Mental Health: Bipolar Disorder

I realized that I occasionally throw out a comment about being bipolar or dealing with depression, but I haven’t really talked about how it has affected me or the diagnosis. I’ve lived with it so long and been fairly open about it, that I feel like everyone knows everything. There are now more people reading and I think I should explain some of where I’ve been.

I’m now 43, and I was diagnosed Bipolar II within a month or so of turning 30, even though I knew something was wrong by the time I was 21 or so.

from Unprofound.com

Bipolar II is characterized with long, deep depressions and brief times of hypomania (little mania). In 2004 Jane Pauley was diagnosed with this form of the disease.

It’s much harder to diagnose Bipolar II than Bipolar I, although both can be difficult. In general, people with all forms of bipolar tend to seek help when depressed, but don’t recognize the hypomanic or manic phases as a problem. Why should we? We feel GREAT during that time. 😛

In fact, I used to think of my hypomanic phases as my “normal” times. It isn’t until I look back at them that I can now see how destructive they could be.

I started to write this up, and it was becoming a long autobiography, which is not what I want. I do want to express some of the ways in which it has affected my life. Sometimes, I’ll say something about being mentally ill or “crazy” or something and people will say things like, “Don’t say that! You’re not crazy!”

It seems that because I’m intelligent and articulate, I’m not allowed to also be mentally ill.

But for me, saying those things are a kind of. . .  acceptance. It took me a long time to get there. It took several years to get somewhat stabilized on medications and accept that I needed them. So, I see saying things as an acknowledgment of where I am.

One of the primary areas it has affected is relationships. I would get into moods where I would need to be surrounded by people, feeding off of the energy of those around me, off of a party and music and everything. Considering how introverted I really am, this was new and different, strange even. But I was young, and at first just thought it was fantastic that I finally had an active social life.

The problem was that when I was in that mood, I would get into bed with almost anyone who paid attention to me. This led me to insist on a type of sexual openness in my relationships, because I did not want to lie or hide things about sex from my primary partner.

When I think about this now, the funny thing is that I also simultaneously believed in the mythical soulmate (although some people apparently think you can order up a soulmate like a cup of coffee).

I’m still not sure how I reconciled those things in my own head. I think it was that the “soulmate” was a complete relationship, body, mind and soul, whereas the others were just body, fun, not important.

The problem is, it’s hard to let the primary partner know that he is not being used in the same way the others are. [For those who live a polyamorous lifestyle, I admire you, because I know how difficult it can be. More power to you if you can make it work.]

I know now that it was hypersexuality caused by hypomanic swings.

But the disorder affects friendships, too.

When I’m depressed, I withdraw into myself and push people away. The thing is, I want them to be available when I’m ready to climb out of my inner space. But spending months or sometimes years pushing people away is not conducive to having people around when you want them to be. It also makes it difficult to be there when they need you. And then, in the hypomanic phase, there’s no . . . filter. It’s hard to think before I speak, so I may end up saying one of those things that people think but don’t usually say. That doesn’t help keep friends, either.

And then there’s money.

When I’m hypomanic, I can spend some money.

There was a point, in the early 90s when I got a chunk of back pay, around $4,000. At the time, it was the most money I had ever had at one tie. I went on a shopping spree.

I kept buying stuff and spending. To this day, I’ not entirely sure what I spent it all on. And I kept spending. I kept writing checks and did not balance the checkbook. Within a few weeks, I’d spent over $7,000. And now I had bounced checks, and fees and all kinds of craziness to deal with.

So, I get into this destructive pattern with money.

When manic, I impulse buy and don’t pay close attention to how much I spend, and sometimes end up with not enough to pay the bills. When depressed, I sometimes forget to pay things on time (I have a real problem with all sorts of paperwork and phone calls when depressed.) This causes increased fees and decreased credit scores.

The thing is, I know how to budget, save, and invest. I’ve researched the hell out of it. I’ve been an active contributor to a financial website/community for almost 14 years now.

But I still sometimes fall into these patterns.

These are probably the two biggest areas of my life that are affected, but there are others, too. This is getting pretty long, so I’m going to stop here for now. I may talk about other things at another time.

Scary Goals – Incredible Year Part 3

This is a continuation of my series about working through Goddess Leonie’s Incredible Year Workbook. If you haven’t seen them already here are Part 1: Affirmations and Part 2: Word of the Year.

In the goals section of the Life edition, she breaks the goals down into specific sections:

  • Financial
  • Body
  • Business/work
  • Creative
  • Spiritual
  • Family/friends
  • Personal 
  • “Goals that are so big & dreamy that I’m not even sure they are possible”

Goal-setting is scary enough to begin with for me; so scary, I often don’t even make them.

When I’m manic, I can dream up some pretty darn big goals. But when I’m depressed, I can’t take any steps to make them happen. I can’t even SEE steps to make them happen. So, then I take no steps to make my goals happen, and I chalk up yet another failure, [I’m goooood at failure. I’ve done it a LOT. It’s succeeding at something that scares me]  yet another chance to hate myself.

This means I try really, really hard to make realistic goals, if I make goals at all. Other goals, BIG goals, float around in my head, but rarely see the light of day.

And now, Leonie is asking me to actually WRITE THOSE SCARY THINGS DOWN?

EEK!

That’s more than enough to make me want to run to my bed and pull the covers up over my head. Panic attack! Ok, time to remember how to breathe. . . .

Let’s put that on a shelf somewhere because nailing down other goals is hard enough.

I’m only going to talk about some of them here because some just feel a bit too personal.

Financial:

If I’m dreaming, might as well just go for it, right?
Debt free
Have at least one-month buffer in YNAB
Steady income (whether it’s from my businesses or from a job – businesses preferred)
Measurable income from the businesses – affiliates, advertising, selling products
I have a number in mind for what I’d like my income to be at the end of the year.

Body (She calls it “My gorgeous goddess body goals”):

Some of these seem a little silly, but, again, putting it out there. I didn’t make my strength goals in 2012, so I’m looking at:
Squat my body weight
Bench press 75% of my body weight
a pull-up – wide-grip, overhand pull-up (between my weight being more than I can lift and a bad wrist, this has been the hardest strength goal)
Weight 140-150lbs
Actually do that hike Mon and I tried a few years back overlooking Horsetail Falls.
Walk 260 miles (that’s 5 miles/week)
Get back into my yoga practice – at least once a week
When the strength goals are met – get the tattoo C is helping me design (there’s a lot of symbolism in it, and I want to reach a particular goal before getting it/them)

Business and/or work goals

Oh, boy. I don’t know if I want to put these out there. Trying to get specific, even the small ones seem unrealistic. I’ll just say I have a certain number in mind for how many blog followers and income I receive.
sell an ebook
edit a book (which means I need goad the author into getting me some of the chapters to get started on. . . hint, hint. . .)
find a job teaching math – even if it’s part-time. In fact, a .5-.6 full-time job would probably be best, give me some time to work on the businesses
at least 52 blog posts – that’s only one per week spread out over all my blogs, that ought to be attainable.
Write up the study skills booklet for the tutoring blog.

Creative:

Write a self-help/spiritual/growth guide/ebook?/class?
Teach a class at the Learning Annex (topic?)
Write (from start to finish) a new knitting pattern (if I design, I tend to design on the needles and not write anything down)
write and/or record a meditation (sell?)
Take more pictures! (When I joined the Navy, I actually wanted to be a photographer’s mate, not an electronics tech, but I’ve never really pursued an interest in that.)
Help C with the tattoo design. I can’t draw, but I have a specific image in mind, so I’ll have to work closely with her.

Spiritual:

Let go of the fear (of a couple of different things)
Practice being loving (when depressed, this can be difficult, mostly because I isolate myself from other people).
Meditate regularly
Recognize happiness – BE HAPPY
Practice mindfulness, being in the moment

Family & friendship

The biggest one here is to spend more time with BFF. The last couple of years, I’ve hardly seen or talked to her, and I feel really guilty about that. She was the one that helped me the most with raising C when I was at my worst points. I need to be a better friend to her.
And, ok, I’ll say it, I do want to see M. We’ve talked about meeting up, but at the moment, it doesn’t look like either of us will have much cash to do it. So, need to get working on the financial goals.

Personal

Most of the other goals seem pretty personal to me. I couldn’t get a handle on this being a separate category.

And that leaves the Scary-Big goals.

Oh, boy.

I don’t think I can even put these out there. I wrote a couple of things on my pages, but they seem so crazy.

So, I go to the expert in overcoming being stuck (destuckification!) and Havi says:

Here’s the thing with thinking big. It can be terrifying. And when you’re in fear, you don’t take action. Or if you do take action, it’s not going to be the kind of thoughtful, intentional, motivated action that is going to serve you.There are a ton of “think big” people in the world, whether you’re dealing with coaching, “self-help” or the business world. Some of them are really great people– bright, charismatic, good-intentioned people . . . and some of them are pushy, sales-ey, highlighter-wielding types. I like to think of all of them collectively as the “biggifiers”.Even if we assume that they are all well-meaning, brimming over with integrity and have your own best interests nestled in their tender hearts, here’s what happens in real-time:

  • When biggifiers start shouting “think big think big think big” at you, your discomfort level rises to the point that you can’t absorb the rest of their smart, useful advice.
  • When biggifiers tell you that you “have to” do things (and you know, uncomfortable things like “stepping out of your comfort zone”), it’s completely understandable when you default into anxiety mode.
  • When biggifiers tell you how easy it is, you want to believe them … but you also know perfectly well that it isn’t. At least, not for you. And since you’re the one who has to do it, it’s not going to happen.
  • Sure you want to be able to think big, but you equally don’t want to have to do it, so you default into stuck.

Yes!

I knew she’d understand!

This is exactly how I feel.

This is just TOOOOO big for now, too scary. So, how do I deal with it? She says:

The solution is what I like to call Mindful Biggification.Yes, you biggify — but you do it in a slow, measured, conscious, mindful, compassionate way.You practice acknowledging your fear when it shows up. You practice meeting yourself where you are. You practice letting “being in the process” be the “win”, and not having to nail some external goal.You work on letting go of the need for outside legitimacy. You work on noticing where you need grounding, support, shelter and stability. You work on discovering which parts of you are scared to shine and giving them loving attention. 

Ah, ok.

Mindful Biggification.

That goes with the “practice mindfulness” goal.

And I am trying to “biggify” this year.

I think I’m caught in the loop of, “I thought I was going to biggify three years ago, and what happened? I spent a little money and then didn’t follow through. Like always.”

I’m scared that if I put the scary-big goals out there where everyone can see them, then I’ll fall on my face (yet again) and having everyone know exactly how bad. . .

Yeah, I don’t want to do that right now. I’m not that confident yet.

So, I wrote them down in my book. And I’ll look at them when I review the other goals.

I watched an interview with Yanik Silver on Eventual Millionaire today. He talks about using a journal or planner to write goals down. But he writes them down and then puts it away. He doesn’t do the stuff other people talk about. For him, creating the goal and writing it is enough.

Not sure that’s enough for me, as I’ve written goals before. But for now, the big, scary ones remain private.

The difference a year makes

Last year at this time, I was frantically trying to finish up my student teaching, grading papers, writing final exams. .  .

I had surgery about seven weeks before and I was physically and emotionally exhausted.

I was looking forward to finishing up and collapsing for a few weeks.

I didn’t know that it would take a year to start to feel like myself again.

In some ways, I feel like I “lost” another year. Isn’t it bad enough that I feel like my thirties were a total waste due to depression? I have to start wasting my forties, too?

I could have had my credential a year ago. I could be working as a teacher now instead of scrambling to find a job. I could have worked on building my business instead of ignoring it.

But, right now, I’m feeling like things are turning around. I’m seeing good things that can happen and I am actually able to see the steps I need to take to get there.

I don’t remember when the last time I felt this productive and capable was.

Maybe I just really needed this last year to rest, reflect and rejuvenate.

Maybe now, I’m finally ready to take on the next chapter of my life.

New career, new business prospects, opening up to romance, feeling stronger and healthier. . .

Goddess Leonie’s workbook is helping, but it’s not like anything in there is NEW information. I’ve known about making goals and setting action items before. But this time, I feel like I might actually be able to follow through.

Am I actually manic right now? Is this unrealistic? I don’t know, but I hope not. I hope this is exactly right – enough energy to do what I need to do but not so much I start being crazy.

Roller coaster, anyone?

As I mentioned on Las Flacas blog, the past two weeks have been an emotional roller coaster.

I’m not sure what’s going on; I have been pretty consistent with my meds, but my emotions are all over the place.

Crying one minute, setting up a profile on a dating site and flirting with strangers online the next.

I got up enough courage (or mania or something) to re-enter an old hobby with other people in it (most of my hobbies are solo pursuits).

The public areas of my apartment are cleaner than usual, but still not where I would like them, but I’ve let them go a bit in the last few days.

I’m behind on things I want and need to do, but I’ve knit more than half a dozen star-shaped cotton cloths (I’m really obsessed with this pattern in a self-striping yarn because it comes out looking so cool!)

Seriously, don’t they look cool? And every one is slightly different, even when I use the same yarn because each skein starts in a different place on the color pattern.

  Self-striping yarn from Sugar n’ Cream.

(And if anyone wants one, let me know. I can’t sell them because it’s totally someone else’s pattern, but I’ll send you one if you want. They can be used as a dishcloth, wash cloth, altar cloth or any number of other things. I would NOT use them as a hot pad or pot holder though; they are not thick enough for that.)

Anyway. . . . that’s my mind lately: either mindlessly performing a simple task or bouncing around and not able to concentrate at all.

If it continues, I may have to contact my pdoc and have meds adjusted. But I also did not lift for 10 days, and it’s possible my body was getting used to the exercise and the sudden stop screwed up some hormones or other brain chemicals. Now that I’m lifting again, maybe it will all calm down?

Mood States and Memory

One of the things that surprises me is how I can’t remember what it was like to be in the one I’m not in.

Ok, that sounds weird.

Right now, I’m not depressed. In fact, I suspect I’m running a bit manic, due to some impulsive issues I’ve had recently.

Right now, I feel a lot like I did in my 20s: confident, sure of myself, strong, happy most of the time, adventurous on occasion. I still have problems, but I’m pretty sure I can deal with them.

When I was depressed, I could remember that there was a time when I felt that way, in a vague sort of way. But I couldn’t remember how it FELT to be that way.

Now, I’m having trouble remembering what it was like to be so depressed. Why the hell couldn’t I get off my ass and get a job when I really needed one? Why couldn’t I study? Why did I waste so much time doing NOTHING, and so much money on stuff that didn’t do anything to help us?

I remember that I didn’t feel capable of doing anything, but I can’t remember how it feels to be that stuck.

And it’s not like there was some magical moment that turned everything around. It was small steps taken over months and years that pulled me back to . . . well, to ME. A lot of those steps are chronicled in another forum, but I don’t feel connected to all that floundering. I know it was me. And I remember taking the steps. But, again, I don’t remember what it felt like along the way.

This is very strange to me. It’s like I’m disconnected from my own feelings. My emotions are always in the moment. The rest of me isn’t, but my emotions are.

How can I help someone else who is in the (to borrow a word from Havi Brooks) stuckness if I can’t remember it?