Bipolar 2 From Inside and Out

Posts tagged ‘bipolar depression’

It’s All People-y Out There

What’s the relationship between bipolar disorder and introversion? My friend and I were discussing this topic. She had noted my aversion to going out and being around people and thought it might be because I was an introvert instead of my having bipolar depression.

She also noted that Spoon Theory sounded a lot like introversion as well – that people who ran low on spoons wouldn’t have enough left to go out and have coffee with a friend, for instance.

She and I still have lots to discuss on the subject, and she is lending me a book on introversion to see if I agreed with her after reading it. I await the arrival of the book, but here are some thoughts I have on the subject. I write them here just to collect my thoughts on the subject.

First, to point out the obvious, introversion is a character trait and bipolar disorder is a mental illness. Character traits do not generally require (or respond to) medication. Bipolar can and often does. Introversion, like many mental disorders, may respond to therapy such as group therapy – unless, of course, the person is too introverted to attend group sessions.

Bipolar depression – or any kind of depression, really – can manifest as an unwillingness to be around other people. The feelings of hopelessness, failure, and unworthiness can make it painful to be in the presence of people, especially ones who don’t know about the disorder or that you have it.

But depression isn’t all there is to bipolar disorder. There’s also mania (or hypomania). Mania can produce the opposite effect, driving the person to desire and enjoy the company of other people, even to the extent of being “the life of the party.” Hypersexuality may come into it, too, which almost certainly requires another person, or even people. Hypomania can produce, if not a full burst of energy, at least a lift that can make being around other people less painful.

I have bipolar disorder, which probably began when I was a child or a teen, though I wasn’t diagnosed until much later. I remember walking through the halls of my school between classes, reading a book the whole way. (Hence the picture, which isn’t me but could have been.) Was I shy? Was I introverted? Was I avoiding attracting the attention of the school bullies, on the theory that I’m invisible when I’m reading? Was I fascinated by the book I was reading and unwilling to put it down?

There’s an argument to be made that reading was my form of escapism and school hallways, notoriously people-y, were a thing I wanted to escape from. But there’s also an argument to be made that I was affected by bipolar depression. I certainly felt that I didn’t fit in, that I was different somehow. Maybe that difference was my disorder. I did have friends, though, and I remember laughing wildly with them at in-jokes in the cafeteria, which was also people-y.

As for spoon theory, I can see what my friend was getting at. Spoon theory generally applies to people who have chronic illnesses, and I maintain that mental illnesses fall into that category. My friend said that she thought perhaps introverts start their days low on spoons and run out of them early in the day, making socializing virtually unachievable.

My take on it is that, as introversion is not a chronic illness or mental disorder, an introvert will likely start the day with the same amount of spoons as non-spoonies – if I’m right, an introvert will start the day with ten or 12 spoons, while the chronically ill may start with only five and have to choose very carefully how to use them. Plus, getting dressed for work might take one spoon for the healthy or neurotypical, while spoonies often spend one whole spoon just taking a shower, let alone choosing clothing, dressing, and getting out the front door.

Does an introvert experience the exhaustion, depletion of energy, and feeling of being totally flattened that a chronically ill or mentally ill spoonie does when the spoons run low or out? Or do they choose to use their remaining spoons in ways other than socializing, such as caring for a pet, pursuing a craft, reading, or shopping online? These are things that, when spoonies crash, they are often unable to do, just as much as they’re unable to go out to dinner with friends. Hell, a lot of the time they don’t have the spoons left to make or even eat dinner. Collapse into a chair or a bed is the most likely choice of activity.

Granted, I haven’t read the book on introversion yet. And I’m not a teacher of psychology like my friend. But I still think that my bipolar disorder is likely the cause of my not wanting to go out among people, rather than introversion. And I absolutely don’t believe that introversion caused my bipolar disorder. I’m of the school that blames that on neurotransmitters being out of whack.

But maybe my friend has a point. I’ll read the book, and we can toss ideas around, maybe via email or phone if I can’t go out where it’s people-y.

In One Side and Out the Other

For a while, I managed to do it. I spent literally years writing a mystery novel. Optimistically, I sent it to over 180 agents. A lot of nothing. At last, one of them was honest enough to tell me what was wrong with the manuscript, instead of just saying, “not right for us” or not answering at all.

And they were absolutely right. Once it was pointed out to me, I could see exactly what they were saying. I had had beta readers vet the first four chapters and gotten positive responses. They didn’t know anything about writing, or possibly even reading with a writer’s perception. But that wasn’t their fault. It was mine, for not selecting my readers more carefully.

Did all this depress me? Hell, yes, it did. I wouldn’t be human if it didn’t.

But I’m also bipolar. Depression for me isn’t just regular depression. Bipolar depression is something different. A darker place. A deeper pit. One that can be almost impossible to claw and climb one’s way up from.

When I was a teenager and undiagnosed and unmedicated, I had several major depressive episodes, and any number of smaller ones. Since at that time I had no idea what was going on or how to get help, I developed a philosophy: Go through it until you come out the other side.

Basically, it meant that I was staying depressed until I magically became un-depressed, whether it was because my brain chemistry backed off enough to let me see a way out, or hypomania kicked in (though I didn’t know what that was at the time). Basically, I suffered through it until I didn’t anymore.

And I thought that was the way it had to be. In one side, wait till I came out the other.

Later in life, I had other major depressive episodes. I tried a lot of things for them, including therapy and medication, but still the best I could manage was to wait it out – even though it took literally years.

Right now I’m in a similar position. All the rejection has put me back in that deep pit, and I don’t see a way out of it. I can’t even think of a new thing to write. Or a way to fix the book that failed. I am even applying for other writing gigs, but so far they have brought only more rejection. I don’t want another major depressive episode, but I can feel myself slipping. It does sound like reactionary depression, a result of the rejections, the realization of bad writing, and other recent blows involving deaths and other traumas. But it feels like endogenous depression, the kind that comes from inside, with wobbly neurotransmitters the major cause.

Of course, I’m a little better off than when I was a teen. I have a proper diagnosis – bipolar type 2 – and proper medication. I still have work that I can do – transcription – which is boring and ill-paying, but keeps me from sitting all day in front of the TV, watching train wreck shows that remind me that other people have more screwed-up lives than I do. I have self-care. I have my husband to be my caregiver.

But basically, I am just waiting to come out the other side.

I am doing the things I ought to do to get me out the other side. I am taking my meds. I have an appointment next week – a telehealth session with the psychologist that I haven’t seen in a year. In the past, she has done phone sessions with me when I wasn’t physically or mentally able to come in, so I know those do me good. And at the end of the month, I see my psychiatrist for a med check (15 minutes). I’m not sure how a session that short will help me in finding the other side to come out of.

I just wonder how far away the other side is.

Why Can’t I Cry?

There’s a lot that’s been happening around me that ought to have made me cry, but I just haven’t. There have been personal losses – the death and funeral of a dear friend. Occasions when I should have cried tears of joy – when an estranged friend wanted to reconnect with me. Professional losses – when I finally had to give up and admit that the novel I had spent years on was just not good enough to be published.

I’ve even thought about the deaths of some beloved animals, to see if that would make me cry. It didn’t.

In the past, I’ve never had trouble crying. As my bipolar disorder is largely bipolar depression, I have cried a lot – teared up, sobbed, wept – on occasions that were appropriate and some that weren’t.

I can’t even cry over the fact that I don’t seem able to cry.

There have been times in my life when I probably should have cried, but didn’t – when I was helping my mother pick out a dress to wear to my father’s funeral, for example. In that case, and in others like it, I postponed crying, or put my emotions in a box and sat on the lid.

Actually, I have had to do that many times throughout my life. Back when I was a teenager, an unmedicated person with bipolar disorder, and full of the volatility, despair, rage, and hormones of that time in life, I suppressed the impulse to cry, in order to look more “normal.”

It didn’t always work. For instance, some songs like Simon & Garfunkel’s “I Am a Rock” would almost always turn on the waterworks. But for the most part, I tried to suppress the need to cry.

The thing about it is, when you stuff down the ability to feel sadness or despair, just to survive, you can end up suppressing most of your other emotional reactions as well. Peace, humor, interest, gladness, tenderness all go into that box with the sadness and despair and you sitting on the lid.

That may be what has happened this time. I know I had to suppress my feelings to pick out a funeral outfit and attend the service. I felt despair over the end of my writing attempt, but I didn’t cry. I felt a sense of waiting to see how it would work out when the friend appeared to be reengaging.

I don’t know what else is in the box or how I can get it open again. I am not interested much in the TV shows I used to watch obsessively. I can read only a few pages of books that I would otherwise have devoured. I can’t remember the last time I laughed over something silly my husband said or did. I did not cry over the movie that he finds so very touching that he cries every time he sees it.

I am doing all the right things, though. I am taking my meds regularly and as prescribed. I have called the psychologist that I used to go to and made an appointment for a telehealth session. And I’m trying to figure out how to tell my psychiatrist all this when I go for my med check at the end of the month, if nothing else has worked by then.

Maybe one of those things will open the floodgates, un-stuff the box of stuff, and allow me to cry again, normally, when it’s needful.

But I don’t really know. Writing this post hasn’t done it.

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