Tag Archive: mania


Experiment


I underwent an experiment over the last few weeks.  I tried to taper off my lithium, mostly because I didn’t like its side effects.  Mostly things like big muscle twitching and vision impairment.  It sucked not to be able to read a book, and it really sucked to be using a mouse and have my hand freak out and decide it needed to click things I didn’t want it to, or to bang the keyboard randomly.  Riding a stationary bike?  Straight out.  Karate?  Not much better.

Then there were the memory issues.  I couldn’t remember a goddamned thing.  I could watch an entire tv show and not remember anything about it.  Fun times.  Never mind tv shows, what about my life?  My daughter?  Memories are what make a human life.  Without them, what’s the point of living?  It was like I had gone full circle around suicide back to a place where I couldn’t see what the point of living was anymore.  Something was terribly amiss.  A quick check over at Crazy Boards told me I wasn’t on the wrong track: there were many people over there who absolutely refused to take lithium for the exact same reasons.

So I asked my psych nurse what to do and he suggested slowly tapering off until I was only on my other drug that is supposed to balance my moods, etc.  So I did that, very slowly, over several weeks.  I got crankier and crankier the closer I got to zero.  600mg seemed to be okay.  I figured out that I really needed to take at least some dose of lithium when I had a couple of days that were just awful.  I was terrible to the people I love most, and I felt horrible.  I added lithium back in and took some Ativan to mitigate my horrible feelings and to make me sleep.

This really upset me.  I had really wanted to be off that particular drug.  It was a purely psychological reaction to have so many different things to take.  I wanted to be off at least one of them, and if I could be off that one, maybe it meant I wasn’t so bipolar as we had all thought.  But I was.  I really was, or am.  And I had to grapple mightily with my desire not to be like my mother, who was bipolar and an awful person.

But in a way, making that realization and staying on at least a small dose makes me NOT like her, because realizing she needed help and needed to stay on her meds was something that she could never do.  She was always too proud to stay on them, telling herself that she could push through any trouble herself, she didn’t need any drugs’ or doctors’ help.  And that clearly wasn’t true.

I have bipolar illness.  I am not bipolar.  That is, I have a disorder, rather than being the disorder.  It’s tough to make that distinction.  I imagine it is for other people as well, especially ones who really don’t know anything about it.  And if I have this disorder, I must take my meds, just like a diabetic.  Granted, I have far more medicines than the average diabetic, but we’re talking about the human brain here.  It has a lot of convolutions, and if I need to take several meds in order to address those convolutions, well then so be it.  I imagine those meds will change a lot over the years as we figure out what works and what doesn’t.

But what absolutely does NOT work is denial.  I can’t tell myself that I can stop taking this stuff after a while.  I’ll always have a little army of brown bottles that are my friends twice a day.  I can’t escape that, not if I want a normal life.  Other things may mitigate that little army, but they’ll always be there in some form.

Part of me is asking myself why in Heaven’s name I have chosen to write about these things in a public blog.  After all, most folks with a mental illness don’t decide to wave their flag high and proud.  They hide it as much as possible.  That’s why: I’m not a hiding person when it comes to something important to me.  And this particular important thing is subject to a lot of prejudice and misunderstanding.  Perhaps waving my flag will help end that prejudice and misunderstanding that seems to be attached to bipolar, depression, mania, suicide, mental illness and its medications, so on and so forth.  People speak freely of other physical maladies they suffer from: MS, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, cancer, etc.  Why not these?  Afraid we’re going to snap and go Hannibal Lecter on your ass?  Not likely.  So chill, and read, and hopefully learn something.

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Anhedonia


Cover of "The Wall"

Cover of The Wall

From the Greek ‘an-‘ meaning against or not, and ‘-hedone’, meaning pleasure.  Therefore, a lack of pleasure.  One of the hallmarks of depression.  Not to mention something I’ve been suffering from to one degree or another for months (years?) now.  Really, I can’t tell how long anymore.  When was the last time I was truly happy and enjoying my life?  I don’t know.

I define happiness as an overall contentment that makes a person pleased when they wake up in the morning and eager to get out of bed to meet the day’s challenges, whatever they may be.  Those challenges are not met with anxiety but with fervor and gusto.  Episodes of unhappiness or down feelings are fleeting and do not last long, unless something big like a death has occurred.  A happy person has things that they work on that make them feel fulfilled, whether it’s their job or their home or doing the New York Times crossword puzzle for the day.  It doesn’t matter what it is.

I’m missing these things, and I can’t tell anymore if it’s because of my brain chemistry or because the inherent elements of my life are no longer fulfilling or pleasing.  Worse, it’s entirely possible that my brain chemistry causes me to think that the inherent elements of my life are no longer fulfilling or pleasing.  Like a horrible trick is being played on me from inside my head.

Then the shoulds come marching in, like Pink Floyd’s hammers in The Wall.  I understand that double-album so intimately now, from end to end.  I get it in a way I really wish I didn’t.  But there they are, those hammer-like shoulds.  You should be happy because you have a beautiful family.  You should be happy because you live in a great city.  You should be happy because you have great friends.  You should be happy because you have so much freedom.  You should be happy because your husband takes such good care of you and makes sure you have what you need.  You should be happy for a billion reasons that you must be ignoring or else you’d be happy, and therefore you should feel bad because you are not happy.

The shoulds spiral around in an ever-tightening circle that inevitably leads back to me, laying the blame of everything in my life that should make me happy but doesn’t at my weary mental feet.  Guilt, shame, and blame: the staunch guardians left over from a childhood of watching the hammers beat down the other people surrounding me.

I would give anything to want to get up in the morning and to greet the day with enthusiasm about what it may bring, rather than weariness or fear.
I would give anything to go through my day with ease and contentment, addressing each task in a relaxed way that did not tense my body and mind.
I would give anything to deal with my family with a serenity that did not treat every problem as though it may be earth-shattering.
I would give anything to lay my head upon my pillow each night feeling good about the day, knowing that there was another one on the other side of my dreams.

I would give anything to be freed of this demon that has followed me for so many years and has only relented when I’ve been able to travel, have been in school, or have been in a position to have goals, dreams, and hopes bigger than myself.  Perhaps I have these things and I just can’t see them for whatever reason, and need to clean those shit-colored glasses I seem to find myself wearing so often.  Is this one of those places where it’s difficult to tell where I stop and where my illness begins?  If so, I truly hope the answer is found soon, as my tolerance for the medication dance is already wearing thin.  “Nope, that didn’t work, let’s try another one!”  This can go on for years for some people.  I’m not sure if I have the stamina for that.

In the meantime, I wait and tell the appropriate people when I’m feeling particular ways and try not to do too much damage along the way, to myself or anyone else.  And hope that I am bigger, stronger, and more patient than anhedonia.

Staring at the Sun


I’ve been having an issue since I first got diagnosed as having bipolar illness.  I didn’t know how to tell when I was being manic.  I understood hypomania: a sub-manic state that for most bipolar patients indicates something just above what the rest of humanity would just call “happy”.  Think of “happy” and then make it super productive and lacking a need for sleep.  This has been the part of my psyche most visible to my friends and family over the years, who have repeatedly and frequently remarked just how fucking much I can get done in a very short amount of time.  And not done shittily, either.  Done right.  I’ve been impressing employers with this ability since I was about 17 (about the same time that, in retrospect, I realize the mania kicked in).

That’s hypomania, and it’s one of the reasons it’s so hard to get bipolar people to stay on their damned meds.  Hypomania rocks.  Really, it’s hard to find anything bad to say about it.  Other than the fact that it almost inevitably leads to mania, or crashes you back into depression.  Still, until the last few weeks, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you when I was being manic.  Manic was just normal to me half the time.  Yesterday, while staring at the sunset in my backyard after a frenzy of gardening that I was having a hard time making myself stop doing, I got it.

I stood there in the dying glow of the Central Texas sun and had a mental conversation with my psych nurse about how I was feeling and whether or not I should give him a call (which I’m supposed to do before he goes on vacation this week anyway).  In my head I recalled one of the last things he said to me before our appointment was over, which was that it is extremely difficult for people like me, who grew up as the only stable member of the household, to fucking ask for help.  We’re simply too used to doing everything ourselves and just don’t trust anyone.  Which is why, I’m guessing, that it took me until the age of almost 40 to do just that, ask for help.  So there I was, compulsively wandering around my backyard (which looks amazing, I might add), having a mental conversation with someone who was not there. I stopped in fear for a moment and suddenly realized: girl, you’re totally manic.  Seriously, hon, you’ve gone around.the.bend.

I stopped what I was doing and just stood there for a couple of minutes staring into the sunset that was far more colorful than it ought to have been for a normal person and let that sink in, along with the realization that, yes indeed, this has been happening regularly and cyclically for about 22 years.  It didn’t occur to me to think anything was wrong with it because it was just normal to me.  I don’t think I’ve ever felt crazier, for lack of a better word.  Then I had another mental conversation, with myself this time, about that last thing that we talked about: about asking for help.

I couldn’t do it.  I have carte blanche to call this man 24/7 as long as he’s in the country, and I could NOT dial the phone.  Now, I realize that just having a mental conversation isn’t reason enough to judge myself as being manic, but there were many more indicators.  It’s one thing to imagine talking with someone about something; it’s quite another to practically be there in your head.  It’s one thing to watch the sunset; it’s quite another to be painfully aware of the colors and sounds, almost like taking LSD.  It’s one thing to be working on a project; it’s quite another to be so energized that even when the project is done, you’re still scrounging for something to do.

I’m not sure if these are things that will even out the longer I’m on my various meds (I’m up to four now), and as I was detailing in my previous post “I Get It Now“, I’m not entirely sure I want them to, because as much as I dislike feeling nutty, I dislike feeling nothing even more.  And maybe that’s why I didn’t make that phone call.  Maybe I’m afraid of what all that means: things I’m too anxious to share even here, where I seem to feel almost zero inhibition at sharing my life with the world.

I’m also aware I have a history of being more anxious about things than is necessary.  I may be doing just fine, but I wouldn’t know since I lack the context and perspective I need, and can only get if I make a phone call.


I haven’t had a whole lot to say since my last post about being oversaturated, understandably.  Plus, I’ve just been busy.  I proudly work at my karate dojo and have been trying to catch up on the hours I lost last month to my various doctor appointments and medication adjustment issues.  I can easily say my karate family has been a very important part of me being as healthy as possible lately, and I don’t just mean physically.  Unrelatedly but not unappreciatively, I was rewarded with a new (to me) computer to work on, which always rocks.  🙂

It’s also prime gardening time here in Central Texas.  If there’s a rush hour of gardening in these parts, it’s now.  Particularly if you like tomatoes.  They have to be started indoors and then put in the ground as soon as the last freeze passes.  Any later and you risk not having any at all because the summer heat kills the blossoms (mind you, summer starts in May around these parts some years).  Consequently, every nursery and garden is a flurry of activity right now.

I guess you could say I’ve been doing the “chop wood, carry water” bit and just going about my life.  In fact, it’s felt a bit plain.  As I was thinking about it earlier, it struck me that this may be some of the “flatness” that a lot of people with bipolar illness complain about.  It’s a dangerous flatness, one that makes people go off their meds.  That way, as they say, lies madness.

This gives me a great deal of pause, because I don’t like the flatness.  And as soon as I talk to my new psychiatric nurse, I’m going to tell him that, because I’d rather not be one of those bipolar patients.  The ones who go off their meds only to flip out and have to go back on them.  Sometimes forcibly.  I really, really, really don’t want to be one of  those people (if for no reason other than the age old “dear Lord don’t let me be like my mother” baggage so many women have, bipolar or not).

I get it now.  I so totally and completely understand why some people decide to throw the meds in the trash so their life can be the kaleidoscopic landscape of mental color that it can be sometimes.  It’s intoxicating and makes you completely forget the times you’re in a hole so black no light gets in, or are so agitated you really can’t control yourself even if you want to.  Life on meds, in comparison to the near delirium and incredibly creativity and productivity of a hypomanic or manic state, can seem lifeless and dull, almost unbearably so, ironically.  It’s this sort of attitude that is probably what often causes people around us to get a little disgusted.  After all, it’s really just regular life that you’re disparaging as being pedantic or boring or useless or just too goddamned slow.  It’s all yet another reminder that you don’t think like everyone else does.

As much as I dislike the flatness (which may in fact have some remedies), I dislike more the extremes in mood fluctuation.  I still have them, though not as severely.  Really, the height of each peak and the depth of each trough are progressively lower and higher, respectively, the more time goes on.  Which is not to say I am not still occasionally gripped by a frustrated agitation that makes me cycle between murderous rage, pathetic weeping, suicidal despair, and exhausted melancholia.  I prefer the latter state of mind, really, because it means whatever cycle I’m in is over, for the moment anyway.

Until that happens, though, my thoughts in these cycles often frighten me, and I am struck with the horrible irony that in my parents’ suicides, I learned firsthand the aftermath that follows such a terrible thing, and as such seem to be blocked by my own personal morals from even contemplating my own end beyond natural causes in far old age.  I know there are many friends who are worried about me, so I try not to go too long between posts.  Thanks to the internet though, I’m never too far away.

I still hold out hope for that magic place between dark despair, crazed productivity, agitated madness, and flat apathy.  Truly, there has to be a place that allows for balance.  If there isn’t, and I have to choose a bit of moodiness by altering or removing meds to avoid that flatness, then that’s my choice, but only to a point of course.  I’d rather have more color in my life, even if they’re awash in darkness on occasion, than live in a world of emotional taupe.

For now, though, my job is still to try to wrangle as much stability out of my schedule as possible and to fall into healthier patterns of living.  I can’t tell you how frustrating this process is.  Sometimes all I can do is simply track my moods and behaviors from day to day, which has its usefulness in that the more time goes on, the more I can predict how I might be feeling from day to day.  That’s actually extremely valuable, because if I know it’s going to be a shitty day, I can try to avoid stressors.  Someday I hope to have as little fluctuation as possible while still feeling like a “colorful” person.  Until then, I am still my own experiment and as such, I am still collecting data.

I get it now, though.  I get a lot.  And I don’t like a lot of it.

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