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

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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

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

Faith in Life

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This post may not be exactly what you might think it is. Most people when they speak of faith are using it in a religious context. That’s not what I’m doing here as my title might suggest. I’m not a religious person, tho I consider myself spiritual in many ways. But I’m not a Theist or a Deist. I don’t believe in a God or Goddess or a Creator of all we see. I don’t believe in Spirits. I believe in  Life.

What I mean by this is that I have faith in the continued movement of the cosmos, in the turning of the stars and the suns and the planets. I have faith closer to home too. That the sun will rise tomorrow and the flowers will grow and bloom, that the mountains will stay strong and only fall to the ground when it is their time, just as all life does. I have faith in the Cycle of it All.

It’s not that I haven’t been exposed to other ways of thinking. I was raised in a benevolent Christian household and in church I learned the Golden Rule and to respect others. I learned about Heaven and Hell but they never seemed real to me. I played the piano in my Sunday school and the organ in church and I was the president of my Young Life group, an organization for Christian youth. But it didn’t take…

By around the age of 14 I started to question things. It was 1963 and the world was in upheaval. Everyone everywhere was questioning the satus quo and the current beliefs about the Nature of Reality. Politics were the big game of course but religion took a close second place as a strong contender for challenge. Many of us came to doubt the words we’d learned in church or from religious people.

We learned to rely on each other and on ourselves, which is what I still do. I trust my lover to love me, my friends to care for me and my community to sustain and nurture me. I have faith in the goodness of people as well as the badness in them too. I have faith that people will be who they say they are and when I see differently I adjust my thinking to mirror reality.

I’ve also followed many different spiritual paths, from Eastern thought to Western. I did Yoga at a young age, and read about Zen and Taoism and Buddhism as well as mystical Christianity and Rumi. I was initiated into the Way of Medicine by a Native American teacher in my 30’s and then into a form of witchcraft (don’t get scared…) that was mellow and focused on the  turning wheel of the seasons and of life. It nurtured my sense of being a gardener and the cycles of the seasons we constantly follow. But I never deified it.

Of course there were so many politics in the pagan community that I finally came to an ending with all of them. I just couldn’t take the pronouncements of people who said they communed with Spirit and told me things that seemed wrong to me and challenged my world view of loving kindness. Not bad people, but some bad intents were all a part of my experiences and I stay away from that crowd now, tho I still note the passing of the seasons with good cheer and my own simple rituals.

I still have faith in that cycle of the seasons and the turning wheel of life. It helps to keep me going when I lose it and can’t find my way. I Know that tomorrow the sun will rise and the trees will grow and provide solace for me and for those like me who have faith in Nature, and in their fellow humans and in themselves most of all. When you have Bipolar Disorder you need an anchor, and Faith in the cycles of Life is mine.

I believe in a current, if you will, that travels throughout all life and connects us with one another. It’s pretty obvious when you go into quantum mechanics and new wave physics that we’re all made of the same stuff. Stardust some say and I like that metaphor. Of course it’s also a truism. We Are stardust and are made of the same elements that make up the cosmos. We’re all One with it. The same Energy is in us all.

So it isn’t hard to have faith in the way I’ve described it. You don’t need some entity of whatever sort telling you what to do. I’ve had it with higher powers that use me to embody their words and then turn their backs on me when I need them. Yes I have voices in my head all the time and they tell me some strange things. But as time has gone on I’ve learned which ones are goofs and which are real and I only listen to the real ones now. I hope… 😉

I used to follow many of those voices in my head because I was taught that they were the source of my spirituality and my connection to Spirit. But I’ve found that many of them lead me into blind corners and just goof on me and treat me badly. Some are in direct contradiction with my “Elders”. So what do I do then? I’ve learned to keep my own counsel and my own brand of Faith.

I lose it so easily it seems and it’s hard to stay positive sometimes but faith is the thing that keeps me going when all else fails. Faith that it’ll wear off and I won’t be in a depression when I come out of it. It works. I have faith in a change. It always changes if you just wait it out, like a bad drug trip or something. It’s just chemicals in your brain so why sweat it? Keep faith in yourself and all will go well.

That’s what I believe in keeping faith in and so far I’ve done well with it. I try to love myself these days and I have others who love me too and that’s what counts to me at this point in my later life. I have faith in Love, along with Nature and people and all the rest of reality. It is what it is and I have faith in it’s continuance. It’s all I need.

Keeping the Faith,

Steve