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

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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

Robin Williams – Too Sad

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I’m very sad again today. Yesterday I heard that Robin Williams had committed suicide. I’m having a hard time with this. He was my age and according to many observations he suffered from Bipolar Disorder like me, tho apparently he himself never said as much from what I’ve read. But he sure acted like it didn’t he? I was always amazed at his frenetic energy and classic manic behavior in his routines and films. He was a comic and dramatic genius as an actor and a kind and generous soul as a human being. I can’t even begin to say how much he gave to me and others throughout his life of such sorrow and joy. He did what so many of us do with this illness – he hid his struggles well, tho he was also very open about them, but he couldn’t hide it in the end. I already miss him so much.

This event is what is called a Trigger for many of us. It’s a situation that flips our emotions into a negative state that affects our ability to cope and stay OK. It pushes us towards whatever form of mental illness we carry with us and adds to our difficulties of staying well. Anytime I hear of someone who dies by their own hand due to the “push” of Bipolar it triggers me and affects me deeply, and this case is no different. In fact it’s a really hard one because of how he made me feel and how much I identified with him. Not that I’m a comic genius or anything. Far from it. But I related so well to his energy and compassion for the world. He did so much to make it a better place just by being himself. Like so many of us with Bipolar he used the impetus of the illness to fuel his comedy and dramatic turns on screen and TV. Like so many of us he also didn’t hide that energy from us, he reveled in it and I loved him for that.

Tho he never said he had Bipolar Disorder there are many who would look at his life and say it was obvious to us. I’m one of them I guess. Like his most famous mentor Johnathan Winters, who also suffered from Bipolar, he was a lightning rod for that incredible energy that made his work so real and so human. He embodied so many great character traits in his work and life and made the world so much better thru his presence. It’s being hard to write this as I keep crying, which I keep doing, and I can’t see thru the tears. It’s been like this ever since I heard about it. If I weren’t doing as well as I am right now myself this would push me into a depressive syndrome quite easily. Triggers do that. Just like what happened when my cousin’s wife died of Bipolar back in February. It really got me bad and I was so depressed for weeks after her death, tho she didn’t kill herself it turns out but mistakenly took the wrong meds and passed out and fell into a swimming pool and drowned. I feel the same way with hearing of Robin’s death. It’s triggering some bad emotions in me and I feel so sad and bereft.

You see I look at Robin’s life and how he was so very successful and how much money he had and the fame and acclaim that filled his life. And I wonder how if he lived with all that and more in his life and still couldn’t find a way to get thru it without killing himself, how will I ever do it myself? It scares the shit out of me. I look at him and see how easily it could be me there on the floor. I don’t have the resources he did, but I have good support, and tho he must have had it too, it wasn’t enough in the end. Will my support be enough for me? I wonder… Especially the fact that he and I are the same age and come from similar cultural backgrounds of coming up in the crazy 60’s and all affects me. It just feels too close to me and I fear for my well being. But as I said I’m doing well right now and am not prone to such depression at the moment so I think I’ll be OK. But it’s challenging and hard and I hate it. How will I be tomorrow? I really don’t know. Still sad I expect. Still filled with these difficult emotions.

I’m not going to write about all the films he was in or the things he did to help the world. You all know of most of those things and there are lots of articles out there now praising him and mourning his death. This is just a very personal response from me about his decision to end his life. I don’t blame him at all tho I’m so sorry he chose this path. But I’ve come too close to choosing it myself, in fact I have in the past and I still get close to it too often so it’s hard. What I have for him is compassion, and I’m tying to have it for myself too right now. I just wanted to say a few things about him and how he affected me and how triggers can come at us from out of nowhere at any moment and impair our ability to cope and live our lives. I hope this hasn’t triggered any of you because of my writing but if it has I hope you get thru it as I’m trying to do. Being grateful for Robin’s work in the world and his personality and his ways of being so real about his struggles is important for us to do.  He was a good model for us in how to live an amazing life with Bipolar dogging your steps, even tho he ended his own life in the end. I understand him I think. That’s why it’s so hard. I get it. I suspect many of you do too and I hope you do OK with this tragedy. I hope I do too. I guess only time will tell.

Missing his Manic Presence,

Steve

Note: photo as Mork by Everett Collection/REX

I’m an Angel!?

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I hardly know where to begin with this new award. It’s hard for me to envision myself as an Angel. I’m so many people you see. I go back and forth from being such a nice guy to being a jerk and from being happy and bright to sad and depressed so often with my Bipolar disorder. It’s difficult to see myself as an angel in anyone’s eyes, but I am in Dr Rex’s sight and it brings tears to my eyes. I’m so grateful for this look at myself that is so hard to take in and yet feels so good to receive. I’ve talked a lot about Dr. Rex on my blogs and I still find new things to say. I encourage you to go to her blog at: http://hrexach.wordpress.com/2014/04/03/a-new-award-the-angel-award/ and read what she has to say about this award.

It’s a testament to her character that she has been given this award and I can surely see why she has it. She does such a good job of “Being There” for so many of us. She is an Angel in the best sense of the word as I understand it. She loves her readers and her work and is passionate about how she presents it all to the world. She’s very kind and loving and truly cares about the world and its inhabitants. She is an Angel for sure! I’m very grateful to her for giving me this award. It’s a relatively simple one, with no particular rules, so I’ll just follow her excellent lead and say that if you’re reading this blog you’re nominated for this award by me. It means that you care enough about what I have to say to read my work and that makes you an angel in my eyes.

I’m so grateful for all the wonderful readers I have here on Naked Nerves even tho I know that it’s probably challenging for some folks to read some of the topics I write about. I try my best to be real and write about the things that affect my life and those of others who have Invisible Illnesses and how we cope in the world. It’s a hard row to hoe but it’s worth it to receive this kind of wonderful feedback from Dr. Rex. I’ll try my best to keep being an angel in the ways I’m able to and to take in the award and make it feel real to myself.

You’re just witnessing how hard it is for some of us to accept compliments when we’re not feeling our best or worrying that we’re fakes and phoneys. I feel that a lot, so getting this kind of feedback is important to me and it’s important that I “Get It” and rely on someone else’s vision of me instead of just my own. So in that vein I thank you again Dr Rex, for your kindness and vision in granting me this award. I will do my best to live up to what it can mean. Thank you to everyone who reads this and comes to visit my site as well. You’re all Angels and without you all I wouldn’t even bother to be here. You’re the reason for me to blog, and I value you all immensely. Together we build a better world, one blog at a time…

Keeping the Faith,

Steve

At Peace at the Ocean

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My partner Louie and I just spent a week at the ocean about 3 hours west of Seattle and a bit north along the coast. We went to a little town called Moclips, right next to the Quinalt Indian Nation lands. We had a full week of sunny weather and no rain with just a bit of  breeze at times to keep the air moving, as it always does near the sea. It was a peaceful time.

I spend so much time writing about hard stuff in this blog that I thought maybe it was time I wrote about how well my life is going right now. I’m stable, for the most part, with my Bipolar Disorder and my back is in decent shape except for a twinge or two now and then lately. It went out on me a few weeks ago but it seems to be OK now, I hope.  It’s much easier when I’m not in such pain all the time.

It’s been very nice here in Seattle too lately, with sunshine and clear weather, tho it’s supposed to go back to rain again tomorrow. I hope I can get some w0rk done on the veggie garden today before that happens. Louie is out of town for a week at a funeral so I have the house to myself, a mixed blessing. I miss him a lot but I’m getting a lot done too so it’s a trade off I guess.

Spending time at the sea near the Rain Forest was an incredible experience. I never feel so close to a sense of divinity as when I’m at the forest or some other wild place on earth. It just feels like I’m in my Temple and it’s all the spirituality I need to stay solid in my sense of connections with all life on the planet and beyond it. It’s easy to feel connected in a rain forest.

It’s so truly primeval and primal in it’s lush growth and fullness of life. There are creatures growing everywhere you step or look and it’s OK because the Forest Service has built in some nice trails that let you be able to go into the forest because it’s so dense and not hurt things. It isn’t a place to just wander in the woods at all. You have to cut your way thru and that’s not something I like to do. I prefer to find old animal trails and follow them. If I do it at all.

Being with trees that are hundreds of years old is a remarkable experience. It really puts your own life in perspective. We matter so very little in the great scheme of things yet to ourselves we’re all we have and must make the best of our lives while we have the chance. I don’t believe in reincarnation or an afterlife, and believe we have to make the best of the time we have here on the planet to make a good life and be good people.

When I’m stable like this and not wandering all over the place in my mind I can truly appreciate the wonders of the natural world. I can slow myself down enough to listen to the woods and the sea. Really listen and hear what the voices of the land and ocean have to say to me. Mostly I get that I am a part of all this and that my presence would go unnoticed by those creatures of the forest and so I try to leave it as I found it so no one will know I’ve been there.

As they say – take nothing but photographs and leave nothing but footprints. That’s the way I do it. Of course along the beach the sea covers your tracks almost immediately after you leave them but in the rain forest they could last for awhile, til the next rain comes and washes them away. It makes one’s visit seem very transitory to these ancient beings who inhabit this land.

We saw the world’s largest Spruce tree and some of the other large trees of the rain forest area in this valley we went to. See: http://gardeningingreenwood.wordpress.com/2014/03/18/trees-of-the-rain-forest/ for more information on the specifics of these amazing trees and how many of them are in this valley. It’s an ancient land and largely untouched by human hands.

Being with these huge and ancient trees always makes me feel humble and insignificant. The stories these trees could tell if we only knew how to listen to them. I “hear” them talk to me all the time and always have, but I question whether or not it’s the trees or just my mind that is talking to me. I don’t really care. I get good information from them and they help me stay sane so it’s all good to me.

Whether or not it’s actually the voices of the land or sea or trees or birds or animals talking to me doesn’t really matter to me if they seem to be reasonable and tell me useful things. When they just goof on me and tell me stupid things I’ve had to learn that sometimes the voices in my head are just that – voices in my head.  I should ignore them. But the good ones I listen to and get good help on occasion. Why not?

This last week at the ocean gave me a much needed break from my usual reality of chores around the house and working in the garden, as much as I love to do that, and just from city life for a little while. It’s so beautiful there and I could hear my thoughts and those voices in my head were mostly kind to me and gave me solace instead of grief as they do so often. At the ocean it was all about the natural world and I am clearly a part of it.

This is so important to me when I tend to lose it so badly at times and feel so disconnected with life. It’s impossible not to feel connected with it when you’re in the midst of such riotous abundance of it like you find at the rain forest. Life is just so full and rich there and it’s easy to wonder how humans fit into this harsh environment.

But really it’s not that harsh as it seems. The Indian communities along this coast always had plenty of food to eat from the sea and had time to make beautiful works of art that they used to decorate their ceremonial places and their own bodies. They had give-aways where they shared the wealth among them and always took care of the lesser members of the tribe. It’s a bountiful area to live in til the white man came and took so much of it away.

I won’t go into that now because it’s too painful for me. I feel a deep resonance with Native cultures and always have. I learned many of their ways studying with a Native medicine person for many years and learning the ancient ways of his people. It helped me a lot but I had to leave in time and I stayed as long as I should have and needed to find my own path again.

I’ve done that now, tho I tend to fall off of it now and then, as I write about here so often. But as I said this post is about how well I’m doing and I want to end with that part of it. It’s not often that I can write such a positive piece as this one so it’s kind of a big deal to me. I go up and down so often with the bipolar and the pain and all the rest of it, that to find a moment of peace is worth a great deal to me. I’m grateful I had this time.

Thank you Mother Ocean,

Steve

Bipolar Takes Another Life

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I’m totally devastated right now. I just got a call from my favorite cousin telling me that his wife had just taken her own life this morning. She was 67 and had suffered with Bipolar Disorder for many many years and tried to kill herself several times before. Always they were able to save her before, but not this time.

I couldn’t stop the tears as he described the circumstances of finding her face down in their swimming pool when he got up today. He’s been in very bad shape himself from the weight of caring for her for all these years and getting sicker himself as it went along. He couldn’t talk much but he knew how much I loved her and how it would affect me so he called me.

This is so sad to me I can barely write about it but I feel it might help me if I do so I’m going to. I loved this woman so much. She was so funny and articulate and bright. She was the best school administrator in her district for many years before she retired because of the bipolar disorder. She was a dynamo and a jokester par excellence. She was the light of his world and a good friend to me too.

We were born on the exact same day only she was 4 years older than I am. 11/11 for us both. We used to spend a lot of time together when I lived in CA but I haven’t seen them as much since then. They were here for a short visit a couple three years ago but she got sick when they were here and had to cancel the trip. We saw them two years ago when we went to CA to see relatives of mine.

I was shocked to see how she had deteriorated even then. She always had a hard time figuring out which meds were the right ones for her to take. It’s a cruel irony to learn that the antipsychotic that has pretty much saved me from mania was the one that eventually killed her. It scares me so much. Not just for the drug but for what I might do to myself someday.

See I spend a lot of time wishing I was dead. I wish I didn’t have to say that but it’s just true. I have suicidal ideation frequently and it makes life hard and difficult. I Know I can’t kill myself because of what it would do to my partner Louie and to my remaining family and friends. I’ve decided not to do it ever. But I don’t trust my mind and so I’m scared.

This could so easily be me we’re talking about, or maybe it could be you too if you suffer from depression or Bipolar disorder. It’s a cruel disease and we tend to forget that 15% or more of people with it end up killing themselves. It’s a life threatening illness tho it’s still considered a stigma to talk about it and try to heal those of us who have it. I hate it right now with a vengeance…

It could too easily be Louie making calls to my family to tell them that I couldn’t stand the pain any longer, as my cousin couldn’t do, and that I’ve ended it. My own experience when I did try to kill myself was instructive to me. It showed me that when you reach the end of your resources to endure the pain you believe you have no choice but to end your life. That’s what happened to me. I couldn’t bear it any longer.

I’m  lucky I did pills then and the docs pumped my stomach and gave saline and got rid of the drugs. I thought I’d been clever, even calling the Poison control center in my town so to make sure that the pills I took would  kill me.( I said it was about my roommate…. sick..) But it didn’t work and I’m so glad at this point. I didn’t think of others at all  but I don’t blame myself. I was doing my best. It just wasn’t good enough.

So it must have been for her. She reached the point where she’d tried to kill herself several times before this and was in so much distress and confusion from the wrong antipsychotic that she wasn’t thinking right anymore. I haven’t been able to talk to her in some time because she couldn’t handle the phone, so I don’t know where she was at at the end, tho I can guess. I know it too well myself.

I don’t know what else to say. I’m drained of energy and feel like a wet dish rag from the crying and sadness I feel. It’s hard to imagine I’ll never see her again. She always made me laugh and was one of the closest people in my family to me even tho we weren’t really related except for marriage. She was Family to me and my family is one short today. We’ll all miss her dearly and mourn her forever.

Grieving for the loss of a dear friend,

Steve

Inside a Hypo-Manic Episode

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“No I’m not just upset. I’m way beyond that. I’m truly enraged. I can’t stop my heart from racing and my pulse is pounding. I feel like I want to kill someone, anyone, but especially myself. I want to blow the whole world away. I feel way too much energy in me right now and I can’t sit still.

My brain is boiling and my eyes burn. My head feels like it’s about to explode and the energetic spasms in my body are thru the roof. I have to do something really quickly to stop this or I’ll do something I’ll regret later I’m sure and I don’t want to do that. But I feel so lost and disoriented and out of control. I Hate this shit.”

That was me yesterday when things were really bad. I couldn’t even write about it because I was too irrational. I wasn’t making any sense and I knew it and I had to take action, as I describe below, to keep myself from doing harm to myself or others, or just plain trash my belongings. And I still feel it today too, damnit. Why do I feel this way? It really doesn’t matter. What matters to me is How I feel.

If there are ever any times I doubt the manic part of my bipolar diagnosis it’s when I stay depressed for so long I think that part of me has gone away. It takes times like this to realign myself with my full nature to recognize that the manic part of me is still alive and well, unfortunately.

I usually stay well below the midline with my moods. I’m usually depressed or on the verge of it. It’s my default state of being. But now and then something happens to me that makes me so angry, irritable and enraged that I explode and lose it entirely. That’s when I recognize the mania that I embody as well as the depression.

Now is when I feel the Manic-depressive aspects of this damn illness. I can stop these feelings better than I can the depression because I have drugs to help me with mania and I don’t with depression. Still, I got so angry and enraged yesterday that I thought I was going to do something really bad to myself or something else. I really felt like destroying everything.

So I took a dose of my anti-psychotic and a dose of an anti-anxiety medicine and in time they calmed me down to the point of being almost comatose. I could barely move after awhile and had to lie down on the couch to decompress and just rest I was so wiped out from the drugs. But that’s a better place to be than destruction.

Technically I’m only supposed to feel Hypo-mania, not True mania, because I was originally diagnosed as Bipolar II, which doesn’t include getting truly manic, just a bit below that, which is called Hypo-mania. That’s mostly true for me in my life. But hypo-mania is just as dangerous as mania if you don’t control it. It can still kill you or make you do things you’d rather not do.

It may not last too long but it lasts long enough to totally degrade my thinking and make my life a living hell. And it’s not so easy on my partner either. He tries to help me but I get so shut down that I refuse all offers of help or suggestions of assistance. I get totally locked up in myself and I can’t move or act constructively.

This is very different from depression. When I’m depressed I feel like I deserve to just die and that’s it. I feel hopeless, discouraged, in despair, and all the rest of the stories any of you who suffer from depression know all too well. But I can see how I’m being and ask for help and receive it. I can change my moods.

Mania is very different for me. I generally lose most of my self awareness. I was barely able to hold on long enough to take drugs yesterday and if I hadn’t done that I’d have been lost for sure. I can see how when I have true mania I totally lose myself in it and can’t begin to act even as well as I did yesterday. You can’t tell you’re messed up is the thing. You think you’re normal. But you’re not…

I’d love to have a handle on these extreme mood swings I have. I guess I do have many of them if I look back at my earlier posts and see that I’ve talked about how to change your moods and thoughts many times. But right now it’s all bullshit to me and none of it is real. I’m just a mess and I feel like I’ll always be one so why bother living.

Shit, I guess I’m starting to slip back into depression even as I write this. Wow. How can I go from being so high to so low in just a few minutes?!! This is called Rapid Cycling and it’s common for a small percentage of those of us who have Bipolar disorder. It’s when we flip from one state to the other several times in a year, or in my case, in a month, a week or a day even. It happens Fast.

I also suffer from having Mixed States where I’m both too high and too low at the same time. I guess that’s what’s going on now because I feel both in my system. It’s like my whole body is flooded with chemicals that make me feel weird and out of it. Slow and draggy but hyper and antsy all at once. It’s not the drugs, it’s the Manic-Depression at work in me. It’s bio-chemical after all so why shouldn’t’ I feel it that way?

So now I’m totally screwed. I feel too hyper to sit and rest and too depressed to do anything about it. A classic state of mind for a mixed state and one I’m all too familiar with. But the fact that I’m shifting does mean that sometime soon I’ll be back to myself and be able to change this mood of mine. I’ve learned that when I feel too powerless with it all I just have to wait it out, like a bad drug trip, and it’ll change in time.

I just hope that I make it thru that time and don’t do something really stupid in the interim. I can tell I’m still on the edge with it all. I’ve even thought of deleting this whole blog because I feel so isolated in it so often. Why do I bother I wonder? No one cares… sigh. Wait! This is depressive thinking I can tell and I have to stop it. Now!

It’s amazing to me how much writing out this stuff can help me. It may not be interesting to you but it’s Real and it’s a glimpse of what I go thru on a daily or weekly basis. I do this dance a lot and it’s a hard one for all of us who have this Disorder. If you have it I suspect you’ll recognize my journey here. If not maybe you’ll understand more about what it’s like to go thru it.

In any event I hope it’s useful to someone out there. It’s been good for me to talk about it and I’m grateful for this forum to speak the things that we live with and how we are in the world. I’m Bipolar and I accept that. It’s an OK way to be much of the time, even tho it’s hell other times. In fact sometimes it really rocks so remember that too. I’ll write about that part when I’m really OK sometime, maybe. We’ll see, eh?

No longer enraged but still Hypo-manic…

Steve

Highly Sensitive Men

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You know who we are. You’ve seen us around your whole life, those of us who just don’t fit the mold. Men who don’t seem to be as tough or “manly” as the rest of our peers. Some estimates claim that 1 in 5 men, and women, are highly sensitive. That’s 20%. I believe it because I’m one of them and I’ve met so many others in my life.

Men who are highly sensitive are generally not valued by our society, not openly at least, tho without us society would be a poorer and sadder place to live. We tend to value a tougher aspect in our men and want them to just shut down their feelings and go along with the program. But for some of us that’s impossible.

Some of us have our hearts on our sleeves and are always willing to let our feelings out and be open about who we are, but not all HSM are able to do this. It’s a difficult thing to do and you don’t get a lot of support from anyone else in this except others who understand our dilemma, or our blessings, depending on how you see it. It’s OK for women to be this way, but not for men.

I’ve always fit the profile of being a sensitive male. Been called names like sissy, wimp, faggot and others all my life. I’ve always been told I’m just too sensitive for my own good and I need to toughen up and get over it. Well, I’m here to tell you that I haven’t done that. I’ve stayed sensitive even tho it’s hard work. Here’s what I’ve done.

First I’ve reclaimed the concept of toughness. I Am tough, tough as nails, and I have to be to withstand all the slings and arrows from a society that doesn’t value me for who I am. I’ve had to hide my feelings too many times when it was too dangerous and I’ve had to learn which battles to choose to fight. In so many ways it’s about the choices we make in how we live our lives.

I’ve chosen to embrace my sensitivity. It takes a lot of courage to do this but it’s what is required if you want to live a good life as a sensitive person. I’m an empath and I feel the things that others don’t too often. Sometimes it gives me an edge in knowing a situation or gauging others’ feelings and thoughts. It’s a blessing to me then. But sometimes it just plain hurts.

Sometimes I wake up and I just cry. It hits me so hard. All the pain and suffering I see around me in the world, and in myself too. It’s overwhelming to me, a common thing for HSM to feel. Life is just too much to bear sometimes and when you feel it all so deeply you can get hurt by just about anything. I have to be compassionate with myself.

But I am compassionate by nature, and so are most sensitive people. We tend to be aware of how someone else is feeling and base our actions on that awareness instead of our own beliefs about them. We Feel them in our guts. This is what I meant by calling my blog Naked Nerves. I feel so much I’m stripped of protection, naked to the world.

Highly Sensitive Men tend to feel too much most of the time. We feel the pain of the world too deeply and the suffering of others causes us personal pain and distress. We have to learn how to deal with that and still be able to function in society. We have to learn to engage with our sensitivity and honor it and make it an upfront aspect of who we are.

I talk about reclaiming ourselves a lot it seems. Maybe it’s because I’ve learned that it’s so important to be who you are in life, and not pretend to be someone you’re not. I’ve done both and life is much richer if you’re real about who you are. If you’re a HSM then you have to reclaim that part of who you are and let it shine in your actions. You Have to be Real.

This can mean some people will still trash you and chastise you for your way of being. Being sensitive for men is seriously stigmatized in our society. It’s like any stigma – rooted in fear and ignorance about who we really are. That’s why it’s so important for us to come out about who we are and show ourselves and Be who we are in the face of the onslaught of incivility that is sweeping our country these days.

The world needs us! It needs men who are willing to take the risk to stand out and say what’s right and what is wrong. Men who have been great leaders in our world have often been sensitive men who used their skills to enlighten society. They shower us with compassion and empathy for those that are without the basic needs of life. They show us a different way to be.

HSM are kind people as a rule, tho some who haven’t accepted themselves can be truly whacked. If you continually stuff your feelings they may tend to come out as anger and rage in most inopportune ways. Anytime you try to withhold yourself from who you are you face this risk, but it’s a serious one for HSM. We risk losing who we are if we stuff it. That’s not OK.

We can be wonderful partners and spouses to our mates because we care so much for them and often put their needs ahead of our own. We shouldn’t really do this but it’s so easy to do. But we risk losing ourselves in others too easily anyway by feeling what they feel to allow it in a deep interpersonal relationship. We can care, a lot, but we have to keep it in balance.

Balance is all part of this dance. How do you balance your own sensitivities with the needs of keeping up a bold face to the world? If you try too hard to meet society’s expectations of you as a Man, you can obscure your true nature of being a HSM and betray yourself. There’s a way to be who you are and still be strong and face the world on your terms.

It just requires you to allow those parts of yourself that Feel to come out to play whenever you can.  By being who you truly are people around you will gradually realize your gifts and accept you for what you can offer to them and the world and you can be yourself and just let it be. Sound real? Not really easily…. But it can be done.

It’s up to you to be real and accept who you are and to know that you are a Gift to the world just as you are. Don’t ever forget that. It’s a big deal to remember this. The world needs us and we owe it to both ourselves and our communities to be who we are. Our particular gifts are so needed these days and it’s just getting worse.

It’s time for us to stand up and take our places as Sensitive Men who are still able to withstand the difficulties of our heritage and yet change the world while we’re at it. Why not think big? It’s your life and you have to choose how you will live it. I sincerely hope you choose to let yourself be as sensitive as you need to be and let others see it and let it affect them. It will change the world if we do this.

Sensitively yours,

Steve