I may be bi-polar, but I'm medicated

A little window into the bi-polar world

The Sun and the Black Hole

Sometimes when you’re bi-polar, you’re like the white hot, shining sun.  You give light and warmth to every planet that graces you with its orbit.  You outshine all around you without comparison and there is never any question that you are the natural leader that the universe should cling to.  The problem is that sometimes you are also the black hole, sucking every bit of energy and productivity from life as everyone around you flees, desperate to evade the vacuum of increasing nothingness.

 

The most frustrating part is that it takes exactly the same amount of effort and expertise to be both of these things.  Everyone wants to shine like the sun, but when you know that it will eventually implode, there’s a lot of pressure in accepting admiration, respect and attention associated with being on top.  You know that it can’t last and you will burn out, leaving all those accolades to fade into stardust and eventually disappear completely.  It is frustrating to put forth all of your effort and talent and still be a negative factor in the universe, knowing that just a short time ago you yielded such exemplary results.

 

In the end being the black hole is so shameful and disgraceful that you carry around an inadequate sense of self to accommodate that time.  It is difficult to accept praise and admiration when you know it is only to be short-lived.  It is impossible to expect yourself to continue at the white hot pace of excellence you get when you’re really “on it”.  It is equally impossible to merely settle somewhere in the middle and become a little planet, happily circling the sun with its daily moderation.  Besides, wouldn’t being a simple planet be boring?

 

Finally, you must find and take the meds that squeeze you into the role of planet, knowing that you have the potential for much more, but accepting the opportunity cost of curbing your abilities.  It is no more simple a task to do this than to alternate between extremes, but it is healthier, so you do it and mourn for the time you were the sun.

My Dog

My prose fails to be poignant at this point.  It is an issue of illness I am afraid.  Whatever the meds don’t mask, the stress distorts, and I find myself in a position where it is impossible to articulately convey myself.  For the purposes of moving on and remaining productive however, I have come up with a simple list in lieu of my regular journal entries/essays this week on a topic I have wanted to write on for a long time.

 

What having a service animal means to me:

 

  1. My depression      will never become deadly again.       Before that happens, the dog will make certain that I call someone      to help fix some food and open the door for a walk.  Depression is a sneaky brute and sometimes      I don’t realize just how far into its clutches I have been drawn until      there is a total breakdown.  In an      ideal world, keeping the dog exercised daily would provide all the      serotonin required for a positive mental outlook, but sometimes, even when      I’m medicated, I continue to function only for the love of my dog, and I      am more likely to seek assistance when the dog’s health is on the line      rather than just my own.
  2. I will never be      alone again.  There will always be a      welcoming hug waiting for me, and an appreciative full-body grin to back      it up.  My dog’s not going to leave      because I get sick, he’s going to adapt to my illness and do his best to      set me straight.  There is stability      in knowing someone will always be on your side, and because I have thumbs,      my dog will be there forever.
  3. I will always      have something or someone to divert myself with when I am panicked or      agitated.  There is a healing      quality to the training of my dog.       We both win…I am calmed, he learns a new trick and we both get to      enjoy the click and treat ritual.  I      have used my dog as an excuse to go out in public when I would not      otherwise do so.  My theory is that      being a Chihuahua,      he needs extra socialization to overcome natural fears.  In reality, we are both overcoming the      tension created by being in an uncomfortable situation.
  4. My grossly      inappropriate behavior will no longer go without address.  My dog doesn’t care about hurting my      feelings, and when I’m rude or wrong, he tells me so without      compunction.  I am more likely to      take advice kindly when it comes from the dog as well.  For whatever reason, even when I cannot      interact successfully with other people, my dog has my ear and I have his.
  5. My life will      never again be without purpose or direction.  I am required to continue our education      constantly.  Being a Chihuahua, my dog      needs to be in training or he will regress into a yappy, snappy,      aggressive, possessive little being.       The only way to a confident toy dog that will pass the Delta exams      is through continuous schooling in some new subject.  When the dog’s a puppy, this is      easy.  As he gets older, it gets      more challenging to find appropriate new pastimes.  This requires discipline, direction,      leadership and effort on my part.       Because of my mental instability, those are some things that I      could not get anywhere else in the world.

I will never again forget to work hard and rest easy.  My dog teaches me how to get up early and use my energy with an intense, positive focus so that I can unwind in tranquility at the end of a glorious day.

My Pot Boileth Over

If being stressed is akin to turning a burner on under a pan of water, being bi-polar is like putting a lid on the pot.  It is never good for anyone, but in the bi-polar, stress can have dramatic effects that set you back months or even years in your treatment.

 

With no way for heat to escape, the water begins to bubble quickly with panic attacks suddenly coming out of the blue.  There appears to be no trigger whatsoever.  You are unable to control what you don’t understand and the reason for these is mystical.  You can go months without even the hint of a panic attack and then all of the sudden, after a stressor hits hard, have several bouts of boiling emotion each day, severe enough to require medication.

 

Emotions run amok as the pot boils over and medications that used to keep you stable are less helpful or completely ineffective.  This means you have to go back to the drawing board and either increase your dosage (if that’s even possible) or go hunting in the dark, guessing which chemical is out there that will calm your episodes and turn down the heat.

 

In the mean time, the bi-polar experiences extreme highs and lows that cause erratic behavior.  Just as the water is displaced in the pan, this behavior can be severe. It can cost money in lost or damaged items or worse, support in lost or damaged relationships.  Friendships are particularly at risk.  The cordial, uncommitted way that buddies develop means there’s really not all that much vested in the relationship as a whole.  Kind of like trying to pick up the boiling pot from the burner with bare hands, there is a risk of burning the relationship.  Bi-polars go through extreme changes every couple of years and it is uncommon to find one with a friend that outlasted even one of those transformations.  The short lived buddy status does not lend itself to the insulatory requirements of a hot pad in dealing with the temperatures of a bi-polar reacting to undue stress.  This in turn leads to a retraction of friendly support at a time when it is the most sorely needed.  The hand pulls back, leaving the pot to boil on the hot burner.  Also, the lack of support leads to symptoms flying even more away from the norms of society, effectively placing the pot squarely on the burner to reheat quickly.  This creates a vicious cycle.

 

Also like the boiling water, it takes a while for the water to cool even after the heat is removed.  There is an effect that lasts far longer than the stressor.  It’s a slow process.  As the temperature drops a single degree at a time, the instability becomes solid one moment at a time.  Eventually, the water returns to room temperature and the stressed bi-polar returns to normal behavior.

Sleeping

Living with bi-polar sleep patterns is like navigating the ocean’s waves.  The idea is to stay close to shore where there is gentle, safe ebbing and flowing between hypersomnia and insomnia.  At least a hundred different things could drag you farther out to sea, where the undertow of sleep deprivation and extended sleep threaten to pull you helplessly into instability.  Even farther still, the waves become larger and your sanity simply cannot rudder through.  Instead, you are crushed under the weight of the changes in your body and you fight for a single breath of consistency.

Every night is fraught with tension.  The question:  Will I be able to sleep, or will I be up all night?  Every day is a conundrum:  Do I dare nap, or will that be too much sleep?  Medication helps with insomnia, making you drowsy.  This allows for the simple freestyle stroke that keeps you close and parallel to shore.  When hypersomnia hits though, it is all willpower and discipline – this is the butterfly on open waters.  The wading in placid tide pools of balanced sleep is so seldom experienced it often feels nowhere near on the horizon.

There is danger and beauty in this world of balancing sleep.  Normal dreams are a coral reef, providing a glamorous show of life in a mild-tempered sea.  Too many dreams become the predators, lurking in dark water, awaiting their next meal.  Not having enough dreams is riding out a tropical storm in a rowboat on high seas.  To have balanced sleep patterns is like drinking a fine wine, watching the most beautiful sunset off the port bow.

There are things I can do to minimize disruption in sleep patterns, but it remains a complicated task of which I am frequently incapable.  I try to eat right, exercise, take all medications on time, establish set bedtimes and activity periods and enjoy the little things in life.  Nothing brings it home to me though, like a day at the beach.

Pain

Pain, especially chronic pain, effects the bi-polar’s sanity in the way sandpaper effects a block of wood.  The greater the pain, the lower grit of sandpaper.  This is especially true if you are uncertain as to when the pain may subside.

For instance, when I get a even a minor headache, I have an emotional reaction.  I cannot tolerate even the smallest stressor, and minor infractions tend to instigate major reactions.  When I am in pain like this, I can see myself being a perpetrator of road rage or some other ridiculous act of violence.  These are the days my children know not to ask for anything extra – it can only come to a bad end.

I feel guilt about my improper actions (including parenting techniques), but only after the grating has ceased and I can think straight again.  While the pain is going on, all I can think about is how much I would like to get rid of it.  During the torturous event, I cannot decipher the difference between appropriate and inappropriate reactions.  I live on pure and unadulterated emotion during this time.  I don’t stop to censor my thoughts or comments (I am incapable of such higher functions), but simply respond with the first thing that comes out.

For those who truly know me, the response is always the same…they hand me a couple of ibuprofen tablets, and state their intention to return in about an hour.  It is amazing how well this technique works, and those who don’t know me that well are in awe when they come back to a more tame and gentle version of me later on in the day.

This is yet another test of friendship or partnership, which the bi-polar can ill afford.  It is however, unavoidable at some point. (no one gets through life without at least a single headache.)  When it happens to me, I simply beg the people I interacted with for forgiveness, expecting nothing of the sort.  Whether I am forgiven or not, the guilt is a hot, wet blanket over my head, smothering the life out of me.

 

Alone

Sometimes I wonder where she went.  That fun-loving, adventurous soul – the one who slept with Trusty Boyfriend/Knight In Shining Armor on the night they met.  In fact, the one who wasn’t supposed to be at that party anyway, but was invited out by a friend at the last minute.  The one who would make new friends without even a thought, simply by being there and being herself.  It doesn’t seem like that long ago, and I don’t remember changing (is it a trick of the means perhaps?).  To say that who I am now is a shell of my former self would be giving it to much credit – the old self is gone, cast aside somewhere along a dusty dryland wheat road leading to nowhere.  The only thing left is the dust on the road and the destination is so isolated and destitute you can see the nothingness for miles around.

I’m not sure how it got to be this way.  I’m not even sure when the changes started.  I only know that I am desperately alone and longing for the comfort of my own company.  I still do things, although it’s more difficult to perform.  I go places (as long as they are on the schedule for today) I do things (as long as they are on the list for today.)  I do chores (okay, those are always on the books).  The things that used to make me feel so alive and passionate now merely assuage the anxiety and paranoia to a tolerable level.  I can’t imagine reaching out to a new person with the kind of bravery required to create an actual interaction, much less a relationship.  The relationships I have are strained at best and more often crumbling or decrepit beyond use.  I know that reaching out is important and “therapeutic” but I just can’t help thinking the solution starts inside me.  If I could just coax myself out long enough to play, I would feel good again.  If I could cajole myself into comforting me I would feel secure.  If I could be my own best friend, I could make new friends and connections – I would be able to try new things, go new places and enjoy what I’ve got or where I’m at.

I keep scrounging around along that deserted road, looking for the irrigation pipeline and pump that used to be me, willing the water within to irrigate so that I may propagate.  I hope I find myself again someday.  They say I will and because I don’t know what else to do, I comply with treatment plans.  I always wonder though whether or not I’m lost for good this time.

Hallucinations

I was recently asked about hallucinations.  They are not uncommon for a bi-polar person to experience, and I’ve certainly had my own.  I guess that makes me an authority?

First off, I want to make it clear that these are not those crazy directive hallucinations that tell you “Freddy is the devil” or “Kill your wife and children” (or in my case, husband).  These are just run of the mill, everyday glitches in brain chemistry that cause you to think you are experiencing something that you’re not.

For instance, I hear music on a regular basis that doesn’t really play.  It can be metal/screamo or Mexican fiesta or anywhere in between.  It doesn’t matter that I never listen to these genres, it’s still there.  Sometimes there are actual words and other times it’s just a faint melody with a beat to it.  Always it doesn’t make sense.

Which is how you know you’re experiencing a hallucination by the way…it just doesn’t make sense.  I once hallucinated a visit from a neighbor.  I could have sworn I heard his truck and saw his headlights.  I heard the truck doors slam and his voice talking in the yard.  The thing that tipped me off is that the dogs didn’t bark.  My dogs are alert barkers extraordinaire, and not a peep from one of them.  I knew not to go to the door and not to expect a knock, because he wasn’t really there (a relief to me in my nightie, I assure you.).

All in all they are mundane (yet exasperating) experiences.  The first time it was a little unreal, but I was able to tell myself “Oh, this is what the hype is all about.”  After that, you just ignore them and tell them (at least mentally tell them) to go away, you’re to busy for this nonsense.  Oh, and you hope you don’t get caught having one, because being caught is infinitesimally worse than the actual experience.  Being caught means that someone normal will know your secret and label you and tell on you.  This will set you apart from the rest of the world in a manner that can never be reversed (or corrected, as I like to think).  You will be lumped in with the globulous population known as the “mentally ill”, never to be trusted or looked at as a real human being again.

We’re really good at covering up what we experience too.  There are a million excuses or explanations.  “I was just talking to my dog.” covers a multitude of things (Why do you think I HAVE a service dog anyway?).  It’s amazing how little attention people pay to what we actually do.

So, if you see me bopping to a really good beat that you can’t hear, and I say I’ve just got a song stuck in my head, I bet I make you wonder from now on.

 

In Search of Happiness

I find myself with a lack of subjects to write on lately.  Those who know my verbose personality are in awe, I assure you.  It’s just that nothing feels as passionate as it did even a few weeks ago.  I could write until the cows come home about housework and children, but even those things seem uneventful since I’ve stabilized.

On one hand, I am utterly grateful for the stability.  It’s never fun to be out of control and it’s really no fun being mentally ill.  On the other hand though, I miss the stimulation each day used to provide.  I don’t feel anything clearly anymore – it’s as if I’m caught behind a four foot wall of fuzzy, pink insulation.  Between me and the world there is a barrier of fluff that stunts any biting sensory input.  This leads me to live in an imprecise haze.  I don’t know if the stable version is any more me than the shell of the mentally ill version.

My relationships (the ones that are left intact) are improving, and that’s something to be happy about.  I didn’t make an entire transformation this time.  There are shreds of who I used to be left in my personality anyway.

I remember when I was sick – all I wanted was to be well.  Now that I am well, I wax nostalgic about being sick.  It makes me wonder…what on Earth would make me happy?

Pinball

Being a transforming bi-polar is a unique experience.  During this phase, I often feel like a pinball, bouncing off of boundaries and running into sparse and far-reaching limits.  It must be apparent to all that I am unstable, although true to the theory of relativity, I myself feel somehow grounded, as if it were really the world careening around me.  The ball is nothing other than a ball, no matter where it is in the game.

Throughout the time of conversion I believe I am so confused with the sheer volume of sensory input that I really simply fail to see my wandering personality for what it really is.  I guess the saying “No matter where you are, that’s exactly where you’re at.” best describes it.  I am usually quite ill, and dealing with more emotion than was ever intended for a human being to experience.  The one thing that is freeing in this time is the fact that I just don’t see the limitations one normally perceives when making judgments.

The lack of inhibition sets one free to rediscover and question again even the most fundamental portions of their personality.  This is how a person may appear to be a political conservative on one day and yet justify liberalism on the next. This is not only true for political venues, but also in every aspect of a personality and the traits therein.

Obviously, the person experiencing this type of change is what we call a “hot mess”.  People generally don’t know how to react to the increasingly altered persona.  This is where relationships are lost and found.  This is where one personality crumbles to reveal an entirely different person.  This is also where the bi-polar needs someone the most, to ground them and remind them that they are loved.

Time Out

Anxiety is like being a little child, sitting in time out.  I watch my friends and family play about, carefree, having a good time while I am banished to watch from a corner seat.

As I sit in seclusion, I wonder who imposed this time out?  Was it me, someone else, some disease?  Why was it imposed?  Was it truly because I had the audacity to run out of insurance and couldn’t afford meds for three months?  I wonder if the penalty matches the crime here, and I wonder if payment will ever be made in full so that I can go back to enjoying life and being myself uninhibited.  The doctors and technicians don’t seem to have any more answers than I do.

All histrionic indicators show that this time out (as do all time outs) will indeed subside (and be small in the scope of all things), but I am constantly waiting for that erroneous data, forcing me to take a new sample space all over again.  One that does in fact, include permanent anxiety.   I’m pondering on when to call it erroneous data.  When does it actually cross that line (I picture a blinking red light and alarm going off – in the absence of a solid formula), and you say “well, I guess I’m going to have anxiety from now on.”?  Part of me thinks doing this would be a relief and part of me dreads the thought of giving up.  All of me wants to normalize.  The question is (and this stops the process):  normalize to what?

I guess that’s the biggest question in the life of a bi-polar person.  What should I normalize to?  The anxiety feels as regular as the highs and lows and in betweens at this point.  I never know whether I’m going to have the energy to feel bored today and wish that I could go out, feeling trapped. Or am I going to be so tired I can’t keep my eyes open and body alert enough to be out of bed for more than a half hour in the next 24?  Like the toddler, I feel eschewed for an eternity.  I have no more clue about whether this will end than the child has about whether or not he will ever be allowed to play again and the questions seem to be bigger than the answers.

 

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