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.

Working through stuff

While I’m working on my fitness and weight loss journey, emotional things keep coming up.

One I’m tired of talking about except how it affects my future.

I put the OKCupid profile back up, but I’m not very encouraged. I have pics up now, and I don’t think they’re bad pics (or I wouldn’t have picked them), but now I’m not getting the level of interest from people looking at my profile as I was when I only had a pic of my legs and feet. 🙂

 A couple of weeks ago, some internet friends came out to the Bay Area for a vacation, and I drove to where they were staying. We hung out, went to Chinatown one day and introduced them to our favorite tea house.

Another day we went to Golden Gate Park and saw the rose garden and Stow Lake. Later we went to Straights Singaporean Restaurant and met several other internet friends. It was a great time! These pics were taken on that second day.

 So, yes, I’m fat/chubby/chunky. I’m honest about that. I’m still technically obese, although I’m getting close be being merely overweight. (One more inch off the waist!)

But I still think these are decent pictures. If nothing else, I’m genuinely happy in them.

Chemistry, wit, charm, passion don’t always come across with internet communication, though. I’m finding it hard to connect with anyone. Anyone that is interested in me, I’m not interested in.

And that is really the core of this problem, and goes back to the thing I don’t want to talk about any more.

I haven’t had a relationship since I was diagnosed bipolar. That’s almost thirteen years now.

My relationships prior to that were always either short and intense, or completely casual. No in-between, and only a couple had “long-term potential” in my eyes. And, obviously, even those didn’t work out.

I always met men when I was manic and almost always drunk, too. I feel like I don’t know how to do things any other way.

Which makes me wonder if I’m actually capable of having a real, intimate, long-term relationship.

When I bring this up to other people (not that I have to many), they scoff and tell me, “Of course you are!”

I’m not so sure.

If I’m completely honest about my previous relationships, only one came close to being authentically intimate. And I think that was largely due to him working hard to break down my walls. Those walls are now higher and thicker. Will anyone else have the patience to break through?

The one thing I miss about my manic times is the confidence I felt. It’s really difficult now to socialize. I get panic attacks. I feel timid.

I’m trying to break out of that. I went to an SCA event last month. Last week I went to a Pagan meetup. I’m attending Parent Group meetings at the tae kwon do school. And the above socializing with internet friends.

Right now, I’m capable of doing those things because I’m not working.

What about when I am working?

Will I withdraw again?

I think it’s likely.

My energy reserves seem to be very small/low. I don’t seem to be as capable of doing as many things as other people are. Everything exhausts me, especially if it has to do with interacting with others.

I think that’s the core reason I prefer to live alone.

And does preferring to live alone bode well for a future relationship?

I have no idea where I was intending to go with this when I started writing it. I know I had something different in mind than where it ended up, but can’t quite recall what it was. [I know, if I did the “pre-writing” note-taking and outlining, I’d be more consistant. But I don’t.]

Edited to add: Someone told me privately that they thought this post was about my weight. It’s not. I mention the weight because as I’m losing weight, emotional stuff is coming up and amplifying my insecurities. Emotional stuff that I’ve suppressed for years while I was dealing with just surviving. I have to deal with the emotional stuff now to get where I want to be. Clear as mud? 

Reminiscing, Realization

I’m over the almost 2 month freak out about THE ex calling, I think. It hit a peak earlier this week, and suddenly, my feelings are very. . . different.

I started thinking about other men from my past that have looked me up.

I was talking to an old friend last night; let’s call him Jerry*, since using only initials will get confusing very quickly here.

Jerry and I didn’t really interact that much in high school. He was a close friend of my boyfriend back then. Funny thing is at this point in our lives, I have much more in common with him than I do with the high school boyfriend. . . It was kind of fun to remember that time. I was all of a size 10 (thought I was fat!)**, I was one of the cutest girls in our group of misfits, I was happy most of the time.

The high school boyfriend, A, has looked me up several times. He’s happily married to the girl he started dating after we broke up, and he proudly refers to her as “his high school sweetheart”. (We dated for almost 2 school years, and he only dated her for the last 4 months of his senior year, but, whatever. . . )

Jerry says, “I think he is generally concerned with your well-being. I dunno, maybe he wants to see if he missed out on something.”

Maybe. 

I always thought it was more of the latter, but he is a good guy, and there’s probably a lot of the former. Considering how screwed up my life has been at times, I’m sure he hasn’t missed out on anything, considering all the years of crazy.
But, that aside, after I stopped talking to Jerry, I started thinking about another ex, M.

M was probably the biggest ex-bf before THE ex discussed before.

M and I had a very passionate on-again-off-again affair for quite some time. We stayed in touch and on the periphery of each other’s lives for several years. I even invited him (and his then-wife) to my wedding. (They didn’t come.)

M has also looked me up several times over the years. The last time, he spent months trying to find me on the internet. There are literally hundreds of people in the country with my first name/last name combination, and he combed the ‘net looking for me in a time when I had virtually no web presence. The last couple of times, it was very easy for me to realize that he doesn’t hold that big a part of me any more. He did, for a long time, but now he’s pretty much a stranger.

There was a point in my life when I never thought I’d feel that way about him. I thought he was The One, until I fell for THE ex.

A brief aside here, as someone with bipolar disorder who wasn’t diagnosed until I was 30 years old, I had several years that were. . . adventurous. I often had more than one romance going on at a time. I slept with a lot of people.

The number of times I’ve been in love can fit on one hand, but I don’t know the number of men I’ve had sex with. I know that I have broken a few hearts, especially my first husband (I had two marriages end before I was 25).

My first husband looked me up a couple of times, but I felt so bad about how I treated him, that I didn’t even respond.

So, J is not the only ex to locate and contact me. He’s not the only ex that sometimes thinks of me. All of them are married to other people.

On the one hand, it’s nice to know that some of the people that meant a lot to me at one point think of me.

On another, I can’t help feeling like they think of me as a crazy bullet they dodged.

My friend synchronicity says you should always sleep with someone crazier than you.

I think I’m the crazier one for quite a few people.

That’s a little sobering.

Anyway, as I was reminiscing, I recall a time when a girlfriend and I discussed a group of friends. If girlfriend 1, girlfriend 2 and I were in the same room and a guy walked in, the guy would want to sleep with me, marry GF 2, and be a big brother to GF 1. No idea why, but that is the way men acted around us. Something about how we presented ourselves, I guess.

And I realized. . .

I’ve always been the one that guys wanted to sleep with, not the one they marry. The one they have an affair with, but not leave their wives/girlfriends for.

At one point, I liked that, even needed it in a sick sort of way.

But by the time I was with husband 2, I didn’t want to be that one any more. I really was ready to settle down and grow up and be the married one. But I had trouble making the transition from superficial relationships to a real, intimate relationship.

I think the reason his betrayal cut so deep was that I was ready for that, and desperately wanted it.

I also realized that part of what I wanted from him was for us to. . . grow up together. You know, all that stuff you learn in your 20s about being independent, living away from parents, taking care of yourself, learning each other’s quirks and compromising. . . I wanted someone to grow with while learning those things together. I wanted to raise kids with him, to share all those little moments of babyhood, toddler years and school years that you go through with kids.

And since I cannot go back and relive these last twenty years, I will never have that.

My reunion fantasies?

Can’t ever happen.

Because we can’t go back and do those things together.

Even if, by some miracle, he was suddenly single, neither one of us is who we were.

I’ve said that before, many times.

But I don’t think I really internalized it, really believed it, until I went through it from this direction.

I also think part of the reason I’ve stayed alone this long is that I don’t want to play the same role I did before, as the one men want to have sex with. For one thing, I don’t channel my manic energy in that way any more. I want more respect than that. But I’ve never really learned how to act with men when I’m not manic.

This seems to be my next challenge.

And it’s scary.

*names changed
** I know, I know! Jerry said he remembers me as ” you looked soft, for lack of a better word. but that was a good thing. ”