hello, morning

So I couldn’t sleep well last night, so I decided to get up around 3:30 am and read blogs to put myself to sleep. What I actually did is read my own blog posts from 6 to 7 years ago, saving some stuff for future posts.

Reading old posts is sometimes painful, sometimes scary, but also a little bit heartening to know I am not in the same dark places that I was at that time. I know I am susceptible to returning to those dark days, and things can change in a hurry with bipolar, but for now I am glad things are better.

Now here I am, almost four hours later, and the eastern sky is beginning to lighten. I have today off, so at least I won’t be overly tired at work.

Oh, the possibilities for today. I can cook french toast, watch a movie, play games with the fam, get my hair cut, or watch snowflakes falling. More likely, I’ll just take a long nap.

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signs of bipolar

I had symptoms of bipolar disorder as far back as maybe 11 years old. Even at that time, I knew something was wrong with me. I definitely had depression, long periods where I would be in a crappy mood all the time and I wanted to isolate myself from people. During high school I had deep recurring depressive episodes that grew worse.

On the other hand, I realized I could anticipate when a hypomanic episode was on the way; I almost felt like I could hear it coming in the distance, and I knew it would cause me problems. I called it a “dangerous mood”, and it was during those times that I said and did stupid and hurtful things without regard for consequences or safety. I also developed a lot of obsessive thinking and rumination during that time. While that is not necessarily a symptom of bipolar, it was another facet to my struggle with undiagnosed mental illness.

My symptoms became worse as I moved into my 30s. When I was mistakenly diagnosed as having unipolar depression, I believe taking the anti-depressants made things even worse. Soon thereafter I went into the hospital, but the roller-coaster ride continues to this day.

image credit: kurumi.com

stairway to heaven

Another memory of Lisa from my senior year.

Normally I would hang out near the band room (I was such a band geek), but near the end of high school I was getting tired of that scene. I needed a change, I needed to expand my horizons a little. I was relatively happy the last half of that year, looking forward to a future away from Goldville. I had a few good friends, I was doing well in school, and I was feeling adventurous socially.

One spring day Lisa dragged me out of the band room, and we spent the majority of lunch sitting in the quad, typically the hangout of the “in crowd” and very much the social focal point. Normally I avoided this place, but on this day the grass was a little greener, the April sun warming me inside and out, and I was encouraged rather than unnerved by the sound of people laughing and chatting. I ate a thick chocolate milkshake with M&Ms, the candy freezing hard, crunching in my mouth. We joked, we watched people, we talked about whatever.

The library aide had rolled out a stereo system and big speakers, typical for springtime. Led Zeppelin IV was playing. It was the first time I had really listened to the song Stairway to Heaven. I felt every note. I was very quiet, taking it all in, seeing what I had missed out on during my self-imposed exile from the rest of the world, saving the memory like a video in my brain. Lisa looked over and asked me if I was okay – I must have drifted off into my mindscape again.

Yeah, I was good. I had my best friend, I wasn’t nervous, and I felt the music. I felt alive.

family christmas

[Fishrobber Classic – 12/18/2011]

Most people get more sentimental during the holidays. I’ve always thought it is strange to put such an emphasis on family and giving and feasting during this time, when the rest of the year should be equally important. Of course so many people have bad memories, or just sadness; maybe that just proves that most families are more messed up than people want to admit.

When I was little, my Christmases were pretty good compared to many people. I got lots of presents, not knowing or caring at the time how much of a financial strain it was for A-Mom. When I realized how much she sacrificed to save up the money to buy me things, it became a lot less fun. That, and the Old Bitch screaming insults and telling us how everything we did was shit, and dodging the 20-year stacks of newspapers that couldn’t be moved.

The biggest thing missing for me was the fact I had no brothers or sisters, aunts and uncles and cousins, not even a dad to share Christmas with. All we had was our dysfunctional fighting unit: me, A-Mom, and the OB (no one wanted her, especially her family). I wanted to have a house filled with warmth and love and lots of family, not bitterness and hate and anxiety.

Fast forward to age 16, Christmas Eve. My best friend Lisa (not girlfriend, that’s another post) invited me to come over to her house for the evening, and A-Mom let me go (because she liked Lisa too). It was like something out of a dream for me: a warm fire, lots of family in the house, music, games, happiness, love, no anger or yelling or fighting. They made me feel like part of the family for the evening.

I was almost overwhelmed, and a little emotional. Lisa took me to her room to talk about it, and I tried to explain how it was just what I had wanted for so long, and it all seemed so perfect. “Perfect,” she laughed, “you think this is perfect?” She said that both grandparents and her mom were already drunk off their ass as usual, her dad had broken something in anger in the garage, and her brother was pissed off at dad and spending the night at someone else’s house. I didn’t care, I told her, and it was true.

The first girl I ever loved saved Christmas for me.

shame on you

It feels like I remember every embarrassing thing I have ever done. All the times felt like I was the center of attention, thinking about all my flaws and shortcomings, while other people probably didn’t even notice me. I obsess over these moments endlessly, thinking about how I felt when the embarrassing moment occurred, or even worse, how I felt about when I eventually realized how stupid I was earlier.

I still feel ashamed for many things in my past. All the inappropriate things I have said at the wrong time, all the stupid things I did to other people, all the mistakes I’ve ever made … they replay in my head frequently, at the least opportune times. I have made apologies to a couple of people for things I did or said, and they accepted my apology gracefully, but it doesn’t erase in my mind the fact of how I feel about these things.

Shame has always been a defining factor in my life. My adopted mother and her adopted mother shamed me constantly, making me think I didn’t deserve anything, and that anything I did to call attention to myself was wrong. I learned early from my schoolmates that doing anything outside the ordinary was a source of embarrassment and shame. As you can imagine, having bipolar as a teenager (and into adulthood) caused me to do more stupid things than ever before and resulted in continuing humiliation when I looked back at my actions.

My intelligence, and my reputation as the smart kid, caused other kids to tease me and exclude me from their social circles, and I learned to hide my intellect to avoid being the focus of attention. In 4th grade I deliberately failed during the school spelling bee because I didn’t want the spotlight focused on me, the person who was expected to win. Because I had more advanced schoolwork than the kids in my classes, I was often separated from them, suffering the indignity of having my own special corner in the classroom, or even worse, being sent to the “special” class where I could work independently. [Funny thing is, the “special kids” were some of the most genuine and kind-hearted people I knew.]

Sometimes I would forget who I was, and get a little false confidence to try something; these times would usually result in the most awkward moments of my life. The 6th grade talent contest comes to mind, when for some reason I thought I could be the emcee and tell jokes in front of the whole school; I failed miserably, and I felt people making fun of me. [Whether they actually made fun of me, I don’t know, but I was my own worst critic.] After these failures, I would retreat into my shell again.

There have been very few times when I was in the spotlight and I actually felt good about it: making a great play in baseball, or nailing my solo during the band performance, or winning the marching competition my first day at college band camp. Some of those memories where I actually accomplished something are still good, and I remember those times very well. But the memories of the times where I failed, or did or said something ignorant or embarrassing, are much stronger than the good memories, and I relive the shame of those moments daily.

can I get you more coffee, sir?

Just some rambling thoughts on getting older.

I’m not sure when it happened, but I’ve become a “Sir”. Thank you for coming, sir. Have a nice day, sir. Can I get you more coffee, sir?

When we moved to Ohio I was 35 and in the prime of my bipolar-addled life. Despite the instability, I felt like I was still a youthful person who could hike for miles, climb volcanoes, cut down and chop up trees, shovel the driveway, or stay up late without consequences. My kids were young, and I enjoyed playing with them. My life didn’t revolve around doctor’s appointments.

Now I look back just a little, and it seems such a short while ago. It’s been 13 years. I feel old now. I’m very close to 50, an age I never contemplated reaching. I grew up with old people, but they were old-old, as in ancient. Old people had medical problems, aches and pains, and emitted strange noises at regular intervals.

I feel old now, but I’m not really. If I were to leave this world, people would say it was too soon. I still have to work for 20 years before I can consider retirement, and I’m afraid I won’t make it. Thoughts of ailing health and mortality take up too much of my available thinking time.

dumped by my doc

I found out yesterday that my P-doc has moved to another city, and I have to find a new provider. It is a pain in the ass for me to find someone new, but it is no emergency. In a city this size, you would think there would be more doctors accepting new patients, but apparently not.

I don’t know how I am supposed to feel about this. I know it can be traumatic for some people with mental health problems when the need to change doctors. I’m not in a crisis mode, so I have time to wait while I can be scheduled (March, one potential new doctor said). But what if I was feeling bad, or needed someone right away? I know there are the crisis centers or the hospitals, but it’s not like having a relationship with someone who knows you.

Despite the inconvenience, I had been wondering if it was time to look for another pair of eyes to review my symptoms and get a different perspective. I guess that time has come.

wide awake

Yes, it’s way past my bedtime, but sleep isn’t happening. I’ve been in a stress-induced hypomania for several days now, and it shows no sign of stopping. I’m anxious, twitchy, my head hurts, my eyes hurt, and despite being very tired, I can’t sleep.

I’ve been working 10-hour days this past week, 8 on Saturday, with the promise of more long days this next week. The overtime money will be nice (it will pay for my Christmas present, a new computer), but being able to sleep is good too.

I have several worries spinning around in my head, none I wish to write about, and I don’t think I could form coherent sentences even if I tried. Thoughts of doom and inevitability and negativity are pervasive right now.

Finally, and this may be connected, I have been tinkering with the dosages on my medication. I am trying to cut back a little just to see if I can manage at lesser amounts of chemicals, but I think that plan has been unsuccessful. I plan on riding this hypo a few more days until a project deadline passes, then I will go back to my normal dosage. I’ll be okay in the meantime as long as I watch myself.

the bipolar gender gap

I have noticed the bipolar blogging world seems to be populated by more women than men. I don’t really know why there seems to be many women blogging about mental health, but maybe I can guess why there are fewer men here. I think there is a greater stigma among men for mental health problems, more so than women.

I think there is a different process for men when they come to terms with having a mental illness. Based on my own experience, I think went through phases of anger, sadness, anger again, denial, suicidality, defeatism, a little more anger, and shame … but also a little bit of strength and resistance on the good days.

I wonder how many guys make the effort to reach out for help to a doctor, or a friend, or a wife/girlfriend; maybe they don’t for various reasons. My perception is that men are less likely to write journals or talk about feelings and fears in any semi-public manner (like support groups or blogging). Those men that do write about their mental health range from angry and defeated to strong and uplifting.

I think some guys are a little more in touch with the more emotional and introspective side of ourselves, and those are the men who are more likely to write about their own mental health. I don’t think that makes us less masculine in any way, even though we may experience depression in a stereotypically feminine way.

I think everyone has their unique experience with mental health issues, and it has little to do with being male or female. I realize I may be criticized for laying out several stereotypes here, but this is just my perception of the gender divide among bipolar bloggers. Let me know if I’m right or wrong or somewhere in between.

the manic road trip of 2004

One of my undiagnosed manic episodes centered around a road trip in May of 2004. I was sent to training course in Las Vegas by my employer at the time, and instead of flying there, I decided to drive our trusty van 2000 miles. Driving has always been therapeutic for me, as have the Sierra Nevada mountains. I had been in a severe funk prior to taking the trip, so I thought a long drive through beautiful scenery would be a great pick-me-up.

I drove through Sacramento to Lake Tahoe in snow, then south to the tufa formations of Mono Lake. I climbed a cinder cone and visited an obsidian formation in the forest near Mammoth Lakes. I couldn’t sleep that night, due to cold and excitement, so I ended up hanging out at an all-night gas station. At first light I headed for the Bristlecone Pine forest in the White Mountains, then continued through the desert to Vegas.

After my last day of training, I won about $250 in the casino, then I couldn’t fall asleep (still slightly manic). I checked out of the hotel and went to the old downtown casinos at 2 in the morning, then took off for home at 4am. I started falling asleep while driving through the Nevada desert; the song “Time” by Pink Floyd probably saved my life by waking me up when the alarm bell sounded. I drove straight through to home in about 21 hours, stopping at Death Valley and Yosemite National Parks, and being dangerously tired on the way.

I didn’t have a crash or a spiral after the trip, more like a slow letdown. After having a great experience, returning to the everyday world was deflating and depressing. I returned to work, wishing I was in the mountains again.

I’m glad I took the opportunity to get away by myself for a few days when I really needed it. I will always have the memories and the photos of that trip, and it reminds me that even in the middle of a chaotic time in my life, I was able to have such an enjoyable experience. However, I made some poor decisions during the trip. Who lets a manic person loose at a casino, and why was I climbing granite outcrops in Yosemite? I could have lost a lot of money, I could have fallen off the rocks and died, and I could have fallen asleep while driving and killed someone else.

At the time, I wrote:

I think the trip was in general the most uplifting and healing time of my life. Right when I really needed it, I got the opportunity to be alone in the landscape I love so much, to take some beautiful pictures to look at later, but more than anything to just let the pressures and demands and negativity just slip away … feeling the beauty in the landscape and in the forest that honestly I think many people can never feel … I was exploring everything – forests, valleys, plants, small furry creatures, large outcrops of basalt and tuff and obsidian, volcanic craters and peaks, joshua trees, lizards and cactus surviving at 10,000 feet, 4,000-year-old trees, earthquake faults, tufa deposits, glacier-carved canyons, alluvial fans, rain shadows, playa lakes, microclimates, glacial erratics. I was so unafraid and content and free, I actually found it safe to let myself talk to people … At those times it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks or says, you are simply enjoying life in that moment.

[When I arrived in] Las Vegas, I had a little anxiety episode … After the beauty and solitude of the natural world, [it] was quite a shock to me. That feeling passed soon, but it was interesting to me how shocking it was, letting me know that I was totally immersed in the escape mode of my trip. I walked the Strip, looked inside a few places, but really returned to feeling alone, detached, and invisible while I was there. … I could have done stuff with other people attending the class, but I didn’t feel comfortable, I just wanted to be alone.

I will eventually post some photos of the trip so all 3.2 of you readers can see some of my favorite places. [here’s the link.]