Overwhelmed by Good Ideas

 

I subscribe to an online newsletter and print magazine called “BP Hope”, for people with Bipolar illness. It has some wonderful articles about how to maintain your equilibrium in times of chaos, of which there are many in my life. I usually find solace there and some helpful tips on how to better live my life and to stay stable with my ups and downs. So I was a bit surprised to have such a strongly negative reaction to the posts I read when I sat down to catch up some past issues yesterday. I read a few dozen blogs and articles. (Yes, I was being obsessive…) They all had good ideas. But they burned me out! By the time I was done I was feeling like shit for my inability to carry out all these good ideas. It was just too much for me.

I try so hard to be sane and stable and work assiduously to keep a good attitude about life and love and all the rest. But I’m very sensitive to criticism, and tho these articles certainly weren’t meant to be taken as such, I took them that way. While I was reading all these good ideas I gradually fell into a deep hole of depression that stuck with me for the rest of the day. Not terrible, but still awful, because it called into question all my good intentions. Just because I still haven’t “gotten there” yet I think I’ve failed. I think this even after being diagnosed with BP-I for over 22 years and being “stable” for the last 2 years or so. Shouldn’t I know better by now? I guess not, judging by my reactions to these articles. “Stable” is a relative term…

Yeah, I know I’m being too hard on myself. It goes with the territory sometimes. I agreed with most of the ideas I read about, and I do a lot of them a lot of the time, but there were still so many others that I haven’t mastered yet it made me feel like none of it was valid. It goes that way on occasion. It’s a classic CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) sort of situation. I’m falling into the trap of all or nothing thinking that has plagued me for my whole life. I know better, but I still fall for it. I can’t always change my thoughts the way I need to, and I think I should be able to. I am superman after all, aren’t I?

We sometimes say of people with Bipolar that we’re the piece of shit the world revolves around. Boy, does that fit me to a “T”. There’s way too much of the piece of shit part in me, but here I’m manifesting the other pole, where I think I’m a god and should be able to do everything I want to. I can’t. None of us can. It’s classic BP grandiosity, and it sucks. I doubt that I’m the only one who does this sort of thing. In fact it’s pretty common for people living with a mental illness that causes our brains to misfire and go to places they don’t need to go, just because we encounter something that challenges our perceived sense of self. I get that challenge a lot. Mostly I’m fine with it and I try to take it as constructive criticism, or maybe just good intentions meant to help me survive. But then I go and try to do Everything I read about so as to be perfect. It’s ridiculous I know, but there it is.

What I’m learning from this, again, is that I have to take it easy, and not try to engorge a whole bunch of information in one sitting. It’s way too much and I can’t handle it all. I need to take it in smaller doses and absorb it thoroughly before I jump onto the next good thing. I do that a lot and I do try to control it, but sometimes I’m not very good at it. I’m so impulsive – another classic BP trait. I need to slow myself down. I’m clearly a bit hypomanic in the way I approach life all too often. I rush into things and don’t think of the consequences. It’s so typical I’m almost ashamed to say it, but I’m not alone. It’s all part of the BP syndrome after all and we all fall for it at times.

Overdoing things is a big issue for me. I’m currently struggling with the pain of a bad back spasm I got from too much gardening. I’ve been hurting for a week now and it’s all because I didn’t stop when I should have. It’s a bad pattern of mine and I need to adjust it. It’s the same thing I did with my reading. I just think I can handle way too much more than I realistically can. And it hurts me in so many ways – physically, mentally and emotionally. But it shouldn’t drive me into depression just because I overdo it. It doesn’t help me at all to beat myself up. So just stop it Steve! Uh huh… Right…..

We all need to be more careful of ourselves. We’re fragile beings and need to be gentle with how we treat our bodies, minds and emotions. I’m just one example of a person with Bipolar going to extremes. It’s the nature of the illness, but we don’t have to let it control us. I know I can do better, without thinking I’m all special for doing it, tho that’s hard. We have to keep trying. Eventually we might get a clue and even improve our lives. That’s my plan. I just hope I can stick to it. This time…

Be at peace,

Steve

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A Chronically Discontent Manic Depressive

I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in late 1994 and I’ve had 22 some years to study and learn about this illness. I’ve learned a lot. I read books and magazines all the time and I search the internet. I’ve learned how to dance with this disorder pretty well, especially since last year when I was put on a new mix of medications. I’m doing much better. In fact I feel pretty stable for the first time since my diagnosis. It’s still hard, but at least I have a clue as to what’s possibly coming down the line towards me. My brain is different than it used to be and it’s taken some getting used to, but I’m getting there.

Last year I was also given the diagnoses of PTSD and Dysthymia. I’ve been studying about how these disorders affect me since then, and again I’ve learned a lot. But it’s still new, and I don’t know as much as I need to. I recently read a book called “The Half Empty Heart”, by Alan Downs, PhD. It’s all about Dysthymia, or what he calls Chronic Discontent, and man I can relate all too well to this description. It’s also called low grade depression because it’s always there and never really goes away. You’re in a low state of depression basically all the time. It cycles some but mostly it’s just there, underlying all your actions and thoughts. I read this book a few years ago and it intrigued me, but I didn’t have the diagnosis yet so I just thought about the subject and how it affected me. But since I’ve been diagnosed with it and know more I can see that it’s affected me my whole life. I’ve learned a lot more reading it this time.

One of the main things that people with Chronic discontent deal with is a tendency to emotionally and physically withdraw from stressful or difficult situations. It’s a hallmark of the syndrome in fact. And it’s one of the hardest symptoms to handle. There are exercises in the book that are intended to help you overcome this, but I haven’t gotten too far in that. But I have read enough to know that withdrawal has been a constant theme in my life, since I was a young child in fact, right up to today. When things get too hard for me, instead of trying to work it out I often tend to just disappear and run away from the hard stuff. I can’t tell you how many people and situations I’ve abandoned in my life. Dozens at the least. I’m not happy about this, in fact I’m totally ashamed of myself. That’s a big part of the symptomology too. Experiencing shame is the way we live our lives, based on perspectives we developed when we were very young. We just don’t feel like we’re OK as human beings deep inside of ourselves.

A shame based life is filled with regret and unfulfilled promise. We respond to life as tho we feel we aren’t as good as the people we interact with, and so we self-sabotage many of our relationships. We often are left with no one to call friends any more. That’s my situation. I’ve left so many people that there are just a few left. As I get older this is a big problem. And I don’t have a clue how to overcome it. It’s buried so deep in my pysche and I’m so terrified of changing it that it informs most of my decisions. It might as well be who I am. But it’s not. I still refuse to be defined by my diagnoses, but it’s hard not to be. I’ve always been ashamed of who I am, despite all the good things I’ve done in my life. It’s like they don’t matter and all I can see are my failures and abandonments. This has been true for as long as I can remember, even as a small child. In fact that’s where it started I’m sure.

I don’t mean to blame anyone for this, but it seems clear to me that this began in my childhood, and of course that means that my parents were at the root of the situation. I had wonderful parents and they loved me so much. They were happy to have me, but I was so sickly that they severely overprotected me and I grew up believing that I was too much an invalid to do too many things. This despite the fact that they also told me I could succeed at anything I tried, and I so often did. But the shame I developed over that time lives on today. Back then it was an undefined feeling that I was inferior to other people. I still feel that way. I know that both my parents suffered from low self esteem and I’m sure that it translated into my psyche at a young age. How could it not? Again I don’t blame them. They were just living their lives the best they could after all. But I never talked to them about this before they both died. Now I can’t ever deal with it with them and it’s up to me to overcome it alone. It hurts my heart because I love them so much and yet they left me with such a painful legacy.

The title of this book – the Half Empty Heart – is very powerful to me. It’s a hard thing to face but it’s the way it seems to be. We tend to look at life as a glass half empty instead of half full. And in that we fail to take care of our hearts. It’s very painful when the reckoning comes around and you see all that you’ve lost thru your lack of action, or actions you’ve taken to escape. It seems like every time I begin to have a good life and accomplish something, I sabotage it somehow and end up with nothing left. This is a common experience for people with chronic discontent. We stop ourselves before we’ve even given ourselves a chance to succeed. I’ve so often declined to even begin something because I was sure it was doomed to failure. It’s not that I lack courage. I just don’t have the faith in myself.

But here’s where the mix of diagnoses comes into play. Having Bipolar disorder means that you may cycle constantly and can be up or down depending on your current mood. When you’re “Up” you feel on top of the world and I think that because I’ve lived so much of my life in hypo/mania – the good stuff feelings – that it overcame a lot of my chronic discontent and allowed me to do more than I might have otherwise done. I couldn’t help but feel good about myself, even if it was based in mania and not reality, it still felt good and I believed it was real, so it was. In a strange way I feel lucky to have both of these illnesses together. I think that life would have been much worse for me if I’d just been chronically discontent, or just manic. I probably wouldn’t be here by now I suspect. I think that having those up times of bipolar mania allowed me to distance myself from the bad feelings and I had the courage to do all kinds of outrageous things that nurtured me and kept me happy despite the low grade depression I still felt deep inside. It was a strange mix, and it still is.

The other side of it is that the dysthymia often kept me from displaying florid manias to other people because I was too ashamed to “act out” and embarrass myself. I so often hid my horrible feelings of distress deep inside so that no one could tell that I was experiencing such difficult emotions. In some way I feel that this saved me a lot of heart ache because I never got “caught out” with my Bipolar until I was old enough to make better sense of it than I would have in my younger days. If I’d been diagnosed with it in my teens, as most people with BP are, I would never have accomplished half of what I did do. So the two diagnoses have worked in tandem to help form my life as it is now. Not great perhaps, but I’m not in a hospital (tho I have been) and I’m not dead (tho I’ve tried to be). But I haven’t been that successful in my life either. Depends on how you gauge it. I’ve done good things but I never made much money, and that’s how we judge success in our culture. So I feel like a failure even while I revel in my good works. It’s a weird way to live I guess but it’s what I know and have done. And I suspect there are others who have similar experiences.

I hope I don’t seem to be complaining about any of this. I assure you I’m not. I get it that I’m the one responsible for my actions and ways of being in the world. I’m not making excuses. I’m the one who bailed on my friends and communities in my chronic discontent, and I’m the one who was manic and did great things while I was too. I find it fascinating to try to embrace these two different illnesses. And I haven’t even touched on the PTSD. I could write a whole post just on that. All these diagnoses work together for me, sometimes in helpful ways, as I’ve described, sometimes in terrible ways too. I’m still working on the challenges of having these disorders and sometimes I think I’m even making progress. I hope I am anyway. Life is too hard for me too often, but it’s also so beautiful. I’m a lucky guy actually. I have a wonderful man who loves me to death and I have a home and good food to eat, and so much more. I even have good health, despite these disorders. So take all this as a discussion of how one can manage to live with these challenges and how I personally have dealt with them. At least it makes some sense to me…

If any of this resonates for you too – there is help. Go find it!

Steve

5th Annual World Bipolar Day

Today is the fifth-annual World Bipolar Day, an annual global campaign to raise awareness about bipolar disorder and eliminate social stigma.

Events will be held in communities of all sizes, and online. Look to the bp Magazine for Bipolar Facebook community for promotions all day. Also check out the World Bipolar Day’s Facebook page, where people are encouraged to post photos and videos with the hashtags #WorldBipolarDay and #BipolarStrong.

Increasing sensitivity toward all mental health challenges is critical. World Bipolar Day is a collaboration between the Asian Network of Bipolar Disorder (ANBD), the International Bipolar Foundation (IBPF), and the International Society for Bipolar Disorders (ISBD).

It is celebrated every year on March 30, the birthday of artist Vincent van Gogh (born in 1853). The post-Impressionist painter is one of the most famous figures in the art world. His work is known for its beauty and emotion and while he influenced 20th-century art, he remained virtually unknown and poor during his life. Van Gogh died by suicide at the age of 37 after struggling with psychotic episodes during the last two years of his extraordinary life. He was posthumously diagnosed as probably having bipolar disorder. He is still considered one of the greatest Dutch painters of all time.

Van Gogh’s story is a strong reminder of the importance of raising awareness and breaking the stigma that holds people back from seeking a diagnosis and receiving effective treatment. World Bipolar Day goals include dispelling myths; raising awareness about signs, symptoms better drug treatments; sharing resources and healthy living techniques; and encouraging more investigations about possible biological causes.

It’s important to stay hopeful and determined, and World Bipolar Day is the perfect opportunity to help improve sensitivity towards it—and spread hope—letting people know it is a common, treatable condition.

If you have Bipolar Disorder today is the day to talk about it. With your friends, neighbors, co-workers and family. It’s not easy to do this but it’s so necessary. Only by being out and upfront about our lives can we ever hope to erase the stigma still associated with this horrid disorder.

They say that 15% of people diagnosed with Biplolar type I (that’s me) will end up killing themselves at some point in their lives. I tried to end my life when I was 29 and I’m so glad I failed at that. Life has been hard since then but it’s still worth working to get better and make a difference.

I wish you the best in your journey with Bipolar and hope that you can come out to at least one person today. It’ll make a difference and you’ll feel good about yourself! Your life matters!

Ending Stigma, one life at a time,

Steve

This article is excerpted from BpHope Magazine and all rights are theirs.

Cycling While Stable

I wrote a blog post last November on my 67th birthday about how I thought I was doing much better since I’ve been on a mood stabilzer that actually works. It’s been about a year now that I’ve felt this relative stability, but lately I’ve been looking back at my behavior over the last few months and I realize that I’ve actually been cycling thru hypomania and depression quite a bit more than I realized at the time. Impulsivity is the biggest and most problematic issue for me. But obsessive thinking is a close second. The two go together for me too often and I make a fool of myself in situations where I should know better.

Over spending is another one that’s gotten me lately. Impulsive again, and obsessive. These are all symptoms of Bipolar illness and apparently I’ve been experiencing them frequently. I didn’t really see what I was doing at the time but at some point I realized it and I stopped it, or tried to. But I still act too impulsively and without proper forethought. It drives me crazy and embarrasses the hell out of me. I say things or write things in emails that are out of line with my sense of self, and I portray myself in ways I’d rather not. I can’t seem to stop blurting things out that make me look and feel stupid, both in print and in interactions in real life. I attribute this mostly to the hypomania but I see there’s a clear element of depression in there too.

I guess I’m in a mild mixed state, where I experience both the highs and the lows that are the hallmarks of manic depression. I go there when I see the effects of my hypomania and it upsets me, so I get depressed. Then I feel better and act out stupidly again. Then I get depressed. Then…. You get it… It’s a vicious cycle. I have a diagnosis of Dysthymia as well as Bipolar type 1 and PTSD. Dysthymia is a constant state of low grade depression, and I can see that it’s an appropriate diagnosis for me because I feel a bit “down” almost all of the time. I’m not really sick but I’m sad and feeling the loss of the vitality that the hypomania brings.

I’m a bit disconcerted by all this. It makes me realize once again that I’ll always cycle thru these emotions, maybe more easily at times than others, but they’ll always be there, up and down, again and again, even when I’m “stable”. It sometimes feels like a bleak future for me, but I refuse to accept that it’s going to define my life as I get older. At times it feels like I don’t have enough time left to get it right, but then I see that I really have all the time I need and I can do it if I just keep trying. I’m still pretty young after all, and people do amazing things in their 60’s and 70’s and well beyond that.

I have a lifetime of experience that tells me that, tho I’ll still cycle much of the time, I’ll also have relatively calm periods when I just feel OK. During these times I can assess my actions and behaviors and make decisions to act less impulsively and obsessively. I can learn to think things thru more thoroughly before I act or speak. Seeing these aspects of my personality lately has given me an impetus to renew my commitment to taking better care of myself, more consciously. I already think of myself as a conscious person, but obviously I don’t always live up to these expectations of myself.

I’m continually learning to cut myself some slack for my failures. It’s a big part of healing for me. I still hate myself for the slightest misstep, and beat myself up mercilessly. Suicidal ideation is not that far away at times, tho thankfully it’s not the problem it used to be. It’s a hard thing to experience as frequently as I have in the past. It’s too often been the default setting for my negative emotions when I screw up and it’s very hard to uproot it from my consciousness. Now I’ll still feel bad about myself, but usually not so much that I want to die.

In fact I want to live, and live well. So I’ll keep trying to moderate my moods and be more aware of them as they cycle back and forth thru my consciousness. It can be a blurry line between accepting responsibility for my actions and recognizing that the manic depression has “pushed’ me in certain directions that are not in my best interests. I think I’m getting better at seeing these differences all the time. After all I just caught myself for the ways I’ve been blowing it recently. This gives me hope that I can actually keep doing it. All I have to do is stay aware of my thinking, and treat myself with gentle loving care, the way I try to treat other people. It’ll be a big challenge, but I think I can do it.

Cycling consciously,

Steve

Hypersexuality

This started out as a comment I made on the BP Hope website for an article about Hypersexuality. I liked what I’d written so much I thought I’d expand it and turn it into a post for Naked Nerves. It’s the kind of exploration I want to present in these pages. It’s an honest discussion of certain aspects of sexuality, so be prepared for some frank language about sex, tho nothing too outrageous given our current cultural standards.

First I think we need a bit of an introduction to the subject here. Not many people realize what hypersexuality is, so we’ll start there. Simply put, it’s a strongly heightened desire for sex, all kinds of sex, without concern for the consequences. It’s an overwhelming drive, thirst and urge for sexual experience, and it’s almost impossible to resist it. It’s a significant part of having Bipolar Disorder, which is why the discussion in BP Hope was written. People in general don’t talk about it much, and even folks with BP don’t often do it with our Psychiatrists and therapists, but we do amongst oursleves. People who have BP are usually willing, tho maybe uncomfortable, to be open and honest about it, but it seems to embarass the professionals, as most talk of sex does in our puritanical culture. It can be great fun to feel so incredibly sexual, but more often it can ruin lives and cause scandals and infidelities, failed marriages and relationships, and broken hearts all around, to say the least.

Hypersexuality can be at the heart of it all. People may screw around too much and with people they shouldn’t be with. Office/work romances, casual hook-ups with strangers, sex with people they previously thought of only as friends – which may destroy the friendship – every sort of sexual expression people can have with each other can be affected. It’s an almost impossible urge to ignore, it’s very persistent and it can totally overwhelm your good judgement with its intensity. You just Have to go have sex! Lots of it! All the time! Consequences don’t count. It doesn’t matter at the moment if it’s risky or may hurt someone else – that’s the farthest thing from your mind. All that counts is the urge to fuck, and to fuck a lot.

I’m not trying to write a treatise here, but more of a story about my own expriences with it. I suspect many of you with Bipolar will recognize yourselves in my stories. I hope you do, and that there are some useful insights to gain from what I have to say, whether you’re Bipolar or not. It affects other people too of course, not just folks with BP. Sometimes people call it sex addiction, but that’s not quite the same. It’s more of a sexual compulsion. It’s most common in people with BP while in a manic state, but it doesn’t have to be full blown mania. It can just be a very strong “push” you feel to be sexual at any time, and I do mean any time. Here’s what that’s been like for me:

I’m a 67 year old gay man and I’ve been hypersexual for as long as I can remember, even back in my childhood. I first started playing with myself sexually around age 4 or 5, maybe younger. I recall being on the couch with my mom around then and stroking myself and her getting upset, saying it was wrong and dirty. Great first lesson in sex, eh? But I kept it up, sometimes doing it so much I caused my dick to bleed. I was obsessed. I had my first orgasm in the shower at age 8. I had no idea what had happened but it felt so incredibly good. I told my friends at school about it and said it felt like going to the bathroom all over! They thought I was weird. Little did they know!!

I had my first real sex with a cousin my age at 11, with our parents in the living room and us in the bedroom. Even then I recognized the thrill and the danger of getting caught, but I didn’t care because it felt so good. We sucked each other and I came in his mouth – he didn’t and was very confused. But I reveled in the sensations. Wow!!! I guess I was mean, only into my own satisfaction, not that that excuses it. But I was just a horny kid and I wanted it so much I just didn’t care. As time went on I became involved in a compulsive sexual “relationship” with a boy my age for about 8 or 9 years thru my teens. I got all the sex I wanted, and I wanted a lot. We did it all the time. Then I read in the encyclopedia that sodomy and fellatio were “bad” and that scared me, but it didn’t stop me, so it was always a closely guarded, guilty secret. I finally lost my heterosexual virginity to a woman at age 19 and thru my 20’s was serially monogamous with several women. I had lots of sex, sometimes with men too, and I masturbated a lot as well. I was always horny. I’d have sex with anyone who’d want me, male or female.

That got more extreme when I came out at 29 and into the gay scene in the late 70’s/early 80’s. I had lots of sex, both with boyfriends and cruising in the parks and bathrooms – highly risky, but who cared? Not me. Sex parties, groups, orgies, running naked thru the parks – I loved it all, and eventually figured out I’d had anonymous sex with hundreds of other guys over the years. I just thought it was a part of gay life and since everyone else was doing it too it didn’t seem abnormal. It was just a part of our lives – it was no big deal. Of course at first this was in the early days of AIDS, so I didn’t let anyone fuck me without a condom after 1984, until I met my life-partner. Tho very hypersexual, I was aware enough to be safe. Not everyone is so smart, or lucky. Even now at this “advanced” age I’m still horny all the time, sometimes even more so when depressed, and watching porn and masturbating and fucking as much as I can. I’m also a Scorpio, the sign that governs the genitals, and some would say that has a lot to do with how I am, but who knows for sure? I just know who and what I am now, and I believe being Bipolar has always been the most of it, even when I was a kid, given other behaviors I exhibited back then.

I’d always been depressed a lot in my life but I really “lived” in hypomania, with a few real manic experiences as well, but I didn’t know what it all meant. I was terrified of Psychiatry and I certainly didn’t know I was Bipolar. Even when I tried suicide at age 29 they said it was “just” depression. A familiar story for many of us, I know. Then at age 44 I crashed and burned really bad and was finally diagnosed with BPII, rapid cycling, mixed states. Later that was changed to BipolarI and PTSD, where it stands now. I had a few hospitalizations along the way, and after the last one I was so hyped up and so sexual I felt like it radiated it out my eyes. Walking down the street I was cruising everyone I met, and they cruised me back. I was so high on sex it almost hurt. That night I called a friend and asked him to come fuck me silly. He did. I couldn’t help myself. Not what the doctors had in mind when they released me I’m sure!

When I first explored Bipolar and read about hypersexuality I thought “this is me!” It fit me so well. I was so turned on so much of the time and masturbated so frequently, often many times a day if I could. I went for 20 years without a partner but I still “cruised” for sex a lot, even tho it was way risky, but I never got caught. I felt so invincible you see – grandiosity to the max! I felt “pushed” to spend hours seeking sexual encounters – always have felt that push, still do. Hypo/Mania anyone?? But I began to wonder if it was really OK to do it so much. I worried about myself and wondered if I’d ever find a real partner who was like I was. I wasn’t very stable at all with the BP during those 20 some years and tried tons of meds to try to get OK. It was a long, hard slog and most of the meds made me sick or crazy, and they didn’t work. Then things changed.

When I was 57 I met a man who was also my age who I fell deeply in love with. We met online on Gay.com and gradully got to know one another thru emails. Then when we finally met we were naked and in bed together in 5 minutes, I kid you not! I’d finally found my mate!! Nowadays we have sex a lot, and occasionally invite a third guy in to share our magic with us. We’re both highly sexed, but he’s not BP at all. Very stable in fact, and I wouldn’t call him hypersexual. He’s just into sex a lot, but appropriately, unlike some of my experiences. And for the last year I’ve finally found a good mix of meds and I’m pretty stable with my Bipolar Disorder too, mostly, with an episode here and there, now and then. And I’m still hypersexual.

I still jerk off a lot, as does he, and it doesn’t interfere with our sex lives at all. I like to watch porn sometimes too – it’s fun and it gets me off. I still have manic rushes of hypersexuality, much of the time in fact. I’m so used to it I mostly just revel in it, but sometimes my cock takes over my mind and I get way too sexual, obsessing about it all the time. I get caught up far too much in the search for more sex, even tho my partner and I have a great sex life. But the yearning is just a difficult thing for me sometimes, not a danger to myself or anyone else, like it has been in the past. I’m still HIV negative, and I intend to stay that way. We play safe.

I’m know I’m one of the lucky ones – I never really ruined my life with my sexual escapades, though I know I’ve hurt people, which I deeply regret. Mostly it’s been a fun journey which I’d never want to change. I’m more careful now, and have been for many years, since I was diagnosed and began the search to understand my condition. I still cycle thru depression and mania, and I often struggle with hypersexuality, but I’m pretty much OK with it all. That’s good enough for me…

I realize I’ve never really told this whole story to anyone. It feels good to talk about it so openly. Hope I didn’t freak anyone out too much. And remember – this is about my experiences – your mileage may vary… Thanks for reading.

Too Sexy Steve

I Think I’m Doing OK Now…

But I’m not totally convinced.  I seem to be on a much more level plane then I’ve been on for the last 20 some years, if not my whole life, I’m not sure.  My past before being diagnosed with Bipolar 23 years ago last week was so different.  (see “I Was A Different Person Then”).  I won’t go into all that because I did so already.  But things are different now, again, in a new way.  Earlier this year I was put on Lamictal  (Lamotrigine), a mood stabilizer, in addition to Abilify (Aripiprazole), Wellbutrin (Bupropion), Buspar  (Buspirone) and Klonopin (Clonazapam).  For the first time ever, a medication has actually changed my life.  I still spend some time in depression, but it’s mostly not that bad and I can usually overcome it with CBT  and smart thinking and action.  And I’m not too high either, tho I did try to get off 13 years of Abilify a few months ago (it makes me shake terribly and I hate it) and I had a really bad reaction, so bad I thought I was going to lose it completely.  It was the closest to real mania I’ve come in years.  So I went back on the drug and I’ve been OK since then.  (I had my Psychiatrist’s permission and support to quit, BTW).

I remember telling my counselor at the time that I was struggling with this new reality, because I didn’t know who I was anymore if I wasn’t depressed all the time.  I still feel that way, and it’s actually pushed me back into depression several times since then.  Weird.  You’d think I’d be totally at peace with this and be happy for myself.  But it’s not that easy to change a lifetime of such inbred patterns of thinking and behaving.  I Was depression in the past and it was my total life.  It was hard on me, and on the people I loved around me.  I could stop it occasionally, but not totally, and I suffered with it a lot.  It was my daily reality and it informed all my decisions and actions way too much.  I was scared all the time and afraid of being caught out as a loser.  Too much fear is paralyzing and I was often paralyzed.  I still am to some extent but not nearly so much.  I am better now.

I’m gradually learning to accept and revel in the “new” me.  I just had a counseling session with my new counselor and he asked me to do a narrative of my life – positive and negative.  I found myself listing tons of positive things about my life, but not that many negative ones.   A total surprise to me.  In the past it would have been much more tilted the other way towards extreme negativity.  When I’m depressed it’s all I can see, and it’s the same way with being OK I guess.  I Am my emotions way too much and if I’m doing well I think l’ve always done well, despite the memories of the failures and awfulness of depression. When I’m depressed it’s the opposite and it’s all I can see and feel.

Staying balanced is a real struggle for me even now.  But I can do it most of the time.  I’m amazed, but still frightened by the new me.  I still don’t know how to interact or be with people very well.  I still fall back into the old patterns of depression if I don’t keep up my guard all the time.  But I have real support in my partner Louie, and with my friends, my counselor and psychiatrist and other health care folks.  So I think maybe I can do this.  I sure do hope so, tho hope can be a trap too if you’re not careful.  Just ask a student of Buddhism.  Today is my 67th birthday and perhaps it’s the start of a new reality for me.  A truly new year of life.  I think it could be and I’m trying to believe so much that I can pull it off.  I have a lot of faith in myself these days, and it’s not based in my usual hypomania, but in reality for a change.  Plus I’m older and wiser now.  I understand myself, and life in general, much better.  Staying real and giving it time are my current mantras.  Maybe I really am doing OK now…  Time will tell.

peace,  Steve

Opiates!!!

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I got home from the University of Washington Pain Management Clinic a little while ago. I’d been sent there by my new doctor who wanted a review of my condition so she could treat me appropriately. It was an interesting experience. We went thru the usual tests of range of motion, gait analysis, mobility of limbs, needle pricks to see if I felt the sharpness (I did) and so forth. Nothing new from this testing and no new information about what was going on with me. But I did gain some important new knowledge.

I learned that the brilliant legislators in Washington State have decreed that no one shall be allowed more than 120 mgs. of opiates a day. Period. No discussion, no rebuttal, no recourse. This is a bit of a problem for me, you see, because for the last dozen years or more I’ve  been taking close to 300 mgs of Morphine as well as 15-20mgs of Dilaudid (Hydromorphone) a day. Imagine my surprise when they told me this. I was not shocked, because I know what the climate of the country is like these days around opiates. I was expecting something, but nothing this extreme. I mean they wanted to cut me back over 1/2 of what I’ve been taking for Years! Fuck!!!

Part of me wants to go down to Olympia and break the legs of every (probably Republican) legislator who voted for this draconian measure and leave them in pain forever while they beg for some relief. After all, that’s what I’ll be doing pretty soon – begging for relief – as soon as they drop me down to the 120 mgs. I’m now allowed. Sigh. I have what’s called Chronic Intractable Pain, so called because it’s constant, severe, disabling, and causes detectable changes in your heart rate, blood pressure, etc, and if it’s not treated it ends in death. Yep, a fun diagnosis for sure. I’m lovin’ it myself… I can function, but I’m always in pain and if I do much of anything it spikes so that I have to take some dilaudid for breakthrough pain. It helps a lot but it doesn’t make it go away completely.

I’d changed docs from the one I’d been seeing for 13 years because he stopped prescribing opiates. He never asked me to pee in a cup during that whole time because he trusted me not to mess with my meds, and I never have. Why would I? It’s Stupid! But the new doc at the UW clinic requires me to do that so that they can see if I’m honest. I am, and soon they’ll learn that, if they can keep treating me that is. I dunno if they will or not. Most doctors won’t touch me with the proverbial 10 foot pole. I sure hope the UW helps me or else I’ll be so sick I’ll be in the hospital for withdrawal symptoms. I mean 300 mgs a day is a Lot of morphine, let alone the dilaudid.

I understand that people are freaked out by the rising epidemic of opiate deaths due to mis-used pain medication. I feel badly about this. After all, addiction is a disease, and maybe they can’t help themselves. But a part of me is furious at them and at the politicians who seek to make headlines with new laws to keep people like me from getting the medicine they need to live a good life. Before I got the opiates I was a mess – I fit the portrait of Chronic Intractable Pain I described above. I spent a lot of time resting and I didn’t do a lot because I hurt too much. I still hurt, even with the meds. What will I do without my usual dose? I’m freaking out here!

No, I’m not – yet. I’m trying to stay calm. After all it’s only been a few months that I’ve felt relatively stable with my Bipolar Disorder. I’m not out of the woods yet and I still get suicidal and all, but I’m doing better than I have in ages. So imagine what this will do to my mood. Pain and mood are inextricably intertwined and if I hurt I often get depressed, and vice versa. It’s a vicious circle and I’m trapped in it for life. I’m not playing victim here – it’s just my reality. I do my best to live with it and I do pretty well, now – but what about 6 months from now? Where will I be then?

I hate that because some people overdose on opiates and die that the country is overreacting so severely as to limit what pain patients truly need to be OK. Obviously none of these politicians lives with severe chronic pain. If they did maybe they’d have some compassion for us. I’m angry at them and at the ones who abuse the opiates I need for survival, thus keeping them from me. The old rotten apple syndrome for sure. I never get”high” from these meds. I’m just in less pain is all. So for them to take my medicine away because some people do get high is totally unjust and wrong. Just because a few people screw it up for the rest of us is no excuse for this travesty. I’ll be writing my  congressperson soon, you can bet on it. Not that it’ll  do any good, but maybe I’ll feel like I’m doing something to change things that are so wrong. It’s an overwhelming feeling to be in this position.

I’m 65 now, and I’ve been living with chronic pain since I was 25. That’s a long time to live in pain. I hate it. But I have a good life because of the opiates that keep me functional and not in so much pain. I can live my life as I choose to. Maybe I don’t deserve to, I dunno. But that’s my depression talking. I do deserve to be OK and not suffer so much. We All deserve that. But the politicians who want to control our every breath don’t give a shit, and they make the laws so I have obey them. I’ll go along, because I HAVE NO CHOICE!! Such is life, eh?

Pissed off royally,

Steve

I Was A Different Person Then…

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I used to think of myself as a competent person. I started my first business in my early 20’s and created several more over the years, ending with a non-profit Healing Arts Center I founded in 1991. I thought I’d found my place in the world and would be working at it for the rest of my life. But it didn’t work out that way. I finally got “caught out” and had the worst breakdown in my life at 44. I was diagnosed with Bipolar and was forced to take a hard look at my life. What I found was that I hadn’t really  been as competent all my life as I’d thought. I was just Hypo/manic.

I don’t mean to say I never accomplished anything good. I did some good community service work and created some beautiful landscapes and gardens. But it was my headspace that messed me up. I’d thought I was good at what I did, and I guess I sorta was. I got by anyway, mostly by being a good bullshitter. I was good at projecting competence, even when it wasn’t real, as so often happened. People accepted me for who I said I was and who I pretended to be. I was good at it.

Now I look back at the work I did and see how much of it was fueled by mania or sometimes just hypomania. I doubt I ever had any real competence at all, tho I knew enough to get by, as I said. I was a con man, tho I never would have said I was or thought it at all. I always thought I was doing good work and helping to make the world a better place. And I did. But the cost was enormous. And not just to me. I cringe when I think of some of the gardens I planted that weren’t as good as they should have been. People live with my mistakes even now. It drives me nuts.

I know that hiding ourselves is a big part of being Bipolar. (Having bipolar?? – whatever…) A lot of us hide who we really are because we somehow know we’re not quite “right”, even tho we don’t know what’s wrong at the time. I always thought I was just a high energy, hyper person who was very creative and able to do amazing things that other people couldn’t do. I was a bright sparkly light in the darkness at times and I relished it so much. But there was a darker energy lurking just under the surface.

It didn’t stop me tho. I did a lot of good stuff and created some amazing entities. I did so much that was wonderful and I thought I was a pretty neat guy for doing it. I transformed the places I worked at. And the ones I started myself were unique and treasured. I got lots of compliments and good strokes on what a good role model I was for striking out on my own and creating good things for my community. It made me high I’ll admit. Too high sometimes… And we know where that can go don’t we?? Whoa!

I’ve always been a rapid cycler, tho I didn’t know that’s what it was of course. I’d do a big job and then I’d crash and burn for awhile and then I’d get it back together and try again. And the damn same thing again, and again, and again. What a mess! Those down times were awful, often going clear down to suicidal ideation and one time going even farther when I tried to off myself. A bit extreme but it fit my life at the time. Luckily I got caught – but not diagnosed correctly of course – not for years…

I have a diagnosis now – several of them fact. BP I, PTSD, Dysthymia, Chronic Intractable Pain, and more I won’t go into. It’s been 20 plus years since I got that initial Dx of BP and in that time I’ve been mostly a mess so that I really couldn’t function too well. I lived in public housing for over a decade until I met Louie and moved into his home. I’m lucky now but I wasn’t always so lucky. I’ve had to accept that who I am now is Not who I used to be. I just can’t pull it off anymore, and maybe that’s a good thing.

I think I’m more real now than I’ve ever been. More true to who I really am. But those hypo/manias are a thing of the past for the most part. I still get too high/angry sometimes and have to down myself with drugs, but mostly I’m more depressed than manic and stay at a low level of energy and interaction. I’m doing some volunteer work for the city right now and I try to keep something of a social life, tho I lost most of my friends when I had the breakdown and afterwards. But that’s mostly OK. I miss having more friends, but the ones I have are good ones.

I’m still a decent guy I think. I try to live a good life and not mess the world up too much. In fact I try to help it when I can. I garden a lot and teach people about trees and the like. But I’m so much more cautious now. I’m so scared that I’ll screw up again like I did so often in the past. I’m afraid most of the time in fact. That old Impending Doom thing so many of us have. It’s so debilitating at times I can’t even function. I walk carefully through the world these days.

It really does make life more difficult and I look forward to the day I heal from this attitude I have now that nothing I ever did was really real or that I was real myself. I know that can’t be true but it sure feels like it. Those damn feelings again. Not rational at all, but so overwhelming that you can’t ignore them and it feels like they’re all there is to life. I get caught in this so much. I’m afraid to even act much of the time for fear I’ll blow it. I’m not like I used to be at all really, when I had so much courage and self confidence to do such incredible things. I miss that.

That guy is gone and good riddance. He was a braggart and a poseur and a con artist and I’m none of those things in my heart. I’m not who I used to be tho I still have a core of Self that will always be inviolate and that will keep me OK forever, I hope. It’s real now, not some false mania or hyper action that I jump into without thinking of the consequences. I may still do that and I sure still make mistakes, but I feel like they’re really my own now and not some unreal thing I manufactured to get by and get ahead without knowing the results completely. I understand more now.

Yes, I was a different person then. A good one but not always solid and real and true to myself. I was so confident and I miss that confidence a lot. But was it real confidence or just mental illness? I guess it was a little of both, but I think it was tilted toward the illness. Now that I know what I’m dealing with I can do it better. I can’t always control my life, but I try hard and I try to be as real as possible. It seems to be working to some extent and I’m in better shape than I have been in a long time now. So I’m glad I’m different, but I miss the highs and the bravado and most of all the self confidence.

I’ll just have to get used to it, eh?

Steve

Is it Mania or Just Anger?

I’ve been struggling with some emotions that are too raw and close to the surface lately and I’m worried about my reactions to things. I seem to be on a hair thin trigger these days and my anger levels are right below the surface. I know that the current political landscape, in particular the race for president, is affecting me greatly. But it’s more that that, and I wonder whats going on? It seems worse since I got on this current regimen of Wellbutrin and I wonder if this is one of the subtle hints of fracturing that I’ve experienced before on it, but in more obvious degrees. It’s confusing.

I read an interesting article on mania and anger the other day. A leading psychiatrist here in Seattle said that it was wise to beware of labeling anger as mania in Bipolar disorder because it was more often caused by substance abuse. It’s an interesting theory. I’ve not been diagnosed with substance abuse, but I’ve smoked pot since I was in high school – some 50 years now- so obviously some would say that’s my issue. But I’ve always used it carefully and now it’s strictly medical and I smoke it sparingly. My psychiatrist doesn’t mind and my counselor and ND both suggested I use it. So I don’t put much stock into this notion myself. Denial? Maybe, but I think not…

I believe that it’s more than just that. It’s dreadfully close to wrecking me. It Feels like mania, not just anger. And it’s too sharp and too intense and takes me over so much that even little bits of angst can throw me into a fit of rage where I seriously want to hurt someone or myself or destroy the world. Typical, I guess, but it’s no fun at all. Not like the bright sparkly hypo-manias I’ve had so often in life that inspire me to do good work in the world. This is a destructive mania and I’m afraid of it.

I haven’t had a lot of florid manias in my life. Mostly they’ve been long term experiences where I entered into lands uncharted and tried new things that haven’t been done before. Like creating an innovative non-profit healing arts center with my credit cards, working myself to the bone and finally ending up in bankruptcy and disability. I had a Vision you see but I couldn’t see the whole picture and I ended up in disgrace and struggling with it’s futility. It hurt me badly. It was a 4 year manic episode. And no one even noticed, because I hadn’t been diagnosed yet.

Most of my manias haven’t been that obvious to other people. But they have still been filled with lots of anger and rage, thru my whole life. I can remember times when I was a kid that I would explode in rages that terrified my little brother and caused my parents to label me with ADD as an adult. They told me my anger was palpable and horrible when I was young and had those fits of rage. Sounds like the beginnings of Manic Depression to me, eh? I was a horrible little child I think, tho no one in my family is alive to tell me how bad it really was. I can’t remember much about it but I know I wasn’t a bad kid per se, just angry and unpredictable.

So back to my proposal here. Given my experiences in my life I can’t say what is causing me to be so angry these days. I know I can’t discount the situation in the world. It really does affect me. I’m super empathic and I feel the suffering of others deeply. It hurts me. It also makes me mad. This is a problem and I haven’t figured out what to do about it yet. I hope I can keep it under control but I dunno. I haven’t broken anything or slit my wrists, which I’ve wanted to do many times. I haven’t exploded at Louie or any of my friends. And I actually haven’t hurt myself, except with my thinking, which is bad enough.

I try to calm myself down when I feel this anger growing but it’s very hard to do. I often have to resort to drugs and take some Klonopin, or when it’s really bad, some Abilify, that will knock me on my ass and put me totally out of it. At least it’s better than the rage but it wastes me and I don’t  really like that. But it’s better than the anger for sure. If I don’t know where it comes from and what to do to stop it I can at least alleviate it some and that’s good for me. I also use CBT to tell myself to Stop It! But that doesn’t always work out too well. I’m often too far gone, unless I catch it early. Sometime I can, but not always.

I think this is a bit of a manic response to situations that I can’t control and that cause me distress to the point where I crack up and lose it. Or is it just anger? I’m still confused. It’s been there so long, but then maybe I’m just an angry person. I don’t think so tho. No one I know would ever call me that. But I would. I feel it so much. Sometimes I know that my anger is invigorating and it helps me come out of my depressions really well. But this stuff is out of bounds and isn’t connected to reality. It’s troubling. I’m at a loss as to what to do besides trying to just live with it and try my best to deal with it safely for myself and others. So far, so good. Maybe it doesn’t matter what it is, maybe what counts is dealing with it well. Sounds good to me…

How’s Your anger level?

Steve

Rebirth

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It’s been almost two years since I wrote a blog post here. It seems both shorter and longer than that. I just re-read some of my posts and comments from the past and saw that in one comment I said I was just about to start with a new Psychiatrist. I did that, and man, has it made a difference! I was with my old one for about 12 years and in that time she almost never actually started a conversation with me. She was OK mostly, but she was an old school therapist and had the attitude that her silence was helpful. I didn’t find it that way and I finally got tired of it and quit seeing her. I’m so glad I did.

My new Psychiatrist is also a woman but she’s much younger and more in touch with the current thinking on Bipolar and meds and what to do about it all. I’ve got new diagnoses – Bipolar Type I (I’d been Type II for years, supposedly), PTSD and Dysthymia. Of course the DSM says you can’t be dx’d with both BP and Dysthymia, but who cares? They both fit me, as does the PTSD, tho I’m no soldier and my traumas are of a different type and order than combat shock. But they still haunt me and cause me significant distress.

I don’t want to talk about distress today tho. I want to talk about the fact that I’m actually in much better shape than I was 2 years ago when I started this new regimen. It’s taken some time, and some of that was awful. I tried new meds that landed me on the floor with horrific reactions. I often get that when I try new drugs. They usually make me crazy because I get too high a dose. As happened some of time until I got thru to her that I needed to start Real slow. So we started me on 75 mgs of Wellbutrin along with my Abilify, Klonopin, Buspar and Ritalin. We “very” slowly took me up to 450 and things never got crazy at all. In fact they even got better.

Wellbutrin is often known as the “Happy, Horny, Skinny” pill. Well, none of that has been that true for me, unfortunately. I could stand to lose a couple of pounds and my libido could definitely use some tickling since my Prostate cancer several years ago. But what I really wanted was the Happy part. In a way I’ve gotten that, and I’m not so suicidal so much these days. It’s still a threat but not too often and I can usually get out of it in time. I talk to Louie and he tells me I’m OK, and that he loves me, and boy does that help. He’s my personal savior at those times and I rely on him a lot to help keep me OK.

But mostly I have to do it myself, as do we all. I’ve learned so much in the last 20 some years since I was first diagnosed. My life is so much simpler than it has ever been. I live a quiet life with Louie in our home and garden, with a few friends and family to keep me socialized, along with some volunteer work. I have my rituals, like walking in the garden every morning to say Hi to the plants and get some blood flowing in my limbs and brain. (See my blog “Gardening in Greenwood” for more on the Gardens…) I also do some exercises and keep a good book on hand for when I can’t stop the negative thinking and need to go into some other person’s head for awhile. It works, when I can get myself to do it…

I still beat myself up too much but I keep trying to quit that. I use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy a lot to stop those thoughts that get away from me and start to ruin my day. It can happen so damn fast it floors me. So not everything is all rosy and perfect. It never will be and I know that. It’s a circular journey with BP and it alway comes around again despite whatever you do it seems. But still it’s not so bad when it comes screaming down the line at me now. I have chemicals in my brain that help offset the noise and fury. I guess they actually help, tho it’s been so long in coming I half don’t believe it. I’ve tried Soooo many drugs…

I’ve also realized that being happy might not be the best goal I can have for myself after all. I find contentment and peace far superior these days. It’s not that I’m unhappy that much, tho I am sometimes. But I look at life a bit differently now and try my best to stay in the present with my feelings and emotions and I think my Emotional IQ has gone up a few points over this last bit of time. I’ve always done a lot of education with myself on my illnesses and that’s been a great help to me. But being less invested in being happy all the time has allowed me to rest a bit in simple calmness.

I’m not usually that calm – who is when they have BP? But I try to stay chill, and it’s working often enough that I feel like I may actually be in some sort of recovery. I kind of feel uncomfortable saying that because of that mostly constant feeling of impending doom I still have, but I’ll risk it here and see how it goes. I know I can pass most of the time despite my illnesses and that’s good, for the most part. Sometimes I wish people could see what’s going on with me, but that doesn’t happen unless I lose it, and I try not to do that so it’s still hidden. That’s why I called this blog Naked Nerves of course. I may be better, but my next post may say what hell life is, because those nerves are still naked…. even in Rebirth.

And so it goes,

Steve