A Chronically Discontent Manic Depressive

I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in late 1994 and I’ve had 22 some years to study and learn about this illness. I’ve learned a lot. I read books and magazines all the time and I search the internet. I’ve learned how to dance with this disorder pretty well, especially since last year when I was put on a new mix of medications. I’m doing much better. In fact I feel pretty stable for the first time since my diagnosis. It’s still hard, but at least I have a clue as to what’s possibly coming down the line towards me. My brain is different than it used to be and it’s taken some getting used to, but I’m getting there.

Last year I was also given the diagnoses of PTSD and Dysthymia. I’ve been studying about how these disorders affect me since then, and again I’ve learned a lot. But it’s still new, and I don’t know as much as I need to. I recently read a book called “The Half Empty Heart”, by Alan Downs, PhD. It’s all about Dysthymia, or what he calls Chronic Discontent, and man I can relate all too well to this description. It’s also called low grade depression because it’s always there and never really goes away. You’re in a low state of depression basically all the time. It cycles some but mostly it’s just there, underlying all your actions and thoughts. I read this book a few years ago and it intrigued me, but I didn’t have the diagnosis yet so I just thought about the subject and how it affected me. But since I’ve been diagnosed with it and know more I can see that it’s affected me my whole life. I’ve learned a lot more reading it this time.

One of the main things that people with Chronic discontent deal with is a tendency to emotionally and physically withdraw from stressful or difficult situations. It’s a hallmark of the syndrome in fact. And it’s one of the hardest symptoms to handle. There are exercises in the book that are intended to help you overcome this, but I haven’t gotten too far in that. But I have read enough to know that withdrawal has been a constant theme in my life, since I was a young child in fact, right up to today. When things get too hard for me, instead of trying to work it out I often tend to just disappear and run away from the hard stuff. I can’t tell you how many people and situations I’ve abandoned in my life. Dozens at the least. I’m not happy about this, in fact I’m totally ashamed of myself. That’s a big part of the symptomology too. Experiencing shame is the way we live our lives, based on perspectives we developed when we were very young. We just don’t feel like we’re OK as human beings deep inside of ourselves.

A shame based life is filled with regret and unfulfilled promise. We respond to life as tho we feel we aren’t as good as the people we interact with, and so we self-sabotage many of our relationships. We often are left with no one to call friends any more. That’s my situation. I’ve left so many people that there are just a few left. As I get older this is a big problem. And I don’t have a clue how to overcome it. It’s buried so deep in my pysche and I’m so terrified of changing it that it informs most of my decisions. It might as well be who I am. But it’s not. I still refuse to be defined by my diagnoses, but it’s hard not to be. I’ve always been ashamed of who I am, despite all the good things I’ve done in my life. It’s like they don’t matter and all I can see are my failures and abandonments. This has been true for as long as I can remember, even as a small child. In fact that’s where it started I’m sure.

I don’t mean to blame anyone for this, but it seems clear to me that this began in my childhood, and of course that means that my parents were at the root of the situation. I had wonderful parents and they loved me so much. They were happy to have me, but I was so sickly that they severely overprotected me and I grew up believing that I was too much an invalid to do too many things. This despite the fact that they also told me I could succeed at anything I tried, and I so often did. But the shame I developed over that time lives on today. Back then it was an undefined feeling that I was inferior to other people. I still feel that way. I know that both my parents suffered from low self esteem and I’m sure that it translated into my psyche at a young age. How could it not? Again I don’t blame them. They were just living their lives the best they could after all. But I never talked to them about this before they both died. Now I can’t ever deal with it with them and it’s up to me to overcome it alone. It hurts my heart because I love them so much and yet they left me with such a painful legacy.

The title of this book – the Half Empty Heart – is very powerful to me. It’s a hard thing to face but it’s the way it seems to be. We tend to look at life as a glass half empty instead of half full. And in that we fail to take care of our hearts. It’s very painful when the reckoning comes around and you see all that you’ve lost thru your lack of action, or actions you’ve taken to escape. It seems like every time I begin to have a good life and accomplish something, I sabotage it somehow and end up with nothing left. This is a common experience for people with chronic discontent. We stop ourselves before we’ve even given ourselves a chance to succeed. I’ve so often declined to even begin something because I was sure it was doomed to failure. It’s not that I lack courage. I just don’t have the faith in myself.

But here’s where the mix of diagnoses comes into play. Having Bipolar disorder means that you may cycle constantly and can be up or down depending on your current mood. When you’re “Up” you feel on top of the world and I think that because I’ve lived so much of my life in hypo/mania – the good stuff feelings – that it overcame a lot of my chronic discontent and allowed me to do more than I might have otherwise done. I couldn’t help but feel good about myself, even if it was based in mania and not reality, it still felt good and I believed it was real, so it was. In a strange way I feel lucky to have both of these illnesses together. I think that life would have been much worse for me if I’d just been chronically discontent, or just manic. I probably wouldn’t be here by now I suspect. I think that having those up times of bipolar mania allowed me to distance myself from the bad feelings and I had the courage to do all kinds of outrageous things that nurtured me and kept me happy despite the low grade depression I still felt deep inside. It was a strange mix, and it still is.

The other side of it is that the dysthymia often kept me from displaying florid manias to other people because I was too ashamed to “act out” and embarrass myself. I so often hid my horrible feelings of distress deep inside so that no one could tell that I was experiencing such difficult emotions. In some way I feel that this saved me a lot of heart ache because I never got “caught out” with my Bipolar until I was old enough to make better sense of it than I would have in my younger days. If I’d been diagnosed with it in my teens, as most people with BP are, I would never have accomplished half of what I did do. So the two diagnoses have worked in tandem to help form my life as it is now. Not great perhaps, but I’m not in a hospital (tho I have been) and I’m not dead (tho I’ve tried to be). But I haven’t been that successful in my life either. Depends on how you gauge it. I’ve done good things but I never made much money, and that’s how we judge success in our culture. So I feel like a failure even while I revel in my good works. It’s a weird way to live I guess but it’s what I know and have done. And I suspect there are others who have similar experiences.

I hope I don’t seem to be complaining about any of this. I assure you I’m not. I get it that I’m the one responsible for my actions and ways of being in the world. I’m not making excuses. I’m the one who bailed on my friends and communities in my chronic discontent, and I’m the one who was manic and did great things while I was too. I find it fascinating to try to embrace these two different illnesses. And I haven’t even touched on the PTSD. I could write a whole post just on that. All these diagnoses work together for me, sometimes in helpful ways, as I’ve described, sometimes in terrible ways too. I’m still working on the challenges of having these disorders and sometimes I think I’m even making progress. I hope I am anyway. Life is too hard for me too often, but it’s also so beautiful. I’m a lucky guy actually. I have a wonderful man who loves me to death and I have a home and good food to eat, and so much more. I even have good health, despite these disorders. So take all this as a discussion of how one can manage to live with these challenges and how I personally have dealt with them. At least it makes some sense to me…

If any of this resonates for you too – there is help. Go find it!

Steve

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5th Annual World Bipolar Day

Today is the fifth-annual World Bipolar Day, an annual global campaign to raise awareness about bipolar disorder and eliminate social stigma.

Events will be held in communities of all sizes, and online. Look to the bp Magazine for Bipolar Facebook community for promotions all day. Also check out the World Bipolar Day’s Facebook page, where people are encouraged to post photos and videos with the hashtags #WorldBipolarDay and #BipolarStrong.

Increasing sensitivity toward all mental health challenges is critical. World Bipolar Day is a collaboration between the Asian Network of Bipolar Disorder (ANBD), the International Bipolar Foundation (IBPF), and the International Society for Bipolar Disorders (ISBD).

It is celebrated every year on March 30, the birthday of artist Vincent van Gogh (born in 1853). The post-Impressionist painter is one of the most famous figures in the art world. His work is known for its beauty and emotion and while he influenced 20th-century art, he remained virtually unknown and poor during his life. Van Gogh died by suicide at the age of 37 after struggling with psychotic episodes during the last two years of his extraordinary life. He was posthumously diagnosed as probably having bipolar disorder. He is still considered one of the greatest Dutch painters of all time.

Van Gogh’s story is a strong reminder of the importance of raising awareness and breaking the stigma that holds people back from seeking a diagnosis and receiving effective treatment. World Bipolar Day goals include dispelling myths; raising awareness about signs, symptoms better drug treatments; sharing resources and healthy living techniques; and encouraging more investigations about possible biological causes.

It’s important to stay hopeful and determined, and World Bipolar Day is the perfect opportunity to help improve sensitivity towards it—and spread hope—letting people know it is a common, treatable condition.

If you have Bipolar Disorder today is the day to talk about it. With your friends, neighbors, co-workers and family. It’s not easy to do this but it’s so necessary. Only by being out and upfront about our lives can we ever hope to erase the stigma still associated with this horrid disorder.

They say that 15% of people diagnosed with Biplolar type I (that’s me) will end up killing themselves at some point in their lives. I tried to end my life when I was 29 and I’m so glad I failed at that. Life has been hard since then but it’s still worth working to get better and make a difference.

I wish you the best in your journey with Bipolar and hope that you can come out to at least one person today. It’ll make a difference and you’ll feel good about yourself! Your life matters!

Ending Stigma, one life at a time,

Steve

This article is excerpted from BpHope Magazine and all rights are theirs.

Cycling While Stable

I wrote a blog post last November on my 67th birthday about how I thought I was doing much better since I’ve been on a mood stabilzer that actually works. It’s been about a year now that I’ve felt this relative stability, but lately I’ve been looking back at my behavior over the last few months and I realize that I’ve actually been cycling thru hypomania and depression quite a bit more than I realized at the time. Impulsivity is the biggest and most problematic issue for me. But obsessive thinking is a close second. The two go together for me too often and I make a fool of myself in situations where I should know better.

Over spending is another one that’s gotten me lately. Impulsive again, and obsessive. These are all symptoms of Bipolar illness and apparently I’ve been experiencing them frequently. I didn’t really see what I was doing at the time but at some point I realized it and I stopped it, or tried to. But I still act too impulsively and without proper forethought. It drives me crazy and embarrasses the hell out of me. I say things or write things in emails that are out of line with my sense of self, and I portray myself in ways I’d rather not. I can’t seem to stop blurting things out that make me look and feel stupid, both in print and in interactions in real life. I attribute this mostly to the hypomania but I see there’s a clear element of depression in there too.

I guess I’m in a mild mixed state, where I experience both the highs and the lows that are the hallmarks of manic depression. I go there when I see the effects of my hypomania and it upsets me, so I get depressed. Then I feel better and act out stupidly again. Then I get depressed. Then…. You get it… It’s a vicious cycle. I have a diagnosis of Dysthymia as well as Bipolar type 1 and PTSD. Dysthymia is a constant state of low grade depression, and I can see that it’s an appropriate diagnosis for me because I feel a bit “down” almost all of the time. I’m not really sick but I’m sad and feeling the loss of the vitality that the hypomania brings.

I’m a bit disconcerted by all this. It makes me realize once again that I’ll always cycle thru these emotions, maybe more easily at times than others, but they’ll always be there, up and down, again and again, even when I’m “stable”. It sometimes feels like a bleak future for me, but I refuse to accept that it’s going to define my life as I get older. At times it feels like I don’t have enough time left to get it right, but then I see that I really have all the time I need and I can do it if I just keep trying. I’m still pretty young after all, and people do amazing things in their 60’s and 70’s and well beyond that.

I have a lifetime of experience that tells me that, tho I’ll still cycle much of the time, I’ll also have relatively calm periods when I just feel OK. During these times I can assess my actions and behaviors and make decisions to act less impulsively and obsessively. I can learn to think things thru more thoroughly before I act or speak. Seeing these aspects of my personality lately has given me an impetus to renew my commitment to taking better care of myself, more consciously. I already think of myself as a conscious person, but obviously I don’t always live up to these expectations of myself.

I’m continually learning to cut myself some slack for my failures. It’s a big part of healing for me. I still hate myself for the slightest misstep, and beat myself up mercilessly. Suicidal ideation is not that far away at times, tho thankfully it’s not the problem it used to be. It’s a hard thing to experience as frequently as I have in the past. It’s too often been the default setting for my negative emotions when I screw up and it’s very hard to uproot it from my consciousness. Now I’ll still feel bad about myself, but usually not so much that I want to die.

In fact I want to live, and live well. So I’ll keep trying to moderate my moods and be more aware of them as they cycle back and forth thru my consciousness. It can be a blurry line between accepting responsibility for my actions and recognizing that the manic depression has “pushed’ me in certain directions that are not in my best interests. I think I’m getting better at seeing these differences all the time. After all I just caught myself for the ways I’ve been blowing it recently. This gives me hope that I can actually keep doing it. All I have to do is stay aware of my thinking, and treat myself with gentle loving care, the way I try to treat other people. It’ll be a big challenge, but I think I can do it.

Cycling consciously,

Steve

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

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