Anhedonia and Alienation

I have a hard time feeling pleasure. That’s anhedonia – the inability to feel pleasure. I have a wonderful life and I’m really satisfied in many ways. But I find that I really don’t ever get truly excited about much of anything anymore. I can remember times in my earlier life – before I had The Episode that wrecked my life at 44 and I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder – when I was joyful and full of energy and had a great time living my exciting life. I may not have been the life of the party like so many BP folks are, but I sure did love to party and I had fun doing it. Now I rarely get pleasure from even the simple things of life – a smile sent my way, a cool piece of art, or a song I once loved. These can still humble me but they don’t give me the same level of enjoyment they once did. It’s hard to muster up the energy to be pleased anymore. I fake it a lot.

I know this is a common issue for people with bipolar, yet it’s still very discouraging. Even tho I know my diagnoses and how they play out, sometimes it just sucks bad. I don’t mean to whine. But this is so overwhelming to me that I just have to write about it. I really try to walk with beauty over the Rainbow Bridge, as the Navajo (Dine) people sing so movingly about. I try to follow the advice of Gandhi and live the change I want to see in the world. But now I don’t really care much if I succeed or not. Before The Episode I was very socially engaged – managing a food co-op, founding a non-profit educational center where I met hundreds of people, producing concerts where I affected even more, and working at a lively collective cafe where we made our own ice cream, which I got to make. Yum!! Lots of good people came thru that place and I met my first real boyfriend there from behind the ice cream counter. Good times.

Which is why this is so fucking hard on me now. I was used to a different way of life than I lead these days. Now I live far away from the bustling world of gay society I was such a part of for so many years. It’s more peaceful here, and I have a wonderful home and a loving partner to share it with. But it lacks a certain energy and queer sensibility I was used to and I’m starting to miss it a lot. Last night we went out to the Gay section of town for the first time in years. We saw a hot Drag Show. Wow, those girls (and boys!) can really dance and sing (Lip synching really, but who cares…). It was so Very Queer – it was amazing. I lived right there for over 20 years, at different times, and it was my life. But I haven’t been in that area of town for a long time now. It made me feel so nostalgic I wanted to cry. In fact when I got home I stayed up till 1:30 writing in my journal. I had to stop often to cry. I haven’t cried that hard in years. It all hit me – how far I’d come from those days of merriment and engagement. How I didn’t feel the joy of it all anymore.

I’m a very social person, but I’m an introvert too, so it’s always been hard on me to socialize with other people. But I was so damn hypomanic so much of the time back then that I overcame my insecurities and went out and did cool things. Now I’m too scared to interact with anyone, and I just garden at home. Don’t get me wrong – I Love it and it nurtures me greatly. But there aren’t any People there. It’s all just plants, and tho I used to relish that alone time I got with them, now it feels more like a trap. I’ve tried to join gardening circles, but I have little luck because I get too insecure and scared and stop myself before I even get going. Another common thing we folks with bipolar do. I want to but I just don’t Feel like it. Even tho I’m a very sexual person (even at 67 – never give up!) there are so many times I just don’t give a damn about it, tho not always. 🙂  Not my usual self at all. I just don’t feel sexual and I hate it so much. I hate not being able to always laugh at my partner’s silly jokes. I hate not being able to engage with the neighbors when we go out for a walk. And I hate feeling like nothing will ever make me feel again, ever.

Yeah I’m blowing it all out of proportion, but that’s what it feels like to me, and if there’s anything we Bipolar folks do a lot it’s to live thru our feelings, much to our dismay at times. Emotions are tricky to live with and when you have bipolar they trick you even more. They may always be real, for you, but they aren’t always reflective of consensus reality, if you get the difference. When you live thru your feelings instead of your intellect you often mistake your feelings for the reality others experience. It’s not! It can really fuck you up bad. You mistake simple social cues and you interpret things thru your own lens too much and it’s not always what may be really happening. You may feel awful when there’s no need to. You aren’t being talked about behind your back and you aren’t being thought of as “lesser than”, the way you feel about yourself. People may actually like you, despite your horrible sense of self and lack of ability to take in any compliments that may come your way. It’s kinda stupid and kinda sad when you think about it, but it’s all too real to me.

You can see how anhedonia and alienation can intersect here and how they’ve so harshly impacted my life and the lives of so many others. If you can’t feel anything you feel disconnected and alienated. Duh. It makes sense but it’s an awfully hard thing to live with. For me they seem to go hand in hand, but it may not be that way for everyone. I don’t really know. But I do know that many people with bipolar feel both of these things, whether in tandem or not. We just don’t feel good about ourselves so how can we feel good about life? It’s not easy. We feel that we’re not good enough to even deserve a life full of joy. And that hurts us terribly in many ways. It makes us unwilling to engage in things that may hurt us more. We shut down. You can only handle so much pain at any one time. Why ask for more? That seems crazy, but it may be the only way to get over it. There are potentials for joy on the other side of it if you can just hold on.

Maybe it’s just my age – I’m almost 70. But I see so many older people still loving their lives that I don’t think that’s all of it. I feel young at heart really and I look and act like it. I’m not a couch potato or a slob. I take good care of myself and try to do the right thing always, even tho I doubt myself and don’t really know if it’s right all the time. I second guess myself with people so much it drives me crazy. I’m sure none of them like me or want to hear anything I might have to say. I feel alienated from them. But if I could still feel their energy it would be so different.

I do still remember, tho it’s been so long, what it feels like to really enjoy life. And I do enjoy it sometimes, I’ll admit. I’m not totally shut down – not yet. I still feel love and give it in return. And I know it’s real and not in my imagination. So I have some hope that things can change. I always try to end these posts with something positive and this is the best I can do. I’m attempting to believe that if I keep trying to feel, that eventually I’ll get there, at least sometimes. I just can’t give up. I have to stay present in my life to integrate this and to find peace and serenity, which may be far better than happiness anyway. So I’m still hanging on, but it’s by the skin of my teeth, and my teeth are getting so sore…. 🙂

I hope you’re feeling something good today…

Steve

Robin Williams – Too Sad

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

Keeping My Sense of Humor

Sometimes you just have to laugh at yourself. Sometimes it just gets so absurd that there’s nothing else to do about it but take a totally different approach. When working on yourself to change your state of mind becomes burdensome laughter is the answer. I couldn’t stay alive if I didn’t laugh as much as I do. It gets me thru some very hard times.

I’m lucky to have a goofy partner. He has a great sense of humor that transcends my own, and often when I reach that point where I just seem to come unglued all I need to do is talk to him and he throws out a non sequitur or a pithy remark and my mood changes instantly. His goofiness really does help me change my life for the better, and I’m so grateful for him in my life..

The issue for me seems to be that I cycle so frequently from up to down that I can’t seem to keep a hold on my thoughts or my mind. When I get that way I’ve found that I often need help to change my mood. I can’t always do it for myself so having his humor is often critical for me. It cuts thru my melancholy or sadness or freakouts like a sharp knife thru butter. It’s amazing. Humor is like that.

Poking fun at oneself has been a tradition in oppressed cultures around the world for centuries I’d guess, since it’s so prevalent today. Gay humor, Black humor, Jewish humor, Native American humor… I could go on. All of these cultures have developed a way of laughing at their sorrows and problems that is inspiring to me and helps me do it for myself too. When you’re down you might as well have some company, eh?

It’s hard for me to tell if I’m always like this when I cycle so much. My style of Bipolar Disorder is called Rapid Cycling with Mixed States. That means I flip from up to down a lot and often, or I’m in both places at once. This is a challenge to say the least. When I’m in this state it feels like I’ve been in it forever and am there all the time. But I know that’s not true. I hope it’s not anyway.

I get so serious about it. It takes me away from myself and my life so quickly and without warning that it catches my breath and I fall into the pit in an instant. On the other hand something good can happen and just as fast I’m flying high and feeling so good about my life that the bad parts seem not ever to have been there. I really do try to live in the present, but so much is in my emotions, for better and for worse, and the emotion of laughter is the one that’s most important for me to keep strong.

It’s not easy to do this when I change so often. I never know just who I’m going to be each day. Or each minute sometimes. To be precise, I have Ultra Rapid Cycling Bipolar, which means I often cycle several times every day, not just the 4 times a year that the DSM says is my criteria. What’s so hard about it is it’s intensity and suddenness. It just happens so fast I can’t keep up with it. It takes me over almost completely for at least awhile.

Anything can set me off. I have tons of triggers – those things that can flip me into a different state of mind so quickly it’s almost like it’s hard wired in me. This attitude I have that if I mess up or make a mistake I should just kill myself for instance. It’s so common for me that I live with suicidal ideation much of the time. I went thru a period when I didn’t feel this awhile back but it’s come back again and doesn’t look like it’s going away soon. Winter can be a hard time for depression.

I don’t mean to whine or complain here. I’m just stating the facts of my life in the hopes that others will recognize these traits in themselves and connect with my words and know that there are others like us out here who cycle so often that we just flip out. That’s when I try to laugh at it and turn it around on myself to something else. Something I can enjoy, instead of simply endure.

So getting back to where I started, you can see why I have to just laugh at this. I mean c’mon… how  silly is it to think that I should actually Die, just because I messed up or did something not as well as I should have or just because a thought came into my mind that I should die. What can I do but laugh at this absurdity?

It’s so crazy and Louie helps me realize this so quickly that I’ve learned that I need to just talk about this stuff when I can. Getting it out in the open often is what brings on the laughter, or at least a bemused smile of recognition that I’m doing it to myself once again. I, like many of us, am my own worst enemy. Since I Know that I can ask for help without shame or guilt and just let myself Receive. But, man, is that a hard one!

Accepting help is one of the toughest things I have to do when I’m not well. I want so much to be in control and that’s when I’m least in control, so what do I do? Either I spend time ruminating on how bad things are or I try to shift them to something different. Something lighter and not so heavy on my spirit. Just receiving help is hard enough, but asking for it is a whole other level of difficulty. I’ve gotten way better over the years but it’s still difficult for me.

I’m so grateful to have Louie and to have a great counselor who is very proactive in helping me to work on myself in hard ways sometimes. He helps me laugh at myself too, tho it’s not as quick a fix as it is with Louie. It’s more work to delve deeply into the heart of things than just to have a realization that you’re being stupid and change it. Working on yourself is hard work and yet it’s the only way to get thru this stuff, or so I believe.

I recently asked my Psychiatrist how she thought I was doing. I’ve been seeing her for many years and I’ve been thru some very hard times with her around. She said she thought I’d gained a lot of insight into my condition and was doing really well. We even decided that I could stop seeing her every month and go to every other month. I guess I’m a model of Recovery…

This is great news for me. I feel so under the thumb of the Medical Establishment sometimes it drives me nuts. But they help me so I go to them. Accepting help even when I may distrust the source as I do with Psychiatry. They have their models and frankly I subscribe to the idea of neuro-chemicals flooding my system and making me crazy. I Feel them in my body. But I go on with my life and find humor even in the thought of me being a Model of Anything… It makes me laugh.

I do seem to be a model of Recovery tho, and I am doing well. I have to give credit to the fact that I’ve kept such a good sense of humor about the absurdity of life in general and mine in particular, and the great joys that can come when you can let go of the suffering and pain for a bit. I’m so grateful to those times when I can laugh at my problems instead of wanting to kill myself. I guess that’s kinda simplistic isn’t it? But it’s so real to me that I take it seriously. Laughter is serious business after all when it means that you might live or die.

Jeez, I’m such a drama queen, aren’t I? 😉 Enough…

Steve