New Year’s Eve to celebrate with a son and daughter-in-law who had been out of town at Christmas.  I managed to get through, and was aware enough of having met the challenge to even give myself a little pat on the back.  “Good work. Success.”  The fact that I was in bed by 6:30 New Year’s Eve wasn’t important…I had accomplished what I had set out to do.

despair or hope signpostThen on New Year’s Day, somehow, for some reason I don’t want to even question, the tentacles’ strength lessened, they became a bit thinner, less dark.  I’m not yet back in the light, but I have managed to vacuum and mop my living room, dining room, and entryway, shop, run a couple of other errands, and still feel like writing this blog post.  That’s pretty good and I’ll take it as a sign that perhaps I’m moving towards the light instead of away from it. I feel I’m beginning to care again, and I take that as a good sign, too.  I had hoped I wasn’t experiencing a long, slow, spiraling decline into that dark place from which it is so very difficult to escape.

I feel blessed to be able to say I appear to be climbing out of that hole.

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!

A Cruel Mistress (First Published March, 2014)

Bipolar disorder is a cruel mistress.  Now, don’t jump to any conclusions and think I believe other mental illnesses are easier to live with.  I don’t feel that way at all.  But bipolar disorder can be especially cruel.

Imagine this:  Life is wonderful.  You’re happy, singing along with the radio, sunglasses on, and driving down the road.  You have a smile on your face and just know it’s going to be one of the best days ever.  A wonderful day to be alive and experience all that God has created for you.  Even though it may be the bleakest of winter days, there’s always something to appreciate.  The shape of a particular tree, your dog’s joy at seeing you, the sunlight streaming through clouds.  Something.  And on this day, everything good and enjoyable is noted.  Happy dances are offered up to the heavens in gratitude.  Shopping is an enjoyable experience.  It doesn’t matter that people keep blocking the aisles and you have to do the WalMart two-step to get around them.  Nope.  Doesn’t matter.  It’s not a huge inconvenience that there aren’t enough check stands open and only mildly irritating when the woman with the screaming kid gets behind you in line.  All in all, it could be worse.  Chores somehow take care of themselves, it seems.  Dinner is almost a masterpiece.  Or at least it’s a fully cooked meal.  And it’s no problem that sleep is limited.  Just don’t feel very sleepy.  Yep.  Life is indeed wonderful.

Depressed woman in bed.

Turn the page to the next day. Before you open your eyes, you know you have a problem.  The aches and pains are real.  Not a figment of your imagination.  The fact is, you feel as though you have a bad case of the flu.  Your head is foggy.  Thinking is such a chore.  Bed.  Bed is the only place you want to be.  If it was the flu, you know you’d have that luxury.  But because it’s not, you have to somehow crawl out of bed.  There are kids to get off to school.  Maybe even a job to go to.  Maybe.  If you’re one of the “lucky” ones.  The day drags by.  All you want to do is sleep…stay in your pajamas and sleep.  Then you realize you have to leave the house, if you haven’t already.  The problem is there’s no energy for a shower.  It’s just too much work.  Showering.  Drying off.  Getting dressed.  And for those of us females, doing something with our hair.  It requires more energy than is stored in the ol’ battery.  Dinner.  Frozen pizza again, that someone else has to put in the oven?  Minimal exchanges with family.  Talking is just so difficult.  The least little thing sets you off in tears.  You find a corner as far away from the family as possible.  You feel terrible that you can’t join in, but you may just as easily feel irritated by the noise.  Finally you can go to bed.  And you wonder if there’s any hope tomorrow will be different.

Bipolar disorder.  The best of the best and the worst of the worse.  It’s like having each foot firmly planted in a different world.  And the worlds ARE different.  The hopelessness of major depressive disorder and the jubilation of hypomania or mania.  Yes, negatives DO come with the mania/hypomania, but we’ll address those in a different post.  For now, let’s look at the black and white of bipolar disorder.

Before I knew my condition had a name, I called my hypomanic periods my “euphoric” times.  Truly, that’s what it was like.  Everything was tinged with gold and I could accomplish twice as much in half the time and do it better.  Then there was a period of “ordinariness” followed by a period of not being able to stay awake and feeling as though I was getting sick.  Really!  My sinuses and ears would hurt and I’d be achy.  And teary.  Oh, and I’d want to tear the head off of the hubster for no reason at all.  I knew I was being irrational, but couldn’t help it.  The anger would be accompanied by sadness…kind of a pity party, in a way.

So I’ve driven both roads plenty of times.  I’ll finish part two of my personal journey into crushing depression and awareness of my illness later.  Right now, it’s about those roads.  You see, I’ve been on them for years.  In fact, for the past ten years I’ve been on one road or the other.  No periods of ordinariness in between, more’s the pity.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, I love the hypomanic states, but I flip flop more than a politician in an election year!

But there is one benefit to having been on these roads.  This, too, shall pass.  That’s it.  No magic chant or upbeat slogan.  Just “This, too, shall pass.”

Let me explain.  During hypomania, as long as I’ve been dealing with this I’ve come to expect the eventual let down that occurs.  Hypomania cannot be sustained for long periods of time.  At least, that’s my experience.  Because of that, it’s bittersweet.  It’s like when you’re a child and realize that there is an after-Christmas.  All the anticipation and build up occurs then, wham! It’s over.  You learn to enjoy the season while you can, but there’s always that knowledge that it won’t last forever.  With bipolar disorder, there is no “cure”.  You have bipolar disorder and what goes up always comes down.

But the other side to the coin is the knowledge that depressed states will also come to an end.  I will come out of it.  The reprieve may not last long, but it will be there.  I used to panic when I’d slide back into the darkness, fearful that my medication was no longer working.  I don’t fear that anymore.  The question is in the back of my head, but I don’t fret over it.  I know even with the best of care I’m going to have downs with the ups.  I have bipolar disorder, after all.  Yes, it sucks.  But the good times are all the sweeter for my knowledge and acceptance.  I’ve also learned that if my down periods last very long, I need to see my pdoc (psychiatrist).  Something needs to be adjusted.  It may be due to seasons, sunlight vs. darkness, or even just becoming accustomed to my medication, but a little change can do wonders.

With “This, too, shall pass” comes patience.  Maybe that’s the disorder’s purpose.  To teach patience.  To give us compassion.  The down times are a time to regroup, recharge.  Good periods are times to do good.  To capitalize on the energy to work magic on the world around us.  And I don’t just mean “out there” in the world.  I mean with our own families at home.  After all, they go on this journey with us.