Hey everyone, a little while ago I did an interview for ‘My Bipolar Roller Coaster’ about my bipolar disorder diagnosis, and my experiences with the illness. If you want to know more about yours truly, check it out. Also, check out this awesome mental health blog.
Tonight I finally had a date with my DVR and the pilot episode of the new ABC series, ‘Black Box’.
The show is about Dr. Catherine Black, a neuroscientist who works at The Center for Neurological Research and Treatment. This world famous doctor has bipolar disorder. She hides it from some, while others can’t escape from it.
Catherine, played by Kelly Reilly, has a non-compliance issue with taking her meds, which the show made prevalent when she decided to come off of them. Her mania was triggered, and she experienced symptoms such as delusions of grandeur, hypersexuality, hallucinations, increased energy, rapid speech, and grandiosity. She ended up hurting her boyfriend/(sort of fiance), and she almost messed things up at work. The show features Vanessa Redgrave as her psychiatrist, and shows them meeting often to discuss Catherine’s mental state and returning her to stability.
I really liked it! I had been obsessing about watching it for weeks before it premiered. So far, I can absolutely relate to Catherine, in terms of bipolar, and I can even say I idolized her a little bit. Yes, her actions made me think about my own non-compliance issues and I suddenly felt a desire to cut the drugs and free myself into a colorful mania of my own. I may or may not have made a comment about this, and my wife, who was watching it with me, gave me one of her famous “I don’t think so” looks. We have a deal that if I can’t stay on meds, she (and the baby) can’t stay with me. Okay, well that’s more of an ultimatum than a deal, but for the most part it works.
Anyway, I think that bipolar disorder was represented very well (except maybe the rapidness of the episode onset), and Dr. Catherine Black’s character was portrayed beautifully. I, personally, feel the symptoms are accurate and I have had most all of them myself. I think ‘Black Box’ is groundbreaking in the sense that bipolar disorder has never been seen before in this light. We have all dealt with such an incredible stigma due to our illness and this show expresses the rawness and truth of what manic and depressive episodes can be like. It is a very vulnerable and necessary place to be.
This past week I had the opportunity to visit a friend in the psych hospital. She is in the process of accepting her new diagnosis of bipolar disorder type 1. My diagnosis. While I knew something was going on with her before, it is certainly best that she is in the hospital, receiving the care she needs. As her friend, and as someone who is living with the disorder, and someone educated in mental health, I want to do whatever I can to be there for her, and help her through this complicated time. This brings me to an important topic- peer support.
Peer support for those with a mental illness is so essential in acquiring mental wellness. Associating with peers who understand and can relate to what you are going through can help to form a bond. Having a support system of friends who also live with a mental illness, and who can relate is helpful in a different way from those who do not. Either way, there are things peers can do to help ease the burden of treatment and every day struggles.Taken from the DBSA website:
What You Can Say That Helps
- You are not alone in this. I’m here for you.
- I understand you have a real illness and that’s what causes these thoughts and feelings.
- You may not believe it now, but the way you’re feeling will change.
- I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help.
- When you want to give up, tell yourself you will hold on for just one more day, hour, minute—whatever you can manage.
- You are important to me. Your life is important to me.
- Tell me what I can do now to help you.
- I am here for you. We will get through this together.
What You Should Avoid Saying
- It’s all in your head.
- We all go through times like this.
- You’ll be fine. Stop worrying.
- Look on the bright side.
- You have so much to live for; why do you want to die?
- I can’t do anything about your situation.
- Just snap out of it.
- Stop acting crazy.
- What’s wrong with you?
- Shouldn’t you be better by now?
Peer support groups are also really helpful. I attend the DBSA peer support groups twice a month and I appreciate the freedom and safety of being able to openly express myself. I can share whatever I’m feeling, if I’m having an episode, and any difficulties I’m going through. The meetings are confidential and exclusive to those with bipolar disorder or depression, and their loved ones. I will be encouraging my friend to participate in groups as well, once she is discharged from the hospital.
I thought this was a pretty clear breakdown of bipolar disorder.
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It’s possible that I’m falling ahead of myself and stumbling, scraping my own dumb forehead in the process. My wife feels my recent behaviors have triggered hypomania, resulting in her fear of full blown mania. Is she correct? I don’t know, really. You could say it all started when I self-righteously decided to participate in alcohol related activities after a five year drinking hiatus. Not one drop of liquid intoxication for just over five years. Until now. About two months ago I had a drink, socially, with friends. It filled me with warm nostalgia, and a license to cut loose. I don’t know if this has anything to do with my changed view on life, or my desire to “live it up” before the baby gets here, but I know that I feel good. I have been a lot more social with my group of friends as well. Admittedly, I have gone out multiple nights in a row, on a few occasions. I also made the mistake of staying out until 5am. More than once. Okay, not my finest moments… But I want to take up every opportunity to have fun before we will be consumed with diapers and midnight feedings. I don’t think this constitutes as hypo anything. I usually listen to my wife’s observations and concerns, but I don’t feel as energetic as she says I am. I don’t see the downward spiral she sees. I see myself living up my last child-less summer. Am I selfish? Am I in denial?
I look at some main triggers of hypomania, and they include: drinking alcohol or using mind-altering drugs, taking a trip, major change or life event, over-stimulation and excitement, overall restlessness or boredom, excessive noise or partying. Examining these triggers makes me wonder if my wife has a point. I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t describe my life as of lately. I just returned from a trip, I’m attending two music concerts tomorrow, I’ve been drinking with my friends, and to top it off, I have an out of town friend, whom I met online, coming to meet me this weekend for the first time. I’ve completely screwed up my friendship with my best friend, and I allowed my irresponsibility get the best of me two days ago, as I hurt my wife’s feelings in unexplainable ways. I suppose I’m moving fast and fucking up, but I feel fine, I don’t feel manic!
Mania is what I know. The racing thoughts, pressured speech, the euphoria, the hyper-sexuality, the larger than life ideals and philosophies, the grandiosity, delusions, and obsessions. This is not mania. This is living. Isn’t it? Am I naive to my own existence?
I welcomed this day wearing a smothering jacket of anxiety, accessorized with a shiny ball of nerves. It’s like I suddenly have so much on my mind that I am experiencing physiological reactions that include chest tightness and shallow breathing, on top of my severe distractability and a racing mind. A few days ago I mentioned that my wife and I are going on a road trip later this week. Despite my list of travel tips, (https://nectarmadness.wordpress.com/2013/06/27/travel-tips-for-bipolar-disorder/) I still feel unprepared. And I don’t think it’s so much that I’m unprepared for the trip itself- I mean I refilled my Lithium, I did a load of laundry, and I have directions. But it’s more an overwhelming feeling of tying up loose ends before we leave. My list of unimportant things that are sickening me with importance. Yeah those. For instance I recently got a brand new camera. (Little known fact: photography was one of my biggest hobbies, prior to a depression-induced hiatus that lasted for 10 years.) Now, I’ve been thrilled about releasing the ol’ shutterbug and cranking out something to put me back on the map. The thing is, I have no idea how to turn the fucking thing on! Sure there’s a DVD, there’s a booklet and online support. I get it. I haven’t had time to even charge up the battery until last night. I don’t have five minutes to dedicate to learning how this thing works and I am expected to bring it with me on the trip where I will be greeted by my family full of photographers. My first shoot back is going to be in the scenic oasis of beautiful, lush Kentucky. It’s stressing me the fuck out.
While I might sound crazy, we have to remember that I’m already getting triggered by the mere fact I’m going on a trip. Add in the overwhelming surplus of people who are also going on the trip. These people are family members who we don’t see very often, which is as unnerving as it is exciting. I’m also a little anxious about announcing our pregnancy to the cousins we don’t see but every handful of years. While I try to not let things like stereotyping and closed-mindedness enter my aura, I do have some family members who swing a little more conservatively, so I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t affect me a little.
While I’m on my anxiety tangent (I’d be shocked if anyone actually reads this entry!), I’m also coming off a recent high that I experienced over the weekend. And that is a surprise birthday party thrown for me by my amazing friends. My birthday is on the 7th and since I won’t be home, they threw it for me this past Sunday. I’m not one to really like surprises, but I managed to keep it together absolutely fine. I guess the biggest aftermath of the party I’m busy contemplating is the fact so many people showed up! I really would’ve never thought so many people really like me! I’m as gracious as I am overwhelmed. I do think my behavior got a little out of control later that night, and I am feeling anxious, today, about the level of intoxication I managed to get to. I feel guilty and uncomfortable about that part. Impulse control isn’t my strongest trait. Anyway, I’ll move past it. The party was such a wonderful surprise that I’m still glowing from it!
Now, with so much buzzing around inside my head, what I need to do is continue to work on my to-do list, pack up all that I’m bringing, and straight up get my shit together already! I’m convinced once we’re on the road I will calm down by at least 8 notches. If I ever get there.
In one week I will be going on a short vacation, traveling from Michigan to Kentucky to visit with family. Even though the trip’s a week away, the travel anxiety started days ago. You know that panicky feeling of not having everything you need in order to be comfortable and secure? Yeah that’s how I feel. My Bipolar tends to trigger when I feel unsettled. I hate feeling unprepared for things. One time my wife and I flew to California and I just about lost my flipping mind. I couldn’t control my outbursts or random crying spells. The time zone threw me off and I hated the airplane. I even picked fights with my wife. While I genuinely loved California, I sure as hell didn’t show it. From that point I vowed to not allow this scene to repeat itself. I vowed to be prepared for all future trips.
I have two separate lists. One is all the things I need to do before we leave, the other is everything we need to bring with us. I don’t care if the to-do list includes painting my toenails, because I know if I don’t do it, I will feel unfinished. Anxiety makes me hyper-sensitized to the littlest things. I’m confident that checking off my lists this far in advance will allow me to have a more relaxed and outburst-free trip.
I’ve done a lot of reading on the subject of Bipolar Disorder and travel, and here are some good tips that I’ve come up with:
- If there is a time zone change, practice for the zone before you leave. This means going to bed and getting up on your destination time. The closer you can get to the time, the better.
- Sleep regularly while you are there. Disturbed sleep is a prime suspect in triggering episodes.
- Forecast your destination activities. Adrenaline pumping activities, unlimited access to alcohol, large crowds of people, personality-clashing relatives, crammed quarters, or even a climate you’re not used to can all affect Bipolar Disorder.
- Be prepared with your medications. Make sure you count out enough meds for each day you’ll be gone, so you don’t run out before returning home. Carry you doctor’s and your pharmacy information just in case. You might even want to talk to your doctor about trying something for anxiety if you feel it will be an issue during your travels.
- Practice relaxation. Try deep breathing exercises or meditating. These are great to use if things get a little too busy and you feel yourself start to lose it. Slowly breathe in, counting to five, then exhale counting backward from five. Repeat three times.
Overall the biggest piece of advice I can give is to plan ahead. Have your map, your GPS, your debit cards, portable snacks, and comfortable shoes all set and ready. If you plan ahead, you will be able to spend more time focusing on what’s truly important. So far I’m taking my own advice and I hope I can make it through the next week calmly, then enjoy some R & R.
Maybe it’s because I went to bed at 2 AM, maybe it’s the 4 mind-numbing hours of Tegan and Sara videos I watched, maybe it was the weed, the six cups of coffee, the humidity, or the moon. I don’t fucking know. All I know is when I woke up this morning, my first thought was to take a personal day. I never do that. But all I could think was that I had laundry to do. And vacuuming. And scripts to call in, mail to sort, and whatever busy thing I could think of. Not to mention the gnawing fact I really need to start jogging to work off this pseudo baby weight I’ve acquired since my wife became pregnant. Clearly I had a full day ahead of me. Mostly I woke up excited to listen to the music I added to my iPod around 1 in the morning. I’m lying. I woke up utterly obsessed with the songs on my iPod. In fact that’s what I really wanted to do today. It’s embarrassing, but I get extremely lost in my head sometimes when it comes to certain music. I try to hide when I go into obsessive phases. I also know obsessions coincide with hypomania with me, sometimes triggering full blown mania. At this time I am fine. As long as my ears don’t have to go without the syrupy melody of what I love most.
I have a hard time admitting when I’m being obsessive because my father was an obsessive individual, he also was compulsive with his obsessions, resulting in compromised living situations in his latter years, when it was most out of control. I think his problem has created a weariness in my own self-monitoring. I don’t want to fall into his footsteps. As of now, I secretly listen to the same song several times throughout the day. Music gives me permission to get lost in my head. Getting carried away by that kind of mental liberation is like crack. I love the feeling, I crave it, I need it. When I remove myself from myself, and enter my mind, it produces a sort of euphoric effect. No joke. This may sound crazy, but it’s really quite beautiful.
Anyway, my wife reminded me of the fact we need money, so I went to work, and attempted to have a normal day. Okay- normal didn’t happen. Thankfully I work in an office alone, so my music accompanies me on a daily basis. This helps me remain in a good mood and keeps my energy flowing. However, my biggest problem today was severe distraction. As busy as my mind was when I woke up, it only worsened as the morning progressed. I got fucking nothing done today! I did, however, play the same 22 songs incessantly for 8 hours. I kind of feel like I’m floating a little bit, and I’m blissfully unaware of anything going on around me.
There are several hurtful things that you could say to a person with Bipolar Disorder that will make them feel like garbage, destroy their self-confidence, and possibly contribute a trigger for an episode. So learn what they are and don’t say them!
What not to say to someone with Bipolar Disorder:
• “You are crazy/insane/abnormal/psycho.”
This can be taken as nonsense if it is clearly meant in terms of slang, but for someone who is newly diagnosed, or having a hard time with their diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder, they may take it as meaning “completely unable to think clearly or behave properly”, which is pretty offensive.
• “Bipolar Disorder doesn’t exist.”
This revolves around validating the diagnosis. Validate the disorder and take your loved one seriously, otherwise you not taking them seriously could be detrimental to their treatment process.
• “Snap out of it.”
BP is a real illness and nobody can just come out of it, so don’t tell them to. It’s just plain ignorant!
• “It’s just hormonal/PMS.”
While hormones can make BP worse, BP is a disorder independent of any other. Don’t offend someone & mix it up with a different diagnosis. You will come off as ignorant and like you don’t care to learn the facts.
• “You have Bipolar, so you’re lazy/stupid/whiny.”
None of these offensive words are used to describe Bipolar Disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. That’s all I’m going to say about this one.
• “You’ll never have a real life.”
That is simply not true. While living with BP certainly isn’t always easy, most everyone can have a very active and fulfilling life with the proper treatment and medication.
• “There is nothing wrong with you, everybody has mood swings.”
While it’s true that even among those who do not have a diagnosable disorder that has mood swings, people have changes in mood. The mood changes are usually due to circumstances in life, home, and health.
• “But you seem so normal!”
That may very well be. First I ask “what is normal?” Then I need people to understand that someone could be in between episodes, could be on medication that produces ‘normal’ behavioral results, or maybe you don’t see this person very often or haven’t known them very long. People can go years between episodes. Also, hypomania is very charismatic and attractive to others, so in that state someone with BP can potentially make several new friends.
• “Isn’t that what serial killers have?”
Probably not. Honestly, a serial killer is much more likely to have Antisocial Personality Disorder, or be a sociopath or psychopath.
• “Just take medication and you’ll be fine.”
While medication helps tremendously, it doesn’t always help everyone, and it certainly does not get rid of the disorder or treat all of the symptoms.
Please do not be afraid to talk to your friends and family members about their Bipolar diagnosis. This was just meant as a guide to help the ease of conversations between you and your loved ones.
Stay tuned for some helpful tips on how to offer support to your Bipolar peeps!