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

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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

Rebirth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so it goes,

Steve

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