A New Day

Depression is a funny thing when you have bipolar. One day you can barely get out of bed and then suddenly, one day you are feeling better…

That has been my experience the last few weeks. I could barely pry myself out of bed every morning and at last it feels as though the veil has been lifted from my eyes. Things seem uplifting and I am feeling a more positive outlook.

The question lies– is there something I did? Did I fix this? Or did I just hang in there and pass through another phase of depression?

I would like to think it was something I did. All of the hoping, wishing, praying… But it is just the way our brains work. Suddenly I don’t hate everyone and being around people is tolerable. I even look forward to seeing some people every day. I don’t feel like I need to think about death or fear what is in my future. The burdens of life become light and I become the warrior I know I am that can defeat this all!

My hope for all of you is that when you go through your bad days, it is just a bad day. Not a bad week, or a bad month. Not a depression you can’t pull out of. It’s hard to hold on, but it’s always worth it.

-A

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America 2016

A found poem; adapted from America by Allen Ginsberg
America I've given you all two dollars and twenty seven cents
Human war? Go fuck yourself
I can't stand your libraries full of tears
I don't feel good, your machinery is too much for me.
Don't bother me. I won't write my poem till I'm sick of your insane 
      demands.
I'm trying to settle this argument
my obsession made me want to be a saint.
When will you be angelic?
I'm in my right mind. My own mind.
Will you look at yourself
when will you be worthy?

-A December 5, 2016

The Waiting Game

Trying to work through things can be tough. Like, really tough. It is hard to find any inspiration when you lack motivation. I like that people try to say the right things or make you feel better by telling you, “Things will get better.”

I spend so much time wondering… Will things get better? I have been waiting for what seems like forever. I don’t enjoy anything I used to love. The only thing or people that are any good are people who I hate less than everyone else.

Sorry I don’t have anything more uplifting or logical today. Praying for things to get better.

-A

Taking a Moment

Taking a Moment

This week, I decided to make an attempt in spontaneity and go camping with a friend in the desert. Don’t let the picture fool you! Sun does not equal warmth. It was highs in the mid-50s and lows in the low to mid-30s. As we huddled around the fire trying not to freeze to death, I found myself practicing some mindfulness as my thoughts started to wander to all the things that have been weighing on me.

Mindfulness is a funny thing. We hear about it, we talk about, and I think it means something different for everyone. To me, being mindful is about really being present in a given moment–accepting all the things that are and are not–whether or not we want to be in that moment.

I found myself being mindful of our situation: two women chose to go to the desert and camp for the night. A friend had made a joke, “Have fun pretending you are homeless!” and this joke came to me as I stared into the fire. Even though I was not particularly enjoying myself, we still had it better than homeless people. We chose to drive out here and do this. We have food and beverages. We have a fire to keep us warm. Most importantly, we had homes to return to when we were done. I have an amazing boyfriend who works his butt off to provide for us. I have two awesome dogs that love me to pieces. I have a warm bed and blankets; a house with central heating; warm clothes… These are all things I never really think about.

I often find myself trying to be mindful and the burdens of my stress push this awareness out of the way. In this moment, I was truly able to be present and to gain awareness of all the amazing things I have in my life that I take for granted every day! This is not including all the other things I have: career, car, money, technology, etc. I just never am able to find space in my mind to give it a second thought.

So while this camping trip did not change my mind about camping–I still hate it–it gave me perspective. I truly got to think of these little things in a different way than I usually consider them. In the midst of my week dealing with anhedonia, I really needed that. I needed to find joy and awe in these little things that I take for granted every day.

After almost freezing to death over night, we pushed west towards home. I was actually happy to see the city, the businesses, and even the people. When I got home, nothing had ever felt better than those warm blankets on my skin… And while I was thankful to be warm, I was even more grateful for the mindfulness experience I had the night before that allowed me to truly appreciate the moment.

-A

The Sad-less

The Sad-less

In my endless internet research on various mental health topics, I recently found an article on Huffington Post that talked about how one could have depression without actually feeling sad. This struck a chord with me because often I feel “depressed” in the essence of the word, as in something is simply holding me back, without the sense of sadness that we are conditioned to think accompanies depression.

Anyways, as I have mentioned before, mental illness manifests itself differently from person to person. The article pointed out:

To have a diagnosable ‘major depressive disorder’ (sometimes called ‘clinical depression’), you must have at least one of two particular symptoms– called ‘cardinal’ symptoms. Deep sadness (‘depressed mood’) is one of the two cardinal symptoms. The other is called ‘anhedonia’ (Greek for ‘without pleasure’), which means not taking pleasure in pretty much anything, even in things that used to give you pleasure– your work, your hobbies, your grandchildren, your friends, etc.

I mentioned this to my boyfriend; recently in a disagreement, I was called out for not being able to show happiness for a truly victorious moment in his life. A moment, was I not in the midst of my depression, that I would celebrate. I found myself giving the scripted reaction: I know what the appropriate response should be, so I offered that. But my boyfriend, being the intuitive person he is, was quick to point out that my response was not genuine. Which brings us back here.

My own depression manifests itself in this way. I know when good things are happening and I often scramble to find the appropriate conditioned response that I have developed over the last 28 years. More often than not, my responses are not genuine. I know I should be happy for the person so I say, “I am so happy for you!” or “That’s so awesome!” When really, I do not feel any such thing. When the external stimulus does not match my internal response, I know something is going on in my head.

Anhedonia manifests itself in multiple ways as well. In addition to not being able to feel this genuine happiness for others (including myself), I find myself unable to make decisions. Simply put, nothing sounds good. Favorite TV program? Seen it. Favorite activity? Done it. Take the dogs out? That might mean interacting with others (something I have an extreme aversion to in my depression). Favorite food? Not really anything special. In the words of the article, I become “bored to death.”

Indecision and weight fluctuation root themselves in my anhedonia. I find it hard to make decisions because nothing sounds interesting; I fear I will pick the decision no one else will like (and while people do not interest me much, their opinion of me does). I find it hard to eat properly because no food sounds good, even foods I previously loved. Instead I binge on what is around, mostly because it all tastes the same anyways.

So what is the solution for this? No medication offers a quick cure for anhedonia. Antidepressants are dangerous to people (such as me) who have bipolar disorder. Antipsychotics repress mania, but can actually cause anhedonia as a side effect. Recent studies are actually finding that ketamine (known recreationally as “Special K”) can help to treat anhedonia, but since ketamine has a high abuse potential, many more studies must be done before dosing and releasing it as a feasible form of treatment.

To answer my own question, there is no quick solution. For my own sanity, I still seek pleasure in the things I enjoyed before: a movie, a video game, a walk with my dogs, a trip to the beach. Some of these things find a renewed joy in me– especially those things that do not force interactions with others. Most of these things are stymied by my indecisiveness. I guess as long as we are willing to try, we are not truly lost to our depression.

Please leave any comments below. -A

To current day

My life has changed a lot– mostly for the better– since I received proper diagnosis in October. I think of it almost as being diagnosed for the first time. I have received various diagnoses for the past sixteen years: Bipolar, Major Depressive, Intermittent Explosive, Borderline, Generalized Anxiety. As one might imagine, this plethora of diagnoses and the medications prescribed for them put me on a wild ride for many years. I had completely sworn off medications when I was younger, but when I received this diagnosis and I realized my symptoms, I knew it was time for help.

Nevertheless, the diagnosis hit me hard. Imagine living the only life you knew to be true only to find out that it was not really your life at all. All of my favorite characteristics of my personality were now suspects of Bipolar. My passionate emotions that I deemed as empathy? Really irritability of hypomania and sadness of depression. My extroverted times? Increased need for sociability from hypomania. My introverted times? Withdrawal from usual activities rooted in depression. My general apathy? Anhedonia. What did it leave for me?

Between October 2016 and now, not much has changed in that way. I am not sure what feelings actually belong to me and what feelings are caused by my disorder. The intensity of my emotions trigger a rational fear that hypomania or depression are coming back for me again. I complain to my therapist, quite frequently, that the depression I experienced then took something from me. Something I cannot explain. Despite not feeling so depressed, I find it hard to seek the positive in any situation and the things that should make me happy, often make me question their reality. I still find myself wanting to lay in bed listening to Radiohead on repeat. The depression that almost hospitalized me, made me take time away from work, and (in some ways) saved my relationship, left a dark cloud hanging over my head.

This blog is dedicated to the people who are helping me work through this. Being bipolar isn’t a bad day, month, or year. It is a constant uphill battle trying to find out who I am and separate that from the years and years that my symptoms have spent intertwining themselves with my  persona. Writing has always helped me to think, so this blog is my way of sorting these things out.

-A

What is Bipolar?

According to the International Bipolar Foundation website, Bipolar Disorder is a mood disorder characterized by “dramatic mood swings” and “severe changes in energy and behavior” that are referred to episodes of mania and depression.

Symptoms of mania include

  • Increased energy, activity, and restlessness
  • Excessively high, or euphoric mood
  • Extreme irritability
  • Racing thoughts, increased speech, talking very fast, jumping from one idea to another
  • Easily distracted
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Unrealistic beliefs in an individual’s abilities or powers (Grandiose)
  • Poor judgment
  • Increased high-risk behavior: spending sprees, self-medicating, drug and alcohol abuse
  • Hypersexuality
  • Provocative, intrusive, or aggressive behavior
  • Denial that anything is wrong
  • Psychosis, resulting in hospitalization

Symptoms of depression include

  • Decreased or increased appetite
  • Weight gain or weight loss
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia (sleeping too little or too much)
  • Nervousness, worry
  • Loss of interest in usual activities (anhedonia)
  • Withdrawal from usual activities
  • Feelings of sadness that don’t go away (dysthymia)
  • Irritability or restlessness
  • Fatigue or lack of energy
  • Feelings of sadness, worthlessness or guilt
  • Inability to think or concentrate
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Chronic pain or other physical problems that don’t respond to treatment

Bipolar 1 vs. Bipolar 2

It is important to note a couple of things here. First, everybody’s symptoms manifest differently. I know my agitation and irritability make me a generally unpleasant person to be around; I wake up with that “wrong side of the bed” feeling, but instead of it going away, it sticks with me for days, or sometimes weeks.

Secondly, not everyone with Bipolar experiences psychosis. Many websites refer to “milder” manic symptoms without psychosis; this is referred  to as hypomania.

Bipolar 1 is defined by manic episodes that last at least 7 days, or by manic symptoms so severe they require hospitalization. Depression also occurs, usually lasting at least two weeks. Mixed episodes (episodes with both depressive and manic features) can also occur.

Bipolar 2 is defined by a pattern of depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes, but not the full blown mania listed above. Hypomanic episodes can last as little as four days and depressive episodes as little as a week.

There are other categories for Bipolar Disorder, including Cyclothymia (otherwise known as rapid-cycling) or “Not Otherwise Specified.” For all intents and purposes, my blog will focus on Bipolar 1 and 2. Personally, I have never experienced episodes of psychosis and I have never required hospitalization. This categorizes me as Bipolar 2.