All posts by Scout

Bipolar, addiction and the entertainment industry: What Demi Lovato can teach us

Before you decide to pass up on yet another lay person’s opinion on Demi Lovato’s overdose, I want to assure you that this isn’t just more unsubstantiated claims about a celebrity I know nothing about. This is a blog about bipolar disorder, and so this post is exactly about that.

Here’s the thing about Demi though; since I was diagnosed in 2015 and found out that she is bipolar too, I’ve been pretty jealous. Of her and all other bipolar celebrities. I have a brother who works in Hollywood, and I know of the ridiculous schedules that lead to a lack of sleep, the crazy pressure, the substance abuse and the parties, the hectic travel, rehearsals, ridiculous deadlines etc. I’ve also opened a People magazine in my life. And so I’ve always wondered, about the young Demi specifically, how on earth do you overcome an eating disorder, addiction AND manage bipolar disorder when you lead the insane and unnatural lifestyle of a musician?! And at such a young age!

I don’t really like her music to be honest, but I’ve been following her on Instagram for a long time for the reasons above. I’ve seen snippets of her current world tour and I have wondered how the ef she does it. My conclusion was that she must have A LOT of support, and I did see her mother on some of her videos. I also read something about a sober coach, that she apparently fired. But I don’t know anything else about the people in her life. She can’t be on anti-psychotics because being sedated won’t work. So imagine how little she sleeps! At best she can be on anti-depressants and a mood stabiliser, if she’s on anything. She won’t be able take addictive sleeping pills or anxiety meds like benzos.

Would it be any wonder then if at some point during her tour, she started to become manic? People might not even realise it because of all the adrenaline pumping. It is very difficult to find a support group when you are in a different city every other day, and with people being people, how could a celebrity feel comfortable sharing with strangers? Those of us in the know, know that if you don’t keep your lifestyle in check, you’re going to experience symptoms, no matter what meds you take. It’s possible that she wasn’t eating right because she was too busy. With every sleepless night and every performance, her mania would have worsen. Her inhibitions would have lowered and her life would have spinned out of control. Queue partying and alcohol. Queue drug use.

I have read very mean comments online, from people who think she’s “just” a junkie and should know better, and I think people forget that she is only 25 and has already gone through more than what most people go through in a lifetime. I was certainly a total mess at that age! My point? The general public is quick to think that celebrities are fair game. The press and paparazzi can’t care less that Demi is a very young girl with serious mental health issues. The Bipolar Community was quick to put her on a pedestal when she “came out”, yet many see addiction and overdose in a different “class” of mental illness, instead of what it is here – a symptom of a larger HEALTH problem.

She’s a very beautiful and talented girl, and she has many years of performing left in her, so I hope she can overcome yet again and perhaps learn how to do what she does at a slower pace and in a healthier way. Her story should be a lesson for all of us suffering from any sort of mental illness – always be vigilant, always focus on your mental health, have people around you who can help keep you in check, always take your meds, take it easy when you need to and ALWAYS be kind to yourself and others like you.

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How being diagnosed with Bipolar changes your life

I guess this is not a huge revelation. I’m pretty sure most if not all bipolar ‘diagnosees’ will tell you the same thing; after your diagnosis nothing is the same again. It might not be that your circumstances changed (although many times it should), but learning that certain thoughts and behaviours are due to a mental illness if very overwhelming at first. You struggle to figure out who you really are. You don’t know what is personality, and what is illness. You start taking all these pills that may or may not work, you see psychologists and psychiatrists. To me, it felt like I picked up this huge external weight that I have to carry around, but that was still part of me and something I wasn’t allowed to share with other people.

If you follow my blog you would know what a drastic turn my life took when I tried to commit suicide, because my bipolar disorder had me so convinced that it was my only option, with my obsessive thoughts and pain on the inside. People often thing it’s selfish, or a cry for help, or your life sucks or whatever. To me, it was simply losing the battle that has raged in my head every single day in a loop “kill yourself, kill yourself kill yourself”. I had no control. I tried for MONTHS to control it. I was so tired. And don’t think for a second that anyone is interested in the grimy details of why you wanted to die and how you didn’t. People are really not interested in hearing your story.

I don’t believe in regrets, but trying to commit suicide is the one thing that I would take back in a heartbeat. Because of it, because of my bipolar disorder, everything important was taken away from me. I spent six months in my home town not changing, rarely showering, barely leaving the house, not seeing or making any friends, because I was completely incapable. For a year, I didn’t have to worry about cash either, until I had to. Until I’ve reached a stage where I have to ask my mom to buy me toilet paper and food. Now I’m just stuck in a small town unable, with all my qualifications, to get a ‘real’ job, because there simply aren’t any. Oh and have I mentioned that I’m moving in with my parents at the end of the month? This is the most shameful of all, to me. I’ve been independent and looking after myself since 16.

I have an interview in the city next week; a job right up my ally. Pretty much my dream job that I gave up a long time ago because work is scarce. I have to admit, I am terrified. I don’t want to move back to the city, even though I have lots of friends there. Life here is just so much less complicated. But I am literally starving I’m so poor, and my life can’t go on like this.

For all of this; this whole story; I blame my bipolar disorder. And I can’t talk to people about it, because they don’t know that I am on close to 250 pills a month, and that my tremour is not blood sugar, but Lithium, that for most of the day if I stand up, I have vertigo, that sometimes I just stay in bed crying all day. That I feel useless and ashamed and sorry for myself often. I don’t have anyone to bear witness of this part of my life. And so it makes me more socially awkward, and even more scared of abandonment. Because I am either SUPER clingy or a closed book. And the new people I meet don’t understand the context and so they don’t understand why I am the way I am.

Because a Bipolar diagnoses changes EVERYTHING. Every single aspect of your life, from your physical health to your employment to your sleep, relationships (or lack thereof) with someone special, your friends or your family. And while you change, they don’t. Everyone else goes on with their merry lives. And no one really bares witness to yours. Once you have that diagnosis, you can try to ignore it, but there is no turning back. Not if you want history to keep repeating itself. So you try to get back on the horse of life, even when no one understands how hard it is. Even when no one understands that you’re absolutely terrified.

Is there a downside to creating awareness?

You may or may not know that May is mental health awareness month. Apart from social media, there isn’t really much I can do in the way of busting the stigma. Where I live, it’s still very much a reality. Then I read an article about triggers and it got me thinking about some things that happened in my life and the combination of events that lead to this.

Even as a child, I knew that I was depressed, I just didn’t know that what I felt could be classified as illness. I didn’t know that something could be done about all the terrible feelings going crazy inside my head. And awareness in that case would have been great! But then I thought about the first time I contemplated suicide. I think I was about 14 or 15. Suicide had never even remotely cross my mind, even though I was in a terrible emotional state. One day, one of my mother’s magazines were lying on the coffee table and I was just randomly paging through it when I found this article, addressed to parents, about how to handle your child if he/she is suicidal or has attempted suicide. For the first time, I realised that there was a way out. Luckily the younger, confused me was too scared to actually do anything. I did however have suicidal ideations on and of, well, until now.

Similarly, I never thought of self-harm. Even as a dark and twisty teenager I never considered that hurting myself would make me feel better. Until I met someone when I was already in my mid-twenties, who became a friend, confided in me about her self-harm. And then one day I was feeling awful and getting drunk by myself, and I finally had enough courage to give it a go. And of course the more you do something like that, the more you want to do it.

Am I making sense? Of course people should be made aware of  mental illnesses, the symptoms, the treatment, etc. But I think the point I’m trying to make is that those of us who already have this awareness, who have been around the block, who know the ins and outs of our particular illness have a responsibility to think before we share, especially online. Like giving trigger warnings. We need to use our experiences and the information we have wisely so that we make sure that we do good, and not harm.

Just add another diagnoses to the pile

I had a very interesting appointment with my psychiatrist last week. I wanted to write it earlier, but I’ve had to think about it a bit.

Before and after I was diagnosed with Bipolar II, Dr Google and I self-diagnosed loads. Generalised anxiety disorder, PTSD, plain ol’ depression, OCD; I’m pretty sure I even diagnosed myself with hypochondria (little joke there). Doctors have diagnosed me with depression (nope), cyclothymia (like what is that anyway?) and eventually with what I knew deep down all along – Bipolar 2. After my suicide attempt 1 therapist and 1 psychiatrist diagnosed me with Borderline Personality Disorder, and then 1 therapist and 1 psychiatrists un-diagnosed me about 6 month later. I can appreciate that psychiatry is not an exact science.

When my psychiatrist suggested that I might suffer from social anxiety, it made perfect sense to me. In fact, I had been thinking about because if something required me making a phone call or meeting new people, I just did do it. The thought paralysed me. To get to the point, last week I’m sitting in the Doc’s office and complaining about a bunch of adult things that I have to do but just don’t because it’s too much effort and I don’t feel like it and now my mother is pressuring me to get my shit in order. So, he gives me this sideways glance and knowing smile and says: “I’ve been thinking, don’t you think you suffer from a degree of ADHD?” Shocked into silence. Like I mentioned, I have diagnosed myself with EVERYTHING; ADHD has never crossed my mind. I ponder, “Maybe the inattentive type, but I am definitely not hyperactive.” (some days I would even describe myself as sloth-like)

What made this interesting, was that just a few days before that, a friend of mine suggested that I talk to the doc about taking a small dose of Ritalin. I was complaining because exams are in a month and I basically haven’t even opened a book. Also I’m sleeping more than 12 hours and it’s just no way to live. I keep telling people that I need a necklace to just hang all my keys around my neck, and that if my head wasn’t attached to my body, I’d probably lose it. So as the doc kept going through behaviours and symptoms, I suddenly saw myself and my life in a totally different light. I believe it’s late onset, because I was a very together and responsible child. A couple of things are confusing, because some of the symptoms do overlap with bipolar symptoms, but I am doing a lot of research and there are some fantastic youtube channels out there. I did get my small dose of Ritalin, so far it’s not like I feel different or anything, but I haven’t lost anything, so I guess it is working. Not so stoked about taking MORE meds though.

I shall keep you appraised about how this works out. I really hope that it does help with focus, as I am going to fail if I don’t start studying quite soon. I also need to get my routine in order so I am not constantly frazzled and behind with everything all the time. Wish me luck and success on my new ADHD inattentive type, Ritalin journey.

Subcontracting responsibilities to survive your bipolar

If you’re bipolar, you know the story when it comes to being semi-catatonically depressed. I’m talking about those days/weeks/months where you feel like you are actually fusing with your bed. Dishes pile up. laundry piles up, the sandbox doesn’t get cleaned. In fact, nothing gets cleaned. Not the floors and not the coffee table and not your bedroom. You spend everyday barely moving through dirt and chaos, wearing the same pants you’ve worn for the last three days. If you have to go to work you get yourself to look semi-presentable, but if anyone scratched even a millimetre below the surface, they’d see how you’re coming undone.

The thing with a situation like this is, the deeper you go, the deeper it gets, the deeper you go. It become an uncontrollable cycle of despair. The more dishes, the more useless and helpless you feel, the more dishes you use, until there are organisms growing on things and you actually just want to throw all your belongings on the sidewalk. By now, you probably also feel like a completely lazy waste of oxygen.

It was on one such occasion that I finally realised things could not go on like that. I needed help and I needed it fast. The first thing I bought the second I saved enough money, was a washing machine. Here in my country, it doesn’t come standard with apartments. So finally my days of slogging to the laundromat, rinsing underwear in sink and wearing my jeans until they fell off, were over. In my country it’s also not frowned upon to have a cleaner at least once a day. It’s something that alleviates poverty somewhat, and creates jobs. I ended up paying my cleaning lady, a wonderful, sweet woman, about triple the minimum wage, because to me she wasn’t just cleaning, she was helping me to keep my sanity.

I recently didn’t have a cleaning lady for over a month. Even though I tried my best to keep my place clean and tidy, it felt like my life was getting completely out of hand. I just don’t have the capacity to work, have a hobby, attempt a social life, sleep enough, walk my dog AND scrub my bloody toilets. I just can’t do it. Not even to mention the dishes. So I finally got a lovely lady to clean for me and it’s going well. I’m actually using my study for the first time since I moved in. What also really changed my life was getting a dishwasher. Yes, I am only one person. I don’t care. Washing pots and pans with pieces of food and soggy mince freaks me the fck out. Seriously. I don’t have OCD, but it still causes too much anxiety that I just don’t need.

So I unashamedly used other people and appliances to literally do my dirty work. Sometimes it gets expensive and I have to cut on other things. I would rather not eat (and I already quit smoking) than not pay my cleaning lady.

When I can’t pay for help, like eg when I’m moving (again) in two months’ time, I have learned to lean on my family. My mother is a master packer, my new brother-in-law has a trailer, my stepdad can round up a bunch of workers and my sister can pretend she’s got way more important things to do (may she never read this). When my washing machine was broken, I took my clothes to my mom’s and did it there. I’m still borrowing her vacuum cleaner once a week.

The point is that, even when we don’t have extra money for extra help, we all have people around us that care about us, even if it doesn’t feel that way. If you have kids, make them help out with chores. My biggest challenge has been making my loved ones understand why I need help, and a dishwasher. Just having my environment feel clean and organised helps my brain to feel a little more clean and organised, and it’s a great feeling. Ask for help, or don’t be ashamed to pay for help if you can if it helps make you feel a bit better, it’s worth it 100%.

When isolating myself is for your own good

Whether you read a list on the internet, in a book, receive the lecture from you doctor, one of the first things they will tell you is that when you feel depressed, don’t isolate. They make it sound so easy, like just inviting someone over for a cup of coffee is not a big deal. Hello? Do you not know that depression usually goes along with crippling anxiety?

I’ve decided to make this work for me. I started singing in an ensemble at the beginning of the year. I like choir singing and it’s great to get my voice ‘back in shape’ to hit those high notes. But it’s in the evenings and often inconvenient. Since we’ll be taking part in a pretty big competition, we are also practising the same pieces over and over and over with a metronome at a very slow pace.

The last two weeks I haven’t been doing so well, including driving my car into a pole this week. I have stress about money and moving, I’m not sleeping without something pharmaceutical. Generally, things are not going as they should and I can feel the person sitting on my chest getting fatter and fatter.

So I’ve been thinking of a thousand excuses not to go to choir practise tonight. I feel kind of bad because I had to miss a couple due to physical illness. But the thought of going to a house with 30 people, where I only really know two, repeating those songs, and worse of all that bloody metronome that feel like it’s knocking against my skull, just wouldn’t have worked. And then you have to be all chirpy and keep the sarcasm in check, which becomes a problem with irritability. I just couldn’t do it.

The idea of having to just talk to people along with my social anxiety just made it impossible for me. So I let the conductor know that I have some chronic health issues that are flaring up and so I can’t be there. And actually saying made me feel so liberated. I wouldn’t have gone two days before I broke my arm or something, so why go when depression is starting to rear its ugly head. No one has to know what is wrong with me, that is my business, but just because I don’t look sick from the outside doesn’t mean I’m not sick

When your so good at hiding your bipolar symptoms, you even hide them from yourself

I was diagnosed in my mid-20s. I’ve at least grown considerably since then. One thing I’ve grown in but have not yet mastered, is self-awareness. Probably every therapist I’ve been to, and I’ve been to many, have told me that I am not self-aware.

I’ve never been a devil-may-care kind of person. I worked incredibly hard to get into university, at university (I played hard too), and during my time climbing the corporate ladder. I’ve been described by various people throughout my life with the following terms: perfectionist, hard working, smart, diligent, trustworthy, friendly, respectful etc. Ie, not someone who says skrewit and does something irresponsible because they want to. I had to be all these things. I had to work my ass off, because I know I had no safety net. I knew I’d have to pave my on way. And I did, at the cost of my own sanity.

Because while I was all of these things, I had a dark side too. Everyone has a dark side, but when you have bipolar disorder it’s even darker. I smoked and started drinking at 15. I think I wrote my first poem about death at 14, because that was the first time I wanted to kill myself. Everywhere I turned I tried to talk to grown-ups about what I was feeling, but I couldn’t, I didn’t know how. No one saw the signs. No one was LISTENING. No one saw me crying myself to sleep every night. Because I learned to put on that smile. I wasn’t even pretending that everything was okay, it WAS okay.

Fast forward to adulthood, diagnoses, and my teenage years finally making sense. I’ve been in psychiatric clinics three times. Twice I did the whole 3 week full programme. Different clinics, different doctors. And here’s the crux:

  • Week 1: Hang around kind of disinterested, attend groups, make intellectual arguments, not sure why I’m even there, tell the doc I’m wasting everyone’s time. Another patient even looked at me and said perplexed “Why are you here, you look so HAPPY?” My answer? A smile.
  • Week 2: Cry. Whether it is at a group session, dining room, with a doctor or getting my meds, I cry. I can’t stop. I cry in the shower and I cry myself to sleep. Whether or not you give me drugs, I cry and I can’t stop crying. I don’t want to see anyone I know either. I don’t want to see anyone, actually. I write letters to my inner child. I feel like I’m physically dying from the pain I feel on the inside.
  • Week 3: The crying lessens and stops. I feel like a load has been lifted. My meds start working. I start sitting outside and talking shit with the smokers. I laugh with everyone about my crying marathon.

And this has twice been my unplanned process. Why? Because I am not self-aware. I do not see my signs, or I think that it’s not THAT bad. I put on my smile and I suppress everything that I know my world can’t handle. Everything I CAN’T feel, because my little card house will then fall apart, again. So I get smashed, self-harm, listen to music I know is actually triggering, and try to drink and cut out my anger. Because I don’t know how to exernalise it.

Here is the point of this whole thing: Why do we internalise, and why do we put on our happy masks every day so that it becomes so natural we can’t take it off? For the ones we love. Because we know they want to understand but they can’t. And they want to be supportive but even those who understand the full impact, don’t really. In my case, when I get criticised like again today I want to yell: “It’s because I’m BIPOLAR, asshole! And you know that.” But I just smile, make a little joke, and walk away.

When you want to self-harm but you can’t

First, if there is anyone who follows this blog, I don’t have the parasite that makes you sleep like my mom thought. So maybe I’m just still tired because 2017 was a pretty fucked up year and I didn’t get much holiday.

Trigger warning obviously – see heading

Here’s the problem it is 23:30 and I am enraged. Seriously explosively ‘like urbanol does anything’ enraged. A few rage-worthy things happened today, but it really ended with a boy. Doesn’t it always? First time in like 2 years I put myself out there, btw, and though he seemed interested for weeks now suddenly he doesn’t and is moving 3 hours away to a shitty remote place anyway.

So I’m raging. And when I rage I cut, because I don’t yell or punch or give another bitch a piece of my mind. No. I take it out on myself. Now the funny part is that I have absolutely NOTHING to cut myself with. No a single blade or proper kitchen knife, not a decent razor or sharp scissors. Fucking NOTHING. Shows you how long ago I raged. At one stage there was this debate by my healthcare professionals about whether I have borderline personality disorder or not. One psychiatrist and one psychologist said I did, one of each said I didn’t. Maybe I do if have the capacity to feel the way I do. I’m also crying because I would tell my very good friend S all of this and she’d listen and not judge, but oh wait, shes’s dead, so can’t do that.

Less than a week ago my psych told me that I’m absolutely glowing. I keep feeling like something is wrong just under the surface. My mother needs to be convinced that I have a physical illness. I want to cut myself for the first time in MONTHS, but can’t. I should take some seroquel but I am working hard from tomorrow, I can’t afford that fuzzy brain. Oh and I am dizzy ALL THE TIME, Venlor or Wellbutrin side-effect?

I found myself beating my chest earlier with a fist. It didn’t hurt but it was a feeling of trying to resuscitate myself. Only we can’t do that, can we?

Am I physically Ill or ‘just’ bipolar

The thing about these mental illnesses, is that one can never really be sure if a symptom is from physical illness, mental illness or side-effects from medication.

I’ve been struggling with fatigue recently. Well, basically I’ve had sleep problems my whole life, but recently I want to sleep every second I get. I don’t think it’s from side-effects, since my doses are lower than before. I did all my lithium tests recently and those are fine. My mother is convinced I have some illness which I went to test for today. Personally, I think it’s ‘just’ a symptom of my bipolar disorder, since fatigue can be a major symptom.

I”m not depressed though, so it’s not the heaviness of not wanting to get out of bed. It like to the bone tired tired. According to this article explains physical and psychological fatigue quite well I think. To be honest, writing this post is a little difficult as I am distracted and my brain feels empty.

On the one hand I kind of hope that there is something physical to my tiredness, because that would make it  ‘real’ to the people around me. Personally, I’m sure it’s just bipolar, but people don’t understand how a mental illness can give you physical symptoms. Especially when you are not exceptionally depressed or anxious. I’m kind of confused by the whole thing. I should get the test results for the other thing before the end of the week.

Can anyone relate to my absolute tiredness seemingly for no reason?

Post-festive season bipolar coping feedback

Feliz Navidad and a happy, shiny new 2018 to all. I hope you survived

As you probably know yourself and have read in every single bipolar article or heard in every support group, the holidays can be a bitch for the mentally unstable. There are of course a number of reasons: breaking routine, the stress of travel and getting kids and spouses ready if you have those. Organising kennels and a hundred other things that make your head want to explode, and then you don’t even feel festive anymore. And of course, there are those who can’t celebrate with family, or don’t have any.

Unfortunately I cannot relate to the latter so I won’t pretend to know what I’m talking about, but I can probably teach everyone about dealing with a 40 person family. Yes, 40 people. We know we are blessed but it becomes terribly overwhelming. So what I realised was that I needed to create some kind of ‘safe space’ for myself. Instead of sleeping in the house like most of the others, I pitched my little single person tent outside. We were so hot it was unbelievable, but every time I felt overwhelmed or offended or anxious, I went to sit in my little sauna until I felt ready for all the people again. I did the same when I went away with my parents, sister and her fiance. I went reasonably well until my sister smacked me with a backhanded sarcastic remark which, since I am overly sensitive, ruined my day. But I had my room, my own room, and I could close my door and create a safe haven for myself with books, blankets, chocolates and drinks. I could just walk away and go decompress.

I know this sounds incredibly simple, but I’m telling you to me, it was a revelation. Probably because I was never in the position to insist my own space, with so many people, but it really made all the difference. So this was the one thing I learned to survive the holidays. The second was to stick to whatever your poison is for anxiety, and even if you don’t feel anxious, take as prescribed. My doctor gave me Urbanol, one in the morning and one at night, and although I would have MUCH preferred Rivotril or Alzam (but family history of addiction, thanks dad), Urbanol seems to just take the edge off a little bit and make me act like a human being. Other obvious things that I should know but still got wrong was don’t get trashed, stay hydrated (Lithium) and  remember to fill your script BEFORE you go on holiday.

I’m clearly such a slow learner when it comes to this and would love to hear what you do/don’t do to cope with the festive season.