Bipolar 2 From Inside and Out

Posts tagged ‘my experiences’

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.

My Unrecognized Mania

I thought I had managed to avoid mania for most of my bipolar life. Brief bouts of hypomania, maybe, but never the real thing. Then I thought back on the last year and a half.

For years I had been trying to write a mystery novel, but a year and a half or almost two years ago, I really kicked it into high gear. I wrote. I rewrote. I tweaked. I outlined. I thought of names for my characters and backstories for them. I mapped out on what day of the week each event happened. I even looked up the weather and sunset time for a certain, pivotal day. I showed the first four chapters to volunteer readers.

Then I decided it was done enough and ready for the world. I started in December, sending out three queries a day to publishers and agents. I was undeterred by the rejections. I knew that many famous authors had been rejected dozens of times before they were published. I sent out 180 queries. It was like my brain was popcorn, exploding with ideas and determination and optimism.

I got the expected rejections, of course. Many, many of them. Most were of the “This is not the right book for me/us. Agents’ opinions differ. You should keep trying” variety, which only egged me on. Surely there was an agent out there for me somewhere.

At last, I got two responses that showed the agents had clearly read the sample chapters. They commented on the substance of my work and told me what needed “improvement.” My eyes were opened. They were exactly right. My book contained serious flaws and was by no means ready to be published.

So, that was about six months or more “wasted” on hypomania. In addition to the obsessive (though futile) attempt to make contact with 180 agents, I had other symptoms of mania or hypomania. I had delusions of grandeur. I thought my book would be published and make a splash. I imagined it might win an award for “Best First Novel” from a noted mystery organization. I even imagined the phone call to tell me that I had won.

No one noticed that I was hypomanic. My husband thought that I was somewhat obsessed, but he felt his duty lay in offering me encouragement, rather than bursting my pretty balloon.

My symptoms backed off.

Then, just a few months ago, Dan and I discovered that we were due to come into a sum of money. We immediately started planning what to do with it, and part of that plan included overseas travel. My hypomania kicked back in. For several months now (though we haven’t gotten the money yet), I fell into a frenzy of planning. And I spent money.

I bought small things, but lots of them. Books of maps and guidebooks. Little pill cases for daytime and nighttime meds. Rain gear. And more – despite the fact that the trip is still at least seven months away.

And I prepped. Oh, how I prepped. I used those guidebooks to plan routes and sights to see, trying to balance the route between things that might please my husband and things I had seen before and wanted to revisit. I googled to find out how distant each b-n-b was from the various attractions, and how far the attractions were from each other. I planned where we would go on each day and how much time it would take to drive, so I would know when we had to check out of our accommodations.

And I researched the country and foreign travel. Were masks required? What would the weather be like? Where could we change money? How much cash would we need to carry? Would ATMs work with our credit cards? Were they even accepted at most venues? Would our banks charge a foreign transaction fee? Could our cell phones both work abroad and call back to the States? What days and months were some destinations open? Would they acknowledge my handicapped parking pass?

None of this was actually harmful, except maybe the money and time I spent. In fact, much of the obsessing was enjoyable. It’s been my habit in the past to research the places I was traveling, buying guidebooks and other useful things. But this was more than that. I felt internal pressure to make this trip as perfect as it could possibly me. I was planning the Bataan Fun March.

Recently, I snapped out of it and talked it over with my therapist. She affirmed that I was indeed having hypomania, though not a very destructive kind, except maybe the spending. Since then I have barely touched the guidebooks and schedules. I haven’t googled anything.

I must admit, though, that the feeling of accomplishment in both cases was quite enjoyable. I see why people romanticize hypomania or mania and even long for it to happen. It does increase energy and allow one to plan, even if mistakenly. I knew from seeing another manic person in my former workplace that mania seldom accomplished anything of lasting value. I suppose the lesson I must take from these experiences is that I should learn to recognize the signs of mania and try to drag myself back down to earth before I do something I’ll truly regret. That will involve my prescribing physician, my therapist, and my husband (once he realizes that I am getting manicky), all in an effort to get me back to a place of self-control.

But of course, we know that’s not really how bipolar disorder works.

Another Kind of Depression – Dysthymia

Of all the types of depression that get discussed – major depressive disorder, exogenous depression, endogenous depression, bipolar depression – there’s one type that isn’t talked about very often: dysthymia. The word comes from Greek, where it is made up of dys (bad or ill) and thymia (mind or emotions). But in clinical terms, dysthymia has a more exact meaning than “ill humor” or “bad mood.” I had always assumed that it came along a scale of severity that ranged from major depression through dysthymia to stability to hypomania to mania. It could be that I was mistaken.

Johns Hopkins Medical has this to say: “Dysthymia is a milder, but long-lasting form of depression. It’s also called persistent depressive disorder. People with this condition may also have bouts of major depression at times.” So, it’s milder, but long-lasting, persistent, and may occur in people with major depression. Not very specific, is it?

Johns Hopkins also notes that to diagnose dysthymia, “an adult must have a depressed mood for at least 2 years (or one year in children and adolescents).” The Mayo Clinic also refers to it as “Pervasive Depressive Disorder.”

Dysthymia seems like a “squishy” diagnosis, as the signs and symptoms overlap so greatly with major depressive disorder.

Garden-variety depression or “Major Depressive Disorder,” again according to the Mayo Clinic, “affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. You may have trouble doing normal day-to-day activities, and sometimes you may feel as if life isn’t worth living.” The risk factors and symptoms of the two disorders are virtually the same.

However, major depressive disorder, according to multiple sources, must last around two weeks, while dysthymia lasts for two years or more. Personally, I can’t see how this is called “milder.” Alternating between the two conditions is sometimes referred to as “double depression.”

I have thought of dysthymia as milder, and perhaps it is what I have now that my depression is pretty well controlled by medication and therapy. I no longer have extreme symptoms such as the self-harm and suicidal ideation.

Then again, one of my major depressive episodes lasted three years or more, with no visible letup. Was that relatively mild? It sure as hell didn’t feel like it.

Perhaps it doesn’t matter what you call it. The experience of the disorder seems to me more important than the label put on it. I haven’t looked the conditions up in the DSM (I don’t have a copy). But all my life I have been diagnosed with depression or major depression (before my diagnosis was changed to bipolar type 2 with anxiety, and it seems pointless now to call myself dysthymic. Maybe I’ll ask my psychotherapist when I see her next week if she can shed any light on this confusing nomenclature. Maybe she’ll have a handle on which of these I technically have.

However you want to name it or frame it, though, I have – and probably have had since I was a child – some version of the disorder, and have applied the treatments for it (meds and therapy for both), and now experience occasional episodes of the “milder” version, though they certainly don’t last two years.

In a way, I wish the various authorities would make up their minds and quit changing the labels. In another way, I don’t care what the labels are (unless they affect insurance companies and what treatments they allow). I experience this disorder in the way that I experience it. Most of the time I simply call it depression, and I don’t see how it helps to subdivide it. When I hit rock bottom, I call it a major depressive episode. When I’m relatively stable, I call it “in remission.” These may not be the technically correct terms, but they’re what make sense to me.

I don’t know whether other people with bipolar disorder make these fine distinctions, or simply think of their shifting moods as lows and highs, depression and hypomania or mania, or whatever.

But do we really need more labels? Isn’t lived experience good enough? Does the definition affect how our doctors treat us? Are there going to be more subdivisions in the future (a trend which seems particularly rampant right now, as with autism, Asperger’s, high-functioning, low-functioning, and more and more variations)? Does what we call it really help anyone get better?

Maybe I’m wrong here, but I don’t think so.

Mind and Body, Again

We know that the body affects the mind affects the body in various ways, especially when it comes to mental illness. Many of us who live with anxiety, bipolar disorder, or another condition experience physical symptoms like tremors, nausea, hives, and diarrhea.

The last one is my particular curse, which no one wants to hear about, but there you have it. Or rather, there I have it.

I didn’t even know that this was a problem related to my mental state for many years. All I knew was that whenever my mother or father was taken to the hospital, I would invariably and eventually find my guts in an uproar – usually when I got home, but sometimes in the waiting room. I thought that my bowels were my “attack organ,” as the saying went, and that I was merely reacting to the stress of the situation.

Of course that was true, but it never occurred to me that this was not just a physical problem, but a mental problem manifesting physically. At the time I was undiagnosed with bipolar disorder and knew little about the condition or how the mind and the body were connected.

The severity of the problem was impressed on me years later, when I was having severe anxiety, just after coming out of a severe and lengthy spell of depression. The more anxious I got, the more episodes I would have, sometimes up to six times a day. I lived with Immodium within easy reach at all times. During the worst of it I didn’t dare to leave the house. When I applied for disability, it was this affliction as much as my bipolar disorder that was the basis of the case.

Naturally, I told my primary care physician about the problem, and he sent me to a gastroenterologist. The specialist thought I might have Irritable Bowel Syndrome, but then again he wasn’t sure and didn’t seem to give it much more thought.

My psychiatrist, though, had a different idea. He suggested that the upset in my guts was caused by upsets in my mind – not that I was imagining it (there was ample evidence that I wasn’t), but that my nerves were overstimulated by anxiety and that caused my gastric symptoms. It was a feedback loop – anxiety caused diarrhea caused anxiety and so on and on.

I don’t know if it was the anti-anxiety med he gave me or if my anxiety just calmed down on its own, but the episodes became fewer and less frequent. I no longer stayed strictly at home, within easy reach of a bathroom, or feared going out. (I did make sure I knew where the bathroom was any place I did go.) I even stopped carrying a change of underwear in my purse. And my disability claim was denied. (I was also making so much money at my at-home freelance work that my lawyer said the judge’s head would explode.)

I still get anxiety-related diarrhea at times, but nothing like the biohazards I used to have. It’s no longer an everyday (or many-times-a-day) occurrence. I still do keep a supply of Immodium in my desk, my purse, and the bathroom, though, just in case.

I hesitated before writing this post, as it’s a difficult and unpleasant topic. But I know that a suffering mind can make the body suffer too, and I thought there might be people out there who have similar problems and needed some reassurance that they weren’t the only one. I don’t know what your “attack organ” may be or what your particular symptoms are, but do keep in mind that the interaction of the mind and the body can produce unwanted results. And that you are not alone in dealing with that.

Why CBT Isn’t for Me

It’s been suggested more than once that CBT, or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, might help me with some of my problems, including “depression, anxiety disorders, marital problems, and severe mental illness” (bipolar disorder, in my case), according to the American Psychological Association (APA). And I understand that it’s helped a lot of people, including some in my position, with some of the same problems I have. If it works for you, that’s great. I’m not saying that no one should ever use it or that it’s a rotten form of therapy.

I, however, dislike the premise of CBT and have never felt comfortable trying it. Here’s why.

One of the basic tenets of CBT is that the client’s thinking is faulty and the therapist helps the client to discover how and where. Then they work together to pinpoint the faulty thinking and replace it with healthy behaviors, or at least less destructive ones.

Again, according to the APA, “CBT treatment usually involves efforts to change thinking patterns” and examine “what is going on in the person’s current life, rather than what has led up to their difficulties.”

When I first got into therapy with the counselor who has helped me the most, what I needed was not someone to convince me that my thoughts were faulty. I had worked hard to reclaim my memories, validate them, and recognize that they really were damaging events. I would resist any attempt to undo that work by invalidating those memories, and my attempts to understand them, as “faulty.”

Despite all the times it has betrayed me, I think my brain is the most powerful weapon I have in moving forward, but that does not include denying the past or brushing it aside in favor of what the APA calls “learning to recognize one’s distortions in thinking that are creating problems, and then to reevaluate them in light of reality.” Evaluating the memories and the thinking associated with them is a large part of what has helped me most, but calling them “distortions” would not be helpful. I needed to reclaim those memories and understand the feelings, accept them for what they were and how they changed my life, and then go on to rebuilding a new life – not one free from those memories and feelings, but one that validates them as part of my lived experience.

The methods used in CBT discomfort me as well. The idea of “homework assignments” and role-playing my future interactions does not appeal to me. I have gotten on much better with good ol’ talk therapy (and medications) than I believe I could with body relaxation and mind-calming techniques.

My problem largely involves confronting my memories and not denying them or downplaying them, but learning how to live despite having them in my past. It does me no good to deny a train-wreck as “faulty thinking” or to dismiss it as part of my past. Owning it as part of my past and realizing what it did to me is much more helpful. Validating my feelings and reclaiming my memories, then moving beyond them, is what I need. My therapist has helped me do that, without ever once suggesting that my thought patterns are faulty. We’ve worked on coping skills, sure – but never based on the premise that my past doesn’t affect my present or future.

CBT is also said (by NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness) to be a short-term process (which I’m sure the insurance companies love) or one that can be carried out without a therapist guiding it. To me, this smacks of the “think away your troubles” idea. If I could have, I would have, without the help of long-term talk therapy.

My therapy has been a long and often painful process, but never one that attempts to make me think that my memories are invalid and that my progress will come by admitting that. Talk therapy is hard work, and I don’t believe there is any shortcut to mental health. Even now, after I have largely ceased therapy, I sometimes need a “booster shot” when my problems become overwhelming. Again, this comes from recognizing that my problems are real and that thinking them away rather than hard work is not the answer.

I am sure that people will tell me that I have misunderstood CBT, what it is all about, and how it is practiced. They may have many good experiences with it. But I don’t want to take a chance on a form of therapy that denies my reality and dismisses it as “unhelpful thoughts.” I need my reality heard and validated and examined. I need depth and breadth of therapy that recognizes my “train wrecks” and to what degree they have left me wounded. I need coping mechanisms that acknowledge my past as part of what going forward may mean.

I don’t trust CBT to do those things.

Coming Down From a Manic Jag

I have been manicky lately, and it has expressed itself, as it does for so many people, with spending money we don’t have. Or at least spending money we’re supposed to be getting but don’t have yet on things which we can’t afford until we get it.

The thing is, we have a nice lump sum of money coming, but we don’t know when it will arrive. And instead of sensibly waiting for it to arrive, I have already begun spending it. A new-old truck for Dan; passport applications for us both; tattoos for us both; concert tickets; clothes and maps and guidebooks and airline tickets for a trip we plan to take next year; a short getaway vacation last week; gardening and home improvement supplies. Just to name a few.

All this leaves us very little for necessities like mortgage, electricity, internet (essential for my work), and even food. We can probably live on our credit card for a while, but I know that’s only a temporary solution, and a bad solution at that, even though the credit company increased my credit limit so we could pay for the airline tickets.

Of course, I am mostly responsible for all this spending. Some of the expenditures wouldn’t wait – the airline tickets, which we had to buy immediately to lock in the current price, and the passports, which I understand can take months to arrive and we shouldn’t wait till the last minute to apply for.

But for other purchases, Dan has been enabling me – “You know you want to go hear Emmylou Harris,” for example. “She’s one of your heroes.” “Might as well get the ticket for Rodney Crowell, too. How likely is it that he’ll be playing in this area again, at least anytime soon?”

Now the proverbial chickens are coming home to roost. Last week I had to deal with a guy at the door who was there to shut off our electricity unless I gave him a check for the past-due balance on the spot. The credit card company may come to regret the limit increase. I’m sure they gave it to me because I regularly paid them more than the amount due, and I can’t do that anymore.

I realize this is relatively minor compared to some spending jags that people in the manic phase of bipolar have gone on – gambling debts, for example, and even ones that end in homelessness. But the spending adds up, and we are strained past our limit until that windfall finally arrives.

Naturally, because that’s the way things go, now that I have come to and realized the reckless spending, it has triggered my anxiety. Financial troubles have always been one of my triggers, but it’s appalling to realize that I have dug this hole myself.

And naturally, because that’s the way things go, that anxiety triggers my depression – maybe not a full-blown depressive episode, but enough to affect my life and actions. I isolate. I grow surly with my husband. I have trouble sleeping or sleep too much.

In truth, I am angry with myself and with this damned disorder. When I get manicky, I generally am able to limit my spending to amounts of $25 or less, if sometimes for several such items (or meals). But this time I have overwhelmed myself, and my husband as well. I know we’re not supposed to use bipolar disorder as an excuse for bad behavior, but I can’t help thinking that hypomania is involved at some level. The idea of live music and foreign travel were just so irresistible. I couldn’t make myself wait until a better time.

We’ll get through this, I know. Someday the expected check will come and I can start straightening out some of the mess I’ve created. But until then, anxiety and depression will be my companions. I hope the mania stays fully tamped down until then. At least, I’ll take my meds and hope so. And not skip my therapist appointment in a week and a half. We haven’t had much to discuss lately, but now I’m sure we do.

Good News, Anxiety (and a Little Hypomania)

My husband and I have been waiting for various pieces of good news for several weeks. If they come, and the money associated with them, we could accomplish a few things, both necessary and frivolous, that have been on our minds.

Naturally, the waiting that triggers my anxiety isn’t over yet. One of the good things that we’re hoping to indulge in is a trip abroad, in the early part of next year. Since I learned of this, I’ve been preparing for it like it was the Normandy Invasion.

I got a travel agent (my husband’s nephew) and spent a lot of time with him, going over what we wanted to see (scenic things, not big cities), what we wanted in the way of accommodations (guesthouses and bed-and-breakfasts), airline details, passport details, COVID details, birth certificate details, and more.

Though the trip is over six months away (which should be about right for getting passports), I’ve fallen into a morass of hypomania/anxiety. I’ve been checking what the weather will be like, how much local money we’ll need, any language difficulties, etc. I’ve started ordering things we’ll need, like rain slickers, a road map, power converters (I found ones with USB ports), extra underwear (I have a fear of running out), and so on. I’ve been poring over suggestions that our travel agent sent detailing interesting sights along the route he roughly mapped out for us, given that we’re going on a fly-drive plan. I suppose I’ll settle down at some point and just wait for everything to come together, but then again, maybe not.

Another anxiety-producing (or really, dread-producing) thing that may happen in the near future is getting my teeth fixed. I have a major phobia regarding dentists and have avoided them for far too long. I now have an appointment for a consultation. Even for that, I’ll probably need Ativan. If I make it through the anxiety and phobia, I perhaps will have done something that will bolster my sometimes-quite-low self-esteem. I’ve had problems with my teeth for years, but I am determined (well, sort of determined) that this will be the time that I will conquer them.

Our other new addition is a work truck for my husband, who needs to haul gardening equipment (including dirt and rocks) and timber and large tools around. This is also a piece of good news for me. Because of his work schedule and our one car, I have been unable to go out during the day. Not that I usually need to go out during the day, as I work from home, but it’s nice to have the choice.

Plus, I’ll be able to schedule appointments not just on Mondays, when my husband has off work, but during the rest of the week as well. With only one car, if I have a medical appointment, I’m limited in my choices of appointments and times. I have to drop my husband off at work at 6:00 a.m. to have the car for most of the day. Now I can have much more freedom and don’t have to feel trapped in the house. If I want or need to go somewhere, I can.

If we were sensible people (we aren’t), we would settle for using the infusion of money to fix my teeth and buy the work truck, then put the rest away for a nest egg. But, damn it, after all we’ve been through in the past few years, frankly, we need a break. I know that many people with bipolar disorder are not able to travel, even outside the town where they live. I know that I am lucky to be able to. I imagine I will still have some anxiety when we get there, such as when trying to adjust to driving on the wrong side of the road. But we’ve built rest and self-care into the plan.

Another time when we traveled, I gave myself permission to be depressed if I felt it coming on. It was a revelation. I didn’t have to force myself to participate in all the activities. I could sleep late if I needed to. I didn’t have to resort to “smiling depression” to seem “normal.”

I hope that on this vacation I can do the same. I hope I won’t get depressed very much, but if I want to skip part of the many activities that our travel agent has found, or sleep late in the b-n-b, I can choose to do that. And that’s part of how I practice self-care when traveling abroad.

Fake It Till You…Can’t

I used to have a couple of suits hanging in my closet. One was oatmeal-colored. One was blue tweed. One was rust-colored. I had a couple of silk blouses and a jacket or two that I could wear over a dress.

I called them my “Respectable Business Lady” disguises.

At the time I was working at a 9-to-5 job where the dress code was pretty casual. Fridays were jeans days, not casual days. But every so often I had to go to meetings or business conventions, and for them, I needed the disguises. I was dressing to “fit in” and to give an impression that I was competent and stable.

I don’t honestly know if the suits worked as a disguise, but I made it through meetings and conventions fairly successfully (I think), if I was allowed to collapse afterward, at home or in a hotel room. I think the disguises were as much to remind me how to behave as they were to convince people that I was indeed respectable and a business lady.

Nevertheless, I can’t really buy into the “fake it till you make it” philosophy that has been so popular in self-help books, including those promoting business and entrepreneurship help. I had no notion of becoming a respectable business lady by wearing those suits. I was always going to be awkward and out of my league. I was only trying to pretend by using protective coloration.

The essence of “fake it till you make it” is practice. As the saying goes, you get good at what you practice. Unfortunately, you can’t practice not having bipolar or another disorder. You can practice assorted coping mechanisms and get better at doing them, but they’re a solution to some of the symptoms, not the disease.

I don’t think that “fake it till you make it” really applies to people with mental health problems. No matter how much or how long you fake it, your mental disorders are not going to disappear, though they may ease up at times. I certainly don’t think the business lady disguises made me go into remission for a week or a weekend. They were merely a coping mechanism and nothing I practiced enough to get really good at.

One danger of trying to fake your way through mental illness is that you can fall into the trap of what’s called “smiling depression.” When this happens, people don’t notice that you’re miserable because your smile makes it seem you are happy. It’s another disguise, but not a permanently successful one.

Once I was teaching a class, and several women gathered around another woman and asked her what was wrong. “I didn’t think it showed,” she said. “No, honey,” I said, “it leaks out around the eyes.” She wasn’t crying or anything like that, but we could all tell something was wrong, despite her smile. We offered her conversation and sympathy until she pulled herself together a bit.

I’ve never been able to school my face into any kind of smiling depression anyway. If some people have “resting bitch face,” I have “resting sad face.” I can’t count the number of times when I didn’t feel particularly sad, but someone asked me what I was sad about. Of course, I was probably suffering from low-grade depression, like a low-grade fever, but at the time I was undiagnosed and had no idea that I had a mental problem that caused me to look that way.

Basically, what I’m saying is that when you have a mental illness like bipolar disorder, you can fake being psychologically together for a while, but you can’t sustain it forever. Certainly not until you “make it.” After I took off my Respectable Business Lady disguise, I would revert to my original self, as far from a respectable business lady as ever. Sometimes it would take me days to recover enough to feel that I was functioning again on any sort of level.

I think it’s better, ultimately, to admit who you are and what you need rather than to try to disguise or fake it. Even if your authentic self is depressed and miserable, getting help for it is still better than trying to cover it up.

Manicky June, Anxious July, Overwhelmed August

Once upon a time, when I was diagnosed with unipolar depression, I wished I had bipolar disorder so that at least I could get things done when I was manic. Then I met someone with bipolar disorder and learned how foolish that wish was. Her manic phase led her to begin projects she would never finish, make loud, inappropriate jokes, and have difficulty with social interactions.

I have bipolar 2, and am fairly well controlled on medication, so I don’t get hypomania often, and when I do, it doesn’t usually last very long. Last month, however, I had a manicky time, and the results of it will affect me for several months. In June I also started on a new medication – though one for my physical health, not my mental health. My primary care physician doubled my dose of thyroid supplement. It had an almost immediate effect. After about a week, I became stronger, steadier, in less pain, and – oh yes, – rather manic.

I tend to have the rapid cycling version of my disorder, so when I do get hypomanic, it seldom lasts more than a few days. This time, however, I have had a longer time to experience the hypomania in a way I can’t remember having had before.

Some good things happened and some bad things happened. I got tickets to two live music events that I desperately wanted to see, one in August and one in September. We went out to eat at least twice. I made appointments for tattoos for both myself and my husband, both also in August. I booked us for a weekend getaway vacation in August. I bought myself a pair of earrings to replace ones I had lost.

In other words, I spent a lot of money.

Then July came and I don’t know if we will have enough money to get through it all. I snapped out of the hypomania and reverted to anxiety, which is how my depression often expresses itself. I paid the major bills during the first week. I put us on a strict budget for groceries. I put a little money aside so that I could possibly get a t-shirt at one of the concerts. I determined that the tattoo studio takes credit cards. (I don’t really want to take this option, but if we run out of cash, I may have to.)

Money worries are among my triggers for anxiety and depression, along with thunderstorms, overscheduling, noise, and too many people. When August comes, I will certainly need the bed-and-breakfast getaway, because my nerves will by then be frazzled.

The real question, though, is will I have enough energy to enjoy all the plans I have made for August?

A friend, who goes to DisneyWorld fairly often, learned that he should not do what he calls the “Bataan Fun March,” trying to cram every possible attraction and experience into a single visit. Now he prefers a more leisurely Disney experience, visiting a few of his old favorites and a few new attractions, while leaving time for relaxed dining and time in the pool.

This would probably have been a better approach for me to apply to August. A few events then, a few in September.

It would be convenient if my hypomania returned in August, to allow me to do all the fun things I have committed to. But as we know, bipolar disorder is an unpredictable beast. In the past, I have missed concerts that I had no more spoons for. I have rescheduled appointments that I wasn’t physically or psychologically in any shape to attend. (Most of these were appointments with my therapist, who sometimes agreed to a phone session instead.)

But these commitments are ones that I can’t phone in. All of them require my actual, physical presence. I don’t want to cancel any of them, some I can’t cancel at all, and I can’t phone in any of them. My best hope is that my symptoms will allow me to both attend and enjoy, if that’s possible.

Maybe the new pep I am experiencing from the thyroid meds will help. It does seem to help regulate my moods a bit, as well as affecting my body. Maybe it will allow me to have more spoons for August. Maybe in September I can decompress. Maybe in October, I will be back somewhere near level ground.

Across the Spectra

Most often when “the spectrum” is mentioned, it’s the autism spectrum that springs to mind. There’s good reason for that. Autism affects varying people in varying ways and to various degrees.

But there are other conditions, disorders, and traits that vary across a spectrum as well: right brain/left brain, introvert/extrovert/, depressed/manic, and many others. The one I’m most familiar with, of course is the depressed/manic spectrum (or in my case depressed/hypomanic), but I’ve recently been reading about the other spectra I mentioned.

The first thing to know about spectra is that no one is fully at either end of the spectrum, or at least not all of the time. Think of a spectrum as the weight gauge on an old-fashioned scale at a doctor’s office. Most people’s weight tips the scale at somewhere other than the middle, and if they are all the way to one end or the other, the clinician moves the weight and starts over until the pointer rests in between the two extremes and the heavy weight falls somewhere between either end.

So, to use myself as an example (the one I’m most familiar with), when I am stable (properly medicated), I am close to the middle of the depressed/hypomanic spectrum, with the “weight” perhaps listing just a wee bit toward the depressed side. During depressive or hypomanic episodes, I slide toward one end or the other. No one is either all depressed or all hypomanic, though it feels like it at times, and people don’t stay at one end or the other all the time, except perhaps for the unmedicated person who has never had proper treatment and self-care.

Then consider the right-brain/left-brain scenario. When this theory was first proposed, it associated various traits with one or the other side of the brain. Type-A, energetic, risk-taking, mathematically oriented people were said to be left-brained, while shy, creative, language-loving, and risk-averse types were said to be “right-brained.”

This theory was extrapolated into the real world. Naturally, society at large was judged to be left-brained and that was deemed the better thing to be. These people got things done – businesspeople, politicians, scientists, and the like. Artists, writers, and other creative types were said to be right-brained, and not well adjusted to the left-brained society. There was even a book called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, which tried to harness that hemisphere in pursuit of artistic accomplishments and getting left-brained people in touch with their other “side” for a while.

Whenever I’ve taken one of those sided-ness tests, though, I almost always come out somewhere near the middle. What does this mean? I suppose either that my corpus callosum (which connects the two hemispheres) is particularly robust, or that I partake of both natures to some extent, more or less, and at different times. For example, I am mostly a stay-at-home reader and writer, but I am also a closet science geek, and like foreign travel, considered a risk-taking pursuit.

The same with introvert/extrovert (which seems to me to overlap considerably with right/left brainedness, and indeed with depressive/manic). I prefer to stay at home and pursue quiet activities like reading and writing, but I also enjoy going to science fiction conventions, which are known to be rather people-y. I can also tolerate moderate sized gatherings such as parties and book signings, as long as they aren’t filled with loud noise such as screaming children.

What I’m getting at here is that most scales are fairly useless and most people are somewhere in the middle of them, partake of both ends, and slide back and forth to some degree. I suppose there are people who are all one or the other, but I don’t know many and probably wouldn’t find them very interesting if there were.

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