before and after

I have read a few posts lately about how being diagnosed with bipolar disorder changed someone’s life. In my experience, really changed is my awareness of my mental health, my understanding of my past, and my expectations for the future.

Before my diagnosis, I understood that there was something fundamentally wrong with me, even though I didn’t have a name for it. Even as far back as high school, I had a little understanding about my mood swings and my odd and risky behavior at times. I knew I had problems, and I knew I had depression at times, but I also thought mental illness was for the weak; I was stronger than that, I could break free from it, I could make myself better. I was able to fight it when I was younger, but it became more difficult with time. After years of increasingly severe ups and downs, I finally decided I couldn’t handle it on my own. I went to the doctor for depression, and thought everything would be okay again. However the anti-depressants made my mood swings worse to the point I was put in the hospital, then diagnosed with bipolar.

After the diagnosis, I felt I finally had a name for the problems I had since childhood. I felt like I understood why I had those behaviors and mood swings and mind-shattering depression over the years. Being a geek, I studied everything I could in the library and on the internet. I wanted to have a good understanding of my condition so I could manage it and beat it.

What I came to realize is that there is no beating bipolar disorder. The right medication helps you manage it, although finding that combination has been difficult in the past. I was very much disappointed by this, and there have been times I really gave up hope that I would be able to have a life that was anything close to normal. I have finally arrived at a place where I feel it is a losing battle, and I only have a limited amount of time to make the most of my life before it wins.

That sounds defeatist, but it also gives me a little incentive to keep fighting for life. Nothing with bipolar is easy, and I accept that it will always be more difficult for me than “normal people” to reach goals and improve my quality of life. Part of that quality is to increase chances for happiness and contentment, and decrease the things that bring me down. If that means a vacation I can’t afford, I might take it anyway. In some cases it means allowing my anxieties to win sometimes, and stay away from situations that cause me stress.

Bipolar has changed my outlook for the future, but not hopelessly so.

see the light

I’m a little better the last two days. This was a rough week.

In addition to a deep depression swing, my headaches have become strong again. I have always had sinus problems, and I have always had headaches since I can remember. But the sinus headache seems to trigger a stronger migraine, and my sensitivity to light aggravates those migraines. Any kind of light is bothersome, especially fluorescents and bright cloudy days. I have been wearing sunglasses inside at home, I bought a sleep mask, and I have been taking non-prescription pain pills constantly. I need to talk to my doctor about this, because it has become very difficult to function. Maybe I will end up wearing colored glasses all the time, like Bono.

fake

I’m holding my head in my hands while trying to work. I can pretend I have a headache. I can fake that.

I’m close to weeping at my desk. I can pretend my allergies are bothering me. I can fake that.

I go home and want to crawl in bed and just be alone. I can pretend I have a migraine. I can fake that.

I am tempted to put my real feelings on Fakebook, but instead I make a witty observation or post a funny picture. I can pretend to be my old self. I can fake that.

I don’t want to live being hopelessly depressed all the time. I wish I would suddenly just cease to live.

I don’t know how to fake that.

vulnerable

I am sinking. I feel vulnerable and fragile. It scares me that anyone could walk up to me and say something that would damage me to the core, and I seemingly have no defense at the moment. I’m afraid that I will let that vulnerability show.

I tend to isolate myself when I feel this way, like a wounded animal that hides while they regain their strength. I feel wounded, but I don’t feel like hiding will help me. It’s not like I can hide anyway, because I have to put on my mask and go to work every day.

I’m trapped between the need for income and insurance on one side, and my own unmet needs on the other. It has always been this way; reading back through 12 years of blogging reminds me that I have always had this conflict between what I need for myself and what I need to be for everyone else.

I don’t know how to solve this dilemma. I read advice that tells me I need to take little breaks and do things just for me. The reality is I want escape, and no amount of temporary respite will give me what I need. I don’t want a break. I just want to leave it all behind.

These are the type of thoughts that lead one to believe it is okay to put an end to it all. It makes the most sense logically, if you really consider it. The problem is that I don’t want to die just yet.

stable but unwell

My bipolar seems to be in a stable phase lately, however that stability is still not feeling well.

I have had depression phases, but until lately I think they were related to outside events rather than developing on their own. I have had no hypomania phases for at least a year, maybe more. The medication, especially the Abilify, takes the edge off so that I rarely get those highs anymore. I miss the highs a little bit, then I remember that I usually have an agitated mixed state rather than a happy hypomanic state.

This time I seem to be in a real depression. I worry constantly, my OCD is there all the time, I exhibit social anxiety symptoms every day, I try to avoid contact with people, and I have the added stress of maintaining the constant mask that keeps people from seeing how I really feel. Physically I don’t feel well, I am tired all the time despite getting good sleep, and my weight has ballooned. I have no motivation or energy to do anything, and getting the house ready to sell seems like an overwhelming task at this time. When I am overwhelmed, I give up, and that makes me depressed, and the vicious cycle continues.

I don’t know if any changes to my meds are warranted, but I will ask him if I can do anything else. The p-doc says I am maxed out on the Lamictal, and the Abilify is doing nothing for my depression or anxiety. The social anxiety is probably a behavioral issue rather than medical, and changing the meds won’t affect that. There is no magic formula to make me change the kind of person I am, and I don’t believe any amount of therapy can give me confidence or self-esteem, or take away the insecurities I have had since childhood.

I guess the theory behind the medicine is that if they can fix your brain chemistry so that you’re not depressed all the time, you will be able to make changes and make progress necessary to improve your life. Nicole and I were discussing that with respect to her illness, and I was telling her that it seems like she is just stagnating, standing in place, choosing not do to do things to make progress toward independence and rejoining the world of the living. I think I am stagnating as well, but I have the added stress of being forced to play the role of worker and provider and all-around good guy for everyone who needs me.

Fuck bipolar.