Loved In Spite of Bipolar, Loved Because of Bipolar

→ December 2, 2010 - 26 Comments

I have explained to many people, many times, that bipolar is existence at the ends of a spectrum. It’s not that your average person doesn’t get sad, or happy, or devastated, or related, it’s simply that they do not experience these emotions so fully, so much of the time. My bipolar problem isn’t the existence of these emotions, simply their intensity, their duration and their frequency.

All this bipolar emotion makes people look at me strangely. I know. But oddly, someone it seems not only loves me in spite of bipolar but even finds reasons to love me in the bipolar, because of the bipolar. Love.

Music and Bipolar

Music can fillet me. Songs that mean nothing to me can draw tears because I find the melody tragic. I really feel, from the bottom of my soul, saddened, depressed by the order of random tones or impassioned lyrics. The song itself could actually be expressing something happy, but something in me perceives it as heartbreaking anyway. I have to be very careful about the sounds I expose myself to.

You’re Too Sensitive. (Yes, I’m Bipolar.)

People view bipolars as broken and to be loved in spite of their mental illness. Some can see the person and their bipolar together as something to love.I am. I know. I’m a sensor that needs recalibration. I pick up on stimuli so tiny and expound them so fully that it is unreasonable, unreal, incomprehensible. I know. It’s a problem.

When my heart breaks it shatters into a million pieces each aching and bleeding through my body. And to some extent it is always broken from the pain of my everyday life.

Drowning in Emotion

The thoughts and the descriptions and the ferocity of emotion makes it impossible to take a deep breath. I gulp tears instead of air. Brackish water enters my lungs and I feel myself drowning. I feel myself drowning in tears and blood and sobs and screams; each one daring me to let go and stop thrashing against them.

My Bipolar Life Lives In This Anguish

And it is no surprise at all that others can’t stand next to that. Couldn’t if they wanted to. It will drown them too. Or they will stop seeing the water and the pain and pretend I’m bobbing along like everyone else.

These emotions, these extremes, these jagged edges, these razor shards are not one of the best aspects of my personality. They are roadblocks to fitting in with the others. The people around me. Joining the world. Being human. I know I live in another place, in another time where people can’t go. I know. I try to hide it. I try to build a human shell around me for all those I pass by, and then I crumble when I walk through my door and sob and spin until the next time I have to interact, tiringly, gluing back the pieces of my outer shell. So tired. So exhausted from pretending to be some part of me that other people can understand.

I Love You, In Spite Of, Because Of

Oddly in a tiny world in the dark with bleeding tears, broken shields and vulnerability I am loved, I am honored and I am cherished anyway. Cherished and bipolar. In this place I understand that it isn’t actually in spite of all unresonablness and extremeness but actually because of it. Because it is part of me. Because in amplification and anguish and terror and blades there is a messy, complicated, folded, person worth loving. Somehow these parts of me that bring endless pain and steal life are somehow beautiful. They glisten in their purity. There is nothing more human than pain. There is nothing more human that suffering. There is nothing more human than love.

Being Bipolar – Compensating for Perceived Incompetence

→ November 30, 2010 - 8 Comments

hiding bipolar

The bipolar burble welcomes guest author Stephanie of Mommy vs. Madness. Today Stephanie talks about something I can certainly relate to, the concept that stereotypically, those with bipolar disorder are nothing but crazy and so are to be disregarded. Stephanie talks about the cost of fighting this stigma.

Fitting in is hard. Fitting when you are bipolar is harder. Most people can fit in by adorning themselves in the latest shoes, bags or clothes. Others may compensate by engaging in witty conversations, bragging about their job accomplishments or their children. Being bipolar, I feel the need to compensate for my perceived incompetence. I feel that in order for me to fit in, I have to prove just how sane I am. For me to accomplish this I feel I must be smart, I must be funny and most importantly I must be calm and rational at all times.

Being Diagnosed with Bipolar Felt Distancing

When I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder I, I felt wrapped in a stigma-stereotyped and secluded, suddenly different than the rest of the population. And, in some sense, people with mental illnesses are different; we experience life in a more vulnerable manner.

[push]Most people assume that someone with a mental illness can’t be a successful doctor, lawyer, accountant or a good parent. The mentally ill can only be “crazy” doing stereotypical “crazy things”. And usually those “crazy things” don’t involve a house, a kid, a relationship or a job.[/push]

I can recall times when I’ve told people I have bipolar disorder and received one of two looks. The first look is that of pure pity. Their head will tilt to the side, their brows will furrow and their lips will turn down ever so slightly, suggesting that they are entirely sympathetic, when in fact, they are just more or less shocked. The subsequent look is that of borderline horror. Their mouths will practically “O” as they prepare the following utterance, “Well, you don’t look crazy” as if their response is at all reassuring.

I’ve also found I am my watched more closely, especially around my children, as if people are trying to catch a glimpse of the madness lurking inside that has led to this diagnosis and discover if I too could be a baby killing monster.

So I Compensate for Perceived Incompetence

So it becomes easier to hide my illness to avoid the looks of pity, horror and the parenting stigmas. In doing so, I overcompensate with intellect and utilize whatever notion of normalcy I have.

compensate for bipolar with workI study hard; I make sure my grades are at the top of the class. On the job I’d take on the largest projects and work more hours than most, trying to be everything to everyone.

I try hard not to yell, even if I desperately want to. Instead, I reason with logic rejecting my need to speak from the heart. I never say I’m sad, or having a bad day, or raise my voice at my kids in public when I’m out with friends- even if they deserve it.

I figure if I appear smart and calm then no one can see the inner turmoil of my mania, depression, racing thoughts or my multiple hospitalizations. No one will judge; no one will suspect a thing.

I do all this because, honestly, I don’t really know what else to do to show I’m as competent as those who do not share my burden. It’s easier for me to lose myself than to have to explain to the rest of the world about my illness and how I am still the same “me”.

The Effect of Overcompensation

So I’m left to wonder; wonder if this trepidation of mine is what keeps so many from speaking out about their disease. I wonder if the fear of being looked upon as less competent sears the inside of their souls too.

I also wonder if there is an answer or at least one brave soul who has conquered their anxiety, overstepped the bounds of stereotypes and can readily offer insight to their “solution”-their “how to”, if you will.

Because if that person exists, then I could feel a semblance of hope that the world has the ability see that just because a doctor wrote code 296.89 on some paperwork and a prescription for Lithium, doesn’t mean I can’t be a good employee, student and mother. What it then shows is that I can be competent and bipolar.

And in the end, if I can find this balance, I am no longer compensating for who I want to appear to be–I will be living who I am.

Stephanie is a Bipolar living in Northern California with her husband and two boys, one of which has also been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. When she is not documenting the hilarity of parenting and the challenges of doing so with a mental illness she moonlights as a law student concentrating in the area of Mental Health law.

What’s triple chronotherapy like? Did it work?

→ November 28, 2010 - 6 Comments

I followed the Triple Chronotherapy protocol Thursday – Monday last week. I wrote in laymen’s terms about circadian rhythm and Chronotherapy when I started and then copious updates afterwards. (At the end of this post you can see rough numbers tracking mood during my treatment.)

It’s important to note that I did this without medical supervision and so my thoughts cannot necessarily be generalized to what would happen in a clinical setting. And I don’t need to tell you this, but don’t try this at home kids. Bad things can happen.

During Day One of Chronotherapy

Staying up for 36 hours isn’t fun. I would imagine most people instinctively know this, but I can now say with certainty that 36 hours is too long to be awake.

The changes I noticed during this time were:

  • A lot of dizziness, difficulty going from sitting to standing
  • Lack of coordination
  • Nausea, lack of hunger
  • General feeling of weakness and unwellness
  • Depletion of cognitive ability
  • Disconnection from the world around me

This was not fun in the slightest and the only thing that kept me grounded was a friend that stayed up with me.

From what I understand, it is during this period that a reduction in depressive symptoms occurs. I did not find this and in fact, find it almost unfathomable that someone would actually feel any degree of “good” during this time. I certainly didn’t. I was gripping my psyche with both hands trying desperately not to let it fly in every direction.

During the 36 hours I experienced moments of really nasty panic. I felt overwhelmed by breathing. It was horrible. It took everything I had to sit still, remain calm and not break down.

And looking at the numbers (below) it appears there was some reduction in depressive symptoms after around 30 hours of sleep deprivation. I wouldn’t have said I wasn’t depressed though, I would say I was feeling so sick and so dissociative that the depression was pushed aside.

Interesting to note: after the 36 hours, I could not sleep. I was exhausted, but eyes closed, in bed, in pitch black, I couldn’t sleep. I’m not sure whether that’s typical but my friend who was with me also had trouble sleeping at this time.

chronotherapy get upDuring Day Two of Chronotherapy

Not surprisingly, not being able to sleep in the prescribed time and then getting up seven hours later was a special kind of pain. Notable but survivable. Also not surprisingly (to me) I was more depressed. It is actually noted in the literature that while extended periods of wakefulness may decrease depression, even short naps can erase those improvements. (FYI this protocol is designed to thwart this effect.)

I spent most of this morning, right after the first sleep, seriously depressed and exhausted. Like, I-can’t-move kind of exhaustion.

I took a sleeping pill to induce the next sleep. I’m not sure if this is strictly allowed in the protocol but I wasn’t about to not sleep yet again.

During Day Three of Chronotherapy

Day three was another white-knuckle day trying desperately to hang onto consciousness and reason. I was so unhappy to be awake. Again, the people around me were the only things keeping me sane-ish. By this point much of the physical pain had subsided but the exhaustion was in my bones. I was still exhibiting notably decreased cognitive function. I didn’t want to drive or do anything that would depend on cognition. My brain felt like sludge. I had a hard time following even simple thoughts. I was a useless mess.

During Day Four of Chronotherapy

Waking up at 5 AM the fourth day was pretty much impossible. I was so exhausted it was physically painful to try to get out of bed. This is when I officially gave up and slept for an additional 2 hours.

Since the Chronotherapy

broken chronotherapy clock

I have been extremely tired, stupid and depressed since I tried this treatment, far more than before. I’ve never done well with a lack of sleep but I am surprised that after days and days I can’t seem to feel awake or very sharp. I suspect the increased depression has something to do with that.

I would actually anticipate an increase in depression after a treatment like this, so it’s not a huge surprise, but I figured I’d never know if I didn’t try.  And part of this increased depression is simply due to failing yet another treatment. I went through all this serious pain and suffering for nothing. Well, to get worse, actually. It’s a real kick in the head. Seriously.

Would I Recommend Chronotherapy?

This is a question for you and your doctor. I think that if the numbers quoted on the Program in Psychiatric Chronotherapy web site are accurate (50% – 60% response) then it’s well worth considering. It’s another option. When other options don’t work, you try what is left. All the protocol and research is online so even if your doctor isn’t familiar with it, they can read up.

But what I can tell you for sure is that it’s no fun and bad things can happen to you both psychologically and physically so you need to talk to your doctor. Me, I can’t see ever trying it again. Ever.

Tracking of Mood During Chronotherapy

These numbers are very rough and supplied by me during chronotherapy which means they are completely subjective. They just give an idea of what I was thinking at the time, if you’re interested.

Thur 5PM Fri 2AM Fri 9AM Fri 6PM Sat 2AM Sat 8AM Sat 1PM Sat 7PM Sun 7PM Mon 6AM
Depression 5 4 5 3 6 7 4 4 5 6
Anxiety 7 5 7 5 3 3 3 4 3 2
Energy 4 4 4 3 2 2 4 3 3 2
Hypomania 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
Panic 0 0 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

If anyone out there has tried anything like this, I’d be very interested in hearing from you.

Proving Competence – Mommy vs. Madness’s Schwandy – Guest Author

→ November 24, 2010 - Comments off

I am an extremely competent individual. I’m intelligent, hard-working, perfectionistic and driven. I’m gentle, kind, giving, funny and witty. I’m a great employee and I like to think pretty good friend. But like many of my mentally ill brethren, I feel like I have to keep proving over and over how competent I am due to the unfortunate mental illness stereotypes. People tend to think of bipolars in a negative light.

Proving Competence In Spite of Mental Illness

And this is just the topic Schwandy, from Mommy Vs. Maddness will be discussing in her post next week. In her own words:

I have a fear because of my Bipolar that my competency will not be validated and will be replaced by the stereotypes of the mentally ill.  So I often find myself desperately fighting the urge to over compensate for my perceived competence and vulnerabilities.

In Schwandy’s case, of course, she is a mother and thus has even more to prove. She’s a postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis survivor and has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I hope you’ll join me in welcoming her guest post next week.

Interested in writing a guest post? Let me know. I’d love to have you.

Circadian Rhythm Chronotherapy for Depression – Experiment

→ November 18, 2010 - 1 Comment

Do not, and I mean do not try this at home. I’m an idiot. Don’t be like me. Clear?

Today I read about a new therapy known as Triple Chronotherapy. Yes, it’s a big fancy word. Chronotherapy. Quite frankly, it sounds made up.

But it isn’t.

Read more

Saying Goodbye to Someone with a Mental Illness

→ November 7, 2010 - 423 Comments

Saying Goodbye to Someone with a Mental Illness

Pretty much weekly I get messages from people who are desperate to help a loved one with a mental illness. I hear versions of this story over and over, my child/parent/sibling/friend/spouse is sick and won’t get help for their mental illness. They say they would rather be in jail than be on medication for their mental illness. They can’t take care of themselves and they are going to end up on the street. Their behavior is destroying our family/relationship. Their behavior is destroying them.

Believe me, I get it. I really, really do. And sometimes you have to accept not everyone with a mental illness will get help. Sometimes you have to say goodbye to a person with a mental illness. Sometimes you have to cut a person with mental illness out of your life.

Read more