Tag Archives: mental illness

‘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?*

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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.

 

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.*

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.*

Picture the sun

After a year I think I am ready and in the mood (ha) this blog up again. Maybe for no other reason than that I need to. I need to write about my experiences and about what is going on in my head. I need to not care what people think when they read it, and focus on the good it can do myself and potentially other. An I miss writing, to be honest. Even if the only thing I’m writing about is myself and my mental illness.

But before I launch into what you’ve missed over the past year, here is the tattoo that I finally got that was originally inspired by when I started this this blog and chose it’s title. Isn’t it the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?!tattoo

Getting over it and back: The first (practical) signs of depression

Happy belated new year to the troopers actually still willing to read my sporadic ramblings.

For me it’s mostly been a good one. I’ve realised that blogging, for me, is like praying (which is wrong on so many levels); when life is good, there really isn’t much to say (except for the occasional ‘thank you’), but it’s when things start going pear shaped that we (I) feel the need to reach out, express what I’m feeling or not feeling, look for understanding and kindness and someone to say that it will all be okay.

The last two weeks of December I found myself in a remote location on holiday with no working electronics to speak of, and no electricity for the most part. This recharged me like I couldn’t have imagined. It really put life into perspective and brought about peace that I had not felt in a long time. But then we get back to reality and have to face the world and we fall back into old habits and hangups.

As I mentioned in my last post, my psychiatrist told me to just ‘get over’ this little, ‘mild’ bipolar problem of mine. So I decided, skrew you, I will do exactly that. Which also means that I won’t see you again and not that it really matters, but you will lose my money so HA. I did give it an actual try though. My meds were working in their higher doses and I felt fine. So I decided no psychiatrists, support groups, blogs, forums, no nothing. Just taking my pills morning and night without thinking about it. And it actually worked, sort of. I really wasn’t giving much thought to this little ‘like high blood pressure’ problem of mine. I would talk about it freely with those who asked, but in a detached manner, like it was just something part of my past.

So I was almost two months in with this and it worked pretty well. In the meantime I met a very nice man, who it then didn’t work out with (men hey…). But shame, it’s not his fault that I’m depressed now. Maybe just a little bit. But I think it started a week or so before we broke up. Today I was extremely irritated and even a bit bitchy. I had one of those days where you just want to lash out and scream. And while I was lying in the bath tonight, while I was actually suppose to be at a dance lesson, it hit me. I am depressed. Not suicidally depressed, but it’s definitely there lurking underneath the surface. And I realised it’s been 3 to 4 weeks. And I wasn’t surprised as it seems like my period of calm is two months. It never lasts longer than that. Being older and wiser and being better at recognising things for what they are, instead of thinking it’s all in my head, I can now see some of my early signs of depression, which I will gladly share with y’alls.

The conversations in my head sound roughly like this:

  • ‘I am so bored. My work is so totally unstimulating, I can do it in my sleep.’ Followed by job searches.
  • ‘Once <insert event here> is over, I’m going to start tapering off my meds. I don’t FEEL anything anymore’.
  • ‘I have become such a boring person. Where is my sense of humour?’ (misses hypomania)
  • ‘Why bother getting up early when no one even cares if I’m an hour late for work.’
  • ‘There is a fat man standing on my chest.’
  • ‘I know it’s not really true but today it feels like life isn’t worth living’.
  • ‘Chocolate! I need chocolate!’
  • ‘I’m so fat!’
  • ‘Fuck I hate pms! This is the worse in my entire life!’ Followed by the realisation that I will only be having pms in a week or two.
  • ‘Take me back to the clinic where I can sleep all day and people feed me.’ Followed by looking at the clinic’s website and reminiscing.

Other signs include:

  • Easily sleeping 12 hours, being awake for about 7, and then sleeping another 12.
  • Drinking to get drunk.
  • Throwing all my good quit smoking resolutions out the door.
  • Being permanently irritated with my colleagues (but in my defense, some of them are chronically annoying)
  • Spending most of my time either watching series or staring at the roof.
  • Feeling like I have achieved nothing in my life and that I will die alone.
  • Guiltily stuffing my face, in a way that feels like I’m punishing myself.
  • Not showering over weekends.
  • Having unreasonable fits of rage or feeling like a friend/family member is out to get me or hurting me on purpose.
  • Obsessively worrying about something or someone.
  • Being totally unreasonable in general.

You get all those websites that list a bunch of symptoms about sleep and appetite and not enjoying things, but what I have listed above is what it FEELS like. The practicalities of it.

Luckily I have caught myself before things got out of hand. As always when I go through some kind of mood episode, I’m almost crippled by the thought that it isn’t the first and it won’t be the last. And frustrated that the medication that worked so well a few weeks ago has seemingly stopped working. And of course the horror of imagining riding out a depressive episode.

But chin up! This is still quite manageable. I compiled a shortlist of psychiatrists to research and luckily there is a support group next week. I don’t feel it, because I feel nothing but dread and horror, but cognitively I know that I can be proud of myself for spotting the signs early.

A history of the Madhouse documentary

I watched this BBC documentary today called A history of the Madhouse. Be warned that it is not for the sensitive viewer and if you don’t know much about the history of asylums and the treatments they performed, you might be quite shocked and horrified. I was, even with my limited knowledge. Dorms with 32 beds, every inch of the place locked up, padded sound proof cells, abuse by nurses, early forms of ECTs with no anesthesia, insulin treatment, lobotomies. The poor crazies (and actually not so crazies) at the time really got it in the 30s to 50s especially. Some went in for one week of observation and only left 5 years, 20, 30 years later. Locked up and isolated from the world. Most of these people weren’t even mentally ill, just unwanted or problematic. Patients were not seen as people but as research projects. Many died from lobotomies and insulin treatment that sent them into comas to ‘reset’ their brains. We look back on these treatments and regard them as barbaric. Others, like a more refined form of ECT and Lithium, are still used today. Some of us owe our lives to the poor people who were subjected to these atrocities year after year.

I think of the private clinic that I frequented and cannot even imagine how it must have been to be locked up in an asylum. Margaret Thatcher can be thanked for them finally being closed in Britain. Problem was, the community care everyone was raving about didn’t really work since most of these poor people didn’t have a vocation or basic life skills. Many of them ended up on the streets or at the Salvation Army, which I suppose is better than the streets at least. Thatcher’s plan was to destigmatise mental illness, to have society view it as illness rather than madness. How she must be turning in her grave to see that these prejudices still exist world wide.

The documentary made me wonder, will some of the treatments that we are subjected to today also be viewed as barbaric 50, 70 years from now? Will people be appalled about how we’ve been medicating our lives away just to function within society’s norms? Or will what is done now be considered as ground breaking, pathing the the way for more specific and sophisticated treatment? I know that some research is being done at the Mayo Clinic about isolating genes and then determining your exact bipolar type so that treatment can be tailored for you needs. But how long is this going to take? Another 50 years? We can only hope that it’s sooner, since those of us with mental health issues are not having such a bloody good time of it.

There is hope, I suppose, one never knows. In the meantime I am extremely grateful to the people who had to subjected to life threatening and debilitating treatment like lab rats, so that I can sleep a bit sounder, or function a bit better.

The bipolar roller coaster

A friend of mine who also suffers from bipolar disorder recently got an absolutely gorgeous tattoo of a roller coaster on her back (of which I am extremely jealous). (She also writes a blog definitely worth reading and much more eloquent and witty than my own) I just realised again today what an appropriate symbol of bipolar disorder a roller coaster is. Just three days ago, and for two or three weeks before that, I was in a completely state of self destruction and hysteria, mixed up with some calm for blissful half hours here and there. I honestly didn’t know how I was going to make it out the other side. The walls around me were not caving in, I was actually pushing them out, and I didn’t know how to stop myself.

What had brought me there? Switching anti-psychotics? Family drama? Recovering from my grandfather’s death? Work pressure? Romantic disappointment?  Probably all of the above to some degree. Especially since it all happened more or less at the same time. And today, not three days after a long series of gut wrenching mini-meltdowns, barely picking myself up each time, I seem to have turned a corner. I had a beautiful calm day, hanging out with friends, going to the beach with the dogs and having pizza and wine. I’m chilled. It was a good day. I didn’t even have to take an Alzam (for anxiety).

So what brought about this turning point in the epic roller coaster that is my bipolar life? The higher doses of Geodon (anti-psychotic) and Epitec (mood stabiliser) kicking in? The calming effect that the Alzams have had on me over the last few days? Getting a good 12 hours of chemically induced sleep last night? Reevaluating my life and realising things were getting out of hand? Having people pray for me? Trying to channel my energy constructively instead of destructively (I even wrote a song!)? Probably all of the above to some degree.

That’s what makes it so tough, isn’t it? Trying to isolate the variables is useless. There is no real knowing what causes what and what different things will trigger or what will bring you back from the edge. When I went off Seroquel and onto Geodon I was extremely hypomanic for about a week. I went away with friends and they kept saying that they’d never seen me that happy. It was true, I was having the weekend of my life. The weekend after that, I had a family weekend and stayed up until dawn two nights in a row. But what goes up most come down (except for Jesus, as my Sunday school teacher friend pointed out), or sideways, or upside down, or through a tunnel, or to some extreme state, if your roller coaster is a bipolar one.

I’ve always known that I just have to ride it out. It becomes the difference between yourself and suicide, the knowledge that it will pass eventually. What I’ve learned this time is that I CAN ride it out, with the right medication, rest, and support from people who understand and/or who care about me. People who just let me be a pretty fucked up version of myself without judging me. I don’t think it will ever be easy. It’s an illness after all, and a pretty terrible one, lets be real. It’s not suppose to be easy. But what I realise when I go through this ever so often is that I am stronger than I even know. I could probably rule a small country by myself. Be it by the grace of God or sheer willpower, I am a ninja, and every time I come back and kick life’s ass, I can confidently give it the finger and say ‘there, you lost again sucker!’ That doesn’t mean that it won’t take some time for me to nurse my wounds and recover emotionally from this ride to the depths of darkness and back. My soul, and my pride, is a bit bruised. After all, I hate roller coasters.