All Mixed Up

I haven’t written a column here in some time. I haven’t felt like I’ve had anything to say. I still feel that way. Like nothing I say is important or matters. Sounds like I’m depressed. Everybody around me says I’m stable. My psychiatrist, my counselor, my partner and my friends all think I’m fine. And I guess I am. Only in so many other ways I’m not. I was originally diagnosed with bipolar II, with mixed states and rapid cycling. I’m not sure if I fit the technical criteria for mixed states and rapid cycling or not. But it sure is my lived experience. And it happens all the time, every day. Or so it seems. In actual fact I’m sure it doesn’t, but I’m often in a mixed state, and the mood changes often happen more rapidly than I can easily handle. It feels like I’m bouncing around all the time.

I’ve been keeping a mood chart lately. I’ve also been charting my pain level next to it. The two so often go together for me. It’s been interesting, even though it’s only been a month. I’ve broken up the days into two or three or four hour sections. I put down a word to describe my mood and a number for my pain level. My pain has been pretty consistent at six or seven. With a few jumps up to eight or more. But my mood descriptors have been all over the place. Lots of Good’s and OK’s. But most of the entries seem to say Mixed or Depressed. When I fill in the space at the end of the day for overall mood and pain levels I have a lot of Seven’s and Mixed’s. What I want to focus on here are the Mixed days.

In bipolar disorder a mixed mood basically means you experience both the highs and the lows at the same time. That’s been a significant part of my experience for months and months now, maybe years. I’m not there all the time, by any means. But I’m there way too often for my comfort. I can be having a wonderful, cheerful conversation with my partner about how beautiful the garden is, while my internal dialogue tells me I don’t deserve to live in such a beautiful place or have such a lovely garden to tend. This constant back-and-forth makes me feel unsettled much of the time. Add to that the crippling social anxiety I experience as part of the PTSD, and the bipolar fueled rage that makes me feel like exploding half the time, and you can see why it doesn’t feel like I’m doing as well as I appear. And underlying it all is the constant low grade depression of the dysthymia. I may look fine but inside I too often feel like a basket case.

Fortunately my high times don’t ever approach major hypomania these days. But in my low times I go as deep as I’ve ever gone into the depths of depressive despair. In seconds my heart can plummet to the floor and my outlook becomes unbearably bleak. By then I can be in full suicidal ideation mode. Often there’s a trigger that sets me off, but just as often there isn’t one. To me it feels like it just happens in an instant, without any conscious thoughts on my part whatsoever. It’s very hard to pull myself out of that state. But I do it every time I have to, every day. Right now I wouldn’t even try to pretend I’m not depressed. I’ve been this way for a couple of days. But even now, if it was required, I could pull myself out of it and act normal, at least for a little bit. That’s why everyone thinks I’m fine. I maintain too well for my own good.

In reality it’s a lie I perpetuate out of shame, fear and embarrassment. At the moment I’m experiencing all of those emotions as I prepare to continue writing this piece. Because, as much as I’m embarrassed and ashamed to say it, I still don’t think I’ve come to terms with this fucking bipolar disorder. It will be 24 years next month since I was diagnosed. I thought I’d dealt with this and had come to terms with having this illness and accepted it years ago. Now it feels like I didn’t really get rid of the fear at all. In some ways the longer I’ve known I’ve had this disorder the more afraid of my perceived mental deterioration I’ve become. I say perceived because I know my brain itself is just fine. It’s my thinking that is disordered. I feel stupid. I know I’m not. But right now I feel ashamed of having bipolar disorder, especially the depression. And that’s just stupid.

As a gay man I know that coming out is a life-long process. The same is true if you have a mental illness. You may think you’ve come out but then you find yourself in another situation where you have to come out again. This has happened repeatedly for me as far as being gay. It’s not really an issue for me here in liberal Seattle, but when I go to conservative Eastern Washington it’s a very different story. It’s even more so for mental illness. Again, especially for depression. When I’m hypomanic everybody loves me because I’m charming, cheerful, charismatic, positive and full of life. When I’m depressed I’m afraid to even tell anyone because I feel so negative and boring. I’m sure no one really wants to even be around me. That often includes my partner Louie. I know he’ll love me forever regardless of my emotional state. But I’m still terrified that I’ll burn him out on me if I’m too depressed too much of the time. I know that’s crazy thinking, but it’s got me bad. So I hide my feelings, even from him.

If I feel afraid of burning out Louie, imagine how I feel about my neighbors and people in general. I’m bloody terrified. Most people still think depression is a failure of character or will power. Of course I know that’s nonsense. But it doesn’t stop me from buying into their opinions in some situations. When you’re already feeling vulnerable it seems crazy to make yourself even more vulnerable by acting depressed. People think you’re weak if you’re depressed and when you’re already vulnerable you can’t afford to look weak. This attitude seems to be shifting a bit in our culture now. But our cult of pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps rugged individualism is still too strong to allow for those of us with depression. It takes a lot of guts to be who you are in this world. I say this as a privileged white boy. Imagine how much worse it is for a person of color, a woman, a trans person or anyone else who doesn’t fit society’s definitions of what it means to be a man, a woman or any other sexual identity. Or what it means to be mentally healthy and functional.

Everyone I know would tell you that I’m a high functioning individual who just happens to have bipolar disorder. That’s what they see and I have no desire to try to change those opinions. Except I sort of do. I want to feel free to exhibit my depression whenever I feel it so strongly. I want to be real and true and honest about who I am. But I’m scared. I’m afraid people will think less of me if they see me being depressed. I have what is often called a shame-based personality. That doesn’t mean I feel ashamed all the time, but when I do it can be overwhelming. I once told a counselor that I thought shame had stopped me from becoming manic at times. He laughed at me and told me mania was too strong to let shame stop it. I’m sure that’s true for full-blown mania. But shame has definitely kept me from acting out some of my worst hypomanic impulses. In some ways it has actually protected me from losing it. What a weird fucking paradox.

I rarely feel much strong hypomania these days. But even so when I’m feeling really really good I tend to ascribe it to hypomania rather than just a good mood. I don’t really act out the grandiosity but I certainly think of myself in that way at those times. A part of me still thinks I’m hot shit. It feels good to feel that way, which is why people like mania. Especially since I’m depressed so often. I can still go way overboard with the hypomania if it strikes me that way. My “episodes” rarely affect me for just the four day criteria needed for a diagnosis. They tend to be more diffuse and spread out over days, weeks, months and even years. A couple of years ago I spent about three months in a hypomanic state that I didn’t even know I was in until it was over. Balancing my checkbook was the clue that I’d really overdone it. I was chagrined and embarrassed that I had let myself get so carried away. Because underlying the hypomania was the usual depression, and I really didn’t feel that good about myself. I was in a mixed state.

I hope I’ve given you some idea of what it’s like to live with mixed states. As I’ve said, it can be a real challenge. In my high times I tend to do things and make promises that when I’m depressed just fall apart. I’ve always tried to be a very responsible person and to walk my talk. I think I’ve mostly been pretty good at that. But as I look back over my life I see so many times that I blew it. In fairness to myself I also see plenty of times that I did OK. Most of my life I’ve lived in a hypomanic haze, with periods of depression now and then. I’ve been able to function really well and I’ve created some good things in my time. But the last 24 years have been really hard. I haven’t been able to hold a real job in that time, even though I’ve done some good work now and then. This really affects my self image. I feel like a failure even though I know I’m not. Feeling good, feeling bad, feeling good, feeling bad – it’s a constant merry-go-round of emotion, especially when both things are happening at the same time.

My hope is that I will continue to learn that when I’m in a mixed state I need to moderate my behavior as much as I do as when I’m depressed or manic. Sometimes I think I’m doing really good at that. I’m depressed right now so everything looks pretty bleak. But if I know anything about depression, I know that it doesn’t last forever. One of these days I’ll start feeling better again, maybe even today. Mixed states give me a different perspective on reality than most people get to have. Just having bipolar does that. So I could view all this as a good thing. I’m trying hard to do that. Sometimes I’m even successful. I hate to be trite, but yes, there often is a silver lining. It’s pretty dim right now but with any luck it will get brighter in the near future. I won’t say I have much hope, but I do know that the wheel of life keeps turning, and sooner or later it’s bound to come up roses.

With mixed emotions,

Steve

Advertisements

Is This What Recovery Looks Like?

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in November 1995, about a week before my 45th birthday. Since then I’ve been under the care of five or six different psychiatrists. I’ve had four stays in psychiatric units where I saw other psychiatrists. And I’ve had several counselors. They’ve all told me that I have bipolar disorder. Even the federal government agrees, giving me disability for it. So why am I feeling like I don’t really have bipolar anymore? It’s complicated.

I haven’t had a major episode in two or three years. But I have continued to cycle up-and-down from hypomanic moods to depressive moods. And it’s been mild compared to what it used to be like. I no longer believe that I have god like powers to affect reality, usually. And I don’t have those deathly suicidal depressions anymore either, at least not very often. Overall I would have to say that I’m doing pretty good. But I don’t know what to think about myself. If I’m not having severe mood episodes am I still really bipolar? I know it doesn’t make sense to question it, but I’m really struggling with this issue right now.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. And you’re probably right. I take six or eight medications specifically designed to control my mood episodes. I am definitely medicated. It’s very common for people with bipolar disorder who are better because they’re medicated to the gills like I am to believe that they no longer have the disorder. Of course the reason we think that is because we are medicated to the gills, but we don’t see it that way. The usual next step is to believe we don’t need to take our medications anymore. That’s the trap we fall into. We get better and we think we’ve done it on our own and that we don’t need the help of the drugs anymore.

I have done a lot of work on my own it’s true. In fact I’ve worked like hell to try and get better, and I still do. So I will take credit for at least some of my success. But if I were not on this medication cocktail I’m on now I would not be writing these words to you. There is no doubt that these medications are powerful. They have definitely had the power to make me much worse than I would’ve been without them. I still suffer painful and debilitating side effects from them. But they have also had the ability to lessen my moods and my cycling. They’ve helped me to get better. So I’m not about to quit them.

Talk therapy has also been very helpful to keep me alive while I’ve had a tentative hold on consensual reality. A common understanding is that therapy doesn’t really work until you’re stable on your medications. I don’t think that’s totally true. I’ve had a lot of help to get to this place that I’m at now, from a lot of caring and compassionate people. And I’ve had it at times when the medications just hurt me. When they didn’t help me at all. In fact that’s pretty much been true until the last two or three years. So I’ll give talk therapy a lot of credit for where I’m at now.

It’s also true that the talk therapy has worked better in the last two or three years since I’ve been on this new medication regimen. It’s given me some breathing room to get a better handle on how to manage my moods on my own. I’ve learned a lot of tools and tricks over the years that I can use to help stave off impending episodes. I try to use these tools all the time. And I can use them more often and to better advantage now than I could before the medication took hold. But there are still times when I’ll take an extra Klonopin or some Abilify because I’m starting to ramp up too high. And the lamotrigine mood stabilizer I take helps to moderate my depression better than anything I’ve taken before. The medications are still very useful.

So I’ll ask the question again: Is this what recovery looks like? And if it is, how do I function in it? It’s been so many years since I was truly functional in society I don’t know how to do it anymore. And I am definitely not the same person I was 25 years ago. Of course none of us are, but that’s not what I mean. When I experienced the mixed state episode in ’95 that got me the diagnosis I changed. To me it felt as though I might’ve had a stroke. I didn’t, but that’s how dramatic it was. I can definitely break my life into two distinct pieces: Before and after that episode.

Before the episode I cycled a lot and I had some very serious depressions. But I spent a lot more time in a hypomanic reality. In between depressions I was normally hyper most of the time but then I would have times when I would have way more energy, creativity and confidence and would do great things. These were distinct episodes of hypomania, and they were generally followed by severe depressions. I also spent a lot of time in a mixed state where I had one foot in each reality. Looking back I can clearly see that I was living in a state of bipolar cycling. But mostly I was functional and I had a pretty good life. I got a lot done and I did some really good things for the world.

After the episode I was much worse. I spent more and and more time in depression and less time in hypomania. My outlook on life became very bleak. In truth I felt completely hopeless. I had no belief that I would ever get better or would ever have any other reality than what I had then. And what I had then really sucked. My various psychiatrists tried me on drug after drug after drug. I’ve probably taken at least a couple of dozen different psychiatric medications. Few of them worked. All they did was make me sick and make me feel more helpless. My life was totally out of my control.

I should mention that concurrent with my mental health issues I also had some very severe pain issues. Horrible migraines and a damaged back plagued me. I had never had any luck with doctors helping me with pain. They never believed me. Pain is subjective and if you don’t feel it yourself you may not believe other people do. At least that’s the attitude I ran into time and time again with the medical profession. But about 15 years ago I finally met a compassionate doctor who was willing to take me seriously and prescribed large doses of opioids to help my pain. I’m not a big fan of opioids, but for the first time in decades I was able to live a physically functional life without constant debilitating pain.

Pain and depression are known to be linked. When you’re depressed you feel pain more. When you’re in pain you get depressed. It’s pretty clear. So a big source of my depression was suddenly improved. It wasn’t gone by any means but I was much better. An easing of my pain then allowed the easing of my depression, at least to some extent. Talk therapy and counseling helped me a lot during this time. I was probably getting better even then, but it was so slow I couldn’t tell I was. The positive attitude of my therapist really helped pull me through those hard times.

Then a couple of years ago after I was put on a new mood stabilizer I went through a period of several months when I wasn’t hardly depressed at all. I remember telling my therapist I didn’t know how to act. My default had been depression for so many years I didn’t know how to not be depressed. It was very weird and I felt totally uncertain about how to behave. Of course the depressions came back again. And I got better again. I was still cycling, but it was different. At this point I see this dynamic of cycling as a spiral. Each time I spiral through the cycle it’s a little different and I’m a little better. And so I’m back to my original question again.

Is this what recovery looks like? Because I still don’t know how to handle it. My cycling may have calmed down but my anxiety has gone through the roof. I have PTSD so I know that’s part of it. And I know anxiety is just a part of being bipolar. I’ve also been looking into social anxiety disorder lately and it’s pretty clear to me that I have all the signs. Add these altogether and I’m paralyzed. I feel crippled by anxiety. I’m so terrified that I’m going to be humiliated that I won’t even lean into trying something. I stop myself before I even get started. This could be a whole other post so I won’t belabor the anxiety angle right now. I’ll just say that the anxiety doesn’t help me feel stable.

So I started another new drug to help with that. It’s been less than a month so I can’t tell how well it’s working, but I have some hope, despite the fact that it sort of wipes me out. I assume that in time I’ll acclimate to it and that it’ll help me be less fearful of social interactions. Maybe this will be my final hurdle. Until I can move beyond it I’ll continue to try to accept myself and my diagnoses and function in the world as best I can. Yes, I’m still bipolar and always will be, but maybe this is recovery and I just don’t recognize it. I think that as I get more used to it I’ll feel like I really am better. Like I really am in recovery. And that’s the goal isn’t it? Maybe I’m already there. I hope so.

Seeing some light at the end of the tunnel,

Steve

Opioids!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pissed off royally,

Steve

I Was A Different Person Then…

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

Stuck!

I have a good life. I have a wonderful partner who loves me to death. I have a good home to live in and I’ve been able to improve it and add to its beauty, especially thru my love of gardening and what I’ve done there. But I’ve also added to the inside of the house and it feels more like mine instead of one I just moved into 4 years ago. I have good food to eat and a nice car and clothes and all I need to survive and be happy. But I’m not happy, and it’s driving me mad.

Or maybe I’m already there. I can’t seem to stop my brain from telling me that I’m a worthless piece of crap and I should just kill myself to make the world a safer place from idiots like me. It’s nonsense I know and I’m not a bad person. But this Bipolar Disorder really has taken hold of me right now and it won’t let me go no matter what I try to do.

I’ve been diagnosed with this dreadful illness for almost 18 years now and sometimes I really think I’m getting much better. I guess I am in many ways. My counselor and psychiatrist both think I’m doing well and treat me like I’m into recovery and on my way to feeling better. But it’s just not true. I’m still a mess most every day lately and it’s getting very challenging to live in my psyche.

I’m still in the Underworld despite the fact that I usually seem to come out of it around the Spring Equinox. I did some as I started to see the plants begin to bloom and grow. That helps me a lot to see Life arsing again and fulfilling it’s promise of beauty and continuation of existence. It’s so obvious to me that Life will find a way to continue and things happen as they do without our input or actions.

I have so much going for me I can’t understand why I’m so messed up and so full of suicidal ideation that I spend time every single day lately thinking about how to kill myself. I won’t of course. I couldn’t do that to Louie and my friends and family. I know this but I don’t know what to do. I’ve tried so many of my tricks to get my mind to shift out of this mess I’m in but I’m not having much luck. I’ve written a lot here on how I use certain ways of thinking to change my thoughts but right now it’s all bunk to me. Nothing is working.

You’d think I’d be on anti-depressants or something but I can’t take them because they make me crazier than I already am and have put me into the hospital more than once when I’ve had a bad reaction to them. They hurt me and I long for a pill or something that will change my negative self image to one that is more in line with reality and lets me enjoy my life again.

I know it’s terribly hard on Louie to see me go thru this. We talk about it often and he helps me so much just by listening to me and letting me know he cares. He saves my life more often than he knows. I’m so lucky to have him in my life and without him I’d probably give in and just off myself. I can’t seem to find my Joy button anymore and it hurts so much. Depression is a real physical disease and it Hurts to be depressed in your body as well as your mind. I’m already in pain from injuries I’ve sustained in my life and my dose of pain killers would kill most people.

So when you add in the depression it adds itself to the pain of my physical body it becomes an overload and I can’t seem to maintain. I fake it a lot. I think most people think of me as a positive person trying to make the best of a bad situation and that’s probably true. But it feels so phoney and fake to me to always have to pretend to be OK when I’m really not. It’s still too scary for me to come out about my Manic Depression in many venues and so I suffer in silence as so many of us do.

I don’t tell my neighbors, usually, what’s going on or my friends even. I don’t wanna bother them and have them turn away from me like so many have in the past because of this illness. It’s caused me to leave so many situations that just caused me distress and fear and led me to worse states so that I’m left with only a few friends now and I’m isolated too much of the time. I know I need to get out more but I feel too lousy and can’t seem to break out of the cycle.

I know this is a really lousy post and I apologize. This has been building up in me for so long I just had to vent a bit and explain how it feels for someone who is as together as I am to go thru such terrible disillusion. I can’t recognize myself anymore. I don’t know who I am or why I’m here and I’ve usually known that. I’ve had visions of my life since I was in high school and I’ve followed them, often to glory but often to falling apart.

In the past 18 years I’ve gone thru so many changes. From the initial recognition of the illness to learning the tricks of the trade in how to keep yourself well to falling apart again and again to being OK again now and then. But it’s been awhile and I’m feeling the loss of my usual bright self and energetic persona. I just feel like a wet lump of dough or noodles overcooked and it’s like moving thru oil or honey just to walk some days. It’s very physical as well as mental.

I’m hoping that things will shift soon and I’m still trying to be OK. I talk to my counselor and psych. and to Louie and other friends a bit but not too much. Maybe it’s time to go back to the Bipolar Support group I used to go to. I wonder. Sometimes others with the same illness can be good support for one another and it’s helped me in the past. I need help now. Badly. I really don’t want to implode and end my life. It’d be so stupid and I know it always changes, but it’s so hard to wait it out and feel so powerless about it all.

My diagnosis is that of Bipolar Disorder with rapid cycling and mixed states, which means I cycle back and forth from high to low too often and often will be in both places at once. It’s very confusing when I can look at my self and see how great it is and then in my inner experience it’s so terrible. It’s truly cognitive dissonance. I can’t seem to hold onto my brain and keep it running on the smooth track of self love but instead find myself on the hate train to hell. I’m so tired of it.

Is this going to be the way it is for the rest of my life or will they someday find a cure for this horrible illness that has so wrecked my lfe and made me into a different person than I used to be? I don’t like who I am right now at all… I have hope but not much. The same goes for the physical pain I live with. Together they overwhelm me too often, like today when I hurt so bad I’m at a 7 on a 10 point scale and it feels like it. I’ve had to take extra pain meds already and it’s only 11:30 in the morning.

I could use more pain killers it seems. But with the way things are going with the pain medication situation it’s so tricky just to get what I do. I can’t imagine what I’d be like if I lost the morphine. I wouldn’t be able to even function. I’d be in bed and in pain all the time and would eventually give in to it and just give up I suspect. Add in my occasional migraine and it’s a total picture of pain. It’s just too much.

OK I’ve talked enough here. I’m sorry this isn’t a more positive post. I am trying to get better. I really am.  But it seems so impossible that I feel the way I do when I have such a good life and it feels so unfair to me. Not just to me but to Louie and my other friends who have to deal with my moods and pain all the time. It’s hard on them and I’m grateful to them for staying with me and being my friends. I couldn’t do it without them.

I hope that my honesty and lack of inhibitions in talking about this will help others who suffer from this same illness feel more comfortable talking about it themselves. It’s OK, and even necessary, to air our hard stories about how difficult this illness is. I’m a big fan of education and if even one person reads this and understands more of what it’s like for us it’ll be fine with me. It’s Real and we’re Not faking it, despite the stigma we face… This is Life for way too many of us…

Wishing you a good day today,

Steve

At Peace at the Ocean

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