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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Is it Mania or Just Anger?

I’ve been struggling with some emotions that are too raw and close to the surface lately and I’m worried about my reactions to things. I seem to be on a hair thin trigger these days and my anger levels are right below the surface. I know that the current political landscape, in particular the race for president, is affecting me greatly. But it’s more that that, and I wonder whats going on? It seems worse since I got on this current regimen of Wellbutrin and I wonder if this is one of the subtle hints of fracturing that I’ve experienced before on it, but in more obvious degrees. It’s confusing.

I read an interesting article on mania and anger the other day. A leading psychiatrist here in Seattle said that it was wise to beware of labeling anger as mania in Bipolar disorder because it was more often caused by substance abuse. It’s an interesting theory. I’ve not been diagnosed with substance abuse, but I’ve smoked pot since I was in high school – some 50 years now- so obviously some would say that’s my issue. But I’ve always used it carefully and now it’s strictly medical and I smoke it sparingly. My psychiatrist doesn’t mind and my counselor and ND both suggested I use it. So I don’t put much stock into this notion myself. Denial? Maybe, but I think not…

I believe that it’s more than just that. It’s dreadfully close to wrecking me. It Feels like mania, not just anger. And it’s too sharp and too intense and takes me over so much that even little bits of angst can throw me into a fit of rage where I seriously want to hurt someone or myself or destroy the world. Typical, I guess, but it’s no fun at all. Not like the bright sparkly hypo-manias I’ve had so often in life that inspire me to do good work in the world. This is a destructive mania and I’m afraid of it.

I haven’t had a lot of florid manias in my life. Mostly they’ve been long term experiences where I entered into lands uncharted and tried new things that haven’t been done before. Like creating an innovative non-profit healing arts center with my credit cards, working myself to the bone and finally ending up in bankruptcy and disability. I had a Vision you see but I couldn’t see the whole picture and I ended up in disgrace and struggling with it’s futility. It hurt me badly. It was a 4 year manic episode. And no one even noticed, because I hadn’t been diagnosed yet.

Most of my manias haven’t been that obvious to other people. But they have still been filled with lots of anger and rage, thru my whole life. I can remember times when I was a kid that I would explode in rages that terrified my little brother and caused my parents to label me with ADD as an adult. They told me my anger was palpable and horrible when I was young and had those fits of rage. Sounds like the beginnings of Manic Depression to me, eh? I was a horrible little child I think, tho no one in my family is alive to tell me how bad it really was. I can’t remember much about it but I know I wasn’t a bad kid per se, just angry and unpredictable.

So back to my proposal here. Given my experiences in my life I can’t say what is causing me to be so angry these days. I know I can’t discount the situation in the world. It really does affect me. I’m super empathic and I feel the suffering of others deeply. It hurts me. It also makes me mad. This is a problem and I haven’t figured out what to do about it yet. I hope I can keep it under control but I dunno. I haven’t broken anything or slit my wrists, which I’ve wanted to do many times. I haven’t exploded at Louie or any of my friends. And I actually haven’t hurt myself, except with my thinking, which is bad enough.

I try to calm myself down when I feel this anger growing but it’s very hard to do. I often have to resort to drugs and take some Klonopin, or when it’s really bad, some Abilify, that will knock me on my ass and put me totally out of it. At least it’s better than the rage but it wastes me and I don’t  really like that. But it’s better than the anger for sure. If I don’t know where it comes from and what to do to stop it I can at least alleviate it some and that’s good for me. I also use CBT to tell myself to Stop It! But that doesn’t always work out too well. I’m often too far gone, unless I catch it early. Sometime I can, but not always.

I think this is a bit of a manic response to situations that I can’t control and that cause me distress to the point where I crack up and lose it. Or is it just anger? I’m still confused. It’s been there so long, but then maybe I’m just an angry person. I don’t think so tho. No one I know would ever call me that. But I would. I feel it so much. Sometimes I know that my anger is invigorating and it helps me come out of my depressions really well. But this stuff is out of bounds and isn’t connected to reality. It’s troubling. I’m at a loss as to what to do besides trying to just live with it and try my best to deal with it safely for myself and others. So far, so good. Maybe it doesn’t matter what it is, maybe what counts is dealing with it well. Sounds good to me…

How’s Your anger level?

Steve

Surviving Bipolar Disorder

Some of this may seem obvious to you but this is what I’ve learned over the last 17 years  of my diagnosis and 62 years of living with Bipolar Disorder in total. In order to survive with this disorder it is necessary to first of all simply accept it and to admit to yourself that you are not in control of yourself. This is a hard thing for most of us to do. It’s been very challenging to me but I’ve had to do it. You also have to ask for help and that’s another hard one. And I’ve done all that. Some say that I have to take medications and tho I don’t know if that’s always true I won’t be the one to say stop taking your meds if you’re taking them and I do take mine and they help.

I was scared I’d lose my creativity by taking an anti-psychotic and anti-depressants (tho I  really Can’t take them because they make me so sick it’s awful and a sign of Bipolar that most people don’t know – we can’t handle anti-depressants. It’s a hallmark of the disorder that they often stimulate us into mania. It’s true..) but that hasn’t been true and I’m as creative today as I’ve ever been. Just take a look at my Gardening Website on here and see what I’m doing with that creativity these days. And these blogs too I think. I haven’t lost it at all and I’m not scared of my meds anymore, well not much anyway… they Do have side effects but I won’t go there now.  So I say take the meds and don’t freak out…. They can really help you survive.

But mostly you survive by being Real and true to yourself and who you really are I think. You take  good care of yourself and look at your life and you realize your limitations and your strengths and you focus on both of them. You don’t have to do some things that are out of synch with your true character that will cause you distress. You may still take chances and risks, risk taking is another hallmark of the disorder. But you take the risks you can handle. You fight the battles you have a chance of winning not the ones you will surely lose just because you think you can still do anything. You can’t, dear. You just can’t.

You  give it time and don’t push the proverbial river. Things happen at the rate they do and it’s silly to try to make them happen out of their own nature. That includes dealing with people and socially difficult people especially. Let them be who they are and you’ll find that you can handle them a lot better. The only want to be themselves just like you do and not allowing them the opportunity can cost you a great deal. I don’t mean that you allow yourself to be trod upon. You must stand up for yourself, with doctors in particular or others who have power over your life, like social security workers for instance.

You have to be strong and not let them get you down. Ask for help – it’s out there and can be found if you try. But it’s up to you first of all to be strong. You Must not allow them above all else to intimidate you.They can make or break your life if they choose and it hurts in letting them, so be true to yourself here as well. Sometimes this means walking away from the situation when it’s obvious you’re not going to win. But don’t back down anyway. Just walk away. There’s no shame in recognizing reality when it hits you upside the head.

So I’ve tried to give you some ideas on how to survive with Bipolar Disorder, because so many people don’t know about it. So where do you go from here? I think you just live your life, but try to do it Very Consciously.  You Must pay attention to Everything in your environment, in your relationships, in the food you eat, in the air you breathe. When somebody tries to suck your energy you have to walk away from them. And be careful who you  hang out with and who you don’t especially. Be with positive people and they’ll help you stay positive. This is all self help 101 I know, but it never hurts to hear it again and for some it may be the first time I dunno. So stay true to who you are and what you need to survive and don’t let others sway you if you know in your heart that you have to be a certain way or do or not do certain things. It’s up to you now so don’t lose it. Stay cool and you’ll make it fine and even thrive beyond surviving with Bipolar Disorder.

Be yourself. Who else can you ever really Be?

Steve