Bipolar 2 From Inside and Out

Posts tagged ‘mood disorders’

I Love/Hate My Brain

My brain is special and magical. It makes me who I am and has often seemed to me to be the best part of who I am. I have always been intelligent and a quick learner. And I thank my brain for that.

On the other hand, my brain is deficient in some ways. It doesn’t have the correct balance of neurotransmitters (or has been adversely affected by trauma as I’ve lived my life or inherited from my parents). When it comes to bipolar disorder, I blame my brain. It’s glitchy, unpredictable, and guilty of making my life miserable at times.

So, I have cause to both love and hate my brain.

The thing is, I have no control over either of those perspectives. I didn’t make my brain smart and adaptable. I can’t take credit for that. I also didn’t make my brain misfire and become my biggest enemy. I can’t take the blame for that.

Much of what I am, my brain is responsible for. I am a moderately successful writer. That can be attributed to my brain as well. I’m creative, too, another quality that resides in my brain. But when I’m depressed, I lose the ability to write, and when I’m hypomanic, I lose the coherence I need to write well. It would be easy enough to say that I love my brain when it’s functioning well and hate it when it’s not. That’s not completely true, though. I’d have to say that my brain is my frenemy.

I am notoriously moody and difficult – hardly surprising since I have bipolar disorder. My intellect doesn’t go away when I’m depressed or hypomanic, but sometimes it goes into hibernation. It makes poorer decisions, it’s true. It’s led me astray many times, even to the edge of death. And I can’t always recognize when it does that. My brain is not the best gatekeeper of my behavior. But my brain does help me clean up the consequences when it does occur.

There is currently a great debate on whether bipolar disorder even comes from the brain. It may not be because of my neurotransmitters, though I still consider them complicit. It may be because of my childhood trauma (at the hands of children my age, not my parents). But again, trauma is said to make physical changes in the brain, so perhaps it is a brain-related reason as well. The other prevailing theory is that bipolar disorder has a genetic component. I don’t know if that means that my genetic heritage affected my brain development, though I suppose it could have. I just don’t know.

I do know that it feels like my brain is at fault. Bipolar is, after all, a mood disorder, and I don’t know where my moods reside, if not in the brain.

So, what can I do with my brain to increase the love and lessen the hate? First, I try to keep my brain fed. I read every day and play jigsaw sudoku to keep it lively and stave off dementia – and to stretch my brain because so much of what I do is word-related, not mathematical. My reading is varied, from novels to nonfiction. I revisit beloved novels from my past, which keeps me grounded in who I am, and explore new books and authors I find, which keeps me excited and open to the new. I try to lessen the opportunities for hate by keeping my brain stable with medication, therapy, and listening to my husband and my friends when they tell me I am loved.

On balance, I love my brain more than I hate it. But I have to keep an eye on it (as it were) to make sure that the hated half doesn’t take over.

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Following My Moods

When I was a teen and undiagnosed with bipolar disorder, I had a weird reaction to people around me – I would pick up their moods and personalities and found myself mimicking them. I suppose it was a way for me to try on other personalities that I might someday integrate into my own, when I was stable enough to do so.

When I was a little older, I began journaling, which quickly turned into blogging. My journals were repetitive and boring, consisting mostly of “Felt depressed. Went to post office.” It didn’t seem helpful to me, though I know journaling is helpful to a lot of people. It helps them express what is happening to them and how they feel about it. In that way, it’s like a diary. Going back over a journal after, say, a year or so of writing (not necessarily every day) can help a person track their moods and their triggers. People can note their physical surroundings and emotional response and note whether seasons or weather, food and drink, interactions with certain persons, or other life circumstances have an effect on their moods and can help identify events that bring on depression or mania.

There are variations of this. One friend of mine used Facebook as his “diary.” He would look back through a year of his posts and conversations to determine when depression had struck him (there were fewer posts during those time periods).

In my own case, my husband and I have noticed that our moods follow each other’s. When I am depressed for a few weeks, he becomes depressed, too. When I am hypomanic, his mood lifts and he finds more joy in his own life. We do things together, like baking or watching our favorite TV shows together or going for day-long or even weekend getaways.

The same is true the other way around. When Dan is depressed or angry or just plain surly, I find it extremely difficult to maintain even a level mood. His mood creeps in and takes over mine. I sometimes try to maintain a level mood when this happens, but it is very difficult. I find myself struggling not to lose whatever peace or joy I have. I find myself frustrated by his depression or annoyance, to the point where I want to tell him to snap out of it. (I try not to do this. It doesn’t help anyway.)

If we both hit lows at the same time, or experience anger simultaneously, it gets fairly ugly. That’s when we fight, or both retreat to our rooms, or spend time away from each other, indulging in our own pursuits. Admittedly, such contemporaneous moods don’t hit very often, but when they do, it’s hell.

Both of us have learned techniques to respond to these “following” or simultaneous moods. We generally need more space or alone time. We ask each other for what we need and if the other is able to give it (hugs, for example). We offer what we are able to do, if there is indeed anything we realize might help.

Mostly, though, we just wait for the moods to pass and for both of us to return to a level state. I continue taking my meds and writing my blogs.

Interestingly, it was my husband who first noticed these “following” moods. Over the years, he has become pretty perceptive about both our feelings. It may help that he has studied and even worked in psychological settings for a while (no, that’s not where we met), but I think his real education has been living with me for almost 40 years. In all that time, you begin to notice patterns.

At one time my blogs did record my day-to-day (or week-to-week) feelings and actions. Sometimes they still do. But anymore, I find myself exploring other aspects of bipolar disorder and mental illness in general. I don’t believe I’ve said all there is to say about my feelings and symptoms, but this blog has allowed me to stretch out and consider the wider world of mental health.

Apparently, my husband is getting better at it too.

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