All posts by Scout

What is Bipolar Disorder? – The dark side of hypomania updated

Okay this is not really an update, more like a repost with a foreword. I’ve been going through my blog and according to WordPress stats, this is quite a popular post. I wrote it roughly four years ago; a year after I was diagnosed. This month marks 5 years of ‘being’ bipolar, so you can’t help but look back and think. Especially after the spectacularly difficult year 2017 that I’ve somehow managed to survive. Everything I wrote in this post still holds true: people still don’t understand dysphoric hypomania, which is actually very common and the episode I talk about here, was still the worse in my life. I am a lot smarter and wiser than I was 5 years ago, so feel free to ask questions. The post follows below, but if for some reason you want to look at the original, you can find it here. Enjoy!

 

In my previous post I explored what it feels like to have depression. As we know, that is only one side of Bipolar Disorder. What makes this illness different from ‘regular’ unipolar depression is that you have the lows and the highs.

As with my previous post, I am not going to list the typical symptoms of hypomania and mania; you can find more information about that here. A note on the two though: Mania and hypomania are not the same thing. Even with all the reading that I’ve done, I sill haven’t found a proper comparison between the two. It is generally said that hypomania is a less severe form of mania. Mania is usually experienced as an episode that lasts for a few days or weeks. As far as I know it does not last as long as a hypomanic episode. Hallucinations, delusions, psychosis and severe paranoia  are experienced during manic episodes. This is not the case with hypomania, although I know from personal experience that paranoia and delusional thinking should not be excluded when talking about hypomania (or I might just be more manic than I realise…). Mania greatly impairs the sufferer’s functioning up to a point where hospitalisation is usually necessary. People who experience mania are classified as Bipolar I, whereas people who experience hypomania are classified as Bipolar II. Suffering from Bipolar I is probably much worse than Bipolar II, but don’t think that if you ‘only’ have bipolar II, it is not serious.

My diagnosis is Bipolar II, which is why will only share my experiences of hypomania and not go into further detail about mania. Various levels of manic states are, in my opinion, largely misunderstood and the part of the illness that intrigue people and lead to their misconceptions. When someone joking refers to themselves as Bipolar because they experience a couple of mood swings, or feel really happy, I have to work very hard to keep myself from flying into a state of extreme rage. That is when I have to remind myself that people are just uninformed and ignorant, and that my talking about it is part of the solution. As the title says, this post describes the dark side of hypomania. Most people think that hypomania is flying on a cloud of endless euphoric energy and creativity. A fun feeling. Even though that is often the shape that hypomania takes (and I’ll cover that in my next post), there is a dark side to hypomania that in my opinion does not get nearly enough exposure.

Dysphoric hypomania (mixed state)

My process of being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder started 15 months ago. I had been on antidepressants for about a year before that. I wasn’t depressed anymore, but I was something that wasn’t normal. Turns out being only on antidepressants is very dangerous if you have Bipolar Disorder. I didn’t realise it at the time, since I couldn’t recognise my thoughts and behaviour as faulty. When I look back now I don’t know how I didn’t realise earlier that something was very wrong. I had been going through a very stressful time for about a year, and I thought that what was going on with me was severe anxiety. I didn’t feel the happy, ecstatic states mostly described as hypomania. Not then. What I did feel was a sense of being stuck inside myself. It felt like I had ants crawling under my skin and that I had to keep moving. I was usually tapping my foot or standing up when everyone was sitting down. At home I put my headphones in and I would dance non-stop for hours, giving myself over to the music completely. Colours looked brighter, sounds were louder. I couldn’t sleep#. I only ate because I had to (even though I love food) and most of the time I would just feel nauseous when I ate anyway. It felt like the world was closing in on me.  I needed to get out, but  there was nothing physical to get out of. I still had a painful feeling on my chest, like when I was depressed, but I was pumped up. Frantic. My thoughts were obsessive. I obsessed over people. I drove people away. I was completely irrational and often delusional in my thinking. It felt like everyone was against me, even the people in my life who love me the most. The intensity of my emotions were almost unbearable, and I didn’t understand how people can experience something with me and not have the same reaction. I was unreasonable. I was aggressive and frustrated all the time. I had fantasies about bashing annoying people’s heads against walls. I was angry about everything all the time.

I think that my behaviour resulting from all this was a kind of attempt to get away from myself. Describing my feelings are not embarrassing to me. I felt things that I had no control over. My behaviour because of these feelings I do still feel very embarrassed about. I have to share some of the things I did to let this information make sense, but I do want to say that I deeply regret most of it. I spent much more money that I had and made debt that I am still struggling to pay off. I almost bought a flat! It was only thanks to a small admin error that the deal thankfully didn’t go through. It would have completely bankrupted me. I got traffic fines in the double digits. I drove drunk, late at night and to secluded places. When I wasn’t home, I was drinking. I took whatever pills I could find, just to try to shut down my head. I would go jogging in the icy pouring rain (and I don’t jog!). I sent out messages and emails and didn’t think about the consequences. There were things that I said and did that I had no control over. The obsessions and compulsions took over my mind. Once I established a routine or pattern, I couldn’t break it. Eg, if I got into a habit of texting one person every day and I realised that, I couldn’t break the habit, I just couldn’t. Even if I had nothing to say. Come to think of it, it might actually be what real OCD feels like (not the kind where people think you have to arrange your books alphabetically or clean a lot, the actual misunderstood disease). Even though I’m not promiscuous and not one to kiss and tell, my sex drive definitely went haywire. Theoretically it’s a small miracle that I didn’t sleep around and contract a disease or something. All of these crazy thoughts, feelings and behaviour eventually led to very bad physical and emotional self-harm.

This was an awful time in my life. I now know that it wasn’t my first hypomanic episode, but it was certainly my worse so far and landed me in the hospital. I really is only by the grace of God that I survived it. Personally I’m not sure how I didn’t commit suicide. This state of mind went on for months. I was completely lost in it. I look back with such relief and gratitude. Now that I look back, I know that I was severely ill and that has made it easier for me. I don’t blame it all on myself anymore.

Learn more about dysphoria/mixed states.

Can you better explain the difference between mania and hypomania? Have you or anyone you know experienced dysphoric hypomania? How has it affected you as a sufferer or a supporter?

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‘The Diagnosis’ and other people

*Trigger alert: This post is not about, but refers to suicide*

Last week, a friend of my mom’s showed up at her house, distraught. The friend’s one child, who had been ‘going through something’ had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  And thanks to me not shutting up about being bipolar, these lovely, normal people now have other lovely, normal people to talk to. So I made myself available for wine and chats, but will now wait for an invitation. It is an overwhelming business, after all.

It has made me think of what I went through with my own diagnosis and what I would tell this young(er) person should they ask me ‘what the hell now?!’, apart from ‘Seroquel will make you fat’. I realised that what stung the most when I was diagnosed, was how other people reacted. I didn’t have much support because I was far away from home, and my family didn’t really understand. Before my first mental hospital stay, I somehow got myself into the ER with nothing but a few cut-marks, cigarette burns and mild benzo-intoxication, because I was desperate and thought I was literally going BONKERS. I knew depression by then, but nothing of this whirlwind of constant, irrational thoughts, hyper-sexuality, people screaming in my head, inability to sleep, ants crawling under my skin, severe irritability and aggression situation that I was experiencing at that moment. I even have some memory loss. For the life of me I cannot remember ANYTHING about that day apart from getting home in the evening and going on a ‘semi-psychotic’ bender situation.

What I’m saying is that there was a lead-up to my eventual diagnosis and hospitalisation. There always is. You don’t just wake up one morning feeling like the Mad Hatter. So you would imagine that people who know you relatively well, would realise that there is a change in you, and that something is wrong, and that they would lovingly guide you to get help, whether or not you have a diagnosis. Because the bitch about having a mood disorder is that because it makes your mood go weird, it changes your behaviour too. Every single bipolar blog you read will at some point tell you the same thing: If you are bipolar you WILL lose friends and alienate people, more so than stable people. And this is what I will tell this young person first: You will wake up one day, feeling good and ready to go out there and grab the day by the balls and you will realise that you have barely any friends left. This is not me feeling sorry for myself, or being dramatic or negative. It is the simple truth and every bipolar person knows this. It is a lonely road.

People bail for various reasons. I’ll put them in nice bullets:

  • ‘I just can’t deal with this drama’
  • ‘It’s always about you, this is an unequal friendship/relationship’
  • ‘Your CRAZY! I’m out’
  • ‘Sometimes you get really mean’
  • ‘Our friendship was fun, but now it’s too intense and I can’t deal’
  • ‘I can’t be associated with you’
  • ‘You’re just too demanding and clingy’
  • ‘You are so selfish and such a drama queen’

Of course, most people won’t actually give you the courtesy of telling you that they are walking away or why, but the above is why THEY think they do. Here’s why they really do:

  • They don’t want to have to deal with anything that disrupts their uncomplicated, perfect little lives.
  • You make things feel out of control, or out of their control, and they can’t deal with uncertainty.
  • You scare them. They see things in you that they see in themselves, but where you now have to embrace it, they still prefer to live in denial.
  • They can walk away and blame all their shortcomings on you, because YOU’RE the crazy one.
  • Your Crazy.
  • Sometimes you really are mean and intense and irrational and demanding and clingy.

The last one is the hardest, because while those reasons are legitimate, it’s not something you can always help. Maybe my next post will be on how to take some pressure off your relationships.

Me? I’ve hurt lots of people because there comes a time where I can’t stop myself from saying something mean, or inappropriate, or doing something stupid. After my suicide attempt my sister was furious at me, because how DARE I put the family through this trauma. My brother asked me what the hell I was thinking when I wrote my suicide letter, because it didn’t sound like me at all (which is kind of the point of the ‘why’). They didn’t get that I was pretty pissed myself seeing as how I was suppose to be dead but then wasn’t. At least they said it to my face. After each of my hospitalisations I found things out that people I cared about said behind my back that hurt a lot: I’m manipulative, looking for attention, lazy, mean, self-involved, I cannot be trusted etc. Every time people quietly withdraw or suddenly disappear. And it hurts like a bitch every time. Because I don’t understand how they can’t understand how that person, is not me. But they don’t. And they never will. Mostly not because they don’t want to, but because they just can’t.

But have heart little one. If you have a family who loves you, you already have more than most. You probably still have wonderful friends that WILL stick around no matter what, so treat them nicely. And if you feel like you have nothing and no-one, there is a whole virtual bipolar community out there who sometimes feels the same way.

*What reasons have you gotten for why people walked out of your life?*

Bipolar disorder, anger, obsessive thoughts and impulse control – a vicious circle

*Trigger warning: Some mention of self-harm in the last paragraph*

The past few days have been a bit tense in my country in general and my town particularly. We have all kinds of racial hatred, terrible crime and division going on. I am quite liberal, which suited my previous city life well. Back in my hometown, there are a lot of opinions and mindsets that I don’t handle so well. And thanks to social media and my inability to stay off it, I’ve gotten myself into a messy head space. I have been ‘lightly’ triggered, if you will.

I remember when I was a teenager, having obsessive, intrusive thoughts drove me to curl into a little ball and cry. I did not understand it. The more I tried not thinking about something (or someone), the worse it became. I was convinced that I had some kind of demon thing inside me. It was extremely embarrassing. If I had found professional help and been honest, I might have been wrongly diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. But the compulsions are not nearly as bad as the obsessions. Thanks to a decent medicinal cocktail, the worse of these thoughts disappeared after my mid-20s. I when I was first hospitalised, the doctor asked me these questions about racing thoughts, hearing voice, delusions etc. I remember that I told him that I didn’t actually see or hear anything outside of myself with my sense, but that in my head it was like my thoughts were being screamed at me. By a man in a tuxedo…. That pretty much locked down the diagnosis.

So anyway to bring these titbits together: we all have our triggers. One of mine is people spewing hatred and intolerance. And whether it is a personality thing or a bipolar impulse control thing, I don’t have much of a filter. Plus, which is definitely an impulse control problem, I can’t stay off social media and begrudgingly waste years of my life on it. And then these people’s backwards views, my inability to keep my mouth shut and then getting involved in arguments where I feel I am banging my head against a brick wall, completely enrages me. And then I obsess over that anger, and the trigger. I have hypothetical conversations with people in my head that just enrage me more, because how can these hypothetical people also not see my point of view?! And so this cycle just goes on and on. I’ve been prescribed Urbanol now (due to my…love of benzos, Drs don’t like giving them to me), and it’s helped, but not enough.

Today, even though the dust has settled slightly, my thoughts feel too loud. I am trying to work and I am also writing an exam on Friday that I have not studied for yet, but I can’t focus. And I definitely can’t afford not to work since I am still busy with the project I’m suppose to pay my month’s rent with. I’m angry at myself for getting so caught up in all the negativity, and angry at the world for being so fucked up. I’m also teary and tired and feeling extremely sorry for myself. And then of course there is the absolute fear of two/three days becoming a full blown episodes. Also, I sort of had a little slip in the self-hard department just over a week ago. Okay, so it totally was a slip, but a small one. That can also count as compulsive behaviour/addiction, btw. At my worse it was so bad that I was literally compelled to cut myself every day. But that’s over. This was the first (and last) time in over a year. I was a little upset and obsessed about something else entirely that I’m not talking about.

One can easily see a little pattern emerge, and it’s not pretty. And once you are totally sucked in, you’re in some real trouble. So I am off to obsess about how to break this cycle. Any ideas are welcome!

Combating the side-effects of bipolar medication that affects your appearance

This post turned out to be a bit longer than I planned, so if you just want the advice, scroll down and read the italic bits. If you want to understand better, can relate or generally enjoy my self-deprecating humour, please continue. 

It seems that the side-effects of psychiatric medication is something that isn’t discussed enough by medical professionals. In my younger, more naive years I thought that if the doctor didn’t say anything about side-effects, it meant that there weren’t any. Until weird things started happening to my body and I eventually had to take to Google. What you learn very quickly is that everyone experiences side-effects differently, and something that I can’t possibly imagine is true, happens to you.

There are a few side-effects that are relatively common across most psychiatric meds: weight gain, serious fatigue, skin conditions, nausea, gastrointestinal issues to name a few. For some people, most if not all of these symptoms disappear after a while, but weight gain and fatigue usually lasts (especially with anti-psychotics). When I started Lithium almost exactly a year ago, my family couldn’t understand why my doctor hadn’t put me on it a long time ago. Neither could I really, until my doctor warned me about possible kidney failure, thyroid disease, blood tests, dehydration, balancing my salt intake and possible Lithium toxicity. She left out the ‘smaller, less important’ side-effects that I first thought was in my head until it became completely abnormal: hair loss and acne. Along with weight gain, these are the side-effects I want to talk about.

I guess that doctors don’t consider discussing the side-effects that affect your physical appearance as important since they don’t happen to everyone, and aren’t life threatening, but they definitely have a big impact on your already fragile and depressed self-confidence.

1. Weight gain

Of the three, this side-effect is the most common, and caused by most anti-psychotics (except Geodon), some anti-depressants, and most mood stabilisers (like Lithium) except for Lamotrigine. For more info about specific meds and weight gain, go check out Mayo clinic.

Get support

I can only tell you what worked and didn’t work for me. When I was first put on Seroquel (anti-psychotic), I picked up 8kg in a very short time. I didn’t even realise how much I’d picked up before it was too late. I tried going off Seroquel but I could feel myself slipping badly. Later I tried switching to Geodon, but it was extremely expensive and my dose was probably not high enough, so I had the most wonderful hypomanic episode followed by and epic crash that landed me in the hospital again with a new psychiatrist. I had to accept that Seroquel was here to stay. I joined a weigh-loss programme that conveniently had a branch at my offices. It took me a YEAR of mostly being hangry and wanting to cry when I walked past chocolates, but I lost 10kg. I did cheat over weekends, otherwise I would have died. So I was finally on my goal weight; not skinny, but not overweight. I should have continued with the programme but didn’t, and so picked up 5kg again. It was okay though, I had learned a lot and could monitor my eating better.

So my advice is, join some sort of weight support group where someone can help you plan meals, where people keep each other accountable, where you are forced to weigh yourself once a week, and where people keep each other motivated. You don’t have to tell your bipolar story to everyone, but at least tell the person leading the group what medication you are on and how it causes (in my case) sugar and carb cravings and makes you feel like you are ALWAYS hungry. And STICK with it once you’ve reached your goal weight to stay there. 

Consider a possible medical intervention

And NO, I am not talking about diet pills. That shit is bad for you. I am talking about the anti-depressant Wellbutrin. Wellbutrin is also sold as Zyban and helps people to quit smoking. It is also known for making people lose weight. Lithium causes weight gain too, but I started Wellbutrin at the same time and since then I have lost, and kept off, about 6kg in a relatively short time without consciously trying. It is only now that I have lost the weight and am back on my goal weight, that I am making an effort to keep it off. I’ve experienced it as pretty miraculous. Word of warning though, Wellburin doesn’t work for everyone. It either works or it doesn’t. It is also known to bring on (hypo)mania, which is why I am currently only on 150mg and not 300mg. It is also pretty expensive and not all health insurances cover it. Unfortunately there also isn’t a generic at the moment. So seriously discuss it with your doctor first, especially if your are taking a combination of other stuff. To me and others I know it’s been well worth it.

Exercise

I put it here because I feel I have to, not because I practise what I preach. Personally I am not a fan and apart from occasionally walking my dog a block or 2, I haven’t exercised in months. BUT it does help with weigh-loss and general health etc. There is loads of info out there if this is your thing. Just remember weight-loss is more diet than exercise and just because you exercise doesn’t mean you can eat what you want if you want to lose weight.

2. Acne 

I had problems with my skin all through my younger years, so I was pretty happy to grow up and have that stop, mostly. And then it just flared up like crazy! Especially along my jaw line where I never use to get spots before. I couldn’t understand it. I’d been on birth control to help me with moods and hormones for many years, but even on that my skin looked like crap. So I changed brands, and changed again. It was only after a few months that I looked at Lithium side-effects again, and there it was. Acne.

I didn’t want to go on antibiotics unnecessarily and there was NO WAY I was going on Accutane. Not that I can now that I have a mental illness diagnosis anyway, but that shit is BAD. Thinking about it, no medication side-effects has ever been as bad as that. So anyway, no matter how desperate you are, don’t use Accutane.

Once I moved back to my sleepy town, my mom suggested that I go for a chemical peel. She did it when she was in her 30s and swears that’s why she looks younger than all her friends who are younger than her, and it is much cheaper here than in the city. Problem was I really hate facials. The minute they put a warm cloth or steam machine over your face I  feel like I’m drowning. I was also scared that it was going to look like someone threw acid in my face. But desperate times… I wasn’t going out because even thick make-up couldn’t cover up how hideous I looked. Something had to be done.

Luckily the girl that now does my chemical peels is really sweet and professional and the whole process is not at all what I expected. They start you off with a very light peel and increase the intensity as your face gets more use to it. She also told me to switch to dermatologically recommended wash and cream with no perfumes or funny things as my skin is crazy dry. And it’s working! I’ve gone for 3 peals every 4 weeks and I look like myself again! I’ve always been vigilant about my skin routine, but now I’m SUPER vigilant and will continue to go for the treatments as long as I can afford it. The place I go to uses Placecol products, but I’m sure there are other good products out there too.

My doctor also lowered my Lithium dose a bit because my blood levels were too high, and that probably helped too.

3. Hair loss

I’m sure you could gather that the acne situation was really bad. And it was horrible. But the hair loss! Nothing could have prepared me for that.

I’ve had a beautiful, glossy, wavy mane of hair for the largest part of my life. I love my hair. It has been every colour and style under the sun (except blue and pink), but now that I qualify as an adult, I’ve kept it pretty long. I don’t have to style or use product or even blow dry my hair, and I barely comb or was it. I LOVE my hair.

Obviously long hair falls out a lot, so I’m use to that, but then I started noticing that the hairballs from my brush and the shower were getting larger and larger. I thought it was all in my head at first (no pun intended), but it got worse and worse. Making a ponytail I could actually feel a marked difference. It made no sense, this sudden hair loss problem. And then I went back to the Lithium booklet. It was the only thing that made sense and it pissed me off severely. The worse part is, there isn’t really anything you can do about it, except lower you Lithium dose and cross your fingers that it stops.

And luckily it did. Surprisingly, it also started growing back! The only stupid thing now is that I have these little Alfalfa hairs sticking up all over my head, and what my hairdresser recently referred to as ‘bum fluff’ (ridiculous little corkscrew curls) that are frizzing on either side of my forehead.

I haven’t been to hairdresser in almost a year, because I didn’t want to explain why it looks like a child got to my hair with a razor, but then I made friends with a friend of my brother’s who I didn’t mind telling the bipolar Lithium hair loss story to. Once you’ve gotten your hair to grow back, there isn’t much you can do about it, but she basically recommends:

  • Don’t touch your hair at all, because the baby hair is fine and by trying to get it flat or uncurled you just pull the hair out again.
  • After you’ve blow dried your hair, you can set it with cold air (didn’t last long for me).
  • Don’t straighten the baby hair (in my case my bum fluff) because the flat iron will also damage it and pull it out.

Someone also recommended that I use horse shampoo, but I haven’t found any yet, and I have also started using folic acid but not long enough to know if it makes any difference.

 

I hope that there is someone somewhere who has looked long and hard for some answers on how to just look like yourself again and who will find them here. If you have any other tips on psych med weight, acne and hair loss PLEASE share. The struggle is real people and I don’t want to have to choose between looking good and feeling good, because that’s just not fair!

*Please discuss any and all medication adjustments with your doctor. Don’t be stupid and make things worse for yourself. NEVER just stop your meds cold turkey on your own. You think taking meds have bad side-effects? You don’t want to go through withdrawal!

Challenging stereotypes of mental illnesses – when to let it slide

I am very open about the fact that I have bipolar disorder. I was sure that revealing this to most people would help them understand me and my situation better. Unfortunately, that is not always true. I am usually also the first one to make a noise if someone describes a mental illness incorrectly, uses stereotypes or make fun of mental illness. Turns out people also don’t really like to be corrected, or being told their joke is not funny at all but actually ableist. Most of the time I don’t really care if people get pissed with me; it is my duty to educate; but occasionally it can cause trouble for me. I’ve had to learn the hard way that like most things in life, there is a time and a place. And WORK is not the right place.

I have a client who’s husband is a psychiatrist. The other day we chatted about her life. her family, how her husband is always on call, and naturally about psychiatric patients. She tells me, “Yes, some people are really incredibly depressed they can’t do anything! But you know who’s the worse? The bipolar patients! They seem to be constantly changing their minds, calling for a doctor and then telling him not to come.” Or something like that. Honestly, I wasn’t really listening anymore, because my mind was racing back and forth, ‘do I tell her, don’t I tell her?’ You probably won’t understand what a victory it was for me to say nothing, but it was. ‘Oh really? How interesting!’ was basically my response, while thinking ‘I wish I could tell you the truth and see how you react.’ It just proves again how ridiculous it is when people say things like ‘You have depression?! But you look so happy!’ (I actually got that while IN A PSYCHIATRIC CLINIC) Like my diagnosis is stuck to my forehead. So I did not correct my client. She pays money for my services and so I kept my mouth shut, even though I was ready to give her a half hour lecture.

People are ignorant and often not interested to learn, but I guess before I was diagnosed I didn’t know much about mental illness either because it just wasn’t part of my life. Not everyone is trying to be an offensive idiot, and sometimes letting it slide, even if it is hard, is the right thing to do.

 

Dealing with loss AND bipolar disorder

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while now, but I didn’t really know how. I wanted to write something that would be relatable, but not just a story of what I’ve been going through. Something that makes to others and hopefully prepare them a little bit. I apologise if I didn’t achieve this, but I’m sure you’ll bear with me.

Today, four weeks ago, a very dear friend of mine passed away at the age of 32. She died from natural causes, but in unnatural circumstances. She still had all this potential to unleash on the world, and now she’s gone. We’d been friends since university days, but it was only really in the last 2 or 3 years, where both of us went through some very unpleasant life experiences that we grew really close. And when I say really close, I mean talk on the phone every 2 or 3 days for at least an hour, and sending texts almost every day in between. I still spoke to her on the Monday, and when I wanted to text her about something we had spoken about on the Thursday, I thought that I would wait until the evening before sending it because she had an important day at work. I didn’t know she was already dead.

Most of us know about the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I have lost loved ones before, I’ve been through them. But it being a person so young, with whom I shared so much with, somehow makes it very different. The good news, if there can be good news in a situation like this, is that I have not completely fallen apart. I’m devastated, I cry basically every night, reality hits me in the face over and over again when I don’t expect it. And yes, I was more or less unable to do anything productive for about five days, but somehow I’ve gone on with my life. At first it felt like a massive betrayal, moving on without her. But then the reality of ‘if I don’t work, I don’t get paid’ set in, and I had to get moving. I cycle between denial, anger and depression (I’ve never really understood the bargaining part), but I manage to come up for air every now and then. It’s true though, you don’t get over losing someone. You just learn how to live with it. I’m definitely not there yet, but I want to share what has helped me in the meantime.

Suffering from bipolar disorder, my first thought was that this was going to completely derail me and be a huge setback. I knew that I couldn’t deal with that too. I didn’t want to make this about me, and I think I managed to achieve this more or less:

  1. Be with people. I found this to be very important. Because I don’t live near the city, I couldn’t be with any of my friends who were also grieving, but I moved back to my home town exactly for a situation like this. I immediately packed my bags and went to stay with my parents until after the funeral. I didn’t necessarily interact with them, but it was good to have people around to distract me, to just check up on me and to make sure that I at least ate.
  2. Withstand the urge to numb the pain. Not surprisingly the first thing we want to do when we get sad news like this is reach for the bottle, or take a pill to numb the pain. I know from experience that drinking makes me more depressed, so when I did have a drink, it was just one glass. Another advantage of staying with my parents during that time; I didn’t exactly want to get completely trashed in front of them. I was also relieved that I didn’t have any benzos left, and felt to awkward to ask my new psych, so in the end I left it. It was a kind of bitter sweet, I almost didn’t make it through the memorial service, but I’m glad I didn’t numb myself. I also owed it to my friend to really feel my loss.
  3. Don’t go it alone. Whether it is making arrangements or going to the service or whatever you need to face, don’t go it alone. A friend of mine drove me to the memorial and back, handed me tissues, held my hand and just generally checked that I kept breathing. She knew the friend who passed from university also, but they weren’t really friends and she was much less emotional and more rational than I was at that point. There were so many old, familiar faces and so much emotion, it really helped to have my own little beacon who was there just for me.
  4. Share stories. The first week or so I was terrified that everything about our bond was going to fade away and that I would completely forget the small little things and moments that made her who she was. I post stories, memories and photos on social media. Whether it’s the ‘right’ way to do it or not, I don’t really know. But other people have commented that they appreciate it and that it keeps her memory alive. Some may feel and prefer to keep their grief private. In that case, write stuff down. I don’t think there really is a right or wrong way to do it. It just helps to keep the memories alive.
  5. Try sticking to your routine and med regime. This is a ‘basic bipolar rule’, but even more applicable when you are dealing with a loss. I forgot to fill prescriptions or just couldn’t bother getting myself to a pharmacy (not sticking to routine), so I missed more than one dose of more than one medication at different times, and it really isn’t ideal. It just causes side effects and more of an emotional roller coaster. I did take something to help me sleep (25mg Seroquel) for about 2 weeks which I don’t do anymore, but I check it with my doctor and realised I really needed it. My sleep was okay-ish after 2 weeks.
  6. Sleep as much as you need if you can. This isn’t exactly something ‘prescribed’ for bipolar, but necessary under the circumstances. Once the dust had settled, I realised that I was (am) extremely tired ALL the time. I’m busy with a big project so I can’t exactly afford to sleep a lot, but luckily I make my own hours. I basically work until I can’t anymore, power nap, rinse and repeat. I spoke to a few people who have also lost loved ones and they reassured me that it wasn’t my body giving in, but that grieving is hard work and so you have to rest as much as you can.

 

I’ve been feeling like I’ll never NOT be sad in my life ever again. At least the sadness has become a bit less intense, but I will always miss my friend terribly. So often I want to tell her something and can’t. I’ve become slightly obsessed with finding every photo, text, email, anything that we shared in the past 10 years. It is incredible and also ridiculous what reminds me of her. Silly things will spark a memory and have me in tears. But I am very grateful that I’ve somehow managed to focus on my loss without my bipolar interfering. I definitely wouldn’t have been able to deal with both.

 

If you have any advice, please share. I will take any help I can get!

Prescription medication vs herbal remedies

I’m almost a little scared to write about this, because it seems like these to very distinctive camps simply cannot agree. But in this post I don’t want to discuss which one is better than the other, or what I prefer. I just want to bring some facts to everyone’s attention, and hopefully give some insight. I’ll do my best to keep my personal opinion to myself.

Most people who prefer to uses herbal stuff are all-natural, free range, organic kind of people. The whole thing, as I understand it, is about not putting anything that the earth didn’t produce itself, into your body. I think. I respect that. The prescription drugs we take to keep our brains under control can have nasty side-effects and while they are good for your brain, they’re not always so good for your body. But is herbal remedies really that much better, just because it is only made from plants and things?

My major problem (and hopefully the last of my opinions) with herbal remedies is that it leaves waaaaay too much room to be swindled out of your money with nothing to show for it. A quick google search shows you that you can use anything from lavender to kava to a whole lot of unpronounceable herbs to ‘cure’ your depression. And these drugs are not tested by the FDA. Often, or dare I say most of the time, no studies were performed on these remedies, or the sample size was very tiny. So we can’t even know what the side-effects are most of the time, until we experience it. If you take a remedy with say hibiscus, your whole oral cavity can swell up and you wouldn’t have known that it would happen. At least when I took anti-convulsants, I knew of the possibility that a rash could develop.

The other major problem is that herbal remedies aren’t usually tested to find out how they interact with other herbal remedies, or western medicine. Maybe someone can help me with this one (honest question because I really don’t know): I’ve never used St. John’s Wart, mostly because the leaflets in my medicine boxes says it can cause a bad reaction. My question is if St. John’s Wart comes with the same warning label? How about its interaction with ibuprofen, paracetamol, codeine etc? Is it safe?

I understand why someone would want to use herbal remedies instead of medication for things like insomnia, anxiety, depression, energy etc. Heck, I used to use them for anxiety and insomnia. They aren’t addictive, for one. And maybe some of them actually work and are safer. I didn’t experience any side-effects from the ones I tried. But then again I didn’t experience any effects at all!

So here’s what I’m saying: Don’t dis western prescription medication. They have been tried and tested and refined. Sure, they can be bad for you, but there is at least some science behind them. You can talk to various specialists and while they won’t agree 100%, they will agree on the principles. And don’t start the ‘big pharma’ debate where I can hear you. If it wasn’t for medication I wouldn’t be typing here, I’d be dead by my own hand.

If you prefer herbal remedies, that is your prerogative, and if you have found something that has been proven safe AND effective, please let me know so I can check it out. But before you stick anything into your mouth, whether herbal or not, DO YOUR RESEARCH. And that’s not just checking the first site you can find on google. Find at least three corroborating  sources. TALK TO AN EXPERT, whether traditional alternative therapy practitioners, or western trained doctors, and make sure you find out about possible side-effects and interactions. MONITOR CHANGES TO YOUR BODY, just like you would with anything else you take. DON’T GRAB THE FIRST THING YOU SEE, because more expensive is not necessarily better. CHECK THAT THE MANUFACTURER IS CREDIBLE.

Don’t be a sheep and don’t be taken for a fool either. No matter what you choose to treat yourself with, be sure to check the facts and get your bang for your buck.

How mental illness is good for the environment

Let’s face it, in recent years, and maybe not so recent, us humans have been abusing and destroying our beautiful planet. My country is classified as a ‘developing’ one, and our government is incompetent at best. So when it comes to all things environmental, despite having brilliant scientists, I would say that we are generally a bit behind.

So when we had electricity shortages a few years ago, and then again a few years after that, no one was prepared. And when we went into a massive drought, where some areas have now been declared as disaster areas, no one was prepared. ‘Yeah, so what?’ I hear you thinking. ‘What has this got to do with bipolar or mental health?’

It’s simple. In trying to be more vigilant by finding ways I can save resources, I have found that due to my mental illness, I already do! Let’s look at saving water, for example: when I’m depressed I save loads of water from not showering or washing my hair. I’m not proud of this, but if you’ve been depressed you’d know that personal hygiene is really too much of an effort. I mostly just swap one pair of pajamas for another pair, so I very rarely have to do laundry. And even when I do, I just don’t. I certainly don’t touch the dishes (if I even eat), and my mushy brain completely forgets to water my few pot plants. The only water I really use, is for drinking, brushing my teeth (the one thing I always do) and flushing the toilet.

As for electricity, no need to turn the lights on when you’re sleeping most of the time. I don’t use much hot water, or big appliances. My food intake is normally restricted to pizza delivery, ramen noodles, bread and cheese or a meal replacement shake. And lots of chocolate. So no using stoves and ovens here!

And my carbon footprint? Well as we know many people with mental illness are unemployed or work from home. I now fall in the second category, which means I might leave the house once a day to buy groceries or see family (I would love to add ‘and go to the gym’ but that’s not exactly happening right now, or when I’m depressed).

So there you go. If your depression, anxiety, medication side-effects or whatever your brain problem is makes you behave in a similar way that I do, always remind yourself that even though you feel like trash, you are helping mother earth to survive. Who knows, maybe that is our collective goal as the mentally ill. When the planet is in trouble, we get sick so lighten its burden and help it get better, if that makes sense. That’s what I’m going to tell myself the next time I’m horribly depressed, anyway: The planet needs me!

 

*This post is meant to be a bit tongue in the cheek-ish, so if you are an environmentalist reading here, please don’t be mean and bury me under links to piles of scientific research. I might have a panic attack and slip into a deep depression. Or get mad and go into bipolar rage, and you really wouldn’t want that.*

Am I being bipolar, ‘normal’ or just lazy?

From the forums, other blogs and articles I read, I think many a bipolar diagnosed person asks themselves this question. I certainly do, every bloody day. Since all the major changes in my life happened, it’s like I can’t quite seem to pull myself together.

The first month or so after my move it didn’t really matter, because I was okay financially, and I was happy to take the time I needed to recuperate, sort out my living arrangements and set up my business. My deadline was 2 May, because we had a lot of public and school holidays here in April. Until then I wouldn’t really care sleeping until noon (or past it) and just doing a little bit of work every day. And now, after the deadline came and went?

I gave up my 50mg Seroquel for sleep a few weeks ago and while sleeping was obviously hard in the beginning, now I don’t struggle so much and I can actually wake up at 8:00 or so. The problem is, I don’t WANT to. It’s way past noon on a Thursday and I am actually embarrassed to admit that I am still in my pyjamas. I have to start actively promoting my business which means handing out flyers and phoning people, but I just can’t do it. I am completely overwhelmed by the idea of interacting with strangers. Yet, on the other hand I am freaking out because I kind of need to start making money soon.

I’m pretty sure that the ‘oh crap what if this fails and I lose everything?’ part is ‘normal’. I’m sure that, for an introvert, anxiety about putting yourself out there and talking to strangers is ‘normal’ too. But what about the complete mental block? And feeling like I can’t breathe at the mere thought? What about the refusal each morning to wake up, shower and leave my house? Despite the fact that I (think) I WANT to work and stop feeling like I’m a lazy, unambitious, blob of a person doing nothing and going nowhere in life?

And the guilt, OH the guilt! I do nothing, yet I feeling incredibly guilty about it, so I totally beat myself up about being lazy, but it doesn’t make me get up and moving. So do I cut myself some slack and spend the day in bed without feeling guilty, or do I pick myself up by my bootstraps and just freakin get over it?

Am I being bipolar or lazy? That is forever the question.

Big wave, little wave

*trigger warning* This post contains mentions of suicide.

Greetings  blogosphere and interwebs in general. I’ve delayed writing a bit because you see, a lot can happen in a year. Also because bipolar folk are notoriously unreliable when we hit an episode. It’s really not our fault.

As for me, I won’t share all the details because it will be much too long and I don’t think it will necessarily be helpful to anyone. So just in short, in the past roughly 10 months, I did a stint in clinic because I was suicidal, then thought I was fine. Then, mostly unbeknown to myself, depression became a mixed episode and my life and my brain became all kinds of fucked-up (I will gladly share details if someone wants to PM me), then I did actually try to commit suicide, failed/was stopped, spent 5 days in ICU, went through the aftermath with the people in my life (this was by far worse than anything else). If you want to kill yourself you better make damn sure you die. That being said, now I’m kinda glad I didn’t. Most of the time.

Anyway, then my life fell apart. I had to take unpaid leave from work and left the city to stay with my parents in my home town and receive intense therapy. My doc also put me, and here is the important part of the post, Lithium. It took some time and a whole lot of blood tests to get the dose right, but it pulled me out of my very deep hole. I won’t lie, Lithium has its stigma for a reason and its side effects are horrendous. Apart from the common shakes and dry mouth, there is hair loss, stomach cramps, vertigo, unbearable thirst, acne, possibility of kidney and thyroid problems and probably some others. But how does it look on a practical level? It means if I don’t carry water with me all the time, I get incredibly agitated from thirst. I can’t apply eyeliner or do any detailed kind of work with my hands. My writing is even worse than it was. Some days my stomach cramps so much or I get such bad vertigo that I have to lie down. No matter what I do, my skin looks terrible. But to me the worse is probably the hair loss. I have thick and long hair and it’s EVERYWHERE. I shed worse than my cats and it frustrates me to no end. These side effects make me feel very sorry for myself.

So why take it if it’s so horrible? Because the 1 pro far outweighs the many cons: It keeps me from wanting to kill myself. It’s as simple as that, and the no. 1 reasons doctors prescribe Lithium despite its side effects. I’m still not on ‘normal’ between hypomanic and depressed, but I’ve only have little waves, not big waves. And this has been with a whole bunch of crap happening in between. I quit my job, left the city to move back home, had to find my own place, my father passed away and I’m starting my own business. It hasn’t always been easy, and there has been plenty of days spent in bed or in front of the TV, but I’m managing.

While most of this is largely thanks to Lithium, I am also on Wellbutrin, Venlor and a very small dose of Seroquel. I’ve also basically stopped drinking and have a good exercise routine. I’m not under big city stress (like traffic), and I am not in an extremely deadline driven industry. I try to at least do one big task/errand a day. All these things help too. I still need to get into a better routine and do something about my diet (currently I have only bread, cheese and a bunch of sauces in my fridge).

I curse the fact that I have to live with these side-effects every single day. I get very angry that people don’t see it and therefore don’t know what I’m going through. I feel embarrassed when someone sees my food fall off my fork because my tremour is so bad. But then I get over it and remember where I could have been. How I almost drowned in the storm of my own mind. And I ride my little waves, that no one even sees, like a pro.

 

*If you or someone you know need support, please call the suicide prevention hotline in your area immediately, or reach out to someone you trust. Threats of suicide should ALWAYS be take seriously.*