This isn’t exactly a journal entry.. It’s more of a reflection on things and where I’m at. I saw my therapist tonight and as part of the narrative therapy, she wanted to me write about my life now. Given how much things have changed in the last six months, now is a good time for reflection.
Having bipolar when it’s untreated is more like a state of being than it is having a disorder. You know something is off, but you can’t place your finger on it exactly. It’s that uncontrollable rush of feelings. Sometimes they are situational but they are way, way out of proportion to what’s going on. That’s the part that hits you later after the moment passes.. The confusion, or guilt, remorse, humility or any number of other reflective feelings where you look back and wonder if that was even you, and if so, how the hell did that seem like the thing to do?
So, what’s it like? For everyone it’s different. I see that reading other’s accounts of it. Clinical texts seem to water down the experience with jargon and within a couple of sentences it states that being bipolar and being untreated can be devastating in someones life. It doesn’t get into the visceral reality of that statement. The lost jobs… The failed marriages (plural, in my case).. The spending money that you don’t have… The situations you find yourself in.. One word can’t possibly sum up all of the pain and anguish of it all.
There’s two sides to being bipolar, as the name of the disorder implies. The focus in the media seems to be on the negative, or extreme mania. We live in a culture that likes to sensationalize things. That’s a rant for another day. Regardless, this is my experience. This is my day to day life.
I wake feeling neutral. Not happy, not sad – just neutral. I go about my day and remain neutral, then an idea hits. It might be related to something I’m working on or doing, or it can be pulled from the endless streams of thought that go on in my head. It may be something I heard or read days prior. For me, these are grand and complex ideas. These are ideas that you grasp such an understanding of something that it’s nearly impossible to contain. For me it’s a complex web. I literally see a web in three dimensions that see every facet of an idea. The good, the bad and all of the possibilities. It’s rational – I don’t get the delusional skewed perceptions that I’ve heard that people with bipolar I get. They are sound ideas as I can still see them as very sound and valid when I’m not in this state. I’m a practical man. This flood of thoughts on something may seem overwhelming. It is. And I have them about several things concurrently. Unrelated things. I struggle to keep it in my head, it’s something I want to write about, or somehow get down on paper. The web will break down, usually within a few hours. That would seem like a long enough time to get it down, but these thoughts and facets are so complex that hours isn’t enough time. Sometimes I manage to get several pages of a summary. I won’t be able to harness it after the web breaks down only to be replaced by a different idea. This sounds wonderful, right? It is. There’s nothing like feeling that you fully get a problem or a solution. I’ve solved terribly complex problems in this state of mind. Part of my work involves programming. I’ve written code that’s so complex and flawless that I spend hours going through it line by line just trying to understand it later so I can maintain it.. Or explain it to my boss or director. I have one brother who’s the same way as me, we’ll talk on the phone for hours, ideas firing off from each other.
This sounds like a great problem to have, and in many ways it is. If it’s focused toward helping someone with an issue or problem in their life, that high-powered analytic thought process mixed with life experience is golden. The downside of it? I can’t shut it off. It’s always there. The less external distractions, the more these wild-fire thoughts go all over the place. You can’t get to sleep like this. I have to take powerful, powerful medications to sleep when it’s like this. I’ll usually let it go for up to a week before medicating. Most nights I’ll get 3 hours of sleep, and it’s broken sleep at that. Have you ever tried to quiet a noisy mind? You try to start your own controlled thought process – “sleep. sleep. sleep. sleep…”. Eventually physical exhaustion will take over and I’ll fall asleep. I wake an hour later. Racing thoughts again. Repeat. It’s not a lack of focus, it’s hyper-focus. It’s just not controlled most of the time. Don’t try to convince me of anything when it’s like this about something I am focused on.. I should have been a trial lawyer. It doesn’t shut off.. Sometimes for a few hours, sometimes for days. I can’t remember this ever lasting more than a week. I can be in the middle of this and my mood flips to depressed. The worst part – if both happen at the same time. Imagine having ideas you can barely keep in your mind while trying to focus enough to hold it all in at work, with friends, with your spouse.. Just doing things in public.
It leaves as quickly as it hits. It’s immediate silence. Absence of thought. It’s like finally reaching ground if you’re drowning. You don’t want it to go, but you sure as hell don’t want it to stay. Then the depression comes, sometimes only minutes later.. But the depressions are always after this. Always. I’ve lived like this for my entire adult life. Blinding moments of brilliance followed by crushing depressions. Bipolar, indeed. While all this is going on, my emotions run on an independent tract of their own. They usually aren’t related to any external stimulus or the thoughts rushing through my mind. They just are.
Lamictal changed that for me last fall. I’ve been reaping nearly full benefits from it since early December. The racing thoughts still hit and the wild expansive understanding of things, but it passes more quickly. Usually within a few hours. I had kind of worried that this part of me would be gone, as I’ve heard so many people describe with being medicated for bipolar disorder. It didn’t leave, but it takes the edge off. I can manage. I can focus enough to get through the workday without needing pages of notes. I need notes to get through the day. I’ll forget things. Even when I’m not in that winding-thought mode, the thoughts still race. I’ve never been able to meditate. I’ve sat in a Buddhist temple and my thoughts, much like sleep, are “Quiet. Don’t think about anything. Quiet. Don’t think about anything”.
I’m still coming to grips what this means in my life. I’ve lived with these ups and downs my entire life. A quieter mind is odd. Feeling things associated directly with what’s happening externally is so foreign to me. For once my thoughts and feelings are in alignment. They are doing the dance together that comes so naturally to others. I’m still me, minus the megaphone.
Yesterday and today I’ve felt kind of off. Yesterday with the irritability for no reason, and today with sadness tugging at me, though I’m resisting it. I’m afraid of the cycles starting again…
Since October of last year Lamictal has changed my life. I can’t say many things in my life have altered my path, but Lamictal has. Prior to the hospitalization I was very ill. The doctors didn’t know with what specifically, but my neurological symptoms were pretty severe and the specialists kept saying that it was presenting like Huntington’s disease at worst or Wilson’s disease at best. I think that’s what pushed me over the edge. The rather significant marital problems last year coupled with an unreasonably stressful workload for nearly a year straight and all of the pressures that came with it, then finally my health failing rapidly. That mixed with the depression having been so severe and so persistent…
Depression has been a large part of my life. So much so that I’d almost say it is an odd part of my character. I have trouble figuring out where I leave off and the bipolar comes into play. It’s far from being a black and white thing. There’s a lot of gray area. Regardless, one thing I can say is almost completely due to the bipolar is the severe depressions. When I get depressed for no reason, that’s the bipolar kicking in. I know everyone has their off days. This isn’t an off day that I’m talking about. This is severe soul-crushing depression. This is depression so severe that within a few hours you feel suicidal purely to just make it stop. I’m not saying that for dramatic effect, and I’m certainly not someone who thrives on drama or embellishes things. It’s horrifying to wake up feeling like that every day. Some people are immobilized when depression is that severe. My psychiatrist of many years was always amazed that I was still able to function, given how severely I was affected. It’s not that I wanted to get out of bed, it’s because I needed to. I needed a distraction. So, I’d go to work, go through the day on the edge of tears, go home and then lay down from the day being so exhausting. It’s physically exhausting containing such a deep level of suffering and sadness. It’s hard to keep up the act. It’s not just for the sake of others, it’s for your own sake. How can you explain something that has no reason or origin? That just is? It’s as frustrating for me to not have any reason as to be someone trying to help and having nothing to work with.
My depressions used to be about half the time. Meaning that I’d be ok – neutral about half the time, and depressed the other half of the time. My childhood and teens were very unpleasant, so most of the first 18 years were spent in severe situational depression. After moving out though, the depressions were about half the time and lasting about two weeks on and two weeks off. As time went on into my mid 20’s the two weeks became a couple of months depressed and a couple of months being ok. By my late 20’s I was at about 6 months depressed followed by about 3-4 months of being ok. In my early 20’s though, the balance was so severely altered. The depressions were lasting several months bordering on a year, and the ok times were low-grade depressions. There was no real ok time, it was just a matter of severity. My life has been very good since my late 20’s until now. I have absolutely no complaints about much of anything, aside from work from time to time. These depressions barred logic. It’s hard waking up wanting to die every day. Literally, wanting to die. There wasn’t a day that went by in nearly two years leading up to the hospitalization that I not only thought about death and considered it seriously, but it was seeming more and more reasonable. I was suffering. My mind was my prison. I so desperately wanted the pain to stop that I’d go to any length. I went to my psychiatrist, I went to my primary care physician. I begged and pleaded for help in finding what was wrong with me. The depression was so unnatural. It’s not who I am. I’m an optimistic person. I love my life, at least on an intellectual level, though I can’t feel it. They agreed that given my psychological profile that this *must* have a medical source. The antidepressants didn’t help either. The only one that did was an extremely powerful SSRI, but even that was losing effectiveness after about three months. The effectiveness was minimal at best, but I needed anything that could offer even a little relief. I’d found out that the severe neurological problems that I was experiencing was as result of that powerful SSRI and my having an extremely rare reaction to it. It wasn’t initially considered to be the cause as I was well past when people normally show side effects.
I spent a week in the hospital and while there the depression lifted a little. I’d be diagnosed by a new psychiatrist closer to my home about a week after being released. I’ll write about the experience of being on Lamictal another day. What I will say is that it offers me a level of stability that I’ve never felt in my life. I’m stable enough to feel happiness at times. Days like yesterday and today cause such a visceral fear in me though. This is what the beginning of a depression feels like. And it scares the hell out of me. I hope tomorrow is better. I’m still coping, but today has be a little unnerved.
Some things I didn’t get into about this blog that I probably should. This is part journal, and part therapeutic in nature. I’m an honest person who can and will say what others may or may not. I know for many suffering from Bipolar Disorder, or any number of other mental illnesses, their voice can’t be heard. I hope that in giving words that others may not be able to that it may offer some understanding. I’m looking for that understanding, too. II face stigma from this illness from those closest to me. My wife is supportive, so frankly, the one person that counts above all else in my life does offer support.
The therapeutic part of this is that in therapy (I see a therapist once per week), my therapist and I decided that Narrative Therapy would be best for me. I write when I’m having trouble coping. I’m outspoken, but far less articulate when speaking. It’s harder for me to organize my thoughts when speaking. So, given that, some of these entries will be used in session with my own work. They will touch on things related directly to Bipolar Disorder as well as things relating directly to my personal and professional lives. I am not my disorder and won’t approach this blog only from that angle. If I refer to a “you” in this blog, it’s not to you the reader (well, maybe rarely to give context), but it would be referring to my therapist.
This blog is raw. I don’t filter what I write as it relates to mental health in general, or my life. I’m a strong and confident person. I have no shame relating to my illness. With that, I must give a couple of warnings. Depression has been a major part of this illness for me. My depressions last a long time and are far from mild. Suicidal thoughts and ideation are part of that. I will write openly about that here. If you aren’t in a good place, this may not be a healthy place for you to keep up on. If something is a direct trigger warning, I’ll preface the entry as such with the themes. I’ve had a difficult life, at least for the first 25 years of it, and may touch on some of that here. I have PTSD which I manage very well. Years of therapy and excellent support from friends has gotten me to where I am with it. The one time that the past does get to me is in my dreams. I have no control over that, and is spite of using many techniques to try to thwart that, I still have terrible nightmares about things that did happen. I’ll write about dreams and nightmares here if they bare relevance.
Another note on talking about suicide… I will talk openly about the thoughts and feeling here. From a legal standpoint, I don’t need to be looked up or tracked down if I struggle. If I get to the point where I can no longer manage it, I’ll check into a hospital. Talking and thinking about it is one thing, it’s another to have intent. I’ll write about it openly here as many struggle to describe their struggle. It’s to offer understanding. Many suffer in silence. Stigma, ignorance and fear are unacceptable to me. I’m a human being. I’m not my disorder, I have a disorder. Now that my demon has a name, I’m not seen the same by family and friends. I hope that these things will change in my own life and in the lives of others.
I’m still learning the terms that are associated with being Bipolar. They all seem like labels to me that somehow miss how this feels. I’m agitated today. I’ve been doing very well for several weeks. My mood has been elevated and good and I’m coping with stress very well. It’s been 4 months since being hospitalized in order for me to take my own life. That was a first for me. I’ve never been to a hospital before for anything other than medical emergencies. I don’t care to go back. It wasn’t unpleasant, just incredibly boring. It’s amazing how much my life has changed since then. Not externally, but internally. It feels so odd to be stable. I’m actually finding it hard to feel ok. I’ve lived in crisis-mode for so long that I don’t know how to be ok. I guess that will come in time.
There’s something that I’ve not talked with anyone about though, since starting the medication. When I started the medication I was still very suicidal. As weeks went on I felt better and better as the depression lifted with every increase in the dosage. I’m not depressed right now. I am feeling a little off tonight, but I’m not depressed. The thing that bothers me though is that the nagging feeling of wanting to die, or to be dead is still very present in my mind. I don’t know if it’s habitual thinking because I had felt that way for so long, or if there’s something else going on. I am under a tremendous amount of stress though.. That’s not changed in about a year now. *wife* is still sick. It’s been like this for months. She has some good days, but most aren’t. Between the migraines, back problems and the digestive problems, she’s in some form of or combination of misery every day. She’s not seeking attention and she doesn’t lead an unhealthy life. She works in healthcare and is very conscientious of her health. She’s far too young to be this sick. The doctors don’t know what’s wrong with her. The specialists don’t either. Every blood test and biopsy has come back negative. It bars logic, but she’s not acting, either. Whatever is wrong with her is very real and hasn’t improved in months… I’m scared for her. I’m scared for me, too. I don’t want to lose her, but there’s a persistent fear that she may not make it through this.
I hate feeling like this.. My mind is racing, but not about anything in particular. My feelings are fleeting, but generally negative alternating between irritable and sad. Mostly irritated ad being sad and irritated in general. No overblown or massive expansive thoughts – yet. I hope I wake tomorrow feeling differently.