I Think I’m Doing OK Now…

But I’m not totally convinced.  I seem to be on a much more level plane then I’ve been on for the last 20 some years, if not my whole life, I’m not sure.  My past before being diagnosed with Bipolar 23 years ago last week was so different.  (see “I Was A Different Person Then”).  I won’t go into all that because I did so already.  But things are different now, again, in a new way.  Earlier this year I was put on Lamictal  (Lamotrigine), a mood stabilizer, in addition to Abilify (Aripiprazole), Wellbutrin (Bupropion), Buspar  (Buspirone) and Klonopin (Clonazapam).  For the first time ever, a medication has actually changed my life.  I still spend some time in depression, but it’s mostly not that bad and I can usually overcome it with CBT  and smart thinking and action.  And I’m not too high either, tho I did try to get off 13 years of Abilify a few months ago (it makes me shake terribly and I hate it) and I had a really bad reaction, so bad I thought I was going to lose it completely.  It was the closest to real mania I’ve come in years.  So I went back on the drug and I’ve been OK since then.  (I had my Psychiatrist’s permission and support to quit, BTW).

I remember telling my counselor at the time that I was struggling with this new reality, because I didn’t know who I was anymore if I wasn’t depressed all the time.  I still feel that way, and it’s actually pushed me back into depression several times since then.  Weird.  You’d think I’d be totally at peace with this and be happy for myself.  But it’s not that easy to change a lifetime of such inbred patterns of thinking and behaving.  I Was depression in the past and it was my total life.  It was hard on me, and on the people I loved around me.  I could stop it occasionally, but not totally, and I suffered with it a lot.  It was my daily reality and it informed all my decisions and actions way too much.  I was scared all the time and afraid of being caught out as a loser.  Too much fear is paralyzing and I was often paralyzed.  I still am to some extent but not nearly so much.  I am better now.

I’m gradually learning to accept and revel in the “new” me.  I just had a counseling session with my new counselor and he asked me to do a narrative of my life – positive and negative.  I found myself listing tons of positive things about my life, but not that many negative ones.   A total surprise to me.  In the past it would have been much more tilted the other way towards extreme negativity.  When I’m depressed it’s all I can see, and it’s the same way with being OK I guess.  I Am my emotions way too much and if I’m doing well I think l’ve always done well, despite the memories of the failures and awfulness of depression. When I’m depressed it’s the opposite and it’s all I can see and feel.

Staying balanced is a real struggle for me even now.  But I can do it most of the time.  I’m amazed, but still frightened by the new me.  I still don’t know how to interact or be with people very well.  I still fall back into the old patterns of depression if I don’t keep up my guard all the time.  But I have real support in my partner Louie, and with my friends, my counselor and psychiatrist and other health care folks.  So I think maybe I can do this.  I sure do hope so, tho hope can be a trap too if you’re not careful.  Just ask a student of Buddhism.  Today is my 67th birthday and perhaps it’s the start of a new reality for me.  A truly new year of life.  I think it could be and I’m trying to believe so much that I can pull it off.  I have a lot of faith in myself these days, and it’s not based in my usual hypomania, but in reality for a change.  Plus I’m older and wiser now.  I understand myself, and life in general, much better.  Staying real and giving it time are my current mantras.  Maybe I really am doing OK now…  Time will tell.

peace,  Steve

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I Was A Different Person Then…

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I used to think of myself as a competent person. I started my first business in my early 20’s and created several more over the years, ending with a non-profit Healing Arts Center I founded in 1991. I thought I’d found my place in the world and would be working at it for the rest of my life. But it didn’t work out that way. I finally got “caught out” and had the worst breakdown in my life at 44. I was diagnosed with Bipolar and was forced to take a hard look at my life. What I found was that I hadn’t really  been as competent all my life as I’d thought. I was just Hypo/manic.

I don’t mean to say I never accomplished anything good. I did some good community service work and created some beautiful landscapes and gardens. But it was my headspace that messed me up. I’d thought I was good at what I did, and I guess I sorta was. I got by anyway, mostly by being a good bullshitter. I was good at projecting competence, even when it wasn’t real, as so often happened. People accepted me for who I said I was and who I pretended to be. I was good at it.

Now I look back at the work I did and see how much of it was fueled by mania or sometimes just hypomania. I doubt I ever had any real competence at all, tho I knew enough to get by, as I said. I was a con man, tho I never would have said I was or thought it at all. I always thought I was doing good work and helping to make the world a better place. And I did. But the cost was enormous. And not just to me. I cringe when I think of some of the gardens I planted that weren’t as good as they should have been. People live with my mistakes even now. It drives me nuts.

I know that hiding ourselves is a big part of being Bipolar. (Having bipolar?? – whatever…) A lot of us hide who we really are because we somehow know we’re not quite “right”, even tho we don’t know what’s wrong at the time. I always thought I was just a high energy, hyper person who was very creative and able to do amazing things that other people couldn’t do. I was a bright sparkly light in the darkness at times and I relished it so much. But there was a darker energy lurking just under the surface.

It didn’t stop me tho. I did a lot of good stuff and created some amazing entities. I did so much that was wonderful and I thought I was a pretty neat guy for doing it. I transformed the places I worked at. And the ones I started myself were unique and treasured. I got lots of compliments and good strokes on what a good role model I was for striking out on my own and creating good things for my community. It made me high I’ll admit. Too high sometimes… And we know where that can go don’t we?? Whoa!

I’ve always been a rapid cycler, tho I didn’t know that’s what it was of course. I’d do a big job and then I’d crash and burn for awhile and then I’d get it back together and try again. And the damn same thing again, and again, and again. What a mess! Those down times were awful, often going clear down to suicidal ideation and one time going even farther when I tried to off myself. A bit extreme but it fit my life at the time. Luckily I got caught – but not diagnosed correctly of course – not for years…

I have a diagnosis now – several of them fact. BP I, PTSD, Dysthymia, Chronic Intractable Pain, and more I won’t go into. It’s been 20 plus years since I got that initial Dx of BP and in that time I’ve been mostly a mess so that I really couldn’t function too well. I lived in public housing for over a decade until I met Louie and moved into his home. I’m lucky now but I wasn’t always so lucky. I’ve had to accept that who I am now is Not who I used to be. I just can’t pull it off anymore, and maybe that’s a good thing.

I think I’m more real now than I’ve ever been. More true to who I really am. But those hypo/manias are a thing of the past for the most part. I still get too high/angry sometimes and have to down myself with drugs, but mostly I’m more depressed than manic and stay at a low level of energy and interaction. I’m doing some volunteer work for the city right now and I try to keep something of a social life, tho I lost most of my friends when I had the breakdown and afterwards. But that’s mostly OK. I miss having more friends, but the ones I have are good ones.

I’m still a decent guy I think. I try to live a good life and not mess the world up too much. In fact I try to help it when I can. I garden a lot and teach people about trees and the like. But I’m so much more cautious now. I’m so scared that I’ll screw up again like I did so often in the past. I’m afraid most of the time in fact. That old Impending Doom thing so many of us have. It’s so debilitating at times I can’t even function. I walk carefully through the world these days.

It really does make life more difficult and I look forward to the day I heal from this attitude I have now that nothing I ever did was really real or that I was real myself. I know that can’t be true but it sure feels like it. Those damn feelings again. Not rational at all, but so overwhelming that you can’t ignore them and it feels like they’re all there is to life. I get caught in this so much. I’m afraid to even act much of the time for fear I’ll blow it. I’m not like I used to be at all really, when I had so much courage and self confidence to do such incredible things. I miss that.

That guy is gone and good riddance. He was a braggart and a poseur and a con artist and I’m none of those things in my heart. I’m not who I used to be tho I still have a core of Self that will always be inviolate and that will keep me OK forever, I hope. It’s real now, not some false mania or hyper action that I jump into without thinking of the consequences. I may still do that and I sure still make mistakes, but I feel like they’re really my own now and not some unreal thing I manufactured to get by and get ahead without knowing the results completely. I understand more now.

Yes, I was a different person then. A good one but not always solid and real and true to myself. I was so confident and I miss that confidence a lot. But was it real confidence or just mental illness? I guess it was a little of both, but I think it was tilted toward the illness. Now that I know what I’m dealing with I can do it better. I can’t always control my life, but I try hard and I try to be as real as possible. It seems to be working to some extent and I’m in better shape than I have been in a long time now. So I’m glad I’m different, but I miss the highs and the bravado and most of all the self confidence.

I’ll just have to get used to it, eh?

Steve

Aging with Invisible Illness

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I’ve always enjoyed getting older. I’ve found that I discover new ways to live my life every day and that as I age I’m developing a greater sense of who I am and how to live a good life. I have a good home to live in and a partner who loves me dearly. I have good food to eat and medical care and many other good things in my life. I’m glad to be where I am at this point in my life.

But I worry about getting older as well. Especially with all the illnesses I suffer from. I worry about what’s going to happen to me as time goes on. I’ve heard conflicting stories about people aging with Bipolar Disorder. Some seem to say that you can get better as you get older as long as you take good care of yourself. That seems to be the way to me.

I’ve seen what happens when people with Bipolar don’t take care of themselves, either because they are too sick to do it or are in denial about having the illness and won’t seek treatment or get help. I have a difficult time with the latter folks who suffer so much and cause the ones around them to suffer too because they are too scared to want to know the truth of their situation.

But I don’t blame them either. I understand not wanting to know I guess, tho it’s not my way of being. Maybe it’d be easier if I pretended that I just don’t have these illnesses and try to live a normal life and see if I could get by OK without the drugs and the therapy and all the help I receive from my partner and friends. Maybe it’d be easier to be in denial, especially as I get older. Lots of people do it.

It’d be so much simpler to not have to deal with all these things I deal with on a daily basis. It’s truly overwhelming sometimes and I crash and burn just trying to keep myself from doing just that. It’s a vicious circle and as I age the circle seems to get tighter around me. The options seem to be fewer and I have to make better choices.

I have to be very careful in how I live with my aging body now having all the same things that happen to anyone who is 63 years old. A lot of my problems are just because I’m getting older and it’s part of human nature to age and deteriorate, at least to some extent. But doing it with illness just makes it seem impossible to handle. It makes it much harder if you’re sick.

I take something like 50 odd pills every day, most of which are allopathic medicines tho many are also supplements I take from my Naturopath. I think complimentary medicine is a good way to go and I see various MDs, a Psychiatrist, a counselor, a naturopath and an acupuncturist, at least for now. We’ll see how that all goes but it’s helping me now at least.

I’ve talked about most of the problems I face on here already but for those new to my blog I’ll update a few things with a link to a previous post I did early on that describes my conditions well. Read this to get a good take on things you probably don’t know about me and my illnesses here: https://nakednerves.wordpress.com/2012/11/23/30-things-about-my-invisible-illnes-you-may-not-know/. It’s grown a bit since I wrote it but it’s still true.

I live with Bipolar Disorder Type II and it’s probably my most serious illness, tho the chronic intractable pain I live with is a close second and at times it’s number one. Both are too challenging to really be able to cope with well or easily. But I do it and I’m so grateful for the help I get to do so. Without the help I’d be dead I’m sure. Such is life.

I wonder what will happen to me in the same way most people do – will my partner outlive me or will he pass first is probably my biggest concern. I really don’t know what I’d do if I lost him. I don’t know if I could go on without him in my life. He brings me so much joy and caring. I guess it’s the way for anyone in love isn’t it? But being sick adds an extra poignancy to it. I not only love him, I need him and his help. A lot…

I have good health care – having both Medicare and Medicaid because of my split disability. It’s good coverage and I’m lucky to have it because it pays for all my medical bills except for some co -pays. But I don’t trust the way things are going in the Congress as far as people on disability and pubic assistance. There are too many mean people who’d like to take it away from me and I wouldn’t have a way to live then.

This is a huge fear – that of losing my medical care for some obscure reason the government comes up with to save money by taking it from the poorest among us. And I have been poor. I lived in public housing for 12 or 13 years before I met Louie and moved in with him so I know I can do that if I have to but I sure don’t want to.

Public housing is awful and tho it’s a good roof over your head and I’m grateful for that it really curtails your freedoms and it’s difficult a lot of the time. At least it was for me. Plus there’s a lot of stigma attached to being on disability and living in public housing. It just adds to the burden of being sick. People can be so cruel…

But really the biggest fear I have is that they cut my medications down to below my threshold for pain and I’ll have to live with the pain I experience on a daily basis without enough medication. I take a whole lot of morphine every day and have to get a special permit to get that much. Each time they renew it I come unglued till it’s approved. Someday they might not approve it, and what do I do then?

I’ve tried to cut back on the morphine but it only showed me that I need this much to stay OK and not be in super bad pain all the time. I need it and I’m dependent on it too. It’s all a hateful situation to be stuck on opiates and listen to all the hoopla about people dying of it and how it’s misused so they want to take it away from all of us. It’s terribly scary and frightening. I don’t know what I’d do without it. Stay in bed all day I guess. Sigh…

And my mind is slowly slipping too. Of course some of that is aging naturally, but some of it is because of the depression and manias I go thru. The pain makes me nuts too so it’s all a vicious circle and as I age it’s getting worse to handle it. I don’t have as much mulch as I used to have to deal with it all. It’s getting to be too much.

I suppose the take away from all this is that when you’re really sick you already have to live your life very carefully so you can survive and thrive. But when you get older and you’re sick it doubles the responsibility you have to yourself and your family to really do a good job of being good to yourself and being smart about what you do with your time and energy.

You only have so much of it as you age and it’s really important that you put it to good use. It’s imperative to live honestly and openly and to ask for help as you need it, which you will, and to accept the good will that there is in the world around you. There are helpers everywhere if you allow them into your life. Don’t shut down as you age. Stay active and awake and you’ll be able to live a good life as you get older, even with Invisible Illness.

Consciously Aging,

Steve